Jul 132015
 
 July 13, 2015  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Fordson tractor exposition at Camp Meigs, Washington DC 1922

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)
Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)
Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions
Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)
How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)
The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)
A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)
Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)
Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)
Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)
How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)
Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)
Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)
Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)
Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)
Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)
Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)
China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)
How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)
China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

Zombie money.

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)

If you’re worried the Federal Reserve will topple the debt markets, consider this: there’s rarely been so much cash available in the world to buy assets such as bonds. While the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates sent bonds worldwide to the biggest-ever quarterly loss, JPMorgan Chase says the excess money in the global economy – about $5 trillion – will support demand and bolster asset prices. Since 1990, there have been four periods when households, companies and investors held such a surplus. Each time, markets rallied. “The world is awash with unprecedented excess liquidity,” said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a strategist at JPMorgan, the top-ranked firm for U.S. fixed-income research by Institutional Investor magazine. “Fed tightening won’t change that.”

The cash cushion has surged in recent years as the world’s central banks injected trillions of dollars into the financial system to jump-start demand after the credit crisis. Now all the extra money that’s sloshing around may help extend the three-decade bull market in bonds even as a stronger U.S. economy pushes the Fed closer to boosting rates from rock-bottom levels. Bonds suffered a setback last quarter as signs of inflation in both the U.S. and Europe sparked an exodus after yields fell to historical lows. They lost 2.23%, the most since at least 1996, index data compiled by Bank of America show. This month, worries over Greece’s financial ruin and China’s stock-market meltdown have pushed investors back into the safety of debt securities. Yet Wall Street is still bracing for a selloff, especially in U.S. Treasuries, once the Fed moves to raise rates that it’s held near zero since 2008.

The U.S. 10-year note, the benchmark used to determine borrowing costs for governments, businesses and consumers, yielded 2.45% as of 9:12 a.m. Monday in London. Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg say the yield will approach 3% within a year. Although JPMorgan provided plenty of caveats, the company’s analysis suggests it might not play out that way. Helped by bond-buying stimulus in the U.S., Japan and Europe, and increased bank lending in emerging markets, the amount of cash in circulation now totals $67 trillion globally, compared with about $62 trillion of estimated demand, data compiled by the bank show. That happens when the amount of money in the world exceeds the value of the global economy, financial assets and the cash that individuals hoard in response to risk.

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How real is the deal?

Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surrendered to European demands for immediate action to qualify for up to €86 billion euros ($95 billion) of aid Greece needs to stay in the euro. After a six-month offensive against German-inspired austerity succeeded only in deepening his country’s economic mess and antagonizing his European counterparts, there was no face-saving compromise on offer for Tsipras at a rancorous summit that ran for more than 17 hours. “Trust has to be rebuilt, the Greek authorities have to take on responsibility for what they agreed to,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting ended just before 9 a.m. in Brussels Monday. “It now hinges on step-by-step implementation of what we agreed.”

The agreement shifts the spotlight to the parliament in Athens, where lawmakers from Tsipras’s Syriza party mutinied when he sought their endorsement two days ago for spending cuts, pensions savings and tax increases. They have until Wednesday to pass into law key creditor demands, including streamling value-added taxes, broadening the tax base to increase revenue and curbing pension costs. While the summit agreement averted a worst-case outcome for Greece, it only established the basis for negotiations on an aid package, which would also include €25 billion to recapitalize its weakened financial system.

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“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal..”

Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions

Greek officials and media reacted with fury to the latest European demands for spending cuts and tax hikes, with some resorting to imagery from World War II and the U.S.- led war on terror to describe their predicament. Greece is being “waterboarded” by euro-area leaders, Nikos Filis, the parliamentary spokesman for the ruling Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, said on ANT1 TV Monday morning. He accused Germany of “tearing Europe apart” for the third time in the past century. Newspapers leveled similar allegations at Germany, which led the hard-line camp at all-night talks that ended with an agreement on the terms needed to open a third bailout for Europe’s most-indebted country. EC President Donald Tusk, announcing the deal after 17 hours of negotiations, said it would entail “strict conditions” and end the threat of Greece exiting the euro.

“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal,” Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on ERT TV. “Talk of a Grexit shouldn’t take place when Greece has its back to the wall.” The tone of Greek reaction illustrates the obstacles for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he seeks domestic approval for a deal that creditors called the country’s last chance to stay in the euro. European leaders insisted Greece’s parliament now approve measures including placing state assets in a dedicated fund in exchange for as much as €86 billion in new financing. “The agreement is difficult, but we averted the transfer of public property abroad, we averted the plan to cause a credit crunch and the collapse of the financial system,” Tsipras said after the summit.

“We put up a hard fight for the past six months and we fought to the end in order to get the best out of it, to get a deal which will allow the country to stand on its feet and the Greek people to keep fighting.” According to the initial text for a deal presented to European leaders, Greece needs to pass laws by July 15 to raise sales taxes, cut pension payments, alter the bankruptcy code and enforce automatic spending cuts if the next budget misses its targets. A key sticking point was the involvement of the IMF, which Tsipras at one point called “criminal.” Those measures will be difficult for Tsipras to sell to a public that voted decisively in a July 5 referendum to reject an earlier austerity package that was less onerous than the measures under discussion now. The premier, who was elected on an anti-austerity platform in January, also faces the challenge of keeping Syriza together through upcoming parliamentary votes.

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“Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.”

Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)

The eurozone took itself to the brink last night, and we will only know for certain later whether its reputation and cohesion can survive this. The big powers of Europe demonstrated an appetite to change the micro-laws of a smaller country: its bakery regulations, the funding of its state TV service, what can be privatised and how. Whether inside or outside the euro, many small countries and regions will draw long-term negative lessons from this. And from the apparently cavalier throwing of a last-minute Grexit option into the mix by Germany, in defiance of half the government’s own MPs. It would be logical now for every country in the EU to make contingency plans against getting the same treatment – either over fiscal policy or any of the other issues where Brussels and Frankfurt enjoy sovereignty.

Parallels abound with other historic debacles: Munich (1938), where peace was won by sacrificing the Czechs; or Versailles (1919), where the creditors got their money, only to create the conditions for the collapse of German democracy 10 years later, and their own diplomatic unity long before that. But the debacles of yesteryear were different. They were committed by statesmen. People who knew what they wanted and miscalculated. It was hard to see last night what the rulers of Europe wanted. What they’ve arguably got is a global reputational disaster: the crushing of a left-wing government elected on a landslide, the flouting of a 61 per cent referendum result. The EU – a project founded to avoid conflict and deliver social justice – found itself transformed into the conveyor of relentless financial logic and nothing else.

Ordinary people don’t know enough about the financial logic to understand why this was always likely to happen: bonds, haircuts and currency mechanisms are distant concepts. Democracy is not. Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.

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Nice!

How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)

The other day Enda Kenny speculated aloud that Greece should follow Ireland. Michael Noonan thinks that too. Apparently, they should do what we did and, if Greece did, there’d be no problems. Maybe we should examine this proposal because what is on the table for Greece right now makes little sense. Is there an alternative for an inventive Greece – one that might follow Ireland’s blueprint? Before we answer that, let’s examine what’s on the table for Greece right now. The German/EU offer maintains that the price for staying in the Euro is possibly 10 to 15 years of austerity with no alternative industrial model. There should be no debt forgiveness and there should be years of low to zero growth as the Greeks grind out a meagre existence largely from tourist euros.

Because there is no capital, this will occur at a time when Greek tourist assets will plummet and those that are worth something, such as tourist hotels, will be bought off by German and other investors for half nothing. In time, the Greeks will end up as workers in the tourist industry, working for foreign owners of the assets. The profits from these assets will be repatriated back to Germany, boosting the German current account surplus, while the wages for this labour will be spent in Greece on imported goods, which may or may not be made in Germany. Basically Jamaica with ouzo! Over time, the Greek standard of living will remain low and Greek people with talent will have no choice but to emigrate. There may be some pick-up in the economy but as long as there is huge debt-servicing costs, this pick-up will largely go to servicing past debts.

If there is some new EU loan made available to Greece, this will simply be borrowing from tomorrow not to pay for today but to pay for yesterday. The Greeks should do all this in order to have the privilege of paying for this stuff in the Euro. It seems a high price to pay for a currency, don’t you think? But the alternative is, according to the EU, to revert to the drachma, watch the currency fall, watch the drachma value of Greece euro debts rise, allow the national balance sheet to implode and ensure that the banks collapse. In other words, flirt with short-term Armageddon.

[..] Okay, but how can Greece get lots and lots of foreign investment into the country while still using a currency that is strong and in so doing, change irrevocably their economy? How can they move onto a higher productivity level without all these debt repayments? They can do it by adopting the Chinese Renminbi! Yes, you read it right. There’s no point for the Greeks in going back to the drachma if that will destroy its banking system. Why not do what Ireland has done over the years and adopt some other country’s currency? What’s in it for China? Everything!

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“Imagine that the euro had never been introduced … do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe?”

The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)

Imagine that the euro had never been introduced and we instead had had freely floating European currencies and each country would have been free to choose their own monetary policy and fiscal policy. Some countries would have been doing well; others would have been doing bad, but do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe? Do you think Greek GDP would have dropped 30%? Do you think Finland would have seen a bigger accumulated drop in GDP than during the Great Depression or during the banking crisis of 1990s? Do you think that European taxpayers would have had to pour billions of euros into bailing out Southern European and Eastern European governments? And German and French banks!

Do you think that Europe would have been as disunited as we are seeing it now? Do you think we would have seen the kind of hostilities among European nations as we are seeing now? Do you think we would have seen the rise of political parties like Golden Dawn and Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain? Do you think anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionist ideas would have been rising across Europe to the extent it has? Do you think that the European banking sector would have been quasi paralyzed for seven years? And most importantly do you think we would have had 23 million unemployed Europeans? The answer to all of these questions is NO!

We would have been much better off without the euro. The euro is a major economic, financial, political and social fiasco. It is disgusting and I blame the politicians of Europe and the Eurocrats for this and I blame the economists who failed to speak out against the dangers of introducing the euro and instead gave their support to a project so economically insane that it only could have been envisioned by the type of people the British historian Paul Johnson called “Intellectuals”.

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It’ll happen yet anyway.

A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)

It appears the Germans (with their Finish and Slovak cronies) have lost all sense of reason, if they ever had any. Germany has the socio-pathological excuse of having suffered from an irrational inflation angst since the 1930s and has forgotten its disastrous conduct during the 1930s and 1940s and also the generosity shown it by allied nations who had destroyed its demonic martial ambitions. Finland and Slovakia have no such excuse. They are just behaving as jumped-up, vindictive show ponies who are not that far from being in Greece’s situation themselves. Sure the Finns have a national guilt about their own notorious complicity with the Nazis in the 1940s but what makes them such a nasty conservative allies to the Germans is an interesting question.

It also seems to be hard keeping track with the latest negotiating offer from either side. But the trend seems obvious. The Greeks offer to bend over further and are met by a barrage of it is going to be hard to accept this , followed by a Troika offer (now generalised as the Eurogroup minus Greece which is harsher than the last. And so it goes from ridiculous to absurd or to quote a headline over the weekend. From the Absurd to the Tragic, which I thought was an understatement. There are also a plethora of plans for Greece being circulated by all and sundry, most of which hang on to the need for the nation to run primary fiscal surpluses, with no reference to the scale of the disaster before us (or rather the Greek people). It is surreal that this daily farce and public humiliation (like the medieval parading of recalitrants in stocks) is being clothed as “governance”. Only in Europe really.

We now know that the Eurogroup is not content to destroy the credibility of the Greek government and have the Greek prime minister come cap in hand begging for money and agreeing to turn his back on the sentiments of his own people, expressed so strongly last Sunday. The latest document from the Recession Cult has demanded even deeper measures from Athens, which Euclid Tsakalotos has apparently acceded to.

They now want a primary surplus target of 3.5% of GDP by 20183 , much deeper pension cuts, widespread product market deregulation, a more comprehensive privatisation program (so that the northern capital owners can get their hands on Greek assets for cheap), massive deregulation of the labour market, wind-back legislation since the beginning of 2015 which have not been agreed with the institutions and run counter to the program commitments and put all of that on top the harsh austerity that has already been pushed leading into the referendum. The sentiment is that Germany is not going for an exit for Greece but total submission and probably a new government by the end of the week .

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One man has not given up.

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)

Article to appear in Die Zeit on Thursday 16th July 2015 – Pre-publication summary: Five months of intense negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup never had a chance of success. 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. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

I wrote this article not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks.

I wrote this article as a European observing the unfolding of a particular Plan for Europe – Dr Schäuble’s Plan. And I am asking a simple question of Die Zeit’s informed readers:

Is this a Plan that you approve of?
Do you consider this Plan good for Europe?

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#ThisIsACoup

Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro. Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. 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.

Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German morality-play economics that he so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this? In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: 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.

It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end. Can Greece pull off a successful exit? Will Germany try to block a recovery? (Sorry, but that’s the kind of thing we must now ask.) The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

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“Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)

Prominent economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz accused Germany on Sunday of displaying a “lack of solidarity” with debt-laden Greece that has badly undermined the vision of Europe. “What has been demonstrated is a lack of solidarity by Germany. You cannot run a eurozone without a basic modicum of solidarity. It is really undermining the common sense of vision, the sense of common solidarity in Europe,” the Colombia University professor and former World Bank chief economist told AFP. “I think it s been a disaster. Clearly Germany has done a serious blow, undermining Europe,” he said.

“Asking even more from Greece would be unconscionable. If the ECB allows Greek banks to open up and they renegotiate whatever agreement, then wounds can heal. But if they succeed in using this as a trick to get Greece out, I think the damage is going to be very very deep.” Stiglitz is in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for this week s international development financing summit, which is presented as crucial for United Nations efforts to end global poverty and manage climate change by 2030. He is supporting the creation of an international tax organisation within the UN to fight against tax evasion by multinationals, although this has yet to win Western agreement.

International tax rules that allow large companies to avoid tax end up costing developing countries $100 billion every year, according to Oxfam. “European leaders and the West in general are criticising Greece for failure to collect taxes,” Stiglitz said. “The West has created a framework for global tax avoidance… Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

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Very strong from Zuesse.

How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)

There is democratic capitalism, and there is fascist capitalism. What we have today is fascist capitalism; and the following will explain how it works, using as an example the case of Greece. Mark Whitehouse at Bloomberg headlined on 27 June 2015, “If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose,” and presented his ‘news’ report, which simply assumed that, perhaps someday, Greece will be able to get out of debt without defaulting on it. Other than his unfounded assumption there (which assumption is even in his headline), his report was accurate. Here is what he reported that’s accurate: He presented two graphs, the first of which shows Greece’s governmental debt to private investors (bondholders) as of, first, December 2009; and, then, five years later, December 2014.

This graph shows that, in almost all countries, private investors either eliminated or steeply reduced their holdings of Greek government bonds during that 5-year period. (Overall, it was reduced by 83%; but, in countries such as France, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, and Belgium, it was reduced closer to 100% — all of it.) In other words: by the time of December 2009, word was out, amongst the aristocracy, that only suckers would want to buy it from them, so they needed suckers and took advantage of the system that the aristocracy had set up for governments to buy aristocrats’ bad bets — for governments to be suckers when private individuals won’t.

Not all of it was sold directly to governments; much of it went instead indirectly, to agencies that the aristocracy has set up as basically transfer-agencies for passing junk to governments; in other words, as middlemen, to transfer unpayable debt-obligations to various governments’ taxpayers. Whitehouse presented no indication as to whom those investors sold that debt to, but almost all of it was sold, either directly or indirectly, to Western governments, via those middlemen-agencies, so that, when Greece will default (which it inevitably will), the taxpayers of those Western governments will suffer the losses. The aristocracy will already have wrung what they could out of it.

Who were these governments and middlemen-agencies? As of January 2015, they were: 62% Euro-member governments (including the European Financial Stability Facility); 10% IMF, and 8% ECB; then, 17% still remained with private investors; and 3% was owned by “other.” Whitehouse says: “Ever since the region’s sovereign-debt crisis first flared in 2010, European nations have been stepping in for Greece’s private creditors – largely German and French banks — by lending the country [Greece] the money to pay them off. Thanks to this bailout [of ‘largely German and French banks’], banks and [other private] investors have much less at stake than before.”

So: what got bailed-out was private investors, not ‘the Greek people’ (such as the ‘news’ media assert, or try to suggest). For example, a reader’s comment to Whitehouse’s article says: “A reasonable assumption is that a large part of the Greek debt to the Germans was the result of Greek consumption of German goods and services bought with the German provided credit. In that case, the Germans have lost the Greek goods and services that could have potentially been bought with the money that is owed to them.” But this is entirely false: that “consumption” was by the aristocracy, not by the public, anywhere or at any time. After all: It’s the aristocracy that get bailed-out — not the public, anywhere.

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“..we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)

Russia is considering direct deliveries of fuel to Greece to help prop up its economy, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Sunday, quoted by Russian news agencies. “Russia intends to support the revival of Greece’s economy by broadening cooperation in the energy sector,” Novak told journalists, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. “Accordingly we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Novak said that the energy ministry expected “to come to an agreement within a few weeks,” but did not specify what type of fuel Russia would supply. Greece’s left-wing leadership has made a show of drawing closer to Moscow in recent months as the spat with its international creditors has grown more ugly. In June, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a visit to Russia sealed a preliminary agreement for Russia to build a €2 billion gas pipeline through Greece, extending the TurkStream project, which is intended to supply Russian gas to Turkey.

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Greek politics will get a shake-up. But only Syriza can govern.

Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)

The strength of the Greek government’s majority is in question and no-one can blame lawmakers who won’t agree to the terms of a cash-for-reforms deal with the country’s creditors, Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on Monday. Eurozone leaders argued late into the night with near-bankrupt Greece at an emergency summit, demanding that Athens enact key reforms this week to restore trust before they will open talks on a financial rescue. “Right now there is an issue of a governmental majority (in parliament),” Skourletis told state TV ERT. “I cannot easily blame anyone who cannot say ‘yes’ to this deal.” “We aren’t trying to make this deal look better, and we are saying it clearly: this deal is not us,” he added.

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This is a question?

Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)

In return for a third bailout – this time staggered over three years and amounting to €53bn – Greeks essentially have been told to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And that is the good scenario. The alternative – Grexit – would have bypassed purgatory but taken crisis train passengers straight to hell. Greeks know that the next 48 hours will define them and Europe, too. But whatever happens, they also know the choice is one between a complete march into the unknown or a conscious decision to take measures that – for a time, at least – will inflict further damage on a country already hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of austerity. Either way, the future is bleak.

In this, Tsipras’s brinkmanship has not helped: trust is so eroded between the leadership in Athens and creditors abroad that aid, if given, will not be handed magnanimously. Almost everyone I know now fears that Greece will be left to rot in the eurozone. Politically, there is tumult on the horizon. That, in the early hours of Saturday, so many government MPs refused to give their vote to the proposed package of pension and budget cuts, tax rises and administrative reform does not portend well. Many Greeks may now credit Tsipras for convincing Europe’s fiscally obsessed creditors that the country’s debt burden remains the cause of its woes (as indeed it does), but that will not cut much ice with hardliners in his party.

Events have moved at such giddying speed that ironically most Greeks do not appear to blame Tsipras for ignoring the resounding rejection that he himself had urged when the economic demands of lenders were put to popular vote last weekend. The referendum, like so much else, has become part of the blanket of crisis. That the measures were less severe than the ones the government ultimately accepted has, in a further irony, been similarly played down. Greece, in truth, has skated so close to the edge – apocalyptic scenarios more real than ever before – that Tsipras’s spectacular U-turn has come as a welcome relief. Across an ever-fractious political spectrum, he has been applauded for putting his country before his party.

In the event of financial rescue, the hope is that Tsipras finally tackles the maladies that have so pervasively held back the country’s potential. Like no other party in power, Syriza is well placed to tackle the age-old malignancies of tax evasion, cronyism and corruption. But the leader will also face conflict on the streets. In the back alleys of Athens, where activists work in dark offices stacked with freshly painted placards and banners – the ammunition of the war against austerity – the battle is already on. “There will be demonstrations every day,” vowed Petros Papakonstantinou of the anti-capitalist bloc Antarsya. “And we will press for a general strike. That won’t be easy when the left is in power.”

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In fine form.

Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)

This interviewed was recorded before the deal was supposedly struck, but the sentiment still stands. Just how much does Greece have to give away. Too much says economist Steve Keen.

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“Even as its economy collapses and the government makes cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union..”

Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)

The drama over Greece’s financial crisis continues to dominate the headlines. As this column is being written, a deal may have been reached providing Greece with yet another bailout if the Greek government adopts new “austerity” measures. The deal will allow all sides to brag about how they came together to save the Greek economy and the European Monetary Union. However, this deal is merely a Band-Aid, not a permanent fix to Greece’s problems. So another crisis is inevitable. The Greek crisis provides a look into what awaits us unless we stop overspending on warfare and welfare and restore a sound monetary system. While most commentators have focused on Greece’s welfare state, much of Greece’s deficit was caused by excessive military spending.

Even as its economy collapses and the government makes (minor) cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union. Despite all the handwringing over how the phony sequestration cuts have weakened America’s defenses, the United States military budget remains larger than the combined budgets of the world’s next 15 highest spending militaries. Little, if any, of the military budget is spent defending the American people from foreign threats. Instead, the American government wastes billions of dollars on an imperial foreign policy that makes Americans less safe. America will never get its fiscal house in order until we change our foreign policy and stop wasting trillions on unnecessary and unconstitutional wars.

Excessive military spending is not the sole cause of America’s problems. Like Greece, America suffers from excessive welfare and entitlement spending. Reducing military spending and corporate welfare will allow the government to transition away from the welfare state without hurting those dependent on government programs. Supporting an orderly transition away from the welfare state should not be confused with denying the need to reduce welfare and entitlement spending.

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New Zealand better beware. Wait till housing collapses on top of the logging and dairy crashes.

Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)

Mainland Chinese money snapped up at least 80% of residential sales in parts of Auckland in March but were nearer 90% in May, a whistle blower from the industry says. The Herald reported at the weekend Labour data that showed people of Chinese descent accounted for 39.5% of the almost 4000 Auckland transactions between February and April. Yet Census 2013 data showed ethnic Chinese who are New Zealand residents or citizens account for only 9% of Auckland’s population. The property insider – who wanted to protect their identity because they feared for their job – said the situation was much more serious than the Labour data suggested. The numbers should be more than doubled due to the weight of capital coming out of Mainland China, the whistle blower said.

One big Auckland real estate agency, where many salespeople are of Chinese ethnicity, was selling almost every single property throughout many suburban areas to people living in China, the insider said. In some cases, those buyers had a New Zealand connection “but it’s one group disenfranchising the other. It’s really taken off in the last 18 months. I’ve been studying the figures since October.” “The Kiwis, South Africans and British have dropped out of the market because they just can’t compete with the Chinese. The people living in China buy the places the Kiwis are trying to get, then those places are rented out the next day,” the insider said. That showed the person is in an important position in the property sector with extensive access to information unavailable to the public revealing who the buyers really are.

“We’re becoming tenants in our own country. It’s utterly outrageous. The Chinese are interested in Panmure, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Epsom, Remuera, the North Shore – not so much the west.” In some cases, a single Chinese resident was spending up to $15 million on Auckland properties and the higher the bidding at auctions went, the happier they were. “They simply don’t care how much they pay. It’s not related to the CV. If they pay another $400,000 more, that’s $400,000 they’re better off as it’s $400,000 they have shifted out of Mainland China. If they continue vacuuming up all the existing properties at the current rate of consumption, what will that do? The Chinese will outbid everyone at the auction. I’m sick of the phone bidder from Guangzhou. I’m relieved that someone at last is talking about this,” the insider said of Twyford’s data.

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“..it implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)

Real estate agents in Australia, Britain and Canada are bracing for a surge of new interest in their already hot property markets, with early signs that wealthy Chinese investors are seeking a safe haven from the turmoil in Shanghai’s stock markets. Sydney agent Michael Pallier said in the past week alone he has sold two new apartments and shown a A$13.8m (US$10.3m) house in the harbourside city to Chinese buyers looking for an alternative to stocks. “A lot of high-net-worth individuals had already taken money out of the stock market because it was getting just too hot,” Pallier, the principal of Sydney Sotheby’s International Realty, said. “There’s a huge amount of cash sitting in China and I think you’ll find a lot of that comes to the Australian property market.”

Around 20% has been knocked off the value of Chinese shares since mid-June, although attempts by authorities to stem the bleeding are having some effect. Many wealthy Chinese investors had already cashed out. Major shareholders sold 360bn yuan (US$58bn) in the first five months of 2015 alone, compared with 190bn yuan in all of 2014 and an average of 100bn yuan in prior years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. While much of that money may initially be parked in more liquid assets like US Treasury bonds and safe-haven currencies such as the Swiss franc, there is growing evidence that foreign property sales may receive a boost.

“There is anecdotal evidence that Chinese buyers have intensified their interest in safe-haven global property markets, including London, as a result of the recent stock market volatility,” said Tom Bill, head of London residential research at Knight Frank. Ed Mead, executive director of realtor Douglas & Gordon in London, said his firm had seen two buyers from China looking to buy whole blocks of flats. “It is unusual to see the Chinese block buying, it implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

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“../Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.”

How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)

Despite China’s troubled stock markets finding a floor last week, do not expect any quick return to normality. The dramatic stock rout and subsequent heavy-handed interference by authorities will not be easily forgotten. It has not just rattled investor confidence, but also damaged the political credibility of President Xi Jinping. For China’s legions of retail investors, the heavy losses have been compounded by wholesale stock suspensions — with half of Shenzhen and Shanghai stocks still not trading. This is a likely to fuel anxiety so long as investors are trapped in stock positions with no liquidity. It is also likely to lead to a sea change in investor mood from only weeks earlier, when some were even selling the roof over their head to buy equities.

There may be a nasty surprise when the first post-suspension bid prices come in. Albert Edwards at Société Générale highlights the experience in 2008, when Pakistan suspended trading on the Karachi Stock Exchange to try to “put a floor” under stocks after a share-price slump. This episode left authorities’ reputation in tatters, and when the market reopened, it quickly lost another 52%. For foreign investors, many of the bizarre interventions by Beijing last week will have raised a number of other, more fundamental questions about the competence of China’s leadership and the true state of the economy. One area of renewed uncertainty is the ongoing policy commitment to allowing market forces to play a larger role in the economy, a part of Beijing’s larger reform program.

The reintroduction of a ban on initial public offerings and spate of stock suspensions set a worrying precedent and will refocus attention on political risk. This, in turn, will place a cloud of doubt over plans for liberalizing interest rates, the capital account and the domestic bond market. Foreign investors are likely to think twice as they face the risk that the government may simply suspend reforms if prices start going against them. These recent actions suggest the voices of conservatives opposed to market reforms are in the ascendancy. Perhaps the more worrying take-away is that Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.

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More losses.

China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

A wave of stock suspensions has played havoc with exchange traded funds tracking Chinese markets, causing wild price swings and big price gaps between passive funds and the assets they track. More than 1,400 companies — more than half of all listings — are on trading halts in China, in an effort to shield themselves from the dramatic equity market sell-off that has wiped trillions of dollars off the value of Chinese stocks. The suspensions have left a number of ETFs holding frozen shares or derivatives linked to them, even as the funds themselves continue to trade. One Hong Kong-listed ETF that tracks China’s small-cap board, the ChiNext, traded every day last week, despite more than two-thirds of the underlying shares it reflects being suspended.

On Friday, the CSOP ChiNext ETF jumped by a fifth, while the index itself rose only 4.1%. Concerns have been growing globally over the potential mismatch between the liquidity of the underlying collateral that ETFs hold and that of their units. The Bank of International Settlements warned last month that the growth of passive funds may have created a “liquidity illusion” in bonds, although analysts say the problems currently facing Chinese equity ETFs are specific to the idiosyncrasies of that market. Chinese shares have tumbled in the past month, as millions of retail investors unwind leveraged bets on the market. Beijing has responded with various supportive measures, including bans on short selling, and on stock sales by large shareholders.

The central bank has also been funnelling money to brokerages to help them buy equities. Trading volumes for many China-tracker ETFs have doubled over the past two weeks, as market volatility has risen. ETFs have experienced wild daily price swings as investors use passive funds for price discovery of suspended Chinese assets. Last Thursday, the Deutsche X-Trackers Harvest CSI 300 ETF, which trades in New York, rose 20%. The extent of share suspensions has made ETFs “one of the only tradable instruments” for global investors looking to manage their exposure to Chinese stocks, said Warren Deats, head of Asia-Pacific portfolio trading at Barclays. Such funds are performing like futures contracts, he added, with investors using them to estimate the true level of the market — a view echoed by fund providers.

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Jul 122015
 
 July 12, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Up Sutter Street from Grant Avenue, San Francisco 1906

China’s Real Problem Isn’t Stocks – It’s Real Estate! (Harry Dent)
Greece Crisis: Europe Turns The Screw (Paul Mason)
EU Leaders’ Greece Summit Cancelled As Eurozone Talks Grind On (Guardian)
Greek Bailout Deal Remains Elusive (WSJ)
Germany Prepares ‘Temporary’ Grexit, Euro Project On Brink Of Collapse (Khan)
Germany Trying To Humiliate Greece, Says MEP Papadimoulis (Reuters)
Finland’s Parliament In Favour Of Forcing Greece Out Of The Euro (AFP)
The Problem With a Euro Fix: What’s in It for the Dutch? (NY Times)
Would Grexit Be A Disaster? Probably Not, Says History (Arends)
Angela Merkel’s Legacy At Stake As She Chooses Between Two Disasters (Guardian)
The Eurogroup Gets Mythological on Greece (Lucey)
A Union of Deflation and Unemployment (Andricopoulos)
The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis (Wren-Lewis)
Greece Prepares Itself To Face Another Year Of Political Turmoil (Observer)
Greeks Resigned To A Hard, Bitter Future Whatever Deal Is Reached (Observer)
A Coming Era Of Civil Disobedience? (Buchanan)

China private debt is staggering.

China’s Real Problem Isn’t Stocks – It’s Real Estate! (Harry Dent)

I always say bubbles burst much faster than they grow. And after exploding up 159% in one year, Chinese stocks crashed 35% in three weeks. This all happened while the Chinese economy and exports continued to fall. And two thirds of these new trading accounts belong to investors who don’t have so much as a high school degree. How crazy is that? As Rodney wrote earlier this week, the Chinese government is taking every desperate measure to stop the slide: Artificial buying to prop up the market… Banning pension funds from selling stocks… Threatening to jail investors for shorting stocks… Allowing 1350 out of 2900 major firms to halt trading in their stocks indefinitely, and stopping trades on another 750 that fell 10% or more… It’s madness!

This second and FINAL bubble in Chinese stocks occurred precisely because real estate stopped going up. Over the last year it actually declined. So after decades of speculation, the gains stopped coming in, and rich and poor investors alike switched to stocks. But the funny thing about the Chinese is – they don’t put most of their money in stocks. Only about 7% of urban investors own stocks and half of those accounts are under $15,000. In fact, it’s estimated that the Chinese only put 15% of their assets there, and that may be on the high side. What is so unusual about the Chinese is that they save just over half their income! And the top 10% save over two-thirds! And where do those savings go? Mostly into real estate! China’s home ownership rate is 90%. It’s just 64% in the U.S. even though we’re much wealthier and credit-worthy.

That’s because home ownership is a staple of their culture. A Chinese man has no chance of getting a date or getting laid unless he owns a home – no matter how small. Just look at this simple chart:

Chinese households have 74.7% of their assets in real estate vs. 27.9% in the U.S. – which helps explain why theirs is one of the greatest real estate bubbles in modern history! But the key here is – when that bubble bursts, it will cause an unimaginable implosion of Chinese wealth. In one fell swoop, three-quarters of their assets will get crushed! And just how big of a bubble is it? In Shanghai, real estate is up 6.6 times since 2000. That’s 560%. I’ve been going on and on about the massive overbuilding of basically everything in China for years now. I’ve never once flinched from my prediction that this enormous bubble will burst. And I’ve kept saying there will be a very hard landing no matter how much the government tries to fight it.

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So there! “.. the Greeks last night revealed the true dysfunctionality of the system they are trying to stay inside.”

Greece Crisis: Europe Turns The Screw (Paul Mason)

The Greeks arrived with a set of proposals widely scorned as “more austere than the ones they rejected”. The internet burst forth with catcalls – “they’ve caved in”. By doing so, however, the Greeks last night revealed the true dysfunctionality of the system they are trying to stay inside. First, Germany put forward a proposal one could best describe as “back of envelope” for Greece to leave the Eurozone for five years. There is logic to it – because Germany was signalling that only outside the Eurozone could Greece’s debts be written off. But for the most powerful Eurozone nation to arrive with an unspecified, two-paragraph “suggestion” at this stage explains why the Italians, according to the Guardian, are about to blast them with both barrels for lack of leadership.

Then came the Finns. Their government is a coalition of centre right parties and the right-wing populist Finns Party. The latter threatened to collapse the new governing coalition if the Finns take part in a new bailout for Greece. The demand is now that the Greeks pass all the laws they signed up to in advance of any new bailout deal. This is backed up by a threat to keep the Greek banks starved of liquidity from the ECB for another week. In Greece large numbers of people – on all sides of politics – believe the Europeans are trying to force the elected government to resign before a deal is concluded. If so there will be political chaos. Syriza’s poll rating is currently 38% and rising. Without a “moderate” split from Syriza the centrist parties have no chance of forming a new government, and without Tsipras’ tacit consent there can be no interim government of unelected technocrats.

On Friday I reported, on the basis of intelligence being supplied to large corporations, that the key supply concerns are gas – because of the need for forward contracts – disposables in the healthcare system, and meat imports. The screw Europe is turning on its own supposed member state now begins to resemble a sanctions regime. Without more liquidity the banks will run out of money some time this week. To be clear, it is Europe that is in charge of the Greek banking system, not Greece. Yet after last night what many in Greece and elsewhere see is that Europe has no single understanding of what it’s trying to achieve through this enforced destruction of a modern economy.

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Got to stretch it out for dramatic effect.

EU Leaders’ Greece Summit Cancelled As Eurozone Talks Grind On (Guardian)

A meeting of all EU leaders to decide Greece’s fate has been cancelled, as ministers from the narrower eurozone group struggle to agree on a way forward to resolve the intractable debt crisis. Donald Tusk, the European council president, announced that the session of the 28 EU heads of government scheduled for Sunday had been postponed. Instead, eurozone finance ministers are meeting on Sunday morning, and a summit of eurozone heads of government will take place in the afternoon. “I have cancelled #EUCO today. #EuroSummit to start at 16h and last until we conclude talks on #Greece,” Tusk tweeted. Last-chance talks between the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels ended at midnight, with deep divisions persisting over whether to extend another bailout of up to €80bn to Greece in return for fiscal reforms.

Finland rejected any more funding for the country and Germany called for Greece to be turfed out of the currency bloc for at least five years. Experts from the group of creditors known as the troika said fiscal rigour proposals from Athens were good enough to form “the basis for negotiations”. But the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, dismissed that view, supported by a number of northern and eastern European states. “These proposals cannot build the basis for a completely new, three-year [bailout] programme, as requested by Greece,” said a German finance ministry paper. It called for Greece to be expelled from the eurozone for a minimum of five years and demanded that the Greek government transfer €50bn of state assets to an outside agency for sell-off.

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Only some of the parties seem to want one.

Greek Bailout Deal Remains Elusive (WSJ)

Greek crisis talks between eurozone finance ministers on a new €74 billion loan came to an inconclusive end this morning in a sign that a deal which would secure much-needed financing for Athens and prevent a possible exit from the currency area is still far from certain. The ministers will reconvene at around 11am local time in an effort to reach consensus on whether economic overhauls and budget cuts proposed by Greece are sufficiently far-reaching to form a basis for negotiations on fresh loans to Athens. Then the baton will be handed over to European leaders, who will gather for an emergency summit. The heads of state and government will then have to determine how much money, and political goodwill, they are prepared to spend on keeping Greece in their currency union.

“It is still very difficult, but work is still in progress” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who presides over the meetings with his counterparts. “There’s always hope,” said Pierre Moscovici, the European Union’s economics commissioner, adding that he hoped for more progress. Only unanimous agreement on the amount of new rescue loans and debt relief to grant Athens will allow the country to avoid full-on bankruptcy and Greek banks to reopen on Monday with euros in their tills. The talks came after an assessment by the Troika estimated that a new bailout for Greece would cost €74 billion. In a letter requesting the loan earlier this week, Greece has estimated its financing needs at €53.5 billion.

Two weeks of capital controls have inflicted such damage on Greece’s banks that it will cost €25 billion to prop them up again, European officials said. Such costs would add to Greece’s already high debt load, creating more pressure for controversial action to be taken to make it more manageable. Over the past five months, Athens has exhausted the patience of most of its counterparts — particularly after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras unexpectedly called for a referendum on creditors’ demands, asking voters to reject them. While Mr. Tsipras has since largely backed down on most of the overhauls and budget cuts creditors asked for, there are doubts across European capitals over whether his government can implement any deal it signs.

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If you ask me, tempexit is the craziest notion so far.

Germany Prepares ‘Temporary’ Grexit, Euro Project On Brink Of Collapse (Khan)

The German government has begun preparations for Greece to be ejected from the eurozone, as the European Union faces 24 hours to rescue the single currency project from the brink of collapse. Finance ministers failed to break the deadlock with Greece over a new bail-out package, after nine hours of acrimonious talks as creditors accused Athens of destroying their trust. It leaves the future of the eurozone in tatters only 15 years after its inception. In a weekend billed as Europe’s last chance to save the monetary union, ministers will now reconvene on Sunday morning ahead of an EU leaders’ summit later in the evening, to thrash out an agreement or decide to eject Greece from the eurozone.

Should no deal be forthcoming, the German government has made preparations to negotiate a temporary five-year euro exit, providing Greece with humanitarian aid while it makes the transition. An incendiary plan drafted by Berlin’s finance ministry, with the backing of Angela Merkel, laid out two stark options for Greece: either the government submits to drastic measures such as placing €50bn of its assets in a trust fund to pay off its debts, and have Brussels take over its public administration, or agree to a “time-out” solution where it would be expelled from the eurozone. German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said they were Greece’s only viable options, unless Athens could come up with better alternatives. “Every possible proposal needs to be examined impartially” said Mr Gabriel, who is also Germany’s socialist party leader.

Creditors voiced grave mistrust with Athens, a week after the Leftist government held a referendum in which it urged the Greek people to reject the bail-out conditions it has now signed up to. A desperate Alexis Tsipras managed to secure parliamentary backing for a raft of spending cuts and tax rises to secure a new three-year rescue programme worth around €75bn-€100bn. But finance ministers rounded on Mr Tsipras for offering to implement measures that he had previously dubbed “humiliating” and “blackmail” only seven days ago. “We will certainly not be able to rely on promises,” said Germany’s hard-line finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. “In recent months, during the last few hours, the trust has been destroyed in incomprehensible ways,” he said. “We are determined to not make calculations that everyone knows can’t be trusted. We will have exceptionally difficult negotiations. I don’t think we will reach an easy decision.”

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No kidding.

Germany Trying To Humiliate Greece, Says MEP Papadimoulis (Reuters)

Germany is trying to humiliate Greece by bringing new demands for a bailout deal, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of Greece’s ruling SYRIZA party, said on Sunday. Highlighting the depth of reluctance to grant another rescue to Greece, Germany’s finance ministry put forward a paper on Saturday demanding stronger Greek measures or a five-year “time-out” from the euro zone that looked like a disguised expulsion. “What is at play here is an attempt to humiliate Greece and Greeks, or to overthrow the (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras government,” Papadimoulis told Mega TV.

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A country with a population half the size of Greece will decide?

Finland’s Parliament In Favour Of Forcing Greece Out Of The Euro (AFP)

Finland’s parliament has decided it will not accept any new bailout deal for Greece, media reports said Saturday, piling on pressure as eurozone finance ministers tried to find a way out of the impasse. The decision to push for a so-called “Grexit” came after the eurosceptic Finns party, the second-largest in parliament, threatened to bring down the government if it backed another rescue deal for Greece, according to public broadcaster Yle. Under Finland’s parliamentary system, the country’s “grand committee” – made up of 25 of 200 MPs – gives the government a mandate to negotiate on an aid agreement for Greece. Members of the committee met for talks in Helsinki on Saturday afternoon to decide their position, YLE reported.

The finance minister, Alexander Stubb, was at the crunch eurozone talks in Brussels and tweeted that he could not reveal the mandate given to him by the grand committee so long as the negotiations were still ongoing. “The mandate is not public and the Finnish delegation will not discuss it publicly,” Kaisa Amaral, a Finnish spokesman, told AFP. The Brussels talks were set to resume on Sunday after failing to reach an agreement on Saturday but opinion among northern and eastern European countries appeared to be hardening against accepting the reform’s Greece has offered in exchange for another bailout. 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.

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Holland in the role of Connecticut.

The Problem With a Euro Fix: What’s in It for the Dutch? (NY Times)

Economists agree: If the eurozone does not break up, it will have to move closer together. They’re right. But it’s easy to understand why Europeans are not eager to heed their advice. Basically, the proposition of European integration is that the Netherlands should end up like Connecticut. And even though Connecticut is a lovely place, the Dutch have good reason to be wary of that. It’s expensive to be Connecticut, because Connecticut has to pay for Mississippi and Alabama. 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 United States shows that this approach can work: America’s 50 economically diverse states share a currency quite comfortably, in part because of our banking union (Washington State did not have to bail out Washington Mutual on its own when it failed), our fluid labor market (as oil prices rise and fall, workers move in and out of North Dakota) and our fiscal union (states in economic pain benefit from government programs financed by all states). Nevada does not need to devalue its currency to restore its competitiveness relative to California in a severe recession; instead, Nevadans can collect federally funded unemployment insurance and, if necessary, move to California. If the Greeks had similar options available in 2008, they would be much better off today.

