Oct 112017
 
 October 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929

 

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)
Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)
Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)
China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)
Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)
Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)
51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)
Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)
Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)
10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)
The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)
How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)
I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)
Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

 

 

You don’t say.

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Wall Street isn’t just in a bull market, it’s in an “epic” one. That is according to Morgan Stanley, which on Tuesday wrote that the equity market rally “has reached epic proportions.” “We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective,” the investment bank explained. “Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001; and equity hedge fund beta is at its highest since March 2008.” Simply from the perspective of price moves, the “epicness” of recent trading activity should come as no surprise to investors. The Dow DJIA, S&P 500 SPX, Nasdaq COMP, and Russell 2000 RUT have all hit repeated records this year alone, notching dozens of all-time highs. Those gains have been widespread and “perpetual,” to use Morgan Stanley’s description.

Only two of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors are in negative territory for the year, and for broader indexes, even mild pullbacks of 3% have basically been nonexistent for months. Volatility is near record lows. Beta refers to a measure of an assets tendency to fluctuate compared against a benchmark like the S&P 500. [..] “While investors have at times appeared reluctant to embrace the recent rally, there is evidence from last month that risk appetites are increasing,” Morgan Stanley wrote. The investment bank noted that cyclical sectors, which are more closely correlated to the pace of economic growth, have been outperforming defensive ones, just as small-capitalization stocks have outperforming larger companies. “Momentum is now strongly correlated with high beta globally, and the presence of this cohort of investors could produce continued risk-seeking behavior,” wrote the team of analysts, led by Brian Hayes, an equity strategist.

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“The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong.”

Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)

I’ve been telling you for years that the employment data produced by the US government were misleading people into thinking the economy was performing better than it really was. Now Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — finally! — agrees. Yellen, speaking before the National Association of Business Economics on Sept. 26, said, “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation.” That’s what she said. Internet news sites picked up that statement, but none of the major newspapers did. And the story behind Yellen’s admission and its importance would be way over the heads of TV news anchors — so they ignored it as well.

Yet Yellen’s statement is important as heck. It means that the Fed has been screwing up in thinking that the US economy was, as Yellen has often said, near full employment. But here’s the kicker — Yellen has been overestimating the strength of the job market and underestimating the amount of inflation in the economy. The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong. There will need to be years of investigation to determine that, but I’ll give you a clue now. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the unemployment rate is far higher than the 4.2% that the Labor Department reports. And that the job growth each year — as I’ve been harping on — is mostly driven by guesstimates and adjustments made by government statisticians who apparently don’t live in the real world.

And, of course, the economy has been creating crappy-paying, benefit-lacking jobs that don’t come close to replacing the higher-quality employment that went bye-bye after the last recession. Last Friday, Labor said the jobless rate dipped in September to 4.2% from 4.4% in August — and its number crunchers also reported that 33,000 jobs were lost last month. It blamed the hurricanes. The experts were expecting the US economy to have added 100,000 new jobs despite the storms. Labor also announced that it revised August’s figures lower — from growth of 189,000 jobs to just 138,000. So instead of being reasonably good, August was blah, with nary a hurricane to blame.

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An award for not understanding?! If you ask me, the very fact that someone gets an award for ‘finding out’ that human behavior affects economies, says all you need to know about economics.

Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)

A buoyant and complacent stock market is worrying Richard H. Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who this week won the Nobel Prize in economics. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.” The S&P 500 index has been reaching repeated records since President Donald Trump’s election last November amid steady growth in the U.S. economy and labor market, as well as expectations for lower taxes, though policy action in Washington has been limited. Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors and won the Nobel for such contributions to behavioral economics, expressed misgivings about the low volatility and continued optimism among investors.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.” The economist said that he didn’t know “where anyone would get confidence” that tax reform is going to happen. “The Republican leadership does not seem to be interested in anything remotely bipartisan, and they need unanimity within their caucus, which they don’t have,” Thaler said. “And the president’s strategy of systematically insulting the votes he needs doesn’t seem to be optimizing anything I can think of, but maybe he’s a deeper thinker than me.”

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Schrödinger’s State. On Wikipedia, someone last night put Catalonia at no. 1 on the List of Shortest-Lived States. At 8 seconds, which is how long the applause lasted when Puigdemont said he had the mandate, only to say right after that he would hold off on executing the mandate. Wikipedia took it down.

Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that he’ll seek talks with the government in Madrid over the future of his region in Spain, rowing back from an immediate declaration of independence that threatened to turn a constitutional crisis into an economic one. Addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening after days of tension in Catalonia, Puigdemont said the result of an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, but he would hold off for “weeks” for dialogue on the way forward with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration. Rajoy convened an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet in Madrid on Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his next move, and is due to address the Spanish Parliament on the crisis in Catalonia later in the day.

“Today Mr. Puigdemont has plunged Catalonia into the highest level of uncertainty,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid late on Tuesday. “Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can draw conclusions from a law that doesn’t exist, from a referendum that hasn’t taken place and from the wishes of the Catalan people which it’s trying to take over.” Pressure has piled on Puigdemont as the Spanish government and Catalan business leaders demand that he desist from pitching the region further down a path to independence that they warn would wreck the economy and tear apart Spain’s social fabric. Rajoy has consistently ruled out talks until the Catalans drop the threat of a declaration of independence that is illegal under Spanish law.

“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said to cheers from the packed assembly, with Catalan police deployed around the parliament perimeter. “We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.”

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When equity is debt.

China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)

A key Chinese initiative to rein in the world’s largest corporate-debt load has been a program swapping some loans into equity stakes. As the initiative gets going, however, it’s becoming clear the debt isn’t really going away. In a late-summer notice, central government officials said that new bonds should be used to finance the swaps, effectively moving the debt off the balance sheets of the original lenders onto those buying the new debt. The first such deal came last month, according to China Lianhe Credit Rating Co., a domestic rating firm. Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., a troubled old-line industrial company, was targeted for a debt-for-equity swap. Then the Shaanxi provincial government in northwest China set up an asset-management company to raise new debt to pay off the existing lending that was designated to be swapped for an equity stake.

One criticism of the debt-for-equity initiative, which was launched a year ago, is that it keeps afloat struggling enterprises, leaving excess capacity intact and pulling down productivity. The Shaanxi example shows a further weakness: while the company won’t need to service debt any more, the new asset-management unit will – without any new source of revenue having been generated. “If the funding comes from debt, it’s really not solving the issue here because the capital is not permanent capital,” Christopher Lee, managing director of corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings in Hong Kong. “In fact, you are adding more debt just to refinance the debt that was going to be swapped.”

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Australia lives off its bubble. It’s all that’s left.

Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)

Property-hungry Chinese investors have shrugged off the impact of tighter capital controls and continue to pour money into Australian housing. Foreign buyers are acquiring about a quarter of new housing supply in New South Wales, and China accounts for about 90% of that demand, according to Credit Suisse analysis of tax office data. Foreigners are buying 17% of new housing in Victoria, and 8% in Queensland, Credit Suisse said. While local property agents say higher state taxes on foreigners are deterring buyers, Credit Suisse isn’t so sure they will have a big impact on prices.

They point to even-higher taxes in other global cities, the relative cheapness of Australian property compared to Chinese cities, and the growing stock of wealth in China. “Local incomes are becoming less relevant in determining the outlook for house prices and regional wealth is becoming more relevant,’’ Credit Suisse analysts Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu said in the report. “We see no evidence of a slowdown in foreign demand because of the stronger capital controls introduced by Chinese authorities.” That’s not good news for locals already struggling to break into the booming housing market.

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WHy would anyone still want to buy a car or plane made with Kobe metals? Imagine the lawsuits if accidents happen.

Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)

Kobe Steel shares tumbled a further 16% on Wednesday after it admitted it may have fabricated data on iron powder products and media reported the possible sale of its real estate business. The latest disclosure comes after Japan’s No.3 steelmaker said on the weekend it had falsified data to show that its aluminum and copper products had met customer specifications, and suggests the problems could be widespread. Japanese manufacturers were thrown into turmoil by the revelation, with implications for materials used in cars, aircraft and possibly a space rocket and defense equipment.

Shares in Kobe Steel were down 15.73% at 900 yen as of 0114 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming the broader market which was steady. They fell 22% the previous day. A Kobe Steel spokesman confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Yomiuri newspaper saying the firm may have fabricated data on iron powder products used in components such as automotive gears. He said the company was investigating the issue. The Nikkei business daily meanwhile reported that Kobe Steel intended to put its real estate business on the block in an effort to shore up already shaky finances now threatened by the data falsification scandal.

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And that’s after all those trillions in support.

51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)

Fifty-one large euro zone banks are leaving themselves exposed to a sudden change in interest rates and may need to aside more capital against that risk, the European Central Bank said on Monday. The ECB is preparing to start dialing back its monetary stimulus after years of ultra-low interest rates and massive bond purchases, paving the ground for rate hikes further down the line. After simulating scenarios ranging from a sudden monetary tightening to the kind of lending freeze that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the ECB found that most of the 111 euro zone banks it tested are well prepared for interest rates shocks. But it cautioned it needed “intense discussions” with 51 of them after finding they may be making themselves vulnerable via large bets on derivative instruments and overly aggressive models for calculating risk.

A hike in interest rates could mean the banks suddenly need more capital. “What we need to do is have intense discussions and check with the banks if they’re aware of the… risk and if they have enough capital if things go wrong,” Korbinian Ibel, a senior supervisor at the ECB, said. Results of the test, which started in February, are incorporated into the ECB’s guidance on how much capital each lender on its watch should hold. Ibel said the 51 banks may, in principle, see their capital demands rise by up to 25 basis points, although any decision would depend on the individual circumstances of each firm. Similarly, the remaining 60 banks could see their guidance reduced by the same amount.

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Crypto makes it too easy for money to leave a country.

Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)

Russia will block access to websites of exchanges that offer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov said on Tuesday. He called them “dubious”. Russian financial authorities initially treated any sort of money issued by non-state approved institutions as illegal, saying they could be used to launder money. Later the authorities accepted the globally booming market of crypto-currencies but want to either control the turnover or to limit access to the market “We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” Shvetsov said, referring to households.

Speaking at a conference on financial market derivatives, Shvetsov said the central bank sees rising interest in crypto-currencies because of high returns from buying into such instruments. He warned, however, that crypto-currencies gradually transform into high-yielding assets from being a mean of payment. “We think that for our citizens, for businesses the usage of such crypto-currencies as an investment object carries unreasonably high risks,” he said. Russian authorities said earlier this year they would like to regulate the use of crypto-currencies by Russian citizens and companies.

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$4 million? That’s the damage?

Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)

A district court in Fukushima prefecture on Tuesday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Kyodo news agency said. A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across the nation. This is the second court ruling that fixed the government’s responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March.

All the three district court decisions so far have ordered Tepco to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation. The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said. Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and the company and the government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.

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Incredible. You’d expect to see this in Bombay perhaps, or Lagos.

10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)

The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6% increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about 5% of the state’s public school population.

The data was released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department. The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system. After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students reported to the state shot up in the 2015-16 school year, reaching nearly 100,000 children, and in the last school year the numbers crossed that threshold. The count this year is the highest since the state began keeping records.

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Not great title for interesting article.

The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)

Have you ever heard of Deutsch Jahrndorf? No? I don’t blame you. The tiny Austrian village, which is situated four miles from the Danube, is utterly unremarkable, except for the fact that it sits on the border of three countries. To the east is Slovakia. To the south lies Hungary. As such, within shouting distance of one another, live three peoples speaking completely unintelligible languages. Austria belongs to the West Germanic language group, Hungary to Finno-Ugric and Slovakia to West Slavic. I thought about the exquisitely rich tapestry of European languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities as I watched the sad spectacle of Spanish riot police and Catalan separatists confronting one another on the streets of Barcelona. How on earth can the European Union unite that which history forced asunder?

The European Union, French President Emmanuel Macron has recently declared to almost universal acclaim, needs more unity, including the creation of “a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister”. The need for the centralization of power in Brussels is, apparently, the lesson that the EU establishment has learned from the outcome of the British referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, millions of people have set their sights on independence from Spain. Foremost among their complaints is that the Catalan budget is influenced by Madrid. Independence, the Catalans feel, will rectify a grave injustice occasioned by the French capture of Barcelona in 1714. The conqueror, Duke of Anjou, became the first Bourbon king of Spain under the name of Philip V. His descendant, Philip VI, is on the throne today. In Europe, ancient lineages last as long as ancient resentments.

Therein lies the conundrum of European unification. On the one hand, people throughout much of Europe desire greater autonomy. Madrid has the vexing problem of the Basque Country to worry about as well as Catalonia. In Italy, Padania and South Tyrol in the North don’t feel like they have very much in common with the Mezzogiorno in the South. Corsica does not want to be French and Britain has only recently revisited a territorial arrangement that dates back to 1707. On the other hand, every separatist movement in Europe declares its support for the project of European unification. But, how likely is it that people annoyed by Madrid, Rome, Paris, and London will be happy to have their affairs decided upon in Brussels? Will the Catalans, resentful of subsidizing farmers in Andalusia, quietly have no problem with subsidizing Polish peasants in Lower Silesia?

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Monbiot has some nice ideas, but underestimates the degree to which our societies profit from carbon. And why bring in Labour?

How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)

We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation. And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis. Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today.

A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin. But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th-century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the second world war’s military Keynesianism. In 1941 the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

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Featuring Dwayne Johnson? All we need then is a ferret to play Dijsselbloem.

I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)

When the crisis began, the tragedy that the Greek people are still living through, I began to gather material and information in an attempt to make sense of the reasons and the people – published, filmic and oral. However, what I was missing were the goings on behind the closed doors, where the representatives of the European Union and the Greek people met. On 16th July 2015, just after his resignation, I sent a text message to Yanis Varoufakis, whom I did not know personally. In that message I wrote: “Reading your interview in the New Statesman, I believe I found what I have been looking for a long time: the subject for a film, a piece of fiction, about a Europe governed by a group of cynical people disconnected from human, political and cultural concerns – obsessed with numbers and them alone.”

Soon, the arrangements were made and Michele, my wife, and I visited Yanis and Danae in Greece a few weeks later. Meanwhile I read two of his books, The Global Minotaur (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015) and the manuscript of a book he was completing at that time entitled And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (London: The Bodley Head, 2016). I was impressed by the quality and originality of their content, as well as the prose. When we met we had long conversations, in the context of which he let me know that he was about to begin writing his own account of his tenure as Greece’s finance minister, a tale of being an outsider in politics, of the negotiations in the Eurogroup – that illegitimate but ultra powerful EU body. I asked to read the manuscript. He agreed and began sending it to me chapter by chapter, as the book was being written.

Immediately I was convinced by the text’s seriousness and the accuracy of the description of the behaviour of each of the tragedy’s protagonists. Reading it saddened me, and I found myself often angered, indeed enraged, by the violence and the indifference of Eurogroup members, especially the German side, to the drama and unsustainable situation in which the people of Greece lived, and live. I decided to make a film out of this tragedy. Yanis Varoufakis gave me the rights to his book and absolute freedom to adapt it.

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Words fail.

Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece’s islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday. Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, the humanitarian organization said in a report. More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for. “Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF’s mental health activities on Samos.

The organization said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesvos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50% more than the previous three months. Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said. “I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m going crazy,” it quoted a Syrian man as saying. The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. “I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said. On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the UN refugee agency says.

