Aug 012018
 
 August 1, 2018  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Getty Marilyn Monroe in NY subway 1955

 

Apple Buybacks Eclipse Value Of Most S&P 500 Companies (R.)
A Record 18% Of China’s GDP Goes To Debt Service (ZH)
IMF Warns On Greek Debt Sustainability (ZH)
The Greatest Depression (Coppola)
EU’s Brexit Declaration Could Be Just ‘Four Or Five Pages’ Long (G.)
UK Government Accused Of Trying To Hide Devastating Impact Of Brexit (Ind.)
No UK Car Manufacturer Ready For Brexit (Ind.)
Seymour Hersh On Novichok, Russian Links To Donald Trump And 9/11 (Ind.)
Please Sign Letter To Pope Francis Seeking Help For Julian Assange (LACW)
Julian Assange And Lawyer Want Malcolm Turnbull To ‘Stand Up To US’ (N.)
As Long As Assange Is Silenced, Claims Against Him Are Illegitimate (CJ)
Italian Ship Violates International Law, Returns Rescued People To Libya (G.)

 

 

Why are Apple shares rising? We can’t know. This is not a market.

Apple Buybacks Eclipse Value Of Most S&P 500 Companies (R.)

Apple Inc said on Tuesday it handed its shareholders $20 billion through share buybacks in the June quarter, bringing its tally this year to a record $43 billion and helping push its stock price to an all-time high. With a mountain of overseas cash freed up by last year’s sweeping U.S. corporate tax cuts, Apple’s share repurchases in the first half of calendar 2018 exceed the stock market value of almost three quarters of the companies in the S&P 500, including Ford, Delta Air Lines and Twitter Inc. Apple’s share repurchases in the June quarter were only eclipsed in the history of the S&P 500 by Apple repurchasing $22.8 billion of its shares in the prior quarter, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices analyst Howard Silverblatt.

The recent pace of Apple’s buybacks, disclosed in a quarterly report that beat Wall Street’s expectations, could help support the iPhone maker’s stock as investors worry that some high-flying technology companies have become too expensive. Confidence in top-shelf technology and consumer stocks has been shaken in recent days following poor results from Facebook and Netflix. Apple said in May it was adding $100 billion to its budget for buybacks. Its stock is up 16% in 2018, compared with the S&P 500’s 5% rise. “I see the buybacks as a major determinant of near-term price appreciation,” said D.A. Davidson & Co analyst Thomas Forte.

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Effectively borrowing at an 18% interest rate?!

A Record 18% Of China’s GDP Goes To Debt Service (ZH)

Think China’s new “proactive” fiscal policy shigt will be sufficient to kick start the local economy, and boost global GDP? Think again. In the latest analysis from Vertical Group’s Gordon Johnson, the strategist writes “that China’s proactive fiscal policy pledge could fall short as servicing its existing credit stock absorbs an increasing share of GDP.” As a reminder, last week, China’s State Council said it will adopt a proactive fiscal policy, outlining ways to fund ¥1.4tn in bonds to local government for infrastructure & provide ¥1.1tn in tax cuts, among other actions (e.g., R&D tax credits), all while urging no broad-based stimulus.

In Johnson’s view, this is a narrative that is rather reminiscent of ‘14, when the gov’t unleashed a wave of “micro-stimulus” measures after a string of weak data points (i.e., 5 mos. of contracting real estate investment). Yet, as he notes, the most recent PBoC mini-stimulus is much smaller than ‘14, while key restrictions remain in place for real estate/shadow loans (historically growth-driving conduits), compounded by the law of diminishing returns, suggesting a smaller boost from a much larger base this time around.

Moreover, China’s total credit stock is markedly higher now than in ’14, implying more of every yuan in stimulus is going to service outstanding debt. How much? That may well be the critical question to gauge the flow through from any new fiscal policy. Here is Vertical Group’s answer: While China exited ’17 with an est. 266% of total credit to GDP, some economists put that ratio at >300% today. On trailing 12-mo. nominal GDP of ¥86.5tn, as of 2Q, this equates to >¥259.5tn in credit, which, assuming an avg. borrowing cost of 6%, means China’s annual debt service is ~¥14.3tn, or 18.0% of GDP – sensitizing interest & credit-to-GDP, to a respective range of 4-7% & 285-320%, puts China’s debt service at 14-22% of GDP.

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Insanity: “..Greece’s debt costs will “begin an uninterrupted rise” after 2038 — costing around 20% of the country’s GDP every year..”

IMF Warns On Greek Debt Sustainability (ZH)

As Greeks attempt to recover from the devastating and deadly wildfires, The IMF has decided to pile on the pain with a new report that raises questions about Greece’s debt sustainability, warning that the nation’s cash buffer is set to drop by half by end of 2022. IMF Mission Chief for Greece Peter Dohlman told reporters on conference call this morning that Greece’s cash buffer will rise to EU24b as a result of debt relief measures agreed by euro-area finance ministers in June, but that amount is set to drop by half to EU12b by end of 2022. Translating The IMF’s newspeak, it is explaining that without more generous debt relief measures, Greece “could struggle to maintain market access over the long run”, the fund said in its last economic assessment of the country before the end of its bailout on August 20.

The fund’s calculations find Greece’s debt costs will “begin an uninterrupted rise” after 2038 — costing around 20% of the country’s GDP every year. It is at this point that “additional relief would be needed to secure debt sustainability”, said the report. [..] Additionally, the fund suggests that Greek banks raise capital: “Stress tests results published by the ECB in May point to the resilience of the Greek banks in the baseline scenario but significant capital depletions in the adverse scenario,” IMF says in Art. IV report on the state of the Greek economy. IMF “staff estimates that if the three banks with lower CET1 were asked to maintain capital ratios under adverse conditions in line with a capital requirement of 7.5–8.0%, the related capital shortfall could be in the range of €1.3–1.9 billion”.

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Any recovery stories for Greece are bogus. Oh, and Zero Hedge is a ‘satirical blog’?

The Greatest Depression (Coppola)

The IMF has just released its latest review of the Greek economy. “Following a deep and protracted contraction,” it says in its press release, “growth has finally returned to Greece.” The green light has been given for Greece’s exit from its bailout program in August 2018. For many, this is welcome news. Greece has turned a corner. The dark days are behind it, and the future will be bright. But is this really the end of Greece’s troubles – or will there be more pain to come? The magnitude of Greece’s collapse over the last decade is extraordinary. Right at the start of the IMF’s review is this chart, which compares the fall in Greek output over the last 10 years with other major historical contractions, including the U.S.’s Great Depression:

The Greek people have just lived through a Depression as deep as the Great Depression and considerably longer. It is now the greatest recorded peacetime Depression. Fortunately, the Greatest Depression may now have run its course. The Greek economy grew by 1.4% in 2017, and the IMF projects that GDP growth will rise to 2% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019. Of course, IMF growth forecasts for Greece need to be treated with considerable caution. As the Greek economy sank ever deeper into depression, the IMF continued to predict that growth would rebound “any day now.” The satirical blog ZeroHedge lampooned the IMF’s dire forecasting record as “hockey stick comedy.” But Greece did emerge from its long-running depression in 2017, and indications so far are that growth will be maintained this year.

[..] The legacy of the Greatest Depression, even with the doubtful benefit of those structural reforms, is a terribly weak and deeply damaged economy. Adult unemployment, which peaked at over 25% at the height of the Greatest Depression, is still over 20%, while youth unemployment is twice as high. In a footnote to its review, the IMF comments that structural unemployment (the average excess of people over jobs across the business cycle) was 15% in 2016 and is expected to fall only gradually “over the next two decades.” Many of Greece’s young people will be middle-aged by the time there is any work for them. Some may never work at all. An entire generation thrown on the scrap heap.

Despite all the pain the Greeks have endured to fix their country’s finances, Greece’s fiscal situation remains extremely precarious. The IMF staff predictions show absolutely no room for fiscal expansion, even though it is desperately needed, not least to relieve extremely high poverty levels. One in four people in Greece is living below the poverty line.

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The EU doesn’t think May will last much longer.

EU’s Brexit Declaration Could Be Just ‘Four Or Five Pages’ Long (G.)

The EU’s declaration on the trade and security relationship with the UK after Brexit will be just five to 30 pages long, reflecting a lack of time to have an internal debate and scepticism that Theresa May will remain in Downing Street to deliver it, officials in Brussels have disclosed. While the UK is seeking a “precise and substantive” document, to match the recently published 100-page white paper, officials in Brussels say the EU’s political declaration on the “future framework” has diminishing importance for them. Brussels is aware that the prime minister needs the document, due in the autumn, to be a “sweetener” to the main withdrawal agreement, which will commit the UK to pay a £39bn divorce bill and spell out whatever difficult deal is sealed on the issue of the Irish border.

The declaration will not be legally binding on either party but is designed to offer major economic actors some reassurance through a vision of the future trading and security relationship, and it will form part of the package on which the UK parliament and MEPs will ultimately vote in the new year. Given doubts in Brussels that May will get a deal through parliament, or remain in Downing Street for long if she manages it with the help of Labour votes, there will not be the high level of detail that the British government has been seeking, sources said.

A senior EU official told The Guardian that the paper could even be as short as “four or five pages”, the same length as the European council guidelines setting out the bloc’s headline objectives. “It can either be four five pages, or it could be a bit more elaborate but I think we are in the league of five to 25 to 35 pages. We have not time to thrash out the details,” the official said. “The more details you want the more advanced you should be in these negotiations.” The official added: “The reality is that, imagine after March next year the UK gets rid of May, the hard Brexiters take over and Boris says: ‘Too bad. I am not interested in all this. I want a basic free trade agreement, I want all my freedom.’ We have to adjust.

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And it will get a lot worse.

UK Government Accused Of Trying To Hide Devastating Impact Of Brexit (Ind.)

Ministers have been accused of misleading the public after denying that plans to “turn most of Kent into a giant lorry park” are because of Brexit. Work is underway to convert four lanes of a 13-mile stretch of the M20 motorway to allow hundreds of articulated lorries to park up if they are delayed in reaching the Port of Dover. The Department for Transport (DfT) claimed the work was simply an improvement on the existing Operation Stack, a way of managing traffic used many times to cope with “serious disruption to cross-channel transport”. But it has now emerged that the project has been renamed Operation Brock – which Kent County Council says stands for “Brexit Operations Across Kent”.

Vast extra space for lorries will be needed if the Brexit talks fail and, as Theresa May has threatened, the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next year. There will be massive disruption if any extra checks are required in future – with one study warning of immediate 20-mile tailbacks at Dover if the time taken to clear customs merely doubles from the current two minutes. Virendra Sharma, a Labour MP and supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said: “The government is trying to hide the devastating impact of their Brexit policy. “Food will rot on the motorway and jobs are at risk as manufacturing supply chains are muddled and slowed by Brexit. We cannot let ministers use secrecy to railroad the concerns of councils about Brexit.”

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Nobody’s ready. If only because they don’t know what to be ready for.

No UK Car Manufacturer Ready For Brexit (Ind.)

The British motor industry has warned that “no one would confess to being Brexit ready” in their trade. Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), argues that his members are “increasingly concerned” about the prospects for the UK leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, in the light of developments since Theresa May published the government’s latest Brexit white paper, which he and the SMMT welcomed. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has since expressed scepticism about the proposed Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA), which would have been of particular value to manufacturing and the automotive sector.

In the light of EU resistance, and growing UK political volatility, the chances of the UK going to a “no deal” exit are increasing, meaning that Britain would move to WTO terms, as opposed to staying in the Single Market, the customs union or the FCA. This would imply tariffs of up to 10% in UK-EU trade in cars and parts, and greater bureaucracy in both directions, which would only be partly mitigated by “stockpiling” in the short run, given the demands of “just in time” manufacturing techniques and integrated cross-border supply chains. There is a tail risk that factory production of models such as the Mini at BMW’s plant in Oxford could be disrupted if crucial car components become unavailable.

Mr Hawes added that the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit was something no-one wished to see and that industry leaders wished to see “all options open as long as possible”. Reflecting on the 1,100 trucks that enter the UK from Europe every day to feed its factories, he said that the eight months remaining until formal Brexit on 29 March 2019 were “a real challenge”. British car production for the home market almost halved in June, compared to the same month a year ago, due to what the industry calls “a perfect storm” of factors that resulted in a freakish result.

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“The day after 9/11 we should have gone to Russia. We did the one thing that George Kennan warned us never to do – to expand NATO too far..”

Seymour Hersh On Novichok, Russian Links To Donald Trump And 9/11 (Ind.)

Hersh is honest enough to admit that today he might not have made it. He worked during the heyday of American journalism – when he was paid handsomely for exposes and when media outlets had the financial muscle to fund serious writing. When he covered the Paris Peace Accords for The Times, he was put up at the world famous five-star deluxe Hotel de Crillon. It is not long before we discuss contemporaneous events including the alleged Russian hacking of the US presidential election. Hersh has vociferously strong opinions on the subject and smells a rat. He states that there is “a great deal of animosity towards Russia. All of that stuff about Russia hacking the election appears to be preposterous.” He has been researching the subject but is not ready to go public… yet.

Hersh quips that the last time he heard the US defence establishment have high confidence, it was regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He points out that the NSA only has moderate confidence in Russian hacking. It is a point that has been made before; there has been no national intelligence estimate in which all 17 US intelligence agencies would have to sign off. “When the intel community wants to say something they say it… High confidence effectively means that they don’t know.” Hersh is also on the record as stating that the official version of the Skripal poisoning does not stand up to scrutiny. He tells me: “The story of novichok poisoning has not held up very well. He [Skripal] was most likely talking to British intelligence services about Russian organised crime.”

The unfortunate turn of events with the contamination of other victims is suggestive, according to Hersh, of organised crime elements rather than state-sponsored actions – though this flies in the face of the UK government’s position. [..] He ends the Goldsmiths talk with an anecdote about having lunch with his sources in the wake of 9/11. He vents his anger at the agencies for not sharing information. One of his CIA sources fires back: “Sy you still don’t get it after all these years – the FBI catches bank robbers, the CIA robs banks.” It is a delicious, if cryptic aphorism.

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The Pope is not a bad idea.

