Jun 232018
 


Henri Matisse The goldfish 1912

 

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)
Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)
Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)
Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)
Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)
Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)
Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)
In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)
Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)
Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)
Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)
Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)
Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)
US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)
Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)
Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

 

 

A terrible deal.

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)

Greece is swapping bailout hell for eternal purgatory. Eight years after it first sought outside financial assistance Athens can at last support itself, helped by extra euro zone funds and debt relief. But it will have to maintain a tight budget for decades, while doubts over its debt sustainability will linger. The latest deal suits both European creditors and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. With the country’s third bailout coming to an end in August, both sides wanted a clean exit, without a backstop facility. Euro zone countries recoiled at the idea of granting Greece more credit, while Tsipras wants to claim that the country is finally free of austerity. Both Ireland and Portugal ended their bailouts in this way.

But Greece still owes a hefty 180% of GDP, because official lenders refused to write off the debt. True, the euro zone has extended repayments over many decades. Still, the International Monetary Fund’s reluctance to describe the debt as sustainable made a smooth exit less certain. Hence the latest dollop of debt relief. Lenders have given Greece the last €15 billion of the bailout to build a cash buffer. They also extended their loans by 10 years, meaning Greece should not face large repayments until the 2030s. Creditors will also lower interest rates and transfer the profit on Greek bonds bought by the ECB as long as the country sticks to reform targets. The deal should make it possible for Greece to survive without further financial help for at least a decade.

But the country’s junk credit rating and the absence of a backstop means government bonds won’t be eligible as collateral for ECB loans. This will force banks to find other, more expensive sources of funding. The other question is whether Greek debt can be sustained without a default or further writedowns. If the government delivers on its promise to maintain a budget surplus before interest payments of over 3.5% of GDP – three times the euro zone average – until 2022, and 2.2% thereafter, the debt load will slowly fall. Yet Greece’s unemployment rate of 20% is more than twice as high as in the rest of the single currency area. And euro zone officials will still visit every quarter. The country has escaped its bailout hell, but is hardly free.

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Again, this is like a team owner stating publicly that he supports the coach 100%.

Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)

The euro is irreversible, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a newspaper interview to be published on Saturday when asked if the single currency will still be there in 10 years. “Yes, the euro is irreversible,” Scholz told the Rheinische Post. “It secures our common future in Europe.” He added that an initial blueprint to strengthen the euro zone agreed between Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during talks at the Meseberg retreat outside Berlin this week would shield the euro from crises. “With the Meseberg agreements we are further building the house of Europe,” he said. “It contains a sealed roof that withstands future storms and rainy days. We have a new momentum in Europe and this is thanks to President Macron.”

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Don’t question the military.

Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)

While the world continues to be transfixed over the gruesome images coming from the border, business went on as usual in Washington. Earlier this week, the Senate quietly passed the $716 billion “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.” The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year. The annual increase by itself is bigger than the annual defense budget of Russia ($61 billion) and the two-year jump of over $165 billion eclipses the entire defense budget of China ($150 billion).

The bill is a major win for Trump, who has made no secret about his desire to push through giant increases in military spending. The legislation even sends the U.S. down the road to meeting the Trump administration’s lunatic goal of developing smaller, more “flexible” (read: usable) nuclear weapons, as it includes $65 million for the development of a new, lower-yield, submarine-launched nuke. But the problem with the defense bill, at least in terms of attracting coverage, is that it’s also a big win for almost every other major political constituency in Washington. Spending on defense lobbying has actually been dropping slightly in recent years, but that may only be because the opposition to defense spending has become so anemic that lobbyists don’t really need to bother anymore.

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“..the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.”

Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)

Our working hypothesis is that General Eisenhower was right. There were two big temptations to the American Republic of the 1950s; subsequent generations gave in to both of them. They spent their children’s and grandchildren’s money. Now, the country has a government debt of $21 trillion. That’s up from $288 billion when Ike left the White House. And they allowed the “unwarranted influence” of the “military/industrial complex” to grow into a monster. No president, no matter how good his intentions, can stop it. A corollary to our major hypothesis is that the rise of the Deep State (the military/industrial/social welfare/security/prison/medical care/education/bureaucrat/crony complex) was funded by the Fed’s fake-money system.

Now, investors, businesses, households, and the feds themselves have all been “faked out” by a fraudulent money system. None of them can survive a cutback in credit. For nearly 30 years, central banks have backstopped markets and flooded the world with liquidity. But last week, the Fed turned the screws a little further. It now targets a 2% Fed Funds Rate and claims to be on the path of “normalization.” And the ECB made it official, too; it hasn’t quite begun tightening, but it’s got its toolbox open. And command of the ECB work crew is set to change hands next year anyway, passing on to a German engineer.

The German psyche has been scarred by its awful experience in the last century. Even though today’s Germans didn’t live through it themselves, the entire country seems to have a race memory of it. Still preparing for hard times, the household savings rate in Germany is at least three times higher than in the sans souci U.S. Germany’s apocalypse, too, can be described in Eisenhower’s terms – too much debt (arising from World War I)… and too much influence in the hands of the military/industrial complex. Debt led to hyperinflation. But the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.

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Ireland and all the others.

Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)

Economists regard the theory of supply and demand as nothing less than a “law” and as one of the fundamental principles governing “the economy”. Almost every economic event or phenomenon is considered the product of the interaction of the laws of supply and demand, argues The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. The “law” is currently being invoked by those who believe the solution to the Irish housing crisis is to simply build more houses. It is an analysis echoed regularly by grateful developers and estate agents. But the “law” of supply and demand is a micro-economic concept and applicable only to the “economy” of individuals, households and firms.