But the EU’s centralized budget equals only about 1% of Europe’s GDP, 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. But the American fiscal union is very expensive for rich states. According to calculations by The Economist, Connecticut paid out 5% of its gross domestic product in net fiscal transfers to other states between 1990 and 2009; that is, its tax payments exceeded its receipt of government services by that amount. This is typical for rich states: They pay a disproportionate share of income and payroll taxes, while government services are disproportionately collected in states where people are poor or old or infirm.

The obvious question, then, about a fiscal union is: What’s in it for the Netherlands (or Austria or Luxembourg)? Is it worth making the euro “work” if that entails devoting several%age points of your economic output to fiscal transfers to poorer countries, indefinitely, the way Connecticut does to poorer states?

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I would not rule this out. But Greece would have to start from scratch with printing a new currency.

Would Grexit Be A Disaster? Probably Not, Says History (Arends)

If Greece rejected the international “bailout” terms, defaulted on its debts and dropped out of the eurozone, would it really face economic devastation, collapse and disaster? The IMF, the ECB and most economic “news” reports about the crisis say so. But history says something completely different. Contrary to what you may have read, lots of countries have been in a similar bind to that faced by the Greeks. And those that chose the so-called nuclear option of devaluation and default did just fine. Great Britain saw a “V-shaped” economic recovery after it dropped out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the forerunner to the euro, in 1992. Real economic output expanded by 14% over the next five years, IMF records show.

The East Asian “Tiger” economies boomed after dropping their pegs to the U.S. dollar and letting their currencies plunge in 1997-1998. Ditto Russia after it defaulted and devalued in 1998. Ditto Argentina after it defaulted and devalued in 2001-2002. Those countries saw huge gains in real, inflation-adjusted output per person in the years following the alleged “nuclear” option of devaluation or default. The IMF’s own data reveal that from 1998 to 2003, Russia’s output per person soared by more than 40%. So did Argentina’s from 2002 to 2007. So much for “disaster” and “collapse.” Even the U.S. has been through this. In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt outraged bankers by abandoning the gold standard and devaluing the dollar by 70%.

Over the next five years, gross domestic product expanded by around 40% (at constant prices). If history says financial devaluation or default may turn out just fine on Main Street, the same may even be true of bank closures. Ireland suffered three massive bank strikes in the 1960s and 1970s, including one that lasted for six months. During that time, people were effectively unable to use banks or get their hands on currency. What happened? The real economy emerged largely unscathed. People coped. They circulated IOUs and endorsed checks as makeshift currencies. They understood that “money” is just an accounting system. In other words, human beings proved to be adaptable and used some common sense, even without the help of financiers. Gosh. Who knew?

Our grandparents and great-grandparents did something similar here in the U.S. in the early 1930s, at the depths of the Great Depression’s banking crisis, records Loren Gatch, a political-science professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. Towns and even employers that lacked official currency to meet payroll or pay suppliers issued IOUs or notes, he writes. In March 1933, 24 companies in the mill town of New Bedford, Mass., effectively issued their own bank notes, and those were accepted by retailers around the town and circulated at face value, Gatch wrote. It’s hardly a surprise. Only bankers or fools would think human beings are completely powerless without banks. As for currencies, whether gold or dollars or euros or drachmas: The idea that they have power in themselves is a myth. They are purely a social construct..

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Her legacy is shot.

Angela Merkel’s Legacy At Stake As She Chooses Between Two Disasters (Guardian)

Merkel has faced a decision between two potentially disastrous scenarios. As Artur Fischer, joint CEO of the Berlin stock exchange, puts it: “Either she goes for a third bailout but risks isolating herself domestically in the process – and also faces returning to the same point we’re at now six months down the line and again a year down the line. Or she agrees to a Grexit and, as Greece sinks into more misery with pictures of their plight flashed round the world, she is blamed for that.” For weeks Merkel has talked more about Greece than Germany. So familiar is she with its politics that Bernd Ulrich, chief political correspondent of the weekly Die Zeit, half-joked that “she could co-govern in Athens any time”.

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung summed up in an editorial what it described as the “Herculean task” that has faced her over the past few days. “This is Angela Merkel’s hour. She was the one expected to negotiate between the Greeks and the other euro partners. She was the one expected to find the compromise between the interests of 11 million Greeks and 320 million other inhabitants of the eurozone.” She will now have to bring the decision made in Brussels back to the Bundestag, where she will find an increasingly rebellious mood in her own conservative ranks, many of whom are seething that she has not pushed for a Grexit. They have also refused to even contemplate a haircut or debt restructuring, which the IMF is insisting upon if it is to remain involved.

They all say they are representing the voices of their angry constituents. And while there is not much doubt Merkel could get a bailout deal of some sort through the Bundestag if she wanted to, thanks to the backing of her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, the question remains: at what cost to her? A revolt within her party ranks could prove critical to her future as German chancellor. She sees her legacy at stake just as there are murmurings that she may contemplate a fourth term in 2017. In the past days an online petition by the economist Thomas Piketty, which appeals for the German government to grant Greece a debt cut like the one Germany received to help it to restructure after the second world war, has made a huge impact.

That and headlines such as the New York Times one last week: “Germans Forget Postwar History Lesson on Debt Relief in Greece Crisis”, accompanying an article that referred to “German hypocrisy” and a picture of the signing of an agreement that effectively halved West Germany’s postwar debt in 1953, has left some Germans smarting.

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Tantalus!

The Eurogroup Gets Mythological on Greece (Lucey)

Greek myth, which is in case you missed it full of tragedies, is the cultural mine that keeps on yielding for the present crisis. Last night we had a Eurogroup meeting. Greece offered everything the Eurogroup wanted, and more. The Eurogroup demurred and the Finns, in thrall to as populist a bunch of vote grabbers as ever was in the True Finns (the hint in the name is chilling) apparently said Aye, which is apparently Finnish for yes, although as nobody speaks Finnish outside Finland, who knows. So delving into Greek myth, today we see Tantalus. Tantalus fits right on the button. He was condemned to stand in a lake of water with a grapevine over his head. If he stooped to drink the water receded, if he stretched to eat the grapes drew back.

If Greece tries to cut its way from a depression the debt burden worsens, if it seeks aid the aid is yanked out of reach. What was Tantalus’s crime? Again, it fits. He took from the gods that which they would not give, in some myths ambrosia (not the custard dish but the food of the gods), in others it was Nectar. These he distributed to humans, angering the gods who believed that these goodies were theirs to distribute and not his. Greece entered the Euro and ..well, you see it. We should also note that Tantalus had form for hiding things, notably the golden hound of Hephaestus , the smith of the gods who made all things. Greece, let us not forget, hid the true state of the finances, a well functioning state statistical apparatus being the foundation of all things in a modern economy.

Interestingly, in myth he was aided by Pandareus, who could gorge forever on the finest things and neither be satiated nor suffer. Greece was aided in its concealment of the true state of its economy by Goldman Sachs… A further crime that Tantalus committed was, in an attempt to appease the now vengeful deities, he sacrificed his son Pelops and served a Greek version of Frey Pie to the gods. They recoil and his punishment is sealed. Syriza have killed, baked and served up to the Eurozone their own mandate and policies, only to have them thrown back faceward. Mind you, in myth Pelops was revived, repaired, and taken on board by the gods, Demeter (the bountiful goddess) having eaten of the pie and wanting to turn back time. The IMF, under Lagarde, have eaten of the pie and taken on board its central spice, the need for debt relief, and are now busy with time travel experiments.

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Can’t cover all ideas in a summary. Read original.

A Union of Deflation and Unemployment (Andricopoulos)

On Twitter recently, someone posted that anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of the difference between a sovereign money supply and a non-sovereign money supply does not understand economics. I wholeheartedly agree with this. And the majority of comments I see on articles about the Greek situation confirms that most people don’t understand economics. I don’t even know where to begin with criticisms of the idea of a shared currency without shared government. There are three main problems:

Problem 1: It is very easy to get into debt: A country in the Euro has no control of its monetary policy. Therefore when Greece had negative real interest rates during the boom time, there was nothing it could do to prevent people borrowing money. When added to a government also borrowing to appease special interests, this can be disastrous. But Spain had this problem even whilst running government budget surpluses. A country in the Euro has very little control over fiscal policy due to the rules determining how much governments can borrow and save. So even if a government wanted to combat loose monetary policy with correctly tight fiscal policy, it couldn’t.

Problem 2: Once in debt is impossible to get out of debt: There are three main ways a government has historically gotten out of debt. The first is economic growth; a growing economy means that debt to GDP ratios go down as GDP rises. The second is inflation; if a government’s debt gets too large it can always resort to the printing press to help it out. The third is outright default.

Problem 3: After both of these are realised, economic growth becomes very difficult: Governments, chastened by the experience of Greece and knowing that they are effectively borrowing in a foreign currency, can not borrow much more. A sovereign nation would have no problem issuing 150 or 200% debt to GDP. The central bank would support them and they would know that real interest rates could not get too high. Not so a borrower of a foreign currency.

I think I show three things here:
• The only policy a country can follow if it wants to avoid debt crisis is to run a current account surplus.
• This leads to a policy of internal devaluation and deflation.
• This creates a positive feedback mechanism which leads to a spiral of deflation and unemployment.

This is true certainly as long as Germany insists on low inflation and trade surpluses but possibly anyway, just by the nature of the riskiness of sovereign borrowing. I would like to hereby offer my humble advice to the leaders in Europe; now is the time to give up on this unworkable idea before it becomes even more of a disaster.

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Very good. “Two crises with the same cause but very different outcomes.”

The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis (Wren-Lewis)

The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis are normally treated as different. Most accounts of the Great Recession see this as a consequence of a financial crisis caused by profligate lending by – in particular – US and UK banks. The crisis may have originated with US subprime mortgages, but few people blame the poor US citizens who took out those mortgages for causing a global financial crisis. With the Eurozone crisis that started in 2010, most people tend to focus on the borrowers rather than the lenders. Some ill-informed accounts say it was all the result of profligate periphery governments, but most explanations are more nuanced: in Greece government profligacy for sure, but in Ireland and other countries it was more about excessive private sector borrowing encouraged by low interest rates following adoption of the Euro.

Seeing things this way, it is a more complicated story, but still one that focuses on the borrowers. However if we see the Eurozone crisis from the point of view of the lenders, then it once again becomes a pretty simple story. French, German and other banks simply lent much too much, failing to adequately assess the viability of those they were lending to. Whether the lending was eventually to finance private sector projects that would end in default (via periphery country banks), or a particular government that would end up defaulting, becomes a detail. In this sense the Eurozone crisis was just like the global financial crisis: banks lent far too much in an indiscriminate and irresponsible way.

If borrowers get into difficulty in a way that threatens the solvency of lending banks, there are at least two ways a government or monetary union can react. One is to allow the borrowers to default, and to provide financial support to the banks. Another is to buy the problematic loans from the banks (at a price that keeps the banks solvent), so that the borrowers now borrow from the government. Perhaps the government thinks it is able to make the loans viable by forcing conditions on the borrowers that were not available to the bank.

The global financial crisis was largely dealt with the first way, while at the Eurozone level that crisis was dealt with the second way. Recall that between 2010 and 2012 the Troika lent money to Greece so it could pay off its private sector creditors (including many European banks). In 2012 there was partial private sector default, again financed by loans from the Troika to the Greek government. In this way the Troika in effect bought the problematic asset (Greek government debt) from private sector creditors that included its own banks in such a way as to protect the viability of these banks. The Troika then tried to make these assets viable in various ways, including austerity. Two crises with the same cause but very different outcomes.

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Taking Syriza apart?

Greece Prepares Itself To Face Another Year Of Political Turmoil (Observer)

Greece’s embattled prime minister is expected to come under intense fire in the coming weeks after leading figures in his own leftwing Syriza party rebelled against the adoption of further austerity as the price of keeping bankruptcy at bay. The prospect of the crisis-hit country being thrown, headlong, into political turmoil drew nearer amid speculation that Alexis Tsipras will be forced not only to reshuffle his cabinet, possibly as early as Monday, but to call fresh elections in the autumn. “I cannot support an austerity programme of neoliberal deregulation and privatisation,” said his energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, after refusing to endorse further tax increases and spending cuts in an early-morning vote on Saturday.

“If accepted by the [creditor] institutions and put into practice, they will exacerbate the vicious circle of recession, poverty and misery.” The Marxist politician, who heads Syriza’s militant wing and is in effect the government’s number three, was among 17 leftist MPs who broke ranks over the proposed reforms. Other defectors included the president of the 300-seat parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou; the deputy social security minister, Dimitris Stratoulis; and the former London University economics professor Costas Lapavitsas. All described the policies – key to securing solvency in the form of a third bailout – as ideologically incompatible with Syriza’s anti-austerity platform.

Whatever the outcome of this weekend’s emergency summit, Tsipras will face intense pressure at home when he is forced to push several of the measures through parliament. The house is expected this week to vote on tax increases and pension cuts – crucial to receiving a bridging loan that will allow Athens to honour debt payments including €3bn to the ECB on 20 July. “It is very hard to see how a government with this make-up can pass these measures,” said the political commentator Paschos Mandravelis. “Already several prime ministers have been ousted during this crisis attempting to do that very thing. The idea of a leftist trying is almost inconceivable.”

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Troika gutted the entire economy. Takes time to rebuild no matter what.

Greeks Resigned To A Hard, Bitter Future Whatever Deal Is Reached (Observer)

Greece has become so gloomy that even escapism no longer sells, the editor of the celebrity magazine OK! admits. “All celebrity magazines have to pretend everything is great, everyone is happy and relaxed, on holiday. But it is not,” says Nikos Georgiadis. Advertising has collapsed by three-quarters, the rich and famous are in hiding because no one wants to be snapped enjoying themselves – and even if OK! did have stories, a ban on spending money abroad means it is running out of the glossy Italian paper that the magazine is printed on. “We have celebrities calling and asking us not to feature them because they are afraid people will say ‘we are suffering and, look, you are having fun on the beach’,” Georgiadis says. “One did a photoshoot but then refused to do the interview. They don’t want to be in a lifestyle magazine.”

It might be easy to mock the panic of Greece’s gilded classes, if the only thing affected was the peddling of aspiration and envy. But the magazine provides jobs to many people whose lives are a world away from the ones they chronicle, and like thousands of others across Greece they are on the line as the government makes a last-ditch attempt to keep the country in the euro. “If we go back to the drachma, they told us the magazine will close. It’s possible we won’t have jobs to go to on Monday,” Georgiadis says bluntly, as negotiations with Greece’s European creditors headed towards the endgame.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras pushed a €13bn austerity package through parliament early on Saturday, overcoming a rebellion by his own MPs and sealing a dramatic and unexpected transformation from charismatic opponent of cuts to their most dogged defender. It seemed like nothing so much as a betrayal of those he had called out in their millions less than a week earlier to reject an almost identical package of painful reforms. Greece’s creditors had soon made clear though that they were not ready to improve bailout terms, even to keep the country in the euro. And so after painful days of cash shortages, closed banks, dwindling supplies of anything imported, from medicine to cigarettes, and mounting fear, the extraordinary U-turn was met with more resignation than anger.

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In the US.

A Coming Era Of Civil Disobedience? (Buchanan)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ordered a monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the Capitol. Calling the Commandments “religious in nature and an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths,” the court said the monument must go. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused. And Oklahoma lawmakers instead have filed legislation to let voters cut out of their constitution the specific article the justices invoked. Some legislators want the justices impeached. Fallin’s action seems a harbinger of what is to come in America — an era of civil disobedience like the 1960s, where court orders are defied and laws ignored in the name of conscience and a higher law. Only this time, the rebellion is likely to arise from the right.

Certainly, Americans are no strangers to lawbreaking. What else was our revolution but a rebellion to overthrow the centuries-old rule and law of king and Parliament, and establish our own? U.S. Supreme Court decisions have been defied, and those who defied them lionized by modernity. Thomas Jefferson freed all imprisoned under the sedition act, including those convicted in court trials presided over by Supreme Court justices. Jefferson then declared the law dead. Some Americans want to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, who, defying the Dred Scott decision and fugitive slave acts, led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

New England abolitionists backed the anti-slavery fanatic John Brown, who conducted the raid on Harpers Ferry that got him hanged but helped to precipitate a Civil War. That war was fought over whether 11 Southern states had the same right to break free of Mr. Lincoln’s Union as the 13 colonies did to break free of George III’s England. Millions of Americans, with untroubled consciences, defied the Volstead Act, imbibed alcohol and brought an end to Prohibition. In the civil rights era, defying laws mandating segregation and ignoring court orders banning demonstrations became badges of honor. Rosa Parks is a heroine because she refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham bus, despite the laws segregating public transit that relegated blacks to the “back of the bus.”

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King, defending civil disobedience, cited Augustine — “an unjust law is no law at all” — and Aquinas who defined an unjust law as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” Said King, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” But who decides what is an “unjust law”?

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Jul 082015
 
 July 8, 2015  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Asbury Park, Jersey Shore 1914

Greece Files Formal Request For Eurozone Loan (Reuters)
Why Greece May Have Already Won (CNN)
[Chinese] People Are Selling Everything In Sight To Get Their Hands On Cash (BBG)
China Stocks Hit Four-Month Lows On Panic Selling (Reuters)
China Tries Japan’s Approach to a Stock Bubble (Pesek)
Greece Debacle Is Only A ‘Minor Rehearsal’ For Coming Crash: Hague (DM)
Greece ‘A Sideshow To China Meltdown’ (HuffPo)
Europe Is Blowing Itself Apart Over Greece, Nobody Seems Able To Stop It (AEP)
ECB Adds ‘Moral Hazard’ To Emergency Liquidity Assistance Rules (BBG)
New Greek Finance Minister Is A Change Of Style, Not Substance (Reuters)
Prominent Economists Urge Merkel To Change Course On Greek Crisis (Reuters)
The Troika Is Politically Bankrupt (Monbiot)
NY Times Urges the Troika to “Make an Example of Greece” (Bill Black)
Austerity Is Not The Solution To The Greek Crisis (Callam Pickering)
Lenders Give Greece Until Sunday To Avoid Grexit (AFP)
Merkel’s Buttons (Yanis Varoufakis)
Politics Always Trumps Economics (Ben Hunt)
Greece creditors Will Gain Nothing From Toppling Europe-Lover Varoufakis (AEP)
Washington Calls For Flexibility On Greece (Leigh)
Want To Help Greece? Go There On Holiday (Alex Andreou)
Steve Keen and Max Keiser (RT)

Can they refuse?

Greece Files Formal Request For Eurozone Loan (Reuters)

Greece has lodged a formal request for a bailout loan with the eurozone’s special support fund, a spokesman for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) said on Wednesday. “The ESM has received the Greek request,” he said. The Eurogroup of finance ministers is due to consider the application, which is formally addressed to its chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, in a conference call on Wednesday.

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Smart.

Why Greece May Have Already Won (CNN)

As it careens from one crisis to the next, many see Greece – and its prime minister, Alexis Tsipras – as a rudderless ship heading aimlessly toward inevitable and total economic collapse. But the editor of a major German newspaper, Die Zeit, believes Tsipras’ “very clever game of chicken” will almost certainly pay off. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “knows she does not want to have a dead body on her hands – not in Europe, not in her Europe,” Josef Joffe told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday. “German threats, and everybody else’s threats, are not credible.” “There will be no Grexit, neither enforced nor voluntary,” Joffe said, using the shorthand term for a Greek exit from the eurozone.

“The simple reason, which many people don’t understand, is that even with a Grexit, Greece still remains in Europe, and therefore it will have access to all kinds of zillions of money. … The only thing that will change is the spigots where the money runs through.” Two days after Greeks overwhelmingly rejected the austerity inherent to Europe’s bailout offers, Tsipras will discuss the path forward with European leaders on Tuesday. There appears to be some splintering of resolve among the so-called “institutions”. French President Francois Hollande took a somewhat softer tone after meeting with Merkel in Paris on Monday, and the IMF has bucked the line by releasing a preliminary report last week that admitted Greece would likely need the debt relief its government is so desperately trying to get.

“They said, listen, boys and girls, Greece cannot pay,” Joffe said. “If the IMF tells you that, that’s a resounding victory for Tsipras.” European leaders – despite their, by varying degrees, hardline rhetoric – understand that the country will collapse without an injection of money, he said. “Merkel knows that; Hollande knows it; and, above all, who else knows this? Tsipras.” “He has told Europeans, ‘You know what? Come and punish us. You’ll punish yourselves even more. Do you really want to collapse your economy? Do you really want chaos in the streets? Do you want another storm on the Bastille? You don’t, do you?’ “Nobody wants to be in the position where he cuts his nose to spite his face. “And that’s why it is my considered bet that the Greeks have won this game of chicken. Wait a few days and you’ll see.”

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Panic.

[Chinese] People Are Selling Everything In Sight To Get Their Hands On Cash (BBG)

Commodities traded in China are collapsing along with the country’s stock market. Raw materials from silver to lead and sugar to eggs fell to daily trading limits as the Shanghai Composite Index crashed to a three-month low Wednesday. A raft of measures to stabilize equities is failing to stop the bear-market rout in the country’s stock market, which had lured a record number of amateur investors and grown to become the world’s second-largest outside the U.S. “People are selling everything in sight to get their hands on cash,” Liu Xu, a trader at private asset-management company Guoyun Investment Co in Beijing, said by phone. “Some need to cover their margin calls in the stock market while others are gripped by fear that the Chinese economy will be affected by this crisis.”

Commodities prices globally this year have cooled, in part on slowing economic growth in China, the world’s largest consumer of energy, metals and grains. The Bloomberg Commodities Index, which tracks 22 raw materials, is down 7 percent so far this year. The gauge has lost 4.6% in the last three days, the most since 2011. Even as sentiment had soured on speculation demand is weakening, Wednesday’s sell off was fueled more by the rout in the country’s equity market, according to Ivan Szpakowski, a commodities strategist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. “It’s less commodity specific, and it’s not even reflective of a deterioration in economic growth or commodity demand,” Szpakowski said. “That’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a deterioration in sentiment and a spillover from the equities market.”

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What a surprise, right?!

China Stocks Hit Four-Month Lows On Panic Selling (Reuters)

China stocks tumbled to four-month lows on Wednesday as panicky investors dumped shares across the board, even as the government tried to unveil supportive measures throughout the day session to stop the plunge. To insulate themselves from the meltdown, more than 500 China-listed firms announced trading halts before the market opened, bringing the total number to around 1,300, almost half of China’s roughly 2,800 listed firms. “I’ve never seen this kind of slump before. I don’t think anyone has,” said Du Changchun, analyst at Northeast Securities. “Liquidity is totally depleted.” The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell 6.8%, to 3,663.04, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 5.9%, to 3,507.19 points.

In an unprecedented sign of desperation, all of China’s three futures index products for July delivery slumped by their 10% daily limit, meaning investors are extremely bearish on all type of stocks – small, mid, and big cap. Most blue chips, the target of government’s intensified purchases, saw previous session’s gains wiped out. Some analysts attributed the sell-off to share suspensions by a huge number of companies. “Given the suspension of stocks comprising a large part of the onshore markets, there are fewer stocks available to sell for those investors needing to meet their margin call requirements,” said John Ford, chief investment officer for Asia Pacific at Fidelity Worldwide Investment.

“This …is in large part responsible for the current liquidity squeeze.” Stocks fell across the board, with only 83 stocks rising, and 1,439 falling. Even Shanghai’s top blue chip exchange-traded funds, the target of purchases by a stabilization fund set up by Chinese brokerages, and state investor Central Huijin, also fell sharply. In an unusual manner, various Chinese government agencies published a series of measures throughout the trading session, including urging major shareholders and top executives of listed companies to buy their own shares, and allowing insurers to buy more blue chips. Bank of America Merrill Lynch said China’s deleveraging and margin calls could be far from over, with no bottom seen until the government becomes buyer of last resort.

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Not going to work.

China Tries Japan’s Approach to a Stock Bubble (Pesek)

In any discussion of historical precedents for China’s ongoing battle with stock traders, Japan’s epic “price-keeping operations” deserve pride of place. In the early 1990s, stock traders started getting spooked by bad debts from Japan’s 1980s bubble years. In response, Tokyo marshalled one of history’s biggest government-buying sprees to hold the Nikkei stock market above 17,000. Untold billions of yen from national pension funds and postal savings accounts were channeled through the Ministry of Finance into shares, and authorities also clamped down on short selling. China, confronted today with plunging shares on the Beijing and Shanghai stock markets, has now organized an intervention that makes Tokyo’s look downright lame.

And that strategy will almost certainly come back to haunt Xi Jinping’s Communist Party, just as it did the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan’s then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. So many of the forces behind Japan’s last several lost decades of economic stagnation and deflation can be traced back to the moment Miyazawa’s government decided to treat only the symptoms of the country’s economic frailty, rather than its underlying causes. More than a decade would pass before the LDP admitted Japan’s economy was suffering from the many bad loans the government had encouraged and the bailouts of zombie companies it had organized.

But in many ways, Tokyo never stopped confining its reform efforts to the symptoms of the country’s malaise. The country’s 15 prime ministers over the past two decades have avoided addressing the country’s excess of regulation, rigid labor laws and high trade tariffs. And for all his talk of sweeping change, current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been no different. His revival plans, like those of his predecessors, center on boosting asset prices. Abe’s nudging of the $1.1 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund to buy domestic stocks is a reprisal of the price-keeping operations of years past. And the yen’s 34% plunge since late 2012, encouraged by Abe’s government, has pumped up corporate profits and, in turn, the Nikkei stock exchange.

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“In May 1998 Mr Hague used a speech to warn that some countries in the Euro would find themselves ‘trapped in a burning building with no exits’.”

Greece Debacle Is Only A ‘Minor Rehearsal’ For Coming Crash: Hague (DM)

Former foreign secretary William Hague has broken cover to urge Greece to abandon the Euro or be stuck in a ‘permanent crisis’. Mr Hague, who stood down from politics at the election, said Greece had no chance of turning its economy around within the single currency unless Germany agreed to hand over big subsidies ‘forever’. But the former Tory leader went even further, warning that the ‘Greek debacle of 2015’ will not be the end of the euro crisis ‘but its real beginning’ – eventually dragging in Italy, Spain, Portugal and other southern European countries. Mr Hague’s warning comes ahead of a crisis summit of Eurozone leaders in Brussels tonight amid warnings from Germany that the single currency could ‘blow apart’ if Greece is allowed to blackmail the rest of the Eurozone.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were locked in a bitter stand-off ahead of yet another bid by eurozone leaders to prevent the debt-ridden state crashing out of the single currency. Athens yesterday extended its ‘bank holiday’ until at least Thursday after the ECB deferred a decision on whether to continue propping up the country’s financial institutions. But one American hedge fund, Balyasny, yesterday warned investors that Greek banks were on the verge of running dry, leaving the country 48 hours from civil unrest. Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, Mr Hague hit out at European leaders for pushing ahead with the single currency despite warnings that it would trap some countries in permanent recession.

In May 1998 Mr Hague used a speech to warn that some countries in the Euro would find themselves ‘trapped in a burning building with no exits’. The then Tory leader predicted ‘wage cuts, tax hikes, and the creation of vicious unemployment blackspots’. Speaking today Mr Hague said: ‘I hope the Eurozone leaders meeting today will remember that those of us who criticised the euro at its creation were correct in our forecasts. ‘Otherwise they risk adding to the monumental errors of judgement, analysis and leadership made by their predecessors in 1998.’

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“China has more than 120 times the population of Greece..”

Greece ‘A Sideshow To China Meltdown’ (HuffPo)

As the Greek debt drama plays itself out one 60-euro withdrawal at a time, some economic observers are saying the world is paying attention to the wrong crisis. That’s because in the space of three weeks, China’s Shanghai Composite stock index has lost nearly 30% of its value, wiping out some $2.3 trillion U.S. in wealth. As Bloomberg News put it, that’s a loss of $1 billion for every minute of trading. Regulators have halted trading in more than 700 listed companies, and at least two dozen IPOs have been cancelled. And some economists fear the country’s response to the downturn could be worse than the stock market crash itself.

“China could well be setting the stage for another financial time bomb to match its local government debt and real estate bubbles,” said Sherry Cooper, the former chief economist at the Bank of Montreal, in a note issued Tuesday. She described the Greek crisis as a “sideshow” to the real drama unfolding in China. “China has more than 120 times the population of Greece and is the second largest economy in the world, dominating demand for natural resources,” writes Cooper, who is now chief economist at Dominion Lending Centres. It’s that demand for natural resources that makes China very important to Canada’s economy, even if the two countries’ trade relationship isn’t that large.

By largely determining demand for natural resources, China effectively sets the prices Canada gets for its resources on global markets. And China’s crash is already having an impact on Canada, Cooper said in an email to HuffPost. “It has already led to lower commodity prices and therefore further damaged the resource sector of our stock market,” she said. “Today’s very weak trade figures reflect the slowdown in energy exports. Not good news for the Canadian economy.”

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“They just didn’t want us to sign. They had already decided to push us out..”

Europe Is Blowing Itself Apart Over Greece, Nobody Seems Able To Stop It (AEP)

Like a tragedy from Euripides, the long struggle between Greece and Europe’s creditor powers is reaching a cataclysmic end that nobody planned, nobody seems able to escape, and that threatens to shatter the greater European order in the process. Greek premier Alexis Tsipras never expected to win Sunday’s referendum on EMU bail-out terms, let alone to preside over a blazing national revolt against foreign control. He called the snap vote with the expectation – and intention – of losing it. The plan was to put up a good fight, accept honourable defeat, and hand over the keys of the Maximos Mansion, leaving it to others to implement the June 25 “ultimatum” and suffer the opprobrium. This ultimatum came as a shock to the Greek cabinet.

They thought they were on the cusp of a deal, bad though it was. Mr Tsipras had already made the decision to acquiesce to austerity demands, recognizing that Syriza had failed to bring about a debtors’ cartel of southern EMU states and had seriously misjudged the mood across the eurozone. Instead they were confronted with a text from the creditors that upped the ante, demanding a rise in VAT on tourist hotels from 7pc (de facto) to 23pc at a single stroke. Creditors insisted on further pension cuts of 1pc of GDP by next year and a phase out of welfare assistance (EKAS) for poorer pensioners, even though pensions have already been cut by 44pc. They insisted on fiscal tightening equal to 2pc of GDP in an economy reeling from six years of depression and devastating hysteresis.

They offered no debt relief. The Europeans intervened behind the scenes to suppress a report by the IMF validating Greece’s claim that its debt is “unsustainable”. The IMF concluded that the country not only needs a 30pc haircut to restore viability, but also €52bn of fresh money to claw its way out of crisis. They rejected Greek plans to work with the OECD on market reforms, and with the International Labour Organisation on collective bargaining laws. They stuck rigidly to their script, refusing to recognise in any way that their own Dickensian prescriptions have been discredited by economists from across the world. “They just didn’t want us to sign. They had already decided to push us out,” said the now-departed finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

So Syriza called the referendum. To their consternation, they won, igniting the great Greek revolt of 2015, the moment when the people finally issued a primal scream, daubed their war paint, and formed the hoplite phalanx. Mr Tsipras is now trapped by his success. “The referendum has its own dynamic. People will revolt if he comes back from Brussels with a shoddy compromise,” said Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP. “Tsipras doesn’t want to take the path of Grexit, but I think he realizes that this is now what lies straight ahead of him,” he said.

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Whatever.

ECB Adds ‘Moral Hazard’ To Emergency Liquidity Assistance Rules (BBG)

The European Central Bank warned that “moral hazard” could be a reason to object to the emergency liquidity assistance it allows lenders to access, just a day after it tightened conditions on the aid for Greece. The Eurosystem’s functioning could be disrupted by “provision of ELA at overly generous conditions, which, in turn, could increase the risk of moral hazard on the side of financial institutions or responsible authorities,” the ECB said in a document published on its website Tuesday. “The objective of ELA is to support solvent credit institutions facing temporary liquidity problems. It is not a monetary-policy instrument.”

The document on the ECB’s financial-risk management clarifies the conditions surrounding emergency bank aid at a time when policy makers are restricting the provision of such funding to Greek banks. The reference to moral hazard indicates that officials are worried that bending the liquidity rules for Greece, as the country heads for a possible default, may lead future recipients to act less responsibly. On Monday, the ECB increased the discounts on collateral for lenders receiving ELA from the Bank of Greece. That makes it more difficult for banks to access the funds that have kept them alive as deposit withdrawals accelerated amid uncertainty over the country’s place in the euro. While the risk of ELA is nominally borne by the national central bank that provides it, the Frankfurt-based ECB has broad discretion over the terms. The new document didn’t specify what would quantify “overly generous” provision.

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More left wing.

New Greek Finance Minister Is A Change Of Style, Not Substance (Reuters)

Euclid Tsakalotos, the mild-tempered professor who was appointed as Greece’s new finance minister on Monday, is a clear change in style from his combative predecessor Yanis Varoufakis.The 55-year-old Tsakalotos studied at prestigious private London school St Paul’s and at Oxford University, speaks Greek with a British accent and rarely appears in public, let alone wearing the torso-hugging T-shirts Varoufakis favors.But if European officials expect Athens’ new finance chief, who has already been a key negotiator in drawn-out meetings between the Greek government and creditors, to take a softer approach in the substance of new talks, they can think again.

As the brainchild of Syriza’s economic thinking, Tsakalotos is likely to redouble efforts to put one of the most contentious issues in the five months of financial aid negotiations between Greece and its creditors — debt relief — back on the table. In a news conference after being sworn in, Tsakalotos said he was anxious about the task before him. “I cannot hide from you that I am quite nervous. I am not taking on this job at the easiest point in Greek history,” he said. But the minister, who sat beside his predecessor, said he was keen to restart talks with European partners, in order to act on a decision taken by Greeks in a Sunday referendum to reject previous terms offered by creditors in exchange for aid.

“We want to continue discussions, to take this mandate given to us by the Greek people [to strive] for something better…for all these people who have been suffering so much.” Tsakalotos, who co-authored a book with Greek central bank governor Yannis Stournaras, has been dubbed in leftist jargon a “Revolutionary Europeanist” — an economist who supports European Union integration, but not its capitalist principles. Like Varoufakis, Tsakalotos has often decried Europe for big democratic deficiencies and argued that ill-guided fiscal austerity imposed by the core of the euro zone has unnecessarily impoverished Greece and other countries on the periphery.

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Not going to listen.

Prominent Economists Urge Merkel To Change Course On Greek Crisis (Reuters)

Prominent economists called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to change her policy course and stop “force-feeding” the Greek people “never-ending austerity” in an open letter published in leading European newspapers on Tuesday. “The medicine prescribed by the German finance ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease,” the economists wrote in an open letter to Merkel published on the website of Germany’s Tagesspiegel. “Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger,” they said in the letter, which will also appear in France’s Le Monde and in English in The Guardian and The Nation.

“Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.” At an emergency eurozone summit on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launched a desperate bid to win fresh aid from skeptical creditors. But Merkel, under domestic pressure to take a hard line on Greece, has made it clear that it is up to Tsipras to put forward credible proposals before negotiations with Athens can reopen.

The open letter, which was signed by Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Jeffrey D. Sachs from Columbia University among others, urged Merkel to make concessions towards Greece. “To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear: we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world.” “History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.”

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Morally.

The Troika Is Politically Bankrupt (Monbiot)

Greece may be financially bankrupt, but the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers, powers of the kind now afflicting us all. Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors. Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped.

Consider the ECB. Like most other central banks, it enjoys “political independence”. This does not mean that it is free from politics, only that it is free from democracy. It is ruled instead by the financial sector, whose interests it is constitutionally obliged to champion through its inflation target of around 2%. Ever mindful of where power lies, it has exceeded this mandate, inflicting deflation and epic unemployment on poorer members of the eurozone. The Maastricht treaty, establishing the European Union and the euro, was built on a lethal delusion: a belief that the ECB could provide the only common economic governance that monetary union required. It arose from an extreme version of market fundamentalism: if inflation were kept low, its authors imagined, the magic of the markets would resolve all other social and economic problems, making politics redundant. Those sober, suited, serious people, who now pronounce themselves the only adults in the room, turn out to be demented utopian fantasists, votaries of a fanatical economic cult.

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“..the troika has been “mak[ing] an example of Greece” for at least five years.”

NY Times Urges the Troika to “Make an Example of Greece” (Bill Black)

It is often the moral and economic blindness of New York Times articles about the EU crisis that is most striking. The newest entry in this field is entitled “Now Europe Must Decide Whether to Make an Example of Greece.” That is a chilling phrase most associated in our popular culture with a Consigliere and his Don deciding whether to order a mob “hit.” It is, therefore, fitting (albeit over the top) as a criticism of the troika’s economic, political, and propaganda war against the Greek people. Except that the article is actually another salvo in that war. Let’s start with the obvious – except to the NYT. “Europe” isn’t “decid[ing]” anything. The troika is making the decisions.

More precisely, it is the CEOs of the elite German corporations and banks that direct the troika’s policies that are making the decisions. The troika simply implements those decisions. The troika consists of the ECB, the IMF, and the European Commission. None of these three entities represents “Europe.” None of them will hold a democratic referendum of the peoples of “Europe” to determine policies. Indeed, they are apoplectic that the Greek government dared to ask the people of Greece through a democratic process whether to give in to the troika’s latest efforts to extort the Greek government to inflict ever more destructive and economically illiterate malpractice on the Greek people.

Second, the troika has been “mak[ing] an example of Greece” for at least five years. It extorted Greece to inflict the economic malpractice of austerity in response to a Great Recession. The result was just what economists warned – Greece was forced, gratuitously, into worse-than-Great Depression levels of unemployment that persist today seven years after Lehman’s collapse. In this process, the troika blocked a prior referendum proposed by Greece’s Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou in late 2011 and forced him to resign for daring to propose democratic decision-making. Read the Guardian’s risible account of the 2010 coup that the troika engineered in Greece for an unintended insight as to how the UK’s “New Labour” Party has become an anti-labor party of austerity and “aspirational” hostility to efforts to contain the City of London’s criminal culture.

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“Nominal growth of around 2% annually would be enough to stabilise Greek sovereign debt as a share of GDP.”

Austerity Is Not The Solution To The Greek Crisis (Callam Pickering)

Due to earlier debt restructuring, official statistics in Greece vastly overstate its effective debt burden. As a result, Greece’s debt repayments should be manageable provided the European Union and the IMF can devise a reform package that enables the Greece economy to grow at a modest pace. Unfortunately, in the current political environment – which continues to favour harsh austerity over economic growth – it appears as though Greece will need to default or leave the euro before its economy can return to any sense of normality. Government debt in Greece officially sits at around 180% of nominal GDP. Due to earlier debt restructuring, however, effective government debt is functionally much lower.

This has occurred via two distinct channels: the decision by private creditors to accept significant haircuts on existing debt during 2012 and the significant rise in the average maturity of Greek government debt. Average maturity on existing sovereign debt is now around 16 years, double that of Germany and Italy. Further restructuring, assuming that there isn’t a Greek exit, could see the average maturity increase to between 20 and 25 years. As a result, the interest burden on existing government debt in Greece has fallen to 4% of nominal GDP (down from over 7% in 2011), which is considerably lower than the interest burden in both Italy and Portugal. Interest payments in Greece are just 2.2% of outstanding sovereign debt.

By comparison, interest payments in Spain and Italy are estimated at 3.4% and 3.6% of government debt, respectively. The ratio for Greece has declined by two-thirds since 2011. The key difference between Greece and these other countries is that Greece remains firmly in a state of economic depression. Harsh austerity measures have undermined its productive capacity, killed off its banking sector and made it almost impossible for the region to recover in any meaningful sense. The solution to Greece’s problems almost certainly requires a combination of further debt restructuring, growth enhancing reforms, and fiscal or monetary stimulus. Austerity isn’t the answer and will achieve little more than prolonging Greece’s financial and economic crisis.

Nominal growth of around 2% annually would be enough to stabilise Greek sovereign debt as a share of GDP. Growth beyond that would see their debt burden gradually decline towards more normal levels. Unfortunately, the ECB and the troika continue to assume that Greek government debt really does sit at 180% of nominal GDP. They continue to assume that the interest burden of Greece exceeds that of other member countries. In doing so they have done irreparable damage to the Greek economy. In blindly pursuing the interests of private and sovereign creditors, they have all but ensured that Greece will eventually default on their debt and leave the euro.

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Yeah, why not another ultimatum?!

Lenders Give Greece Until Sunday To Avoid Grexit (AFP)

European leaders gave debt-stricken Greece a final deadline of Sunday to reach a new bailout deal and avoid crashing out of the euro, after Greek voters rejected international creditors’ plans in a weekend referendum. In the first step of its renewed bid for funding, Greece’s leftist government must submit detailed reform plans by Thursday, EU President Donald Tusk said after eurozone leaders held an emergency summit with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. All 28 European Union leaders will then examine the plans on Sunday in a make-or-break summit that will either save Greece’s moribund economy or leave it to its fate. “Tonight I have to say loud and clear – the final deadline ends this week,” Tusk told a news conference.

“Inability to find an agreement may lead to bankruptcy of Greece and insolvency of its banking system,” he added. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned “we have a Grexit scenario prepared in detail” if Greece failed to reach a deal, although he insisted he wanted Athens to stay in the euro club. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile warned Greece would need a debt program lasting “several years” and insisted writing off any of Greece’s €320 billion debt mountain was out of the question. The deadline came after Tsipras and his new finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos came to Brussels to discuss the fall-out from the dramatic referendum. Greeks voted by 61% to reject creditor demands for more austerity in return fresh EU-IMF bailout funds.