Please Sign Letter To Pope Francis Seeking Help For Julian Assange (LACW)

Your Holiness,

In your first Papal visit outside of Rome only months after your election as Supreme Pontiff, you choose the Italian island of Lampedusa, a refuge for migrants and asylum seekers fleeing the prospect of death. You did so to express your closeness and love to suffering people, to promote their dignity, which was under threat at home and in jeopardy in the countries where they seek refuge. Your first act upon arrival was to lay a wreath in the sea in memory of all those who had lost their lives seeking refuge. We, the undersigned, write to you, Your Holiness, as a loving Father to those who lives are in imminent danger, begging and beseeching you to speak up for someone whose life is in imminent danger.

A life that can only be saved by your intervention. In order to lessen the possibility of us laying a wreath in the coming days, in memory of the stateless asylum seeker Julian Assange, we ask that you speak out on his behalf. Julian is possible moments or hours away but certainly days away from being abducted by a SAS squad from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where his asylum status is about to be revoked. Based on the precedent the risk of death is very high. Last time the SAS entered an Embassy in London they assassinated their targets after they had surrendered and were unarmed lying on the ground.

With all legal avenues exhausted and the British, American, Ecuadorian and Australian governments all arranging the imminent raid on Julian, we cry out to you, Holy Father and ask that you encourage nations to respect the life of Julian Assange and to cease his arbitrary detention (as cited by the United Nations) and grant him asylum status where he can continue his work as a journalist, telling the truth, that is the truth that respects the dignity of persons. Please, Holy Father speak up and defend this life which so many powerful nations want to end and whose life only you can plead for leniency in a manner which may be heeded by the powerful who seek to end him.

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Australia should honor its own laws. And that means protecting its citizens.

Julian Assange And Lawyer Want Malcolm Turnbull To ‘Stand Up To US’ (N.)

[..] new British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed Assange was facing “serious charges” from local police. But there is confusion about what they are, as he is only facing a minor charge for breaching bail. Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer in London, told news.com.au she was “obviously very concerned” about the speculation he could be forced from the embassy. “We are monitoring that really closely. From our point of view he requires ongoing protection (because) the risk of prosecution is as high as it has ever been.” The Times quoted a source familiar with the case who expected Assange would “lose his asylum status imminently. This means he will be expelled from the embassy. When this will happen is impossible to say.”

It was Ms Robinson’s view, and Assange’s, that Australia could help break the stalemate. “Julian is still an Australian citizen and they have an obligation — and I think a duty — to exercise rights of protection over an Australian citizen,” she said. “They could usefully engage in this to help solve the impasse.” Ms Robinson said Canberra had good relationships with both the UK and US, so it shouldn’t be a difficult matter. “For me as a fellow Australian citizen, it is disappointing the government has not done more — but that doesn’t preclude them from doing it now and I very much hope that they will.” She said it raised concerns about the Federal Government’s willingness to “stand up for Australians” when the US Government was involved.

[..] Ms Robinson was mystified as to what charges Mr Hunt was referring to. “Jeremy Hunt’s statement is curious in the sense that Mr Assange doesn’t face any charges whatsoever … A magistrate will have to decide whether to bring bail proceedings against him when he leaves the embassy.” [..] “So is Mr Hunt talking about an extradition request from the US where he would face serious charges?” asked Ms Robinson. “Has he misspoken and disclosed that?” She told news.com.au that would be a serious matter. Assange’s legal team had sought assurances from the UK there was no extradition request and had been met with a “standard, blanket will not confirm or deny”. “So if Mr Hunt is talking about serious charges … there are none on the public record, so of course, we are concerned about what that might be from the US.”

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“..prosecuting a journalist for publishing authentic documents would arguably constitute a greater leap in the direction of Orwellian dystopia than the Patriot Act.”

As Long As Assange Is Silenced, Claims Against Him Are Illegitimate (CJ)

As attempts to evict Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London get more and more aggressive, we are seeing a proportionate increase in the establishment smear campaign against him and against WikiLeaks. This is not a coincidence. The planned campaign to remove Assange from political asylum and the greatly escalated smear campaign to destroy public support for Assange are both occurring at the same time that Assange has been cut off from the world without internet, phone calls or visitors, completely unable to defend himself from the smear campaign. This, also, is not a coincidence.

The ability to control the narrative about what is going on in the world is of unparalleled importance to the plutocrats who use governments as tools to advance their agendas. The agenda to make an example of a leak publisher with a massive platform who has repeatedly exposed the corruption of the establishment upon which western plutocrats have built their empires will require continuous narrative spin, since the precedent set by prosecuting a journalist for publishing authentic documents would arguably constitute a greater leap in the direction of Orwellian dystopia than the Patriot Act.

Among the latest components of this campaign has been a viral dump of Twitter DMs being promoted as a hot news item by outlets like Motherboard, The Hill, Forbes and Think Progress and across #Resistance Twitter. The fact that the juicy bits from those DMs had already been published months ago by The Intercept, and the fact that the smears and spin we’re seeing reruns of today were long ago ripped to shreds in journalist Suzie Dawson’s epic essay “Being Julian Assange” after the Intercept publication, has not dampened the orgiastic frenzy with which this non-story is being bandied about by establishment loyalists and defenders of power as evidence of Assange’s nefariousness.

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Are we ever going to have that UN Emergency Meeting?

Italian Ship Violates International Law, Returns Rescued People To Libya (G.)

A search and rescue charity has alleged that an Italian ship returned scores of people rescued from the Mediterranean to Libya, even though Libya is not regarded by Europe as a safe place under international law. In what would be an unprecedented case if confirmed, the Asso 28, an oil rig support vessel, allegedly saved 108 people from a dinghy and then took them to Tripoli. The allegation was made by Òscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish sea search and rescue NGO. It is unclear whether the ship had received instructions from the Italian coastguard. “The Asso 28, with an Italian flag, rescued 108 people in international waters and is now deporting them to Libya, a country where human rights are not respected. No chance [for them] to get asylum or shelter,” Camps wrote on Twitter.

Camps’ allegation was supported by Nicola Fratoianni, an Italian politician with Free and Equal, a small leftwing party, who was on board the Proactiva rescue ship. “We don’t know yet if this operation was instructed by the Italian coastguard, but if so it would be a very serious precedent, a real collective rejection, which Italy and the captain of the ship would have to respond to in court,” Fratoianni said. Two weeks ago Italy assured Germany that it would continue to accept migrants rescued at sea until an EU-wide plan on redistributing people across the continent was established. The pledge came after high-profile moves by Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the far-right League, to block rescue ships from docking at Italian ports.

In a response to Camps’ allegation on Tuesday, Salvini made no mention of the alleged involvement of an Italian ship in the incident. He wrote on Twitter: “The Libyan coastguard has rescued and brought back 611 immigrants in recent hours. The NGOs protest and the traffickers lose business? Fine, we’ll continue in this direction!” In another post, on Facebook, he wrote: “The Italian Coast Guard has not coordinated and participated in any of these operations, as falsely declared by a foreign NGO and a poorly informed leftist MP.”

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Aug 032017
 
 August 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Marion Post Wolcott Street scenes. Port Gibson, Mississippi 1940

 

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)
America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)
Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)
Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)
Plan For The Worst (Roberts)
Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)
China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)
The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)
Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)
The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)
Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)
Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)
We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

 

 

And then they go after the Volcker rule. Take away their political power or else.

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)

When tighter regulations were imposed on the banks after the Financial Crisis, the largest among them, the very ones that threatened to bring down the financial system, began squealing. Those voices are now being heard by Congress, which is considering deregulating the banks again. In particular, they claim that current capital requirements force banks to curtail their lending to businesses and consumers, and thus hurt the economy. Nonsense! That’s in essence what FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig told Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sherrod Brown, in a letter dated Tuesday, according to Reuters. The senators are trying to find a compromise on bank deregulation. If banks wanted to increase lending, they could easily do so without lower capital requirements, Hoenig pointed out.

Rather than blowing their income on share-buybacks or paying it out in form of dividends, banks could retain more of their income, thus adding it to regulatory capital. Capital absorbs the losses from bad loans. Higher capital levels make a bank more resilient during the next crisis. If there isn’t enough capital, the bank collapses and gets bailed out. But banks that increase their capital levels through retained earnings are stronger and can lend more. Alas, in the first quarter, the 10 largest bank holding companies in the US plowed over 100% of their earnings into share buybacks and dividends, he wrote. If they had retained more of their income, they could have boosted lending by $1 trillion. The CEO of the top bank on this list has been very vocal about plowing more of the bank’s income into share buybacks and dividends, while pushing regulators to lower capital requirements.

In his “Dear Fellow Shareholders” letter in April, Jamie Dimon wrote under the heading “Regulatory Reform,” among many other things: “It is clear that the banks have too much capital.” “And we think it’s clear that banks can use more of their capital to finance the economy without sacrificing safety and soundness. Had they been less afraid of potential CCAR stress losses, banks probably would have been more aggressive in making some small business loans, lower rated middle market loans and near-prime mortgages. But the government was preventing them from doing it, he suggested.

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I think it started when manufacturing was exported to China et al. How are you supposed to be productive when you don’t make anything?

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app.

According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too. Aside from short-lived booms in the 1990s and 2000s, US productivity growth has averaged just 1.2% from 1975 up to today after peaking above 3% in 1972. As we detailed previously, adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold.

The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2 per cent from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago. As we reported last year, users spent 51% of their total internet time on mobile devices, for a total of 5.6 hours per day snapchatting, face-booking, insta-graming and taking selfies.

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The new wonders are the ones who don’t make dick all.

Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)

It won’t be long now. During the last 31 months the stock market mania has rapidly narrowed to just a handful of shooting stars. At the forefront has been Amazon.com, Inc., which saw its stock price double from $285 per share in January 2015 to $575 by October of that year. It then doubled again to about $1,000 in the 21 months since. By contrast, much of the stock market has remained in flat-earth land. For instance, those sections of the stock market that are tethered to the floundering real world economy have posted flat-lining earnings, or even sharp declines, as in the case of oil and gas. Needless to say, the drastic market narrowing of the last 30 months has been accompanied by soaring price/earnings (PE) multiples among the handful of big winners.

In the case of the so-called FAANGs + M (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft), the group’s weighted average PE multiple has increased by some 50%. The degree to which the casino’s speculative mania has been concentrated in the FAANGs + M can also be seen by contrasting them with the other 494 stocks in the S&P 500. The market cap of the index as a whole rose from $17.7 trillion in January 2015 to some $21.2 trillion at present, meaning that the FAANGs + M account for about 40% of the entire gain. Stated differently, the market cap of the other 494 stocks rose from $16.0 trillion to $18.1 trillion during that 30-month period. That is, 13% versus the 82% gain of the six super-momentum stocks.

Moreover, if this concentrated $1.4 trillion gain in a handful of stocks sounds familiar that’s because this rodeo has been held before. The Four Horseman of Tech (Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and Intel) at the turn of the century saw their market cap soar from $850 billion to $1.65 trillion or by 94% during the manic months before the dotcom peak. At the March 2000 peak, Microsoft’s PE multiple was 60X, Intel’s was 50X and Cisco’s hit 200X. Those nosebleed valuations were really not much different than Facebook today at 40X, Amazon at 190X and Netflix at 217X. The truth is, even great companies do not escape drastic over-valuation during the blow-off stage of bubble peaks. Accordingly, two years later the Four Horseman as a group had shed $1.25 trillion or 75% of their valuation.

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“The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.”

Dow 22,000 Is Not Good News For Most Americans (MW)

The U.S. stock market hit another record Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassing 22,000 for the first time. The media acted like Dow 22,000 is a good thing. The cheerleaders in the anchor desks are wearing goofy hats and high-fiving each other like their team just won the Super Bowl. But record-high stock prices are not inherently a good thing. Whether it’s good for you individually depends on whether you own lots of shares or not. Most people do not own very many shares at all, so most of us aren’t benefiting much from high stock prices. The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.

Who owns the stock market? About half of all equity is owned by the richest 1 million or so families, and another 41% is owned by the rest of the top 10%. The bottom 90% of families own about 9% of outstanding shares. [..] High stock prices might have a benefit if it meant that more capital would be invested in America’s corporations. That’s the myth of the stock market, anyway. In reality, the stock market doesn’t funnel any additional capital into corporations at all. Nonfinancial corporations have been net buyers — not sellers — of equities for the past 23 years in a row. The stock market is actually a process for extracting wealth from corporations and passing it along to the wealthy people who owns shares.

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The headline bumbers are all you need really. Ponzi as far as the eye can see.

Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)

We’ve frequently argued that public pension funds in the U.S. are nothing more than thinly-veiled ponzi schemes with their ridiculously high return assumptions specifically intended to artificially minimize the present value of future retiree payment obligations and thus also minimize required annual contributions from taxpayers…all while actual, if immediately intangible, underfunded liabilities continue to surge. As evidence of that assertion, we present to you the latest public pension analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. As part of their study, Boston College reviewed 170 public pension plans in the U.S. and found that their average 2016 return was an abysmal 0.6% compared to an average assumed return of 7.6%. Meanwhile, per the chart below, the average return for the past 15 years has also been well below discount rate assumptions, at just 5.95%.

All of which, as we stated above, continues to result in surging liabilities and collapsing funding ratios.

But, perhaps the most telling sign of the massive ponzi scheme being perpetrated on American retirees is the following chart which shows that net cash flows have become increasingly negative, as a percentage of assets, as annual cash benefit payments continue to exceed cash contributions.

Conclusion, you can hide behind high discount rates and a “kick the can down the road” strategy in the short-term…but in the long run actual cash flows matter.

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Pensions, planning: good luck in the bubble.

Plan For The Worst (Roberts)

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is assuming markets will grow at a consistent rate over the given time frame to retirement. There is a massive difference between compounded returns and real returns as shown. The assumption is that an investment is made in 1965 at the age of 20. In 2000, the individual is now 55 and just 10 years from retirement. The S&P index is actual through 2016 and projected through age 100 using historical volatility and market cycles as a precedent for future returns. While the historical AVERAGE return is 7% for both series, the shortfall between “compounded” returns and “actual” returns is significant. That shortfall is compounded further when you begin to add in the impact of fees, taxes, and inflation over the given time frame.

The single biggest mistake made in financial planning is NOT to include variable rates of return in your planning process. Furthermore, choosing rates of return for planning purposes that are outside historical norms is a critical mistake. Stocks tend to grow roughly at the rate of GDP plus dividends. Into today’s world GDP is expected to grow at roughly 2% in the future with dividends around 2% currently. The difference between 8% returns and 4% is quite substantial. Also, to achieve 8% in a 4% return environment, you must increase your return over the market by 100%. The level of “risk” that must be taken on to outperform the markets by such a degree is enormous. While markets can have years of significant outperformance, it only takes one devastating year of losses to wipe out years of accumulation.

