Feb 122017
 
 February 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris 1948

 


Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)
UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)
Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)
Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)
Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)
Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)
Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)
Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)
Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)
Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)
Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)
Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)
France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)
A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

 

 

Look, Guardian, this is a good piece. But your editor destroys it by adding a headline with a question mark. Reality is, Britain is nothing but a front for a criminal racket. Its arms sales -both abroad and to its own forces- are responsible for the misery of countless deaths and maimed and refugees each and every year. Which your PM phrases as “..the UK will be at the forefront of a wider western effort to step up our defence and security partnership.” But you as a paper don’t have to play that game. Just tell your readers what is happening, and what has happened for decades. You live by blood and destruction.

Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)

On 24 January 2015 a private jet touched down in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. On board were a handful of Foreign Office officials, security personnel and the then prime minister, David Cameron, who was visiting the kingdom to pay his condolences following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The decision to charter the jet – at a cost to the taxpayer of £101,792 – raised eyebrows among Whitehall mandarins. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, normal UK rules don’t seem to apply. For decades the two kingdoms have quietly enjoyed a symbiotic relationship centred on the exchange of oil for weapons. Analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures by Greenpeace EnergyDesk shows that in 2015 83% of UK arms exports – almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia. Over the same period, the UK imported £900m of oil from the kingdom.

Now this relationship has come under scrutiny as a result of a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has sent alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. The case follows concerns that a coalition of Saudi-led forces may have been using UK-manufactured weapons in violation of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen, targeting Iranian-backed Houthi forces loyal to the country’s former president. The legal challenge comes at a crucial time for the UK’s defence industry, which makes about 20% of arms exported globally. In recent years Ministry of Defence cutbacks have led to the sector looking abroad for new sales, and the government, with one eye on the post-Brexit landscape, is keen on the strategy. Last month Theresa May heralded a £100m deal involving the UK defence giant BAE and the Turkish military, and many defence experts see this as a sign of things to come.

But the policy – as the Saudi case makes clear – is controversial. Many of the UK’s biggest customers have questionable human rights records and there are concerns exported weapons are used for repression or against non-military targets. Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

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Orwell meets Samuel Beckett.

UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)

Campaigners have expressed outrage at new proposals that could lead to journalists being jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents. The major overhaul of the Official Secrets Act – to be replaced by an updated Espionage Act – would give courts the power to increase jail terms against journalists receiving official material. The new law, should it get approval, would see documents containing “sensitive information” about the economy fall foul of national security laws for the first time. In theory a journalist leaked Brexit documents deemed harmful to the UK economy could be jailed as a consequence. One legal expert said the new changes would see the maximum jail sentence increase from two years to 14 years; make it an offence to “obtain or gather” rather than simply share official secrets; and to extend the scope of the law to cover information that damages “economic well-being”.

John Cooper QC, a leading criminal and human rights barrister who has served on two law commission working parties, added: “These reforms would potentially undermine some of the most important principles of an open democracy.” Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “The proposed changes are frightening and have no place in a democracy, which relies on having mechanisms to hold the powerful to account. “It is unthinkable that whistle blowers and those to whom they reveal their information should face jail for leaking and receiving information that is in the public interest.” Her organisation has accused the Law Commission, the Government’s statutory legal advisers, of failing to consult fully with journalists before making its recommendations in a 326-page consultation published earlier this month. “It is shocking that so few organisations were consulted on these proposed changes given the huge implications for public interest journalism in this country,” said Ms Ginsberg.

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And this, too, is Britain, in 2017. And way before that too.

Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)

Children and women are being raped by traffickers inside a refugee camp in northern France, according to detailed testimony gathered ahead of fresh legal action against the UK government’s approach to the welfare of unaccompanied minors. Corroborating accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees and security officials reveal that sexual abuse is common within the large camp at Dunkirk and that children and women are forced to have sex by traffickers in return for blankets or food or the offer of passage to the UK. Legal proceedings will be issued by London-based Bindmans against the Home Office, which is accused of acting unfairly and irrationally by electing to settle only minors from the vast Calais camp that closed last October, ignoring the child refugees gathered in Dunkirk, 40 miles away along the coast.

The legal action, brought on behalf of the Dunkirk Legal Support Team and funded by a crowd justice scheme, says the Home Office’s approach was arbitrary and mean-spirited. On Wednesday the government’s approach to child refugees provoked widespread indignation when the home secretary, Amber Rudd, announced the decision to end the “Dubs scheme”, having allowed just 350 children to enter the UK, 10% of the number most MPs and aid organisations had been led to believe could enter. [..] On Friday the archbishop of Canterbury said the government’s decision meant that child refugees would be at risk of being trafficked and even killed. Justin Welby’s warnings of what could happen if child refugees were denied the opportunity of safe passage are graphically articulated in the testimonies gathered over several months by the Observer.

Accounts from those at the camp, which currently holds up to 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors, portray a squalid site with inadequate security and atrocious living conditions. The Dunkirk Legal Support Team says the failure of the authorities to guard the site has allowed the smugglers to take control. One volunteer coordinator, who has worked at the camp’s women’s centre since October 2016, said: “Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.” Testifying on condition of anonymity, she added: “Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well.”

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Looming, right?

Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)

So you thought the world was deleveraging after the housing and derivatives bubble of 2008, hey? Well…fooled you! Global debt-to-GDP is now at a comfortable record high and the Bank for International Settlements, aka the central bank of central banks, noted on Friday that over the last 16 years, debts of governments, households and corporations has gone up…everywhere. In the U.S., debt is up 63%. The Eurozone, Japan, U.K., Canada and Australia average around 52%. And emerging markets, led by China, leverage is up 85%. In some important emerging economies like Brazil major cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Rio is CCC credit thanks to mismanagement of a deep sea oil bonanza and over spending on the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“The next financial crisis is likely to revolve around how this debt burden is managed,” warns Neil MacKinnon, an economist with VTB Capital in London. “In the U.K., most crises are related to boom and busts in the housing market, where there is an approximate 18-year cycle suggesting that the next bust will be in 2025.” That’s quite a ways away. And for London real estate, they always have the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese to save them. But further south, in countries like France and Italy, credit downgrades are expected. And guess which southern European country is back to give us all headaches again? Greece! Greece is making headlines once more for its inability to work out a debt deal with its lenders. There is now a rift between the EU and the IMF over Greek debt sustainability.

Most of the debt is with the European Commission itself, so German policy makers are basically the lenders and so far are not willing to take a haircut on bond prices. The IMF predicts that the Greek debt-GDP ratio, now at 180%, will soar to 275% all the while primary fiscal surplus is currently at zero. That means Greece’s debt to GDP is like Japan, only without the power of the Japanese economy to back it up. Greece is broke. “Greece is caught in a debt-trap which has shrunk the Greek economy by 25%,” notes MacKinnon. They owe Europe around €7 billion in July. Good luck with that. Jaime Caruana, General Manager for the Bank for International Settlements hinted in a speech in Brussels on Monday that the core central banks might not know what they’re in for.

“We need to escape the popular models that prevent us from recognizing the build-up of vulnerabilities,” Caruana said. “Getting all the right dots in front of you does not really help if you do not connect the dots. Right now, I worry that even though we have data on aggregate debt, we are not properly connecting the dots and we are underestimating the risks, particularly when the high levels of debt are aggravated by weak productivity growth in many countries. The standard of evidence for precautionary action has to be the preponderance of evidence, not evidence beyond a shadow of doubt. Waiting for fully compelling evidence is to act too late.”

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Long and deep from Nafeez.

Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)

President Donald Trump is not fighting a war on the establishment: he’s fighting a war to protect the establishment from itself, and the rest of us. At first glance, this isn’t obvious. Among his first actions upon taking office, Trump vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership, the controversial free trade agreement which critics rightly said would lead to US job losses while giving transnational corporations massive power over national state policies on health, education and other issues. Trump further plans to ditch the TTIP between the EU and US, which would have diluted key state regulations on the activities of transnational corporates on issues like food safety, the environment and banking; and to renegotiate NAFTA, potentially heightening tensions with Canada. Trump appears to be in conflict with the bulk of the US intelligence community, and is actively seeking to restructure the government to minimize checks and balances, and thus consolidate his executive power.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has completely restructured the National Security Council under unilateral presidential authority. While Bannon and his Chief of Staff Richard ‘Reince’ Priebus now have permanent seats on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are barred from meetings except when requested for their expertise. The Secretary of Energy and US ambassador to the UN have been expelled entirely. Trump’s White House has purged almost the entire senior staff of the State Department, and tested the loyalty of the Department of Homeland Security with its new ‘Muslim ban’ order. So what is going on? One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”).

Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents. But at best this is an extremely partial picture. In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous: The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System. The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.

The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.

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If you want to know what ails us, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)

This was an invited talk during Oslo University’s “Week of Current Affairs”, so though my talk covered the global issues of credit and economic cycles, I paid particular attention to Norway, which is one of the 9 countries I have identified as very likely to experience a credit crunch in the next few years.

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But illogical demans are all there is.

Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday he believed the country’s drawn-out bailout review would be completed positively but repeated that Athens would not accept “illogical” demands by its lenders. He warned all sides to “be more careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe”. Greece and its international lenders made clear progress on Friday toward bridging differences over its fiscal path in coming years, moving closer to a deal that would secure new loan disbursements and save the country from default. “(The review) will be completed, and it will be completed positively, without concessions in matters of principle,” Tsipras told a meeting of his leftist Syriza party. Reaching agreement would release another tranche of funds from it latest €86 billion bailout, and facilitate Greece making a major €7.2 billion debt repayment this summer.

European and IMF lenders want Greece to make €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – worth of new reforms by 2018 and another €1.8 billion after then and the measures would be focused on broadening the tax base and on pension cutbacks. But further cutbacks, particularly to pensions which have already gone through 11 cuts since the start of the crisis in 2010, are hard to sell to a public worn down after years of austerity. Representatives of Greece’s lenders are expected to return to Athens this week to report on whether Greece has complied with a second batch of reforms agreed under the current bailout, its third. “We are ready to discuss anything within the framework of the (bailout) agreement and within reason, but not things beyond the framework of the agreement and beyond reason,” Tsipras said. “We will not discuss demands which are not backed up by logic and by numbers,” he said.

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One minute of devastating numbers.

Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)

While Greece is back in the headlines, we got together some numbers and facts about eight years of economic recession.

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Well, they won’t stop.

Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on Saturday warned the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to “stop playing with fire” in the handling of his country’s debt. Opening a meeting of his Syriza party, Tsipras said he was confident a solution would be found, a day after talks between Greece and its creditors ended in Brussels with no breakthrough. He urged a change of course from the IMF. “We expect as soon as possible that the IMF revise its forecast.. so that discussions can continue at the technical level.” Referring to Schaeuble, Tsipras also called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “encourage her finance minister to end his permanent aggressiveness” towards Greece. Months of feuding with the IMF has raised fears of a new debt crisis.

Greece is embroiled in a row with its eurozone paymasters and the IMF over debt relief and budget targets that has rattled markets and revived talk of its place in the euro. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said progress had been made in the Brussels talks with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other EU and IMF officials. But he provided few details. The Athens government faces debt repayments of €7.0 billion this summer that it cannot afford without defusing the feud that is holding up new loans from Greece’s €86 billion bailout. Breaking the stalemate in the coming weeks is seen as paramount with elections in the Netherlands on March 15 and France in April through June threatening to make a resolution even more difficult.

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Mostly rehashing Yanis’ time as FinMin. That’s a shame, because his views on today are much more interesting.

Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)

With the UK on the cusp of leaving the European Union and Greece increasingly facing the same fate, is it over for the beleaguered body? An “epidemic” washing over other European countries may see the end of the EU, warns Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister. “The right question is: Is there going to be a eurozone and the European Union in one or two years’ time?” asks Varoufakis, who served as finance minister for five months under the Syriza government. Italy is already on the way out, Varoufakis tells UpFront. “When you allow an epidemic to start spreading from a place like Greece to Spain … to Ireland, then eventually it gets to a place like Italy,” says Varoufakis. “As we speak, only one political party in Italy wants to keep Italy in the eurozone.”

When asked about his failure to pull Greece out of its debt crisis during his tenure as finance minister, Varoufakis blamed the so-called troika – the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank – by intentionally sabotaging any debt-repayment agreement. “They were only interested in crushing our government, making sure that there would be no such mutually advantageous agreement,” says Varoufakis, who claims Greece was being used as a “morality tale” to scare voters in other European countries away from defying the troika. “The only reason why we keep talking about Greece … is because it is symptomatic of the architectural design faults and crisis of the eurozone.”

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To pop the bubble? To allow people to live where their families do?

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)

Suppose there were a way to pump up the economy, reduce inequality and put an end to destructive housing bubbles like the one that contributed to the Great Recession. The idea would be simple, but not easy, requiring a wholesale reframing of the United States economy and housing market. The solution: Americans, together and all at once, would have to stop thinking about their homes as an investment. The virtues of homeownership are so ingrained in the American psyche that we often forget that housing is also a source of economic stress. Rising milk prices are regarded as a household tragedy for some, and spiking gas prices stoke national outrage. But whenever home prices go up, it’s “a recovery,” even though that recovery also means millions of people can no longer afford to buy.

Homes are the largest asset for all but the richest households, but shelter is also a basic necessity, like food. We have a variety of state and federal programs devised to make housing cheaper and more accessible, and a maze of local land-use laws that make housing scarcer and more expensive by doing things like prohibiting in-law units, regulating how small lots can be, and capping the number of unrelated people who can live together. Another big problem: High rent and home prices prevent Americans from moving to cities where jobs and wages are booming. That hampers economic growth, makes income inequality worse and keeps people from pursuing their dreams. So instead of looking at homes as investments, what if we regarded them like a TV or a car or any other consumer good? People might expect home prices to go down instead of up.

Homebuilders would probably spend more time talking about technology and design than financing options. Politicians might start talking about their plans to lower home prices further, as they often do with fuel prices. In this thought experiment, housing prices would probably adjust. They would be somewhat cheaper in most places, where population is growing slowly. But they would be profoundly cheaper in places like super-expensive San Francisco. That was the conclusion of a recent paper by the economists Ed Glaeser of Harvard and Joe Gyourko at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The paper uses construction industry data to determine how much a house should cost to build if land-use regulation were drastically cut back. Since the cost of erecting a home varies little from state to state — land is the main variable in housing costs — their measure is the closest thing we have to a national home price.

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Hope they get their media organized so news can get out. If it does it could be the worst PR disaster ever.

Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)

US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over. Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river. The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. “We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late Friday.

“We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.” It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks. An estimated 1,000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock in December just as the Obama administration announced it was denying a key permit for the oil company, a huge victory for the tribe. The massive turnout – including a ceremony in which veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of US violence against Native Americans – served as a powerful symbol against the $3.7bn pipeline. Since last fall, police have made roughly 700 arrests, at times deploying water cannons, Mace, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons.

Private guards for the pipeline have also been accused of violent tactics. “We have the experience of standing in the face of adverse conditions – militarization, hostility, intimidation,” said Julius Page, a 61-year-old veteran staying at the vets camp. Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that for many who fought in Vietnam or the Middle East it was “healing” to help water protectors.“This is the right war, right side,” said Luker, a Vietnam vet from Boston. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.” Luker said he was prepared to be hit by police ammunition if necessary: “I don’t want to see a 20-something, 30-something untrained person killed by the United States government.”

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Good overview of what is only 2 months away and could change Europe dramatically. Opinionated, but then that’s Der Spiegel.

France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)

[..] even if Fillon survives as a candidate, he will be so damaged that he has virtually no chance of winning. Last week, in fact, his own party began discussing a “Plan B” so openly that it was almost disrespectful. Juppé is one possible replacement candidate being discussed, but the names of some young conservatives have also been circulating. Regardless, none of these alternatives would be as capable of taking voters away from Marine Le Pen and her project “Marine 2017” as the pre-scandal Fillon would have been. This, of course, is welcome news for Marine Le Pen, who transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Over the weekend, she introduced “140 proposals for France” as she launched the main segment of her campaign.

Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one-quarter of the country’s voters no matter what she says and no matter what others might say about her. She has been accused of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Parliament. She is no longer able to hide the fact that she is sparring over the direction of the party with her own niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. But it doesn’t matter: Her polling numbers have remained constant at 25%, indicating that it is very likely she will attract enough voters to make it into the second round of voting in the presidential election. The only question is who will be her challenger? Who will become the “lesser of two evils” of this campaign?

Will it be Socialist candidate Hamon, with his foolhardy plan of introducing an unconditional basic income for all French, starting at €600 and later rising to €750? The plan would likely lead to €380 billion in additional annual spending for the French government. Or will it be Emmanuel Macron? There is no doubt that he has the charisma of a leader, but he also has some weaknesses that make him prone to attack, including two that could become particularly dangerous. The first is a resume that is hardly consistent with the image of a young hero shaking up an ossified political system. Macron studied at France’s elite École nationale d’administration (ENA), he’s a wealthy former banker who worked at Rothschild before becoming an adviser to François Hollande. He has long been part of the elite on which he has declared war.

Then there’s Macron’s second problem: With the exception of a relatively refreshing and clear commitment to the EU, at least for a Frenchman, he doesn’t have much of a platform. He has said he will announce his plans in late February, once his movement’s hundreds of thousands of volunteers, organized in working groups across the country, assemble policy proposals on diverse issues. If this operation is successful and Macron does indeed produce a coherent political platform, it will represent yet another grassroots miracle for France. But is such a thing even possible? Can a new political course -neither left nor right, but simply correct and good- really be formulated by the masses? There is plenty of hope surrounding Macron, but mockery is never far away. A French comedian could be heard last week on the radio, still an important opinion-shaping media in France, saying that washing machines have more programs than Macron.

Recent polls showed him pulling in 23% of the vote. Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a man who thinks quite highly of himself and his ideas, stands at around 10%. Mélenchon is promising to allow people to retire at the age of 60 and draw full pension benefits and is calling for a monthly minimum wage of 1,300 euros. He wants France and the European Union to recognize Palestine as a state, he is calling for France to withdraw from NATO and is demanding the renegotiation of the EU treaties. Next.

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Someday some fool will actually execute some of these schemes. Why stop the causes if you can play God?

A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap. The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change. “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn. It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030. “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

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Feb 092017
 
 February 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Migrant family in trailer home near Edinburg, Texas Feb 1939


China Approaches Maxi-Devaluation (DR)
German Exports Break Record as Trump Targets Trade Balance (BBG)
The Blood Bath Continues In The US Major Oil Industry (SRSrocco)
Record $1 Trillion in US Junk Debt to Mature in Next 5 Years (WSJ)
Trump EU Envoy Says Greece Is Now More Likely To Leave The Euro (G.)
Le Pen Aide Briefed French Central Banker on Plan to Print Money (BBG)
Global Banks In London To Relocate $1.9 Trillion Of Assets After Brexit (BBG)
Former Fed Staffer Says Central Bank Is Under the Thumb of Academics (WSJ)
Out of Pocket, Italians Fall Out of Love With The Euro (R.)
Italy’s “Bitter” Bank Rescue Tsar Bemoans Strategy Vacuum (R.)
Activists Plan Emergency Actions Across The Country To Protest DAPL (IC)
UK Government Backtracks On Pledge To Take Syrian Child Refugees (Ind.)
My Country Was Destroyed (Tima Kurdi)

 

 

Very much in line with what I’ve been saying. China’s dollar reserves are plunging but its dollar-denominated debt soars. A devaluation looks inevitable, and it has to be big because having to do a second one is the worst of all worlds.

China Approaches Maxi-Devaluation (DR)

The Institute of International Finance reports that capital outflows swelled to a record $725 billion last year. China’s desperate to keep that capital at home to support the economy. And it’s been burning holes in its dollar reserves to support the yuan. Selling its dollar holdings to buy yuan puts footings under the yuan. Makes it more attractive. Halts the capital flight. But the fire can only burn so long before it torches the remaining reserves… A $2.99 trillion war chest or a $3 trillion war chest sounds like plenty. But as Jim Rickards explained recently, it’s not nearly as much as it sounds: “Of the $3 trillion that China has left, only $1 trillion of that is a liquid. One trillion is invested in hedge funds, private equity funds, gold mines, et cetera. That money is not liquid. It cannot be used to support the currency, so remove a trillion.”

That leaves $2 trillion: “Another trillion has to be held on what’s called a precautionary reserve to bail out their banking system. The Chinese banks are completely insolvent. That system is going to need to be bailed out sooner rather than later.” Scratch another trillion: “That leaves only $1 trillion of the original $4 trillion in liquid form. The problem is that capital flight is continuing at a rate of $1 trillion per year, so China will be devoid of usable liquid assets by late 2017.” So now what? Jim has warned that Trump could soon label China a currency manipulator. That has vast implications, as you’ll see. But it’s not just Mr. Rickards. We learn today that a group of analysts at Deutsche Bank is piping an identical tune:

“Sometime in the next few weeks, President Trump or his Treasury secretary may declare China a currency manipulator and propose penalties including tariffs on some or all imports from China unless it ceases this and other alleged unfair trade policies.” And that would invite Chinese retaliation. Tariffs of their own on American goods. And then… China might reach for the nuclear option — a “maxi-devaluation.” Jim again: “We know what Donald Trump has said. China’s going to be labeled a currency manipulator. That’s like firing the first shot in a major currency war. We could see tariffs imposed in both directions, shots in retaliation, a financial war… China will retaliate with what I call their nuclear option, which is a maxi-devaluation of the Chinese yuan.”

If China’s going to be branded a currency manipulator and have its exports slapped with a steep tariff, why not go ahead and devalue? One, it would make Chinese exports more competitive. Two, China could stop depleting its dollar reserves. It would no longer have to burn through dollars to boost the yuan. And three, it could actually halt the capital outflows. How? Many Chinese fear the government will impose stricter capital controls as the situation worsens. So they move their capital out of the country in advance. That brings greater fear of capital controls. And more incentives for capital flight. It’s a vicious cycle. But if China devalues all at once, say, 25% or 30%, it sends this message: The worst is over. You may as well keep your capital in China. There will be no further devaluation.

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German trade surplus is bigger than the entire Greek economy. That is how the European Union ‘functions’.

German Exports Break Record as Trump Targets Trade Balance (BBG)

Germany posted a record trade surplus in 2016, which may further fuel accusations by the Trump administration that Europe’s largest economy is exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro. Exports climbed 1.2% last year to 1.2 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion), the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported on Thursday, while imports rose 0.6% to 954.6 billion euros. That left Germany’s trade surplus at 253 billion euros in 2016. The report feeds into a debate kicked off late last month by Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, who told the Financial Times that Germany is gaining an unfair advantage over the U.S. and other nations with a weak currency.

ECB President Mario Draghi, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble all rejected the claim that came on the back of President Donald Trump’s promises of renegotiating or tearing up free-trade treaties. “The fact that the German economy is exporting much more than it imports is a source of concern and no reason to be proud” because weak imports are the result of a lack of investment, Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute in Berlin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The record surplus will continue to fuel conflict with the U.S. and within the EU.” Exports fell 3.3% in December from the previous month, the report said, while imports were unchanged. The country’s current-account surplus reached 266 billion euros in 2016.

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Zombies on life support.

The Blood Bath Continues In The US Major Oil Industry (SRSrocco)

The carnage continues in the U.S. major oil industry as they sink further and further in the RED. The top three U.S. oil companies, whose profits were once the envy of the energy sector, are now forced to borrow money to pay dividends or capital expenditures. The financial situation at ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips has become so dreadful, their total long-term debt surged 25% in just the past year. [..] While the Federal Government could step in and bail out BIG OIL with printed money, they cannot print barrels of oil. Watch closely as the Thermodynamic Oil Collapse will start to pick up speed over the next five years. According to the most recently released financial reports, the top three U.S. oil companies combined net income was the worst ever. The results can be seen in the chart below:

In 2011, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Conocophillips enjoyed a combined $80.4 billion in net income profits. ExxonMobil recorded the highest net income of the group by posting a $41.1 billion gain, followed by Chevron at $26.9 billion, while ConocoPhillips came in third at $12.4 billion. However, the rapidly falling oil price, since the latter part of 2014, totally gutted the profits at these top oil producers. In just five short years, ExxonMobil’s net income declined to $7.8 billion, Chevron reported its first $460 million loss while ConocoPhillips shaved another $3.6 billion off its bottom line in 2016. Thus, the combined net income of these three oil companies in 2016 totaled $3.7 billion versus $80.4 billion in 2011. Even though these three oil companies posted a combined net income profit of $3.7 billion last year, their financial situation is much worse when we dig a little deeper.

We must remember, net income does not include capital expenditures or dividend payouts. If we look at these oil companies Free Cash Flow, they have been losing money for the past two years. Their combined free cash flow fell from a healthy $46.3 billion in 2011 to a negative $8.7 billion in 2015 and a negative $7.3 billion in 2016. Now, their free cash flow would have been much worse in 2016 if theses companies didn’t reduce their CAPEX spending by nearly a whopping $20 billion.

[..] the free cash flow minus dividend payouts provides us evidence that these oil companies have been seriously in the RED since 2013, not just the past two years displayed in the Free Cash Flow chart. As we can see, the group’s free cash flow minus dividends was a negative $32.8 billion in 2015 and a negative $29 billion last year. Of course, these three companies may have sold some financial investments or assets to reduce these negative values, but a company can’t stay in business for long by selling assets that it would need to use to produce oil in the future. So, what has falling free cash flow and dividends done to ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips long-term debt? You guessed it… it skyrocketed:

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Does this sound like a good thing? : “..the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses..”

Record $1 Trillion in US Junk Debt to Mature in Next 5 Years (WSJ)

More than $1 trillion of junk-rated corporate debt is slated to mature over the next five years, creating a stiff challenge for heavily-indebted businesses if the market for riskier debt were to deteriorate, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. The $1.063 trillion in maturing debt is the highest ever recorded by the ratings firm over a five-year period and also includes the highest single-year volume in 2021, when $402 billion of junk-rated corporate debt is scheduled to come due. Overall, a little more than $2 trillion of corporate debt is scheduled to mature by 2021 when factoring in $944 billion of investment-grade bonds. But it is the volume of junk-rated debt that could be of greater significance, given that investment-grade companies rarely have trouble extending debt maturities even in more difficult conditions.

As it stands, the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses, making it easy for most to access funds at their choosing. The average junk-bond yield was 5.72% Tuesday, the lowest level since September 2014. Buoyed by rising interest rates, junk-rated bank loans, which feature floating-rate coupons, have performed especially well of late, enabling U.S. companies to refinance $100 billion of loans in January, the largest monthly total in at least a decade, according to data from S&P Global Still, conditions can change quickly in the leveraged finance markets. A year ago, amid concerns that the U.S. was heading toward another recession, the average junk bond yield was nearly 10%, raising the risk that many borrowers would be unable to refinance bonds with looming maturities, hastening their descent into bankruptcy.

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“..you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.”

Trump EU Envoy Says Greece Is Now More Likely To Leave The Euro (G.)

Donald Trump’s administration has put itself on a fresh collision course with the European Union after the president’s candidate to be ambassador in Brussels said Greece should leave the euro and predicted the single currency would not survive more than 18 months in its present form. Days after being accused of “outrageous malevolence” towards the EU for publicly declaring that it “needs a little taming”, Ted Malloch courted fresh controversy by saying Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago when it would have been “easier and simpler”. Malloch made his comments as financial markets began to take fright at the possibility of a fresh Greek debt crisis later this year. Shares fell and interest rates on Greek debt rose after it emerged that the EU was at loggerheads with the IMF over whether to give the country more generous debt relief.

“Whether the eurozone survives I think is very much a question that is on the agenda,” he told Greek Skai TV’s late-night chat show Istories. “We have had the exit of the UK, there are elections in other European countries, so I think it is something that will be determined over the course of the next year, year and a half. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro,” Malloch said. The stridently Brexit-supporting businessman, who has yet to be confirmed as the US president’s EU ambassador and is seen by Brussels as a provocative nominee for the post, said he wholeheartedly agreed with Trump’s tweet from 2012 saying Greece should return to the drachma, its former currency.

“I personally think [Trump] was right. I would also say that this probably should have been instigated four years ago, and probably it would have been easier or simpler to do,” Malloch said in the interview with the show’s chief anchor, Alexis Papahelas. Seven years of arduous austerity – the price of the international bailout – had been so bad for the country that it was questionable whether what came next could possibly be worse, Malloch said. In the third bailout in as many years, Greece has lost more than 25% of its GDP due to austerity-fuelled recession, the biggest slump of any advanced western economy in modern times. Without further emergency funding from its €86bn rescue programme, Athens could face a default in July when debt repayments of about €7bn to the European Central Bank mature.

[..] The renewed focus came as the IMF revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over the IMF’s participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy. The IMF believes that the budgetary demands being imposed on Greece by Europe are unreasonable and that the country’s debts will hit 275% of national income by 2060 without fresh assistance. Malloch said: “I have travelled to Greece, met lots of Greek people, I have academic friends in Greece and they say that these austerity plans are really deeply hurting the Greek people, and that the situation is simply unsustainable. So you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.” The biggest unknown was not a euro exit, but the chaos it would likely engender as Greece moved to a new currency, he said.

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French revolution. Ironic that the central bank governor makes Le Pen’s point while trying to ‘push back’: “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” That’s exactly Le Pen’s point, it’s just that she doesn’t see the euro as ‘our currency’. For her, that means the franc.

Le Pen Aide Briefed French Central Banker on Plan to Print Money (BBG)

Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot met with Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau in September and set out her party’s plans to take control of the central bank and use it to finance government spending. The meeting took place on the sidelines of Villeroy de Galhau’s public hearing in Brussels at the economic and monetary committee of the European Parliament, Monot, who also sits on the panel, said in a Feb. 4 interview. The central bank has become one of Le Pen’s key targets as she fleshes out her plans for taking control of the French economy and leaving the euro. She intends to revoke the Bank of France’s independence and use it to finance French welfare payments and service the government’s debts after abandoning the European monetary union.

While the National Front leader is ahead in polling for the first ballot on April 23, she’s still an outsider to become the next president because of the two-round system which requires broad-based support to win the run-off two weeks later. Villeroy de Galhau, who also sits on the governing council of the ECB, pushed back against her proposals in an interview on BFM television Thursday, though he didn’t mention her specifically. “It’s important that we have institutions and a currency that straddle daily turbulence,” the governor said. “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” The spread between French 10-year bonds and similarly dated German debt was the widest in more than four years earlier this week, as political uncertainty deterred investors. Villeroy de Galhau described the move as “temporary tension.”

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The British economy will be healthier when its dependence on banking goes down. Not richer, but healthier. For instance, home prices can finally fall, a much needed development. There’s nothing good about a one-trick pony.

Global Banks In London To Relocate $1.9 Trillion Of Assets After Brexit (BBG)

Global banks in London may have to relocate 1.8 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) of assets to the continent after Britain withdraws from the European Union, putting as many as 30,000 U.K. jobs at risk, according to Brussels-based research group Bruegel. The assets potentially on the move represent 17% of the U.K. banking system, Bruegel said in a report published Wednesday. Based on discussions with market participants, the researchers estimate that 35% of wholesale banking activity in London can be attributed to dealings with customers inside the EU. Financial firms will have to move that business to countries inside the trading bloc after the U.K. leaves the EU in 2019, likely spelling the end of passporting, where firms seamlessly service the rest of the single market from their London hubs.

Banks, and their clients, are most concerned about a “cliff edge” Brexit, whereby all access is cut off after two years. To safeguard against that loss of access, banks are already in discussions with European regulators about setting up new bases inside the EU and have said they will start the process of moving people within weeks of the government triggering Brexit talks, expected in March. “At a minimum, it is expected that the new EU27-based entities will need to have autonomous boards, full senior management teams, senior account managers and traders, even though much of the back-office might stay in London or elsewhere in the world,” researchers led by Andre Sapir said in the report.

London-based firms will likely have to move about 10,000 employees into these new EU entities, Breugel estimates. An additional 18,000 to 20,000 people in associated professions, such as lawyers, consultants and accountants, may also have to relocate. Bruegel’s estimates are at the conservative end of the spectrum. TheCityUK industry lobby group forecasts as many as 35,000 banking jobs could be relocated, rising to 70,000 when including associated financial services. London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet has said Brexit would likely see 232,000 jobs leaving the U.K.

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Both Danielle DiMartino Booth and Ann Pettifor have new books coming out. We need girl power, badly.

Former Fed Staffer Says Central Bank Is Under the Thumb of Academics (WSJ)

The Federal Reserve is dominated by academics who don’t know how finance and the economy really work, according to a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas staffer in her new book. Danielle DiMartino Booth, an adviser to Richard Fisher when he was Dallas Fed president, says the economists who control most of the central bank’s seats of power filter their decision-making through theoretical models. That led the institution to miss the forces that created the financial crisis, and then adopt the wrong policies to put the economy back on track, she says. Ms. Booth makes her case in a book called “Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America,” set to be published Tuesday. Her book comes as other Fed critics are pushing for more diversity at the central bank.

They often focus on the dearth of women and minorities among the top officials, but some have said a broader range of educational and professional backgrounds also would widen the central bank’s perspective. Of the 17 Fed governors and regional bank presidents, 16 are white, 13 are men, and 10 have a Ph.D. in economics. Ms. Booth’s arguments echo those of her former boss, who led the Dallas Fed from 2005 to 2015, and frequently voted against the central bank’s aggressive stimulus efforts during and after the financial crisis. “If you rely entirely on theory, you are not going to conduct the right policy, because policies have consequences” that in many cases people with real-world experience are particularly well-suited to spot, Mr. Fisher said in an interview late last year.

Mr. Fisher hired Ms. Booth, a former Wall Street trader turned financial journalist, to work at the Dallas Fed in 2006 on the strength of columns she had written warning about the state of the housing market and financial markets. She eventually rose to be his appointed eyes and ears on financial markets. In her book, Ms. Booth describes a tribe of slow-moving Fed economists who dismiss those without high-level academic credentials. She counts Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and former Fed leader Ben Bernanke among them. The Fed’s “modus operandi” is defined by “hubris and myopia,” Ms. Booth writes in an advance copy of the book. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink.’”

“Global systemic risk has been exponentially amplified by the Fed’s actions,” Ms. Booth writes, referring to the central bank’s policies holding interest rates very low since late 2008. “Who will pay when this credit bubble bursts? The poor and middle class, not the elites.” Fed officials have defended their crisis-era stimulus policies, saying they lowered unemployment and helped the housing market recover. Opponents feared near-zero interest rates would cause excessive inflation and dangerous market bubbles, neither of which has happened. Ms. Booth also is among the Fed critics who see a worrisome revolving door between the central bank and the financial firms it regulates. She points to New York Fed President William Dudley, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, as an illustration of a “codependent” relationship between the central bank and markets. He and three other regional Fed bank presidents have worked for or had associations with Goldman Sachs. With this in mind, she writes, “Goldman has positioned players on the Fed’s chessboard.”

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“Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion.” But now: “only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”..”

Out of Pocket, Italians Fall Out of Love With The Euro (R.)

When the Italian central bank’s deputy governor joined a radio phone-in show last week, many callers asked why Italy didn’t ditch the euro and return to its old lira currency. A few years ago such a scenario, that Salvatore Rossi said would lead to “catastrophe and disaster”, would not have been up for public discussion. Now, with the possibility of an election by June, politicians of all stripes are tapping into growing hostility towards the euro. Many Italians hold the single currency responsible for economic decline since its launch in 1999. “We lived much better before the euro,” says Luca Fioravanti, a 32-year-old real estate surveyor from Rome. “Prices have gone up but our salaries have stayed the same, we need to get out and go back to our own sovereign currency.”

The central bank is concerned about the rise in anti-euro sentiment, and a Bank of Italy source told Reuters Rossi’s appearance is part of a plan to reach out to ordinary Italians. Few Italians want to leave the European Union, as Britain chose to do in its referendum last year. Italy was a founding EU member in 1957 and Italians think it has helped maintain peace and stability in Europe. And the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is pro-euro and wants more European integration though it complains that the fiscal rules governing the euro are too rigid. But the three other largest parties are hostile, in various degrees, to Italy’s membership of the single currency in its current form. The PD is due to govern until early 2018, unless elections are called sooner. The PD’s prospects of victory have waned since its leader Matteo Renzi resigned as premier in December after losing a referendum on constitutional reform, and polls suggest that under the current electoral system no party or coalition is likely to win a majority.

Italians used to be among the euro’s biggest supporters but a Eurobarometer survey published in December by the European Commission showed only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”, while 47% called it “a bad thing.” In the Eurobarometer published in April 2002, a few months after the introduction of euro notes and coins, Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion. Italy is the only country in the euro zone where per capita output has actually fallen since it joined the euro, according to Eurostat data. Its economy is still 7% smaller than it was before the 2008 financial crisis, and youth unemployment stands at 40%.

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They literally don’t know what they’re doing: “badly devised and even more badly executed”

Italy’s “Bitter” Bank Rescue Tsar Bemoans Strategy Vacuum (R.)

The head of Italy’s bank-bailout fund said on Tuesday the country lacked a clear strategy for shifting 356 billion euros ($381 billion) in problem loans. In an extraordinary outburst from a man picked by Rome to help tackle the problem, Alessandro Penati, whose boutique asset management firm was chosen to raise private funds for struggling banks, said he felt “bitter and disillusioned”. His comments exposed tensions within the banking sector over Italy’s rescue efforts. “There is no clear vision of the problem and no strategy,” Penati said at a financial conference in Milan, suggesting that he was virtually working alone on rescues that had revealed “horror stories” within some banks. “There is simply a reaction to a problem and this has been the main difficulty for me over these past few months – I had nobody to relate to.”

The Atlante fund, created 10 months ago following pressure from the government, gathered 4.25 billion euros from around 70 mostly private investors, including Italy’s healthier lenders, to buy up bad loans and invest in weaker banks. But the fund’s investors are already making big writedowns on the value of their stakes in Atlante, which promised them annual returns of 6%. The fund faces ever greater demands for capital and no investors willing to stump up more money. In December, Penati’s plan to buy into Italy’s biggest-ever sale of bad debts – 28 billion euros worth of loans written by struggling bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) — fell apart when the bank failed to find any other major investors.

Penati, a former economist who set up Milan-based Quaestio Capital Management, said the sale had collapsed because it had been tied to a capital raising that had been “badly devised and even more badly executed”. Monte dei Paschi (MPS) is now to be rescued by the state. “It would no longer make sense for Atlante to play a role now. The point is that state intervention is considered a way to solve all problems, but it isn’t … MPS’s bad loan problem remains and how they are going to solve it – I don’t know.”

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Drilling has reportedly restarted. How bad can this get?

Activists Plan Emergency Actions Across The Country To Protest DAPL (IC)

On Tuesday the Army Corps of Engineers gave notice to Congress that within 24 hours it would grant an easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies have attempted to halt out of concern for water contamination, dangers to the climate, and damage to sites of religious significance to the tribe. The federal government dismissed those concerns in its filing. “I have determined that there is no cause for completing any additional environmental analysis,” Douglas Lamont, the acting assistant secretary of the Army, wrote in a memorandum. “The COE has full responsibility to take the reasonable steps necessary to execute the requested easement.”

Two weeks earlier, after only four days in office, Trump signed two memoranda instructing federal officials to ram forward approvals for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which had been halted by the Obama administration after people mobilized across the U.S. to stop them. On Dakota Access, the Army Corps did just what the president demanded, waiving the standard 14-day waiting period before such a permit becomes official. The tribe has been left with just one day to rally a legal response. Lawyers for the tribe say they will argue in court that an environmental impact statement, mandated by the Army Corps under Obama, was wrongfully terminated. They will likely request a restraining order while the legal battle ensues. Pipeline company lawyers have said that it would take at minimum 83 days for oil to flow from the date that an easement is granted.

Although the tribal government once supported the string of anti-pipeline camps that began popping up last spring, leaders have since insisted that pipeline opponents go home and stay away from the reservation. “Please respect our people and do not come to Standing Rock and instead exercise your First Amendment rights and take this fight to your respective state capitols, to your members of Congress, and to Washington, D.C.,” tribal chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. Still, the easement announcement is already activating pipeline opponents to return. A “couple thousand people” are headed back to the camps, including contingents of veterans, said former congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the tribe, in a video posted to Facebook.

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Boy, what a moral void.

UK Government Backtracks On Pledge To Take Syrian Child Refugees (Ind.)

Hours before the final vote on the triggering of Article 50 the government quietly announced it would allow just 350 unaccompanied Syrian children to come to the UK, thousands short of the figure suggested by government sources last year. The statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said local authorities indicated “have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year” and said the country should be “proud” of its contribution to finding homes for refugees. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the decision “a betrayal of British values”. “Last May, MPs from all parties condemned the Government’s inaction on child refugees in Europe, and voted overwhelmingly to offer help to the thousands of unaccompanied kids who were stranded without their families backed by huge public support,” Mr Farron said.

“Instead, the Government has done the bare minimum, helping only a tiny number of youngsters and appearing to end the programme while thousands still suffer. At the end of December last year the Government had failed to bring a single child refugee to the UK under the Dubs scheme from Greece or Italy where many of these children are trapped.” Ministers introduced the programme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone children stranded on the continent. Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Lord Dubs, whose amendment to the Immigration Act requires the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.

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“This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change.”

My Country Was Destroyed (Tima Kurdi)

I am the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who tragically drowned September 2, 2015. The devastating image of my 2-year old nephew’s lifeless body, lying face-down on the beach in Turkey, was all over the news across the world. Two weeks ago, I got home from work and my husband showed me a video of Tulsi Gabbard talking about her visit to my home country of Syria. The things she was saying about the United States policy of regime change and how the West and the Gulf countries are funding the rebel groups who wind up with the terrorists are true. I was shocked because it’s something no other U.S. politician has the courage to say. Regime change policy has destroyed my country and forced my people to flee. Tulsi’s message was exactly what I have been trying to say for years, but no one wants to listen.

I live in Canada now, but I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Growing up, our country was peaceful, beautiful and safe. Our neighbors were Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shia; all kinds of religion and color. We all lived together and respected each other. Syria is a secular country. In 2011, the war started in Syria. Most of my family was still in Damascus. I was always in close contact with them and talked to them on the phone on a daily basis. For a year, I heard many tragic stories of people, friends, and neighbors who I grew up with having died in this war. Ultimately, my family had to flee to Turkey. I did what everyone would do for their own family to help, I sent them money and I listened to their struggles to survive as refugees in Turkey.

In 2014, I went to Turkey to visit my family and tried to help them. What I saw and experienced is not what we all saw in the news or we heard in the radio. It was worse than I could ever have imagined. I saw people in the streets without homes, without hope. Children were hungry, begging for a piece of bread. I heard many heartbreaking stories from other refugees who were suffering so much and many who had lost loved ones in the war. After I returned to Canada, I decided I wanted to bring my family here as refugees, but I couldn’t get them approved to come in. Eventually, my brother Abdullah and his wife Rehana, like thousands of Syrians, decided they had to take the risk and trust a smuggler they thought would bring them to freedom, safety, and hope. In September 2, 2015, I heard the tragic news that my sister-in-law Rehana and her two sons drowned crossing from Turkey to Greece.

The image of my two year old nephew Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach was all over the media across the world. It was the wake up call to the world. Enough suffering. Enough killing. And most importantly, it was my wake up call. [..] Like me, many Syrians are encouraged that Tulsi met with President Bashar Assad in Syria. Tulsi recognizes that we need to talk to him because a political solution is the only way to restore peace in Syria. If the West keeps funding the rebels, we will see more people flee, more bloodshed, and more suffering. My people have suffered for at least six years. This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change. We have seen it before in Iraq, in Libya, and look what happened to them.

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Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Paris 1952


Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban Nationwide (ZH)
Airlines Told To Allow Banned Travelers Into US After Judge’s Order (G.)
Trump’s Travel Ban Has Revoked 60,000 Visas For Now (R.)
If Americans Truly Cared About Muslims, They Would Stop Killing Them (BAR)
Iran To Name US Individuals Involved In ‘Helping And Founding’ Terrorists (ZH)
EU Flirts With Hypocrisy In Criticising Trump’s Refugee Ban (EUO)
America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)
Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)
Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)
UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)
Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)
Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)
Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

 

 

“It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban Nationwide (ZH)

Following a brief moment of ‘success’ for the Trump administration as a Boston judge ruled Trump’s immigration policy was not a Muslim ban, a Bush-appointed federal judge in Seattle, who said the states of Washington and Minnesota can sue claiming their residents were harmed by the ban, granted a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s immigration ban. District Judge James Robart ruled the executive order would be stopped nationwide effective immediately: his ruling was the most comprehensive legal rebuke of Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order prohibiting immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria and four other nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Judges in Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles and Alexandria, Virginia, had previouslyissued orders that are less sweeping.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was delighted with the decision: “The Constitution prevailed today,” Ferguson said in a statement after the ruling. “It is not the loudest voice that prevails on the Constitution,” Ferguson continued speaking outside the courthouse. “We are a nation of laws, not even the president can violate the Constitution. It’s our president’s duty to honor this ruling and I’ll make sure he does,” Ferguson added hopefully. Good luck with that. In his ruling, Robart said that “the state has met its burden in demonstrating immediate and irreparable injury” while Fergsuon added that “Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately, effective now, puts a halt to President Trump’s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order. It puts a stop to it immediately, nationwide.” The court order, effective immediately, will remain in place until the judge considers a motion – probably within a month – to permanently invalidate the president’s order, Ferguson said.

Ferguson, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit three days after Trump signed the executive order. The suit argued that the travel ban targets Muslims and violates constitutional rights of immigrants and their families. In his request for the order, according to Bloomberg, Ferguson had said the effects on the state included economic consequences for employers based there, including Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com. Expedia, based in Bellevue, Washington, had about 1,000 customers with flight reservations in or out of the U.S. from the seven countries, he said. Minnesota, like Washington, cited the effect of the ban on students at its colleges and universities, as well as health care centers including the Mayo Clinic. The state’s 5.4 million residents included 30,000 immigrants from the affected countries, it said in the lawsuit.

