Dec 142017
 
 December 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joseph Mallord William Turner Norham Castle, Sunrise 1845

 

Fed Boosts Benchmark Rate For Third Time This Year (AP)
PBOC Raises Borrowing Costs In Surprise Move Following Fed Hike (BBG)
European Bond-Buying ‘Tsunami’ Is Set to Fade as ECB Tapers (BBG)
Risk May Be Low But Uncertainty Just Hit Record Highs (ZH)
Canadian Homeowners Take Out HELOCs to Fund Subprime Buyers (WS)
These Guys Want to Lend You Money Against Your Bitcoin (BBG)
Druckenmiller: Central Banks Are Financial World’s ‘Darth Vader’ (CNBC)
Theresa May’s EU Summit Marred By Embarrassing Defeat in Commons (Ind.)
The Virtual Economy Is The End Of Freedom (Smith)
Trey Gowdy: “What The Hell Is Going On?” (YT)
Germany Owes Greece €185billion In WWII Reparations – German Researchers (KTG)
‘A Different Dimension Of Loss’: Inside The Great Insect Die-Off (G.)

 

 

2018 will be something to watch.

Fed Boosts Benchmark Rate For Third Time This Year (AP)

The Federal Reserve is raising its benchmark interest rate for the third time this year, signaling its confidence that the U.S. economy remains on solid footing 8Ω years after the end of the Great Recession. The Fed is lifting its short-term rate by a modest quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.25% to 1.5%. It is also continuing to slowly shrink its bond portfolio. Together, the two steps could lead over time to higher loan rates for consumers and businesses and slightly better returns for savers. The central bank says it expects the job market and the economy to strengthen further. Partly as a result, it foresees three additional rate hikes in 2018 under the leadership of Jerome Powell, who succeeds Janet Yellen as Fed chair in February. Investors will look to Yellen’s final scheduled news conference as Fed chair for any clues to what the central bank might have in store for 2018 under Powell.

Powell has been a Yellen ally who backed her cautious stance toward rate hikes in his five years on the Fed’s board. Yet no one can know for sure how his leadership or rate policy might depart from hers. What’s more, Powell will be joined by several new Fed board members who, like him, are being chosen by President Donald Trump. Some analysts say they think that while Powell might not deviate much from Yellen’s rate policy, he and the new board members will adopt a looser approach to their regulation of the banking system. Most analysts have said they think the still-strengthening U.S. economy will lead the Fed to raise rates three more times next year. A few, though, have held out the possibility that a Powell-led Fed will feel compelled to step up the pace of rate hikes as inflation finally picks up and the economy, perhaps sped by the Republican tax cuts, begins accelerating.

Read more …

Two centrally controlled economies.

PBOC Raises Borrowing Costs In Surprise Move Following Fed Hike (BBG)

China’s central bank edged borrowing costs higher in an unexpected move after the Federal Reserve’s decision to tighten monetary policy. Hours after the Fed’s quarter%age-point move, the People’s Bank of China, citing market expectations, increased the rates it charges in open-market operations and on its medium-term lending facility, though making smaller adjustments than the U.S. Markets took the announcement in stride. Analysts said the modest adjustment shows the PBOC wants to balance the need to tighten monetary policy with avoiding jolting its markets. China’s rate adjustments “help markets form reasonable expectations for interest rates,” the PBOC said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

It also prevents financial institutions from adding excessive leverage and expanding broad credit supply, it said. The cost of seven-day and 28-day reverse-repurchase agreements was raised by five basis points. That followed an increase in mid-March. The PBOC skipped the use of 14-day reverse repos Thursday. The cost of funds lent via MLF was also increased by five basis points, with the 1-year rate raised to 3.25%. “This action seems to follow the Fed,” said Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Bank. “Since it only lifted the rate by just five basis points the central bank does not want to jeopardize the market with an aggressive hike. It does indicate the tightening bias of the policy makers and this stance will continue in 2018.”

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Why does the ECB hold all that American debt? Is that its mandate?

European Bond-Buying ‘Tsunami’ Is Set to Fade as ECB Tapers (BBG)

European investors have been plowing so much capital abroad they’ve taken up about half the boom in U.S. corporate debt in recent years, but now that liquidity tap is poised to be shut off, according to Oxford Economics. “The global debt issuance boom is likely to lose steam, given the extent to which it has relied on the support of European investors,” Guillermo Tolosa, an economic adviser to Oxford Economics in London who has worked at the IMF, wrote in a forthcoming research note. “Issuers better seize the opportunities while they last.” ECB asset purchases took up so great a supply of bonds that it pushed euro area investors into markets abroad, to the tune of €400 billion ($473 billion) a year over the past three years, Oxford Economics estimates. With the ECB poised to halve its monthly buying pace to 30 billion euros starting in January, next year might see just €200 billion in European investor outflows, the research group calculates.

“This is a large enough fall to risk causing disruption in some markets, including emerging markets, which have come to rely heavily on European flows recently,” Tolosa wrote. “A global tsunami of euros” benefited borrowers during the past three years, and accounted for a “staggering” 50% of net U.S. corporate-debt issuance, he wrote. European funds have slashed the domestic share of their fixed-income securities holdings by more than 7 percentage points, to less than 70%, since the ECB’s program began. As flows head back into the domestic markets, that could temper the impact of the ECB’s policy normalization on the region’s securities. Upward pressure on European debt valuations may last “for a protracted period,” Tolosa wrote.

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Is VIX as compromised as GDP?

Risk May Be Low But Uncertainty Just Hit Record Highs (ZH)

The decline in the VIX this year has befuddled investors and traders of all stripes, given the host of geopolitical uncertainties in locations like North Korea and political skirmishes in Washington. Not to mention, stocks have been rising relentlessly for years, unnerving some investors who say that stocks are trading too high relative to expected earnings. As The Wall Street Journal reports, two academics are rolling out a new measure of market fear that suggests investors aren’t nearly as complacent as they seem. In separating out ambiguity from common measures of risk, Menachem Brenner of New York University and Yehuda Izhakian of Baruch College are picking up on a concept that traces back nearly a century.

Economist Frank Knight in 1921 wrote about the difference between risk and uncertainty. If volatility measures the uncertainties for which one can determine a probability, or the “known unknowns,” ambiguity measures the “unknown unknowns,” to use a term popularized by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to Mr. Brenner. In October, the gauge hit 2.42, its highest reading in monthly data that extends back to 1993. That’s above the gauge’s previous peak of 2.41 at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008. While none of the academics is willing to call a ‘top’ or any imminent decline, it is noteworthy that this new measure quantifies what many have noted – that market-based ‘non-normal’ tail risk remains elevated while ‘normal risk’ is repressed.

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Make your home someone else’s ATM.

Canadian Homeowners Take Out HELOCs to Fund Subprime Buyers (WS)

The HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) has been a blessing and a curse for Canadian households. While it has helped spur house prices and simultaneously provided consumers the ability to tap into their new found equity, it has also crippled many Canadian households into a debt trap that seems insurmountable. Between 2000 and 2010, HELOC balances soared from $35 billion to $186 billion, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, an average annual growth rate of 20%. As of 2016, HELOC balances sit at $211 billion, a 500% increase since the year 2000. While also pushing Canadian household debt to incomes to record highs of 168%. Scott Terrio, a debt consultant, says the situation is a full blown “extend and pretend,” meaning borrowers are just continuously refinancing or taking on more and more debt in order to sustain their lifestyle.

Canadians can extend their debt repayment terms and pretend to live a lifestyle they can’t otherwise obtain. What the HELOC has also been able to do is help spur the private lending space which has ultimately supported rising house prices. Seth Daniels of JKD Capital, one of the most astute Canada-Watchers, says there’s a growing trend where “a homeowner acts as a sub-prime lender by drawing a HELOC at 3% interest only, and lends it to a subprime borrower at 8-12% for one year (interest only).” This is something I’ve been hearing on an ongoing basis from mortgage brokers and lawyers who help facilitate these deals. Especially since mortgage lending conditions tightened, starting with OSFI’s first mortgage stress test back in November, 2016. The financial regulator required “high-ratio” borrowers (those with less than 20% down payment) to qualify for a mortgage at the borrowing rate plus 2%. So basically you’re getting qualified on what you can borrow at 5% even though you’re borrowing at 3%.

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Probably inevitable, but it doesn’t feel good.

These Guys Want to Lend You Money Against Your Bitcoin (BBG)

The woes of an early bitcoin investor. Until recently, people who paid virtually nothing for the virtual currency and watched it soar had only one way to enjoy their new wealth – sell. And many weren’t ready. Lenders on the fringe of the financial industry are now pitching a solution: loans using a digital hoard as collateral. While banks hang back, startups with names like Salt Lending, Nebeus, CoinLoan and EthLend are diving into the breach. Some lend – or plan to lend – directly, while others help borrowers get financing from third parties. Terms can be onerous compared with traditional loans. But the market is potentially huge. Bitcoin’s price hovered around $17,000 much of this week, giving the cryptocurrency a total market value of almost $300 billion.

Roughly 40% of that is held by something like 1,000 users. That’s a lot of digital millionaires needing houses, yachts and $590 shearling eye masks. “I would be very interested in doing this with my own holdings, but I haven’t found a service to enable this yet,” said Roger Ver, widely known as “Bitcoin Jesus” for his proselytizing on behalf of the cryptocurrency, in which he in one of the largest holders. People controlling about 10% of the digital currency would probably like to use it as collateral, estimates Aaron Brown, a former managing director at AQR Capital Management who invests in bitcoin and writes for Bloomberg Prophets. “So I can see a lending industry in the tens of billions of dollars,” he said.

One problem is that bitcoin’s price swings violently, which can make it dangerous for lenders to hold. That means the terms can be steep. Someone looking to tap $100,000 in cash would probably need to put up $200,000 of bitcoin as collateral, and pay 12% to 20% in interest a year, according to David Lechner, the chief financial officer at Salt, which has arranged dozens of loans.

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“Every serious deflation I’ve looked at is preceded by an asset bubble and then it bursts..”

Druckenmiller: Central Banks Are Financial World’s ‘Darth Vader’ (CNBC)

Stanley Druckenmiller believes the overly easy monetary policies by global central banks will have disastrous consequences. “The way you create deflation is you create an asset bubble. If I was ‘Darth Vader’ of the financial world and decided I’m going to do this nasty thing and create deflation, I would do exactly what the central banks are doing now,” he told CNBC’s Kelly Evans in an exclusive interview airing Tuesday on “Closing Bell.” “Misallocate resources [with low interest rates], create an asset bubble and then deal with the consequences down the road,” he said. The investor noted how this boom-and-bust cycle has happened time and time again. “Deflation just doesn’t appear out of nowhere and it doesn’t happen because you are near the zero bound. Every serious deflation I’ve looked at is preceded by an asset bubble and then it bursts,” he said.

“Think about the ’20s, a big asset bubble that burst, you have the Depression. Think about Japan. Asset bubble in the ’80s. It burst. You have the consequences follow. Think about 2008, 2009.” Druckenmiller said if the Federal Reserve raised interest rates more quickly, the U.S. would have avoided the worst of the housing bubble and last recession. “If they had moved earlier and more aggressively in the early 2000s, we would have had a recession in ’08 and ’09, but not a financial crisis,” he said. The investor believes the Fed should raise rates and normalize monetary policy as soon as possible. “The longer this goes on, the worse it’s going to be,” he added. “The sooner they can stop what’s going on … the better.”

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She might as well step down now.

Theresa May’s EU Summit Marred By Embarrassing Defeat in Commons (Ind.)

Theresa May is set to arrive in Brussels for a key EU summit on Thursday having suffered a damaging defeat in Parliament over her central piece of Brexit legislation. The Prime Minister is to use the EU event to try and make the case for moving Brexit talks on to trade negotiations quickly, but European leaders will now be left wondering if she still has the political support in London to deliver any deal. There were cheers from opposition MPs in the House of Commons when it emerged the Government had been forced to accept changes to its EU Withdrawal Bill, which it is now claimed will guarantee Parliament a “meaningful” final vote on any Brexit deal Ms May agrees. he embarrassing defeat – the first inflicted on Ms May as she pushes through her Brexit plans – came after Jeremy Corbyn ordered Labour MPs to back an amendment to her legislation proposed by ex-Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve.

The result immediately exposed deep divisions on the Conservative benches, with reports of a heavy-handed Government whipping operation creating tension, blue-on-blue clashes in the Commons and one Tory rebel sacked from his senior party position within moments of opposing Ms May. Rebels braced themselves for a wave of abuse from the Brexit-backing media, but insisted they had no choice but to put principle before party and vote against the Government. Ms May was supposed to enjoy something of a victory at the EU council summit on Thursday, expected to rubber-stamp the judgment that “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues to move on to the next phase of talks. But with difficult obstacles already arising in Brussels, the defeat in London lays bare the difficulties Ms May will have in delivering anything she agrees on the continent.

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“..cryptocurrencies are built upon an establishment designed framework, and they are entirely dependent on an establishment created and controlled vehicle (the internet)..”

The Virtual Economy Is The End Of Freedom (Smith)

Millenials and others think that they are going to rebel and “take down the banking oligarchs” with nothing more than digital markers representing “coins” tracked on a digital ledger created by an anonymous genius programmer/programmers. Delusional? Yes. But like I said earlier, it is an appealing notion. Here is the issue, though; true money requires intrinsic value. Cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value. They are conjured from nothing by programmers, they are “mined” in a virtual mine created from nothing, and they have no unique aspects that make them rare or tangibly useful. They are an easily replicated digital product. Anyone can create a cryptocurrency. And for those that argue that “math gives crypto intrinsic value,” I’m sorry to break it to them, but the math is free.

In fact, for those that are not already aware, Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hash function, created by none other than the National Security Agency (NSA) and published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Yes, that’s right, Bitcoin would not exist without the foundation built by the NSA. Not only this, but the entire concept for a system remarkably similar to bitcoin was published by the NSA way back in 1996 in a paper called “How To Make A Mint: The Cryptography Of Anonymous Electronic Cash.” The origins of bitcoin and thus the origins of crytpocurrencies and the blockchain ledger suggest anything other than a legitimate rebellion against the establishment framework and international financiers. I often cite this same problem when people come to me with arguments that the internet has set the stage for the collapse of the globalist information filter and the mainstream media.

The truth is, the internet is also an establishment creation developed by DARPA, and as Edward Snowden exposed in his data dumps, the NSA has total information awareness and backdoor control over every aspect of web data. Many people believe the free flow of information on the internet is a weapon in favor of the liberty movement, but it is also a weapon in favor of the establishment. With a macro overview of data flows, entities like Google can even predict future social trends and instabilities, not to mention peek into every personal detail of an individual’s life and past. To summarize, cryptocurrencies are built upon an establishment designed framework, and they are entirely dependent on an establishment created and controlled vehicle (the internet) in order to function and perpetuate trade. How exactly is this “decentralization”, again?