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A new business model? Does this apply only to oil, or should all businesses cut their sales prices in half to increase their profits? Alternatively, maybe shareholders should sue BP and Shell for all missed profits in the past?

Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)

Oil majors are raking in more cash now than they did in the heyday of $100 oil, according to Goldman Sachs. Integrated giants like BP and Royal Dutch Shell have adapted to lower prices by cutting costs and improving operations, analysts at the bank including Michele Della Vigna said in a research note Wednesday. European majors made more cash during the first half of this year, when Brent averaged $52 a barrel, than they did in the first half of 2014 when prices were $109. Back then, high oil prices had caused executives to overreach on projects, leading to delays, cost overruns and inefficiency, Goldman said. Those projects are coming online now, producing more revenue, while companies have tightened their belts and divested some assets to reduce debt burdens.

“Simplification, standardization and deflation are repositioning the oil industry for better profitability and cash generation in the current environment than in 2013-14 when the oil price was above $100 a barrel,” the analysts said. In the second quarter, Europe’s big oil companies generated enough cash from operations to cover 91 percent of their capital expenses and dividends, showing that they’re close to being able to fund shareholder payments with business-generated revenue, according to Goldman. That will give companies the ability to stop paying dividends by issuing new stock, which has diluted major European energy shares by 3 to 13 percent since 2014.

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Too late.

China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser commissioned a study earlier this year to see how China could avoid the fate of Japan’s epic bust in the 1990s and decades of stagnation that followed. The report covered a wide range of topics, from the Plaza Accord on currency to a real-estate bubble to demographics that made Japan the oldest population in Asia, according to a person familiar with the matter who has seen the report. While details are scarce, the person revealed one key recommendation that policy makers have since implemented: The need to curtail a global buying spree by some of the nation’s biggest private companies. Communist Party leaders discussed Japan’s experience in a Politburo meeting on April 26, according to the person, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private.

State media came alive afterward, with reports trumpeting Xi’s warning that financial stability is crucial in economic growth. Then in June came a bombshell: reports that the banking regulator had asked lenders to provide information on overseas loans made to Dalian Wanda Group Co., Anbang Insurance Group Co., HNA, Fosun International Ltd. and the owner of Italian soccer team AC Milan. While the timing of those requests is unclear, other watchdogs soon issued directives to curb excessive borrowing, speculation on equities and high yields in wealth-management products. Jim O’Neill, previously chief economist at Goldman Sachs and a former U.K. government minister, said Chinese policy makers are constantly looking to avoid the mistakes of other countries — and Japan in particular.

“You see it in repeated attempts to stop various potential property bubbles so China doesn’t end up with a Japan-style property collapse,” O’Neill said in an email. “There does appear to be some signs that some Chinese investors don’t invest in clear understandable ways, but they wouldn’t be the only ones where that is true!” [..] The moves reflect concerns that China’s top dealmakers have borrowed too much from state banks, threatening the financial system and ultimately the party’s legitimacy to rule — a key worry ahead of a once-in-five-year conclave later this year that will cement Xi’s power through 2022.

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Well argued by Russia’s PM, and it shows just how extensive the sanctions are. Does America need decades more of Cold War?: “The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. [..] the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president.”

The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)

The signing of new sanctions against Russia into law by the US president leads to several consequences. First, any hope of improving our relations with the new US administration is over. Second, the US just declared a full-scale trade war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration demonstrated it is utterly powerless, and in the most humiliating manner transferred executive powers to Congress. This shifts the alignment of forces in US political circles.

What does this mean for the U.S.? The American establishment completely outplayed Trump. The president is not happy with the new sanctions, but he could not avoid signing the new law. The purpose of the new sanctions was to put Trump in his place. Their ultimate goal is to remove Trump from power. An incompetent player must be eliminated. At the same time, the interests of American businesses were almost ignored. Politics rose above the pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has turned into a key part of not only foreign (as has been the case many times), but also domestic US policy (this is recent).

The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. Moreover, it will be tougher than the Jackson-Vanik law, because it is comprehensive and can not be postponed by special orders of the president without the consent of the Congress. Therefore, the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president. Relations between the two countries will now be clarified in international bodies and courts of justice leading to further intensification of international tensions, and a refusal to resolve major international problems.

What does this mean for Russia? We will continue to work on the development of the economy and social sphere, we will deal with import substitution, solve the most important state tasks, counting primarily on ourselves. We have learned to do this in recent years. Within almost closed financial markets, foreign creditors and investors will be afraid to invest in Russia due to worries of sanctions against third parties and countries. In some ways, it will benefit us, although sanctions – in general – are meaningless. We will manage.

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No, Hersh is not some kind of nut.

Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)

During the latter portion of a phone-call by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, Hersh has now presented “a narrative [from his investigation] of how that whole fucking thing began,” including who actually is behind the ‘RussiaGate’ lies, and why they are spreading these lies.

In a youtube video upload-dated August 1st, he reveals from his inside FBI and Washington DC Police Department sources — now, long before the Justice Department’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be presenting his official ‘findings’ to the nation — that the charges that Russia had anything to do with the leaks from the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to Wikileaks, that those charges spread by the press, were a CIA-planted lie, and that what Wikileaks had gotten was only leaks (including at least from the murdered DNC-staffer Seth Rich), and were not from any outsider (including ’the Russians’), but that Rich didn’t get killed for that, but was instead shot in the back during a brutal robbery, which occurred in the high-crime DC neighborhood where he lived. Here is the video…

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So maybe Paul Craig Roberts lays it on a bit thick sometimes. But what happens in America is dangerous, and Trump is not the principal danger.

The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)

In 1940 US attorney general Robert Jackson warned federal prosecutors against “picking the man and then putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense—that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views or being personally obnoxious to, or in the way of, the prosecutor himself.” Robert Jackson has given a perfect description of what is happening to President Trump at the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Trump is vastly unpopular with the ruling establishment, with the Democrats, with the military/security complex and their bought and paid for Senators, and with the media for proving wrong all the smart people’s prediction that Hillary would win the election in a landslide. From day one this cabal has been out to get Trump, and they have given the task of framing up Trump to Mueller. An honest man would not have accepted the job of chief witch-hunter, which is what Mueller’s job is. The breathless hype of a nonexistent “Russian collusion” has been the lead news story for months despite the fact that no one, not the CIA, not the NSA, not the FBI, not the Director of National Intelligence, can find a scrap of evidence.

In desperation, three of the seventeen US intelligence agencies picked a small handful of employees thought to lack integrity and produced an unverified report, absent of any evidence, that the hand-picked handful thought that there might have been a collusion. On the basis of what evidence they do not say. That nothing more substantial than this led to a special prosecutor shows how totally corrupt justice in America is. Furthermore the baseless charge itself is an absurdity. There is no law against an incoming administration conversing with other governments. Indeed, Trump, Flynn, and whomever should be given medals for quickly moving to smooth Russian feathers ruffled by the reckless Bush and Obama regimes. What good for anyone can come from ceaselessly provoking a nuclear Russian bear?

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Spent so much time in that stadium watching baseball etc. Good memories.

Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)

Canadian health authorities and aid workers are using an Olympic stadium to shelter asylum seekers as a growing number of people walk into the country from the United States. The Quebec Red Cross and local health authorities opened Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to asylum seekers brought in by bus after having crossed the U.S. border, Red Cross spokeswoman Stephanie Picard said. The city is seeing a growing influx in refugee claimants coming from the United States and is scrambling to house them all. The Red Cross is assisting with beds and providing bedding and other personal-care items. Montreal’s health authority would not provide exact numbers on how many people are being housed in the stadium, built for the 1976 Olympics and which now serves as an event space.

More than 4,300 people have walked across the U.S. border into Canada this year seeking refugee status. The vast majority of them come to Quebec, according to figures from the federal government. Many asylum seekers who spoke to Reuters say they left the United States fearing President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. People who cross the border illegally to file refugee claims are apprehended and held for questioning by both police and border officials before being allowed to file claims and live in Canada while their application is processed. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed the asylum seekers on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, saying 2,500 people had come in July alone. He said on Twitter that providing for the new arrivals is a “humanitarian gesture.”

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Look, there have to be limits, or we will not survive this, none of us. Locking up children just because they have fled bombs is beyond insane.

Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)

The number of unaccompanied child migrants living in “dirty” Greek detention centres has increased “alarmingly”, a human rights organisation has warned. An estimated 117 children were in police cells or custody centres in Greece at the end of July, compared to just two in November 2016, according to figures released by the country’s government. Under Greek law, the authorities should separate minors into safe accommodation, where they are appointed guardians who represent them in legal proceedings. But when there is no space in safe shelters, the authorities detain them in police stations and immigration detention facilities, sometimes with unrelated adults. “Instead of being cared for, dozens of vulnerable children are locked in dirty, crowded police cells and other detention facilities across Greece, in some cases with unrelated adults,” said Eva Cossé, the country’s researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Greek government has a duty to end this abusive practice and make sure these vulnerable kids get the care and protection they need.” Human Rights Watch has written to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to stop the automatic detention of unaccompanied children. It suggested the government should amend legislation and significantly shorten the amount of time a child can be detained in protective custody. While they wait for a space in a shelter, many children are not provided with information about their rights and are not told how to apply for asylum, the organisation said. Aid workers have previously reported that the uncertainty and distress caused by the asylum process, exacerbated an ongoing mental health crisis among migrants living on the islands. Children as young as nine have harmed themselves, while 12-year-olds have attempted to kill themselves, Save the Children said in March.

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Too big NOT to fail.

We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

Living through a collapse is a curious experience. Perhaps the most curious part is that nobody wants to admit it’s a collapse. The results of half a century of debt-fueled “growth” are becoming impossible to deny convincingly, but even as economies and certainties crumble, our appointed leaders bravely hold the line. No one wants to be the first to say the dam is cracked beyond repair. To listen to a political leader at this moment in history is like sitting through a sermon by a priest who has lost his faith but is desperately trying not to admit it, even to himself. Watch your chosen president or prime minister mouthing tough-guy platitudes to the party faithful. Listen to them insisting in studied prose that all will be well. Study the expressions on their faces as they talk about “growth” as if it were a heathen god to be appeased by tipping another cauldron’s worth of fictional money into the mouth of a volcano.

In times like these, people look elsewhere for answers. A time of crisis is also a time of opening up, when thinking that was consigned to the fringes moves to center stage. When things fall apart, the appetite for new ways of seeing is palpable, and there are always plenty of people willing to feed it by coming forward with their pet big ideas. But here’s a thought: what if big ideas are part of the problem? What if, in fact, the problem is bigness itself? The crisis currently playing out on the world stage is a crisis of growth. Not, as we are regularly told, a crisis caused by too little growth, but by too much of it. Banks grew so big that their collapse would have brought down the entire global economy. To prevent this, they were bailed out with huge tranches of public money, which in turn is precipitating social crises on the streets of Western nations. The European Union has grown so big, and so unaccountable, that it threatens to collapse in on itself.

Corporations have grown so big that they are overwhelming democracies and building a global plutocracy to serve their own interests. The human economy as a whole has grown so big that it has been able to change the atmospheric composition of the planet and precipitate a mass-extinction event. One man who would not have been surprised by this crisis of bigness, had he lived to see it, was Leopold Kohr. Kohr has a good claim to be the most interesting political thinker that you have never heard of. Unlike Karl Marx, he did not found a global movement or inspire revolutions. Unlike Friedrich Hayek, he did not rewrite the economic rules of the modern world. Kohr was a modest, self-deprecating man, but this was not the reason his ideas have been ignored by movers and shakers in the half-century since they were produced. They have been ignored because they do not flatter the egos of the power-hungry, be they revolutionaries or plutocrats. In fact, Kohr’s message is a direct challenge to them.

“Wherever something is wrong,” he insisted, “something is too big.”

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Jul 022017
 
 July 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


JMW Turner Lake Llanberis and Snowdon Color Study c.1800

 

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)
Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)
China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)
Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)
Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)
After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)
How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)
‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)
Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)
Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)
ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)
Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

 

 

The BoE promoted, incited, cheap credit and the housing bubble by lowering rates. And now it has to kill off what it promoted? Who believes that? The role of central banks is truly poorly understood.

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)

One thing sure to upset Bank of England officials is any suggestion that the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has gone soft on the banking industry and turns a blind eye to reckless lending. It brings back disturbing memories of the 2008 credit crunch, the chaos it brought to the economy and the damage it caused the institution’s reputation. Last week, the Bank of England, which has become the overarching regulator of the banking system, made a point of being tough on the banks following the publication of its latest financial stability report. It slapped a demand for more than £11bn of extra reserves on the major lenders – just in case the current economic slowdown should trigger a rise in defaults.

Governor Mark Carney also warned the lending industry that it should expect tougher rules on how it sells mortgages, car loans and credit cards should the current rise in borrowing rocket any further. But one question remains: can Carney and his troops tame the British consumer’s dependence on debt? The most recent figures would say the answer is no. Last week the Bank’s own figures showed that consumer credit grew by £1.7bn in May, the biggest increase since last November, and higher than the six-month average of £1.5bn. The annual rate at which UK consumers are loading up on their already heaving debt pile remained at 10.3% in the year to May. A look at the total stock of UK consumer credit shows that it reached £198bn in April.

That might seem small compared with the total amount of outstanding mortgage debt, which is around seven times larger, at £1.3trillion, but for banks, consumer credit accounts for a much higher proportion of losses. “Since 2007, UK banks’ total write-offs on UK consumer credit have been 10 times higher than on mortgages,” the BoE says. And all this rising debt comes at a time of extraordinary falls in the savings rate. The most recent GDP figures showed that households were putting aside rainy day money at the lowest rate on record. It is a situation that worries experts of all stripes – from Jane Tully, a senior director at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, to former Bank of England official Kate Barker, who was a member of the Bank’s interest rate-setting committee during the last crash.