According to The Hill, in a phone interview with CNN Friday evening, Ferguson said he “expected win, lose or draw” that the case would move “fairly quickly through, up to the Ninth Circuit” Court of Appeals – “just because of the magnitude of the executive order.” And hinting that the Supreme Court showdown we suggested previously now appears inevitable, Ferguson added that he is “prepared for this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court whichever way the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals goes,” he said, anticipating a challenge to Robart’s ruling. “It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

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Trump’s legal team senses difficulties ahead: “..The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay..”

Airlines Told To Allow Banned Travelers Into US After Judge’s Order (G.)

Customs officials have reportedly told US airlines that they can board passengers who had been barred from entering the country after a federal judge in Seattle ordered a temporary halt on Donald Trump’s travel ban for refugees and people from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. District judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order on Friday after hearing arguments from Washington state and Minnesota that the president’s order had unlawfully discriminated against Muslims and caused unreasonable harm. It was not immediately clear whether authorities would comply with the broad order, especially after officials reacted in confusion a week earlier, detaining valid visa holders and arguing with lawyers.

Late on Friday, the White House released a statement saying that it would seek an emergency stay against Robart’s ruling; an earlier request for a stay by a justice department attorney had been denied by the judge. “At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate. The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. In a second “updated” statement, the White House removed the word “outrageous”. The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay, at least on Friday night, and reports said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had informed US airlines that they should board travelers who had been barred by an executive order last week.

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Looks like the worst of the chaos may be over. Trump can’t afford too many court battles, certainly if he loses them. He’s being told to confer with the lawyers first now.

Trump’s Travel Ban Has Revoked 60,000 Visas For Now (R.)

About 60,000 visas were revoked under U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the State Department said on Friday, in one of several government communications clarifying how the order is being rolled out. The revocation means the government voided travel visas for people trying to enter the United States but the visas could be restored later without a new application, said William Cocks, a spokesman for consular affairs at the State Department. “We will communicate updates to affected travelers following the 90-day review,” he said. Earlier news reports, citing a government attorney at a federal court hearing, put the figure at more than 100,000 visas.

The government issued over 11 million immigrant and non-immigrant visas in fiscal year 2015, the State Department said. The immigration executive order signed by Trump a week ago temporarily halted the U.S. refugee program and imposed a 90-day suspension on people traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump said the measures would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Under President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, the United States added those seven countries as “countries of concern” under its visa waiver program, effectively toughening U.S. visa procedures for individuals who visited those places during the past five years.

Trump’s executive order was at least in part informed by those restrictions. The new president, who took office on Jan. 20, went further by temporarily barring passport holders from those seven countries. The State Department first issued the guidance about revoking the visas on Jan. 27, the day Trump signed his executive order, according to a memo filed in a court case in Massachusetts. But confusion about the roll out of the order sparked protests at airports across the country where people had been detained and led to a wave of lawsuits filed by individuals, states and civil rights groups.

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“.. so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.”

If Americans Truly Cared About Muslims, They Would Stop Killing Them (BAR)

In the most dramatic expression of insider opposition to a sitting administration’s policies in generations, over 1,000 U.S. State Department employees signed on to a memo protesting President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries setting foot on U.S. soil. Another recent high point in dissent among the State Department’s 18,000 worldwide employees occurred in June of last year, when 51 diplomats called for U.S. air strikes against the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad. Neither outburst of dissent was directed against the U.S. wars and economic sanctions that have killed and displaced millions of people in the affected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Rather, the diplomatic “rebellion” of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her “Big Tent” full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria, while the memo currently making the rounds of State Department employees claims to uphold “core American and constitutional values,” preserve “good will towards Americans” and prevent “potential damage to the U.S. economy from the loss of revenue from foreign travelers and students.” In neither memo is there a word of support for world peace, nor a hint of respect for the national sovereignty of other peoples – which is probably appropriate, since these are not, and never have been, “core American and constitutional values.” “The diplomatic ‘rebellion’ of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her ‘Big Tent’ full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria.”

Ironically, the State Department “dissent channel” was established during one of those rare moments in U.S. history when “peace” was popular: 1971, when a defeated U.S. war machine was very reluctantly winding down support for its puppet regime in South Vietnam. Back then, lots of Americans, including denizens of the U.S. government, wanted to take credit for the “peace” that was on the verge of being won by the Vietnamese, at a cost of at least four million Southeast Asian dead. But, those days are long gone. Since 2001, war has been normalized in the U.S. – especially war against Muslims, which now ranks at the top of actual “core American values.” Indeed, so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.

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Could be interesting.

Iran To Name US Individuals Involved In ‘Helping And Founding’ Terrorists (ZH)

Following the escalation on Friday morning, in which the US Treasury Department published a list of 13 Iranian individuals and 12 Iranian entities facing new restrictions following Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, Tehran promptly denounced the latest round of sanctions imposed by the US and said it would retaliate – something it has previously said it would do – however added a new twist when Tehran announced it would impose legal restrictions on American individuals and entities helping “regional terrorist groups”, a Foreign Ministry statement read as quoted by TV. For obvious reasons, this naming and shaming of US-based terrorists promises to be far more interesting than if Iran were to actually ban, say, the US national chess team. Such an action will quickly coalesce the world’s attention on a handful of US entities, putting under a microscope all of their offshore activities.

“The new sanctions … are not compatible with America’s commitments and resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council that endorsed the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six powers,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry statement said late on Friday.Tehran said it will react accordingly to any U.S. measure aimed at the Iranian nation’s interests. “In retaliation for the U.S. sanctions, Iran will impose legal restrictions on some American individuals and entities that were involved in helping and founding regional terrorist groups,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. It said names of the entities and individuals would be announced later, although it was not clear when exactly that is. As reported earlier, on Friday, the US Treasury Department blacklisted 13 individuals and a dozen businesses as part of the sanctions. The majority of the individuals in question are from Iran, as well as three Chinese nationals and two Arabs.

“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said. He added that in countering what he called “Iranian malign activity,” Washington will not hesitate to put more pressure and restrictions “to address this behavior.” Countering rising US rhetoric, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a twitter post that “Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people.” “We’ll never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense,” he stressed. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan noted that Tehran “will not allow foreigners to interfere” in the country’s defense issues and insisted “the test did not violate the nuclear deal or (UN) Resolution 2231.”

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Understatement of the year.

EU Flirts With Hypocrisy In Criticising Trump’s Refugee Ban (EUO)

The EU rightly spoke out against Donald Trump’s entry ban on asylum seekers from Syria. But its own track record leaves much to be desired. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (Jan 30) that the EU would continue to host refugees. “It’s our identity: we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” she said in a tweet. Her comments appeared the same day a young man from Pakistan suffocated to death in a tent at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He was trying to keep warm. It was the third death at the camp in a week. The misery of people is well documented in so-called hotspots set up by the EU in both Italy and in Greece. The conditions are so bad that many, including Syrian refugees, have volunteered to return to Turkey from the Greek islands.

The EU blames the Greek government. The Greek government blames EU states for not relocating asylum seekers and for sealing off the Western Balkan route. When Hungary erected a wall on its border with Serbia, the European Commission said it was a national issue. When a Syrian refugee protested against the barrier, Hungarian authorities gave him a 10-year prison sentence. The EU talks endlessly about solidarity. But in reality, solidarity does not exist except among the nameless volunteers on the ground. And some of those are risking jail for their efforts. One Danish woman went on trial for people-smuggling after giving a family of refugees a ride to Copenhagen. A similar case is unfolding in Sweden. Only around 10,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU states.

The two-year scheme, which ends in September, had called for 160,000. Many more have been kicked out. Almost 11,000 people were sent home last year, a four-fold increase compared with 2015 when 3,565 migrants were returned in 66 operations. Both EU commission and member states now appear to oppose issuing humanitarian visas for people in need. Germany may stand out as an exception after welcoming some 1 million in 2015. But the fact that the world’s richest nations are unwilling to properly care for the thousands stranded in Greece and on its islands is a disgrace. The task has largely been delegated to volunteers, NGOs and international aid organisations. With populist parties gaining ground in the Netherlands, France and Germany, the anti-immigrant discourse has also gone mainstream.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte last week told Muslims to “act normal, or go away”. France’s conservative presidential contender Francois Fillon has promised to erect national borders and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere wants zones outside Europe to screen applicants before arrival. De Maiziere’s proposal is gaining traction. The plan is to offshore the problem to war-torn Libya. The job is already under way in a handful of other African states and Afghanistan. This is the EU’s invisible wall.

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Good to see Jim is still reading the Automatic Earth.

America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)

I guess you’ve noticed by now that the center didn’t hold. Instead of a secure platform for political premises like tradition, precedent, rationality, and cultural norms, you see a fiery maw of sheer emotion between the camps of the so-called Left and the so-called Right. I say so-called because the campus Left and the Trump Right have escaped the categorical corrals they formerly occupied. And they may have left their customary official parties stranded and dying too. It may be fatuous to say whether that is a good or bad thing; it just is, for the moment. They are two halves of a polity so broken and so far apart that it is also hard to see how they might ever come back together into a consensus about how a society might operate successfully.

Not having a consensus — some substantial overlap between circles of perspective — it’s not surprising that America can’t construct a coherent view of what is happening, or make a plan for what to do about it. Mainly what’s happening is the running down of fossil fuel based techno-industrial economies, and the main symptom is falling standards of living, with fading prospects for future happiness and security. As I’ve said before, our economic picture is basically untenable due to the falling energy-return-on-investment of the crucial oil supply. At the high point of 1920s oil production the ratio was around 100-1. The shale oil “miracle” is good for about 5-1. The aggregate of all oil these days is under 30-1. Below that number, you’ve got to shed some activities in our complex economy (or they just get too expensive to support) — things like high-paying labor jobs, medical care, tourism, college, commuting, heating 2500 square foot homes…).

Oddly the way it’s actually working out is that America is simply shedding its whole middle class and all its accustomed habits and luxuries. At least that’s how it adds up in effect. Naturally, that produces a lot of bad feeling. President Trump is unlikely to be able to fix that essential problem, unless he can pilot the whole political-economy into a glide-path leading toward neo-medievalism — what I call the World Made By Hand. Trump’s call for restoring the factory economy of 1962 is a low-percentage prospect. Instead, he’ll be saddled with the collateral damage caused by the dishonest effort of his recent predecessors to borrow from the future to pay for the way we live now — that is, racking up debt.

This mighty debt-load, never before seen in history, and the accounting fraud that enables it, has helped produce all kinds of distortions, perversities, and fragilities in our money system (finance and banking) which can easily slip into collapse if a crucial prop fails here or there, and that is exactly what I think will happen under Trump. It will not be his fault, but he’ll get blamed for it. And when it happens, he won’t be able to give his attention to anything but that.

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People don’t recognize it yet, but this is how you spell success.

Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)

Home sales in Vancouver plummeted 39.5% in January from a year ago and fell 11% from December, five months after the government slapped a tax on foreign buyers. January marked the sixth consecutive month of falling sales in Canada’s hottest real estate market, where an influx of mainly Chinese offshore buyers has helped push the price of a typical home to more than 12 times the median resident’s household income. Vancouver topped a list of cities around the world that UBS has identified as most at risk of a housing bubble. Sydney placed fourth after London and Stockholm. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said the monthly sales – 1523 homes sold in January – marked a 10.3pc drop on the 10-year average for the month.

‘It’s a lukewarm start to the year compared to 2016,” said Dan Morrison, the board’s president. “While we saw near record-breaking sales at this time last year, home buyers and sellers are more reluctant to engage so far in 2017.” The government of British Columbia – Vancouver is the province’s biggest city – acted last year to cool the market, slapping a new 15% tax on offshore buyers in August. The average benchmark price for detached properties in the Pacific port has fallen 17.8% to $C1,474,800 from a record high of $C1.83 million in January 2016. The average price has fallen 6.6% in the past six months and edged 0.6% lower from December. The composite benchmark price for all residential properties – detached, units and townhomes – has fallen 3.7% since June.

The BC Ministry of Finance earlier reported that the %age of sales in Vancouver to foreign residents had plummetted since the new foreign buyers’ tax went into effect on August 2. In September, foreign purchasers were involved in 1.3% of all transactions in the city of 1.5 million people. “From June 10 to August 1, the period before the additional tax took effect, foreign purchasers were involved in 13.2% of residential property transfers in Metro Vancouver,” a ministry statement said.

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Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have become far too big for anyone’s good. Time to cut them down to size.

Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)

An analysis by Slice Intelligence released this week found that 43% of all online retail sales in the US went through Amazon in 2016, as the e-commerce giant’s market share continues to grow. According to the study, which analyzed more than 4 million online purchases, Amazon accounted for the majority (53%) of the growth in US e-commerce sales for the year. Simply put, Amazon’s already dominant share of the US e-commerce market is only increasing. It reportedly captured 33% of all US online purchases in 2015, according to Internet Retailer, up from 25% in 2012. If those estimates are correct, then the company increased its share of the US e-commerce market by 10% in 2016, an incredible accomplishment given that it already controlled such a sizeable chunk of the space.

Slice said that Amazon’s growth in 2016 was driven by sales in the electronics, home, and apparel categories. Electronics contributed to an estimated 18% of the company’s sales growth in 2016, as the number of US households that own an Amazon Echo device more than doubled from 2015. The next biggest contributors were the home and kitchen category (15%), apparel and accessories (12%), food (11%), and health and beauty (10%), illustrating that Amazon is seeing significant growth in consumer packaged goods (CPGs). The company’s recent expansion of its Dash Buttons to its online site and mobile app should help fuel further growth in these categories. Amazon’s success has also been fueled by high customer loyalty and brand awareness.

The Amazon Prime subscription service continues to grow: One study released last September by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found that 20% of all US consumers are Prime members. Meanwhile, an Internet Retailer survey of 500 US consumers last December found that more than half of them (52%) go directly to Amazon when they shop online. Although the company faces a wide range of competition in the e-commerce market from both legacy retailers and new entrants, none of them can match Amazon’s customer loyalty and brand awareness when it comes to online shopping. Other online retailers will have to build up their brand awareness to compete with Amazon, but they’ll also likely need to sell through Amazon’s marketplace to stay relevant as its market share keeps growing.

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Slo-mo suffocation. Much better to swallow the bitterness and start afresh.

UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)

UniCredit has heavily written down the value of its €700 million ($756 million) investment in Italy’s bank rescue fund and other investors are likely to follow suit, sources told Reuters, complicating efforts to stabilize the nation’s banking sector. Italy biggest bank has cut the value of its investment in the Atlante fund by significantly more than a third on its books, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The move is part of its plan to clean up its balance sheet before it taps the market for 13 billion euros in a share issue next week. By writing down the stake, UniCredit is indicating that it does not believe it will make money on the investment it made into the state-managed fund created to recapitalize a number of failing Italian banks and help the industry offload bad loans.

A source at another bank estimated UniCredit’s writedown could be closer to 70%. Intesa Sanpaolo, which together with UniCredit is Atlante’s biggest investor, on Friday said it had written down the value of its stake in the fund by 33%. A group of about half a dozen other banks that have invested in Atlante have held a series of meetings in recent days to discuss the scale of their own possible writedowns, said another source with direct knowledge of the talks. They are also likely to write down their investments by 30%, according to the source, who did not name the lenders. Atlante executives have acknowledged that the value of investments has fallen but have said the fund created last April has an investment horizon of five years and aims to create value for its backers over that period.

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And that in a nutshell is what condemns the single currency.

Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)

In an attack on Germany, U.S. President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser said the euro was “grossly undervalued”, a charge which may ring true for the German economy but not for the 19-member currency zone as a whole. The adviser, Peter Navarro, said Germany, the euro zone’s economic powerhouse, was exploiting the euro exchange rate for trade purposes, a charge rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There’s no clear method of establishing how much a currency is under or overvalued but many economists think that some economic measures show the German economy could easily cope with a stronger euro. It hit a 14-year low of $1.0339 last month. Even German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday the single currency could be a bit stronger for Germany.

But he agreed with economists that this would make life hard for other euro members. For weaker economies such as Greece, economic measures show the exchange rate is too strong, and for the whole currency area it is only moderately underpriced. “The euro is below most estimates of fair value. And German exporters appear to be benefiting more than most,” said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics. The White House is concerned about the exchange rate because German companies sell cars, vehicle parts, pharmaceuticals, planes and helicopters around the world, competing with American, as well as other European, manufacturers. Exports account for nearly half Germany’s economic output, with 9.5% going to the United States and around 35% to euro zone countries.

In 2015, the United States became the top destination for German exports, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 due to an upturn in the U.S. economy but also due to the weaker euro. The currency has lost more than 20% of its value against the U.S. dollar since mid 2014. A handful of recent reports found that while the euro was undervalued for Germany it was too strong for other countries. The World Price Index (WPI) published by research firm World Economics each month found that the euro was undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, a measure that takes into account what money can buy in two different currencies based on inflation and the cost of living. A “German euro” was nearly 17% undervalued against the dollar in PPP terms, while a “French euro” was overvalued by nearly 5%. A “Greek euro” was overvalued by 7%.

“German exporters remain the beneficiaries of a system that is causing stagnation and unemployment in the rest of Europe,” World Economics said in the report. The IMF also said last year that the euro was undervalued by anywhere from 0 to 10% for the region as a whole. But for Germany that undervaluation was anywhere between 10 and 20%, making it the most undervalued exchange rate for any of the 29 countries and jurisdictions around the world covered in the report.

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The last gasps: ..Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc..”

Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)

Desperate Eurocrat Donald Tusk will urge EU nations to agree to deeper integration and recommit to the sprawling superstate, a leaked report has hinted. Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc and agree to “an ambitious vision” of “political consolidation”. The European Council president will cite “unprecedented external threats” during a meeting in Malta with leaders from EU nations as a reason for recommitting to the European project. According to Politico, the document which will be proposed to officials later today, says “the EU is at a historical turning point” and is “facing important internal challenges as exemplified by Brexit”. Tusk’s lackeys, along with Italian and Maltese officials, will use Friday’s meeting to draft the proposed “Rome declaration” which will outline a future vision for the bloc.

The document urges leaders to commit to “greater unity in foreign policy and more investments in our defence” and “further deepening the Economic and Monetary Union” – two key reasons why Britain chose to divorce itself from the EU. EU leaders will also be told to sign up to an ever-increasing swathe of legislative measure in June following the “Rome declaration” a few months earlier. The report moans that Trump, Brexit, terrorism, increased military expansion by Russia and the migrant crisis pose serious threats to the stability of the EU. It also details the financial instability in Greece as another hinderance to the volatile political union. It adds that the upcoming meeting in Rome in March should “offer an ambitious vision on how to preserve unity and achieve political consolidation”. The EU is set to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – which laid the basis for “ever closer union” between nation states and which critics argue has forced countries towards a federal Europe.

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“We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

Syriza, like every governing party before it, has been hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of having to apply policies that it came to power vowing to oppose. On Tuesday its parliamentary spokesman took Greeks by storm proposing that Grexit be discussed “without taboo” in the 300-member house. The once unassailable popularity of Tsipras, meanwhile, has been pummelled by the implementation of some of the harshest measures to date and few believe he has the political capital to enforce another round of austerity. “It is not a can but a bomb being kicked down the road,” said one western diplomat. “In a world where liberal values are under threat we could be looking at a very dangerous scenario where the cradle of democracy also collapses.”

Bereft of growth and battered by cuts and tax increases, Greeks have become poorer and ever more cognizant of their own insolvency in a state where sovereignty exists in little more than name. One in three now live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 23%. The latest impasse has not only seen emigration levels rise and non-repayment of household and business loans soar but also nostalgia for the drachma grow. That is what worries Panagopoulos, the pollster, most. What was once a minority view is changing fast, with the majority of Greeks in a recent Alco survey saying it was wrong to have joined the euro. “We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

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Mar 072016
 
 March 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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DPC Launch of freighter Howard L. Shaw, Wyandotte, Michigan 1900


Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)
‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)
The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)
China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)
China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)
China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)
China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)
Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)
Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)
Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)
Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)
Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)
Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)
Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)
EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)
Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters) (Reuters)
Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)
Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

All we have left is debtors though.

Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)

The world’s credit boom is beginning to show dangerous signs of unraveling, ushering in a period of fresh turmoil for the over-indebted global economy, the Bank of International Settlements has warned. The globe’s top financial watchdog called time on the world’s debt binge, noting that debt issuance and cross border flows in emerging economies slowed for the first time since the aftermath of the global credit crunch at the end of last year. With financial markets thrown into fresh paroxysms in 2016, oscillating between extremes of “hope and fear”, the over-leveraged world was finally approaching a day of reckoning, said Claudio Borio, the bank’s chief economist. “We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time”, he said.

The Swiss authority – known as the “central bank of central banks” – has long rang the alarm bell over the state of global indebtedness, warning that unprecedented monetary policy was storing up problems in a world which still lumbers under weak productivity, insipid growth, and has no appetite for major reforms. In its latest quarterly review, the BIS said some of its starkest warnings were now coming into fruition. It noted that international securities issuance turned negative at the end of last year to the tune of -$47bn – the sharpest contraction since the third quarter of 2012. The retrenchment was largely driven by the financial sector, said the BIS. Meanwhile emerging market debtors – who have embarked on a $3.3 trillion dollar denominated debt spree in the wake of the financial crisis – saw issuance ground to a halt in the second half of the year.

This provided a “telltale” sign that the financial conditions were reaching an inflection point, accompanied by large depreciations in emerging market currencies and slowing domestic growth. “It is as if two waves with different frequencies came together to form a bigger and more destructive one”, said Mr Borio. Global debt now stands at over 200pc of GDP, exceeding levels seen before the financial crash in 2007. Any turning in the credit cycle risks imperiling debtor companies and governments, raising the chances of default and corporate bankruptcies, said the BIS. “If they persist, tighter global liquidity conditions may raise stability risks in some countries, especially those where other indicators already point to a heightened risk of financial stress”, they said.

Ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s landmark decision to raise interest rates for the first time in eight years last December, the BIS had forewarned of an “uneasy market calm” that could quickly turn to debtor distress. This prophecy is seemingly playing out in the first three months of 2016. “The tension between the markets’ tranquility and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point,” said Mr Borio. “In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution.” Debt binges have also been exacerbated by a historic collapse in oil prices. Energy companies from Brazil to Russia are scrambling to service $3 trillion of dollar debt as prices languish at around $30 a barrel – a 70pc decline since late 2014.

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More BIS.

‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)

A fragile calm in global financial markets has given way to all-out turbulence, the Bank of International Settlements has said, warning of a “gathering storm” which has long been brewing. In its latest quarterly report, watched closely by investors, the BIS – which is known as the central bank of central banks – also warned that investors were concerned governments around the world were running out of policy options. BIS chief Claudio Borio said the “uneasy calm” of previous months had given way to turbulence and a “gathering storm”. “The tension between the markets’ tranquillity and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point. In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution,” he added.

“We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time,” he warned. Although Asian markets enjoyed another strong day on Monday and continued to claw back the losses of January, the report said said that investors were concerned about what central banks could do in the event of another crisis. “Underlying some of the turbulence was market participants’ growing concern over the dwindling options for policy support in the face of the weakening growth outlook,” the report said. “With fiscal space tight and structural policies largely dormant, central bank measures were seen to be approaching their limits.”

Borio surveyed the major disruptions over the last three months, from the first post-crisis interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve in December, to accumulating signs of China’s slowdown. In what he termed the second phase of turbulence in the last quarter, Borio said markets were plagued by fears about the health of global banks and the Bank of Japan’s shock decision to impose negative policy rates.

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Japan deserves a lot more scrutiny.

The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)

Call me old fashioned, but I still think prices matter. I vividly recall the first time I studied those simple supply-and-demand graphs as a college freshman, and today, far too many years later, their basic logic remains undeniable. When prices are right, money flows to the most productive endeavors and economies work efficiently. When prices are wrong, crazy things eventually happen, with potentially dire consequences. That’s why we should be very worried about Japan, where things are getting crazy. On March 1, the Japanese government sold benchmark, 10-year bonds at a negative yield for the first time ever. Think about that for a minute. The investors who bought these bonds not only loaned the Japanese government their money. They’re paying for the privilege of doing so.

Why would any sane person do such a thing? A government with debt equivalent to more than 240% of national output – the largest load in the developed world – should surely have to pay investors a tidy sum to convince them to part with their money, not the other way around. But the bond market in Japan has become so distorted that investors believe it’s in their interests to lend money at a cost to themselves. The only explanation is that prices in Japan have gone horribly, horribly awry, and that has made the illogical logical. The culprit is the Bank of Japan. The entire purpose of its unorthodox stimulus programs – QE, negative interest rates – is, in effect, to get prices wrong: to press down interest rates below where they would normally go and force banks to lend money in ways they normally wouldn’t.

The BOJ, in other words, is trying to alter prices to change the incentive structure in the economy in order to engineer certain results – to increase inflation, encourage investment and spark growth. The problem is that the BOJ hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Inflation in January, by one commonly used measure, was a pathetic zero. GDP has contracted in two of the past three quarters. Instead, the BOJ is creating new problems by undermining the price mechanism. The central bank is buying up so many government bonds that it has effectively stripped them of risk to the investor and cost to the borrower. Investors probably bought up the bonds with negative yields speculating that they could flip them to the BOJ. Meanwhile, since the government can now earn money while borrowing it, the BOJ is removing any urgency for Japan’s politicians to control debt and reduce budget deficits.

Worse, the central bank is undercutting the very goals it’s trying to achieve. By wiping out returns to investors on safe investments like government bonds – the yield curve on them is as flat as a pancake – the BOJ is straining the incomes of savers and dampening the consumption that might help the economy revive. If debt pressures finally do push the government to hike taxes again, spending will take another hit.

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“Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing.”

China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)

Rule No.1 in China’s blueprint for the next five years: “give top priority to development.” That’s the word from Premier Li Keqiang’s work report delivered Saturday at the start of the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing. Li acknowledged there would be some difficult battles ahead as he outlined plans to clean up the environment, boost innovation, further urbanize and cut excess capacity in industries like coal and steel. Yet the firmest target remains on the one thing he has the least control over – the nation’s economic growth rate. For 2016, a 6.5% to 7% growth range was outlined, with 6.5% pegged as the baseline through 2020. That would be less than last year’s 6.9% rate, the slowest growth in a quarter century. To reach the new target, the government will permit a record high deficit and has raised its money supply expansion target.

The upshot: debt grows even as growth slows. “The risk is that if stimulus is accelerated but reform continues to lag, the government could end the year with growth on target but even bigger structural problems to deal with,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a note. The report “confirms that the focus is firmly on supporting short-term growth, with the deleveraging can kicked further down the road.” Li’s plan suggests debt may rise to 258% of GDP this year, from 247% at the end of 2015, they estimate. Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing. “Development is of primary importance to China and is the key to solving every problem we face,” Li said in the work report. “Pursuing development is like sailing against the current: you either forge ahead or you drift downstream.”

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Sorry, boys, confidence is in the gutter.

China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)

China’s official foreign exchange reserves only include highly liquid assets, a top central banker said on Sunday, seeking to reassure investors that authorities have enough ammunition to prevent a sharp fall in the renminbi. Investor sentiment towards China’s currency has turned sharply negative since a surprise devaluation in August, amid unprecedented capital outflows and concern about the health of the economy. Concern over China’s currency policy sparked a global market sell-off early this year. The People’s Bank of China has drawn on its foreign exchange reserves to curb renminbi weakness, but analysts believe the central bank may soon be forced to abandon this policy to prevent reserves dropping below dangerous levels.

Some bearish investors have also expressed skepticism about the reliability of China’s official foreign exchange reserves data, which showed reserves at $3.2tn at the end of January — still the world’s largest despite declining for 19 months. Skeptics say the headline total of reserves exaggerates the resources available to support the renminbi since they suspect it includes illiquid assets such as foreign real estate and private-equity investments that cannot be readily deployed in currency markets. Kyle Bass, the US hedge fund manager who has wagered billions that the renminbi and other Asian currencies will fall, believes China’s true reserves are more than $1tn below the government’s official total. Veteran investor George Soros has also suggested the renminbi may fall further.

Yi Gang, PBoC deputy governor who until January was also head of the foreign exchange regulator, said on Sunday that only highly liquid assets are included in the closely watched headline reserves figure. “I can clearly tell everyone here, those assets that don’t meet liquidity standards are entirely deducted from official foreign exchange reserves,” Mr Yi said. “For example, some illiquid equity investments, some capital injections and some other assets where liquidity isn’t good are entirely outside our foreign exchange reserves.” Beyond foreign real estate and private equity, analysts have questioned whether PBoC’s recent use of foreign currency to inject capital into state-owned policy banks, including at least $93bn injected into China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China last year. There is also uncertainty about whether China’s capital contributions to two newly launched multilateral development banks, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Brics bank, have been deducted.

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While continuing to inflate history’s biggest bubble even further.

China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)

China’s leaders made clear they are emphasizing growth over restructuring this year, but suggested they are trying to avoid inflating debt or asset bubbles as they send massive amounts of money coursing through the economy. The government’s announcement of a 6.5% to 7% growth target for 2016 at the start of the National People’s Congress over the weekend came with subtle acknowledgment that some of its efforts to jump-start a persistently decelerating economy have misfired, failing to steer stimulus to the most productive sectors. In his report to the annual legislative session, which opened Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang promised tax cuts that could leave companies with more money to invest.

And for the first time, the Chinese government specified total social financing—a broad measure of credit that includes both bank loans and nonbank lending—as a metric for helping determine monetary policy. In the past, leaders have just said total social financing should be kept at an appropriate level, while they have set clear targets for M2 money supply, which covers all cash in circulation and most bank deposits. Both measures have increased sharply in recent months. But the money-supply measure fails to capture how banks and financial institutions use the funds. For instance, M2 jumped 13.3% last year while total social financing grew 12.4%, according to official data. The discrepancy indicates not all deposits were used by banks to make loans to companies; instead, some of the funds were tapped for such purposes as margin loans for stock-market speculation.

This year, the two targets are paired, with both set to rise 13%. “The government seeks to more accurately show where the money is going, and whether credit is being used to support the real economy,” said Sheng Songcheng, head of the central bank’s survey and statistics department, in an interview. China’s past efforts to direct credit to entrepreneurs and other desired sectors of the economy have fallen short. And its loose monetary policy risks giving inefficient companies more room to avoid shutting down or retooling. Much of China’s breakneck growth over the past two decades has been fueled by state-led investment and debt. Concerns about a credit buildup have grown as the economy has slowed.

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Prices in Shanghai and Shenzhen are totally crazy. And that’s the government’s doing.

China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)

Chinese regulators plan to impose new rules to end the practice of homebuyers taking out loans to cover down-payments, as they step up scrutiny of financing risk in the property market, according to people familiar with the matter. The rules will bar lenders including developers, housing agencies, small-loan companies and peer-to-peer networks from offering loans for down-payments, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t yet public. Regulators including the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission will also ask commercial banks to scrutinize mortgage applications and reject those where down-payments come from loans offered by such institutions, the people said.

China is planning the crackdown amid concerns about rising risks in the loan markets and warnings from officials that home prices in some top-tier cities are rising too fast. Shanghai’s most-senior official said the city’s property market has “overheated” and should be more tightly controlled after a recent surge in residential housing prices. As part of the latest moves, regulators will also strengthen the stress tests of property loans, the people said, without offering details. Representatives at the People’s Bank of China and the CBRC didn’t immediately respond to faxed requests for comment. China in November 2014 started easing property curbs amid efforts to revive the world’s second-largest economy. The measures – intended to ease a glut of unsold homes in smaller cities – have instead lifted prices in the country’s biggest population centers.

Prices in Shenzhen jumped 4% in January from a month earlier and have gained 52% over the past year. Values in the financial center of Shanghai have increased 18% in the last 12 months, while those in Beijing advanced about 10%. Regulators last month allowed commercial banks to cut the minimum mortgage down-payment for first-home purchases to 20% from 25% and to 30% from 40% for second homes, except in five big cities with home-buying restrictions. Demand for real estate is also getting a boost from monetary stimulus after the PBOC cut benchmark lending rates six times since 2014, lowered banks’ reserve requirements and flooded the financial system with cash to keep borrowing costs low.

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“Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak..”

Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)

Hong Kong residential home sales plunged 70% in February from a year earlier to a 25-year low, as falling prices and economic uncertainty deterred buyers. In February, 1,807 homes were sold in Hong Kong, compared with 6,027 a year earlier, according to government statistics. Home sales fell from 2,045 in January, the data show. “The newspapers keep on saying the market is going down and buyers think they can get a cheaper house half-a-year later or one year later so are waiting,” said Thomas Fok, a property agent at Centaline Property Agency in Hong Kong’s upscale Mid-levels West district where he hasn’t made one sale this year.

Property prices have declined 10% from their September highs amid uncertainty over the economy at home and in China, possible interest-rate increases and plans by the government to boost housing supply in the next five years. Senior Hong Kong government officials have ruled out relaxing property curbs, which include extra stamp duties and caps on mortgage levels. [..] Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak, spurred by low mortgage rates, tight supply of new units and buying from mainland Chinese. This year, BOCOM International Holdings Co. property analyst Alfred Lau has said prices could fall 30% amid a slowdown.

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“I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer..”: former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis.

Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)

European finance ministers will once again deliberate over how to treat Greece’s ongoing debt crisis this week despite the country desperately grappling with refugees pouring across its borders. A meeting on Monday of finance ministers from the eurozone will determine whether creditors are to be given the green light to complete a long-delayed review of Greek economic recovery plans. The review has been held up by disagreement among lenders over how much more Athens needs to cut from public spending. It is seen as key to reviving Greece’s banking sector and restoring business and consumer confidence. “I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer,” the former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis told the Guardian.

“Then it was a question of the political will of a few people,” he said, referring to the tumultuous negotiations that paved the way to Athens receiving a third bailout in August. “Now it’s a question of implementing reforms and working hard and if a government doesn’t believe in them and implements them begrudgingly, progress becomes very difficult.” Monday’s meeting comes at an especially sensitive time. Greek unemployment remains the highest in Europe at almost 25% – and just under 50% among the young. Many companies are relocating to Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Cyprus as a result of over-taxation. Meanwhile, the once booming tourism trade has taken a hit as bookings to Aegean isles have collapsed because of refugee arrivals. Last week, it was announced by Greece’s official statistics agency, Elstat, that the debt-stricken nation had dipped back into recession.

After three emergency bailouts and the biggest debt restructuring in history, talk once again has turned to the country dropping out of the single currency. Businessmen and bankers in private concede that as the economy disintegrates the possibility of a parallel currency is now openly being discussed. “The probability of Grexit is still there,” added Hardouvelis. “It has not gone away. Just look at the yield investors are required to pay on Greek bonds.” Everyone agrees that time is of the essence. Further delays make potentially explosive reforms – starting with the overhaul of the pension system – harder to sell for a leftist-led government that in recent months has faced protest on the streets. “We have no time,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the European parliament’s economics committee last week. “We hope the IMF will become more reasonable.”

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Europe’s a zombie financially and politically.

Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)

Zombies are stalking Europe — zombie banks that are solvent in name only. The phenomenon is not new. Zombies weighed down Japan for almost 20 years after a real estate bust. They are usually born of financial panics, when loans go bad, capital flees and the value of assets tumbles. There are no good choices when zombie banks are on the march. Shutting them down can cause further panic. Restoring them to health can require hundreds of billions of dollars. But letting them fester can cripple an economy for years, because zombies don’t make the loans healthy businesses need to grow and consumers need to spend. No place has been cozier for zombies since the 2008 global financial crisis than Europe, and no economy has been slower to recover.

Europe has been slow and piecemeal in its approach to the region’s troubled banks. Lenders in Greece received their third cash infusion from the government in 2015. In Italy, the government developed a plan in early 2016 to relieve banks of their soured loans, though it’s expected to have only a limited impact because the program is voluntary. Investors are concerned that Europe’s banks are so weak that they still pose a risk to the economy and financial stability, after crippled banks in Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain threatened to pull down their indebted governments between 2010 and 2012. Even after multiple rescues and capital injections, almost a fifth of 130 banks failed a ECB stress test in October 2014, with a total capital shortfall of €25 billion. In an effort to coordinate the response, the ECB was given the job of the central banking regulator at the end of 2014. But even the ECB wasn’t bold enough to put a bullet to zombies’ heads, only requiring banks to be more aggressive on provisioning for bad loans.

One thing about old-fashioned bank runs — when they killed banks they stayed dead. The panics that followed, however, could bring down healthy banks as well, so tools for supporting banks grew up, most notably deposit insurance. Those developments brought with them a thorny question — when to pull the plug. The term “zombie banks” was coined by Edward J. Kane of Boston College in 1987 to refer to U.S. savings and loans institutions that had essentially been wiped out by commercial-mortgage losses but were allowed to stay in business, as regulators put off the pain of shutting them down in the hope that a market rebound would make them whole. By the time they gave up and cleaned up the mess, the losses of the zombies had tripled.

In Japan, zombie banks propped up zombie companies rather than write down their loans, while the banks themselves were kept alive through “regulatory forbearance” — a tacit agreement by the government to pretend that their bad loans were still worth something, an approach that kept the markets calm but contributed to a “lost decade” of economic stagnation. The prime example of a tough approach is Sweden, which in the 1990s responded to a financial crisis by nationalizing its ailing banks — and quickly rebounded.

After the 2008 crisis, the U.S. pumped $300 billion into its banks, but it also conducted stress tests that were more rigorous than Europe’s and forced low-scoring banks to raise private capital. In Europe, countries from Germany to Spain plugged holes in their banks and failed year after year to force losses and recapitalizations as the U.S. had. As a result, European lenders still sit on more than $1 trillion of dud loans, which don’t earn them any money and prevent them from making new loans that the region’s economy needs desperately to grow.

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QE in a nutshell: “..the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)

“For the proposition that supply creates its own demand, I shall substitute the proposition that expenditure creates its own income” JM Keynes Collected Writings, Volume XXIX, p. 81

G20 Finance Ministers met in Huangzhou, China recently and refused appeals from both the IMF and the OECD for “urgent collective policy action” that focussed “fiscal policies on investment-led spending”. Instead the world’s finance ministers concluded that “it’s every country for themselves”. Keynes’s simple proposition is compelling: that expenditure will expand national (and international) income (including tax income) and thereby reduce the deficit. But it is a proposition that is anathema to OECD politicians, their friends in the finance sector and their advisers. Instead they adhere stubbornly to the antiquated classical economics embodied in Say’s Law.

Rather than relying on expenditure or investment, the British 2010-2015 Coalition government and then the 2015 Conservative government placed excessive reliance on monetary policy to revive aggregate demand for goods and services. The consequences were predictable. Loose monetary policy enriched those that owned assets – stocks and shares, bonds or property. The evidence of this grotesque enrichment is clearest in London. According to the FT (20 Feb 2016) the owners of South Kensington residential properties have seen “substantial capital appreciation – 45 % over the past five years and a remarkable 155% since 2006.” And as the Bank of England concluded back in 2012 in its paper on the Distributional Effects of Asset Purchases” (i.e. QE): “the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

By contrast fiscal consolidation (austerity) has since 2010 hurt those that do not own assets – i.e. those who live by hand or by brain, or who are dependent on welfare, and do not benefit from the rent generated by the ownership of assets. Now, the British government is set to impose the largest fiscal consolidation of all OECD countries. Worryingly, it proposes to do so at a time of global economic and financial fragility. But the British government has not been alone in pursuing policies that enrich the already rich, while contracting wider economic activity. Over-reliance on central bankers and monetary policy, coupled with deflationary and contractionary fiscal policy is the cause both of ongoing weakness in OECD countries and of the slow but inexorable decline in world trade since 2011.

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“The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever.”

Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)

The standard retort to those who claim that Australia has a housing bubble is that it’s all just supply and demand. I can happily agree that it is indeed all just supply and demand and still prove that there is a bubble. Understanding my argument might force you to think more than you normally have to, in which case, tough: it’s about time Australians did some thinking. Fundamentally, the demand for housing comes from the flow of new mortgages. Only the super-rich or the well-heeled offshore buyer can afford to buy property without a mortgage, and the importance of mortgage debt has increased dramatically over time. In the 1970s, you couldn’t get a mortgage without a 30% deposit, so cash made up 30% of the purchase price; now it’s closer to 10%.

So, on the demand side of the supply and demand equation, we have the flow of new mortgage debt. On the supply side, we have two factors: the number of properties for sale and their prices. There is, therefore, a “dynamic tension” (to quote Rocky Horror) between the rate of change of mortgage debt, and the level of house prices: if the monetary value of the flow of new mortgage debt equals the monetary value of the flow of supply, then there’s no pressure forcing prices to change. It follows that there is a relationship between the acceleration of mortgage debt and the rate of change of house prices. So for house prices to rise, the flow of new mortgage debt needs to be not merely positive, but accelerating — growing faster over time.

Lest that sound like standard economic mumbo-jumbo — as Ross Gittins pointed out very well recently, most so-called economic modelling is no more than fantasy (“Tax modelling falls down at the household level”)—Figure 1 shows the empirical evidence for America, where not even Alan Greenspan disputes that there was a bubble. Similar relationships apply for all countries — and for the econometrically minded, the causal relation (as tested on US data) is from accelerating mortgage debt to house prices, not vice-versa.

Is Australia different? No. The same relationship applies here and now: though foreign buyers have certainly played a part, the key factor driving rising Australian house prices in the last three years has been accelerating mortgage debt.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever. At some point, the level of mortgage debt relative to income will stabilise; well before that happens, the acceleration of mortgage debt will decline, and prices will fall. This has already happened twice in recent history in Australia: in 2008 and in 2010. On both occasions, deliberate government policy stopped the fall in prices by encouraging Australians back into mortgage debt — firstly via the First Home Vendors Boost under Rudd and secondly via the RBA’s rate cuts from 2012 which were undertaken with the hope they would encourage more household borrowing. In both cases the acceleration of mortgage debt resumed, as did the bubble in prices.

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Europe’ disgrace.

Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)

Turkish authorities are escalating a crackdown on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents, undeterred by possible risks to the nation’s renewed attempts to join the EU. In two days, authorities seized control of the company that owns a leading newspaper, and signaled the possibility of stripping prominent Kurdish lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The moves come on the eve of talks on Monday in Brussels between Turkish and EU officials to discuss ways to handle the influx of refugees from Syria. With the EU increasingly seeking Turkey’s help to contain Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and Ankara’s membership talks at an early stage, Erdogan’s allies are betting that the escalation won’t damage Turkey’s ties with the bloc.

The president expects EU leaders “to turn a blind eye” in return for his “cooperation in curbing Syrian refugee flows to the continent,” said Aykan Erdemir at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute. On Friday, Turkey seized control of the Zaman newspaper, the latest twist in a 2 1/2-year campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan accused of running a “parallel state” to undermine the government. The move sparked clashes between police and anti-government protesters. EU governments revived the entry talks, dormant since November 2013, as part of a package of economic and political incentives to encourage Erdogan to host refugees in Turkey instead of pointing them to Europe.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview recorded last week and broadcast on Sunday on BBC’s Andrew Marr show that “it will be a long time before we reach the end of negotiations with Turkey about accession to the EU.” “Actually, the German government has major doubts about whether Turkey should be a full member of the EU, but this is a question for the coming years,” said Schaeuble. “It is not a worry at the present time.” [..] Erdogan knows that the “EU can’t really stop him from eradicating followers of Gulen to putting Kurdish lawmakers on trial for ties to the PKK,” Nihat Ali Ozcan at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara said. “The EU’s criticism of Erdogan’s policies is not very meaningful at a time when the country’s membership bid is not high on the public’s agenda, and the reliance of the EU on Turkey to handle the refugee crisis and protect Europe against terrorism leaves more room for Erdogan to pursue his own agenda at home.”

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Simmering tensions flare up. Better be careful.

Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)

Turkey is disputing Greece’s territorial sovereignty over a string of tiny islands and a part of its air space over the Aegean Sea, according to a confidential document, obtained by Kathimerini, that was submitted to NATO’s Military Committee last month. The 17-point document, which is expected to further strain relations between the neighboring countries, was submitted on February 15, during heated discussions between Greece and Turkey over the terms of deployment of a German-led NATO patrol in the Aegean to stem the flow of refugees. It was the first time that had Turkey disputed Greek sovereignty via an official NATO document.

Turkey’s demands from the Alliance included replacing the term “Aegean air space” with “NATO air space” and refraining from using the Greek names of several tiny islands “that may been seen as the promotion of national interest” – an apparent reference to 16 small islets whose Greek sovereignty has been repeatedly disputed by Ankara. Turkey also disputed Greece’s 10-mile national air space and demanded permission to enter the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without submitting flight plans. It further requested that NATO ships do not dock at ports of the Dodecanese islands in the southeast Aegean and claimed supervision of almost half the Aegean Sea for search and rescue operations.

The terms of the NATO patrol in the Aegean were agreed on February 25 after overcoming territorial sensitivities of the two neighbors. The agreement stipulated that the two countries would not operate in each other’s territorial waters and air space. According to several NATO diplomats, one of the stumbling blocks had been where Greek and Turkish ships should patrol and whether that would set a precedent for claims over disputed territorial waters. EU leaders will hold a special meeting Monday in a bid to hammer out a deal that would help contain the number of refugees entering Greece and the rest of the EU.

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They’re really planning to do it: turn Greece into a concentration camp. This will not go well.

EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)

European Union leaders will be looking to boost aid to Greece as the Balkan migrant route is effectively sealed, using Monday’s summit as an attempt to restore unity among the 28 member nations after months of increasing bickering and go-it-alone policies, according to a draft statement Sunday. The leaders will also try to persuade Turkey’s prime minister to slow the flow of migrants travelling to Europe and take back thousands who don’t qualify for asylum. In a draft summit statement produced Sunday and seen by The Associated Press, the EU leaders will conclude that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed.”

Because of this, the statement added that “the EU will stand by Greece in this difficult moment and will do its utmost to help manage the situation.” “This is a collective EU responsibility requiring fast and efficient mobilization,” it said in a clear commitment to end the bickering. It said that aid to Greece should centre on urgent humanitarian aid as well as managing its borders and making sure that migrants not in need of international protections are quickly returned to Turkey. The statement will be assessed by the 28 leaders after they have met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Late Sunday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte met with Davutoglu to prepare for the summit.

[..] The EU summit, the second of three in Brussels in just over a month, comes just days after a Turkish court ordered the seizure of the opposition Zaman newspaper. The move has heightened fears over deteriorating media freedom in the country and led to calls for action from the international community, but they will most likely be brushed aside at the high-stakes talks. “In other words, we are accepting a deal to return migrants to a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE liberal group in the European Parliament on Sunday.

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“We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters)

Greece will press for solidarity with refugees and fair burden-sharing among European Union states at Monday’s emergency EU summit with Turkey, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday, lashing out at border restrictions that led to logjams. Tsipras has accused Austria and Balkan countries of “ruining Europe” by slowing the flow of migrants and refugees heading north from Greece, where some 30,000 are now trapped, waiting for Macedonia to reopen its border so they can head to Germany. With more arriving in the mainland from Greek islands close to Turkish shores, the numbers could swell by 100,000 by the end of this month, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos projected on Saturday. “Europe is in a nervous crisis,” Tsipras told his leftist Syriza party’s central committee. “Will a Europe of fear and racism overtake a Europe of solidarity?”

He said central European countries with serious demographic problems and low unemployment could benefit in the long term by taking in millions of refugees, but austerity policies have fed a far-right “monster” opposing the inflows. “Europe today is crushed amidst austerity and closed borders. It keeps its border open to austerity but closed for people fleeing war,” Tsipras said. “Countries, with Austria in the front, want to impose the logic of fortress Europe.” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has urged Germany to set a clear limit on the number of asylum seekers it will accept to help stem a mass influx of refugees that is severely testing European cohesion in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in generations. Tsipras told his party “unilateral” actions to close borders to refugees were condemned by all European institutions. “We are not pointing the finger to any other peoples or countries of Europe. We are against those who succumb to xenophobia and racism,” Tsipras said. “We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

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Merkel is losing her wits: “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015..” Why Greece, Angela?

Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)

As EU members continued to bicker, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in charge of migration at the powerful Brussels executive, pointed to upcoming measures, including an overhaul of asylum rules, to help ease tensions. “Hundreds are arriving on a daily basis and Greece is expected to receive another 100,000 by the end of the month,” Avramopoulos told a conference in Athens. Greece lies at the heart of Europe’s greatest migration crisis in six decades after a series of border restrictions on the migrant trail from Austria to Macedonia caused a bottleneck on its soil. Over 30,000 refugees and migrants are now trapped in the country, desperate to head northwards, especially to Germany and Scandinavia. “In a few weeks,” the EU will announce a revision of its asylum regulations to ensure a “fairer distribution of the burden and the responsibility,” Avramopoulous told the conference.

The huge influx of refugees and migrants has caused major divisions within the EU, although European President Donald Tusk on Friday struck an upbeat note about Monday’s summit in Brussels, which will include Turkey. European leaders are expected to use the summit to press Ankara to take back more economic migrants from Greece and reduce the flow of people across the Aegean Sea. Finger-pointing continued within the 28-nation EU bloc on Saturday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a key player in the drama – said Greece should have been quicker in preparing to host 50,000 people under an agreement with the European Union in October. “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015,” Merkel told Bild newspaper in an interview to appear Sunday. “This delay must be addressed as soon as possible as the Greek government must provide decent lodgings to asylum claimants”, she said.

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Safe passage is very possible. But we prefer to let them drown.

Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

25 refugees drowned off Turkey’s Aegean coast on Sunday after their boat sank off the western province of Aydin’s district of Didim, Anadolu Agency reported. The Turkish Coast Guard has rescued 15 of the refugees and launched a search and rescue operation to find the other missing refugees with three boats and one helicopter. The total number of refugees is not yet known. The refugees’ nationalities were not immediately released, but they are likely to be Syrians, who comprise the majority of refugees attempting to sneak to the Greek islands from Turkey. Media outlets said three children were among the casualties. It is not known what caused the boat to sink, although a mix of strong winds and boats carrying passengers over their capacities are often the causes of similar tragedies. The local Ihlas News Agency reported that passenger overload was the cause of the disaster.

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Sep 022015
 
 September 2, 2015  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Arthur Rothstein Family leaving South Dakota drought for Oregon Jul 1936


Global Stock Markets Begin September With More Losses (Guardian)
Central Banks To Dump $1.5 Trillion FX Reserves By End 2016 -Deutsche (Reuters)
Investors Wake Up To Emerging Market Currency Risk (FT)
IMF’s Lagarde Sees Weaker Than Expected Global Economic Growth (Reuters)
2015: The Year China Goes Broke? (Gordon G. Chang)
China Risks An Economic Discontinuity (Martin Wolf)
Alibaba Is the Canary in China’s Coal Mine (Pesek)
China Turns Up Heat On Market Participants (FT)
Huge Purchases By Chinese Oil Trader Raise Prices, Confusion (WSJ)
A Corner of the Oil Market Shows Why It’s So Tough to Read China (Bloomberg)
Hit By Cheap Oil, Canada’s Economy Falls Into Recession (Reuters)
Alberta Issues Bleak Economic Report (Globe and Mail)
Say Goodbye to Normal (Jim Kunstler)
France ‘Intimidated’ By Germany On Economic Policy: Stiglitz (AFP)
Grexit May Be Better For Greece: Euro Architect (CNBC)
Democratizing the Eurozone (Yanis Varoufakis)
Inability To Unite On Major Challenges May Pull The EU Apart (EurActiv)
Bid For United EU Response Fraying Over Refugee Quota Demands (Guardian)
Hungarian TV ‘Told Not To Broadcast Images Of Refugee Children’ (Guardian)
Greece’s Ionian Islands To Hold Plebiscite Over Airport Privatization (Kath.)
The Price of European Indifference (Bernard-Henri Lévy)
This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like (Nation)
Greek Island Lesvos Registers 17,500 Refugees Just Over The Past Week (Kath.)
Orwell Rules: EU Task Force To Take On Russian Propaganda (New Europe)
Is The World Running Out Of Space? (BBC)

Plunge protection saved Shanghai from bigger losses overnight. Tomorrow’s China’s big parade day, got to look good for that. Will they let markets do their own thing after tomorrow?

Global Stock Markets Begin September With More Losses (Guardian)

Global stock markets staged a dramatic start to September as rising worries about China’s economic slowdown sparked fresh sell-offs in Asia, Europe and on Wall Street. After suffering their worst month in three years in August, US shares tumbled after Tuesday’s opening bell. At close, the Dow Jones industrial average had dropped 469 points, or 2.8%, to 16,058 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 58 points, or 3%, to 1,913. News that US manufacturing activity slowed in August added to pressure on share prices. The sell-off on Wall Street mirrored losses in Asia overnight, and later on European bourses, in the wake of more weak data on China’s manufacturing sector, suggesting output slumped to a three-year low in August.

Worries about waning demand from the world’s second biggest economy left Japan’s Nikkei down a hefty 3.8%, taking it close to a six-month low last week. China’s Shanghai composite index suffered a smaller 1.3% loss. As the sell-off rippled out to Europe, the FTSE 100 closed down more than 3% at 6,058.54 on Tuesday afternoon, extending last month’s sharp losses. A 6.7% drop during August marked the worst month for UK’s leading share index since May 2012. The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 shed 9% over the same period, the worst monthly performance for four years. On Tuesday it was down 3%. Investor confidence has been rattled by a combination of factors.

Alongside signs China’s economy is slowing, the country’s stock market has tumbled from multi-year highs in June and interventions by policymakers have done little to stem the rout. At the same time, markets are bracing for the prospect of the first US interest rate rise since before the global financial crisis. Despite the recent market turmoil, there is still some expectation that the US Federal Reserve could hike as soon as this month, especially after its vice-chair Stanley Fischer said over the weekend that it was too soon to decide on a September move. The likelihood of higher borrowing costs in the US is undermining already fragile confidence in emerging markets from Latin America to Asia.

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Could be much faster.

Central Banks To Dump $1.5 Trillion FX Reserves By End 2016 -Deutsche (Reuters)

Central banks will sell $1.5 trillion foreign exchange reserves by the end of next year as they try to counter capital outflows stemming from slowing growth in China, low oil prices and an impending rise in U.S. interest rates, Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday. This would mark a major shift in global capital flows, ending two decades of reserve accumulation by emerging markets and potentially forcing the Federal Reserve into slowing down the unwinding of its “quantitative easing” crisis-fighting stimulus. George Saravelos, currency strategist at Deutsche and co-author of the report, said the $1.5 trillion estimate is based on the pace that emerging markets – especially China – have been drawing down their FX reserves recently to counter capital flight. “The risks are it’s actually faster than that,” Saravelos said.

Also on Tuesday, analysts at Dutch bank Rabobank published a report estimating that China sold up to $200 billion of reserves in the last few weeks of August alone. China is by far the biggest holder of FX reserves in the world with around $3.65 trillion, mostly thought to be in dollar-denominated assets like U.S. government bonds and bills. Last year, it had almost $4 trillion. China and emerging markets led the build up in global FX reserves following the 1997 Asian crisis to a peak of $12 trillion last year. This cash pile shielded them from the 2007-08 crisis, and looks like it is once again being deployed. The Deutsche estimate is the latest of many from analysts trying to determine just how much China’s slowdown and recent currency devaluation, low commodity prices, the prospect of higher U.S. rates and recent market volatility will deplete global reserves.

Bond and currency markets will feel the impact. “The peak in bond demand is probably behind us. QE in the U.S. has stopped, and the shift in global reserve accumulation has started too,” he said. The Fed could be forced to delay the unwinding of its QE programme because of the “significant amount of pressure” reserves selling could put on the Treasuries market. Saravelos said the upward pressure on U.S. yields from the selling of large quantities of bonds should also put upward pressure on the dollar, with every $100 billion reduction in reserves pushing the euro down three cents against the dollar.

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But deny it at the same time.

Investors Wake Up To Emerging Market Currency Risk (FT)

If there is a mood of anxiety across the US and Europe over the impact of China catching a cold, there is an air of déjà vu for investors who deal in emerging markets. The panicked market reaction to “Black Monday” in Chinese equities suggests much of the developed world has only just woken up to the risk that a slowing Chinese economy poses around the globe. But it is nothing new for EM countries. “The biggest surprise [about last week’s market panic] was not that China has slowed but that it’s come as such a surprise,” says Paul McNamara, EM portfolio manager at GAM Holding. China’s slowdown has been worrying EM countries throughout 2015.

It has been a year of falling commodity prices, brought lower, thanks in part, to drip-drip evidence that the Chinese investment drive — which fuelled growth in commodity countries and investor interest in their economies — was being checked. Black Monday, says Mr McNamara, was “a pretty intense dose of what we’ve been seeing all year”. It has been a year of consistent weakness, “a lot of which has been sourced in China”. Take Colombia, a big oil producer. Its peso currency had fallen 24% from the beginning of the year up until Black Monday, when it fell a further 4%. EM countries have been pummelled by double blows to the solar plexus all through the year. Punch one: the Chinese slowdown. Punch two: the continuous market focus on when the US would raise rates, which has driven dollar strength and so weakened EM currencies.

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The repetitive empty void of words like these will come back to hurt Lagarde. The IMF is nothing without credibility. The window of credibility is narrowing.

IMF’s Lagarde Sees Weaker Than Expected Global Economic Growth (Reuters)

Global economic growth is likely to be weaker than earlier expected, the head of the IMF said on Tuesday, due to a slower recovery in advanced economies and a further slowdown in emerging nations. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde also warned emerging economies like Indonesia to “be vigilant for spillovers” from China’s slowdown, tighter global financial conditions, and the prospects of a U.S. interest rate hike. “Overall, we expect global growth to remain moderate and likely weaker than we anticipated last July,” Lagarde told university students at the start of a two-day visit to Indonesia’s capital. The IMF in July forecast global growth at 3.3% this year, slightly below last year’s 3.4%.

Lagarde said China’s economy was slowing, although not sharply or unexpectedly, as it adjusts to a new growth model. “The transition to a more market-based economy and the unwinding of risks built up in recent years is complex and could well be somewhat bumpy,” she said. “That said, the authorities have the policy tools and financial buffers to manage this transition.” Lagarde, who is visiting Indonesia for the first time in three years, said Southeast Asia’s largest economy had the “right tools to actually react” to the global volatility. “You have very sound public finances with overall government debt in the range of 20%-ish relative to GDP, you have a relatively small deficit,” she said before meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

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“..the government has already shelled out $1.3 trillion.”

2015: The Year China Goes Broke? (Gordon G. Chang)

China, the Financial Times noted Friday, could exhaust its foreign exchange reserves within a year as it defends the value of its plunging currency, the renminbi. The paper’s arithmetic is correct of course, but the projection, which at first sounds alarming, is actually optimistic. Beijing might be broke in months—and maybe by the end of this year—despite now holding the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves. At the same time, the Chinese central government has been supporting stock valuations through various means, especially the direct purchases of shares. Beijing’s efforts to defend both stocks and the currency are severely straining its finances. China’s problems were a long time in the making, but they became evident this spring, when the main indexes measuring the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets peaked on June 12 and then fell precipitously.

In early July, Beijing, in a series of announcements, unveiled its rescue program, which included the government buying of shares. The ill-conceived effort was largely abandoned, it appears. As a result, shares fell hard last Monday, now known in China as “Black Monday,” and the following two days. The Shanghai Composite, the most widely followed index of Chinese stocks, ended trading on last Wednesday down 43.3% from its June 12 peak. Chinese leaders, however, took markets by surprise on Thursday, when shares snapped their five-day losing streak. The Shanghai Composite was down 0.7% entering the last hour of trading of the afternoon session. Massive government purchases of large-cap stocks sent prices soaring in the final minutes, and the index closed up 5.3%.

Sources told Bloomberg that Beijing’s buying was intended to prevent stocks from plunging during the run up to the September 3-4 holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, what China has renamed the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Beijing repeated the trick Friday, engineering an impressive rally in the last 90 minutes of trading. The Shanghai index posted a 4.8% gain for the day. Late buying was also evident Monday, although it was not quite enough to completely erase the sharp drop in the morning session. Are happy times here again? About a year ago, Chinese technocrats created a stock market boom by doing nothing more than talking up the market.

Unsupported by fundamentals—either a robust economy or rising corporate earnings—the market is inevitably coming back down unless the Chinese central government purchases more shares. Beijing’s so-called “national team”—a collection of state entities—appears to be the only big buyer in the market. The government has a large “war chest,” believed to be between 2 and 5 trillion yuan (about $322 billion to $807 billion). Whatever its size, the fund has been rapidly depleted since officials started buying stock in large quantities. In the middle of this month, Goldman Sachs estimated the government had spent 800-900 billion yuan to acquire shares. Christopher Balding of Peking University’s HSBC Business School, taking a more expansive view of Beijing’s market-supporting initiatives, believes the government has already shelled out $1.3 trillion.

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More on China’s frantic ‘market support’.

China Risks An Economic Discontinuity (Martin Wolf)

David Daokui Lee, an influential Chinese economist, has argued that: “The stock market sell-off is not the problem… the problem — not a huge one, but a problem nonetheless — is the Chinese economy itself.” I agree with both points, with one exception. The problem may prove huge. Market turmoil is not irrelevant. It matters that Beijing has spent $200bn on a failed attempt to prop up the stock market and that foreign exchange reserves fell by $315bn in the year to July 2015. It matters, too, that a search for scapegoats is in train. These are indicators of capital flight and policymaker panic. They tell us about confidence — or the lack of it. Nevertheless, economic performance is ultimately decisive. The important economic fact about China is its past achievements.

Gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity) has risen from 3% of US levels to some 25% (see chart). GDP is an imperfect measure of the standard of living. But this transformation is no statistical artefact. It is visible on the ground. The only “large”(bigger than city state) economies, without valuable natural resources, to achieve something like this since the second world war are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam. Yet, relative to US levels, China’s GDP per head is where South Korea’s was in the mid-1980s. South Korea’s real GDP per head has since nearly quadrupled in real terms, to reach almost 70% of US levels. If China became as rich as Korea, its economy would be bigger than those of the US and Europe combined.

This is a case for long-run optimism. Against it is the caveat that “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”. Growth rates usually revert to the global mean. If China continued fast catch-up growth over the next generation it would be an extreme outlier .
In emerging economies growth tends to be marked by “discontinuities”. But what Chinese policymakers call the “new normal” is not itself such a discontinuity. They believe they have overseen a smooth slowdown from annual growth of 10% to still-fast growth of 7%. Is a far bigger slowdown possible? More important, would this be a temporary interruption, as in South Korea in the late 1990s crisis — or more permanent, as in Brazil in the 1980s or Japan in the 1990s?

There are at least three reasons why China’s growth might suffer a discontinuity: the current pattern is unsustainable; the debt overhang is large; and dealing with these challenges creates the risks of a sharp collapse in demand. The most important fact about China’s current pattern of growth is its dependence on investment as a source of supply and demand (see charts). Since 2011 additional capital has been the sole source of extra output, with the contribution of growth of “total factor productivity” (measuring the change in output per unit of inputs) near zero. Moreover, the incremental capital output ratio, a measure of the contribution of investment to growth, has soared as returns on investment have tumbled.

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Looks like a smart view.

Alibaba Is the Canary in China’s Coal Mine (Pesek)

It turns out investors were right about Alibaba: No company is more on the front lines of China’s economic shifts than Jack Ma’s juggernaut. And that’s just where the problems begin. Alibaba’s shares slide with each new report of middle-class Chinese who are dumping apartments to raise cash, delaying weddings, canceling vacations, terminating automobile orders and cutting up credit cards. A social media app called “Guide on Safe Passage Through the Economic Crisis” is all the rage as hundreds of millions of mainlanders encounter their first bear market. All that most Chinese younger than 50 know is annual growth of more than 10%. Crashing stocks and recession are Western maladies, not China’s. Ma has hitched the fortunes of his e-commerce behemoth to these people, and the value of his company is falling in sync with them.

After surging as much as 75% from their initial offering price of $68 each last September, the company’s American depositary receipts plunged 16% in August, to $66.12, the third consecutive monthly decline in New York. Anyone who doubts that China won’t experience a negative wealth effect as Shanghai cracks hasn’t looked at Alibaba’s numbers. Skeptical investors have shaved $65 billion from its market value since last year’s euphoric initial public offering. Things are about to get worse — both for the economy and Ma’s investors. Five interest-rate cuts since November aren’t boosting factory activity, which is the weakest in at least three years. The 49.7 reading on the August Purchasing Managers’ Index confirmed the worst fears of China bulls: Domestic and external demand is sliding with the Shanghai Composite Index.

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Li and Xi will do anything to keep the blame of their own shoulders.

China Turns Up Heat On Market Participants (FT)

Beijing intensified its clampdown on stock market impropriety and rumour-mongering on Tuesday as the whereabouts of one of China’s leading hedge fund managers remained unclear. The husband of Li Yifei, Man Group China head, denied that she was in detention. An earlier Bloomberg report saying she had been taken into custody by police in connection with the stock market probe into market volatility was “not accurate”, Wang Chaoyong, Ms Li’s husband, told the Financial Times. “Li is in a meeting with [financial industry] authorities at the moment in the suburbs of Beijing,” he said, adding that the meeting was continuing from Monday and that “it sounds like there are a lot of people attending from foreign financial institutions”.

Mr Wang said he did not know the purpose of the meeting, adding “it’s confidential, they are not allowed to turn on their phones”. But he said such encounters between foreign businesses and the Chinese market authorities were normal and he did not appear distressed about his wife’s situation. “I talked to her yesterday morning and the day before,” he said. “I haven’t talked to her today.” Questions over Ms Li’s whereabouts come after Chinese authorities turned up the heat on other prominent figures, including four senior executives of Citic Securities, a respected financial journalist and an official of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, the market watchdog.

Authorities have blamed market manipulation and foreign forces as the market slumps lower. The Shanghai Composite index is down more than 40% from its June 12 peak, prompting a slew of detentions alongside technical measures designed to reverse the slide. Ms Li leads the China business of London-listed Man Group, the world’s largest publicly traded hedge fund. A kung fu expert who once worked as a stunt double in martial arts, she previously held senior roles in China for MTV and Viacom. But Man Group does not run a trading desk or make investments from its Chinese office, and fewer than five people are employed there. Ms Li’s role is to sell Man Group funds to Chinese institutional investors. The group first received permission to market in China from the government under the so-called QDLP programme, which was launched in 2013. The programme allowed approved foreign hedge funds to raise up to $50m in assets in mainland China.

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The rally explained.

Huge Purchases By Chinese Oil Trader Raise Prices, Confusion (WSJ)

A Chinese oil-trading company bought record volumes of oil on a regional cash market for Middle Eastern crude last month, pushing up benchmark prices and causing confusion among crude buyers and sellers in Asia about the company’s motives. Chinaoil, the trading arm of state-run China National Petroleum, bought nearly 90% of the oil cargoes on the Dubai spot market in August, setting a record for the number of cargoes traded on the small marketplace in a single month. Chinaoil has engaged in heavy crude-buying in Dubai periodically over the past year, during which time global oil prices have fallen by roughly half. China’s oil imports have held up this year despite a slowdown in the country’s economic growth, with much of the crude believed to have gone toward building up the country’s strategic oil reserves.

China is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest oil importer this year on an annual basis, and its net oil imports were up 9.4% over the first seven months of this year. Still, traders involved in the Dubai market have questioned Chinaoil’s motives, saying its market dominance is distorting prices by making them higher than they would otherwise be. “The Dubai oil price is detached from actual supply and demand. There is a very clear disconnect from the market,” said one Singapore-based oil trader. Dubai crude prices are widely used by Asian oil producers and sellers when fixing contracts, as much of the region’s crude is sourced from the Middle East. The benchmark is assessed by price-reporting agency Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill, which bases its assessment on trades done during a 30-minute window each day.

Platts assessed the price of Dubai crude cargoes for loading in October at $48.41 a barrel on Monday, and at an average of $47.691 a barrel over August. Brent crude was trading at $52.16 a barrel on Monday. The Dubai market is now in a situation called backwardation, in which current prices are higher than future prices, because of Chinaoil’s large purchases. For global benchmarks such as Brent and West Texas Intermediate, by contrast, the price for oil to be delivered in a month is sharply lower than future prices, a situation called contango. “If you look at the physical market it is not tight. So [Chinaoil’s buying] is kind of distorting the market,” said Tushar Bansal at Facts Global Energy. Oil traders offered several theories for Chinaoil’s large purchases. Some said the company could be engaged in opportunistic stockpiling, while others said it could be profiting by taking an offsetting position in the oil futures market.

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This will cost a lot of people a lot of money. A huge headfake in oil prices.

A Corner of the Oil Market Shows Why It’s So Tough to Read China (Bloomberg)

Glencore Plc’s Ivan Glasenberg has lamented the difficulty of reading China’s commodity demand. The nation’s oil traders aren’t helping. State-run China National United Oil Corp., a unit of the country’s biggest energy company, bought 36 million barrels of Middle East crude last month as part of a pricing process in Singapore used to determine commodity benchmarks around the world. While the purchases by the trader known as Chinaoil were unprecedented, what’s more unusual is that the seller of most of those cargoes was another government-owned trading company called Unipec. “It’s unsettling and confusing for other players, and defies market logic,” Victor Shum at IHS said by phone from Singapore.

China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest buyer of overseas oil, driven by an ambition to keep a strategic stockpile of supplies. As global markets convulse after the surprise devaluation of the yuan in August, one state company buying from another underscores the challenge of determining demand in the largest user of energy, metals and grains. Glasenberg, the chief executive officer of leading commodity trader Glencore, said last month that “none of us know what is going on” currently in the world’s second-largest economy.

The record buying in Singapore was part of the market-on-close price assessment process run by Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc., where bids, offers and deals are reported by traders through e-mails, instant messages and phone conversations in a fixed period each day. These are used to create end-of-day price assessments for various commodities and form benchmarks for transactions globally. “Chinaoil and Unipec each have their own trading book and strategy,” Ehsan Ul-Haq, a senior market consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies, said by phone from London. “The Chinese government will not hinder free trading.”

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These boyos are talking about a technical recession. Wait till home prices start plummeting, then we’ll talk again.

Hit By Cheap Oil, Canada’s Economy Falls Into Recession (Reuters)

The Canadian economy shrank again in the second quarter, putting the country in recession for the first time since the financial crisis, with a plunge in oil prices spurring companies to chop business investment. The confirmation on Tuesday of a modest recession will figure heavily into the election campaign as Canadians head to the polls Oct. 19 and poses a challenge to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is seeking a rare fourth consecutive term. Still, there was a silver lining as growth picked up for the first time in six months in June, underscoring expectations the recession will be short-lived. Harper was quick to downplay what some supporters and economists have dismissed as a “technical” recession, pointing to the upbeat June figures during a campaign stop. “The Canadian economy is back on track,” he said.

But politicians from the opposition New Democrats and Liberals said the numbers were evidence Harper’s economic policies were failing. Economists mostly agreed the 0.5% pickup in June put Canada on good footing for a better third quarter. “Despite the technical recession materializing, it does look like the Canadian economy is jumping back, is rebounding strongly in the third quarter,” said Derek Burleton at Toronto-Dominion Bank. The Canadian dollar initially rallied to a session high against the greenback following the data before giving up ground later in the day as oil prices fell. The last time Canada was in recession was in 2008-09, when the U.S. housing market meltdown triggered a global credit crisis.

This time around, Canada has been primarily hit by the slump in crude prices, with weakness concentrated in energy-related sectors. Oil-exporting provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan have been particularly hard-hit. GDP contracted at an annualized 0.5% rate in the second quarter, Statistics Canada said. That was better than forecast, though revisions showed the first quarter’s contraction was steeper than first reported. Two consecutive quarters of contraction are typically considered the textbook definition of a recession. But some economists have argued that such a definition is too narrow. They note unemployment has remained relatively subdued at 6.8%, and housing markets outside of Alberta and retail sales have been reasonably strong.

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Hear that distant rumble over the prairies?

Alberta Issues Bleak Economic Report (Globe and Mail)

Alberta’s economy is sliding into recession and its deficit for this year could top $6.5-billion, the province’s NDP government says in an economic update. It is a dramatic change from March, when the previous government forecast a deficit of nearly $5-billion and was expecting the economy to grow in 2015. Monday’s bleak new numbers came as neighbouring Saskatchewan announced it is forecasting a $292-million deficit this year due to low oil prices and the cost of fighting forest fires. The Prairie province had projected a surplus of $107-million in March. Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci avoided using the word “recession” on Monday, but confirmed the update’s findings that the economy of the province, Canada’s economic engine for much of the past decade, will contract by 0.6% this year and grow by only 1.3% in 2016.

“The last month has been volatile for the energy sector,” he said. “It is clear that revenues have dipped even further these past few weeks. If current conditions continue, the final deficit will be in the range of $6.5-billion.” Alberta’s new projected deficit is the second-largest in the country as a proportion of its economy, after that of Newfoundland and Labrador. “There is no doubt many Alberta families and businesses are feeling the effects of the dramatic drop in oil prices,” Mr. Ceci said. On Tuesday, Statistics Canada will report on whether the national economy shrank for a second consecutive quarter. The Federal Balanced Budget Act defines two consecutive quarters of negative growth as a recession. “Almost certainly, all the headlines on Tuesday will be ‘Canada in recession,’” said ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch.

“But over the last five years, all of Canada’s growth has been coming from Alberta. We’ve been doing our share of the heavy lifting, but in 2015, we’re a drag on the national economy.” His forecast for this year fits with the government’s latest numbers. However, he is expecting zero growth next year. Alberta’s government finances are closely tied to the price of a barrel of oil, with royalties paying for as much as one-third of provincial spending during times of high energy prices. Recent fluctuations in oil prices have made forecasting difficult. Over the past week, oil prices have surged from $38.24 (U.S.) a barrel to $49.20 on Monday. “The situation over the month of August has changed so dramatically, I don’t want to say that the forecast is inaccurate, but we might see some revision,” Mr. Hirsch said. “Anything could happen in the next few months. We could be at $20 oil or $60-per-barrel oil.”

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“Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.”

Say Goodbye to Normal (Jim Kunstler)

The tremors rattling markets are not exactly what they seem to be. A meme prevails that these movements represent a kind of financial peristalsis — regular wavelike workings of eternal progress toward an epic more of everything, especially profits! You can forget the supposedly “normal” cycles of the techno-industrial arrangement, which means, in particular, the business cycle of the standard economics textbooks. Those cycles are dying. They’re dying because there really are Limits to Growth and we are now solidly in grips of those limits. Only we can’t recognize the way it is expressing itself, especially in political terms. What’s afoot is a not “recession” but a permanent contraction of what has been normal for a little over two hundred years.

There is not going to be more of everything, especially profits, and the stock buyback orgy that has animated the corporate executive suites will be recognized shortly for what it is: an assest-stripping operation. What’s happening now is a permanent contraction. Well, of course, nothing lasts forever, and the contraction is one phase of a greater transition. The cornucopians and techno-narcissists would like to think that we are transitioning into an even more lavish era of techno-wonderama — life in a padded recliner tapping on a tablet for everything! I don’t think so. Rather, we’re going medieval, and we’re doing it the hard way because there’s just not enough to go around and the swollen populations of the world are going to be fighting over what’s left.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we can go medieval, because there’s no guarantee that the contraction has to stop there, especially if we behave really badly about it — and based on the way we’re acting now, it’s hard to be optimistic about our behavior improving. Going medieval would imply living within the solar energy income of the planet, and by that I don’t mean photo-voltaic panels, but rather what the planet might provide in the way of plant and animal “income” for a substantially smaller population of humans. That plus a long-term resource salvage operation.

[..] I have to say it again: prepare to get smaller and more local. Things on the grand level are not going to work out. Get your shit together locally, and do it in place that has some prospect for keeping on: a small town somewhere food can be grown and especially places near the inland waterways where some kind of commercial exchange might continue in the absence of the trucking industry. Sound outlandish? Okay then. Keep buying Tesla stock and party on, dudes. Hail the viziers in their star-and-planet bedizened Brooks Brother raiment. Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

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You would almost hope Marine Le Pen takes over.

France ‘Intimidated’ By Germany On Economic Policy: Stiglitz (AFP)

France has been intimidated by Germany into pursuing an economic policy that isn’t working, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told AFP in an interview on Monday. “There is a kind of intimidation,” Stiglitz, an outspoken opponent of austerity policy, said of the influence of Germany over the economic policy pursued by President Francois Hollande. Stiglitz also said he agreed with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis that Germany’s intransigence against Athens was aimed at striking fear in Paris and convincing the French government to continue austerity policies. “The centre-left government in France has not been able to stand up against Germany” on its budget policy, eurozone policy, or on the response to the Greek crisis, said the former World Bank chief economist and advisor to US president Bill Clinton.

Regarding the EU, he criticised Brussels for focusing on nominal deficits of member states rather than those adjusted for the economic cycle, as well as the policy response. “Cutting taxes and expenditures contracts the economy, just the opposite to what you need,” said Stiglitz. “I do not understand why Europe is now trying that after all the evidence, all the theory says it does not work,” he added. He said the “totally discredited” policy now only has support in Germany and a few people in France. Stiglitz, who is in France to promote the translation of his latest book, “The Great Divide”, said the “centre-left has lost confidence in its progressive agenda”. He noted that former British prime minister Tony Blair, ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and US President Barack Obama all supported the “banking system, have supported deregulation, trade agreements that are bad for ordinary workers”.

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Contradictio in terminus: “The euro is irreversible – but if it is irreversible for every country has become an open question..”

Grexit May Be Better For Greece: Euro Architect (CNBC)

Leaving the euro might help struggling Greece, according to Otmar Issing, the former ECB board member and chief economist who is known as one of the euro currency’s architects. “The euro is irreversible – but if it is irreversible for every country has become an open question,” Issing told CNBC on Tuesday. Issing raised eyebrows earlier this summer when he said that the euro’s irreversibility was an “illusion,” contradicting current ECB members who have insisted that there is no going back from the single currency. However, economists and politicians away from the ECB have questioned whether highly indebted Greece can remain in the euro zone and whether it might in fact do better economically outside the currency union.

“For Greece, there are very good arguments that it would do well outside the euro area for some time to come, but it all depends on the Greek government’s reactions” Issing told CNBC. Greece has just begun a third much-needed bailout, after months of negotiations, which looked like they might result in a disorderly exit from the single currency region. Since then, China has replaced Greece as the economy causing most worry to the global financial system. Issing, who is currently president of the Center for Financial Studies at Goethe University, spoke of the “high degree of uncertainty” that remains and forecast an era of “moderate growth but not stagnation.”

“We are heading for a time of high uncertainty in which governments still have many measures in hand to sustain the situation,” he said. He cautioned the ECB, which meets later this week, against any further extension of its quantitative easing program, arguing that the “danger of creating bubbles in fixed income markets” outweighed any advantages.

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It’s no use trying to democratize the EU. Or rather: the only way to democratize the EU is to dismantle the union. Yanis should know that better than just about anyone.

Democratizing the Eurozone (Yanis Varoufakis)

Like Macbeth, policymakers tend to commit new sins to cover up their old misdemeanors. And political systems prove their worth by how quickly they put an end to their officials’ serial, mutually reinforcing, policy mistakes. Judged by this standard, the eurozone, comprising 19 established democracies, lags behind the largest non-democratic economy in the world. Following the onset of the recession that followed the 2008 global financial crisis, China’s policymakers spent seven years replacing waning demand for their country’s net exports with a homegrown investment bubble, inflated by local governments’ aggressive land sales. And when the moment of reckoning came this summer, China’s leaders spent $200 billion of hard-earned foreign reserves to play King Canute trying to hold back the tide of a stock-market rout.

Compared to the European Union, however, the Chinese government’s effort to correct its errors – by eventually allowing interest rates and stock values to slide – seems like a paragon of speed and efficiency. Indeed, the failed Greek “fiscal consolidation and reform program,” and the way the EU’s leaders have clung to it despite five years of evidence that the program cannot possibly succeed, is symptomatic of a broader European governance failure, one with deep historical roots. In the early 1990s, the traumatic breakdown of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism only strengthened the resolve of EU leaders to prop it up. The more the scheme was exposed as unsustainable, the more doggedly officials clung to it – and the more optimistic their narratives. The Greek “program” is just another incarnation of Europe’s rose-tinted policy inertia.

The last five years of economic policymaking in the eurozone have been a remarkable comedy of errors. The list of policy mistakes is almost endless: interest-rate hikes by the European Central Bank in July 2008 and again in April 2011; imposing the harshest austerity on the economies facing the worst slump; authoritative treatises advocating beggar-thy-neighbor competitive internal devaluations; and a banking union that lacks an appropriate deposit-insurance scheme. How can European policymakers get away with it? After all, their political impunity stands in sharp contrast not only to the United States, where officials are at least accountable to Congress, but also to China, where one might be excused for thinking that officials are less accountable than their European counterparts. The answer lies in the fragmented and deliberately informal nature of Europe’s monetary union.

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If finance doesn’t implode the union, we have other flavors.

Inability To Unite On Major Challenges May Pull The EU Apart (EurActiv)

French Socialist Party leaders have warned that the multitude of crises currently buffeting the European Union could deal a death blow to the European project. EurActiv France reports. The economic crisis, the Greek crisis and the refugee crisis are subjects of grave concern for the French Socialists. “This is a time when the European construction could actually disappear,” the MEP Pervenche Bérès warned at the French Socialist Party’s summer university in La Rochelle last week. Between the economic crisis that has rumbled on since 2008, the threat of a “Grexit” earlier in the summer, security concerns and the rise of terrorism and now the humanitarian crisis unfolding on Europe’s borders with the arrival of so many refugees, there is no shortage of reasons to be worried.

The political unity of Europe is at stake. For Guillaume Bachelay, a French Socialist MP, “the risk is that generations to come will have to suffer the deconstruction of the European project”. The Greek crisis is an open wound. For many, the fact that high ranking politicians in countries like Germany had called for Greece’s eviction from the eurozone caused damage to the Union that is not easily repaired. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the socialist camp has nothing but praise for French President, François Hollande, whose unwavering support for Greece certainly helped them avoid this fate.

“If France succeeded in playing this role, it was not in the name of a currency or the interests of the Greeks, Europe, or France. It was in the name of a political idea. When Europe moves forward, there is no way back. We refused to let the EU crumble,” said Michel Sapin, the French finance minister and a close ally of François Hollande.

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Too late now for leaders to stand up.

Bid For United EU Response Fraying Over Refugee Quota Demands (Guardian)

Europe’s fragmented attempts to get to grips with its worst ever migration crisis are disintegrating into a slanging match between national capitals ahead of what is shaping up to be a major clash between eastern and western Europe over a common response. Berlin has won plaudits for seizing the moral high ground and opening its doors unconditionally to Syrian refugees but Austria and Hungary attacked it on Tuesday for stoking chaos at their railway stations, on their roads and at their borders as thousands of people seek transit to Germany. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, rejected the criticism and stepped up her campaign to pressure reluctant EU partners into relieving the load on Germany and taking part in a more equitable system of sharing refugees across the EU.

“We must push through uniform European asylum policies,” she said. With Germany expecting to process 800,000 asylum applications this year – more than four times the figure for 2014 and more than the rest of the EU combined – Merkel insisted that there had to be a fairer distribution. “The criteria must be discussed,” she said. Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, stood alongside Merkel in Berlin as she spoke, but he rejected the German pressure for a new system of binding quotas for refugees spread across the EU. “Some countries don’t want refugees,” he said. “You can’t force anyone [to take them].” “It’s not the time to be pointing fingers at each other,” said Natasha Bertaud, the European commission’s spokeswoman on immigration.

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Hungary has no idea what to do, and receives as little aid as Greece does.

Hungarian TV ‘Told Not To Broadcast Images Of Refugee Children’ (Guardian)

Employees of Hungarian state television have been instructed not to include children in footage of news pieces about migrants and refugees, a leaked screenshot of editorial advice to journalists at news channel M1 reveals. Hungary’s government-appointed Media Authority, MTVA, denied state media outlets have been told to limit public sympathy towards refugees, arguing that the memo was designed to protect children, while a pro-government journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian this had only been one-off instruction. “They do show children sometimes: actually the%age of children registered in Hungary this year is quite low, so in some opposition media they are somewhat overrepresented,” the source said.

Hungary has become a major transit country for migrants and refugees in recent months, but while M1 was quick to broadcast footage showing demonstrations outside the overcrowded transit zone at Budapest’s Keleti station over the weekend, protests against government policies on refugees have received scant coverage in state media. Refugee solidarity group MigSzol has held mass protests against the Hungarian government’s “national consultation” on immigration and the construction of a fence along the country’s border with Serbia. However, the pro-government journalist argued that these protests have been overlooked because “MigSzol tends to campaign against some Hungarian and even EU laws regarding migration.”

The civic aid initiatives that have sprung up in lieu of co-ordinated state help have also been largely ignored by state media. The journalist said: “The NGOs helping the migrants are very political: people known from the opposition scene take part and they mix pro-migration content with criticism of the government, so pro-government, more rightwing media won’t really give (a platform) for these people … even if their work to help migrants is okay.”

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Democracy in action.

Greece’s Ionian Islands To Hold Plebiscite Over Airport Privatization (Kath.)

The Regional Authority of the Ionian Islands has said that it is planning to hold a referendum over government plans to privatize 14 airports around the country, including the popular holiday islands of Corfu and Cephalonia. “The decision… for the concession of 14 regional airports to the German consortium of Fraport is a particularly negative development for the Ionian islands,” Regional Governor Theodoros Galiatsatos told the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Tuesday, following a meeting of the regional council, which agreed to organize a plebiscite following the September 20 general elections. “The impact on the region’s economy is expected to be extremely negative as four of the 14 airports that are up for sale have a direct effect on the region’s socio-economic life,” Galiatsatos said, referring to the airports of Corfu, Aktaio, Cephalonia and Zakynthos.

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I think it’s more sinister than mere indifference.

The Price of European Indifference (Bernard-Henri Lévy)

Europe’s migration debate has taken a disturbing turn. It began with the creation of the catch-all concept (a legal freak) of a “migrant,” which obscures the difference, central to the law, between economic and political migration, between people escaping poverty and those driven from their homes by war. Unlike economic migrants, those fleeing oppression, terror, and massacre have an inalienable right to asylum, which entails an unconditional obligation by the international community to provide shelter. Even when the distinction is acknowledged, it is often as part of another sleight of hand, an attempt to convince credulous minds that the men, women, and children who paid thousands of dollars to travel on one of the rickety boats washing up on the islands of Lampedusa or Kos are economic migrants.

The reality, however, is that 80% of these people are refugees, attempting to escape despotism, terror, and religious extremism in countries like Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. That is why international law requires that the cases of asylum-seekers are examined not in bulk, but one by one. And even when that is accepted, when the sheer number of people clamoring to get to Europe’s shores makes it all but impossible to deny the barbarity driving them to flee, a third smokescreen goes up. Some, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claim that the conflicts generating these refugees rage only in Arab countries that are being bombed by the West. Here again, the figures do not lie.

The top source of refugees is Syria, where the international community has refused to conduct the kinds of military operations required by the “responsibility to protect” – even though international law demands intervention when a mad despot, having killed 240,000 of his people, undertakes to empty his country. The West also is not bombing Eritrea, another major source of refugees. Yet another damaging myth, perpetuated by shocking images of refugees swarming through border fences or attempting to climb onto trains in Calais, is that “Fortress Europe” is under assault by waves of barbarians. This is wrong on two levels. First, Europe is far from being the migrants’ primary destination. Nearly two million refugees from Syria alone have headed to Turkey, and one million have fled to Lebanon, whose population amounts to just 3.5 million.

Jordan, with a population of 6.5 million, has taken in nearly 700,000. Meanwhile, Europe, in a display of united selfishness, has scuttled a plan to relocate a mere 40,000 asylum-seekers from their cities of refuge in Italy and Greece. Second, the minority who do choose Germany, France, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, or Hungary are not enemies who have come to destroy us or even to sponge off of European taxpayers. They are applicants for freedom, lovers of our promised land, our social model, and our values. They are people who cry out “Europe! Europe!” the way millions of Europeans, arriving a century ago on Ellis Island, learned to sing “America the Beautiful.”

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A portrait.

This Is What Greece’s Refugee Crisis Really Looks Like (Nation)

In the baking midday August heat on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ziad Mouatash bounces out of an overcrowded inflatable raft and touches EU soil for the first time. The 22-year-old from Yarmouk—the Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Damascus that has been besieged and bombed since 2012 by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and recently invaded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front—hugs everyone around him, ecstatic to be alive. From the Greek shore, activists and locals had looked on helplessly as the boat’s motor broke down two miles away, water pouring into the barely floating rubber dinghy. Children and adults alike cried desperately for help, until they were towed to Greece by another boat of refugees coming from Turkey.

Mouatash paid human traffickers in Turkey over 1,000 euros for this near-death experience, but as far as he’s concerned, it was a far less risky choice than continuing to hide out in deteriorating Damascus, which he’d abandoned for Turkey two weeks before. As a Palestinian who grew up in Syria’s refugee camps, he is stateless, but he has a brother in Paris and hopes to start a new life in France. He paces up and down the shoreline, unsure of which direction to go, while local activists try to bring the new arrivals together to tell them that they need to start a 40-mile walk to a registration center on the other side of the island. “Thanks to God I have made it here. I am free, I am alive!” Mouatash exclaims, overcome with emotion.

Although he has escaped the horrors of Syria’s grinding civil war, Mouatash is just beginning the difficult journey through Europe. He will have to cross more borders illegally; rest in filthy, makeshift camps; pay traffickers to help him cross those borders; dodge border police; and sleep in parks and fields, before he can reunite with his brother. Still, Mouatash is one of the lucky ones. Four days after his arrival, a raft off the Greek island of Kos capsized and six Syrians—including a baby—drowned. According to Lt. Eleni Kelmani, a spokesperson for the Lesbos Coast Guard, up to 2,000 refugees are now arriving daily on the island. She notes that this sunny tourist haven has seen the arrival of 75,000 of the estimated 120,000 refugees who have landed in Greece this year. Outside her office, hundreds of them sleep next to parked cars or in tents on the edge of the port.

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Kathimerini, too, persists in using the term ‘migrants’. That’s called a political agenda.

Greek Island Lesvos Registers 17,500 Refugees Just Over The Past Week (Kath.)

More than 4,200 refugees were due to arrive in Piraeus on two ships from Lesvos Tuesday, only temporarily easing the pressure on scant resources on the island but at the same time increasing concern in Athens about the fate of those who would disembark. Authorities on Lesvos have registered some 17,500 refugees and migrants over the past week but the transfer to Athens of many of those people would only provide brief respite as hundreds more are arriving each day. While many refugees head for Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), some end up stranded in Athens. Victoria Square in the city center has become a popular gathering point for refugees.

Athens Mayor Giorgis Kaminis is due to meet caretaker Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas Thursday to discuss the issue. European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is also due in Greece Thursday. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos called his French counterpart Francois Hollande to discuss the issue. Pavlopoulos took the opportunity to explain to Hollande the size of the problem Greece is facing. More than 350,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year and 2,600 have died while making the journey, the International Organization for Migration said Tuesday.

