May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Nov 022016
 
 November 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Unknown Petersburg, Virginia. Group of Company B, U.S. Engineer Battalion 1864

Asian Markets Show Jitters as Polls Narrow Gap Between Trump and Clinton (G.)
Goldman Says Weakening Yuan Is Behind Iron Ore Rally (BBG)
Maersk’s Profit Drops 43% On Overcapacity In Shipping Industry (BBG)
In Greece, Property Is Debt (NY Times)
Hillary Clinton Is Irreparably Damaged, Even If She Wins (MW)
370 Economists, Including 8 Nobel Laureates: ‘Do Not Vote for Trump’ (WSJ)
Clintons Are Under Multiple FBI Investigations as Agents Are Stymied (Martens)
Five Separate FBI Cases Are Probing Clinton’s Inner Circle (DM)
Top DOJ Official In Clinton Probe ‘Kept Podesta Out Of Jail’ in 1998 (F.)
Hillary Clinton: Wall Street’s Favorite Enemy (R.)
Can The American People Defeat The Oligarchy That Rules Them? (PCR)
Why Is MI5 Making Such A Fuss About Russia? (G.)
Central Banks and the Revenge of Politics (Issing)
Brexit Complexity Set to Overwhelm Politicians (G.)
Oil Drilling Thought To Have Caused 1933 Killer Earthquake In California (R.)
Turkey Rejects Europe’s ‘Red Line’ On Press Freedom After Detentions (R.)
It’s Now -Temporarily- Legal to Hack Your Own Car (IEEE)

 

 

Time to get nervous.

Asian Markets Show Jitters as Polls Narrow Gap Between Trump and Clinton (G.)

Asian shares stumbled and the US dollar was on the defensive on Wednesday amid signs investors were becoming spooked by polls narrowing the gap between US presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Market anxiety has deepened over a possible Trump victory given uncertainty on the Republican candidate’s stance on issues including foreign policy, trade relations and immigration, while Clinton is viewed as a candidate of the status quo. Stocks across Asia Pacific saw a broad selloff on Wednesday with the Nikkei in Japan down by 1.8% at 4am GMT. There were also steep falls in Australia where the ASX/S&P 200 benchmark index was down almost 1.5%, with falls of 1.3% in South Korea and Hong Kong as markets took a lead from a sharp drop on Wall Street overnight.

The main European markets were also expected to begin the day in the red when they open later, according to futures trading. The tumultuous presidential race appeared to tighten after news that the FBI was reviewing more emails as part of a probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server. While Clinton held a five-percentage-point lead over Trump, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday, other polls showed Trump ahead by 1-2 %age points. That pushed the US S&P500 Index down to a four-month closing low on Tuesday. The CBOE volatility index, often seen as an investors’ fear gauge, briefly rose to a two-month high, above 20%.

In the currency market, traders sold the dollar partly as they suspect Trump would prefer a weaker dollar given his protectionist stance on international trade. The euro rose to a three-week high of $1.1069, up about 2% from its seven-and-a-half-month low of $1.0851 hit just over a week ago. Against the yen, the dollar slipped to 104.03 yen from three-month high of 105.54 yen set on Friday. Koichi Yoshikawa at Standard Chartered Bank said: “If you had a long dollar position on the view that the dollar would gain because Clinton would win, you would surely close that position because her victory is less certain.”

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There’s that picture again of massive inventory in ports.

Goldman Says Weakening Yuan Is Behind Iron Ore Rally (BBG)

Iron ore’s eye-catching rally to the highest since April is probably due to the weakening of the yuan, according to Goldman Sachs, which said that China’s currency may decline further against the dollar and help to sustain prices of the raw material. Prices surged last month as losses in the yuan prompted some local investors to move into dollar-linked assets, including iron ore, analysts Hui Shan, Amber Cai and Christian Lelong said in a report received Wednesday. Should the Federal Reserve raise interest rates by the end of the year, there’s scope for further yuan weakness, they wrote in the Nov. 1 note. Iron ore has rallied even as signs of robust supply multiply, including a buildup in stockpiles at ports in China.

While some analysts have sought to explain the jump by pointing to higher coal prices as a driver, Goldman said that didn’t stack up as a reason, targeting the yuan’s drop instead. The Chinese currency has sagged as local policy makers signaled they are willing to allow greater currency flexibility amid a slump in exports and rise in the dollar. “By our estimates, about 60% of the iron ore price rally in October can be explained by the yuan depreciation,” the analysts said. Iron ore may be the first in line to benefit from onshore investment flows into commodities as the “futures curve is almost always backwardated, making long iron ore a positive-carry trade,” they said, referring to bets on gains.

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Global trade bites again.

Maersk’s Profit Drops 43% On Overcapacity In Shipping Industry (BBG)

A.P. Moller-Maersk, owner of the world’s largest container line, reported a 43% decline in third-quarter profit as the shipping industry suffers from overcapacity. Net income fell to $429 million in the third quarter compared with $755 million in the same period a year earlier, the Copenhagen-based company said in a statement Wednesday. That missed the average estimate of $501 million in a Bloomberg survey of 15 analysts. “The result is unsatisfactory, but driven by low prices,” Chief Executive Officer Soren Skou said in the statement. “We generally perform strongly on cost and volume across businesses.” Maersk said its underlying profit for 2016 will be “below” $1 billion. Previously, the company had said the full-year result would be “significantly” below 2015’s $3.1 billion.

An excess of vessels and weak trade growth have driven container lines to try to under-bid each other on the rates they offer clients. The climate has proven lethal for some industry members, with South Korea’s biggest line Hanjin Shipping Co. filing for bankruptcy protection in August. Earlier this week, Japan’s three biggest container lines said they plan to merge their operations in an efforts to return to profit. Maersk’s response has been to cut costs. On Wednesday it said costs at Maersk Line declined 14% in the quarter, but that was outpaced by a 16% decline in freight rates. The shipping line reported a net operating loss after tax of $116 million compared with a profit by the same measure of $264 million a year earlier as freight rates fell 16%.

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The destruction continues unabated and unopposed. “Construction of homes has collapsed, dropping by 95% from 2007 to 2016.”

In Greece, Property Is Debt (NY Times)

At law courts throughout Greece, people are lining up to file papers renouncing their inheritance. Not necessarily because some feckless uncle left them with a pile of debt at the end of his revels; they are turning their backs on what used to be a pillar of Greece’s economy and society: real estate. Growing personal debt, declining incomes and ever higher taxes as Greece’s depression grinds on have turned property and the dream of easy money into dread of a catastrophic burden. The figures are clear. In 2013, two years after a property tax was introduced (previously, real estate tax revenue came mainly from transfers or conveyance taxes), 29,200 people declined to accept their inheritance, according to the Justice Ministry. In 2015, the number had climbed to 45,627, an increase of 56% in two years.

Reports from across the country suggest that this year, too, large numbers of people are refusing to inherit. “This can be very painful,” said Giorgos Voukelatos, a lawyer. “People may lose their family home. Because if the father or mother had debts, the child might be unemployed and unable to carry this weight as well.” The growing aversion to property is evident in the drop in business at notaries public. The national statistics service, Elstat, reported in July that in 2014 there were 23,221 deeds in which living parents transferred property to their children, down from 90,718 in 2008. The number of wills drawn up or notarized has been steady through the crisis, at around 30,000 annually, suggesting that many inheritances being rejected were not part of formal wills. (More than 120,000 people die each year.)

The desire to inherit used to be so great that some took it upon themselves to give fortune a hand. Greeks were stunned in 1987 when the police uncovered a gang that had killed at least eight rich elderly people after forging their wills. The plot’s leader was a lawyer and former mayor of an Athens suburb; accomplices included a notary public and a gravedigger. Murder Inc., as the news media called it, was seared into popular consciousness as an instance in which criminals acted out a common desire. Today, people are more likely to run away from real estate than be tempted to kill for it.

The collapse of the real estate market shows why. The total number of transactions dropped by 74% from 2004 to 2014. People once hoped that if they came into property they could sell it and live easier; now they fear that they will be unable to sell it and the taxes will drag them down. If they did find a buyer, they would be unlikely to gain much, as prices of apartments have fallen by 41% since 2008, according to the Bank of Greece. Construction of homes has collapsed, dropping by 95% from 2007 to 2016. With no end to the crisis in sight, people will continue to dread coming into property.

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An entire campaign blinded by hubris.

Hillary Clinton Is Irreparably Damaged, Even If She Wins (MW)

We don’t know whether the reopening of the FBI probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails will cost her the election. It may be that she will still emerge the winner after next Tuesday’s vote, or that Donald Trump’s momentum from the Wikileaks emails, Obamacare’s failures, and Clinton’s flawed candidacy were going to carry him to victory in any case. What we do know is that whoever wins, we are in for a fiasco in politics that will make even this fiasco of a campaign pale by comparison. There is hardly any scenario that is too far-fetched. Even if the polls are right and Clinton’s lead translates into an electoral victory, she will be so damaged going into office that her chances of getting anything done will be virtually nil. In this sense alone, Trump’s claim that this scandal is “worse than Watergate” could prove to be true.

As an incumbent, Richard Nixon at least had an administration in place when he won re-election in 1972, though it took nearly another two years before he was forced to resign under threat of impeachment. Clinton is likely to be stymied from the start, especially if the ongoing investigations into her email practices and the Clinton Foundation lead to further damaging disclosures. For one thing, we now have the precedence of Watergate, and Republicans, who are sure to retain the House and now probably the Senate, will not let go. There is hardly a chance that it will all end well for Clinton and that she will be exonerated because what is already known has many Republicans convinced that she is guilty at the very least of mishandling classified documents and perhaps obstruction of justice.

While the immediate attention in the wake of last week’s disclosure about reopening the email investigation has focused on FBI Director James Comey, the real conundrum in all this concerns his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Lynch fatally compromised her position by meeting with former President Bill Clinton just days before the original investigation was closed without a grand jury ever considering the evidence. And now her failure to block Comey’s disclosure — while leaking that she wanted to — is another ethical lapse. Other reports indicate that she attempted to quash the investigation into the Clinton Foundation. It is hard to see how she can remain in office even if Clinton wins and wants to keep her. Her resignation — or even impeachment — seems inevitable with Republicans out for blood.