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Jul 222017
 
 July 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 22 2017
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Jackson Pollock Pasiphae 1943

 

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)
Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)
Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)
Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)
The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)
Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)
US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)
A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market
No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)
The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)
EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)
German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)
Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)
Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)
All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

 

 

PCR short and to the point. And don’t you ever forget it.

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)

Despite unrealistic plots and weak characterization (except for Francis Urquhart), Michael Dobbs’ books, House of Cards, Play the King, and The Final Cut were best sellers that provided the basis for a long-running TV series. I haven’t seen the films, but I have read the books. I conclude that plot and characters are mere props for the didactic lesson of the novels: Democratic politics is concerned only with power and sex. Nothing else is in the picture. There is no such thing as a politician concerned with the people’s well being or capable of marital fidelity.

The media are as bad as the politicians. Female journalists use their bodies for access to power and become accomplices in political intrigues. Idealism is merely another vehicle used in the competition for power. I suspect the novels and TV series were popular because they expose politics for what it is. Politics serves only personal ambition. This is a lesson that liberals and progressives, who present government as a public-spirited alternative to private greed, need to learn. In showing politics in service to personal ambition, Dobbs is a master of truth despite his shortcoming as a novelist.

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Yeah, the future of the world depends on the definition of “tight”. Do you buy it?

Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)

The Western economic system is deeply flawed with countries such as the U.S. and Britain contributing to the lowest quality economic recovery the world has ever seen, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, told CNBC on Friday. “The economic model is deeply flawed and the system in the west is deeply flawed, particularly in the English speaking part of the world and it needs to change,” Watling said. “I think this is undoubtedly the lowest quality economic recovery we have seen globally… full stop,” he added. The Longview Economics CEO explained that a debt-laden global economy could be vulnerable to looming interest rate hikes. The Federal Reserve is on a course to gradually increase interest rates, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. “This is a world that is more indebted than it was before the global financial crisis in 2007, there’s no productivity growth, asset prices are very elevated, a lot of debt that corporates have built up has gone to share buy backs (and) the number of ‘zombie companies’ has doubled since 2007,” Longview Economics’ CEO explained. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Bond guru Bill Gross also warned that the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be detrimental for the economic recovery. He argued that raising interest rates would increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals currently hold. When asked whether an imperfect system constituted a clear and present danger for the financial markets, Watling replied, “Whatever you want to call it doesn’t really matter but these sorts of things always unwind when you tighten money. The problem is judging what is tight? And that is sort of the million dollar question.”

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What are shorts worth in a world without price discovery? Shorts are there to chase off zombies. But central banks keep them alive.

Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)

Times are tough for skeptics of the bull market. Flummoxed by the endurance of a 2017 rally that produced its 27th S&P 500 record this week, investors are backing off bets that major indexes are headed downward. Bets against the SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fund, the largest ETF tracking the broad index, fell to $38.9 billion last week, the lowest level of short interest since May 2013, and remained near those levels this week, according to financial-analytics firm S3 Partners. Short sellers borrow shares and sell them, expecting to repurchase them at lower prices and collect the difference as profit. Bearish investors say they are scaling back on these bets not because their view of the market has fundamentally changed, but because it is difficult to stick to a money-losing strategy when it seems stocks can only go up.

They believe the market moves are at odds with an economy that remains lukewarm as it enters its ninth year of growth, stock valuations that are historically high and a delay of business-friendly policies in Washington like tax cuts and infrastructure spending. “There seems to be an overall view that people are invincible, that things will always go up, that there are no risks and no matter what goes on, no matter what foolishness is in play, people don’t care,” said Marc Cohodes, whose hedge fund focused on shorting stocks closed in 2008. Mr. Cohodes is now a chicken farmer based in California who is looking to get into goat herding in Canada. He shorts a handful of individual stocks personally, but isn’t focused on the broader market.

[..] The practice of shorting companies is also going by the wayside as stocks continue to notch records. Short-biased hedge funds had $4.3 billion in assets at the end of March, down from $7.1 billion at the end of 2013, according to HFR Inc. The difficulty for stock-market bears stems from a Goldilocks-like market environment, in which the economy is expanding fast enough to support corporate earnings, but slow enough for the Federal Reserve to keep rates relatively low. Years of low rates and easy-money policies have boosted stocks, defying forecasts for a steep, prolonged downturn. “The shorts have been frustrated now for quite a while,” said Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, which has $260 billion in assets under management. The scenarios that might lead to a payout for market bears—an economic recession or a sharp rise in interest rates—don’t seem imminent, either, Mr. Minerd added.

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Sure, I believe you.

Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)

City bond traders have put the champagne on ice. They had a good run. For some it lasted almost a year. But it’s over now and the “new normal” of low trading volumes and weak profits is reasserting itself. On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs took the biggest hit. This week the firm reported profits had plunged 40% in the second quarter on its bond, currency and commodities trading desks. All the other big names in the US investment banking world saw bond trading profits dive in the three months to the end of June, save for age-old Goldman rival Morgan Stanley, which restricted the loss to 4%. Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman boss who rose through the ranks of bond traders to the top job, was unlikely to be sanguine about the turn of events amid concerns that his bank suffered more than most for relying on out-of-favour hedge funds as clients.

Back in October 2016 the story was very different. Barclays was on a high after what it said was a summer bonanza for its bond traders, pushing quarterly profits to a two-year high. Likewise Goldman, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan were raking in the trades. Much of the reason for their optimism was a change of stance at the Federal Reserve. The US central bank signalled in late 2015 that the post-crash era of low inflation and low interest rates was coming to an end. To combat the threat of inflation, it would start to raise rates consistently through 2016 and 2017. This move put two trends in motion that spelled a big payday for the banks. First, the price of bonds started to fall, making them more attractive to buy. Second, not long afterwards, it became clear the other central banks were not going to follow suit in raising rates.

That broke seven years of agreement among the major central banks to hold interest rates at near zero as a way to boost economic activity. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan were still on board, but Janet Yellen at the Fed had broken away. Without a consistent story, investors in fixed-income securities, the jargon name for bonds, found themselves needing to back several horses. And investors demanded the banks buy and sell their securities more frequently as uncertainty translated into an ever-changing mood in the market. The main measure of volatility – the Vix index – was still well below the 2009 peak, but it was elevated in 2016. And traders make money in periods when uncertainty and confusion raise levels of volatility.

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Thomas Frank (re-)writes my article from a few weeks ago, Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber.

The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication. The people of the respectable east coast press loathe the president with an amazing unanimity. They are obsessed with documenting his bad taste, with finding faults in his stupid tweets, with nailing him and his associates for this Russian scandal and that one. They outwit the simple-minded billionaire. They find the devastating scoops. The op-ed pages come to resemble Democratic fundraising pitches. The news sections are all Trump all the time. They have gone ballistic so many times the public now yawns when it sees their rockets lifting off.

A recent Alternet article I read was composed of nothing but mean quotes about Trump, some of them literary and high-flown, some of them low-down and cruel, most of them drawn from the mainstream media and all of them hilarious. As I write this, four of the five most-read stories on the Washington Post website are about Trump; indeed (if memory serves), he has dominated this particular metric for at least a year. And why not? Trump certainly has it coming. He is obviously incompetent, innocent of the most basic knowledge about how government functions. His views are repugnant. His advisers are fools. He appears to be dallying with obviously dangerous forces. And thanks to the wipeout of the Democratic party, there is no really powerful institutional check on the president’s power, which means that the press must step up.

But there’s something wrong with it all. The news media’s alarms about Trump have been shrieking at high C for more than a year. It was in January of 2016 that the Huffington Post began appending a denunciation of Trump as a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully” to every single story about the man. It was last August that the New York Times published an essay approving of the profession’s collective understanding of Trump as a political mutation – an unacceptable deviation from the two-party norm – that journalists must cleanse from the political mainstream. It hasn’t worked. They correct and denounce; they cluck and deride and Trump seems to bask in it. He reflects this incredible outpouring of disapprobation right back at the press itself.

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Contemplating the horrors of bankers leaving your society.

Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)

I’ve no fondness for wealthy bankers, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t sometimes right. An example of that is Goldman Sachs International chief executive Richard Gnodde, who has just entered the Brexit debate to urge a “significant” transition period. Mr Gnodde is currently pouring money down a bottomless pit labelled “Brexit Contingency Plans”. There aren’t many Britons who will feel all that much sympathy for him over that. That money pit will mean less is available for the bonuses he and his colleagues are so fond of. So tough luck. Trouble is, his masters in New York won’t see it that way. They will eventually say that’s enough of that, start moving your people over to Frankfurt. Actually, the process has already begun. Some jobs are moving over to Germany.

Still more are simply staying in New York, which, for all the scrambling being done by Frankfurt, and Paris, and Dublin, has quietly become the biggest winner from this whole sorry affair. There are many who would shrug some more. What do we lose by inconveniencing a few thousand wealthy bankers anyway. They don’t exactly contribute much to society. Well, they pay a lot of tax for starters. It’s also true that they should pay more. But that’s just another debate. Despite that, I have for years argued that London’s financial centre has played too central a role in the nation’s economy, and that it would be a good idea for the Government to pursue a more balanced economic approach rather than coddling it (as it did until recently).

The trouble is it is now happening at a dangerously fast pace and it is impossible to see, as things stand, quite what is going to replace those tax revenues, which contribute to things like the NHS, schools, roads without potholes, and any number of other things. There are also a lot of support staff who work for banks like Goldman in the City. They’re not rich, by any means, and they’re unlikely to be able to move like the bankers so they’ll just lose their jobs. If it’s unpalatable hearing about this from Mr Gnodde – as it will be to an awful lot of people – consider also that the CBI has said much the same thing as have most sensible, and even semi-sensible, businesses both in the square mile of the City of London and beyond.

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Everyone walks. Yawn.

US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)

U.S. prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against two former JPMorgan Chase derivatives traders implicated in the “London Whale” trading scandal that caused $6.2 billion of losses in 2012. In seeking the dismissal of charges against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, the Department of Justice said it “no longer believes that it can rely on the testimony” of Bruno Iksil, a cooperating witness who had been dubbed the London Whale, based on recent statements he made that hurt the case. Prosecutors also said efforts to extradite Martin-Artajo and Grout, respectively citizens of Spain and France, to face the charges have been “unsuccessful or deemed futile.” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan asked a federal judge for permission to drop charges that included securities fraud, wire fraud and falsifying records. Martin-Artajo and Grout were indicted in September 2013.

“After four long years of protracted litigation, we are very pleased that the government has decided to do the right thing, and dismiss the criminal case,” Grout’s lawyer, Edward Little, said. The dismissal request marks a fresh setback in U.S. efforts to prosecute individuals for financial crimes. This has included the undoing of several insider trading convictions and pleas that had been won by Kim’s predecessor Preet Bharara. It has also included this week’s overturning of the convictions of two former Rabobank NA traders for rigging the Libor interest rate benchmark. Martin-Artajo and Grout were accused of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars of losses within JPMorgan’s chief investment office (CIO) in London by marking positions in a credit derivatives portfolio at inflated prices.

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At risk of, you said? Weird that if you let investors and analysts discuss this, turns out they have no idea what’s really going on. But doesn’t that cluelessness hurt their investments. their clients?

A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market

The Greek government might be preparing to return to the bond market but there are many structural problems that have yet to be resolved to make the economy more sustainable, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. Greece is currently on a third financial program since 2010, due to expire next year. According to James Athey, fixed income investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, despite the reforms implemented until now, “it still doesn’t seem we are particularly far down the road in solving the structural issues of Greece.” “Until the Greek economy has got a business model which works and it’s productive and it’s creating stable, secure growth that it’s not reliant on debt relief, external support and constantly bailouts from the Europeans, then it’s difficult to believe that the path is towards something more healthy rather than something less healthy,” Athey told CNBC on Friday.

The IMF agreed Thursday to make a loan of $1.8 billion to Greece as part of its current bailout program, but warned that the country will have to continue reforming in order to receive that money. Greece has to continue focusing on reducing the level of bad loans in its financial sector and extend labour market reform to liberalize Sunday trade and allow for collective dismissals, the fund said. However, with the bailout program due to end in 2018, Greece wants to come back to bond markets to show the rescue has been successful and the economy is able to fund itself. The government is studying when and how such a comeback will be more appropriate. Though Athens refuses to comment on this issue, it is widely expected that Greece will issue bonds next week.

The move is somewhat confusing given that Greek government bonds do not qualify for the ECB’s asset purchase program. They are considered junk by credit rating agencies, and thus cannot feature on the central bank’s balance sheet. When asked how Greece would convince investors to buy bonds if the ECB isn’t buying these assets, Athey said: “I don’t know.” “I guess from a Greek perspective it seems to be a window of opportunity, we’ve seen Greek yields have fallen fairly consistently throughout the year…the fact that Greece might come to market at what optically looks like an attractive yield for a Greek issuer must be tempting to them, especially considering that we are expecting the QE program to ultimately come to a conclusion over the next 6 to 12 months, they certainly would not want to wait until then,” he suggested.

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Absolute fantasy predictions. That’s the only way left to sell their stories. They all want Greece back in ‘markets’ before the next bailout expires next year.

No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)

Bond markets responded calmly on Friday to the debt sustainability analysis (DSA) of the IMF, which found Greece’s debt exceptionally unsustainable, while deciding to participate in the Greek bailout program with 1.6 billion euros. The markets’ reaction allows for the government to issue the five-year bond as early as on Monday. The DSA reiterates that the eurozone’s commitments to secure the sustainability of the Greek debt are not sufficient. The IMF estimates the debt will slide to 160% of GDP in 2020 and to 150% in 230, before soaring to 190% in 2060. Servicing the debt will exceed 15% of GDP in 2028, reaching as high as 45% in 2060.

The Fund argues that the estimates of Athens and the eurozone on growth rates, primary surpluses and other parameters affecting the debt are optimistic and insists its own views are realistic, saying that Greece has historically been weak in implementing reforms and cannot support high primary surpluses for many years. It goes on to say that revenues from privatizations will not exceed €2 billion by 2030 and believes that the state will not collect any substantial funds from the sale of the bank shares it acquired in the last few share capital increases. It therefore calls on the eurozone to reach an agreement on a realistic strategy for easing Greece’s debt.

The IMF’s proposal for a new stress test on Greek banks and a fresh asset quality review were met with a clear dismissal on Friday by a ECB spokesman, who pointed to Frankfurt being the sole monitoring authority that decides on such issues. The strong ECB response was also addressed at the IMF’s estimate that Greek lenders will require fresh recapitalization to the tune of €10 billion. On Friday Standard & Poor’s stopped short of raising the country’s credit rating, affirming it at ‘B-,’ but pointed to an upcoming upgrade switching Greece’s outlook from stable into positive.

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How much longer? We know there are reports.

The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)

Theresa May has oddly declined to comment on the reported arrest of the mini-skirted lass who was videotaped cavorting through an ancient Najd village this week, provoking unexpected roars of animalistic male fury in a kingdom known for its judicial leniency, political moderation, gender equality and fraternal love for its Muslim neighbours. May should, surely, have drawn the attention of the rulers of this normally magnanimous state to the extraordinarily uncharacteristic behaviour of the so-called religious police – hitherto regarded as extras in the very same kingdom’s growing tourism industry which is supported by its newly appointed peace-loving and forward-thinking young Crown Prince.

