Jun 022016
 
 June 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Gottscho-Schleisner New York City views. Looking down South Street 1933

China’s Hard Landing Began Last Year, And It’s Going To Get Worse (SCMP)
China’s Latest Export: Broken Deals (WSJ)
US Construction Spending Collapses – Worst April Since 2009 (ZH)
Banks’ Embrace of Jumbo Mortgages Means Fewer Loans for Blacks, Hispanics (WSJ)
Brexit, Spexit, Grexit and Frexit Could All Collide In June 23 Weekend (MW)
Donald Trump To Visit UK On Day Of EU Referendum Result
Leave Camp Must Accept That Norway Model Is The Only Safe Way To Exit EU (AEP)
Greece Under Troika Rule (Wren-Lewis)
Greek Home Prices Down 45%, Seen Dropping Another 20-25% By 2018 (Kath.)
OECD Warns Of “Disorderly Housing Market Correction” In Canada (ZH)
Number Of Homeless People In Vancouver Reaches 10-Year High (G&M)
EU Gives Budget Leeway To France ‘Because It Is France’ – Juncker (R.)
The ECB’s Illusory Independence (Varoufakis)
German Vote on Armenian Genocide Riles Tempers, and Turkey (NY Times)

“Perhaps not since the Pharaohs built the pyramids with slave labour has investment made up such a large share of a country’s economy and household consumption made up so little..”

China’s Hard Landing Began Last Year, And It’s Going To Get Worse (SCMP)

Economist and financial author Richard Duncan believes China’s economy entered into a hard landing in 2015, with the slowdown set to deepen into a slump that will prove to be “severe and protracted”. At its core, a growth model that relied too heavily on investment and exports has left the economy deeply imbalanced, with few drivers that can now take up the slack. Duncan has published a series of videos explaining why, in his opinion, China’s economic development model of export-led and investment-driven growth is now in crisis. The South China Morning Post brings you the second video in that series.

“Perhaps not since the Pharaohs built the pyramids with slave labour has investment made up such a large share of a country’s economy and household consumption made up so little,” Duncan said. “This enormous gap between investment and consumption means China’s economy is now wildly unbalanced.” Underscoring the scale of China’s reliance on investment as an engine of growth, consider how much it has ramped up spending in this area in just a few short years, compared to that of the US, the world’s largest economy. In 2014, investment in the US was US$177 billion higher than 2007, a growth rate of 6%. In 2014, the level of investment in China was US$3.2 trillion more than it was in 2007, representing growth of 236%.

Read more …

Too much capital is fleeing.

China’s Latest Export: Broken Deals (WSJ)

China’s global deal-making boom is coming undone. The mystery-shrouded Anbang Insurance is leading the way. It moved a step closer to hitting the trifecta of broken deals this week, just days after a major Chinese construction-equipment maker bailed on its bid to buy U.S. crane maker Terex. Announced overseas deals by Chinese companies topped 2015’s record before this year was half over, which would make China the world’s biggest buyer of foreign companies for the first time ever, according to Dealogic. Chinese companies have also failed to close on more deals than ever before, according to Dealogic.

It’s not a coincidence that the boom in Chinese overseas deal making occurred while businesses and individuals were pouring cash overseas, either to avoid an expected depreciation of the yuan or just to get assets out of the reach of Beijing. And the recent failures have happened while Beijing acts to stem the flow of these funds. That is just part of the weirdness that surrounds many of these deals, and their demise. Another is the opaque nature of the companies involved and the government owners or regulators that determine what is and isn’t allowed. Last are the reasons behind the deals, which have foreign regulators on edge. The latest deal on the ropes is Anbang’s planned $1.57 billion acquisition of U.S. insurer Fidelity & Guaranty Life, one of the biggest sellers of fixed indexed annuities.

Regulators in the U.S. have demanded but haven’t gotten detailed financial information from Anbang. Fidelity says it expects Anbang will try again to get the deal approved. It isn’t surprising that the company hasn’t provided the requested information. Efforts to figure out Anbang’s corporate structure or where its cash came from have so far failed to yield much clarity. This is the third proposed Anbang deal to run into trouble. First was its effort to buy Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. After bidding up the price and threatening a rival deal, Anbang pulled out suddenly with little explanation.

Read more …

Weather.

US Construction Spending Collapses – Worst April Since 2009 (ZH)

Following a hope-strewn bounce in February and March, US Construction Spending plunged 1.8% in April (massively worse than the expected 0.6% rise). This is the biggest monthly drop since January 2011 as while religious construction surged 9.6%, Commercial, Healthcare, and Education construction all plunged with Communications and highway building collapsing 7.7% and 6.5% respectively. We are sure weather will be blamed but the 1.5% drop in residential construction is rather notable for an April – it is the weakest April since 2009.

Read more …

Lend only to the rich.

Banks’ Embrace of Jumbo Mortgages Means Fewer Loans for Blacks, Hispanics (WSJ)

Last decade’s financial crisis left many losers in banking. One winner is the jumbo. The biggest U.S. banks are tilting toward these high-dollar mortgages as they overhaul loan operations. And jumbo loans, which were less important during the subprime-loan boom, are helping banks take on less risk, as mandated by regulators in the postcrisis era. These loans, however, could put banks at odds with another federal regulatory mandate—one that says lenders should serve a racially diverse set of customers. As they approve relatively more jumbos, major banks are granting fewer mortgages to African-Americans and Hispanics than just before the crisis, a Wall Street Journal analysis found.