The damage done to the whole Clinton entourage through the machinations exposed in the Wikileaks emails means that many of them – Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, John Podesta, Neera Tanden – will be virtually untenable in any position of responsibility in a new Clinton administration. And this is the best-case scenario for Clinton. We all know what the worst-case scenario is.

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Hilarious. 370 economists making Trump’s case for him: “The economists object to Mr. Trump for questioning the legitimacy of economic data produced by institutions such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Everybody questions the BLS. Except for 370 economists?!

370 Economists, Including 8 Nobel Laureates: ‘Do Not Vote for Trump’ (WSJ)

A group of 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates in economics, have signed a letter warning against the election of Republican nominee Donald Trump, calling him a “dangerous, destructive choice” for the country. Signatories include economists Angus Deaton of Princeton University, who won the economics Nobel last year, and Oliver Hart of Harvard University, who was one of the two Nobel winners this year. The letter is notable because it is less partisan or ideological than such quadrennial exercises, and instead takes issue with Mr. Trump’s history of promoting debunked falsehoods.

“He misinforms the electorate, degrades trust in public institutions with conspiracy theories and promotes willful delusion over engagement with reality,” said the signatories, which also include Paul Romer, the new chief economist at the World Bank, and Kenneth Arrow, the 1972 Nobel winner. The economists object to Mr. Trump for questioning the legitimacy of economic data produced by institutions such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They say he hasn’t proposed credible solutions to reduce budget deficits and that he has promoted misleading claims about trade and tax policy. They also chide Mr. Trump for failing to “listen to credible experts” and for promoting “magical thinking and conspiracy theories over sober assessments of feasible economic policy options.”

[..] Peter Navarro, a Trump adviser and professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the economics profession has been so wrong about the impact of trade deals, including both the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the accession of China to the World Trade Organization in 2001, that it has little standing to criticize Mr. Trump’s position on those pacts. Tuesday’s letter “is a headline, whatever, and then they wind up being just so horribly wrong,” Mr. Navarro said. “You shouldn’t believe economists or Nobel Prize winners on trade.”

“You don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to know Trump’s plan to cut taxes, reduce regulation, increase oil, gas, and clean coal production, and eliminate our trade deficit by increasing exports and reducing imports will significantly increase growth, boost wages and generate trillions in new tax revenues,” he said. “This new letter is an embarrassment to an economics profession which continues to insist bad trade deals are good for America—a classic case of reality running roughshod over textbook trade theory.”

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“Not only was Bill Clinton’s wife under an FBI investigation at the time [..] but his own charitable foundation was also under investigation, a fact that was unknown at the time to the public and the media.

Clintons Are Under Multiple FBI Investigations as Agents Are Stymied (Martens)

Current and former FBI officials have launched a media counter-offensive to engage head to head with the Clinton media machine and to throw off the shackles the Loretta Lynch Justice Department has used to stymie their multiple investigations into the Clinton pay-to-play network. Over the past weekend, former FBI Assistant Director and current CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes told viewers that “the FBI has an intensive investigation ongoing into the Clinton Foundation.” He said he had received this information from “senior officials” at the FBI, “several of them, in and out of the Bureau.” That information was further supported by an in-depth article in the Wall Street Journal by Devlin Barrett. According to Barrett, the “probe of the foundation began more than a year ago to determine whether financial crimes or influence peddling occurred related to the charity.”

Barrett’s article suggests that the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, has attempted to circumvent the investigation. The new revelations lead to the appearance of wrongdoing on the part of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for secretly meeting with Bill Clinton on her plane on the tarmac of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on the evening of June 28 of this year. Not only was Bill Clinton’s wife under an FBI investigation at the time over her use of a private email server in the basement of her New York home over which Top Secret material was transmitted while she was Secretary of State but his own charitable foundation was also under investigation, a fact that was unknown at the time to the public and the media.

The reports leaking out of the FBI over the weekend came on the heels of FBI Director James Comey sending a letter to members of Congress on Friday acknowledging that the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email server was not closed as he had previously testified to Congress, but had been reopened as a result of “pertinent” emails turning up.

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The Daily Mail reoprts on ‘persons of interest’: Huma Abedin, Terry McAuliffe, Cheryl Mills, Phillipe Reines, John Podesta, Tony Podesta, Doug Band, Justin Cooper, Anthony Weiner

Five Separate FBI Cases Are Probing Clinton’s Inner Circle (DM)

The extent to which Hillary Clinton’s key advisers are now the focus of major FBI investigations is becoming clear. The Clintons’ long-term inner-circle – some of whom stretch back in service to the very first days of Bill’s White House – are being examined in at least five separate investigations. The scale of the FBI’s interest in some of America’s most powerful political fixers – one of them a sitting governor – underlines just how difficult it will be for Clinton to shake off the taint of scandal if she enters the White House. There are, in fact, not one but five separate FBI investigations which involve members of Clinton’s inner circle or their closest relatives – the people at the center of what has come to be known as Clintonworld.

The five known investigations are into: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin’s estranged husband sexting a 15-year-old; the handling of classified material by Clinton and her staff on her private email server; questions over whether the Clinton Foundation was used as a front for influence-peddling; whether the Virginia governor broke laws about foreign donations; and whether Hillary’s campaign chairman’s brother did the same. The progress of the Clinton Foundation investigation and that into McAuliffe was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The FBI does not generally comment on investigations, so it is entirely possible there are more under way. Here are the advisers and consiglieri – and how the FBI is looking at them:

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Rep. Gowdy has said he thinks Kadzik will do his job properly.

Top DOJ Official In Clinton Probe ‘Kept Podesta Out Of Jail’ in 1998 (F.)

The Justice Department official in charge of informing Congress about the newly reactivated Hillary Clinton email probe is a political appointee and former private-practice lawyer who kept Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta “out of jail,” lobbied for a tax cheat later pardoned by President Bill Clinton and led the effort to confirm Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Peter Kadzik, who was confirmed as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in June 2014, represented Podesta in 1998 when independent counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating Podesta for his possible role in helping ex-Bill Clinton intern and mistress Monica Lewinsky land a job at the United Nations.

“Fantastic lawyer. Kept me out of jail,” Podesta wrote on Sept. 8, 2008 to Obama aide Cassandra Butts, according to emails hacked from Podesta’s Gmail account and posted by WikiLeaks. Kadzik’s name has surfaced multiple times in regard to the FBI’s investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for using a private, homebrewed server. After FBI Director James Comey informed Congress on Thursday the FBI was reviving its inquiry when new evidence linked to a separate investigation was discovered, congressional leaders wrote to the Department of Justice seeking more information. Kadzik replied. “We assure you that the Department will continue to work closely with the FBI and together, dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible,” Kadzik wrote on Oct. 31.

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Can’t keep your enemies any closer than this.

Hillary Clinton: Wall Street’s Favorite Enemy (R.)

Hillary Clinton began her presidential campaign by promising to do what it takes to rein in Wall Street. Boosted by Wall Street’s toughest critics, U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate has declared “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top” and said she would raise bank fees and tighten banking regulations. She has encouraged regulators to break up too-risky banks. And yet, Wall Street appears unperturbed by the prospect of a Clinton presidency. In fact, the banking industry has supported Clinton with buckets of cash and stocks have sold off on days when the Clinton campaign stumbles. Privately, bankers say that they trust her to remain a pragmatist who will keep the current regulatory regime laid down by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation passed in 2010.

“I don’t think Clinton wakes up thinking about Wall Street,” one senior banking industry lobbyist said. There are hints in apparently leaked email discussions among Clinton’s campaign staff that bankers are not far off the mark when they count on her to tread lightly. Pressed during the campaign by progressive Democrats to call for a revival of the Glass-Steagall Act that would require separation of commercial and investment banking, Clinton ultimately refused. She also weighed another progressive favorite – a tax on financial transactions- but instead recommended a far narrower plan to tax only canceled orders by high speed traders. Ultimately, what bankers most like about Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump.

Many financiers fear her unorthodox Republican rival could disrupt global trade, damage geopolitical relationships and rattle markets, industry analysts and participants say. “Those are the kind of things that corner offices think about,” said Karen Shaw Petrou of Federal Financial Analytics, whose firm advises financial firms about U.S. regulatory policy. “The overriding concern about Trump has dominated people’s thinking.” [..] People who work for hedge funds and private equity firms have contributed more than $56 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign and the supporting groups that face no legal cap on donations. Trump’s campaign and related groups received just $243,000 from donors in the same sector, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

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“During an election it is OK to announce that a candidate for president is cleared but it is not OK to say that a candidate is under investigation.”

Can The American People Defeat The Oligarchy That Rules Them? (PCR)

Aren’t you surprised that Hillary and the presstitutes haven’t blamed Putin for FBI director Comey’s reopening of the Hillary email case? But the presstitutes have done the next best thing for Hillary. They have made Comey the issue, not Hillary. According to US Senator Harry Reid and the presstitutes, we don’t need to worry about Hillary’s crimes. After all, she is only a political woman feathering her nest, just as political men have done for ages. Why all this misogynist talk about Hillary? The presstitutes’ cry is that Comey’s alleged crime is far more important. This woman-hating Republican violated the Hatch Act by telling Congress that the investigation he said was closed is now reopened. A very strange interpretation of the Hatch Act. During an election it is OK to announce that a candidate for president is cleared but it is not OK to say that a candidate is under investigation.

In July 2016 Comey violated the Hatch Act when he, on orders from the corrupt Obama Attorney General, announced Hillary clean. In so doing, Comey used the prestige of federal clearance of Hillary’s violation of national security protocols to boost her standing in the election polls. Actually, Hillary’s standing in the polls is based on the pollsters over-weighting Hillary supporters in the polls. It is easy to produce a favorite if you overweight their supporters in the poll questions. If you look at the crowds attending the two candidate’s public appearances, it is clear that the American people prefer Donald Trump, who is opposed to war with Russia and China. War with nuclear powers is the big issue of the election.