The “economy” of a globalised country such as Ireland is, in stark contrast, a macro-economic concept, the result of analysing the aggregate activities of more than four million people operating within global markets for housing and other assets. As evidence of the flawed nature of this fundamental micro-economic theory, we only have to look at Ireland’s housing market in 2006 – the year in which the market boomed before imploding catastrophically. Irish home construction peaked in that year. In a country of just four million people, more than 90,000 homes were built. (By contrast the housing stock increased by just 8,800 between 2011 and 2016). And yet, despite this extraordinary increase in supply, and contrary to economic theory, prices in 2006 continued rising – by a whopping 11%.

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Just settle it amicably.

Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to escalate a trade war with Europe by imposing a 20% tariff on all U.S. imports of European Union-assembled cars. Trump posted his threat on Twitter the day European Union reprisals took effect against U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The EU targeted $3.2 billion in American goods exported to the 28-member bloc. “If these Tariffs and Barriers are not soon broken down and removed, we will be placing a 20% Tariff on all of their cars coming into the U.S. Build them here!” Trump wrote.

A month ago, the administration launched a probe into whether auto imports pose a national security threat. The United States currently imposes a 2.5% tariff on imported passenger cars from the European Union and a 25% tariff on imported pickup trucks. The EU imposes a 10% tariff on imported U.S. cars. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW build vehicles at plants in the United States. Industry data shows German automakers build more vehicles in southern U.S. states that voted for Trump than they ship to the United States from Germany.

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Think medical bills.

Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)

If you feel like your Social Security check doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, there’s a likely explanation for it. Since 2000, the buying power of monthly benefits has fallen by more than a third, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia. In other words, the cost of goods and services common among retirees have collectively risen faster than the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, that Social Security recipients get every year. “People who recently retired might have seen only a [small] decrease in buying power,” said Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for the league. “But those retired for a long time are feeling the cumulative effect of this.”

About 47 million older Americans receive Social Security. Overall, the benefits comprise about a third of income among those age 65 or older, according to the Social Security Administration. The league’s annual report examines the costs that typically comprise household budgets of older Americans and compares their price change with annual COLAs. Based on those comparisons, the research found a 4% loss in Social Security buying power from January 2017 to January 2018 and a 34% decrease since 2000.

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Wonder if this is true only in Britain.

In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)

The most profound change to human life over the previous 100 years came to a halt in 2010. In the decades before it, life expectancy in Britain kept rising, with men, in particular, born in the 1920s and 1930s enjoying far longer and healthier lives than ever expected. This increase in lifespan has affected everything – from housing to health to pensions. It’s why we need to find ever greater sums for the NHS. It’s why the state pension age has had to go up. Arguably, it’s a big reason why house prices are so high – because people are living in them for longer. But the great leap forward in longevity has come to a shuddering halt.

An extraordinary analysis by the Office for National Statistics this week reveals that the trend line in longevity stopped in 2010, and has flatlined since. Why? Pick anything from austerity and cuts in NHS spending, to influenza outbreaks, obesity, diabetes, and even the rise of “multimorbidity” – where someone might have diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure all at the same time. But the ONS did not try to answer the “why” question. It wanted to check if the statistics really do prove that longevity rises have come to a halt. And the depressing conclusion from its research is that, indeed they have. It found that the “breakpoint” in the trend towards better longevity began with males in the second quarter of 2009, with females following soon after.

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“The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020..”

Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)

Airbus hated Brexit from the off but, until now, it had confined itself to soft expressions of worry in public and harder lobbying behind the scenes. Its dramatic warning that it could stop investing in the UK is a radical departure from that position and carried a sting. The aircraft manufacturer did not merely say a no-deal outcome to Brexit talks “directly threatens Airbus’s future in the UK”. It also said an “orderly” Brexit, complete with a trade agreement and a transition period, would also be risky. In effect, the group will freeze investment in the UK until it can judge how a new set-up would work and how many extra costs its UK factories and research centres would bear.

John Longworth, the co-chair of Leave Means Leave campaign, accused Airbus of running a scare story and reheating Project Fear. Tariffs on aeronautical products are zero, he argued, and so “nothing will change” if the UK leaves the customs union. Yet he overlooked the detail of the Brexit assessment by Airbus, which barely mentioned tariffs. Instead, the worries were about the movement of employees between the UK and the EU, logjams in the supply chain and aircraft regulations. The most critical issue on that list is probably UK membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which certifies aircraft parts and runs safety checks.

In theory, the Civil Aviation Authority could do the job in the UK, as it once did, but Airbus doubts the body could assemble the expertise in time to provide a smooth transition. Norway is a non-EU member of EASA and so the UK, if it is prepared to accept the European court of justice as the legal authority behind EASA’s rulings, could also stay within. But a deal has not yet been struck, which is one of many reasons why Airbus is shouting that time is running short. Its supply chain frustrations will be shared by other large manufacturers with cross-border operations that run on a just-in-time basis to keep costs low. The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020, as Tom Williams, the Airbus executive in charge of the commercial aircraft division, put it, is real.

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“America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.”

Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)

John McCain, in Arizona receiving treatment for brain cancer, tweeted about Donald Trump’s barbarous immigration policy this week. “The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded,” the senator wrote. Those comments bring to mind a commercial John McCain made eight years ago. At the time, he was facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party Republican J.D. Hayworth. In the ad, McCain is seen walking along Arizona’s southern border with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, in the shadow of an enormous fence.