Tully said: “We have already seen an 8% rise in the number of people helped by National Debtline by telephone this year, and all the signs are that demand for debt advice will continue to increase. The higher borrowing levels rise, the more households will be exposed to the risk of financial difficulty in the event of a downturn.” Barker is concerned that eight years of ultra-low interest rates are fuelling a dependence on cheap borrowing, without any end in sight. She says that the growth of car finance plans appears to be a side-effect of the clampdown in other areas of credit, in particular the tighter regulation of mortgages. “There is obviously an incentive to borrow, so as one area is clamped down on, the problem pops up in another,” she says.

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A 40% fall in prices sounds reasonable.

Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)

House prices are teetering on the brink of a crash that could be as bad as the bust of the early 1990s, a leading expert has warned. There are already warning signs that prices are heading towards a near 40% plunge, warns Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics. It raises the alarming spectre of the return of ‘negative equity’ – when a house falls so far in value it is worth less than the mortgage – which hit one million people at the worst point in the 1990s. Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Prof Cheshire, a former Government housing adviser, said: ‘We are due a significant correction in house prices. I think we are beginning to see signs that correction may be starting. ‘Historically, trends seem always to start in London and then move out across the rest of the country. In the capital, you are already seeing house prices rising less rapidly than in other parts of Britain.’

Such a shift could push many thousands of recent buyers into trouble. From 1989, the price boom fell apart over the next six years, with prices plunging by 37%. In its most recent figures, The National Association of Estate Agents reported the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%. According to Prof Cheshire, the fall in real incomes – when wages fail to keep up with inflation – is likely to be the spark for a fall in house prices. Inflation hit 2.9% last month, while incomes only grew by 2.1%. Property experts and estate agents say the housing market in wealthier pockets of the country has been further hit by stamp duty hikes. Prof Christian Hilber of the LSE also warned: ‘If Brexit leads to a recession and/or sluggish growth for extended periods, then an extended and severe downturn is more likely than a short-lived and mild one.’ The Council of Mortgage Lenders said earlier this month that the housing market had ‘stalled’

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From bad to worse. The hubris boomerang.

China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)

Xi Jinping’s tough talk in Hong Kong reflects growing self-confidence in China’s ability to shape world events and browbeat or ignore less powerful countries such as Britain. The Chinese president could have thrown a bone to the pro-democracy movement. He could have offered a sop on civil liberties and political rights to western opinion. Instead, he told Hong Kong who’s boss. Xi the hard man laid down the law according to Beijing. His message: fall into line, or else. His message to Britain was blunt, too, bordering on disdainful. China would not brook outside “interference” in the former colony. Forget about those guarantees of a free, open society painstakingly negotiated before the 1997 handover. “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and challenge the power of the central government is absolutely impermissible,” Xi said.

Under Xi’s bastardised version of the Basic Law, any criticism is henceforth forbidden, on pain of serious consequences. Boris Johnson received a stinging lesson in the new balance of power earlier in the week. “As we look to the future, Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward a fully democratic and accountable system of government,” the foreign secretary intoned with uncharacteristic meekness. Johnson’s statement was shamefully deferential. He could, and should, have been more forceful about Beijing’s responsibilities and its own egregious, sometimes illegal meddling. But China took umbrage all the same. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador in London, set Johnson straight: Hong Kong issues must henceforth be “handled properly” or overall ties would suffer.

Worse was to follow. On Friday, China’s foreign ministry formally renounced the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, the basis on which Britain agreed to relinquish control of the colony. The two sides had agreed the treaty would remain in force for 50 years. “The Sino-British joint declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong,” the spokesman Lu Kang declared. The Foreign Office swiftly rejected the demarche. But in his present bullish mood, Xi is not listening.

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Keeping up appearances is getting harder.

Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)

[..] the state remains without a spending plan, its tax receipts and outlays mostly on “autopilot”, leaving it with a record $15 billion of unpaid bills as it spent over $6 billion more than it brought in over the past year, and with $800 million in interest on the unpaid bills alone. The impasse has devastated social-service providers, shuttering services for the homeless, disabled and poor. The lack of state aid has wrecked havoc on universities, putting their accreditation at risk. However, in a “shocking” development, just hours remaining before the midnight deadline to pass the Illinois budget, and Illinois’ imminent loss of its investment grade rating, federal judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago ordered Illinois to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars it owes in Medicaid payments that state officials say the government doesn’t have, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Judge Lefkow ordered the state to make $586 million in monthly payments (from the current $160 million) as well as another $2 billion toward a $3 billion backlog of payments – a $167 million increase in monthly outlays – the state owes to managed care organizations that process payments to providers. While it is no secret that as part of its collapse into the financial abyss, Illinois has accumulated $15 billion in unpaid bills, the state’s Medicaid recipients had had enough, and went to court asking a judge to order the state to speed up its payments. On Friday, the court ruled in their favor. The problem, of course, is that Illinois can no more afford to pay the outstanding Medicaid bills, than it can to pay any of its $14,711,351,943.90 in overdue bills as of June 30. The backlog of unpaid claims the state owes to managed-care companies directly, as well as to the doctors, hospitals, clinics and other organizations “is crippling these providers and thereby dramatically reducing the Medicaid recipients’ access to health care,” Lefkow said in her ruling.

Friday’s court ruling, which meant that the near-insolvent state must pay an additional $593 million per month, may have been the straw that finally broke the Illinois camel’s back. “Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court takes the state’s finances from horrific to catastrophic,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement after the ruling. [..] “A comprehensive budget plan must be passed immediately.” Realizing where all this is headed, she said that payments to bond holders won’t be interrupted. [..] As a result of the court decision, “payments to the state’s pension funds; state payroll including legislator pay; General State Aid to schools and payments to local governments – in some combination – will likely have to be cut.”

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ME, CT, IL and NJ. Who’s next, please?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature are returning to work to try to resolve the state’s first government shutdown since 2006 and the first under Christie. The Republican governor and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach an agreement on a new budget by the deadline at midnight Friday, CBS New York reports. In a news conference Saturday morning, Christie blamed Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for causing the shutdown. “If there’s not a resolution to this today, everyone will be back tomorrow,” Christie said, calling the shutdown “embarrassing and pointless.” He also repeatedly referred to the government closure as “the speaker’s shutdown.” Christie later announced that he would address the full legislature later at the statehouse on Saturday.

Prieto remained steadfast in his opposition, reiterating that he won’t consider the plan as part of the budget process but would consider it once a budget is signed. Referring to the shutdown as “Gov. Christie’s Hostage Crisis Day One,” Prieto said he has made compromises that led to the budget now before the Legislature. “I am also ready to consider reasonable alternatives that protect ratepayers, but others must come to the table ready to be equally reasonable,” Prieto said. “Gov. Christie and the legislators who won’t vote ‘yes’ on the budget are responsible for this unacceptable shutdown. I compromised. I put up a budget bill for a vote. Others now must now do their part and fulfill their responsibilities.” Christie ordered nonessential services to close beginning Saturday. New Jerseyans were feeling the impact as the shutdown took effect, shuttering state parks and disrupting ferry service to Liberty and Ellis islands.

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Where the real power resides.

Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)

One of the few elected Democratic lawmakers with an extensive anti-war record, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has combined forces with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to push legislation through both the House and the Senate that would bar federal agencies from using taxpayer-backed funds to provide weapons, training, intelligence, or any other type of support to terrorist cells such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other group that is associated with them in any way. The Stop Arming Terrorists Act is so unique that it’s also the only bill of its kind that would also bar the government from funneling money and weapons through other countries that support (directly or indirectly) terrorists such as Saudi Arabia. To our surprise – or should we say shame? – only 13 other lawmakers out of hundreds have co-sponsored Gabbard’s House bill. Paul’s Senate version of the bill, on the other hand, has zero co-sponsors.

While both pieces of legislation were introduced in early 2017, no real action has been taken as of yet. This proves that Washington refuses to support bills that would actually provoke positive chain reactions not only abroad but also at home. Why? Well, let’s look at the groups that would lose a great deal in case this bill is signed into law. With trillions of tax dollars flowing to companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even IBM, among others, companies that invest heavily in weapons, cyber security systems, and other technologies that are widely used in times of war would stand to lose a lot – if not everything – if all of a sudden, the United States chose to become a nation that stands for peace and free market principles. For one, these companies have a heavy lobbying presence, ensuring that lawmakers sympathetic to their plight are elected every two years.

When the possibility of a new conflict appears on the horizon, these companies are the first to lobby heavily for action. But this dynamic isn’t a secret. We all know that the crony capitalist system that thrives in Washington, D.C., is the very bread and butter of politics in America. After all, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation in his farewell address in 1961 that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” were becoming the great powers behind U.S. politics, and that if we weren’t weary of this influence, we would risk living in a perpetual state of war. Still, we allowed it to take over. And there isn’t one industry powerful enough to counter this destructive authority. With the support of an army of well-established and connected millionaire lobbyists, the war machine operating in Washington is so powerful that anything can be turned into an existential threat.

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Obviously, if only 2% of US politicians are willing to stop the machine, it will march on. Ike may as well have said nothing.

After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)

So what did Hersh’s investigation reveal? His sources in the US intelligence establishment – people who have helped him break some of the most important stories of the past few decades, from the Mai Lai massacre by American soldiers during the Vietnam war to US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 – told him the official narrative that Syria’s Bashar Assad had dropped deadly sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was incorrect. Instead, they said, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on a meeting of jihadi fighters that triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot, releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals that killed civilians nearby. It is an alternative narrative of these events that one might have assumed would be of intense interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative.

Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers. But, in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag. There are a couple of possible, even if highly improbable, reasons all English-language publications ignored Hersh’s story. Maybe they had evidence that his inside intelligence was wrong.

If so, they have yet to provide it. A rebuttal would require acknowledging Hersh’s story, and none seem willing to do that. Or maybe the media thought it was old news and would no longer interest their readers. It would be difficult to sustain such an interpretation, but at least it has an air of plausibility – except for everything that has happened since Hersh published last Sunday. His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection.

That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed. The first spoiler, made in the immediate wake of Hersh’s story, were statements from the Pentagon and White House warning that the US had evidence Assad was planning yet another chemical attack on his people and that Washington would respond extremely harshly if he did so. Here is how the Guardian reported the US threats: “The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would ‘pay a heavy price’ for further use of the weapons.”

And then on Friday, the second spoiler emerged. Two unnamed diplomats “confirmed” that a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had found that some of the victims from Khan Sheikhoun showed signs of poisoning by sarin or sarin-like substances.

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“How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?”

How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)

If national security advisers gave Trump such excellent information about the alleged sarin gas attack, completely disproving any such attack, why was he given such bad advice about shooting down a Syrian war plane, or was it done outside of channels? The effect of the shootdown is to raise the chance of a confrontation with Russia, because Russia’s response apparently has been to declare a no-fly zone over the area of Russian and Syrian operations. How do we know that what Hersh was told was true? What if Trump was encouraged to order the Tomahawk strike as a way of interjecting the US directly into the conflict? Both the US and Israel have powerful reasons for wanting to overthrow Assad. However, ISIS, sent to do the job, has been defeated by Russia and Syria. Unless Washington can somehow get directly involved, the war is over.

The story Hersh was given also serves to damn Trump while absolving the intelligence services. Trump takes the hit for injecting the US directly into the conflict. Hersh’s story reads well, but it easily could be a false story planted on him. I am not saying that the story is false, but unless we learn more, it could be. What we do know is that the story given to Hersh by national security officials is inconsistent with the June 26 White House announcement that the US has “identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime.” The White House does not have the capability to conduct its own foreign intelligence gathering. The White House is informed by the national security and intelligence agencies. In the story given to Hersh, these officials are emphatic that not only were chemical weapons removed from Syria, but also that Assad would not use them or be permitted by the Russians to use them even if he had them.

Moreover, Hersh reports that he was told that Russia fully informed the US of the Syrian attack on ISIS in advance. The weapon was a guided bomb that Russia had supplied to Syria. Therefore, it could not have been a chemical weapon. As US national security officials made it clear to Hersh that they do not believe Syria did or would use any chemical weapons, what is the source for the White House’s announcement that preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime have been identified? Who lined up UN ambassador Nikki Haley and the UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon to be ready with statements in support of the White House announcement? Haley says: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.” Fallon says: “we will support” future US action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?

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Yeah, we really need Bloomberg editors’ opinions on matters they know nothing about. Mind you, carbon capture is an empty slogan.

‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)

“Clean coal,” always dubious as a concept and never proved as a reality, has now failed as business proposition. Southern Co. has decided to stop work on a process that would have captured carbon dioxide emissions from a coal plant in Mississippi. Giving up on the project, which was nearly $5 billion over budget and three years behind schedule, makes sense for Southern’s customers and shareholders. And giving up on carbon capture makes sense for the energy industry. The technology is too expensive and complicated to be deployed quickly or widely enough to appreciably protect the climate. The better way to cut back on carbon-dioxide emissions is far simpler: Use less coal. Luckily, that change is already under way. (Michael R. Bloomberg supports the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, an effort to replace coal power with cleaner forms of energy.)

Carbon capture once seemed promising – even as recently as a decade ago, when coal fueled almost half of U.S. electricity generation. Back then, continued dependence on the dirty fuel looked inevitable, and a strategy to deal with its prodigious greenhouse-gas emissions seemed essential. Hence, utilities embarked on model coal plants that would capture the carbon dioxide before it could enter the atmosphere. Only a couple have been built, in addition to Southern’s in Kemper County, Mississippi, and none has established an economic case for carbon capture. The Petra Nova facility, in Texas, was reportedly finished on time and on budget, but its construction required a $190 million federal grant, and the carbon-capture unit requires a separate gas-fired power plant.

Canada’s Boundary Dam carbon-capture unit, meanwhile, has operated much less efficiently than expected, suffering multiple breakdowns and requiring expensive repairs. Unfortunately, such costs and complexities are unlikely to diminish very much, and few such facilities are likely to be built worldwide in the next 20 years. A new report issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation concludes that carbon capture for coal-fired power has “no plausible economic future.”

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Is it time to cut the House of Saud down to size?

Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)

Qatar said on Saturday it does not fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de-facto blockade on the Gulf nation. During a visit to Rome, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani again rejected the demands as an infringement on Qatar’s sovereignty. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums. “We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a press conference in Italy. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.” Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last month and shut down land, sea and air links.