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How much longer can the Mueller vehicle last?

Trey Gowdy: “What The Hell Is Going On?” (YT)

Tyler Durden: “If there is any remaining doubt in your mind that Special Counsel Mueller’s probe is anything but a farcical, politically-motivated witch hunt, then you’ll be summarily relieved of those doubts after watching the following exchange from earlier this morning between Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.”

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There are much higher sums floating around.

Germany Owes Greece €185billion In WWII Reparations – German Researchers (KTG)

Does Germany owe indeed Greeks billions of euros in World War II reparations for the damages and the enforced loan during the occupation of the country by the Nazis? So far, Berlin has vehemently rejected any Greek claims. However, two German researchers dug into the documents of the dispute. have discovered and calculated that the German state owes Greece 185 billion euros. Of this not even a 1% has been paid to Greece. In their book “Reparation debt. Mortgages of German occupation in Greece and Europe” publishers Karl Heinz Roth, a historian, and Hartmut Rübner, a researcher, unfold the documents of the dispute and come to the conclusion that the reparations issue was not solved in 1960, as Berlin has been claiming.

According to the book review published in German conservative daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Roth and Rübner have researched German documents only and came to the conclusion that: USA allies and “the power elites of West Germany” have systematically ignored Greece’s demands for WWII reparations. In SZ article “Athens – Berlin: Open Bill, Open Wounds” it is said among others that: At the Paris Reparations Conference in 1946, the Greek government presented a damage record of $7.2 billion – eventually earning a share of $25 million. The leitmotiv of the book is that an alliance between the US and the “West German power elite” has systematically ignored Greek demands for decades.

“Undeniable, however, is the diplomatic arrogance with which the Federal Republic rejected the Greek demands for decades. If you do not believe it, you are welcome to make your own impression in Hartmut Rübner’s carefully edited extensive documentary appendix,” SZ notes. In the first part of the book, Roth analyzes the decades-long efforts of Athens to receive reparations. When the Wehrmacht withdrew from Greece in October 1944 after three and a half years of occupation, it literally left behind “scorched land”: the economy, currency and infrastructure were completely destroyed. The health of the surviving population was catastrophic – by the end of the war about 140,000 people had died as a result of malnutrition.

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Long read. First step: ban all pesticides.

‘A Different Dimension Of Loss’: Inside The Great Insect Die-Off (G.)

The Earth is ridiculously, burstingly full of life. Four billion years after the appearance of the first microbes, 400m years after the emergence of the first life on land, 200,000 years after humans arrived on this planet, 5,000 years (give or take) after God bid Noah to gather to himself two of every creeping thing, and 200 years after we started to systematically categorise all the world’s living things, still, new species are being discovered by the hundreds and thousands. In the world of the systematic taxonomists – those scientists charged with documenting this ever-growing onrush of biological profligacy – the first week of November 2017 looked like any other. Which is to say, it was extraordinary. It began with 95 new types of beetle from Madagascar. But this was only the beginning. As the week progressed, it brought forth seven new varieties of micromoth from across South America, 10 minuscule spiders from Ecuador, and seven South African recluse spiders, all of them poisonous.

A cave-loving crustacean from Brazil. Seven types of subterranean earwig. Four Chinese cockroaches. A nocturnal jellyfish from Japan. A blue-eyed damselfly from Cambodia. Thirteen bristle worms from the bottom of the ocean – some bulbous, some hairy, all hideous. Eight North American mites pulled from the feathers of Georgia roadkill. Three black corals from Bermuda. One Andean frog, whose bright orange eyes reminded its discoverers of the Incan sun god Inti. About 2m species of plants, animals and fungi are known to science thus far. No one knows how many are left to discover. Some put it at around 2m, others at more than 100m. The true scope of the world’s biodiversity is one of the biggest and most intractable problems in the sciences. There’s no quick fix or calculation that can solve it, just a steady drip of new observations of new beetles and new flies, accumulating towards a fathomless goal.

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Sep 042017
 
 September 4, 2017  Posted by at 7:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edouard Manet Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s Mistress, Reclining (Lady with a Fan) 1862

 

How To Make The Financial System Radically Safer (AM)
Funding Battle Looms As Texas Sees Harvey Damage At Up To $180 Billion (R.)
Canadians Are Borrowing Against Real Estate At The Fastest Pace Ever (BD)
China Battles “Impossible Trinity” (Rickards)
Socialism For The Best Of Us, Capitalism For The Rest Of Us (CC)
Britain’s Addicted To Debt And Headed For A Crash (G.)
Global Negative Yielding Debt Hits One Year High Of $7.4 Trillion (ZH)
Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower (K.)
Italy FinMin Says The Euro Zone Still Faces Problems – Even In Germany (CNBC)
Italy’s 5-Star Says Euro Referendum Is ‘Last Resort’ (R.)
Turkey Will Never Become EU Member, Says Angela Merkel (Ind.)
How Our Immune Systems Could Stop Humans Reaching Mars (Tel.)

 

 

Take away the political power of central banks.

How To Make The Financial System Radically Safer (AM)

At the same time, the new financial reforms haven’t minimized risk. Moreover, they’ve set taxpayers – that’s you – up for a future fleecing. Congressman Robert Pittenger elaborated this fact in a Forbes article last year: “Even Dodd-Frank’s biggest selling point, that it would end “too big to fail,” has proven false. Dodd-Frank actually created a new bailout fund for big banks–the Orderly Liquidation Authority–and the Systemically Important Financial Institution designation enshrines “too big to fail” by giving certain major financial institutions priority for future taxpayer-funded bailouts.” What gives? Regulations, in short, attempt to control something by edict. However, just because a law has been enacted doesn’t mean the world automatically bends to its will. In practice, regulations generally do a poor job at attaining their objectives. Yet, they often do a great job at making a mess of everything else.

Dictating how banks should allocate their loans, as Dodd-Frank does, results in preferential treatment of favored institutions and corporations. This, in itself, equates to stratified price controls on borrowers. And as elucidated by Senator Wallace Bennett over a half century ago, price controls are the equivalent of using adhesive tape to control diarrhea. The dangerous conceit of the clueless… the house of cards they have built is anything but “safe” and they most certainly can not “fix anything”. Listening to their speeches that seems to be what they genuinely believe. A rude awakening is an apodictic certainty, but we wonder what or who will be blamed this time. Not enough regulations? The largely absent free market? As they say, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (this quote is often erroneously attributed to Mark Twain: we think it doesn’t matter whether he created it, it is often quite apposite and this is a situation that certainly qualifies).

The point is that planning for future taxpayer-funded bailouts as part of compliance with destructive regulations is asinine. In this respect, we offer an approach that goes counter to Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the modus operandi of all central planner control freaks. It’s really simple, and really effective. The best way to regulate banks, lending institutions, corporate finance and the like, is to turn over regulatory control to the very exacting, and unsympathetic, order of the market. That is to have little to no regulations and one very specific and uncompromising provision: There will be absolutely, unconditionally, categorically, no government funded bailouts. Without question, the financial system will be radically safer.

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Want to bet it’ll be a lot more?

Funding Battle Looms As Texas Sees Harvey Damage At Up To $180 Billion (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday challenged Congress to raise the government’s debt limit in order to free up relief spending for Hurricane Harvey, a disaster that the governor of Texas said had caused up to $180 billion in damage. Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, has killed an estimated 50 people, displaced more than 1 million and damaged some 200,000 homes in a path of destruction stretching for more than 300 miles (480 km). As the city of Houston and the region’s critical energy infrastructure began to recover nine days after the storm hit, the debate over how to pay for the disaster played out in Washington. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated damage at $150 billion to $180 billion, calling it more costly than Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, which devastated New Orleans in 2005 and New York in 2012.

The administration of President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion for recovery efforts, a fraction of what will eventually be needed. Even that amount could be delayed unless Congress quickly increases the government’s debt ceiling, Mnuchin said, as the United States is on track to hit its mandated borrowing limit by the end of the month unless Congress increases it. “Without raising the debt limit, I am not comfortable that we will get money to Texas this month to rebuild,” Mnuchin told Fox News. Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of Congress, have traditionally resisted raising the debt ceiling, but linking the issue to Harvey aid could force their hand with people suffering and large areas of the fourth-largest U.S. city under water. Beyond the immediate funding, any massive aid package faces budget pressures at a time when Trump is advocating for tax reform or tax cuts, leading some on Capitol Hill to suggest aid may be released in a series of appropriations.

Katrina set the record by costing U.S. taxpayers more than $110 billion. In advocating for funds to help rebuild his state, Abbott said damage from Harvey would exceed that. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city expected most public services and businesses to be restored by Tuesday, the first day after Monday’s Labor Day holiday. “Over 95% of the city is now dry. And I‘m encouraging people to get up and let’s get going,” Turner told NBC News. Even so, Houston mandated the evacuation of thousands of people on the western side of town on Sunday to accommodate the release of water from two reservoirs that otherwise might sustain damage. The storm stalled over Houston, dumping more than 50 inches (1.3 m) on the region. Houston cut off power to homes on Sunday to encourage evacuations. The area was closed off on Sunday and military vehicles were stationed on the periphery to take people out.

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What Canada learned from history.

Canadians Are Borrowing Against Real Estate At The Fastest Pace Ever (BD)

Canadian real estate prices have soared, and so did borrowing against that value. Our analysis of domestic bank filings from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) shows that loans secured against property has reached an all-time high. More surprising is the unprecedented rate of growth experienced this year.

Loans secured against residential real estate shattered a few records in June. Over $313.66 billion in real estate was used to secure loans, up 3.43% from the month before. The rise puts annual gains 11.16% higher than the same month last year, an increase of $31.51 billion. The monthly increase is the largest increase since March 2012. The annual gain is unprecedented according to an aggregate of domestic bank filings. Not all borrowing against residential property is all bad, sometimes it’s a calculated risk. For example, someone may need to secure a business loan, and use the loan for operating risks. It doesn’t mean the property is safe, but it’s a risk that could potentially boost the economy.

This is opposed to non-business loans, which is used as short-term financing. This type of financing is often used for things like renovations, and putting a fancy car in the driveway. Experts have observed that more homeowners are using these to prevent bankruptcy. Bottom line, it’s not typically healthy looking debt. So let’s remove loans obtained for business reasons, and take a peek at higher risk debt. The majority of these loans are non-business related according to bank filings. The current total is over $266 billion as of June 2017, a 1.01% increase from the month before. This is a 4.9% increase from the same month last year, which works out to $12.49 billion more. Fun fact, that’s around $23,763 per minute. The number is astronomical.

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“..no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time..”

China Battles “Impossible Trinity” (Rickards)

The Impossible Trinity theory was advanced in the early 1960s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell. It says that no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time. You can have one or two out of three, but not all three. If you try, you will fail — markets will make sure of that. Those failures (which do happen) represent some of the best profit-making opportunities of all. Understanding the Impossible Trinity is how George Soros broke the Bank of England on Sept. 16, 1992 (still referred to as “Black Wednesday” in British banking circles. Soros also made over $1 billion that day). The reason is that if more attractive total returns are available abroad, money will flee a home country at a fixed exchange rate to seek the higher return.

This will cause a foreign exchange crisis and a policy response that abandons one of the three policies. But just because the trinity is impossible in the long run does not mean it cannot be pursued in the short run. China is trying to peg the yuan to the U.S. dollar while maintaining a partially open capital account and semi-independent monetary policy. It’s a nice finesse, but isn’t sustainable. China cannot keep the capital account even partly closed for long without drying up direct foreign investment. Similarly, China cannot raise interest rates much higher without bankrupting state-owned enterprises. China is buying time until the Communist Party Congress in October. It’s important to realize that for Beijing, the Chinese economy is more than about jobs, goods and services. It’s a means of ensuring its legitimacy.

The Chinese regime is deeply concerned that a faltering economy and mass unemployment could threaten its hold on power. Chinese markets are wildly distorted by the actions of its central bank. Given the problems inherent in trying to manage an economy without proper price signals, the challenge facing Beijing gets harder by the day. China has a long history of violent political fracturing, and the government is deeply worried about regime survival if it stumbles. Many in the West fail to appreciate Beijing’s fears and overestimate the support it has among the disparate Chinese people. What does China do next? Under the unforgiving logic of the Impossible Trinity, China will have to either devalue the yuan or see its reserves evaporate. In the end, China will have to break the yuan’s peg to the dollar in order to stop capital outflows without killing the economy with high rates. The Impossible Trinity really is impossible in the long run. China will find this out the hard way.

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How do we make government independent?

Socialism For The Best Of Us, Capitalism For The Rest Of Us (CC)

To the elected darlings of the free market: I hate to burst your bubble but – you have been living a lie. Your lifetime government pensions: socialism. Overly generous retirement packages, Superannuation and 401ks: socialism. Travel budgets, expense accounts, access to private drivers and town cars, government reimbursement for travel and living arrangements: socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism. Central banking: socialism. Not to mention fossil-fuel & mining subsidies and tax concessions: socialism, socialism, socialism. The bank bail-outs of 2008: One of the greatest acts of socialism of all time. Where were our free-market representatives then? When the financial system went into melt-down, the banks were not told to suck it up and stand on their own two feet. More than a trillion dollars were poured into the banks, most of which went towards profit margins and CEO bonuses.

These so-called champions of capitalism have the nerve to claim that it is social welfare recipients that are a drain on the system while government representatives take home all kinds of state-provided benefits the rest of us could only dream of: the best health insurance the country has to offer, lifetime pensions and generous retirement packages which drain many more billions from the economy than social welfare ever will. Moreover, corporate welfare pales in comparison to either. The private sector has its own dole system paid for by Federal Governments. Yet many Congressmen, Representatives and MPs still have the nerve to stand before the people who elected them and rail against social spending, claiming people ought to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when no such obligation has ever existed for the corporate sector. Most of the world’s most successful corporations don’t get out of bed without a subsidy.

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If it makes you feel better: Britain’s not alone.

Britain’s Addicted To Debt And Headed For A Crash (G.)

[..] if the debtors at the bottom aren’t at crisis point yet, the signs of a surfeit of debt are everywhere. Alex Brazier, executive director of financial stability at the Bank of England, warned last month that consumer loans had gone up by 10% in the past year, with average household debt having already eclipsed 2008 levels. He warned against the economy having to sit through “endless repeats of the ‘Debt Strikes Back’ movie”. There is something obscurely insulting about being warned about household debt by the Bank of England. It never warns employers about stagnant wages, or the government about the benefit freeze. It only ever mentions these in terms of the impact of inflation, as if any consideration of the human decisions behind them are too political for comment. But personal debt, miraculously, isn’t political at all.