But of course, since May cannot possibly believe that a single person in this particular national entity would give even a riyal or a halfpenny to “terrorists” – of the kind who have been tearing young British lives apart in Manchester and London – she’s hardly likely to endanger the “national security” of said state by condemning the arrest of the aforementioned young lady. In any event, a woman so proper that she would not risk soiling her hands by greeting the distraught survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has no business shedding even a “little tear” for middle class girls who upset what we must now call The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All. Or at least, we do not dare to speak its name.

It’s now a week since this extraordinary woman – our beloved May, not the cutie of Najd – declined to publish perhaps the most important, revelatory document in the history of modern “terrorism” on the grounds that to identify the men who are funding the killers running Isis, al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah and sundry other chaps, would endanger “national security”. Note that Amber Rudd, May’s amanuensis, intriguingly declined to specify whose “national security” was at risk. Ours? Or that of The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All – henceforth, for brevity’s sake, the KSA – which must surely be well aware which of its illustrious citizens (peace-loving, moderate, gender-equalised, etc) have been sending their lolly to the Isis lads.

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If you read carefully, you see that it’s all been a mess for many years. The only difference is Trump doesn’t try to hide that.

EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)

As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf. In a recent letter to the agency, the Center for Biological Diversity told the EPA that the dumping of drilling wastewater – which can contain fracking chemicals, drilling fluids and pollutants, such as heavy metals – directly into Gulf waters is unacceptable and prohibited under the Clean Water Act.

Under current rules established by the Obama administration, offshore oil and gas platforms can discharge well-treatment chemicals and unlimited amounts of “produced waters” from undersea wells directly into the Gulf as long as operators perform toxicity tests a few times a year and monitor for “sheens” on the water’s surface. About 75 billion gallons of produced water were dumped in the Gulf in 2014 alone, according to EPA records. Offshore fracking, which typically involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into undersea wells to improve the flow of oil and gas, has rapidly expanded in the Gulf of Mexico over the past decade.

The latest draft of the pollution discharge permit, which was largely prepared under the Obama administration, would require drillers to collect information on the fracking chemicals they dump overboard. Regulators want to know what these chemicals are; their catalogue of offshore fracking chemicals has not been updated since 2001, despite advancements in technology.

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Here’s real collusion for you: “special committees of up to 200 employees”. It wasn’t just software, they also agreed to use too small versions of the ‘tanks’ that clean emissions. Now VW is talking, trying to get its own fines diminished.

Oh, and you think nobody in government ever knew about this? Prediction: Merkel will push EU into lower fines. Prediction 2: they will comply.

German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)

German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the country’s powerful automakers have been meeting in secret since the 1990s—and their joint decisions on dealing with diesel emissions may have laid the groundwork for Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scandal. According to Der Spiegel, VW admitted to German authorities that it may have engaged in “anti-competitive behavior” with rivals BMW and Daimler via special committees of up to 200 employees that set prices, agreed on suppliers, and engaged in other forms of coordination. One major topic of the meetings was how to manage emissions from diesel engines. The result, as we now know in Volkswagen’s case, was the installation of emissions-cheating software, which was uncovered by American regulators in 2015 and has cost the automaker dearly since.

Daimler tried to get ahead of things this week by recalling 3 million diesel vehicles in Europe for a free emissions-system alteration. Audi followed suit today, with a similar offer to “improve emissions behavior” for 850,000 cars. Spiegel says that German regulators discovered signs of an illegal agreement between the automakers this summer, when they were investigating Volkswagen on suspicion that carmakers were fixing the price of steel. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW declined to comment on the Spiegel report, with the latter two calling it “speculation.” Germany’s automakers are anxious as a backlash against diesel motors gathers pace. Several European cities—including Stuttgart, the home of Porsche—have called for a ban on diesel cars, which accounted for around 47% of cars sold in Europe’s five biggest markets in the second quarter of this year.

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Nice society you got there. Britain’s way overdue for a complete make-over.

Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)

Councils across England are housing the equivalent of an extra secondary school of pupils per month as the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation soars, according to local government leaders. The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are providing temporary housing for around 120,540 children with their families – a net increase of 32,650 or 37% since the second quarter of 2014. It said the increase equates to an average of 906 extra children every month. The LGA said placements in temporary accommodation can present serious challenges for families, from parents’ employment and health to children’s ability to focus on school studies and form friendships. The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England, said the extra demand is increasing the pressure on local government.

It said councils need to be able to build more “genuinely affordable” homes and provide the support that reduces the risk of homelessness. This means councils being able to borrow to build and to keep 100% of the receipts of any home they sell to reinvest in new and existing housing, the LGA said. Council leaders are also calling for access to funding to provide settled accommodation for families that become homeless. Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “When councils are having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of pupils every month, and the net cost for councils of funding for temporary accommodation has tripled in the last three years, it’s clear the current situation is unsustainable for councils, and disruptive for families.

“Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness, with some truly innovative work around the country – and we now need the Government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes, and taking steps to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.”

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EU policies bring the vermin our of the woodwork.

Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)

A Sicilian mayor is seeking to block a ship chartered by a group of far-right activists attempting to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, has urged authorities in the port city on the island’s east coast to deny docking rights to C-Star, a 40-metre vessel hired by Generation Identity, a movement made up of young, anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists from across Europe, for its sea mission to stop migrants entering Europe from Libya. The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday, and the group intends to launch its mission next week. “I’ve told [the relevant] authorities that allowing the ship to dock in our port would be very dangerous for public order,” Bianco said in a statement to the Guardian.

“I also consider it to be a provocation by those involved, with their sole purpose being to fuel conflict by pouring fuel on the fire.” Under a vigilante scheme called “Defend Europe”, the activists crowdfunded more than €75,000 (£67,000) to hire the boat. In a “trial run” two months ago, the ship successfully intercepted a charity rescue ship off Sicily. The activists’ aim is to expose what they claim to be wrongdoing by “criminal” NGO search and rescue vessels, which they accuse of working with people smugglers to transport illegal immigrants to Europe. They also plan to disrupt the work of the crews by calling the Libyan coastguard and asking them to take migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to war-torn Libya.

Anti-racism groups across Sicily have also urged authorities to take action against the group, to prevent them interfering in the life-saving missions. “Sicily is a place where every family has an emigration story,” Bianco said. “In recent years we have welcomed thousands of people fleeing from war and hunger, people who were saved from dying in the Mediterranean by European vessels, and those who have lost one or more family members crossing the sea. Talking about ‘defending Europe’ is not just demagogic, it’s unworthy.”

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“Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.”

All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Last August a boy died of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, and 20 other infected people were treated and survived. Anthrax hadn’t been seen in the region for 75 years, and it’s thought the recent outbreak followed an intense heatwave in Siberia, temperatures reaching over 30C that melted the frozen permafrost. Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground.

Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas. Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around. There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt. Methane is of huge concern. It is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a massive release of methane in the Arctic could pose a significant threat to the global climate, driving worldwide temperatures even higher.

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Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

Every time I write about my ‘adventures’ in Greece for the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, which I initiated in June 2015, I think it’s been way too long, but also every time I realize that I’ve already written so much about it (which makes every new article harder to write as well). Still, it’s been three months since the last one, and as always lots has happened; we’re not sitting still. As always, there’s a full list of previous articles at the bottom of this one.

To start with the latest development, I gave Konstantinos Polychronopoulos of O Allos Anthropos another €1,000 (the last funds I had) on March 15, which he needed to go to Lesbos, where he’s been asked to help set up a ‘Multi-Center’, to be jointly built by Greeks and refugees. It’s an initiative of a privately funded organization named Swisscross, to be located outside of the horrible Moria camp.

The center, which will have no sleeping facilities, is designed to make life more bearable for the refugees stuck inside Moria. It will provide shower rooms, laundry facilities, a kindergarten, a school (remedial teaching), a cinema, cafeteria and a restaurant.

O Allos Anthropos will be in charge of the restaurant, which will also be very much geared towards providing space, equipment, food and resources for the refugees themselves to cook. An often overlooked part of the refugee tragedy here in Greece is that preparing food is an important aspect of family- and community life, a source of dignity and pride, that has been taken away from them and replaced by real bad catering.

 


Thank you to the Texan girls who donated their Santa hat to me for Konstantinos on December 25. Perfect fit!

 

We’ve had the fifth anniversary of O Allos Anthropos in December, and of course Christmas. Then we had New Year’s, and on January 8 Greek New Year. February 16 was Tsikno Pempti (aka Charcoal Thursday or Greek Cholesterol Day), when everyone eats roasted meat – there’s a connection with carnival there-, and the Monday after that was Clean Monday, the end of carnival and the start of what is probably best compared to Lent, what once upon a time was a 40-day period of ‘fasting’ all the way to Easter. No Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, as far as I could find.

Konstantinos and his people made sure that everyone, homeless and refugees, had a Christmas and New Year’s party like ‘normal’ people. Someone had donated a whole lot of turkey for Christmas, there was some meat to eat, and on Cholesterol Day there was even over 1000 kilos of meat to be spread to the Social Kitchens all over the country. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel they do count, and they do belong, despite the misery they find themselves in.

Just as important, if not more, was the fact that all children who were present in the Big House in Athens, many of whom are homeless, received presents on Greek New Year. That means so much to them. Holidays without presents is cruel to children. I’ll sprinkle some pictures through this article.

 


Nobody gets left out at Christmas

 

Through all these events one thing that kept popping into my head was how close they brought joy and misery together. It’s pretty much priceless to see the happiness in people’s faces when they are served a real Christmas meal, a sign that they belong to the ‘human tribe’, that they ARE important, and there ARE people who care about them. Being able to do that for people is a very precious thing. As I said to someone also involved in refugee work a while ago: I’m sure that when we look back on this years from now, we’re going to say this is the best thing we’ve done in our lives, or right up there.

But at the same time, you can’t look at the joy without realizing where it comes from, why a simple meal or a Christmas present means so much; it comes from the every day misery so many people live in, in Greece these days. Looking at people knowing they’ll have no place to sleep that night, while it’s pretty cold outside too (colder than I thought Athens would be), it will never be easy. The misery is always close to the surface.

So I want to thank you once again, Automatic Earth readers, for having made much of this possible through your donations. You help make a lot of people feel better, help them eat, shower, give them a sense of dignity. In the process, you make me feel better too. Thank you. (Update: Saw a video the other day of a girl tattoo artist who set up a program to change self-mutilated arms into beautiful works of body art. Her reason to do this: “You don’t know what happiness is within yourself until you do something for another person.” That. You rock.

 


Happiness is a little girl’s face

 

That €1000 I gave Konstantinos was again the last money I had to donate to him, so I will call on you once more, and shamelessly so (which I allow myself to do because it’s for others, and it really helps). The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund has so far generated over $50,000(!) -one wonderful soul sent me a check for $10,000…-, and it’s a bit of a victim of its own success. The more there is, the more gets spent; we don’t want to not help people. And already the number of meals O Allos Anthropos can prepare and serve is dropping again, for monetary reasons; the number should be going up instead. We’re rowing against a strong current, which is awfully ironic, as you can see in the rest of this article.

 

I was reading an article earlier this week from AFP about an Italian program for refugees that shows everything that is wrong about how the crisis is being dealt with in Europe. Italy has started flying in Syrian refugees from Beirut, so they don’t have to spent a fortune on a risky sea voyage only to be locked up for months in camps. There are other ways. Kudos to Italy, and may many other countries follow their example:

Avoiding Risky Sea Journey, Syrian Refugees Head To Italy ‘Pronto’

Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.

[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.

Since March 20 was the 1st anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, many articles were published about what happened during the past year. And I haven’t seen one that was positive, which makes a lot of sense. There may be fewer refugees arriving in Greece now, but the situation of those who are in the country has gotten much worse. They are now prisoners, ‘housed’ in squalid conditions and with very little idea what will happen to them, how long their asylum applications will take to be heard, if they can or will be sent back to Turkey.

And now, with Erdogan getting ever more desperate in his quest to become the over-powerful president of Turkey, with just 4 weeks left till the referendum that should make him so, and with polls showing he’s behind, the EU-Turkey deal may well fall victim to petty politics. As it always looked to do. Who will suffer if that happens? The usual suspects, Greece and the refugees. The walls to fortress Europe are still shut tight. And it’s always election time somewhere.

 


Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens

 

A friend recently translated something for me that Konstantinos had written on the O Allos Anthropos Facebook page. He said that every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

Then over the weekend I saw this confirmed in a graph issued by Refugees Deeply (with slightly lower numbers, but those are just margin errors). Note: March 16 2015 in the graph should of course read March 16 2016:

 

 

Refugees Deeply are a bit of a new kid on the block, they’re a year old, and I have no doubt they do care and have the best intentions. But since they operate throughout the world, not just in Greece, they run the same risk many international NGOs do, of spreading their resources too thin. Moreover, one thing that’s become obvious is that if you approach and treat Greece the same way as Somalia, for instance, you’re certain of making some major mistakes. Greece was a modern and prosperous country until Europe tried to turn it into Somalia.

I first heard of Refugees Deeply 2 weeks ago when they published a report called The Refugee Archipelago – The Inside Story Of What Went Wrong In Greece. A good piece, for sure, and I recommend it, but it comes up far short of naming everything that went -and is still going- wrong.

What’s good is that it focuses on the failures of the Greek government in the never-ending refugee tragedy, because that was a part that had largely been missing. But what’s not so good is that it focuses almost exclusively on that. And that’s far from the whole story.

 

You see, there are three separate parties involved in the saga that have access to serious funding, and all three have their own reasons NOT to solve the problems to the best of their abilities. There’s the EU, there’s Greece, and there are dozens of NGOs, many of whom are large and operate internationally (iNGOs).

The EU wants to use Greece as a deterrent. It aims to create an image to the world of Greece as a sordid inhumane place that no potential refugee should ever wish to flee to. Because it doesn’t want any more refugees. 1 million refugees is too much for a continent, and a political union, of 500 million people. Rich Europe is overwhelmed by 0.2% more people. (Note: I’m not advocation open borders or anything, I’m just saying we need to take care of people in need, which is basically what the Geneva Convention says. Until we decide to stop bombing countries like Syria, and start rebuilding them, people will come to our territory to seek help.)

The EU also wants to put Greece in an even harder predicament, for politico-economic reasons. Brussels hands out a lot of money, but it doesn’t- from what I’ve been reading- seem to keep proper tabs of where that money is going, or how it’s spent. That way its hands are always clean: we gave all this money, you can’t blame us! And their hands will remain clean until someone calls them on their lack of oversight of what happens to taxpayers’ money. But taxpayers don’t even know who to call on, Europe is faceless.

 

The Greek government, too, likes the deterrent idea, albeit for slightly different reasons. While the EU has money to burn, Greece has none. The country doesn’t have the means to handle the refugee influx; it doesn’t even have the means to deal with its own domestic austerity-driven misery. The last thing it wants to do is give the impression that it is able to deal with the whole thing.

That might give refugees the idea that Greece is a good place to go to, and it might give Brussels the idea that Greece can handle this, so it must be doing fine. Also, there are (party-) political issues, there is rampant corruption, and there are egos. Greece is a country that politically, socially and economically has been robbed of any and all certainties and confidence. Where the poor take care of each other and the rich only have eye for themselves. But it’s hardly a functioning society anymore, it’s a bankruptcy fire sale.