Hillary’s problem has the ruling American Oligarcy, for which Hillary is the total servant, concerned. What are they going to do about Trump if he wins? Will his fate be the same as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, George Wallace? Time will tell. Or will a hotel maid appear at the last minute in the way that the Oligarchy got rid of Dominique Strauss-Kahn? All of the American and Western feminists, progressives, and left-wing remnant fell for the obvious frame-up of Strauss-Kahn. After Strauss-Kahn was blocked from the presidency of France and resigned as Director of the IMF, the New York authorities had to drop all charges against Strauss-Kahn. But Washington succeeded in removing Strauss-Kahn as a challenge to its French vassal, Sarkozy.

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Because it seems cheap and easy.

Why Is MI5 Making Such A Fuss About Russia? (G.)

If I had cornflakes for breakfast (which I don’t), I would have choked on them, reading Andrew Parker’s view of the threat posed by Russia, not just to the world at large – that is a commonplace of the “new cold war” discourse – but to the stability of the UK. With the majority vote for Brexit against the strong preference of Scotland and Northern Ireland for remain, we have shown ourselves quite capable of inflicting potentially fatal harm to our national stability all by ourselves. Why would we need Russia to do it for us? That was a knee-jerk reaction to the main thrust of the MI5 chief’s first national newspaper interview in the agency’s history. But a second, more substantial, response chased behind it in the form of a rather basic, and recurrent, question.

Why is the UK establishment in general, and UK intelligence in particular, so fixated on a supposed threat from Russia? The cold war is a quarter-century behind us. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved; the Soviet Union collapsed. Today’s Russia has three quarters of the territory but only half the population of the old Soviet Union. Its GDP, whether overall or per capita, is far below that of the US, or ours. Its 2015 military budget took 5% of that – $70bn in actual money – less than an eighth of the nearly $600bn spent by the US. “Tsar” Vladimir Putin may have played a weak hand magnificently, as judged by admirers and detractors alike, but a weak hand is still a weak hand.

If Russia really harbours ambitions to reconstitute an empire, its only success to date is the expensive (in every respect) reacquisition of Crimea, a contested no-man’s land of ragtag rebels in the rust belt of eastern Ukraine, and two miniature enclaves inside independent Georgia. That recent “show of force”, when the might of the Russian navy made its stately progress through the English Channel, demonstrated only the obsolescence of the erstwhile superpower’s fleet. In the same interview, Parker disclosed that there were around 3,000 “violent Islamic extremists in the UK, mostly British”, and that cyber, not just in Russia’s hands, was the threat of the future. So let me repeat the question: why does Russia remain bogeyman-in-chief?

Here are a few ideas. The first is that blaming Russia carries little cost. Russia is not China. Investment is not a big consideration. For all sorts of reasons, political relations have long been dire. Applying the same virulent rhetoric to terrorism conducted in the name of Islam, on the other hand, risks fomenting social and cultural strife here at home. A second reason, now as in the past, is that blaming Russia aligns us comfortably with the US, where stalwarts in Congress and at the Pentagon have never emerged from their old thinking about the threat. The Russia card has been played to exhaustion during this presidential campaign, to the point where it could swing the election – and I don’t mean in Donald Trump’s favour. A third factor is the consensus about a strong and malevolent Russia that still rules the “expert” community, and will probably do so for a few years yet – helped along by the hatchet-faced Putin.

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When their unwarranted powers are finally taken away from them it will be too late.

Central Banks and the Revenge of Politics (Issing)

The reputation of central banks has always had its ups and downs. For years, central banks’ prestige has been almost unprecedentedly high. But a correction now seems inevitable, with central-bank independence becoming a key casualty. Central banks’ reputation reached a peak before and at the turn of the century, thanks to the so-called Great Moderation. Low and stable inflation, sustained growth, and high employment led many to view central banks as a kind of master of the universe, able – and expected – to manage the economy for the benefit of all. The depiction of US Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan as “Maestro” exemplified this perception. The 2008 global financial crisis initially bolstered central banks’ reputation further.

With resolute action, monetary authorities made a major contribution to preventing a repeat of the Great Depression. They were, yet again, lauded as saviors of the world economy. But central banks’ successes fueled excessively high expectations, which encouraged most policymakers to leave their monetary counterparts largely responsible for macroeconomic management. Such “expectational” and, in turn, “operational” overburdening has exposed monetary policy’s true limitations. In other words, central banks’ good reputation now seems to be backfiring. And “personality overburdening” – when trust in the success of monetary policy is concentrated on the person at the helm of the institution – means that individual leaders’ reputations are likely to suffer as well.

Yet central banks cannot simply abandon their new operational burdens, particularly with regard to financial stability, which, as the 2008 crisis starkly demonstrated, cannot be maintained by price stability alone. On the contrary, a period of low and stable interest rates may even foster financial fragility, leading to a “Minsky moment,” when asset values suddenly collapse, bringing down the whole system. The limits of inflation targeting are now clear, and the strategy should be discarded. Central banks now have to reconcile the need to maintain price stability with the responsibility – regardless of whether it is legally mandated – to reduce financial vulnerability. This will not be easy, not least because of another new operational burden that has been placed on many central banks: macro-prudential and micro-prudential supervision.

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They’re already completely lost by the looks of it.

Brexit Complexity Set to Overwhelm Politicians (G.)

Managing Britain’s exit from the EU is such a formidable and complex challenge that it could overwhelm politicians and civil servants for years, senior academics have warned. Theresa May has announced she will trigger article 50 – the two-year process of negotiating a separation from the EU – by the end of March next year. The government will also publish a great repeal bill, which will transfer all EU-originated laws into British law, so that MPs can decide how much they want to discard. A report from The UK in a Changing Europe, an independent group of academics led by Prof Anand Menon of King’s College London, warns that this will only be the start of the process of extricating Britain from the EU and establishing new relationships with other member states.

“Brexit has the potential to test the UK’s constitutional settlement, legal framework, political process and bureaucratic capacities to their limits – and possibly beyond,” Menon said. The group of experts, commissioned by the Political Studies Association, found that identifying and transposing the legislation to be included in the great repeal bill – and then deciding what to keep and what to ditch – will be a daunting task for civil servants. They also warn that while article 50, as set out in the Lisbon treaty, concerns the terms of a divorce with the rest of the EU – including what share of EU liabilities the UK should take on, for example – it is unclear whether the process can allow for parallel negotiations on Britain’s future status. And they suggest the repatriation of decision-making in key policy areas including agriculture, the environment and higher education to Britain from Brussels could affect the balance of power between Westminster and the devolved parliaments – another major constitutional headache for politicians.

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Wonder how far this kind of research will lead.

Oil Drilling Thought To Have Caused 1933 Killer Earthquake In California (R.)

Several damaging Los Angeles-area earthquakes of the 1920s and 1930s, including the deadliest ever in southern California, may have been brought on by oil production during the region’s drilling boom of that era, US government scientists have reported. The findings of a possible link between oil extraction and seismic events in the LA basin do not apply to modern industry practices but suggest the natural rate of quake occurrences in the region may be lower than previously calculated, the scientists said. The study’s authors, Susan Hough and Morgan Page of the US Geological Survey, stressed a distinction between their results and separate research attributing a growing frequency of quakes in Oklahoma and elsewhere to underground wastewater injection associated with fossil fuel production.

The new study, published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, also noted that early 20th-century industry techniques differed greatly from today, so the findings “do not necessarily imply a high likelihood of induced earthquakes at the present time”. The report suggested four major Los Angeles-area quakes in 1920, 1929, 1930 and 1933 were triggered by early drilling methods in which oil was extracted without water being pumped into the ground to replace it, causing the ground to subside. This could have artificially placed more pressure on seismic faults near oilfields. The most devastating event was the so-called Long Beach earthquake of 10 March 1933, a 6.4-magnitude quake that ruptured the Newport-Inglewood fault along the coast, toppling scores of buildings and killing 115 to 120 people – the highest death toll on record from a southern California earthquake.

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“..seeking to precipitate the coup through “subliminal messages” in their columns before it happened..”

Turkey Rejects Europe’s ‘Red Line’ On Press Freedom After Detentions (R.)

Turkey’s prime minister said he had no regard for Europe’s “red line” on press freedom on Tuesday and warned Ankara would not be brought to heel with threats, rejecting criticism of the detention of senior journalists at an opposition newspaper. Police detained the editor and top staff of Cumhuriyet, a pillar of the country’s secularist establishment, on Monday, on accusations that the newspaper’s coverage had helped precipitate a failed military coup in July. The United States and European Union both voiced concern about the move in Turkey, a NATO ally which aspires to EU membership. European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter that the detentions marked the crossing of ‘yet another red-line’ against freedom of expression in the country.

“Brother, we don’t care about your red line. It’s the people who draw the red line. What importance does your line have,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told members of his ruling AK Party in a speech in parliament. “Turkey is not a country to be brought in line with salvoes and threats. Turkey gets its power from the people and would be held accountable by the people.” Prosecutors accuse staff at Cumhuriyet, one of few media outlets still critical of President Tayyip Erdogan, of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric blamed for orchestrating the July coup attempt. Journalists at the paper were suspected of seeking to precipitate the coup through “subliminal messages” in their columns before it happened, the state-run Anadolu agency said.

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Good to know, right? You don’t really own your car. Or anything else that has software in it.

It’s Now -Temporarily- Legal to Hack Your Own Car (IEEE)

You may own your car, but you don’t own the software that makes it work— that still belongs to your car’s manufacturer. You’re allowed to use the software, but in the past, trying to alter it in any way (including fixing it by yourself when it breaks or patching security holes) was a form of copyright infringement. iFixit, Repair.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and many others think this is ridiculous, and they’ve been lobbying the government to try to change things. A year ago, the U.S. Copyright Office agreed that people should be able to modify the software that runs cars that they own, and as of last Friday, that ruling came into effect. It’s good for only two years, though, so get hacking. The legal and technical distinction between physical ownership and digital ownership is perhaps most familiar in the context of DVD movies.

You can go to the store and buy a DVD, and when you do, you own that DVD. You don’t, however, own the movie that comes on it: Instead, it’s more like you own limited rights to watch the movie, which is a very different thing. If the DVD is protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) says that you are not allowed to circumvent that software, even if you’re just trying to watch the movie on a different device, change the region restriction so that you can watch it in a different country, or do any number of other things that it really seems like you should be able to do with a piece of media that you paid 20 bucks for.