McCain starts tsk-tsking about the wave of crime pouring into his state. “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder?” McCain asks. “We’re outmanned,” the sheriff says. “Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.” McCain asks if they have “the right plan.” The sheriff says, “You bring troops, state, county and local law enforcement together.” “And complete the danged fence!” says McCain. [..] Trump’s policies on the border were and are monstrous. But those photos of children in captivity, which rightfully have been nearly as damaging to America’s reputation as the Abu Ghraib debacle, didn’t appear out of nowhere.

Those scenes are the latest in a long series of developments, under which politicians like McCain and Cruz and Dick Cheney, along with officials like Hayden, have gradually normalized the idea of human rights abuses as solutions to political problems. Now they’re all hiding behind someone else’s scandal. America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.

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Democratic leadership has been AWOL for a long time.

Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)

Actual political leadership among “the Resistance” is AWOL this week. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer failed to offer up any alternative legislative plan for sorting out these children differently. One can infer in the political chatter emanating from the Offendedness Cartel that immigration law is ipso-facto cruel and inhuman and that the “solution” is an open border. In theory, this might play to the Democratic Party’s effort to win future elections by enlisting an ever-growing voter base of Mexican and Central American newcomers. But it assumes that somehow these newcomers get to become citizens, with the right to vote in US elections — normally an arduous process requiring an application and patience — but that, too, is apparently up for debate, especially in California, where lawmakers are eager to enfranchise anyone with a pulse who is actually there, citizen or not.

Krugman of The Times really hit the ball out of the park today with his diatribe comparing US Immigration enforcement to the Nazis treatment of the Jews. As a person of the Hebrew persuasion myself, I rather resent the reckless hijacking of this bit of history for the purpose of aggrandizing the sentimentally fake moral righteousness of the Resistance. It actually diminishes the enormity of the Nazi campaign against European Jews. I daresay that commentary like Krugman’s will only serve to amplify a growing resentment of Jewish intellectuals in this country — including myself, increasingly the target of anti-Jewish calumnies and objurgations. You’d think that Mr. Trump had offered to blow up Ellis Island the way the Resistance is clamoring to pull down statues of Thomas Jefferson.

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That’s two in a row for using pictures out of context. Very damaging.

Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)

Two photos that went viral on social media depict scenes that are not directly related to the family separations taking place on the US-Mexico border since early May. The most prominent, of Honduran two-year-old Yanela Varela crying inconsolably, has become a global symbol of the separations – helping to attract more than $18 million in donations for a Texas non-profit called RAICES. The photograph was taken on June 12 in McAllen, Texas by John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images. An online article about the picture, published by Time Magazine, initially reported the girl was taken from her mother, but was subsequently corrected to make clear that: “The girl was not carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

Time Magazine nonetheless used the image of the sobbing child on its cover, next to an image of President Trump looming over her, with the caption “Welcome to America”. The head of Honduras’ Migrant Protection Office Lisa Medrano confirmed to AFP that the little girl, just two years old, “was not separated” from her family. The child’s father also said as much. Denis Varela told the Washington Post that his wife Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not been separated from their daughter, and that both were being detained together in an immigration center in McAllen. Under fire for its cover – which was widely decried as misleading including by the White House – the magazine said it was standing by its decision. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason,” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.

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A mixed bag.

Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)

Most of the immigrant children who’d been separated from their families and are still being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are expected to be reunited by the end of the day, a source with the Department of Homeland Security told CBS News. This does not reflect the greater number of children who are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. That number was reported this week to be greater than 2,340. There will be a small number of children with Customs and Border Protection who will not be immediately reunited with their families. Reasons for delay may include if relationships can’t be confirmed or if authorities think there’s a risk to the child.

At the border, the government is trying to clear up who gets prosecuted and who does not. Confusion, however, hasn’t stopped border crossings, CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal reports. Shane McMahon’s client from El Salvador was charged with crossing into the U.S. illegally. He was separated from his 16-year-old son, and on Friday, those charges were suddenly dropped. “I think what’s happening is that everybody’s trying to figure out how the order applies to us and what to do with it,” McMahon said. The Trump administration says that nearly 500 children have been reunited with family. More than 1,800 remain separated from parents, who are desperate for answers.

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A case from February that could solve today’s issues.

US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)

A federal judge said on Friday he could rule as soon as the middle of next week on a request to order the U.S. government to reunite thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. While U.S. President Donald Trump bowed to political pressure on Wednesday and issued an executive order ending the separations, the administration has been silent on plans to reunite parents split from their children. More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated since the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings in early May.

At a court hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union pressed U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego to issue an injunction as soon as Friday evening to force the government to begin reuniting families. “Parents can’t find their children, they are not even speaking to their children. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, at Friday’s hearing. He asked the judge to order the government to reunite all children in 30 days, and in five days for children under the age of five. Gelernt also asked for an order barring separations.

[..] The judge peppered a government lawyer with questions about procedures for handling children separated from their parents and tracking by government agencies, and in general the government lawyer focused on arguments about legal procedure. The government has said in court papers that separation of children is a consequence of the lawful detention of the parent. The ACLU filed the case in February alleging the government violated the right to due process of two unidentified women, from Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, when their children were removed from them.

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Europe outdoes Trump.

Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)

Survivors have reported that about 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the last few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year on that route to more than 1,000, the United Nations said on Thursday. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said that as the summer season starts, the number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean was expected to increase and it called for increased rescue operations. The Libyan coast guard has brought more than 8,000 people to disembarkation points along the coast this year, it said. Only five people survived the capsizing of a boat carrying 100 people on Tuesday, while the same day a rubber craft with 130 passengers sank, leading to 70 people drowning, UNHCR said.

On Wednesday a boat of refugees and migrants who were rescued reported that more than 50 people traveling with them had perished at sea, it said. “UNHCR is dismayed at the ever-growing numbers of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean,” the agency said. Earlier, Libya’s coastguard picked up 443 African migrants on Thursday from three inflatable boats in trouble near its western coast, a spokesman said.

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Where’s the outrage? Why is there still no overall ban on one-use plastics? Why do I still see people walking around with plastic coffee cups?

Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team. Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food. The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment. The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks – as they left their nests – to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and “give them a chance to survive”.

The birds nest in burrows on Lord Howe Island, which is more than 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. While chicks wait in the burrow, the parents head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their offspring. “These birds are generalist predators,” explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. “They’ll eat just about anything they’re given. That’s what’s allowed them to thrive – a lack of pickiness. “But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic form non-plastic, so they eat it.”

Parent birds unwittingly feeding plastic to their chicks means that the birds emerge from their burrows with stomachs filled with plastic, and with insufficient nutrition to enable them set out to sea and forage for themselves. But when the birds first head out of the burrow, the research team have been stepping in to help. “If the amount of plastic is not so significant, we use a process called levage, where we flush or wash the stomach – without harming the bird,” explained Dr Lavers. The BBC crew filmed the team working with individual chicks – using tubes to flush their stomachs with seawater and make them regurgitate the plastic.

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Aug 152017
 
 August 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Stanley Kubrick Walking the streets of New York 1946

 

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)
We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)
World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)
US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)
Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)
Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)
Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)
Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)
Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)
China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)
North Korea Leader Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)
Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)
Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)
Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)
Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

 

 

Feels like we’re being prepared, or maybe set up is a better way to put it. They’re going to take over everything, criminalize anything they can’t control. All for your own good. Rogoff is one scary dude.

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff. Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom. In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next recession strikes. Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress.

As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk. “It makes sense not to wait until the next financial crisis to develop plans and, in any event, it is time for economists to stop pretending that implementing effective negative rates is as difficult today as it seemed in Keynes time”, he said. The growth of electronic payment systems and the increasing marginalisation of cash in legal transactions creates a much smoother path to negative rate policy today than even two decades ago. Countries can scrap larger denomination notes to reduce the likelihood of cash being held in substantial quantities, he suggests. This is also a potentially practical idea because cash tends now to be used largely for only small transactions. Law enforcement officials may also back the idea to cut down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The key consequence from an economic point of view is that forcing savers to keep cash in an electronic format would make it easier to levy a negative interest rate. “With today’s ultra-low policy interest rates – inching up in the United States and still slightly negative in the eurozone and Japan – it is sobering to ask what major central banks will do should another major prolonged global recession come any time soon,” he said, noting that the Fed cut rates by an average of 5.5 percentage points in the nine recessions since the mid-1950s, something which is impossible at the current low rate of interest, unless negative rates become an option. That would be substantially better than trying to use QE or forward guidance as central bankers have attempted in recent years.

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If we don’t take away political power from banks and central banks, we’re doomed.

We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)

The 10th anniversary of the financial crisis has prompted a lot of analysis about what we’ve learned and whether we’re ready for the next one. Pretty much everything you need to know, though, can be found in one chart: the capital ratios of the largest U.S. banks. Capital, also known as equity, is the money that banks get from shareholders and retained earnings. Unlike debt, it has the advantage of absorbing losses, a feature that makes individual banks and the whole system more resilient. Bank executives typically prefer to use less equity and more debt – that is, more leverage – because this magnifies returns in good times. Hence, capital levels can serve as an indicator of the balance of power between bankers and regulators concerned about financial stability. Here’s a chart showing tangible common equity, as a percentage of tangible assets, at the six largest U.S. banks from December 2001 to June 2017:

The downward slope in the first several years demonstrates the extent to which leverage got out of hand before the crisis. As late as 2008, when the financial sector was already in distress, the Federal Reserve was still allowing banks to pay out capital in the form of dividends, even though some had equity of less than 3% of assets. That proved to be a fatal miscalculation: By 2009, forecasts of total losses on loans and securities reached 10% of assets. A crippled banking system tanked the economy and had to be rescued at taxpayer expense. After the crisis, regulators pushed banks to get stronger. The biggest U.S. institutions more than doubled their tangible common equity ratios – to an average of about 8% of assets (or, by international accounting standards, closer to 6% of assets). That’s an achievement, and better than in Europe, but the starting point was so low that they still fall short of what’s needed. Researchers at the Minneapolis Fed, for example, estimate that capital would have to more than double again to bring the risk of bailouts down to an acceptable level.

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How crime got re-defined. Poor conduct. Orwell.

World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)

Fines, legal bills and the cost of compensating mistreated customers reached £264bn for 20 of the world’s biggest banks over the five years to 2016, according to new research that raises doubts about efforts by the major financial services players to restore trust in the sector. This figure is higher than in the previous five-year period – when the costs amounted to £252bn – and is up 32% on the period 2008-12, the first time the data was collated by the CCP Research Foundation, one of the few bodies that analyses the “conduct costs” of banks. The report said the data showed that 10 years on from the onset of the financial crisis, the consequences of misconduct continue to hang over the banking sector. The latest analysis shows that in 2016 the total amount put aside by the banks surveyed rose to more than £28.6bn – higher than in the previous year when there had been a fall from a peak of £63bn in 2014.