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From his book, 2011.

Merkel’s Buttons (Yanis Varoufakis)

Picture the scene when a sheepish finance minister enters the chancellor’s Berlin office bearing a control panel featuring one yellow and one red button, and telling her that she must choose to press one or the other. This is how he explains what each button will do:

The red button If you press it, chancellor, the euro crisis ends immediately, with a general rise in growth throughout Europe, a sudden collapse of debt for each member state to below its Maastricht limit, no pain for Greek citizens (or for the Italians, Portuguese, etc), no guarantees for the periphery’s debts (states or banks) to be provided by German and Dutch taxpayers, interest rate spreads below 3% throughout the eurozone, a diminution in the eurozone’s internal imbalances, and a wholesale rise in aggregate investment.

The yellow button If you press it, chancellor, the situation in the eurozone remains more or less as it is for a decade. The euro crisis continues to bubble along, albeit in a controlled fashion. While the probability of a break-up, which will be a calamity for Germany, remains non-trivial, the chances are that, if you push the yellow button, the eurozone will not break up (with a little help from the ECB), German interest rates will remain extremely low, the euro will be nicely depressed (‘nicely’ from the perspective of German exporters), the periphery’s spreads will be sky-high (but not explosive), Italy and Spain will enter deeper into a debt-deflationary spiral that sees to a reduction of their national income by 15% over the next three years, France shall slip steadily into quasi-insolvency, GDP per capita will rise slowly in the surplus countries and fall precipitously in the periphery.

As for the first “fallen” nations (Greece, Ireland and Portugal), they shall become little Latvias, or indeed Kosovos: devastated lands (after the loss of between 25% and 40% of national income, a massive exodus of their skilled labour) on which our people will holiday and buy cheap real estate. In aggregate, if you choose the yellow button, chancellor, eurozone unemployment will remain well above UK and US levels, investment will be anaemic, growth negative and poverty on the up and up. Which button do you think, dear reader, the chancellor would want to push?

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“Anti-establishment voters are always underrepresented in establishment polls.”

Politics Always Trumps Economics (Ben Hunt)

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.
– Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)

In 1914, Europe had arrived at a point in which every country except Germany was afraid of the present, and Germany was afraid of the future.
– Sir Edward Grey (1862 – 1933)

Last week’s email, “1914 is the New Black”, was the most widely read Epsilon Theory note to date, and given the weekend ’s events it bears repeating, as the echoes of 1914 are growing louder and louder. We are, I think, likely embarked on the death spiral phase of a game of Chicken, just as in the summer of 1914. The stakes are, for now at least, not nearly as cataclysmic today as they were a century ago, but the social and political dynamics are eerily alike. I’m often asked how to get a better take on a historical event like the lead-up to World War I, and the answer is that there’s no substitute for immersing yourself in what people were actually saying and writing at the time the events transpired.

If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll pick a period that also attracted the attention of a gifted historian like a Robert Caro or a David McCullough. Second best, I’ve found, is to find a gifted editor or anthologist to smooth the path a bit. One such anthologist is Peter Vansittart, who collected a wide range of original texts in his classic books, “Voices: 1870 – 1914” and “Voices from the Great War”. I’ve taken some of those texts and appended them below. They speak for themselves, I hope, to illustrate the defining characteristic of a spiraling game of Chicken – all sides begin to speak in terms of “having no choice” but to take aggressive actions to defend their own interests. Before the quotes, though, three other historical observations:

• The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia – long seen as the proximate cause of World War I – was accepted by the Serbian government almost in its entirety. Unfortunately, that “almost” part made all the difference. An important anecdote to remember the next time someone calls your attention to Tsipras’s acceptance of 90% of the Eurogroup reform ultimatum.

• Anti-establishment voters are always underrepresented in establishment polls. Noted segregationist and Alabama governor George Wallace won the 1972 Democratic Party primary in Michigan despite showing third in polls. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista regime lost the 1990 Nicaraguan election by 10 percentage points to Violeta Chamorro despite leading by more than 10 points in every pre-election poll. The Syriza NO landslide was no surprise here, and this is an important phenomenon to keep in mind when you start to see opinion polls from Italy and France published over the next few days.

• Politics always trumps economics. My favorite 1914 quote in this regard is from Lord Cunliffe, governor of the Bank of England from 1913 – 1918, who famously declared that war was impossible because “The Germans haven’t the credits.” So what if Greek banks run out of euros? The Greek government will make their own, or maybe issue California-style IOUs and dare the Eurogroup to boot them out of the currency. If you think that an ECB squeeze can put this political genie back in the bottle, you’re making the same classic error as Walter Cunliffe did.

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Petty personal politics.

Greece creditors Will Gain Nothing From Toppling Europe-Lover Varoufakis (AEP)

Yanis Varoufakis was sacrificed to placate the European creditor powers. Germany let it be known that there could be no possible hope of an accord on bail-out conditions as long as this wild spirit remained finance minister of Greece. In a moment of condign fury, Mr Varoufakis had accused EMU leaders of “terrorism”, responsible for deliberately precipitating the collapse of the banks in one of its own member states. (This is objectively true, of course) “I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride,” he signed off in his parting shot, ‘Minister no More’. It is an odd end to the ‘OXI’ landslide in the referendum, a 61pc stunner that seemed at first sight to be a vindication of Syriza’s defiant stand over the last six months.

He had looked like the hero of the hour threading through ecstatic crowds in Syntagma Square in the final rally. Fate plays its tricks. “Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners,’ for my … ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the prime minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today.” His sacking is a paradox. He is the most passionate pro-European in the upper reaches of the Syriza movement, perhaps too much so since he thought it his mission to rescue the whole of southern Europe from ‘fiscal waterboarding’ and smash the 1930s contractionary regime of Wolfgang Schauble’s monetary union for benefit of mankind.

But then he was starting to harbour ‘dangerous’ thoughts. When I asked him before the vote whether he was prepared to contemplate seizing direct control of the Greek banking system, a restoration of sovereign monetary instruments, Grexit, and a return to the drachma — if the ECB maintains its liquidity blockade, forcing the country to its knees – he thought for a while and finally answered yes. “I am sick of these bigots,” he said. His fear was that Greece did not have the technical competence to carry out an orderly exit from EMU, and truth be told, Syriza has already raided every possible source of funds within the reach of the Greek state – bar a secret stash still at the central bank, controlled by Syriza’s political foes – and therefore has no emergency reserves to prevent the crisis spinning out of control in the first traumatic weeks.

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Great timing….

Washington Calls For Flexibility On Greece (Leigh)

For the United States, Greece is a valued NATO ally and a land of relative stability, between the faltering Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. Its strategic importance throughout the Mediterranean has increased following the failure of the Arab uprisings and the falling-out of two US allies, Turkey and Israel. Greece’s cooperation is crucial in counter-terrorism and in efforts to cope with the flow of refugees from Syria and the Horn of Africa. It has become a security partner for Israel, a relationship reflected in growing links between the Greek and Jewish communities in the United States. The United States has an interest in Europe’s drive for greater energy security and diversification of supply away from Russia.

Greece aspires to an important role in Europe’s energy security through its own offshore exploration for oil and gas and potential future production and through new interconnectors to the Balkans and up into central Europe. Overall, the “Europeanization” of Greece has saved it from the tribulations of its Balkan neighbors. Much would be lost for the Greek people, the region, the EU, and the United States if Greece became a failed state in an increasingly troubled neighborhood. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to seduce wayward European states might then have greater success.

Against this background, US President Barack Obama and senior administration officials have repeatedly urged the ECB, the European Commission, and the IMF to show greater flexibility to reach an agreement with Greece. Cabinet members have made dozens of phone calls urging compromise. While the president has not publicly taken a position on the Greek referendum and its implications, he observed earlier this year that “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” A senior White House official has called for a socially just solution. Clearly the administration would prefer less draconian demands by the creditors but is sensitive to possible accusations of interference.

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Always a good idea.

Want To Help Greece? Go There On Holiday (Alex Andreou)

Covering the Greek crisis for the past few months, the question I am asked most commonly is: “Why won’t Greece just stop whining and pay its debts?” It is quite depressing to realise there are so many people out there who think there is a mattress somewhere in Greece stuffed with a trillion euros, which we are refusing to hand over simply out of radical leftism. The second most commonly asked question, however, cheers me up significantly: “Is there any way we can help?” There is: visit Greece. The weather is just as stunning as it ever was this time of year; the archaeological sites just as interesting; the beaches just as magical; the food just as heart-healthy. The prices are significantly cheaper than usual. It is one of those rare everybody-wins situations.

The people are even more welcoming, more hospitable and more grateful than ever. The reaction to difficulty has been a broader smile, a wider embrace. We understand that you have a choice and we understand why you have chosen Greece right now. Tourism is liquidity. Tourism is solidarity. If you are thinking of helping my country in this way, there are ways to do so perfectly safely and to maximise the benefit. It is important to say that there has been no violence, at all, anywhere. And whenever there has been any trouble in the past, it has always confined itself in a very small and easily avoidable area, in the very centre of Athens. If you are feeling even a little nervous about it, plenty of airlines fly directly to dozens of resorts and stunning, out-of-the-way destinations.

A British friend, Kris, who just came back from Athens, says: “It would be very easy not to know that anything was even going on … There were some queues at ATMs, but no more than in the centre of London during a busy weekend. There is no rationing or shortages. The only exception was the night of the rival rallies, for Yes and Oxi; I was absolutely amazed that they were held less than half a mile apart and there was no trouble whatsoever. From our hotel terrace, it was like listening to democracy in stereo … I would go back in a heartbeat.”

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Great Steve.

Steve Keen and Max Keiser (RT)

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss the Greek referendum results, financial terrorism and bail-in fears induced velocity of money. In the second half, Max interviews Professor Steve Keen about the Greek ‘OXI’ (No) vote and the dictatorship of the ECB.

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Jun 302015
 
 June 30, 2015  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain The new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge over the East River, NYC 1909

Who Will Dare Say Out Loud ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’? (Irish Times)
A New Mode of Warfare (Michael Hudson)
Greece Threatens Top Court Action To Block Grexit (AEP)
Alexis Tsipras Must Be Stopped: The Underlying Message Of Europe’s Leaders (G.)
Where Is My European Union? (Alex Andreou)
Milton Friedman Predicted Euro Would Be A Disaster (Vox)
The Awesome Gratuitousness of the Greek Crisis (Krugman)
Krugman’s Right: The Euro Was The Original Mistake, Vote No (Tim Worstall)
Stiglitz: Troika Caused Greek Recession, Has “Criminial Responsibility” (Time)
Europe’s Attack On Greek Democracy (Joseph Stiglitz)
As Crisis Deepens, Eurozone Critics Are Vocal (WSJ)
Europe’s Dream Is Dying In Greece (Gideon Rachman)
Will Syriza’s Last Desperate Gamble Pay Off? (Paul Mason)
A Fight Between The Greeks And Europe’s Cruel Capitalism (Chakrabortty)
A European Tyranny? (Jacques Sapir)
The Road To Grexit And Beyond (Wolfgang Münchau)
Greek BofA Strategist Sees Humanitarian Disaster Looming (Bloomberg)
Puerto Rico Has No Easy Path Out of Debt Crisis (WSJ)
China’s Stocks Post Biggest Gain Since 2009 as Volatility Soars (Bloomberg)

“The Pride of Europe”, just another story.

Who Will Dare Say Out Loud ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’? (Irish Times)

In a normal democracy, urgent questions are asked when the prime minister says things that are wildly untrue. Was he lying or deluded? Which of these possibilities is more alarming? If he was lying, had he never heard of Google? If he genuinely didn’t know what the Government has been up to, why is he in government? But we don’t bother to ask these questions about St Enda’s extraordinary epistle to the Athenians last week, when he urged Greece to follow Ireland : “in Ireland’s case we did not increase income tax; we did not increase VAT; we did not increase PRSI”. Each of these claims is flatly wrong: all three taxes were very substantially increased, both by the present and previous governments But this truth is utterly irrelevant. Why? Because we all know that the Taoiseach wasn’t making a statement about reality.

He was telling a story. At some point in our lives – usually when we’re three or four – we all ask the question: “Daddy, did this really happen or is it a makey-up story?” And once we know which is which, we’re okay with it. And by now, we’re more or less okay with the fact that Ireland’s primary presence on the European stage is as a makey-up story. We don’t live in a country; we live in a narrative, a tale with no more truth content than Cinderella and considerably less than “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Our current story is called, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, “the pride of Europe”. Of course this doesn’t mean that Europe is proud that we’ve almost doubled consistent child poverty, or that we keep centenarians for days on hospital trollies or that basic services like clinics for sufferers of rheumatic diseases are simply disappearing or that we’ve been left with unpayable public debt.

It surely doesn’t mean that Europe is proud that little Ireland was forced to bear the cost of a bank bailout put last week by Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank, at €100 billion and rising. At the level of reality, it doesn’t actually mean anything at all. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a harmless fiction. “The Pride of Europe” is a makey-up story that is intended to take the place of the realities it displaces. It’s not a stand-alone narrative. It has an evil twin: Greece. It belongs to a particular genre of fiction: the morality tale. Ireland is the pride of Europe because it is the anti-Greece. We are good because we play along with the bigger stories of the euro zone crisis. Greece is evil because it stopped doing so.

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Nice take: “By going through the sham negotiations with The Institutions, Syriza gave Greeks enough time to protect what savings and cash they had..”

A New Mode of Warfare (Michael Hudson)

By going through the sham negotiations with The Institutions, Syriza gave Greeks enough time to protect what savings and cash they had – by converting these bank deposits into euro notes, automobiles and “hard assets” (even boats). Businesses borrowed from local banks where they could, and moved their money into eurozone banks or even better, into dollar and sterling assets. Their intention is to pay back the banks in depreciated drachma, pocketing a 30% capital gain. What commentators miss is that Syriza (at least its left) wants to be transformative. It wants to free Greece from the post-military oligarchy that evades taxes and monopolizes the economy. And it wants to transform Europe, away from ECB austerity to create a real central bank. In the process, it demands a clean slate of past bad debts.

It wants to reject the IMF’s austerity philosophy and refusal to take responsibility for its bad 2010-12 bailout. This larger, transformative picture is at the center of Syriza-left plans. I’m in Germany now, and have heard from Germans that the Greeks are lazy and don’t pay taxes. There is little recognition that what they call “the Greeks” are really the oligarchs. They have gained control of the old coalition Pasok/New Democracy parties, avoided paying taxes, avoided being prosecuted (New Democracy refused to act on the “Lagarde List” of tax evaders with nearly €50 billion in Swiss bank accounts), orchestrated insider dealings to privatize infrastructure at corrupt prices, and used their banks as vehicles for capital flight and insider lending. This has turned the banks into vehicles for the oligarchy.

They are not public institutions serving the economy, but have starved Greek business for credit. So one casualty apart from the credibility of the eurozone, the ECB and the IMF will be these banks. Syriza is positioning itself to provide a public option – public banks that will promote the economy, and a national Treasury that will spend government money INTO the economy, not drain it to pay the Troika for having bailed out French and other banks back in 2010-1.

The European popular press is as bad as the U.S. press in describing matters. It warns of “hyperinflation” if a central bank monetizes as much as one euro of government spending in the way that the U.S. Fed does, or the bank of England or any other real central bank. The reality is that nearly all hyperinflations stem from a collapse of foreign exchange as a result of having to pay debt service. That was what caused Germany’s hyperinflation in the 1920s, not domestic German spending. It is what caused the Argentinean and other Latin American hyperinflations in the 1980s, and Chile’s hyperinflation earlier.

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Might have to try The Hague.

Greece Threatens Top Court Action To Block Grexit (AEP)

Greece has threatened to seek a court injunction against the EU institutions, both to block the country’s expulsion from the euro and to halt asphyxiation of the banking system. “The Greek government will make use of all our legal rights,” said the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. “We are taking advice and will certainly consider an injunction at the European Court of Justice. The EU treaties make no provision for euro exit and we refuse to accept it. Our membership is not negotiable,“ he told the Telegraph. The defiant stand came as Europe’s major powers warned in the bluntest terms that Greece will be forced out of monetary union if voters reject austerity demands in a shock referendum on Sunday.

“What is at stake is whether or not Greeks want to stay in the eurozone or want to take the risk of leaving,” said French president Francois Hollande. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor and Social Democrat leader, said the Greek people should have no illusions about the fateful choice before them. “It must be crystal clear what is at stake. At the core, it is a yes or no to remaining in the eurozone,” he said. Chancellor Angela Merkel – standing next to him after an emergency meeting of party leaders – was more oblique, but the message was much the same. She praised hard-liners in her own party and insisted that the eurozone cannot yield to any one country. “If principles are not upheld, the euro will fail,” she said.

The refusal to hold out an olive branch to Greece more or less guarantees that it will not repay a €1.6bn loan to the IMF on Tuesday, potentially setting off a domino effect of cross-default clauses and the biggest sovereign bankruptcy in history. Any request for an injunction against EU bodies at the European Court would be an unprecedented development, further complicating the crisis. Greek officials said they are seriously considering suing the ECB itself for freezing emergency liquidity for the Greek banks at €89bn. It turned down a request from Athens for a €6bn increase to keep pace with deposit flight. This effectively pulls the plug on the Greek banking system. Syriza claims that this is a prima facie breach of the ECB’s legal duty to maintain financial stability.

“How can they justify setting off a run on the Greek banking system?” said one official. Mr Varoufakis said Greece has enough liquidity to keep going until the referendum but acknowledged that capital controls introduced over the weekend were making life difficult for Greek companies. Money is being rationed by an emergency payments committee made up of the key agencies and the banks. “We are having to prioritize spending,” he said. The one-week closure of the Greek banks and the drastic escalation of the crisis over the weekend caught investors by surprise. Most had assumed that a deal was in the works.

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The mind of a psychopath.

Alexis Tsipras Must Be Stopped: The Underlying Message Of Europe’s Leaders (G.)

One day before Greece’s bailout ends and the country’s financial lifeline melts away, Europe’s big guns have lined up one after another to tell the Greeks unequivocally that voting no in Sunday’s referendum means saying goodbye to the euro. There was no mistaking the gravity of the situation now facing both Greece and Europe on Monday. Leaders were by turns ashen-faced, resigned, desperate and pleading with Athens to think again and pull back from the abyss. There were also bitter attacks on Alexis Tsipras, the young Greek prime minister whose brinkmanship has gone further than anyone believed possible and left the eurozone’s leaders reeling. One measure of the seriousness of the situation could be gleaned from the leaders’ schedules.

In Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London, a chancellor, two presidents and a prime minister convened various meetings of cabinet, party leaders and top officials devoted solely to Greece. The French president, François Hollande, was to the fore. “It’s the Greek people’s right to say what they want their future to be,” he said. “It’s about whether the Greeks want to stay in the eurozone or take the risk of leaving.” Athens insists that this is not what is at stake in the highly complicated question the Greek government has drafted for the referendum, but Berlin, Paris and Brussels made plain that the 5 July vote will mean either staying in the euro on their tough terms or returning to the drachma.

In what was arguably the biggest speech of his career, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared before a packed press hall in Brussels against a giant backdrop of the Greek and EU flags. He was impassioned, bitter and disingenuous in appealing to the Greek people to vote yes to the euro and his bailout terms, arguing that he and the creditors – rather than the Syriza government – had the best interests of Greeks at heart. Tsipras had lied to his people, deceived and betrayed Europe’s negotiators and distorted the bailout terms that were shredded when the negotiations collapsed and the referendum was called, he said.

“I feel betrayed. The Greek people are very close to my heart. I know their hardship … they have to know the truth,” he said. “I’d like to ask the Greek people to vote yes … no would mean that Greece is saying no to Europe.” In a country where an estimated 11,000 people have killed themselves during the hardship wrought by austerity, Juncker offered unfortunate advice. “I say to the Greeks, don’t commit suicide because you’re afraid of dying,” he said.

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Great piece.

Where Is My European Union? (Alex Andreou)

Last winter, I stood outside the Opera House in the centre of Athens looking at the posters in the window. I was approached by a well-dressed and immaculately groomed elderly lady. I moved to the side. I thought she wanted to pass. She didn’t. She asked me for a few euros because she was hungry. I took her to dinner and, in generous and unsolicited exchange, she told me her story. Her name was Magda and she was in her mid-seventies. She had worked as a teacher all her life. Her husband had been a college professor and died “mercifully long before we were reduced to this state”, as she put it. They paid their tax, national insurance and pension contributions straight out of the salary, like most people.

They never cheated the state. They never took risks. They saved. They lived modestly in a two bedroom flat. In the first year of the crisis her widow’s pension top-up stopped. In the second and third her own pension was slashed in half. Downsizing was not an option – house prices had collapsed and there were no buyers. In the third year things got worse. “First, I sold my jewellery. Except this ring”, she said, stroking her wedding ring with her thumb. “Then, I sold the pictures and rugs. Then the good crockery and silver. Then most of the furniture. Now there is nothing left that anyone wants. Last month the super came and removed the radiators from my flat, because I hadn’t paid for communal fuel in so long. I feel so ashamed.”

I don’t know why this encounter should have shocked me so deeply. Poverty and hunger is everywhere in Athens. Magda’s story is replicated thousands of times across Greece. It is certainly not because one life is worth more than another. And yet there is something peculiarly discordant and irreconcilable about the “nouveau pauvres”, just like like there is about the nouveau riches. Most likely it shocked me because I kept thinking how much she reminded me of my mother. And, still, I don’t know whether voting “yes” or “no” will make life better or worse for her. I don’t know what Magda would vote either. I can only guess. What I do know, is that the encounter was the beginning of the end of my love affair with the European project. Because, quite simply, it is no longer my European Union.

It is Amazon’s and Starbucks’. It is the politicians’ and the IMF’s. But it is not mine. If belonging to the largest and richest trading bloc in the world cannot provide dinner for a retired teacher like her, it has no reason to exist. If a European Union which produces €28,000 of annual GDP for every single one of its citizens cannot provide a safety net for her, then it is profoundly wicked. If this is not a union of partners, but a gang of big players and small players, who cut the weakest loose at the first sign of trouble, then it is nothing. Each one of us will have to engage in an internal battle before Sunday’s referendum. I will be thinking of you, Magda, when I vote. It seems as honest a basis to make a decision as any.

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“Europe’s common market exemplifies a situation that is unfavorable to a common currency…”

Milton Friedman Predicted Euro Would Be A Disaster (Vox)

Milton Friedman might be best known today for his free-market political views. But some of his most important contributions to economics were in monetary policy. He explained the high inflation rates of the 1970s, and he was also an early and influential advocate of the system of floating exchange rates that we have today. So European policymakers would have done well to pay attention in 1997 when Friedman predicted that the euro would be a disaster. Eighteen years later, with Greece on the verge of a financial meltdown, his analysis looks prophetic:

Europe’s common market exemplifies a situation that is unfavorable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, whose residents speak different languages, have different customs, and have far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to the common market or to the idea of “Europe.” Despite being a free trade area, goods move less freely than in the United States, and so does capital.

The European Commission based in Brussels, indeed, spends a small fraction of the total spent by governments in the member countries. They, not the European Union’s bureaucracies, are the important political entities. Moreover, regulation of industrial and employment practices is more extensive than in the United States, and differs far more from country to country than from American state to American state. As a result, wages and prices in Europe are more rigid, and labor less mobile. In those circumstances, flexible exchange rates provide an extremely useful adjustment mechanism.

What Friedman means here is that if Greece still had the drachma, it could deal with its financial difficulties by devaluing the currency. A cheaper drachma would make Greek goods more attractive to foreigners, boosting exports and creating jobs. And a bit of inflation in Greece would help ease the country’s debt burden — not an ideal outcome, but better than the yearslong depression the country has suffered since the 2008 financial crisis. It’s much harder for an unemployed man in Greece to move to get a job in Germany than it is for somebody who loses his job in Pennsylvania to find work in Texas. So Greece’s unemployment rate has stayed disastrously high, even as other eurozone nations have enjoyed a robust recovery. Friedman concluded that the euro experiment would backfire:

The drive for the Euro has been motivated by politics not economics. The aim has been to link Germany and France so closely as to make a future European war impossible, and to set the stage for a federal United States of Europe. I believe that adoption of the Euro would have the opposite effect. It would exacerbate political tensions by converting divergent shocks that could have been readily accommodated by exchange rate changes into divisive political issues. Political unity can pave the way for monetary unity. Monetary unity imposed under unfavorable conditions will prove a barrier to the achievement of political unity.

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Now take that story to Washington, and tell them to wake up.

The Awesome Gratuitousness of the Greek Crisis (Krugman)

Barry Eichengreen asks himself why his influential analysis, suggesting that the euro was irreversible now appears wrong. Surely in a direct, mechanical sense what we’re seeing is the process I warned about five years ago: Think of it this way: the Greek government cannot announce a policy of leaving the euro — and I’m sure it has no intention of doing that. But at this point it’s all too easy to imagine a default on debt, triggering a crisis of confidence, which forces the government to impose a banking holiday — and at that point the logic of hanging on to the common currency come hell or high water becomes a lot less compelling. But doesn’t the ultimate cause lie in wild irresponsibility on the part of the Greek government? I’ve been looking back at the numbers, readily available from the IMF, and what strikes me is how relatively mild Greek fiscal problems looked on the eve of crisis.

In 2007, Greece had public debt of slightly more than 100% of GDP — high, but not out of line with levels that many countries including, for example, the UK have carried for decades and even generations at a stretch. It had a budget deficit of about 7% of GDP. If we think that normal times involve 2% growth and 2% inflation, a deficit of 4% of GDP would be consistent with a stable debt/GDP ratio; so the fiscal gap was around 3 points, not trivial but hardly something that should have been impossible to close. Now, the IMF says that the structural deficit was much larger — but this reflects its estimate that the Greek economy was operating 10% above capacity, which I don’t believe for a minute.

(The problem here is the way standard methods for estimating potential output cause any large slump to propagate back into a reinterpretation of history, interpreting the past as an unsustainable boom.) So yes, Greece was overspending, but not by all that much. It was over indebted, but again not by all that much. How did this turn into a catastrophe that among other things saw debt soar to 170% of GDP despite savage austerity? The euro straitjacket, plus inadequately expansionary monetary policy within the eurozone, are the obvious culprits. But that, surely, is the deep question here. If Europe as currently organized can turn medium-sized fiscal failings into this kind of nightmare, the system is fundamentally unworkable.

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The EU was the original mistake.

Krugman’s Right: The Euro Was The Original Mistake, Vote No (Tim Worstall)

It’s not exactly a secret that Paul Krugman hasn’t been a great fan of the euro over the years. In fact, most economists haven’t been great fans of it: it has always been the political classes urging it on. So, the question now becomes, with the situation in Greece, what should be done next? And the answer is almost certainly to encourage a no vote at the upcoming referendum. That would seal the idea that Greece just will not continue within the eurozone and at that point we would almost certainly see signs of life in the Greek economy once again. And that is actually the aim of whatever policy is followed now. The heck with European unity and all that jazz: the task is to get some growth back into that Greek economy, get people back to work. Seriously, a 50% youth unemployment rate is evidence of little else than all out economic war. So, let’s stop doing that and go and do something useful and sensible instead. Here’s the opening of Krugman’s column:

It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency — above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union that, for example, ensures that when a housing bubble in Florida bursts, Washington automatically protects seniors against any threat to their medical care or their bank deposits.

Yep, entirely so, and many economists (and others, like myself) have been saying this all along. It doesn’t and didn’t matter how much people praised this idea of ever more Europe, the currency, as designed, was simply not going to work over the area it was planned to introduce it over. And it’s worth noting that there really were many economists who were saying this. Here’s a quite gorgeous paper from the European Commission. It’s from 2009, and it’s a look back at what American economists were saying about the euro from 1989 to 2002. The tone is most fun: they’re dancing along, tooting their horns, shouting that well, the Yankees didn’t think it would work! And yet here we are in 2009 and we’ve still got our lovely euro!

The euro: It can’t happen, It’s a bad idea, It won’t last.
– US economists on the EMU, 1989 – 2002

Schadenfreude on those celebrating their own schadenfreude is so much fun, isn’t it? We should note that Krugman was on the right side in all of this. And he also asks the right question: well, what should be done next?

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Now make that stick.

Stiglitz: Troika Caused Greek Recession, Has “Criminial Responsibility” (Time)

A few years ago, when Greece was still at the start of its slide into an economic depression, the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz remembers discussing the crisis with Greek officials. What they wanted was a stimulus package to boost growth and create jobs, and Stiglitz, who had just produced an influential report for the United Nations on how to deal with the global financial crisis, agreed that this would be the best way forward. Instead, Greece’s foreign creditors imposed a strict program of austerity. The Greek economy has shrunk by about 25% since 2010. The cost-cutting was an enormous mistake, Stiglitz says, and it’s time for the creditors to admit it.

“They have criminal responsibility,” he says of the so-called troika of financial institutions that bailed out the Greek economy in 2010 “It’s a kind of criminal responsibility for causing a major recession,” Stiglitz tells TIME in a phone interview. Along with a growing number of the world’s most influential economists, Stiglitz has begun to urge the troika to forgive Greece’s debt – estimated to be worth close to $300 billion in bailouts – and to offer the stimulus money that two successive Greek governments have been requesting. Failure to do so, Stiglitz argues, would not only worsen the recession in Greece – already deeper and more prolonged than the Great Depression in the U.S. – it would also wreck the credibility of Europe’s common currency, the euro, and put the global economy at risk of contagion.

So far Greece’s creditors have downplayed those risks. In recent years they have repeatedly insisted that European banks and global markets do not face any serious fallout from Greece abandoning the euro, as they have had plenty of time to insulate themselves from such an outcome. But Stiglitz, who served as the chief economist of the World Bank from 1997 to 2000, says no such firewall of protection can exist in a globalized economy, where the connections between events and institutions are often impossible to predict. “We don’t know all the linkings,” he says.

Many countries in Eastern Europe, for instance, are still heavily reliant on Greek banks, and if those banks collapse the European Union faces the risk of a chain reaction of financial turmoil that could easily spread to the rest of the global economy. “There is a lack of transparency in financial markets that makes it impossible to know exactly what the consequences are,” says Stiglitz. “Anybody who says they do obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

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On Europe’s democracy.

Europe’s Attack On Greek Democracy (Joseph Stiglitz)

The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics. Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018. Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands. We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies. But why would Europe do this? Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy? In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

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Numbers are rising, but timing is way off.

As Crisis Deepens, Eurozone Critics Are Vocal (WSJ)

With Greece on the brink of leaving the eurozone and global financial markets panicked by that prospect, eurozone policy makers can’t have expected favorable reviews Monday for their recent efforts. So they won’t have been surprised as a queue of academics formed to detail their failings. The ECB’s decision not to expand the emergency liquidity assistance given to Greek banks came in for particularly harsh criticism, as long-time critics of the policies pursued by the Troika in which it is joined by the IMF and EC lined up to claim vindication. The most stinging attack on the ECB came from Charles Wyplosz, professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva and a respected commentator on eurozone economic policy.

In a posting on the VoxEU blog run by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, Mr. Wyplosz argued the ECB had acted from political motives, and not for the first time. “No other central bank in the world tells its government what reforms it should conduct, nor how sharp should fiscal consolidating be,” he wrote. Mr. Wyplosz argued that one of the ECB’s key roles is to act as a lender of last resort to the eurozone’s banks, and in failing to do that it was “pushing Greece out of the eurozone.” “Politicians may debate about the wisdom of making Greece leave,” he wrote. “As non-elected officials, the people who sit on the Governing Board of the Eurosystem have no such mandate.”

Writing for Foreign Policy, the London School of Economics’ Philippe Legrain also saw the ECB’s decision as a “political move” in the service of “brutal power politics” that seeks to bypass democracy. “There is a chance that a resounding No vote in the referendum will bring the creditors to their senses,” Mr. Legrain wrote. “But if it doesn’t, default on the 3.5 billion euros due to the ECB on July 20 and leaving the euro is better than debt bondage.” Some U.S. observers joined the fray, penning unflattering assessments of the Troika’s track record. Writing for The Conversation, the University of California’s Barry Eichengreen was criticial of the Greek government’s decision to call a referendum as “a transparent effort to evade responsibility.”

But he had a harsher judgement to deliver. “Still, this incompetence pales in comparison with that of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF,” Mr. Eichengreen wrote, arguing their key mistake was to deny a debt restructuring in 2010, and once again earlier this year.

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Already has.

Europe’s Dream Is Dying In Greece (Gideon Rachman)

The shuttered banks of Greece represent a profound failure for the EU. The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity. Over the past 30 years Europe has embraced its own version of the “end of history”. It became known as the European Union. The idea was that European nations could consign the tragedies of war, fascism and occupation to the past. By joining the EU, they could jointly embrace a better future based on democracy, the rule of law and the repudiation of nationalism. As Lord Patten, a former EU commissioner, once boasted, the success of the union ensured that Europeans now spent their time “arguing about fish quotas or budgets, rather than murdering one another”.

When the Greek colonels were overthrown in 1974, Greece became the pioneer of a new model for Europe — in which the restoration of democracy at a national level was secured by a simultaneous application to join the European Economic Community (as it then was).
Greece became the 10th member of the European club in 1981. Its early membership of an EU that now numbers 28 countries is a rebuke to those who now claim it has always been a peripheral member. The model first established in Greece — democratic consolidation, secured by European integration — was rolled out across the continent over the next three decades. Spain and Portugal, which had also cast off authoritarian regimes in the 1970s, joined the EEC in 1986.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, almost all the countries of the former Soviet bloc followed the Greek model of linking democratic change at home to a successful application to join the EU. For the EU itself, Greek-style enlargement became its most powerful tool for spreading stability and democracy across the continent. As one Polish politician put it to me shortly before his country joined the EU: “Imagine there is a big river running through Europe. On one side is Moscow. On the other side is Brussels. We know which side of the river we need to be on.” That powerful idea — that the EU represented good government and secure democracy — has continued to resonate in modern Europe. It is why Ukrainian demonstrators were waving the EU flag when they overthrew the corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.

The danger now is that, just as Greece was once a trailblazer in linking a democratic transition to the European project, so it may become an emblem of a new and dangerous process: the disintegration of the EU. The current crisis could easily lead to the country leaving the euro and eventually the union itself. That would undermine the fundamental EU proposition: that joining the European club is the best guarantee of future prosperity and stability. Even if an angry and impoverished Greece ultimately remains inside the tent, the link between the EU and prosperity will have been ruptured. For the horrible truth is dawning that it is not just that the EU has failed to deliver on its promises of prosperity and unity. By locking Greece and other EU countries into a failed economic experiment — the euro — it is now actively destroying wealth, stability and European solidarity.

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Mason’s growing.

Will Syriza’s Last Desperate Gamble Pay Off? (Paul Mason)

But Syriza is different. Syriza is a coalition whose colours are red for socialism, green for ecology and purple for feminism. But it is primarily red. It was born out of Eurocommunism – when the communist parties of the west declared loyalty to parliamentary democracy instead of Moscow. Its most influential activists are aged 50 and above: people who have read all three volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital, plus the Grundrisse, Theories of Surplus Value and Friedrich Engels’ Anti-Dühring. A lot of them are MPs now, or special advisers: you’ll find them in greying huddles in their old haunts – the radical bars and cafes of Exarchia and Plaka. How this generation of Greek leftwingers broke out of isolation is of more than academic interest.

They have managed – for the first time in modern history – to form a government that defied the global finance system, and to do so with flair. Their strength was that they understood the significance of the youth revolts of 2008 and 2011. Some pitched their own tents in Syntagma Square and were tear-gassed out of it. But in the process, the party built something more official and resilient. Their weakness, it turns out, starts with Nicos Poulantzas. Poulantzas was a Greek intellectual of the new left who famously clashed with Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, in 1969 over the nature of the capitalist state. Miliband said the state was “capitalist” because personally controlled by the business elite. Poulantzas said the state was structurally capitalist – independent of the will of individuals.

Poulantzas evolved a dual strategy for the Greek left in the 1970s: first, to encircle the state with social movements, which were not to be controlled by any party but allowed to become expressions of popular democracy. And at the same time, to enter the state, democratise it and use it to pursue social justice. Poulantzas killed himself in 1979, but his ideas guided the precursor organisation to Syriza. Not many people remember now, but the party’s predecessor, Synaspismos, joined a short-lived coalition government with the conservatives in 1988, and a national government thereafter. In the runup to its election victory, Syriza got a chance to execute the Poulantzas strategy of the march through the state: it won the Euro elections and the vital prefecture of Attica, where its candidate was protest veteran Rena Dourou. Then it won state power – but that has turned out differently.

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“.. large swaths of the continent have fallen under the rule of institutions that find it almost impossible to deal with democracy.”

A Fight Between The Greeks And Europe’s Cruel Capitalism (Chakrabortty)

The incompatibles here are about as big as you get: the Greek people on one side, busted economics on the other. The irony is that if anyone was going to marry those incompatibles it was Tsipras. Despite it all, Syriza remains committed to the single currency, in a country that before the crisis ranked as among the most euro-enthusiastic of all the members. As in other European countries where national poverty is still recalled by grandparents, the Greek elite treats membership of the single currency almost as a badge of first-world status. When he was still an academic, Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, spent years figuring out ways to make European monetary union viable.

Whatever insults the northern European press might hurl, Syriza’s leading policymakers are euro-believers who have been forced into disillusionment. Last week the government offered a compromise deal to Greece’s creditors. It was “austerian” and “recessionary” – those words came from Varoufakis, the man who wrote it. Yet it was not austere enough for the creditors, who reportedly quibbled over Syriza’s plans to tax the rich. That was the final rupture. Less idealistic people than Tsipras and Varoufakis might have guessed at this outcome. Since the euro crisis broke out in 2010, large swaths of the continent have fallen under the rule of institutions that find it almost impossible to deal with democracy.

Most important are the ECB– unelected and almost totally unaccountable – and Juncker’s European commission: neither directly nor even indirectly answerable to the Greeks, Portuguese, Irish and Spanish who have lost jobs, wages and benefits at its command. The informal Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers is about as close to democracy as the system gets. As Fritz Scharpf, former head of the Max Planck institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, puts it: “The regime that has been established to rescue an over-extended and ill-designed monetary union is in fact jeopardising … democratic self-government in Europe.”

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Useful, but a bit all over the place. Translations get worse.

A European Tyranny? (Jacques Sapir)

The reaction of the Eurogroup which convened in Brussels on Saturday has consisted indeed in an action joining the most glaring illegality with the will to impose one’s views onto a sovereign State. In taking the decision to hold a reunion in the absence of a representative of the Greek state the Eurogroup has decided to exclude de facto Greece from the Euro. This constitutes evidently an abuse of power. We must here be reminded of several points which are not without consequences from the standpoint of the law as well as from the one of politics.

• There is no procedure presently in existence allowing to exclude a country from the Economic and Monetary Union (the real name of the « Eurozone »). If there can be separation, it can only occur in a common accord and on a friendly basis.

• The Eurogroup has no legal existence. It is only a « club » operating under cover of the European Commission and the European Council. This means that if the Eurogroup has committed an illegal action – and this seems to be the case – the responsibility for it is incumbent upon both of these institutions. The Greek government would therefore have grounds to attack the Commission and the Council both before the European Court of Justice as well as before the International Court in The Hague. Indeed, the European Union is at base an international organization. The rule in any international organization is the one of unanimity. True, the Treaty of Lisbon has foreseen mechanisms of a qualified majority, but these mechanisms do not apply to the Euro nor to the questions of fundamental relationships between the states.

• The coup de force – for this is what it is – which has been committed the Eurogroup, does not concern Greece alone. Other member countries of the European Union, think of Great Britain or Austria, could also sue before the European as well as the International court the de facto decision taken by the Eurogroup. In effect, the European Union rests on rules of law which apply to all. Any decision to violate these rules against one particular country constitutes a threat against all the members of the European Union.

We must therefore be clear. The decision taken by the Eurogroup could well signify, in time, the death of the EU. Either the European leaders, taking measure of the abuse of power which has been perpetrated, will decide to annul it or, if they persevere in this direction, they must expect an insurgency of the peoples, but also of the leaders of some of the states against the EU. One cannot see well how states which have just recovered their sovereignty, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, could accept such practices.

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Parallell currency seems certain. How about today?

The Road To Grexit And Beyond (Wolfgang Münchau)

When a shock you predicted actually happens, it still feels like a shock. Alexis Tsipras was right to walk away. But it was a momentous decision nevertheless when the Greek prime minister rejected an offer that would have allowed it to pay its debt to the IMF and the ECB. What I am struggling to understand is why he suddenly decided to call a referendum on whether to accept a bailout for next Sunday. There might be some super-smart strategy behind this beyond my capacity to comprehend. The problem with the referendum is that the offer on which the Greek people are asked to vote is no longer on the table. And the programme to which it relates expires tomorrow at midnight. Why should the Greeks vote Yes to a package the creditors themselves no longer support?

By far the biggest tactical error committed over the weekend, however, was the rejection by eurozone finance ministers of a five-day extension of the Greek bailout programme to beyond the referendum. With that decision, they foreclosed the only way to keep the show on the road. They have unwittingly strengthened the political argument of the Greek prime minister. He will now be able to say: first the creditors wanted to destroy the Greek economy with their austerity programme. And now they are hoping to destroy Greek democracy. To see where all this might be going, it is instructive to go through the various scenarios, eliminate the implausible and see what is left. If the Greek referendum on Sunday goes ahead and concludes in a No vote, Grexit probably beckons.