They issued a 13-point list of demands, including curbing diplomatic ties to Iran, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network. They accuse Qatar of supporting regional terror groups, a charge Qatar denies. Al Thani rejected the demands and said they were never meant to be accepted. “There is no fear from whatever action would be taken; Qatar is prepared to face whatever consequences,” he said. “But as I have mentioned … there is an international law that should not be violated and there is a border that should not be crossed.” While in Rome, Al Thani met with Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano, who backed the Kuwait-led mediation effort and urged the countries involved in the standoff to “abstain from further actions that could aggravate the situation”. He added that he hoped Italian companies could further consolidate their presence in Qatar.

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I read these things and think I must be missing something: “..Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year..” and “For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created”.

That sounds like a lot of jobs. But seriously, a country that depends too much on tourism is not a healthy country. Not enough stability or resilience. The longer the US and EU wait, the more unstable Greece will become.

Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)

Up high, above the hills of Arcadia, historic Dimitsana is on a roll. Its hotels are brimming, its cafes are full, and its footpaths and monasteries lure busloads of tourists decanted daily from other parts of the Peloponnese. Either side of the main road that splits the mountain village – in a world far removed from talk of emergency bailout funds, international stewardship and gruelling austerity – Greeks are hard at work, running boutique guesthouses, eateries and bars in the stone mansions that line Dimitsana’s cobbled streets. “Business is very good,” says Labis Baxevanos, the village’s deputy mayor, who owns a patisserie along the strip. “So good that a lot of younger couples have come to work here since the country’s economic crisis began.”

Debt-stricken Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year, almost three times its population. Addressing the Panhellenic Exporters Association last week, the tourism minister Elena Kountoura said that between January and May there had been a noticeable increase in arrivals, revenues and occupancy rates with summer bookings in some areas rising by as much as 70%. Travel receipts grew by 2.4% or €23m (£20m). After eight years of grinding austerity, the influx is a tangible gift, on a par with the €8.5bn financial lifeline thrown Greece earlier this month to once again avert default. Dimitsana – once famous for the gunpowder mills that produced the firepower in the nation’s 1821 war of independence against Ottoman rule – is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit taking root as a result of the boom.

“Tourism is our lifejacket,” says Theonimfi Koraki, who opened a boutique hotel in the village last summer. “The aim now is diversity and drawing out the season all year round. Here in Arcadia the creation of the 75km-long Menalon [walking] trail has been hugely successful for example with foreign tourists. It has greatly helped the development of the region.” With the exception of shipping, tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign earner, the mainstay of an economy that has otherwise contracted by 27% since late 2009 when the country’s debt crisis began. The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, vital for a nation hit by crippling levels of unemployment. Bank of Greece figures show around 23.5 million tourists visited in 2015, generating €14.2bn of revenues, or 24% of gross domestic product. Last year, the country’s tourism confederation, SETE, announced arrivals of 27.5 million, an all-time high.

Increasingly, the sector has helped boost much-needed job creation, according to data released by the labour ministry. Recently, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said April and May had been record months for tackling the problem with 92,000 and 89,500 jobs created respectively. For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created, say officials. They have been at pains to make the point as striking municipal waste workers not only unnerved tour operators this week but highlighted how important tourism is for the economy.

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Translation: the Troika is not done with Greece yet. The bad loans issue will be used to throw more Greeks out of their homes etc.

ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)

The European Central Bank plans to inspect Greek banks this year to monitor their progress in working off their huge pile of unpaid loans, ECB director Sabine Lautenschlaeger said on Friday. Greek banks have been cutting their share of non-performing loans (NPL) to companies and households, which account for slightly more than half of their books as a result of a severe economic crisis, to meet targets set by the ECB. The ECB supervises Greece’s four largest banks, or significant institutions (SIs), and is one of the three bodies responsible for the country’s bailout, along with the European Commission and the IMF.

“The ECB will perform on-site missions at the Greek SIs during the second half of 2017, a period in which the main operational measures to address NPLs … have to be already implemented,” Lautenschlaeger said in a letter to IMF chief Christine Lagarde. She was responding to an IMF request for information on the ECB’s supervisory work in Greece in the context of a possible IMF program for the country. Greece secured a credit lifeline from euro zone governments earlier this month. The IMF offered Athens a standby arrangement but said it won’t disburse any money until it obtains greater detail on debt relief for the country.

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The best for last today. Schaeuble suggests that Greece could have cut elsewhere and still meet Troika demands. Like kill all health care and education, presumably.

Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has insisted in an interview that successive Greek governments were to blame for the pension cuts that have been enforced in Greece. The German minister stressed in an interview with Ta Nea newspaper on Saturday that the Greek governments are the ones that decided the mix of policies needed to achieve the country’s targets. He also said that the IMF will never be involved again in a program to rescue a European country. Referring to his Greek counterpart Euclid Tsakalotos, he said they communicate frequently, while he dismissed his flamboyant predecessor Yianis Varoufakis as someone he no longer can “take seriously.”

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Jan 262017
 
 January 26, 2017  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Siegel Zoot suit, business district, Detroit, Michigan 1942

Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)
US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)
Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)
Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)
Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)
China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)
China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)
Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)
Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)
Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)
Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)
Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)
The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)
Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)
Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)
“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)

 

 

Catch 20-something.

Trump Loves Debt, But It Won’t Love Him Back (BBG)

President Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed king of debt, may end up with a revolt on his hands.He wants to spend billions of dollars to rebuild American highways and bridges to double economic growth to about 4% a year. He wants to preserve medical benefits for the poor and elderly. And he’s selected someone to oversee the national budget who’s fundamentally opposed to huge piles of debt and pledges to reduce the nation’s deficit.This recipe doesn’t add up, either in theory or practice. Even if Trump finances his promised infrastructure plans entirely by cutting other government services, the nation’s debt load is forecast to surge by trillions of dollars over the next decade.

Trump faces two big problems when grappling with the U.S. debt load: an aging population that’s becoming sicker and inauspicious bond math. If Trump succeeds in fostering substantially higher growth rates, as he’s promised, then interest rates will most likely rise much more than forecast. That’ll make it materially more expensive for the nation to service its debt.Even without much more growth, the U.S. deficit will likely increase as interest rates rise. That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group that analyzes the U.S. economy, which just released its forecast for the nation’s deficit and debt load over the next decade.

Its baseline scenario calls for gradually rising benchmark borrowing costs, with 10-year Treasury yields leveling out at about 3.6% by 2022 from about 2.5% today. Even with that relatively modest projection, CBO analysts wrote that “the government’s interest payments on that debt rise sharply over the next 10 years — nearly tripling in nominal terms and almost doubling relative to GDP.”Interest expense will rise to $768 billion in 2027 from $270 billion in 2017 under the CBO’s base-case scenario.But let’s say Trump succeeds in his attempt to foster more economic growth. That’ll mean that inflation will rise, prompting investors to demand higher U.S. Treasury yields to offset steadily rising consumer prices. Jeffrey Gundlach, the bond guru who runs DoubleLine Capital, said after the election that U.S. 10-year government bond yields could reach 6% in five years. In that case, the interest expense would balloon much more than expected, substantially eating into the nation’s budget.

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“We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.”

US Tax Reforms Could ‘Transform’ Global Oil Market (R.)

The push by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for a shift to border-adjusted corporate tax (BTA) could push U.S. crude prices higher than the global benchmark Brent, triggering large-scale domestic production, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs on Tuesday. The measure, known as border adjustment, intends to boost U.S. manufacturing by taxing imports while exempting U.S. business export revenues from corporate taxation. Goldman said it anticipates a 25% jump in the prices of U.S. crude futures, also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), and refined products in comparison to the global prices if the switch is implemented.

The investment bank, however, said that uncertainty on whether such a policy will go ahead is high due to concerns about WTO-non compliance and transition issues and oil futures currently only imply a 9% probability for such a shift. “If implemented, the impacts on the oil market would be significant,” Goldman said. “We expect WTI could move to a $10 per barrel premium to Brent from a $3 discount – a $13 (+25%) relative move immediately.” Brent crude futures were trading on Tuesday at a $2.40 per barrel premium to WTI. The appreciation in prices could be an incentive for producers to sharply increase activity, the bank said warning, that the ramp up in U.S. production in a market only starting to rebalance would create a renewed large oil surplus in 2018, which could lead to an immediate sharp decline in global oil prices.

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The UN is dysfunctional, but this risks cutting the few parts that do actually work.

Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties, UN (NYT)

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would clear the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and potentially abrogate certain forms of multilateral treaties. The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria. Those criteria include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea.

The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights. The order calls for then enacting “at least a 40% overall decrease” in remaining United States funding toward international organizations. The order establishes a committee to recommend where those funding cuts should be made. It asks the committee to look specifically at United States funding for peacekeeping operations; the International Criminal Court; development aid to countries that “oppose important United States policies”; and the United Nations Population Fund, which oversees maternal and reproductive health programs.

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Interesting power fight. But there are laws.

Trump Starts A ‘Sanctuary City’ War With Liberal America (BBC)

Mr Trump’s border wall announcement will make most of the headlines today, given that it was a central focus of his presidential campaign and has increased diplomatic tension with the Mexican government. His plan to target US “sanctuary cities”, however, likely sets the stage for a much tougher, uglier domestic political fight. More than 400 jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Seattle – major cities in left-leaning states that did not vote for Mr Trump – have enacted policies protecting undocumented immigrants within their boundaries. Officials in these designated areas, including local law enforcement, are not allowed to enquire as to an individual’s immigration status in the course of their duties.

Candidate Trump pledged to end this practice, and on Wednesday he put some teeth into his promise – authorising the federal government to withhold funds from cities that do not co-operate with immigration officials or comply with federal law. His executive order frames the issue as one of national security. “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States wilfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” it reads. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

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Speeding up decline. Or exposing it, rather.

Kyle Bass Calls Trump ‘Gasoline’ on Smoldering Fire in China (BBG)

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass likened President Donald Trump’s trade and tax policies to gasoline — hastening an economic restructuring in China while stimulating capital investment and growth in the U.S. China has “recklessly built a system that’s going to need to restructure and that just so happens to be metastasizing right when Trump becomes elected,” Bass told Bloomberg TV. “This is a fire that’s been smoldering and it’s now starting to burn, and Trump is just more gasoline.” Imposing tariffs on Chinese imports could have “profound consequences” for the nation’s economy, where credit over the last 18 months has grown by $6.5 trillion while deposits expanded just $3 trillion, said Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management.

Early last year, Bass called for a 30% devaluation in the yuan against the dollar, and he’s since opened two Asia-focused funds to wager on the imbalances in the region, which he said could extend to Hong Kong and Taiwan. “The idea that China is now the driving economic power in the world, I think, is illusory or somewhat of a fallacy,” he said. “It’s safe to say that the Asian theater is where we’ve been focused.” In the U.S., Bass said, border tax adjustments will help finance a lower corporate tax rate that Trump has proposed, which in combination with the repatriation of capital offshore will be “extremely stimulative.” He said Trump’s accelerated policies would lead to real capital investment, competitiveness and an improvement in productivity.

The impact will be “positive for the United States and slightly negative for the rest of the world,” he said. “But it’s not the globalist nightmare, in my opinion.” Inflation, set to increase in the U.S., will also spike in Germany, which will prompt a tapering of the ECB’s bond-buying program and possibly an increase in interest rates, he said. The move to do so will be sped up by Trump, he said.

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“Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities..”

China Keeps 3% Budget Deficit Goal For 2017 As Debt Risks Grow (R.)

China’s policymakers plan to keep their budget deficit target for 2017 at the same level as last year to underscore a focus on debt reduction and reform, though they have wiggle room to increase fiscal stimulus if the economy needs support again. A budget deficit target of 3% of GDP, unchanged from 2016, was endorsed by top leaders at the Central Economic Work Conference in December, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting’s outcome. After government investment propped up activity for much of 2016, policymakers are looking for a recovery in private investment through public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure projects to drive growth this year. “Fiscal policy is clear. It’s necessary to maintain last year’s 3% deficit ratio, although there is room to increase it slightly,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Preliminary finance ministry data this week implied an actual deficit of 3.8% of GDP in 2016. However, China’s budget accounting allows it to use unspent money from previous years and funds from a Central Budget Stabilization Fund so it can report a final deficit in line with the target. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.7% last year, supported by higher government spending and record bank lending, though it was still the slowest growth in 26 years. Reuters reported last week that sources said the 2017 economic growth target would be around 6.5%, down from last year’s 6.5-7%. “If this year’s growth goal is not that high, there will be less pressure on the strength of policy support,” said a second policy source. [..] Total fixed-asset investment rose 8.1% in 2016, the slowest pace since 1999, despite an 18.7% increase in investment by state entities, as private investment grew just 3.2%, the weakest on record.

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A risk to the west, that is.

China Is Becoming ‘Increasingly Risky’ Because Of Its Economy (CNBC)

A major risk to U.S. markets is looming, and it’s bigger than headlines and President Donald Trump’s tweets, Goldman Sachs’ Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani told CNBC on Wednesday. The threat is the Chinese economy, the Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management chief investment officer told “Squawk on the Street.” “We use the term that China could ‘submerge’ under the burden of its own debt,” Mossavar-Rahmani said. “If you look at any of the debt measures in China, they’re tremendously high.” Mossavar-Rahmani focused on the credit-to-GDP number from the BIS as a key measure of China’s accumulating debt. As of the second quarter of 2016, China’s ratio was 28.8%.

“China is about 30, the U.S. was at 12.4% just before the crisis. And if the U.S. didn’t avoid a financial crisis with all its strength, how can we assume that China will?” the wealth manager asked. China is still awaiting its 19th gathering of the National Congress of the Communist Party in the fall, which Mossavar-Rahmani said would weigh on the country’s economic position in 2018. The meeting will determine 370 of China’s Central Committee members for the next five years. “Then we have to see, in 2018, will they put structural reforms on the front burner or does it stay on the back burner?” Mossavar-Rahmani asked.

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The US has a large block of religious zealots. The rest of the west, not so much.

Dutch Respond To Trump’s ‘Gag Rule’ With International Safe Abortion Fund (G.)

Up to 20 countries have indicated support for the Netherlands’ plan to set up an international safe abortion fund to plug a $600m funding gap caused by Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule”, the Dutch international development minister, Lilianne Ploumen, said on Wednesday. Ploumen took soundings from a number of her colleagues around the world on Tuesday evening after the Netherlands said it would act to mitigate the impact on hundreds of charities around the world. The “global gag rule”, also known as the Mexico City policy, was reimposed by Trump on Monday, and bans US federal funding for NGOs in foreign countries that provide abortion services or abortion advocacy. ‘We’re in talks with 15 to 20 countries and we’ve also spoken to foundations,” Ploumen told the Guardian.