But that doesn’t make Brazier wrong. Edward Smythe of the campaign group Positive Money, breaks it down: “If you look at total outstanding consumer loans, in July, they’re at £200bn, an £18.5bn net increase every year.” Households spent more than their income by £17.5bn in the first quarter of this year. Economists are interested in where that money comes from – whether it’s access to credit, selling assets or spending savings. The government is presumably, in some dusty corner, interested in why that money is needed, whether it is a result of pauperised wages– real wage growth is negative and looks set to decrease – benefit changes, or some rush of blood to the head where we all suddenly need Sky Sports and cigarettes but aren’t prepared to work for them.

The sources of all this debt are changing: about half the net increase was in personal contract purchase car loans. Four in five new cars are now bought by PCP – an inherently unstable system that leaves both consumers and car manufacturers exposed. It’s a bit like a mortgage system for cars, except you don’t own it at the end, ideally you wouldn’t be living in it, and while a housing crash has been seen before, nobody yet knows what a car crash would look like. Student loan debt is counted separately from consumer loans, and stands at £13bn a year. However much you think you’ve accommodated student fees into your picture of Britons’ finances, it is always astounding to consider how life-changing that decision has been for the younger generation.

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“What global recovery?!”

Global Negative Yielding Debt Hits One Year High Of $7.4 Trillion (ZH)

Two weeks ago, we were surprised to find that despite the recent “growth promise” of what has been called a coordinated global recovery, the market value of bonds yielding less than 0% had quietly jumped by a quarter in just one month to the highest since October 2016. Since then, the paradoxical divergence between the reported “strong” state of the “reflating” global economy and the amount of negative yielding debt, has only grown, and as JPM reports as of Friday, Sept. 1, the global market value of government bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM GBI Broad index rose to $7.4 trillion, up 60% from its low of $4.6 trillion at the beginning of the year. Some more details from JPM:

We calculate the market value by multiplying the dirty price with the amount outstanding for each bond within JPM GBI Broad Index and then convert it to US dollars at today’s exchange rate. The market value of bonds trading with negative yield,including central banks’ purchases, stands at 30% of the total JPM GBI Broad index. What makes the latest rise in negative yielding debt especially bizarre is that it was mainly driven by Japan, where 10-year government bond yields have fallen significantly over the past month and have turned negative this week for first time since the US presidential election, even as the Bank of Japan has twice in the past month reduced the amount of JGB debt it purchases in the open market in the 5-to-10 year bucket, following on Friday, by a 30BN yen reduction of buying in the 3-to-5 year debt range.

As a result, the total universe of Japanese bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM global government bond index (GBI Broad) now stands at $4.6tr, or 62% of the outstanding amount. The remaining government bonds trading with negative yields worth $2.8 trillion are from Europe, of which more than half are from France and Germany.

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Capital destruction 101 (thanks, Schaeuble!):

“..the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year..”

BTW, the only buyers left are those who want to profit from Airbnb. Mostly foreigners.

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower (K.)

Professionals in the property sector are warning that the auctioning of tens of thousands of buildings in the next few years could evolve into an unknown – probably negative – factor regarding the course of prices in the market. It is estimated that a wave of auctions expected to begin soon will see market rates drop at least 10%. Clearing firms are currently involved in an extensive program of property valuations to establish starting prices for the auctions. Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

He added that a market with already reduced demand that receives more supply at more attractive rates through auctions will definitely see buyers turn to the latter. He also said that they will only look at other buildings if they are not satisfied with what the auctions have to offer. This view is also shared by Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH. He told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

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He sounds confused.

Italy FinMin Says The Euro Zone Still Faces Problems – Even In Germany (CNBC)

Italy’s finance minister delivered an upbeat tone on his country’s banking sector but highlighted that major hurdles still remain in the euro zone, including in Germany. Germany might be known as the powerhouse of the euro zone economy but it has its own banking problems to deal with, Pier Carlo Padoan told CNBC on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti Forum on Sunday. “I think that there are some German banking problems and I’m confident the German authorities will deal with them,” Padoan said when asked about remarks made by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last year. “Germany has been the country that has by far poured much more public money into the banking sector in terms of the hundreds of billions of euros in the past when the rules where different of course.

This is a sign that maybe we all have to recognize that we have problems and we all have to recognize that we need to cooperate much more effectively to provide European solutions to those problems,” he said. Though Italy keeps making headlines due to its financial sector, analysts have also warned on banking problems in Germany. These include the reliance on the shipping industry, which used to be a stable investment before the euro zone debt crisis. Other issues include the sheer number of banks in Germany with very little consolidation. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.

As such, Padoan told CNBC that it is crucial to conclude the banking union – a project created in 2012 in response to the sovereign debt crisis that aims to have one single set of rules for all banks across the European Union. He told CNBC that so far the banking union hasn’t been fully implemented, not because of resistance from certain countries, but because of different national perspectives. “We are however making progress in one thing: That we are building trust among ourselves and we are also recognizing that we have to reconcile historically-driven different traditions in banking sectors and they have to merge into a new European banking culture,” Padoan said.

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He sounds like Varoufakis.

Italy’s 5-Star Says Euro Referendum Is ‘Last Resort’ (R.)

A referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency would be held only as a “last resort” if Rome does not win any fiscal concessions from the European Union, a senior lawmaker from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement said on Sunday. Luigi Di Maio’s comments reflect a striking change of tone by some senior officials in the party in recent months as they have retreated from 5-Star’s original pledge. Seeking to reassure an audience of bankers and business leaders, Di Maio – widely tipped to be 5-Star’s candidate for prime minister at a general election due by next year – played down the referendum proposal, calling it a negotiating tool with the EU. “Austerity policies have not worked, on monetary policy we deserve the credit for triggering a debate… this is why we raised the issue of a referendum on the euro, as a bargaining tool, as a last resort and a way out in case Mediterranean countries are not listened to,” he said.

Two years ago the party gathered the signatures from the public needed to pave the way for a referendum that it said was vital to restore Italy’s fiscal and monetary sovereignty. But now, running neck-and-neck with the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in opinion polls and with the election in sight – scheduled to be held by May 2018 – it is hitting the brakes on the idea. This underlines the crucial challenge facing the party as it seeks to please some core supporters, while trying to shed its populist image and convince foreign capitals and financial markets that it can be trusted in office. [..] The party wants several changes to the euro zone’s economic rules to help its more sluggish economies, like Italy. These include stripping public investment from budget deficits under the EU’s Stability Pact and creating a European “bad bank” to deal with euro zone lenders’ bad loans.

“We are not against the European Union, we want to remain in the EU and discuss some of the rules that are suffocating and damaging our economy,” said Di Maio, who serves as deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. An opinion poll in La Stampa daily on Sunday had 24% of respondents saying Di Maio most deserved to run the country in the next five years, against 17% for former PD Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and 12% for center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.

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Schulz and Merkel are the same person.

Turkey Will Never Become EU Member, Says Angela Merkel (Ind.)

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said Turkey should categorically not become a member of the European Union in comments that are expected to further inflame tensions between the Nato allies. Speaking at a televised election debate with her rival, Martin Schulz, she said she would seek a joint EU position with other leaders to ensure Turkey never became a member. “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” she said after Mr Schulz said he would stop Turkey’s bid to join the EU if he was elected chancellor. “Apart from this, I’ll speak to my colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” she added.

[..] Her comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the countries after Ms Merkel said Berlin should react decisively to Turkey’s detention of two more German citizens on political charges. It comes just weeks after German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Turkey it will never become a member of the EU as long as it is governed by the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It is clear that in this state, Turkey will never become a member of the EU,” Mr Gabriel said. Mr Erdogan has urged German Turks to boycott Germany’s main parties in next month’s general election.

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Good to know. Still, if people really want to go, maybe we should just let them.

How Our Immune Systems Could Stop Humans Reaching Mars (Tel.)

The astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson commented that ‘dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked the opposable thumbs and brainpower to build a space programme’ Yet although we now have the technological ability to leave Earth, scientists have found another stumbling block to colonising new worlds – our own immune system. Although it is said we are all made of ‘star stuff’ when it comes to travelling away from our home planet humans are far more vulnerable to the rigours of space than our interstellar origins might suggest. Billions of years of evolution has effectively backed mankind into a corner of the Solar System that it may be now be tricky to leave. A team of scientists from Russia and Canada analysed the effect of microgravity on the protein make-up in blood samples of 18 Russian cosmonauts who lived on the International Space Station for six months.

They found alarming changes to the immune system, suggesting that they would struggle to shake off even a minor virus, like the common cold. “The results showed that in weightlessness, the immune system acts like it does when the body is infected because the human body doesn’t know what to do and tries to turn on all possible defense systems,” said Professor Evgeny Nikolaev, of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and theSkolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. The effects of spaceflight on the human body have been studied actively since the mid-20th century and it is widely known that microgravity influences metabolism, heat regulation, heart rhythm, muscle tone, bone density, the respiration system. Last year research from the US also found that astronauts who travelled into deep space on lunar missions were five times more likely to have died from cardiovascular disease than those who went into low orbit, or never left Earth.

Astronauts are fitter than the general population and have access to the best medical care, meaning that their health is usually better than the general population. Those of comparable age but who never flew, or only achieved low Earth orbit, had less than a one in 10 chance of death from cardiovascular disease. [..] To gain a deeper understanding of the changes in human physiology during space travel, the research team quantified concentrations of 125 proteins in the blood plasma of cosmonauts. Proteins change as the immune system alters and so can be used as a measure of how it is functioning. Blood was taken from the cosmonauts 30 days before they travelled to the ISS and then on their immediate return to Earth. They were also tested seven days after touchdown. Individual proteins were then counted using a mass spectrometer.

”When we examined the cosmonauts after their being in space for half a year, their immune system was weakened,” said Dr Irina Larina, the first author of the paper, a member of Laboratory of Ion and Molecular Physics of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “They were not protected from the simplest viruses. We need new measures of disorder prevention during a long flight.

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Mar 272016
 
 March 27, 2016  Posted by at 11:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Pittsburg Water Heater Co., Washington DC 1920

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)
The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)
You Are -Still- Here (ZH)
US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)
China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)
China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)
Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)
Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)
California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage
The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)
The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)
Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)
Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)
The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

Hendry finds trouble sticking to his bull position.

Hugh Hendry: “If China Devalues By 20% The World Is Over” (ZH)

For now, as we showed just ten days ago, those short the Yuan have swung to wildly profitable to losing money as both the USD has slid and the Yuan has spiked, although both of these trades appear to be reversing now. Needless to say, Hendry disagrees with the China contrarians and believes that the way to fix the Chinese economy is through a stronger currency, even if there is no logical way how that could possibly work when China’s debt load is 350% of GDP while its NPLs are over 10% and rising.

So, borrowing form a favorite Keynesian trope, one where when the countrfactual to his prevailling – if incorrect – view of the world finally emerges, Hendry is convinced that a 20% devaluation would lead to global devastation; the same way if Paulson did not get Congress to sign off on his three page term sheet that would lead to the “apocalypse.” Only unlike Paulson who only hinted at a Mad Max world, for Hendry the alternative to him being right is a very explicit doomsday scenario, as he explains in the following excerpt from his RealVision interview:

Tomorrow we wake up and China has devalued 20%, the world is over. The world is over. Euro breaks up. The world is over. The euro breaks up. Everything hits a wall. There’s no euro in that scenario. The US economy, I mean everything hits a wall! Everything hits a wall!

The dollar strength that you imagined is devastation because you just eliminated dollars. They’re a scarce commodity. You’ve wiped them out. And China is a pariah state.

It’s a ‘Mad Max’ movie, right. OK, China gets to be the king in ‘Mad Max’ world. How appealing is that? There is no world after the tomorrow where China devalues by 20%. There is no world. Yeah, it’s looney tunes to believe that, people say, ‘oh wow, they needed to catch a break.’

Their share of world trade has never been higher. They’re facing no pressure, immense terms of trade improvement, and you would destroy world trade. World trade is down 25%. You would probably have passport restrictions, the world is over.

And while it is clear on which side of the Yuan Hugh is currently positioned (Hendry’s Eclectica is down 2.1% through March 18 and -5.9% YTD) either directly or synthetically, we can’t wait to see who is right in the end: China and its central bank (as well as Hugh Hendry) or reason and common sense (as well as some of the smartest hedge funds in the world).

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Mike Maloney’s a TAE fan.

The Great Deflation: Stocks To Plunge 80-90% – Harry Dent (Maloney)

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Look out below.

You Are -Still- Here (ZH)

Buybacks blacked out, option expiration ramp over, and real investors fleeingwhat happens next?

Dip, Jawbone, Rip… Repeat…

 

And close-up…


 

But this time it’s different, 150 days of almost perfect correlation and co-movement means nothing – right?

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Insane that this is possible.

US Banks Ramp Up Push for Home-Equity Lines (WSJ)

At hardware stores along the U.S. East Coast in recent weeks, TD Bank has been trying to persuade shoppers to think bigger than paint and plumbing supplies: The bank wants them to start taking cash out of their homes again. The TD Bank tour bus, equipped with a galley kitchen and iPads where homeowners can start the application process, is part of a marketing push unusual for the mortgage industry since the housing bust. As the broader mortgage market remains in the doldrums, banks are again touting home-equity lines of credit, which allow homeowners to draw down the equity in their home as they need the cash, as well as cash-out refinances, which involve taking cash out of a home while refinancing and ending up with a larger mortgage balance.

The effort is gaining steam as banks try to offset faltering mortgage originations and a refinancing wave that is fizzling out. Lenders are betting that offers for home-equity lines of credit, or helocs, will resonate with many borrowers whose home values are higher than they were just a couple of years ago and who need cash for renovations or other expenses after holding on to their homes for longer than expected. Lenders extended just over $156 billion in home-equity lines of credit last year, the largest dollar amount since 2007, the beginning of the housing bust, according to new figures from mortgage-data firm CoreLogic. That marks a 24% increase from 2014 and a 138% spike from 2010 when new approvals hit a low point. The average line amount extended to homeowners last year reached a record $119,790, according to the firm, which tracks the data back to 2002.

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No. 1 worry.

China Warns Officials: No Unrest, Or Lose Your Job (WSJ)

In China, the timing of an announcement is sometimes more significant than the announcement itself. The Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, this week warned party and state officials that they will lose their jobs if they fail to control public unrest. That’s not altogether surprising: on one level,it’s just a restatement of longstanding practice. “For more than 10 years, one of the assessment criteria for promotion of regional officials is the extent to which they can minimize protests,” said Willy Lam, a China politics analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “So most local officials pull out all stops to prevent petitioners going to Beijing.” But this week’s announcement marks the first time authorities have come up with a definitive public statement explicitly warning party and state officials “at all levels” that their jobs are on the line, state media said.