If the result is a Yes, there will be initial confusion. A vote to accept the bailout may be interpreted as a vote in favour of remaining in the eurozone. In that case I would expect the Greek government — whoever that may be after a Yes vote — to maintain the regime of capital controls and introduce a parallel currency, denominated in euros. A parallel currency scenario could split into three directions: Grexit within a short time; a regime where Greece defaults but maintains the capital controls indefinitely; and a scheme where the controls are eventually lifted and Greece remains in the eurozone. The latter would require a resolution for the Greek banks. That would be the ideal scenario but it is hard to do. Since the eurozone lacks a true banking union, the only route to bank recapitalisation would be through another round of negotiations between Greece and its creditors.

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Big risk.

Greek BofA Strategist Sees Humanitarian Disaster Looming (Bloomberg)

Athanasios Vamvakidis, Bank of America’s head of European currency strategy, is in a difficult spot: He advises clients from London on how to make money – or at least minimize losses – as his homeland unravels. His view: Greek banks will soon exhaust cash supplies, leading to shortages of imports including medicine unless the ECB expands assistance, he said in an interview. A July 5 referendum on austerity measures probably will usher in August elections and a potential new government. Then “the earliest Greece will get any new funding is September or later – in the meantime, the economy will collapse,” Vamvakidis said. “On a personal level, this is a very bad situation. And the worst is still ahead of us.”

To prevent a crisis, the ECB will have to boost the Emergency Liquidity Assistance program long beforehand, continuing to ensure Greek lenders have enough cash on hand, the strategist said. “Otherwise, you’ll have a humanitarian disaster,” he said. “People will start to be affected when they can’t withdraw their paychecks, when you start to see shortages because Greece imports many of its products. For instance medications are imported, some food items are imported.” Greece imposed emergency capital controls for its financial system early Monday, closing banks and financial markets after the announcement of the referendum fueled concern the country will exit the euro. Over the weekend, citizens lined up at ATMs to withdraw savings. They are now limited to €60 in daily withdrawals.

The referendum probably will result in a “yes” vote to proposed reforms as most Greeks want to remain part of the euro, Vamvakidis said. A “no” vote could result in bank failures as the ECB closes its emergency liquidity facility, he said. Without more ECB help, “banks will run out of money soon,” he said. “Within the limits, we will need more euro notes in Greece.”

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Greece 2 or Detroit 2?

Puerto Rico Has No Easy Path Out of Debt Crisis (WSJ)

Its economy has been mired in recession for years. The public is fed up with austerity. Investors want big premiums to lend to a government deep in debt, with no ability to devalue its currency. Greece? Try Puerto Rico, the U.S. commonwealth whose long-simmering debt crisis—its $72 billion debt equals nearly 70% of its economic output, far more than any U.S. state—is about to come to a boil. The commonwealth’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla, is expected to lay out in a speech on Monday next steps that could include calls for significant concessions from the island’s creditors, according to people familiar with the matter. The change in course for the central government comes months after it commissioned former IMF officials to draft a long-term plan for the commonwealth’s finances, which is expected to offer a grim assessment.

Credit-rating companies this week expect the island’s electricity provider, which has borrowed $9 billion, to miss a payment to creditors, in what would be one of the largest municipal defaults ever. Things don’t get better after that. Analysts believe the central government will run out of cash as soon as July, which could lead to a government shutdown, employee furloughs and other emergency measures. “This is going to be painful for the next two to three years,” said Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s Democratic representative in the U.S. House, in an interview. “The government is facing serious cash-flow issues.” Many analysts have concluded the island has more debt than it can afford to repay given its listless economy.

“It’s a Sisyphean task,” said Richard Ravitch, the former New York lieutenant governor who steered New York City’s financial restructuring in the 1970s and is currently advising Detroit. So how did the U.S. end up with its own version of Greece? Puerto Rico’s problems date to the end of the Cold War, when the U.S. began closing military bases on the island, whose residents have American citizenship but don’t pay federal tax on their local income. The expiration of corporate tax breaks in 2006 prompted an exodus of pharmaceutical and other manufacturers, nudging the island into a deep recession. As the economy has worsened, migration to the U.S. mainland has accelerated, further shrinking the tax base. Puerto Rico’s population has fallen 4.7% since 2010 to 3.5 million, a period when the U.S. overall grew 3%.

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Grandmas on quaaludes.

China’s Stocks Post Biggest Gain Since 2009 as Volatility Soars (Bloomberg)

Chinese stocks rallied, sparking the benchmark index’s biggest intraday swing since 1992, on speculation the government will take steps to prevent bear-market losses from deepening. The Shanghai Composite Index rose for the first in four days, jumping 5.5% to 4,277.22 at the close, the most since March 2009. The gauge swung 432 points from the highs and lows, propelling a volatility measure to a seven-year peak. An industry group representing brokerages called on investors and fund managers to take responsibility to stabilize the market after a weekend interest-rate cut failed to stem a rout.

“After the recent correction, investors might think stocks are oversold and hope regulators will introduce further measures to support the market,” said Shen Zhengyang, an analyst at Northeast Securities Co. in Shanghai. “The fund industry association’s remarks on stocks might also have boosted investor confidence.” Speculation is growing that policy makers are preparing support measures after the Shanghai Composite plunged more than 20% from a June 12 peak amid surging valuations and concern record high levels of borrowing to buy stocks were unsustainable.

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Jun 192015
 
 June 19, 2015  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain New York, suffragettes on way to Boston 1913

Are Surpluses Normal? (Steve Keen)
Greece Is Literally Dying To Leave The Euro (Daily Mail)
Eurozone Ministers Insist On ‘New Proposals’ For Greece Summit (AFP)
Greece’s Proposals to End the Crisis: My Eurogroup Intervention (Varoufakis)
ECB Meeting To Decide On €3.5 Billion Greek Emergency Funding (Guardian)
Greece Faces Banking Crisis After Eurozone Meeting Breaks Down (Guardian)
Why Greece Might Now Have The Upper Hand In Crunch Talks (Guardian)
Grexit Would Be ‘Beginning Of End’ For Eurozone, Greek PM Tsipras Says (AFP)
Euclid Tsakalotos: Greece’s Secret Weapon In Credit Negotiations (Guardian)
Would An Argentina-Style Cure Work For Greece? Probably Not (Guardian)
What Greece Can Learn From Iceland’s Banking Crisis (Independent)
Leaving Greece To Its Own Devices Is Not An Option (FT)
Portugal Says It Has Reserves to Face Financing Restrictions (Bloomberg)
If Greece And Russia Feel Humiliated, Europe Cannot Ignore That (Guardian)
Russia, Greece Sign Deal On Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline (RT)
Moscow Threatens Retaliation Over Belgian Seizure Of State Assets (RT)
‘True Friend Of Ukraine’ Tony Blair Tapped To Join Kiev Advisory Council (RT)
New Zealand Posts Weakest GDP Growth In Two Years (MarketWatch)
Pope Francis’s Climate Encyclical Will Launch A Revolution (Paul B. Farrell
The Green Pope: How Religion Can Do Economics A Favour (Guardian)

Another great explanation. Very simple to understand.

Are Surpluses Normal? (Steve Keen)

England’s Chancellor George Osborne took the Conservative Party’s claim to fiscal responsibility one step higher last week when he announced that they will enact a law which will require British governments to run surpluses “in normal times”: “in normal times, governments of the left as well as the right should run a budget surplus to bear down on debt and prepare for an uncertain future.” (“Mansion House 2015: Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer”) This begs the question, “what is normal?” Can a word like “normal” even be applied to something as volatile as the economy? If we’re honest, when we say “why can’t you just be normal?” to someone or about something, what we really mean is “why can’t you be the way I’d like you to be?”

So by “normal times”, the Chancellor really means “when things are really good”. In that sense, the ultimate “normal times” for the Western world were the years from the end of the Korean War until just before the OPEC Oil crisis—from 1954 until 1973. These were the socially tumultuous years from Happy Days and The Fonz, to the Beatles, the Vietnam War and the death of Jim Morisson. But they were also the years when the economy boomed, with the real rate of growth in America averaging 4% a year (I use US data in this post rather than British since key UK data from that time period isn’t available). Can you imagine how happy George Osborne would be to report a real rate of growth of 4% today? So 1954 until 1973 is the yardstick for “normal times” in the modern, post-World-War era. And in those normal times, the annual change in US government debt was normally plus 1.72% of GDP.

Yes, that’s right, the “normal thing” for the government during those Happy Days was to run a deficit of just under 2% of GDP. As Figure 1 shows, only once—for about 6 months during 1956—did government debt actually fall. But at the same time, government debt as a percentage of GDP did fall—from almost 70% at the start of Happy Days to just under 40% by 1973. How did that happen? Because the rate of growth of the economy exceeded the rate of growth of government debt. In other words, the causation seems to run, not from the government deciding to “fix the roof while the sun is shining”, but from the sun shining so much that no roof was needed.

There is also little support in this data for Osborne’s mantra “that the people who suffer when governments run unsustainable deficits are not the richest but the poorest”—that is, unless we take his cue from the qualifier “unsustainable” to consider that there may in fact be “sustainable deficits”. The only problem for Osborne is that it appears that sustainable deficits apply even during “normal”—read “good”—economic times.

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I suggest you read through this with care.

Greece Is Literally Dying To Leave The Euro (Daily Mail)

How does a nation die? This week, in the beleaguered hospitals of Athens, I saw a glimpse of the shocking answer. It is when its own people die in their thousands simply because the state cannot afford to heal them. In the Reichstag in Berlin, it is now said openly that Angela Merkel is ready to discuss putting Greece out if its misery – to let it ‘Grexit’ and parachute free of its colossal European debt, which could have a huge impact across the globe. Yet to pay down this debt, Greeks have been battered by austerity measures that make Labour complaints about Osborne’s cutbacks utterly laughable.

There is no greater metaphor for a country’s health than its own healthcare system. And it is only when you see for yourself the horrors convulsing Greece’s NHS that you realise just how insane it is for this once-proud nation to continue as it is. If it was your country, it would make you weep with pain and shame. In its overloaded hospital wards, I either saw or heard first-hand accounts of babies held hostage for payments and dying patients left unattended; of porters sent out as paramedics, patients told to bring their own sheets, brakes failing on ancient ambulances travelling at high speed and hospitals running out of drugs and dressings. Operating theatres have been shut and staff numbers slashed because there simply is no money left.

Five years ago, Greece spent £13 billion on the health of its 11 million population – above the European average. It is now spending about half this. Worse still, in the first four months of this year the 140 state hospitals received just £31 million, a 94% fall on the previous year. And to make matters even blacker, any reserves have just been taken back by the government in its desperate scramble for cash to pay public servants and international debts. There are claims of an astonishing three-year fall in a Greek person’s life expectancy in just five years since the country’s economy crashed. If confirmed, this would be without precedent in modern Europe. And the individual human stories are pitiful, verging on the macabre.

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These guts are nuts. They didn’t even discuss the latest Greek proposals on Thursday.

Eurozone Ministers Insist On ‘New Proposals’ For Greece Summit (AFP)

Eurozone ministers Friday insisted that an emergency leaders summit called to solve the Greece debt crisis required firm proposals by Athens in advance of the meeting. “Calling a summit that will not be prepared if there is no arrangement this weekend, I don’t find that very constructive,” said Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jorg Schelling arriving for a meeting with his EU counterparts. “We don’t know if Greece is going to make a move and make new proposals. Taking this to the political level, as Greece does, is obviously a double-edged sword,” he added.

EU President Donald Tusk called a summit of the leaders of the 19 eurozone countries Monday in Brussels after finance ministers Thursday failed to break the five-month-old deadlock between the anti-austerity government in Athens and its EU-IMF creditors. “It’s very important that this is first prepared on the technical level because we need to have some kind of a proposal on the table for the euro summit,” Finnish Finance Minister Alex Stubb said Friday. Any deal between the Greek authorities and its creditors will first require an agreement on the technical details, negotiated by teams of experts from the institutions overseeing Greece’s bailout — the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Several rounds of talks to strike a cash for reforms deal at this level have broken off in the five months since SYRIZA came to power, with the government insisting that any agreement be negotiated at the higher political level. But any deal “must be prepared by the institutions, then discussed in the Eurogroup [of euro finance ministers] and the heads, of course, have the right and responsibility to discuss political issues,” said Lithuanian Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius.

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These are those latest proposals.

Greece’s Proposals to End the Crisis: My Eurogroup Intervention (Varoufakis)

The only antidote to propaganda and malicious ‘leaks’ is transparency. After so much disinformation on my presentation at the Eurogroup of the Greek government’s position, the only response is to post the precise words uttered within. Read them and judge for yourselves whether the Greek government’s proposals constitute a basis for agreement.

Colleagues,

Five months ago, in my very first Eurogroup intervention, I put it to you that the new Greek government faced a dual task: We had to earn a precious currency without depleting an important capital good. The precious currency we had to earn was a sense of trust, here, amongst our European partners and within the institutions. To mint that precious currency would necessitate a meaningful reform package and a credible fiscal consolidation plan. As for the important capital we could not afford to deplete, that was the trust of the Greek people who would have to swing behind any agreed reform program that will end the Greek crisis.

The prerequisite for that capital not to be depleted was, and remains, one: tangible hope that the agreement we bring back with us to Athens:
• is the last to be hammered out under conditions of crisis;
• comprises a reform package which ends the 6-year-long uninterrupted recession;
• does not hit the poor savagely like the previous reforms did;
• renders our debt sustainable thus creating genuine prospects of Greece’s return to the money markets, ending our undignified reliance on our partners to repay the loans we have received from them.

Five months have gone by, the end of the road is nigh, but this finely balancing act has failed to materialise. Yes, at the Brussels Group we have come close. How close? On the fiscal side the positions are truly close, especially for 2015. For 2016 the remaining gap amounts to 0.5% of GDP. We have proposed parametric measures of 2% versus the 2.5% that the institutions insist upon. This 0.5% gap we propose to bridge over by administrative measures. It would be, I submit to you, a major error to allow such a minuscule difference to cause massive damage to the Eurozone’s integrity. Convergence had also been achieved on a wide range of issues. Nevertheless, I will not deny that our proposals have not instilled in you the trust that you need. And, at the same time, the institutions’ proposals that Mr Juncker conveyed to PM Tsipras cannot engender the hope that our citizens need. Thus, we have come close to an impasse.

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Given the push for bank runs, hard to say what this will result in. More bullying?

ECB Meeting To Decide On €3.5 Billion Greek Emergency Funding (Guardian)

The ECB is holding an emergency meeting on Friday morning to discuss whether to pump more funds into Greek banks to prevent a full-blown banking crisis. The meeting, starting at noon (11am UK time) via conference call, comes after the acrimonious breakdown of talks between finance ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday night raised the prospect of Greece’s exit from the eurozone. After the talks broke up with a war of words between Greece and its creditors, European leaders agreed to an emergency summit on Monday evening. The timing – just three days before a scheduled summit of all European Union leaders – was determined by fears of a run on the banks.

Greek depositors have withdrawn more than €3.2bn since Monday, including €1.2bn on Thursday, raising fears of a run on the banks. The ECB warned finance ministers on Thursday that Greek banks may not open on Monday. According to Reuters, when asked whether the banks would be open on Friday, ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure said: “Tomorrow yes. Monday I don’t know.” On Friday morning, the ECB’s decision-making governing council will discuss a request from the Bank of Greece for an increase in liquidity to Greek banks. According to newspaper Kathimerini, the Bank of Greece will ask for – and expects to get – €3.5bn of assistance via the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) facility. The request comes just two days after the ECB threw Greece a €1.1bn lifeline in ELA funds.

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Used this for my article this morning. The quotes are insane.

Greece Faces Banking Crisis After Eurozone Meeting Breaks Down (Guardian)

Greece is facing a full-blown banking crisis after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers broke down in acrimony and recrimination on Thursday evening, bringing the prospect of Greek exit from the eurozone a step nearer. Some €2bn of deposits have been withdrawn from Greek banks so far this week – including a record €1bn yesterday – triggering fears that a breakdown in talks would spark a further flight of funds. The German leader Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to stage an emergency EU summit on Monday as a last critical attempt to prevent Greece going bankrupt. A representative of the ECB told the meeting it was unsure whether Greek banks would have the funds to be able to open on Monday.

As thousands of pro-EU protestors gathered outside the Athens parliament building, leaders of the eurozone and the IMF aimed bitter criticism at the leftwing Greek government, accusing it of lying to its own people, misrepresenting and misleading other EU leaders, refusing to negotiate seriously, and taking Greece to the brink of catastrophe. The Luxembourg talks broke down within an hour of discussions about the Greek crisis starting, indicating the bad blood between both sides. Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said there was an urgent need for dialogue “with adults in the room”. She added: “We can only arrive at a resolution if there is a dialogue. Right now we’re short of a dialogue.”

Lagarde has taken a tough line on debt talks with Athens over the past four months, since the radical leftist Syriza government took control and insisted creditors drop proposals for further austerity as the price of releasing the last tranche of bailout funds. At the talks in Luxembourg she reportedly introduced herself to Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as “the criminal in chief”, in reference to Tsipras’s claim earlier this week that the IMF bore “criminal responsibility” for the situation in Greece.

Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, who has been more sympathetic to the Greek case, said: “There’s not much time to avoid the worst.” He appealed to the Tsipras government to return to the negotiating table, making it plain that Athens has been treating its creditors and EU partners with contempt. He said Athens had made no credible counter-proposals on the bailout terms and said that Varoufakis tabled no new proposals on Thursday, despite the session of Eurogroup finance ministers being billed as the last chance to secure a deal sending Greece a financial lifeline and keeping it in the euro. He called on the Greek government “to avoid a fate that would be catastrophic”.

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Merkel’s legacy?!

Why Greece Might Now Have The Upper Hand In Crunch Talks (Guardian)

Greece knows it. The IMF knows it. Every European finance minister knows it. After the latest failure to secure a deal at the meeting of finance ministers in Luxembourg, the crisis is coming to a head. The unescapable facts are that between Monday and Wednesday, some €2bn (£1.43bn) left the Greek banking system – more than the €1.1bn in additional emergency financing provided by the European Central Bank this week. The banks are losing around 0.5% of their deposits each day and cannot sustain losses of this sort. They are on the brink of collapse. Greek public finances also look dire, with tax revenues 24% below target in May. The government is balancing the books – but only by not paying its bills.

There will be an emergency summit of eurozone leaders on Monday, but by then it may already be too late. Capital controls look inevitable to stem the outflow from the banks and could be needed before the weekend after the latest setback. Athens has already said it will be unable to pay the IMF at the end of the month unless it gets some immediate financial assistance. There was little evidence in Luxembourg of a deal, no sign even that either side was adopting a more emollient approach. The idea that Greece might be offered a grace period after its debts become due to the IMF was rejected by Christine Lagarde. The fund’s managing director could not have been clearer: “I have a deadline, which is 30 June, when a payment is due from Greece. If 1 July it’s not paid, it’s not paid.”

Meanwhile in Athens, the government said it was preparing for the return of the drachma. “If we are forced to say the big no, the difficulties will last for a few months”, said the social security minister, Dimitris Stratoulis. “But the consequences will be much worse for Europe.” This is a reasonable point. Throughout the crisis, the IMF, the ECB and the European commission have been negotiating from what they perceive as a position of strength. That’s because traditionally debtors do what creditors tell them. But not this time
There have been four big factors that have allowed Alexis Tsipras to run rings round Angela Merkel. The first is that being flat broke can sometimes help. When a country has suffered as much as Greece has in the past five years, telling it that life will be awfully bad outside the eurozone is not that much of a threat.

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No doubt.

Grexit Would Be ‘Beginning Of End’ For Eurozone, Greek PM Tsipras Says (AFP)

A Greek exit from the eurozone would be the beginning of the end of the single currency, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was quoted as saying Friday in a newspaper interview. “The famous Grexit cannot be an option either for the Greeks or the European Union. This would be an irreversible step, it would be the beginning of the end of the eurozone,” Austrian daily Kurier quoted Tsipras as saying, in an interview published in German. “The Greek government cannot absorb the savings program forced upon it by the EU and the IMF. They would also not be positive for the Greek economy. Greece would not become more competitive and the debts would also not be reduced. The whole concept needs to be changed,” he said.

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Many highly educated people on the Greek side that is constantly ridiculed by the troika.

Euclid Tsakalotos: Greece’s Secret Weapon In Credit Negotiations (Guardian)

For those who thought the battle to save Greece was all about a rag tag bunch of leftists finally seeing the light, Euclid Tsakalotos has made many think again. At the eleventh hour, the Oxford-educated economist has emerged as Athens’ secret weapon, sounding every inch the man he was raised to be: a public school member of the British establishment. “It is rather surprising to the other side,” he says, the Greek parliament framed in the window of his eighth floor office. “But so, too, is the fact that I understand their economic arguments.” Phlegmatic, professorial, mild-mannered, Tsakalotos has spent the best part of 30 years in the ivory towers of Britain and Greece “engaging critically” with neoclassical economic thinking.

No other training could have prepared him better for his role as the point man in negotiations between Athens and the international creditors propping up its near-bankrupt economy. “The fact that he also sounds like an aristocrat helps too,” said an insider in the Syriza party. “He speaks their language better than they do. At times it’s been quite amusing to watch.” The son of a civil engineer who worked in the well-heeled world of Greek shipping, Tsakalotos was born in Rotterdam in 1960. When his family relocated to London, he was immediately enrolled at the exclusive London private school St Paul’s. A place at Oxford, where he studied PPE, ensued. The hurly burly world of radical left politics could not have been further away.

“My grandfather’s cousin was general Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos who led the other side, the wrong side, in the Greek civil war,” he said of the bloody conflict that pitted communists against rightists between 1946-49. “He expressed the fear that I might end up as a liberal, certainly not anything further to the left.” Tsakalotos, who has written six books including The Crucible of Resistance, an analysis of Greece at the forefront of Europe’s economic crisis, embraced the left at Oxford when he joined the student wing of Greece’s euro communist party. What goaded him more than anything else was the treatment of the Greek left – who had led the resistance movement against Nazi occupation – after the second world war.

“Greeks have had a lot to resist, civil war, dictatorship, authoritarianism,” he said. “But perhaps the most terrible thing was the unfairness with which the left was treated in the postwar period. We were the only nation where people who had participated in what had been a very important resistance movement were treated like pariahs while those who had collaborated with the Germans had it good. It was just so wrong.”

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Just one of a myriad of theories.

Would An Argentina-Style Cure Work For Greece? Probably Not (Guardian)

There is a beguiling argument that life for Greece outside the eurozone wouldn’t be so bad. Sure, the immediate economic pain would be severe, but a new drachma, coupled with debt default, might deliver a whoosh of relief in time. Isn’t history full of countries that have devalued their way out of crisis by generating an export boom? Didn’t Argentina recover that way when it abandoned its currency peg to the US dollar in 2002? Taken to its logical extreme, this argument says the real threat to the survival of the eurozone is that Greece leaves and prospers. Come the next crisis, other strugglers might opt to quit, dumping their debts as they go. If this idea sounds far-fetched, Jim Leaviss on M&G’s bond team would agree. He makes an excellent case that Greece isn’t Argentina, not by any stretch.

Sure, there are parallels between the causes and symptoms of distress – an overvalued currency, unsustainable debts, shoddy tax collection, dodgy official statistics and high unemployment. But an Argentinian-style cure – massive devaluation and conversion of bank accounts – is unlikely to produce the same recovery in Greece, thinks Leaviss. Argentina was lucky with its timing of its devaluation, he argues. Global trade boomed after 2002 as the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates after the 9/11 terrorism attacks and China was welcomed into the world economy. A newly-competitive Argentina increased exports by 120% between 2002 and 2006. It’s hard to imagine Greece copying that performance. Tourism is already 18% of the economy, so probably can’t double as it almost did in Argentina.

The poorer quality of the land makes an agricultural boom harder. Greece’s biggest export (surprisingly) is refined petroleum, which is priced in dollars. And its biggest export market is Germany – “possibly problematic post a debt default”, notes Leaviss dryly. His common-sense conclusion is that countries that thrived after devaluation (Canada and Sweden are other examples) had trading partners that were growing strongly. “Greece does not have that luxury, nor an economy that can respond quickly to increased export competitiveness,” concludes Leaviss. Note, too, that the Argentinian revival looks less impressive these days with real growth at just 0.5%. They’re all good points, even if life inside the eurozone for Greece is also hellish.

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Tell ‘em to grow a pair.

What Greece Can Learn From Iceland’s Banking Crisis (Independent)

Greece is teetering on the brink of a financial crisis at the same time as Iceland is finally lifting controls imposed during one. The Icelandic finance minister has announced the end of capital controls – or limitations on what people there can do with their money – imposed after the 2008 crash. Iceland’s recovery has been celebrated. While other countries are still suffering from flat inflation and badly behaved bankers, Iceland has jailed those in charge when its banks were borrowing 20 times their worth. Unemployment is below 5 per cent, down from almost 10% at the height of the crisis in 2010.

Should Greece follow Iceland’s example? Iceland had its own currency, the krona, It could artificially devalue it relative to other currencies, reducing the real value of high wages by 50%, cutting spending, making exports more competitive and imports more expensive. The devalued currency also put Iceland on the map as a tourist destination. Greece can’t pull the same trick because it has the euro. The Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson told the BBC: “It can be difficult to leave the euro when you’re in. Since the Greeks are already within the Eurozone, this is a problem that must be solved not just by the Greeks but by the Eurozone as a whole.”

Many commentators watching the situation in Greece have raised fears about the possibility of the Greek government imposing capital controls if the country was unable to default on its debts. Iceland embraced capital controls, freezing foreign money in its banks, which stopped inflation. Now the government is relaxing these controls. It might be too late for capital controls to have the same impact in Greece. Around €30bn of capital has left Greek bank accounts since October.

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Better get going then.

Leaving Greece To Its Own Devices Is Not An Option (FT)

Spectators of the debt drama starring Greece and its eurozone creditors are shuffling uncomfortably in their seats. They do not know the ending, but every twist in the plot suggests that it is extremely unlikely to be happy. The Greek state is slipping closer to official default on its loans, and even exit from the eurozone. This creates an impression that the drama, which began in 2001 with the fatal decision to admit Greece into Europe’s monetary union, is approaching a sort of Act V dénouement. But real life is not a play, when the curtains come down after a fixed period of action. Some high-level eurozone politicians – by which I mean prime ministers and finance ministers – have made it clear for at least five weeks that they are ready to let Greece default and, if necessary, drop out of the 19-nation currency area.

Yet not all have thought hard enough about what might follow. To say “good riddance to the Greeks, they’ve been unreliable and irresponsible, we’ll be better off without them” does not amount to a serious policy. For the likely consequences would go beyond capital controls in Greece, or the issuance of scrip that ordinary Greeks would mark sharply down against the euro. This emergency is about more than money. It is about European security, especially in the Balkans, an area that for at least 140 years has repeatedly sucked in outside powers and left them licking their wounds afterwards. The economic, financial and political turmoil that would erupt in Greece after a debt default, let alone a eurozone exit, would be terrible for most Greeks – but it would also have repercussions beyond Greece’s borders.

It would add to the political disorder, economic distress, corruption, organised crime, irregular migration, great power manoeuvring and outright war that characterises an arc of countries stretching all the way from Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Balkans to Syria on the east Mediterranean coast. Now here is the point. As a matter of self-interest, European governments – and the US – would not want to let Greece slide into complete chaos, any more than they stood on the sidelines when armed conflicts erupted in nearby Kosovo in 1998-99 and in Macedonia in 2001. It is telling that, after 22 people were killed last month in political and ethnic violence in Macedonia, the Europeans and the US swung quickly into diplomatic action to broker early general elections in the former Yugoslav republic.

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Sure.

Portugal Says It Has Reserves to Face Financing Restrictions (Bloomberg)

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said his country has cash reserves to weather developments that might come from Greece’s standoff with creditors. “If anything happens, we have reserves to face any more serious financing restriction that might occur in international markets,” Coelho said Tuesday night at an event in Oporto, northern Portugal. “And that’s the reason why if something more serious happens in Greece, Portugal won’t fall next because it doesn’t have any problem of financing in the markets.” His comments were broadcast by television station RTP.

The Portuguese government built up a cash buffer before the end of its aid program and the country’s debt agency forecast in a May 29 presentation that Portugal’s treasury cash position will be €9.8 billion at the end of 2015, compared with €12.4 billion at the end of 2014. Portugal has been selling longer-maturity bonds and easing debt repayments due in the next three years after exiting a bailout program provided by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Coelho’s government, which faces elections in September or October, in March made an early repayment of part of its IMF loan after the European Central Bank announced a bond-buying plan and borrowing costs fell.

The country’s 10-year bond yield is at 3.15%, after falling to 1.509% on March 12, the lowest since Bloomberg began collecting data in 1997. The yield climbed to more than 18% in 2012. The nation’s debt remains rated below investment grade by Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s. “Portugal’s treasury is able to face any volatility in external markets until the end of the year,” Coelho said. The debt agency said in the May 29 presentation that it had already sold 12.6 billion euros of bonds this year and planned to sell another 6.9 billion euros of the securities in 2015.

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That’s not how Brussels sees things.

If Greece And Russia Feel Humiliated, Europe Cannot Ignore That (Guardian)

Listening to the news these days, you’d assume that the politics of humiliation has taken over in Europe. Coming out of Greece and Russia, there is fiery rhetoric about nations being downtrodden, their pride trampled, their wellbeing attacked by hostile external forces. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has accused his country’s creditors of attempting to “humiliate our people”, while Vladimir Putin has announced that 40 intercontinental missiles would be added to his country’s arsenal, as a retaliatory measure against what he claims are western attempts to humiliate and intimidate Russia. The grievances that Putin and Tsipras harbour against Europe are different, and translate into acts of varying degrees of gravity: military aggression on one hand, and the threat to the eurozone on the other.

But they share a notion that national feelings have been severely damaged, and that amends need to be made. That Tsipras felt the need to travel to St Petersburg and seek solace in a meeting with Putin says a lot about this alliance of the aggrieved. Of course, their comments need to be seen in a context of heightened diplomatic posturing. Greece’s negotiations with creditors have reached crunch time. Russia’s regime pursues a strategy aimed at rewriting post-cold war rules to its advantage, after having launched a war in Ukraine last year. But the perception of humiliation is real nonetheless, not least because the Greek and the Russian people seem to share it with their leaders. And in international relations, careless rhetorical flourishes can leave lasting damage.

As the language of humiliation is being ratcheted up to hysterical heights, it’s increasingly hard to see how the involved parties can climb down to a more diplomatic level. After so much energy has been spent on claiming victimhood and nursing grievances, talk of a compromise would suddenly sound too much like a retreat. To deflate the situation, it would be helpful to ask two questions. First: was there ever an intention to actually humiliate? Second, if a conciliatory gesture is really required, should it entail a full-blown mea culpa from the supposed humiliators? My answer to both of these questions would be no.

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Russian Deputy PM reportedly said today the country is ready to help Greece with funds.

Russia, Greece Sign Deal On Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline (RT)

Russia and Greece have signed a deal to create a joint enterprise for construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline across Greek territory, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said. The pipeline will have a capacity of 47 billion cubic meters a year. The Greek extension of the Turkish Stream project is called the South European pipeline in the memorandum signed on Friday, Novak said at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Construction will start in 2016 and be completed by 2019. The two countries will have equal shares in the company, Novak added.Construction of the pipeline in Greece will be financed by Russia, and Athens will return the money afterward.

The Russian shareholder in the joint enterprise will be state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), Novak said. Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said the Friday meeting was”historical”. “The pipeline will connect not only Greece and Russia, but also the peoples of Europe,” Lafazanis was quoted as saying by Sputnik news agency. “Our message is a message of stability and friendship… The pipeline we are beginning today is not against anyone in Europe or anyone else, it is a pipeline for peace, stability in the whole region.”

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France is going the same route.

Moscow Threatens Retaliation Over Belgian Seizure Of State Assets (RT)

Moscow has summoned the Belgian ambassador to lodge a protest over the freeze of its state assets. It said that Moscow may consider retaliatory measures against Belgium if the assets are seized, including against Belgium diplomatic property in Russia. This comes after Belgian bailiffs notified Belgian, Russian and other international companies of the seizure of assets belonging to Russia at the behest of the Isle of Man-based Yukos Universal Limited, a subsidiary of the Russian energy giant, which was dismantled in 2007. They have given the target companies a fortnight to comply.

“The frozen Russian assets include accounts of the Russian Embassy and Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN. Even without any further analysis, this means a blatant violation of international law. We don’t yet know what the official position of our Belgian partners is, but at first sight, this seems to be an excessive act,” Russia’s Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov said. Russia will appeal the court’s arrest of Russian property, Russian presidential aide Andrey Belousov said. According to the official, “the situation with the arrest of the property is politicized, [and] Moscow hopes to avoid a new escalation in relations.”

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it views Belgium’s actions as “an unfriendly act” and “a blatant violation” of the norms of international law, adding that it could consider retaliatory measures against Belgium if the assets are seized. “The Russian side will have to consider the adoption of adequate retaliatory measures against the property of Belgium located in the Russian Federation, including the property of the Embassy of Belgium in Moscow, as well as its legal entities,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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A low even for aburdist theater.

‘True Friend Of Ukraine’ Tony Blair Tapped To Join Kiev Advisory Council (RT)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has invited former British PM Tony Blair to “share his experience of public administration” on an international council of European public figures advising Kiev on government reforms. After meeting with Poroshenko in Kiev, the former UK leader told reporters that Ukraine faced “great challenges” from “Russian aggression” and “corruption.” Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, also called on Ukrainian leaders to follow “not self-interest but values” such as “freedom, democracy and a desire to serve the people.” Poroshenko boasted that “despite the war, we are carrying out reforms,” and said that Blair asked him “exactly what help was needed from the international community.”

“This is the approach of a true friend of Ukraine,” said Poroshenko, who was elected in June 2014 in a controversial poll boycotted by rebellious regions in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s International Advisory Council for Reforms started working last month. Leading it is former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has since been appointed governor of the Odessa Region, in the south of the country. In Georgia, Saakashvili is wanted for crimes related to embezzlement during his time in office. Other members of the body, which has no executive or legislative powers, include former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, Slovak reformer Mikulas Dzurinda and economist Anders Aslund. US Senator John McCain, a prominent supporter of the 2014 Maidan coup that deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, said he was forced to decline a seat on the council, due to US Congress regulations.

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A nation on crack.

New Zealand Posts Weakest GDP Growth In Two Years (MarketWatch)

New Zealand’s economy continued to expand in the first quarter but growth was the weakest in two years, weighed by a fall in agriculture, forestry and mining. Gross domestic product rose 0.2% on the quarter in the three months to March 31, Statistics New Zealand said Thursday. On the year, GDP rose 2.6%. Both figures were below the median expectations in a Wall Street Journal poll of 14 economists, which had forecast growth of 0.6% on the quarter and 3.1% on the year. New Zealand’s agriculture-focused economy has started to flounder in recent months: global dairy prices are down more than 50% since early 2014 and New Zealand’s biggest trading partners, Australia and China, are experiencing slower growth.

“The lower growth reflected a 2.9% fall in primary industries–agriculture, forestry and mining–the largest fall since September 2010,” Statistics New Zealand said. Agricultural activity fell 2.3% in the March quarter on the back of decreased milk production in a quarter marked by drought conditions and lower dairy prices. However, Statistics New Zealand noted oil and gas were big factors in the lower GDP growth in the quarter. “There was less extraction and exploration, as international prices fall,” said national accounts manager Gary Dunnet. Mining activity was down 7.8%. Forestry production and exports of forestry products were also down, Statistics New Zealand said.

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Wishful thinking.

Pope Francis’s Climate Encyclical Will Launch A Revolution (Paul B. Farrell

Thursday is launch day for Pope Francis’s historic anticapitalist revolution, a multitargeted global revolution against out-of-control free-market capitalism driven by consumerism, against destruction of the planet’s environment, climate and natural resources for personal profits and against the greediest science deniers. Translated bluntly, stripped of all the euphemisms and his charm, that is the loud-and-clear message of Pope Francis’ historic encyclical released Thursday. Pope Francis has a grand mission here on Earth, and he gives no quarter, hammering home a very simple message with no wiggle room for compromise of his principles: ‘If we destroy God’s Creation, it will destroy us,” our human civilization here on Planet Earth.

Yes, he’s blunt, tough, he is a revolutionary. Pope Francis’s call-to-arms will be broadcast loud, clear and worldwide. Not just to 1.2 billion Catholics, but heard by seven billion humans all across the planet. And, yes, many will oppose him, be enraged to hear the message, because it is a call-to-arms, like Paul Revere’s ride, inspiring billions to join a people’s revolution. The fact is the pontiff is already building an army of billions, in the same spirit as Gandhi, King and Marx. These are revolutionary times. Deny it all you want, but the global zeitgeist has thrust the pope in front of a global movement, focusing, inspiring, leading billions. Future historians will call Pope Francis the “Great 21st Century Revolutionary.”

Yes, our upbeat, ever-smiling Pope Francis. As a former boxer, he loves a good match. And he’s going to get one. He is encouraging rebellion against super-rich capitalists, against fossil-fuel power-players, conservative politicians and the 67 billionaires who already own more than half the assets of the planet. That’s the biggest reason Pope Francis is scaring the hell out of the GOP, Big Oil, the Koch Empire, Massey Coal, every other fossil-fuel billionaire and more than a hundred million climate-denying capitalists and conservatives. Their biggest fear: They’re deeply afraid the pope has started the ball rolling and they can’t stop it. They had hoped the pope would just go away.

But he is not going away. And after June 18 his power will only accelerate, as his revolutionary encyclical will challenge everything on the GOP’s free-market capitalist agenda, exposing every one of the anti-environment, antipoor, antiscience, obstructionist policies in the conservative agenda.

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Well, it sounds cute.

The Green Pope: How Religion Can Do Economics A Favour (Guardian)

Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher is probably the most influential text on green economics ever written. As a collection of essays by a former industrial economist, who for two decades after the second world war was chief economic adviser to the National Coal Board, it did more than anything else to reimagine economics as servant to a convivial society living in balance with the environment. But its most enduring idea from which the book’s title is derived, about the importance of scale, was taken straight from a papal encyclical. Schumacher took subsidiarity, the principle that things are always best done at the lowest practical level, from an encyclical of Pope Pius XII issued in 1931 in the wake of the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression.

It is an injustice and disturbance of right order to push power up rather than down, it said, insisting that nations which do the latter will be happier and more prosperous. Today local democracy, decentralised food and energy systems and local participatory budgeting are arguably better paths for progress. Following the Pope’s encyclical this week on the need for a more equal global economy that respects planetary boundaries, high-profile church figures from across the spectrum of faiths echoed his concerns.

The Christian faith has an honourable tradition of criticising capitalism and the excesses of the market, and of insisting on different ways of doing things, not least since the crash of 2007–08. Famously, medieval Christianity placed a prohibition on usury, the charging of punitive interest on loans. That was only relaxed with the emergence of an aggressive mercantile middle class. Islamic banking today, at least notionally, still operates without the charging of formal interest. There is also a debate in green economics about the degree to which interest-bearing loans are hard–wired to an environmentally destructive growth imperative.

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Jun 172015
 
 June 17, 2015  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Theodor Horydczak Sheaffer fountain pen factory, Fort Madison, Iowa 1935

The Euro: Portrait Of A Devastating Failure (MarketWatch)
IMF “Defense” Of Its Actions vs Greeks Is An Unintended Confession (Bill Black)
Sovereign Debt Restructuring Needs International Supervision (Joseph Stiglitz)
Many Low-Income Americans Can’t Even Afford To Rent (MarketWatch)
What Is the Real US Unemployment Rate? (CH Smith)
US 2040 Deficit To Nearly Double As Percent Of Economy-CBO (Reuters)
Greek PM Tears Into Lenders As Eurozone Prepares For ‘Grexit’ (Reuters)
A Greek Paradox: Many Elderly Are Broke Despite Costly Pensions (Reuters)
Divorce Greece In Haste, Repent At Leisure (Martin Wolf)
Austrian Chancellor Sides With Greece In Debt Row (Reuters)
‘It’s Going To Be Bad, Whatever Happens’: Greeks Stash Cash At Home (Guardian)
Greek Central Bank Issues ‘Grexit’ Warning If Aid Talks Fail (Reuters)
Europe Asks the Impossible of Greece (Crook)
Merkel’s Bavarian Allies Say Greeks Act Like ‘Clowns’ In Debt Talks (Reuters)
Central Banks Enter The Unknown With Sub-Zero Rates (FT)
Russia Cuts US Debt Holding By More Than 40% Over Year (RT)
Five Million Reasons Why China Could Go to War (Bloomberg)
The Magical Content Tree (Dmitry Orlov)
Enter Jeb and Hil (Jim Kunstler)
The American Far-Right’s Trojan Horse In Westminster (Nafeez Ahmed)
More Than A Third Of The World’s Biggest Aquifers Are In Distress (FT)

The euro has been a devastating failure, costing nations both their independence and their economies.

The Euro: Portrait Of A Devastating Failure (MarketWatch

There’s a secret fear gripping the powerful across Europe nowadays. It has policy honchos lying awake at nights in Brussels. It has bankers in Berlin tossing feverishly on their silken sheets. It has eurocrats muttering into their claret. The fear? It isn’t that if Greece leaves the euro, the Greeks will then suffer a terrible economic meltdown. The fear is that if Greece leaves the euro, the country will return to prosperity — and then other countries might follow suit. Take a look at the chart. As you can see, Greece with the bad old drachma had double the economic growth of Greece under the euro. Double. And it wasn’t alone. Italy, Spain and Portugal tell similar stories.