The only thing surprising about the letter bombs (parcels) for Dijsselbloem, the IMF and Schäuble sent from Greece is that it took so long. Punishing a country into paying more than they could possibly afford is Versailles redux. But sure, the Greek part in the refugee crisis needs serious scrutiny as well: how Mouzalas can still be migration minister after the Refugees Deeply piece is hard to see. Then again, sources on the ground tell me it’s not -only- him, it’s the overall chaos and infighting.

 


And there are protests

 

The third party, the NGOs, is a bit tricky to talk about. For one, because there are so many of them, and in many lots of people work with the best possible intentions. That coming to a country where you don’t know the language or culture is not a perfect plan may often get lost in translation, certainly for unpaid bright-eyed young volunteers looking for a holiday but with a meaning.

It’s tricky also because NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it.

Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted. I see little reason to question that; if anything, it could be worse. But on the sunny side that means it need not take much to improve things. If ‘only’ one third of the aid were wasted, the portion that actually helps could potentially be doubled.

 

Most importantly: how do you waste at least €560 million (7/10 of €800 million) when that was intended for people in misery, in peril, in desperate need? I find it hard to wrap my mind around this, can’t seem to understand how actual people in Brussels can allow that to happen, when it’s about taxpayers’ money supposed to help people in grave distress. And I can’t figure out how Greece can allow that people freeze to death on its territory, when that could obviously have been easily prevented.

Nor can I fathom how iNGOs, who together have received hundreds of millions, can fail to build a number of decent winter camps, having been warned and funded months in advance. A lot of money goes to contractors, to the caterers who provide the awful meals at ten times the cost that O Allos Anthropos does, to the builders who don’t build, to the ubiquitous wheeler-dealers who can smell a cheap profit from miles away. And NGO executives want their often hefty salaries to be paid in time.

But even then I keep on thinking: where has all the money gone? They could have built or rented great facilities for all 60,000 refugees, and fed them, and schooled their children, and still have plenty of profit left. Why must greed be so unbridled?

 

In view of all this wasted money, we, Konstantinos and his people, can do so much more and so much better. But then again, of course, we can’t, because we don’t have that kind of funding, not even to spend wisely. And we won‘t either since we don’t want to comply with rules that would force O Allos Anthropos to refuse a meal to a hungry person, Greek or refugee, who doesn’t have ‘the proper ID’.

That ID thing fits ‘wonderfully’ into the EU model that has turned so many refugees into de facto prisoners, and has made so many Greeks destitute. In the end, aid must come from the heart, not from a wallet. Once humanitarian aid becomes a profit-based industry, as it so clearly has here, situations like the ones I describe here become inevitable. It all must come from the desire to help fellow human beings, and that should never be something that someone gets rich off of.

And compromising that in order to let the same machine fund you that has created so much mayhem feels like a road to some place between hell and nowhere. It’s sort of the opposite of Sartre’s “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). O Allos Anthropos means ‘The Other Human’. In other words, heaven is other people too. I could make a good case arguing that this is the very meaning of life, that we are here to help others. But that of course is just me. And thankfully and hopefully, bless you, many of our readers.

I don’t want to spend too much time being angry over the whole thing. The best we can all do is be positive, work with we have, and help as many people as we can. Of course Konstantinos and I, and many others, talk about becoming an NGO. But in his view, that would mean becoming a part of the machine, the industry, that does so much harm, wastes so much money and precious resources, and hurts so many needy people in the process.

Konstantinos is very much opposed to that, and I agree with him (not everyone always does). For him, it’s about never forgetting the reason why you do what you do, and certainly not forgetting it for money. But at the same time, yes, with more money we could do so much more. The number of projects that don’t get done, the people who don’t get fed, because the money is simply not there, is for lack of a better term, embarrassing. Especially, obviously, because that same money does get wasted somewhere else.

So we ask you once again for your help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s a matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

Dec 21 2016

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

 

 

Mar 072017
 
 March 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Edward Steichen Marlene Dietrich 1932

 

The World Economy Can’t Handle Even One US Rate Hike (CNBC)
Wall Street Investors Make $3 Trillion Since Trump Election Victory (Ind.)
China Banking System Overtakes Eurozone To Become Biggest In The World (Ind.)
The Finance Curse (Renegade)
Money and the Government – Ann Pettifor (Vogue)
Great Expectations -Not- (Jim Kunstler)
Manufacturing Consent: The Movie – Journalism Cannot Be A Check On Power (RS)
66 Of Government’s 100 Largest Contractors Violated Federal Labor Laws (Ibt)
UK Housing Benefit Cuts ‘Put Young People At Risk Of Homelessness’ (G.)
Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Much Narrower – And Possibly Courtproofed (Vox)
America Has Locked Up So Many Black People It Warps Our Sense Of Reality (WaPo)
Greek Economy Performed Even Worse Than Expected At The End Of 2016 (BI)
US Ambassador Pyatt Concerned About “Accident” Between Greece And Turkey (KTG)
War-Scarred Syrian Children May Be ‘Lost To Trauma’ (AFP)

 

 

What comes after the bubble. Overblown?

The World Economy Can’t Handle Even One US Rate Hike (CNBC)

Even one small interest rate increase by the Fed could have a sweeping impact on U.S. and world economies, Komal Sri-Kumar told CNBC on Monday. “I think they are going to hike” on March 15, Sri-Kumar said on “Squawk Box,” echoing a theory shared by many analysts. “But that is going to prompt capital outflows from the euro zone, especially with the political risk. It is going to increase the capital outflow from China, and the U.S. economy will feel the impact.” These moves would strengthen the dollar against other currencies, putting downward pressure on the euro, said Sri-Kumar, president of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies. He acknowledged that some of that pressure “is probably good for the European economy from a trade perspective” because European exports would become cheaper to foreign partners.

“The problem is in terms of capital outflows,” he said, cautioning that divestment in Europe could raise risk in overseas markets. “These economies, despite some positive numbers, … they are not in strong enough shape to take an increase in interest rates on the part of the United States.” The reason for this weakness in global markets stems from a long period of liquidity, or market price stability, according to Sri-Kumar. “We have had too long a period of excessive liquidity,” he said. “The markets have been distorted. The bond yields are very, very low, much lower than they would have been in the absence of quantitative easing and zero interest rate policy.” As a result, small changes in the U.S. economy reverberate worldwide, Sri-Kumar said, adding that had the Fed started hiking rates as the country emerged from the 2008 financial crisis, the United States may have been better off.

Read more …

That’s going to hurt. Who’s going to be bailed out?

Wall Street Investors Make $3 Trillion Since Trump Election Victory (Ind.)

Wall Street investors have cashed in big on US President Donald Trump’s election victory. Stocks have added nearly $3 trillion to their paper value since Mr Trump’s election as measured by the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index. The index, made up of more than 3,000 stocks, including an assortment of big companies, mid-sized businesses and small ones, has gained about 12% since the election. This means the overall increase in market capitalisation of all the US companies in the index jumped $3 trillion between 8 November through 3 March. Mr Trump’s unexpected victory has prompted the steepest rally from election day to inauguration for a first-term president since John F. Kennedy won the White House in 1960.

Last week, the Dow pierced the 21,000 mark for the first time ever after Mr Trump’s measured tone in his first speech to Congress lifted optimism and reassured some investors who had been disconcerted by his aggressive tone and divisive policies. It was just over one month ago that the index surpassed the 20,000 milestone for the first time in its history. The three main stock indexes surged more than 1.3% after the 1 March speech to close at record highs, according to Reuters data. Bank stocks have enjoyed particularly dramatic gains, but other sectors have rallied hard too, spurred by hopes of major tax cuts, regulatory roll-backs and bumper infrastructure spending. Neil Wilson, a market analyst at ETX Capital, last week said that this is the fastest time ever in which the Dow index has risen 1,000 points after a Presidential election.

Read more …

As measured in ‘assets’.

China Banking System Overtakes Eurozone To Become Biggest In The World (Ind.)

China’s banking system is now the biggest in the world, new analysis has shown. The country’s banks have more assets than those of the eurozone for the first time, the Financial Times found. China’s GDP surpassed that of the EU’s economic bloc in 2011 but its banks have taken more time to catch up, helped by a huge explosion in lending since the 2008 global financial crisis. Beijing launched a vast programme of fiscal stimulus in order to combat the effects of economic slowdown, but this has caused concern among some economists that a dangerous debt bubble has formed.

“The massive size of China’s banking system is less a cause for celebration than a sign of an economy overly dependent on bank-financed investment, beset by inefficient resource allocation, and subject to enormous credit risks,” Eswar Prasad, economist at Cornell University and former China head of the IMF, told the FT. Some analysts have said the stimulus has led to wasteful investments, overcapacity in certain industries and unsustainable debt levels. Chinese local governments have financed large infrastructure projects, mostly through debt. Three of the world’s four largest banks by assets are now Chinese. The total assets of the country’s banking system were $33 trillion at the end of 2016; more than the eurozone’s $31 trillion for the eurozone and more than double the US’ $16 trillion. The value of China’s banking system is more than 3.1 times the size of the country’s annual economic output, compared with 2.8 times for the eurozone and its banks, the FT said.

Read more …

Excellent Richard Werner, especially the 2nd part, from 16:00 min on. How do banks create money? And how do you solve the problems that rise from that?

“The City of London is not part of the UK. The Queen can’t enter withour permission.”

The Finance Curse (Renegade)

For many years, we’ve been told that finance is good and more finance is better. But it doesn’t seem everyone in the UK is sharing the benefits. On this program, we ask a very simple question – can a country suffer from a finance curse? Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by City veteran David Buik and the man who coined the term Quantitative Easing, International Banking and Finance Professor Richard Werner.

Read more …

“A well-managed economy has the means to fund any priority it holds dear.”

Money and the Government – Ann Pettifor (Vogue)

Let’s start with the obvious question: What is money?As the economist Joseph Schumpeter said, money is nothing more than a promise, a promise to pay. It’s a social construct. Coins, checks, the credit card you hand over at the till—they’re representative of those promises. We’re trained to think of money as a commodity, something there’s a limited supply of, that you can either spend or save, but in fact we’re creating money all the time, by making these promises. When you use a credit card, you’re not handing over your card to the shopkeeper or the waiter to keep, you’re just showing them a piece of plastic that says, “this person can be trusted.” We make myriad uses of these arrangements every day. And there’s far more of those promises in circulation at any given time than there is hard money sitting in vaults, or in people’s wallets, or wherever.

And what does understanding money-as-promise have to do with feminism? Most orthodox economists would have you think of money as finite, like a commodity. Which makes it very easy for politicians to say, when you come asking for paid maternity leave, or government-subsidized childcare, Sorry, ma’am, there’s no money in the budget for that. But you’ll note that they don’t reach for that excuse when they have other priorities—when they want $54 billion for military spending, for instance, or a trillion dollars to bail out the banks, suddenly the money is magically available. A well-managed economy has the means to fund any priority it holds dear.

But surely the government runs a budget, and the government we elect sets priorities for how to spend the money that it has. And some governments prioritize military spending, and others prioritize childcare . . . I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When the Federal Reserve decided to bail out AIG in 2008, a lot of journalists were asking Ben Bernanke: Hey, are you spending taxpayer money on this? And his answer was, no, we’ve just entered this $85 billion into their account. In exchange, AIG had to put up collateral, as you do when you take out a mortgage, but fundamentally, all the Fed was doing was typing some numbers into a computer that said: This belongs to AIG. Where taxpayers come into this is the Fed’s ability to make sure that $85 billion loan is backed by the money people pay to the U.S. government in taxes. Not what the government has on hand now, but what it anticipates taking in next year, five years, 100 years from now.

And there you have two issues: The issue of a well-managed economy, and the issue of how a government is different from an individual or a family where budgets are concerned. Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

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“..around June sometime the country won’t be able to pay invoices, issue salaries, send out entitlement checks, or do anything, really. It means pure government paralysis.”

Great Expectations -Not- (Jim Kunstler)

Halloween’s coming super-early this year and it will be a shocking surprise to those currently busy looking for Russians behind every potted plant in Washington DC. First, accept the premise that your country has lost its mind. This is what happens when societies (and individuals) can’t face the true quandaries of a particular moment in their history. All of their attention gets channeled into fantasy: spooks, sexual freakery, conspiracies, persecution narratives, savior fairy tales. It’s been quite a cavalcade of unreality for the past six months, with great entertainment value for connoisseurs of the bizarre — until you’re reminded that the fate of the nation is at stake. The questions Americans might more profitably ask ourselves: can we continue living the way we do? And by what means?

These matters of home economics have been sequestered in some forgotten storage unit of the collective mind for at least a year while a clock ticks in the time-bomb that sits on the national welcome mat. That bomb is made of financial plutonium and it’s getting ready to blow. When it does, all the distracting spookery and freakery will vaporize and the shell-shocked citizens will have a clear view of the bleak, toxic, devastated landscape they actually inhabit. March 15 is when the temporary suspension of the national debt ceiling — engineered in a 2015 deal between Barack Obama and then House Speaker John Boehner — finally expires, meaning the government loses its authority to continue borrowing money. The chance that congress can pass a bill raising the debt ceiling to enable further borrowing is about the same as the chance that Xi Jinping will send every American household a dim sum breakfast next Sunday morning by FedEx.

The US treasury will then be left with around $200 billion in walking-around money, at a burn rate of about $90 billion a month — meaning that that around June sometime the country won’t be able to pay invoices, issue salaries, send out entitlement checks, or do anything, really. It means pure government paralysis. It means no infrastructure spending jamboree, no “great” wall, no military shopping spree, none of the Great Expectations sewn into the golden fleece of Trumptopia. Meanwhile, over the next few weeks, Janet Yellen and her crew of economic astrologasters at the Federal Reserve will have to put up or shut up vis-à-vis raising the interest rate on the basic overnight lending rate. The Las Vegas odds of it being raised currently stand at around 95%.

So, they will be running that play around the time that the debt ceiling issue materializes into a live-action event. Of course, the Fed could welsh on its carefully-scripted previous hints and utterances and do nothing. But that option would probably extinguish the last remaining shreds of the Fed’s credibility, since they’ve been jive-talking about raising rates since they began “tapering” the QE bond-buying spree in the spring of 2013, i.e., a long time ago. The Fed’s credibility is synonymous with the dollar’s credibility. Look out below.

Read more …

“Democracy is staged with the help of media that work as propaganda machines.”

Manufacturing Consent: The Movie – Journalism Cannot Be A Check On Power (RS)

Nearly 30 years before President Trump’s press gaggle last Friday, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman authored ‘”Manufacturing Consent“, a book that radically redefined mass media’s relationship with the state. Now, in the age of fake news and alt facts, Democracy Now! co-founder Amy Goodman and animator Pierangelo Pirak have teamed up to give new life to the world renowned linguist and media analyst’s famed work. “Propaganda,” Goodman begins in her narration of the cartoon. “Many use the word when talking about countries like North Korea, Kazakhstan, Iran, Countries viewed as authoritarian through the lens of the western media. ‘Press freedom’. ‘Freedom of thought’. People use those terms when talking about countries like the United States, France, Australia. ‘Democracies’.”