Why the urgency? The policy announcement comes two weeks after hundreds of unpaid coal workers took to the streets in the gritty northeastern city of Shuangyashan, after their provincial governor claimed a troubled coal company there did not owe its miners any wages. The governor, Lu Hao, later said he misspoke. Mr. Lu remains in office. It’s quite likely the Shuangyashan incident was pivotal in galvanizing the State Council and the party’s Central Committee, Mr. Lam and others say. The incident, widely publicized in the media, came in the thick of China’s annual meeting of its top legislature in Beijing, where Mr. Lu made his comments. At the meeting, known as the lianghui or “two sessions,” a battery of top officials including Premier Li Keqiang repeatedly vowed that they would be able to navigate a sharp slowdown in the economy without seriously affecting workers caught in the transition.

Mr. Li’s public positioning percolates through to a wide swathe of policy in the immediate wake of the congress. “In China, the political calendar doesn’t start in January – it starts with the lianghui in March,” human rights activist Hu Jia said. Government officials are likely worried that the Shuangyashan incident and others could inflict a political cost on the leadership by highlighting issues such as the deficit of labor rights in China, Mr. Hu said. Party chiefs face a difficult task. Over the next five years, they need to shut down millions of tons of industrial capacity that’s making China’s economy inefficient. This means downsizing scores of steel, coal and other large industries that currently employ hundreds of thousands of workers. They have promised to do this without large-scale layoffs. Those displaced, Mr. Li said, would be given new jobs or government assistance.

These promises now hang in the balance. The Shuangyashan incident came amid a surge in other forms of public unrest. Data from labor rights watchdog China Labour Bulletin show a 200% increase in the number of strikes, industrial action and other protests occurring in China from July last year to January this year. Disparate groups of Chinese, from jobless migrant workers to angry taxi drivers have taken to the streets to protest a new era of economic dislocation. The slowing economy has wiped out at least 156 billion yuan ($24 billion) worth of investments in wealth management products across the country, mostly involving small investors. Many of these failures have sparked public protests. Dogged by the prospect of more layoffs and deepening economic woes, the question looms: How many officials will China axe?

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Not because it wants to come clean.

China Coal Use Slides Further On Weakening Industrial Demand (BBG)

China’s coal use is forecast to fall a third year as industrial output slows, adding force to President Xi Jinping’s drive to cut overcapacity and dimming the hopes of global miners for an uptick in demand by the world’s biggest consumer. Demand will slide 2% this year and prices will remain at a low level, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, citing Xu Liang, deputy secretary general of the China Coal Industry Association. Output by the world’s largest producer will also fall by 2%. Consumption has weakened amid a push to use cleaner fuels and shift a slowing economy away from heavy industry. Demand for coal, which accounted for 64% of the country’s total energy use last year, contracted 3.7% last year, following a 2.9% decline in 2014, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This year’s coal situation is equally bleak,” Xinhua quoted Xu as saying. China’s easing coal appetite has helped push prices in Asia to their lowest since 2006, punishing mining companies and prompting the government to propose capacity cuts that threaten the jobs of 1.3 million coal miners. By cutting capacity in the next two to three years, production could fall to about 3.5 billion to 3.6 billion tons, balancing supply and demand, Xu said. The country aims to eliminate as much as 500 million metric tons of coal capacity by 2020, almost 9% of its total. Coal output dropped 3.3% to 3.75 billion metric tons last year, while consumption slipped to 3.965 billion tons, both sliding from record highs in 2013, according to Xu. Use of the fuel in power generation dropped 6.2% last year, while demand from industries including steel, cement and glass making declined.

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“..when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

Guessing The Future Without Say’s Law (Macleod)

With Japanese and Eurozone interest rates becoming increasingly negative, and the Fed backing off from at least some of the planned increases in the Fed funds rate this year, economists are reassessing the interest rate outlook. Economists lack consensus, with some expecting yet more easing, based on the apparent collapse in cross-border trade last year. The fact that the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank see fit to pursue increasingly aggressive monetary reflation is taken as evidence of underlying difficulties faced in these key economies. And lingering doubts about the sustainability of China’s credit bubble point to a high risk of a credit-induced slump in the world’s growth engine.

Other economists, citing official US data and relying on the Fed’s statements, point out that unemployment levels have more than satisfied the Fed’s target, and that core inflation has picked up to the point where the Fed would be fully justified to increase interest rates over the course of this year, or risk overheating in 2017. These two opposite camps conflict in their forecasts, but where they fundamentally differ is in expectations of future economic growth. Far from displaying the highest levels of macroeconomic discipline, their diversity of opinion should alert us that their forecasts may lack sound theoretical foundation. The purpose of reasoned theory is to reduce uncertainty, not promote it. And the explanation for most of the failures behind modern macroeconomic thinking is the substitution of market-based economics by economic planning.

The fact that today’s macroeconomics dismisses the laws of the markets, commonly referred to by economists as Say’s law, explains all. Subsequent errors confirm. The many errors are a vast subject, but they boil down to that one fateful step, and that is denying the universal truth of Say’s law. Say’s law is about the division of labour. People earn money and make profits from deploying their individual skills in the production of goods and services for the benefit of others. Despite the best attempts of Marxism and Keynesianism along with all the other isms, attempts to override this reality have always failed. The failure is not adequately reflected in government statistics, which have evolved to the point where they actually conceal it. So when an economist talks of economic growth being above or below trend, he is talking about a measure that has no place in sound economic reasoning, and that is gross domestic product.

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The CIA still has a lot of power to the south.

Seven Ugly Latina Sisters In Deep Political Trouble (Bawerk)

Get beyond endless Latin American headlines burning column inches and you come to far broader strategic conclusion: The seven ‘ugly Latino sisters’, namely Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina are all deep political trouble from collapsed benchmark prices. It’s merely a case of who’s in more advanced states of political decay where left leaning governments’ can’t hang on much longer vs. those trying to buy a bit of time with more ‘centrist’ positions. In either case, it’s going to be a classic example of too little too late where the seven ugly sisters have committed at least seven deadly sins when it comes to resource mismanagement over the past decade. This isn’t about whether crisis can be avoided, but how bad the impacts will be. Another ‘lost Latino decade’ beckons. The ugliest twins are obviously Brazil and Venezuela right now.

We firmly expect Rousseff to be impeached next month on the back of endless corruption scandals, and the drastically ill-judged return of Lula that poured far more oil on corruption cover up flames. Watch for Michel Temer to take over the reins of a coalition PMDB government, busily negotiating posts behind closed doors with other players to tee up a formal Worker’s Party split to form a caretaker government through to 2018. How much Temer can get done depends on how far the outstanding ‘car wash’ scandal still rubs off on PMDB factions for major economic reforms, where the rot still runs pretty deep. Initial rhetoric (and inevitable market lifts) on supposed ‘structural reforms’ and far broader liberalisation measures remain unlikely to play through. Although it’s possible Petrobras might push through 2017 licencing rounds purely for political appearances, it’s not going to deliver tangible results in current price environments.

Dig just ‘under the salt’, and Petrobras leverage will remain high; local content even higher. Until Brazil can properly clear its electoral decks in 2018 Mr. Temer is going to have a very limited mandate. If anything, his core challenge is trying to make sure his caretaker outfit doesn’t end up ‘washed out’ day one, given Temer is by no means beyond political reproach, with the PMDB basically as corrupt as the ruling PT. The smart move for Brazil would actually be calling fresh elections with the TSE (electoral authority) invalidating the entire Rousseff-Temer 2014 ticket to put a line under what currently shapes up to be the worst commodity driven economic crash Brazil has ever experienced. Regrettably, Brazilian politics has nothing to do with national interests at this stage, and everything to do with narrow self-preservation societies.

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“..most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour”

California Lawmakers, Unions Reach Deal for $15 an Hour Minimum Wage

California legislators and labor unions on Saturday reached an agreement aims to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 from $10 an hour, a state senator said, a move that would make for the highest statewide minimum in the nation. Sen. Mark Leno (D., San Francisco) said the proposal would go before the Legislature as part of his minimum-wage bill that stalled last year. Mr. Leno didn’t confirm specifics of the agreement, but most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the deal, said the wage would rise to $10.50 in 2017, with subsequent increases to take it to $15 by 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply.

At $10 an hour, California already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation along with Massachusetts. Only Washington, D.C., at $10.50 an hour is higher. The hike to $15 would make it the highest statewide wage in the nation by far, though raises are in the works in other states. The deal means the issue won’t have to go to the ballot, Mr. Leno said. One union-backed initiative has already qualified for the ballot, and a second, competing measure is also trying to qualify. Union leaders, however, said they wouldn’t immediately dispense with planned ballot measures. Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, confirmed that his group was involved in the negotiations. But he said the group would continue pushing ahead with its initiative on the ballot. “Ours is on the ballot. We want to be certain of what all this is,” Mr. Wherley said.

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The Econocene.

The Church of Economism and Its Discontents (EI)

The global human population increased from approximately 1 billion in the year 1800 to 7 billion in 2011. Over this period, the field of economics emerged, transforming political discourse. The institutional conditions for market expansion were put in place, and the success of markets suppressed myriad other ways societies have organized themselves. Economic activity per capita increased somewhere between 10 and 30-fold, resulting in a 70 to 210-fold increase in total economic activity.1 Population growth has slowed significantly in recent decades, but both economic growth through market expansion and its attendant environmental destruction have only continued.

Econocene is a fitting term for this new era because it makes us think about the expanding market economy, the ideological system that supports it, and its impact on society and the environment. Reflecting on environmental boundaries led ecological economist Herman Daly to propose limits on material throughput. Environmental economists propose taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of markets to resolve environmental conflicts. While acknowledging the importance of making markets work within the limits of nature and for the common good, I will explore how this new dominance of economic thinking, which I will call economism, has reshaped the diverse cultures of the world and come to function as a modern secular religion.

An advantage of the term Econocene is that it evokes the everyday cosmos of modern people. Artifacts of the economy—towering buildings, sprawling shopping malls, and swirling freeways—surround the 50% of the globe’s population who live in cities. A combination of smog and bright lights now obliterates the starry heavens so important to humanity’s historic consciousness and so humbling to our species’s historic sense of importance, focusing our attention on the economic constructs all around us. The cosmos reflected in the term Econocene includes not only the material artifacts of the economy, but also the market relations that bind us and define our place in the system. Urban dwellers are now fully dependent on markets for material sustenance.

They awake to radio announcers discussing supposedly significant changes in exchange rates, stock markets, and the proportion of people looking for work. The dominance of the market is not just an urban phenomenon: its “invisible hand” guides rural life as well. The crops planted reflect expected future prices, and soils reflect their history of economic use. Farmers have become so specialized that they, too, buy most of their food in supermarkets. In order to grapple with the challenges of this new era, we need to give it a name that resonates with people’s lived experiences.

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The role of Google and Facebook clearly warrants more scrutiny.

The State Has Lost Control: Tech Firms Now Run Western Politics (Morozov)

[..] The grim reality of contemporary politics is not that it’s impossible to imagine how capitalism will end – as the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson once famously put it – but that it’s becoming equally impossible to imagine how it could possibly continue, at least, not in its ideal form, tied, however weakly, to the democratic “polis”. The only solution that seems plausible is by having our political leaders transfer even more responsibility for problem-solving, from matters of welfare to matters of warfare, to Silicon Valley. This might produce immense gains in efficiency but would this also not aggravate the democratic deficit that already plagues our public institutions? Sure, it would – but the crisis of democratic capitalism seems so acute that it has dropped any pretension to being democratic; hence the proliferation of euphemisms to describe the new normal (with Angela Merkel’s “market-conformed democracy” probably being the most popular one).

Besides, the slogans of the 1970s that were meant to bolster the democratic pillar of the compromise between capital and labour, from economic and industrial democracy to codetermination, look quaint in an era where workers of the “gig economy” cannot even unionise, let along participate in some broader management of the enterprise. There’s something even more sinister afoot though. “Buying time” no longer seems like an adequate description of what is happening, if only because technology companies, even more so than the banks, are not only too big too fail but also impossible to undo – let alone replicate – even if a new government is elected. Many of them have already taken on the de facto responsibilities of the state; any close analysis of what’s happening with “smart cities” – whereby technology firms become key gateways to essential services of our cities – easily confirms that.

In fact, technology firms are rapidly becoming the default background condition in which our politics itself is conducted. Once Google and Facebook take over the management of essential services, Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum that “there is no alternative” would no longer be a mere slogan but an accurate description of reality. The worst is that today’s legitimation crisis could be our last. Any discussion of legitimacy presupposes not just the ability to sense injustice but also to imagine and implement a political alternative. Imagination would never be in short supply but the ability to implement things on a large scale is increasingly limited to technology giants. Once this transfer of power is complete, there won’t be a need to buy time any more – the democratic alternative will simply no longer be a feasible option.

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Some questions must be asked. If nobody else does that, you get Trump.

Trump Questions US Position On OPEC Allies, NATO, China (NY Times)

Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, said that if elected, he might halt purchases of oil from Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies unless they commit ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State or “substantially reimburse” the United States for combating the militant group, which threatens their stability. “If Saudi Arabia was without the cloak of American protection,” Mr. Trump said during a 100-minute interview on foreign policy, spread over two phone calls on Friday, “I don’t think it would be around.” He also said he would be open to allowing Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear arsenals rather than depend on the American nuclear umbrella for their protection against North Korea and China. If the United States “keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway, with or without me discussing it,” Mr. Trump said.

And he said he would be willing to withdraw United States forces from both Japan and South Korea if they did not substantially increase their contributions to the costs of housing and feeding those troops. “Not happily, but the answer is yes,” he said. Mr. Trump also said he would seek to renegotiate many fundamental treaties with American allies, possibly including a 56-year-old security pact with Japan, which he described as one-sided. In Mr. Trump’s worldview, the United States has become a diluted power, and the main mechanism by which he would re-establish its central role in the world is economic bargaining. He approached almost every current international conflict through the prism of a negotiation, even when he was imprecise about the strategic goals he sought.

He again faulted the Obama administration’s handling of the negotiations with Iran last year — “It would have been so much better if they had walked away a few times,” he said — but offered only one new idea about how he would change its content: Ban Iran’s trade with North Korea. Mr. Trump struck similar themes when he discussed the future of NATO, which he called “unfair, economically, to us,” and said he was open to an alternative organization focused on counterterrorism. He argued that the best way to halt China’s placement of military airfields and antiaircraft batteries on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea was to threaten its access to American markets. “We have tremendous economic power over China,” he argued. “And that’s the power of trade.” He did not mention Beijing’s ability for economic retaliation.