Their economic growth back in the 1980s and 1990s, when they were “struggling” with the lira, the peseta, and the escudo, makes a mockery of their performance under the German-dominated euro. Apparently having control of your own national currency and your own monetary policy works well with having your own government and your own national sovereignty. Who knew? The data for this chart come from the IMF’s own database. They show real economic growth in four southern European currencies in the period before they embraced the euro, from 1980 to 1998, and the period since the single currency was launched at the start of 1999. (The numbers show the average annual growth in GDP, measured per capita, and in real, “purchasing power” terms to strip out inflation).

Of course many factors are involved. This isn’t just about the euro. On the other hand, the European single currency was sold to the people of these countries – when they were given a vote at all — as a magical project that would transform their economic fortunes. They were told to give up their sovereignty and independence in return for huge economic benefits. Instead, the euro “financialized” their economies – flooding them with tons of cheap, easy money, and creating gigantic paper Ponzi schemes that have now collapsed. The people of Europe were told the euro would bring stability. It hasn’t. They were told it would bring prosperity. It hasn’t. They were told it would bring growth. It hasn’t.

Are the Greeks really just a bunch of ouzo-sipping layabouts, as the Champagne-sipping layabouts in Brussels like to claim? Prior to embracing the euro, the Greeks managed real growth of 4% a year and an average unemployment rate of 7.7%. Since accepting the warm financial embrace of Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, Greece has managed growth of 2% a year and average unemployment rate of 14%. In other words, Greece under the euro has averaged half the growth, and double the unemployment, of Greece under the drachma. Some benefit.

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Good definition of what happened so far: “bleed the patient” to “heal” it”.

IMF “Defense” Of Its Actions vs Greeks Is An Unintended Confession (Bill Black)

The IMF, the heedless horseman of the troika that announced it would stop negotiating with the Greeks and go home, has attempted to justify its position through Olivier Blanchard, its “Economic Counsellor and Director of the Research Department.” Blanchard entitled his defense “Greece: A Credible Deal Will Require Difficult Decisions By All Sides.” That is a “serious person” title, but it is also economically illiterate – and no one knows that better than Blanchard. After all, it is the IMF’s deeply neo-liberal economists whose research has confirmed that the IMF’s austerity policies are self-destructive responses to the Great Recession and that fiscal stimulus programs are even more effective than economists had predicted.

That means that Blanchard and the IMF know that an economically-literate deal does not “require difficult decisions by all sides.” It requires, instead, the troika to cease its destructive demands that Greece “bleed the patient” to “heal” it. The troika’s austerity demands forced Greece into a Great Depression that is worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s in terms of sustained, obscene unemployment rates. And treating Greece in an economically rational manner would set a wonderful precedent that could be extended to Spain and Italy, which also have unemployment rates today that are near or even worse than they suffered in the Great Depression of the 1930s – seven years after the acute phase of the global financial crisis.

As we (UMKC economists and NEP bloggers) and Paul Krugman have explained repeatedly, the fiscal response to a Great Recession does not require “difficult decisions” and “sacrifices.” It requires funding worthwhile projects that provide an enormous “win-win” for the nations suffering from the Great Recession – and it helps their neighbors’ economies. Germany’s economy would be much stronger today if it had not insisted on forcing Greece, Spain, and Italy into Great Depressions. Because of the inherently flawed structure of the euro, this requires the ECB to be used far more aggressively than was contemplated by its inept architects, but it can be done. It would be an awkward, inelegant, bastardized system, but the problem in getting it done isn’t the economics, it’s the toxic interconnection of politics, economic dogmas spread by the troika and the credulous media, and disdain of the EU core for the peoples of the EU periphery that pose the insuperable problems.

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Not going to happen. If an attempt is made, it’ll be watered down so much nothing much changes. Plundering entire nations is just too profitable.

Sovereign Debt Restructuring Needs International Supervision (Joseph Stiglitz)

Governments sometimes need to restructure their debts. Otherwise, a country’s economic and political stability may be threatened. But, in the absence of an international rule of law for resolving sovereign defaults, the world pays a higher price than it should for such restructurings. The result is a poorly functioning sovereign-debt market, marked by unnecessary strife and costly delays in addressing problems when they arise. We are reminded of this time and again. In Argentina, the authorities’ battles with a small number of “investors” (so-called vulture funds) jeopardised an entire debt restructuring agreed to – voluntarily – by an overwhelming majority of the country’s creditors.

In Greece, most of the “rescue” funds in the temporary “assistance” programs are allocated for payments to existing creditors, while the country is forced into austerity policies that have contributed mightily to a 25% decline in GDP and have left its population worse off. In Ukraine, the potential political ramifications of sovereign-debt distress are enormous. So the question of how to manage sovereign-debt restructuring – to reduce debt to levels that are sustainable – is more pressing than ever. The current system puts excessive faith in the “virtues” of markets. Disputes are generally resolved not on the basis of rules that ensure fair resolution, but by bargaining among unequals, with the rich and powerful usually imposing their will on others. The resulting outcomes are generally not only inequitable, but also inefficient.

Those who claim that the system works well frame cases like Argentina as exceptions. Most of the time, they claim, the system does a good job. What they mean, of course, is that weak countries usually knuckle under. But at what cost to their citizens? How well do the restructurings work? Has the country been put on a sustainable debt path? Too often, because the defenders of the status quo do not ask these questions, one debt crisis is followed by another. Greece’s debt restructuring in 2012 is a case in point. The country played according to the “rules” of financial markets and managed to finalise the restructuring rapidly; but the agreement was a bad one and did not help the economy recover. Three years later, Greece is in desperate need of a new restructuring.

Distressed debtors need a fresh start. Excessive penalties lead to negative-sum games, in which the debtor cannot recover and creditors do not benefit from the larger repayment capacity that recovery would entail. The absence of a rule of law for debt restructuring delays fresh starts and can lead to chaos. That is why no government leaves it to market forces to restructure domestic debts. All have concluded that “contractual remedies” simply do not suffice. Instead, they enact bankruptcy laws to provide the ground rules for creditor-debtor bargaining, thereby promoting efficiency and fairness.

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You can say there are not enough low-income homes. Or you can say the housing bubble has made too many homes unaffordable.

Many Low-Income Americans Can’t Even Afford To Rent (MarketWatch)

The poorest Americans, who can’t afford to buy property, are increasingly priced out of rentals. There were only 28 adequate and available to rent homes for every 100 extremely low-income renters in 2013, down from 37 in 2000, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that focuses on social and economic policy. “This gap between supply and demand leaves 72% of the country’s poorest families burdened by the high cost of housing,” it found. Extremely low-income renters are households with incomes at or below 30% of the median income in that region. Not one county in the U.S. has enough affordable housing for all these renters.

Among the 100 largest counties, the number of affordable rental homes ranges from eight per 100 in Denton County, Texas, to 51 in Suffolk County, Mass. This regional disparity is partly due to federal assistance not keeping pace with population growth, says Erika Poethig, a director at the Urban Institute. Only nine of the 100 largest counties increased the number of affordable units for extremely low-income renters from 2000 to 2013. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of extreme low-income renter households soared 38% from 8.2 million to 11.3 million as the Great Recession pushed more families toward the lower end of the income bracket, the report found. Among the 100 largest counties, five of the 10 counties with the smallest affordability gap are in Massachusetts. Only one—San Francisco—is outside the Northeast.

“The geography of poverty is changing and federal housing policy has not kept up,” Poethig says, because the cost of living is so high in these areas. As a result, renters at this income level depend increasingly on programs run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Depending on the area of the country, extremely low-income translates to incomes of between approximately $12,600 and $32,800 for a family of four. Without federal housing assistance, the report found, the share of extremely low-income American households who could afford adequate housing in 2013 would have fallen to 5%.

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25% make too little from work to live on.

What Is the Real US Unemployment Rate? (CH Smith)

The BLS attempts to define a broader definition of under-employment and unemployment in its category U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: this is 10.8% of the work force. Depending on how we calculate the work force, and if we count everyone with any earnings as employed, we get an unemployment rate of somewhere between 5.6% and 12.5%. If we use the BLS’s metric for including under-employment, this is in the range of 10% to 15%. Common sense suggests that we calculate employment/unemployment based on earnings, not just any income in any amount.

If we reckon that only those with earnings of $15,000 or more annually (roughly speaking, full-time work at minimum wage) are fully employed, then the numbers change dramatically. The $15,000 annual earnings are also a rough benchmark of self-supporting households: two wage-earners making $15,000 each would have a household income of $30,000–enough to get by in much of the country. About 50 million people earn less than $15,000 annually. This includes roughly 10 million self-employed and 40 million with part-time jobs or other sources of earned income. This suggests that only 100 million of the 160 million work force are fully employed in the sense of not just having a job but making enough to be self-supporting.

There are many caveats resulting from the way that government social welfare is not included in earnings: thus a household might have two part-time wage-earners making very modest sums monthly who are getting by because they qualify for Section 8 housing, SNAP food stamps, Medicaid healthcare, school lunch programs, and so on. These programs enable the working poor to support a household despite low earnings. Should we include those depending on social welfare programs as fully employed? By my reckoning, roughly 60% of the civilian work force is fully employed and 40% are marginally employed (i.e. earning less than $15,000 annually) or unemployed. Since full-time workers even at minimum wage earn close to $15,000 annually, I think it is fair to use that as the cut-off for fully employed.

The BLS counts 121 million people as usually work full-time, but given only 100 million workers earn $15,000 or more, this doesn’t add up unless we include self-employed people earning very little who are counted as full-time workers. Based on income, I set the fully employed rate at 60%, and the marginally employed/unemployed rate at 40%. If we accept the BLS’s 121 million full-time jobs (which once again, this doesn’t make sense given even minimum wage full-time jobs earn $14,500, and 50 million people report earnings of less than $15,000), we still get a marginally employed/unemployed rate of 25%: work force of 160 million, 121 million fully employed.

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Better start spending, guys!

US 2040 Deficit To Nearly Double As Percent Of Economy-CBO (Reuters)

The U.S. budget deficit will more than double as a share of economic output by 2040 if current tax and spending laws remain unchanged, the Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday. The CBO, releasing its annual long-term budget outlook, said however, that overall U.S. debt levels in 2040 will be slightly lower than estimates made a year ago for 2039 because of expectations of lower long-term interest rates. CBO said the 2040 deficit will reach 5.9% of gross domestic product, compared to 2.7% this year and 3.8% in 2025 based on its normal scoring methods. By contrast, the deficit reached nearly 10% of GDP in 2009 during the depths of the recent financial crisis.

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“..their aim was to “humiliate not only the Greek government – this would be the least important – but humiliate an entire people”.

Greek PM Tears Into Lenders As Eurozone Prepares For ‘Grexit’ (Reuters)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lashed out at Greece’s creditors on Tuesday, accusing them of trying to “humiliate” Greeks, as he defied a drumbeat of warnings that Europe is preparing for his country to leave the euro. The unrepentant address to lawmakers after the collapse of talks with European and IMF lenders at the weekend was the clearest sign yet that the leftist leader has no intention of making a last-minute U-turn and accepting austerity cuts needed to unlock frozen aid and avoid a debt default within two weeks. Financial markets, for months indifferent to wrangling over releasing billions of euros of aid for Greece, reacted with mounting alarm.

European stock markets hit their lowest level since February and the risk premium on bonds of other vulnerable euro zone states leapt in one of the sharpest episodes of contagion since the height of Europe’s debt crisis in 2012. As the Austrian chancellor flew to Athens to warn Tsipras of the gravity of the situation and senior German lawmakers openly discussed the once-taboo prospect of a “Grexit” from the single currency area, Tsipras lambasted European and IMF policy. “I’m certain future historians will recognise that little Greece, with its little power, is today fighting a battle beyond its capacity not just on its own behalf but on behalf of the people of Europe,” he said in a televised speech to legislators in his SYRIZA party, drawing rousing applause.

Tsipras charged that the lenders were politically motivated in demanding pension cuts and tax hikes that hurt the poor, and their aim was to “humiliate not only the Greek government – this would be the least important – but humiliate an entire people”. The 40-year-old leader’s rhetoric left unclear whether he is preparing to default and risk economic collapse as the price of standing firm, or betting – wrongly according to the creditors – on a last-minute effort by Europe to save Greece. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has held repeated phone calls with Tsipras in recent weeks to press him to agree on reforms with EU/IMF negotiators, struck a despondent note, saying it was unclear if a deal could be found when euro zone finance ministers meet on Thursday in Luxembourg.

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“..45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665..” Yeah, cuts would be a great idea..

A Greek Paradox: Many Elderly Are Broke Despite Costly Pensions (Reuters)

The plight of 79-year-old Athenian Zina Razi and thousands like her strikes at the heart of why talks between Greece and its creditors have collapsed. She lives off a pension system that helps to consume a huge proportion of state spending and can appear overly indulgent – but still she’s broke. Razi barely keeps up with her power and water bills, and since her middle-aged son lost his job, supports him as well. “I am always in debt,” she said. “I can’t even imagine going to the cinema or the theatre like I did in the past.” This paradox goes a long way to explain why the leftist-led government and its creditors at the European Union and IMF have failed to bridge their differences over a cash-for-reform deal, leading to Sunday’s breakdown of talks.

Five years of austerity policies imposed at the creditors’ behest have helped to turn a recession into a full-blown depression, and still they want more. Athens has flatly refused to achieve further savings by raising value-added tax on essential items or, crucially, slashing pension benefits. As it inches closer to default and a potentially calamitous exit from the euro zone, the government has dismissed such demands as “absurd” or designed to pummel Greeks’ morale. To the lenders, the pension system is still too generous compared with what the country can afford. Greece spent 17.5% of its economic output on pension payments, more than any other EU country, according to the latest available Eurostat figures from 2012. With existing cuts, this figure has since fallen to 16%. [..]

To many Greeks, not least the Syriza party that stormed to power in January promising to push the clock back on austerity, the creditors’ demands are yet another way to clobber vulnerable people needlessly. The lenders have denied asking for specific pension cuts. But the Greek side said among their suggestions was slashing a top-up payment that supports some of the poorest pensioners. For Razi, that would mean losing €180 out of her €650 monthly pension. The average Greek pension is €833 a month. That’s down from €1,350 in 2009, according INE-GSEE, the institute of the country’s largest labour union. Moreover, 45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665, the government says. With more than a quarter of Greek workers jobless, many rely on parents and grandparents for financial support.

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Wolf makes sense on some things here, much less on others.

Divorce Greece In Haste, Repent At Leisure (Martin Wolf)

Some argue that Greece at least would be far better off after a default and exit. It is indeed theoretically possible that a default to its public creditors, combined with introduction of a new currency, a big devaluation (accompanied by sound monetary and fiscal policies), maintenance of an open economy, structural reforms and institutional improvements would mark a turn for the better. Far more likely is a period of chaos and, at worst, emergence of a failed state. A Greece that could manage exit well would have also avoided today’s plight. Neither side should underestimate the risks. It is also crucial to avoid the contempt so characteristic of the frayed nerves caused by failing negotiations.

Fecklessness may be a grievous fault, but grievously have the Greeks answered it. As the Irish economist, Karl Whelan, points out in a blistering response to Mr Giavazzi, the Greek economy has suffered a staggering collapse. From peak to trough, aggregate real gross domestic product fell by 27%, while real spending in the economy fell by a third. The cyclically-adjusted fiscal balance improved by 20% of GDP between 2009 and 2014 and the current account balance improved by 16% of GDP between 2008 and 2014. The unemployment rate reached 28% in 2013, while government employment fell by 30% between 2009 and 2014. Such a brutal adjustment would have shredded the politics of any country.

Europeans are now dealing with Syriza because of this calamity. But they are also dealing with Syriza because of the refusal to write down more of the debt in 2010. This was a huge error, made far worse by the subsequent collapse of the Greek economy. Indeed, the vast bulk of the official loans to Greece were not made for its benefit at all, but for that of its feckless private creditors. Creditors, too, have a duty to take care. If they are careless, they risk big losses. If governments want to save them, their own taxpayers should be told to pay up.

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A voice of reason from an unexpected corner.

Austrian Chancellor Sides With Greece In Debt Row (Reuters)

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann expressed solidarity with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before meeting the leader in Athens on Wednesday in a bid to end a standoff with international creditors over a rescue package. Faymann, a Social Democrat who has taken a relatively lenient line with Greece, told broadcaster ORF that Athens had to live up to commitments under its current bailout plan but needed support to keep it from leaving the euro zone. “I know there were a number of proposals, also from the (creditor) institutions, that I also don’t find in order,” Faymann said in the radio interview.

“High joblessness, 30-40% (with) no health insurance and then raising VAT on medicines. People in this difficult situation cannot understand that.” Faymann seemed to be wading into a row over what European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has called misrepresentations by the Greek government over just what reforms the EU wants from Athens to unlock frozen loans. Faymann said the alternative was fighting fraud and ensuring all Greeks pay their fair share of taxes. Greece and Brussels have been locked in an increasingly bitter war of words as the clock ticks toward the end of June, when the current bailout accord runs out, exposing Greece to potential default that could usher it out of the currency bloc.

Faymann said it was never helpful when insults fly, adding: “I stand on the side of the Greek people who in this difficult position are being proposed more things detrimental to society.” He said he was confident he could support Juncker’s efforts to forge an agreement by using Austria as an example of a country where workers and pensioners get affordable health care. He acknowledged nerves were frayed but said the task was to “avoid a catastrophe.” Asked whether Greek leaders could be brought on board, he said: “I assume that someone who is elected lives up to his responsibility.”

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Troika-induced fear and panic.

‘It’s Going To Be Bad, Whatever Happens’: Greeks Stash Cash At Home (Guardian)

“Everybody’s doing it,” said Joanna Christofosaki, in front of a Eurobank cash dispenser in the leafy Athens neighbourhood of Kolonaki. “Our friends have all done it. Nobody wants their money to be worthless tomorrow. Nobody wants to be unable to get at it.” A researcher in the archaeology department at the Academy of Athens, Christofosaki said she knew plenty of people who had “€10,000 somewhere at home” and plenty of others who chose to keep their stash at the office. Was she among them? “If I was, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.” It was not too hard, in central Athens’ plushest district on Tuesday, to find people worried that the latest breakdown of talks between Greece and its creditors over a new aid-for-reforms deal may have implications for the security – and accessibility – of their savings.

With time fast running out to secure a desperately needed €7.2bn in new rescue funds before the end of the month, when Athens is due to repay €1.5bn in loans to the IMF, anxious Greeks have begun withdrawing money from their country’s banks at an unprecedented rate. Bank deposits have been falling steadily since October and now stand at their lowest level since 2004. Withdrawals in recent weeks have averaged €200-250m a day, but on Monday – after the shock collapse of last-ditch talks between the Greek government and its eurozone and international lenders – withdrawals surged to €400m. “People are very concerned,” said the owner of a small company who asked not to be named. “I think those who could, have already transferred some money abroad. And lots of others have taken out a few thousand, enough to see them through any immediate crisis. I have.”

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Broad strokes?!

Greek Central Bank Issues ‘Grexit’ Warning If Aid Talks Fail (Reuters)

The Greek central bank warned on Wednesday that the country would be put on a “painful course” towards default and exiting the euro zone if the government and its international creditors failed to reach an agreement on an aid-for-reforms deal. It also said Greece risked a renewed bout of recession and predicted that the current economic slowdown would accelerate in the second quarter of this year. The Greek economy had started growing again last year after being pounded by years of austerity, but fell back into negative growth in the first quarter of 2015, contracting by 0.2% y-o-y. The ongoing crisis has prompted an outflow of deposits of about €30 billion from Greek lenders between October and April, the central bank said.

Time is fast running out for Athens and its creditors to reach a deal before a €1.6 billion repayment by Greece to the IMF falls due at the end of the month. But neither side appears willing to give ground, with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accusing the creditors of trying to “humiliate” his country by demanding more cuts. Despite the heated rhetoric, the central bank said that the two sides appeared to have reached a compromise on the main conditions attached to an aid agreement, and that little ground remained to be covered for a deal to stick. “Failure to reach an agreement would … mark the beginning of a painful course that would lead initially to a Greek default and ultimately to the country’s exit from the euro area and, most likely, from the EU,” the Bank of Greece said in a monetary policy report. “Striking an agreement with our partners is a historical imperative that we cannot afford to ignore.”

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“Yet with Tsipras gone, would the next Greek government be any more pliable – any more inclined to maintain the new rate of VAT or persist with the new round of pension cuts? I see no reason to think so.”

Europe Asks the Impossible of Greece (Crook)

Suppose for a moment that the European Union gets what it’s demanding from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. It doesn’t look as though that will happen, but let’s imagine that Tsipras surrenders. How long, I’m wondering, would this smell like victory? Tsipras has agreed to the EU’s new, less demanding targets for Greece’s primary budget surplus over the next few years. The sticking point is that the measures he would use to hit those targets aren’t enough. Instead of raising the rate of value-added tax (a kind of sales tax) and/or collecting it on a wider range of goods, Tsipras says he’ll attack tax evasion and fraud. That’s won’t raise enough money, says Europe. The EU wants more cuts to public spending on pensions as well, which Tsipras refuses to consider.

For some reason, Europe has also been insisting on further labor-market reforms. These would doubtless be desirable, but they’re unlikely to yield extra growth in the short term and therefore have no fiscal implications in the relevant timescale. Tsipras’s numbers don’t add up, says Europe: They aren’t credible. Suppose, as I say, he did agree to raise VAT and cut pension spending. How credible would that be? Chances are good that it would be his last act as prime minister. He’d be breaking election promises and, aside from that, would enrage the faction of his own party that thinks he’s already conceded too much. Good riddance, you might say.

Yet with Tsipras gone, would the next Greek government be any more pliable – any more inclined to maintain the new rate of VAT or persist with the new round of pension cuts? I see no reason to think so. In short, if Tsipras capitulated and gave the EU what it wants, that wouldn’t be credible either. Let’s pursue this “Europe wins” thought experiment one step further. Suppose that Tsipras capitulated, and that he was able somehow to stay in power long enough to keep his promises – or that the successor government was reliably conservative on fiscal policy. Would this be sufficient to put Greek public finances on the path to sustainability? The sustainability of Greek debt, you may recall, is Europe’s main purpose in all this.

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Germans think it’s about money. Well, maybe it’s time for Deutsche to crash. And/or the Landesbanken.

Merkel’s Bavarian Allies Say Greeks Act Like ‘Clowns’ In Debt Talks (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies have accused the Greek government of not having grasped the seriousness of the situation in the debt talks yet, with CSU Secretary-General Andreas Scheuer calling ruling politicians in Athens “clowns”. The remarks were the latest sign of hardening positions towards Greece among European politicians, on the eve of a meeting of euro zone ministers that could be the last chance to rescue Greece from default at the end of the month. Scheuer said in an interview with Rheinische Post newspaper published on Wednesday that Greece had done too little so far to stay in the euro and there would be no “careless compromises” just for the sake of keeping Greece in the single currency bloc.

“The Greek government apparently hasn’t realized the seriousness of the situation yet,” Scheuer said. “They are behaving like clowns sitting in the back of the class room, although they have received explicit warnings from all sides that they might fail to pass to the next grade.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday she was willing to do all she could to keep Greece in the euro zone but insisted the onus remained on Athens and its creditors to break a deadlock and reach a deal. Merkel is facing growing opposition among her ruling conservatives to granting Greece any further bailout funds. Germany is Greece’s biggest creditor and the biggest contributor to the EU budget and the euro zone bailout fund.

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All the central bankers have left is uncharted territory. And that’s a scarier thought than anyone cares to admit.

Central Banks Enter The Unknown With Sub-Zero Rates (FT)

For years, central bankers have treated the fabled interest rate known as the “zero lower bound” as if it were a physical barrier. Like the notion that temperatures cannot fall below absolute zero, policy makers thought they could not impose negative borrowing costs, as depositors would simply withdraw their money and hoard the cash. However, as the risk of deflation has pushed central banks in the eurozone, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland to venture below zero, the question has shifted from whether negative rates are possible to how low they can go. Critics fear the unprecedented experiment of negative rates could have unwarranted side effects, including the formation of asset bubbles and deep disruption to the operation of the banking system.

“Negative rates are the policy for which we know least,” said Lucrezia Reichlin, an economist at London Business School. “They may create distortions and have undesirable distributional effects, so they should be considered an emergency, temporary measure.” Denmark’s Nationalbanken was the first central bank in Europe to experiment properly with negative rates after the global financial crisis. In July 2012, the DNB began charging lenders 0.2% for some of the cash parked in its deposit facility – a measure needed to defend the longstanding peg between the krone and euro. But this experiment acquired a whole different scale at the start of the year, when the ECB launched a programme of quantitative easing, having already cut its deposit rate to -0.2%.

This forced neighbouring central banks to slash their own rates deep into negative territory to stem the risk of large-scale capital inflows. In January, Switzerland dropped its deposit rate to as low as -0.75%, while Sweden’s Riksbank moved its main repo rate to -0.25% in March. The DNB, which had briefly raised the deposit rate back into positive territory, is now charging banks 0.75% for their excess reserves. Economists say that the possibility of negative rates arises because there are costs to storing and insuring cash. Savers will continue to keep their money in a deposit so long as this costs less than moving it into a safe. In fact, depositors may be willing to pay even more than that, as it is far easier to handle money from a bank account than it is from a vault.

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“Yuan-ruble trade in Russia has grown 800% between January and September 2014..”

Russia Cuts US Debt Holding By More Than 40% Over Year (RT)

Russia held US Treasury bills worth $66.5 billion as of April this year, according to the latest monthly report from the US Treasury. That compares with the $116.4 billion held a year ago. From March to April 2015, Russia sold $3.4 billion in US Treasury bonds,reported US Department of the Treasury Monday. Since August 2014, the value of US bonds in the Russian government portfolio has been steadily declining and the volume of Russian investments in US bonds dropped dramatically. Russia is now only 22nd on the list of the major US debt holders, compared to twelfth place in April 2014.

The Western sanctions imposed against Russia last year over re-unification with Crimea and its position in Ukrainian crisis have pushed Moscow to cut its dependence on the US dollar and build a more self-sufficient financial system. Western sanctions have encouraged Russia to work more actively with Asia, as the Asia-Pacific region and BRICS, as they make up 60% of the world GDP, said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week. The BRICS summit in Russia this July will see the opening of the $100 billion New Development Bank, intended to compliment the World Bank and sponsor infrastructure projects within the group. Another project to be launched is currency pool worth another $100 billion, expected to guard the group from exchange rate volatility, said Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.

More than 40 countries and associations have said they would like to boost trade with the Russia-led economic block known as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Vietnam became the first country out of the EEU to sign a free trade zone deal with the block in May and is considering switching to local currencies in bilateral trade. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready to consider a currency union across the EEU. Russia s largest bank, Sberbank, issued its first credit guarantees in yuan this June, which marked another step in its de-dollarizing policy. Yuan-ruble trade in Russia has grown 800% between January and September 2014, and accounts for 7% of bilateral trade, with a huge potential to grow, according to May data.

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World power.

Five Million Reasons Why China Could Go to War (Bloomberg)

With five million citizens to protect and billions of investment dollars at stake, China is rethinking its policy of keeping out of other countries’ affairs. China has long made loans conditional on contracts for its companies. In recent years it has sent an army of its nationals to work on pipelines, roads and dams in such hot spots as South Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan. Increasingly, it has to go across borders to protect or rescue them. That makes it harder to stick to the policy espoused by then-premier Zhou Enlai in 1955 of not interfering in “internal” matters, something that has seen China decline to back international sanctions against Russia over Ukraine or the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

As President Xi Jinping’s “Silk Road” program of trade routes gets under way, with infrastructure projects planned across Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East to Europe, China’s footprint abroad will expand from the $108 billion that firms invested abroad in 2013, up from less than $3 billion a decade earlier. That is forcing China to take a more proactive approach to securing its interests and the safety of its people. With more engagement abroad there’s a risk that China, an emerging power with a military to match, is sucked into conflicts and runs up against the U.S. when tensions are already flaring over China’s disputed claims in the South China Sea.

“It is going to be a long, hard haul,” said Kerry Brown, director of the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre. “You either have disruption as a new power rips up the rule book and causes bedlam or you’ve got a gradual transition where China is ceded more space but also expected to have more responsibility.” For more than a half century China stuck to Zhou’s policy predicated on non-interference and respect for the sovereignty of others. The policy partly reflected a focus on domestic stability and economic development by governments that lacked the means or interest to play a more active role offshore. It also led President Barack Obama to last year describe China’s leaders as “free riders” while others carried the global security burden. [..]

Parello-Plesner and Mathieu Duchatel, who co-wrote “China’s Strong Arm: Protecting Citizens and Assets Abroad” estimate there are five million workers offshore, based on research and interviews with officials, a figure that’s about five times larger than that given by the Ministry of Commerce. The official data reflect a lack of systemic consular registration and the absence of formal reporting by subcontractors sending workers abroad, according to the writers, who estimate about 80 Chinese nationals were killed overseas between 2004 and 2014. “There are now several countries that – in terms of the number of Chinese citizens there – are ‘too big to fail’,” said Parello-Plesner. “The business-oriented ‘going-out’ strategy now has to be squared with broader strategic calculations.”

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Great angle, great insight.

The Magical Content Tree (Dmitry Orlov)

A long, long time ago books were very expensive. They were produced by copying them by hand, page by page, onto parchment, by very poor monks toiling in their monastic scriptoria, but the books they produced turned out to be expensive anyway. The aristocracy could afford them, and, of course, the clergy, but the laymen had little access to the written word. Things were somewhat better in other, more technologically advanced parts of the world. The Chinese invented paper shortly before 200 BC, and by 200 AD lots of Buddhist texts were being mass produced using wood block printing. This know-how slowly diffused west, reaching Moslem Spain a few centuries later. By 1400 AD the art of paper-making made it all they way to the most backward of European provinces—Germany.

But then came a surprise: a German craftsman by the name of Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type: the ability to compose printed pages using reusable letters cast from lead. His legacy is still with us: the people who compose text for printing are still called “typesetters,” because once upon a time they physically set type, and the gaps between lines of text are still referred to as “leading,” because they used to be produced by inserting thin strips of lead. This innovation reduced the cost of producing books by orders of magnitude, making it possible for people of modest means to acquire a library. Gutenberg’s breakthrough is one of the most important bits of disruptive technology to come around, along with the steam engine and the nuclear bomb.

But an even bigger disruptive transformation occurred with the advent of the internet, which entirely decoupled the act of reproducing a work from the act of producing it in the first place. In effect, by investing in computing hardware and by paying for an internet connection, everybody gets access to a printing press. Once the equipment has been paid for, the incremental cost of producing another copy of something is zero. The overall cost is, of course, higher than ever; there is a good reason why Microsoft made fantastic fortunes with their mediocre, buggy products, or why Apple Computer is the public company with the highest market capitalization.

If you look at cost versus utility, many families now spend hundreds of dollars a month on smartphones, tablet computers, laptops, e-book readers, internet services, cellular phone services and so on. Were they to spend an equivalent amount on paper books and periodicals, they would amass a fantastically huge library in no time. Some people also pay for content—they purchase e-books, subscribe to premium services and so on—but most of the “content” they “consume” is free, paid for by advertising, or by promises of future revenue or increased market share, or by some other intangible, or—the most important category of all—by nothing at all.

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Jim in fine form.

Enter Jeb and Hil (Jim Kunstler)

The Floridian clod seeking to don the mantle of Millard Fillmore made an amazing foreign policy speech at an economic conference in Berlin last week. Inveighing against Russian President Vladimir Putin, he gave a very vivid impression of a man who has no idea what he is talking about.

“Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors. And who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?”

Jeb Bush was averring elliptically to the failed state formerly known as Ukraine, trying to put over the shopworn story that Russia was needlessly making war on its neighbor (and former province).

“Bush called for increased clarity on what type of sanctions would be imposed on the country if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does not back down against a united international front…. ‘I don’t think we should be reacting to bad behavior [Bush said]. By being clear what the consequences of “bad behavior” is in advance, I think we will deter the kind of aggression that we fear from Russia. But always reacting, and giving the sense we’re reacting in a tepid fashion, only enables the bad behavior of Putin.’”

Note, by the way, that here is yet another scion of the Bush clan who was inexplicably brought up speaking Ebonics: “What the consequences… is?” Say what?

Ukraine became a failed state due to a coup d’état engineered by Barack Obama’s state department. US policy wonks did not like the prospect of Ukraine joining Russia’s regional trade group called the Eurasian Customs Union instead of tilting toward NATO and the European Union. So, we paid for and enabled a coalition of crypto-fascists to rout the duly elected president. One of the first acts of the US-backed new regime was to declare punishment of Russian language speakers, and so the predominately Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine revolted. Russia reacted to all this instability by seizing the Crimean peninsula, which had been part of Russia proper both before and through the Soviet chapter of history. The Crimea contained Russia’s only warm water seaports and naval bases. What morons in the US government ever thought Russia would surrender those assets to a newly-failed neighbor state?

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A look behind the Sunday Times Snowden article.

The American Far-Right’s Trojan Horse In Westminster (Nafeez Ahmed)

There is a violent extremist fifth column operating at the heart of power in Britain, and they stand against everything we hold dear in Western democracies: civil liberties, equality, peace, diplomacy and the rule of law. You wouldn’t think so at first glance. In fact, you might be taken in by their innocuous-looking spokespeople, railing against the threat of Muslim extremists, defending the rights of beleaguered Muslim women, championing the principle of free speech – regularly courted by national TV and the press as informed experts on global policy issues. But peer beneath the surface, and an entirely different picture emerges: a web of self-serving trans-Atlantic elites who are attempting to warp public discourse on key issues that pose a threat not to the public interest, but to their own vested interests.

One key organisation at the centre of this web is the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), an influential British think-tank founded a decade ago, ostensibly to promote noble ideals like freedom, human rights and democracy. But its staff spend most of their energies advancing the very opposite. More recently, HJS has turned to demonising Edward Snowden supporters and privacy advocates as accomplices with al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) – as is also being done by Rupert Murdoch s Sunday Times, with its hole-ridden story claiming Snowden’s revelations had allowed Russia and China to identify active MI6 agents. Journalists who have reviewed the Snowden files say that there was nothing in them that would permit MI6 operatives to be identified.

Former senior CIA official Robert Steele, whose books have received endorsements from the past and then serving Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “I can state categorically that there could not have been names of either intelligence officers or agents in the Snowden materials. The system simply does not work that way.” But the two-week time period between the publication of HJS report, and the Sunday Times hit-piece, is unlikely to be a coincidence. Like the Times piece, the latest HJS report damning Snowden draws almost entirely on anonymous intelligence sources along with unsubstantiated claims from the very officials responsible for mass surveillance, to claim that Snowden’s revelations had crippled the war on terror.

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Lots of places are going to be uninhabitable for lack of water.

More Than A Third Of The World’s Biggest Aquifers Are In Distress (FT)

More than a third of the world’s biggest aquifers, a vital source of fresh water for millions, are “in distress” because human activities are draining them, according to satellite observations. Scientists from Nasa, the US space agency, and the University of California, Irvine, analysed 10 years of data from the twin Grace satellites, which measure changes in groundwater reserves by the way they affect Earth’s gravitational pull. “Twenty-one of the world’s 37 biggest aquifers have passed sustainability tipping points … they are being depleted,” said Jay Famiglietti, the study leader. “Over a third [13] are so bad that they are experiencing exceptionally high levels of stress.” The problem is most serious in regions where rainfall and snowmelt cannot make up for water extracted for agriculture, industry, drinking and other human purposes.

The scientists determined aquifers’ overall stress rates on the basis of their depletion over 10 years of satellite measurements, together with their potential for replenishment, taking account of regional climate and human activities. The results, published in the Water Resources Research journal, show that the Arabian Aquifer System, an important water source for more than 60 million people, is the most “overstressed” in the world. It is followed by the Indus Basin aquifer of India and Pakistan and the Murzuq-Djado Basin in northern Africa. California’s Central Valley, currently at the center of a political battle over water rights, was classed as “highly stressed” and suffering rapid depletion mainly for agriculture.

Although many of the world’s great aquifers are being drained rapidly, there is “little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them,” the researchers added. Professor Famiglietti said: “Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient. Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a co-ordinated global effort to determine how much is left.” By comparing their satellite-derived groundwater loss rates to the limited data on groundwater availability, the researchers found huge discrepancies in projected times to total depletion of the aquifers. In the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, for example, such times fluctuated between 10 and 21,000 years. The study noted that a dearth of groundwater was leading to severe ecological damage, including rivers running dry, water quality deteriorating and land subsiding.

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Jun 122015
 
 June 12, 2015  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Main street intersection, Norwich, Connecticut 1940

Peak America: Our Run Is Over (Paul B. Farrell)
American Dreaming, From G1 to Bilderberg (Pepe Escobar)
US Is Still Drowning In Mortgage Debt (MarketWatch)
The Warren Buffett Economy – Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 3 (Stockman)
Myopic US Policies Pave Way For China’s Dominance (MarketWatch)
China’s Answer to Europe’s Needs (Bloomberg)
The World’s Worst Investment Bubble Will Burst Soon (MarketWatch)
Demands On Greece Will Yield The Opposite Of What They Promise (FT)
Varoufakis: ‘Contrary To Stubborn Rumours, We Never Gambled’ (Bloomberg)
Greek Pension Mess Shows There’s No Easy Way Out of Impasse (Bloomberg)
German Government Consulting On What To Do If Greece Goes Bankrupt (Reuters)
Keeping Greece in the Euro May Have Nothing to Do With … Euros (Bloomberg)
EU Issues Final Warning To Greece As Last-Ditch Talks Achieve Nothing (AEP)
IMF To Alexis Tsipras: ‘Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?’ (Guardian)
The Slow Transformation Of The IMF (Rochon)
Stupidity Is The Biggest Problem In The Housing Debate (Pickering)
A Bitcoin Start-Up Has Made Exchanging Currency Free (CNBC)
Italian Statistics Agency Validates Citizens Income Proposal (M5S)

“..our internecine political conflicts prevent us from delivering on the braggadocio..”

Peak America: Our Run Is Over (Paul B. Farrell)

Peak America? Yes. We’re on the downside? Yes. Not exceptional? No. The questions come up a lot lately. In a Time magazine review of his new book “Superpower: Three Choices for America in the World,” foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer asks the blunt ones: “What role does President Barack Obama believe America should play in the world? His words and his actions tell different stories,” says Bremmer. Bottom line, “words aside, Obama’s deeds suggest he’s not acting so much as reacting to crises as they appear.” In his earlier best-seller, “Every Nation for Itself: What Happens When No One Leads the World?” Bremmer saw America’s spliting apart as a reflection of a global trend. He sees us living in a new “G-Zero, the new world order in which no single country or durable alliance of countries can meet the challenges of global leadership … What happens when the G-20 doesn’t work and the G-7 is history?”

The big question: “Have we hit Peak America?” asked the elite Foreign Policy magazine last year. Yes. The cover was a mess, total confusion, chaos, fragmentation. Yes, everything’s peaking. We talk a good game about exceptionalism. But our internecine political conflicts prevent us from delivering on the braggadocio. In “Superpower” Bremmer predicts even more fragmentation in America, reflecting our extreme political and cultural partisan conflict, plus Big Oil’s battle over climate science and carbon emissions. And across the world, it’s every nation for Itself. Prediction: America will peak with the 2016 election. Not just because of the insanity of 20 GOP presidential candidates. Truth is most are hustlers, not presidential timber.

Jeb Bush flip-flopping on his brother’s foreign policy was total incoherence. Rand Paul? Marco Rubio? Long shots. Hillary Clinton? Not incoherent, just running silent. The only coherent candidate is Bernie Sanders. Too good to be true. So special-interest billionaires will do everything possible to use him to destroy Clinton. No good news ahead. After the presidential election drama, no matter who’s elected, chaos, fragmentation and incoherence will accelerate. The delusional Federal Reserve and its bubble economy will finally collapse onto Wall Street’s overinflated stock market, confirming Jeremy Grantham’s forecast that the 2016 election will trigger a 50% drop, plunging America and the world into an economic recession, worse than 2007-08, with GDP near the flat line.

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“Washington factions were blaming Germany for making the West lose Russia to China, while adult minds in the EU – away from the Bavarian Alps – blamed Washington.”

American Dreaming, From G1 to Bilderberg (Pepe Escobar)

What’s the connection between the G7 summit in Germany, President Putin’s visit to Italy, the Bilderberg club meeting in Austria, and the TTIP – the US-EU free trade deal – negotiations in Washington? We start at the G7 in the Bavarian Alps – rather G1 with an added bunch of “junior partners” – as US President Barack Obama gloated about his neo-con induced feat; regiment the EU to soon extend sanctions on Russia even as the austerity-ravaged EU is arguably hurting even more than Russia. Predictably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande caved in – even after being forced by realpolitik to talk to Russia and jointly carve the Minsk-2 agreement.

The hypocrisy-meter in the Bavarian Alps had already exploded with a bang right at the pre-dinner speech by EU Council President Donald Tusk, former Prime Minister of Poland and certified Russophobe/warmonger: “All of us would have preferred to have Russia round the G7 table. But our group is not only a group (that shares) political or economic interests, but first of all this is a community of values. And that is why Russia is not among us.” So this was all about civilized “values” against “Russian aggression.” The “civilized” G1 + junior partners could not possibly argue whether they would collectively risk a nuclear war on European soil over a Kiev-installed ‘Banderastan’, sorry, “Russian aggression.” Instead, the real fun was happening behind the scenes.

Washington factions were blaming Germany for making the West lose Russia to China, while adult minds in the EU – away from the Bavarian Alps – blamed Washington. Even juicier is a contrarian view circulating among powerful Masters of the Universe in the US corporate world, not politics. They fear that in the next two to three years France will eventually re-ally with Russia (plenty of historical precedents). And they – once again – identify Germany as the key problem, as in Berlin forcing Washington to get involved in a Prussian ‘Mitteleuropa’ Americans fought two wars to prevent. As for the Russians – from President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov downwards – a consensus has emerged; it’s pointless to discuss anything substantial considering the pitiful intellectual pedigree – or downright neo-con stupidity – of the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration policy makers and advisers. As for the “junior partners” – mostly EU minions – they are irrelevant, mere Washington vassals.