The latest figures from IOM show that 234,778 migrants had landed in Greece and another 114,276 in Italy, with most of the other arrivals split between Spain (2,166) and the island of Malta (94). The figure from 2015 already dwarfs that of 2014, when 219,000 made the crossing throughout the entire year.

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Orwell reigns supreme in Brussels. New Europe equals newspeak.

EU Task Force To Take On Russian Propaganda (New Europe)

The European Commission is launching a small ‘start-up’ team, composed of ten experts, in efforts to respond to the misleading Russian information system. The step comes in reaction to the conclusions of the March European Council, which stressed “the need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns”. The spokesperson for foreign and security policy of the European Commission, Catherine Ray, told journalists that, “We indeed put a team in place a team within the EEAS to work on it, and they will start working on it as of September. They are now in full shape.” As requested by the March Council, An Action Plan on Strategic Communication was prepared.

The focus of the Action Plan, the EU source described to New Europe, “is on proactive communication of EU policies and values towards the Eastern neighbourhood. The measures cover not only EU Strategic Communication, but also wider EU efforts aimed at strengthening the media environment and supporting independent media. Some of the actions are for the EU institutions to take forward; others are more relevant to the Member States.” It remains to be seen how the different efforts will be divided between Institutions and Member States, and indeed what the impact on the media landscape will be. The decision to create such a team has been considered a reaction to growing concern in eastern Europe and the Baltic states about the destabilizing influence of Russian propaganda.

The EU Official told New Europe that “This is not about engaging in counter-propaganda. However, where necessary the EU will respond to disinformation that directly targets the EU and will work with partners to raise awareness of these activities.“ The special team will be part of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and will be based in its headquarters in Brussels. According to the source, the tasks of the team include “media monitoring” and “the development of communication products and media campaign focused on explaining EU policies in the region.” The mission will also support independent media and work with partner governments. With the goal to effectively communicate the EU policies in the the Eastern neighborhood, the task force will monitor, analyze and respond to reports on EU activities. In regards to expanding the missions, the task force, the EU source said, is “only one element of a wide range of EU activities aimed at communicating on EU policies.”

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Not very useful exercise if manmade disasters are not part of the discussion.

Is The World Running Out Of Space? (BBC)

Sometimes it’s difficult to fathom that the world could actually become even more crowded than it is today – especially when elbowing through a teeming Delhi market, hustling across a frenetic Tokyo street crossing or sharing breathing space with sweaty strangers crammed into a London Tube train. Yet our claustrophobia-inducing numbers are only set to grow. While it is impossible to precisely predict population levels for the coming decades, researchers are certain of one thing: the world is going to become an increasingly crowded place. New estimates issued by the United Nations in July predict that, by 2030, our current 7.3 billion will have increased to 8.4 billion. That figure will rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, and to a mind-boggling 11.2 billion by 2100.

Yet even today, it’s difficult enough to get away from one another. Drive a few hours outside of New York City or San Francisco, into the Catskill Mountains or Point Reyes National Seashore, and you’ll find crowds of city-dwellers clogging trails and beaches. Even more remote and supposedly idyllic spaces are feeling the crush, too. Backcountry permits for the Grand Tetons in Wyoming sell out months in advance, while Arches National park in Utah had to shut down for several hours last May due to a traffic gridlock. For those who can afford the luxury of occasionally escaping other members of our own species, doing so often requires getting on a plane and travelling to increasingly far-fetched locales.

Yet humanity’s footprint extends even to the most seemingly isolated of places: you’ll find nomadic herders in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, Berbers in the Sahara and camps of scientists in Antarctica. This begs the question: as the world becomes even more crowded, will it become practically impossible to find a patch of land free from human settlement or presence? Will we eventually overtake all remaining habitable space?

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Jul 242015
 
 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing WSS poster, Washington DC 1917


Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)
Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)
Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)
A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)
Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)
Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)
Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)
Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)
Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)
Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)
Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)
“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)
Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)
The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)
The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)
Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)
German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)
Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)
Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)
A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)
Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)
Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)
Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

“..to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.”

Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)

The reason that the Bloomberg index will now knife through the 100 index level tagged on both the right- and left-hand side of the chart is the law of supply and demand – along with its first cousin called variable cost pricing and a destructive interloper best described as zombie finance. The latter is what becomes of central bank driven bubble finance when the cycle turns, as it is now doing, from asset accumulation and inflation to asset liquidation and deflation. But to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.

Thus, in the case of the global mining industries, CapEx by the top 40 miners amounted to $18 billion in 2001. During the original boom cycle it soared to $42 billion by 2008, and then after a temporary pause during the financial crisis, reaccelerated once again, reaching a peak of $130 billion in 2013. Owing to the collapse of commodity prices as shown above, new projects and greenfield investments have pretty much ground to a halt in iron ore, met coal, copper and the other principal industrial materials, but there is a catch. Namely, that big projects which were in the pipeline when commodity prices and profit margins began to roll-over in 2012, are being carried to completion owing to the sunk cost syndrome. This means that available, on-line capacity continues to soar.

The poster child for that is the world’s largest iron ore port at Hedlund, Australia. The latter set another shipment record in June owing to still rising output in mines it services – a record notwithstanding the plunge of iron ore prices from a peak of $190 per ton in 2011 to $47 per ton a present. The ramp-up in E&P investment for oil and gas was similar. Global spending was $100 billion in the year 2000, but had risen to $400 billion by 2008 and peaked at $700 billion in 2014. In the case of hydrocarbon E&P investment, however,the law of variable cost pricing works with a vengeance because “lifting costs” even for shale and tar sands are modest compared to the front-end capital investment. Accordingly, the response of production to plunging prices has been initially limited and will be substantially prolonged.

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“All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.”

Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)

So much for predictions that gold would spike to $2,000 an ounce. The yellow metal is in a deep slump. It’s down more than 40% from its 2011 peak and crashing back toward $1,000. The slide just keeps getting worse. Gold has declined for 10 straight days. That’s the longest losing streak for gold since September 1996. To put that into perspective, back then oil prices were fetching just $19 a barrel, New York Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter was nearing his first World Series title and rap fans were mourning the death of Tupac Shakur. So why is gold getting creamed? It comes down to three key factors: a strong U.S. dollar, China slowing down its gold purchases and little worry about inflation anymore.

1. Strong dollar: A strong greenback hurts commodities that are measured in dollars because it makes them more expensive for overseas buyers. It’s a double negative for gold because the precious metal is supposed to be a hedge against inflation and the devaluing of currency. “Gold has taken it on the chin with the strength in the dollar. Over the past week or so, it was almost like a perfect storm,” said Bob Alderman, head of wealth management at Gold Bullion International, a provider of precious metals. The U.S. dollar lost ground against most currencies on Thursday, giving gold a short reprieve. Gold prices ticked up 0.2% to $1,093 an ounce. But over the coming months, the dollar is expected to keep climbing.

2. China, Iran & Greece: Gold plummeted by as much as $40 an ounce in mere minutes after China’s central bank gave a rare update on how much gold it’s hoarding. The numbers showed the world’s largest gold producer has been stockpiling gold reserves at a slower pace than previously thought, spooking gold investors. Gold has also been hurt by easing tensions in Europe and the Middle East. Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement with the West has lessened some fears about a conflict in that volatile region. Those fears had allowed gold, and more so oil, to trade at a premium. Likewise, Greece landed a last-minute deal with its creditors that allows the crisis-ravaged country to stay in the euro. Investors are no longer speculating about a Greek exit or the long-term implications for the currency union. “The new bailout softened the fear of contagion. That was not a good thing for gold,” said Alderman.

3. What inflation? Inflation worries also remain muted. When gold topped $1,900 in September 2011, some investors bought gold because they feared the Federal Reserve’s money printing would cause runaway inflation. But inflation continues to undershoot the Fed’s goals despite extremely low interest rates and years of massive bond purchases. “Over the last 5,000 years gold has been a store of value that will be there for a time when there is inflation. There is no inflation now,” said George Gero at RBC Capital Markets. In fact, the recent collapse in the commodities complex is only lowering inflation and inflation expectations. Everything from coffee, sugar, beans to crude oil is heading south. Industrial metals like copper and aluminum have renewed their tumble in recent days as soft global economic growth hurts demand and supply gluts deepen. All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.

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Does China have a choice?

Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)

For decades, central banks lorded over markets. Traders quivered at the omnipotence of monetary authorities – their every move, utterance and wink a reason to scurry for safe havens or an opportunity to score huge profits. Now, though, markets are the ones doing the bullying. Take New Zealand and Australia. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand slashed borrowing costs for the second time in six weeks even as housing prices continue to skyrocket. A day earlier, its counterpart across the Tasman Sea (already wrestling with an even bigger property bubble of its own) said a third cut this year is “on the table.” Just one year ago, it seemed unthinkable that officials in Wellington and Sydney, more typically known for their hawkishness and stubborn independence, would join the global race toward zero.

But with commodity prices sliding, China slowing and governments reluctant to adopt bold reforms, jittery markets are demanding ever-bigger gestures from central banks. Even those presiding over stable growth feel the need to placate hedge funds, lest asset markets falter. When this dynamic overtakes countries such as New Zealand (growing 2.6%) and Australia (2.3%), it’s hard not to conclude that ultralow rates will be the global norm for a long, long time. Indeed, the major monetary powers that are easing – Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – have all suggested rates may stay low almost indefinitely. Those angling to return to normalcy, meanwhile – the Fed and Bank of England – are pledging to move very slowly. Even nations with rising inflation problems, like India, are hinting at more stimulus.

“As interest rates continue to fall across most of the globe, central banks are also united in their main message: Once rates have come down, they’re likely to stay down,” says Simon Grose-Hodge of LGT Bank. “And when they finally do tighten, the ‘normal’ rate is going to be a lot lower than it used to be.” Could the People’s Bank of China be next? “With underlying GDP growth still looking weak, more monetary policy moves are likely,” says Adam Slater of Oxford Economics. “And China may even face the prospect of short-term rates dropping towards the zero lower bound.”

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But Henry expects a resurge. On what basis, though?

A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)

As regular readers know, for the past ~21 months I have been worrying out loud about US stock prices. Specifically, I have suggested that a decline of 30% to 50% would not be a surprise. I haven’t predicted a crash. But I have said clearly that I think stocks will deliver returns that are way below average for the next seven to 10 years. And I certainly won’t be surprised to see stocks crash. So don’t say no one warned you! So far, these concerns have just made me sound like Chicken Little. The S&P 500 is up strongly from where I first sounded the alarm. That’s actually good for me, because I own stocks. But my concerns haven’t changed. Earlier this year, for the first time, I even put (some) money where my mouth is!

In February, I changed the “dividend reinvestment” policy on my S&P 500 fund. (I’m an indexer — I think stock-picking is generally a lousy strategy for individuals.) Specifically, I stopped reinvesting dividends. I’m a long-term investor, so I don’t really care what stocks do next. This dividend change was a bet that, at some point in the future, I will be able to reinvest the cash from these dividends in stocks at lower prices than today. If stock prices never fall below today’s level, this will cost me money. It will also make me feel dumb for (sort of) trying to time the market. But at some point you’ve got to put some money behind what your analysis is telling you. What my analysis is telling me is:

1) stocks are extremely expensive and will eventually revert toward historical means, probably via a sharp correction of 30% to 50%

2) long-term stock returns from today’s level will be about 2% per year — nothing to write home about

So if I think there’s risk of a crash, why don’t I just sell everything? For the reasons outlined below. Again, I don’t care if the stocks I own tank, as long as they don’t tank permanently. A crash will just give me a chance to buy more at lower prices.

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Jim Fouras is a former speaker of the Queensland Parliament.

Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)

It’s hard to believe that in the last five years, Greece’s financial situation is comparable to those dark days when Germany invaded Greece. For example: a 25% decline in GDP; 25% unemployment (50% among youth); 40% of children living below the poverty line; soaring suicides rates; people cannot afford basic medicines and health care. Austerity measures are suffocating Greece and causing a brain drain that will damage it for generations. German leader Angela Merkel, in unison with the Troika, has forced austerity programs on the Greeks. For five years, Merkel has dominated the crisis management of the Greek economy through her insistence on fiscal rigour and cuts despite a huge economic slump and impoverishment of Greek society.

The IMF has argued internally for at least three years that the organisation was breaching its own rules by taking part in any bailout that held little prospect of achieving the debt sustainability that the IMF rescues prescribed. IMF boss Christine Lagarde ignored this advice. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stigliz argues that “when the IMF arrives in a country, they are only interested in one thing. How do we make sure that banks and the financial institutions are paid … they are not interested in development or what helps a country get out of poverty”. The Troika has assumed their bailout programs would reduce Greece’s debt to well below 110% (of GDP) by 2022. The Guardian has published IMF documents showing that under the best-case scenario, which includes a growth projection of 4% per year for the next five years (a ridiculous assumption), the country’s debt level will drop to 124% Greece’s debt level is now 175% and the nation slid back into recession.

The Greek economy will continue to slide unless there is a significant reduction of its debt and policies that allow Greece to grow at a rate to service those debts. Two days before the recent referendum, the IMF conceded that the crisis-ridden country needs up to 60 billion euros of extra funds over the next three years and large-scale debt relief. Germany will not accept debt relief, consequently it is not the Troika’s agenda. Greece is being forced to sell assets worth €50 billion with the proceeds earmarked for a trust fund supervised by its creditors — foreign leaders demanding almost total surrender of its national fiscal sovereignty. It would be difficult to imagine any sensible seller taking part in such a fire sale. The Greek Parliament will now vote for their country to be poorer.

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“How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.”

Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)

Greece is bracing for the return to Athens of officials representing the reviled “troika” of creditors as the debt-stricken country prepares to start negotiations for a third bailout. Mission chiefs with the EU, ECB and IMF fly into the Greek capital on Friday for talks on a proposed €86bn (£60bn) bailout, the third emergency funding programme for Athens since 2010. The return of the triumvirate, a day after internationally mandated reforms were pushed through the parliament by MPs, marks a personal defeat for the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who had pledged never to allow the auditors to step foot in Greece again. How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.

“The press will almost certainly make a big deal out of this and the government will try to play it down,” said Aristides Hatzis, a leading political commentator. “But given what people have gone through recently it might seem rather trivial and that is to Tsipras’ advantage. Their presence will definitely reinforce the realisation that another bailout is here.” Much has changed for Tsipras, the young firebrand catapulted into office on promises to eradicate the biting austerity policies that over five years have created record levels of unemployment and poverty. In the six months since his election, the radical leftist has been brought face-to-face with the brute force of fiscal rectitude and a German-dominated Europe.

Addressing parliament ahead of the crucial vote, Tsipras, who succumbed to the demands of foreign lenders earlier this month – accepting an ultimatum to find €12bn of savings, by far the heaviest austerity package to date – conceded that his government had been defeated. But he insisted the alternative – bankruptcy and exit from the euro – would have been catastrophic. He told MPs: “We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe.” [..] “We are turning our back on our common battles when in essence we say … austerity and giving into blackmail is a one-way street,” said Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the Left Platform, the far-left faction around which mutinous MPs rally around. “Greece does not have a future as a blackmailed eurozone colony under memorandum [bailout],” added the former minister who now advocates a return to the drachma.

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” The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation..”

Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)

Tspiras couldn’t have done a worse job of defending the Greek people. Only profound economic short-sightedness together with an opaque political strategy could transform the enormous electoral consensus that brought him into government in January into the victory for his adversories, the creditor countries, only six months later, in spite of winning the referendum in the mean time. An a priori rejection of a Euroexit has been his death sentence. Like the PD, he was convinced that it’s possible to break the link between the Euro and Austerity. Tsipras has handed over his country into the hands of the Germans, to be used like a vassal. Thinking that it’s possible to oppose the Euro only from within and presenting oneself without an explicit Plan B for an exit, he has in fact ended up by depriving Greece of any negotiating power in relation to the Euro.

So it was clear from the beginning that Tsipras would have crashed even though Varoufakis did try to react a few times. Only Vendola, the PD and the media inspired by the Scalfari-style lies (among many) of the United States of Europe and of those who are nostalgic about the Ventotene Manifesto could have believed in a Euro without Austerity. And they are obliged to go on believing in this so as not to have to admit that there is an exit opportunity after seven years of economic disasters. The consequence of this political disaster is before everyone’s eyes:
– Explicit Nazi-ism on the part of those that have reduced the periphery of Europe to a protectorate by using the debt, with alarming echoes of historical parallels.
– Mutism or explicit support for Germany by the oher European countries perhaps because of opportunism (north) or because of subordination (periphery).
– Financial markets that are celebrating the end of democracy with new highs.
– Expropriation of the national wealth by mortgaging €50 billlion of Greek property that ended up in the fund created by Adolf Schauble so as to get to rake in the cash from the war debts.

It was all thought out, foreseen, and planned down to the last detail. The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation in a way that is not dissimilar to how Germany is subjugating the periphery. By now the Euro is an explicit battle between the creditors and the debtors. It’s not useful for our government to try to appear to be on the virtuous side of the winners – those supporting the Euro – and supporting reform. It’s not possible to reform the Euro from within but the fight must be fought on the outside and we must abandon this anti-democratic straitjacket. Our debt and lack of growth together with deflation, place us neatly in the category of those who are beaten by debt. Thus we’d do well to prepare ourselves with a government that is explicitly anti-Euro to defend ourselves from the final assault on the wealth of the Italian people who are ever more at risk, unless we reclaim our monetary sovereignty.

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“[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB..”

Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)

The populist leader of Italy’s second largest political party has called for the nationalisation of Italian banks and exit from the euro, and said the country should prepare to use its “enormous debt” as a weapon against Germany. Former comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who transformed Italian politics when he launched his anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2009, has long been a bombastic critic of the euro. But his stance hardened significantly in a blogpost on Thursday in which he compared the Greek bailout negotiations to “explicit nazism”. Grillo constructed what he called a “Plan B” for Italy, which he said needed to heed the lessons of Greece so that it was ready “when the debtors come round”.

His plan called for Italy to adopt a clear anti-euro stance and to shake off its belief that – if forced to accept tough austerity – other “peripheral” countries would come to its aid. Grillo said Italy had to use its enormous €2tn (£1.4bn) debt as leverage against Germany, implying that the potential global damage of an Italian default would stop Germany from “interfering” with Italy’s “legitimate right” to convert its debt into another currency. He said Greece’s hand had been forced by the threat of bankruptcy to its banks, and that Italy therefore needed to nationalise its banks and shift to another currency. “[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB,” Grillo wrote.

Setting aside Grillo’s colourful language and analogies, analyst Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe said there was some merit to his arguments. “That blogpost does have some elements of truth,” Scarpetta said. “The lesson from Greece was that if you want to be in the eurozone you have to agree to rules of austerity.” The strength of anti-euro sentiment in Italy is easy to overlook since Matteo Renzi, the centre-left prime minister and head of the Democratic party, is a strong defender of Italy’s role in the eurozone. But Scarpetta pointed out that supporters of the Five Star Movement, coupled with supporters of the rightwing Northern League, which is also anti-euro, means that about 40% of Italians are at least sympathetic to anti-euro sentiments.

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No, really, M5S was the biggest single party in the latest elections. Renzi got in because of a ‘vote link’ between his party and another one.

Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, has launched a full-throated attack on the euro, saying Rome should abandon what he called an “anti-democratic straitjacket”. Mr Grillo, whose party is the second most popular in Italy, demanded the government formulate a “plan B” to exit the single currency and “take back our monetary sovereignty”. The comedian has become an increasingly trenchant critic of the euro at a time of rising euroscepticism across the Italian political landscape, spurred in part by the agonies of Greece and its prolonged bailout talks. But his attack on the single currency in an extensive blog post was nonetheless remarkable for its ferocity.

It suggests Mr Grillo sees a political opportunity in doubling down on his anti-euro message in the wake of Greece’s last-minute acceptance of exacting terms for a third bailout. It is also a sign of political contagion, or concerns that populist forces might gain traction from the Greek crisis. The Five Star Movement has been rising steadily in the polls since March. It is now garnering the support of nearly 25% of Italian voters and has narrowed the gap with the ruling centre-left Democratic party led by Matteo Renzi, the prime minister. Mr Grillo was particularly scathing about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, whom he had professed to admire before the deal was reached. “It would be difficult to defend the interests of the Greek people worse than Tsipras did,” Mr Grillo wrote.

“His refusal to exit the euro was his death sentence. He was convinced that he could break the marriage between the euro and austerity, but ended up delivering his country into Germany’s hands, like a vassal.” To avoid that fate, Mr Grillo said Italy should use its heavy debt load — worth more than €2tn, or 130% of GDP — as a threat. “[The debt] is an advantage that allows us to be on the offensive in any future negotiation, it is not a bogeyman that should make us bite at any request from our creditors,” he said.

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“Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007.“

Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)

Viewed from Berlin or London, the financial woes of Italy and Greece can look dangerously similar. Both sit on mountains of public debt and suffer from double-digit unemployment. So why hasn’t Italy had to shutter banks, submit to austerity measures in return for emergency loans, and contemplate an exit from the euro? For now Italy is chugging along, paying its debts and selling bonds. Its benchmark stock index is up 25% this year. It’s emerging from a record recession even as Greece enters a new slump after a brief rebound in 2014. Rome-based Eni, Europe’s No. 4 oil company, is pumping 1.7 million barrels per day globally and says output will keep rising. Finmeccanica sells helicopters to corporations and armed forces from the U.K. to China. Carnival cruise liners are made in Fincantieri’s Trieste shipyard.

Italian luxury goods, from Fendi to Ferrari, are at the top of consumer shopping lists. Among European manufacturers, Italy trails only Germany in production. The Greeks? They’ve got tourism and shipping and little else, says Marc Ostwald, a fixed income strategist at ADM Investor Service in London. Greek exports fell 7.5% in the first quarter, while Italy’s rose more than 3%. Tourism in Italy generated about €34 billion last year, almost triple what it did in Greece. With 60 million residents, Italy is more than five times as populous as Greece. History makes a difference, too. Rebuilding from World War II, Italy set off on the Dolce Vita boom years, popularizing the Vespa scooter and making a mark in international design.

Nutella, a nut-based chocolate spread introduced after the war, had annual sales of €8.4 billion last year, making the Ferrero family one of Italy’s richest. Greece, by contrast, went from government by junta in the 1960s and 1970s to a republic run by a political elite and a bloated government in the 1980s. Cutting its civil service and pension costs down to an appropriate size lies at the heart of the struggle between Greece and Europe on economic reform. Italy’s strength as an industrial exporter has provided stability, helping the country build up gold reserves of $90 billion—the world’s third-biggest stash after the U.S. and Germany and more than 20 times what Greece holds. Just a single Italian bank needed a public bailout after the 2008 crisis, even as dozens of lenders in northern Europe had to dip into state coffers to stay open.

[..] Italy may yet become another Greece. Aside from the recent uptick in growth, its numbers are grim. The global financial crisis of 2008-09, followed by the euro debt crisis, triggered the deepest and longest recessions in Italy’s postwar history. Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007. As a member of the euro zone, Italy can’t counter falling foreign demand by devaluing its currency, as it often did when the lira was in use. Unemployment is 12.5%, and 45% among youth—many of whom flee abroad. “Some of my best pupils, who speak English and other languages, have had to move to the U.K. or Germany to find jobs and a better future,” says Ivo Pezzuto at Università Cattolica in Milan

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“..we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.”

Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)

EMMA ALBERICI: What was the point of the referendum then? The Greek people told you they didn’t want you to cave in to the demands from your eurozone partners and the IMF, but then that’s exactly what you’ve ended up doing.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That’s an excellent question, isn’t it? Let me remind you that on that night, the night of the referendum when I discovered that my prime minister and my government were going to move in the direction that you’ve mentioned, I resigned my post. That was the reason why I resigned, not because anybody else demanded it.

EMMA ALBERICI: So would it surprise you if you were forced back to the polls and indeed if you lost the next election?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Nothing would surprise me these days in Europe. We seem to be doing the wrong thing consistently. It’s a comedy of errors, from 2010 onwards. It’s my considered opinion that the responsible thing to do for our party will be to hand over the keys of government to those who believe in this program, in this fiscal consolidation reform program and the new loan, ’cause we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.

EMMA ALBERICI: And it’s curious because at a time when Australia is debating a rise in the GST from 10 to 15%, the Greek people have seen their GST go up from 13 to 23% on public transport and processed foods. I mean, you didn’t get voted in to government – you actually got voted into government promising the opposite: no more austerity.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Precisely. It’s the reason why I resigned. To increase VAT in a broken economy like Greece to 23%, in an economy where the problem is not that the tax rates were too low, but the tax take was too low because of tax evasion. I spent five months in the Ministry of Finance trying to devise ways of having a new social contract between the state and the Greek people, the basis of which would be: we will reduce the rates for you, but you will pay it and you will not evade. And then you have the troika of lenders, the creditors, ruthlessly, effectively implementing the policies of a coup d’etat and putting our Prime Minister in a position where he had to choose between measures like the ones you mentioned, pushing VAT up to exorbitant heights, and therefore condemning our tax take to be reduced significantly or having our banks remain shut forever. This is a major assault both on rationality and on European democracy.

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“with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis.”

“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)

[..] .. in the document that I had sent to the institutions, I was merely accepting the responsibility of a “new Civil Code” and certainly not the one they would dictate. Nor would I have ever imagined that our government (under the supervision of the Troika) would accept to submit all those changes to the Parliament under the label “urgent”, thus negating all the adjustments and annulling the Parliament. Last Wednesday I had no other choice but to vote with a thunderous NO. Mine came to stand beside the NO that 61.5% of our compatriots answered to a capitulation under the infamous TINA (there is no alternative). I

have denied this for the past 35 years in all 4 continents where I have lived. Today, tonight, those two measures, which I had myself proposed on February, are introduced to the Greek Parliament in a manner that I had never imagined; a manner which adds no credit to the government of SYRIZA. My disagreement with the way we handled the negotiations after the referendum is essential. And yet, my main goal is to protect the unity of SYRIZA, to support A.Tsipras, and to stand behind E.Takalotos. I have already explained all that in my article with the title Why I voted NO published in EfSyn .

Accordingly, today I will vote YES, for two measures that I, myself, had proposed, albeit under radically different conditions and requirements. Unfortunately I am certain that my vote will not be of any help to the government towards our common goals. And that is because the Euro Summit “prior actions’ deal was designed to fail. I will, however offer my vote with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis. (i) This morning, while participating at the Financial Committee of the parliament, I ascertained that no colleague of mine, not even the Minister of Justice, agreed with the new civil code. It was a sad spectacle.

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Daniel Munevar is a 30-year-old post-Keynesian economist from Bogotá, Colombia. From March to July 2015 he worked as a close aide to former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis”

Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)

What do you make of the latest bailout agreed between Greece and its creditors? Well, first of all it’s still not clear that there will be an actual agreement – there are several parliaments that need to approve their country’s participation in an ESM bailout. And even if they somehow reach an agreement, there is simply no way it can work. The economics of the program are just insane. They haven’t announced the precise fiscal targets yet, but if we look at the Debt Sustainability Analyses (DSAs) published by the IMF and the Commission, they both state that the target should be a 3.5% primary surplus in the medium term.

But if you look at what has happened over the course of the past five years, Greece has managed to ‘improve’ its structural balance by 19 points of GDP. During that same time, GDP has collapsed by about 20% – that’s an almost one-to-one relation. So if you start from -1% – which is the general assumption for this year – to make it to 3.5 means you need an adjustment of over 4% of GDP, which means GDP will collapse by another 4 points between now and 2018. This brings us to another point, which is that the current agreement is just a taste of things to come. The final Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is definitely going to contain much harsher austerity measure than the ones currently on the table, to offset the drop in GDP that we have witnessed in the past months as a result of the standoff with the creditors.

The problem is that these Memorandums are turning Greece into a debt colony: you’re basically creating a set of rules which, as the government misses its fiscal targets – knowing for a fact that it will –, will force the government to keep retrenching even more, which will cause GDP to collapse even further, which will mean even more austerity, etc. It’s a never-ending vicious circle. This underscores one of the core problems of this whole situation: i.e., that the institutions have always disentangled the fiscal targets from the debt sustainability analyses. The logic of having debt relief is that it allows you to basically have lower fiscal targets and distribute over time the impact of fiscal consolidation. But in Greece’s case, even if there is debt relief on the scale that they are suggesting – which is unlikely – Greece will still have to implement massive consolidation, on top of everything that has been already done.

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“.. in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket..”

The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)

The eurozone has a German problem. Germany’s beggar-thy-neighbor policies and the broader crisis response that the country has led have proved disastrous. Seven years after the start of the crisis, the eurozone economy is faring worse than Europe did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The German government’s efforts to crush Greece and force it to abandon the single currency have destabilized the monetary union. As long as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration continues to abuse its dominant position as creditor-in-chief to advance its narrow interests, the eurozone cannot thrive – and may not survive. Germany’s immense current-account surplus – the excess savings generated by suppressing wages to subsidize exports – has been both a cause of the eurozone crisis and an obstacle to resolving it.

Before the crisis, it fueled German banks’ bad lending to southern Europe and Ireland. Now that Germany’s annual surplus – which has grown to €233 billion, approaching 8% of GDP – is no longer being recycled in southern Europe, the country’s depressed domestic demand is exporting deflation, deepening the eurozone’s debt woes. Germany’s external surplus clearly falls afoul of eurozone rules on dangerous imbalances. But, by leaning on the European Commission, Merkel’s government has obtained a free pass. This makes a mockery of its claim to champion the eurozone as a rules-based club. In fact, Germany breaks rules with impunity, changes them to suit its needs, or even invents them at will. Indeed, even as it pushes others to reform, Germany has ignored the Commission’s recommendations.

As a condition of the new eurozone loan program, Germany is forcing Greece to raise its pension age – while it lowers its own. It is insisting that Greek shops open on Sundays, even though German ones do not. Corporatism, it seems, is to be stamped out elsewhere, but protected at home. Beyond refusing to adjust its economy, Germany has pushed the costs of the crisis onto others. In order to rescue the country’s banks from their bad lending decisions, Merkel breached the Maastricht Treaty’s “no-bailout” rule, which bans member governments from financing their peers, and forced European taxpayers to lend to an insolvent Greece. Likewise, loans by eurozone governments to Ireland, Portugal, and Spain primarily bailed out insolvent local banks – and thus their German creditors.

To make matters worse, in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket: tougher eurozone rules and a fiscal compact.
Germany’s clout has resulted in a eurozone banking union that is full of holes and applied asymmetrically. The country’s Sparkassen – savings banks with a collective balance sheet of some €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) – are outside the European Central Bank’s supervisory control, while thinly capitalized mega-banks, such as Deutsche Bank, and the country’s rotten state-owned regional lenders have obtained an implausibly clean bill of health.

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Fischer (German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005) is still a major voice in Germany. But he’s been awkwardly silent.

The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)

In terms of foreign policy, Germany rebuilt trust by embracing Western integration and Europeanization. The power at the center of Europe should never again become a threat to the continent or itself. Thus, the Western Allies’ aim after 1945 – unlike after World War I – was not to isolate Germany and weaken it economically, but to protect it militarily and firmly embed it politically in the West. Indeed, Germany’s reconciliation with its arch-enemy, France, remains the foundation of today’s European Union, helping to incorporate Germany into the common European market, with a view to the eventual political unification of Europe. But in today’s Germany, such ideas are considered hopelessly “Euro-romantic”; their time has passed.

Where Europe is concerned, from now on Germany will primarily pursue its national interests, just like everybody else. But such thinking is based on a false premise. The path that Germany will pursue in the twenty-first century – toward a “European Germany” or a “German Europe” – has been the fundamental, historical question at the heart of German foreign policy for two centuries. And it was answered during that long night in Brussels, with German Europe prevailing over European Germany. This was a fateful decision for both Germany and Europe. One wonders whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble knew what they were doing. To dismiss the fierce criticism of Germany and its leading players that erupted after the diktat on Greece, as many Germans do, is to don rose-tinted glasses.

Certainly, there was nonsensical propaganda about a Fourth Reich and asinine references to the Führer. But, at its core, the criticism articulates an astute awareness of Germany’s break with its entire post-WWII European policy. For the first time, Germany didn’t want more Europe; it wanted less. Germany’s stance on the night of July 12-13 announced its desire to transform the eurozone from a European project into a kind of sphere of influence. Merkel was forced to choose between Schäuble and France (and Italy). The issue was fundamental: Her finance minister wanted to compel a eurozone member to leave “voluntarily” by exerting massive pressure.

Greece could either exit (in full knowledge of the disastrous consequences for the country and Europe) or accept a program that effectively makes it a European protectorate, without any hope of economic improvement. Greece is now subject to a cure – further austerity – that has not worked in the past and that was prescribed solely to address Germany’s domestic political needs. But the massive conflict with France and Italy, the eurozone’s second and third largest economies, is not over, because, for Schäuble, Grexit remains an option. By claiming that debt relief is “legally” possible only outside the eurozone, he wants to turn the issue into the lever for bringing about a “voluntary” Grexit.

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“Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain.”

Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)

Many Europeans are starting to see a very hard-line German position championed by Schäuble, which they are characterizing behind the curtain as a more selfish edge by demanding painful measures from Athens and resisting any firm commitment to granting the Greek relief from crippling debt, despite the fact that it was such debt relief that enabled Germany to recover. Yet the position of Schäuble from the outset was his vision that the other nations must coordinate with the core, of which the other nations were not actually regarded. That perception of a selfish Germany has been fueled by Schäuble’s statement suggesting that Greece would get its best shot at a substantial cut in its debt ONLY if it was willing to give up membership in the European common currency. Schäuble is expected to take his tough stance once again with the next crash candidate. For many, that appears to be Italy, which is now considered the greatest risk within Euroland. Yet, his views are spelled out in his 1994 paper.

Schäuble seems to have foresaw the crisis back in 1994, distinguishing between core members and non-core members. Therefore, his thinking is quite different from that of France. Paris has jumped the gun after the Greece disaster and now want a core Europe push, but clearly with Italy as a full-fledged member into a new federalized Europe. Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain. The curtain is starting to be drawn, but the equal federalization of Europe was never part of the German mindset. There seems to be a conflict emerging between Germany and France because France wiped out its economy with insane taxation. It too will fall in this next downward cycle.

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Schäuble has of course been at least as detrimental as Varoufakis to the conversation, but he’s still in place. Go figure.

German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)

Germany’s finance chief departed for his annual vacation on a posh North Sea island on Thursday, leaving the capital to mull a summer mystery that could decide Greece’s fate: What’s going on with Wolfgang Schäuble? Over the past two weeks, the 72-year-old Mr. Schäuble has puzzled even German officials who know the finance chief well with remarks questioning the wisdom of a new bailout for Greece. He has also hinted he might resign over differences with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The comments mark a shift to a more hawkish tone for Germany’s longest-serving national politician, whose career has been defined by loyalty to his political allies and to the idea of European integration.

They also underscore the fragility of last week’s agreement among eurozone leaders to work toward a new bailout deal for Greece, which governments will need to sign off on as early as next month. A person who works closely with Mr. Schäuble said the minister remained guided by a commitment to European interests—and that giving in to Greek demands, for instance, by forgiving debt would damage the EU’s credibility. The Finance Ministry is working to lay the groundwork for a new bailout, the person said, even though Mr. Schäuble’s preferred solution would have been for Greece to agree to a temporary “timeout” from the euro.

But Mr. Schäuble’s open skepticism over whether a new bailout would work has heightened uncertainty over what would happen once officials representing international creditors reached a preliminary deal with Athens, which is expected in the middle of next month. Over the weekend, Mr. Schäuble mused in response to a German magazine interviewer’s question about his differences on Greece with Ms. Merkel that he would resign if someone forced him to violate the responsibilities of his office. “I could go to the president and ask for my dismissal,” Mr. Schäuble told Der Spiegel, before adding that he wasn’t, in fact, considering resigning.

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“Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves.”

Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)

In an article by Mark Blyth titled “A Pain in the Athens: Why Greece Isn’t to Blame for the Crisis” and published on July 7th 2015 in Foreign Affairs, one discovers surprising statements, which are all the more surprising when one knows that this magazine is published by the Council on Foreign Relations that gathers the American élite, the New-Yorker banking élite being there for the most part. According to the author, “Greece has very little to do with the crisis that bears its name”. And, to make us understand this, he invites us to “follow the money—and those who bank it”. According to him, the origins of the crisis are not to be looked for in Greece but “in the architecture of European banking”.

Indeed, during the first decade of the euro, European banks, attracted by easy money, granted massive loans in what the author calls “the European periphery”, and, in 2010, in the middle of the financial crisis, banks had accumulated impaired periphery assets corresponding to €465 billion for French banks and €493 billion for German banks. “Only a small part of those impaired assets were Greek”, but the problem is that, in 2010, Greece published a revised budget equivalent to 15% of the GDP. Nothing to be afraid of actually since it only represented 0.3% of the Eurozone’s GDPs put together. But, because of their periphery assets and above all a leverage rate* twice as high—that is to say twice as risky—as the American banks’, European banks feared that a Greek default would make them collapse.

This is what really happened. The banks’ insatiable voracity led them, as always, to act carelessly, and, as they did not accept their failure, as always, they made sure that others would foot the bill. Nothing new under the golden sky of the Banking Industry, unless, this time, it went a bit further than usual. These banks set up the Troïka program in order to “stop the bond market bank run”. And no matter if it increased unemployment by 25% and destroyed the third of the country’s GDP. It doesn’t make much difference to the bankers. This is what the rescue plans have been used for. Apparently aimed at Greece, they were created by and for the major European banks. Today, given that the Greek can no longer pay French and German banks, even the European taxpayers are solicited.

Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves. On the total amount of €203 billion that represents the two rescue plans (2010-2013 and 2012-2014), 65% went right to the banks’ vaults. Some people even go so far as to say that 90% of the loans did not pass through Greece. This approach, expressed in the columns of Foreign Affairs, cannot be seen as heterodox. It is even confirmed by the ex-director of theBundesbank, Karl Otto Pöhl, who acknowledged that the rescue plan was meant to save the banks, and especially the French banks, from their rotten debts.

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The idea is to get the whole population on its kness.

Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)

Running a business in Koukaki is becoming a struggle. Shop-owners in the central Athens neighborhood, one of the capital city’s most financially diverse, are finding it a lot more difficult to get by. They could be cutting hair or selling extra-large shirts – it makes no difference. Their tales of hardship can be repeated up and down the country of nearly 11 million people. Empty storefronts are again a feature of Greeces towns and cities amid a crisis that put Greece’s future in the euro in doubt. The downturn worsened after the late-June decision by the Greek government to impose a series of strict controls on the free flow of money, with a paltry 60-euro a day limit on daily withdrawals from ATMs. Though banks reopened this week for the first time in more than three weeks, the ATM withdrawal limit is unchanged and cash is becoming scarce.

For an economy where cash payments are the norm, that’s a problem. In Koukaki, about 2 kilometers south of downtown Athens, 65-year-old mechanic Giorgos Prasinoudis is angry. His wife and 11-year-old daughter have already moved to Germany – the country that’s ironically blamed for many of the economic and social problems afflicting Greece. On Wednesday, he sat drinking coffee on the sidewalk outside his motorcycle repair shop, with posters of bikes and children’s drawings pinned to the wall. Hes closed the store after 32 years. A “For Sale” sign is taped to the window. “It’s over for Greece. We won’t recover for another 50 years,” he said. “The country borrowed so much money, those who benefited left the country, and ordinary people have been handed the bill …

I hope my daughter learns German and doesn’t come back. Not even for a holiday.” Prasinoudis is one of the countless victims of Greeces economic crisis. Locked out of international bond markets in the spring of 2010, the country has relied on foreign rescue money to pay its debts – on condition that tough austerity measures, such as cuts to spending and increases in taxes were imposed. The cost has been huge. A million jobs, mostly in the private sector, have been lost since then ? around a fifth of the country’s workforce. But after appearing to stabilize last year, the Greek economy has gone into reverse but unemployment remains high. At last count, unemployment was still over 25% and more than 50% for the under-25s.

Alongside the capital controls, the government imposed a new round of austerity, raising sales taxes and levies on businesses, while maintaining emergency taxes on households that have eaten up disposable incomes. Early Thursday, parliament approved a second round of measures demanded by rescue creditors for a new bailout. Retail associations fear a return to the peak levels of unemployment around 2012 when they were hit by a surge of business failures.

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“The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.”

A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)

We have all witnessed a lot of Greek drama during the past few weeks as the impasse between the Greek government and its international creditors reached its climax. It now appears that after months of terse negotiations between the two parties, Greece has finally agreed to pass and implement austerity measures in exchange for financial aid. One of the innocent bystanders in all this has been the Greek shipping community. As part of the broad agreement between Athens and the Eurozone, the Greek government has undertaken to increase the tonnage tax, a flat tax that is assessed each year on all ships that are managed by shipping companies based in Greece.

As expected the shipping community has been up in arms crying foul over the proposed tax and threatening to leave to more tax-friendly locales like Monaco, Dubai, or Singapore. This has made me wonder: what would be the effect of increased tonnage tax on a shipping company’s running costs?

[..] Let’s assume for example that the Greek government unilaterally doubles the tonnage tax in accordance with the agreement provision. Star Bulk Carriers will have to pay an additional $129 per ownership day. Is this amount really the straw that will break the camel’s back and force a mass exodus of Greek shipping companies to greener pastures? I don’t think so. But let’s further assume that Greek shipping companies do decide to move to Monaco, Dubai, Singapore, or even London or New York. Have shipping executives done a cost of living comparison between say Monaco or New York City and Athens? The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.

I believe the lobbying on behalf of Greek ship-owners is not about tonnage taxes, but about keeping their income tax-free status. Greek ship-owners are some of the hardest-nosed traders you can find. I don’t believe a tempest in a teapot will cloud their business acumen. I suspect that they will cut a deal with the taxman sooner or later, and if I may add, for the benefit of both sides.

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EU doesn’t want to help.

Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)

Greece’s problems are many. Thanks to the financial crisis, citizens have endured long ATM lines and shortages in stores. Greece may be the last place in Europe equipped to handle its newest problem: record numbers of migrants, particularly Syrians, arriving daily by boat. Since the beginning of 2015, an astounding 79,338 migrants have arrived by sea, 60% of whom are Syrian. Slightly more migrants have transited to Greece than to Italy, a reversal from 2014, when Italy received 170,100 migrants and Greece only 34,442 total, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration. These migrants pay traffickers exorbitant fees and risk their lives on dangerous journeys. Once arrived, they find the small communities on Greece’s many islands totally overwhelmed and unable to help. Most try to move northwards, to states like Hungary, via the Balkans.

Other migrants remain in hungry squalor throughout Greece. UNHCR recently reported more than 3,000 refugees in makeshift accommodations at a site on the northern Aegean island of Lesbos. Refugees kept in detention centers have limited access to electricity and water. Dozens sleep on makeshift pallets in the Kos police station courtyard. Greece’s financial crisis exacerbates xenophobia and discrimination against migrants. While many Greeks have rallied to help the migrants, the far-right portrays these migrants as taking precious resources and sullying Greek culture. Golden Dawn, a far-right party, said “We will do everything we can to protect the Greek homeland against immigrants.” Even before the 2015 surge, 84% of adults in Greece wanted decreased immigration — the highest proportion in the world — according to 2012 and 2014 Gallup interviews.

And Greece’s No. 1 industry, tourism, could suffer. Migrants crowd the sidewalks of island resort towns beside vacationers, but the contrast could hardly be starker between the wet and hungry arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and the European tourists who dine on fine meals and rest in posh surroundings. Many migrants fleeing conflict-ridden states have walked almost 40 miles across Greece, sick, exhausted and sometimes pregnant, because they were not allowed to take public or private transportation due to a law that equated anyone assisting migrants with human smugglers. The law — overturned this month — kept both private citizens and public buses from driving migrants that landed in Greece without being rescued by coast guards.

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It needs to be abandoned.

Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)

Japan needs to reduce its reliance on a weak yen to reflate its economy, the IMF warned, as it called on authorities to speed up “high impact” structural reforms and prepare for further monetary easing. “The Bank of Japan needs to stand ready to ease further, provide stronger guidance to markets through enhanced communication, and put greater emphasis on achieving the 2% inflation target in a stable manner,” the IMF said in its 2015 Article IV Consultation with Japan published late Wednesday. Under current policies, the central bank won’t meet its 2% inflation target in the medium-term, or over a five-year horizon, according to the international lender. After rising to 1.5% in mid-2014, core inflation – excluding fresh food and the effects of the consumption tax increase – has declined rapidly and has been close to zero since February 2015.

“Abenomics needs to be reloaded so that policy shortcomings do not become a drag on growth and inflation,” the IMF said. Abenomics refers to three-pronged economic revival plan launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late 2012, consisting of monetary easing, fiscal expansion and structural reforms. Deeper structural reforms must accompany further easing if the government is to achieve its inflation goal, the IMF stressed. “With the exception of corporate governance and some progress on female labor force participation, structural reforms have not yet been in areas that could provide the biggest bang for the buck,” it said.

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Much too late.

Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

Fast-rising house prices are prompting regulators in New Zealand and Australia to try, or consider, measures to prick nascent bubbles in single cities, an unusual move for any country. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, property prices have jumped 17% over the past year, compared with a nationwide average of 9.3%, and now are more than 50% higher than eight years ago. Sydney prices have risen about four times as fast as those in almost all other Australian state capitals in the past 12 months. It is rare for countries to focus tough new clamps on a single city or district. But a surge in homegrown speculators, and of buyers from countries such as China, has left too many people chasing too few properties in Sydney and Auckland.