“As well as contacting a number of European countries that we work with on these issues, we’re also in touch with countries in South America and Africa, as well as the foundations. It’s important to have the broadest possible support for the fund.” Ploumen did not identify which countries had been approached or how much money the Dutch government might commit to the scheme. She said the aim would be to continue support for existing programmes being run by organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), the International Planned Parenting Federation and Marie Stopes International. “These are successful and effective programmes: direct support, distributing condoms, making sure women are accompanied at the birth, and making sure abortion is safe if they have no other choice,” she said.

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Damning. DO read.

Why the Corrupt, Worker-Hating New Democrats Must Be Purged (Bill Black)

This article explains three critical reasons why the Democratic Party’s leaders are far more insane than all but a few Democrats understand. It focuses on the leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the New Democrats. The DNC leadership is composed of New Democrats. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to resign in disgrace when the leaks proved that she was putting the DNC’s thumbs on the scale to favor Hillary Clinton (a New Democrat) in the presidential nomination contest against Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz also took large contributions from big finance and, until she faced the prospect of a serious primary challenger, she supported efforts by predatory lenders to use Congress to bar the regulators from stopping their abuses.

Donna Brazile, a New Democrat, now runs the DNC. In this article, I show that Brazile denounced Democrats who refused to cheer President Bush’s invasion of Iraq (and his “Mission Accomplished” declaration) as so disloyal that when their country needed them they went “AWOL.” Not satisfied with that libel, she added the homophobic smear that voters would view Democrats who failed to cheer Bush’s lies and invasion as “effete.” Best of all, she said that Democrats should take as their role models Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Frank Gaffney – Bush’s “chicken hawks” that devised the campaign of lies that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Gaffney is now spreading hate of Muslims – and advising President Trump.

The DNC is also in the news because it has just accepted a $20 million “donation” funded by Third Way, a Wall Street front group, to study why the white working class “abandoned” Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a leader of the New Democrats. Wall Street has long been the largest single funder of the New Democrats various institutions. The New Democrats, at the behest of Wall Street, have waged the “long war” against the working class since their formation in 1984. The New Democrats did not simply abandon the working class – they targeted it for scorn and assaulted it with policies that harmed many Americans, but caused the greatest harm to the working class.

Particularly in light of the Trump’s election, the logical reaction of the DNC would have been to refuse to take the Wall Street buyout and announce that the New Democrats would never again do Wall Street’s bidding. They would return to the Democratic Party’s historic role as the party that championed the rights of workers. Brazile, of course, ensured that the DNC eagerly took the $20 million Wall Street buyout. The New Democrats not only continue to be for sale (or rent) by Wall Street – they continue to show that they continue to for sale for chump change. The DNC does not need $20 million to figure out why the white working class “abandoned” the New Democrats. They can check out from their local library Tom Frank’s books warning that this would happen and explaining in detail why the New Democrats’ long war against the working class was making it happen.

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When growth could not be delivered. “There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65.”

Pippa Malmgren: The Social Contract In The West Is Broken (SLD)

Question: The inability of continental Europe to grow has been a clear part of the concern in Britain about Europe. What role has this played?

Malmgren: The British received more Foreign Direct Investment than any other locartion in the EU before Brexit. It was assumed this flow would fall after Brexit. But, I hear from my clients that they are even more interested in the UK now. That’s because money is like water. It flows to wherever it faces the least resistance – the lowest tax rates and least regulatory burden. I would challenge the British to end up with more regulation and higher taxes that the EU after Brexit. Frankly, that would take a huge effort! But the problems on the Continent are deeper than this; The real issue is that the social contract between citizens and governments in the West are being broken. There is always a deal between citizens and their governments. But now governments are defaulting on their citizens because of the debt problem. They can’t deliver retirement at 65. Now everybody has to work longer.

They can’t deliver the healthcare that had been expected. Frankly they can’t deliver police, fire departments or roads without potholes. The social contract in the EU is under even greater stress because growth has been so very poor. The night of the victory of Brexit, the markets attacked Italian banks, not British banks. What did the state in Italy do? They said they’d find 5b Euros to bail out the oldest bank which had lost 98% of its shareholder value. Meanwhile, they can’t find 5 cents for the young who are experiencing over 30% unemployment rates. This breaks the social contract and helps explain the new anti-EU sentiment. The Europeans are also increasingly uneasy about immigration issues. It was not part of the original deal in the European contract to have completely open borders. In my view, the British are not xenophobic, but want more process around immigration. They want a more secure movement of people within Europe.

The media talks all the time about the proposed Wall by Trump in the US with Mexico, but the reality is there a wall-building spree going on in Europe. Look at the new walls being constructed between Hungry and Serbia, between Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as new walls in Estonia, Poland and Lithuania are constructing one around Kaliningrad with watchtowers, etc. Frankly new walls will increasingly be digital. Processing of people will begin well before you get anywhere near what you think the border is. We will pass through borders without realizing we’ve already been assessed. We are in a period of history where the Europeans are fundamentally rethinking what they want Europe to stand for, the European Union to do, and how to generate economic growth again. As everywhere else, the public are questioning the establishment because they have failed to deliver on their promises.

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“I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

The ‘media’ have lost so much credibility, and permamently. That is dangerous.

Seymour Hersh Blasts Media For Promoting Russian Hacking Story (IC)

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts. Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public. “The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated.

“They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.” Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

The declassified version of the report, which was released January 7 and dominated the news for days, charged that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” and “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” According to the report, the NSA was said to have had a lower confidence level than James Clapper and the CIA about the conclusion that Russia intended to influence the election. Hersh characterized the report as full of assertions and thin on evidence.

“It’s high camp stuff,” Hersh told The Intercept. “What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force — they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they’d give it to you. An assessment is just that. It’s a belief. And they’ve done it many times.”

[..] While expressing fears about Trump’s agenda, Hersh also called Trump a potential “circuit breaker” of the two-party political system in the U.S. “The idea of somebody breaking things away, and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democratic Party, is not a bad idea,” Hersh said. “That’s something we could build on in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years.” He added: “I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

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But it will just continue. Wanna bet?

Austerity Economics Has Just Been Smashed. By The IMF. (GDB)

A powerful new report finally kills off any remaining intellectual veil for a broken economics that is breaking society. Sometimes an ideology is so brilliantly propagated that observers might not even notice it’s an ideology. In the corridors of power and in mainstream discussion, it ceases to be questioned. Then it goes catastrophically wrong. And it begins to seen again for the ideology it is. It becomes questioned again. And, if they are smart, leaders hear this and start to self-correct. This is where we’ve got to with neoliberalism, austerity, and rising inequality. Except for the self-correct part. Right now, instead of self-correction, we’re seeing many mainstream politicians unable to shift away from dead economics, and what seems in too many countries like the start of social breakdown.

Change is well overdue. Who can prompt leaders to drop the old economic nostrums are causing so much harm? Enter the IMF with a sledgehammer. Progressives duck in case in the sledgehammer is meant for them. But then the IMF demolishes the case for neoliberalism and austerity. It sounds extraordinary, and it is. Today the IMF will launch a new report, “Macro-Structural Policies and Income Inequality in Low-Income Developing Countries”, the latest in series that mark the intellectual journey the IMF research department has been travelling in recent years. Packed with detailed quantitative analysis it demonstrates that much of what elites have been advancing as unquestioned economics is demonstrably harmful both to economic growth and to public wellbeing.

Of course what makes this surprising, and what may make some progressives unenthusiastic about welcoming this, is also what makes it so powerful: an institution that has been, for far too long, a defender of the free market story and the Washington Consensus – the idea that liberalizing trade, privatizing everything possible and cutting down public spending was a one-size-fits-all solution to any government in trouble – has now refuted it. This paper is not the first by the IMF to take a stand on inequality, but it is notable because it claims in no uncertain terms that public spending – i.e. the opposite of the budget cuts that it once advocated for – decreases income inequality. They even have a formula – a 1% increase in public spending, they report, leads to a 2.3% decrease in inequality after 5 years. The paper also takes a strong stand against prioritizing indirect taxes, such as VAT, showing that they increase inequality.

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Bit sensationalist, perhaps?

The Super Rich Are Preparing For The End Of The World (CNBC)

The Dow has hit 20,000 for the first time ever, but rather than celebrating, some of the richest of the rich are building bunkers to prepare for a potential apocalypse. These “preppers” are making other investments too. They’re buying houses in New Zealand, which has become a popular spot in case of calamity. Billionaire Peter Thiel just secured property and citizenship there. And they’re getting elective surgery. Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of the online community Reddit, got Lasik so that he’d be able to be more independent in case of emergency. “If the world ends — and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble — getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” the San Francisco resident tells Evan Osnos as part of The New Yorker’s chronicle of the elite’s end-of-the-world preparations. “Without them, I’m f—ed.”

In addition to the eye surgery, Huffman has accumulated guns, ammunition and motorcycles so that he won’t get caught in traffic jams during an evacuation. The notion of “doomsday prepping” was popularized in the mainstream by the National Geographic channel’s show by the same name. The show’s website offers a quiz titled “How prepped are you?” so you can test your own likelihood of surviving an apocalypse. Former Facebook product manager Antonio García Martínez bought wooded land in the Pacific Northwest that he has stocked with generators, solar panels and ammo, The New Yorker reports. “You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse,” García Martínez says. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In particular, the political climate has made many coastal elites anxious about the future. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power — that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work,” says Huffman. “While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”

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The war on Grillo will intensify.

Rome Mayor Raggi Says She Received Summons From Prosecutors (BBG)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said she has received a summons from city prosecutors over a staff appointment. Raggi, a lawyer who was elected mayor last year, wrote in a post on Facebook that the summons concerns her nomination of Renato Marra as head of the tourism department, which she has revoked. She said she had informed Five Star co-founder Beppe Grillo and the city council of the summons. “I am very serene; I have full confidence in the judiciary, as ever,” Raggi wrote. “We are ready to give every clarification.” Raggi’s city hall administration has been plagued by resignations. Five Star, which wants a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro area, has remained neck and neck with the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his predecessor Matteo Renzi in national opinion polls.

Five Star has made denunciations of political corruption one of its main themes, often calling for elected officials to resign if they are placed under investigation, long before a case comes to court. But under new rules posted on Grillo’s blog earlier this month, Five Star officials do not have to resign automatically if they are investigated. Italian newswire Ansa said Raggi was under investigation for alleged abuse of office in the personnel matter. [..] Alessandro Di Battista, a senior Five Star lawmaker, told La 7 television that Raggi had a duty to explain why she had made the appointment. “This isn’t about public money, or decisions which affect a right of citizens,” Di Battista said. “This would involve mistaken signatures, a mistaken nomination which was immediately revoked.”

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If not in February, forget 2017.

Deal On Greek Bailout’s Second Review Possible At February Eurogroup (R.)

Euro zone creditors could approve the completion of the second set of Greek bailout reforms at the next meeting of finance ministers in February, an euro zone official said on Wednesday. The approval of the outstanding reforms, mainly concerning Greek fiscal targets, the labor market and liberalization of the energy sector, would pave the way for further euro zone loans to Athens, which faces large repayments in the third quarter. Finance ministers of the 19 countries of the euro zone will meet on Thursday in Brussels but there hasn’t been sufficient progress in Greek reforms yet for them to sign off on a deal now, the senior official said, confirming what the EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Tuesday.

Still, the ministers are likely to produce an agreement to continue talks with a view to concluding them at the next Eurogroup meeting on Feb. 20, according to the official. “There is a good chance” that an agreement will be reached on Thursday to send euro zone negotiators back to Athens so that a deal can be reached in February, the official said. “February is the last month in which there is no politically significant election in relevant member states,” the official said, and this meant “February is not formally but realistically the time when we need to reach a political agreement”. The Netherlands go to the polls in March, and the French will vote in presidential elections in April and likely also in May. Germany, the biggest economy in the euro zone, will hold a general election in September. A comprehensive deal for Greece will also have to involve the IMF, the official said.

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Pretty brilliant.

“INAUGURATION DAY” (Bad Lip Reading)

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Apr 152014
 
 April 15, 2014  Posted by at 2:57 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


National Photo Co. The House Without Children, Poli’s theater, Washington DC 1920

Update:

Michael Ruppert Has Committed Suicide

RIP

Let’s start the day with the best – or should I say the funniest – graph I’ve seen in a while, picked up from Tyler Durden. It speaks for itself.



If this means things are going according to plan, we might want to wonder what the plan is.

American markets went up yesterday, and it was suggested that this had something to do with March retail numbers, which were up 1.1%. But then in ‘the back pages’ today, Bloomberg added this:

When the year started, analysts estimated retailers’ first-quarter earnings would grow more than 13% [..] That average had dropped to 7.5% on March 1 and now stands at 3.2%

Again, if this is according to plan, what plan? And who are those “analysts”? Do they still have a job? Also, don’t let’s forget Monday’s news that US mortgage lending fell to a 17-year low, i.e. is now lower than immediately after the financial crisis.

Next, two reports that are perhaps even more devastating for America than that graph above already is.

First, a joint report, due out this fall, by Martin Gilens at Princeton and Benjamin I. Page at Northwestern, leaves little standing of the notion that America is a democracy, or at least not what they label a Majoritarian Electoral Democracy. Instead, the US political system is, in their view, an Economic Elite Domination.

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. [..] Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, [but when] the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

RT adds:

The authors say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process. “Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researchers said. “Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”

Lovely. And that’s before we turn to Seymour Hersh’s The Red Line and the Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels, in which one of America’s few remaining real journalists explains how President Obama leads the Warfare State according to, once more, a plan that few Americans would recognize or approve of, being on the cusp of all-out war in Syria one day and calling it off the next, and in which US ally Turkey supplied the sarin gas that US-supported rebels, not President Assad, used in an attack. A great read of a very unappetizing chapter in recent US history.

And that must make us, again, wonder about the role the US plays in Ukraine. A role that is certainly plenty shady, from the botched kingmaking of Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, handing out pastries on Maidan Square with John McCain, to the presence of Blackwater mercenaries in the very eastern cities that are now under siege (doing what exactly?). And now the visit of CIA director John Brennan to Kiev over the weekend, which led ousted President Yanukovich to state Brennan had “de facto sanctioned” the use of weapons and thus provoked the bloodshed now taking place as Ukraine has declared war on the ethnic Russian rebels it calls “terrorists”, who occupy buildings in several cities. Certainly in light of the US role in Syria as described by Hersh, it’s time someone, anyone stateside start asking what the White House and Pentagon are up to.