Chris Stears, research director of the foundation, writes in the latest report: “Trust in, and the trustworthiness of, the banks must surely correlate to, and be conditional on, banks’ conduct costs. And persistent level of conduct cost provisioning is worrying. “It remains to be seen whether or not the provisions will crystallise in 2017 [or later] and what effect this will have on the aggregated level of conduct costs.” Two UK high street banks – Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – are in the top five of banks with the biggest conduct costs. RBS set aside extra provisions for fines and legal costs largely related to a forthcoming penalty from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. That residential mortgage bond securitisation mis-selling scandal is responsible for £66bn of the costs incurred during the five-year period and the single largest factor, according to the foundation.

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The only thing that propped up stocks is vaporizing.

US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)

U.S. stocks have been able to hit fresh highs this year despite a dearth of demand from a key source of buying. Share repurchases by American companies this year are down 20% from this time a year ago, according to Societe Generale global head of quantitative strategy Andrew Lapthorne. Ultra-low borrowing costs had encouraged large firms to issue debt to buy back their own stock, thereby providing a tailwind to earnings-per-share growth. “Perhaps over-leveraged U.S. companies have finally reached a limit on being able to borrow simply to support their own shares,” writes Lapthorne. Repurchase programs account for the lion’s share of net inflows into U.S. equities during this bull market. Heading into 2017, equity strategists anticipated that the buyback bonanza would continue in earnest, fueled in part by an expected tax reform plan that would provide companies with repatriated cash to invest.

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Deflation.

Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen keeps citing consumer confidence and jobs as reasons consumer spending and inflation will pick up. Curiously, the New York Fed Survey on Consumer Spending Expectations keeps trending lower and lower, despite survey-high expectations for wage growth. The report for July 2017 was released today. I downloaded the survey results and produced the following charts.

Household Spending Projections

 

Household Income Projections

 

Income projections are volatile but at least they are trending higher across the board. Spending projections are less volatile and trending lower at every level. At the 25th%ile level, a group that no doubt spends every cent they make, spending expectations are zero. Those projections were in negative territory in April. Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe the Fed’s own reports. Instead, she relies on consumer confidence numbers that tend to track the stock market or gasoline prices more than anything else. Perhaps New York Fed President William Dudley does believe in the report.

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If you weren’t scared yet…

Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)

Nowadays, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day of markets with main stream media pumping the hot stock or warning of market crashes that rarely come. Focusing on the longer term cycles is how you stay with the trend, reduce portfolio churn and costs. I am not advocating for a purely passive strategy as I think the current state of passive investing is contributing to over-valuation and a lack of pricing discovery, which is another topic I won’t get into in this piece. Longer term cycles are largely influenced by demographics. Boomers were entering the workforce in the 1970s and started having children (Millennials) in the early 1980s. The surge in home purchases, appliances, and the multitude of things you buy for kids helped drive the economy for 30 years. The giant buildup in credit that I have covered in a previous article is another reason for a 35-year bull market.

The potential problem now is Boomers are hitting retirement, and roughly 10,000 Boomers retire each day. The above chart is the age distribution of the U.S. population by age. You can see the cliff of Boomers that are turning 70 this year. There are a couple ramifications of Boomers retiring. First is the moment they quit their job or sell their business, they are on a finite budget from there on out. Second, fewer people will be available for work down the road leaving less tax payers contributing to already stressed government budgets. Lastly, Boomers are incentivized to retire at 70.5 due to social security rules and will also start drawing on pensions. What makes matters worse is the majority of Boomers have less than $200k saved for retirement and a large portion have less than $50k saved per PWC’s Annual survey. This means that Boomers are heavily relying on Social Security or they have to work longer, which is currently evidenced by the following chart from the BLS.

Boomers have essentially garnered the majority of wage gains and now are working longer either out of necessity or preference. You might be thinking the surge in Millennials entering the work force will save the day, but due to the above facts, younger generations have to wait longer to move up the corporate ladder or have to attain levels of higher education to receive an adequate salary. As a result, student debt has risen exponentially in the U.S. jeopardizing the future of many starting their professional lives.

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“Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.”

Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)

All history now, isn’t it? The credit crisis that began in August 2007, the ensuing banking crash and global recession. One bumper episode from the long-ago past, when the iPhone was a newborn and Amy Winehouse still made records. Now done, dusted, reformed and resolved. Or so one assumes, from the official self-congratulation. The European commission marks the 10th anniversary of the credit crisis by trumpeting: “Back to recovery thanks to decisive EU action.” Yes, the same clapped-out European establishment that has spent the last decade kicking a can down the road. The head of the derivatives industry body, ISDA, admits: “We sometimes forget to articulate the social value of what we do.” Indeed so: before the crash, bankers emailed each other about how the derivatives that they were paid so much to flog were “crap” and “vomit”.

Everyone knows history is written by the victors, but this is something else: bullshit recounted by the bullshitters. Even the banks are back to bragging how many billions they generously chip in to Her Majesty’s Exchequer, presumably hoping no one will point out that they took £1.3tn from taxpayers in just a few months in 2008. Let’s get three things straight. First, it was working- and middle-class Britons who paid for the mess, who are still paying for it now and who will keep paying for it decades from now. Second, the crash has prompted almost no fundamental reckoning or reform. And, most importantly, the combination of those first two factors means the crash that began in 2007 cannot be consigned to the past. Today’s politics – from Brexit to Trump and the collapse of centrism – is just one of its products.