For banks, “it’s one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations,” said Stu Feldstein, president at SMR Research Corp., a mortgage-research firm in Hackettstown, N.J. The Journal analyzed data on every mortgage approval reported to the federal government for home purchases in 2007 and 2014, the most recent available, including borrower race or ethnicity. In that period, each of the 10 biggest U.S. retail banks increased the share of its mortgage approvals that are jumbos. Jumbos, loans above $417,000 in most markets, are attractive because they typically feature high credit scores, big down payments and low default rates. And they aren’t linked to the government programs that cost banks tens of billions of dollars in fines related to the subprime-loan debacle.

Read more …

Note: it’ll take the entire weekend.

Brexit, Spexit, Grexit and Frexit Could All Collide In June 23 Weekend (MW)

The hedge funds will have prepped their positions. The investment banks will have ordered in pizza and extra coffee ready for a long night of dealing. Exit polls will have been commissioned, and currency traders will be ready to buy or sell sterling as soon as they start getting a clear idea of whether Britain has voted to stay in or get out of the EU on June 23. But hold on. In fact, it is not just the risk of Brexit that the markets need to be worrying about. In truth, the real drama is going to come over a long and difficult weekend, leading up to potentially wild day in European assets on Monday, June 27. Why? Over that weekend, Spanish voters will go back to the polls in another attempt to settle on a government, which may well see the far-left Podemos group make big gains.

Greece will be struggling to find the money to pay back its latest debts. And if the strikes in France escalate, the country may be close to running out of its strategic fuel reserves – and approaching a total meltdown. Brexit, Spexit, Grexit, and Frexit could all collide. The result? A car crash for the European markets. Brexit remains the most pressing worry for investors, and rightly so. With three weeks until the vote, the polls remain very close. The latest sample for the Daily Telegraph showed a five-point lead for “Remain,” and most have showed the two camps within five to 10 points of each other. But who knows what is going on? The UK hasn’t had a referendum like this for a generation. No one knows what questions to ask, what demographics to target and which side will be better at getting its people to the polling booths on the day.

Either side could win comfortably. Here is the interesting point, however. It may take until the weekend to work out what has happened. The TV networks have decided against an extensive exit poll, on the grounds that they don’t know how to make it accurate. The hedge funds are reported to be spending a lot of money on private exit polls, and the currency markets will tell us what those results look like.

Read more …

Brilliant: “I think I would be a great uniter. I think that I would have great diplomatic skills; I would be able to get along with people very well,” Trump said. “I had great success [in my life]. I get along with people. People say, ‘Oh gee, it might be tough from that standpoint’, but actually I think the world would unite if I were the leader of the United States.”

Donald Trump To Visit UK On Day Of EU Referendum Result

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in the US presidential election, has confirmed he is to visit the UK later this month to attend the official reopening of his hotel and golf resort in Scotland. The billionaire property developer will be at the Turnberry hotel at the golf course in Ayrshire on 24 June for its official relaunch following a £200m redevelopment. Trump’s announcement throws up the question of whether David Cameron will meet him, as the visit comes the day after the UK’s referendum on EU membership on 23 June – a vote some polls suggest the prime minister faces losing. The Turnberry hotel, which Trump bought in 2014 for £35m, opened to guests on Wednesday. It features a £3,500-a-night presidential suite and, from August, the Donald J Trump ballroom – “the most luxurious meeting facility anywhere in Europe”, according to his publicists.

“Very exciting that one of the great resorts of the world, Turnberry, will be opening today after a massive £200m investment. I own it and I am very proud of it,” Trump said in a statement. He will not be officially confirmed as Republican nominee until the party’s convention in July. And his campaign did not say whether he planned any political activity while in the UK – or whether his trip was a coincidence. Trump has often weighed in on the referendum, and believes the UK should leave the EU. He told Fox News in May: “I know Great Britain very well. I know the country very well. I have a lot of investments there. I would say that they’re better off without it. But I want them to make their own decision.” He recently told Hollywood Reporter, “Oh yeah, I think they should leave”, after being initially unfamiliar with the term “Brexit”.

Read more …

Ambrose on Brexit. I’m sure many Britons feel this has nothing to do with them, it’s just a bunch of middle-aged right wingers squaring off.

Leave Camp Must Accept That Norway Model Is The Only Safe Way To Exit EU (AEP)

There have been two excellent reports on the EEA option, one by the Adam Smith Institute and another entitled ‘Flexcit’ by Richard North from the EU Referendum blog. The Adam Smith Institute starts from the premise that the EU is “sclerotic, anti-democratic, immune to reform, and a political relic of a post-war order that no longer exists.” It says the EEA option lets the public judge “what ‘out’ looks like” and keeps disruption to a minimum. “The economic risks of leaving would thus be neutralised – it would be solely a disengagement from political integration. All the business scare stories about being cut off from the single market would fade away,” it said. The report argues that everybody could live with an EEA compromise, whether the Civil Service, or the US, or the EU itself.

Britain would then be a sovereign actor, taking its own seat on the global bodies that increasingly regulate everything from car standards, to food safety, and banking rules. “As Britain is already a contracting party to the EEA Agreement there would be no serious legal obstacle,” it says. David Cameron disparages the Norwegian model as a non-starter. “While they pay, they don’t have a say,” he says. Actually they do. As our forensic report on Norway by Szu Ping Chan makes clear, they have a de facto veto over EU laws under Article 102 of the EEA agreement. Their net payments were £106 a head in 2014, a trivial sum.

They are exempt from the EU agricultural, fisheries, foreign, defence, and justice policies, yet they still have “passporting” rights for financial services. Their citizens can live in their Perigord moulins or on the Costa Del Sol just as contentedly as we can. They do not have to implement all EU law as often claimed. Norway’s latest report shows it has adopted just 1,349 of the 7,720 EU regulations in force, and 1,369 out of 1,965 EU directives. The elegance of the EEA option is that Britain would retain access to the EU customs union while being able to forge free trade deals with any other country over time.