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It’s all still propped up. In essence, market manipulation.

US Is Still Drowning In Mortgage Debt (MarketWatch)

The percentage of homes underwater — where the home is worth less than the mortgage — has been dropping as the housing market has recovered, but more than 4 million U.S. homeowners owe the bank at least 20% more than their homes are worth, totaling $579 billion of so-called negative equity, according to real estate company Zillow. “Homeowners who remain underwater will likely be the toughest to free from negative equity,” says Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries. The rate of underwater homeowners is much higher among the homes with the least value, according to Zillow, which uses data from credit bureau TransUnion. More than 25% of those who own the least valuable third of homes were upside down, compared with about 8% of the most valuable third of homes.

In Atlanta, 46% of low-end homeowners were underwater, compared with 10% of high-end homeowners. In Baltimore, 32% of low-end homeowners were in negative equity, compared with 9% of those who own the highest-value homes. The good news: There were 15 million homes in negative equity at the peak of the housing crisis. The national negative equity rate dropped to 15.4% of all homes with mortgages in the first quarter, down from rate 18.8% the same period last year. The rate of negative equity improved in all of the 35 largest housing markets in the first quarter of 2015, “a sign that the country is continuing to recover from the lax lending rules and subsequent housing market bust of the last decade,” the report says.

Millions of Americans are so far underwater, it’s likely they may not re-gain equity for up to a decade or more at these rates,” Humphries says. Because negative equity is concentrated so heavily at the lower end of the market, it prevents potential first-time buyers from finding affordable homes for sale, he adds. “Owners of those homes can’t move up the chain because they’re stuck underwater in the entry-level home they bought years ago. The logjam at the bottom is having ripple effects.”

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That $50 trillion zombie.

The Warren Buffett Economy – Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 3 (Stockman)

During the last 27 years the financial system has ballooned dramatically while the US economy has slowed to a crawl—–a divergent trend that has intensified with the passage of time. For instance, since Q4 2000, nominal GDP has expanded by just 70% compared to a 140% gain in market finance (i.e. the value of non-financial corporate equity plus credit market debt per the Fed’s Flow Of Funds report). As a consequence, and as we previously demonstrated, the ratio of finance to economic output has soared to nearly 540% of national income compared to a historic norm of about 200%. Had even the stabilized ratio of 240% that the Volcker sound money policy had put in place by 1986, for example, remained at the level, total credit market debt and equity finance would be $50 trillion lower than today’s gargantuan $93 trillion total.

Even when you purge the cumulative price inflation out of the above picture, the story does not remotely add-up. That is, while real median household income has not gained at all since the late 1980s, and thus currently stands at just 1.03X of its 1987 value, the GDP deflator-adjusted value of corporate equities and credit market debt outstanding stands at 8.0X and Warren Buffett’s real net worth at 19.0X. Needless to say, that’s not capitalism at work; its central bank driven bubble finance. So the question remains why did the Fed expand its balance sheet by 22X over the past 27 years (from $200 billion to $4.5 trillion)? After all, the empirical result was a sharp slowing of main street growth, a massive financialization of the US economy and monumental windfalls to financial speculators who surfed on the $50 trillion bubble.

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“..when governors like Sam Brownback of Kansas or Scott Walker of Wisconsin slash spending on education and withhold infrastructure investment, they are serving the long-term interests of China rather than their own citizens”

Myopic US Policies Pave Way For China’s Dominance (MarketWatch)

The Republican governors who are reducing taxes and slashing government spending are no doubt keeping their wealthy campaign donors happy. But when governors like Sam Brownback of Kansas or Scott Walker of Wisconsin slash spending on education and withhold infrastructure investment, they are serving the long-term interests of China rather than their own citizens. Trapped in the short-term objectives of their myopic ideology, these governors, as well as the Republican majorities in Congress, are hastening the decline of the U.S. as a world hegemon, and speeding the day when China will fashion a truly world empire.

Even as this country founders with a misguided fiscal retrenchment that will leave it ill-equipped to face global competition in coming decades, China is spending hundreds of billions on highways, rail lines, and pipelines to knit together a Eurasian landmass that a longstanding theory of geopolitics sees as the key to a genuine world empire. When the high-speed rail network and web of pipelines being feverishly constructed by China makes the land transport of resources more economical than sea transport, the containment policy followed by naval powers — first Britain, then the U.S.— will no longer work.

This is the daunting thesis advanced by University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy, who sees China fulfilling the geopolitical destiny first described by British geographer Halford Mackinder in January 1904 in an impactful presentation to the Royal Geographical Society. “If China succeeds in linking its rising industries to the vast natural resources of the Eurasian heartland, then quite possibly, as Sir Halford Mackinder predicted on that cold London night in 1904, ‘the empire of the world would be in sight,’” McCoy wrote in a blog post this week. In Mackinder’s view — which has come to be known as the Pivot of History or Heartland Theory — it is the “world island” comprising Europe, Asia and Africa that is destined by geography to become the dominant world empire.

Though Mackinder’s forecast has taken longer than expected due to two world wars, the Russian Revolution and the Sino-Soviet split, China is now making good on the potential he described, McCoy says. “After decades of quiet preparation, Beijing has recently begun revealing its grand strategy for global power, move by careful move,” McCoy writes. “Its two-step plan is designed to build a transcontinental infrastructure for the economic integration of the world island from within, while mobilizing military forces to surgically slice through Washington’s encircling containment.”

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The old dream of the big continent. But what happens when China’s economy halts?

China’s Answer to Europe’s Needs (Bloomberg)

Although Budapest and Beijing are separated by 6,000 miles, they’ve just agreed to become much closer. In a quiet ceremony held last weekend, Hungary became the first European country to sign onto China’s New Silk Road initiative, a multi-billion dollar program to build up infrastructure and trade along the land and maritime routes of the ancient Silk Road that stretched across Asia and Europe. Right now, Hungary’s participation probably won’t have an impact beyond its own borders. But as others countries follow its lead, China’s economic and political relationship with Europe will likely undergo a dramatic shift – one that may not be to the European Union’s liking.

The Chinese government’s interest in Europe isn’t new. In recent years, it has made substantial investments in Greek port facilities, and agreed to help finance the development of high-speed rail service between Belgrade and Budapest. In both cases, China wanted to simplify the logistics of exporting to European markets. In return, it offered something to the countries in question: help building infrastructure, and easier access to Chinese markets (assuming they could figure out something to export back). The novelty of the New Silk Road initiative is that China is now pursuing far deeper partnerships as part of a comprehensive political strategy. Previously, policy makers in Beijing tended to treat, say, an investment in Tajikistan as a discrete exchange – you get a pipeline, we get gas.

Under the New Silk Road framework, it’s part of an explicit effort to expand Chinese influence across Eurasia – one step toward earning primacy for China on the global stage. Beijing hasn’t denied having vast ambitions for a program it expects to spur $2.5 trillion in annual trade by the end of the decade. In March, Xinhua, China’s official state news wire, announced the purpose of the program is nothing less than to “change the world political and economic landscape.” According to an analysis by Barclays, China’s economy will benefit enormously from opening up new markets for its excess capacity. For example, China’s massive state-owned sector currently earns an average return on investment of just over 4%. In contrast, Barclays estimates the average return for Chinese firms on New Silk Road infrastructure projects to be between 10 and 15%.

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It’s like a vaudeville act: Xi and Li playing with fire.

The World’s Worst Investment Bubble Will Burst Soon (MarketWatch)

Investment bubbles always look so obvious in hindsight. But when you’re in the middle of one, it’s hard to fight the crowd, even if that little voice in your head tells you to run for the hills. Why? Bubbles produce compelling narratives that give people reasons to believe. The Internet is changing everything. Housing prices never go down. Tulips are the most precious commodity on God’s green Earth, etc. Now the same thing is happening again in China, a market that has had one huge bubble burst only recently. The Shanghai Composite index briefly topped 6,000 in October 2007 only to plummet to just above 1,700, a sickening 70% plunge in only 12 months.

But a mere seven years later, Shanghai is above 5,000 again, and the bulls say more gains lie ahead, even though China’s economy is slowing dramatically and some valuations already are stratospheric. They’re counting on China’s central bank to keep cutting rates. It already has reduced them three times in the past six months. Sound familiar? Also, the Chinese government has eased trading restrictions on foreign investors. On Tuesday, index provider MSCI said it “expects to include China A shares in its global benchmarks” once it works out some issues with Chinese regulators.

A flood of institutional money would presumably follow. Indeed, mutual fund company Vanguard said last week it would gradually increase the number of mainland China-traded A shares in its Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund and ETF. This macro “story” has powered Shanghai 150% higher in the past 12 months. Shenzhen and other mainland markets with riskier, more speculative stocks have nearly tripled. With the animal spirits unleashed, average Chinese investors are piling in. In a reverse of what happened in the U.S. in the 2000s, Chinese investors fleeing a busted housing market have thrown their money into stocks. Talk about going from the wok to the fire!

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“Other eurozone countries insisted that restructuring must not happen in 2010, and to the extent it was for their benefit, they should share the burden.”

Demands On Greece Will Yield The Opposite Of What They Promise (FT)

The creditor demands and Greek counterproposals cover the primary (before interest) budget surplus, tax rates and pension payments, and a host of structural reforms. As you contemplate the list, it is worth shoving the details to one side and asking a more basic question: why do the creditors bother? What does it matter to Brussels, Frankfurt, Berlin and Washington whether the leftwing radicals in Athens adopt economic policies that the creditors claim are better for Greece? Why can’t the Greeks be left to sink or swim on their own? Of the answers that could be thought up to this question, many are illegitimate. They include the feeling that Greece need to be punished for being a deceitful troublemaker in Europe’s midst.

Also, the anti-democratic view that if the people make a bad choice the technocrats had better protect them against themselves. The only legitimate justification for the creditors’ insistence on specific policies is that these may be necessary for them to get their money back. Even there, the legitimacy is not clear-cut. Only 10% of the rescue loans financed Greek spending – the rest went to pay back outstanding debt that should have been restructured instead. Other eurozone countries insisted that restructuring must not happen in 2010, and to the extent it was for their benefit, they should share the burden. But for what it’s worth, the creditors’ interest in getting their money back makes the primary surplus by far the most important negotiation point.

The other demands can be justified only insofar as they are needed to reach a legitimate primary surplus target, otherwise not. But the creditors show a galling unwillingness to realise that by now, tightening Greece’s primary balance will make them less, not more, likely to get their money back. It is worth repeating the debt arithmetic we drew up last week. A plausible assumption is a fiscal multiplier (the effect of budget tightening on the economy) of 1.5 and a second-round effect of a GDP loss on the budget of one-third (it would be interesting to know which numbers the creditors use).

That means to achieve a given consolidation, measures twice as large have to be put in place, and the economy will shrink by three times the amount. Athens now seems to have accepted the creditors’ demand for a 1% of GDP primary surplus this year – from the 2/3% deficit the creditors’ currently expect. So to achieve that one-and-two-thirds percentage point improvement, fiscal measures have to be taken worth 3.33% of GDP – not, as many seem to think, one-and-two-thirds. And the economy will be 5% smaller than it would otherwise be.

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There is no clearer sign of how the EU has deteriorated than having certified nut Tusk speak on its behalf.

Varoufakis: ‘Contrary To Stubborn Rumours, We Never Gambled’ (Bloomberg)

Greece was told to stop fighting creditors’ demands and sign a deal that will avert a default as officials plan for a worsening of the crisis. Diplomatic niceties evaporated in Brussels on Thursday as European Union President Donald Tusk rebuked Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for dragging his feet on a debt agreement and the IMF’s team walked out of negotiations. Greek stocks tumbled. At a meeting of euro-area government staffers late Thursday, Greece was given less than 24 hours to come up with firm proposals to end the impasse, two officials present said. Policy makers are now examining all scenarios if Greece refuses to compromise, including the possibility that the country could eventually leave the currency, said the officials.

“There is no more time for gambling,” Tusk told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. “The day is coming, I am afraid, that someone says the game is over.” Greek banks fell as much as 8.1% and traded 7.1% lower at 11:30 a.m. in Athens. Greek bank stocks have lost more than 50% since the previous government of Antonis Samaras began to unravel in December. The Athens Stock Exchange Index, which has lost 24% since then, dropped as much as 4.2% on Friday. Standing on the brink of economic ruin, a reality check awaited Greece. The trio of lenders that hold the key to the country’s fate have run out of patience with what they see as delaying tactics and mixed messages of a leader elected to end an era of austerity.

“The ball is very much in Greece’s court,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington. “There are major differences between us in most key areas. There has been no progress in narrowing these differences recently.” Greece is ready to speed up talks as its creditors have demanded and is aiming to reach an agreement in the next few days, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said in an e-mail on Thursday as Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis pushed back against Tusk’s criticism. “Contrary to stubborn rumours, we never gambled,” Varoufakis said on Twitter.

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It shows that no-one can be expected to overhaul the whole edifice in 5 months while they’re ordered to draft new troika plans every single day.

Greek Pension Mess Shows There’s No Easy Way Out of Impasse (Bloomberg)

To find out why Greece’s pension system is tying negotiators up in knots, look no further than Maria Kounani, 59, a mother of two, single parent and early retiree. The maker of sewing patterns applied for a reduced pension last year, when the business where she’d worked for 20 years struggled with unpaid orders. To qualify for a full pension she needed to work another 10 years. She opted for early retirement, the only real choice she says she had, and one Greece’s creditors say is undermining the pension system. “I did it because no one is hiring me,” Kounani said. “They’re not even hiring my daughter who’s 39.” As Greek pensions remain a key sticking point in talks with creditors, cases like Kounani show why there are no simple ways out.

For creditors, the pension system is still too generous. For the Greek government, it’s a system struggling to cope after five years of recession and dwindling contributions in a nation with the European Union’s highest unemployment. In the first quarter, the rate was 26.6% overall and 30.6% for women. An aging population and an €8 billion hit to pension finances because of the largest sovereign debt restructuring in history in 2012 hasn’t helped. “If you have a new contribution system and a new system of calculating pensions and a person loses her job, she falls out of the system,” said Jens Bastian, an economist and a former member of the EC’s Greek task force. “That’s a macro issue that no number of pension system reforms can fix.” [..]

In parliament on June 5, Tsipras called the proposals from creditors “unrealistic” and said no lawmaker could agree to demands such as removing a stipend from the lowest-paid pensioners. Tsipras has agreed to merge funds to cut costs and close loopholes that allow early retirement. He blamed five years of austerity for weakening the system, saying fund reserves fell by €25 billion through the 2012 debt swap and high unemployment. In the last five years, pensions fell as much as 48%, Tsipras said, while 45% of recipients get pensions that are below the poverty threshold. Kounani gets a provisional payment of €420 a month and will get a final pension disclosed to her next year. She hopes it will be a little more than what she gets now, so that there’s a bit left over after paying her rent of €360 a month.

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As of that’s news. All parties must do this.

German Government Consulting On What To Do If Greece Goes Bankrupt (Reuters)

The German government is holding “concrete consultations” on what to do in the case of a bankruptcy of the Greek state, German newspaper Bild said, citing several people familiar with the matter. This includes discussions about introducing capital controls in Greece if the crisis-stricken country goes bankrupt, Bild said in an advance copy of an article due to be published on Friday. It said a debt haircut for Greece was also being discussed, adding that government officials were in close contact with the ECB on that.

The German government did not, however, have a concrete plan of how it would react if Greece goes bankrupt and much would have to be decided on an ad-hoc basis, Bild cited the sources as saying. Earlier on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund dramatically raised the stakes in Greece’s stalled debt talks, announcing that its delegation had left negotiations in Brussels and flown home because of major differences with Athens.

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Obviously.

Keeping Greece in the Euro May Have Nothing to Do With … Euros (Bloomberg)

The need to keep Greece firmly in the bosom of the West has always underpinned decisions about its European role. Greece became the 10th member of what’s now the EU in 1981 – joining before Spain and Austria. For 26 years, until Bulgaria joined in 2007, it shared no land border with another EU member. It adopted the euro in 2001, only then to reveal less than a decade later its finances weren’t in order. Merkel’s words were an echo of what Truman told Congress in 1947. That’s when he got approval for military and economic aid to prevent Greece from falling under the influence of the Soviet Union during its 1946-49 civil war. ‘‘Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far-reaching to the west as well as to the east,” Truman said.

“We must take immediate and resolute action.” The Greeks joined NATO in 1952, three years before the Federal Republic of Germany and the same time as Turkey, uniting two traditional enemies under one umbrella. The aid Greece received under the Truman Doctrine and then the Marshall Plan bankrolled years of growth. Greek leftists chafed at the U.S. influence. The military regime, or junta, in 1967 to 1974 was seen as sponsored by the U.S. Truman’s statue, erected in 1963 by grateful Greek Americans, was defaced, attacked and toppled regularly over the years to protest U.S. policies in Greece and the region.

As Tsipras prepared to meet Merkel in Brussels on Wednesday evening, his foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, told a gathering at Oxford University that now is the time to decide whether the pursuit of security, prosperity and freedom will prevail over the focus on numbers and profit margins. “Nowadays the role of geopolitics is more important than before,” Kotzias said. “Our world is in the midst of a conflict between its current needs and the future demands.” The EU “needs to learn to see beyond the end of its nose, as we say in Greece,” he said. “To manage our future not as a momentary action, nor as a shareholders’ meeting that thinks with an horizon of quarterly earnings.”

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Debt restructuring is inevitable, so let’s get it done.

EU Issues Final Warning To Greece As Last-Ditch Talks Achieve Nothing (AEP)

The European Union has warned Greece in the clearest language to date that its patience is exhausted and the country will be abandoned to its fate unless it accepts creditor demands in short order. Donald Tusk, the EU’s president, said the radical-Left Syriza government must stop spinning out the negotiations and face hard choices before Greece spirals irrevocably into default. “There is no more time for gambling. The day is coming, I’m afraid, that someone says that the game is over,” he said. The blunt language came as the International Monetary Fund pulled its officials out of the talks, citing a failure to break the deadlock after four months of wrangling. “There are major differences between us in most key areas. There has been no progress in narrowing these differences,” it said.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras failed to secure any substantive concessions during two days of stormy talks with key power-brokers in Brussels, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande. Mrs Merkel tried to put the best gloss on events, insisting that Greece had agreed to work “full steam ahead” to break the impasse. Yet her assurances belie the reality that Syriza and Europe’s creditor powers are no closer to a deal as bankruptcy looms. The Greek interior ministry has ordered regional governors and mayors to transfer all cash reserves to the central bank as an emergency measure. The mounting worry is that the government may not be able to meet its bill for salaries and pensions this month. The economy is sliding deeper into recession and tax revenues are falling short.

Bizarrely, the Athens stock market soared 8.2pc in a wave of euphoria, swept by unsubstantiated rumours of a breakthrough that left Greek officials scratching their heads. The Piraeus Bank and Eurobank both jumped 19pc, while yields on two-year Greek debt plummeted 135 basis points to 23.8pc. Markets may have misjudged the political choreography of the talks in Brussels. It is understood that Mr Tsipras chose to acquiesce in what insiders deem to be a “negotiating charade” in order to show willingness and avoid blame at home if the showdown ends in rupture, and even in Greece’s ejection from the euro. It does not mean that Athens has ditched its fundamental demand for debt restructuring, an end to austerity and a comprehensive solution that puts Greece on a viable economic path.

“They tell us that there will be plenty of money for the next year or two if we sign on the dotted line and accept the Memorandum,” said one official. “The creditors are taking this to the wire because they think we are scared – and we are scared – but we cannot accept these terms because they solve nothing,” he said. Syriza has proposed a debt swap that would let it borrow from the eurozone bail-out find (ESM) to repay €27bn of liabilities to the ECB, a rotation from one creditor to another. This would have the effect of stretching maturities and averting a default to the ECB in July. The plan has so far been rejected out of hand by Brussels.

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The extent to which the press shows any true insight in what’s going on is painfully limited. They see no fundamental difference between selling a second hand car and negotiating about abject poverty of half a country.

IMF To Alexis Tsipras: ‘Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?’ (Guardian)

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” The lines spoken by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry sprang to mind when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it had called its Greek negotiating team home from talks in Brussels. The IMF’s message was short and brutal. There were still major differences between Greece and its creditors. There was no progress in narrowing those differences. The two sides were well away from an agreement. So much, then, for the talk earlier this week that a deal is close. Shares across Europe surged on hopes that a resolution to the crisis was at hand, but that optimism was punctured by the news from Washington. The IMF, clearly, has had enough.

It was unimpressed by Greece’s decision to bundle up all four of the debt repayments due this month and is frustrated by the unwillingness of Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, to cross its two “red line” issues – pensions and labour-market reform. This, then, is the IMF holding the gun to Alexis Tsipras’s head. It feels like a pivotal moment, the point where the creditors are saying “take it or leave it” and the Greeks have to decide whether the IMF really means it. Up until now, the view in Athens has been that the troika – made up of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European commission – has been bluffing.

The view has been that there is always room for a bit more haggling, always time to cut a better deal that would avoid the need to make the changes to pensions, VAT and collective bargaining being demanded in exchange for fresh financial assistance. Greece has reached this conclusion for a number of reasons. It thinks European politicians will be wary of anything that might push Greece out of the single currency, because that would be a setback to the idea that Europe only ever moved forward. It believes that Angela Merkel will be willing to compromise for fear that a Grexit would push Tsipras into the willing arms of Vladimir Putin. And it is convinced that the reforms being demanded by the troika are wrong-headed and will impose more pain on a population that has suffered enough.

For their part, the creditors say Greece is not serious about reform, with the IMF noting that the Greek government is contributing 10% of GDP to pensions against an EU average of 2%. Put simply, they know Greece is running out of money and wants to stay in the euro. They are fed up with Tsipras acting like he is the one holding the .44 Magnum and they are threatening to pull the trigger. This movie climaxes next week.

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“We are left with the conclusion that IMF leaders just don’t seem to be reading their own research.”

The Slow Transformation Of The IMF (Rochon)

In recent years, the IMF research department has even espoused and given empirical support to a wide range of socially oriented economic policies, what many would call left-friendly. Today, there is no doubt the research department at the IMF has drifted somewhat away from its right-of-centre pulpit, in a series of important policy shifts. Of course, there remain important differences between what trained economists at the IMF are writing (the analysis) and what the political leaders of the IMF, like its director Christine Lagarde, are espousing publicly (the policies). Nowhere is this more evident for instance than the advice given to Greece. We are left with the conclusion that IMF leaders just don’t seem to be reading their own research. As economist Francesco Saraceno has clearly demonstrated, the IMF has gone on record with the following analytical conclusions:

1. Expansionary fiscal policy, with a focus on public investment, is basically a “free lunch.” Given the large impact of public expenditures, particularly in recessions, austerity programs are harmful and should be replaced by higher government spending. In fact, austerity the IMF argued, could not work. Concern over public debt is overrated;

2. Labor-market flexibility (for instance, reduction in wages; decreases in union participation) do not foster economic growth; they just are another element in a regressive income distributive regime, along with financial globalization;

3. Countries should actively manage their capital accounts, and even reverse the trend for even more deregulated financial flows;

4. Sustained and stable economic growth is achieved through a progressive income distribution, with redistributive efforts having no discernible negative impact on the economic performance. This argument is virtually a rejection of the efficiency-income egalitarianism trade-off behind the neoliberal discourse and “trickle-down” policies.

At first glance, these policies can appear to be quite progressive, and in many respects they are. Ignored by the mainstream of the profession and discarded by leaders and institutions around the globe, these policies have at one time or another, all been actively promoted by progressive economists, as well as by some progressive political parties and organizations.

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Australia.

Stupidity Is The Biggest Problem In The Housing Debate (Pickering)

Recent comments by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey highlight the biggest problem with Australia’s housing debate: pure unfettered stupidity. Faced with a social issue that requires real solutions and hard decisions; the federal government has instead stuck its head in the sand and hopes it will just go away. Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens was having none of it yesterday, declaring that the Sydney market had become “crazy” and a genuine “social problem”. It was strong language from a normally circumspect public servant. “What is happening in housing in Sydney I find acutely concerning for a host of reasons,” Stevens told the Economic Society of Australia yesterday. “I think some of what’s happening is crazy, but we [the RBA] have a national focus and so that just increases the complexity.”

If Stevens believes that a market has gone ‘crazy’ then there’s a good chance it went past that point long ago. It’s been well documented how slow the RBA was to endorse the use of macroprudential policies — particularly given the swift action of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The data itself suggests that current dynamics in the Sydney property market are unprecedented over the past few decades. The only comparable episode, in the early 2000s, resulted in real Sydney dwelling prices falling to such an extent that they didn’t pass their 2003 peak for another decade. Earlier this month, Treasury secretary John Fraser warned that the Sydney property market was “unequivocally” in a bubble. Nevertheless, Hockey and Abbott won’t have a bar of it.

“The starting point for a first home buyer is to get a good job that pays good money,” Hockey said earlier this week. “Then you can go to the bank and borrow money.” “If housing were unaffordable in Sydney, no one would be buying it.” It’s a simplistic view of the world that suits the ideological foundations of a party famed for its usage of three-word slogans. If only life was that simple. In the Sydney property market it is no longer enough to simply find yourself a good job. An individual can earn between $80,000 and $90,000 in Sydney while renting and make minimal progress towards saving up for a housing deposit. Increasingly younger Australians are relying on their parents or grandparents for financial support either directly through rent-free living or via cash handouts. Misguided housing policy has created an intergenerational property market in which the wealth of one’s parents is the single best indicator of whether you can enter the market.

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It’ll be an uphill battle.

A Bitcoin Start-Up Has Made Exchanging Currency Free (CNBC)

A bitcoin start-up has launched a service that will allow people to carry out foreign exchange transactions for free, dodging the expensive commission often charged by major financial institutions. Bitreserve, a company founded last year by CNET and salesforce.com co-founder Halsey Minor, allows people to convert bitcoin into normal currencies and precious metals. The start-up used to charge a 0.45% commission for bitcoin-to-dollar transactions, but has now cut its fees entirely. The move is likely to give it an edge in the hotly contested “fintech” market where a number of companies such as U.K.-based Transferwise are contesting the currency transfer and mobile payments space.

Users of the platform will be able to make currency exchanges in eight major currencies: euros, dollars, pounds, yuan, yen, pesos, rupees, swiss francs. People will also have the ability to convert the currencies into gold, silver, platinum and palladium, depending on the market price. Bitreserve offers the mid-market rate for currencies. “Those in society who can least afford it have to spend so much for things that are so commonplace,” Anthony Watson, president and chief operating officer of Bitreserve, told CNBC by phone. “If you look at Mexican immigrants, they send approximately $30 billion home every year and they pay just under $3 billion for the privilege of sending that money home. That is 10% and that is disgusting.”

Bitreserve’s service comes with a catch however – you have to own bitcoin to use the service in order to make an initial deposit and then convert it to another asset. Plus, when users receive money, they can only spend it in bitcoin. This could put it at a disadvantage to other companies that allow people to sign up with bank accounts and send money for still a small commission.

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Most of Europe -excluding, Italy, Greece- in effect have a citizens income already. So why not make it a European law?

Italian Statistics Agency Validates Citizens Income Proposal (M5S)

The Citizens’ Income is the priority for ltaly. ISTAT, the Statistics Agency, has verified that the cost to implement this would be €14.9 billion. The M5S has found the resources to finance this – by cutting wasteful spending, and Europa is demanding that we implement this. The only thing missing is the willingness of the parties to discuss and approve it in Parliament. The Citizens’ Income is being discussed right now in the Senate Committee and we are callling on the President of the Senate, Grasso, to get together with the group leaders and Alberto Airola to get our Citizens’ Income draft law onto the agenda for the floor of the Senate as soon as possible (as set out in Art. 53 section 3 of the Senate Regulations). Each day that is lost is another slap in the face to each of the 10 million Italians living below the poverty line. No one must be left behind. Citizens’ Income now!

“This morning in the Senate’s Labour Committee, the President of ISTAT and various members of the Statistics Agency spoke to the Committee and presented a report containing an in-depth financial analysis about our proposed law for a Citizens’ Income. In the last few months we have been attacked in so many ways and we have heard unfounded criticism coming from people in different political parties stating that the cost of our proposal was more than 30 billion. But now it’s ISTAT that is confirming the validity of our proposal! According to the ISTAT report presented to the Senate, the income support in this package would cost €14.9 billion, which is €600 million less than the estimate we had in our initial model.

It’s worth noting that even ISTAT reckons that the M5S’s proposal for a Citizens’ Income turns out to be the most comprehensive proposal under discussion. This is because there is no distribution of resources to those who are not experiencing serious financial difficulties. In fact, the money is targeted at the 2,759,000 families (about 10 million people) with an income that is below the poverty line defined by Eurostat: €780. ISTAT adds that the Citizens’ Income is a measure that “tends to create a solid network of social protection, and fills in certain gaps that could be found in the welfare system. It highlights the difference between youth poverty and the situation of young people living on their own.“

Thanks to the savings verified by ISTAT, it is possible to free up further resources by taking additional actions like: strengthening the Job Shops, and promoting the creation of new enterprises and innovative start-ups. There are no longer any excuses. We are now calling on the President of the Senate, Grasso, to get together with the group leaders and Alberto Airola to get our Citizens’ Income draft law onto the agenda for the floor of the Senate as soon as possible (as set out in Art. 53 section 3 of the Senate Regulations). Thus let Pietro Grasso keep to his commitments, respect the regulations and take immediate steps. With the Citizens’ Income, nobody gets left behind.”

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Jun 092015
 
 June 9, 2015  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Tracy, California. Tank truck delivering gasoline to a filling station 1942

The Warren Buffet Economy: Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 1 (David Stockman)
Robert Prechter Is Warning Of A ‘Sharp Collapse’ In Stocks (MarketWatch)
Iceland Warns Hedge Funds Not to Sue as it Seeks Billions in Taxes (Bloomberg)
Greece, Creditors Discuss Extending Bailout in Bid to Break Deadlock (WSJ)
Grexit Would Be “Start Of The End For The Eurozone,” Says Tsipras (DW)
Greek PM Tsipras Says Accord Possible If Pensions Are Not Cut (Reuters)
Greece Lashes Out at Creditor Demands (Bloomberg)
Greece Is Not Ireland – And It’s Not Just About The Economics (Mason)
Merkel-Schaeuble Differences Over Greece Approach Said to Widen (Bloomberg)
BRICs Hit a Wall, Drag Down Rest of the World (Pesek)
Billionaire Cartier Owner Sees Wealth Gap Fueling Social Warfare (Bloomberg)
Auto Title Lenders Are Snagging Unwary Borrowers In Cycle Of Debt (LA Times)
At Least Two More Illinois Cities Poised for Bankruptcy (Mish)
Who’s The Real Culprit Behind Australia’s Housing Bubble? (ABC.au)
Washington’s Great Game and Why It’s Failing (Alfred McCoy)
The New World Order – A Faustian Bargain (Jeff Thomas)
Pentagon Report Proves US Complicity In ISIS (Nafeez Ahmed)
Richard Branson Peddles Technohappy ‘Remedies’ For Climate Change (Bloomberg)
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Will Harass Thousands Of Whales And Seals (Guardian)
Influx Of Migrants To Greek Islands From Turkey Up Sixfold (Kathimerini)

‘Nice’ overview.

The Warren Buffet Economy: Why Its Days Are Numbered-Part 1 (David Stockman)

During the 27 years after Alan Greenspan became Fed chairman in August 1987, the balance sheet of the Fed exploded from $200 billion to $4.5 trillion. Call it 23X.

Let’s see what else happened over that 27 year span. Well, according to Forbes, Warren Buffet’s net worth was $2.1 billion back in 1987 and it is now $73 billion. Call that 35X.

During those same years, the value of non-financial corporate equities rose from $2.6 trillion to $36.6 trillion. That’s on the hefty side, too—- about 14X.

Corporate Equities and GDP - Click to enlarge

Corporate Equities and GDP – Click to enlarge

When we move to the underlying economy that purportedly gave rise to these fabulous gains, the X-factor is not so generous. As shown above, nominal GDP rose from $5.0 trillion to $17.7 trillion during the same 27-year period. But that was only 3.5X

Next we have wage and salary compensation, which rose from $2.5 trillion to $7.5 trillion over the period. Make that 3.0X.

Then comes the median nominal income of US households. That measurement increased from $26K to $54K over the period. Call it 2.0X.

Digging deeper, we have the sum of aggregate labor hours supplied to the nonfarm economy. That metric of real work by real people rose from 185 billion to 235 billion during those same 27 years. Call it 1.27X.

Further down the Greenspan era rabbit hole, we have the average weekly wage of full-time workers in inflation adjusted dollars. That was $330 per week in 1987 and is currently $340 (1982=100). Call that 1.03X

Finally, we have real median family income. Call it a round trip to nowhere over nearly three decades!

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“..those looking to buy have already done so, leaving fewer buyers to step in if the market starts slipping.”

Robert Prechter Is Warning Of A ‘Sharp Collapse’ In Stocks (MarketWatch)

The president of Elliott Wave International, Rovert Prechter may not be a household name on Main Street, but he’s widely known on Wall Street as the foremost authority on the Elliott Wave principle, a forecasting methodology used by generations of technical analysts that is based on the belief that financial markets trend in five waves, and retrace in three waves. Prechter is also the executive director of the Socionomics Institute, founded to study how those same wave patterns define changes in social mood and govern social events. “If the cycle is still operating, the stock market is at high risk of a sharp collapse. Near term, we’re prepared to see the Dow make one more high. But it doesn’t have to happen.”

Elliott Wave analysis, which was devised by Ralph Nelson Elliott in the 1930s, is much more than a bunch of numbers and letters placed on a chart to denote which wave, or degree of waves, the market is traversing. Those who fully embrace it say it is the only form of technical analysis that can incorporate and explain all the other techniques used by chart watchers. Walter Zimmerman at energy research firm United-ICAP, calls it the “grand unified field theory of chart pattern analysis.” Head-and-shoulders reversals, technical divergences, candlestick charts—they can all be explained within the framework of the Elliott Wave principle, Zimmerman said.

Based on Prechter’s analysis of where the stock market is positioned within its wave structure, he believes the bull market is in a “precarious position.” For one, he said the sentiment indicators he follows have reflected extreme optimism for over two years. That is often viewed as a contrarian signal, because it suggests those looking to buy have already done so, leaving fewer buyers to step in if the market starts slipping. In addition, Prechter said a number of momentum indicators have been revealing a “dramatic lessening” in the number of stocks and indexes that have participated in the rally in recent months.

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A daring plan indeed.

Iceland Warns Hedge Funds Not to Sue as it Seeks Billions in Taxes (Bloomberg)

The prime minister of Iceland said any hedge fund planning to challenge the legal basis of a planned tax on failed bank assets should think again. “If they wanted to make some kind of an example out of Iceland, to threaten people, then this wouldn’t be a good case for them,” Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said in an interview in Reykjavik on Monday. “This is founded on solid legal ground.” Iceland has tried to ensure its treatment of creditors caught in an $85 billion banking default won’t drag the island through an Argentine-like period of litigation. The island’s 2008 financial meltdown wiped out its three biggest banks after the government said the $15 billion economy didn’t have the means to save them.

The economic collapse that followed forced Iceland to impose capital controls to stop investors from fleeing its markets. The island’s approach to addressing the crisis won praise from Nobel laureates including Paul Krugman and institutions led by the International Monetary Fund. Iceland’s central bank estimates gross domestic product will grow 4.5% this year, well above the 1.5% the European Commission sees the euro zone expanding. Gunnlaugsson’s administration on Monday unveiled an historic piece of legislation to unwind capital controls in place for almost seven years. But to make sure the measures don’t result in a capital exodus led by hedge funds, the island also imposed a one-time so-called stability tax of 39%.

Only winding-up committees that are able to reach a composition agreement approved by the central bank and finance ministry will be exempt. They have until the end of the year to do so, under the new legislation. Whether hedge funds end up paying the tax or see their claims whittled down through a composition process may end up being largely moot. The government has indicated it expects to get as much as $5.1 billion from creditors in the failed banks before they exit the island. Efforts to defend Iceland’s financial stability mean bank creditors probably need to leave at least 500 billion kronur ($3.8 billion) in the economy, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said in a separate interview on Monday. He says it’s likely that “the actual stability payment will be lower than the levied stability tax.”

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An easy way out?

Greece, Creditors Discuss Extending Bailout in Bid to Break Deadlock (WSJ)

Greece and its creditors are discussing an extension of the country’s bailout program through March 2016, people familiar with the talks said, an offer aimed at breaking a protracted standoff over the terms for fresh aid and averting a Greek default. The proposal, first presented last week, is part of European officials’ efforts to prod the government in Athens to agree to painful concessions in exchange for rescue funds. But continued disagreements over the economic overhauls and austerity measures demanded by Greece’s lenders risk undermining the plan, people familiar with the plans say. The eurozone’s portion of Greece’s €245 billion rescue program runs out at the end of June, raising questions over how Athens will pay off its debt beyond this month and remain in Europe’s currency union.

With a debt load close to 180% of its gross domestic product and an economy back in recession, Greece is unable to raise money from international bond markets and has been depending on rescue loans from the eurozone and IMF for more than five years. A nine-month extension would help carry Athens over its current funding gap. It would also give both Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his country’s creditors—the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund—more time to chart a new path for Greece’s economy. But it leaves open questions over whether the government would, indeed, be able to finance itself beyond March, or need even more support.

To help keep Greece solvent over the proposed bailout extension, Greece would receive financing from some €10.9 billion in aid money that had originally been set aside to prop up Greek banks, three people familiar with the negotiations said. The measures, they said, were discussed at a meeting between Mr. Tsipras and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, on Wednesday. “What we offered would mean that Greece is fully financed until March 2016,” one of the people said.

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“Europe and international institutions must recognize that austerity has failed..”

Grexit Would Be “Start Of The End For The Eurozone,” Says Tsipras (DW)

In the interview in the Tuesday edition of Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Tsipras said that if Greece were forced out of the eurozone after failing to make a deal on managing its debt, Spain or Italy could soon follow, precipitating the collapse of the currency bloc. “It would be the start of the end for the eurozone,” Tsipras said. “If Europe’s political leadership cannot handle a problem like Greece, which represents 2 percent of its economy, how will the markets react to countries that are facing much bigger problems, like Spain or Italy that has a 2 billion euro public debt?” he said. “If Greece goes bankrupt, the markets will immediately look for the next victim.

If negotiations fail, the cost for European taxpayers will be enormous,” he warned. Tsipras also reiterated comments made in the past few days in which he rejected demands by Greece’s international creditors to cut pensions and other social spending in return for access to the last tranche of a multi-billion-euro bailout. Tsipras feels Greece is being unfairly targeted with harsh austerity measures. But he said Greece could reach a deal if these demands for austerity were dropped. “Europe and international institutions must recognize that austerity has failed,” he said.

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But that is the one point the troika won’t let go of.

Greek PM Tsipras Says Accord Possible If Pensions Are Not Cut (Reuters)

Greece could reach a deal with its international creditors if they dropped demands including cuts to pensions, PM Alexis Tsipras said in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Tuesday. Reflecting the more conciliatory tone Athens has adopted in recent days, he said the two sides could find a compromise on key elements in any deal, including the size of a primary budget surplus. But he showed no signs of accepting creditor demands for cuts to pensions or other social spending, repeating comments he has made over recent days. “I think we’re very close to an agreement on the primary surplus for the next few years,” he told the newspaper. “There just needs to be a positive attitude on alternative proposals to cuts to pensions or the imposition of recessionary measures.”

The comments came as Greece’s international partners, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Central Bank officials, have warned that time is rapidly running out. Tsipras is due to meet Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday to try to break the impasse that has raised fears Greece could be forced out of the euro zone, with unforeseeable consequences for the single currency and the wider world economy. After dismissing the latest proposal from the EU and IMF as “absurd” last week, the leftwing government in Athens has signaled it is willing to compromise but continues to reject what it sees as unfairly punishing austerity measures. “We cannot continue with a program that has clearly failed,” Tsipras said.

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Varoufakis: “We need to avert an accident that won’t be an accident..”

Greece Lashes Out at Creditor Demands (Bloomberg)

The EU’s frustration with Greece is mounting. While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is looking to nail down when Greece is going to receive more financial aid, the country’s creditors are still focused on the policy measures required to qualify for support. German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded urgent action from the Greek government on Monday after U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his concerns about the standoff at a summit of Group of Seven leaders. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said Greece is not doing enough to overcome differences with the euro area. “I am still waiting for the Greek part of the bridge,” Juncker said in an interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk. “One can’t endlessly lengthen the EU or Eurogroup part of the bridge.”

Creditors are growing increasingly exasperated with Tsipras’s negotiating tactics after he rejected the terms of an aid package again last week. Tsipras’s government then used a technicality to postpone a payment of about €300 million to the IMF. Tsipras will travel to Brussels on Wednesday for an European Union summit with South American leaders which Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will also attend. “Europe and institutions must understand that austerity has failed,” Tsipras said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera on Tuesday. “Tomorrow we will enter into a discussion on the merits of progress made so far. We will define a clear timeframe for the deal.”

Greek Minister of State Nikos Pappas and Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will hold meetings with creditors in Brussels on Tuesday after sitting down with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici on Monday. A solution to the negotiations could be reached before June 14 but further high-level meetings will only happen if there is a chance of a deal, a French government official told reporters on the condition of anonymity. Relations between Greece and its creditors have soured since last week’s talks between Tsipras and Juncker spurred optimism that a deal might be within reach. The aftermath of that meeting has been marked by mutual recriminations, with Tsipras calling the creditors’ proposal absurd, and Juncker saying the Greek leader had misrepresented the creditors’ position.