Cars work in a similar way. You own the car as a physical object, but you only have limited rights to the software that controls it, because the car’s manufacturer holds the copyright on that software. This prevents you from making changes to the software, even if those changes are to fix problems or counter obsolescence, as well as preventing you from investigating the security of the software, which can have very serious and direct consequences for you as the owner and driver. It’s also worth pointing out that (especially in older vehicles like the 1995 Volvo 940 Turbo belonging to a certain anonymous journalist) relatively simple computerized parts can cost a ridiculous amount of money to replace because there is no legal alternative besides buying a new one from the manufacturer, who hasn’t made them in 20 years and would much rather you just bought an entirely new car anyway.

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Jul 302016
 
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Jack Delano Street scene on a rainy day in Norwich, Connecticut 1940

US GDP Grew a Disappointing 1.2% in Q2 As Q1 Revised Down to 0.8% (WSJ)
Rescue Package In Place For Europe’s Oldest Bank, Weakest In Stress Tests (G.)
ECB Bond Buying Risks Blocking Debt Restructurings (R.)
Chinese Capital Outflows May Still Be Happening – But In Disguise (BBG)
Bank of Japan’s Quest for 2% Inflation (BBG)
The Bank of Japan Is At A Crossroads (BBG)
US Authorities Subpoena Goldman In 1MDB Probe (R.)
Australia Headed For Recession As Early As Next Year – Steve Keen (ABC.au)
‘Sell The House, Sell The Car, Sell The Kids’ – Gundlach (R.)
British Columbia Violates NAFTA With Its Foreign Property Tax (FP)
Another “Smoking Gun” Looms As Hillary Campaign Admits Server Hacked (ZH)
Greek Islands Appeal For Measures To Deal With Influx Of Refugees (Kath.)
England’s Plastic Bag Usage Drops 85% Since 5p Charge Introduced (G.)

 

 

Only positive is consumer spending. But without knowing how much of that is borrowed (let alone manipulated), it’s a meaningless number.

US GDP Grew a Disappointing 1.2% in Q2 As Q1 Revised Down to 0.8% (WSJ)

Declining business investment is hobbling an already sluggish U.S. expansion, raising concerns about the economy’s durability as the presidential campaign heads into its final stretch. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the U.S., grew at a seasonally and inflation adjusted annual rate of just 1.2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday, well below the pace economists expected. Economic growth is now tracking at a 1% rate in 2016—the weakest start to a year since 2011—when combined with a downwardly revised reading for the first quarter. That makes for an annual average rate of 2.1% growth since the end of the recession, the weakest pace of any expansion since at least 1949.

The output figures are in some ways discordant with other gauges of the economy. The unemployment rate stands at 4.9% after a streak of strong job gains, wages have begun to pick up, and home sales hit a post-recession high last month. Consumer spending also remains strong. Personal consumption, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output, expanded at a 4.2% rate in the second quarter, the best gain since late 2014. On the downside, the third straight quarter of reduced business investment, a large paring back of inventories and declining government spending cut into those gains. “Consumer spending growth was the sole element of good news” in the latest GDP figures, said Gregory Daco at Oxford Economics. “Weakness in business investment is an important and lingering growth constraint.”

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“This is a market operation that will reinforce the capital position of the bank and free it completely of bad loans…” If it’s that easy, do it all over the place, I’d think. Who do they think they’re fooling?

Rescue Package In Place For Europe’s Oldest Bank, Weakest In Stress Tests (G.)

A rescue package of the world’s oldest bank has been announced after a health check of the biggest banks across the EU showed that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena’s financial position would be wiped out if the global economy and financial markets came under strain. The much-anticipated result of the stress tests – for which there was no pass or fail mark – of 51 banks showed that Italy’s third largest bank emerged weakest from the assessment. But the test – which exposed banks to headwinds in the global economy and dramatic movements in currency markets – also underlined the drop in the capital position of bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and the hit taken by Barclays observed under the imaginary scenarios. Banks from Italy, Ireland, Spain and Austria fared worst.

Regulators said that the tests showed that the bank sector was much stronger than it had been at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the introduction of the stress tests. Even so, the European Banking Authority (EBA), which conducted the tests on lenders, acknowledged that more needed to done.Under the latest stress test scenario, some €269bn (£227bn) would be wiped off the capital bases of the banks. “The EBA’s 2016 stress test shows the benefits of capital strengthening done so far are reflected in the resilience of the EU banking sector to a severe shock,” said Andrea Enria, EBA chair. “This stress test is a vital tool to assist supervisors in accelerating the process of repair of banks’ balance sheets, which is so important for restoring lending to households and businesses.

“The EBA’s stress test is not a pass [or] fail exercise. While we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health. There remains work to do which supervisors will undertake.” The bank that fared the worst was MPS, which suffered a dramatic 14 percentage point fall in its capital position. It had been expected to perform badly and talks had already been underway before the results of the stress tests were published to try to find a way to bolster its capital. New EU regulations prevented the Italian government from pumping any taxpayer money into MPS so efforts were needed to try to stop of tens of thousands of ordinary Italians – who had bought its bonds – losing their savings. Italy’s banks are in the spotlight as they are weighed down by €360bn of bad debts.

Italy’s finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan – who as recently as Sunday said there was no crisis in Italy – endorsed the deal put together to raise €5bn from private investors and sell €9.2bn of bad debts. “The government is greatly satisfied with the operation [the deal] launched … by Monte dei Paschi of Siena,” he said. “This is a market operation that will reinforce the capital position of the bank and free it completely of bad loans. The operation will allow the bank to develop a solid industrial plan, thanks to which it will boost its support for the real economy through lending to families and businesses.”

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Unintended consequences. Hilarious, really.

ECB Bond Buying Risks Blocking Debt Restructurings (R.)

The European Central Bank could scupper future eurozone debt restructurings if it increases the amount of a country’s bonds it can buy under its economic stimulus program, a top debt lawyer warned. The problem, on the radar of European authorities suffering a hangover from the 2012 crisis, has been pushed to the fore by expectations the ECB will need to raise limits on its bond purchases to keep its quantitative easing scheme on track.

Kai Schaffelhuber, a partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said that if the ECB permitted itself to buy more than a third of a country’s debt it would make a restructuring of privately-held bonds more difficult, a move that could increase the likelihood of taxpayer rescues. In a debt restructuring, a quorum of investors has to agree the terms of a deal. The ECB cannot participate because it is forbidden from directly financing governments. “They (the ECB) should avoid a situation where they are holding so much (of a) debt that a restructuring becomes virtually impossible,” said Schaffelhuber, whose firm worked on Greece’s 2012 debt restructuring.

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Samoa….

Chinese Capital Outflows May Still Be Happening – But In Disguise (BBG)

When there’s a will to get money out of China, there’s a way: overpay. Authorities in the world’s second-largest economy have been able to pursue a policy of managed depreciation for the Chinese yuan without spooking markets and eliciting expectations of major foreign-exchange volatility, the way the one-off devaluation did last August. One big reason is that Beijing seems to have had success in cracking down on the flood of money leaving the country, which had been prompting sizable drawdowns in the central bank’s foreign currency reserves, to prop up the value of the yuan. But a report from a Nomura team led by Chief China Economist Yang Zhao says these capital outflows have merely taken another form: the over-invoicing of imports from select locales.

And this time, it’s not just a Hong Kong story. “A detailed breakdown by region shows imports from some tax haven islands or offshore financial centres surged” in the first half of the year, he writes, “against the backdrop of a large decline in overall imports.” Now, it may be the China’s appetite for copra and coconut oil, two key Samoan exports, has indeed surged. But Zhao has a different explanation. “This suggests to us that capital outflows may have been disguised as imports in China’s trade with these tax-haven or offshore financial centres, though the precise volumes are unknown,” according to the economist. “With stronger capital controls in place we believe continued capital outflows via the current account are likely.”

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Exposing the uselessness of the whole idea.

Bank of Japan’s Quest for 2% Inflation (BBG)

The U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the ECB are among the world’s monetary authorities that have set an inflation target right around 2%. Nowhere, though, does the quest for this special number carry drama like it does in Japan, where Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has vowed to do whatever it takes to stimulate prices. On Friday in Tokyo, the BOJ indicated there were risks to achieving this target anytime soon.

1. What’s so special about 2%? The BOJ set its current inflation target in January 2013, less than a month after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power with a plan to pull the economy out of two decades of stagnation. In Japan and many other developed economies, prices rising by 2% a year is seen as optimal for encouraging companies to invest and consumers to spend. It’s also thought to be low enough to avoid sparking the runaway inflation that crippled Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s and Zimbabwe in more recent times.

2. How close has Japan gotten to 2% inflation? Not very. What Japan has had, on-and-off since the late 1990s, is deflation – inflation below 0% – with prices dropping across a wide range of goods.

3. What caused deflation? It began with the bursting of a real estate and asset-price bubble. Wounded banks curbed lending, companies focused on cutting debt, wages stagnated and consumers reined in spending. Households became accustomed to falling prices and put off purchases. The global financial crisis of 2008, and the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011, entrenched what Kuroda describes as a “deflationary mindset” among consumers and companies in Japan. The nation’s aging and shrinking population is now making matters worse.

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I think they passed that crossroads long ago. Just didn’t recognize it for what it was.

The Bank of Japan Is At A Crossroads (BBG)

After more than three years of pumping out wave after wave of cheap money that’s failed to secure its inflation target, the Bank of Japan has signaled a rethink. Instead of buying yet more government bonds, cutting interest rates or pushing further into uncharted territory, the BOJ disappointed some Friday when its policy meeting concluded with only a modest adjustment. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, 71, and his colleagues declared it was time to assess the impact of their policies, which have variously spurred strong criticism from bankers, bond dealers and some lawmakers and former BOJ executives. The next gathering, on Sept. 20-21, offers a chance to either provide greater evidence that the current framework should continue, head further into uncharted territory, or scale back.

Regardless of the decision, this isn’t where one of the world’s most aggressive central bankers wanted to be in his fourth year in office. In early 2013, he expressed confidence the BOJ had the power to ensure its 2% inflation target could be reached within about two years. This year, with the shock adoption of a negative interest rate policy backfiring through a welter of warnings from commercial banks, there’s a growing perception monetary policy is losing effectiveness. “We are at a turning point” for the BOJ, because “it can no longer assume that stepping harder on the gas pedal would make this car go faster,” said Stephen Jen, co-founder of hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners and a former IMF economist. “Arrow 2 will take the lead now,” he said, in a reference to the three arrows of Abenomics – monetary, fiscal and structural-reform policies.