Policy makers are increasingly concerned that a sudden crash could derail their economies. In Australia, Sydney-specific regulation is merely under discussion. But in New Zealand, measures to limit the impact of a price surge in Auckland are in place already: From October, real-estate investors in the city will be required to put down deposits of at least 30% on properties they want to purchase. No such rules will apply to property investment in other cities. Until now, Australian policy makers have sought to temper house-price growth by restricting lending to speculators and making it costlier to provide mortgages to residential buyers generally, anywhere in the country. In the past several weeks, however, the central bank has made clear it sees the issue as essentially a local one, describing soaring prices in the nation’s most populous city as “crazy.”

The narrowing focus on Sydney has triggered speculation that similar moves to New Zealand’s may be in the offing, steered by the banking regulator. “The boom is now quite singularly in Sydney,” said George Tharenou at UBS. “It’s difficult and very micro to target Sydney house prices, but it’s getting to the point where it needs to be considered.” Earlier this month, Citigroup said the risk of a crash had become so real that it was time to stop banks lending so freely to Sydney property investors specifically. “The horse has already bolted,” said Paul Brennan at Citi Research, Australia. “Additional prudential measures directed at the Sydney market may be unavoidable, even if it is late in the cycle.”

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Jul 202015
 
 July 20, 2015  Posted by at 7:00 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Agriculture Department, Cow jumps over moon 1920

It’s taken a while, but Nicole Foss is now coming back to the Automatic Earth for real. Here’s her take on Greece and everything that bubbles under its surface:

Nicole Foss: The project of European Union, and its single currency experiment, were politically an attempt to unite fractious nations in order to put an end to a history of horribly destructive conflict. Economically, the goals were to scale up governance in Europe, to transition from the national to the transnational level in order to wield more power as a larger trading block. As such it was very much in line with the global trend of the last thirty years towards scaling up almost everything. However, as we have observed before, such expansions are inherently fragile and self-limiting:

This in-built need to expand, sometimes to the scale of an imperium in the search for new territory, means that the process is grounded in ponzi dynamics. Expansion stops when no new territories can be subsumed, and contraction will follow as the society consumes its internal natural capital….

….A foundational ingredient in determining effective organizational scale is trust – the glue holding societies together. At small scale, trust is personal, and group acceptance is limited to those who are known well enough to be trusted. For societies to scale up, trust must transcend the personal and be grounded instead in an institutional framework governing interactions between individuals, between the people and different polities, between different layers of governance (municipal, provincial, regional, national), and between states on the international stage.

This institutional framework takes time to scale up and relies on public trust for its political legitimacy. That trust depends on the general perception that the function of the governing institutions serves the public good, and that the rules are sufficiently transparent and predictably applied to all. This is the definition of the rule of law. Of course the ideal does not exist, but better and worse approximations do at each scale in question.

Over time, the trust horizon has waxed and waned in tandem with large cycles of socioeconomic advance and retreat. Trust builds during expansionary times, conferring political legitimacy on larger scale forms of organization. Trust takes a long time to build, however, and much less time to destroy. The retreat of the trust horizon in contractionary times can be very rapid, and as trust is withdrawn from governing institutions, so is political legitimacy.

This is the predicament facing what is essentially a European imperium today – the twin threats of financial crisis and concommittant loss of trust and political legitimacy. In an awkwardly-amalgamated collective polity with a thousand year history of conflict, the risks associated with the transition from expansion to contraction are legion. We warned in 2010 of the toxic dynamic underlying European unification, and that the political fallout from what we regarded, and still regard, as the inevitable failure of that imperial structure, would be potentially catastrophic:

All aggregate human structures at all degrees of scale are essentially predatory. They all convey wealth from a necessarily expanding periphery towards the centre, where wealth is concentrated. The periphery may be either forced or enticed to join the larger structure, but that does not affect the outcome….The European periphery was sold an impossible dream – that they could by fiat have the same living standards as northern Europe. Perhaps the architects of the project believed that equalization by fiat would work, but whether their intentions were honourable or not is immaterial to the outcome….

…A credit expansion requires two sides – a predatory lending structure at the centre and and gullibility and greed in the periphery. They are mutually responsible for the outcome. In a collapse, the centre attempts to blame the periphery and impose all the consequences upon it, while holding on to all the perceived wealth. This is toxic to the larger structure. The socioeconomic disparities created in the attempt to contain the consequences in the periphery will be politically impossible to sustain…The extent to which the attempt to do this will inflame destructive old hatreds is very much larger than people currently suppose…Collective memory is long.

Union?

During our decades of economic expansion in the era of globalization, effective organizational scale has become larger and larger, undercutting the ability of smaller entities to compete, and thereby forcing them to amalgamate. Europe has been attempting to create a political entity comparable to the United States, but without the benefit of a common language, culture, identity, freedom of movement, system of transfer payments, financial regulatory regime etc. In doing so, it has created a fatally flawed entity which is nakedly predator, rather than tempered with integrative redistribution mechanisms.

The degree of true integration in Europe is a fraction of what it is in the USA, hence that integration is far more fragile:

Large, economically diverse areas can successfully share a single currency if they have deep economic links that make it possible for troubled regions to ride out crises. That means shared bank regulation and deposit insurance, so banks don’t face regional panics; a labor market that lets people move from places without jobs to places with them; and a fiscal union, which allows the government to collect taxes wherever there is money and spend it wherever there are needs….

…The European Union’s centralized budget equals only about 1% of Europe’s G.D.P., compared with more than 20% for the American federal government. A much more centralized E.U. budget, with much more money flowing through Brussels the way it flows through Washington, could provide similar macroeconomic stability to Europe by creating a fiscal union…

…An economic union can promote economic stability only if it is politically stable, so market participants can have confidence that fiscal transfers and bank guarantees will remain in place.

The price for the necessary integration is far higher than sovereign European countries have been prepared to pay. Without substantial transfer payments to blunt the disparities, the imperial structure of the eurozone acts as a mechanism to convey wealth from the periphery to the financial centre:

The core issue: Although the European Union can handle economies of widely varying types and levels of development, the euro area cannot. Greece’s gross domestic product per person was about half of Germany’s when it joined the euro in 2001. Since then, Greece’s competitiveness relative to Germany’s has slid by about 40%.

For a currency union to handle widely divergent economies, they must be deeply integrated across multiple dimensions. In the U.S., the average citizen of Mississippi makes just $20,618 a year, compared with $37,892 in Connecticut — almost as big a gap as between Greece and Germany. Yet the U.S. doesn’t worry about a “Missexit,” because the country has various mechanisms for smoothing over differences among its states…. 

….The mechanisms include large fiscal transfers– by necessity currency unions are transfer unions. Last year, 28 U.S. states sent the equivalent of 2.3% of their gross domestic product through the federal budget to the other 22 states. The biggest donor, Delaware, gave 21%. The biggest recipient, North Dakota, got 90%. By contrast, in 2011 Germany made a net contribution of 0.2% of its GDP to the EU budget, while Greece received 0.2%. Would German voters really support a tenfold jump in their contributions from 210 euros to 2,100 euros per person?

Large-scale fiscal transfers are not the only mechanism needed. Mississippi has probably run the equivalent of a current account deficit with New York ever since the Civil War. Every April, the banks in the Federal Reserve system reallocate assets and smooth over such regional imbalances. By contrast, when Greece runs a deficit with Germany — for example, due to trade with Germany or capital flight from Greece — its central bank accumulates debts to the Bundesbank indefinitely. The Bundesbank currently holds more than 500 billion euros in credits against other euro zone central banks. Again, would German taxpayers be willing to see the Bundesbank regularly write off some portion of those liabilities?

Another reason U.S. states don’t pop out of the dollar area is that they (with the exception of Vermont) have to balance their operating budgets. Only the federal government can run a long-term deficit. Again, Germany and other EU states have explicitly rejected any kind of euro-area sovereign-bond arrangement that would pool deficits. Finally, the U.S. has a deep single market for products, services and labor and a true national banking union, all of which in Europe are only partially completed projects. The lack of truly integrated markets allowed real interest rates and inflation to diverge across the euro zone, leading to a loss of competitiveness and a credit boom and bust in the south.

Thus, the euro area is stuck in a dysfunctional netherworld between a fully integrated union and a more flexible exchange rate mechanism. So Greece has to become a lot more like Germany (unlikely), the euro area needs to become a lot more like the U.S. (also unlikely), or we’ll have another crisis (very likely).

To Scale-Up or Scale-Down?

This is not, however, an argument for Europe to move now towards supranational statehood, even if such a thing were possible, which, in the absence of a common identity, is not realistic. Europe is not prepared for, nor suited for, that level of integration. As German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said:

“There can be no mutual liability in Europe. Providing debt relief and transfers won’t help any country. The problem of moral and political hazard in Europe isn’t some narrow-minded mantra,” he said.

Given that we stand on the brink of a major financial and economic contraction, further integration or aggregation would not be possible. The aggregation already achieved was a function of economic expansion, and entities which come together under such circumstances are fissile once expansion morphs into contraction. Trust determines effective organizational scale, and in the coming environment, effective organizational scale is going to get much smaller. Rather than trying to maintain an over-extended and fragile polity, Europe is going to have to rediscover small scale sovereignty.

The assumption in Europe was that regional diversity would be secondary to the unifying force of a single currency, and that a currency union could be expected to remain politically stable even in the absence of fundamental aspects of integration. This has proven over time to be disastrously incorrect. Identity remains at the national, not the supranational, level, meaning that trust has had great difficulty transcending this level in order for it to manifest in European institutions as opposed to national parliaments. True political legitimacy has therefore never been granted, and the democratic deficit in Europe has widened as a result, with supranational institutions insulating themselves from a European public increasingly at odds with its priorities. 

This is where we found ourselves at the peak of expansion, under the best conditions for broad-based trust. Past that peak, with the trust horizon sharply contracting already, conditions are rapidly worsening. As we have observed before, expansions are relatively smooth progressions, but contractions are, in contrast, full of abrupt discontinuities:

As we scaled up we built structural dependencies on the range of affordable inputs available to us, on the physical infrastructure we built to exploit them, on the trading relationships formed through comparative advantage, and on the large scale institutional framework to manage it all. Scaling down will mean huge dislocation as these dependencies must give way. There is simply no smooth, managed way to achieve this.

The situation manifesting in Greece at the moment is a prime example of this dynamic. There is a desperate attempt to manage the unmanageable, on the grounds that failure to do so would have dire consequences:

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis:”If the PM announced tonight an emergency bill for the introduction of a new currency, in 20 minutes all cash machines would be empty. There would be queues outside banks. The economy would collapse. The ECB would withdraw support for banks leading to their collapse. Until such time as the state printed a new currency, utter darkness would cover the country. 80% of households would become poverty-stricken. The vast-majority of people would rue the time and day this post-bailout default was announced. The exit from the euro for a deficit country would send us back to the neolithic period before we could even realise it.”

This is no doubt true, and the question therefore becomes whether or not this eventuality can be avoided by attempting to prop up the system in its current form in order to buy time to construct its replacement:

Yanis Varoufakis: “If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come. For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.”

The Psychology of Contraction and the Politics of Division

I agree with Varoufakis that the failure of the current system is likely to unleash the dangerously regressive forces that he mentions. The psychology of contraction is fundamentally different from that of expansion, meaning that different – negative – forces gain the upper hand. I disagree, however, that attempting to maintain the current system can prevent this from happening. Desperately trying to sustain a credit bubble that has already consumed the substance on which it was built is not a viable strategy. It is not going to buy time to construct and implement an alternative system of governance. All it can to is to facilitate an even greater degree of self-consuming catabolism, thereby guaranteeing that the crunch, when it inevitably comes, will be worse. Crisis may be postponed, but at great cost. It cannot be prevented. 

Once a credit bubble has been blown, it will eventually implode, as all structures grounded in ponzi dynamics do. When it does, as we have noted before, politics will get much uglier no matter which part of the political spectrum comes to power:

The psychology of contraction is not constructive, and leads in the direction of division and exclusion as trust evaporates. Unfortunately, trust – the glue of a functional society – takes a long time to build, but relatively little time to destroy….

….Whether the left or the right presides over contraction, we are most likely to see a much more pathological face emerge, and this will aggravate political crisis considerably. On the right this could be xenophobia, strict enforcement of tight and arbitrary norms dictated by the few, loss of civil rights, extreme poverty for most while a few live like kings, and fascism, perhaps grounded in theocracy.

On the left it could be forced collectivization, the elimination of property rights, confiscations, and a desire to punish anyone who appears to be doing relatively well, whether or not they achieved this legitimately through foresight, hard work and fiscal responsibility. In either case, liberty is likely to be an early casualty, and intolerance of differences is virtually guaranteed to increase.

We are already seeing the politics of division in Europe. Instead of defending a collective vision, European nation states are retreating into manifest self-interest and mutual recrimination:

Deeper fiscal integration in the eurozone is a “huge mistake” that could end up tearing the bloc apart, Sweden’s former finance minister has warned. Anders Borg said forcing countries to cede sovereignty could trigger a right-wing backlash across Europe, as he predicted that countries such as Sweden and Poland, which are obliged to join the euro, would not adopt the single currency for “decades”. “If you go for tighter co-operation that basically brings higher taxes to the north to subsidise the south, you build in a political divide that is not sustainable in the long term,” he said.

We are seeing divisions between the core nations of France and Germany, and an obvious failure of solidarity among the nations most likely to find themselves in the same position as Greece in the not too distant future.

France, which is itself teetering on the brink, fears German power, but is unwilling to challenge it to forcefully. Prior to the recent national humiliation of Greece, France was beginning to favour leniency:

The much more consequential U-turn is in Paris. Suddenly, Tsipras’s promises on fiscal policy are “serious, credible,” according to President Francois Hollande. In truth, of course, they are exactly as serious and credible as they have been for the past five months. Even if Tsipras becomes a born-again fiscal conservative and actually tries to keep these promises, he’ll fail — and everybody knows it. A tightening of fiscal policy as the economy falls further into recession is anti-growth and fiscally counterproductive. Those primary-surplus targets that the creditors want carved in stone are almost impossible to hit.

However, French representation in actual negotiations was apparently muted:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Only the French minister [Michel Sapin] made noises that were different from the German line, and those noises were very subtle. You could sense he had to use very judicious language, to be seen not to oppose. And in the final analysis, when Dr Schäuble responded and effectively determined the official line, the French minister would always fold.”

Other eurozone countries, many of which are poorer than Greece, resent the notion of Greek debt relief which they would be asked to help pay for: 

The arguments of Greece’s creditors have a powerful political logic. No politician from a creditor country can be seen handing over cash to Greece without strict guarantees about how it will be spent. Such politicians note that even as Greece requests further bailouts, its pension system remains relatively generous, encouraging early retirement. The share of employed Greeks between the ages of 55 and 64 is nearly half that of Germany. In 2012, for example, Greece spent 17.5% of GDP on government pensions, compared with 12.3% in Germany. Such comparisons make European voters balk over further bailouts. Politicians in Slovakia and the Baltics, nations no richer than Greece, struggle to explain to constituents why their countries should help fund Greek pensions. Fix the holes in Greece’s perpetually leaky tax system first, many constituents contend.

In addition other indebted members states were concerned about the implications for their own internal politics in the event of Greece being granted a deal:

Varoufakis was reluctant to name individuals, but added that the governments that might have been expected to be the most sympathetic towards Greece were actually their “most energetic enemies”. He said that the “greatest nightmare” of those with large debts – the governments of countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – “was our success”. “Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal, that would obliterate them politically: they would have to answer to their own people why they didn’t negotiate like we were doing.”

Nascent political movements comparable to Greece’s Syriza are considered a major threat in other affected countries, and a Syriza victory would be seen as empowering political discontent at home:

Michael Pettis: “Today’s Financial Times has a very worrying article explaining why Madrid wants to be seen among the hardliners in opposing a rational treatment for Greece: “when it comes to helping Greece, there will be no such thing as southern solidarity or peripheral patronage.” This is the reverse of what it should be doing. In an article for Politica Exterior in January 2012, I actually proposed, albeit without much hope, that Spain take the lead and organize the debtor countries to negotiate a sustainable agreement, but in its fear of Podemos, the Spanish equivalent of Syriza, and its determination to be one of the “virtuous” countries, it strikes me that Madrid is probably moving in the wrong direction economically. Ultimately, by tying itself even more tightly to the interests of the creditors, Rajoy and his associates are only making the electoral prospects for Podemos all the brighter.”

Meanwhile in the richer north, small political parties like the euroskeptic True Finns have a disproportionate amount of power over the fate of their southern neighbour, thanks to their role in the coalition government and the need for that government to approve a Greek deal. Although Finland could not block a bailout by itself, given the its share of the vote is determined by its contribution to the bailout fund, it could instigate a coalition of euroskeptics to derail and agreement. The issue is proving extremely divisive within Finnish domestic politics. When splinter groups in one member state have what is effectively the power of life death over people in another member state, anger and resentment are guaranteed:

The decision to push for a so-called “Grexit” came after the eurosceptic True Finns party, the second-largest in parliament, threatened to bring down the government if it backed another rescue deal for Greece….Finns party leader Timo Soini, who is also the country’s foreign minister, has repeatedly argued in favour a “Grexit”, saying it would be better for Greece to leave the euro. Finland is one of several EU countries whose national parliaments must sign off of any debt deal for Greece.

The European project, supposedly instituted to prevent future conflict, has increasingly become a potential cause of it:

Europe brings peace. Is that so? It is becoming obvious that you cannot have the economics of the Great Depression without having the politics of the Great Depression. Tsipras’s Greek Marxists and Marine le Pen’s French ‘post-fascists’ may seem moderate when set against the men and women who will come after them if this crisis does not end. Far from quelling nationalism, meanwhile, the Euro has incited it. People who were rubbing along perfectly well in the early 1990s, now look on each other with an emotion close to hatred. Greeks, Italians and Spaniards wonder why Germans, Finns and the Dutch insist that they must suffer. The Germans, Finns and Dutch wonder why southern Europeans expect to live off their taxes.

The politics of division have begun in earnest:

Yanis Varoufakis: Back in 1971 Nick Kaldor, the noted Cambridge economist, had warned that forging monetary union before a political union was possible would lead not only to a failed monetary union but also to the deconstruction of the European political project. Later on, in 1999, German-British sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf also warned that economic and monetary union would split rather than unite Europe. All these years I hoped that they were wrong. Now, the powers that be in Brussels, in Berlin and in Frankfurt have conspired to prove them right.

A Greek Deal That Pleases No One

The terms imposed upon Greece have been subjected to criticism from all sides. The deal has been described as a national humiliation, as a cruel forced-capitulation on the diplomatic rack, as a crucifixion of Greek leader Alexis Tsipras, as a coup d’etat, as a new Versailles treaty, and as the relegation of Greece to the status of a vassal state with an emasculated parliament. EMU inspectors will be able to veto Greek legislation. Greece must adopt drastic reforms, far more draconian than those they rejected in their recent referendum. They must streamline the pension system, boost tax revenue, liberalise the labour market, privatise the electricity network, extend commercial opening hours and place €50 billion worth of assets into a trust fund intended to generate privatisation revenues to pay creditors. All of this is merely to begin negotiations on a new bailout package, with no prospect of the debt relief that even the IMF insists is necessary.

The European Union does not suffer from a mere ‘democratic deficit’, as this exercise in naked monetary imperialism demonstrates:

Monday July 13 will go down in history as the day Greece lost its independence after 185 years of freedom, the day democracy died in the country that invented it and the day the European Union took a decisive step towards self-destruction. After almost 20 hours of of browbeating by EU leaders in Brussels – which one senior official compared to “mental waterboarding” – Greece was given a blunt choice: vote through a raft of draconian measures demanded by creditors or leave the Eurozone…

…Greece has essentially seen its independence eviscerated. A state whose motto is ‘Freedom or Death’ and whose national anthem is ‘Hymn to Liberty’ is now little more than a protectorate of the EU. Its parliament no longer has the power to make sovereign decisions about the issues that matter most to its citizens. Instead, it has two days to vote through a shopping-list of far-reaching reforms mandated by Brussels. Its administration is subordinate to a triumvirate of unelected officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF. And billions of euros of assets are to be stripped from the Greek state’s control and placed in a Luxembourg trust fund.

As the summit of Eurozone leaders limped to a conclusion Monday morning, some commentators compared the tortured talks to the Nice Treaty, thrashed out over four days in 2000. In fact, it more resembles the Versailles Treaty, whose punitive terms were imposed on Germany almost a century ago and poisoned international relations for decades after.

The wartime comparisons have been expressed by many commentators:

Yanis Varoufakis: “The recent Euro Summit is indeed nothing short of the culmination of a coup. In 1967 it was the tanks that foreign powers used to end Greek democracy. In my interview with Philip Adams, on ABC Radio National’s LNL, I claimed that in 2015 another coup was staged by foreign powers using, instead of tanks, Greece’s banks.”

The week’s events constitute power politics in their most unedifying form:

What we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. “This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

What we have all seen with great clarity is that the EMU creditor powers can subjugate an unruly state – provided it is small – by shutting down its banking system. We have seen too that a small country has no defences whatsoever. This is monetary power run amok.

Phillippe Legrain, former head of the analysis team at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers and principal adviser to the president of the European Commission, has been particularly scathing in his criticism:

When finalizing my book European Spring last year, I hesitated before describing the Eurozone as a “glorified debtors’ prison.” After this weekend’s brutal, vindictive, and short-sighted exercise of German power against Greece, backed up by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank’s (ECB) illegal threat to pull the plug on the entire Greek banking system, I take it back. There is nothing glorious about the Eurozone: it is a monstrous, undemocratic creditors’ racket.

Greece’s submission to the conditions that Germany demanded, merely to start negotiations about further funding to refinance its unsustainable debts, may stave off the prospect of imminent bank collapse and Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. But far from solving the Greek problem, doubling down on the creditors’ disastrous strategy of the past five years will only further depress the economy, increase the unbearable debt burden, and trample on democracy. Even Deutsche Bank, one of the German banks bailed out by European taxpayers’ forced loans to the Greek government in 2010, says Greece is now tantamount to a vassal state….

….That’s the point of brutalizing Greece: to deter anyone else from getting out of line. Why vote for parties that challenge the Berlin Consensus if they will be beaten into submission, too? Created to bring Europeans closer together, the Eurozone is now held together by little except fear.

Even former staunch europhiles on the political left are increasingly seeing the European project in a very different light:

At first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance. As austerity-ravaged Greece was placed under what Yanis Varoufakis terms a “postmodern occupation”, its sovereignty overturned and compelled to implement more of the policies that have achieved nothing but economic ruin, Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.

“Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage,” writes George Monbiot, explaining his about-turn. “All my life I’ve been pro-Europe,” says Caitlin Moran, “but seeing how Germany is treating Greece, I am finding it increasingly distasteful.” Nick Cohen believes the EU is being portrayed “with some truth, as a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution”. “How can the left support what is being done?” asks Suzanne Moore. “The European ‘Union’. Not in my name.”

Many commentators feel that critical lines were crossed and the damage to the European Union could ultimately prove to be fatal:

George Friedmann: Germany could not accept the Greek demand. It could not risk a Greek exit from the European Union. It could not appear to be frightened by an exit, and it could not be flexible. During the week, the Germans floated the idea of a temporary Greek exit from the euro. Greece owes a huge debt and needs to build its economy. What all this has to do with being in the euro or using the drachma is not clear. It is certainly not clear how it would have helped Europe or solved the immediate banking problem. The Greeks are broke, and don’t have the euros to pay back loans or liquefy the banking system. The same would have been true if they left the European Union. Suggesting a temporary Grexit was a fairly meaningless act — a bravura performance by the Germans. When you desperately fear something in a negotiation, there is no better strategy than to demand that it happen….

…Germany crossed two lines. The lesser line was that France and Germany were not linked on dealing with Greece, though they were not so far apart as to be even close to a breach. The second, and more serious, line was that the final negotiation was an exercise of unilateral German power. Several nations supported the German position from the beginning — particularly the Eastern European nations that, in addition to opposing Greece soaking up European money, do not trust Greece’s relationship with Russia. Germany had allies. But it also had major powers as opponents, and these were brushed aside. 

These powerful opponents were brushed aside particularly on two issues. One was any temporary infusion of cash into Greek banks. The other was the German demand, in a more extreme way than ever before, that the Greeks cede fundamental sovereignty over their national economy and, in effect, over Greece itself. Germany demanded that Greece place itself under the supervision of a foreign EU monitoring force that, as Germany demonstrated in these negotiations, ultimately would be under German control….

…The situation in Greece is desperate because of the condition of the banking system. It was the pressure point that the Germans used to force Greek capitulation. But Greece is now facing not only austerity, but also foreign governance. The Germans’ position is they do not trust the Greeks. They do not mean the government now, but the Greek electorate. Therefore, they want monitoring and controls. This is reasonable from the German point of view, but it will be explosive to the Greeks.

In World War II, the Germans occupied Greece. As in much of the rest of Europe, the memory of that occupation is now in the country’s DNA. This will be seen as the return of German occupation, and opponents of the deal will certainly use that argument. The manner in which the deal was made and extended by the Germans to provide outside control will resurrect historical memories of German occupation. It has already started.

Friedmann’s point about not trusting the Greek electorate is an important one. This is not the first time in Europe in recent years that electorates have been sidestepped or subverted for having inconvenient collective opinions. Elections themselves could become increasingly problematic:

Varoufakis said that Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister and the architect of the deals Greece signed in 2010 and 2012, was “consistent throughout”. “His view was ‘I’m not discussing the programme – this was accepted by the previous [Greek] government and we can’t possibly allow an election to change anything.

 “So at that point I said ‘Well perhaps we should simply not hold elections anymore for indebted countries’, and there was no answer. The only interpretation I can give [of their view] is, ‘Yes, that would be a good idea, but it would be difficult. So you either sign on the dotted line or you are out.’”

Interestingly, much angst over the deal can also be found domestically in Germany, where there is considerable concern over the country’s reputation in Europe. The Greek debacle is being referred to as a diplomatic disaster:

Chancellor Angela Merkel may appear to be the victor in the Greek bailout standoff but many Germans looked on in dismay at the heavy cost to the country’s image. Merkel and her hardline finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, drove a tough bargain at the marathon negotiations, in line with Berlin’s stated goal of defending the cause of fiscal rectitude. But while Merkel, often called Europe’s de facto leader, has grown used to Nazi caricatures on the streets of Athens, a backlash appeared to be mounting this time at home too. Commentators of all political stripes said they feared that Berlin’s “bad cop” stance in Brussels had brought back “ugly German” stereotypes of rigid, brutal rule enforcers.

“The German government destroyed seven decades of post-war diplomacy on a single weekend,” news website Spiegel Online said. “There is a fine line between saving and punishing Greece. This night the line has disappeared,” tweeted Mathias Mueller von Blumencron of the conservative standard-bearer Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as the details of the German-brokered austerity-for-aid deal emerged. “Merkel managed to revive the image of the ugly, hard-hearted and stingy German that had just begun to fade,” the centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote. “Every cent of aid to Greece that the Germans tried to save will have to be spent two and three times over in the coming years to polish that image again.”

It is difficult to see how this situation could be described as other than the worst way for the European project to proceed:

Greece’s economy is in tatters, its creditors are fuming and Europe’s institutions are in despair. Much to Britain’s disgust even non-euro countries have been sucked into the nightmare: a bridge loan designed to keep Greece afloat while the bail-out talks proceed looks set to tap a fund to which all EU countries have contributed.

But wasn’t this week’s agreement a triumph for the shock troops of austerity? Hardly. Finland’s coalition, formed only two months ago, tottered at the prospect of funding a third Greek bail-out. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has admitted that it would violate an election pledge he made in 2012. One euro-zone diplomat says that 99% of her compatriots would say “no” to the bail-out if offered a Greece-style referendum. Even Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and Mr Tsipras’s chief tormentor, is damaged. The deal, crafted largely by Mrs Merkel, Mr Tsipras and François Hollande, France’s president, has exposed the German chancellor to competing charges: of cruelty abroad and of leniency at home, notably among Germany’s increasingly irritable parliamentarians, who must vote twice on the Greek package.

Europe’s single currency, designed to foster unity and ease trade between its members, has thus become a ruthless generator of misery for almost all of them.

Liquidity Crunch and a Cash-Only Economy

As we have consistently maintained at TAE, cash is king in a period of deflation, and the conversion to a cash-only economy can unfold very rapidly once credit instruments cease to be regarded as credible promises to repay. Like Cyprus in March 2013, the Greek economy is rapidly transitioning to cash-only as the liquidity crunch, or liquidity asphyxiation, to use Yanis Varoufakis’ term, deepens. The banks are on the verge of collapse. Capital controls allow for withdrawals of only €60 per day, and pensioners are only able to access €120 per week [update: that changed today]. Tourists are finding they cannot change foreign currency for scarce euros. People fear bank account haircuts. Medicines, particularly insulin, and access to medical care are very limited as the healthcare system has converted to pay-as-you-go, in cash. The power system struggles to cope as consumers cannot pay their bills. Purchases cannot be made outside the country, so vital imports are not possible, meaning that stocks of raw materials are being run down. Operations may shortly cease for many businesses:

Constantine Michalos, head of the Hellenic Chambers of Commerce and a food importer, said the economy has reached near paralysis. “There is no system in place for Greek companies to transfer money about. Our life-blood has been shut off,” he said. “People are depleting their stocks. We are going to start seeing shortages of meat by the end of the week.”

The network of chambers in the Greek islands reports that the local payments system is breaking down since nobody wants to accept transfers into backing accounts that could be seized at any moment. “The ferry operators are demanding cash up front to bring in fuel and supplies,” he said. “The whole is economy shifting to cash. You can’t really import anything, and 40pc of Greek GDP is based on imports,” said Haris Makryniotis, who helps small businesses for Endeavor Greece.

Businesses have little remaining room for manoeuver :

Whereas individuals may be able to survive off €60 a day, at least for a while, businesses cannot. One particular problem is that Greek businesses rely heavily on imports (especially of raw materials) which they can no longer access easily; this means that, for example, a lightbulb factory reliant on copper from Chile can only make lightbulbs as long as its existing inventory holds out. Exports also fall; Greek manufacturers have already had to cancel orders from buyers abroad and more will follow soon. Domestic suppliers have begun to insist on up-front cash payments (those that didn’t already, at least). This causes similar supply-chain problems; as drivers and petrol stations demand payment in cash, which isn’t readily available, delivery delays grow, occasionally leading fruit and vegetables to go off. Redundancies are already starting to happen as businesses slim down to counter losses.

Whereas some of the bigger businesses with bank accounts abroad or foreign income streams are able to circumvent some of these controls by using their foreign bank accounts to pay suppliers, most family-run businesses and smaller firms—the backbone of the Greek economy—are not so lucky. In theory, they can apply to a special bank committee that assesses applications; in practice this is proving wholly insufficient….

…Greece is a more cash-reliant economy than other European countries and small businesses in particular pay both suppliers and employees in cash. Capital controls have quickly thrown normal pay arrangements into chaos, and businesses are increasingly resorting to delayed payments, forced holiday for employees, and layoffs. 

Companies with large cash flows, such as supermarkets, have stopped putting all their cash earnings back into banks and are holding on to over 50% of it, according to one senior Greek banker. Those who still use banks for deposits say they do so in order to pay staff electronically. Cash-heavy businesses that have stopped paying into banks have started to pay staff directly in cash.

Greece’s slow slide into a cash-only economy has significant repercussions for the state—including a smaller tax take as cash transactions and payments reduce the (already low) share of exchanges reported to the Greek government.

This is what a liquidity crunch looks like in practice, and very much what we have been warning about at TAE since its inception. Finance is the operating system, and when the operating system crashes, nothing moves. In a complex system, that translates rapidly into cascading system failure. Without liquidity to act as the lubricant in the engine of the economy, it is not longer possible to connect buyers and sellers, or producers and consumers. In a cash-only economy, where credit instruments have ceased to be viable, there is very little cash available, and of what little there is, people hold on to as much as they can because they are unsure when they may come by any more of it. This means the velocity of money – the prime determinant of the level of economic activity that can be supported – remains extremely low. As we have said before:

2008 did not demonstrate what a liquidity crunch really means, but this time we are going to find out. As with many aspects of financial crisis, Greece is the canary in the coalmine….For a long time, money will be the limiting factor, and finance will be the key driver to the downside, just as was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Resources will remain available, at least initially, but no one will have the means to pay for them during a period of economic seizure.

As we have discussed at TAE before, prices diverge under conditions of liquidity crunch. As a much larger percentage of a much smaller money supply starts competing for the essentials, they receive relative price support. In contrast domestic good of little immediate essential value become virtually worthless very quickly:

Some Greeks of means are reportedly going on spending binges, buying expensive goods in order to empty their bank accounts. When the rumour of a haircut to deposits over €8000 surfaced earlier this week, people apparently tried to find ways to bring their accounts below that level (by buying things on their debit cards or transferring money to friends with a lower balance).

Most Greeks are living off meagre salaries, have little money in their accounts and are prioritising the basics. Food and petrol sellers have been the big winners, so to speak, of the past week as people hoard dry foods and fill up on petrol to prepare for potential severe shortages in future. For most other businesses, selling less-essential goods and services, business is very bad. Many report drops in sales of 25%-50%. Demand for non-essential food items, for example, is reportedly down around 30%. Domestic production is falling as a consequence, which suggests that a sharp rise in unemployment may soon follow.

To the extent that they can, people are hoarding cash (and have been in modest amounts since January, when Syriza came to power). Around €45 billion is estimated to be stuffed in sock-drawers, under mattresses and in safes in people’s homes. These hoards will support some segments of the Greek population well if the crisis continues, but the cashpiles seem to be distributed in highly uneven fashion.

Debt to GDP is past the point of no return in Greece, meaning that default is inevitable. Austerity is merely frog-marching the country in that direction even more quickly, as it suppresses economic growth. With the rate of growth less than the rate of interest paid on debt, Greece is in an exploding debt scenario. The greater the extent to which austerity forces economic contraction, the larger the debt will loom in comparison to falling GDP. Debt relief is not on offer, maturity extensions will make little difference, and assets set aside to cover debt from privatization revenues are not going to attract the expected valuations under conditions of distressed assets prices. Their contribution to debt repayment is therefore being grossly overestimated in the Troika’s calculations:

“It’s just a continuation of failed policy packages, and if anything it’s worse,” says Charles Wyplosz, professor of economics at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva. “It hasn’t worked, it won’t work.”…

….Greece’s paralyzed banks could prove the biggest brake on such an economic bounce, however. The banks, which have suffered from deteriorating asset quality and massive deposit flight, need a faster and bolder recapitalization than Europe is currently offering, Mr. Gros says. “Creditors will have to deliver here. They will sabotage their own program if they don’t,” he says….

….Like the previous bailout programs, the aim is to put Greece’s debt on a downward trajectory as a proportion of its GDP. But the math looks strained: Greek debt avoids skyrocketing only because lenders say Greece will raise €50 billion from privatizing public assets, the proceeds of which would mostly go toward paying down debt. Previous bailout plans also assumed large privatization revenues. Only a fraction have materialized. The problem was and remains that Greece doesn’t have assets that it can sell for such high prices in the foreseeable future

The dismal prospect for Greece under this agreement is a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy, as the shift from to the psychology of expansion to the psychology of contraction has cascading impacts:

Value-added tax rates — your basic regressive sales tax — will jump by ten percentage points or more, to 23%, including for hotels and restaurants and including on the Greek islands. This will divert tourists to Turkey and elsewhere, damping Greece’s largest industry. Also, it will drive small businesses even further to cash and tax evasion. This means other tax revenues will also fall. Tax revenues will rise at first, but then they will fall short of targets, both because economic activity falls and evasion rises. As this happens, the new program requires that public spending be cut automatically. Since most public spending goes for pensions and wages, this means that pensions and wages will be cut. Since pensioners and civil servants live on these payments, they will cut their spending — and tax revenues will fall further. In the labor market, extreme deregulation will proceed. Collective bargaining will be suppressed; wages will therefore fall. As a result, wage labor will go off-the-books, into cash, even more than it already has, and pension contributions will decline again. The resulting tax losses will feed back into pension cuts.

Privatization will work through a required new fund that will, supposedly, hold €50 billion in Greek assets to be sold off (notwithstanding the difficulty that, according to the economy minister, public assets on that scale do not exist). Anyhow the state electricity company will be sold, and electric rates will rise. As all this happens, even more people will default on their mortgages. The judicial code will be rewritten to facilitate mass foreclosures, so far held in abeyance.  The non-performing-loans of the banking system will then go from disastrous to catastrophic. Now then, under these conditions, what do you think will happen to the banks.

It is possible that a surge of “confidence” will now bring cash deposits back to the banks, new inter-bank loans from North Europe, new lending to small businesses, new jobs and economic growth.  Possible, but not likely. Much more likely, with every increase of the ceiling on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), and every relaxation of capital controls, people in Greece will line up to pull cash from the banking system. They will do this because they have to, in order to live. They will do this because cash avoids taxes. They will do it because any fool can see that the banks are doomed. So deposits will go down, the ELA will go up, still more loans will go bad, and the banks will continue as zombies until — at some point — the European Central Bank gives up and closes them down, this time for good. Greek depositors will then lose what little remains.

Single Currency or Glorified Exchange-Rate Mechanism?

The single currency was intended to transcend the difficulties of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which preceded it, becoming an irreversible unifying force for its member states. Currency pegs are notorious for providing a field day for speculators, as Britain discovered to its cost the day sterling was driven from the ERM, despite the government raising interest rates by 5% in a single day. A single currency, in contrast, is indivisible, providing no cracks within which wedges may be driven in order to profit from exploiting economic disparities.

Europe wished to convince the financial world of its new-found seamlessness by ‘graduating’ from ERM to single currency, but irreversibility and seamlessness are in the eye of the beholder. They depend on confidence, as does every facet of the financial world. Where there is a clear disparity between the level of primary loyalty (to the nation state) and the scale at which the currency operates (Europe-wide), there is clearly a problem. Allowing currency notes to be distinguished on the basis of country of issue (by serial number) creates another potentially exploitable weakness. Nevertheless, the eurozone was presenting a united front until the specter of Grexit emerged.

The negotiating position recently presented by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, suggesting a temporary ‘time-out’ of the single currency for Greece, has opened Pandora’s box with a vengeance:

For its entire life, the euro was conceived as a currency from which there could be no exit. This was not accidental: the disasters that befell the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the early 1990s convinced European leaders that the only way to create a lasting single currency was never, ever, to countenance anyone leaving it. The euro was “irreversible”, to use the word Mario Draghi has frequently used.

Except, tonight in Brussels it transpired that it is far from irreversible. That euro finance ministers are now actively discussing giving Greece a “time-out” from the currency.

Now, one should insert a major note of caution at this stage. The clause quoted above was not agreed by all the euro members here in Brussels. It was put into square brackets, meaning it is yet to be agreed by all member states. It may well be excised by the time the leaders have honed the draft document away to produce their final statement.

Nonetheless, it was on the table. And that means that to some extent, the genie is now out of the bottle. Brussels is officially discussing how to engineer Greece’s departure. The euro is not irreversible.

The significance of this move was noted immediately:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Anyone who toys with the idea of cutting off bits of the euro zone hoping the rest will survive is playing with fire. Some claim that the rest of Europe has been ring-fenced from Greece and that the ECB has tools at its disposal to amputate Greece, if need be, cauterize the wound and allow the rest of euro zone to carry on. I very much doubt that that is the case. Not just because of Greece but for any part of the union. Once the idea enters peoples’ minds that monetary union is not forever, speculation begins … who’s next? That question is the solvent of any monetary union. Sooner or later it’s going to start raising interest rates, political tensions, capital flight.”

Varoufakis is right. The risk distinctions might not begin immediately, but they will happen, and speculation will exploit them by exert huge pressure on credit spreads. Interest rates are a risk premium, and raising or lowering them creates self-fulfilling prophecies. The perception that a country represents a greater risk of default results in higher interest rates, which in turn increase the debt burden and raise the actual risk of default. similarly, the perception that a country represents a relative safe haven creates circumstances of greater actual safety as interest rates fall and lower the debt burden. Safe become safer, while the riskier are marched over a cliff. In expansionary times, investors largely ignore risk and credit spreads narrow. In contractionary ones, we can expect spreads to blow out to record levels as risk aversion suddenly increases. The effect will be to pick off countries one by one, beginning with the one perceived to be weakest. Reality is less important than perception in driving this dynamic. As the psychological shift occurs, the impact cascades as a positive feedback loop to the downside.

Varoufakis’ description of the long negotiation process is interesting. It seems clear from his account that the German negotiating team was determined to achieve a Grexit:

The reason five months of negotiations between Greece and Europe led to impasse is that Dr Schäuble was determined that they would. By the time I attended my first Brussels meetings in early February, a powerful majority within the Eurogroup had already formed. Revolving around the earnest figure of Germany’s Minister of Finance, its mission was to block any deal building on the common ground between our freshly elected government and the rest of the Eurozone.

Thus five months of intense negotiations never had a chance. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone. This is no theory of mine. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

Germany had, after all, not been keen on allowing broad-based European participation in the eurozone from the beginning:

There were bitter fights between France and Germany in the run-up to the launch of the euro. Germany’s desire to limit the euro to a small club consisting of itself, France and some like-minded fiscally austere allies, such as the Netherlands, conflicted with France’s desire for a broader euro.

France, seeking to end the ability of Spain and Italy to competitively devalue at the expense of French exporters, wanted those southern European countries inside the euro. Germany’s efforts were undercut when a slowdown ensured it missed some of the stringent criteria it had insisted be a test for euro membership. With Germany and France both fudging their way in, there was no way to keep the so-called Club Med countries out.

The desire to squeeze Greece out of the euro might arguably be seen as an attempted kindness:

On July 14th, one day after the euro summit, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s bristly finance chief, declared that many of his colleagues in Berlin thought Greece would be better off leaving the euro than submitting to its demands. (He did not need to add that he shares that belief.)

Needless to say, it was not perceived this way, and even if it was meant to be of benefit to Greece, the threat to the eurozone through the questioning of irreversibility is still huge:

In an odd way, the only European politician who was really offering Greece a way out of the impasse was Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, even if his offer was made in a graceless fashion, almost in the form of diktat. His plan for a five-year velvet withdrawal from EMU – a euphemism, since he really meant Grexit – with Paris Club debt relief, humanitarian help, and a package of growth measures, might allow Greece to regain competitiveness under the drachma in an orderly way. Such a formula would imply intervention by the ECB to stabilise the drachma, preventing an overshoot and dangerous downward spiral. It would certainly have been better than the atrocious document that Mr Tsipras must now take back to Athens….

…For the eurozone this “deal” is the worst of all worlds. They have solved nothing. Germany and its allies have for the first time attempted to eject a country from the euro, and by doing so have violated the sanctity of monetary union. Rather than go forward in times of deep crisis to fiscal and political union to hold the euro together – as the architects of EMU always anticipated – they have instead gone backwards. They have at a single stroke converted the eurozone into a hard-peg currency bloc, a renewed Exchange Rate Mechanism that is inherently unstable, at the whim and mercy of populist politicians playing to the gallery at home. The markets are already starting to call it ERM3.

The risk of Grexit still exists, since no one seriously believes that Tsipras and Syriza can deliver on all the promises required of them. Even the attempt is likely to amount to political suicide. There could be a parliamentary revolt. With confidence so shaken, reopening the banks could yet result in a major bank run. Cash is king and, given the opportunity, people will likely be determined to get their hands on as much of it as they can. Debt to GDP is past the point of no return and everyone knows it. In the absence of very substantial debt relief, this agreement is nothing more than an attempt to kick the can further down the road, with no Plan B should that fail. And the can kickers are almost out of road.

The clear risk is contagion, with speculators picking off one country at a time. Dr Schäuble appears to believe that contagion is not a risk, as the Greek economy is relatively small:

“If you look at Greece, it’s not a major part of the economy of the eurozone as a whole. Most participants of financial markets are telling us that markets have already priced in whatever will happen. You can’t see any contagion.”

However, relative size is not the issue:

The warnings were echoed by Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Federal Reserve, who said Europe risks sitting off uncontrollable contagion if it mishandles the Greek crisis, even though Greece may look too small to matter.

“I would say to some European analysts who assume that a Greek exit would not be a problem, people thought that Lehman wouldn’t be a problem. If you measured the size of Lehman relative to the size of the US economy it was quite small,” he told a group at Chatham House.

Economies do run run mechanically in accordance with the law of physics. They are not machines where action and reaction are proportionate. Economies operate in psychological space, as they are composed of people. Financial and economic outcomes represent the sum of millions and millions of short term, self-interested decisions made by market participants. Psychological shifts can have very rapid and apparently disproportionate effects. As the psychology of contraction takes hold, contagion is virtually guaranteed.

Dr Schäuble’s anti-democratic proposal for a European budget commissioner, with veto powers over national budgets, would neither have prevented the current crisis, nor addressed its aftermath, as it rests on a fatally flawed mechanistic model of financial systems that completely fails to incorporate vital aspects of the eurozone reality:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Before the crisis, had Dr Schäuble’s fiscal overlord existed, she or he might have been able to veto the Greek government’s profligacy but would be in no position to do anything regarding the tsunami of loans flowing from the private banks of Frankfurt and Paris to the Periphery’s private banks. Those capital outflows underpinned unsustainable debt that, unavoidably, got transferred back onto the public’s shoulders the moment financial markets imploded. Post-crisis, Dr Schäuble’s budget Leviathan would also be powerless, in the face of potential insolvency of several states caused by their bailing out (directly or indirectly) the private banks. In short, the new high office envisioned by the Schäuble-Lamers Plan would have been impotent to prevent the causes of the crisis and to deal with its repercussions.”

Governments are not in a position to control credit expansions, as so much of the process happens privately, particularly in the shadow banking system. Credit expansions are possible even under a gold standards, as we saw in the Roaring 20s, prior to The Great Depression. As we have discussed before, credit expansions have characterized bubbles throughout history and governments have been powerless to prevent them:

Neglecting the vital role of ephemeral credit in the composition of the effective money supply in manic times is a major omission, as it is the virtual nature of credit that defines such periods, and its abrupt loss that leads to the severity of the depression conditions that inevitably follow.