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Keep it peaceful.

Greece Removes Migrants From FYROM Border Camp (AFP)

Greece has begun evacuating refugees from the main Idomeni camp on the Macedonia border, while the flow of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands has slowed to a trickle, officials said on Saturday. Eight buses transported around 400 refugees from Idomeni to nearby refugee camps on Friday, police sources said. A dozen more buses were waiting for migrants reluctant to leave the border, which has been shut down since earlier this month. “People who have no hope or have no money, maybe they will go. But I have hope, maybe something better will happen tomorrow, maybe today,” said 40-year-old Fatema Ahmed from Iraq, who has a 13-year-old son in Germany and three daughters with her in the camp. She said she would consider leaving the squalid Idomeni camp – where people are sheltering even on railway tracks – if the Greek government decides to give every migrant family “a simple house”.

Those persuaded to board the first buses were mainly parents with children who can no longer tolerate the difficult conditions. Janger Hassan, 29, from Iraqi Kurdistan, who has been at the Idomeni camp for a month with his wife and two young children, thinks he will probably leave. “There’s nothing to do here. “The children are getting sick. It’s a bad situation the last two days: it’s windy, sometimes it’s raining here,” he said. “We don’t have a choice. We have to move,” he said. Desperation was evident in the camp. One tent bore the slogan: “Help us open the border”. A total of 11,603 people remained at the sprawling border camp on Saturday, according to the latest official count. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman of the SOMP agency, which is coordinating Athens’s response to the refugee crisis, said the operation to evacuate Idomeni will intensify from Monday.

“More than 2,000 places can be found immediately for the refugees that are at the Idomeni camp and from Monday on, this number can double,” Kyritsis added, pledging to create 30,000 more places in the next three weeks in new shelters. Meanwhile, the flow of refugees arriving in Greece is slowing. Athens on Thursday said no migrants had arrived on its Aegean islands in the previous 24 hours, for the first time since the controversial EU-Turkey deal to halt the massive influx came into force at the weekend. The agreement, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey, went into effect last Sunday. Despite the deal, 1,662 people arrived on Monday, but this fell to 600 on Tuesday and 260 on Wednesday.

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“Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

The Bar at the End of the Road (WSJ)

A tiny bar in a rundown train station in a remote Greek town has become the center of the universe for the migrants stuck at the border of Macedonia. When Macedonia shut its border to Greece in early March, the Greek border town of Idomeni, once a quick stopover for migrants on route to Europe became the end of the line for many. At least for now. But that isn’t stopping many migrants from trying to make their way across the border and beyond. On a recent cold and wet few days at the camp, migrants hang out in the bar for the warmth it provides and the food and friendship it offers. People talk over chips, pizza and beer, but mostly take solace in having a temporary escape from the misery of the camp. Out of their cold, muddy tents and playing games like checkers and backgammon, or connecting with distant relatives on their phones.

Groups are usually separated by nationality, but talking about how to get out of Greece and farther into Europe is a topic everyone discusses. One morning, someone had a plan to cross a fast-flowing, ice-cold river to the border, despite the fence and increased police presence. It was a dangerous plan, but any escape would do. Someone had a printout of a map showing the route across the river all the way to the border. People study it and take photos of it. Zakaria, a migrant from Aleppo, Syria, says, “I want to continue my studies. I don’t care which country. It can be Germany or another country so long as I can continue my studies. I will wait here until I cross somehow. I would go back home to Syria if I could. Believe me I don’t want to be here, I want to be home, but I don’t even have a home there. No country and no home.”

By noon that day, hundreds of people amassed at the meeting point on the map. Following the trail through forests and fields, this group of men and women, young and old carry their belongings and eventually come to the river. The water is freezing. People are yelling and crying. Children are terrified. But they made it across. They were lucky. Earlier that morning, a separate group attempted to cross and three people reportedly died attempting the cross. After resting, they continue to the border, but are turned back by the Macedonian army. Back at the camp, they are exhausted and downtrodden, but they have the bar, and talk soon turns to finding another way to escape. Sarwar, a migrant from Lahore, Pakistan, who has been in Idomeni for 16 days and just returned from trying to cross the border says, “They stop us today but we will try again. We are many, many people and more come now. Soon we can run through the fence. Today we had little people, but if we have all the people then we will succeed.”

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Jun 012014
 
 June 1, 2014  Posted by at 1:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , ,  


Library of Congress Maya Angelou, Caribbean Calypso Festival, New York 1957

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal uncovers a big problem in the US housing market, albeit, curiously, without necessarily identifying it as a problem. It would be nice if Americans could trust their once most trusted media to give them the best possible covering of a topic, but the Wall Street Journal apparently prefers to pick the side of, well, Wall Street. The problem not presented as one is the resurgence of American homes as ATMs, of borrowing against a property’s perceived value through home equity loans or home equity lines of credit (Helocs).

The article claims that lenders are being “conservative” since they’re merely handing out 85% LTV instead of the 100% ones they once did, but how conservative that is really depends on the future expectations of the values. And that’s one area where very little is conservative anymore. If lenders can only convince borrowers that the housing market has recovered, they can do their favorite business again: hook mortgagees into major debt increases. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue if only they can show their clients lines like this:

According to the Federal Reserve, net household equity stood at about $10 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year, up 26% from the prior year.

When I first read that, I had to check if they weren’t perhaps referring to the city of London, but sure enough, this is supposed to be about American housing. If it were anywhere near the truth, I don’t understand why Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen was so cautious about housing prospects a few weeks ago, saying problems “could prove more protracted than currently expected.” If a 26% rise in equity in one year makes her express herself in such negative terms, you wonder what it would take to make her more optimistic. What also makes it hard(er) to believe are falling home sales and mortgage originations, price rises that exist only in the highest price ranges, plus a flood of other data that have come in recently. But there it is, printed in the Wall Street Journal , so why not take out that loan? Why not act as if the past decade, and the crisis it gave birth to, never happened? After all, people want loans, and bankers want commissions.

US Borrowers Tap Their Homes at a Hot Clip (WSJ)

A rebound in house prices and near-record-low interest rates are prompting homeowners to borrow against their properties, marking the return of a practice that was all the rage before the financial crisis. Home-equity lines of credit, or Helocs, and home-equity loans jumped 8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, industry newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance said Thursday. [..] … this year’s gains are the latest evidence that the tight credit conditions that have defined mortgage lending in recent years are starting to loosen. Some lenders are even reviving old loan products that haven’t been seen in years in an attempt to gain market share.

In 2013, lenders extended $59 billion of Helocs and home-equity loans. The last pre-boom year near that level was 2000, when lenders extended $53 billion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. “We’re seeing much more aggressive marketing campaigns [for Helocs] by banks in locations where home prices have risen,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax Inc.[..] “We expect to see quite an uptick in Heloc activity” in the spring …

Some individual banks have seen their Heloc originations rise much faster than the national average. Bank of America, which has increased marketing for Helocs, said customers opened $1.98 billion in Helocs in the first quarter, up 77% from the first quarter of 2013. Matt Potere, who leads Bank of America’s home-equity business, said [..] “The driver is increased customer demand,” Mr. Potere said. “It’s an effect of higher consumer confidence and improving home values.”

Are we sure that “the driver is increased customer demand”, not “much more aggressive marketing campaigns [for Helocs] by banks”? Or is this just two elements coming together in a happy coincidence that will benefit everyone, a real win-win?

[..] During the housing boom, Helocs were a source that many consumers tapped to remodel their homes, buy new cars and boats, travel and send their children to college. Lenders often let them borrow up to 100% of their home’s value, in the expectation that prices would continue to rise. However, when prices fell and borrowers weren’t able to repay, banks faced steep losses.

This time, lenders seem to be offering Helocs only to borrowers with good credit in locations where home values have risen, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage-information site HSH.com. During the boom, homeowners could borrow up to 100% of their home’s value, said Mr. Gumbinger. Now it is most common to see a maximum of 80% and sometimes 85%, he said. “Relative to where they were, lenders are still very conservative,” said Mr. Gumbinger. “Will the excesses of yesterday return? Only time will tell.”

Even if we would take that at face value, which we don’t, the question remains where home values are going. There can’t be too many people left who haven’t figured out that it’s the Fed’s hugely expensive QE programs that have lifted asset prices to where they are today, even if they don’t understand why extending QE ad infinitum would be very counter-productive, and is therefore of the table. If that were not so, then, unless the present generation of central bankers were absolute geniuses, it would be hard to explain why their pre-decessors didn’t do what they now do, decades ago. Whether that is clear or not, it would seem only logical to see what asset prices do when QE is gone, both for investors and for home owners. If we can agree that QE has distorted prices of all assets, then home prices must have been distorted too. And if the present record stock exchanges are any indication, it’s a safe bet that they are heavily overvalued. So loans against what some may see as the present ‘value’ of a home are entered into based on – probably greatly – distorted assessments. Lenders mind that less than owners should; and what does BofA care? They’re too big to fail anyway.

[..] “It’s really about the stabilization of the real-estate market and property values going up. It gives us more comfort as to the value of the homes – the equity is there and the client profiles look strong,” said Tom Wind, executive vice president of home lending at EverBank, based in Jacksonville, Fla. [..] Some lenders are even bringing back “piggyback” loans, which serve as a second mortgage and cover part or all of the traditional 20% down payment when purchasing a house. Piggybacks nearly vanished during the mortgage crisis.

Piggybacks bring back the 100% LTV loan. It may not be entirely subprime, but we’re well on the way there.

Banks have been emboldened to originate new Helocs in part because new regulatory requirements completed this year and last year make it less burdensome to do so. And in an era where interest rates are expected to rise in the future, some lenders say they prefer Helocs over some other home-equity products because interest rates on Helocs rise as interest rates rise, making the products potentially more profitable.

Oh well, there you are. Regulators have weakened regulations once again, always a good first step towards trouble. Lenders can now aim for those ‘potentially more profitable products’ again, that have already brought us so much joy in this new century. And got millions of American families unceremoniously thrown out of their homes. What’s not to like?

Ian Feldberg planned to open a $200,000 Heloc this week with Belmont Savings Bank to help pay his son’s college tuition. The medical-device scientist purchased his home in Sudbury, Mass. for a little over $1 million in 2004, and estimates that its value dipped as low as $800,000 during the financial crisis. However, after applying for the line of credit, he found that its value had completely recovered. “I’m very pleased about that.

A medical-device scientist with a million dollar home who can’t afford college tuition. If that isn’t a sign of the times, what is?

To summarize, if that’s still necessary, home prices, like prices for all assets, are way higher than they would have been without QE. And still 20% of mortgage holders can’t afford to even sell their homes, let alone upgrade. But already lenders are waving promises of cheap money in front of their faces again. Have we not learned anything at all from the depths of the crisis? The answer is a resounding No. We can still fool ourselves and each other into a form of mass psychosis, thinking we’re much richer than we are, and act accordingly. It’s enough to make one that much more despondent about the future of this failed experiment that was once the land of the free. If you know what’s good for you, ignore things like this WSJ article, and if you can’t be free, at least be debt-free. Because after the fake asset values of the illusionary economy fall back to earth, the debt will remain. And y’all will feel a lot less wealthy.

US Borrowers Tap Their Homes at a Hot Clip (WSJ)

A rebound in house prices and near-record-low interest rates are prompting homeowners to borrow against their properties, marking the return of a practice that was all the rage before the financial crisis. Home-equity lines of credit, or Helocs, and home-equity loans jumped 8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, industry newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance said Thursday. The $13 billion extended was the most for the start of a year since 2009. Inside Mortgage Finance noted the bulk of the home-equity originations were Helocs. While that is still far below the peak of $113 billion during the third quarter of 2006, this year’s gains are the latest evidence that the tight credit conditions that have defined mortgage lending in recent years are starting to loosen. Some lenders are even reviving old loan products that haven’t been seen in years in an attempt to gain market share.

In 2013, lenders extended $59 billion of Helocs and home-equity loans. The last pre-boom year near that level was 2000, when lenders extended $53 billion, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. “We’re seeing much more aggressive marketing campaigns [for Helocs] by banks in locations where home prices have risen,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax Inc., a firm that tracks consumer-lending trends. She said Heloc originations picked up in recent months as consumers began home-improvement projects. “We expect to see quite an uptick in Heloc activity” in the spring, she said. Unlike home-equity loans, in which the borrower receives a lump sum, borrowers can draw on Helocs as needed. They can sometimes take a tax deduction on the interest from the credit line.

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The Housing Bust And The American Psyche (Harrop)

Real estate mania lives on at the HGTV cable channel, where house shoppers still holler for granite on their kitchen islands and his-and-her sinks in their en-suite bathrooms. But in the non-TV reality of middle-class America, the bloom is definitely off the real estate rose. The rose isn’t dead, mind you. Surveys show an enduring desire to own one’s home, despite the trauma left by the real estate meltdown and recession. But the love is not what it was. So customer demand continues, Jane Zavisca, a University of Arizona sociologist, told me, “but not homeownership at all costs.” Young people who’ve seen others’ lives ruined by the pain of foreclosure seem especially wary of taking on a mortgage, according to Zavisca, who studies attitudes toward home owning.

More on the psychology later. Economists worry that the depressed housing sector is hampering a robust recovery. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently testified before Congress that housing remains a cloud on an otherwise promising economic horizon of stronger hiring and amped-up consumer spending. True, some formerly shattered markets — in Phoenix, Las Vegas and parts of California, for example — have much improved. But nationally, the sign of a housing recovery seen a year ago now appears to have been a blip. And the problems in the sector aren’t going away.

What’s wrong is this: At the end of March, 19% of “homeowners” with mortgages — nearly 10 million households — were “underwater.” That means they owed more on their house than they could sell their house for. These numbers come from the real estate website Zillow. That sounds a lot better than the 31% owing more than their house was worth near the height of the misery in 2012. But it doesn’t count the legions of homeowners barely above water. Many lack the financial breathing room to sell; they’d have to first find some extra cash.

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Homeowners Struggle To Pay Mortgages On Houses Of All Sizes (LoHud)

In the Lower Hudson Valley, one of the most affluent regions of the country, where one in five homes costs a million dollars, there are thousands of homeowners still struggling to pay their mortgages, often facing foreclosure. They’re from all income brackets, living in those million-dollar homes, modest Capes, condos and Colonials. The reasons vary, but most often there is a major life change: job loss, divorce, a death in the family, or a serious illness that causes a homeowner to get behind on their mortgage or property taxes. Foreclosure filings are at record highs in Westchester and Rockland, with Westchester experiencing filings that are triple what they were last year. Behind the numbers are people faced with the possibility of losing their homes.