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Yeah, that’ll result in some jail time….

US Authorities Subpoena Goldman In 1MDB Probe (R.)

U.S. authorities have issued subpoenas to Goldman Sachs for documents related to the bank’s dealings with scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1MDB, the Wall Street Journal reported late on Friday. Goldman received the subpoenas earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission , the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. The authorities also want to interview current and former Goldman employees in connection with the inquiries, but none of those meetings had occurred by Friday, WSJ said.

1MDB, which was founded by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 shortly after he came to office, is being investigated for money-laundering in at least six countries including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland. Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing. U.S. law enforcement officials are attempting to identify whether Goldman violated federal law after failing to flag a transaction in Malaysia, the Journal reported in June. New York state regulators have also asked the Wall Street bank for details about probes into billions of dollars it raised in a bond offering for 1MDB, Reuters reported in June, citing a person familiar with the matter.

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Note – Steve says: “I’ve said “as early as” 2017 and “between 20% & 70% fall” but all people hear is 2017 & 70%..”

Australia Headed For Recession As Early As Next Year – Steve Keen (ABC.au)

Australia’s credit binge will lead to a bust as soon as next year, with house prices to fall between 40 and 70% and unemployment to rise sharply, Professor Steve Keen says. The professor famously lost a bet when he predicted a catastrophic crash in Australian house prices following the GFC and had to walk from Canberra to Mount Kosciusko as a result. But he says, this time, he is right and does not have his hiking boots at the ready. “We have borrowed ourselves so much to the hilt that we are now dependent on that continuing to rise over time and it simply won’t,” he told the ABC’s The Business.

Many believe the Reserve Bank has been a steady guiding hand to the Australian economy in the years since the GFC, but Professor Keen believes it has guided the economy “straight toward the shoals” by encouraging households to borrow with low rates which has led to asset bubbles. “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he said. “Our debt level according to the Bank of International Settlements, private debt level, has gone from 150% of GDP to 210% of GDP.” He argued that means a large part of the growth that Australia has enjoyed since the GFC, while many other countries plunged into recession, has been fuelled by a 60% rise in household debt. “Ireland did the same thing when they called themselves the Celtic Tiger and they don’t call themselves that anymore,” he said.

“Spain was doing the same thing during its housing bubble and we’ve replicated the same mistakes. He believes the Reserve Bank will be forced to take rates down to zero from their current level of 1.75% as the economy continues to slow, but that will not stop the collapse of the credit binge that has kept the country afloat until now. “[Lower rates] will suck more people in, it will suck more people in for a while and the [Reserve Bank] can delay this for a while by cutting the rates,” he said. He said the catalysts for the recession were the declining terms of trade, the continued fall in investment into the economy and the Federal Government’s “stupid” pursuit of a budget surplus. “The Government is frankly stupid about the economy and is obsessed about running surpluses when it is bad economics.”

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“The stock markets should be down massively but investors seem to have been hypnotized that nothing can go wrong.”

‘Sell The House, Sell The Car, Sell The Kids’ – Gundlach (R.)

Jeffrey Gundlach, the chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said on Friday that many asset classes look frothy and his firm continues to hold gold, a traditional safe-haven, along with gold miner stocks. Noting the recent run-up in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index while economic growth remains weak and corporate earnings are stagnant, Gundlach said stock investors have entered a “world of uber complacency.” The S&P 500 on Friday touched an all-time high of 2,177.09, while the government reported that U.S. GDP in the second quarter grew at a meager 1.2% rate. “The artist Christopher Wool has a word painting, ‘Sell the house, sell the car, sell the kids.’ That’s exactly how I feel – sell everything. Nothing here looks good,” Gundlach said in a telephone interview.

“The stock markets should be down massively but investors seem to have been hypnotized that nothing can go wrong.” Gundlach, who oversees more than $100 billion at Los Angeles-based DoubleLine, said the firm went “maximum negative” on Treasuries on July 6 when the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note hit 1.32%. “We never short in our mainline strategies. We also never go to zero Treasuries. We went to lower weightings and change the duration,” Gundlach said. Currently, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note is 1.45%, which has translated into some profits so far for DoubleLine. “The yield on the 10-year yield may reverse and go lower again but I am not interested. You don’t make any money. The risk-reward is horrific,” Gundlach said. “There is no upside” in Treasury prices.

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The perks of trade agreements.

British Columbia Violates NAFTA With Its Foreign Property Tax (FP)

The British Columbia government has suddenly introduced a penalty tax forcing non-Canadian purchasers of residential real estate in the Greater Vancouver Regional District to pay a 15% tax on all purchases registered from Aug. 2, 2016. This penalty tax discriminates by definition against foreign investors buying residential real estate in the Greater Vancouver Area: Canadian citizens buying residential real estate are exempt; foreign buyers must pay the tax. That discrimination is a glaring violation of our trade treaties. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other Canadian trade agreements prohibit governments from imposing discriminatory policies that punish foreigners while exempting locals.

NAFTA’s national treatment obligation requires that citizens from other NAFTA partners investing in B.C. receive the same treatment from the government as the very best treatment received by Canadian investors. Americans and Mexicans forced to pay the 15% penalty tax would be able to pursue direct compensation for B.C.’s discriminatory tax from an independent international tribunal. [..] While the vast majority of Vancouver’s foreign property buyers might be Chinese, who were apparently the provincial government’s main target, enough investors from our dozens of treaty partners, comprising of hundreds of affected foreigners with trade rights, could be caught up in this tax, leading to mass claims. Those claims would be against the Canadian government, the signatory to NAFTA and the other international trade treaties, not B.C. Canadian taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.

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Big kahuna remains: the classified mails on Hillay’s server(s).

Another “Smoking Gun” Looms As Hillary Campaign Admits Server Hacked (ZH)

In the third cyberattack on Democratic Party-related servers, Reuters reports that the computer network used by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign was hacked. This follows hacks of the DNC and the DCCC (the party’s fund-raising committee) in the past week. Who to blame this time? Well with US intelligence head Jim Clapper having exclaimed that he was “somewhat taken aback by the hyperventilation [blaming Russia]” by Democratic surrogates, we suspect another scapegoat will need to be found. The latest attack, which was disclosed to Reuters on Friday, follows reports of two other hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the party’s fundraising committee for candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The U.S. Department of Justice national security division is investigating whether cyber hacking attacks on Democratic political organizations threatened U.S. security, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday. The involvement of the Justice Department’s national security division is a sign that the Obama administration has concluded that the hacking was state sponsored, individuals with knowledge of the investigation said. The Clinton campaign, based in Brooklyn, had no immediate comment and referred Reuters to a comment from earlier this week by campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and calling the hacking “a national security issue.”

It was not immediately clear what information on the Clinton campaign’s computer system hackers would have been able to access, but the possibility of more ‘smoking guns’ only rises with each hack. Of course the finger will inevitably be pointed at Vladimir Putin (and his media-designated puppet Trump) but even The Director of Nation Intelligence has urged that an end be put to the “reactionary mode” blaming it all on Russia…

“We don’t know enough to ascribe motivation regardless of who it might have been,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said speaking at Aspen’s Security Forum in Colorado, when asked if the media was getting ahead of themselves in fingering the perpetrator of the hack. Speaking on Thursday, Clapper said that Americans need to stop blaming Russia for the hack, telling the crowd that the US has been running in “reactionary mode” when it comes to the numerous cyber-attacks the nation is continuously facing. “I’m somewhat taken aback by the hyperventilation on this,” Clapper said, as cited by the Washington Examiner. “I’m shocked someone did some hacking,” he added sarcastically, “[as if] that’s never happened before.”

Of course that won’t stop the endless distraction and guilt-mongering to avoid any accountability for actual content of anything that is released. Finally, does it not seem a little “reckless” that so many Democratic servers have been hacked so easily?

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It’s starting to increase again.

Greek Islands Appeal For Measures To Deal With Influx Of Refugees (Kath.)

As the influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey continues – with a slight but noticable increase – regional authorities and tourism professionals are calling for measures to support communities on the Aegean islands. Over the past two weeks, following a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, the influx of migrants has increased, according to government figures. Overall, more than 1,000 migrants landed on the five so-called hot spots: Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros since the failed coup. Those islands are now accommodating 9,313 migrants in camps, many of whom have been there for several months awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or deportation.

In a letter to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas and Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas, the governor of the northern Aegean region, Christiana Kalogirou, asked for immediate steps to decongest the islands. “We are seeing a constant and apparently increasing flow of migrants and refugees toward the islands of the northern Aegean,” she wrote, noting that the maximum capacity of state reception centers has been exceeded on all the islands. A representative of an aid agency working on Lesvos said that the increase in migrant arrivals on the island has not yet fuelled tensions in the camps. “But if they keep arriving at the same rate, we’ll have a problem soon,” according to the worker who asked not to be identified.

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That’s how hard that is. 5p.

England’s Plastic Bag Usage Drops 85% Since 5p Charge Introduced (G.)

The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest. More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by ministers as a sign that it is working.

The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish. Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

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Apr 012016
 
 April 1, 2016  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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William Henry Jackson Jupiter & Lake Worth R.R., Florida 1896

Asia Stocks Head for Biggest Drop in 7 Weeks Amid Broad Declines (BBG)
Hong Kong Retail Sales Plunge the Most in 17 Years (BBG)
A Bear Market Is Now Underway And It’s Likely To Be A Painful One (Felder)
Foreigners’ ‘Dumb Money’ Flees Japan Stocks (BBG)
‘Protectionist’ China Tax on Overseas Purchases Set to Kick In (WSJ)
Global Steel Industry Facing ‘Ice Age,’ Top China Mill Warns (BBG)
China’s Anbang Abandons $14 Billion Bid To Buy Starwood Hotels (Reuters)
The UK Once Made 40% Of Global Steel. Soon It May Produce Almost None (BBG)
Britain Courts Fate On Brexit With Worst External Deficit In History (AEP)
A Plan To Turn The Euro From Zero To Hero (Andricopoulos)
In Technology We Trust -Maybe- (Coppola)
How To Hack An Election (BBG)
Canada To Accept Additional 10,000 Syrian Refugees (Reuters)
Greece, Turkey Take Legal Short-Cuts In Race To Return Migrants (Reuters)
Amnesty Says Turkey Illegally Sending Syrians Back To War Zone (Reuters)
Turkey ‘Shooting Dead’ Syrian Refugees As They Flee Civil War (Ind.)
Greek Asylum System Under ‘Insufferable Pressure’ (IRIN)

Nikkei off 3.55%.