In response to the entreaties from Merkel and Juncker, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis questioned the good faith of his country’s creditors. Varoufakis said in Berlin late Monday that aid could be released overnight if euro-area officials took the negotiations seriously. “We need to avert an accident that won’t be an accident,” he said at an event that followed a meeting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. “We have a historic duty not to allow this to happen.”

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Mason is learning.

Greece Is Not Ireland – And It’s Not Just About The Economics (Mason)

Why did Greece collapse and Ireland survive? It’s a question that perplexes international policymakers, and the answers are not to be found solely in economics. First, because the Irish crisis was a banking crisis: its banks were bust, the state bailed them out and took on debts it could not sustain. Austerity was harsh – but the economy was globalised. Even as Irish banks went bust, the Irish banking sector – an unofficial conduit of money from London to the tax havens, and full of US investment banks – was still recruiting. Then there’s agribusiness. Irish agriculture, from a country of 3 million people, produces enough to feed 50m worldwide and growing. If you look at the the profile of imports and exports from Ireland to Britain, it’s much the same via mix and per-capita GDP as the trade between the north and south of Britain.

In other words – hugely controversial to say politically – Britain and Ireland are close to being a single economy with two currencies. Ireland, in short, had the English language, an established role to play with the City of London and Frankfurt, and a modern, high-scale agriculture business. That is not to say austerity was popular: even now the water protests are boosting the same kind of radical left party we see ruling Greece, and boosting Sinn Fein, which has aligned itself internationally with Syriza. But in Ireland the kind of austerity enacted did not tank production by 25% and family incomes by 40%. It did not cause ordinary middle class people to vote for a party whose flags are red and methodology Marxist. And there was no mass fascist movement in Ireland.

The difference is: Greece is an unmodernised capitalism where you can’t impose austerity at this level and hope to modernise at the same time. I’ve become an unwilling expert, for example, on its pharmacy regulations. Sure, the law saying pharmacies can’t open within a certain short distance of each other has been repealed, but there is still a rule that says one pharmacy per 1,000 people, one owner for each pharmacy, one pharmacy for each pharmacist. Walgreens, Superdrug and Boots, in other words, are locked out of this sector, whose opening hours are not generous. There is even a massive fight over whether newsagents are allowed to sell aspirin in Greece. To somebody who needs aspirin during pharmacy closing hours this can appear a no brainer: liberalise everything.

It is exactly what the IMF has been arguing for in the Brussels Group talks, even this month: liberalise the pharmacies and bakeries or we withhold 7bn of aid and your country goes bankrupt. The problem is, the deep structures of Greek capitalism mean you can only modernise by unpicking things carefully and with consent. A population used to being seen personally by a pharmacist, to getting their drugs on informal credit when they can’t pay, just will not transform itself overnight into a midwest American consumer group. It’s the same with taxes. Hiking VAT sounds like a no-brainer in a country that needs to raise taxes. When Varoufakis proposed instead to set a low 16% top rate of VAT, on the grounds that it would undermine the culture of evasion, the IMF’s economists reportedly said yes. Somewhere along the line it got hiked to 23%. If the IMF’s negotiators wanted to give the impression their aim is to destroy most of the small businesses that keep Greek capitalism alive, and with it, consent for democracy, they are doing a brilliant job.

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She would do well to throw him out. But his right wing support is strong. How strong does Angela feel?

Merkel-Schaeuble Differences Over Greece Approach Said to Widen (Bloomberg)

A split between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is widening over Greece as the funding standoff goes down to the wire, said people familiar with the matter. Merkel is ready to make concessions to keep Greece in the euro because of geopolitical concerns, while Schaeuble is willing to let the country exit the euro unless its government takes measures to ensure the country’s long-term survival in the monetary union, said the people, who asked not be identified speaking about internal party discussions. That divide is also reflected in Merkel’s parliamentary caucus, which is increasingly uneasy with letting the 41-member budget committee decide on disbursing any aid to Greece and is looking instead at a vote of the lower house of parliament on a deal that includes changes to previous agreements, they said.

Greece is deadlocked with creditors over the conclusion of a multi-year bailout program expiring at the end of the month, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling the latest offer “a bad negotiating trick” in talks that place “clearly unrealistic” demands on the euro region’s most indebted member. While Merkel has repeatedly said she’ll keep working to allow Greece to stay in the euro area, Schaeuble has emphasized that the contagion risk from the country possibly exiting the bloc is “marginal.” Many lawmakers in Merkel’s 311-strong caucus made up of the Christian Democratic Union and Bavarian Christian Social Union are finding it difficult to support the chancellor’s position and would side with Schaeuble if forced to choose, the people said.

Some within her caucus are discussing whether Merkel would need to tie any decision on the bailout program to a confidence vote to rally lawmakers behind her, one of the people said. Any agreement that doesn’t spell out binding reform obligations wouldn’t be accepted even among those siding with Merkel, the people said. Lawmakers from all coalition parties, which also includes the Social Democrats, object to a possible last-minute vote in Germany’s lower house of parliament at the end of the month, the last week the Bundestag is in session before the summer break, one person said. Lawmakers want time to scrutinize any proposal put before them and not be pressured to make a hasty decision, the person said.

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“..emerging markets have accumulated debts in U.S. currency totaling almost $6 trillion.”

BRICs Hit a Wall, Drag Down Rest of the World (Pesek)

Fourteen years ago, Goldman Sachs presented a thesis that quickly gained traction among investors and policy makers: Brazil, Russia, India and China, the bank claimed, would increasingly drive global growth, filling a void left by the West. Today, the opposite case seems far more plausible. The so-called BRIC nations are now threatening to drag down the rest of the world. China’s exports declined in May for the third straight month, while imports slumped for the seventh month in a row. Asia’s biggest economy, in other words, is being hit in two directions: weak demand abroad and a sluggish economy at home. Not to mention the epic stock bubble that is sucking oxygen from its financial system. It’s not just China, though, as Gabriel Stein of Oxford Economics recently told me in Tokyo.

A new report from Oxford’s research team points out that imports are currently declining in Brazil, India and especially Russia. The BRICs are responsible for a drop in annual world trade by about 1.3%age points, the most pronounced deceleration since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. And these trends extend far beyond the four emerging giants. For the 13 non-BRIC developing economies that Oxford tracks, imports of goods grew by only about 1.5% in the first quarter year-over-year (the long-term average for these countries has been about 8%). And what’s most worrying is that this slowdown is taking place even before the Federal Reserve begins its announced interest rate hikes. (Emerging-market stocks fell for an 11th straight day yesterday, the longest such streak in 24 years, amid concerns about Fed policy.)

Emerging nations have certainly hit a wall before, including Southeast Asia in 1997, Russia a year later and Argentina more times than we can count. But there are good reasons to believe today’s threat could be far more severe and lasting, including emerging markets’ higher debt levels and relatively modest growth in advanced economies. Even with the recent pickup in job creation, today’s 2.7% U.S. growth is about half the pace of the late 1990s, while the euro zone’s 1% pace is only a third of its output back then. And while Japan’s economy expanded 3.9% in the first quarter, the 30% devaluation of the yen is dampening growth prospects across Asia.

The stakes are also higher now than ever before, because emerging economies are more central to the global economy. In 1999, they accounted for roughly 23% of world gross domestic product and 38% on a purchasing-power-parity basis. Today, those shares are 35% and over 50%, respectively. The BRICs alone account for about 20% of world GDP, not much different than America’s 24% in 2007, just before the global crisis. Meanwhile, developed nations are more financially exposed to emerging markets than ever before. In December, the Bank for International Settlements said emerging markets have accumulated debts in U.S. currency totaling almost $6 trillion.

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“We’re in for a huge change in society,” he said Monday. “Get used to it. And be prepared.”

Billionaire Cartier Owner Sees Wealth Gap Fueling Social Warfare (Bloomberg)

Johann Rupert, the South African who has made billions peddling Cartier jewelry and Chloe fashion, said tension between the rich and poor is set to escalate as robots and artificial intelligence fuel mass unemployment. “We cannot have 0.1% of 0.1% taking all the spoils,” said Rupert, who has a fortune worth $7.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It’s unfair and it is not sustainable.” The founder and chairman of Richemont, whose 20 brands also include Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc, said he expects advances in technology to lead to job losses after having read books on the subject recently. Conflicts between social classes will make selling luxury goods more tricky as the rich will want to conceal their wealth, Rupert said in a speech Monday at the Financial Times Business of Luxury Summit in Monaco.

“How is society going to cope with structural unemployment and the envy, hatred and the social warfare?” he said. “We are destroying the middle classes at this stage and it will affect us. It’s unfair. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.” Rupert, a university dropout whose father made a fortune setting up Rembrandt Tobacco Corp. and selling it off, has in the past made other social critiques. Nicknamed ‘Rupert the Bear’ for his pessimistic views on the economy, the 65-year-old refers to himself as a “reformed prostitute,” having spent a decade as an investment banker. He said in 2008 that the collateral damage from the financial crisis was yet to come. “We’re in for a huge change in society,” he said Monday. “Get used to it. And be prepared.”

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“What they want to do is get you into a loan where you just keep paying, paying, paying, and at the end of the day, they take your car.”

Auto Title Lenders Are Snagging Unwary Borrowers In Cycle Of Debt (LA Times)

Cash-strapped consumers are being shown a new place to find money: their driveways. Short-term lenders, seeking a detour around newly toughened restrictions on payday and other small loans, are pushing Americans to borrow more money than they often need by using their debt-free autos as collateral. So-called auto title loans — the motor vehicle version of a home equity loan — are growing rapidly in California and 24 other states where lax regulations have allowed them to flourish in recent years. Their hefty principal and high interest rates are creating another avenue that traps unwary consumers in a cycle of debt. For about 1 out of 9 borrowers, the loan ends with their vehicles being repossessed.

“I look at title lending as legalized car thievery,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento advocacy group. “What they want to do is get you into a loan where you just keep paying, paying, paying, and at the end of the day, they take your car.” Jennifer Jordan in the Central Valley town of Lemoore, Calif., lived that financial nightmare, though a legal glitch later rescued her. Jordan, 58, said she needed about $400 to help her pay bills for cable TV and other expenses that had been piling up after her mother died. She turned to one of a proliferating number of storefront title lenders, Allied Cash Advance, which promises to help “get the cash you need now.” But Jordan said it wouldn’t make a loan that small.

Instead, it would lend her $2,600 at what she later would learn was the equivalent of 153% annual interest — as long as she put up her 2005 Buick Rendezvous sport utility vehicle as collateral. Why would the company want to lend her much more money than she needed? The key reason is that California has no limit on interest rates for consumer loans of more than $2,500, and it otherwise doesn’t regulate auto title loans. “She never said anything about the interest or nothing,” Jordan said of the employee who made the loan in 2012. Six months later, unable to keep up with the loan payments, Jordan said, she was awakened at 5 a.m. “My neighbor came pounding on my door and said, ‘They’re taking your car!'” she recalled.

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Coming to a town near you soon.

At Least Two More Illinois Cities Poised for Bankruptcy (Mish)

On May 29, citing a report mentioned in Bond Buyer, I noted ‘Five Chicago Suburbs Headed for Bankruptcy (More Illinois Cities Will Follow)’. The cities are Maywood, Sauk Village, Blue Island, Country Clubs Hills, and Dolton. The village of Dolton strongly disagrees with the report. The others did not comment. The Bond Buyer report was based on an analysis of state comptroller’s local government Finance Warehouse by Marc Joffe at CivicPartner, a municipal finance research firm. I have since been in contact with Joffe and asked for an opinion of several cities I believe to be seriously troubled. My top two choices were Harvey and Robbins. Joffe responded …

“Hello Mish. Your intuition was correct about both. Harvey and Robbins are at least as bad as the five I listed in the original report. The last publicly available audited Financial Report for the City of Harvey covers the year ended April 30, 2009. In that year, the City reported an unrestricted net position of -$17.6 million and a general fund balance of -$10.4 million. The negative fund balance was equivalent to over half the city’s annual revenue. The city has provided incomplete, unaudited reports for subsequent years. The latest available report, for the year ended April 30, 2013, shows a further deterioration in the general fund balance to -$19.3 million – about 85% of annual revenues.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the city’s 2014 budget also included a deficit, suggesting that Harvey’s fiscal imbalance is even worse today. Harvey’s late reporting and accumulated general fund deficit led Fitch to downgrade the city from BBB- to B in February 2010 and then to withdraw its ratings entirely in November of that year. The city has now been unrated for more than four years.

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“.. if it is illegal to take more than $US50,000 out of China, why are so many Chinese nationals capable of splurging millions of dollars on individual properties?”

Who’s The Real Culprit Behind Australia’s Housing Bubble? (ABC.au)

No one, it seems, has had any interest in reining in the runaway housing market, a point hammered home by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week when he expressed a desire for prices to keep on rising, despite a blunt warning from new Treasury head John Fraser. The following day, as he ramped up the notion into a political fight – Bill Shorten wants your house to decrease in value – Hockey attempted to argue that soaring house prices and affordability were separate issues. What seems to have eluded our political masters is that market adage – the bigger the boom, the more painful the bust. Then of course there is the constant moan from the business lobby; Australia is too costly, wages are too high. There is a reason for that. It’s called real estate.

For the past 15 years, rents have dictated wages. Not the other way around. No matter how you measure it, Sydney and Melbourne real estate is in dangerous territory, fuelled by a heady mixture of cheap cash from foreign and domestic investors. When it unravels, the pain will reverberate through the banking system, causing enormous damage to the real economy. A major reason for the official inaction is that this is a bubble that has been deliberately contrived. In 2012, when the Reserve Bank began its easing bias, it was determined to create a housing boom – so residential construction could fill the gap created by the decline in resource project construction. But as investors, rather than owner occupiers, plunged in almost from day one, APRA and the RBA should have taken action.

Instead, they were happy to watch the bubble inflate and now, rather than admit a mistake, reluctantly are playing catch-up. A large portion of the investor action emanated from self-funded retirees, taking advantage of changes to superannuation rules that allowed them to gear up their super funds. While as a nation we boast about the extent of our national savings pool, little attention has been devoted to the fact that a significant amount of that pool is now exposed. As the Storm Financial collapse graphically illustrated, the capital losses on a property market bust will be magnified by debt. That could wipe out a significant number of super balances and put more pressure on the federal budget.

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Impressive exposé.

Washington’s Great Game and Why It’s Failing (Alfred McCoy)

For even the greatest of empires, geography is often destiny. You wouldn’t know it in Washington, though. America’s political, national security, and foreign policy elites continue to ignore the basics of geopolitics that have shaped the fate of world empires for the past 500 years. Consequently, they have missed the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are in the process of undermining the grand strategy for world dominion that Washington has pursued these past seven decades. A glance at what passes for insider “wisdom” in Washington these days reveals a worldview of stunning insularity. Take Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, Jr., known for his concept of “soft power,” as an example. Offering a simple list of ways in which he believes U.S. military, economic, and cultural power remains singular and superior, he recently argued that there was no force, internal or global, capable of eclipsing America’s future as the world’s premier power.

For those pointing to Beijing’s surging economy and proclaiming this “the Chinese century,” Nye offered up a roster of negatives: China’s per capita income “will take decades to catch up (if ever)” with America’s; it has myopically “focused its policies primarily on its region”; and it has “not developed any significant capabilities for global force projection.” Above all, Nye claimed, China suffers “geopolitical disadvantages in the internal Asian balance of power, compared to America.” Or put it this way (and in this Nye is typical of a whole world of Washington thinking): with more allies, ships, fighters, missiles, money, patents, and blockbuster movies than any other power, Washington wins hands down.

If Professor Nye paints power by the numbers, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s latest tome, modestly titled World Order and hailed in reviews as nothing less than a revelation, adopts a Nietzschean perspective. The ageless Kissinger portrays global politics as plastic and so highly susceptible to shaping by great leaders with a will to power. By this measure, in the tradition of master European diplomats Charles de Talleyrand and Prince Metternich, President Theodore Roosevelt was a bold visionary who launched “an American role in managing the Asia-Pacific equilibrium.” On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic dream of national self-determination rendered him geopolitically inept and Franklin Roosevelt was blind to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s steely “global strategy.” Harry Truman, in contrast, overcame national ambivalence to commit “America to the shaping of a new international order,” a policy wisely followed by the next 12 presidents.

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A topic that warrants much more scrutiny. You don’t need a master plan for things to go horribly awry.

The New World Order – A Faustian Bargain (Jeff Thomas)

The push-and-pull of sociopathic leaders is unending. Their very makeup dictates that each one individually will always be vying for more. In order to achieve that, they will form subversive subgroups that will agree on a separate direction from what has been agreed by the primary group, and along the way, each one, in his lack of conscience and loyalty, might betray both the primary group and the subgroup. In the end, there’s no question that there are those who consider themselves to be part of a New World Order, as so many have publicly stated so themselves, for generations. Also, there can be little doubt that each member expects to come out of the deal as a ruler, not as one of the ruled. Further, the effort is ongoing and growing, and will result in great damage for the average person who, in most cases, simply wishes to be left alone to run his own life.

It has been postulated by many that those who see themselves as an Elite are nearing the completion of what they perceive as world dominance. However, should they succeed, they will betray their partners the very next day, as it’s their nature to do so. Their behaviour would likely be that of a group of cats with their tails tied together. So, what might we take away from this discussion? First, that there most assuredly are extremely domineering forces (regardless of how closely associated they might be), which, in the near future, will do immense damage to the cause of freedom in the world, particularly in those countries where they are most dominant, or will become most dominant. Second, the situation does appear to be reaching a head.

The two greatest uncertainties will be how much damage will be done before the dust has settled, and how protracted the period of destruction and struggle for dominance might be. Ultimately, for the reasons stated above, I don’t believe the New World Order concept can fully prevail, but it can and will do damage of unprecedented proportions in the attempt to implement it. Those involved will not be swayed from their individual or collective objectives (consider Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin). The best that can be done is to work at placing ourselves as far outside of their sphere of influence as possible.

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This has been obvious for a while.

Pentagon Report Proves US Complicity In ISIS (Nafeez Ahmed)

According to leading American and British intelligence experts, a declassified Pentagon report confirms that the West accelerated support to extremist rebels in Syria, despite knowing full well the strategy would pave the way for the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS). The experts who have spoken out include renowned government whistleblowers such as the Pentagon’s Daniel Ellsberg, the NSA’s Thomas Drake, and the FBI’s Coleen Rowley, among others. Their remarks demonstrate the fraudulent nature of claims by two other former officials, the CIA s Michael Morell and the NSA s John Schindler, both of whom attempt to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the policy failures exposed by the DIA documents.

As I reported on May 22nd, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information confirms that the US intelligence community foresaw the rise of ISIS three years ago, as a direct consequence of the support to extremist rebels in Syria. The August 2012′ Information Intelligence Report’ (IIR) reveals that the overwhelming core of the Syrian insurgency at that time was dominated by a range of Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It warned that the supporting powers to the insurgency – identified in the document as the West, Gulf states, and Turkey – wanted to see the emergence of a Salafist Principality in eastern Syria to isolate the Assad regime.

The document also provided an extraordinarily prescient prediction that such an Islamist quasi-statelet, backed by the region s Sunni states, would amplify the risk of the declaration of an Islamic State across Iraq and Syria. The DIA report even anticipated the fall of Mosul and Ramadi. Last week, legendary whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the former career Pentagon officer and US military analyst who leaked Pentagon papers exposing White House lies about the Vietnam War, described my Insurge report on the DIA document as a very important story.

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How to make a bad thing worse.

Richard Branson Peddles Technohappy ‘Remedies’ For Climate Change (Bloomberg)

As talks aimed at slowing global warming drag on, researchers are pushing new ideas that some are calling last-ditch attempts to avert the worst effects of climate change. Some proposals are uncontroversial, such as using charcoal to lock carbon dioxide into soil or scattering carbon-absorbing gemstones. Richard Branson, the billionaire chairman of Virgin, has offered a $25 million prize for the best solution in the field known as geoengineering. Other ideas to cool the planet have scientists worried about unintended consequences. There are proposals, untested at scale and with uncertain costs, to block the sun’s rays with airborne particles or seed the oceans with carbon-absorbing iron. That they’re even being considered reveals both frustration over government inaction and skepticism that policy alone will solve the problem.

“For the last 20 to 30 years, governments, at the back of their minds, have assumed that mitigation is the main way forward,” said Mark Maslin, a fellow at the U.K.’s Royal Geographical Society. Researchers now realize that the planet needs “other urgent ways of dealing with CO2.” Interest in geoengineering comes after two decades of United Nations talks that have yet to produce a global climate-change agreement. Envoys from about 200 nations will meet December in Paris, where they’re expected to finalize a pact to curb carbon emissions. There is a sense of urgency. Researchers are seeking to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times. “To achieve that we will have to actually do some sort of geoengineering,” Maslin said.

Global surface temperatures have already risen about 0.85 degrees Celsius since 1880, according to a 2014 UN report. The researchers found that while the unintended consequences of manipulating the climate may be significant, “some basic inquiry does seem appropriate.” A National Academy of Sciences panel echoed those concerns. In a February report, it found little evidence that researchers will be able to deploy geoengineering anytime soon. It also concluded that the U.S. should study the technologies as a “last-ditch” tool. Tinkering with the planet’s climate may carry more risk than efforts to reduce carbon emissions, said David Titley, a professor in Pennsylvania State University’s department of meteorology. “Climate intervention involves techniques that are of high and unknown risk,” he said. “The risks for mitigation and adaptation are understood and manageable.”

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Which is of course flatly denied.

Shell’s Arctic Drilling Will Harass Thousands Of Whales And Seals (Guardian)

Royal Dutch Shell’s plans for exploratory drilling in the US Arctic this summer will involve the harassment of whales and seals by the thousands, an application document filed by Shell to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reveals. Most notably, Shell estimates its Arctic activities will expose more than 2,500 bowhead whales, more than 2,500 gray whales and more than 50,000 ringed seals to continuous sounds and pulsed sounds, deemed damaging enough to constitute harassment. The bowhead whale is listed under the US Endangered Species Act. By Shell’s own estimate, 13% of the overall population of bowhead whales still alive are potentially harassed .

The number of gray whales potentially harassed also constitutes 13% of the overall population, while the number of ringed seals potentially harassed amounts to 16%. Under the ESA, the ringed seal is classified as threatened. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the government may allow for the “taking” or “harassment” of marine mammals, so long as the number taken is small and the impact on the species negligible. But environmental groups argue the numbers affected by the Shell plans are not small, nor will the impact on species be negligible. “The authorisation that they [Shell] are seeking is a request to be able to harass that amount of animals. Shell has asked the government to authorize the taking of that amount of animals,” said Christopher Krenz, a scientist and Arctic campaign manager with Oceana.

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Turning into a tsunami.

Influx Of Migrants To Greek Islands From Turkey Up Sixfold (Kathimerini)

The influx of undocumented immigrants into Greece from neighboring Turkey has increased dramatically, growing sixfold in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2014, according to new figures released by the coast guard on Monday. A total of 40,297 immigrants and refugees were intercepted in the Aegean, particularly on the islands of the eastern Aegean, between January 1 and May 31 as compared to 6,500 in the same period last year, according to coast guard figures. The influx is continuing, and is expected to intensify as the weather improves. Coast guard officers detained 4,046 migrants over the weekend (including Friday). The problem is more intense on some islands, such as Lesvos, which received 18,371 immigrants in the first five months of the year.

On Monday alone two boatloads carrying a total of 78 would-be migrants arrived on the island’s shores. The situation on Chios, Kalymnos and Kos is said to be just as bad. A total of 7,317 migrants arrived on Chios from January to June. The island’s mayor, Manolis Vournous, said authorities have set up a makeshift camp outside the main police precinct as temporary accommodation for hundreds of migrants. Similar stopgap solutions have been sought on other islands. On Lesvos, a drivers’ education center has been transformed into a temporary settlement for migrants. The islands of Samos and Kos, which are popular summer tourist destinations, have also been struggling, having received 4,658 and 4,625 immigrants respectively in the first five months of the year.

Works are under way to repair an abandoned hotel on Kos that suffered serious damage in a recent fire. It will be able to accommodate around 400 migrants once works are complete, local authorities said. A spokesman for the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini that 80% of the incoming migrants are refugees from Syria, adding that Greek Police has boosted personnel and equipment to accelerate the identification process. Last Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said it is boosting its staff presence on several islands in the Aegean.

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May 282015
 
 May 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop fronts” 1936

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)
You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)
40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)
Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)
The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)
China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)
Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)
US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)
Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)
Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)
Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)
Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)
Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)
US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)
You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)
Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)
The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)
US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)
Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)
A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)
The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

Behold: an economy broken to the bone. No investement in manufacturing capacity equals no confidence in the future.

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)

U.S. businesses, feeling heat from activist investors, are slashing long-term spending and returning billions of dollars to shareholders, a fundamental shift in the way they are deploying capital. Data show a broad array of companies have been plowing more cash into dividends and stock buybacks, while spending less on investments such as new factories and research and development. Activist investors have been pushing for such changes, but it isn’t just their target companies that are shifting gears. More businesses sitting on large piles of extra cash are deciding to satisfy investors by giving some of it back. Rock-bottom interest rates have made it cheap to borrow to buy back shares, which can boost a company’s stock price. And technology-driven productivity gains are enabling some businesses to do more with less.

As the trend picks up steam, so too has debate about whether activist investors—who take sizable stakes in companies, then agitate for changes they think will boost share prices—have caused companies to tilt too far toward short-term rewards. Laurence Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, argued as much in a March 31 letter to S&P 500 CEOs. “More and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

An analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by S&P Capital IQ shows that companies in the S&P 500 index sharply increased their spending on dividends and buybacks to a median 36% of operating cash flow in 2013, from 18% in 2003. Over that same decade, those companies cut spending on plants and equipment to 29% of operating cash flow, from 33% in 2003. At S&P 500 companies targeted by activists, the spending cuts were more dramatic. Targeted companies reduced capital expenditures in the five years after activists bought their shares to 29% of operating cash flow, from 42% the year before, the Capital IQ analysis shows. Those companies boosted spending on dividends and buybacks to 37% of operating cash flow in the first year after being approached, from 22% in the year before.

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Rent seeking.

You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)

Conventional thinking holds that wealth should be invested and, through investment, put to productive use, with those investments creating job opportunities and higher wages. Alternatively, if few productive investment opportunities are available, the return on invested wealth should start falling. It ought to be a self-correcting cycle in which wealth cannot outpace incomes for long. But the return from capital remains high, and wages are stagnating. Something’s gone wrong. The problem, Stiglitz and his co-authors write, is that the rise in wealth isn’t coming from productive investments. It’s coming from what economists call rents — a metaphorical extension of the 18th-century practice of small farmers paying rent to landlords for the right to use the total inert asset of land.

Stiglitz and his co-authors extend the idea to include a wider and more modern array of rents. A patent or a copyright, for example, can be a valuable financial commodity to own, even without being productive in the way a factory or tractor is. To see the distinction, imagine you have $300 million and can either invest it in a startup or use it to buy the rights to the Beatles’ songs. In the former case, you’re providing money that a company can then use to hire people, produce goods, and generally create wealth in the world. In the latter, you’re producing nothing; you’re just grabbing something that someone else produced and claiming the proceeds from it. “Rent-seeking,” as economists call it, is generally viewed as economically counterproductive. It’s especially counterproductive when it becomes so lucrative as to provide a more attractive outlet for people’s money than real investments.

The report’s authors argue that’s exactly what’s happening with Wall Street. Its growth has fueled a big rise in credit — credit that tends to go to those who already have wealth, often in the form of rents, exacerbating existing rent-based problems. Financiers have also identified novel ways to rent-seek. “Too big to fail” status, for example, can count as a rent. It increases the value of firms like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase not by making them more productive, but by providing an implicit government subsidy. Trading mortgage-backed securities for profit, similarly, does little to actually increase wealth but a lot to redirect it. That makes it attractive as a business activity for banks and hedge funds, redirecting their energies from profitable activities that create wealth.

Many of these rents are explicitly created by government policies. “Too big to fail” is an obvious example, but financial deregulation more broadly has made speculation vastly more profitable in recent decades, encouraging rent-seeking on the part of financial firms. Stiglitz and his co-authors also finger tax cuts for the wealthy as a culprit. [..] countries that slashed their top marginal tax rates the most in recent decades also saw the biggest increases in inequality before taxes. That might make sense if the tax cuts boosted growth, but that wasn’t really what happened. [..] the tax cuts gave top earners bigger incentive to extract rents for themselves, to bargain hard to increase their share of the company’s wages. In the 1950s, when the top marginal tax rate in the US was 91%, getting an extra $1 in income through rents only yielded $0.09 after taxes. Today, it means getting $0.60. That’s a sixfold increase — a huge increase in the incentive to find rents for oneself.

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All the job protection our (grand-)parents fought for are gone.

40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)

Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. General Accounting Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs. There is currently a lot of debate about how contingent workers should be defined. To arrive at the 40.4 %, which the workforce reached in 2010, the report counts the following types of workers as having the alternative work arrangements considered contingent. (The government did some rounding to arrive at its final number, so the numbers below add up to 40.2%).

Agency temps: (1.3%); On-call workers (people called to work when needed): (3.5%); Contract company workers (3.0%); Independent contractors who provide a product or service and find their own customers (12.9%); Self-employed workers such as shop and restaurant owners, etc. (3.3%); Standard part-time workers (16.2%). In contrast, in 2005, 30.6% of workers were contingent. The biggest growth has been among people with part time jobs. They made up just 11.9% of the labor force in 2005. That means there was a 36% increase in just five years. The report uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It begs an important question: Are traditional jobs—the foundation of our consumer economy–running their course and going the way of the typewriter and eight-track tape? And if so, what do we do about it?

This report is important because it’s the first time since the Great Recession that the U.S. government has taken stock of how many people are working without the protections that come with traditional, full-time W-2 jobs. It reinforces estimates of the independent workforce that have come from observers ranging from the Freelancers Union to Faith Popcorn and are in a similar ballpark. Many people in this workforce are struggling economically. In a note issued with the report, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) write, “Because contingent work can be unstable, or may afford fewer protections depending on a worker’s particular employment arrangement, it tends to lead to lower earnings, fewer benefits, and a greater reliance on public assistance than standard work.”

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Sorry, technodreamers, but we will never power anything like our present economy on renewables. Ambrose has no clue.

Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)

The political noose is tightening on the global fossil fuel industry. It is a fair bet that world leaders will agree this year to impose a draconian “tax” on carbon emissions that entirely changes the financial calculus for coal, oil, and gas, and may ultimately devalue much of their asset base to zero. The IMF has let off the first thunder-clap. An astonishing report – blandly titled “How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies” – alleges that the fossil nexus enjoys hidden support worth 6.5pc of world GDP. This will amount to $5.7 trillion in 2015, mostly due to environmental costs and damage to health, and mostly stemming from coal. The World Health Organisation – also on cue – has sharply revised up its estimates of early deaths from fine particulates and sulphur dioxide from coal plants.

The killer point is that this architecture of subsidy is a “drag on economic growth” as well as being a transfer from poor to rich. It pushes up tax rates and crowds out more productive investment. The world would be richer – and more dynamic – if the burning of fossils was priced properly. This is a deeply-threatening line of attack for those accustomed to arguing that solar or wind are a prohibitive luxury, while coal, oil, and gas remain the only realistic way to power the world economy. The annual subsidy bill for renewables is just $77bn, trivial by comparison. The British electricity group SSE is already adapting to the new mood. It will close its Ferrybridge coal-powered plant next year, citing the emerging political consensus that coal “has a limited role in the future”.

The IMF bases its analysis on the work Arthur Pigou, the early 20th Century economist who advocated taxes to ensure to stop investors keeping all the profit while dumping bad side-effects on the rest of society. The Fund has set off a storm of protest. Subsidies are not quite the same as costs. Oil veterans retort that they have been paying punitive taxes into the common welfare pool for a long time. But whether or not you agree with the IMF’s forensic accounting the publication of such claims by the world’s premier financial body is itself a striking fact. The IMF is political to its fingertips. It rarely deviates far from the thinking of the US Treasury.

It is becoming clearer last year’s sweeping deal on climate change between the US and China was an historical inflexion point, the beginning of the end for a century of fossil dominance. At a single stroke it defused the ‘North-South’ conflict that has bedevilled climate policy and that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, said the chemistry is radically different today as sherpas prepare for the COPS 21 summit in Paris this December. “The two 800-pound gorillas are working together,” he said.

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Glut.

The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)

Four months into oil’s rebound from a six-year low, the tanker market is sending a clear signal that the rally is under threat. A sudden surge in demand for supertankers drove benchmark charter rates 57% higher in the two weeks through May 20. OPEC will have almost half a billion barrels of oil in transit to buyers at the start of June, the most this year, while analysts say about 20 million barrels is being stored on ships in another indication the glut has yet to dissipate. OPEC is pumping the most oil in more than two years, determined to defend market share rather than prices. A record cut to the number of active U.S. drilling rigs and billions of dollars of spending reductions by companies since last year’s price plunge has yet to translate into a slump in barrels produced.

The world is producing about 1.9 million barrels a day more crude than it needs, according to Goldman Sachs “Supply of oil continues to build,” said Paddy Rodgers of Euronav, whose supertanker fleet can haul 56 million barrels of crude. “All of this oil needs to go somewhere,” he wrote in an e-mail May 19. Daily rates for supertankers on the industry’s benchmark route reached $83,412 on May 20, from $52,987 on May 6, according to the Baltic Exchange in London. While rates since retreated to $69,594, they’re still the highest for this time of year since at least 2008.

OPEC’s 12 members have will have 485 million barrels of oil in transit to buyers in the four weeks to June 6, the most since November, Roy Mason, founder of Oil Movements, monitoring the flows, said by e-mail Wednesday. Iraq, the group’s second-largest producer, plans to boost exports to a record 3.75 million barrels a day next month, according to shipping programs. Spare tanker capacity in the Middle East has seldom been tighter. The combined excess of ships competing for the region’s exports stood at 6% last week, the lowest for the time of year in Bloomberg surveys of shipbrokers that started in 2009. While that expanded to 12% this week, the monthly average was still the lowest on record for May.

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Expect many, and bigger, swings.

China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)

It was a sea of red in China, with the key Shanghai Composite ending down 6.5% at a near one-week low, marking its biggest one-day loss since January 19 and breaking an eight-session winning streak. The CSI 300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen tumbled 6.7%, while the start-up board ChiNext sank 5.4%. News that more Chinese brokerages are tightening margin lending rules seem to be the main cause of concern among retail investors, experts say. According to IG market strategist Bernard Aw, Guosen Securities increased the margin requirement for 908 counters while Southwest Securities reduced the amount of margin financing that traders can receive using collateral.

Separately, the Shanghai Securities News also reported that regulators have recently urged banks to submit data regarding money flows into the stock market, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Hong Kong shares tracked their mainland peers to recede more than 2%, hitting a two-week low. Shares of Hong Kong-listed Evergrande Real Estate Group inched up 0.1% after announcing plans to raise around $600 million in a Hong Kong share offering. Sunac China Holdings plunged nearly 6% following news that it is terminating a takeover deal for troubled Chinese developer Kaisa.

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“Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.”

Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)

The yen fell to a 12-year low versus the dollar as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates, sharpening the contrast with the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary stimulus. Japan’s currency led declines among 16 major peers this week as signs of U.S. economy strengthening revived the greenback’s rally. The yen’s 30% drop since 2012 is driving record profits at Japan’s biggest companies, helping the nation’s stocks toward their longest rally since 1988. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda repeated this week that he’ll adjust monetary policy if needed to meet his inflation target.

“The dollar will appreciate relative to the yen because Japanese government policy is to depreciate the yen,” Daniel Fuss at Loomis Sayles said in an interview in Tokyo Wednesday. “Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.” The Japanese currency has depreciated by 2.1% versus the greenback since May 21, the day before Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she expects to raise interest rates this year for the first time since 2006. Until last week, the yen had been trading in a range of just two yen around 120 per dollar this quarter. The yen’s weakness came as the BOJ pursued policies including unprecedented debt purchases, seeking to revive an economy that spent more than a decade battling deflation.

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The fine print: the original Guardian headline is: “US to urge Greece to end brinkmanship with creditors at G7 meeting”, accusing Greece of brinkmanship. But that’s not what Lew said, even in the article.

US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)

The US Treasury secretary has said he will use the G7 finance ministers’ meeting to press Greece and its European creditors to end their brinkmanship and forge a rescue deal. With the Syriza-led coalition scrambling to secure an agreement, which will release the final €7.2bn (£5.1bn) tranche of bailout cash and prevent it defaulting on a looming payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jack Lew urged both sides in the ongoing Greek debt crisis to “treat every deadline as the last”. Washington has looked on with varying degrees of frustration and alarm throughout the long-running saga, which has seen Greece bailed out twice by a total of €240bn.

On a day when share prices soared on rumours of a breakthrough in the debt talks, before German officials scotched talk of “progress”, Lew warned both sides against complacency. Speaking to students at the London School of Economics before flying to Dresden for the G7 summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday, he said: “No one should have a false sense of confidence that they know what the result of a crisis in Greece would be.” He stressed that he believed all parties were negotiating in good faith, with neither deliberately aiming at a Greek default. However, Lew said he feared an “accident”, with the high-stakes negotiations ending in crisis. “It is profoundly in the interests of the US and European economies for the accident to be avoided,” Lew said, speaking to students at the London School of Economics. “Brinksmanship is a dangerous thing”.

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Dangerous. The troika could stop this, but won’t.

Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)

Greek banks, forced into a central bank liquidity lifeline, are poised to report sustained losses as they grapple with record deposit outflows and an economy that plunged into double-dip recession. National Bank of Greece, the country’s biggest lender by assets, and Alpha Bank report first-quarter earnings Thursday. Piraeus Bank on Wednesday said its first-quarter loss was €69 million, as deposits shrank by 15% to €46.5 billion, with a further €1.9 billion of private deposit outflows through mid-May. “We expect the Greek banks to remain loss-making this quarter” on more expensive funding from the ECB and higher provisions for souring loans, Euroxx Securities analyst Maria Kanellopoulou said.

The prolonged uncertainty on Greece’s support program “will inevitably weigh on banks’ asset quality, with a fresh rise in new non-performing loans.” Greek lenders have lost access to capital markets and the ECB’s normal financing operations amid a standoff between the country’s anti-austerity coalition and its creditors over the terms of the current bailout. Lenders rely on more than €80 billion of Emergency Liquidity Assistance extended by the Bank of Greece to stay afloat, a more expensive source of funding, while they are forced to participate in liquidity-draining auctions of government treasury bills rather than let the country default.

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“Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Wednesday that a deal with creditors was “close” and government officials said an agreement was being drafted but representatives of the country’s creditors made it quite clear that they do not share such optimism. In comments after a meeting at the Finance Ministry, Tsipras said a deal with creditors was “close” and that “very soon we will be able to present more details.” He stressed the need for “calm and determination,” noting that Greece would come under additional pressure in the final stretch of negotiations. He also referred to “conflicting views between institutions” and to “countries with different approaches.” Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

According to sources, Tsipras was advised to make the statement by aides fearing that jitters were creeping back into the markets and could prompt a new wave of deposit outflows. Tsipras chose to make the statement flanked by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to underline the government’s backing for the latter, who has come under fire over his confusing statements about the content of a potential deal. Earlier in the day, the ECB decided not to raise the ceiling on emergency liquidity to Greece. A Greek government official commented that the Bank of Greece had not requested an increase to emergency liquidity as the current ceiling of €80.2 billion is regarded as adequate “following a stabilization of deposit outflows.”

In an interview with Die Zeit on Wednesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it was down to Greece to decide on whether to introduce capital controls. He defended the decision by Greece’s creditors to link loans to further reforms, despite the country’s tightening liquidity problems. “That is the philosophy of the rescue program. The new government is saying: we want to keep the euro but we don’t want the program any more. That doesn’t fit together,” he said. Earlier, on a stopover in London on his way to a meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers in Dresden, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called on Greece’s creditors “show enough flexibility so if the Greeks are prepared to take the kind of steps they need to take, they find a pathway to resolving this without there being an unnecessary crisis.”

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It’s easy to forget that all Syriza has been able and allowed to do so far is to negotiate with creditors, and that everything else has been forced onto the backburner.

Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)

Before the elections, there was a considerable number of people who totally disagreed with the ideas and program put forward by SYRIZA, but they expected that the leftist party would, at least, provide a breath of fresh air as it climbed to power. They believed that SYRIZA would do away with the highly partisan tactics of its socialist and conservative predecessors and move on to adopt more meritocratic practices. They expected that SYRIZA would install young, independent people in key government posts, making use of the best talents that the country has to offer. They hoped that SYRIZA officials would man the state apparatus after poring over the CVs of thousands of job-seekers in the private sector. And they anticipated a growth-oriented strategy that would enable people to try their luck without running into unnecessary or artificial obstacles, and without having to pay bribes here and there.

It was only natural that a large section of voters would expect all that. Because, regretably, and despite the crisis, the old political system failed to change the way things work in this country. Unfortunately, the expectations of all those voters with romantic notions of what to expect have not been fulfilled. The state mechanism has mostly been manned by friends and political cronies of the ruling party. Key posts have been entrusted to well-connected representatives of the good old system. The way SYRIZA has dealt with the so-called oligarchs seems very selective. It does not seem to have allowed the domestic institutions to carry out their work in a fair and transparent manner. In fact, it smacks of an attempt to install a new oligarchy – only, this time, one that is pro-SYRIZA.