LaDonna Thompson Hutchins got behind in her monthly payments. Hutchins, a 30-year Manhattan postal worker, lives in a two-family house in Mount Vernon that her grandmother and mother bought in 1978; both have since died. With mounting medical bills and personal stress, Hutchins missed some mortgage payments and her lender took action, refusing to accept any payments until the arrears were paid in full. Now she owes $210,000, mostly in late fees and attorney costs and is working with a counselor to reduce the payments and get back on track. The balance on her mortgage is $466,000. “It’s my mistake. I refinanced a couple of times and fell behind,” Hutchins said. “I am making the money and they won’t give me a chance.” She rents out a 3-bedroom unit and basement studio in the house for income. “This is my house. Mount Vernon is my home.” [..]

Foreclosure is hitting most socio-economic groups and most neighborhoods, said Peter Spino Jr., a White Plains-based lawyer who represents homeowners in similar situations. “We are seeing recurring spikes in the (foreclosure) numbers,” he said. “And it is climbing the economic ladder. The wealthy, who were able to stave off (legal action) because they had resources, have had those resources depleted.” One court official told him there have been weeks with 70 filings, which is “extraordinary,” he said. “The hardships are horrific. But a lot of people are getting loan modifications and saving their homes,” Spino said. “If you have the income to support a loan modification you can get a loan modification. But you have to remember that in Westchester the taxes are so high that you have to also estimate about $1,000 a month for taxes and insurance.”

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The Linoleum Economy (Peter Tchir)

Before reading further, just pause and think about what linoleum means to you. If flooring isn’t your thing, go ahead and think about Formica cabinets or anything else that fits the genre. To me, it is something functional, which looks okay from a distance, but doesn’t stand up well to closer inspection. It conveys the disappointment of something that looked good, but turns out only to be a thin veneer covering cheap particle board. That is how I see the economy right now. I think that at the moment we are getting a bit of a “bounce” from the disastrous first quarter, but that it is far lower than it should be if the underlying economy was strong. Even worse, is I think there is a real chance that the economy slows again, driven by a weakness in housing, and the Fed has very few useful tools left, if that happens. But before going into more detail on why I have that view of the economy and what I think it means for the market, let’s look at what others are thinking.

The 2007 Recession: I won’t spend more than a moment on this, but I still find it “perplexing” if not insane, that the recession that started in December 2007 wasn’t “identified” until December 2008. We were only told that we had been in a recession for a year AFTER Lehman failed and AIG was bailed out. I understand the saying “better late than never” but seriously, this is a bit ridiculous. It really shouldn’t have taken a -765,000 NFP print to confirm to the powers that be, that the economy had already been sucking wind for a year. I am not saying that the same thing is happening again, but I would not be handing out any awards for seeing what is right before your eyes to the group of prognosticators responsible for seeing bad things in the economy.

Q1 2014 GDP: Which brings us right to Q1 2014 GDP. I do not know what the expectations were back in January of this year. But I do know that by the time the first release of GDP came out, we all knew the weather had been bad.

Expectations had been ratcheted down to 1.5%, yet the number was an appallingly low 0.1%. A huge miss. As more data came out, the economists could refine their forecasts. They came in at -0.5% and once again the estimates were too optimistic as the actual number was -1.0%. Maybe not quite as embarrassing as the initial miss, but…

While I have heard some “positives” like inventory build will help Q2, I have heard any things that show we may have gotten lucky to “only” be at -1%. It seems many people were surprised how much of a “positive” impact Obamacare had on the numbers. There is also a debate that is getting louder by the day, that the real inflation rate is higher than the reported inflation rate, artificially making Real GDP seem higher than it is. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. They had two chances to get this number right and missed both times by being too optimistic. Why are we so eager to believe the optimism most share for the first quarter? The fool me once phrase resonates with me right now. I promise I am almost done picking on our “ability” to forecast GDP, but I cannot resist showing this one last chart on the street’s view of GDP.

GDP is fully expected to bounce back to just over 3% for Q2 and then settle into a nice cozy run rate of 3.0%. All is good, right? Not so fast. The data just looks careless. The prior 5 quarters have been 1.1%, 2.5%, 4.1%, 2.6%, and -1%. The average isn’t anywhere close to 3% and the numbers have shown no consistency. I would be much more comfortable with the chart if I saw some peaks and valleys in the estimates. I would like to see some evidence in the data that the estimates include any seasonal adjustment issues the data is experiencing (post Lehman, many adjustments seem to fail frequently as they are not good at adapting to 7 standard deviation moves). Maybe there is something that should be helping drive one quarter versus another quarter. (Obamacare? Heck even a new iPhone).

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The scourge of the markets: you got to try and make money somewhere, even if you know that may not be the wise thing to do. Where means is confused with end.

You’re All Whales in Bond Market Now With Trading Volume Slump (Bloomberg)

It’s getting easier for a smaller group of bulls in the U.S. Treasury market to create angst for the bears. That’s because government-debt trading volumes have slumped to 18% below the decade-long average, Federal Reserve data show. As Brean Capital LLC’s Peter Tchir wrote this week: “There is no liquidity even in the mighty Treasury market.” So as 10-year Treasury yields plunged toward the lowest level in almost a year, a smaller group of active traders may have had a much bigger influence over the $12 trillion market that determines rates on everything from auto loans to corporate debt.

The move in government bonds has defied predictions from Wall Street’s biggest banks for higher borrowing costs, with 10-year Treasury yields falling to 2.47% from 3% at the end of 2013. “With less trading capital to commit in fixed income, the dominant flow can appear bigger than it actually is,” Jim Vogel, a fixed-income strategist at FTN Financial (FTN) in Memphis, Tennessee, wrote in a May 28 note. U.S. government-bond trading has declined even as the size of the market tripled in the last decade. Trading volumes fell to an average $429 billion a day in the week ended May 21, Fed data show. That’s down from daily averages of $502 billion this year and about $566 billion back in 2007.

One reason for the slowdown is there aren’t as many obvious sellers of the notes. The Fed has been buying U.S. bonds for years, making it the biggest single owner of the debt. Other central banks have locked the bonds away in their vaults across the globe. Another reason is banks have less incentive to trade the debt. They’re reducing fixed-income inventories in response to risk-curbing regulations, such as the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule, which limits the amount of their own money they may use to buy and sell riskier securities. Many are paring fixed-income staff, too, in the face of lower trading revenues.

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Bond Rally Sparks Little Joy as Bears See ‘Painful’ Capitulation (Bloomberg)

From the Americas to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East, the $100 trillion bond market this year is turning into one for the record books. Returns on fixed-income securities of all types, from government to corporate and asset-backed debt, averaged 3.97% through the first five months of 2014 as of May 29, matching the record set in 2003 based on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Index. As bond prices rallied, yields as measured by the gauge fell to the lowest in a year. Rather than sparking celebration, the rally is causing much angst. That’s because many investors were betting on the opposite to happen as the global economy strengthened, leading central banks to start employing tighter monetary policies. Instead, growth slowed, signs of disinflation emerged in Europe and tensions between Ukraine and Russia sparked demand for the safety of fixed-income assets.

“It’s been a very painful week for a lot of people,” Elaine Stokes, a money manager who helps oversee the about $22 billion, Boston-based Loomis Sayles Bond Fund, said May 29 in a phone interview. “The big move we’ve seen recently, in the last couple of weeks, in the lowering of the yield base, is really a bit of a capitulation.” The Bloomberg Global Developed Sovereign Bond Index shows yields declined to an average 1.28%, the lowest since May 2013, as those on Austrian, Belgian, French, Irish and Spanish debt decreased to records. Treasury 10-year note yields – the global benchmark – fell this month by the most since January and Japanese yields slid to the least in 12 months.

Investors have been buffeted by a U.S. economy that shrank more than forecast in the first quarter and signals from the European Central Bank that it’s prepared to ease as German unemployment unexpectedly rose last month. Bank of Japan Board Member Sayuri Shirai said in a May 29 speech that unprecedented easing may continue beyond next year and downplayed optimism that inflation would reach its target in fiscal 2015. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cut its forecast for global growth, saying in its semi-annual report on May 6 that the world economy will expand 3.4% this year instead of the 3.6% predicted in November. All of that is good news for bonds, forcing investors to unwind trades betting on losses. Futures traders have been positioned for a rise in 10-year U.S. yields since August.

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Yay! More debt! With yields as low as they are, it’s tempting.

Spain To Unveil $8.6 Billion Stimulus Package (AP)

Spain’s prime minister says his government will unveil a stimulus package worth $8.6 billion to boost competitiveness. In another sign that the country is emerging from five years of economic hardship, Mariano Rajoy said his plan “aims to mobilize” €2.7 billion from the private sector and €3.4 billion from the public sector. He said Saturday corporate tax would be cut from 30% to 25%. Rajoy added that details will be revealed at a Cabinet meeting on Friday. Standard & Poor’s was the third credit rating agency to upgrade Spain’s sovereign credit grade on May 23 although Spain is still saddled with a massive 26% unemployment rate. Rajoy said Spain has created employment in the last two quarters.

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European Union Dream Threatened By Austerity And Disharmony (Observer)

The principal aim of the founding fathers of the European community was to ensure that there should never be another war between Germany and the rest, the most notable member of the rest being France. But a closely associated aim was to ensure general prosperity that, among other things, would not give rise to either the hyperinflation experienced in Germany after the first world war or the mass unemployment which created the conditions that gave rise to Hitler – who was democratically elected, but after that used undemocratic methods to remain in power.

The aim of the two prominent founding fathers, Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, was to bring Europe closer together politically by economic means. The nightmare would be if the economic means adopted in recent decades served to pull Europe apart. One of the prominent successors, decades later, to Monnet and Schuman was Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who, as president of France in the second half of the 1970s, was a leading participant in the formation of the European monetary system and the exchange rate mechanism, the precursor to full monetary union and the euro.

It was noteworthy that in a recent interview with the Financial Times, Giscard observed: “It is said people are voting against Europe – that’s not true. They are voting against what Europe is doing wrong.” For Giscard, it is bad management, not the basic architecture, of the eurozone that is the problem. But if he studied the timely new book by Philippe Legrain, European Spring – Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess, he might be more inclined to accept that the fundamental structure of the eurozone is also to blame. Legrain, a former economic adviser to the president of the European commission, gives a vivid insider’s account of just how badly the European political and economic elite responded to the financial crisis.

As in the UK, the wrong diagnosis was made when laying so much of the blame on putatively excessive public spending – an analysis that may have applied to Greece, but not the others – as opposed to the credit crunch. Fiscal austerity was the wrong response, rendering the crisis much worse. The crisis was aggravated in the eurozone by the loss of such instruments as independence in the determination of monetary and exchange rate policy. But as Legrain forcefully points out, the UK’s freedom from such constraints did not prevent policymakers after 2010 from extending the crisis, with those three years of “flatlining”.

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China is trying to stem a tsunami with sandbags.

No, China Isn’t Really Rebalancing (Bloomberg)

“Tolerance” and “slowdown” clearly mean something different in Beijing’s dictionary. Since November, when the Communist Party announced epochal reforms, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have rarely missed a chance to say China must accept slower growth. Downshifting to a “new normal” is a necessary evil to regear the economy’s growth engines to services. Six months on, all they’ve done is add more and more stimulus to ensure no end to massive investment and exports. The first sign of slowdown intolerance came in early March when China did what optimists hoped it wouldn’t: announce another growth target. Every time data have suggested gross domestic product might slip below that 7.5% line, Beijing has been quick to rev the engine yet again.

Stimulus measures have included tax breaks, bigger investments in housing, faster spending on railways and other megaprojects, and front-loading of outlays at the provincial level. China’s largest regional economy, Guangdong, is allocating more than $10 billion to boost growth. The National Development and Reform Commission, the central economic-planning agency, is mulling a $16 billion-plus fund for transportation that will solicit some private investment. The central bank, meanwhile, has eased up on its war against excess credit, and the shadow-banking system is still enabling inefficient state-owned enterprises across the nation.

Does any of this sound like the actions of government ready to let GDP fall to 6%, let alone 5%? Hardly, which is why economists at Nomura and UBS are rethinking second-quarter growth forecasts. Credit Agricole economist Dariusz Kowalczyk reckons that the stimulus steps that we know about — I’m figuring there are many we don’t — will add 1%age point to Chinese growth. All this flies in the face of slowdown pledges and, by extension, restructuring efforts. The economy must decelerate to rein in the excessive borrowing that Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, calls a “gigantic credit bubble” and hedge fund manager Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates is shorting.

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China Manufacturing PMI Jumps; What’s Wrong With This Chart? (Zero Hedge)

Despite all the shadow banking system hand-wringing, macro-data-collapsing, real-estate-bubble-bursting, stock-market-tumbling reality facing China, somehow, China’s official government manufacturing PMI just printed 50.8 – its highest in 2014 and the 20th month of expansion in a row. Given the mini-stimulus efforts of the government, perhaps it is not surprising that the official (more SOE-biased) data signals all-clear (when HSBC’s PMI is still in contraction for the 5th month in a row). The employment sub-index fell to a 3-month lows and the Steel industry’s output and new orders has cratered… So what’s wrong with this chart?

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Draghi looks set to finish off what’s left of the eurozone by adding debt to injury.

Mario Draghi Faces Moment Of Truth To Steady Eurozone (Observer)

The meeting will be held on the day before the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, but make no mistake: Thursday is D-day for the European Central Bank. That’s D as in Draghi, because after all of the ECB governor’s silver-tongued manipulation of the market – all the nudges, winks and hints – the financial markets now require Mario Draghi to do more than just talk. Expectations are high, probably unrealistically so. After the bloody nose received by mainstream parties in last week’s elections to the European parliament, former US treasury secretary Larry Summers had some harsh things to say on US news network CNN about the mess that policymakers had made of things: “The European common market, European monetary union, was an elitist project that was driven by elites, that led to consequences that were entirely unpredicted by elites, that have been catastrophic for millions of people.”

Draghi can do little to rekindle love for the idea of ever-closer union in Europe – a project damaged, perhaps beyond repair, by recession, unemployment and austerity. Nor is he in a position to eradicate the structural problems of the euro – its one-size-fits-all interest rates, its inbuilt deflationary tendencies – that have been obvious since its creation. These are beyond his remit. The “elite” lambasted by Summers has to decide whether to press ahead with closer fiscal integration – a centralised budget that might make the single currency work better – in the face of clear voter hostility to greater unity. Instead, the ECB meeting will have a less ambitious, but still crucial, agenda.