Corporatocracy

The eurozone crisis is typically cast as a geopolitical clash of nations:

Countries that don’t play ball with Germany will see their banking system used against their democratically elected politicians. The banking system is the soft underbelly and the Germans are prepared to orchestrate bank runs in member states to get their way. This is not only new, it is outrageous.

This is overly simplistic, however, as the centre of the imperial structure is not in this case a state – Germany – but the private financial system itself, which has been heavily involved in orchestrating the circumstances leading to the current crisis and arranging to benefit fro the inevitable fallout:

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role.

In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction. Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of 2.8 billion euros for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate.

As a result, about 2% of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts. Christoforos Sardelis, then head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, later described the deal to Bloomberg Business as “a very sexy story between two sinners.” For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million euros ($793 million), according to Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over from Sardelis in 2005. That came to about 12% of Goldman’s revenue from its giant trading and principal-investments unit in 2001—which posted record sales that year. The unit was run by Blankfein.

Then the deal turned sour. After the 9/11 attacks, bond yields plunged, resulting in a big loss for Greece because of the formula Goldman had used to compute the country’s debt repayments under the swap. By 2005, Greece owed almost double what it had put into the deal, pushing its off-the-books debt from 2.8 billion euros to 5.1 billion. In 2005, the deal was restructured and that 5.1 billion euros in debt locked in. Perhaps not incidentally, Mario Draghi, now head of the European Central Bank and a major player in the current Greek drama, was then managing director of Goldman’s international division.

….Goldman was the biggest enabler. Undoubtedly, Greece suffers from years of corruption and tax avoidance by its wealthy. But Goldman wasn’t an innocent bystander: It padded its profits by leveraging Greece to the hilt—along with much of the rest of the global economy. Other Wall Street banks did the same.

This is essentially the private equity model that has been employed against many companies, where a company is acquired (in a leveraged deal that costs the purchaser almost none of their own money) then asset-stripped, saddled with and sold back to the public as a worthless shell. Wall Street and its European counterparts do not only assets strip companies, they asset strip countries, and in the process shift the burdens onto the citizenry:

Michael Hudson: “It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor. And it’s a continuation of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The problem isn’t simply that the troika wants Greece to balance the budget; it wanted Greece to balance the budget by lowering wages and by imposing austerity on the labor force. But instead, the terms in which Varoufakis has suggested balancing the budget are to impose austerity on the financial class, on the tycoons, on the tax dodgers.

And he said, okay, instead of lowering pensions to the workers, instead of shrinking the domestic market, instead of pursuing a self-defeating austerity, we’re going to raise two and a half billion from the powerful Greek tycoons. We’re going to collect the back taxes that they have. We’re going to crack down on illegal smuggling of oil and the other networks and on the real estate owners that have been avoiding taxes, because the Greek upper classes have become notorious for tax dodging.

Well, this has infuriated the banks, because it turns out the finance ministers of Europe are not all in favor of balancing the budget if it has to be balanced by taxing the rich, because the banks know that whatever taxes the rich are able to avoid ends up being paid to the banks. So now the gloves are off and the class war is sort of back. Originally, Varoufakis thought he was negotiating with the troika, that is, with the IMF, the ECB, and the Euro Council.

But instead they said, no, no, you’re negotiating with the finance ministers. And the finance ministers in Europe are very much like Tim Geithner in the United States. They’re lobbyists for the big banks. And the finance minister said, how can we screw up this and make sure that we treat Greece as an object lesson, pretty much like America treated Cuba in 1960?”

Big Capital controls state machinery for its own benefit, writing the rules by which it is regulated and subverting the political process away from the common good. While it is tempting to view Germany as rich, in control and acting as the eurozone enforcer, Germans have not generally benefitted from their position at the centre of the European project. In fact ordinary Germans, as with the middle class everywhere, have seen their living standards eroded considerably:

German workers have barely seen wages rise for the 14-year stretch. In the short life of the euro, working Germans have fared worse than the French, Austrians, Italians and many across southern Europe. Yes, we’re talking about the same Germany: the mightiest economy on the continent, the one even David Cameron regards with envy. Yet the people working there and making the country more prosperous have seen barely any reward for their efforts. And this is the model for a continent….

….What the single currency has done is make Germany’s low-wage problems the ruin of an entire continent. Workers in France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the eurozone are now being undercut by the epic wage freeze going on in the giant country in the middle. Flassbeck and Lapavitsas describe this as Germany’s “beggar thy neighbour” policy – “but only after beggaring its own people”.

Greek debt resulted not only from problems within Greece itself (corruption, non-payments of taxes etc), but from profligate and predatory lending by private banks with no regard for creditworthiness. When these loans went bad, along with hedge fund bets on national solvency, the financial institutions were bailed out and made whole by taxpayers, who were then saddled with even more unrepayable debt in a huge transfer of public wealth into private hands. Wealth conveyance from the periphery to the centre has accelerated enormously all over the world in the era of globalization, and the eurozone has reflected that dynamic. The global financial elite has seen their share expand exponentially:

While Germany has played a major role it in the subjugation of Greece it is worth asking who truly benefits from economic negotiations that have stopped making economic sense. Could it be the large banks who, following a similar model imposed on countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa since the 1970’s, continue to extract wealth from the poorest people on earth? Has not almost every development in the EU in the past ten years served to consolidate the power of financial institutions at the expense of the citizenry?

The regulatory framework developed after the Great Depression has been progressively dismantled, opening the doors again to the ruthless exploitation typical of periods of economic laissez faire, while protecting the financial elite from the consequences of reckless gambling with other people’s money:

The 1930s regulation that made capitalism a functioning economic system has been repealed. Today in the Western world capitalism is a looting mechanism. Capitalism not only loots labor, capitalism loots entire countries, such as Greece which is being forced by the EU to sell of Greece’s national assets to foreign purchasers….

….Even the language used in the West is deceptive. The Greek “bailout” does not bail out Greece. The bailout bails out the holders of Greek debt. Many of these holders are not Greece’s original creditors. What the “bailout” does is to make the New York hedge funds’ bet on the Greek debt pay off for the hedge funds. The bailout money goes not to Greece but to those who speculated on the debt being paid. According to news reports, Quantitative Easing by the ECB has been used to purchase Greek debt from the troubled banks that made the loans, so the debt issue is no longer a creditor issue.

The corporatocracy has been taking shape for over thirty years, widening inequality both within and between states as wealth is accumulated at the top of the financial food chain:

The Greeks and the U.S. working poor endure the same deprivations because they are being assaulted by the same system—corporate capitalism. There are no internal constraints on corporate capitalism. And the few external constraints that existed have been removed. Corporate capitalism, manipulating the world’s most powerful financial institutions, including the Eurogroup, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve, does what it is designed to do: It turns everything, including human beings and the natural world, into commodities to be exploited until exhaustion or collapse. In the extraction process, labor unions are broken, regulatory agencies are gutted, laws are written by corporate lobbyists to legalize fraud and empower global monopolies, and public utilities are privatized…

…The Greek government kneels before the bankers of Europe begging for mercy because it knows that if it leaves the eurozone, the international banking system will do to Greece what it did to the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973 in Chile; it will, as Richard Nixon promised to do in Chile, “make the economy scream.” The bankers will destroy Greece. If this means the Greeks can no longer get medicine—Greece owes European drug makers 1 billion euros—so be it. If this means food shortages—Greece imports thousands of tons of food from Europe a year—so be it. If this means oil and gas shortages—Greece imports 99% of its oil and gas—so be it. The bankers will carry out economic warfare until the current Greek government is ousted and corporate political puppets are back in control.

Human life is of no concern to corporate capitalists. The suffering of the Greeks, like the suffering of ordinary Americans, is very good for the profit margins of financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. It was, after all, Goldman Sachs—which shoved subprime mortgages down the throats of families it knew could never pay the loans back, sold the subprime mortgages as investments to pension funds and then bet against them—that orchestrated complex financial agreements with Greece, many of them secret. These agreements doubled the debt Greece owes under derivative deals and allowed the old Greek government to mask its real debt to keep borrowing. And when Greece imploded, Goldman Sachs headed out the door with suitcases full of cash.

I am very much in agreement with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, when he observes that the interests of the elite do not align with the interests of states or their inhabitants, particularly in relation to the European project. Differences can be exploited though arbitrage, but harmonisation would have removed many of these differences. Whereas a single currency is useful for the purpose of efficiently transferring profits, true European integration would have removed opportunities to play on side against another:

That’s part of the game: convince people that they’re wrong, that they’re inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that…It’s a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You’re wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say “you’re lazy; you didn’t do the right thing; you didn’t follow the right policies,” when in actuality, an awful lot of the blame needs to be laid on the financial community that encouraged Greece to go down this route….

…What I didn’t realize during any of this period was how much corporatocracy does not want a united Europe. We need to understand this. They may be happy enough with the euro, with one currency – they are happy to a certain degree by having it united enough that markets are open – but they do not want standardized rules and regulations. Let’s face it, big corporations, the corporatocracy, take advantage of the fact that some countries in Europe have much more lenient tax laws, some have much more lenient environmental and social laws, and they can pit them against each other.

What would it be like for big corporations if they didn’t have their tax havens in places like Malta or other places? I think we need to recognize that what the corporatocracy saw at first, the solid euro, a European union seemed like a very good thing, but as it moved forward, they could see that what was going to happen was that social and environmental laws and regulations were going to be standardized. They didn’t want that, so to a certain degree what’s been going on in Europe has been because the corporatocracy wants Europe to fail, at least on a certain level.

The corporatocracy makes little attempt to disguise its power grabs these days, being secure enough in its consolidation of power to feel that no longer necessary. However, the greater the extent to which the citizenry recognizes the underlying dynamic, the angrier and more alienated they become. They are becoming increasingly opposed to the entire project of European Union, seeing it as a facilitation of exploitation. Euroskepticism in on the rise all over the continent, and that has the potential to damage the fabric of European society as it leads in the direction of increasing distrust of neighbouring countries:

As I watch what is happening in Greece, I feel myself to be increasingly Eurosceptic and wondering too if Eurosceptism is not code for the anti-German sentiment that currently abounds. If the European project that once seemed so noble now comes down to the European Central Bank, which is not in any way independent but acts as a thuggish bailiff to further impoverish Greece, what actually is it? If Germans believe they should not have to pay for the mistakes of Greek governments, then they do not see the crisis of Greece for what it is: a crisis of all Europe. Bailouts have been funded for the financial sector since 2008. To simply blame Greece is unsustainable.

The contagion that the financiers fear has already happened, but not exactly in the way they say. When the workings of the eurozone are held up to the light, the gaping deficit is one of democracy. Unelected commissioners, unaccountable banks all laughably scrabbling on to the crowded moral high ground. All this depends on an agreed script: corrupt Greeks as shirkers, hard-working Germans as strivers. All of the deals have actually been about protecting German and French banks from debt write-offs.

People are realising that elected officials have no power, and that democracy is increasingly illusory. The outward appearance of democracy remains, but the substance has been eroded to the point of travesty. This is dangerous, given that it drives a greater and greater loss of political legitimacy, even for smaller scale governance institutions, and that greatly increases the risk of widespread civil unrest:

Now it seems that both sides of the Greek referendum were voting for an illusion. One of the most touching aspects of Greek life is people’s obsessional respect for parliamentary democracy. Syriza itself is the embodiment of a leftism that always believed you could achieve more in parliament than on the streets. For the leftwing half of Greek society, though, the result is people continually voting for things more radical than they are prepared to fight for.

I asked one of Syriza’s grassroots organisers, a tough party cadre who had been agitating for a “rupture” with lenders for weeks, whether he could put his members onto the streets to keep order outside besieged pharmacies and supermarkets. He shook his head. The police, or more probably the conscript army would have to do it….

….The rest of leftwing Greece is mesmerised by parliament.

Little does it understand how scant was the power its ministers actually wielded from their offices. And now the realisation dawns: the Greek parliament has no power inside the eurozone at all. It has the power only to implement what its lenders want.

The financial system has acted as a highly effective parasite on the real economy, as it does during every bubble once the magic of leverage is rediscovered. However, parasite that get too greedy kill the host, and that is exactly what the financial system stands on the verge of doing. The end is likely when financial institutions turn on each other, as we saw with the failure of Lehman brothers in 2008:

Bankers, it turns out, are often the first to start a run on other banks….

….But the lesson the good citizens of the other crisis countries will draw may not be what their financial masters suppose. It may be, above all, get to cash, as quickly as possible.

An Alternate Way Forward for Greece

The immediate price for Greece of a Grexit from the eurozone would be huge. The human cost would be particularly high as even greater suffering would unfold. Varoufakis has described the eurozone as being like the Hotel California, where you can enter, but never leave. However, the proposed deal will do nothing to prevent this eventuality. Nor will the effort at kicking the can down the road be used to buy to time to build any form of alternative. It is far more likely merely to drag out the suffering. As difficult, and no doubt politically suicidal, as it would be, leaving the euro is almost certainly the way to get the inevitable pain over with as quickly as possible. 

This newspaper [The Economist] has always opposed a Greek departure from the euro because of the economic shock it would bring and the political chaos that could follow. But faced with a programme that infantilises Greek citizens, endlessly saps its creditors’ energies and offers little hope of improvement, it is easy to see why some are tempted by the alternative.

It has been done before:

If Greece restores the Drachma, social, private and financial interests can be re-aligned; prosperity can be reignited. Issued through the central bank and domestic retail banks, the Drachma can underpin a programme of public works expenditures, and in parallel, through multiplier processes, the spending of newly earned income to revive private activity in Greece. Through the Drachma, jobs and prosperity can be restored. The expertise to facilitate such a transition exists, moreover the very nature of money guarantees precedent on which action can be based.

It has been done before – successfully. The last time the world threw off the chains of private wealth was in the 1930s. Then, Britain led the way. In September 1931, financial interests demanded high interest rates and austerity as the impact of the Great Depression hammered the people. At this point Britain, like Greece today, became defiant. The UK threw off its fetters and left the gold standard – the Euro of a century ago.

We have argued before that humanity gets itself into trouble when it allows the scale at which it operates to increase to an unmanageable extent, where reflexivity is lost and unstoppable momentum develops for us to throw ourselves collectively off the nearest cliff. We are about to learn this lesson again, as we do at the peak of every bubble:

Even at the peak of expansion, international scale institutions struggled to achieve popular legitimacy, due to the obvious democratic deficit, lack of transparency, lack of accountability and insensitivity to local concerns. Even under the most favourable circumstances, true internationalism appears to be a bridge too far from a trust perspective. For this reason, world government and a global currency were never a realistic prospect, as much as some may have craved and others dreaded them. Even a transnational European single currency has suffered from a fatal disparity between the national level of primary loyalty and the international level of currency governance, and as such has no future

When the path you are on has no future, taking a different path, however painful, is the only realistic option.

Italy’s Beppe Grillo takes an optimistic view of the Greek future in the event of a Grexit:

The chaos in Athens has, he says, been wildly overstated. “I went there with bread, cheese and nylon socks, to help. I thought there would be people on the ground, screaming, ‘Aaaaaah!’ Instead, I found a splendid city, the restaurants were full. There were many tourists. You ate well — with €18 or €20. It was clean. I am sure that if they take back the drachma, they’ll have a year of trouble but then they will become paradise on earth with 10 million people.”

Jul 202015
 
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NPC Daredevil John “Jammie” Reynolds, Washington DC 1917


Schäuble Was Ready To Give Greece €50 Billion To Quit The Euro (HeardinEurope)
Greece’s Real Crisis Deadline Arrives With ECB Debt to Pay (Bloomberg)
Greek Banks to Open Monday as Tsipras Prepares for Another Vote (Bloomberg)
Portugal’s Debts Are (Also) Unsustainable (Tavares)
Grexit Remains The Likely Outcome Of This Sorry Process (Münchau)
Krugman’s Money Is On A Grexit (CNN)
Why Austerity Is Not a Sound Economic Policy (Forbes)
The Failed Project of Europe (Jayati Ghosh)
The Great Greek Bank Drama, Act II: The Heist (Coppola)
Greek Austerity May Be An Economic Tale But Children Are The Human Cost (Conv.)
The Euro – The ‘New’ Coke Of Currencies? (Guardian)
Disgraced Ex-IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn Slams New Greek Deal As ‘Deadly Blow’ (RT)
The Right -Greek- Poem (New Yorker)
Youth Unemployment in Europe (OneEurope)
Ukraine Extends Creditor Talks As Threat Of Default Looms (FT)
China Stock Resumptions Dwindle as 20% of Shares Stay Halted (Bloomberg)
Gold Bulls In Retreat After Spectacular Plunge (CNBC)
Commodities Crash Could Turn Australia Into A New Greece (Telegraph)
Interview With Julian Assange: ‘We Are Drowning In Material’ (Spiegel)
Beijing To Become Center of Supercity of 130 Million People (NY Times)
Tiny Ocean Phytoplankton are Brightening Up the Sky (Gizmodo)

“..it appears that the Commission is keen to put in place a procedure for countries to leave the EU..” Wait, Schäuble is not in the Commission.

Schäuble Was Ready To Give Greece €50 Billion To Quit The Euro (HeardinEurope)

German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble was prepared “to give Greece €50 billion” had Yanis Varoufakis, his Greek counterpart at the time, agreed to his country leaving the eurozone, a high level source who recently spoke to Schäuble has revealed. The German minister was described by the source like “a true European” who had nothing against Greece, but favoured harsh medicine for a good cause. Schäuble was reported to assume that the leftist Syriza government would favour leaving the eurozone, a move consistent with its ideology. And he was prepared to put money on the table to encourage it to take this step. Schäuble was quoted as asking how much Greece wants to leave the euro by France’s Mediapart.

This is said to taken place before the 5 July referendum, in which a vast majority of Greeks rejected the international creditors’ proposals. But according to the information obtained by Heard in Europe, Schäuble had in mind a concrete figure – €50 billion – had Syriza opted for Grexit. Schäuble apparently didn’t say where the money would come from. Part of such a package could be sourced from the €35 billion of EU money due to Greece until 2020, plus ECB profits from Greek debt sovereign bonds due to Athens. Had Greece opted for a Grexit, more than €300 billion of its debt would be lost to creditors, but €50 billion of fresh money would come handy to the Syriza government to build a new financial system.

Under the bailouts, billions are disbursed to Greece, but the money goes mainly for servicing debt. Regardless of his party’s ideology, at the extraordinary Eurozone summit on 12 July, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chose to honour the wishes of the majority of Greeks, who want to keep the euro. Tsipras’ decision was even more surprising given the creditor’s conditions, which our source described as “much, much more brutal compared to any country historically speaking”.

Schäuble is known to be in favour of a five-year timeout of Greece from the eurozone. The idea was rejected at the recent Eurozone summit, but it appears that the Commission is keen to put in place a procedure for countries to leave the EU, similar to the enlargement negotiations, Heard in Europe was told. According to this logic, Greece or the UK, or any other country for that matter, would receive EU support if it leaves the family in an orderly way. And the exit procedure would be accompanied by benchmarks, like the accession path. The money Schäuble was prepared to give Greece could be seen as a precursor to such support, similar to pre-accession financing.

Read more …

The ECB pays itself.

Greece’s Real Crisis Deadline Arrives With ECB Debt to Pay (Bloomberg)

Greece has reached the deadline it couldn’t afford to miss, for a bill it can finally afford to pay. Monday is the day the country must reimburse the ECB €4.2 billion, including interest, as bonds bought during its last debt crisis mature. The impending reckoning may have been the factor that eventually forced Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on July 13 to accept the austerity he and his electorate had previously rejected, in return for the funds needed to keep his nation from default. As Greece blew past multiple political and financial supposed end-dates over the past five months, July 20 always remained make-or-break. EU law bans the ECB from financing governments, meaning a default would probably require it to pull support from Greek lenders, leaving an exit from the single currency all but assured.

“The issue of repayment to the ECB was pivotal, because failure to make the payment would have had a knock-on impact on the ECB’s willingness to continue providing Emergency Liquidity Assistance to the Greek banks,” said Ken Wattret at BNP Paribas in London. “As the realization dawned that Greece was facing a very disorderly, painful exit from the monetary union, the government stepped back from the brink.” While Greece should now have the funds to make the payment, politicians cut it fine. Euro-area leaders agreed on a bailout package worth as much as €86 billion in an overnight summit that ended last Monday. The Greek parliament approved the austerity measures linked to the aid in the early hours of Thursday morning, and the currency bloc signed off on €7 billion of bridge financing the next day.

ECB President Mario Draghi signaled his approval on Thursday by persuading his Governing Council to increase the ELA that is keeping Greek lenders afloat. Banks will reopen for basic services on Monday, three weeks after they were shut to prevent their collapse. In a press conference after the ECB’s decision on ELA, Draghi said he was confident his institution would get its money back on its Greek bonds. “All my evidence and information leads me to say we will be repaid,” he said in Frankfurt. The idea that Greece might default “is off the table,” he said. The ECB hasn’t said if Greece is expected to pay its debt by a specific time.

Read more …

Nothing much changes, but perhaps the feeling will help a little.

Greek Banks to Open Monday as Tsipras Prepares for Another Vote (Bloomberg)

Greek banks reopen Monday three weeks after they were shut down to prevent their collapse, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepares for a second parliamentary vote crucial to securing a bailout. Greeks will regain access to some basic bank services, including the ability to deposit checks and access safe deposit boxes. Although customers will continue to face restrictions on cash withdrawals, the daily limit of €60 will be replaced by a cumulative maximum of €420 a week. The Athens Stock Exchange, which had also been closed during the month-long confrontation between Greece and its creditors, is expected to reopen, as trading was suspended only until the bank holiday ended.

Tsipras is seeking discussions with euro-zone governments on a third bailout after Greek lawmakers went along with their demands for more economic overhauls. Hours after the vote early Thursday, the European Central Bank approved emergency financing for the country’s lenders. The EU followed on Friday with €7 billion bridge loan to keep the country afloat during negotiations on a three-year rescue program worth as much as €86 billion. The loan will help cover a €3.5 billion payment to the ECB that falls due Monday. The Greek government still faces a parliamentary vote Wednesday on a second package of prerequisites for further financial assistance, including tax increases on farmers. Last week’s vote prompted some members of the Syriza party to rebel, forcing Tsipras to reshuffle his cabinet on Friday.

Read more …

And Italy’s, and Spain’s, and Ireland’s, and…

Portugal’s Debts Are (Also) Unsustainable (Tavares)

Everyone seems to be focusing on Greece these days – a country so indebted that it needs even more loans to repay just a fraction of its gigantic credits. Clearly this is unsustainable and something has to give. Even the IMF agrees. But what about the other Southern European countries? Actually, Portugal’s financial situation is looking particularly shaky, and any hiccups could have serious cross-border repercussions from Madrid all the way to Berlin. The prevailing narrative is that Portugal has been a star pupil compared to Greece, with austerity delivering much better results:

• The government, a coalition of a center party and center-right party that together have held the majority of parliamentary seats since the 2011 election, pretty much followed all the major guidelines demanded by its creditors (the famous “Troika”) pursuant to the 2010 bailout, and was even praised for it.
• Exports have performed exceedingly well given everything that was going on domestically and abroad; the managers of small and medium enterprises in Portugal are true heroes, operating in difficult conditions and with limited access to credit.
• Portugal has recently become a darling of international real estate investors and tourists.
• The country’s citizens have stoically endured a range of tough austerity measures with surprisingly little social disruption.

So it is understandable that hopes for Portugal’s future are much rosier than in Greece… AND YET ITS FINANCIAL SITUATION IS ALSO UNSUSTAINABLE! We realize that this is quite a bold statement. So to support our argument we will use some simple math to show where government finances stand after five years of austerity. The Bank of Portugal (“BdP”), Portugal’s central bank, publishes debt statistics of key sectors in the economy on a quarterly basis. As of March 2015, non-financial public sector debt stood at €288 billion, or 166% of GDP. You may think that there’s something odd right there because you are used to hearing that the Portuguese government “only” owes 130% of its GDP. That’s because the media generally uses Maastricht treaty calculations, not the total amount that the government owes as a whole (which includes public companies, for instance). But what’s 36 %age points of GDP among friends?

OK, let’s do some math: We start by dividing €288 billion by 166% to find out what nominal GDP the BdP used in its calculation: about €174 billion; Next, let’s assume that the cost of debt on all that government debt is only 1%. In this case, the annual interest expense for the government should be 1% x €2.88 billion, or €2.88 billion. We know that this is very low as the actual interest expense in 2014 was almost €7 billion (and likely not all of it, but government accounts can get quite murky); Then we assume that Portugal’s nominal GDP grows at 1%, which is not stellar but certainly better than recent years – from December 2011 to December 2014, the average nominal growth rate was actually -0.6% (BdP figures). So that’s 1% x €174 billion, or €1.74 billion;

Finally, we compare the assumed interest costs with the nominal GDP growth: €2.88 billion vs €1.74 billion. See what we are getting at here? USING FAIRLY OPTIMISTIC ASSUMPTIONS, THE PORTUGUESE ECONOMY IS UNABLE TO GROW ENOUGH TO COVER THE INTEREST ON ITS GOVERNMENT DEBTS, LET ALONE AFFORD ANY PRINCIPAL REPAYMENTS!

Read more …

If Tsipras implements all austerity measures, it’s impossible for the economy to grow.

Grexit Remains The Likely Outcome Of This Sorry Process (Münchau)

Alexis Tsipras should never have hired Yanis Varoufakis as his finance minister. Or he should have listened to him, and kept him on. But instead the Greek prime minister chose the worst of all options. He followed Mr Varoufakis’ advice of rejecting the offer of the creditors — until last week. But having done this, Mr Tsipras committed a critical error by rejecting Mr Varoufakis’ plan B for the moment when the country’s banks closed down: the immediate introduction of a parallel currency — IOUs issues by the Greek state but denominated in euros. A parallel currency would have allowed the Greeks to pay for their daily transactions when cash withdrawals were limited to €60 a day. A total economic collapse would have been avoided. But Mr Tsipras did not go for this, or indeed any other plan B.

Instead he capitulated. At that point, he was no longer even in a position to choose a Grexit — a Greek exit from the eurozone. The economic precondition for a smooth departure would have been a primary surplus — before debt service — and an equivalent surplus in the private sector. Greece has no foreign exchange reserves. If the Greeks were to reintroduce the drachma, they would have had to pay for all of their imports with the foreign exchange earnings of their exports. These minimum preconditions were in place in March but not in July. So, like his predecessors, Mr Tsipras ended up with another very lousy bailout deal. And this one suffers from the same fundamental flaws as its predecessors. This leads me to conclude that Grexit remains the most likely ultimate outcome after all.

There are three principal ways in which this can happen. The first is that a deal is simply not concluded. All that was agreed last week is for negotiations to start, plus some interim financing. A deal might fail because principal participants themselves are sceptical. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, says he will keep up his offer of a Grexit in his drawer, just in case the negotiations fail. Mr Tsipras denounced the agreement on several occasions last week. And the International Monetary Fund is telling us that the numbers do not add up, and that it will not sign unless the European creditors agree to debt relief. The Germans refuse any discussion on this subject, citing some trumped-up rules according to which eurozone countries are not allowed to default.

This is legal hogwash, but I suppose the purpose is to describe new red lines in the negotiations. My hunch is that they will ultimately fudge a deal, but that will come — as it always does — with overwhelming collateral damage: less debt relief than needed, and more austerity than Greece can bear. A more likely Grexit scenario is that a programme is agreed and then fails. The Athens government may implement all the measures the creditors demand, but the economy fails to recover and debt targets remain elusive. Mr Tsipras already agreed last week that if this situation arose, he would pile on more austerity. So, unless the economy behaves in future in a very different way from the way it behaved in the past, it will remain trapped in a vicious circle for many years to come.

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“My money is on exit one way or another.”

Krugman’s Money Is On A Grexit (CNN)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says Greece’s hard times are far from over – and a Grexit is not out of the question. Eurozone leaders are set to offer new bailout terms for the deeply-indebted Greeks this week. And the country’s banks will also reopen on Monday. Krugman, however, is not convinced the situation in Greece is any less concerning. “My guess is either in the end they will get this sort of enormous debt relief…or they will have to exit,” Krugman told CNN’s Fareed Zakari Sunday. “My money is on exit one way or another.”

And Krugman agreed with some other economists who have said a Grexit shouldn’t be underestimated. Even if forgiving the country’s debt does not lead to “Lehman-like” bank failures, it would affect the stability of the Eurozone. “If Greece exits and then starts to recover, which it probably would, that would be, in a way, encouragement for other political movements to challenge the euro,” Krugman said. “This is not trivial.”

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Not a balanced assessment in any sense, but she hits some valid points.

Why Austerity Is Not a Sound Economic Policy (Forbes)

Austerity is a dubious measure that creditors, such as the IMF like to enforce on poor and politically weak countries aiming to get their money back faster. Unfortunately, austerity creates zombie economies which may have low debt, but unfortunately also end up with low prosperity. Bulgaria, for example is a country that Madam Merkel praised as ”disciplined” with very little government debt that has been able to implement austerity policies effectively. Yet, Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita in the EU and remains one of the poorest economies in Europe with little prospects for growth. It is not surprising then that Greece refuses to play ball. The restructuring discussion would have been far more appealing to the Greeks and far more believable if more emphasis was paid to creative ideas of how to jumpstart the Greek economy.

Young and unemployed, the Greeks are not willing to hear about austerity, but would love to hear about how to get a job. At the latest GAIM Conference in Monaco, I participated in a simulation of the Greek crisis. Some of my colleagues suggested interesting ideas focused on Greek economic growth ranging from a Russian natural gas pipeline going through Greece, to Germany relocating manufacturing to Greece and Greeks providing cheap labor, to a free economic zone in the Mediterranean with an infusion of Chinese capital. While each idea may or may not be viable, what was more striking to me is that rarely if ever in the real Greek economic and political debate, do I hear much about stimulating growth and productivity.

Secondly, in addition to economic growth, an innovative approach to debt restructuring is needed not only for Greece but also as a precedent for the world. The global debt including government, corporate and household debt, currently stands at $200 trillion with $57 trillion added since 2007. Current debt levels are likely unsustainable and unlikely to be repaid not just in Greece. A combination of currency devaluation, significant debt forgiveness and creation of new debt instruments that act more like equity and link to GDP growth, for example, will better align incentives between the creditors and the borrowers and ultimately could lead to faster economic recoveries.

Referring to the Greek plan or lack there off, Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consulting firm said: “It’s clearly a Band-Aid solution. I’d love to say we’ll be back here in a year or two. It’s more likely to be a few months.” I could not agree more with Mr. Bremmer. Much more is needed than bridge loans and austerity.

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“There was clearly a need to punish both the Syriza-led government and the Greek voters for daring to protest, by forcing upon them the most appalling and humiliating terms that have been seen in a non-war situation for a European nation..”

The Failed Project of Europe (Jayati Ghosh)

There is a stereotypical image of an abusive husband, who batters his wife and then beats her even more mercilessly if she dares to protest. It is self-evident that such violent behaviour reflects a failed relationship, one that is unlikely to be resolved through superficial bandaging of wounds. And it is usually stomach-churningly hard to watch such bullies in action, or even read about them. Much of the world has been watching the negotiations in Europe over the fate of Greece in the eurozone with the same sickening sense of horror and disbelief, as leaders of Germany and some other countries behave in similar fashion. The extent of the aggression, the deeply punitive conditionalities being imposed as terms of a still ungenerous bailout and the terrible humiliation and pain being wrought upon the Greek people are hard to explain in purely economic or even political terms.

Instead, all this seems to reflect some deep, visceral anger that has been awakened by the sheer effrontery of a government of a small state that dared to consult its people rather than immediately bowing to the desires of the leaders of larger countries and the unelected technocrats who serve them. There was also anger directed at the people themselves, who dared to vote in a referendum against the terms of a bailout package that offered them only more austerity, less hope and continued pain in the foreseeable future, just so that their country can continue to pay the foreign debts that everyone (even the IMF!) knows simply cannot be paid. The response went beyond completely ignoring the will of the Greek people as expressed in the referendum, to insist on pushing even worse conditions on them for their resistance.

There was clearly a need to punish both the Syriza-led government and the Greek voters for daring to protest, by forcing upon them the most appalling and humiliating terms that have been seen in a non-war situation for a European nation, for the increasingly dubious advantage of staying within the eurozone. Greece will become an economic protectorate, indeed little more than a colony of Germany within the eurozone. It will have no control over its fiscal policies, forced to sell valuable public assets that amount to more than a third of annual national income just to keep trying to pay its creditors. It will have to reverse decisions made in the recent past to preserve some public employment such as of cleaning and sanitation workers and security guards, whom it will now have to fire again, and will have to cut pensions of elderly people who have already seen their pensions fall by 40%.

It will have to increase indirect taxes that will hit the poor most. It will have to accept the constant presence of the external rulers, in the form of an IMF team that will monitor the budget and the activities of the Greek government, who are not any more to be trusted by the European leaders. Since the troika has thus far not been able to push Syriza out of power, they are now seeking the alternative of a much weakened party in government (soon no doubt to become a “government of national unity” with the support of centrist and right wing MPs) under the direct political control of the (mostly unelected) European bosses.

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The Greek banking system was bled to death intentionally.

The Great Greek Bank Drama, Act II: The Heist (Coppola)

Back in the autumn of 2014, the ECB & EBA conducted stress tests on European banks, including all four of Greece’s large banks (which together make up about 90% of its banking sector). The Greek banks at that time passed the stress tests and were deemed solvent. They are now supervised not by Greek regulatory bodies, but directly by the ECB under the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM). Yet now, eight months later, sufficient damage has apparently been done to Greece’s banks to render them collectively insolvent. What on earth has gone wrong? Greece’s banks have suffered a continual deposit drain since the beginning of the year. This is how they became dependent on emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) funding from the Bank of Greece.

But liquidity shortfalls do not cause insolvency unless they are covered by means of asset fire sales. In this case, the liquidity drain was until 28th June covered by ELA. Collateral has to be pledged for ELA funding, and Greek banks consequently found their balance sheets becoming more and more encumbered. To make matters worse, the ECB recently increased collateral haircuts for Greek banks. Now the banks are reopening, it is not clear how much collateral they have left for ELA funding. Whether the ECB will relax collateral requirements to allow a wider range of assets to be pledged remains to be seen. It is probably conditional on good behaviour by the Greek sovereign. But it is not the funding side of Greek banks that is the real problem. It is the asset base.

Greece went into recession in Q4 2014 (yes, BEFORE Syriza came to power). Since then, there has been a considerable fall in output caused mainly by lack of confidence. On top of this, the Greek sovereign has been running substantial primary surpluses all year in order to maintain payments to creditors in the absence of bailout funding. It has done this not by collecting more taxes but by a considerable squeeze on public spending: this has mainly taken the form of delaying payments to the private sector. Additionally, the private sector itself has cut back spending and investment. The result is that real incomes have tumbled, unemployment has risen and loan defaults have increased. Non-performing loans in the Greek banking sector were already high at the beginning of the year but are now believed to have risen substantially. This is the principal cause of the possible insolvency of Greek banks.

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All young people are victims.

Greek Austerity May Be An Economic Tale But Children Are The Human Cost (Conv.)

Many perspectives have been shared about the social and economic repercussions that the third EU bailout proposal for Greece may have. The impact of these tough austerity measures is yet to unfold for the country, for the other southern states, or indeed Europe as a whole. But moving beyond a purely economic lens, there is already evidence about the extent of deprivation and youth unemployment of more than 50% during the past five years of the first and second bailout programmes, meaning that the likely effects of the third are easier to predict, at least for this generation. The links between poverty and a range of risk factors for child mental health problems and related outcomes is well established.

Nevertheless, the reality hit home a few weeks ago when I joined the Children’s SOS Villages in Greece in training their prospective new carers, or “mothers” and “aunts” as they are widely called. These carers work in a similar way to foster carers and residential care staff in other welfare systems. The villages were established in Austria after World War II to care for orphan children and since then their model has successfully spread across more than 120 countries. Their model may slightly vary, but their target groups are typically children without parents, for a range of reasons, or those who have been abused and/or neglected. Consequently, it came as a surprise to realise the extent of child abandonment (neglect, an inability to care for them or even asking social services to look after them) for predominantly financial reasons since the beginning of the Greek crisis.

The organisation has responded by diversifying its remit in Greece. In the absence of an increasingly stretched health and social care sector, they have now extended their services beyond the traditional villages to support, relieve and prevent abuse and neglect, running eight social centres in Greece’s major cities to help keep families together. A 2014 UNICEF report said that child poverty in Greece had almost doubled from 23% in 2008 to 40.5% in 2012, with migrant children particularly vulnerable. It found average family incomes were at 1998 levels, and 18% of households with children unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish or a vegetable equivalent every second day.

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At least with Coke, the people got to vote.

The Euro – The ‘New’ Coke Of Currencies? (Guardian)

The date 23 April 1985 was a momentous day in the life of the Coca-Cola corporation. For years, the company had been planning a new drink to see off the challenge from Pepsi. There was no expense spared for Project Kansas. “New” Coke (as it was dubbed) bombed. The company responded with alacrity. It didn’t say consumers were wrong. It didn’t say that given time New Coke would be a success. It didn’t plough on simply because it had invested heavily in Project Kansas. Instead, it recognised that there was only one option: to go back to the traditional formula. This returned to the shelves on 11 July 1985, within three months of “New” Coke’s launch. There is a lesson here for both businesses and policymakers – and European policymakers in particular.

Sixteen years after its launch, it should be clear even to its most die-hard supporters that the euro is New Coke. European politicians took a formula that was working and messed around with it. They changed the ingredients that made the EU a success, thinking it would be an improvement. Coca-Cola thought New Coke would see off the challenge from Pepsi. Europe thought the euro would see off the challenge from the US. Both were wrong. The only difference is that Coke quickly saw the writing on the wall, and that Europe still hasn’t. It is not hard to see why the pre-euro European Union was popular. The EU was seen as a symbol of peace and prosperity after a period when the continent had been beset by mass unemployment, poverty, dictatorship and war.

Growth rates were spectacularly high in the 1950s and 1960s, a period when Europe caught up rapidly with the US. Britain’s decision to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 was mainly due to the feeling that Germany, France and Italy had found the secret of economic success. Other countries felt the same. They believed access to a bigger market would improve their economic prospects. In the last quarter of the 20th century, output per head in Greece, Portugal, Spain and – most spectacularly – Ireland, rose more rapidly than it did in core countries such as Germany and France. The gap in incomes per head did not entirely disappear but it certainly narrowed. As such, it was no surprise that countries in eastern Europe wanted to join the EU after the collapse of communism: Europe was associated with democracy and prosperity, a winning combination.

Since the birth of the euro, it has been a different story. The crisis in Greece has highlighted the problems that a one-size-fits-all interest rate can cause for countries on the periphery. In the good times, monetary policy is too loose for their needs, leading to asset bubbles, inflationary pressure and the loss of competitiveness. In the bad times, there are no shock absorbers other than wage cuts and austerity. Devaluation of the currency is not possible and there is no system to tio transfer resources from rich to poor parts of the union. Without a common social security system, the result is higher unemployment, rising poverty and political disaffection. What’s less remarked on is that the single currency has not been wonderful for ordinary workers in core Europe either. That’s not just true of Italy, a founder member, where living standards are no higher now than they were in the late 1990s, but also of Germany.

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The big wigs had solid reasons to want him out of the way.

Disgraced Ex-IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn Slams New Greek Deal As ‘Deadly Blow’ (RT)

The former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has decried the latest deal reached on a new Greek bailout as “profoundly damaging.” While admitting that the deal removed the risk of a Grexit, he stressed that “the conditions of the agreement, however, are positively alarming for those who still believe in the future of Europe.” “What happened last weekend was for me profoundly damaging, if not a deadly blow,” he wrote in the open letter entitled “To my German friends” published on Saturday. Strauss-Kahn referred to the deal as a “diktat” and accused European leaders of putting ideology and political gains ahead of real problems, and thus risking the integrity of the European Union.

“Political leaders seemed far too savvy to want to seize the opportunity of an ideological victory over a far left government at the expense of fragmenting the Union,” he said, adding that negotiations had ended up in a “crippling situation” due to this. He also accused the creditors of adopting ineffective strategies towards Greece, more intended to “punish,” than to promote the future of Europe. “In counting our billions instead of using them to build, in refusing to accept an albeit obvious loss by constantly postponing any commitment on reducing the debt, in preferring to humiliate a people because they are unable to reform, and putting resentments – however justified – before projects for the future, we are turning our backs on what Europe should be, we are turning our backs on (…) citizen solidarity,” Strauss-Kahn said in his letter.

He also emphasized the necessity of reforming the whole currency union calling it “an imperfect monetary union forged on an ambiguous agreement between France and Germany,” adding that neither Germany nor France had a “true common vision of the Union,” being “trapped in misleading and inconsistent” concepts. He stressed that Europe could not be saved “simply by imposing rules of sound management,” but only by mutual respect built “through democracy and dialogue, through reason, and not by force.” He also cautioned European leaders against taking measures that created division in Europe and being overly dependent on their perceived “friend” – the USA. “An alliance between a few European countries, even led by the most powerful among them, will be subjugated by our friend and ally the United States in the maybe not so distant future,” he said.

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A rich culture through the ages.

The Right -Greek- Poem (New Yorker)

When Greeks want to gesture “No,” they nod: a little upward snap of the head. The confusion that this can produce in visitors has long been an object of amusement for the locals—and the source of rueful anecdotes by tourists who have found themselves inadvertently refusing bellhops or a sweating glass of frappé after a hot afternoon on the Acropolis. Lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Greeks themselves have been having a hard time understanding the difference between “yes” and “no.” On July 5th, at the ostensible encouragement of the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, an overwhelming majority voted no to punishing new austerity measures in return for continued membership in the euro zone—“a bed of Procrustes,” as The American Interest described the dilemma.

A week later, however—after an escalating struggle between Tsipras’s government and European creditors that the Telegraph compared to “a tragedy from Euripides”—the same electorate was being called upon by Tsipras to say yes to a bailout offer more “draconian” (CNBC) than the last one. “Draconian,” “procrustean,” “Euripides”: however confusing the state of affairs in Athens and Brussels right now, it’s clear that the temptation to invoke the glories of ancient Greece in connection with the current Greek economic crisis is one that journalists have found impossible to resist. Most of the allusions are unlikely to send readers racing to Wikipedia. “ ‘Grexit’ Brinkmanship Is Classic Greek Tragedy,” went one headline, on Breitbart.com. (The article contained a link to the Web page for a Greek-tragedy course at Utah State University.)

Some betray a sentimental high-mindedness about Greece’s position in the history of civilization: “In Greece, A Vote Befitting The Birthplace Of Democracy?” Reuters mused. Of the more substantive attempts to link Greece’s grandiose past to its humbled present, nearly all have focussed on a notorious incident from the Peloponnesian War—the ruinous, three-decade-long conflict between Athens and Sparta. In 416 B.C., the Athenians brutally punished the tiny island state of Melos for trying to preserve its neutrality. In a famous passage of Thucydides’ history of the war, known as the Melian Dialogue, the Athenian representatives blithely tell their Melian counterparts, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” before killing all the adult males of the city and enslaving the women and children.

Perceived similarities between the Athenians of the fifth century B.C. and today’s Germans have provoked a flurry of think pieces. “What Would Thucydides Say About the Crisis in Greece?” an Op-Ed in the Times asked. Yet, despite the baggy analogizing and the rhetoric about eternal verities, attempts to use Pericles’ Athens to explain Tsipras’s Greece often obscure important differences. “Melos was a neutral state,” the Times Op-Ed tartly observed, “while modern Greece not only joined the European Union but over the years merrily plundered its treasury.”

It’s easy to see where the impulse to conflate “Greek history” with “Classical Greek history” comes from: appeals to Thucydides or Plato can confer authority in real-world decision-making. (In 2001, some conservatives cited the Athenians’ take-no-prisoners rhetoric at Melos to justify the invasion of Afghanistan.) But the presumption that nothing much of interest happened in Greece between the end of the Classical era, in 323 B.C., and the founding of the modern nation, in the early nineteenth century, has long irritated both Greeks and students of Greek history.

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Shameful.

Youth Unemployment in Europe (OneEurope)

According to this infographic made by Statista (Statista.com) youth unemployment is still a huge problem in many European countries. In March 2015 Spain, Greece, Croatia and Italy had the worst unemployment rate for people under 25 years of age. How could you explain these different%ages of youth unemployment across Europe? What are the main responsible factors for this issue? In which way do you think the European Union should work to solve it?

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Let’s see what the IMF has left in its warchest.

Ukraine Extends Creditor Talks As Threat Of Default Looms (FT)

Ukraine has extended hastily assembled talks with creditors amid predictions that the country could default as early as Friday if an agreement is not reached. Kiev’s desire to avoid the fate of Greece has encouraged both sides to tone down the combative rhetoric that has dogged negotiations over the past three months. However a principal-to-principal meeting held in Washington last week failed to elicit a deal to restructure Ukraine’s $70bn debt burden, although a joint statement declared that progress had been made. Bridging the gap between Ukraine and the international creditors who hold its sovereign debt will not be easy. Following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean region and the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the east that has wrecked its economy, Ukraine’s debt is widely expected to top 100% of GDP this year.

Kiev hopes for a 40% debt writedown on bonds worth a little more than $15bn in order to make the debt sustainable. But a group of four creditors holding around $9bn of Ukrainian bonds, led by US asset manager Franklin Templeton, disagree that a haircut is needed and have put forward an alternative proposal for maturity extensions and coupon reductions. The only concrete example of progress so far has been the suggestion of swapping part of Ukraine’s debt for GDP-linked bonds, which both sides support, and which would offer equity-like returns if the country’s economy outperforms. So far, Ukraine has met all of its debt obligations, including a $75m coupon payment to Russia, and has successfully negotiated maturity extensions on a number of other payments.
However, Goldman Sachs has warned that default looks “likely” in July when a payment of $120m comes due on a Ukrainian government bond.