So, no breath of fresh air. The question, of course, is why? The answer is that SYRIZA has strong ties with groups that depend exclusively on the state for their survival. The healthy private sector which does not rely on the generosity of the state for its well-being has no political representation in Alexis Tsipras’s party. The truth is, even the country’s conservative parties have failed in that respect. It’s hard to say how long SYRIZA will manage to stay in power. Any prediction would be risky these days. That said, those who looked forward to some creative big bang, as it were, spawned by SYRIZA’s victory are beginning to feel disappointed. That does not mean to say that the party will not be able to consolidate itself as the dominant political player. It does mean, however, that the dreamers will have to wait. Or move to a more cynical, same-old view of things.

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A moment of clarity from Ye Olde Paul.

Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)

We just had another electoral earthquake in the euro area: Podemos-backed candidates have won local elections in Madrid and Barcelona. And I hope that the IFKAT — the institutions formerly known as the troika — are paying attention. The essence of the Greek situation is that the actual parameters of a short-run deal are clear and unavoidable: Greece can’t run a primary budget deficit, because nobody will lend it new money, and it won’t (and basically can’t) run a large primary surplus, because you can’t squeeze even more blood from that stone. So you would think that an agreement for Greece to run a modest primary surplus over the next few years would be easy to reach — that is what will happen, so why not make it official?

But now the IMF is playing bad cop, declaring that it cannot release funds until Syriza toes the line on pensions and labor market reform. The latter is dubious economics — the IMF’s own research doesn’t support enthusiasm about structural reforms, especially in the labor market. The former probably recognizes a real problem — Greece probably can’t deliver what it has promised pensioners — but why should this be an issue over and above the general question of the primary surplus. What I would urge everyone to do is ask what happens if Greece is in fact pushed out of the euro. (Yes, Grexit — ugly word, but we’re stuck with it.) It would surely be ugly in Greece, at least at first.

Right now the core euro countries believe that the rest of the euro area can handle it, which might be true. Bear in mind, however, that the supposed firewall of ECB support has never actually been tested. If markets lose faith and the time for ECB purchases of Spanish or Italian bonds arises, will it really happen? But the bigger question is what happens a year or two after Grexit, where the real risk to the euro is not that Greece will fail but that it will succeed. Suppose that a greatly devalued new drachma brings a flood of British beer-drinkers to the Ionian Sea, and Greece starts to recover. This would greatly encourage challengers to austerity and internal devaluation elsewhere.

Think about it. Just the other day the Very Serious Europeans were hailing Spain as a great success story, a vindication of the whole program. Evidently the Spanish people don’t agree. And if the anti-establishment forces have a recovering Greece to point to, the discrediting of the establishment will accelerate. One conclusion, I guess, is that Germany should try to sabotage Greece post-exit. But I hope that will be considered unacceptable. So think about it, IFKATs: are you really sure you want to start going down this road?

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Has been for years. The plunge will be historic.

Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)

The stage is set for Australian property to finally feel the pain so evident across other sectors of the economy. A series of headwinds – combined with tighter lending standards – ensures that the investor property boom is now on borrowed time. Yesterday, Westpac decided to cut the lucrative interest rate discounts offered to new housing investors – following similar action from its major rivals last week – as regulatory pressure from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority begins to take effect. The implication of this shift in regulatory policy will be modest at first but could soon snowball into a much weaker period for Australian property. Rarely can a housing downturn be so easily identified.

Nevertheless, right now, prices continue to rise at a rapid pace in Sydney and to a lesser extent Melbourne. By comparison, conditions in the other capitals remain more modest. Real dwelling prices – that is prices adjusted for inflation – have increased by 30% since the beginning of 2013 in Sydney and by 15% in Melbourne. In the other capitals, price growth has better reflected income growth. But the tide is clearly turning and the outlook for the property sector needs to be viewed against the broader economic backdrop. The Reserve Bank, for example, was recently forced to cut their economic outlook for the fourth time in the past five quarters. We are currently stuck in the middle of an ‘income recession’ due to the sharp fall in commodity prices.

In the next few years, higher taxes will hit the market at the very top – since high income earners obviously purchase expensive housing – but also towards the bottom – since investors often favour cheap rental properties. Alternatively, higher taxes could make negative gearing more attractive. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has taken clear and decisive steps to reign in foreign investment in established property, while maintaining the existing arrangements for new construction. We also cannot ignore the possibility that the Western Australia economic bust has significant spill over effects for the broader economy and financial system.

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But will it stick? Does RICO apply to FIFA?

US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the U.S., there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the U.S. acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-U.S. citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And more to the point, why is this legal? It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sports. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organizations.

Roughly speaking, the law works by allowing the government to prove that a defendant participated in a criminal organization and also committed at least two criminal acts under other specified laws, including bribery and wire fraud. If the government can prove that, the defendant is guilty of racketeering, and qualifies for stiff sentences, the seizure of assets and potential civil-liability lawsuits. The first and most obvious problem raised by the FIFA arrests is whether the RICO law applies outside the U.S., or “extraterritorially” as lawyers like to say. Generally, as the Supreme Court has recently emphasized, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the U.S. unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond U.S. borders. So you’d think that RICO can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if and only if the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts,” violated statutes that themselves apply outside U.S. borders. The court gave as an example the law that criminalizes killing an American national outside the U.S. That law clearly applies abroad, the court pointed out. And it may function to define one of the predicate offenses under RICO. Thus, RICO can apply abroad. To convict the FIFA defendants, therefore, the Department of Justice will have to prove either that they committed crimes within the U.S. or that they committed predicate crimes covered by RICO that reach beyond U.S. borders.

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Bet you didn’t know.

You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)

If you consume much of your daily news diet online, you’re probably already acquainted with the work of “robot journalists”, you just don’t know it yet. We’re not talking here about Wall-E running around with a reporter’s notebook chasing stories on Amal Clooney (well, not yet), but about the algorithms used by organisations such as Forbes, AP and Fortune to produce millions of stories AP relies on a content generation package called Wordsmith to produce some of its quarterly-earnings business stories and will soon be using it for sports coverage too. You’ve never heard of Wordsmith but you’re probably familiar with its work: it produced 300 million stories last year and is aiming for one billion this year. A rival company, Narrative Science, provides content to Forbes, Fortune and others.

“We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” Robbie Allen, creator of Wordsmith told the New York Times. “Instead of one story with a million page views, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.” The cheerleaders for this new technology – who includes some journalists (New York magazine declared that “the stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway”) – claim that it will free journalists up to do more meaningful pieces, while algorithms churn out rewrites of press releases, mine longer texts for insights, or produce entirely personalised packages of content tailored for individuals. That’s nonsense. As always, “freeing people up” invariably means “liberating them of their jobs”.

But leaving aside the prospect of fewer people in employment, the notion that algorithms may end up taking over even the quotidian aspects of content production is depressing, and not just for journalists. [..] it’s you, the reader, who will suffer. Algorithms may be good at crunching numbers and putting them in some kind of context, but journalists are good at noticing things no one else has. They’re good at asking annoying questions. They’re nosy and persistent and willing to challenge authority to dig out a story. They’re good at provoking irritation, devastation, laughter or controversy. Wildly efficient robot journalists may offer hope to an industry beset by falling advertising rates and disappearing readers. The world will have fewer human journalists as a result, which may not be altogether a bad thing. But the question is: does it really need a billion more pieces of McJournalism?

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Go to site to watch video.

Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)

As negotiations continue, WikiLeaks has published leaked chapters of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries. The TPP would cover 40% of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. A recently disclosed “Investment Chapter” highlights the intent of U.S.-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company’s claimed future profits. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns the plan could chill the adoption of health and environmental regulations.

Julian Assange: ..it’s the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet—Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.

And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in U.S. law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means—with 14 countries involved, means it’s very, very hard to overturn. So if there’s a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path—for example, to introduce more public transport—then you can’t easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved. Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there’s a private hospital, has been erected nearby?

Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected—the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there’s desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.

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But that’s against our life philosophy?!

The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)

Santa Clara County is perhaps best known as the home of Silicon Valley. It also has one of the country’s highest rates of homelessness and its third largest chronically homeless population. An extensive new study of the county’s homelessness crisis, published yesterday, finds that the most cost-effective way to address the problem is to provide people with homes. Those findings echo a similar approach that’s been successfully adopted in Utah, the subject of Mother Jones’ April/May cover story. The study was conducted by county officials who teamed up with Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy research organization, and Destination: Home, an agency that works to house the homeless.

Researchers dug into 25 million records to create a detailed picture of the demographics and needs of the more than 104,000 people who were homeless in the county between 2007 and 2012. They found that much of the public costs of homelessness stemmed from a small segment of this population who were persistently homeless, around 2,800 people. Close to half of all county expenditures were spent on just five% of the homeless population, who came into frequent contact with police, hospitals, and other service agencies, racking up an average of $100,000 in costs per person annually. Those costs quickly add up—overall, Santa Clara communities spend $520 million in homeless services every year.

The study also highlights solutions. The researchers examined Destination: Home’s program, which has housed more than 800 people in the past five years. The study looked at more than 400 of these housing recipients, a fifth of whom were part of the most expensive cohort. Before receiving housing, they each averaged nearly $62,500 in public costs annually. Housing them cost less than $20,000 per person—an annual savings of more than $42,000.

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Fifty shades of dry.

US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook is out, and this summer is going to be a dry one. The massive drought consuming the West will likely continue and even intensify in most places (sorry Nevada, that forecast covers the entire Silver State.) But it won’t be alone: The upper Midwest and Northeast will be parched, too. As for the lower Midwest, a few states could get some relief, but…I wouldn’t let those green lawns go to your head. Scientific models predict that as the climate warms, we’ll see more droughts, and according to the video below, they’ll also last longer than in the past. So Americans, start swinging your partner round and round, shaking your moneymaker, or electric-sliding (if you must)—because we may need to come up with a national rain dance.

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History revised: no asteroid.

Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years. The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land. What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explainthis extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means.

This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

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Blackberry founder decides Artic ownership?

A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)

Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of Research In Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry, believes rituals are scenes we perform so our lives might take the shape we need them to take. It’s a symbolic act, and symbols matter to him. Directly beneath the hole in the ice, visible on the seafloor, is the biggest symbol of all: the HMS Erebus, one of two British navy ships lost during Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 quest to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. The whereabouts of the Erebus frustrated hundreds of searchers for more than 150 years, costing several their lives. Balsillie helped finance and coordinate the successful hunt for the ship, rediscovered in September 2014.

On a personal level, the search for the Erebus was a way for him to take more control over his life after his unceremonious exit from RIM, which left him angry, drained, and disoriented. But it’s much more than an archeological artifact. It represents an opportunity for Canada to take more control of the Arctic. Exploring the Erebus, Balsillie hopes, will draw the collective attention of Canadians northward to a neglected region with billions in potential resources. And by conducting a complex operation in the waters, Canadian military and civilian officials say they are demonstrating their sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. The Queen Maud Gulf, where the Erebus sits, is part of the southern branch of the Northwest Passage.

The route is a fabled link between the Atlantic and Pacific that for centuries proved a dangerous magnet for seekers of knowledge, fortune, and glory. Since 2007, as a result of climate change, the passage has become navigable by smaller ships for a couple of months during most summers. An open route can cut thousands of miles off of trips between the west coast of the Americas and Europe. The two alternative routes are the Panama Canal and the Northern Sea Route, which runs from the Bering Strait and over the Russian Arctic. In 2013 the MS Nordic Orion, a Norwegian freighter, made the first cargo transit of the Northwest Passage. That trip, which carried coal from Vancouver to Norway, hasn’t been repeated. But it raised an unanswered question in maritime law: Who really controls the waters of the route and the rest of Canada’s Arctic archipelago, which consists of more than 30,000 islands?

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She’s a beauty.

The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

In theory, I support the tiny-house lifestyle. I would enjoy the opportunity to live on a lonesome plain somewhere, with only the stars and many insects for company. I’m sure I could find a way to de-clutter my life such that the floor of my room/house was not always covered by 100 pairs of yoga pants. I would emerge from the experience a stronger, more reflective person who, if tiny house documentaries are to be believed, is also an expert in knitting and roof repair. The problem would lie in the construction of said house. If I were in charge of hooking up my own water lines, for example, I would be dead of dysentery by now.

Enter the Ecocapsule, a new kind of micro-house powered entirely by solar and wind energy. The capsule, made by a Slovakian company called Nice Architects, comes pre-made and ready to house two adults. Its kitchenette spouts running water, the toilet flushes, and the shower flows hot. It is 14.6 feet long and 7.4 feet wide. Nice Architects will start taking pre-orders in the fall of this year, and it expects to start delivering the first units in the beginning of 2016. They’re unveiling the Ecocapsule publicly for the first time this week at the Pioneers festival in Vienna. The company suggest the Ecocapsule can be used as a portable hotel, a research station, or even a charging hub for electric vehicles.

The designers, for whom English is not a first language, also write in the release that the “capsule can be used as a urban dwelling for singles in the high-rent, high-income areas like NY or Silicone valley. It can be placed on the rooftop or vacant parking lot.” (Hear that, Google employees? Enjoy dealing with your new, pod-dwelling roof squatters!) Okay, so maybe that last one is wishful thinking. But if it works as described, the capsule might just be the perfect tiny house for those who yearn to live on the edge of an ethereal cliff but don’t want to learn how to build a composting toilet.

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May 242015
 
 May 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Underwood Typewriter Co., Washington, DC 1919

Borders Closing And Banks In Retreat; Is Globalisation Dead? (Guardian)
Capitalism Is Killing America’s Morals, Our Future (Paul B. Farrell)
America Has Become a “Banana Republic Run by Wall Street Criminals” (MM)
Tsipras Reiterates Red Lines But Faces Revolt Within Syriza (Kathimerini)
Europe Said to Weigh Contingency Plans in Greece Impasse (Bloomberg)
Neither Grexit Nor A Dual Currency Will Solve Greece’s Problems (Matthes)
Hotel Contracts With A ‘Greek Default Clause’ (Kathimerini)
The Migrant Crisis on Greece’s Islands (New Yorker)
Spain’s New Political Forces Seek To Make History (DW)
Podemos Changing Spain’s Political Map (Telesur)
Eurozone Countries Should Unite For Economic Reforms: Mario Draghi (Reuters)
Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)
Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised (FT)
The Other One Per Cent (Economist)
Secret Pentagon Report Reveals West Saw ISIS As Strategic Asset (Nafeez Ahmed)
Germany Won’t Comment on Reported ‘Deep Freeze’ With US Intelligence (Reuters)
Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members Of US Biker Gangs (Intercept)

Globalization is a times of plenty phenomenon.

Borders Closing And Banks In Retreat; Is Globalisation Dead? (Guardian)

Globalisation is under attack. It was meant to be the unstoppable economic force bringing prosperity to rich and poor alike, but that was before the financial crisis ripped up the rulebook. For the past four years, international trade flows have increased more slowly than global GDP – “an outcome unprecedented in postwar history”, as analyst Michael Pearce of Capital Economics put it in a recent note. Crisis-scarred global banks are retreating from risky cross-border lending, and multinationals are casting a sceptical eye over foreign opportunities as geopolitical tensions simmer. Populist politicians in a string of countries, not least the UK, are playing on public fears about migrant workers undermining their pay.

Global trade flows are still expanding: but they have never regained the breakneck pace of the 1990s and early 2000s. In the innocent days before the Great Recession, the dismantling of trade barriers between nation states often seemed inevitable. Yet more than 13 years after the Doha round of multilateral trade talks kicked off, with the aim of binding developing countries more closely into the international system, the idea of a global trade deal remains locked in the deep freeze. Some analysts are starting to ask: has globalisation come to a halt? The lesson many governments and companies learned from the turmoil that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers was that there are risks to being too unthinkingly exposed to the ebbs and flows of the international system.

“There’s quite a fundamental shift going on here,” says Professor Simon Evenett, an expert on trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. “You can’t say it’s across the board, but there are some sectors where globalisation is in substantial retreat.” He points to steel, for example, where his recent research shows that trade flows have never returned to pre-2007 levels. “I think the direction of travel is depressing,” he says.

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“..the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

Capitalism Is Killing America’s Morals, Our Future (Paul B. Farrell)

Yes, capitalism is working … for the Forbes Global Billionaires whose ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 1,826 in 2015. Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, 67 billionaires already own half the world’s assets; by 2100 we’ll have 11 trillionaires, while American worker income has stagnated for a generation. But for the vast majority of the world, capitalism is a failure. Over a billion live on less than two dollars a day. In his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” economist Thomas Piketty warns the inequality gap is toxic, dangerous. As global population explodes from 7 billion to 10 billion by 2050, food production will deteriorate. Pope Francis adds, “Inequality is the root of social ills,” fueling more hunger, revolutions, wars.

For years we’ve been asking: Why does the capitalist brain blindly drive down this irrational path of self-destruction? We found someone who brilliantly explains why free market capitalism is hell-bent on destroying itself and the world along with it: Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” and his earlier classic, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” For more than three decades Sandel’s been teaching us why capitalism is undermining human morality … and why we keep denying this insanity. Why do we bargain away our moral soul? His classes number over a thousand. You can even take his course online free. He even summarized capitalism’s takeover of America’s conscience in “What Isn’t for Sale?” in the Atlantic. Listen:

“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society … where almost everything is up for sale … a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, nonmarket values.” His course should be required for Wall Street insiders, corporate CEOs and all 95 million Main Street investors. Here’s a short synopsis:

“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.” And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”

So today, “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel. Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”

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“..big banks have now paid more than $60 billion in fines over the past two years.”

America Has Become a “Banana Republic Run by Wall Street Criminals” (MM)

Wall Street criminals just won’t stop misbehaving. The latest crime was exposed Wednesday. Five of the biggest names in global finance agreed to pay billions to settle lawsuits alleging they illegally gamed the $5 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Barclays, UBS, and RBSpleaded guilty and settled for fines totaling roughly $5.7 billion. A sixth bank, Bank of America, will pay $210 million after being fined by the Fed. With this week’s settlements, big banks have now paid more than $60 billion in fines over the past two years.

“America has become a banana republic run by Wall Street criminals,” Money Morning Capital Wave Strategist Shah Gilani said on Wednesday. Of course, history dictates the fines will have no actual effect on business practices. “We all know the big banks are above the law,” Gilani said. “They are convicted, they admit their guilt (sometimes), and no one goes to jail – they just pay more fines.” Not including this week’s, just look at a few of the settlements too-big-to-fail banks have shelled out in the last five years alone:

In 2015, Deutsche Bank paid a $2.5 billion fine for manipulating benchmark interest rates.
In 2014, Credit Suisse paid $2.6 billion to the U.S. Justice Department for conspiring to aid tax evasion. It was the first financial institution in more than a decade to plead guilty to a crime.
In 2013, Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and ten other banks paid $9.3 billion to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve for foreclosure abuses.
In 2013, JPMorgan paid $13 billion to the U.S. Justice Department for mortgage security fraud.
In 2012, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America, Citigroup, and Ally Financial paid $25 billion in penalties for foreclosure abuses.
In 2012, HSBC paid $1.9 billion to U.S. authorities for shoddy money laundering regulations. It was the third time since 2003 HSBC assured the government it would correct its policies.
In 2012, UBS paid $1.5 billion and admitted it manipulated interbank lending rates.
In 2011, Bank of America paid $8.5 billion to mortgage bond holders related to Countrywide.

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Resistance will grow.

Tsipras Reiterates Red Lines But Faces Revolt Within Syriza (Kathimerini)

After a busy week of talks with European leaders aimed at securing support for a deal for Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces challenges on the home front amid tensions with SYRIZA over the terms such an agreement would entail. In a speech to his party’s central committee on Saturday, Tsipras said Greece is “in the final stretch of negotiations” and is ready to accept a “viable agreement” with its creditors but not on “humiliating terms.” He ruled out submitting to irrational demands on value-added tax rates and further labor reform, and called on lenders to make “necessary concessions.” “We have made concessions but we also have red lines,” he said, claiming that some foreign officials were counting on the talks failing.

Although Tsipras reiterated his commitment to the party’s so-called red lines in negotiations, pressure from within SYRIZA not to capitulate to creditors has grown amid rumors that a deal is in the works. In particular, members of the radical Left Platform led by Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis have refused to approve any deal that departs from the party’s pre-election promises. The faction has been working on a counter-proposal for alternative sources of funding. Tsipras and other front-line cabinet members, meanwhile, remain focused on a deal by early June when the country’s next debt repayment to its creditors is due.

But as negotiations continue to drag, sources suggest that the likeliest scenario is a two-stage deal despite Tsipras’s recent insistence on the need for a “comprehensive agreement.” The two-stage deal would comprise an initial agreement that would unlock a portion of rescue loans in exchange for some reforms, most likely tax increases, to keep the country solvent; the second part of the deal would tackle the thorny issues of pension and labor sector reform.

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“The problem is that Alexis Tsipras is riding a scooter and Wolfgang Schaeuble is driving an armored BMW.”

Europe Said to Weigh Contingency Plans in Greece Impasse (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble raised the possibility that Greece may need a parallel currency and European officials are making contingency plans for the Greek banking system as talks on unlocking aid remain stuck. Schaeuble mentioned the idea of parallel currencies at a recent meeting without endorsing it, according to two people who attended. The European Commission is looking at how to manage the possible failure of Greek financial firms and other events that may cause investor losses, two other people said. With Greece’s final €7.2 billion bailout installment on hold, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s latest attempt to bypass finance ministers and secure a political deal failed on Friday.

As Greece faces payment deadlines in the next two weeks, some European policy makers are preparing for the worst while upholding the goal of keeping Greece in the euro. “We need to have the strongest and most complete agreement possible now to secure and facilitate talks for the next deadlines,” French President Francois Hollande said Friday in Riga, Latvia, after he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Tsipras. Merkel said there’s “a whole lot to do.” Merkel and Hollande this week gave Tsipras until the end of May to reach a deal to free up aid in return for policy changes demanded by Greece’s creditor. As time runs short, his government has to pay monthly salaries and pensions by next Friday and repay about €300 million to the IMF a week later.

Negotiators from Greece and its creditors are continuing technical talks in the so-called Brussels Group “over the coming days in order to accelerate progress,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said in Brussels on Friday. While Merkel and Schaeuble say they want to keep Greece in the 19-nation currency union, the finance minister has also said he wouldn’t rule out a Greek exit. Germany is “ready to take this brinkmanship very far,” with Schaeuble in the role of “attack dog,” Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said by phone. “We’re in this game of chicken. The problem is that Alexis Tsipras is riding a scooter and Wolfgang Schaeuble is driving an armored BMW.”

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No matter what happens, it won’t be easy. Not for Greece and not for Eruope.

Neither Grexit Nor A Dual Currency Will Solve Greece’s Problems (Matthes)

A Grexit or the introduction of a dual currency is not a solution to Greece’s problems. On the contrary, it would be a worst-case scenario for Greece in the short term. Only in the medium to longer term, the resulting devaluation and improvement of price competitiveness would help businesses active in the export and import substitution sectors. For the euro area, a Grexit or dual currency would be a signal that the currency union is not made forever, even if the situation is much different from 2010-2012 as contagion effects to other euro periphery countries hardly exist today. The negative short-term impact from a Grexit or from a dual currency would push the Greek economy into a very deep crisis and lead to further impoverishment.

The Greek financial sector, which is already rather weak, would be severely affected, particularly by further withdrawals of euros from bank accounts in the course of bank runs (among other aspects). Capital controls can only partly stop this from happening. The problems of the financial sector would lead to a further drying up of credit supply and the danger of bank insolvencies. The risk of insolvency would go much beyond the banking sector and also include businesses and particularly the state. All private and public economic actors with sizeable debts in euros and under foreign law (debt which could not be converted to the new or dual currency) would suffer from higher debt counted in the dual or new currency. This is so because the dual or new currency would devaluate to a large degree versus the euro.

Imagine the balance sheet of a bank or of a company with significant euro debts under foreign law: These liabilities would remain in euro but significant parts of the assets would be converted to the dual or new currency, which then devaluates. This would cut a deep hole in the balance sheet and could well lead to insolvency. A government default is most likely, because foreign debts would remain to a large extent in euros but tax revenues would increasingly come from the new or dual currency. Insolvencies and the drying up of credit supply would lead to a significant rise in unemployment, costing even more people their job. A government default could mean that public wages and pensions cannot be paid for a certain period of time or only in the new weak currency. Moreover, the fiscal problems would further aggravate the state of the economy and of banks that hold government bonds.

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Thank the troika.

Hotel Contracts With A ‘Greek Default Clause’ (Kathimerini)

After the drachma clauses seen in tourism contracts, foreign tour operators are now forcing hoteliers in Greece to sign contracts with a Greek default clause. Foreign organizers of international conferences have been introducing default clauses to contracts forcing the non-payment of compensation in case the country defaults and they decide to cancel their events. That clause is reminiscent of insurance contracts which stop short of providing for compensation in case of natural disasters, acts of terrorism etc. Kathimerini understands that already one conference organizer, who is to hold an event in this country with the participation of foreign delegates next month, has imposed a “default clause” on the hotel enterprise in order to sign a contract, sparing him from having to pay compensation for canceling the event if Greece defaults.

In the next couple of months hoteliers will, as usual, also have to sign the bulk of their 2016 contracts with representatives of foreign tour operators. Some operators have already told Greek hoteliers that they require extra safety clauses in case the country drops out of the eurozone. Furthermore, the financial terms of contracts will depend on the planned value-added tax hikes on tourism. Hoteliers wonder on what terms they will be asked to sign the contracts, to what extent they can impose price hikes on tour operators and how they will retain their rates competitive in comparison with the hotel rates of other countries such as Turkey, Spain etc.

Representatives of tourism associations estimate that in the event more taxes are introduced, small and medium-sized hotel enterprises – which account for the majority of the country’s accommodation capacity – will see their negotiating position weakened against their foreign clients. The possibility of a VAT hike in Greece has also generated interest in the country’s rivals. A Lesvos hotelier reported that Turkish peers keep asking about any news on a VAT increase on Greek tourism for 2016, saying that a significant price increase on the Greek tourism package would signify a direct advantage for the neighboring country’s tourism market.

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A comprehensive EU approach? Not going to happen.

The Migrant Crisis on Greece’s Islands (New Yorker)

Greece, like Italy and Malta, has long been an entry point into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants making the journey by sea. This year, the Greek government expects a massive wave of migrants on the Aegean islands and Crete, fuelled by the protracted war in Syria. The Eastern Mediterranean route is not as deadly for migrants: thirty-one people are known to have drowned in the Aegean Sea this year, compared with an estimated eighteen hundred in the Central Mediterranean, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. But the number of people arriving in Greece this year rivals the number of those coming to Italy: The I.O.M. says that at least 30,400 migrants have arrived in Greece as of May 12th, compared with thirty-four hundred in all of 2014.

At least 35,100 have arrived this year in Italy. Southern European countries have often felt poorly served by the Dublin Regulation, which dictates that the E.U. nations where migrants first arrive are ultimately responsible for them. Camino Mortera-Martinez and Rem Korteweg of the Centre for European Reform say that a deep divide between Northern and Southern E.U. states has resulted. “Northern member states want an asylum policy that keeps migrants in the South but treats them humanely,” they wrote recently, “while Southern member-states want the North to share the burden by accepting more migrants. The Mediterranean refugee crisis shows that this system is unsustainable.”

What’s also unsustainable, according to Eugenio Ambrosi, who directs the I.O.M.’s regional office for the European Union, Norway, and Switzerland, is the fact that migration has become an electoral issue “easily manipulated by populists who know that fear wins votes.” E.U. politicians have dithered on drafting a common migration and asylum policy because they’re worried about how voters will react. “There’s this attitude of: if your neighbor’s house is on fire, you watch and hope somebody else takes care of them so you don’t have to feed them and give them a blanket,” he said.

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Ciudadanos is taking votes away from Podemos.

Spain’s New Political Forces Seek To Make History (DW)

Outside a municipal sports building in Alcala de Henares, a small city east of Madrid, crowds are gathering and clusters of balloons are bobbing in the breeze. Just ahead of local elections across Spain, supporters of the new party, Ciudadanos, or “Citizens,” are in high spirits, believing that its phenomenal rise in recent months will soon make it one of the country’s most prominent political forces. Inside, a few minutes later, the party’s 35-year-old leader, Albert Rivera, bounds onto the stage to deliver a powerful message to his electoral rivals. “Some don’t understand what is happening in Spain – we’re not just facing an election day, we’re facing a new era,” he says.

“Whoever can’t understand that isn’t capable of leading the change. Spain is not doing well, it’s only doing well for a few.” This promise by a generation of young Spanish politicians to deliver a “new era” has already altered the country’s political landscape. But on Sunday, when elections are held for control of town and city halls across Spain and for 13 of its 17 regional parliaments, the political map is expected to be drastically redrawn. For the last three-and-a-half decades, the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialists have dominated Spanish politics in a rigid two-party system. But the recent economic crisis and a torrent of corruption scandals have threatened to break that duopoly for the first time in Spain’s democratic period.

Ciudadanos and another new party with a young leadership, Podemos, or “We Can” in Spanish, are the beneficiaries of Spaniards’ disenchantment with the status quo and national polls show them in a four-way virtual tie with the PP and the Socialists. “This election represents a revolution because we’re going to go from having just two parties which are capable of governing, to having a political map on which there are four parties, all of which are capable of governing,” says Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, a political scientist who recently published a book about Podemos.

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Elections today.

Podemos Changing Spain’s Political Map (Telesur)

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the new left-wing party Podemos, says his movement has already “contributed to changing the Spanish political map. We can say that we have made irreversible changes. Nothing will ever be the same again.” Iglesias describes Podemos as a response to a “regime crisis,” in Spain in the aftermath of the global economic crisis and deep austerity politics and that Podemos was born out of “enormous frustration with the economic and political elites, He explained that the rise of Latin American left governments over the past decade represented a “fundamental reference” to the party, but one that cannot be easily reproduced.

While in the beginning, Podemos leaders believed that “a ‘Latin-Americanization’ of Southern Europe” was occurring, reality soon showed that European states were “very strong” meaning “the possibility of transformation |was| very limited.” In Iglesias’ opinion, this difficulty in creating such change explains why the party’s number two, Juan Carlos Monedero, recently resigned from the leadership. But he stressed the important role that social movement have in creating change, explaining that “these social movements allow |the party leaders| to go further, politically, in |their| demands,” referring to the movements against evictions in Spain, for example, or the movements defending education and public health. He added that criticism was a positive pattern inside the party, yet stressing that his leadership was backed by a great consensus.

Regarding differences with the situation in Greece, where the leftist Syriza now forms the government, Iglesias highlighted that because the economic crisis hit Greece much harder than in Spain, “the weakness of the state and the forces in power in Greece were greater,” making it easier for Syriza to make gains. He believes that the political and media establishment feared even more the rise of Podemos than Syriza because of Spain’s greater economic weight.

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See below for link to the text of Draghi’s address.

Eurozone Countries Should Unite For Economic Reforms: Mario Draghi (Reuters)

ECB President Mario Draghi has urged euro zone countries to unite in the task of reforming the bloc’s economies, saying sharing sovereignty was an opportunity and not a threat. Draghi is pushing governments not to waste the time ECB money printing has bought them. Saturday’s appeal to indebted countries to clean up their finances came the day after he warned growth would remain low in the face of unemployment and low investment. In a message read to attendees at a conference in Rome, he said countries should act quickly on recommendations the central bank has made to complete economic and monetary union, many of which have not been carried out.

“The current situation in the euro area demonstrates that this delay could be dangerous,” Draghi said, according to a text of the address released by the ECB, while acknowledging progress had been made, for example with banking union. But private risks need to be shared within the euro zone, with financial integration improving access to credit for companies and leading to a complete capital markets union, Draghi said. Draghi called for stricter and more transparent adherence to existing budgetary rules to help close the gaps among member states in employment, growth and productivity, but said this alone would not be enough.

Countries should observe common standards when implementing structural reforms but also take a country-specific approach, as part of a process of “convergence in the capacity of our economies to resist shocks and grow together”. Thirdly, Draghi said the euro zone should ask whether it had done enough to safeguard the possibility of using budgetary policy to counter the economic cycle, concluding: “I think not.” Many European countries realised only after the debt crisis exploded that their sovereign right to choose their own economic policy would be limited in the monetary union, Draghi said. But working to ensure long-term stability meant sharing control, Draghi said. “What can appear to be a threat is actually an opportunity,” he said.

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Full speech with graphs etc.

Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)

Structural and cyclical policies – including monetary policy – are heavily interdependent. Structural reforms increase both potential output and the resilience of the economy to shocks. This makes structural reforms relevant for any central bank, but especially in a monetary union. For members of monetary union resilience is crucial to avoid that shocks lead to consistently higher unemployment, and over time, permanent economic divergence. It therefore has direct implications for price stability, and is no less relevant for the integrity of the euro area. This is why the ECB has frequently called for stronger common governance of structural reforms that would make resilience part of our common DNA.

Structural reforms are equally important for their effect on growth. Potential growth is today estimated to be below 1% in the euro area and is projected to remain well below pre-crisis growth rates. This would mean that a significant share of the economic losses in the crisis would become permanent, with structural unemployment staying above 10% and youth unemployment elevated. It would also make it harder to work through the debt overhang still present in some countries. Finally, low potential growth can have a direct impact on the tools available to monetary policy, as it increases the likelihood that the central bank runs into the lower bound and has to resort recurrently to unconventional policies to meet its mandate.

But the euro area’s weak long-term performance also provides an opportunity. Since many economies are distant from the frontier of best practice, the gains from structural reforms are easier to achieve and the potential magnitude of those gains is greater. There is a large untapped potential in the euro area for substantially higher output, employment and welfare. And the fact that monetary policy is today at the lower bound, and the recovery still fragile, is not, as some argue, a reason for reforms to be delayed.

This is because the short-term costs and benefits of reforms depend critically on how they are implemented. If structural reforms are credible, their positive effects can be felt quickly even in a weak demand environment. The same is true if the type of reforms is carefully chosen. And our accommodative monetary policy means that the benefits of reforms will materialise faster, creating the ideal conditions for them to succeed. It is the combination of these demand and supply policies that will deliver lasting stability and prosperity.

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Independence is not a matter of interpretation, gentlemen.

Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised (FT)

Two of the world’s most senior central bankers have hit back at charges that they have become too politicised, saying their calls for governments to take more aggressive steps to steer their economies towards a full recovery were necessary. Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, and Stanley Fischer, the US Federal Reserve’s vice-chair, also disputed the idea that unelected technocrats should refrain from commenting on governments’ economic policies. The remarks, at the ECB’s annual conference in Sintra, came after Mr Draghi on Thursday called on lawmakers in the eurozone to implement politically unpopular structural reforms, or face years of weak economic growth. The ECB president on Saturday said his calls were appropriate in a monetary union where growth prospects had been badly damaged by governments’ resistance to economic reforms.

Mr Draghi said it was the central bank’s responsibility to comment if governments’ inaction on structural reforms was creating divergence in growth and unemployment within the eurozone, which undermined the existence of the currency area. “In a monetary union you can’t afford to have large and increasing structural divergences,” the ECB president said. “They tend to become explosive.” Mr Draghi’s defence of the central bank came after Paul De Grauwe, an academic at the London School of Economics, challenged his calls for structural reforms earlier in the week. Mr De Grauwe said central banks’ push for governments to take steps that removed people’s job protection would expose monetary policy makers to criticism over their independence to set interest rates.

The ECB president said central banks had a long tradition of commenting on governments’ economic policies, and that they had been right to speak out against wage indexation in the 1970s and fiscal excesses in earlier decades. He said central banks had been wrong to keep quiet on the deregulation of the financial sector. “We all wish central bankers had spoken out more when regulation was dismantled before the crisis,” Mr Draghi said. A lack of structural reform was having much more of an impact on poor European growth than in the US, he added. Mr Fischer said central bankers should think about structural reforms “in the context of what’s the expected growth rate in the economy”. The Fed vice-chair said it was appropriate for monetary policy makers to comment on spending in infrastructure and education because of the impact it had on US growth.

“There is general agreement that US infrastructure could do with a lot of investment. You just have to go on trains in the US or Europe to figure that out,” Mr Fischer told the audience of top academics and policy makers in Sintra on Saturday. He acknowledged there were limits on what was appropriate, saying he would “never talk about whether the defence budget was appropriate”. The passing of the Dodd-Frank Act was a “very massive change in the structure of the financial sector” and was “very important for financial stability going ahead”. Haruhiko Kuroda, the governor of the Bank of Japan who joined Mr Draghi and Mr Fischer on the panel, said he expected inflation to reach 2% around the first half of the 2016 fiscal year.

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Waht makes India’s expats so successful? Provided, of course, that you see income levels as the measure of success.

The Other One Per Cent (Economist)

Part of the secret of China’s success in the past four decades or so has been the clever use of its diaspora. Chinese manufacturers in Hong Kong who had long supplied American partners moved to the mainland and set up factories. Chinese nationals who succeeded abroad brought home trusted contacts, networks, experience, standards, technology and capital. India could do with more of that. Over 27m people of Indian origin, including some temporary migrants, live overseas, many of them in the Gulf. They remit $70 billion a year to their home country, more than any other group of expats. That adds up to 3.5% of India’s GDP, outstripping foreign direct investment. The biggest potential lies with the diaspora in the West. Mr Modi seems to be aware of that.

He has been courting it on visits to America, Australia, Germany and Canada, holding big rallies. Indians abroad heavily backed him in last year’s election, sending millions of dollars as well as people to help. Even in remote corners of Uttar Pradesh, your correspondent bumped into jovial volunteers with American accents. Indians in America are the most promising. They are increasingly prominent in tech companies, on Wall Street and in government, especially in the state department. Around 1% of America’s population, over 3.3m people, are “Asian Indians”. Perhaps 150,000 more arrive each year, and 90% of them stay permanently. Devesh Kapur, who has studied them, talks of a “flood”. He says over half of all Indian-born people in America arrived there after 2000. On the usual measures of success they outstrip all other minorities, including Jewish-Americans.

They are educated and rich. In 2012 some 42% held first or higher degrees; average family income was over $100,000, roughly double that of white Americans (see chart). Over two-thirds of them hold high-status jobs. They have done so well that many migrants from Pakistan or Bangladesh like to call themselves Indian, hoping that some of the stardust will rub off on them. The stereotype of Indians as keeping shops or running motels in their adopted country is thus outdated. An IT professional from Andhra Pradesh would be far more typical. Since the turn of the century America has slurped in highly skilled graduates as fast as India can produce them. America’s H-1B employment visa for skilled professionals tells the story. In a book under review by a publisher, provisionally entitled “The Other One Per Cent”, Mr Kapur and his co-authors note that between 1997 and 2013 half of those visas went to Indians. Since 2009 the share has been more than two-thirds.

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And now there’s proof. What will happen with it?

Secret Pentagon Report Reveals West Saw ISIS As Strategic Asset (Nafeez Ahmed)

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of the strategy, but described this outcome as a strategic opportunity to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

The revelations contradict the official line of Western government on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home. Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August 2012. The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community. So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.

Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria. Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said: “Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies. Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.” The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”

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Digging a deeper hole. Germans want to know.

Germany Won’t Comment on Reported ‘Deep Freeze’ With US Intelligence (Reuters)

The German government declined to comment on a report that U.S. intelligence agencies were reviewing their cooperation with German counterparts and had dropped joint projects due to concerns secret information was being leaked by lawmakers. Bild newspaper reported on Saturday that U.S. spy chief James Clapper had ordered the review because secret documents related to the BND’s cooperation with the United States were being leaked to media from a German parliamentary committee. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Berlin said it does not comment on intelligence matters.

Allegations the BND intelligence agency helped the National Security Agency (NSA) spy on European companies and officials has been major news in Germany for weeks. It has strained Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition and damaged her popularity. “The German government puts great faith in the intelligence cooperation with the United States to protect our citizens,” a government spokesman said when asked about the Bild report. “The government doesn’t comment on the details of that cooperation in public but rather in parliament committees.” The newspaper said it had seen documents in which Clapper, director of national intelligence, expressed concern that information on the cooperation from Merkel’s chancellery to the parliamentary committee was leaked and harmed U.S. interests.

Clapper said Germany could no longer be trusted with secret documents, according to Bild, and as long as that is the case U.S. intelligence agencies should examine where to limit or cancel cooperation with Germany. Bild quoted a U.S. official saying the leaks were worse than those attributed to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “What the German government is now doing is more dangerous than what Snowden did,” the U.S. official was quoted saying.

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Lovely.

Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members Of US Biker Gangs (Intercept)

Nuclear power plant technicians, senior military officers, FBI contractors and an employee of “a highly-secretive Department of Defense agency” with a Top Secret clearance. Those are just a few of the more than 100 people with sensitive military and government connections that law enforcement is tracking because they are linked to “outlaw motorcycle gangs.” A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs.

The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers. “The OMG community continues to spread its tentacles throughout all facets of government,” the report says.

The relationship between OMGs and law enforcement has come under scrutiny after it became known that law enforcement were on site in Waco bracing for conflict. The 40-page report, “OMGs and the Military 2014,” issued by ATF’s Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information in July of last year, warned of the escalating violence of these gangs. “Their insatiable appetite for dominance has led to shootings, assaults and malicious attacks across the globe. OMGs continue to maim and murder over territory,” the report said. “As tensions escalate, brazen shootings are occurring in broad daylight.”

The ATF report is based on intelligence gathered by dozens of law enforcement and military intelligence agencies, and identifies about 100 alleged associates of the country’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gangs and support clubs who have worked in sensitive government or military positions. Those gangs “continue to court active-duty military personnel and government workers, both civilians and contractors, for their knowledge, reliable income, tactical skills and dedication to a cause,” according to the report. “Through our extensive analysis, it has been revealed that a large number of support clubs are utilizing active-duty military personnel and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and employees to spread their tentacles across the United States.”

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