As Investec economist Philip Shaw puts it, Europe’s central bank has four key objectives this week: “To ease policy to meet its inflation target; to prevent inflation expectations from being dislodged to the downside and increasing the risks of deflation; to stem upward pressure on the euro; and to secure and preferably speed up the recovery, possibly by encouraging credit flow.”

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No, really?!

U.S. Accused of Destroying Spy Records Sought as Evidence (Bloomberg)

Years of phone and Internet records collected under anti-terror surveillance programs and sought as evidence in a lawsuit were destroyed by the U.S., the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. The government wiped out the records without getting approval from the federal judge overseeing the case, who ordered the evidence preserved, Cindy Cohn, legal director of the San Francisco-based cyber rights advocacy group, said in a court filing today. The court should now assume the missing records would have shown the government spied on the EFF’s clients, who are challenging the programs, Cohn said. “We are simply asking the court to ensure that we are not harmed by the government’s now-admitted destruction of this evidence,” Cohn said in a e-mail.

The EFF’s 2008 lawsuit was one of the earliest to question secret spying programs put in place after the 2001 terrorist attacks, claiming the National Security Agency intercepted phone communications in violation of wiretapping laws. It cited documents provided by a former AT&T Inc. telecommunications technician allegedly showing the company routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. The government destroyed three years of telephone records seized between 2007 and 2012 and seven years worth of Internet records it seized between 2004 and 2011, the EFF said in court papers today. The group said in a statement the government admitted the destruction in recent court filings.

The government understood the lawsuit to challenge presidentially-approved programs authorizing warrantless surveillance, not surveillance authorized by a special court in Washington that was leaked last year, Justice Department lawyers said in a May 9 court filing. The EFF has filed a separate lawsuit challenging NSA surveillance first disclosed in documents leaked by former security contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA in March was blocked by the federal judge in San Francisco overseeing the case from destroying phone records collected from surveillance because they might be relevant to the lawsuit.

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Not sure about this, Simon.

Why America Is In Decline (Simon Black)

Along with history, travel is by far one of the best teachers. Formal education in classrooms can be stifling to the mind. It makes people believe that the world actually conforms to all the snazzy theories we read about. But there’s no economic textbook on the planet that can come close to showing you how the world really works. It’s not about stocks and flows, efficient markets, or official statistics. None of that stuff really matters. The world runs on people. And even though our politicians go out of their way to highlight the differences among us, human beings all over the world are fundamentally the same. We all love our children. We cheer for our favorite teams. We work hard to put food on the table for our families. We get frustrated with where we’re at in life. And we desire to achieve more.

This desire to achieve is fundamental to all humanity. Human beings aspire. We push ourselves to accomplish more and improve our stations in life. And this desire spans generations. Parents always want their children to enjoy a better life than they had. And they work their butts off to ensure this happens. This isn’t exclusively a western phenomenon. All over the world, the need to provide a better life for one’s children is practically a subtext to the social contract. And people in developing countries want exactly the same thing. They’re succeeding. A child born in China today will have a far richer life than his/her parents and grandparents. And in my travels to over 100 countries over the last 10+ years, I’ve seen other frontier and developing markets that are bursting at the seams in a similar trend. Myanmar. Colombia. Tanzania. Georgia. Sri Lanka. Botswana. Indonesia. Mongolia.

The growth rates in these places are staggering, and you can see first-hand the hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty. In these developing countries, they look across the water to the West and can see a rich and consumptive lifestyle. They want this lifestyle, especially for their children. They’ve spent decades toiling in factories, saving money, and building for the future. It’s time to cash in. Decades ago, the vast majority of wealth and production was in the West– specifically the United States. Most people across Asia and Latin America were absolutely impoverished, and felt honored just to be able to work hard and export a product to the US. Today, it is those same countries (particularly in Asia) that now hold the majority of the world’s wealth and production. And it is their growth that pulls the global economy along.

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Now, that’s a number.

US Gasoline Consumption Plummets By Nearly 75% (Jeff Nielsen)

Regular readers are familiar with my narratives on the U.S. Greater Depression, and (in particular) some of the government’s own charts which depict this economic meltdown most vividly. The collapse in the “civilian participation rate” (the number of people working in the economy) and the “velocity of money” (the heartbeat of the economy) indicate an economy which is not merely in decline, but rather is being sucked downward in a terminal (and accelerating) death-spiral. However, even that previously published data, and the grim analyses which accompanied it could not prepare me for the horror story contained in data passed along by an alert reader. U.S. “gasoline consumption” – as measured by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) itself – has plummeted by nearly 75%, from its all-time peak in July of 1998. A near-75% collapse in U.S. gasoline consumption has occurred in little more than 15 years.

Before getting into an analysis of the repercussions of this data, however, it’s necessary to properly qualify the data. Obviously, even in the most-nightmarish economic Armageddon, a (relatively short-term) 75% collapse in gasoline consumption is simply not possible. Unless we were dealing with a nation whose economy had been suddenly ripped apart by civil war, or some small nation devastated by a massive earthquake or tsunami; it’s simply not possible for any economy to just disintegrate that rapidly, without there being some ultra-powerful exogenous force also at work.

So how can this raw data, produced by the government itself, be explained? To begin with; the government chooses to measure U.S. gasoline consumption in a very odd manner: by measuring the amount of gasoline entering the domestic supply-chain rather than by measuring actual consumption at the other end of the supply-chain – i.e. “at the pump”. Why does the U.S. government, which (among other things) leads the world in the manufacture of statistics not produce any simple/direct measurement of gasoline consumption? How can the St. Louis Fed produce nearly 100 different charts on gasoline and diesel prices (for any/every price-category which can be imagined by these statistics geeks), but not a single chart on gasoline supply/demand? There are several reasons for this unbalanced, anomalous, and simply absurd statistical methodology.

First of all; the reason why the U.S. government produces a near-infinite number of charts on prices is because prices are what the Gamblers (i.e. bankers) use as the basis for their $100’s of trillions in gambling in the rigged casinos which the bankers call “markets”. While supply/demand data is of utmost importance in the real world; the banker-gamblers don’t dwell in the real world. As regular readers already know; their derivatives casino, alone, is roughly twenty times as large as the entire global economy. To the bankers; the “real world” is nothing but fodder for their insane gambling. Why use this data, at all, since it is such an inferior/distorted means of measuring U.S. gasoline consumption? Because the EIA uses exactly the same data to publish its own “estimates” of U.S. gasoline consumption:

Note: Product supplied measures the amount of gasoline that went into the supply chain and is used as a proxy for gasoline consumption.

The other half of this ridiculous statistical hodge-podge, where endless quantities of trivial/irrelevant price data are trumpeted, while any/all data which actually measures the (real) economy is suppressed (if not buried entirely) displays a government desperately trying to hide this massive economic collapse. If you choose to measure the amount of gasoline leaving U.S. refineries and entering domestic inventories and call this “gasoline consumption”; you can hide the actual collapse in gasoline consumption – until those retail inventories are overflowing, and there is simply no more room in the storage tanks.

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Isn’t that strange? Where’s the pent-up demand?

Homebuyers With Another Shot at Low Rates Still Don’t Buy (Bloomberg)

This was supposed to be the year that U.S. mortgage rates soared. Instead, they’re retreating. Interest rates unexpectedly fell this year after the Federal Reserve began scaling back the stimulus that held borrowing costs near record lows since 2011. After five weeks of declines, rates for 30-year fixed loans are at 4.12%, the lowest in seven months, Freddie Mac said yesterday. The housing market, in the season that’s traditionally its busiest, can use the help, even if it’s short-lived. Soaring home prices and a one%age point spike in rates from May to August last year cut into affordability and slowed the real estate recovery. While the falling borrowing costs have forced economists at the National Association of Realtors and Moody’s Analytics Inc. to lower forecasts, they still expect 30-year rates to lurch closer to 5% by the end of the year.

“It’s a temporary window of opportunity for buyers in that a year from now rates will be higher,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The housing market could use it given how it’s gone sideways. But I wouldn’t count on these low rates for very long.” The decline in borrowing costs has so far done little to spur sales, which have been weighed down by tight credit and lower-than-normal inventory levels. Contracts to buy previously owned houses in the U.S. increased 0.4% in April, less than economists estimated. They fell 9.2% from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday. Loan applications for home purchases were down 15% last week from the same period a year earlier, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association index.

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Oh wait, there it is(n’t).

US Household Formation Rate Plunges To 30-Year Low (Stockman)

Cool-Aid drinkers like the Keynesian bozos at The Atlantic (The Most Overlooked Statistic in Economics Is Poised for an Epic Comeback: Household Formation) have been gumming ever since the 2009-2010 bottom that household formation will come springing back. Recall that during the decade before the financial crisis new household formation averaged about 1.5 million per year, but has since dropped by two-thirds to about 500k. Its obviously all about student debt serfs who have moved back into mom and dad’s basement and who flip hamburgers on weekends for enough change to get by on. Yet this condition was held to be a transient artifact of the financial crisis and the recession which followed—an aberration that went unexplained but which was also firmly dismissed as a 100-year flood type event.

So the blustering insistence that kids would soon leave mom and dad’s basement and that the household formation rate would leap out of the sub-basement of its historical trend line actually crystalizes the circular illogic of the whole Keynesian case. The supposition was that we function in a timeless and ever repeating business cycle which fiscal and monetary stimulus inexorably (and magically) arouses from its slumping phase. Accordingly, it is always and everywhere only a matter of time before a “stimulated” economy achieves “escape velocity”, thereby causing the growth of jobs, income and spending to accelerate. The latter, in turn, always has and would again fuel “normal” household formation rates. From there it would be off to the races—with a subsequent virtuous cycle of more households generating more demand for new housing starts, construction jobs, income, spending and all the rest of the magic.

But this whole happy scenario is really just another case of the legendary economist who proposed to ascend from a 50 foot hole by announcing, “assume we have a ladder”. The Keynesians did not explain why an economy with $59 trillion of credit market debt and stranded at peak leverage ratios across all sectors— households, business and public sectors alike—would suddenly break into a sprint, and thereby pull along a food chain of earners, spenders and household formers. They didn’t address that crucial matter, of course, because the Keynesian models contain no balance sheets—just flows of what in cycles past were freshly minted household credit and spending power, and which now amount to some mysterious ether called “accommodation”.

Stated differently, what the Keynesian models resolutely ignore is this cardinal fact: After 40-years of a giant debt party in America, damage has been done! There is no escape velocity because there is no escape from a condition in which too much consumption, borrowing and get-rich-quick speculation has led to a drastic impairment of capitalism’s ability to generate genuine economic growth and new wealth. In any event, the Q1 numbers are out, and the household formation rate has taken another turn south—to a gain of less than 200k over the past 12 months or barely 15% of its heyday average. Indeed, in contrast to the sizzling snap-back to 2 million or more annually expected by the Keynesian modelers, the current rate is now at a 30-year low! Yes, immense damage has been done. And monetary planning is only making it far worse.

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Let him.

QE In Financial Drag: Draghi’s New ABCP Monetization Ploy (Stockman)

You can smell this one coming a mile away:

The European Central Bank and Bank of England on Friday outlined options to reinvigorate the market for bundled bank loans, which was “tarnished” by the global financial crisis, saying a better-functioning market for asset-backed securities can help boost lending to the private sector, particularly small businesses.

Yes, the ECB is now energetically trying to revive the a market for asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP)—-the very kind of “toxic-waste” that allegedly nearly took down the financial system during the panic of September 2008. The ECB would have you believe that getting more “liquidity” into the bank loan market for such things as credit card advances, auto paper and small business loans will somehow cause Europe’s debt-besotted businesses and consumers to start borrowing again—- thereby reversing the mild (and constructive) trend toward debt reduction that has caused euro area bank loans to decline by about 3% over the past year. What they are really up to, however, is money-printing and snookering the German sound money camp. That is, the ECB is getting set to launch QE in financial drag by purchasing or discounting ABCP while loudly proclaiming that it’s not “monetizing” any stinking sovereign debt!

And that gets to the heart of monetary central planning. It doesn’t matter what the central bank buys with the digital credits it transfers to sellers. Purchasing government debt, Fannie Mae securities, IBM bonds or corporate equities, as has been done by the BOJ and Bank Of Israel under the new Fed Vice-Chairman, has a common effect. That is, it raises the price of the purchased “assets” relative to what would obtain in the unfettered market, and injects fiat liquidity into the financial system in a manner that promotes speculation and excessive risk-taking. Thus, if some clever Wall Street operators could figure out how to bundle sea shells and securitize them, central bank purchase of the resulting ABCP would be no different than purchase of treasury notes or Fannie Mae paper.

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The Global Death Cross Just Got Deathier (Zero Hedge)

In the immortal words of Cher: “Do you believe in life after QE; I can feel something inside me say, “I really don’t think you’re strong enough, Now.”

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Climbing A Wall Of Cliches (Nick Colas)

If clichés reflect overly common (if therefore unappreciated) wisdom, then we finally have a good explanation for why risk assets continue to rally. No, there are actually not “More buyers than sellers” – money flows are negative over the last month for both U.S. equity mutual funds and ETFs. And forget about investors “Downgrading on valuation” as stocks climb higher and higher; truth be told, that’s not even really a thing (unless you work on the sell side). Nope, this is a “Flight to quality”, “don’t fight the Fed”, “never short a dull market” environment with “easy comps” from a long rough winter. Want to call a top somewhere around here? Remember that “Markets discount events 6 months in the future.” A “Santa Claus rally” in June? That would fit the one cliché we know is actually the market’s True North: it will do exactly what hurts the most “Smart” investors. And that would be to rally further as the doomsayers double down and the timid cling to their bonds and cash.

“You don’t want to live in a world where the Federal Reserve can’t move stock markets.” That is one of the most important observations I have heard in this business, and it came from a grizzled old veteran some 15 years ago. The venue was one of those interminable “Idea dinners” and we young pups had been sniping about the whole “Follow the Fed” approach to equity analysis. The old lion eventually swatted away our objections with his simple observation. And he was exactly right. If the Fed can’t move markets with its balance sheet and a little time, then you might as well hit up Youtube/Google for “How to skin a squirrel” and “bartering for surplus ammo”.

So how did the famous phrase “Don’t fight the Fed” become such a derided and devalued cliché? The short answer is that many overused phrases are still true. That’s why they end up so often repeated in the first place. Don’t play with matches. Don’t run with scissors. Cross at the green, not in between (that’s a little 1970s NYC cliché trivia there). All good guidance, but over time and with repetition even the catchiest phrases turn from useful aphorism to forgettable, time wasting, and moldy word play.