Asia Stocks Head for Biggest Drop in 7 Weeks Amid Broad Declines (BBG)

Asian stocks headed for the biggest decline in seven weeks as Japanese corporate sentiment deteriorated and a broad-based selloff from consumer discretionary stocks to healthcare engulfed the region’s equities markets. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slid 2.2% to 126.04 as of 1:49 p.m. in Tokyo. The gauge climbed 8.2% in March, the best month since October, to end a tumultuous quarter for global markets. Equities had rebounded from lows in February as the Federal Reserve reassured investors that it won’t rush to increase borrowing costs. A stellar performance in March was tested immediately on the first day of the second quarter. Japan’s Topix index lost 3.4%, the worst start to a quarter since 2008, after the Tankan index of confidence among large manufacturers missed economist estimates.

“After strong gains from their February lows, shares are overbought and vulnerable to a pullback,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors Ltd., which oversees about $122 billion. “March quarter Tankan business conditions and confidence readings were disappointing.” The Tankan index of sentiment among large manufacturers fell to a reading of 6 in the first quarter, the lowest level since mid-2013, from 12 in the previous three months, the Bank of Japan reported Friday. Economists had expected a reading of 8. A positive number means there are more optimists than pessimists among manufacturers. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.3% even after China’s official factory gauge showed improving conditions for the first time in eight months, suggesting the government’s fiscal and monetary stimulus is kicking in.

A jump in the official factory gauge was overshadowed by a cut in the nation’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. S&P cut the outlook for China’s credit rating to negative from stable, saying the nation’s economic rebalancing is likely to proceed more slowly than the ratings firm had expected. The reduction may not have much of an impact on the markets as it comes at a time when the nation’s stocks are rallying and the currency is stabilizing, according to Sinopac Securities.

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Retail sales are getting bad in multiple locations.

Hong Kong Retail Sales Plunge the Most in 17 Years (BBG)

Hong Kong’s retail sales in February have plunged the most since 1999 as fewer Chinese tourists visited the city during the Lunar New Year holiday. Retail sales dropped 21% in February to HK$37 billion ($4.8 billion) year on year, according to a statement from Hong Kong’s statistics department. Combining January and February, sales fell 14%. The monthly decline is the worst since January 1999 when sales were also down 21%. “Apart from the severe drag from the protracted slowdown in inbound tourism, the asset market consolidation might also have weighed on local consumption sentiment,” a government said in a statement on Thursday. “The near-term outlook for retail sales will still be constrained by the weak inbound tourism performance and uncertain economic prospects.”

The government will monitor closely its repercussions on the wider economy and job market, it said. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, the world’s largest-listed jewelry chain, and Sa Sa International reported slumping sales over the holiday when mainland Chinese tourists to the territory dropped 12% during Feb. 7-13. The stock market rout and a slowing Chinese economy have affected consumer sentiment for luxury goods, Chow Tai Fook has said. Mainland China tourists “are unlikely to come back in the short term,” said Forrest Chan at CCB International Securities. Hong Kong residents are also consuming less due to stagnant property values and the weak stock market, he said. “Hong Kong’s retail market will continue to fall for the rest of 2016 as all the negative factors won’t be solved in the near term,” Chan said.

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Margin debt. Next up is margin calls.

A Bear Market Is Now Underway And It’s Likely To Be A Painful One (Felder)

NYSE margin debt fell again during the month of February. After the selloff in stocks that kicked off 2016, this should come as no surprise. Investors are usually forced to reduce leveraged bets during these sorts of episodes in the stock market. In fact, this forced selling can actually exacerbate the volatility. And because margin debt is only now beginning to come down from record highs, surpassing those seen at the 2000 and 2007 peak, this should be of concern to most equity investors. To fully appreciate this risk, I prefer to look at margin debt relative to overall economic activity. When leveraged financial speculation becomes large relative to the economy, it’s usually a sign investors have become far too greedy. As Warren Buffett would say, this is usually a good time to become more fearful, or conservative towards the stock market.

Not only did margin debt recently hit nominal record-highs, it hit new record-highs in relation to GDP, as well. In other words, over the past several decades, investors have never become so greedy as they did recently. And yes, this includes the dotcom bubble. One reason I prefer this measure is that it has a fairly high negative correlation with forward 3-year returns in the stock market. When investors become too greedy, returns over the subsequent 3 years are poor and vice versa. As of the end of February, the latest forecast implied by this measure is for a loss of about 35% over the next three years. While this measure is pretty good at forecasting 3-year returns that doesn’t help much for investors concerned with the next year or so. In this regard, it may be helpful to observe the trend of margin debt.

Where is the nominal level of margin debt relative to its 12-month moving average or simply its level from one year ago? Historically, when these indicators turn negative from such lofty levels, a bear market, as defined by at least a 20% drawdown, is already underway. Right now both of these measure are, in fact, negative. So margin debt right now is sending a very clear signal that investors have recently become very greedy. This suggests returns over the next several years should be very poor. Finally, the trend in margin debt also suggests that a new bear market is likely underway. If history is to rhyme, that means a decline of at least 20% in the S&P 500 is very likely to occur sometime soon. And because of the sheer size of the potential forced supply that could come to market in this sort of environment, that could easily be just the beginning.

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Abenomics chapter 827-B.

Foreigners’ ‘Dumb Money’ Flees Japan Stocks (BBG)

Brian Heywood, who oversees about $2 billion mostly in Japanese equities, is putting on a brave face as the market tumbles and many foreigners head for the exit. The CEO of Taiyo Pacific Partners says he welcomes the selling by overseas investors as it gives him a better chance to beat his benchmark. His logic is that many money managers invest indiscriminately in Tokyo, pushing up the entire Topix index and making stock-picking less effective. Heywood says his fund is outperforming the equity gauge this year, while declining to give details.

Foreign investors offloaded shares for 12 straight weeks, with net selling reaching a record earlier this month, as they lose faith in the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to reviving the economy. The Topix is down 13% in 2016, and while Taiyo’s biggest holdings have posted strong gains, many others have fallen. “We don’t do well when there is a flood of money into Japan, because it’s dumb money,” Heywood, 49, said in an interview during a visit to Tokyo last week. “When the market punctures, there are companies that we want to add to. The market overreacts. We know the company. We’re at 3% and we’d like to be at 6%. We use it as an opportunity.”

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We’re going to see a lot of ‘hidden’ protectionism going forward. Globalization is now turning against individual nations.

‘Protectionist’ China Tax on Overseas Purchases Set to Kick In (WSJ)

China is tightening its grip on cross-border e-commerce, imposing a new tax system on overseas purchases that form a growing business catering to Chinese consumers with an appetite for foreign goods. The changes, announced by the Finance Ministry last week, include raising the so-called parcel tax that is currently imposed on foreign retail products that e-commerce firms ship into China. Moreover, such goods sent directly to consumers will now be treated as imports and will be subject to tariffs and value-added and consumption taxes, whose rates vary depending on the type and value of goods. The ministry said the changes, which become effective April 8, are intended to put foreign and domestic products on an equal footing.

Industry analysts said the move seems designed to give a boost to “made-in-China” products and could dent a small, but growing, market for foreign goods sold by Alibaba, JD.com. and other e-commerce players. Those marketplaces feature nutritional supplements and food by brands such as Ocean Spray, as well as diapers and other baby and maternal products. They form a slice of the 5 trillion yuan ($773 billion) in sales by e-commerce firms in China last year, double the level of 2012, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. The new levies could dampen some demand, just as an increasing number of retailers world-wide are hoping to sell into China, said Charles Whiteman, senior vice president of client services for MotionPoint, a technology company that helps international retailers sync their e-commerce websites across languages and currencies.

“Increases in prices always have the effect of driving demand down,” but the effect will be “modest,” Mr. Whiteman said. “It probably won’t be too noticeable for branded products,” for which consumers are willing to pay a premium. Chinese consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for products such as cosmetics, infant formula and other baby products. Chinese e-commerce companies have said that such products form the vast majority of the imported products sold on their websites, because of product-safety concerns in China. Alibaba and JD.com said they expected robust demand from Chinese consumers for overseas products, especially high-quality ones, to continue, even with the changes in policy.

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Yeah, that metaphor sort of works.

Global Steel Industry Facing ‘Ice Age,’ Top China Mill Warns (BBG)

The crisis engulfing the global steel industry is so severe that one of China’s top producers has warned a new Ice Age has set in as mills confront overcapacity and rising competition that threaten their survival. “In 2015, China experienced a slowdown in economic growth and excess steel capacity, which caused the domestic and overseas steel industry to enter into an ‘Ice Age’,” Angang Steel said after posting a net loss of 4.59 billion yuan ($710 million) for last year. There are severe challenges, fierce competition and difficult survival conditions, it said. Steel demand in China is shrinking for the first time in a generation as growth slows and policy makers seek to steer the economy toward consumption.

Faced with declining sales at home, mills in the top producer – which accounts for half of global supply – have shipped record volumes overseas, heightening competition from Europe to the U.S. Tata Steel Ltd. in India said this week it’s planning to sell off its loss-making U.K. plants, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to call crisis talks on Thursday. The steel industry is set for a “severe winter,” Angang said, describing the market that it and others faced as complex. Output of steel by the country’s fourth-biggest producer contracted 4.4% last year, and the company is seeking to reduce costs and boost efficiency, it said.

Benchmark steel prices sank 31% in China last year, pummeling mills’ margins and spurring the government to step up efforts to force the industry to shut overcapacity and shift workers to other jobs. While reinforcement bar has rebounded since November, Daniel Hynes, senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., forecasts the rally may not last. “The short-term rally we’ve seen in steel prices will give way to the longer-term dynamic of weaker steel consumption in China,” Hynes said by phone on Thursday. “I suppose the positive thing is that maybe the restructuring we’re seeing in the steel industry will speed up the rationalization of the market.”