In 1988, “Manufacturing Consent” “blasted apart the notion that media acts as a check on political power,” Goodman explains as a myriad of mouthy orange villains murmur ominously in a machine-like universe. “That media inform the public, serve the public so that we can better engage in the political process,” Goodman continues. “In fact, media manufacture our consent. They tell us what those in power need them to tell us … so we can fall in line. Democracy is staged with the help of media that work as propaganda machines.”

Read more …

This happened in 8 years of Obama. Calling on Trump now seems a bit strange in that light. First ask yourself: why did Obama fail so badly?

66 Of Government’s 100 Largest Contractors Violated Federal Labor Laws (Ibt)

Federal contractors, who employ about 20% of all American workers and receive $500 billion in taxpayer funds annually, have been stealing wages and endangering workers despite Obama administration policies designed to protect workers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in releasing a report Monday. The report comes as the Trump administration prepares to slash regulations, and the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on repealing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order issued by former President Barack Obama, which would make it easier for federal contractors to hide labor law violations and make it harder for companies following the rules to do business with the government, Warren said. “All Americans deserve a safe workplace and fair pay for a day’s work,” Warren, D-Mass., said. “But too often, federal contractors break labor laws while continuing to suck down millions in taxpayer dollars.

Instead of making it easier for companies to cheat their employees or threaten workers’ health and safety, President Trump and Republicans in Congress should join Democrats in standing up for the hardworking Americans who do important jobs for our country.” The report indicates 66 of the largest 100 federal contractors have violated federal wage and hour laws, and a third of the largest penalties levied since 2015 were imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Some violations have been fatal, including four in a single year at Goodyear. [..] The employer with the most wage and hour violations nationwide was AT&T with nearly 30,000, the report said. Another major violator was private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, with more than 21,000 violations. When it came to federal contracts specifically, Manpower Group racked up the most violations with 19,838, followed by USProtect Corp. with 7,263 and Management & Training Corp. with 5,519.

Read more …

The UK as a caring society does not exist anymore. The sick, the old, the young, all the most vulnerable groups are targeted.

UK Housing Benefit Cuts ‘Put Young People At Risk Of Homelessness’ (G.)

The government’s move to exclude young people from receiving housing benefit could bar most of them from the private rental market, a landlords’ association has warned, as charities said the decision could leave thousands at risk of homelessness. Amid widespread anger among charities at the decision to strip housing benefit entitlement from single people aged 18 to 21, the National Landlords Association (NLA) said one effect would be to put off most of its members from housing young tenants on benefits. “The message that will go out from these changes is that 18- to 21-year-olds don’t have automatic entitlement to housing benefit,” said Richard Lambert, the NLA’s chief executive. “Yes, there are all these exceptions in the actual policy, but the nuances won’t cut through. I wouldn’t go as far to say young people will be totally excluded, but they’re going to find it very, very difficult.”

The change, first mooted under David Cameron in 2012 and outlined in the 2015 Conservative party manifesto, was pushed through without fanfare in a ministerial directive to parliament late on Friday. It means that from 1 April, new single claimants aged 18 to 21 will not be entitled to the housing element of universal credit unless they fall into certain categories. The exceptions include people with children, or those where to continue living with their parents would bring a “serious risk to the renter’s physical or mental health” or would otherwise cause “significant harm”. While such categories are broad, homelessness charities warned that to prove such potential harm would be so difficult that many young people would instead opt to sleep rough or sleep on friends’ sofas instead.

“As we’ve seen before, the bureaucracy of the welfare state is not good at capturing people in delicate situations,” said Kate Webb, head of policy for Shelter. “This is particularly so if we’re talking about 18- or 19-year-olds who have suffered really unpleasant, very personal things at home, and don’t want to disclose that to someone.” Webb said that even those who wished to claim the exception would struggle to find a landlord willing to take them on. “If you’re a landlord now, every 18- to 21-year-old is a risk,” she said. “You have no reason to believe that someone will be eligible for an exemption. The idea this is going to work in practice is fanciful. “It’s a real worry – there is no way this isn’t going to lead to an increase in rough sleeping.”

Read more …

Good and detailed overview. It’s going to be a legal fight every step of the way.

Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Much Narrower – And Possibly Courtproofed (Vox)

The first version of President Donald Trump’s refugee and visa ban — the one he signed on January 27, in place for only a week before federal courts put it on hold — was an ambitious disaster. It attempted, literally overnight, to prevent people who had already bought plane tickets from entering America. It posed a substantial problem for people currently living in the US who might want to travel abroad. And it turned preference for “persecuted religious minorities” into a cornerstone of US refugee policy. The latest version of the executive order, signed by Trump Monday, does none of those things. It all but admits that the administration overreached the first time, provoking a legal and political backlash that could have been avoided.

What it offers, instead, is a much more narrowly tailored and thoughtfully considered version of the ban — one that’s much more likely to stand up in court. The administration has done basically all it can to judgeproof the new executive order. It was a foregone conclusion that immigration advocates and Democratic prosecutors would sue to stop the 2.0 executive order just as they stopped the first one, but it’s a lot less clear that they’ll succeed this time around. The first version of President Donald Trump’s refugee and visa ban — the one he signed on January 27, in place for only a week before federal courts put it on hold — was an ambitious disaster. It attempted, literally overnight, to prevent people who had already bought plane tickets from entering America. It posed a substantial problem for people currently living in the US who might want to travel abroad.

And it turned preference for “persecuted religious minorities” into a cornerstone of US refugee policy. The latest version of the executive order, signed by Trump Monday, does none of those things. It all but admits that the administration overreached the first time, provoking a legal and political backlash that could have been avoided. What it offers, instead, is a much more narrowly tailored and thoughtfully considered version of the ban — one that’s much more likely to stand up in court. The administration has done basically all it can to judgeproof the new executive order. It was a foregone conclusion that immigration advocates and Democratic prosecutors would sue to stop the 2.0 executive order just as they stopped the first one, but it’s a lot less clear that they’ll succeed this time around.

If Trump officials could only make everyone forget that the first version of the executive order existed at all, they’d be golden. Unfortunately for them, they can’t. Between the chaos of the first executive order and the internal tussles over the drafting of the second, “travel ban 2.0” is already associated in the public mind with its more aggressive predecessor. And federal judges may be similarly disinclined either to forgive or forget.

Read more …

Obama had 8 years to do something about this. What happened?

“America has locked up so many people it needs to rethink how it measures the economy…”

“Black Americans are twice as likely as whites to be out of work and looking for a job — the same ratio as in 1954..”

America Has Locked Up So Many Black People It Warps Our Sense Of Reality (WaPo)

For as long as the government has kept track, the economic statistics have shown a troubling racial gap. Black people are twice as likely as white people to be out of work and looking for a job. This fact was as true in 1954 as it is today. The most recent report puts the white unemployment rate at around 4.5%. The black unemployment rate? About 8.8%. But the economic picture for black Americans is far worse than those statistics indicate. The unemployment rate only measures people who are both living at home and actively looking for a job. The hitch: A lot of black men aren’t living at home and can’t look for jobs — because they’re behind bars. Though there are nearly 1.6 million Americans in state or federal prison, their absence is not accounted for in the figures that politicians and policymakers use to make decisions. As a result, we operate under a distorted picture of the nation’s economic health.

There’s no simple way to estimate the impact of mass incarceration on the jobs market. But here’s a simple thought experiment. Imagine how the white and black unemployment rates would change if all the people in prison were added to the unemployment rolls. According to a Wonkblog analysis of government statistics, about 1.6% of prime-age white men (25 to 54 years old) are institutionalized. If all those 590,000 people were recognized as unemployed, the unemployment rate for prime-age white men would increase from about 5% to 6.4%. For prime-age black men, though, the unemployment rate would jump from 11% to 19%. That’s because a far higher fraction of black men — 7.7%, or 580,000 people — are institutionalized. Now, the racial gap starts to look like a racial chasm. (When you take into account local jails, which are not included in these statistics, the situation could be even worse.)

“Imprisonment makes the disadvantaged literally invisible,” writes Harvard sociologist Bruce Western in his book, “Punishment and Inequality in America.” Western was among the first scholars to argue that America has locked up so many people it needs to rethink how it measures the economy. Over the past 40 years, the prison population has quintupled. As a consequence of disparities in arrests and sentencing, this eruption has disproportionately affected black communities. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of white men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes. For some high-risk groups, the economic consequences have been staggering. According to Census data from 2014, there are more young black high school dropouts in prison than have jobs.

Read more …

A Greek recovery is not possible. All this is theater. Tsipras said Greece was back to growth, about half an hour before this report came out.

Greek Economy Performed Even Worse Than Expected At The End Of 2016 (BI)

Greece’s economy performed much worse than forecast in the final quarter of 2016, according to the latest data from the country’s statistical service Elstat. GDP shrank 1.2% in Q4 of 2016 — marking the worst quarterly performance for the stricken southern European economy since the heart of its debt crisis in the summer of 2015. A previous first estimate of GDP in the quarter suggested that the economy shrunk just 0.4%, but the final figure is significantly worse. The data comes just days after the country’s central bank governor Yannis Stournaras said that international lenders should lower the country’s fiscal targets from 2021 onwards to help boost its growth potential.

“The easing of the primary surplus targets, together with the implementation of the agreed structural reforms, would put the necessary conditions in place for a gradual lowering of tax rates, with positive multiplier effects on economic growth,” Stournaras said at an event over the weekend. Greece is in the middle of a major tug of war between its creditors over how its current bailout packages are handled. A second review of its bailout has dragged on for months, mainly due to differences between the EU and the International Monetary Fund over Greece’s fiscal targets in 2017, when its current bailout programme expires. The IMF favours a softer approach to fiscal conditions, saying in a report in February that additional austerity measures and spending cuts would not improve Greece’s financial prospects in the longer term.

Read more …

Never trust Pyatt.

US Ambassador Pyatt Concerned About “Accident” Between Greece And Turkey (KTG)

US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt expressed concern about the possibility of an “accident” between Greece and Turkey due to the increased activity in the Aegean Sea in recent weeks. At the same time, Pyatt praised the Greek government’s responsible attitude at a time of heightened tension and for the financial contributions of the indebted state to the NATO. Pyatt made these remarks speaking to a journalist at the side of the Delphi Economic Forum over the weekend. Regarding on the Cyprus issue, meanwhile, he said the new U.S. administration will continue its efforts for a solution. Turning to economic affairs and the role of the IMF, the ambassador said that he had not observed any change in the attitude of the new U.S. leadership, expressing U.S. support for growth in Greece.

Pyatt also referred to the importance of transatlantic relations, with emphasis on NATO and bilateral ties. “I want to see Greece play an even greater role as a pillar of regional stability,” he added. “Economic stability and prosperity are important elements of any effort to broaden Greece’s role in this region and in Europe. And, therefore, my number one priority is to sustain the U.S. effort to spur growth and support economic recovery in Greece,” the ambassador said, “As Greece demonstrates its commitment to reform and builds additional trust with its creditors, I am convinced that new investments, both by foreign investors and domestic ones, will buoy the economy and create new jobs,” he added. Pyatt said that the U.S. government was eager to see U.S. companies expand existing investments and invest in new ventures in Greece.

Read more …

“Children wish they were dead and that they would go to heaven to be warm and eat and play..”

War-Scarred Syrian Children May Be ‘Lost To Trauma’ (AFP)

Syrian children terrified by shelling and airstrikes are showing signs of severe emotional distress and could grow up to be a generation “lost to trauma,” Save the Children warned Monday. Interviews with more than 450 children and adults showed a high level of psychological stress among children, with many suffering from frequent bedwetting or developing speech impediments. At least three million children are estimated to be living in Syria’s war zones, facing ongoing bombing and shelling as the conflict heads into its seventh year. Two-thirds of those interviewed by the aid organization have lost a loved one or had their house bombed or shelled, or suffered war-related injuries themselves.

“After six years of war, we are at a tipping point,” said the report entitled “Invisible Wounds” on the war’s impact on children’s mental health. “The risk of a broken generation, lost to trauma and extreme stress, has never been greater,” it said. A staggering 84% listed bombing and shelling as the number one cause of stress in children’s daily lives. About 48% of adults reported that children had lost the ability to speak or developed speech impediments since the start of the war. Some 81% of children have become more aggressive while 71% suffer from frequent bedwetting, according to the research. Half of those interviewed said domestic abuse was on the rise and one in four children said they don’t have a place to go or someone to talk to when they are scared, sad or upset.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, cited instances of attempted suicide and self-harm. In the besieged town of Madaya, six teenagers – the youngest a 12-year-old girl – have attempted suicide in recent months, said Khush. The report quoted a teacher in Madaya who said children there were “psychologically crushed and tired.” “They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” “Children wish they were dead and that they would go to heaven to be warm and eat and play,” said Hala, another teacher in Madaya.

Read more …

Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 7:15 pm Food Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens December 2016

 

Apologies, but I have to talk one more time before Christmas about why I’m in Greece, again. Some of what I am about to say will repeat earlier articles, but I promise, there’s plenty of new things. Because I’m coming to grips with the situation I’m in here, seeing the landscape, seeing things in their perspective.

I never had much use for -humanitarian- aid, I always had the same suspicion of what was going on in the field that just about everyone else has (where does the money go?). But then when I first went to Athens in June 2015, and asked Automatic Earth readers if they wanted to donate a little something for the poor in Greece, and that little something became $12,000 before I knew it, that all changed.

It meant I had to dig deeper and look closer, because this was me handing out other people’s money, and a lot of it. That’s how I met Konstantinos Polychronopoulos in July 2015, and I have since focused on him and his “O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human) ‘movement’, because in my view he represents the ideal fashion in which aid should be delivered. No overhead that gets subtracted from donations -other than equipment-, no salaries for anyone, just one on one aid.

There are about a dozen articles I’ve written over the past year and a half about him and his people at O Allos Anthropos, linked at the bottom of this article. And yes, I will also ask you once more to please donate to the Automatic Earth Fund for Athens (Paypal widget, top left hand column). Much as I don’t like asking anyone for anything when it comes to me, I simply can’t afford to be shy when it comes to this Greek Social Kitchen project.

Problem is, Konstantinos receives hardly any funding, except for the Automatic Earth. A bigger problem, as I’ve found out, is there’s a direct link between providing the most effective aid and not getting funded, strange as that may sound. And that’s what I want to talk about right here. That and what you and I could make possible for Konstantinos in 2017.

Look, I never cared for this kind of thing. I always felt that humanitarian aid is the responsibility of a government (still do, really). Not that I want a government to move into every nook and cranny of people’s lives, but when people in a society fall through the cracks and live in hunger or other forms of misery, their government should be there for them. It’s what we pay taxes for.

Moreover, I always thought that if you do get involved as a citizen, aid should be something you do close to where you live. And I don’t live in Athens. Where I do live is up for grabs, but it’s not Athens. Still, what I have become involved in here is a rare instance of what aid should be, and then it’s much less important where it takes place; besides, there’s a lot more need here than there is in either Holland or Canada, the closest I get to calling any place home.

 

 

In thinking about why it’s so hard to get proper funding for Konstantinos, as I told you end November, in The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas, a large role is reserved for the fact that aid has become an industry like so many others. And that is really unfortunate, for many reasons.

But the past few days something else cropped up in my mind as well, which I feel defines the problem even better. That is the concept of “institutionalization” as forwarded by Austrian philosopher and priest -in New York and Mexico- Ivan Illich in the 1970’s. What Illich meant was that ‘institutions’ in society monopolize entire fields within that society.