Read more …

Not the biggest fan of Wren-Lewis, but this is good.

Greece Under Troika Rule (Wren-Lewis)

“The repayment of foreign loans and the return to stable currencies were recognized as the touchstones of rationality in politics; and no private suffering, no infringement of sovereignty was considered too great a sacrifice for the recovery of monetary integrity. The privations of the unemployed made jobless by deflation; the destitution of public servants dismissed without a pittance; even the relinquishment of national rights and the loss of constitutional liberties were judged a fair price to pay for the fulfilment of the requirements of sound budgets and sound currencies, these a priori of economic liberalism.” – Karl Polanyi (1944), “The Great Transformation” (p142)

This quote (HT Jeremy Smith) could almost be written today about Greece. I had once thought that the lessons of the interwar period and Great Depression had been well learnt, but 2010 austerity showed that was wrong. I therefore used in a 2014 post an earlier example of where one country allowed another to suffer for what was thought to be sound economics and their own ultimate good (‘a sharp but effectual remedy’): the British treatment of Ireland during the famine. The British held back relief because of a combination of laissez-faire beliefs and prejudice against Irish catholics. Replace famine relief with debt relief and Irish operating an inefficient agricultural system with lazy Greeks and an economy in need of structural reform, and the two stories have strong similarities, although of course the scale of the suffering is different.

To understand why the Greek crisis goes on you need to understand its history. That the Greek government borrowed too much is generally agreed. What is often ignored is that the scale of the excess borrowing meant default was pretty inevitable. But Eurozone leaders, worried about their banking system (which held a lot of Greek debt), first postponed default and then made it partial. The real ‘bailing out’ was for the European banks and others who had lent to the Greek government. The money the Eurozone lent to Greece largely went to pay off Greece’s creditors. There was absolutely nothing that obliged Eurozone leaders to lend their voters money to bail out these creditors. Pretty well all the analysis I saw at the time suggested it would be money that Greece would be unable to pay back.

If European leaders felt their banking systems needed support, they could have done this directly. But instead they convinced themselves that Greece could pay them back. It was a mistake they will do anything to avoid admitting. To try and ensure they got their money back, they along with the IMF effectively took over the running of the Greek economy. The result has been a complete disaster. The amount of austerity imposed caused great hardship, and crashed the economy. Whereas the Irish and Spanish economies are beginning to recover and regain market access, Greece is miles away from that, and the Troika’s structural reforms are partly to blame.

Read more …

When will the Chinese start buying?

Greek Home Prices Down 45%, Seen Dropping Another 20-25% By 2018 (Kath.)

Property market professionals are expecting house prices in Greece to drop further by up to 25% in the next few years, reporting a sudden rise in supply of properties owing to the upcoming repossessions, while demand will continue to fall due to the recessionary measures of the new bailout agreement. Since end-2008, house prices in the country’s two main cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, have fallen by an average of 45%, according to data from the Bank of Greece. The decline for the country as a whole comes to 41%. Therefore if the above estimate proves right, by the time the bailout period is supposed to be completed (in May 2018), the loss in residential properties’ market value will amount to 65-70%, or even more in some cases.

Giorgos Litsas, the head of chartered surveyors GLP Values, tells Kathimerini that “just under a year ago, when the agreement between the government and its creditors became known in the context of the capital controls, we estimated that the new bailout deal would entail a further 18% drop in home prices. Now, after the measures passed and under the threat of repossessions, we have had to revise the estimated drop in prices over the next couple of years to 20% or even 25%, particularly when taking into account the shift in supply of houses in a saturated market with no demand.”

Read more …

You don’t say: “We’re a little concerned about housing prices in the greater Vancouver area and Toronto..”

OECD Warns Of “Disorderly Housing Market Correction” In Canada (ZH)

With regulators and local authorities unable or unwilling to crack down on the unprecedented housing bubble in select Canadian cities, increasingly used by Chinese oligarchs to park hot cash offshore, the local banks are starting to take action into their own hands. Case in point, Bank of Nova Scotia has decided to ease off on mortgage lending in Vancouver and Toronto due to soaring prices, Chief Executive Officer Brian Porter said. “We’re a little concerned about housing prices in the greater Vancouver area and Toronto,” Porter, 58, said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg TV Canada. “We just took our foot off the gas the last couple quarters in terms of mortgage growth for the reasons I cited, in terms of Vancouver and Toronto.”

Nationwide home sales in April jumped 10.3% from a year earlier, the most activity for that month and the second-highest level ever, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. In Vancouver, prices rallied 25% in the month to an average of C$844,800 ($643,000) and sales climbed 15%. Toronto prices jumped 13% to C$614,700 and sales rose 7%, the association said. Then again, while Porter did tacitly admit that soaring housing prices are a threat, he also added that “generally, Canadians have a strong ability to self regulate and they’ve demonstrated that before.”

That may be in doubt, because none other than the OECD itself rang a alarm bells over the frothy nature of the Toronto and Vancouver housing markets and high levels of consumer debt. “Very low borrowing rates have encouraged household credit growth and underpinned rapidly rising housing prices, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, which together are a third of the Canadian housing market,” the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned again today in its latest outlook quoted by the Globe and Mail.

Read more …

Just drive up home prices high enough. And then there’s people saying: ‘we have to build our way out of this’. Oh, lord.