For politicians and financiers to treat the crash as history brings to mind Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Here’s the stuff of historical bad dreams: at the height of the banking crisis in 2008, every man, woman and child in Britain handed over £19,721 each to bankers. The economy tanked, Gordon Brown got booted out – and David Cameron pretended a private banking catastrophe was a crisis of a supposedly profligate public sector. You know what happened next: first the kids’ Sure Start centre closed, then the library; your mum waited ages to get her hip replacement; the working poor had their social security stolen, and the local comp began sending begging letters. Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.

I say that, but we have only had seven years of austerity. If Philip Hammond stays in No 11 and sticks to plan (one must hope he does neither), the cuts will continue until the middle of the next decade. After 2025, who knows what will remain of our councils, our welfare state and our public realm. One truism of this era is that the average British worker earns less after inflation than they did when RBS nearly died. Most of us have seen not a recovery, but a ripping up of our social contract – so that over 7 million Britons are now in precarious employment. But the highest earners are way ahead of where they were in 2008. Finance-sector bonuses are as generous as they were during the boom, while a bad year for the average FTSE boss is one in which he or she pulls in a mere £4.53m.

And so we remain reliant on debt – aptly termed “the raw material for bubbles and crashes” by Daniel Mügge at the University of Amsterdam. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the UK is far deeper in the red now than it was when Northern Rock collapsed. Government debt has shot up under the Conservatives, but so too has household borrowing. Were the UK to crash again, its government no longer has the political capital nor the fiscal headroom to save the financial system.

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“The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.”

Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)

It’s important to observe that if short-term interest rates were still at zero and market internals were favorable, even the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we identify would not be enough to push us to a hard-negative market outlook. That, in a nutshell, is the central lesson from quantitative easing, and is one that could alone have dramatically altered our own challenging experience in the recent speculative half-cycle. At present, however, we observe not only the most obscene level of valuation in history aside from the single week of the March 24, 2000 market peak; not only the most extreme median valuations across individual S&P 500 component stocks in history; not only the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we define; but also interest rates that are off the zero-bound, and a key feature that has historically been the hinge between overvalued markets that continue higher and overvalued markets that collapse: widening divergences in internal market action across a broad range of stocks and security types, signaling growing risk-aversion among investors, at valuation levels that provide no cushion against severe losses.

[..] Again, the principal lesson of the recent half-cycle was that in the face of zero interest rates, even the most extreme “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes were not enough to anticipate steep market losses (as they typically were in prior market cycles). Instead, investors were driven to believe that they had no other alternative but to continue their yield-seeking speculation. In the face of zero interest rates, one had to wait for market internals to deteriorate before adopting a hard negative market outlook. At present, we observe neither zero interest rates, nor uniformly favorable market internals. In the current environment, we expect that obscene valuations and severe “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes are likely to be followed by the same outcomes that have attended similar conditions across history. The chart below shows the percentage of U.S. stocks above their respective 200-day moving averages, along with the S&P 500 Index. The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.

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It’s about Apple and Google.

Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)

President Donald Trump on Monday authorized an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change. Trump broke from his 17-day vacation in New Jersey to sign the memo in the White House at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The investigation is likely to cast a shadow over relations with China, the largest U.S. trading partner, just as Trump is asking Beijing to step up pressure against Pyongyang. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s trade policies on intellectual property, which the White House and U.S. industry lobby groups say are harming U.S. businesses and jobs.

Trump called the inquiry “a very big move.” Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be as high as $600 billion. Experts on China trade policy said the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals. Although Trump repeatedly criticized China’s trade practices on the campaign trail, his administration has not taken any significant action. Despite threats to do so, it has declined to name China a currency manipulator and delayed broader national security probes into imports of foreign steel and aluminum that could indirectly affect China.

[..] The Information Technology Industry Council, the main trade group for U.S. technology giants, such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, said it hoped China would take the administration’s announcement seriously. “Both the United States and China should use the coming months to address the issues causing friction in the bilateral trade relationship before Presidents Trump and Xi have their anticipated meeting ahead of the November APEC leaders meeting,” ITI President Dean Garfield said in a statement.

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“On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced..”

China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)

China is introducing a ban on imports of some goods from North Korea in line with a UN Security Council resolution, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said Monday. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on Beijing to increase economic pressure on North Korea as China is Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner. “On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced,” the ministry said in a statement. According to the statement, North Korean products arrived at Chinese ports before the ban would be allowed to enter the country. Import applications of products from North Korea will be halted from September 5. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are still allowed to import coal from third countries via the North Korean port of Rason. However, Chinese importers need to apply for approval from a UN committee set up under the UN Security Council resolution 1718.

Interestingly, Beijing’s move came amid media speculations that Trump is mulling a trade crackdown on China. China is by far the largest trading partner of North Korea. In April, the Chinese General Administration of Customs said trade between the two countries in the first quarter increased 37.4% year-over-year, even despite the UN sanctions on North Korean supplies of coal, the country’s top export earner. The tensions around North Korea have been high over the recent months and they have escalated further after the tightening of economic sanctions against North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last week in response to July’s launches of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. On August 5, new UNSC sanctions against North Korea could cut the nation’s annual export revenue by $1 billion.

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Saving face.