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This is becoming a curious case. Rumor has it Anbang couldn’t produce details on how they would finance the deal.

China’s Anbang Abandons $14 Billion Bid To Buy Starwood Hotels (Reuters)

China’s Anbang Insurance said on Thursday it has abandoned its $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, paving the way for Marriott International to buy the Sheraton and Westin hotels operator. The surprise withdrawal marks an anticlimactic end to a bidding war that had pitted Marriott’s ambitions to create the world’s largest lodging company, with about 5,700 hotels, against Anbang’s drive to create a vast portfolio of U.S. real estate assets. It also represents a blow to corporate China’s growing ambitions to acquire U.S. assets. Anbang’s acquisition of Starwood would have been the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese buyer.

“We were attracted to the opportunity presented by Starwood because of its high-quality, leading global hotel brands, which met many of our acquisition criteria, including the ability to generate consistent, long-term returns over time,” Anbang said. “However, due to various market considerations, the consortium has determined not to proceed further,” Anbang added, referring to the joint bid it had put together with private equity firms J.C. Flowers and Primavera Capital. Anbang did not offer Starwood a reason for not following through on its raised offer of March 26, according to people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified disclosing confidential discussions. “The reason of withdrawal is simple – Anbang isn’t interested in a protracted bidding war,” Fred Hu, Chairman of Primavera, told Reuters..

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What happens when all your priorities are short term.

The UK Once Made 40% Of Global Steel. Soon It May Produce Almost None (BBG)

The U.K. once made nearly half the world’s steel. Soon it may produce almost none. Tata Steel plans to sell its U.K. business which include the country’s last blast furnace sites in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot. Used to turn iron ore into steel, these giant plants are the focus of the entire industry. They are also the assets that may prove the most difficult to unload, according to at least one potential buyer. Should Tata’s plants follow Redcar, shut last year, the U.K. would become the first member of the Group of Seven leading economies to operate no blast furnaces. It’s a far cry from its Victorian metal-bashing heyday when Britain produced about 40% of global supply. But beyond the immediate impact on employment, does it matter? Does a major industrial economy need to produce steel, a material vital to industries from construction to car making?

“They’re probably done for,” said Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield, a place that won the moniker Steel City before the industry’s decline. “But if we accept that, it’s a really big step and the long-term consequences are to lose the capabilities to make our own railways, make our own weapon systems, make our own nuclear reactors.” The U.K. was already the industrial world’s laggard when it comes to steel, producing just 12.1 million tons in 2014, less than a third of what Germany makes each year and just over a tenth of Japan’s 110.7 million=ton output. China is the world’s biggest producer making about half the world’s 1.67 billion tons of steel.

British steelmaking has been in relative decline for more than a century, eclipsed by the by the U.S. by the start of World War I and later overtaken by Germany. In the 1970s and 1980s, inefficient and outdated plants led to production falling 64% to less than 10 million metric tons, and the country’s output slipped below France, Italy and Belgium. Still, manufacturing in steel-consuming industries is buoyant. U.K. car production hit a 10-year high last year with 1.6 million cars being made in Britain as overseas sales reached record numbers. The country employs 2.6 million people in manufacturing, much of it steel related, and it accounts for 44% of exports.

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More of the same short term focus that will end up damaging Britain for decades to come.

Britain Courts Fate On Brexit With Worst External Deficit In History (AEP)

Britain’s current account deficit is the worst ever recorded in peace-time since the Bank of England started collecting records in 1772 under the reign of George III. Even during the grimmest moments of the First World War it only slightly exceeded the eye-watering figure of 7pc of GDP racked up in the fourth quarter of last year. No other country in the OECD club is close to this. It has been getting worse for the last four years in a row. Excuses are running thin. The Government can no longer blame the double-dip recession in the eurozone, our biggest export market. Europe has been recovering for three years and is currently enjoying as much growth as it is ever likely to see. The UK deficit is prima facie evidence of a nation living beyond its means, reliant on foreign capital to fund consumption.

Global investors have so far chosen to overlook this chronic deterioration, accepting the stock assurance from London that it is a temporary blip caused by declines in investment income. This may change as the vote on Brexit draws near and the polls tighten. Most investors in Asia, the US, and the Middle East have treated the referendum as political pantomime, taking it for granted that British voters would (as the world sees it) make the “rational” choice. “Very few people have been focusing on the current account. Brexit is now bringing it firmly into focus. We are getting a lot more questions about this from clients in Europe,” said David Owen from Jefferies. The dawning realization that Britain might indeed opt for secession has clearly begun to rattle markets. Sterling has fallen 9pc against a trade-weighted basis since November. The spread between Gilts and German Bunds has been creeping up, an early warning sign of trouble.

The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee noted signs of stress in the sterling options market in a statement this week, and warned that it may become harder to the inflows of capital needed to cover the external deficit. Lena Komileva from G+Economics said the current account deficit is now so large that it leaves the country vulnerable to external shocks, amplifying the potential impact of Brexit. Britain’s credit-driven consumer credit is “plainly unsustainable”. The UK savings ratio has fallen to a record low of 3.8pc. Consumer credit has risen by 44pc over the last year to £1.3bn. “We are not very different from the structural fragility of the economy that we had prior to the 2007 global crash,” she said. The Office for Budget Responsibility warned earlier this month that households are running an “unprecedented” deficit of 3pc of GDP – worse than the pre-Lehman peak – with no improvement expected through to the early 2020s.

People are running through savings and taking on debt to fund their lifestyles and buy new cars. They are expected to spend £58bn more than they earn this year, rising to £68bn by the end of the decade. This roughly mirrors what was happening just before the 2007 financial crisis when people were treating their homes as a cash machine, drawing down £50bn a year in home equity. Events were to show brutally that this was not benign.

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Well, one can dream, surely. But without -unacceptable to many- ‘transfers’ from north to south, can the euro survive at all?

A Plan To Turn The Euro From Zero To Hero (Andricopoulos)

It is difficult to read the history of inter-war Europe and the US without feeling a deep sense of foreboding about the future of the Eurozone. What is the Eurozone if not a new gold standard, lacking even the flexibility to readjust the peg? For the war reparations demanded at Versailles, or the war debts owed by France and the UK to the US, we see the huge debts owed by the South of Europe to the North, particularly Germany. The growth model of the Eurozone now appears to be based largely on running a current account surplus. Competitive devaluation is required to make exports relatively cheap. While this may have been a very successful policy for Germany during a period of high economic growth in the rest of the world, it cannot work in the beggar-thy-neighbour demand-starved world economy of today.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, reasonably large government deficits are very important for sustainable economic growth. However, in the Eurozone this is prohibited both by the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and by the fear of losing market confidence in the national debt. At the same time credit growth for productive investment is constrained by weak banks and Basel regulation. And the Eurozone as a whole is already running a large current account surplus; the rest of the world will not allow much more export-led growth. Helicopter money would be a solution, but politically this is a long way away. Summing up, if economic growth cannot be funded by government deficits, private sector debt, export growth or helicopter money it is very difficult to see where nominal GDP growth can come from.

In a way, this can be seen as a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Every country knows (or should know) that if all states provided fiscal stimulus, the Eurozone would benefit from more economic growth. However, for any individual state, a unilateral fiscal boost would increase their own government debt whilst giving a fair amount of the GDP growth to other states (because some of the stimulus would go to increasing imports from the other nations). And if all others provide stimulus, then it is in an individual state’s interest to take the benefit of the other states’ stimulus, and become more competitive versus the rest.

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We could do with more blockchain scrutiny.

In Technology We Trust -Maybe- (Coppola)

David Andolfatto of the St. Louis Federal Reserve wonders if investors see Bitcoin as a “safe asset”. By this he means the sort of asset that investors run to when economic storm clouds gather and other asset classes start to look dangerous: “Loosely speaking, I’m thinking about an asset that people flock to in bad or uncertain economic times. In normal times, it’s an asset that is held despite having a relatively low rate of return, perhaps because of its use as a hedge, or because of its liquidity properties.” Like gold, in fact. In important respects, Bitcoin is indeed like gold. Digital gold. It is “mined”, with mining becoming more difficult and expensive as undiscovered supplies dwindle.

There is an absolute limit (21 million) on the number of bitcoins that can ever be mined: once all have been “discovered”, the supply is fixed, unless the Bitcoin community decides that the hard limit should be changed – which at present seems rather less likely than mining asteroids for gold. The gold-like nature of Bitcoin protects it from hyperinflationary collapse, believed by many goldbugs and Bitcoin geeks to be the inevitable future of today’s government-issued fiat currencies. And, importantly, it is not under the control of governments or central banks. Neither the political mafia nor the economics establishment have any say over how, when or if it is produced, nor over its market price. For people who believe that “GUBBMINT WILL STEAL YOUR MONEY”, Bitcoin is possibly even more secure than gold.

After all, in the 1930s the US government confiscated private sector gold holdings. But it has no means of confiscating Bitcoin holdings, since identifying exactly who holds them is costly and difficult, and they can easily be transferred out of reach anyway. Bitcoin is, after all, an international currency with its own highly efficient money transfer technology. Like gold, Bitcoin’s market price tends to be volatile. And like gold, its value also tends to be counter-cyclical. When the US economy weakens, or global risks rise, up goes gold…..and Bitcoin. The profiles of both vis-à-vis the US dollar since the end of 2013 look remarkably similar. We can perhaps say that investors run to gold when trust in government and its instruments fails. In God We Trust becomes In Gold We Trust. But where does Bitcoin fit in?

Bitcoin’s advocates claim that the system is a “trust-free system”, because there are no intermediaries. But for the system to work at all, there must be trust – trust that the technology will work. In Gold We Trust becomes In Technology We Trust. It is perhaps not surprising that Bitcoin use is highest among those with a background in computer science. But hang on. There’s a problem, isn’t there? After all, governments are human constructs. And so are cryptocurrencies. The coders behind Bitcoin are human. Why should anyone have more trust in a digital currency created by an anonymous group of coders accountable to no-one than in a democratically-elected government accountable to everyone? Why is an essentially feudal governance model “safer” than a democratic one?

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The election hit man.