Number Of Homeless People In Vancouver Reaches 10-Year High (G&M)

The number of homeless people in Vancouver is the highest in a decade, underscoring an affordability crunch that has worsened even as the local government has spent millions on new housing. Vancouver recorded 1,847 people without permanent housing during its annual homeless count in March – a 6-per-cent increase from a year earlier – in a city whose mayor came to office promising to end homelessness by the end of 2015. In releasing the tally on Tuesday, the city highlighted steps it had taken in recent years to build new homes and protect affordable housing, including changing its bylaws to make it more difficult for the owners of single-room occupancy hotels to evict low-income tenants.

But critics say those measures aren’t enough, especially when skyrocketing real estate prices make it tempting for building owners to evict tenants so they can sell or redevelop their properties. “We are not surprised by the numbers. What we are seeing in the Downtown Eastside – and it is happening across [Metro Vancouver] – is the loss of low-income housing,” Maria Wallstam, a spokeswoman for Carnegie Community Action Project, said Tuesday after the city released its report. “The existing low-income housing stock is being demolished, the rents are going up, or it’s being developed,” she added. “There are simply no options for people to live.” The homeless count, conducted over two nights in March, found 1,847 people who were homeless, compared with 1,746 in 2015.

The total comprises less than 1% of Vancouver’s population – 603,500 in the 2011 census – but is slightly higher than the level in several other Canadian cities, including Toronto and Saskatoon, the report said. The count showed that 61% had been homeless for less than a year and 78% were facing at least one physical or mental-health concern, or both. “What jumps out at me is the complexity of the issues behind these numbers,” said Jonathan Oldman, executive director of the Bloom Group, a non-profit organization that provides housing and support services in the Downtown Eastside.

Read more …

All pigs are equal.

EU Gives Budget Leeway To France ‘Because It Is France’ – Juncker (R.)

The European Commission has given France leeway on fiscal rules “because it is France,” the president of the EU executive Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday, in a remark that may not go down well in Germany and other more thrifty euro zone states. The EU is debating how to best apply its fiscal rules, which require a budget deficit under 3% of GDP and public debt to fall, at a time when some argue that more public spending would help boost economic growth. The Commission, which is in charge of monitoring national budgets and recommending corrective measures, is sometimes accused by Germany and other northern euro zone governments of being to lenient in applying EU budget rules.

The EU executive arm gave France in 2015 two more years to bring its deficit below 3% of GDP, even though Paris appeared to miss agreed targets. Asked why the Commission, on several occasions, had turned a blind eye to French infractions, Juncker admitted candidly in an interview with the French Senate television Public Senate that it did so “because it is France”. “I know France well, its reflexes, its internal reactions, its multiple facets,” Juncker said, adding that fiscal rules should not be applied “blindly”. He then reiterated that France should respect its current commitment to bring its deficit below 3% next year.

Read more …

It’s politics all the way down.

The ECB’s Illusory Independence (Varoufakis)

A commitment to the independence of central banks is a vital part of the creed that “serious” policymakers are expected to uphold (privatization, labor-market “flexibility,” and so on). But what are central banks meant to be independent of? The answer seems obvious: governments. In this sense, the ECB is the quintessentially independent central bank: No single government stands behind it, and it is expressly prohibited from standing behind any of the national governments whose central bank it is. And yet the ECB is the least independent central bank in the developed world. The key difficulty is the ECB’s “no bailout” clause – the ban on aiding an insolvent member-state government. Because commercial banks are an essential source of funding for member governments, the ECB is forced to refuse liquidity to banks domiciled in insolvent members. Thus, the ECB is founded on rules that prevent it from serving as lender of last resort.

The Achilles heel of this arrangement is the lack of insolvency procedures for euro members. When, for example, Greece became insolvent in 2010, the German and French governments denied its government the right to default on debt held by German and French banks. Greece’s first “bailout” was used to make French and German banks whole. But doing so deepened Greece’s insolvency. It was at this point that the ECB’s lack of independence was fully exposed. Since 2010, the Greek government has been relying on a sequence of loans that it can never repay to maintain a façade of solvency. A truly independent ECB, adhering to its own rules, should have refused to accept as collateral all debt liabilities guaranteed by the Greek state – government bonds, treasury bills, and the more than €50 billion ($56 billion) of IOUs that Greece’s banks have issued to remain afloat.

Read more …

Storm, teacup: 11 of the EU’s 28 members have recognized the Armenian killings as genocide and, despite initial protests, Turkey has maintained good relations with several of those countries.

German Vote on Armenian Genocide Riles Tempers, and Turkey (NY Times)

If modern Germany has a mantra, it is that people should learn from their history. Yet Berlin’s latest attempt at reconciliation with the past focuses on the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago. And that gesture toward atonement has riled tempers on all sides of the already strained European relations with Turkey. The argument is set to peak on Thursday in a debate in the German Parliament, which is expected to overwhelmingly approve a resolution that officially declares the century-old Armenian massacres to be genocide — and condemns the then-German Empire, allied with Ankara, for failing to act on information it had at the time about the killings.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said late Tuesday that he had warned Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in a telephone call that there could be consequences if the resolution passes. For Turkey, there is scarcely a more sensitive topic than what German and international historians say was the murder of more than a million Armenians and other Christian minorities from 1915 to 1916. The Turkish government has long rejected the term genocide, saying that thousands of people, many of them Turks, died in the civil war that destroyed the Ottoman Empire. For Germany, the resolution comes at a delicate time for Ms. Merkel.

She is relying on Turkey to stem the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe, a policy that has earned her criticism for allying with the increasingly authoritarian Mr. Erdogan. “If Germany is to be deceived by this, then bilateral, diplomatic, economic, trade, political and military ties — we are both NATO countries — will be damaged,” Mr. Erdogan told Turkish reporters before leaving on an official trip to Africa. To date, 11 of the European Union’s 28 members have recognized the Armenian killings as genocide and, despite initial protests, Turkey has maintained good relations with several of those countries.