Kim Jong-un Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)

North Korea’s leader received a report from his army on its plans to fire missiles toward Guam and said he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision, the North’s official news agency said on Tuesday. North Korea said last week it was finalizing plans to launch four missiles into the waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, and its army would report the strike plan to leader Kim Jong Un and wait for his order. Kim, who inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with army officers, the official KCNA said in a report. “He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” the report said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s detailed plans for the strike near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning he would unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatened the Unite States. South Korean and U.S. officials have since sought to play down the risks of an imminent conflict, helping soothe global concerns somewhat on Monday. Kim said the United States should make the right choice “in order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula,” the KCNA report said.

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Oh, get real: “..poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop.”

Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)

Australia’s central bank renewed its focus on mounting household debt, even as the outlook for the nation’s economy improved, according to the minutes of this month’s policy decision where interest rates were left unchanged. RBA noted “need to balance the risks associated with high household debt in a low-inflation environment” in its decision to stand pat on policy. Better hiring this year meant “forecasts for the labor market were starting from a stronger position”. The bank reiterated GDP growth was expected to rise to around 3% in 2018 and 2019, supported by low rates; faster growth in non-mining business investment is expected. The main change is one of emphasis after the Reserve Bank of Australia removed the labor market and added household balance sheets – where debt is currently at a record 190% of income – to its key areas of concern alongside the residential property market.

But the minutes convey rising confidence that Australia’s economy will strengthen and is poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop. Yet areas of substantial uncertainty remain: how China manages the trade-off between growth and the build-up of leverage; the fact the forecasts for the domestic economy are based on no change in the exchange rate in the period through 2019; and whether better employment would lead to higher household income and increased consumption, or whether ongoing weak wage growth and high household debt would cut into consumption.

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Neither country seems to know how one gets a passport down under. Curious.

Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)

Australia and New Zealand have become embroiled in an extraordinary diplomatic spat over claims the New Zealand opposition colluded with the Australian Labor party (ALP) in an attempt “to try and bring down the government”. During a febrile day of politics in both countries, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said New Zealand’s opposition party was threatening the stability of a usually robust partnership between the two nations. She said she would find it “very hard to build trust” if New Zealand’s opposition Labour party were to win the general election in September. Her comments came only 24 hours after it was revealed that Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, held New Zealand citizenship and may be ineligible to sit in parliament under the Australian constitution, which disqualifies dual nationals.

Malcolm Turnbull’s government currently commands a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. But Australia’s ruling coalition has now accused the opposition Labor party of planting a question in the New Zealand parliament in order to extract the information about Joyce’s nationality. Australian government minister Christopher Pyne accused the ALP of being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government. “Clearly the Labor party are involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government,” he said. “How many other foreign governments, or foreign political parties in other countries, has the Labor party been colluding with to try to undermine the Australian government? “Has he been talking to the people in Indonesia, or China, or the Labour party in the UK?”

Joyce made the admission after media inquiries on the subject, but it subsequently also emerged that on 9 August the New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins submitted two written questions to the internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, in parliament, both of an unusual nature. “Are children born in Australia to parents who are New Zealand citizens automatically citizens of New Zealand; if not, what process do they need to follow in order to become New Zealand citizens?” Hipkins asked. He also asked: “Would a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father automatically have New Zealand citizenship?”

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What austerity also does.

Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)

A new study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development suggests that Greece is set to lose up to 18% of its population by the middle of the century. The deep economic crisis – which has hit young people especially hard and is identified as a key reason behind the country now having one of the lowest birth rates in the world – is cited as the primary cause of this decline, which has accelerated in recent years. According to the study, Greece had already lost nearly 3% of its population between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, Greece’s population stood at 10.8 million. That is expected to drop to 9.9 million by 2030 and 8.9 million by 2050. That is a nearly 18% decline in the country’s population over the next 33 years. Greece also has a rapidly aging population, with 21% already over the age of 65 and fewer than 100,000 babies being born each year. This percentage is currently the second highest in Europe, after Italy. Greece will have the highest ratio of pensioners to workers in Europe by 2050.

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They’re stuck in hell.

Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

Italy has seen a sharp fall in the number of migrants arriving on its shores, a decline that has left experts scrambling for an explanation. Summer is traditionally the peak season for migrants attempting the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. But, to much surprise, only 13,500 have arrived in Italy since July 1, compared to 30,500 over the same period in 2016 – a year-on-year fall of more than 55%. Many migrants are from poor sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing violence in their home country or desperate for a better life in prosperous Europe. “It’s still too early to talk of a real trend,” cautions Barbara Molinario, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

One mooted reason for the fall is tougher action by the Libyan coastguard. The force which has been strengthened by help from the European Union (EU), which trained about 100 personnel over the winter, while Italy has provided patrol vessels, recently supported by Italian warships in Libyan waters. But according to figures from UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM), the Libyan coastguard have intercepted fewer than 2,000 migrants since early July, compared to more than 4,000 in May. Another reason put forward to explain the decline is tougher action by NGOs who have been accused by critics of colluding with smugglers to pick up migrants at sea to prevent them from drowning. But these organisations have been involved in only a fraction of migrant rescues – and three NGO vessels are still operating in the hope of picking up those in need.

[..] Since 2014, 600,000 migrants have landed in Italy, but more than 14,000 have died. Italian newspapers which, just a few weeks ago, were accusing NGOs of abetting an influx that seemed uncontrollable have now switched to reports on the terrifying conditions faced by migrants in Libya. “Sending them back to Libya right now means sending than back to Hell,” the deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, said earlier this month.