More bad data out of China. After the 18% February plunge in exports was followed by a 6.6% fall in March, confirming that Lunar New Year went only so far to explain events, now a 19% y-o-y drop in new credit surfaces. And while you may at first think the shadow banking system might be good for the difference, the crackdown on that system is serious enough that that’s not likely. Which means we could be looking at a substantial downsizing of the Chinese economy.

The soy importers who defaulted on orders from Brazil and the US, did so because they could not get Letters of Credit, probably because they didn’t have good collateral. But who ever did in the Middle Kingdom? I’m not saying no-one did, but that the question was never asked. One iron ore load bought on credit would be used as collateral for the next load, before the first one was paid for. Works like a charm, and whoever’s on the right side of it gets to buy a home in London or Hongcouver or a patch of US farmland, but stick a spoke in the wheel and you risk creating a game of multi million falling dominoes. A new way to measure China GDP hints at a much lower growth rate than Beijing’s opaque official 7+% number. I said it before, there’s a power game going on there between the Communist party and the market place it seeks to create. And rigid central control doesn’t rhyme with a free market.

Still, I doubt that there’s an economist alive today who has the knowledge to gauge the risks and dangers that are playing out in China. Or Japan, EU and US, for that matter. So this Guardian headline was a welcome stress relief:

Financial Crisis Won’t Have Long-Term Impact On UK Growth: Economists

On the second question, over the extent of long-term damage from the crisis, the economists were not as divided. Almost two-thirds (61%) thought that the financial crisis will either have no effect on long-term UK growth rates or a small negative effect that pushes GDP down by less than 2.5% in total over a 10-year horizon.

The headline should have been: “Economists Are Useless Twits”. These people have no idea whether UK growth will be long term impacted by the crisis, they merely have models, taken straight from their school books, that suggest all is well. There’s a model for everything. But I don’t want to bash economists all the time, there are more useful things to do in life and it’s too easy. But let me close with the announcement I received recently from our close buddy Steve Keen, that rare economist with a functioning brain, that he is now chief economist at IDEA Economics.

One of the first things to come out of IDEA after Steve joined is a revised US unemployment chart, depicting the IDEA Effective Unemployment Rate, which takes note of the Labor Participation Rate.

March 2014: Headline: 9.7%. All-In (U6): 15.7%.

This is where we say good night and good luck?!


March Retail Gain Brings Little Relief to US Stores (Bloomberg)

For companies such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Family Dollar Stores, a rebound in March retail sales may prove too little late. While the Commerce Department yesterday said retail sales gained 1.1% last month, Moody’s cut its forecast for 2014 sales, saying that March’s results will give little comfort to companies whose sales were crimped by frigid temperatures in January and February. And even as spending thawed last month, analysts continued to slash estimates for retailers’ first-quarter profits.

The government report suggested warmer temperatures brought shoppers back into stores and enticed them to make purchases the blizzards had forced them to delay. Yet with incomes still stagnant and the job market still sluggish, it remains to be seen whether the momentum will carry into April, said Rick Snyder, an analyst at Maxim Group LLC in New York. “You can’t take this short-term data and jump to the conclusion” that spending is primed for big gains, Snyder said yesterday in an interview. “Things got better, but it’s relative. How bad did they start off?”

Sales dropped 0.7% in January, the biggest decline since March 2013, and rose 0.7% in February. Retail sales this year will rise 3% to 4%, Moody’s said in a statement yesterday. That’s down from its original range of 4.5% to 5.5%. When the year started, analysts estimated retailers’ first-quarter earnings would grow more than 13%, Retail Metrics Inc. said. That average had dropped to 7.5% on March 1 and now stands at 3.2%, the researcher said.

Read more …

US Is An Oligarchy, Not A Democracy, Americans Have ‘Near-Zero’ Input On Policy (RT)

The first-ever scientific study that analyzes whether the US is a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, found the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to the wealthy. The study, due out in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, sets out to answer elusive questions about who really rules in the United States. The researchers measured key variables for 1,779 policy issues within a single statistical model in an unprecedented attempt “to test these contrasting theoretical predictions” – i.e. whether the US sets policy democratically or the process is dominated by economic elites, or some combination of both.

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University wrote. While “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association,” the authors say the data implicate “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process. “Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researchers said. “Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”

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Look, if I can make a profit by making people’s lives miserable, I have a Constitutional right to do so, right?

TurboTax Maker Spends Millions To Kill Simplified IRS Tax Filing (RT)

A software company that promises to help Americans avoid the annual misery of filing their IRS returns has, in fact, spent years trying to convince lawmakers to make sure filing taxes remains difficult, thus protecting its business, a new report found. Every year Americans spend an estimated $2 billion and 225 million hours preparing their tax returns by April 15. The process can include obtaining information from a bank or employer, intensive financial disclosures, and, for many Americans, an appointment with a professional accountant who is qualified to evaluate how much money the state and federal government is due.

The annual drudgery could be avoided with “return free-filing.” The process would involve an Americans’ employer and bank sending information to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the government sending a bill to an individual, and that person essentially returning their payment in mere minutes, free of charge. Denmark, Sweden, and Spain already rely on pre-filed returns, and the US could as well if it were not for Intuit Inc. The owner of Turbo Tax, Intuit has spent at least $11.5 million on a federal lobbying effort over five years (spending more than Amazon or Apple) in an attempt to make sure the way Americans pay their taxes doesn’t change.

The ploy was first unveiled by a ProPublica investigation last year, although reporters found that Intuit used the same tricks through spring of this year. Lobbyists have portrayed return free-filing as a big-government intrusion, although the idea has previously been endorsed by Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic President Barack Obama when he was campaigning in 2008. William Gale, co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told ProPublica return free-filing is the next logical step for frustrated taxpayers.

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Seymour Hersh’s Blockbuster: Obama On The Red Line And On The Rat Line (Stockman)

Read Seymour Hersh’s devastating account of Obama’s Red Lines and Rat Lines and weep for the Republic. It is no more. For the first time in a half-century American voters actually elected the “peace candidate” in 2008 and sent Obama to the White House to end the interventionist foreign policy that had lead to disaster in Iraq, and, implicitly, to wind down the vast war machine that had been left over from the Cold War.

The latter had been converted by the Bush’s and Clintons into an armada of invasion and occupation that had rained death and destruction from Bosnia to Baghdad to Kandahar for no reasonable or justifiable purpose of national security. These aggressions were simply what a war machine does, making up rationalizations as it goes along. But the Warfare State was not about to let peace happen.

Soon Obama learned the Washington pivot, rehired the core of Bush’s War Cabinet and became enmeshed in the “national security” plots and schemes which were in the pipeline when he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvanian Avenue— much like JFK inherited the disastrous Bay Of Pigs invasion. Like the despicable Alan Dulles, he inherited ambitious scoundrels like so-called General David Petraeus, who soon had him convinced that the non-sensical and bloody “surge” in Anbar Province had been a roaring success, and that it should be exported to the quagmire in Afghanistan.

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It looks to be a slow one.

Kiev Launches Military Operation In Eastern Ukraine (RT)

Ukraine’s coup-appointed acting President Aleksandr Turchinov has announced a crackdown on anti-government protesters in the north of the Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine. “The anti-terrorist operation started overnight Monday,” said Turchinov. “The aim of these actions is to protect the citizens of Ukraine.” According to Turchinov, this ‘anti-terrorist operation’ also aims to prevent “attempts to break Ukraine apart.” The anti-government protesters in south-eastern Ukraine have recently been protesting against coup-appointed Kiev authorities. They demand constitutional reform that would take into consideration the interests of all Ukrainian regions.

They also propose the federalization of the country and to make Russian the second official language in the regions. Earlier, a clip posted to YouTube showed local people in the town of Rodinskoye, Donetsk Region, have stopped a tank allegedly on its way from Kiev to take part in the crackdown against south-eastern Ukrainian cities. Meanwhile, the first battalion of Ukraine’s National Guard have left Kiev for the south-east, said the head National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Andrey Parubiy. According to Parubiy, the “battalion is comprised of volunteers from the Maidan self-defense troops”.

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Big Oil, the military-industrial complex, what could be more dangerous than that?

Ukraine’s Great Unraveling, Brought To You By Corporate America (RT)

… one nation’s crisis is another corporation’s windfall. Indeed, developments in Ukraine certainly spell big bucks for America’s bloated defense industry, which has used the Ukraine crisis in general, and the Crimean “annexation” in particular, to warn Capitol Hill of Russia’s “return to imperialism.” Never mind that Russia has not violated the territorial integrity of a single foreign country – without being attacked first, as was the case with Georgia – since the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Everybody in the Pentagon and in the defense industry is using the Ukraine crisis as a warning for why the department needs to spend more on military technology,” Loren Thompson, chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, told AP.

Military advantage, however, is not the only reason for Washington imposing itself on Kiev. To understand the full picture, it is only necessary to consider the corporate circus that US Congress has become, in which the “people’s representatives” now take their marching orders from boardrooms across corporate America. Consider, for example, efforts by the American Petroleum Institute to take advantage of Kiev’s chaos. “We’ve just had a consistent drumbeat going since the beginning of last year,” Erik Milito, API’s director of industry operations, told Bloomberg. “We just kept doing it, and this became a more heightened debate during the whole Ukraine situation.”

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China New Credit Falls 19%, Money-Supply Growth Slows (Bloomberg)

China’s broadest measure of new credit fell 19% from a year earlier and money supply grew at the slowest pace since 2001, underscoring risks of a deeper slowdown as the government tries to curb financial dangers. Aggregate financing was 2.07 trillion yuan ($333 billion) in March, the People’s Bank of China said in Beijing today, down from 2.55 trillion yuan a year ago. M2, China’s broadest gauge of money supply, rose 12.1% from a year earlier. Policy makers are trying to rein in a credit binge and prevent defaults from spurring broader financial turmoil, while meeting a target for economic expansion of about 7.5% this year.

The State Council earlier this month outlined what some analysts have dubbed a “mini-stimulus” package of railway spending and tax relief, with first-quarter growth projected to be the slowest since 2009 in a report due tomorrow. “Deleveraging will for sure help China’s long-term growth, but the pressing issue for now is to handle the deceleration in economic growth,” said Li Wei, a Shanghai-based economist at Standard Chartered Plc. “That’s why monetary policy has to be more flexible.” Authorities may lower banks’ reserve requirements in May to send a clearer signal that they will ensure expansion, he said.

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Chinese Stocks Decline Most in 3 Weeks as Money Growth Slows (Bloomberg)

China’s stocks declined the most in three weeks, led by financial companies and commodity producers, as the slowest increase in the nation’s money supply since 2001 underscored risks of a deeper economic slowdown. Poly Real Estate Group Co. and Industrial Bank Co. fell more than 2.5% as a gauge of financial shares headed for its biggest loss in a month, while the one-year interest-rate swap dropped as much as eight basis points to a one-month low. China Shenhua Energy Co., a unit of the nation’s largest coal producer, slid 1.7%, while Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Co. lost 1.5%. China Mobile Ltd. slumped in Hong Kong.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.1% to 2,107.98 at 1:20 p.m., heading for its biggest retreat since March 20. Stocks extended losses after data showed M2, China’s broadest measure of money supply, rose 12.1% in March from a year earlier, compared with 13.3% in February. New yuan loans were 1.05 trillion yuan ($169 billion), topping economist estimates of 1 trillion yuan. “Investors are a bit worried because M2 is quite low,” Zhang Haidong, an analyst at Tebon Securities Co., said by phone in Shanghai. “New loans may be better than expected by a little, but it’s still not considered good data; we still think liquidity is very tight.”

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Hong Kong Stocks Decline Most in a Month on China Data (Bloomberg)

Hong Kong stocks slid, with the benchmark index heading for the biggest drop in almost a month, after data showed China’s new credit fell in March from a year earlier and money supply grew at the slowest pace since 2001. Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. lost 1.8%. Guotai Junan International Holdings Ltd. tumbled 8.4% after the brokerage said it plans to sell shares. Great Wall Motor Co. sank 5.7% after JPMorgan Chase & Co. cut its rating. Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd., the world’s second-biggest bourse operator by market value, slipped 3.6% after jumping 14% in the past two sessions on plans for cross-border equity trading with Shanghai’s exchange.

China is due to release first-quarter gross domestic product data tomorrow. “Investors are using the money supply data as an excuse to take profit and lock in gains ahead of China’s GDP data,” said Louis Tse, a Hong Kong-based director at VC Brokerage Ltd. The money supply data shows not enough liquidity, and “the lower the GDP, the higher the expectation the government will pour money into the market, but that’s already discounted.”

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Deeper China Slowdown Seen In Quarterly Than In Yearly GDP (Bloomberg)

China’s loss of economic momentum in the first quarter was deeper than the most widely-cited data will show, according to analyst forecasts for a gauge that’s gaining increasing recognition. Gross domestic product grew 1.5% from the previous three months, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey ahead of data released tomorrow, down from 1.8% in the fourth quarter. That indicates a sharper deceleration than the median projection for 7.3% growth from a year earlier, down from 7.7%.

Investors are focused on the scale of a slowdown that prompted Premier Li Keqiang to provide what some analysts dubbed a “mini-stimulus” of spending and tax relief. While the indicator suffers from flaws including the government’s failure to give details of methodology, it provides an extra tool to analyze an economy that bond-fund manager Bill Gross calls the “mystery meat” of emerging markets.

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Strong euro killing PIIGS.

Spain Anxiety on Euro Leaves Rajoy With Two-Front Battle (Bloomberg)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is counting on Mario Draghi’s help in a battle on two fronts against the strength of the euro. With the currency reaching a level high enough to provoke the European Central Bank president to threaten action, data today and tomorrow will show the latest damage it has caused to inflation and trade. For Spain, the effect has already been double-edged, depressing consumer prices enough to cause annual declines in an economy still overburdened with unemployment, while also threatening its export-based recovery. Rajoy said on April 7 that he would like “a different exchange rate,” and Draghi said as much in Washington five days later when he told reporters that the euro’s strengthening “requires further monetary stimulus.”