Read more …

Jan 302016
 
 January 30, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 30 2016


William Henry Jackson Steamboat Metamora of Palatka on the Ocklawaha, FL 1902

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)
Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)
The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)
Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)
China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)
China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)
China To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)
Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)
I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)
VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)
Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)
Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)
Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

The essence, as Steve Keen keeps saying, is that negative rates on reserves are madness, because banks can’t lend out their reserves. Something central bankers genuinely don’t seem to grasp, weird as that may seem. Which speaks volumes, and shines a very bleak light, on the field of economics.

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)

The Japanese central bank has only dug the country deeper into a hole by adopting negative interest rates, Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar said Friday. “I think it’s economic kamikaze,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Let’s tax money and hope things get better. Let’s create higher inflation for the Japanese people, who are barely seeing wage growth. And let’s amp up the currency battles, and hope everything gets better.” The Bank of Japan surprised markets on Friday by pushing interest rates into negative territory for the first time ever. By doing so, the BOJ is essentially charging banks for parking excess funds. The fact that the vote was split shows that BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda got a lot of pushback to advance the policy, Boockvar said. “If this means now that they’re out of bullets with [QE], and this is their last hope, then I think this is a mess,” he said.

In a statement released along with the rate decision, the BOJ said the Japanese economy has recovered modestly with underlying inflation and spending by companies and households ticking up. But the bank warned that increasing uncertainty in emerging markets and commodity-exporting countries may delay an improvement in Japanese business confidence and negatively affect the current inflation trend. The BOJ’s inflation target is 2%. The BOJ now forecasts core inflation to average 0.2 to 1.2% between April 2016 and March 2017. Boockvar said he believes it’s a fallacy that Japan needs inflation to generate growth. “Inflation readings are a symptom of what underlying growth is,” Boockvar said. “For Kuroda to think ‘I need to generate higher inflation to generate growth’ to me is completely backwards, especially when Japanese wage growth is so anemic. You’re basically penalizing the Japanese consumer, and I don’t know what economic theory is behind that.”

Read more …

And they will make things worse.

Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)

When stripping away all the philosophy, the pompous rhetoric, and the jawboning, all central banks do, or are supposed to do, is to influence capital allocations and spending behavior by adjusting the liquidity preference of the population by adjusting interest rates and thus the demand for money. To be sure, over the past 7 years central banks around the globe have gone absolutely overboard when it comes to their primary directive and have engaged every possible legal (and in the case of Europe, illegal) policy at their disposal to force consumers away from a “saving” mindset, and into purchasing risk(free) assets or otherwise burning through savings in hopes of stimulating inflation. Today’s action by the Bank of Japan, which is meant to force banks, and consumers, to spend their cash which will now carry a penalty of -0.1% if “inert” was proof of just that.

Ironically, and perversely from a classical economic standpoint, as we showed before in the case of Europe’s NIRP bastions, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, the more negative rates are, the higher the amount of household savings! This is what Bank of America said back in October: “Yet, household savings rates have also risen. For Switzerland and Sweden this appears to have happened at the tail end of 2013 (before the oil price decline). As the BIS have highlighted, ultra-low rates may perversely be driving a greater propensity for consumers to save as retirement income becomes more uncertain.” Bingo: that is precisely the fatal flaw in all central planning models, one which not a single tenured economist appears capable of grasping yet which even a child could easily understand.

[..] And here is the one chart which in our opinion virtually assures that the Fed will follow in the footsteps of Sweden, Denmark, Europe, Switzerland and now Japan. Since the middle of 2015, US investors have bought a big fat net zero of either bonds or equities (in fact, they have been net sellers of risk) and have parked all incremental cash in money-market funds instead, precisely the inert non-investment that is almost as hated by central banks as gold.

Read more …

Lots of good graphs. This one must be the scariest.

The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)

As we often stress, economics is a social science and therefore simply does not work like physics or other natural sciences. Only economic theory can explain economic laws – while economic history can only be properly interpreted with the aid of sound theory. Here is how we see it: If the authorities had left well enough alone after Hoover’s depression had bottomed out, the economy would have recovered quite nicely on its own. Instead, they decided to intervene all-out. The result was yet another artificial inflationary boom. By 1937 the Fed finally began to worry a bit about the growing risk of run-away inflation, so it took a baby step to make its policy slightly less accommodative.

Once the artificial support propping up an inflationary boom is removed, the underlying economic reality is unmasked. The cause of the 1937 bust was not the Fed’s small step toward tightening. Capital had been malinvested and consumed in the preceding boom, a fact which the bust revealed. Note also that a huge inflow of gold from Europe in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power boosted liquidity in the US enormously in 1935-36, with no offsetting actions taken by the Fed. Moreover, the Supreme Court had just affirmed the legality of several of the worst economic interventions of the crypto-socialist FDR administration, which inter alia led to a collapse in labor productivity as the power of unions was vastly increased, as Jonathan Finegold Catalan points out.

He also notes that bank credit only began to contract after the stock market collapse was already well underway – in other words, the Fed’s tiny hike in the minimum reserve requirement by itself didn’t have any noteworthy effect. On the other hand, if the Fed had implemented the Bernanke doctrine in 1937 and had continued to implement monetary pumping at full blast in order to extend the boom, it would only have succeeded in structurally undermining the economy and currency even more. Inevitably, an even worse bust would eventually have followed.

Read more …

There’s not a number left you can trust.

Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)

Central banks around the world are going to new lengths to boost their economies, underscoring both the importance and limits of monetary policy in a global economy plagued by paltry growth and unsettled markets. The Bank of Japan on Friday joined a host of European peers in setting its key short-term interest rate below zero. The move, long denied as a possible course by the bank s governor, came a week after the ECB president indicated he was ready to launch additional monetary stimulus in March and days after the Fed expressed new worries over market turbulence and sluggish growth overseas. The latest moves by central banks to rescue the global economy capped a volatile month across financial markets, with U.S. stocks finishing strong Friday but nonetheless posting their worst January since 2009, and major currencies lurching lower against the dollar.

The swings highlighted the fragile mood of investors despite hopes that some economies, particularly the U.S., could lead an exit from crisis-era policies. Fresh data Friday that showed the U.S. economy had sputtered in the final months of 2015 could cloud Fed deliberations over the timing of another round of rate increases. U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of economic output, grew by just 0.7% in the fourth quarter, hit hard by shrinking exports and business investment. Despite growth in consumer spending and clear strength in the job market, the weak performance added to concerns that the sagging global economy could hit the U.S.

Markets around the world were buoyed by Japan s move, extending the earlier assurances delivered by the ECB. Japan s Nikkei Stock Average closed up 2.8% in a volatile session, while the yield on Japanese government bonds fell to historically low levels. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.1% and the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 2.2%. U.S. stocks also rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing nearly 400 points. Despite the day s surge, some investors remained skeptical about the lasting impact of the central banks efforts. People are starting to feel more and more that central bank action is having less and less fire for effect, said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities.

Read more …

Lunar New year starts Feb 7. Beijing will be so happy with the week long break.

China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)

Thanks to BoJ’s global “float all boats” NIRP-tard-ness, Chinese stocks avoided the headline of “worst month in 21 years” by rallying above the crucial 2,667 level (for SHCOMP). However, January’s 23% plunge is the worst month since October 2008 and is officially the worst start to a year in the history of Chinese stocks. While Shanghia Composite was ugly, the higher beta Shenzhen and ChiNext indices were a disaster…

Making it the worst January ever…

So February is a buying opportunity?

Read more …

4% over past 5 years. Could easily be 2% for 2015.

China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)

It’s the biggest question in the world of finance: how fast is China’s economy growing? And the biggest frustration is: what are the actual numbers? China’s lack of transparency – with murky data releases, opaque policy making and confusing announcements – is notorious among emerging-market watchers. But rarely do research firms or analysts use different figures to the official statistics. Until recently. The Conference Board, a widely respected and often-cited non-profit research group, used an alternate series of Chinese GDP estimates in its latest economic outlook paper. In an effort to adjust for overstated official Chinese data, the Conference Board looked to the work of Harry Wu, an economist at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, to adjust its calculations.

This was a footnote of the report: “Growth rates of Chinese industrial GDP are adjusted for mis-reporting bias and non-material services GDP are adjusted for biases in price deflators. This adjustment has important implications for our assessment of the growth rate of the global economy in general and that of the emerging markets in particular – both reflecting a downward adjustment in their recent growth rates.” Macquarie Wealth Management analysts picked up on the change, adding: “We are unaware of any other reputable agency adopting anything other than official numbers as a base case, although clearly there has always been a lot of scenario analysis.” Traditionally, China has used the Soviet system of collecting information through a chain of command, where local officials reported on their states, often misrepresenting their figures to meet designated targets.

Over the past 10 years, China has gradually moved towards the internationally recognised System of National Accounts, which relies on statistical surveys to discover what people are spending their money on and where. But as Macquarie points out, that transition is far from complete. The Wu-Maddison estimates are starkly different to those issued by Chinese authorities. Whereas Chinese authorities have claimed average GDP growth of about 7.7% for the past five years, Wu suggests it is much lower, about 4%. These new figures show a much higher degree of volatility than suggested by the official numbers. While the world frets about the possibility of a “hard landing” for the Chinese economy, the Conference Board observed the new estimates “suggest that the economy has already experienced a significant slowdown over the past four years, beginning in 2011.”

Macquarie echoes this sentiment. “In our view, Wu-Maddison numbers explain the current state of commodity markets and fit into the global deflationary narrative much better than official numbers,” the analysts Macquarie said in a note. But, as the bank points out, if the “hard landing” has already occurred, there will be a range of consequences for productivity growth, overcapacity absorption and financial stress. “If Wu estimates are right, the room for stimulus and investment is more limited and the need to drive productivity [structural reforms] much more urgent. Although by the time China retroactively adjusts its GDP, it would be treated as history. “In the absence of stronger productivity rebound, China would be in danger of getting stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’ and would be unable to inject incremental demand into the global economy. Stay safe.”

Read more …

They can target what they want, and so they do. But it’s meaningless.

China Set To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)

China’s leaders are expected to target economic growth in a range of 6.5% to 7% this year, sources familiar with their thinking said, setting a range for the first time because policymakers are uncertain on the economy’s prospects. The proposed range, which would follow a 2015 target of “around 7%” growth, was endorsed by top leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to the sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.9% in 2015, the weakest in 25 years, although some economists believe real growth is even lower. “They are likely to target economic growth of 6.5-7% this year, with 6.5% as the bottom line,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Policymakers, worried by global uncertainties and the impact on growth of their structural economic reforms, struggled to reach a consensus at the December meeting, the sources said. The State Council Information Office, the public relations arm of the government, had no comment on the growth forecast when contacted by Reuters. The floor of 6.5% reflects the minimum average rate of growth needed over the next five years to meet an existing goal of doubling gross domestic product and per capita income by 2020 from 2010. The 2016 growth target and the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint covering 2016-2020, will be announced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the country’s parliament, in early March.