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Feb 262015
 
 February 26, 2015  Posted by at 8:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Ben Shahn “Scene in Jackson Square, New Orleans” 1935

Oh well, some are more equal than others. One day after Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem says France won’t get any more lenience …

France Must Respect EU Budget Rules

France must meet EU budget targets or risk damaging the bloc’s entire framework for policing countries’ spending plans, the head of the Eurogroup said on Tuesday. “I don’t think small or larger countries should be treated differently … It is crucial for the credibility of the whole fiscal framework that also France commits to it, both in fiscal terms and in reform terms,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chair meetings of eurozone finance ministers, told the European Parliament. “I think that the Commission has allowed itself and France more time to scrutinise the figures but also to take more measures and prepare more proposals. The Commission will assess them first and then report to us at the beginning of March.”

… the EC overrules him. Just like he overruled them a few days ago on the proposal for Greece that EC head Juncker had prepared for Varoufakis, but which Dijsselbloem swept off the table. A tit for tat battle of the peacocks? Talking with one voice it ain’t.

France Gets More Time to Meet EU Budget Rules

European Union officials on Wednesday gave France until 2017 to bring its government finances in line with the bloc’s budget rules, despite the country’s continued failure to adhere to them. The European Commission said it was recommending that France be given what amounted to a two-year extension to cut its deficit, which is expected to come in at around 4.1% of GDP this year and next, well above the 3% ceiling for the bloc. The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, is charged with signing off on member states’ budgets to ensure they comply with Union rules.

The commission also said it would not recommend that Italy, Finland and Belgium be punished, despite their failure to meet deficit goals, owing to “account key relevant factors,” including the weak economic picture. In November, the commission gave France, Belgium and Italy a three-month extension on their budget deadlines. The decision “fully reflects the current economic situation,” Pierre Moscovici, the commissioner for economic and financial affairs, said in a statement, adding: “The commission is demonstrating both the importance of structural reforms and the respect of our fiscal rules.”

In another 180º within 24 hours, Ukraine central bank head Valeria Gontareva withdrew a measure that banned purchases of foreign currencies by banks for clients, for 48 hours. Apparently, PM Yatsenyuk didn’t agree with the measure, and never got the memo about central bank independence. He must have a bunch of wealthy friends, no wait, that weasel has no friends, make that puppeteers, who told him to yank the measure or else. Which means more cash will flee and the hryvnia can keep plunging, after having lost 40-50% (depending on the blackness of the market you would trade in) over the past 10 days.

Earlier, President Willy Poroshenko, who didn’t get that memo either, had ordered(!) the central bank to stabilize the currency at 21 to the dollar as it was trading at 32 officially and 44 on the street. Look, Wonka, no politician can order a central banker to do anything, not in an alleged democracy. Well, perhaps (s)he could be ordered to step down, but not change policy. You might as well run monetary policy yourself from your candy empire.

Besides, it’s a stupid order: central banks don’t fix rates, certainly not of countries waging wars against their own people. No matter what Poroshenko says, or Yatsenyuk, who apparently called Gontareva ‘negligent’ and claimed she should have come to talk to him first. No, that’s exactly what she should not have done. Your currency’s exchange rate is not a political instrument. Because if you open that Gontareva’s box, you lose all credibility. Just ask Ben Bernanke.

Mish Shedlock has a great series on Ukraine going, and I fully agree with his advice for Valeria Gontareva: Get the hell out of Ukraine immediately!” Because once these people see their economy crash, they’re going to try and blame you for it.

Developments in Ukraine have accelerated enormously the past two weeks or so, even if that is not always obvious. The Ukraine army is losing big time, Russia may cut its access to gas because it doesn’t pay its bills, and now the economy is in the last throngs of its debt death rattle. Even the IMF today started to backpeddle on the billions more that it promised Kiev only a few days ago. It’s prone to be a battlefield in more ways than one.

Compared to that, Yanis Varoufakis is having a tea party in Athens. Though there was the indefinite ban the government slapped on professional soccer (football) because of fan violence, and that is more important to many Greeks than their own limbs, bot other than that, compared to Ukraine, it’s smooth sailing.

One detail Varoufakis came up with yesterday had me crack a smile. He told Bloomberg TV that the ECB was sitting on about €2 billion that the bank itself admits belongs to Greece (it stems from earlier purchases of Greek sovereign bonds). Therefore, Yanis suggested, if the ECB would use that money for the upcoming payment Greece owes the IMF, that would show ‘good faith and sportsmanship’ (I’m paraphrasing here). Bloomberg records a somewhat lame response by ECB head Draghi, but, let’s say, the die is cast:

Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March

ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday it was a popular misconception that it was up to the central bank to return any profit from buying bonds through the Securities and Markets Program. “The profits are ready to be distributed if Greece obliges with the program,” Draghi said. “It’s a commitment by the member states, not by the ECB.”

There is a principal agreement for a 4-month loan extension to carry Greece over, though there are still plenty loose ends. There is also the fact that Europe has reacted positively to the long list of proposals Greece prepared over the weekend. So Varoufakis is not only right in saying …

“I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem.”

… it’s also a great moment to bring up that $2 billion. He could have done it two weeks ago, but that wouldn’t have had the same effect. At this point in time, the ‘institutions’ are going to look vindictive, and not acting in good faith, if they decide not to throw Athens that lifeline. It’s all about perception. The money’s there, and it’s theirs.

That doesn’t mean the fight is won or over, but it does mean Greece won the day. And that’s all it has, and all it can hope for: one step at a time.

That’s kind of true for Ukraine as well, only for them, every single one of their steps marks a further descent into hell.

And I still don’t like ‘our’ role in that one bit. We’re all far too silent.