Such assistance can’t come soon enough for Spanish companies including Cosentino SA, a manufacturer of bathroom and kitchen quartz surfaces. “The economic rationale of maintaining all our factories in Almeria is becoming weaker and weaker,” Chief Financial Officer Luis de la Haza said in a telephone interview from the southern region of Spain, where the company has 10 facilities and two fifths of its workforce. “We’ve been suffering for months without any respite from the euro’s exchange rate. The single currency has appreciated more than 5% against the dollar in the past 12 months, undermining euro-area exporters’ cost-cutting efforts to win business outside the 18-nation bloc. At the same time, slowing inflation makes competition within the region tougher.

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Spanish Bank BBVA Warns Of 10-Year Jobs Blight (Guardian)

Spanish unemployment could take 10 more years to return to the levels seen before the financial crisis, according to a report that paints a picture of an economy hampered by low wages, low skills and lack of investment in research. Spanish workers earn 20%-40% less than those in other leading European countries, according to the study by Spain’s second-biggest bank, BBVA. The earnings gap is partly explained by very high unemployment, which BBVA said “derives from a labour market that functions substantially worse than in other countries”. The bank found Spanish spending on research and development is 70% below the US or EU average, and said the economy suffered from low skills and a lack of technology in the workplace.

“All of these differences derive from an inadequate legal and institutional system of incentives,” the report said. The researchers forecast that even if employment increased at a rate of 2% it would take 10 years to reach 2007 levels. Calling for long-term “balanced, solid and inclusive” growth to bring per capita income in line with the US and eurozone competitors, the report urged Spain’s traditionally small- and medium-sized firms to enlarge and seek international markets. “Large companies are more productive, have more human capital, survive longer, invest more in R&D and export more,” it said, adding that this enlargement would only occur if legal, financial and fiscal obstacles were removed.

It noted that for each percentage point fall in unemployment there was a 0.6% rise in GDP, so reducing unemployment also cuts public debt, which is now at record levels. Figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show public debt rose by €8.1bn (£6.7bn) in February, taking the total owed by central and regional government to a record €988bn, equivalent to 95% of the nation’s annual GDP.

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Why do I find this headline appealing?

Two Chinese Executives Awarded $600 Million For US Pork Deal (Guardian)

Two executives at the Chinese company that bought the US firm Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork producer, last September have been awarded more than $600m (£360m) of shares for their part in the $4.9bn deal. WH Group and some of its shareholders launched an initial public offering for up to $5.3bn in Hong Kong last week, the second biggest ever listing by a food and beverage company. Wan Long, the company’s 73-year-old chief executive and chairman, sometimes known as China’s “chief butcher”, and Yang Zhijun, an executive director in charge of investment, merger and acquisitions and financing, were granted shares with an estimated value of $597m, the filing showed.

David Webb, a Hong Kong-based corporate governance advocate, said: “This is very unusual. Normally you would incentivise management for overall long-term performance and not simply for executing a transaction, which is part of their job. Especially given there’s no evidence yet that the transaction is value-accreting. Let’s hope they don’t continue that kind of remuneration policy after they go public.”

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Financial Crisis Won’t Have Long-Term Impact On UK Growth: Economists (Guardian)

Fears that the financial crisis will have a significant negative impact on long-term UK economic growth are unfounded, according to the results of a new survey that brings together views from a broad range of economists. The first poll by the Centre for Macroeconomics asked just two questions, albeit meaty ones: on the size of the output gap and on the long-term effect on growth rates from the financial crisis. The responses, from economists in the City, at thinktanks and universities, provide more food for thought over the permanence of the drop in GDP over the downturn.

Economists were divided down the middle when asked whether they agreed the output gap – a measure of how far the level of output is below the potential level of output of the economy – was 3% or larger (in other words more than the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates). According to the OBR, the output gap in the last quarter of 2013 was 1.7%. That estimate implies that the drop in GDP relative to its pre-crisis trend, which may be as much as 10% on some estimates, is for the most part permanent.

In this survey, 46% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed the output gap was noticeably larger than the OBR estimate, among them Jonathan Portes of the NIESR thinktank and Morten Ravn from University College London. An equal number disagreed or strongly disagreed, and many of those commented that they supported the OBR estimate. On the second question, over the extent of long-term damage from the crisis, the economists were not as divided. Almost two-thirds (61%) thought that the financial crisis will either have no effect on long-term UK growth rates or a small negative effect that pushes GDP down by less than 2.5% in total over a 10-year horizon.

But among those who disagreed with that view, several highlighted losses in the financial sector that may be felt for many years in the wider economy. George Buckley at Deutsche Bank and John Driffill at Birkbeck College, London, both commented that growth before the financial crisis was unsustainable and that the financial crisis therefore could have an impact on growth rates by bursting that bubble.

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We’re reaching the life cycle of the average upswing. Who knew?

‘Time for a new recession’ (RT)

The US economy bottomed out in June 2009. May 1 will mark the 59th month of expansion. The average upswing since 1945 has been 58.4 months. True, averages are, by their very definition somewhat middling, as their precision is perpetually open to negotiation. However the upswing’s days are clearly numbered we re just haggling over how many months it will be. Given the severity of the last recession, the rebound recovery will probably be slightly longer than average, but can it last for another 60 months to equal the longest post-war expansion? After all, that was during the 1960s, with heady optimism surrounding the white heat of technology. Likewise, the 1980s saw a lengthy expansion. However, President Reagan was pro-business, as opposed to the big government anti-enterprise Obama administration.

Let s consider those two words between which we often experience a chasm in the real world: hope and reality. The hopey-changey one of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue clearly clings to a certain blind faith in his divine right ability to enjoy economic growth as he dithers stylishly over most every decision. Likewise, many investors cling to the last swinging reed of optimism in any bull market as they are all long, hoping for a greater fool to drive the market further up. Ultimately, the music stops and the invisible hand of the market removes a few chairs before the cycle starts again. The reality is the band has played a full set and could become bored playing encores anytime soon, leaving the fat lady to belt out her final number.

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Edward Snowden: A Whistle-Blowing Outlaw With A Pulitzer Prize To His Name (LA Times)

A few months ago, I wrote that it was wrong to try to classify Edward Snowden as either a whistle-blower or a traitor, because he’s a bit of each. Only now he’s a whistle-blowing outlaw with a Pulitzer Prize to his name. Formally, of course, the prize went to the newspapers that published articles based on Snowden’s massive data leak, the Washington Post and the Guardian. They don’t give the Pulitzer Prize to sources. But the Pulitzer board members, a gilt-edged group drawn from such institutions as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Columbia University, knew they were giving Snowden a signal honor too. Were they right?

If it’s a question of impact, that’s easy: Snowden’s revelations forced the Obama administration and Congress to launch significant reforms of NSA’s practices, reforms that weren’t happening before. These were the most important newspaper investigations of the year. If it’s a question of journalistic quality, that’s pretty easy too. The two newspapers didn’t just summarize the digital mountain of documents Snowden gave them; they assembled teams of reporters — the Post listed 33 contributors — to turn data into intelligible reports.

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Yeah, just make ’em dumber. They’ll learn from their smartphones?!

Small US Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops (Bloomberg)

The number of private four-year colleges that have closed or were acquired doubled from about five a year before 2008 to about 10 in the four years through 2011, according to a study last year by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, citing federal data. Plus, among all colleges, 37 merged in the three years through 2013, more than triple the number from 2006 to 2009, according to Higher Education Publications Inc., a Reston, Virginia-based directory publisher.

“There will clearly be some institutions that won’t make it and there will be some institutions that will be stronger because of going through these difficult steps,” said David Warren, president of the Washington-based National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has predicted that as many as half of the more than 4,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. may fail in the next 15 years. The growing acceptance of online learning means higher education is ripe for technological upheaval, he has said.

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Should we celebrate?

Canada’s Climate Warms to Corn as Grain Belt Shifts North (Bloomberg)

The snow is piled waist-deep outside the Southern Manitoba Convention Centre as more than 400 farmers gather to consider the once-unthinkable: growing corn on the Canadian prairie. At one end of the packed auditorium last month in Morris, home of the Red River Wild hockey club, an Ohio farmer brought in by DuPont Co. is making a presentation with a slide that reads “Ear Count 101.” At the other end, Deere & Co. is showing off tractors and other equipment from a booth while Daryl Gross explains planters and corn-dryers to curious men wearing seed caps.

“This is here to stay,” said Gross, who sells CNH Global NV tractors for Southeastern Farm Equipment Ltd. in nearby Steinbach. His customers are increasingly devoting acreage to corn. “There are a lot of guys who are experimenting with it and looking at it,” he said. Corn is the most common grain in the U.S., with its production historically concentrated in a Midwestern region stretching from the Ohio River valley to Nebraska and trailing off in northern Minnesota. It had been ungrowable in the fertile farmland of Canada’s breadbasket. That is changing as a warming climate, along with the development of faster-maturing seed varieties, turns the table on food cultivation. The Corn Belt is being pushed north of what was imaginable a generation ago.

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Money quote: “Shale gas drilling and fracking [in OZ] are over three times as costly as in the US”.

Is A US-style Shale Revolution Coming For Australia? (CNBC)

Australia, home to the world’s seventh largest recoverable shale gas reserves, has several characteristics conducive for commercializing the resource including existing infrastructure, industry know-how and low population density in shale-rich regions. So, what is the potential for a U.S.-like shale revolution in the country? Australia has an estimated 437 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), around two-thirds of the U.S.’s 665 trillion cubic feet – the world’s fourth largest – and two-fifths of China’s 1,115 trillion cubic feet – the world’s largest.

“Broadly most people would recognize Australia is the closest analogy [to the U.S.], with our infrastructure position and unconventional shale gas opportunities,” James Baulderstone, vice president, Eastern Australia at oil and gas firm Santos, told CNBC. The Australian shale gas industry is still in its infancy, but exploration has increased in the last few years. The sector has been drawing international interest from global players. The likes of Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Total, BG Group, have invested over $1.55 billion in Australia’s shale gas industry as of mid-2013, according to EIA. [..]

Shale gas drilling and fracking are over three times as costly as in the US, according to industry estimates. Another key difference is the regulatory environment, in particular the mineral rights ownership, say industry participants. In the U.S., landowners possess the rights to the resources beneath their land and are entitled to royalties. This has ensured local communities are able to benefit financially, thus helping to temper local opposition to the industry. In Australia, the state owns any underground resources. Australian landholders have to provide access, in return for some compensation, to energy companies that want to explore and exploit their land.

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Not exactly surprising. For money, we’ll burn anything.

Coal Rises Vampire Like as German Utilities Seek Survival (Bloomberg)

What’s a beleaguered utility to do when forced by the government to close its profitable nuclear power plants? It turns to lignite, a cheap, soft, muddy-brown colored form of sedimentary rock that spews more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel. The story of German power giant RWE is a parable of the crisis facing that nation’s utility sector – in fact, many utilities across Europe — as nuclear power plants get shuttered in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, renewables steal away revenue and consumers and companies complain about rising power costs that are three times higher than in the U.S.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2011 to shutter all 17 of Germany’s nuclear power stations by 2022 struck a blow to RWE’s profit stream, particularly for a company that has almost no presence in renewables. RWE posted its first loss last year since World War II and may face worse losses going forward. The Essen-based company, founded in 1898 to produce power for Germany’s industrial heartland, has had no choice except to ramp up production from its profitable coal-fired plants, most of which burn lignite. The result: RWE now generates 52% of its power in Germany from lignite, up from 45% in 2011. And RWE isn’t alone. Utilities all over Germany have ramped up coal use as the nation has watched the mix of coal-generated electricity rise to 45% last year, the highest level since 2007.

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Sad.

Surge In Deaths Of Environmental Activists Over Past Decade (Guardian)

The killing of activists protecting land rights and the environment has surged over the past decade, with nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 than 10 years previously, a new report has found. Deadly Environment, an investigation by London-based Global Witness documents 147 recorded deaths in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. Between 2002 and 2013, at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries – with only 10 convictions. The death rate has risen in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the report, which also documents 17 forced disappearances, all of whom are presumed dead.

Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date, the environmental rights organisation warned, with under-reporting and difficulties verifying killings in isolated areas in a number of African and Asian nations. Reports from countries including Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, where civil society groups are weak and the regimes authoritarian, were not included in the Global Witness count. “Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report said. Others have been killed for protests over hydroelectric dams, pollution and wildlife conservation.

Brazil, the report found, is the world’s most deadly country for communities defending natural resources, with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013, followed by 109 in Honduras and Peru with 58. In Asia, the Philippines is the deadliest with 67, followed by Thailand at 16. More than 80% of the recorded deaths were in Latin and Central America. There have been only 10 successful prosecutions connected with the killings in Brazil over the past 12 years. Isolete Wichinieski, national coordinator of the Brazilian group Commisão Pastoral da Terra, said: “what feeds the violence is the impunity”.

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Dire UN Climate Reports Raise Questions About Global Willpower (NatGeo)

A trio of United Nations-sponsored climate reports released over the past seven months point to a dangerously warming planet, but big questions remain about whether the world’s nations will take action and, ultimately, about whether the reports will matter. On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its third major climate assessment, rounding out a process that began in September and plays out every seven years. The reports indicate that sharp greenhouse gas emissions cuts worldwide need to begin now, with a 40% to 70% reduction by mid-century, to avert the worst effects of climate change.

“We cannot play a waiting game where we bet on future technological miracles to emerge and save the day,” said Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a statement on the report. The UNFCCC has hosted international summits aimed at fostering worldwide agreements on halting global warming since the 1990s, with the next big one scheduled for Paris in 2015. The UN reports have been aimed largely at world leaders attending the summit, the most anticipated since a 2009 meeting in Denmark.

“Above all, governments must strengthen and expand bold policy incentives to reduce emissions at home and together construct a new climate change agreement in Paris next year,” Figueres said. There are doubts about whether governments will go that far, but the IPCC reports indicate that such action is needed. Among the reports’ findings:

• Humanity’s influence on a warming climate is “clear” and has accelerated since the 1950s largely due to burning oil, coal, and other fossil fuels that release atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases.

• Global warming is already harming agriculture, the environment, and human health in real ways worldwide.

• Greenhouse gas emissions rates have accelerated since 1970, with the steepest increase coming in the past decade. About 80% of those emissions are tied to fossil fuel use.

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