Schools, colleges, universities have a monopoly on education (doctors and hospitals have a similar monopoly on health care). Only the degrees that educational institutions hand out recognize you as being smart -or fit for a job-, and the only people who hand out these degrees are those who have spent years wrecking their brains to get such degrees themselves. You’re not smart because you have a brain, you’re smart because you follow a program preset by people who have followed -very- similar programs. That’s “Institutionalization”.

A few quotes from Illich’s book 1971 book “Deschooling Society” (please stick with me, you’ll see where I’m going):

“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

You couldn’t lock up adults in classrooms the way we do kids. But what can kids do, they’re largely defenseless.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.”

Your teachers went through the same brain-deafening torture that you now do, and they’re not about to admit that this was time wasted. Even if they realize it.

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

Why do children learn in school? Only because they’re locked up in them umpteen hours a day. They could -and would- learn wherever they go (children learn, period, they couldn’t help it if they tried), but they’re not allowed to go ‘anywhere’.

“School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.”

You’re not supposed to learn at home or in the world around you, learning is the monopoly of the schooling institutions. Of course you learn most of what’s valuable and useful outside of school, but we don’t talk about that.

Illich was equally clear about medicine:

“Modern medicine is a negation of health. It isn’t organized to serve human health, but only itself, as an institution. It makes more people sick than it heals. We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation. Effective health care depends on self-care; this fact is currently heralded as if it were a discovery.”

This monopoly our societies have provided to schools, teachers, doctors and hospitals has gotten ‘certified’ by the fact that they are the only ones in their fields who are funded by society, leaving any and all others too poor to even challenge them for their monopoly positions. It’s a closed circle.

In short, institutionalization is good for institutions, but never for those people they are supposed to be serving.

 

 

So how does this connect to Greece, to Konstantinos, and to all the people he’s trying to -devoted his whole life to- feed, and help in other ways? Here’s how: aid has been institutionalized too. There’s a set of rules, and if you don’t comply, you don’t qualify for funding. The funds then go to less efficient sources who do comply.

Konstantinos and I sat down for another talk last week, always interrupted by his incessantly ringing phone, and always accompanied by our dear friend and translator Tassos, because I wanted to know what these guys see as their future, what they want 2017 to bring that 2016 hasn’t yet.

One of the things that was said, and that’s what reminded me of Illich and institutionalization, is that if Konstantinos would want O Allos Anthropos to be registered as an NGO, and apply for funding through ‘official channels’, not only would he face ream upon ream of paperwork, he would also be forced to demand that every single person he and his people all across Greece serve a meal to, show them an ID. Or else be refused, hungry or not.

And not only would that go against everything Konstantinos stands for, and every reason he wants to serve “Free Food For All” (the main English-language slogan they have), it would mean he’d be from then on in part of the ‘framework’, the ‘institution’. And that framework, as we have seen in earlier articles, is not functioning anywhere near the way it should.

If you see pictures of long waiting lines for food, that’s because of that ID obligation. Sign here please, so the NGO can cash in another $5 or $7 per meal (O Allos Anthropos does it for less than $1 per person, and their meals are better).

Aid for the poorest and most miserable has been institutionalized. The priority has become whether those providing the services follow the rules of the ruling institution (in this case the EU), not whether those services are the best and/or most efficient they can be. Not only is it a giant waste of taxpayer money, Brussels has turned this, as it has done with many things concerning Greece, into a power game.

Tsipras want to help pensioners and underfed schoolchildren for Christmas? How dare he. Meanwhile, new stats this week said 9 out 10 unemployed Greeks get no support from the state, and 350,000 families have no wage earner. 300,000 educated Greeks have emigrated to find work. Scorched earth.

 

 

The EU has transferred hundreds of millions of euros to dozens of NGOs, but conditions in refugee camps around Greece, and personal conditions of people who are either inside these camps or elsewhere, are often still deplorable. Part of the blame rests with the Greek government, undoubtedly, but they can’t even take care of their own people, and the EU gives them very little to deal with the refugees.

The official line is that the government in Athens is not efficient enough when dealing with the issue. But the reality is the government feels it’s easier to comply with Brussels, and the city of Athens feels it’s easier to comply with the government. And they’re all fine, thank you, the PM and the mayor live in nice abodes. But they leave the homeless and refugees in no man’s limbo.

This is the huge void in which Konstantinos operates. Trying to help those people that others can’t or too often won’t. To at the very least feed them, and do what he can in other ways. Which without funding is an impossibly frustrating thing to do.

Not that he will ever show it, anymore than I want to make this sound like some kind of lament. Let’s instead turn to the future. Because there are of course plenty of plans. How we’re going to pay for them is a whole other story…

 

 

But first, a few maps I made. The first one shows the -5- places where there were ‘kitchens’ (in pink) when I hooked up with Konstantinos in July 2015, with no. 1 the ‘Big House’ on Plateon Street, as well as the -‘subsidiary’- locations (in red) where food was served with assistance from the Big House. I left the island of Lesbos off the map, because it’s so out of the way. It’s one the second map though.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

The second map shows the 39(!) locations where food is served now (green are kitchens, yellow are ‘subsidiaries’), plus 9 other ones they would like to add in 2017 (in blue) . Click on the maps for a full, navigable version. I couldn’t embed them, sorry.

I should add that these are not all places where food is served 7 days a week, there is no money to do that. Often, unfortunately, it’s just once a week.

 


click map for full navigable version

 

This, I hope, gives you an idea of where your money has gone: the difference between the first map and the second is to a large extent due to your donations. Your money helps to feed people, in a very direct manner.

But that’s not nearly all yet. In the past few months, Konstantinos has traveled to Perugia, Italy, and to Barcelona, Spain. According to him, Social Kitchens are being set up as we speak in Barcelona and Alicante.

For 2017, he has invitations to visit – and help set up kitchens in- Manchester and London in the UK, The Hague in Holland, the Lebanon, Gaza -to let Israelis and Palestinians cook together, and a camp with 1 million refugees in Jordan. All with the Free Food For All principle in mind, not the Present Your ID or You’ll Go Hungry idea that the EU and NGOs adhere to.

 


Konstantinos in Barcelona: El Otro Hombre

 

2017: In Greece, as I said, 9 more kitchens are waiting to be opened. Moreover, there are advanced plans, for which again there is no money, to start a -mobile- medical (and food) service for elderly Greeks in remote areas, where there are no facilities that are ‘reasonably accessible’ to them. All the necessary volunteers, doctors, nurses, you name it, everyone is on board.

But it will still take €8,000 to arrange for a vehicle that is properly equipped. Yeah, that’s all, surprised me too; I don’t know how he does it, but Konstantinos is confident he can do it for that. Donated equipment, volunteer crew, just paying cost for the moderate conversion of the vehicle. He’s a master at shoestring.

Once that is done, of course Konstantinos is dreaming of adding more such vehicles. Greece is a large enough country, and ever fewer people have access to health care. Then after that, one Big House will not be enough if instead of the 5,000 meals now served daily, the amount would, say, double (which it really should). So he also dreams of more Big Houses, central kitchens.

One sad detail that was mentioned is that the present -only- Big House is also a facility where many people, mainly homeless, go to take a shower, and do laundry, make sure their kids get properly educated, etc etc. But per address in Greece, water is one price up to a limit; if you use more, you pay a lot more for that. So offering laundry and shower facilities for those who have none, ends up costing an arm and a leg. One of many problems.

I must admit I have no idea where we’re going to go from here. But I’m not going to stop trying to keep this movement moving. I may fail, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Because Konstantinos and his people deserve that I do that, and all the people they help, deserve it even more. I’ll be sure to keep you posted in the new year.

 

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me.

And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it.

There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed.

And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos. Every penny goes where it belongs, no overhead. Guaranteed. It’s matter of honor.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.

June 16 2015

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens

June 19 2015

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund

June 25 2015

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund

July 8 2015

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation

July 11 2015

AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street

July 22 2015

AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri

Nov 24 2015

The Automatic Earth -Finally- Returns To Athens

Dec 25 2015

Help the Automatic Earth Help the Poorest Greeks and Refugees

Feb 1 2016

The Automatic Earth is Back in Athens, Again

Mar 2 2016

The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund Feeds Refugees (Too)

Aug 9 2016

Meanwhile in Greece..

Nov 28 2016

The Other Human Needs Your Help This Christmas

 

 


Konstantinos and a happy refugee

Dec 202016
 
 December 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Homeless mother and child walking from Phoenix to Imperial County CA 1939

China Talks the Talk on Property Curbs, but Can it Walk the Walk? (BBG)
China May Be Losing Cat-and-Mouse Game With ‘Hong Kong Insurance’ Buyers (BBG)
New Italy PM Asks Parliament To Approve Borrowing €20 Billion For Banks (BBC)
After Aleppo: We Need A New Syria Policy (Ron Paul)
We’re About To Sign A Deal With Canada That’s Just As Bad As TTIP (Ind.)
Britain’s Shame: The People Who Are Homeless, Even Though They’re In Work (G.)
Nine In 10 Jobless Greeks Receive No Unemployment Benefit (Kath.)
Moody’s Voices Concern At ‘Material Delay’ In Greece Debt Relief Talks (G.)
Greek Hospitals Deepen Trauma For Refugee Women Giving Birth (Gill)
Thousands Of US Locales Have Lead Poisoning Worse Than Flint (R.)
Coal Continues Its March Towards Asia (IEA)
Air Pollution In Northern Chinese City Surpasses WHO Guideline By 100 Times (R.)
Japan Pulls Plug On Troubled Fast Breeder Reactor (AFP)
This Is The Polar Bear Capital Of The World, But The Snow Has Gone (G.)

 

 

Now that Trump is sealed in to become America’s 45th president in a month’s time, comparisons to Hitler and nazism seem to become the flavor of the day. Sad. Almost as sad as the multiple deadly attacks that have taken place over the last 24 hours. But there is enough to read about that everywhere. I’ll focus on things that may seem less important.

 

“They absolutely cannot have any significant drop in prices without risking real social instability.”

China Talks the Talk on Property Curbs, but Can it Walk the Walk? (BBG)

China is talking the talk about reining in the speculation that fueled spiraling property prices. The test will be whether it can walk the walk should growth start to falter. [..] With the leadership wed to Xi’s goal of annual growth averaging 6.5 percent through 2020, the challenge will be to achieve that amid another slowdown in the crucial property engine. “Policy makers are trying now to contain the property market by talking,” Zhu said. “That unfortunately is too late and does little to dispel the speculative sentiment and expectation that’s built up over the past one-and-half decades. The situation has already gone beyond a soft landing.” China’s highly leveraged developers are feeling the heat. Regulators in October choked off a key source of funding with the Shanghai Stock Exchange raising the threshold for property firms to sell bonds on their platform.

Medicine being administered to the bond market is also raising risks of dangerous side-effects as policy makers try to discourage risky investments made on borrowed money. Authorities have increased short-term money-market rates and tightened rules on using debt as collateral to buy even more securities. That’s sparked a jump in borrowing costs, prompted firms to cancel bond offerings and fueled speculation defaults will spread next year amid a near-record 4.5 trillion yuan of maturities. Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University in Shenzhen, cites the risk of increased credit growth for mortgages and real estate. Longer-term household loans increased by 569.2 billion yuan last month, accounting for more than two thirds of total new yuan loans. That was just shy of the 571.3 billion yuan record in September. The growth pace is likely to moderate, though “that isn’t saying a lot,” Balding said. “They absolutely cannot have any significant drop in prices without risking real social instability.”

Read more …

“They’ve also swiped their credit or debit cards again and again – in one case, as many as 800 times – so that each transaction remained below the limit.”

China May Be Losing Cat-and-Mouse Game With ‘Hong Kong Insurance’ Buyers (BBG)

It’s a game of cat-and-mouse that has gone on for most of this year, with Beijing showing no signs of winning yet. Each time China tightens up on money flowing out of the country for purchases of Hong Kong insurance, new routes seem to emerge. In the latest clampdown, which started on Saturday, MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. added restrictions on purchasing all but the cheapest insurance policies using credit cards issued in China, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Chinese have been spending billions of Hong Kong dollars on insurance products that are linked to investments, as a way of channeling money out of China. Chinese residents will “actively seek ways to get around the curbs no matter what,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steven Lam.

Mainland purchases of Hong Kong insurance may rise to fresh records after reaching a high of HK$18.9 billion ($2.4 billion) in the third quarter, he said. Tenacious mainland buyers have bypassed restrictions by channeling money through online payment services or by using Hong Kong money changers, who allow money to be received in Hong Kong based on domestic transfers to accounts within China. They’ve also swiped their credit or debit cards again and again – in one case, as many as 800 times – so that each transaction remained below the limit. The latest Visa and MasterCard rules restrict multiple swiping. Weakness in the yuan is encouraging Chinese residents to put their money into products denominated in either Hong Kong or U.S. dollars. That’s adding to the headaches for Chinese officials concerned that capital flight could further contribute to yuan depreciation. Outflows are estimated to have totaled more than $1.5 trillion since the beginning of 2015.

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One would almost hope the new technocrats fail miserably.

New Italy PM Asks Parliament To Approve Borrowing €20 Billion For Banks (BBC)

The Italian government will seek parliamentary approval to borrow up to €20bn to support its fragile banking sector and potentially rescue Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The country’s third-largest bank needs to raise €5bn in fresh capital by the end of the month. If Monte dei Paschi cannot arrange a private sector bailout, a state rescue may come as early as this week. It is saddled with bad loans and is deemed to be the weakest major EU bank. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, whose government has only been in office for a week, is under pressure because private investors would suffer any losses under EU bailout rules.

He described the move as a “precautionary measure”, adding: “We believe it is our duty to take this measure to protect savings. I hope all the political movements in parliament share this responsibility.” However, Italy’s economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, stressed the funds would be used to ensure adequate liquidity in the banking system and support other struggling banks. Officials have also said they were examining a scheme to compensate retail investors for any losses incurred. Mr Gentiloni’s predecessor, Matteo Renzi, resigned after losing a referendum on constitutional reform and was regularly accused of being too close to the banks.

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“We are a country sitting on $20 trillion in debt, living far beyond our means. Power can oftentimes be an illusion, and in any case it doesn’t last forever.”

After Aleppo: We Need A New Syria Policy (Ron Paul)

Over the past week, eastern Aleppo was completely brought back under control of the Syrian government. The population began to return to its homes, many of which were abandoned when al-Qaeda-linked rebels took over in 2012. As far as I know, the western mainstream media did not have a single reporter on the ground in Aleppo, but relied on “activists” to inform us that the Syrian army was massacring the civilian population. It hardly makes sense for an army to fight and defeat armed rebels just so it can go in and murder unarmed civilians, but then again not much mainstream reporting on the tragedy in Syria has made sense. I spoke to one western journalist last week who actually did report from Aleppo and she painted a very different picture of what was going on there.

She conducted video interviews with dozens of local residents and they told of being held hostage and starved by the “rebels,” many of whom were using US-supplied weapons supposed to go to “moderates.” We cannot be sure what exactly is happening in Aleppo, but we do know a few things about what happened in Syria over the past five years. This was no popular uprising to overthrow a dictator and bring in democracy. From the moment President Obama declared “Assad must go” and approved sending in weapons, it was obvious this was a foreign-sponsored regime change operation that used foreign fighters against Syrian government forces. If the Syrian people really opposed Assad, there is no way he could have survived five years of attack from foreigners and his own people.