Although the target range was endorsed by the leadership in December, it could still be adjusted before parliament convenes. “The government will not be too nervous about growth this year and will focus more on structural adjustments,” said a government economist. “Growth may still slow in the first and second quarter and people are divided over the third and fourth quarter. The full-year growth could slow to 6.5-6.6%.” A string of cuts in interest rates and bank reserve requirements since November 2014 have failed to put a floor under the slowing economy. Beijing is expected to put more emphasis on fiscal policy to support growth, including tax cuts and running a bigger budget deficit of about 3% of GDP.

China’s leaders have flagged a “new normal” of slower growth as they look to shift the economy to a more sustainable, consumption-led model. About half of China’s 30 provinces and municipalities have lowered their growth targets for 2016, while nearly a third kept targets unchanged from last year, according to local media. Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces have set a growth target of 7-7.5% this year, while Jiangsu and Shandong are aiming for growth of 7.5-8%. In 2015, growth in Chongqing municipality was 11%, the fastest in the country, while growth in Liaoning province in the rustbelt northeast, was 3%, the country’s lowest. For this year, Chongqing is eyeing 10% growth and Liaoning is aiming for 6%.

Read more …

Correlation.

Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)

The U.S. high-yield, or “junk” bond market, has started the year on the back foot, which history suggests could be a very bad sign for the stock market. The asset class is showing negative returns of almost 2% for the year so far, and negative returns of 7.6% for the last six months, according to The Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index. The negative return is especially significant, given that the month of January has recorded positive returns in 25 of the 29 years that the BofA high-yield index has existed, or 86.2% of the time, according to Marty Fridson, chief Investment Officer–Lehmann Livian Fridson, in a report published in LCD. With the S&P 500 index also heading for the biggest monthly decline in nearly six years, stock investors may finally be catching on to the high-yield bond market’s bearish message.

In previous instances in which the high-yield bond market and stocks trended in a different direction, it was the high-yield bond market that proved prescient. The reason stocks have been so late to follow the high-yield market’s bearish trend, may be because of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to prop up asset prices through quantitative easing. The current bearish trend is showing no signs of letting up. The high-yield index’s option-adjusted spread widened to 775 basis points at Thursday’s close from 695 basis points at the end of December, and 526 basis points at the end of July. The OAS is now about 200 basis points wider than its historical average of 576 basis points, according to Fridson. Much of the weakness is still due to the troubled energy sector, which combined with slowing Chinese growth to spark a more than 100 basis-points widening of the BofA US High Yield Index’s option-adjusted spread in the first three weeks of January. That send the spread to a high of 820 basis points on Jan 20.

Read more …

Condemnation.

I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)

I owe almost my entire Wall Street career to the Clintons. I am not alone; most bankers owe their careers, and their wealth, to them. Over the last 25 years they – with the Clintons it is never just Bill or Hillary – implemented policies that placed Wall Street at the center of the Democratic economic agenda, turning it from a party against Wall Street to a party of Wall Street. That is why when I recently went to see Hillary Clinton campaign for president and speak about reforming Wall Street I was skeptical. What I heard hasn’t changed that skepticism. The policies she offers are mid-course corrections. In the Clintons’ world, Wall Street stays at the center, economically and politically. Given Wall Street’s power and influence, that is a dangerous place to leave them.

Salomon Brothers hired me in 1993, seven months after President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Getting a job had been easy, Wall Street was booming from deregulation that had begun under Reagan and was continuing under Clinton. When Bill Clinton ran for office, he offered up him and Hillary (“Two for the price of one”) as New Democrats, embracing an image of being tough on crime, but not on business. Despite the campaign rhetoric, nobody on the trading floor I joined had voted for the Clintons or trusted them. Few traders on the floor were even Democrats, who as long as anyone could remember were Wall Street’s natural enemy. That view was summarized in the words of my boss: “Republicans let you make money and let you keep it. Democrats don’t let you make money, but if you do, they take it.”

Despite Wall Street’s reticence, key appointments were swinging their way. Robert Rubin, who had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, was appointed to a senior White House job as director of the National Economic Council. The Treasury Department was also being filled with banking friendly economists who saw the markets as a solution, not as a problem. The administration’s economic policy took shape as trickle down, Democratic style. They championed free trade, pushing Nafta. They reformed welfare, buying into the conservative view that poverty was about dependency, not about situation. They threw the old left a few bones, repealing prior tax cuts on the rich, but used the increased revenues mostly on Wall Street’s favorite issue: cutting the debt. Most importantly, when faced with their first financial crisis, they bailed out Wall Street.

That crisis came in January 1995, halfway through the administration’s first term. Mexico, after having boomed from the optimism surrounding Nafta, went bust. It was a huge embarrassment for the administration, given the push they had made for Nafta against a cynical Democratic party. Money was fleeing Mexico, and much of it was coming back through me and my firm. Selling investors’ Mexican bonds was my first job on Wall Street, and now they were trying to sell them back to us. But we hadn’t just sold Mexican bonds to clients, instead we did it using new derivatives product to get around regulatory issues and take advantages of tax rules, and lend the clients money. Given how aggressive we were, and how profitable it was for us, older traders kept expecting to be stopped by regulators from the new administration, but that didn’t happen.