How To Hack An Election (BBG)

It was just before midnight when Enrique Peña Nieto declared victory as the newly elected president of Mexico. Peña Nieto was a lawyer and a millionaire, from a family of mayors and governors. His wife was a telenovela star. He beamed as he was showered with red, green, and white confetti at the Mexico City headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had ruled for more than 70 years before being forced out in 2000. Returning the party to power on that night in July 2012, Peña Nieto vowed to tame drug violence, fight corruption, and open a more transparent era in Mexican politics. Two thousand miles away, in an apartment in Bogotá’s upscale Chicó Navarra neighborhood, Andrés Sepúlveda sat before six computer screens.

Sepúlveda is Colombian, bricklike, with a shaved head, goatee, and a tattoo of a QR code containing an encryption key on the back of his head. On his nape are the words “” and “” stacked atop each other, dark riffs on coding. He was watching a live feed of Peña Nieto’s victory party, waiting for an official declaration of the results. When Peña Nieto won, Sepúlveda began destroying evidence. He drilled holes in flash drives, hard drives, and cell phones, fried their circuits in a microwave, then broke them to shards with a hammer. He shredded documents and flushed them down the toilet and erased servers in Russia and Ukraine rented anonymously with Bitcoins. He was dismantling what he says was a secret history of one of the dirtiest Latin American campaigns in recent memory.

For eight years, Sepúlveda, now 31, says he traveled the continent rigging major political campaigns. With a budget of $600,000, the Peña Nieto job was by far his most complex. He led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices, all to help Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, eke out a victory. On that July night, he cracked bottle after bottle of Colón Negra beer in celebration. As usual on election night, he was alone.

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Bright spot. Europe must study Canadian law.

Canada To Accept Additional 10,000 Syrian Refugees (Reuters)

Canada will take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, adding to the more than 25,000 already received in the last few months, said immigration minister John McCallum. McCallum told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp he was responding to complaints from Canadian groups who want to sponsor Syrian refugees but did not have their applications processed quickly enough to be among the government’s initial target of 25,000. “We are doing everything we can to accommodate the very welcomed desire on the part of Canadians to sponsor refugees,” McCallum said in a phone interview with CBC News from Berlin, where he is meeting with the German interior minister. The Liberal government won election in October 2015 pledging to bring in more Syrian refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government.

Private groups including church, family and community organizations had lined up to sponsor Syrian families. The welcome contrasts sharply to Europe, where resettlement has sparked an anti-migrant backlash amid security fears. While there have been some delays finding permanent housing for refugees arriving in Canada, particularly in large cities like Toronto where the housing market is tight, the resettlement program has been mostly smooth. [..] . A total of 26,200 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada as of 28 March, according to the immigration department. But nearly 16,000 more applications are in process or have been finalized, even though the refugees have not yet arrived, according to official figures.

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Fast and loose.

Greece, Turkey Take Legal Short-Cuts In Race To Return Migrants (Reuters)

Greece and Turkey are rushing through changes to their asylum rules in a race to implement a EU-Turkey agreement on the return of refugees and migrants from Greek islands to Turkey from next Monday, EU officials and diplomats said. Both Athens and Ankara must amend their legislation to permit the start of a scheme – denounced by the U.N. refugee agency and rights groups – to send back all migrants who crossed to Greece after March 20. The policy is meant to end the uncontrolled influx of refugees and other migrants in which more than a million people crossed into Europe last year, causing a political backlash and pitting EU countries against each other. Greece, which started evacuating hundreds of people stranded in Athens’ Piraeus port on Thursday, submitted to parliament an asylum amendment bill on Wednesday.

Brussels said it had assurances from Athens that it would be passed this week. But it does not explicitly designate Turkey as a “safe third country” – a formula to make any mass returns legally sound – and a senior official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that change did not remove its concerns about protecting the rights of asylum seekers. “Our concerns regarding legal safeguards remain unchanged and we hope that the Greek authorities will take them fully into consideration,” UNHCR Europe director Vincent Cochetel said. The EU executive’s spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, was unable to say how exactly rejected asylum seekers would be removed from camps on Greek islands or transported back to Turkey, saying those details were still being worked out.

[..]The Greek bill does not name Turkey, but Bertaud said that was not essential provided rules were in place allowing people to be sent back to a “safe third country” or a “safe first country of asylum”, and each case was examined individually. EU officials said the formula was devised to get around unease among lawmakers in Greece’s ruling Syriza party at declaring Turkey safe when it is waging a military crackdown on Kurdish separatists and is accused of curbing media freedom and judicial independence. Asked why Turkey was not mentioned, Greece’s alternate minister for European affairs, Nikos Xydakis, told To Kokkino radio: “It cannot be in a law, because the examination of each application for asylum will be on a case by case basis. That is the safety trigger under international refugee law. Each person is a special case.”

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“It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law..”

Amnesty Says Turkey Illegally Sending Syrians Back To War Zone (Reuters)

Turkey has illegally returned thousands of Syrians to their war-torn homeland in recent months, highlighting the dangers for migrants sent back from Europe under a deal due to come into effect next week, Amnesty International said on Friday. Turkey agreed with the EU this month to take back all migrants and refugees who cross illegally to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated EU membership talks. But the legality of the deal hinges on Turkey being a safe country of asylum, which Amnesty said in its report was clearly not the case. It said it was likely that several thousand refugees had been sent back to Syria in mass returns in the past seven to nine weeks, flouting Turkish, EU and international law.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. Turkey’s foreign ministry denied Syrians were being sent back against their will. Turkey had maintained an “open door” policy for Syrian migrants for five years and strictly abided by the “non-refoulement” principle of not returning someone to a country where they are liable to face persecution, it said. “None of the Syrians that have demanded protection from our country are being sent back to their country by force, in line with international and national law,” a foreign ministry official told Reuters.

But Amnesty said testimonies it had gathered in Turkey’s southern border provinces suggested the authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children almost daily since the middle of January. Many of those returned to Syria appear to be unregistered refugees, though the rights group said it had also documented cases of registered Syrians being returned when apprehended while not carrying their papers. Amnesty also said its research showed the authorities had scaled back the registration of Syrian refugees in the southern border provinces. Those with no registration have no access to basic services such as healthcare and education. [..] “The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law,” Amnesty’s Dalhuisen said.

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How can Europe continue with the Turkey deal under these conditions?

Turkey ‘Shooting Dead’ Syrian Refugees As They Flee Civil War (Ind.)

Turkish security forces have shot dead refugees escaping from the Syrian conflict, according to reports. UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged 16 people seeking sanctuary in Turkey have been shot over the past four months. They said those killed included three children. Other examples compiled by the Syrian Observatory include the alleged killings of a man and his child at Ras al-Ain, at the eastern end of the Turkish-Syrian border. In the west of the country, two refugees were reportedly shot dead at Guvveci on 5 March. “It’s in all areas. It happens to people coming from Idlib, Aleppo, Isis areas, Kurdish areas,” a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory told The Independent.

Other sources, including a Syrian people smuggler based in Turkey and an officer of the UK-supported Free Syrian Police, told The Times they believed the number of refugees killed by Turkish forces was actually far higher. They said this was because people killed on the Syrian side of the border were buried in the conflict zone, where record keeping is much more difficult. The smuggler told the newspaper refugees attempting to cross the border would now “either be killed or captured”. Citing Turkey’s former open-door refugee policy, he added: “Turkish soldiers used to help the refugees across, carry their bags for them. Now they shoot at them.” It is not the first time Turkish authorities have faced criticism over their treatment of refugees. In March, the Turkish Coast Guard allegedly attacked a dinghy filled with migrants in the Aegean. The latest allegations are likely to cast further scrutiny on the EU migrant deal with Turkey.

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“This is how true refugees are lost. Do we really think that a Somali woman who has been raped will sit down and merrily rattle off her experiences?”

Greek Asylum System Under ‘Insufferable Pressure’ (IRIN)

As Greece prepares to deport an initial 500 migrants and refugees on Monday under a controversial agreement between the EU and Turkey, senior Greek officials say the pressure to process applications quickly has become too great, at the expense of legal and ethical standards. “Insufferable pressure is being put on us to reduce our standards and minimise the guarantees of the asylum process,” Maria Stavropoulou, who heads the Greek Asylum Service, told IRIN. “[We’re asked] to change our laws, to change our standards to the lowest possible under the EU directive [on asylum procedures].” Under the terms of the 18 March agreement, Greece must screen all new arrivals from Turkey as quickly as possible and return those deemed not in need of international protection on the basis that Turkey is a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum” where they were already protected.

Most of the pressure, according to Stavropoulou, is coming from “countries that are very invested in the deal with Turkey working.” Germany, which received more than one million asylum seekers last year, took a leading role in negotiations with Turkey during a tense two-day summit earlier this month. In addition to having to screen and return new arrivals, Greece is also dealing with high numbers of asylum applications from the more than 50,000 refugees and migrants who were already trapped inside Greece before the agreement with Turkey came into effect. An overland route through the western Balkans to Germany has been closed for a month and many of those who cannot afford to pay smugglers to find a new route to Western Europe are now applying for asylum in Greece. Authorities here expect to receive just under 3,000 applications in March, double the figure for January and three times last year’s monthly average.

But even as the numbers have mounted, so has the pressure for speedy processing. The Greek Asylum Service has just hired three dozen new personnel, bringing its total staff to 295. But it says it will need at least double that number to handle the expected caseload in the wake of the EU-Turkey agreement. The European Commission has estimated that some 4,000 personnel are likely to be needed in Greece and is sending reinforcements. Many of those slated to join the effort are coastguard officers, but some 800 are asylum experts and interpreters from other member states and from the European Asylum Support Office, the EU’s coordinating body for asylum matters. The first 60 are to arrive in Greece on Sunday.

[..] Some asylum experts believe that the pressure for rapid screening will mean that vital information for determining asylum claims is overlooked. “It always takes time,” said Spyros Kouloheris, head of legal research at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), the country’s most respected legal aid NGO. “Someone who is traumatised will speak in fits and starts. They appear not to be telling the truth. We’ve lost a lot of cases because we didn’t have the time, the information, the culture, the experience, to understand that the more broken up the narrative, the more likely it is that there is a background of torture and abuse. This is how true refugees are lost. Do we really think that a Somali woman who has been raped will sit down and merrily rattle off her experiences?”

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