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Good lord: “The halted firms are valued at an average 243 times reported earnings…”

China Stock Resumptions Dwindle as 20% of Shares Stay Halted (Bloomberg)

A fifth of China’s stock market remains frozen as the number of companies resuming trading slows to a trickle. A total of 576 companies were suspended on mainland exchanges as of the midday break on Monday, equivalent to 20% of total listings, and down from 635 at the close on Friday. The halted firms are valued at an average 243 times reported earnings, compared with 164 times for all companies traded in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The ongoing suspensions are raising doubts about the sustainability of a rebound in Chinese stocks. The Shanghai Composite Index has climbed about 14% from its July 8 low, following a 32% plunge that helped erase almost $4 trillion of value.

The number of companies with trading halts exceeded 1,400, or around 50% of listings, during the height of the rout as the government took increasingly extreme measures to shore up equities. “When half the market becomes illiquid, that was a sign that China had regressed, they’re not willing to accept the ups and downs of a capital market,” Roshan Padamadan, the founder and manager of Luminance Global Fund, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television from Singapore. Researching companies becomes “pointless” when the government allows them to halt trading without reason, he said. The suspended companies have a combined value of 4 trillion yuan ($644 billion), equivalent to about 9% of China’s total market capitalization. The majority of halts were by shares listed on the Shenzhen Composite Index, the benchmark gauge for the smaller of China’s two exchanges.

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The trend must be worrying to some. Looks like gold goes the way of other commodities.

Gold Bulls In Retreat After Spectacular Plunge (CNBC)

Gold got whacked in the Asian trading session on Monday, plunging below $1,100 in for the first time since March 2010, and strategists say the precious metal is only headed lower from here. The precious metal’s latest leg down was reportedly triggered by speculative selling in the Shanghai Gold Exchange, catching investors off guard. “It was down to speculation here, someone taking advantage of the low liquidity environment,” Victor Thianpiriya, commodity strategist at ANZ, told CNBC. “Around 5 tonnes of gold was sold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange within the space of two minutes between 09:29 and 09:30. The daily volume last week was about 25 tonnes,” he noted. Gold slid over 4% to as low as $1,086 an ounce in early trade on Monday, before paring back some losses over the course of the day.

It was down 2.3% at $1,107 at around 12:00 SG/HK time. “It clearly wasn’t driven by fundamentals, because the U.S. dollar didn’t move at that time,” Thianpiriya said. The disappointing performance of the yellow metal, which is down 6.4% on a year-to-date basis, has sent gold bulls into retreat. Jonathan Barratt, chief investment officer at Ayers Alliance, a longtime gold bug, says he’s turned “neutral” on the metal. “As you know I’ve been a bull, [but] I’ve got to go neutral now. Gold’s broken through some very critical areas. From a technical perspective it doesn’t look hot,” said Barratt, who expects price could fall back to $1,100 or lower.

Technical analyst Daryl Guppy also warned of “bearish features” on the gold chart: “There is a higher probability of a future fall below $1,150 and a continuation of the downtrend towards historical support near $980.” With the Federal Reserve’s first rate hike looming and the prospect of a stronger greenback, the odds remained stacked against gold, say analysts. “I think there’s further downside on the price once the dust settles and the focus shifts back to U.S. dollar strength and the interest rate outlook,” said Thianpiriya. “The risk of it hitting $1,050 is clearly elevated.”

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Too many bets on too few horses. Both Australia and New Zealand look to get hit hard.

Commodities Crash Could Turn Australia Into A New Greece (Telegraph)

Last month Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman and matriarch of Perth’s Hancock mining dynasty delivered an unwelcome shock to her workers in Western Australia: accept a possible 10pc pay cut or face the risk of future redundancies. Ms Rinehart, whose family have accumulated vast wealth from iron ore mining, has seen her fortune dwindle since commodity prices began their inexorable slide last year. The Australian mining mogul has seen her estimated wealth collapse to around $11bn (£7bn) from a fortune that was thought to be worth around $30bn just three years ago. This colossal collapse in wealth is symptomatic of the wider economic problem now facing Australia, which for years has been known as the lucky country due to its preponderance in natural resources such as iron ore, coal and gold.

During the boom years of the so-called commodities “super cycle” when China couldn’t buy enough of everything that Australia dug out of the ground, the country’s economy resembled oil-rich Saudi Arabia. While the rest of the world suffered from the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Australia’s economy – closely tied to China – appeared impervious, with full employment and a healthy trade surplus. However, a collapse in iron ore and coal prices coupled with the impact of large international mining companies slashing investment has exposed Australia’s true vulnerability. Just like Saudi Arabia, which is now burning its foreign reserves to compensate for falling oil prices, Australia faces a collapse in export revenue. Recently revised figures for April show that the country’s trade deficit with the rest of the world ballooned to a record A$4.14bn (£2bn).

That gap between the value of exports and imports is expected to increase as the value of Australia’s most important resources reaches new multi-year lows. Iron ore is now trading at around $50 per tonne, compared with a peak of around $180 per tonne achieved in 2011. Thermal coal has also suffered heavy losses, now trading at around $60 per tonne compared with around $150 per tonne four years ago. For an economy which in 2012 depended on resources for 65pc of its total trade in goods and services these dramatic falls in prices are almost impossible to absorb without inflicting wider damage. The drop in foreign currency earnings has seen Australia forced to borrow more in order to maintain government spending.

The respected Australian economist Stephen Koukoulas recently wrote of the dangers that escalating levels of foreign debt could present for future generations. Could a prolonged period of depressed commodity prices even turn Australia into Asia’s version of Greece, with China being its banker of last resort instead of the European Union. Mr Koukoulas points out that by the end of the first quarter this year, Australia’s net foreign debt had climbed to a record $955bn, equal to almost 60pc of gross domestic product. Although this is far behind the likes of Greece, which boasts an unenviable ratio of over 175pc, it is nevertheless unsustainable, especially if it is allowed to widen further.

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Long interview. Assange is a clever man.

Interview With Julian Assange: ‘We Are Drowning In Material’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Assange, WikiLeaks is back, publishing documents which prove the United States has been surveilling the French government, publishing Saudi diplomatic cables and posting evidence of the massive surveillance of the German government by US secret services. What are the reasons for this comeback?
Assange: Yes, WikiLeaks has been publishing a lot of material in the last few months. We have been publishing right through, but sometimes it has been material which does not concern the West and the Western media — documents about Syria, for example. But you have to consider that there was, and still is, a conflict with the United States government which started in earnest in 2010 after we began publishing a variety of classified US documents.

SPIEGEL: What did this mean for you and for WikiLeaks?
Assange: The result was a series of legal cases, blockades, PR attacks and so on. With a banking blockade, WikiLeaks had been cut off from more than 90% of its finances. The blockade happened in a completely extra judicial manner. We took legal measures against the blockade and we have been victorious in the courts, so people can send us donations again.

SPIEGEL: What difficulties did you have to overcome?
Assange: There had been attacks on our technical infrastructure. And our staff had to take a 40% pay cut, but we have been able to keep things together without having to fire anybody, which I am quite proud of. We became a bit like Cuba, working out ways around this blockade. Various groups like Germany’s Wau Holland Foundation collected donations for us during the blockade.

SPIEGEL: What did you do with the donations you got?
Assange: They enabled us to pay for new infrastructure, which was needed. I have been publishing about the NSA for almost 20 years now, so I was aware of the NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance. We required a next-generation submission system in order to protect our sources.

SPIEGEL: And is it in place now?
Assange: Yes, a few months back we launched a next-generation submission system and also integrated it with our publications.

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A city the size of Kansas.

Beijing To Become Center of Supercity of 130 Million People (NY Times)

For decades, China’s government has tried to limit the size of Beijing, the capital, through draconian residency permits. Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people. The planned megalopolis, a metropolitan area that would be about six times the size of New York’s, is meant to revamp northern China’s economy and become a laboratory for modern urban growth. “The supercity is the vanguard of economic reform,” said Liu Gang, a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin who advises local governments on regional development. “It reflects the senior leadership’s views on the need for integration, innovation and environmental protection.”

The new region will link the research facilities and creative culture of Beijing with the economic muscle of the port city of Tianjin and the hinterlands of Hebei Province, forcing areas that have never cooperated to work together. This month, the Beijing city government announced its part of the plan, vowing to move much of its bureaucracy, as well as factories and hospitals, to the hinterlands in an effort to offset the city’s strict residency limits, easing congestion, and to spread good-paying jobs into less-developed areas. Jing-Jin-Ji, as the region is called (“Jing” for Beijing, “Jin” for Tianjin and “Ji,” the traditional name for Hebei Province), is meant to help the area catch up to China’s more prosperous economic belts: the Yangtze River Delta around Shanghai and Nanjing in central China, and the Pearl River Delta around Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern China.

But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States. And unlike metro areas that have grown up organically, Jing-Jin-Ji would be a very deliberate creation. Its centerpiece: a huge expansion of high-speed rail to bring the major cities within an hour’s commute of each other. But some of the new roads and rails are years from completion. For many people, the creation of the supercity so far has meant ever-longer commutes on gridlocked highways to the capital.

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“The Southern Ocean, isolated from human pollution, offers us a glimpse into what skies around the world might have looked like in pre-industrial times.”

Tiny Ocean Phytoplankton are Brightening Up the Sky (Gizmodo)

Phytoplankton may be microscopic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see them. Just look up: These little critters are brightening up cloudy days around the world. That’s according to research published Friday in the open-access journal Science Advances, which highlights the surprisingly large role microbes in the Southern Ocean play in cloud formation. Tiny phytoplankton can be swept out of their watery homes by gusts of wind. And once airborne, they help encourage water condensation, forming brighter clouds that reflect additional sunlight. “The clouds over the Southern Ocean reflect significantly more sunlight in the summertime than they would without these huge plankton blooms,” said study co-author Daniel McCoy of the University of Washington in a statement.

“In the summer, we get about double the concentration of cloud droplets as we would if it were a biologically dead ocean.” It’s a well-known fact that phytoplankton play a huge role in managing Earth’s climate by drawing down CO2 for photosynthesis every year. The new study suggests another fascinating way that these little critters are shaping our planet—by making it a tad brighter. Averaged over the year, the researchers find that phytoplankton reflect an extra 4 watts of incoming solar radiation per square meter in the Southern Ocean skies. Clouds form when droplets of water condense out of the air around tiny particles— specks of salt, dust, dead organic matter, and even living microorganisms.

Turns out, particle size has a direct impact on cloud brightness: Smaller particles form smaller droplets, creating more surface area within the cloud to reflect back incoming sunlight, which in turn helps keep the Earth’s surface cooler. The researchers stumbled upon cloud-forming microbes somewhat by accident, while they were looking at cloud cover data captured by NASA’s Earth-orbiting MODIS satellite over the Southern Ocean in 2014. The team discovered that Southern Ocean clouds were reflecting more sunlight in the summer, suggesting a greater abundance of small cloud-forming particles. This was a bit weird, because the Southern Ocean surface waters are actually much calmer in the summer and send up less salt spray into to the atmosphere.

The new study took a closer look at what else could be making the clouds more reflective. Using ocean biology models and data on cloud droplet concentrations, the team identified marine life as the likely culprit. Phytoplankton emit gases such as dimethyl sulfide (the stuff that gives the ocean its distinctly sulfurous smell), which, once airborne, can also help condense water droplets. What’s more, summertime plankton blooms form a bubbly scum of tiny organic particles that are easily whipped up into the air. Taken together, these two biological pathways double the number of tiny droplets in Southern Ocean skies during the summer. The Southern Ocean, isolated from human pollution, offers us a glimpse into what skies around the world might have looked like in pre-industrial times. How much of an impact biological cloud seeding has on Earth’s global climate remains to be seen.

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Jul 172015
 
 July 17, 2015  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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DPC Sternwheeler Mary H. Miller in Mississippi River floating dry dock, Vicksburg 1905


If China Isn’t a Global Risk, What Is? (Pesek)
China’s State-Owned Banks Commit $200 Billion To Stock Rescue (FT)
Sorry To Burst Your Bubble: Debt, Not Stock Prices, Most Worrisome (Economist)
Greece Should Seize Germany’s Botched Offer Of A Velvet Grexit (AEP)
IMF’s Lagarde: Greek Plan ‘Categorically’ Not Viable (FT)
The Crucifixion Of Greece Is Killing The European Project (Guardian)
Merkel ‘Gambling Away’ Germany’s Reputation Over Greece – Habermas (Guardian)
Germany’s Schäuble Deeply Skeptical Of Greek Plan (WSJ)
Greece Bailout Revives Image Of The ‘Cruel German’ (WaPo)
Germany Offers Verdict on Greek Aid After Draghi Backing (Bloomberg)
EU Said to Agree On Balance to €7 Billion Greece Loan (Bloomberg)
Mario Draghi Issues A Resounding Indictment Of The ‘Fragile Euro’ (MarketWatch)
Greek Cleaners Swept Out Of Work After Tsipras U-Turn (FT)
ECB Puts In Place Secret Credit Lines With Bulgaria And Romania (FT)
New ECB Cash Lifeline Could Reopen Greek Banks on Monday (Guardian)
Saving Greece’s Banks Could Mean a Full European Takeover (WSJ)
Protest Parties Can Halt Unrest Amid Greek Crisis – Beppe Grillo (Bloomberg)
Germany, Not Greece, Should Exit the Euro (Ashoka Mody)
How Goldman Sachs Profited From the Greek Debt Crisis (Robert Reich)
The Powerful Have Shown A Really Nasty Side This Month: Great! (Ben Phillips)
US State Pension Funds Face $1 Trillion Funding Gap (Yahoo)
New Zealand Dairy Giant Cuts Jobs As ‘White Gold Rush’ Fizzles (Reuters)
One More Reason Why Polar Bears Are Not Going To Be Okay (WaPo)

” Financial services alone surged 17.4% in the first six months of 2015..”

If China Isn’t a Global Risk, What Is? (Pesek)

The international ratings agency Fitch was downplaying concerns on Thursday that Chinese stocks are a systemic risk to global markets. Many investors, however, are far less sanguine. Take hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who worries Beijing’s debt-fueled stock mania could do even more damage than the U.S. subprime crisis. Or Bill Ackman, who runs Pershing Square Capital Management. Asked about Greece on Wednesday, he said: “China is a bigger global threat by far. The Chinese stock market is a fairly remarkable phenomenon and I think kind of a frightening one.” Who’s right – Fitch or market players? The deciding factor could be whether deflation rears its head in China – falling prices, and the prospect of a slowing national economy, would suggest the hedge funds are right.

Let’s consider the data. A common takeaway from China’s better-than-expected data this week is that deflation’s grip is easing. The claimed 7% GDP growth rate, rising middle-class incomes and a pickup in credit would seem to augur well for a stable price outlook in the world’s second-biggest economy. But those numbers are deceiving. For starters, China’s second-quarter performance was pumped up by a stock bubble that’s now losing air. Financial-sector growth combined with government stimulus (and some creative accounting, of course) to boost GDP. Financial services alone surged 17.4% in the first six months of 2015, a dynamic that helped offset a weak real estate market. But, given the recent stock rout that wiped out almost $4 trillion in market value, it should be obvious this isn’t a durable source of growth.

Meanwhile, China’s housing slowdown is a major deflationary event. Real estate has been China’s biggest growth engine since the 2008 global crisis. Now, it’s in negative-growth territory. And that’s having knock-on effects for local-government finances and vital sectors like manufacturing. But there’s another deflationary force confronting President Xi Jinping: the fading of China’s credit super-cycle, in which people and businesses tried to borrow their way out of debt problems. “The world-beating growth in debt of recent years is unlikely to be repeated as worries about financial stability grow,” says Andrew Batson, China research director at consulting firm Gavekal Dragonomics. “This creates another barrier to China’s return to rude inflationary health.”

Let’s say China actually did grow 7% between April and June. That’s still markedly slower than the 12% jump in corporate and household borrowing last month. All that borrowing limits the ability of companies to increase employment and consumers to spend. Outstanding loans for companies and households are now a record 207% of GDP (and growing fast), compared with 125% in 2008. While the government is sure to do more to stabilize growth, “we are far from certain that China is about to exit the deflationary dynamic of recent years,” Batson says. While China’s consumer prices rose 1.4% in June, producer prices plunged 4.8%.

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How crazy are they going to make it before it blows up?

China’s State-Owned Banks Commit $200 Billion To Stock Rescue (FT)

China’s biggest state-owned banks have lent a combined Rmb1.3tn ($209bn) to the country’s margin finance agency in recent weeks to staunch a free-fall in the stock market, casting doubt on whether the recent market rebound is sustainable without government support. China Securities Finance Corp was established in 2011 to lend to securities brokerages and support margin lending to stock investors. Amid the stock market’s dramatic tumble beginning in late June, however, the government has deployed CSF as a conduit for injecting rescue funds into the stock market, writes Gabriel Wildau in Shanghai. CSF has lent to brokerages to finance their stock investment and has also purchased mutual funds directly. But today’s revelations indicate that state support for the stock market is much larger than previously disclosed.

The Shanghai Composite Index has recovered about 15 per cent since its low point on July 10. The magnitude of state support suggests the rally is largely a government-driven phenomenon. Financial magazine Caijing reported on Friday that the country’s sixth-largest lender by assets, China Merchants Bank, provided the largest single loan, at Rmb186bn. The five largest banks — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, and Bank of Communications — each provided more than Rmb100bn. In total, 17 banks provided interbank loans worth around Rmb1.3tn through July 13, the magazine reported. The People’s Bank of China had previously said it was “actively assisting” CSF to obtain liquidity through interbank lending, bond issuance, and other methods. The central later confirmed it had provided loans directly to CSF, without specifying an amount.

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“..the crucial variable that separates relatively harmless frenzies from disastrous ones is debt.”

Sorry To Burst Your Bubble: Debt, Not Stock Prices, Most Worrisome (Economist)

When Chinese shares plunged earlier this month, the government tried frantically to limit the damage. It pumped cash into the market, capped short-selling and ordered share buy-backs. Although China was unusually heavy-handed, it was hardly the first country to try to bolster stock prices for fear of the economic harm a crash could bring. Alan Greenspan, as chairman of the Federal Reserve, famously created the “Greenspan put” by giving investors the impression he would cut interest rates to stop stockmarket routs. The underlying rationale for these interventions is an idea that until recently received surprisingly little scrutiny—namely, that stockmarket busts are very damaging for the economy. The link seems clear enough in the case of the crash of 1929, which led in short order to the Depression.

But it is also easy to point to contrary examples. The bursting of America’s dotcom bubble in 2000 wiped out $5 trillion in market value, equivalent to half of GDP. Yet it was followed by a shallow recession. Not all bubbles, it would appear, are equally bad. According to two new papers, the crucial variable that separates relatively harmless frenzies from disastrous ones is debt. In many cases, though certainly not all, stockmarket manias fall into the less worrying category. Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Oscar Jorda, Moritz Schularick and Alan Taylor examine bubbles in housing and equity markets over the past 140 years. The most dangerous, they conclude, are housing bubbles fuelled by credit booms. The least troublesome are equity bubbles that do not rely on debt.

Five years after the bursting of a debt-laden housing bubble, the authors find, GDP per person is nearly 8% lower than after a “normal” recession (ie, one that is not accompanied by a financial crisis). In contrast, five years after a stockmarket crash, GDP per person is only 1% or so lower. If the stock bubble comes alongside a big rise in debt, the damage to GDP per person is 4%. The paper does not explain why housing bubbles are more costly, but a fair inference is that, whereas equity investments tend to be concentrated among the rich, plenty of people lower down the income ladder have wealth tied up in housing.

That makes sense. Stockmarket routs typically harm the economy via the “wealth effect”. When people see that their assets are worth substantially less than before, they spend less, leading to weaker demand and, ultimately, weaker investment. Debt can make this worse. Those who have borrowed to invest may be forced to sell assets to avoid defaulting, further depressing prices and wealth. Banks that have lent to investors or accepted shares as collateral will also suffer losses. That forces them to rein in their lending, harming the economy even more.

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Ambrose in praise of Schäuble. And he makes a case. The thing is, though, that Greece taking the decision leads to something very different from ‘the others’ doing it.

Greece Should Seize Germany’s Botched Offer Of A Velvet Grexit (AEP)

One day we will learn the full story of what went on at the top levels of the German government before the villenage of Greece last weekend. We already know that the EMU accord – if that is the right word – is an economic and diplomatic fiasco of the first order. It does serious damage to the moral credibility of the EU but resolves nothing. There is not the slightest chance that Greece will be able stabilize its debt and return to viability under the Carthaginian settlement imposed on Alexis Tsipras – after 17 hours of psychological “water-boarding”, as one EU official put it. The latest paper by the IMF has torn away the fig-leaf. The country needs a 30-year moratorium on debt payments and probably outright subsidies to recover from the devastation of the past six years. Instead it gets pro-cyclical fiscal contraction of 2pc of GDP by next year.

Some are already comparing the terms to the Versailles Treaty but this does not quite capture the depravity of it. The demands imposed on Germany in 1919 were certainly vindictive and narrow-minded – as Keynes rightly alleged – but they were not, on the face of it, beyond reach. France was forced to pay reparations after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 that were roughly equivalent to Versailles, albeit in very different circumstances. It dutifully did so, while plotting revenge. What Greece is being asked to do is scientifically impossible. Almost everybody involved in the talks knows this. Yet the lie goes on because the dysfunctional nature of EMU politics and governance makes it impossible to come clean. The country is dishonestly kept in a permanent state of crisis.

Wolfgang Schauble is one of the very few figures who has behaved honourably in this latest chapter. As readers know, I have been highly critical of the hard-bitten finance minister for a long time, holding him directly responsible for the 1930s regime of debt-deflation and contraction imposed on much of Europe, and for refusing to accept that the eurozone’s North-South divide must be closed by both sides. Any policy that puts all the burden of adjustment on the South is destructive and doomed to failure. But he is entirely right to argue that a velvet divorce and an orderly exit from the euro for five years would be a “better way” for Greece, as he did on Germany radio this morning. It would allow the country to regain competitiveness at a stroke without a disastrous over-shoot or the risk that events might spin out of control. It would clear the way for proper debt relief – or a standard IMF-style package.

If accompanied by some sort of Marshall Plan or investment blitz – as Mr Schauble appears to favour – it would set the foundations for genuine recovery. Huge sums of Greek money sitting on the sidelines would probably flood back into the country once the Grexit boil had been lanced. It is a pattern seen time and again in emerging markets across the world over the past 60 years. Instead, total confusion remains. “Nobody knows at the moment how this is supposed to work without a haircut and everybody knows that a haircut is incompatible with euro membership,” said Mr Schauble. To those who say that Grexit would violate the sanctity of monetary union – with incalculable political consequences – one can only reply that it is already too late.

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She was party to that plan, remember?

IMF’s Lagarde: Greek Plan ‘Categorically’ Not Viable (FT)

The head of the IMF said eurozone creditors’ plan for Greece is “categorically” not viable without a reduction in debt. Speaking on France’s Europe1 Radio from Washington, Christine Lagarde reiterated that Greece needs debt relief. She wouldn’t say what amount of relief Greece would need, but said the current plan isn’t viable. Ms Lagarde said the IMF will participate in a “complete” bailout package. She will support a significant extension on Greek debt maturities and reimbursement deadlines. The long-term aim is that Greece returns to the market. Ms Lagarde’s comments echo those call from ECB president Mario Draghi yesterday. He said debt relief is “uncontroversial” and the only question is “what form this takes.” Greek banks are tentatively set to re-open on Monday after the ECB said it would raise its emergency loans to them by €900m, though it’s not yet a done deal.

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It’s already dead.

The Crucifixion Of Greece Is Killing The European Project (Guardian)

You couldn’t have had a clearer demonstration of what democracy now counts for in Europe than this week’s immolation of Greece. In January, after five years of grinding austerity imposed by the troika of creditors had shrunk its economy by a quarter and pushed millions into poverty, Greeks rebelled and elected an anti-austerity government. Following months of fruitless negotiations, the country voted last week to reject the latest cuts, tax rises and privatisations demanded to deal with the disastrous impact of the first phase of austerity. The response of the eurozone’s masters was immediately to ratchet up the pain still further. For the “breach of trust” of daring to put the terms to its people, Athens was to be punished.

So on Monday – threatened with expulsion from the eurozone and economic collapse courtesy of the ECB’s cash blockade – the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, bent the knee. In exchange for what is called a bailout, but is in reality the imposition of new debts to pay existing creditors, the Greeks must hand over €50bn of public assets to an “independent” privatisation fund. On top of that, they have to inject more austerity into a shrinking economy and reverse any legislation deemed unsuitable by the eurozone’s overlords – in other words, the opposite of everything Tsipras and his Syriza party were elected to do. That’s why European officials were so keen to let it be known that Tsipras had been “crucified” and “mentally waterboarded”.

Greece would be turned into an economic “protectorate”, one purred, where all key decisions would be taken by foreign governments and unelected EU bureaucrats. No wonder Greek leaders declared that they had been subjected to a coup, while the ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis compared the “deal” to the Versailles treaty. This is the diktat of a bankers’ ramp that can barely tolerate even a facade of democracy. That’s been a familiar pattern in the developing world for decades, in the guise of IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes. But the eurozone has now given it permanent institutional form. The idea that this crisis has simply pitted one democratic mandate – that of Greece – against the hard-pressed taxpayers of 18 other eurozone members is nonsense.

Not only have the loans that bailed out French and German lenders, rather than Greece, been highly profitable. But the real fear of eurozone governments is that if Greece’s rebellion against austerity is rewarded, other European electorates will want to go the same way. Which is why Syriza must not only be defeated, but utterly crushed. That this is about politics more than economics should now be obvious. It’s not just that the austerity imposed on Greece has delivered a 1930s-style depression, or that Ukraine was recently bailed out with generous debt write-offs but without any crucifixions or waterboarding.

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“..cannot be understood as anything other an act of punishment against a leftwing government.”

Merkel ‘Gambling Away’ Germany’s Reputation Over Greece – Habermas (Guardian)

Jürgen Habermas, one of the intellectual figureheads of European integration, has launched a withering attack on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, accusing her of “gambling away” the efforts of previous generations to rebuild the country’s postwar reputation with her hardline stance on Greece. Speaking about the bailout deal for the first time since it was presented on Monday, the philosopher and sociologist said the German chancellor had effectively carried out “an act of punishment” against the leftwing government of Alexis Tsipras. “I fear that the German government, including its social democratic faction, have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century,” he told the Guardian.

Previous German governments, he said, had displayed “greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality”. Habermas, widely considered one of the most influential contemporary European intellectuals, said that by threatening Greece with an exit from the eurozone over the course of the negotiations, Germany had “unashamedly revealed itself as Europe’s chief disciplinarian and for the first time openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe.” The outcome of the negotiations between Greece and the other eurozone member states, he said, did “not make sense in economic terms because of the toxic mixture of necessary structural reforms of state and economy with further neoliberal impositions that will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth.”

Habermas added: “Forcing the Greek government to agree to an economically questionable, predominantly symbolic privatisation fund cannot be understood as anything other an act of punishment against a leftwing government.” The Düsseldorf-born philosopher, a former assistant of the prominent Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno, rose to prominence during the student protests in the late 1960s. His works on the establishment of a pan-European political and cultural identity, such as Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, went on to influence and shape policy debate around the European Union. At the start of the millennium, Habermas was one of the leading drivers behind calls for a European constitution.

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“..whose 70% approval rating makes him more popular than German Chancellor Angela Merkel..”

Germany’s Schäuble Deeply Skeptical Of Greek Plan (WSJ)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Thursday he didn’t see how a bailout plan for Greece that he helped negotiate could work. Hours later, he asked parliament to pave the way for it anyway. The increasingly outspoken skepticism from the powerful and hawkish Mr. Schäuble has emerged as perhaps the clearest signal this week that even though eurozone officials have agreed to try to rescue Greece, the country’s future in the eurozone is by no means assured. For Mr. Schäuble, a 72-year-old conservative political veteran whose 70% approval rating makes him more popular than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one problem is Greece’s heavy debt load.

While officials from Greece, France, and the IMF have already warned that Greece’s debt is unsustainable, Mr. Schäuble went further on Thursday and said this high debt load may force Greece to exit the euro. The reason, he said in a German radio interview, is that debt relief for Greece by its creditors—Germany is the biggest—may violate a European Union treaty that prohibits one eurozone country’s debt burden to be shared with others. He suggested Greece may be better off leaving the euro, which would allow its creditors to write down its debt.

“No one knows at the moment how this is supposed to work without a debt haircut, and everyone knows that a debt haircut is incompatible with membership in the monetary union,” Mr. Schäuble said on public radio. “One will try to find a solution. I don’t see it yet, but we are starting with the negotiations and don’t know what the outcome of the negotiations will be.”

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Angela Lecter.

Greece Bailout Revives Image Of The ‘Cruel German’ (WaPo)

A divided Germany rose from the ashes of the Nazi defeat in World War II, weathering the Cold War to transform into one of the good guys. Modern Germany quickly molded itself into the standard-bearer of global pacifism, a hotbed of youth culture and the tree-hugging Lorax of nations in the fight against climate change. But, just like that, the image of the “cruel German” is back. Germany — more specifically, its chancellor, Angela Merkel — has faced years of derision for driving a hard bargain with financially broken Greece, which has received billions in bailouts since 2010. But for both Germany and Merkel, the concessions extracted this week to open fresh rescue talks with Athens appear to have struck a global nerve.

By insisting on years more of tough cuts and making other demands that critics have billed as humiliating, Berlin is wiping out decades of hard-won goodwill. In the aftermath of the deal with Greece, the hashtag #Boycottgermany — calling on users not to buy German products — has started trending on Twitter. Referencing Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal from “Silence of the Lambs,” Europeans are sharing caricatures depicting Merkel as a Greece-eating “Angela Lecter.” A cartoon portraying Wolfgang Schäuble — Merkel’s even-harder-line finance minister — as a knife-wielding killer from the Islamic State militant group has gone viral. Germany was one of more than a dozen nations that insisted on a tough deal with Greece. But Britain’s Daily Mail singled out Germany, saying Greece had surrendered to austerity “with a German gun at his head.”

In the United States, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman this week noted the hate mail he had received from Germany for repeatedly criticizing its tough line on fiscal reforms. The Germans, he wrote, had suggested that as a Jew, he should know “the dangers of demonizing a people.” To that, Krugman responded with sarcasm: “Because criticizing a nation’s economic ideology is just like declaring its people subhuman.” In Greece, those actively supporting the austerity deal are being heckled by their countrymen as “Nazi collaborators.” Another image making the rounds on social media shows a doctored version of the European Union flag, its circle of gold stars against a blue background reshaped into a swastika.

France’s daily Le Figaro declared that “conditions were imposed on a small member state that would have previously required arms.” In a commentary that sneered at Merkel’s “half smile” after the deal was reached, Britain’s Guardian newspaper argued that rather than being cruel to be kind, the terms of the bailout were simply “cruel to be cruel.”

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Discussion ongoing.

Germany Offers Verdict on Greek Aid After Draghi Backing (Bloomberg)

German lawmakers have their say on Greece’s next bailout on Friday after ECB President Mario Draghi said he views the country’s place in the euro as secure. As Europe seeks to line up a three-year aid package worth as much as €86 billion, the lower-house vote is a renewed test of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s struggle to persuade Germans that Greece is still worth helping. While her majority in parliament suggests that passage is assured, Merkel faces growing dissent in her party bloc as she seeks approval to start bailout talks and for a bridge loan to Greece. With the European project under threat, the continent’s most powerful leader is putting her prestige on the line to hold the currency union together.

“The systemic importance of Greece for the entire euro zone hasn’t been demonstrated,” Christian von Stetten, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said Thursday. “There can only be one vote tomorrow, and that is no.” German lawmakers are interrupting their summer recess to return to Berlin for a three-hour floor debate before voting at about 1 p.m. local time. Finland’s parliament gave its approval Thursday. In a closed-door test poll after an appeal for support by Merkel, 48 members of her 310-strong caucus said they would break ranks and vote against the government line, a party official said. That compares with 29 who dissented in February on a vote to extend Greece’s second bailout.

With the IMF urging a debt writedown for Greece that Germany says is impossible under euro rules, Draghi stepped in with an attempt to ease tension. Months of standoffs over aid and austerity between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and creditors have led to deposit flight and capital controls, pushing Greece to the brink. “We always acted on the assumption that Greece will remain a member of the euro area,” Draghi told reporters in Frankfurt on Thursday after ECB policy makers granted Greek lenders more emergency liquidity. “There was never a question.”

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Counting the days.

EU Said to Agree On Balance to €7 Billion Greece Loan (Bloomberg)

Euro-area finance ministers authorized a €7 billion bridge loan to Greece, according to Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, paving the way for a third bailout that may allow Europe’s most indebted nation to stay in the common currency. The financing deal is expected to be announced on Friday after national parliaments have voted on the aid accord that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pushed through his legislature on Monday, according to an official with knowledge of the discussion, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Member states also must consider whether to move ahead with the full bailout proposed for Greece. The short-term financing is needed so that Greece can meet a €3.5 billion payment due to the ECB on Monday, and keep the country afloat while Tsipras negotiates the details of a three-year bailout of as much as €86 billion.

That aid package would come from the euro-area’s permanent firewall fund, the European Stability Mechanism. “I would expect that Mario Draghi will consider now turning on the tap to some extent of emergency liquidity to keep the banks in Greece having money for their customers,” Kenny said in an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE, referring to the president of the ECB. The bridge loan will come from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, the European Union’s rescue fund, the official said. The EU is still working on safeguards to shield non-euro nations from Greek bailout risk, European Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt told reporters in Brussels.

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“Draghi also took the opportunity to join the IMF in singing from the debt-relief hymnal.”

Mario Draghi Issues A Resounding Indictment Of The ‘Fragile Euro’ (MarketWatch)

Whatever happened to doing “whatever it takes?” That was ECB President Mario Draghi’s pledge to hold the European shared currency together back in 2012, as the market was panicking about the possibility that a fiscally stressed European country might be forced out of the bloc. While Draghi had previously proclaimed that the euro was “irreversible,” the ECB chief’s comments on Thursday were much less emphatic, with Draghi stating that it wasn’t up to the central bank to determine whether or not Greece remains part of the shared currency. “This is a damning indictment of Europe’s single currency area from the individual who almost single-handedly averted a breakup of the bloc three years ago,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a London-based advisory firm, in a note.

Had Draghi talked similarly in 2012, “all hell would have broken loose in the markets,” Spiro said. On Thursday, the market either didn’t notice Draghi’s rhetorical shift or didn’t care to fret about it, with the focus squarely on shoring up Greece’s teetering banking sector. According to a tally by Danske Bank, 18 out of the 23 questions Draghi took during his news conference were about Greece. Draghi used the opportunity to emphasize that the ECB always operated under the assumption that Greece would remain a part of the euro. The most crucial news was the ECB president’s decision to raise emergency liquidity assistance to Greek banks by €900 million without toughening the rules governing the collateral the banks must post in return for the funding.

That gives Greek banks, which have been closed for more than two weeks, some breathing room, though capital controls are likely to remain in place for some time. The move was a recognition of the Greek parliament’s approval of the tough austerity measures demanded in return for a third bailout, as well as the agreement in principle by eurozone governments on a bridge loan that will tide Greece over until its bailout is up and running—and would allow Greece to make a €3.5 billion repayment due on July 20. “The decision to grant bridge financing as well as today’s ECB decision to increase ELA are no game-changer, yet, but at least a symbolic leap of faith,” said Carsten Brzeski, eurozone economist at ING in Brussels

The ECB bought Greece more time with its decision to raise the amount of emergency liquidity available to the country’s banks, but Draghi used his bully pulpit to give Greece a vote of confidence while simultaneously highlighting the euro’s deep design flaws. Draghi described the monetary union as “imperfect, and being imperfect is fragile, vulnerable and doesn’t deliver…all the benefits that it could if it were to be completed.” Draghi said the situation underscored the need for further economic and political integration in the eurozone.

Draghi also took the opportunity to join the IMF in singing from the debt-relief hymnal. Draghi told reporters that the concept of debt relief has always been “uncontroversial” and that the only question has been about how to accomplish it within Europe’s legal framework. The IMF has argued that Greece’s debt load is unsustainable and must be trimmed, signaling it could walk away from a third bailout if debt relief isn’t offered. Germany, meanwhile, has insisted that the scope for debt relief within the rules governing the eurozone is very limited.

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These people could be paid in an alternate currency.

Greek Cleaners Swept Out Of Work After Tsipras U-Turn (FT)

For Vagelis Alexiou, the socialist revolution led by Alexis Tsipras lasted just 12 wonderful days. Turfed out of his job as a cleaner in Greece’s ministry of finance two and a half years ago by a cost-cutting government following orders from the country’s creditors, Mr Alexiou was reinstated on July 1 by a decree passed by Mr Tsipras’ ruling leftwing Syriza party. But the Greek prime minister’s defiance, and Mr Alexiou’s wish to return to his job mopping the floors of the ministry, ended on Monday as Athens capitulated to creditors’ demands for further austerity and economic reform in exchange for a desperately needed €86bn bailout. “I wish Mr Tsipras had said no to Brussels,” says Mr Alexiou, sitting outside the ministry in central Athens, his hope of being rehired now in tatters.

“I hope we can still trust him. He wants to help the workers, the poor people . . . but the creditors will not let him.” Swept to power in January by Greeks tired and angry after five years of punishing austerity, Mr Tsipras promised an end to cost-cutting and the legislative oversight from the EU, ECB and IMF, together with a repeal of measures taken by previous governments that slashed public sector jobs and wages. Those hopes ended in the early hours of Monday morning after 17 hours of bruising negotiations in Brussels, when Greece’s prime minister agreed to the most intrusive reform and austerity program ever demanded by the EU in exchange for cash to keep his county from going bankrupt and exiting the euro zone.

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Everyone but Greece can apply. What about Russia?

ECB Puts In Place Secret Credit Lines With Bulgaria And Romania (FT)

The ECB has introduced secret credit lines to Bulgaria and Romania as part of a broader effort to convince foreign regulators not to pull the plug on the local subsidiaries of Greek banks. News of the behind-the-scenes support for the subsidiaries came as ECB governors decided on Thursday to give an extra €900m in emergency funds to Greece’s beleaguered financial sector, a marginal increase to the $89bn in emergency funding it already had. Greece’s Piraeus, National Bank of Greece, Eurobank and Alpha Bank all have substantial assets in central and eastern Europe. If those assets were seized by local regulators, the parent banks would take an immediate capital hit, dealing a potentially terminal blow to Greece’s domestic financial system, which is already hanging by a thread as the country battles to agree a new rescue package with international creditors.

“The fear is that if someone goes first, and pulls the plug, everyone will follow,” said a person familiar with the situation. The person said the ECB had put in place special “swap” arrangements, or bilateral credit lines, with Romania and Bulgaria to reassure them that the Greek banks there would have funding support throughout the current crisis. Similar swap lines, which enable foreign central banks to borrow from the ECB and re-lend that money locally, were used during the eurozone financial crisis, but were typically publicly announced. An official confirmed the existence of the facilities and said they were created to prevent national central banks from doing anything “hastily” and to reassure them that the ECB would be the lender of last resort if the Greek offshoots ran into trouble.

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We already know not all banks will open.

New ECB Cash Lifeline Could Reopen Greek Banks on Monday (Guardian)

Banks in Greece could open their doors on Monday for the first time in three weeks, after the ECB boosted emergency funding for the country’s financial sector by €900m (£630m) and threw its weight behind calls for debt relief for Athens. The ECB president, Mario Draghi, announced the extension of aid to the country’s banks while backing the idea – championed by the IMF but rejected by Germany – that some of Greece’s debts will have to be written off. “It’s uncontroversial that debt relief is necessary and I think that nobody has ever disputed that. The issue is what is the best form of debt relief within our framework, within our legal institutional framework,” said Draghi. “I think we should focus on this point in the coming weeks.”

The ECB’s decision to ease the plight of Greece’s banking system came after the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, won a crucial parliamentary vote backing the spending cuts and economic reforms he has pledged to implement in exchange for opening talks on an €86bn bailout. The European commission, one of three creditors to Greece along with the IMF and the ECB, also announced it had put together a €7bn bridging loan for Athens. As part of this short-term financing package, George Osborne has backed down over the use of the EU’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism, to finance Greece’s short-term needs. However, the chancellor said there would be an “impregnable ringfence” around the £850m of British money in the fund to prevent any losses to the UK taxpayer.

Speaking after the deal, Osborne said it was a “significant victory and strengthened the protections for the UK in the latest Greek bailout and any future bailouts of eurozone countries”. He added: “I said British taxpayers’ money would not be on the line in any agreement and that’s precisely what we have achieved.” In the event of a default by Greece, non-eurozone countries would be compensated using the profits made on holdings of Greek bonds by the ECB. The head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said the €7bn financing package was in place and inspectors from the IMF could fly to Athens as early as Monday to oversee implementation of the reform programme.

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This is what the Greek people should be asked: Do you want Europe/Germany to own your whole country outright, including its banks?

Saving Greece’s Banks Could Mean a Full European Takeover (WSJ)

To save its banks, Greece may need to let them go. Doing so would help the economy, but would hand control of the financial sector to eurozone leaders. Two things are needed to give the banks a chance of recovering. First, bad assets must be dealt with and capital increased. Second, links with the Greek state must be severed. Both can be achieved in one action: direct recapitalization of the system with European funds. This may be what eurozone leaders had in mind in bailout proposals that include €25 billion ($27.4 billion) for Greece’s banks. The ECB extended emergency funding on Thursday, but this only relieves a little pressure. Greece’s banks are running out of collateral to swap for extra funds: They could have as little as €8 billion to €10 billion worth, according to a Greek banking executive.

And even if banks can reopen to process certain transactions, withdrawal limits and capital controls will remain in place for some time. The longer they do, the worse the effect on the economy and bank solvency will be. Some or all of Greece’s big-four banks, in which the government holds substantial stakes, are likely to need recapitalizing. Greece has been told it must put into law by next week the European rules that dictate how shareholders and private creditors must bear losses. Until it does so, it can’t get money for its banks from the European Stability Mechanism, the body that supports cash-strapped countries.

The rules do allow public money to be used in shoring-up banks, but usually only after private investors have taken losses. However, public money can be used earlier where private losses would hit depositors and threaten the economy. This is a significant danger for Greek banks because they have relatively weak capital, high levels of bad loans and very little in the way of bonds that can take losses before depositors. Last year, the stability mechanism was itself given the power to put money directly into eurozone banks alongside member countries. If a country can’t afford to put money in, it can recapitalize banks alone.

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The last guard before fascists take over?!

Protest Parties Can Halt Unrest Amid Greek Crisis – Beppe Grillo (Bloomberg)

European anti-establishment parties are the best alternative to halt social unrest as the outcome of the Greek crisis boosts discontent with austerity policies, said Italy’s Five Star founder Beppe Grillo. European institutions are “waffling as they see they are losing support of millions of people saying: ‘We want a Plan B,’” Grillo said Tuesday in an interview in Sardinia. Groups sharing Five Star’s anti-corruption drive and backing so-called bottom-up democracy such as Pablo Iglesias’s Podemos in Spain “are rising as people see them as an alternative,” he said. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s capitulation to the euro region’s creditors this week sent a signal to European critics of austerity that they need to double their efforts.

Their success may lead to new shocks in the region’s political establishment during the next elections, such as in Spain later this year, and again call into question euro-area budget rules. Grillo, who wants Italy to exit the euro and has proposed a referendum on the issue, says ruling parties are unable to counter possible social unrest and the recent surge of far-right movements such as Golden Dawn in Greece. “Golden Dawn has been the symptom of a European nationalism that speaks to people’s instincts,” said Grillo, 66, the founder of Italy’s second-largest party. “Golden Dawn didn’t make it in countries like ours because we worked as a buffer absorbing people’s anger, but that may come now as I expect social unrest, not only in Greece.”

As the Greek deal was announced on Monday, leaders of the Five Star movement lost no time in leading fresh attacks against the euro area’s focus on fiscal discipline. Grillo said in a blog post that day the accord was an “humiliation” for Greece. “We were very surprised” by the outcome, said comedian-turned-politician Grillo, who was in Athens earlier this month to back Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote in the referendum on the creditor’s previous bailout proposal. Grillo, whose Five Star Movement counts 127 lawmakers in the country’s 951-seat parliament’s houses, said the non-binding referendum he proposes would be simpler than the Greek one. “If people will say ‘yes,’ we will stay, otherwise we will exit the euro,” he said. Still, reaching that goal is very difficult because two thirds of the Rome-based Parliament would have to agree to hold the vote.

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Makes a lot of sense. But no common currency at all even more.

Germany, Not Greece, Should Exit the Euro (Ashoka Mody)

The latest round of wrangling between Greece and its European creditors has demonstrated yet again that countries with such disparate economies should never have entered a currency union. It would be better for all involved, though, if Germany rather than Greece were the first to exit. After months of grueling negotiations, recriminations and reversals, it’s hard to see any winners. The deal Greece reached with its creditors – if it lasts – pursues the same economic strategy that has failed repeatedly to heal the country. Greeks will get more of the brutal belt-tightening that they voted against. The creditors will probably see even less of their money than they would with a package of reduced austerity and immediate debt relief. That said, the lead creditor, Germany, has done Europe a service.