When Mexico started to collapse, the shudders began. Initially our firm lost only tens of millions, a large loss but not catastrophic. The crisis however was worsening, and Mexico was headed towards a default, or closing its border to money flows. We stood to lose hundreds of millions, something we might not have survived. Other Wall Street firms were in worse shape, having done the trade in a much bigger size. The biggest was rumored to be Lehman, which stood to lose billions, a loss they couldn’t have survived. As the crisis unfolded, senior management traveled to DC as part of a group of bankers to meet with Treasury officials. They had hoped to meet with Rubin, who was now Treasury secretary. Instead they met with the undersecretary for international affairs who my boss described as: “Some young egghead academic who likes himself a lot and is wide eyed with a taste of power.” That egghead was Larry Summers who would succeed Rubin as Treasury Secretary.

To the surprise of Wall Street, the administration pushed for a $50bn global bail-out of Mexico, arguing that to not do so would devastate the US and world economy. Unmentioned was that it would have also devastated Wall Street banks.

Read more …

New twist.

VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)

Another week brings more new stories on the diesel-emission cheating scandal that threatens to dig Volkswagen deeper into a ditch of its own making. Following reports in German newspapers late last week suggesting that the “defeat device” software was an “open secret” in VW’s engine group, the company bit back yesterday. VW Group CEO Matthias Müller told reporters at a reception that the sources for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report “have no idea about the whole matter.” Müller’s statement, as reported by Reuters, “casts doubt” on the newspaper’s report, which it said came from statements by a whistleblower cited in the company’s internal probe of the scandal. The CEO also suggested that the company would not release results of that probe, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, any time before its annual shareholder meeting on April 21.

“Is it really so difficult to accept that we are obliged by stock market law to submit a report to the AGM on April 21,” asked Müller, “and that it is not possible for us to say anything beforehand?” VW Group’s powerful Board of Directors will hold their third meeting in three weeks on the affair this coming Wednesday. Despite PR fallout, VW Group’s German communications unit continues to allege that while the “defeat device” software in its TDI diesels violated U.S. laws, it was entirely legal in Europe. The majority of the 11 million affected vehicles were sold in European countries, helped by policies instituted by some national governments that gave financial advantages to diesel vehicles and their fuel.

In a statement to The New York Times, which published an article on the matter last week, the VW Group wrote that the software “is not a forbidden defeat device” under European rules. As the Times notes, that determination, “which was made by its board, runs counter to regulatory findings in Europe and the United States.” “German regulators said last month that VW did use an illegal defeat device,” the newspaper said, suggesting that the statement reflected VW’s legal approach to the affair. “While it promises to fix affected vehicles wherever they were sold,” it said, “it is prepared to admit wrongdoing only in the United States.” The VW view only underscores the loosely-regulated European emission testing rules, now the subject of a fight in the European Parliament.

Two issues are at stake. The first is the degree to which new and tougher testing rules continue to allow manufacturers to exceed existing emission limits The second is whether European Union authorities can, in some circumstances, overrule the testing bodies of individual countries -namely Germany- which enforce common EU limits within their own borders. And so the saga continues.

Read more …

I think that as pensions plans crumble to levels where too many elederly go hungry, basic income will come to the forefront.

Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)

Swiss residents are to vote on a countrywide referendum about a radical plan to pay every single adult a guaranteed income of £425 a week (or £1,700 a month). The plan, proposed by a group of intellectuals, could make the country the first in the world to pay all of its citizens a monthly basic income regardless if they work or not. But the initiative has not gained much traction among politicians from left and right despite the fact that a referendum on it was approved by the federal government for the ballot box on June 5. Under the proposed initiative, each child would also receive 145 francs (£100) a week. The federal government estimates the cost of the proposal at 208 billion francs (£143 billion) a year.

Around 153 billion francs (£105 bn) would have to be levied from taxes, while 55 billion francs (£38 bn) would be transferred from social insurance and social assistance spending. The group proposing the initiative, which includes artists, writers and intellectuals, cited a survey which shows that the majority of Swiss residents would continue working if the guaranteed income proposal was approved. ‘The argument of opponents that a guaranteed income would reduce the incentive of people to work is therefore largely contradicted,’ it said in a statement quoted by The Local. However, a third of the 1,076 people interviewed for the survey by the Demoscope Institute believed that ‘others would stop working’. And more than half of those surveyed (56%) believe the guaranteed income proposal will never see the light of day.

Read more …

There will be no money to pay for even temporary storage, and there is no solution for permament.

Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out. A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future. Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse. “There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine. This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel. And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050. But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

Read more …

Is it the smugglers or the EU?

Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

More people died crossing the eastern Mediterranean in January than in the first eight months of last year, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday, blaming increased ruthlessness by people-traffickers. As of Jan. 28, 218 had died in the Aegean Sea – a tally not reached on the Greek route until mid-September in 2015. Another 26 died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Italy. Smugglers were using smaller, less seaworthy boats, and packing them with even more people than before, the IOM said. IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the more reckless methods might be due to “panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer” as traffickers fear European governments may find ways to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees.

There also appeared to be new gangs controlling the trafficking trade in North Africa, he said. “There was a very pronounced period at the end of the year when boats were not leaving Libya and we heard from our sources in North Africa that it was because of inter-tribal or inter-gang fighting for control of the market,” Millman said. “And now that it’s picking up again and it seems to be more lethal, we wonder: what is the character of these groups that have taken over the trade?” The switch to smaller, more packed boats had also happened on the route from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said, but was unable to explain why.

The increase in deaths in January was not due to more traffic overall. The number of arrivals in Greece and Italy was the lowest for any month since June 2015, with a total of 55,528 people landing there between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the IOM said. Last year a record 1 million people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing, five times more than in 2014. During the year, the IOM estimates that 805 died in the eastern Mediterranean and 2,892 died in the central Mediterranean. In the past few months the proportion of children among those making the journey has risen from about a quarter to more than a third, and Millman said children often made up more than half of the occupants of the boats.

Read more …