Wall Street phrases are especially susceptible to the reverse metamorphosis of swan-to-duckling. For all its supposed sophistication, finance is still anchored in oral traditions more than most 21st century occupations. In what other industry does a leading light go by the moniker “Oracle of…”? After all, the original Oracle sat in Delphi, believed in the pantheon of Greek gods, and anchored her (yep, the Oracle was a young woman) cultural identity to the stories of the blind and illiterate Homer. The modern one dispenses comforting wisdom anchored in a native optimism about human innovation and faith in capital markets.

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The wrath of QE in general too.

The Wrath of Abenomics: Sales Collapse, Inflation Soars (TPit)

Even the soothsayers and Abenomics spin doctors expected a downdraft after Japan’s consumption tax was jacked up to 8% from 5%, effective April 1. But not this. The tax hike had been pushed through parliament by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s predecessor. It was supposed to save Japan. But no one wants to pay for government spending. The tax proved to be so unpopular that Prime Minister Noda and his government were unceremoniously ousted at the end of 2012. Japan is in terrible fiscal trouble. Half of every yen the government spends is borrowed, now printed by the Bank of Japan. Expenditures can’t be cut, apparently, and government handouts to Japan Inc. had to be increased. Yet something had to be done to keep the gargantuan deficit from blowing up the machinery altogether, and it was done to those who spend money.

The consumption tax is very broad, impacting goods and services bought by businesses and individuals, from haircuts and vegetables to construction materials. So the 3-percentage-point increase would be levied on much of the economy. But here is the thing: money that people and companies keep in the bank earns nearly nothing, and even a crappy 10-year Japanese Government Bond yields less than 0.6% per year. But if buyers frontloaded major purchases by a few months or even a year to beat the consumption-tax increase – buying that refrigerator or heavy-duty truck a year earlier than they normally would, for example – they’d save 3% of the purchase amount. That’s pure income. And tax-free for individuals. The biggest no-brainer in Japanese financial history.

Every company and individual frontloaded whatever was sufficiently practical and substantive, and whatever they could afford. It started late last year and culminated in the January-March quarter. As a result, GDP soared at an annual rate of 5.9%, a phenomenal accomplishment for Japan. The Japanese have been through this before. Ahead of the prior consumption-tax hike from 3% to 5% effective April 1, 1997, consumers and businesses went on a buying binge of big-ticket items. The economy boomed for a couple of quarters, then woke up with a terrific hangover as spending on durables by businesses and consumers ground to a halt, and the economy skittered into a nasty recession that lasted a year and a half!

But this time, it’s different. On March 23, about a week before the tax hike would take effect, the Nikkei polled corporate executives as they were still floating on a sea of optimism from all the money that rampant frontloading was bringing in faster than they could count. They weren’t concerned: 70.2% said that sales would remain stable or decline no more than 5% in fiscal 2014, which started April 1; 55.4% said the economy, supported by strong consumer spending, would improve by September, and 74.3% saw that happening no later than December. So no big deal. Alas, the Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry just released a dose of reality. Total retail sales in April plunged 19.8% from March and were down 4.4% year over year. But this includes sales of perishable and small items not suited for frontloading, and convenience-store sales (which rose a smidgen). In stores where people buy durable goods, such as appliances, watches, or cars, sales were awful.

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The illusionary economy.

The Big Hoax Of The Wall Street Hype Machine (TPit)

The S&P 500 index keeps bumbling from one all-time high to the next as corporations are issuing record amounts of debt to spend record amounts on buying back their own shares: $160 billion in the first quarter alone, according to CapitalIQ. Borrowing money to buy back shares and hyping it ceaselessly as “returning value to the shareholders” is the most effective way to manipulate up the stock, even if revenues are declining quarter after quarter. In this climate of ZIRP, any major corporation can do it. The heavy buying during these low-volume times pushes up shares, the hype surrounding the buybacks pushes up shares, expectation of more buyback announcements pushes up shares, the mere idea that shares are being pushed up pushes up shares…. And in the end, the buybacks lower the share count for the all-important EPS ratio.

The game works wonderfully. Though a game is all it is. It’s not an investment in productive capacity, marketing, or expansion projects. It’s not an investment in people. It’s not an investment that will bring future revenues or earnings or efficiencies. It’s not an investment at all. It just blows a lot of cash on manipulating the one number that the entire world is focused on. But it’s not even actual earnings as reported under GAAP that is the focus of all attention. It’s an estimate of “forward,” ex-bad-items, adjusted, pro-forma “earnings,” so an entirely fictitious number, helpfully provided by the Wall Street hype machine through its analysts and eagerly disseminated by the media.

That gloriously fictitious 12-month “forward” ex-bad-items, adjusted, pro-forma “earnings” per share then becomes the denominator in the 12-month “forward” P/E ratio, which, according to FactSet, currently stands at 15.4. But just how far off the wall have these fictitious numbers been in the past? In its latest report, FactSet shed some light on this by comparing analysts’ estimates for earnings growth as of June 1 for Q4 of the same year, for the years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. And it found, without explicitly saying so, that these projections are consistently the biggest hoax out there.

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Bond, Stock Rally Shows Need to Be Prepared -to Be Wrong- (Bloomberg)

During the first two World Wars, Boy Scouts sold U.S. bonds to help finance the fighting. If they were still at it today, there’d be a lot of merit badges to pass out globally after every bond market in the world rose in May. The Scouts never were called upon to sell stocks, and they certainly weren’t needed this month as the MSCI All-Country World Index jumped almost 2% and the value of the planet’s equities reached a record $64 trillion. Emerging markets led the gains in stocks as benchmark indexes in India, Russia, Hungary and Argentina jumped at least 8%. The Scout motto, of course, is “always be prepared.” So as the final sand of the market’s month slips through the hour glass, it’s a good time to reflect on how some investors and pundits were well prepared for all the wrong things in May.

In the Treasury market, conventional wisdom was to expect higher yields by now as we bid adieu to quantitative easing. (Or if you prefer the parlance of Internet commenters: bid adieu to imaginary Monopoly money printed by central banksters to puff up prices and make us so complacent we won’t notice when they come to grab our guns. Wake up, sheeple!) A Bloomberg survey of analysts in February called for the 10-year Treasury rate to jump this quarter to 3.15%, which would’ve been the highest since 2011. Instead, the yield fell steadily through May and touched an almost one-year low of 2.40%. Sovereign rates reached record lows in Spain and Italy amid speculation European central banksters would puff up prices with imaginary euros so no one notices when they come to grab their Vespas and Nebbiolo.

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That’s the euro for you.

Spain Sees 500% Rise In ‘Very Long-term Unemployment’ (RT)

Over one million people in Spain – the eurozone’s fourth largest economy – haven’t had a job since 2010, according to a report by Spain’s National Statistics Institute. Although this number continues to rise, the government says it’s witnessing recovery. The numbers, published on May 23, show that “very long-term unemployment” in the country has risen by more than 500% since 2007. That year, about 250,000 Spaniards were unemployed after losing their job at least three years prior. That number drastically rose to 1.27 million in 2013 – 234,000 more than in 2012. Generally, long-term unemployment includes jobless workers who have not been employed for more than 27 weeks.

The recent study shows that this category in Spain has transformed to very long-term unemployment, with hundreds of thousands people without a job for at least three years, and is now represented by over 23% of the total jobless population in Spain. The number is much higher than in other countries in the region at the same economic level, with another recent study showing that 26% of the country’s population is on government benefits in Spain – the second highest total in the EU after Greece. Still, politicians claim the nation emerged from years of on-and-off recession in mid-2013 and the situation continues to improve. On May 29, Spain reported its fastest economic growth since 2008, when the ten-year property bubble burst and prompted a financial crisis.

With millions of people searching for work in vain in the eurozone’s fourth largest economy (behind Germany, France, and Italy), the International Monetary Fund said this week that the country’s recovery is here to stay. “Spain has turned the corner,” the IMF’s annual report on the country’s economy stated. Earlier this year, Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told parliament that in 2013 the economy saw the fastest growth the country had seen in six years. A couple months later, a study by Spain’s second biggest bank, BBVA, said that unemployment rates would take over a decade to recover to pre-crisis levels.

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In Spanish Riots, Anguish of Those Recovery Forgot (NY Times)

Four nights of rioting here in Spain’s tourism capital have highlighted the country’s persistent social tensions and belied signs of relief from a fragile economic recovery, which has yet to alleviate rampant joblessness. The rioting started on Monday when Barcelona’s City Hall ordered the eviction of squatters from Can Vies, a warehouse abandoned by the city’s transport authority. The site, in the Sants district, was taken over by squatters 17 years ago and turned into a makeshift social center. City officials said they wanted to reclaim the site for a park. After attempts to clear the site, protesters threw stones, barricaded streets, smashed bank and shop windows, and set fire to garbage containers and a television van. The rioting has since spread to other parts of the city, and police officers have arrested scores of people. On Friday, City Hall backed down and said in a statement that plans for the demolition of the site would be halted to help “favor a climate of dialogue.”

The squatters nonetheless pledged to continue their protests and to rebuild the half-destroyed center over the weekend. Joan Maria Solé, deputy director of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations of Barcelona, said the attempt to replace the Can Vies building with “a hypothetical park or green area” showed that City Hall was insensitive to the widening income gap among residents. Since hosting the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona has become one of Europe’s biggest tourism hubs, with a record 7.5 million visitors last year. The rise in tourism has helped Barcelona weather the economic crisis that hit Spain in 2008 better than many cities. Over all, the city of Barcelona’s unemployment rate is nearly 18%, roughly 8%age points lower than the national average, although there are big discrepancies between the city’s poorest and richest neighborhoods.

“Barcelona is full of contradictions, especially between those who are now unemployed and those who are just focused on earning even more from tourism,” Mr. Solé said. Can Vies, he added, “is unfortunately a more realistic image of Barcelona than the brand City Hall tries to sell.” The rioting this week echoed similar episodes elsewhere in Spain and in Turkey, where plans by Istanbul’s mayor to redevelop a popular public square set off weeks of protests last year. In January, the Gamonal district of Burgos, in northern Spain, was the scene of prolonged street fighting over plans by City Hall to remodel an avenue and remove many of its free parking spaces at a time of deep cuts in other areas of public spending. The plan was eventually shelved. Mr. Solé described Can Vies as “something of a symbol for the deprived.” As in Burgos, he added, “it is the kind of spark that can set ablaze a fire that has long been simmering.”

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But how long for?

How China Hides Its Tumbling Housing Market: It Simply Ignores It (Zero Hedge)

Recently we showed that in order to goose its fading all-important housing market (to China housing is like the stock market to the US: both mission-critical bubbles designed to give a sense of comfort and boost the “wealth effect”), China has first resorted to zero money down mortgages across various markets, and secondly to such gimmicks as “buy one floor, get one free.” However, that’s only part of the story. Even worse is what is not being disclosed to the general public: such as the true state of the housing market in China. Because according to a recent report on Sina, quoted on Investing In Chinese Stocks, when it comes to revealing just how bad things are domestically, Chinese developers are simply pulling a page out of biotech ETF playbooks, and simply not reporting price drops greater than 15%! From Investing In Chinese Stocks (ICS):

Taking a page from the climate scientists who hid the cooling trend in global temperatures, Hangzhou government will hide the cooling trend in the real estate market. Any price decline more than 15% below the list price will not be entered into the online registry. Developers are not forbidden from cutting prices and no sales will be stopped, though at least one developer expressed concern that advance sales permits may not be issued if the price cuts are deemed too large.

In other words, clear the market supply imbalance, but don’t see at market clearing prices, got that? Good luck. ICS goes on to show an example on the ground of just how profound the chaos is on the ground in China now that homes are suddenly in an air pocket with no (immediate) bailout coming from the government: according to at least one real estate agent, price cuts alone would be enough to kill his firm, and that is assuming sale pick up in the first place.

Hangzhou held a 4-day real estate exhibition recently. Attendance was 230,000, but only 32 homes were sold. These numbers are an improvement from 2013 and 2012 though. One state-owned developer said that price cuts cannot cure the market. The government must step in and ease buying restrictions, ease borrowing limitations, reduce bank reserve requirements, allow people to borrow for second and third homes, etc., in order to instill confidence in the market. The developer also said the media and experts were giving one sided reports, causing more chaos in the market, while buyers are more strongly adopting the wait and see attitude. He said buyers have no bottom line, if you cut 10%, they want 15%, if you cut 15% they want 20%. His firm has used price cuts of 10% and he hasn’t sold a home in 3 months. He said with government support, they can survive, but small private firms are not so confident.

A real estate agent said that even if sales pick up, price cuts will kill the firm. He said the government is more nervous than the industry because if land sales stop, they might not even be able to pay the wages of government workers. He expects, and hopes, the government will do something to rescue the market.

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We know how to take care of ourselves.

Toxins Accelerate Human Aging Process (NatGeo)

Why do our bodies age at different rates? Why can some people run marathons at the age of 70, while others are forced to use a walker? Genes are only part of the answer. A trio of scientists from the University of North Carolina argue in a new paper that more work needs to be done on “gerontogens”—factors, including substances in the environment, that can accelerate the aging process. Possible gerontogens include arsenic in groundwater, benzene in industrial emissions, ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, and the cocktail of 4,000 toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke. Activities may also be included, like ingesting excessive calories, or suffering psychological stress. Writing in Trends in Molecular Medicine, Jessica Sorrentino, Hanna Sanoff, and Norman Sharpless argue that focusing on such factors would complement more popular approaches like studying molecular changes in old bodies and searching for genes that are linked to long life.

“People have focused on slowing aging, which always struck me as premature,” says Sharpless. Even if scientists announced tomorrow that they’d discovered an antiaging pill, he says, people would have to take it for decades. “Getting [healthy] people to take medicine for a long time is challenging, and there are always side effects,” Sharpless says. “If you identify stuff in the environment that affects aging, that’s knowledge we could use today.” Twin studies have suggested that only around 25% of the variation in the human life span is influenced by genes. The rest must be influenced by other factors, including accidents, injuries, and exposure to substances that accelerate aging. “The idea that environmental factors can accelerate aging has been around for a while, [but] I agree that the study of gerontogens has lagged behind other areas of aging research,” says Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

She adds that scientists have become more interested in these substances in recent years after learning that many types of chemotherapy, and some anti-HIV drugs, can speed the onset of age-related traits like frailty and mental decline. The quest to identify gerontogens is partly a quest to find better way of measuring biological age. There are several options, each one imperfect. Researchers could look in the brain and measure levels of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, but these levels would not reflect aging in other parts of the body. They could measure the length of telomeres—protective caps at the end of our DNA that wear away with time. But doing so is hard and expensive, and telomere length naturally varies between people of the same age.

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