By proposing the Greece exit the euro, it has broken a political taboo. For decades, politicians have peddled the common currency as a symbol of European unity, despite the flawed economics pointed out as far back as 1971 by the Cambridge professor Nicholas Kaldor. That changed on July 11, when European finance ministers agreed that it could be both sensible and practical for a member country to leave. “In case no agreement can be reached,” they said, “Greece should be offered swift negotiations for a time-out.” Now that the idea of exit is in the air, though, it’s worth thinking beyond the current political reality and considering who should go. Were Greece to leave, possibly followed by Portugal and Italy in the subsequent years, the countries’ new currencies would fall sharply in value.

This would leave them unable to pay debts in euros, triggering cascading defaults. Although the currency depreciation would eventually make them more competitive, the economic pain would be prolonged and would inevitably extend beyond their borders. If, however, Germany left the euro area – as influential people including Citadel founder Kenneth Griffin, University of Chicago economist Anil Kashyap and the investor George Soros have suggested – there really would be no losers. A German return to the deutsche mark would cause the value of the euro to fall immediately, giving countries in Europe’s periphery a much-needed boost in competitiveness.

Italy and Portugal have about the same GDP today as when the euro was introduced, and the Greek economy, having briefly soared, is now in danger of falling below its starting point. A weaker euro would give them a chance to jump-start growth. If, as would be likely, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Finland followed Germany’s lead, perhaps to form a new currency bloc, the euro would depreciate even further.

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The sordid details.

How Goldman Sachs Profited From the Greek Debt Crisis (Robert Reich)

The Greek debt crisis offers another illustration of Wall Street’s powers of persuasion and predation, although the Street is missing from most accounts. The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role. In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction.

Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of €2.8 billion for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate. As a result, about 2% of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts. Christoforos Sardelis, then head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, later described the deal to Bloomberg as “a very sexy story between two sinners.” For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million euros ($793 million), according to Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over from Sardelis in 2005. That came to about 12% of Goldman’s revenue from its giant trading and principal-investments unit in 2001—which posted record sales that year. The unit was run by Blankfein.

Then the deal turned sour. After the 9/11 attacks, bond yields plunged, resulting in a big loss for Greece because of the formula Goldman had used to compute the country’s debt repayments under the swap. By 2005, Greece owed almost double what it had put into the deal, pushing its off-the-books debt from €2.8 billion to €5.1 billion. In 2005, the deal was restructured and that €5.1 billion in debt locked in. Perhaps not incidentally, Mario Draghi, now head of the ECB and a major player in the current Greek drama, was then managing director of Goldman’s international division. Greece wasn’t the only sinner. Until 2008, European Union accounting rules allowed member nations to manage their debt with so-called off-market rates in swaps, pushed by Goldman and other Wall Street banks.

In the late 1990s, JPMorgan enabled Italy to hide its debt by swapping currency at a favorable exchange rate, thereby committing Italy to future payments that didn’t appear on its national accounts as future liabilities. But Greece was in the worst shape, and Goldman was the biggest enabler. Undoubtedly, Greece suffers from years of corruption and tax avoidance by its wealthy. But Goldman wasn’t an innocent bystander: It padded its profits by leveraging Greece to the hilt—along with much of the rest of the global economy. Other Wall Street banks did the same. When the bubble burst, all that leveraging pulled the world economy to its knees. Even with the global economy reeling from Wall Street’s excesses, Goldman offered Greece another gimmick. In early November 2009, three months before the country’s debt crisis became global news, a Goldman team proposed a financial instrument that would push the debt from Greece’s healthcare system far into the future. This time, though, Greece didn’t bite.

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Yes, it is. Just not for the immediate victims.

The Powerful Have Shown A Really Nasty Side This Month: Great! (Ben Phillips)

In the Addis talks over tackling tax dodging, and in the EU-IMF talks on Euro-austerity, the powerful have shown a really nasty side this month. That’s great news. How can I say that when we see the suffering that this will cause? How could be I so heartless as to see the opportunity in the crisis? Of course I don’t mean that the suffering is a price worth paying, or even that suffering should be necessary to social change. I only mean this: the suffering has been happening. What has been happening less is the powerful showing how deliberate their actions are. Now we see it. It’s the difference between brutality that has been caught on a cameraphone and broadcast on youtube, and brutality hidden behind a wall.

Events in Addis and in Athens show how business as usual works, who dominates it, and its emptiness. It’s not hidden anymore. As Gandhi noted, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. We’ve got to stage three. In the EU-IMF talks on Euro-austerity, we know that terms have been imposed on Greece that aren’t deliverable. We know this because the IMF’s own documents say so. In the Addis talks, we know that the reason we don’t have a global tax body to tackle tax dodging is because the rich countries blocked it – not that people looked at it and decided on a better way, but that poor countries proposed it and rich countries blocked it. We may wish that the powerful were not like that – but if they are it is better that we know that they are.

What Addis showed is there is no reliable “global leadership” from the great powers of the North. Southern government assertiveness, backed up by South-North civil society solidarity, will be key. That’s how we stopped the steamroller of the WTO. As we look at how to tackle inequality and how to combat climate change, it is clear that we are not all on the same side. Sometimes pushing a rock up a hill is hard because it’s a rock and it’s a hill. But sometimes it’s even harder because someone at the top is trying to push that rock back down the hill.

But what’s also clear is this. The powerful don’t usually like having to show the force behind their power except when they actually have to. As social theorists from Gramsci to Chomsky have pointed out, things run much smoother for those in power when there is a semblance of process and consent. That the type of power shown over the Addis talks and the Greece talks has been so nakedly brutal is paradoxically a sign of its weakness. This is what Martin Luther King noted in the struggle for civil rights. We’re relearning it now.

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Pension funds all over did deeper into trouble. Despite the stock market gains. Setting up for a bloodbath.

US State Pension Funds Face $1 Trillion Funding Gap (Yahoo)

More depressing news for workers who depend on a pension to fund their retirement: State-run pension funds faced a $968 billion shortfall in 2013, up $54 billion from the year prior, according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts. When local pension fund shortfalls are factored in, the total pension funding gap surpasses $1 trillion. “Policy makers are going to need to find a way to address [this funding gap] and it’s going to have to come down to some kind of plan to pay it down in an orderly fashion,” said David Draine, a senior researcher at Pew Charitable Trusts. On average, state pension plans were only 74% funded. The implications for workers are huge.

If states don’t find a way to fully fund pension plans, many workers who have dutifully paid into pension plans may not get back what they’ve put in and young workers may not get to participate at all. Fewer than half of states were able to meet their required annual contributions to pension funds in 2013. New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the furthest behind— each was only able to make only half its annual funding contribution. As a result, more than one-third of their state pension funds were unfunded. Overall funding rates were the worst in Illinois (with just 39% funded) and Kentucky (44%), where pension funding levels have declined for three years in a row. Just two states managed to finish the year with 100%-funded pensions: South Dakota and Wisconsin.

It should be noted that Pew’s report only looks at funding rates for 2013 and does not factor in the significant investment gains of 2014 (the S&P 500 index rose around 11% last year, according to data from FactSet). But even if it had, the budget shortfall would still likely exceed $900 billion, the report says.

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NZ is so screwed.

New Zealand Dairy Giant Cuts Jobs As ‘White Gold Rush’ Fizzles (Reuters)

New Zealand dairy exporter Fonterra is cutting jobs in an effort to shore up its cash flows as a slump in global dairy demand, particularly from No. 1 buyer China, threatens to snuff out the country’s “white gold rush”. Dairy prices have more than halved from record highs scaled in 2013, with Chinese buying dropping off dramatically after the world’s second-biggest economy built up excess supplies of milk powder last year just as the economy began to slow. Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, has dominated the commodity milk powder sector for years and had been rapidly expanding its business in China. But profits have been falling for nearly two years in the face of volatile dairy prices, which sank to a 12 1/2-year low at the latest global auction on Wednesday.

As a result, Fonterra said on Thursday it would cut more than 500 of its 16,000-strong global workforce, and warned more redundancies were likely as it reviews its operations. New Zealand’s dairy exports to China have tumbled 69% since the start of the year compared with 2014, official data shows, whittling Beijing’s share of the country’s total dairy shipments to roughly 16%, from 37% last year. At the same time, a ban by Russia on foreign dairy products, imposed in response to sanctions slapped on the country over its role in the Ukraine conflict, has removed a major buyer of butter and other milk products.

Meanwhile, supply has ramped up as farmers in New Zealand, Europe and the United States have set up dairy farms in hopes of cashing in on a doubling in dairy prices between 2009 and 2013. Production in New Zealand, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, has reached record highs. “It’s really both sides of the equation. We had a period of really high milk prices, and that encouraged additional milk production across the globe,” said Susan Kilsby, dairy analyst at agricultural consultants AgriHQ. “There’s been … no reason to slow production anywhere as feed costs are low so there’s still a lot of signals to encourage milk production. That’s timed with the two largest buyers of dairy products buying less than usual.”

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The world’s biggest land predator goes first?!

One More Reason Why Polar Bears Are Not Going To Be Okay (WaPo)

It seems like every time we turn around, polar bears are catching a tough break. As climate change continues to heat up the planet and Arctic sea ice retreats further each year, conservationists are increasingly concerned that the bears — which use the sea ice as a hunting ground for catching seals — will have less access to the food they need to survive. It’s been an ongoing worry for years, and last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service drove it home again with a new conservation management plan, which identifies climate change and sea ice loss as the primary threat to polar bears. Despite all the doom and gloom, some research conducted in the early 1980s has helped conservationists maintain a glimmer of hope about the polar bear’s ability to survive long periods of time without food.

This research found evidence in polar bear blood samples to suggest that the bears might go into a kind of “walking hibernation” when food is scarce, staying awake but significantly lowering their metabolism in order to use less energy. This would be a useful adaptation during the summer, when sea ice is at its lowest extent and hunting is most difficult. It’s been a tempting theory for more than 30 years — but once again, we’re looking at bad news for the polar bear. A new study, published today in Science, debunks the “walking hibernation” idea with data collected from more than two dozen captured polar bears in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, which the researchers spotted and tranquilized from helicopters. The researchers, led by biologist John Whiteman at the University of Wyoming, outfitted bears with devices that collect and transit data remotely to collect data on the bears’ movement and activity and their body temperature.

Their sample included both “ice bears” and “shore bears” — that is, both bears who choose to chase the ice as it retreats north in the summer, looking for seals, and bears who choose to spend their summer on shore. The researchers expected that if bears did indeed exhibit walking hibernation, their activity and temperature would drop down to the kinds of levels usually observed in other bears during true hibernation — that is, very low levels. “If there was hibernation metabolism … you would see all of them have a very steep, abrupt decline in body temperature to about 35 degrees [Celsius] and then remain like that the whole period,” says senior author Merav Ben-David, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wyoming. “But we don’t see that.”

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Jul 152015
 
 July 15, 2015  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Russell Lee Street scene. Spencer, Iowa 1936


China’s Official GDP Charade Is In – And, Surprise! It’s 7% (Quartz)
China’s Economic Troubles Start to Spread (Pesek)
IMF Stuns Europe With Call For Massive Greek Debt Relief (AEP)
The IMF Is Telling Europe the Euro Doesn’t Work (NY Times)
Greece Needs Debt Relief Far Beyond EU Plans – Secret IMF Report (Reuters)
IMF: Greece May Need 30 Years To Recover (Reuters)
Grexit or Jubilee? How Greek Debt Can Be Annulled (Ellen Brown)
Decoding the IMF: Grexit is Inevitable (Paul Mason)
What’s Behind The IMF Attack On The Greek Deal? (CNBC)
Professor Blanchard Writes a Greek Tragedy (Ashoka Mody)
Greece Rewrites Economic Textbooks With Austerity on Austerity (Bloomberg)
Bailout Deal: What’s For Sale In Greece (CNN)
IMF Demands Greece Debt Relief as Condition for Bailout (NY Times)
An Open Letter To The People Of Greece: Restore The Drachma (Ann Pettifor, 2011)
Greece and the Union of Bullies (Alex Andreou)
Tsipras Says There Was ‘A Knife on My Neck’ (Bloomberg)
Canada And Ukraine Announce ‘Milestone’ Free Trade Agreement (AFP)

Maybe they could try and make it a little less obvious?

China’s Official GDP Charade Is In—And, Surprise! It’s 7% (Quartz)

Defying all expectations, China’s GDP grew 7% in the second quarter—least according to the official charade. Electricity use and assorted proxies of industry suggest that it very probably didn’t grow that fast. But here’s the chart, including the official growth rate and the annualized measure used by most advanced economies, anyway: It is an official charade because China’s GDP has long been recognized as a distorted measure of the country’s economic growth. The value “created” in the country’s economy is inflated by the fact that a good chunk of the stuff bought and built in China it isn’t worth the official sticker price. This is thanks to the government’s “implicit guarantee” of any investments that are political priorities.

This gives investors, both corporate and individual, the confidence that the government will bail out any inconvenient losses. It encourages banks and individual savers alike to lend to wasteful projects, as long as an official imprimatur is looped in somewhere. It lets lenders accept these unprofitable projects at face value as collateral for more loans. And thus, debt begets more debt—China’s nearly quadrupled from 2007 to mid-2014, to $28 trillion, McKinsey calculates. Outstanding loans using property as collateral now add up to 22 trillion yuan—about 40% of the total—according to Fitch, the ratings agency. That’s about five times what they were in 2008. In a way, China’s quarterly GDP announcement is the meta-example of the implicit guarantee creating a moral hazard.

The Chinese government is the only major economy to set GDP growth targets each year. Throughout the year, government officials and the state press reiterate, or talk down, that GDP growth target depending on the political agenda. In decades past, these signals let local officials know how recklessly they should invest, or how brazenly they should lie about the results. Report dazzling growth, get a promotion. Leave nose-bloodying interest payments for the next guy to worry about. That’s changing now, as the Xi Jinping administration tries to “rebalance” the economy away from the dangerous investment binge its policies have encouraged. Those promotion targets are, as a result, generally getting more sophisticated and holistic, rather than focusing on eye-popping numbers; the Shanghai government has even scrapped the targets as a factor altogether. Yet the government still does the whistlestop target tour—for instance, premier Li Keqiang announced in early July that China will hit its 7% growth target for this year.

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Singapore GDP fell 4.6% in Q2.

China’s Economic Troubles Start to Spread (Pesek)

Singapore is the closest thing Asia has to an economic barometer. Its highly open, trade-reliant economy usually signals when trouble is approaching the global stage. And at the moment, Singapore is flashing clear warning signs. The city-state’s GDP plunged 4.6% last quarter, a downturn almost certainly triggered by China. Singapore’s plight may mark a dangerous inflection point not just for Asia, but for the entire global economy. After the 2008 global crisis, China’s 9%-plus growth picked up the slack from a West licking its financial wounds. But as Asia’s biggest economy cools, officials from Seoul to Brasilia are finding themselves without a reliable growth engine. Uneven recoveries in the U.S. and Europe have already slowed the exports that power most Asian economies, including Japan. China’s downturn could now throw Asian manufacturing into reverse.

Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma warns that “the next global recession will be made by China.” The balance of data – including Singapore’s abrupt shift toward recession – suggests China isn’t growing anywhere near this year’s 7% target. Shanghai’s day traders celebrated this week’s news that Chinese exports rose 2.1% in June. The more interesting figure, though, was the 6.7% decline in Chinese imports. That helps explain the stunning 14% drop in Singaporean manufacturing from the previous three months. The same goes for Singapore’s non-oil exports to China, which fell 4.3% in May, 5.1% in April and plunged 22.7% in February. With Singapore’s economy contracting the most since the third quarter of 2012, its government has to act fast.

It may be time for another surprise monetary easing (the central bank last engineered one in January). Fiscal stimulus may also be necessary. “The global outlook remains challenging and far less positive than the picture” four months ago, says economist Hak Bin Chua of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “China’s slowdown, the Greece crisis and weaker growth in the immediate neighborhood of southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, will likely dampen growth.” The downturn in China, Asia’s main customer, will loom especially large. For now, many investors in the region are still bullish about Beijing’s efforts to gin up both GDP and stocks. But even the good news on China these days is worrisome. Take its surge in credit growth in June ($300 billion), the most since January. While it’s helping to stabilize the economy in the short run, it’s also inflating China’s debt bubble in sync with its asset bubbles in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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“The decision by the ECB to force the closure of the Greek banks [..], appears to have cost European taxpayers very large sums of money.”

IMF Stuns Europe With Call For Massive Greek Debt Relief (AEP)

The IMF has set off a political earthquake in Europe, warning that Greece may need a full moratorium on debt payments for 30 years and perhaps even long-term subsidies to claw its way out of depression. “The dramatic deterioration in debt sustainability points to the need for debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date,” said the IMF in a confidential report. Greek public debt will spiral to 200pc of GDP over the next two years, compared to 177pc in an earlier report on debt sustainability issued just two weeks ago. The findings are explosive. The document amounts to a warning that the IMF will not take part in any EMU-led rescue package for Greece unless Germany and the EMU creditor powers finally agree to sweeping debt relief.

This vastly complicates the rescue deal agreed by eurozone leaders in marathon talks over the weekend since Germany insists that the bail-out cannot go ahead unless the IMF is involved. The creditors were aware of the IMF’s report as early as Sunday, yet choose to sweep it under rug. Extracts were leaked to Reuters on Tuesday, forcing the matter into the open. The EMU summit statement vaguely mentions “possible longer grace and payment periods”, but only at later date, and only if Greece is deemed to have complied with all the demands. Germany has ruled out a debt “haircut” altogether, claiming that it would violate Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty. The IMF said there is no conceivable chance that Greece will be able to tap private capital markets in the foreseeable future, leaving the country entirely dependent on rescue funding.

It claimed that capital controls and the shutdown of the Greek banking system had entirely changed the picture for debt dynamics, an implicit criticism of both the Greek government and the eurozone authorities for letting the political dispute get out of hand. The decision by the ECB to force the closure of the Greek banks two weeks ago by freezing emergency liquidity assistance (ELA), appears to have cost European taxpayers very large sums of money.. The IMF said the Europeans will either have to offer a “deep upfront haircut” or slash the debt burden by stretching maturities and presumably by lowering interest costs. “There would have to be a very dramatic extension with grace periods of, say, 30 years on the entire stock of European debt,” it said. Debt forgiveness alone would not be enough. There would also have to be “new assistance”, and perhaps “explicit annual transfers to the Greek budget”.

This is the worst nightmare of the northern creditor states. The term “Transfer Union” has been dirty in the German political debate ever since the debt crisis erupted in 2010. The underlying message of the report is that Greece is in such deep trouble that it cannot withstand further austerity cuts. This is hard to square with the latest demands by EMU creditors for pension cuts, tax rises, and fiscal tighting equal to 2pc of GDP by next year. Nobel economist Paul Krugman said the cuts are macro-economic “madness” in these circumstances.

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“Under this plan, Greece would make no more debt payments until Justin Bieber is 59 years old.”

The IMF Is Telling Europe the Euro Doesn’t Work (NY Times)

It reads like a dry, 1,184-word memorandum about fiscal projections. But the IMF’s memo on Greek debt sustainability, explaining why the IMF cannot participate in a new bailout program unless other European countries agree to huge debt relief for Greece, has provided the “Emperor Has No Clothes” moment of the Greek crisis, one that may finally force eurozone members to either move closer to fiscal union or break up. The IMF memo amounts to an admission that the eurozone cannot work in its current form. It lays out three options for achieving Greek debt sustainability, all of which are tantamount to a fiscal union, an arrangement through which wealthier countries would make payments to support the Greek economy. Not coincidentally, this is the solution many economists have been telling European officials is the only way to save the euro — and which northern European countries have been resisting because it is so costly.

The three options laid out by the IMF would have different operations, but they share an important feature: They involve other European countries giving Greece money without expecting to get it back. These transfers would be additional to the approximately €86 billion in new loans contemplated in Monday’s deal. “Wait a minute,” you might say. “The IMF isn’t calling for a fiscal union; it’s calling for debt relief.” But once a debt relief program becomes big enough, this becomes a distinction without a difference; they’re both about other eurozone countries giving Greece money. Indeed, one of the debt relief options proposed by the IMF is “explicit annual transfers to the Greek budget,” that is, direct payments from other governments to Greece, which it could use to make its debt payments. This, obviously, is a fiscal union.

A second option is extending the grace period, during which Greece would be relieved of the obligation to make interest or principal payments on its debt to European countries, through the year 2053. That’s not a typo. Under this plan, Greece would make no more debt payments until Justin Bieber is 59 years old. This is a fiscal union by another name, since those lengthy and favorable credit terms would save the Greeks money at the expense of Greece’s creditors, most of which now are other European governments or the IMF. The third option floated by the I.M.F., a cancellation of a portion of Greece’s debts, has been fiercely resisted by the German government, even though this is the option that least obviously constitutes a continuing fiscal union. Debt cancellation is a one-time fiscal transfer (if I lend you $100 and then forgive the debt, that’s much like me simply giving you $100), but at least in theory it would be done only once, with Greece expected to stand on its own otherwise. The important exception is that Greece would still need to rely on European governments to lend it money at favorable rates, though not quite as favorable as under the Old Bieber scenario.

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Second time Europe withholds an IMF assessment report from negotiations.

Greece Needs Debt Relief Far Beyond EU Plans – Secret IMF Report (Reuters)

Greece will need far bigger debt relief than euro zone partners have been prepared to envisage so far due to the devastation of its economy and banks in the last two weeks, a confidential study by the IMF seen by Reuters shows. The updated debt sustainability analysis (DSA) was sent to euro zone governments late on Monday, hours after Athens and its 18 partners agreed in principle to open negotiations on a third bailout program of up to 86 billion euros in return for tougher austerity measures and structural reforms. “The dramatic deterioration in debt sustainability points to the need for debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date – and what has been proposed by the ESM,” the IMF said, referring to the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund.

European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a very dramatic maturity extension, or else make explicit annual fiscal transfers to the Greek budget or accept “deep upfront haircuts” on their loans to Athens, the report said. It was leaked as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble disclosed that some members of the Berlin government thought Greece would have been better off taking “time-out” from the euro zone rather than receiving another giant bailout. IMF managing-director Christine Lagarde attended weekend talks among euro zone finance ministers and government leaders that agreed on a roadmap for a new bailout.

An EU source said the new debt sustainability figures were given to euro zone finance ministers on Saturday and were known by the leaders before they concluded Monday’s deal with Athens. The IMF study said the closure of Greek banks and imposition of capital controls on June 29 was “extracting a heavy toll on the banking system and the economy, leading to a further significant deterioration in debt sustainability relative to what was projected in our recently published DSA”. European members of the IMF’s executive board tried in vain to stop the publication of that earlier study on July 2 just three days before a Greek referendum that rejected earlier bailout terms, sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

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It wouldn’t take that long with the drachma.

IMF: Greece May Need 30 Years To Recover (Reuters)

An IMF study published on Tuesday showed that Greece needs far more debt relief than European governments have been willing to contemplate so far, as fractious parties in Athens prepared to vote on a sweeping austerity package demanded by their lenders. The IMF’s stark warning on Greece’s debt came as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggled to persuade deeply unhappy leftist lawmakers to vote for a package of austerity measures and liberal economic reforms to secure a new bailout. In an interview with state television, he said that although he did not believe in the deal, there was no alternative but to accept it to avoid economic chaos. The IMF study, first reported by Reuters, said European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension.

Or else they must make annual transfers to the Greek budget or accept “deep upfront haircuts” on existing loans. The Debt Sustainability Analysis is likely to sharpen fierce debate in Germany about whether to lend Greece more money. The debt analysis also raised questions over future IMF involvement in the bailout and will be seen by many in Greece as a vindication of the government’s plea for sweeping debt relief. A Greek newspaper called the report, which was initially leaked, a slap in the face for Berlin. Late on Tuesday, a senior IMF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “We have made it clear … we need a concrete and ambitious solution to the debt problem. “I don’t think this is a gimmick or kicking the can down the road … If you were to give them 30 years grace you are allowing them in the meantime to bring down debt by … getting some growth back.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Brussels on Tuesday that some members of the Berlin government think it would make more sense for Athens to leave the euro zone temporarily rather than take another bailout. The Greek Finance Ministry said it had submitted the legislation required by a deal Tsipras reached with euro zone partners on Monday to parliament for a vote on Wednesday. Assuming Athens fulfils its end of the bargain this week by enacting a swathe of painful measures, the German parliament is due to meet in a special session on Friday to debate whether to authorize the government to open new loan negotiations.

“The dramatic deterioration in debt sustainability points to the need for debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date – and what has been proposed by the ESM,” the IMF said, referring to the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund. An EU source said euro zone finance ministers and leaders had been aware of the IMF figures when they agreed on Monday on a roadmap to a third bailout.

In the interview on Greek state television, Tsipras defended the deal he signed up to, saying it was better than the alternative of being forced out of the euro zone. He said banks, closed for the past two weeks to prevent a flood of withdrawals that would collapse the banking system, would reopen once the deal had been fully ratified by parliaments in Greece and other European countries. Tsipras could not conceal the bitterness left by last weekend’s acrimonious euro zone summit. “The hard truth is this one-way street for Greece was imposed on us,” he said.

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Very good from Ellen. And her conclusion is real positive for Greece.

Grexit or Jubilee? How Greek Debt Can Be Annulled (Ellen Brown)

The creditors may have won this round, but Greece’s financial woes are far from resolved. After the next financial crisis, it could still find itself out of the EU. If the Greek parliament fails to endorse the deal just agreed to by its president, “Grexit” could happen even earlier. And that could be the Black Swan event that ultimately breaks up the EU. It might be in the interests of the creditors to consider a debt jubilee to avoid that result, just as the Allies felt it was in their interests to expunge German debts after World War II. For Greece, leaving the EU may be perilous; but it opens provocative possibilities. The government could nationalize its insolvent banks along with its central bank, and start generating the credit the country desperately needs to get back on its feet.

If it chose, it could do this while still using the euro, just as Ecuador uses the US dollar without being part of the US. (For more on how this could work, see here.) If Greece switches to drachmas, the funding possibilities are even greater. It could generate the money for a national dividend, guaranteed employment for all, expanded social services, and widespread investment in infrastructure, clean energy, and local business. Freed from its Eurocrat oppressors, Greece could model for the world what can be achieved by a sovereign country using publicly-owned banks and publicly-issued currency for the benefit of its own economy and its own people.

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“..on both sides of the Greek political class there is cognitive dissonance, and it’s being generated by the same thing: a blindness to what the Euro has become.”

Decoding the IMF: Grexit is Inevitable (Paul Mason)

It’s easy to get drawn in to the detail. I spent some of yesterday in the hot corridors of the Greek parliament where the various factions and groupings within Syriza, the radical left party, were working out their postures on today’s vote. No to the rescue deal, says the left. Abstain, say others. Vote yes while declaring it’s been done at gunpoint, says Alexis Tsipras in a live TV interview. But step away from the argument, bitter as the black coffee served in the parliament’s canteen, and the bigger picture is: the deal will pass, Syriza will vote for it. Step back further and take in the implications of the IMF’s secret report, leaked yesterday, into the dynamics of Greece’s debt. The IMF says – after the weeks of dislocation caused by the relentless bank run and the capital controls – that the austerity deal is pointless.

Greece needs a massive debt write-off or large upfront transfers of taxpayers money from the rest of Europe. It needs a 30 year grace period in which it will stop repaying the loans. Yet the entire deal done on Sunday night was premised on not a single cent worth of debt relief. Vague commitments to “reprofile” debt – pushing repayment times backwards and lowering the interest rates – were all Angela Merkel could be persuaded to do. What this means is very simple: the third bailout agreed in principle on Sunday night is doomed to fail. First because the IMF cannot sign up to it without debt relief; second because, without debt relief it will collapse the Greek economy. This is even before you factor in issues like mass resistance to its details, or the total lack of enthusiasm for execution of the deal by the Syriza ministers who will have to do it.

But on both sides of the Greek political class there is cognitive dissonance, and it’s being generated by the same thing: a blindness to what the Euro has become. The Greek centre and centre right will keep Syriza in power today on the grounds of being good Europeans. Syriza will vote for a deal it opposes, and which anybody who’s read even a summary of the IMF report now understands is doomed. Again on the grounds that it is demonstrating commitment to Europe and that, as Alexis Tsipras argues, “rules out Grexit”. The implication of the IMF report is that Grexit is inevitable. Without debt relief the Greek debt to GDP ration will rise to 200%. It will be using 15% of its GDP simply to make interest payments and payments coming due.

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“..it tells you that the plan that was agreed is unworkable..”

What’s Behind The IMF Attack On The Greek Deal? (CNBC)

As U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew jets into Europe to urge policymakers to keep the Greek rescue on track, there are fears that the IMF has derailed country’s third bailout. Lew is expected to visit Frankfurt, Berlin and Paris over the next two days for talks on Greece with senior financial officials, including the President of the ECBMario Draghi and finance ministers of France and Germany. His trip comes at a crucial moment in the Greek crisis, with the country’s parliament due to vote later Wednesday on wide-reaching reforms and spending cuts. Meanwhile, the IMF stirred already tense relations between Greece and its creditors, which had just agreed to open talks on a 86 billion euros bailout, by saying on Tuesday that Greek debt relief was essential.

The IMF study, first reported by Reuters, showed that Greece needed far more debt relief than European governments were willing to consider. According to the news agency, European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension. Otherwise, Europe had to accept “deep upfront haircuts” on existing loans. It’s not the first time the IMF has called for debt relief over Greece, somewhat ironically, given that Greece missed a 1.6 billion euro loan repayment to the Fund last month and another €456 million due earlier this week. Eyebrows have been raised over the timing of the study’s release, coming a day before the deadline imposed on the Greek parliament to pass legislation on reforms.

Analysts said the IMF’s advocacy of debt relief could now be a deal-breaker. Moreover, the IMF has already reportedly signaled it could walk away from putting 16.4 billion euros of its own funds into a third bailout without some kind of debt relief, according to an IMF memo sent to European leaders last weekend and reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday. “It’s very interesting that the IMF has weighed in ahead of this vote,” Adam Myers, European Head of FX Research, told CNBC Wednesday. “When one of the creditors that is on the hook for 25% of the total bailout, says there needs to be an extension (of maturities) of that magnitude, it tells you that the plan that was agreed is unworkable.

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The IMF also messed up hugely.

Professor Blanchard Writes a Greek Tragedy (Ashoka Mody)

Olivier Blanchard has, with his customary clarity and candor, addressed criticisms of the IMF’s role in Greece’s financial rescue. His is a personal statement. But in writing it, he also presents the IMF’s operating philosophy and mandate. Blanchard’s statement will, therefore, not only shape our thinking on the evolution of the Greek crisis but it could define how we view the proper role of the IMF. His blog post deserves careful reading and consideration. The critics, he says, complain that “The [official] financing given to Greece was used to repay foreign banks.” But that, Blanchard insists, is not the right way to think of it. Memories of the post-Lehman meltdown were still fresh. The risks of contagion were real, or were perceived to be real, and there were no firewalls to contain those risks. That is certainly the official view. But is it right?

While a moment of great uncertainty, it was also a time for new ideas and initiatives. Barely 10 days after the Lehman fiasco, Washington Mutual Bank became the largest ever bank to fail in the United States and the U.S. authorities forced the creditors and equity holders to bear all the losses. The IMF, in contrast, went in the opposite direction, overriding its well-founded principle that the distressed country’s debt must be reduced to a “sustainable” level. In the Greek case, debt reduction required imposing losses on creditors. To the fear of contagion, a simpler solution—with much lower costs to all—would have been for the French and German authorities to stuff their banks with cash so that they were protected from the losses on their Greek debt holdings.

If even with these efforts, the risk of a wild-fire contagion could not be eliminated, then the question should have been who should bear the burden of preventing the contagion. An IMF paper that bears Blanchard’s name lays out the principle by which Greece should have been compensated—with a financial grant (not a loan)—for agreeing to hold on to its unsustainable debt burden in the interest of limiting losses on others. The IMF paper says:

“[…] there may be circumstances where any form of debt restructuring … would be considered problematic from a contagion perspective. […] in these cases, sustainability concerns could be addressed not through a debt restructuring but through concessional assistance [the official euphemism for financial grants] provided by other official creditors.

The argument is that contagion is a global problem and the global community should share the cost of preventing contagion. Absent such burden-sharing, it is an arithmetical matter that the austerity required on Greece was much greater than it would otherwise have been. And before the terms of the official loans were finally eased, the wind was knocked out of the Greek economy. The critics, Blanchard says, are not right to complain that “The 2010 program only served to raise debt and demanded excessive fiscal adjustment.” Fiscal austerity, he insists, was not a choice, it was a necessity. He makes a strange claim:

“Had Greece been left on its own, it would have been simply unable to borrow. … Even if it had fully defaulted on its debt, given a primary deficit of over 10% of GDP, it would have had to cut its budget deficit by 10% of GDP from one day to the next.”

Surely, that is a non-sequitur. No one has proposed that the alternative would have been to leave Greece “on its own.” That is not what the IMF does. The process requires the creditors to bear losses and the IMF simultaneously provides temporary financing. Both help to ease the pace of fiscal austerity.

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An experiment.

Greece Rewrites Economic Textbooks With Austerity on Austerity (Bloomberg)

It could be a chapter in an economics textbook: What happens when severe austerity is imposed on an economy that’s already lost a quarter of its output? Greece will find out how bad it could be. The package of measures that Tsipras was strong-armed into agreeing to early Monday after an all-night summit with euro leaders requires pension curbs and tax increases, with no promise of debt relief. To prove his commitment to reforms, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must pass those measures through parliament as early as Wednesday. The country’s economic slump has already saddled it with a 26% unemployment rate as previous governments implemented budget cuts at the behest of creditors, and output may fall by 10% this year.

The IMF admitted in a report two years ago that it underestimated the recessionary impact of the original 2010 bailout plan. “If there’s a permanently horrible business environment it just prolongs the agony,” said Gabriel Sterne at Oxford Economics in London. “It already is one of the worst post-crisis output performances ever apart from uber-commodity slumps and wars.” Greece could also see a rerun of the kind of civil strife seen in central Athens up to 2012 during parliamentary votes on budget bills. While protests in recent weeks, both for and against a deal with creditors, have been peaceful, minor scuffles have broken out with riot police at rallies organized by anarchist groups. Public sector workers are set to strike on Wednesday, indicating the first general strike since November might follow.

The prime minister has one hope, says Constantine Michalos, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Succeed where previous governments failed and fully implement the market-opening reforms that were also part of the package Tsipras agreed to keep his country in the euro. The seven-page statement issued at the end of the summit, which lists measures Greece must take before funds can be released for its cash-starved economy, begins with the need for “ownership” of the program by Greek authorities.

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They won’t get anywhere near €50 billion. But Greece would still lose the assets. They should never ever say yes to that.

Bailout Deal: What’s For Sale In Greece (CNN)

The Acropolis is not for sale, but other valuable Greek assets might be. The Greek government agreed to transfer up to €50 billion worth of assets to an independent fund as part of the $96 billion bailout deal with Europe. The trust’s goal will be to generate cash by either selling these assets or by turning them around into money-making enterprises. The program must be approved by the Greek parliament by Wednesday if Greece wants to receive any additional bailout money. Greek banks, electrical and utility companies, airports and ports are likely to be included on the list of assets, as are some tourist resorts and land developments currently owned by the government.

The partly state-owned telecommunications company OTE, Greece’s Public Power Corporation, and the Independent Power Transmission Operator (ADMIE) are among the enterprises the government might put up for privatization. Previous governments were also looking at selling its 35.5% stake in the Hellenic Petroleum, which operates three refineries in Greece, and its 90% stake in the Hellenic Post. The idea to sell Greek assets to raise funds is not new. A series of privatizations was among the conditions of Greece’s previous bailout agreements. But the process did not run smoothly and raised far less than the government had hoped for. “The privatization program has been a huge disappointment of the previous bailouts,” said Raoul Ruparel, the co-director of Open Europe think tank.

Analysts are warning about the ambitiousness of the program. Many Greek assets have lost value in the last five years as the crisis wiped off 25% of Greece’s GDP. The original target for all privatizations was to raise 50 billion euros by 2019. It was later revised to €22 billion by 2020. But the agency leading the first wave of privatizations, the Hellenic Public Asset Development Fund, has so far only raised €3.5 billion. One of the few successfully completed privatizations was the 2013 sale of OPAP, the Greek betting agency, to a group of investors from the Czech Republic, Greece, and Russia.

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Need a whole lot of US pressure for that.

IMF Demands Greece Debt Relief as Condition for Bailout (NY Times)

The IMF threatened to withdraw support for Greece’s bailout on Tuesday unless European leaders agree to substantial debt relief, an immediate challenge to the region’s plan to rescue the country. The aggressive stance sets up a standoff with Germany and other eurozone creditors, which have been reluctant to provide additional debt relief. The I.M.F role is considered crucial for any bailout, not only to provide funding but also to supervise Greece’s compliance with the terms. A new rescue program for Greece “would have to meet our criteria,” a senior IMF official told reporters on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “One of those criteria is debt sustainability.” Debt relief has been a contentious issue in the negotiations over the Greek bailout.

Athens has pushed aggressively for creditors to write down the country’s debt, which now exceeds €300 billion. Without it, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has argued the debt will remain a heavy weight on Greece’s troubled economy. But Germany and other countries, including the Netherlands and Finland, are loath to grant Greece easier terms, which are a tough sell to their own voters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out a “classic haircut” on Greece’s debt. The IMF is now firmly siding with Greece on the issue. In a report released publicly on Tuesday, the fund proposed that creditors let Athens write off part of its huge eurozone debt or at least make no payments for 30 years. The report was initially submitted to eurozone officials before a weekend meeting to consider the new bailout deal for Greece.

The eurozone officials did not adopt the IMF’s debt relief proposals in the tentative agreement they reached with Greece on Monday. In going public, the IMF is making a tactical move, adding pressure to the negotiations over the bailout deal. But its aggressive position also complicates efforts to complete a deal, with Greece’s Parliament scheduled to vote on Wednesday whether to accept the creditors’ conditions. As the uncertainty over the deal mounts, Greece’s rapidly growing financial needs only create additional strains on the eurozone, while its unity is already shaken. With Greek banks closed and foreign investment at a standstill, the economy is sinking fast, undercutting tax revenue and making it even harder for the government to pay its debts.

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Wise words, 4 years old.

An Open Letter To The People Of Greece: Restore The Drachma (Ann Pettifor, 2011)

June 21, 2011- We write to encourage you – to urge you on in your resistance. In your defiance, you understand Greece is slave to the interests of private wealth. You must understand too that it is private wealth that needs Greece. Greece does not need private wealth. As is obvious to you – if not to EU finance ministers – Greek and other EU taxpayers are asked to shore up the immense wealth and reckless lending of private French, German, British and American banks. Without your taxes, your sacrifices, the privatisation of your government’s assets, these bankers once again face Armageddon – as they did in autumn of 2008.= Just as then, so now they have rushed behind the ‘skirts’ of their defenders at the IMF and the EU.

On their behalf, these unelected officials and some elected politicians demand that Greek and EU taxpayers shield private sector risk-takers from the consequences of their risks. The very antithesis of market principles. In the process, the EU is torn apart. Politicians, backed by officials, now defy the founding goals of the Community and, in the interests of private wealth, set the peoples of Europe against each other. On 20 June, 2011 the acting Head of the IMF called for “immediate and far-reaching structural reforms, privatization, and the opening of markets to foreign ownership and competition.” Which proves our point: private wealth needs Greece. Greece does not need private wealth.

Greece’s elected politicians have plunged the country into a spiral of decline, as austerity leads to greater economic crisis, more severe failure of public finances and social and economic hardship on a scale unknown since the inter-war years. Is there anybody on earth who seriously believes that austerity will restore the prosperity of Greece? The idea is ludicrous. But equally ludicrous is the idea that there is no alternative. There is an alternative. In reality, austerity marks the final failure of the existing arrangement between public interests and the interests of private wealth. Financial liberalisation has failed. The only way forward is a new arrangement, based on ones that have better served societies since the dawn of civilisation: since Aristotle identified the evils of usury and the barrenness of prosperity based on speculation.

The first step must be the abandoning of the Euro. The Euro must be understood not as a currency of the peoples, but as an ideal of private wealth. The Euro is a perversion of the greatest monies in history. These arose as a relation between people and the state. Through the institutional development of central banks, domestic banks, state borrowing, paper currency and double-entry book keeping, national monies have underpinned all of the greatest societies of the world. Money has been aimed at the interests of society, of productive labour, and vibrant state and private activity alike. But the Euro is a money aimed only at the interests of private wealth. It is divorced from individual nation states. Its statutes explicitly prohibit the support of state activity through money creation, while its foundation in monetarist doctrine inhibits private activity and has led to a world devoid of markets, at the mercy of large financial monopolies.

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A proper assessment of Tsipras’ position.

Greece and the Union of Bullies (Alex Andreou)

Tsipras should now try to create the time and breathing space to lead Greece out of the EU. The FT reports how, having reached an impasse in their negotiation, around 6 a.m., Merkel and Tsipras went to leave the room and President of the European Council Donald Tusk physically prevented them, saying “there is no way you are leaving this room”. Alone, sleepless, with other leaders reportedly taking turns on him in a process which one EU official described as “extensive mental waterboarding”, looking like “a beaten dog”, Tsipras finally succumbed. In any ordinary circumstances, in most legal jurisdictions, such an agreement would be considered void; obtained by coercion and under duress. In Euroland, it seems, such considerations do not apply.

Within the hard black and white reality of fat-lettered newspaper headlines, of adoration and condemnation, of twitter’s one-hundred-and-forty characters, everything is binary. Alexis Tsipras must be either praised as hero or condemned as villain; idolized as the Messiah or reviled as Judas. As I have written previously he is neither. He is just a man under an enormous amount of pressure, trying to reconcile a Greek mandate – to do away with austerity, but remain within the eurozone – which turned out to be irreconcilable. Much more cogent is the charge that Syriza should have known that such a promise was undeliverable when they made it. I do not subscribe to the view that this was done deliberately. That they inflated the hopes of a people, already betrayed so many times, intending to betray them again.

Nothing in their behavior these last six months evidences that. On the contrary, time after time, I saw a government totally shocked by the behaviour of people who were meant to be our family, our friends and allies. I saw in their eyes the look of someone stunned by an abusive partner. The very commentators claiming that this behavior was completely predictable also claim they have never seen anything like it and that Europe has changed fundamentally. Nevertheless, this cruelty is now a matter of record. We had all hoped for a Greek Spring. Instead, we got a German Winter. Yet, everyone has turned on the victim of this violent assault for not locking their door, for wearing too short a skirt, for not fighting back harder, while the criticism of the perpetrator seems to have dissipated.

The idea of Tsipras as a “traitor” relies heavily on a cynical misinterpretation of the referendum last week. “OXI”, the critics would have you believe, was “no” to any sort of deal; an authorization to disorderly Grexit. It was nothing of the sort. In speech after speech Tsipras said again and again that he needed a strong “OXI” to use as a negotiating weapon in order to achieve a better deal. Now, you may think he didn’t achieve a better deal – that may be a fair criticism – but to suggest the referendum authorized Grexit is deeply disingenuous. And what about the 38% that voted “NAI”? Was Tsipras not there representing those people, too?

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Going through the motions.

Tsipras Says There Was ‘A Knife on My Neck’ (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras started his pitch for a bailout that’s sparked a revolt in his own party and is struggling to get off the ground as international officials ask new questions about the country’s finances. As Tsipras went on national television on Tuesday night to argue for a deal that he only agreed to with “a knife at my neck,” European officials were at a loss over how to put together a bridging loan that will keep Greece from defaulting on the ECB and its own citizens next week. One person familiar with the matter said that Greece’s finances seem to get worse with every meeting and governments are now reluctant to help out with even short-term funds. “The Greek government has not received a bridge-financing program yet because some try to block this,” Tsipras said in an interview with ERT-TV before a parliamentary vote on the deal on Wednesday.

“My priority is to make sure that the choice I made the other day, with a knife at my neck, is finalized.” European officials are at a loss on how to put together a bridging loan that will keep Greece from defaulting Parliament will vote Wednesday night on the measures Greece’s creditors demanded as a condition for aid as capital controls ravage an economy that has already shrunk by a quarter since 2009. Those measures have exacted a “heavy toll” and have led to a dramatic deterioration in Greece’s ability to repay its debt over the past two weeks, a new analysis by the IMF showed on Tuesday. Tsipras portrayed the package of austerity as unavoidable because the alternative was leaving the euro. In return, all Greece’s mid-term financing needs will be covered and talks over debt restructuring could even start in the fall, he said.

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Good grief. Harper’s the worst disaster on a planet full of them..

Canada And Ukraine Announce ‘Milestone’ Free Trade Agreement (AFP)

Canada formally announced a “milestone” free trade agreement with Ukraine after the two countries’ prime ministers met in Ottawa on Tuesday. The agreement, which has to be ratified by both nations’ parliaments, will be implemented as soon as possible, Stephen Harper said after meeting Arseniy Yatsenyuk. With more than a million people claiming roots in Ukraine, Canada has supported Kiev many times since the 2014 revolution and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Also, Canada was the first western country to recognise Ukraine’s independence, in December 1991. The trade deal is expected to lift the Canadian GDP by C$29.2m (US$22.9m) and Ukraine’s by C$18.6m, Canadian government evaluations show.

“Today’s conclusion of the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is another milestone in the important relationship between our two countries,” Harper said. Canada will eliminate tariffs on 99% of imports from Ukraine and increase exports to Ukraine by C$41.2m. Meanwhile, financially troubled Ukraine will reduce tariffs on 86% of Canadian imports and increase exports to Canada by C$23.7m, mainly in the textile and metalworking industries. The Ukrainian economy has taken a nosedive after three years of recession and more than a year of war. Its national debt is expected to reach nearly 94% of GDP in 2015, the IMF says.

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