Recently we heard that the CIA and Hillary Clinton believe that the Russians are behind leaked Democratic National Committee documents, and that the leaks were meant to influence the US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. These are the same people who for the past five years have been behind the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, which has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Isn’t supporting violent overthrow to influence who runs a country even worse than leaking documents? Is it OK when we do it? Why? Because we are the most powerful country? We are a country sitting on $20 trillion in debt, living far beyond our means. Power can oftentimes be an illusion, and in any case it doesn’t last forever. We can be sure that the example we set while we are the most powerful country will be followed by those who may one day take our place. The hypocrisy of our political leaders who say one thing and do another does not go unnoticed.

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Still not over. TISA is another one that keeps lurking.

We’re About To Sign A Deal With Canada That’s Just As Bad As TTIP (Ind.)

CETA is an EU-Canada trade deal just like the controversial EU-US deal TTIP. It was secretly negotiated over five years, locks in the privatisation of public services and will permit corporations across the North America to sue European governments in a private justice system. Brexit may not happen for at least two years, but CETA will be voted on in February – if it passes, it will immediately apply to the UK. Inequality is grist to the mill for far-right populists, yet the European Commission and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are failing to learn the lessons of Brexit and the rise of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Instead, it’s big business as usual, and continued support for policies that generate inequality and, in turn, fuel the xenophobic right.

This week there has been a clear demarcation of the crucial choice faced by the EU and UK, which may help determine the future rise of the far right in Europe – and, set against it, the decline of out-of-touch, centre-left parties. On Friday, the International Labour Organisation reported that the top 10% of highest paid workers in Europe together earn almost as much as the bottom 50%. Last week, the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee found that the EU-Canada trade deal CETA will only make this situation worse, “widening the income gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.” The cross-party committee points to CETA triggering potential job losses of more than 200,000 across the EU.

It goes on to point out what campaigners across Europe have long been saying about accords like CETA, TTIP, and the Donald Trump-opposed TPP: “There is a clear disparity between the levels of protection envisaged for investors and for labour interests and rights.” These investors are not the small businesses that CETA and TTIP’s supporters repeatedly cite. As the report makes clear, CETA has no chapter with specific measures to help small business. The clear disparity between workers and investor interests is perhaps best captured in one key element found across all these deals: the widely opposed “corporate court” private justice system that grants big business the power to sue states for policies that affect their profits. Put more simply, it’s a taxpayer-funded risk insurance scheme for corporations that would swing into play were a government to decide to ban nuclear power, oppose fracking or re-nationalise public services like the railways.

Despite voting to leave the EU, CETA can still affect the UK: the deal could be passed within the next two months, with large swathes of it immediately put in place. After that happens, those already struggling in the UK’s brittle Brexit economy will feel the squeeze of yet more anti-worker policy-making. Yet despite the clear dangers posed by CETA, Liam “Take Back Control” Fox has already signed the UK up to the deal, willfully bypassing UK parliamentary scrutiny along the way.

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“.. over 170,000 Londoners are homeless..”

Britain’s Shame: The People Who Are Homeless, Even Though They’re In Work (G.)


Illustration: Eva Bee

The former Tory minister George Young described the homeless as “what you step over when you come out of the opera”. No, Sir George: today’s homeless deliver your takeaways and pull pints at the local. Then they kip on park benches. Martin, who works for Islington council taking disabled children to school, told me how he’d spent a month sleeping either in Hampstead Heath or by the canal near London Zoo. “I was exhausted all the time,” he said. Some mornings, he’d knock for the children still clutching the bag that held all his belongings. This month, the charity Shelter calculated that over 170,000 Londoners are homeless. Its researchers pieced together the data for how many were both in a job and in temporary accommodation: it amounts to nearly half (47%) of all homeless households in the capital.

Figures like these, and shelters like Scott’s, neatly puncture many of the official boasts about work in post-crash Britain. The ministerial bragging about record employment? That economic miracle would include a third of the people dossing down at Scott’s place. The smugness with which David Cameron talked about the high-tech sharing economy? The Uber driver in that bunk over there might put him right on a few things. All the blether about how strong unions will destroy the economy? The casualised workforce in these improvised dormitories make a good argument for labour protection. Most of all, it proves that two of the hardiest orthodoxies in British politics are now a lie. First, the notion that work pays.

That is why Norman Tebbit told men to get on their bikes, why Gordon Brown fiddled about with tax credits, why George Osborne could get away with attacking “skivers”. But minimum wages, zero-hours contracts and a couple of shifts through a temping agency don’t pay. They certainly don’t pay enough to get you decent accommodation in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet. When that belief dies, so too must its corollary: that the homeless are always unemployed. “Why are beggars despised? For they are despised universally,” asked George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. “It is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living.” None of the people I met were begging, but each lived within the shadow of the idea that by being homeless, they had become despicable.

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Britain is bad, Greece is worse. “350,000 families without a single employed person..”

Nine In 10 Jobless Greeks Receive No Unemployment Benefit (Kath.)

Nine in 10 jobless Greeks do not receive unemployment benefits, according to a study by the country’s statistical authority (ELSTAT) and the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (INE/GSEE). The same study found that nearly 74 percent of the unemployed population have been without work for more than 12 months. Meanwhile, there are 350,000 families without a single employed person, while about 300,000 high-skilled workers have left the country in the past six years in search of better prospects, the study showed.

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Why is the entire Eurogroup of finance ministers silent on the feact that Dijsselbloem makes decisions behind their backs?

Moody’s Voices Concern At ‘Material Delay’ In Greece Debt Relief Talks (G.)

Fears that Greece’s seven-year debt crisis is about to enter a troubling new phase have been voiced by one of the world’s leading rating agencies. Moody’s said it was worried by the decision by the European authorities to suspend a debt-relief deal for Greece after the government in Athens gave a Christmas bonus to pensioners, promised free school meals for the poorest children and cancelled a VAT increase. The rating agency said any “material delay” in concluding talks between Greece and its European creditors would make it harder for the troubled country to meet next year’s onerous financial commitments and would increase the risks of bondholders not being paid. After months of negotiations, Europe agreed to limited debt relief to Greece earlier this month by giving Athens longer to pay and reducing the interest rate payable on its loans.

But within days the decision was put on hold by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the Luxembourg-based body that provides help to countries and banks facing financial difficulties – after Alexis Tsipras’s coalition government decided to provide help to pensioners, schoolchildren and VAT payers on the Greek islands. The plans involved spending amounting to €617m – less than 0.5% of Greece’s GDP – but were made without consultation with the country’s creditors. Hardliners in Brussels and in Berlin were outraged by Tsipras’s decision, seen as evidence of backsliding on a commitment made in August 2015 to keep to a tough programme of economic reforms in return for an €86bn bailout. Tsipras says that Greece has overachieved on the budget targets set by Europe and that the money will be going to those hardest hit by austerity. Greece has seen its economy shrink by 30% since its financial crisis began in 2009.

[..] “.. a material delay in the negotiations would raise the credit risk to bondholders. Greece has large upcoming maturities in July 2017, with €2.3bn owed to private-sector bondholders and €3.9bn to the ECB. Greece will be highly challenged to meet these redemptions without completion of the programme’s second review and without the disbursement of €6.1bn of ESM funding by the summer.”

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Troubling, but do be careful about where to lay the blame.

Greek Hospitals Deepen Trauma For Refugee Women Giving Birth (Gill)

Dr Konstantinos Spiriounis, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is a member of the department of municipal clinics and public health in Athens and until June this year worked at one of the city’s main public maternity hospitals, Elena. He says that the country’s economic problems have led to a recruitment crisis, putting hospitals under pressure, but that doctors do their best in difficult circumstances. “There are no new hires happening in the hospitals, so us doctors in Greece in public hospitals have learnt to do the work of two or three people. “Many times the doctors and nurses stay on when their shift ends because there isn’t anyone else to do it. You are always concerned in that you will make a mistake or miss something important, because you are so exhausted. Sometimes we find we’re out of things like gauze or medical tape, and we go buy it ourselves from the pharmacy.”

He says that all women are offered the same service, the best the doctors can provide. “We offer the same to everyone, whether you are Greek or a foreigner. For us, the cry of a baby and the joy of the mother is the same no matter where they are from.” But human rights lawyer Electra Leda Koutra, who worked on the research into birth experiences of refugee mothers, says vulnerable refugees need specific support. “A Greek woman will go home after birth. A refugee woman will be thrown back in a refugee camp or out on the streets [to] incredibly harsh, dangerous, unsanitary conditions.

“Treating refugee women ‘the same as Greeks’ means speaking to them in Greek, giving them no option but male obstetricians, not translating for their medical instructions upon exit from hospital, and not taking into account the conditions they will face right afterwards. All this so-called equal treatment constitutes blatant gender-based violence and discrimination.” The difficulties faced by the women in pregnancy and birth are part of a wider challenge for all refugee families in Greece, that of surviving day to day with no idea of what the future will bring. Since borders closed further west within Europe earlier in 2016, tens of thousands of refugees have been stuck in overstretched Greece and Italy. The EU has promised to disperse 160,000 to other EU countries, only 8,162 people have been found a new home, figures from the European commission show.

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Count me not surprised.

Thousands Of US Locales Have Lead Poisoning Worse Than Flint (R.)

On a sunny November afternoon in this historic city, birthplace of the Pony Express and death spot of Jesse James, Lauranda Mignery watched her son Kadin, 2, dig in their front yard. As he played, she scolded him for putting his fingers in his mouth. In explanation, she pointed to the peeling paint on her old house. Kadin, she said, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. He has lots of company: Within 15 blocks of his house, at least 120 small children have been poisoned since 2010, making the neighborhood among the most toxic in Missouri, Reuters found as part of an analysis of childhood lead testing results across the country. In St. Joseph, even a local pediatrician’s children were poisoned.

Last year, the city of Flint, Michigan, burst into the world spotlight after its children were exposed to lead in drinking water and some were poisoned. In the year after Flint switched to corrosive river water that leached lead from old pipes, 5 percent of the children screened there had high blood lead levels. Flint is no aberration. In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America. In all, Reuters found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher.

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Growth at all costs.

Coal Continues Its March Towards Asia (IEA)

Growth in global coal demand will stall over the next five years as the appetite for the fuel wanes and other energy sources gain ground, according to the latest coal forecast from the International Energy Agency. The share of coal in the power generation mix will drop to 36% by 2021, down from 41% in 2014, the IEA said in the latest Medium-Term Coal Market Report, driven by lower demand from China and the United States, along with fast growth of renewables and strong focus on energy efficiency. But in a sign of coal’s paradoxical position, the world is still highly dependent on coal. While coal demand dropped in 2015 for the first time this century, the IEA forecasts that demand will not reach 2014 levels again until 2021.

However such a path would depend greatly on the trajectory of China’s demand, which accounts for 50% of global coal demand – and almost half of coal production – and more than any other country influences global coal prices. The new report highlights the continuation of a major geographic shift in the global coal market towards Asia. In 2000, about half of coal demand was in Europe and North America, while Asia accounted for less than half. By 2015, Asia accounted for almost three-quarters of coal demand, while coal consumption in Europe and North America had declined sharply below one quarter. This shift will accelerate in the next years, according to the IEA.

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All costs, including that of human lives.

Air Pollution In Northern Chinese City Surpasses WHO Guideline By 100 Times (R.)

Concentrations of airborne pollutants in a major northern Chinese city exceeded a World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline by 100 times on Monday as north China battled with poor air quality for the third straight day. In Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province, levels of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter, soared to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday. That compares with a WHO guideline of an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms. In nearby Tianjin city, authorities grounded dozens of flights for the second day and closed all highways after severe smog blanketed the port city, one of more than 40 in China’s northeast to issue pollution warnings.

PM 2.5 levels hit 334 micrograms per cubic meter in Tianjin as of 4 p.m. local time, according to local environmental protection authorities. In Beijing, PM 2.5 levels were at 212 micrograms per cubic meter. On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts, including top steelmaking city Tangshan city in Hebei and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province. A red alert is the highest possible air pollution warning. Red alerts are issued when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours. The AQI is a different measure from the PM 2.5 gauge.

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After all the fast breeder hype this is what you end up with. But I’m sure there’ll be lots more talk. Coal it is then.

Japan Pulls Plug On Troubled Fast Breeder Reactor (AFP)

Japan has scrapped plans to generate electricity at a multi-billion dollar experimental nuclear reactor, the government said Monday, giving up on the decades-old project due to spiralling costs. Once touted as a “dream reactor,” the Monju facility was designed to generate more fuel than it consumes via nuclear chain reaction, an attractive alternative in a country with few natural resources. But its complex fast breeder reactor technology has been plagued with problems that have left it idle for more than a decade. It has also been a financial black hole since construction began in 1986, given its initial 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) construction cost and daily operating costs of 50 million yen, even while shut down. The government “will not restart (Monju) as a nuclear reactor and will take steps to decommission it,” science minister Hirokazu Matsuno told the governor of western Japan’s Fukui prefecture where it is located.

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Wave bye bye.

This Is The Polar Bear Capital Of The World, But The Snow Has Gone (G.)

Churchill, on the banks of the Hudson Bay in Canada, is known as the polar bear capital of the world. Hundreds of bears gather there each year before the sea freezes over in October and November so they can hunt seals again from the ice for the first time since the summer. I first went there 12 years ago at this time of year. The place was white, the temperature was -20C, and the bears were out feeding. This year I came back to make a film for Danish TV and set up live feeds of the bears. It was so different. In mid-November there was no snow or sea ice or ice; the land was green or brown and the temperature was 2C. The bears were walking around on the land waiting for the ice to form. It was like summer.

October had seen unprecedented temperatures all around the Arctic leading to a record-breaking slowdown of sea ice formation. Local people told me they had never seen it like this before. With Geoff York, director of conservation at Polar Bears International, we pored over satellite maps every day. It was shocking. The whole 470,000 sq mile bay was completely ice-free. This is the southernmost colony of polar bears in the world and in the past about 1,000 bears would be there. But studies have shown that in the last 20 years the surface temperature of Hudson Bay has warmed by about 3C. This has had a massive effect on the bear. The western Hudson Bay population has declined by more than 20% in 30 years. It’s the same elsewhere. New analysis of data from the southern Beaufort Sea in north-west Canada and Alaska suggest even greater population declines there.

We saw about 20 bears around Churchill in the 10 days I was there. That’s actually a few more than I saw last time, when I was there 12 years ago, but that was because most of the bears were out on the ice then. The ones we did see this year appeared thin, restless and hungry, and were starting to be more aggressive. There was a mum and a cub and it was very emotional because it looked pretty certain that the cub would not survive much longer. The days of bears in this region having triplets seem to be over. The declining sea ice has decreased hunting opportunities, so the bears are smaller and fewer cubs are being born in this area.

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Dec 182016
 
 December 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Country store, Person County, NC Jul 1939

Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)
Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)
January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)
Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)
Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)
Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)
Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)
Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)
Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)
‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)
Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

 

 

The rise in spending on housing should initiate a national debate. And not just in the US. It makes you wonder about the real dimensions of the ‘housing bubble’. Is it perhaps 75 years old already?

Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)

Housing expenses have almost always been the largest drain on American budgets, unchanged in over 70 years. Between 1941 and 2014, Americans spent money on most of the same things, with a few changes. Housing has persisted as a large area of spending for Americans, as has the food category. However, spending on food and clothing has fallen when adjusting for inflation while spending on education and health care has risen quickly. That’s according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, adjusted for inflation and representing median spending of all Americans, charted here.


click for larger version

There is one exception to housing’s dominance, in 1941, when spending on food averaged $8,311 annually, topping the $7,537 spent on shelter that year. Interestingly, in 1941 the government included alcohol in the food spending category, which inflates the food spending data for that year. In other years, alcohol was given its own category. Americans spent the most on clothing in 1961, at an average of $4,157. In every year measured since 1961, spending on clothing fell, even when accounting for inflation. At the same time, Americans began spending more on education, transportation and health care. Spending on education has increased far more than any other category, jumping from $242 in 1941 to $1,236 in 2014. Education spending increased at a particularly fast rate between 1984 and 1994 and onward. While spending on health care increased between 1941 and 2014, overall spending dipped between 1973 and 1984, but then began rising rapidly thereafter.

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@Boomfinance: “Bonds are collateral assets. Collateral is needed to expand Credit. This is Debt Deflation writ large. Yes?”

Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)

Thanks to Janet Yellen’s rate-hike-hawkishness (but, but, but, we’re still ultra-easy), global equity and debt markets lost over $1 trillion in value – the biggest weekly loss since early May (weak China data and huge surge in dollar). Global bonds lost over $430 billion in market value this week (Yellen hawkishness and China bond carnage) but stocks lost even more ($525 billion) as China financial turmoil added to the world’s woes (and “three rate hikes next year” and fiscal stimulus efficacy questions did not help).

Having retraced back to pre-Trump levels before The Fed statement this week, the combination of China turmoil and Janet’s un-dovishness sent global stocks and bonds down over $1 trillion on the week – the worst week globally since May 2016 (when the dollar surged amid China weakness and slowing EU growth forecasts)

In fact, while US bank stockholders are ebullient at The Trump presidency-to-be, the rest of the world has lost a combined $1.5 trillion in market value across its bonds and stocks (thanks in major part to Janet’s help this week).

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No holding back here.

January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)

We discuss a preview of January`s Earnings releases and how massive the gap down in most of these stocks will be when they report in a month. There have already been two earning`s guide downs from industrial companies this past week in UTX, and HON. But with the run up in financials and energies for the last month we are going to experience big $5 chunks taken out of these stocks and massive after hours and pre-market gap downs that will cause entire sectors to sell off during earnings in January. It is just going to be brutal, expect 500 point down days in the Dow during this upcoming earnings period. You have seasonal stocks that selloff every year like Apple and Amazon, as the 4th quarter is their best by far for sales and revenues.

And you have energy companies with exorbitant p/e ratios like COP, XOM, CVH that are priced for $115 dollar oil not $55 oil that 4th quarter earnings releases are going to bring some fundamental realities back to investors of how overpriced these stocks are right here. You have “dogshit” stocks like C, BAC that are serial underperformers in the financial sector along with WFC with its legal problems and operating distractions of the past year, and JPM which has moved too far entirely too fast and the amount of Monkey Hammering Selling Smack downs of these financials upon reporting is going to be outright brutal for investors stupid enough not to have taken profits before earnings. Not to mention all the other broken companies that have been lifted up in this 4th quarter rally, and are going to be taken out to the woodshed for a red beating when they report.

Throw in all those idiot investors who don`t take profits for tax reasons who will wish they did as everybody sells in the new year at the same time running for the tax exits together, and this January 2017 Earnings period is going to be outright one of the worst we have seen since last January`s massive stock selloff. It is the difference between being able to use a selling algorithm program that gets a decent price for the closing of the position versus taking what the market gives you during selloff and gap down closing of positions where profits are annihilated in a very short timespan. Investors need to evaluate all of the parameters when making tax deferral decisions, and it isn`t as simple as they always mistakenly calculate when making these boneheaded simpleton calculations.

No wonder they cannot outperform the market, you have to take profits into strength, not weakness when everybody and their brother is selling. Why Investors continue to exhibit the same stupid patterns is beyond me, but the smart ones will be selling in the next two weeks to beat the carnage selling that occurs in January due to tax deferral selling, and reality setting in that no amount of Trump Magic can make these pig stocks earnings for the 4th quarter look good relative to the current stock prices. It is going to get ugly folks!

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Nice piece from Wolf Richter. He recognizes the inherent risks: “Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.”

Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)

Bullard would start by allowing maturing securities to roll off the balance sheet without replacing them with new asset purchases, he said. That would shrink the balance sheet. And it would make financial conditions more restrictive. Shedding assets accumulated on the Fed’s balance sheet is the ultimate form of tightening. It would pull liquidity out of the markets and force them to stand on their own wobbly feet. And he’s a dove! He sees only one rate hike next year. Until recently, he saw only one rate hike, period – the one we just got – and no additional hikes over the next few next years. But he’s ogling the balance sheet. If shrinking the balance sheet is too radical for now, the Fed could replace longer term securities as they mature with short-dated securities, he said. This would make unwinding the balance sheet easier, once the decision is made.

These short-dated securities could just be allowed to mature without replacement. It could go pretty quickly. “My preference would be to allow some runoff in the balance sheet,” he said. But before markets could spiral into a paroxysm, he added that he didn’t think efforts to shrink the balance sheet were “imminent.” He has been a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which makes the decisions on rates, QE, and balance sheet shrinkage. But next year, he’ll rotate into a non-voting slot. So he’s just setting some trial balloons adrift. A few Fed heads have dared to suggest that they’d want to shrink the balance sheet eventually, possibly after everyone’s life expectancy expires. They’d want to raise rates first, and if the economy hasn’t fallen into a recession or worse by then, it might be time to think about letting the balance sheet contract.

But the economy might never get to where there are some sort of normal rates without a recession. And a recession would start the whole process of rate cutting and perhaps QE all over again, and the balance sheet might never be shrunk in this scenario. Bullard doesn’t want to wait that long. For good reason. QE has caused enough distortions. Shrinking the balance sheet by allowing bonds to roll off, while keeping the fed funds rate relatively low, for example at 1.5% by next year, would cause long term rates to rise sharply while keeping a lid on short-term rates. It would steepen the yield curve. In this scenario, the 10-year yield – at 1.38% in July and now at 2.6% – might go to 4% or beyond.

It would have an epic impact on Trump’s “artificial stock market.” It would cause all kinds of mayhem, because Trump was right: The epic bond market bubble and the stock market rally that has pushed all conventional metrics off the charts have been fueled by the Fed. The effects of removing, to use Trump’s term, the “artificial” elements from the stock market could be interesting. We’d have to avert our eyes from the carnage in the bond market. And Housing Bubble 2, with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 6%? That’s historically low and worked just fine ten years ago (it helped create Housing Bubble 1). But with the inflated home prices of today, it would mark a big reset.

Today’s equations won’t work at these interest rates. The fireworks could be astounding. But in the big picture, it would just unravel some of the excesses of the past few years, bring a hue of normalcy to the markets, and refocus attention on the real economy instead of wild financial speculations. Trump, as he was talking during the campaign, should appreciate that. Trump, as mega-investor, might get queasy. And Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.

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China knows Trump is a dealmaker. Just like they are. They must have chuckled at his response. But not officially of course.

Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)

The Pentagon said China will return a U.S. Navy underwater drone after its military scooped up the submersible in the South China Sea late this week and sparked a row that drew in President-elect Donald Trump, who said on Twitter the Chinese stole it, so they can keep it. “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the unmanned underwater vehicle the U.S. said had been operating in international waters. China’s ministry of defense pledged an “appropriate” return of the drone on its Weibo social media account, while also criticizing the U.S. for hyping the incident into a diplomatic row.

It followed assurances from Beijing that the governments were working to resolve the spat, punctuated by a tweet from Trump denouncing the seizure as “unprecedented.” The drone incident was disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday. China’s ministry said the U.S. “hyped the case in public,” which it said wasn’t helpful in resolving the problem. The U.S. has “frequently” sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, and China urges such activities to stop, the ministry said in its Weibo message. Trump slammed the Chinese navy’s capture of the vehicle in a message to his 17.4 million Twitter followers. “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump wrote Saturday hours after the Chinese government said it had been in touch with the U.S. military about the incident.

In a follow-up Twitter message, the president-elect said: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back – let them keep it!” The tensions unleashed by the episode underscored the delicate state of relations between the two countries, weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has threatened higher tariffs on Chinese products and questioned the U.S. approach to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Meanwhile, China is growing more assertive over its claims to disputed sections of the South China Sea.

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An ‘experiment’ targeted at 2000 specific people has nothing to do with Universal Basic Income. These ‘experiments’ are only valid when it’s truly universal, or at least nationwide. And when they involve people with AND without jobs. You simply can’t do ‘universal’ on a small scale.

Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)

No one would confuse this frigid corner of northern Finland with Silicon Valley. Notched in low pine forests just 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, Oulu seems more likely to achieve dominance at herding reindeer than at nurturing technology start-ups. But this city has roots as a hub for wireless communications, and keen aspirations in innovation. It also has thousands of skilled engineers in need of work. Many were laid off by Nokia, the Finnish company once synonymous with mobile telephones and more recently at risk of fading into oblivion. While entrepreneurs are eager to put these people to work, the rules of Finland’s generous social safety net effectively discourage this. Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance.

For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again. Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people — from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income. The government is eager to see what happens next. Will more people pursue jobs or start businesses? How many will stop working and squander their money on vodka?

Will those liberated from the time-sucking entanglements of the unemployment system use their freedom to gain education, setting themselves up for promising new careers? These areas of inquiry extend beyond economic policy, into the realm of human nature. The answers — to be determined over a two-year trial — could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization.

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Covered by taxpayers.

Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA will begin taking orders for shares as soon as Monday as it aims to complete raising €5 billion of capital before Christmas, people with the knowledge of the matter said. Monte Paschi will attempt to sell stock through Thursday, said the people, who asked to not be named because the plan isn’t public yet. The price and total number of shares to be sold will be determined based on investor demand and on the outcome of the separate debt-to-equity swap, the people said. CEO Marco Morelli, who took over in September, is racing to find backers for his effort to clean up the bank’s balance sheet.

The failure of the recapitalization would be a blow to Italy’s sputtering efforts to revive a banking industry that’s burdened with about €360 billion in troubled loans, dragging down the economy by limiting lending. The lender earlier this week extended a debt-for-equity swap that is one of the three main interlocking pieces of the bank’s capital-raising plan. The bank also plans a cash infusion from anchor investors and a share sale. The offer, involving the exchange of about 4.5 billion euros of Tier 1 and Tier 2 securities, is set to end at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21. Monte Paschi, facing a Dec. 31 deadline to complete the fundraising, also will promote an exchange on 1 billion euros of hybrid securities issued in 2008 known as FRESH at 23.2% of face value, the lender said in a filing on its website.

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Almost funny.

Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)

It wasn’t sexism, or racism, or the FBI, or fake news, or the Russians, which cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election. According to a blockbuster campaign dispatch published by Politico on Wednesday, sheer incompetence was the real cause of Clinton’s electoral implosion in November. Clinton’s loss was caused not by one bad decision here or there, the Politico report shows, but by a cascade of mind-bogglingly stupid decisions made throughout the campaign. For example, there was the time campaign surrogates were ordered to stay and campaign in Iowa, which Clinton lost by 10 points, instead of working to get out the vote for Clinton in Michigan:

Everybody could see Hillary Clinton was cooked in Iowa. So when, a week-and-a-half out, the Service Employees International Union started hearing anxiety out of Michigan, union officials decided to reroute their volunteers, giving a desperate team on the ground around Detroit some hope. They started prepping meals and organizing hotel rooms. SEIU — which had wanted to go to Michigan from the beginning, but been ordered not to — dialed Clinton’s top campaign aides to tell them about the new plan. According to several people familiar with the call, Brooklyn was furious. Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.

Then there was the time the campaign, instead of spending its cash in competitive states the candidate needed to win to clinch an electoral college victory, sent millions to the Democratic National Committee, which used the money to run up vote totals in uncompetitive states so Clinton would win the popular vote:

But there also were millions approved for transfer from Clinton’s campaign for use by the DNC — which, under a plan devised by Brazile to drum up urban turnout out of fear that Trump would win the popular vote while losing the electoral vote, got dumped into Chicago and New Orleans, far from anywhere that would have made a difference in the election.

There was also the time Clinton didn’t even bother to show up at a Michigan event for the United Auto Workers, a key union constituency on which Democrats traditionally rely for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts throughout the Rust Belt:

Clinton never even stopped by a United Auto Workers union hall in Michigan, though a person involved with the campaign noted bitterly that the UAW flaked on GOTV commitments in the final days, and that AFSCME never even made any, despite months of appeals.

The Clinton campaign also completely ignored cries for last-second, all-hands-on-deck GOTV help in Michigan on election day. According to Politico, Brooklyn-based campaign staff waved off data showing massive shortfalls in urban turnout and insisted the Democrat would win the state by at least five points:

On the morning of Election Day, internal Clinton campaign numbers had her winning Michigan by 5 points. By 1 p.m., an aide on the ground called headquarters; the voter turnout tracking system they’d built themselves in defiance of orders — Brooklyn had told operatives in the state they didn’t care about those numbers, and specifically told them not to use any resources to get them — showed urban precincts down 25%. Maybe they should get worried, the Michigan operatives said. Nope, they were told. She was going to win by 5. All Brooklyn’s data said so.

Clinton would eventually lose the state by 11,000 votes, less than one quarter of one %age point of all votes cast in the state. In the end, though, it appears that hubris may have been Hillary’s ultimate downfall. Hours before polls closed and long before returns began trickling in, Clinton’s top staffers weren’t scrambling for every last vote. Instead, they were busy measuring the Oval Office curtains and searching for champagne bottles to uncork to celebrate their historic victory. “In at least one of the war rooms in New York, they’d already started celebratory drinking by the afternoon, according to a person there,” Politico reported. “Elsewhere, calls quietly went out that day to tell key people to get ready to be asked about joining transition teams.” Oops.

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An editorial that means sense. Maybe America’s papers are not all doomed to oblivion after all.

Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)

Congress needs to dust off its Magic 8 Ball. At this point, how else are our elected representatives going to get to the bottom of allegations that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, tried to influence the U.S. general election? After all, the CIA isn’t being very open – at least not with our elected representatives. Instead of briefing the House Intelligence Committee about the alleged Russian role in hacked emails made public during the campaign – which Democrats desperately seek to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss – the agency is leaking conclusions without facts to the Washington Post, New York Times and television networks. The media, naturally, are quick to report the anonymous bits of “blame Putin” information to the public. So to the extent Putin meddled, our own spies have at least matched his efforts to discredit our electoral system.

To recap: Private emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign were made public via WikiLeaks, allegedly through hacking, even though the FBI had tried to warn the DNC back in September 2015 of problems with its security system. The agency couldn’t get past the party’s technical help desk – harking back to Hillary’s email security problems on her own private server. The media reported on the leaks daily – and if a reporter had obtained the same information from inside sources, there would be no controversy at all. Today’s uproar is over the source – not the substance. But the CIA’s alleged conclusion – that Russia intervened to help Trump win – does not square with comments made Nov. 17 by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. He said he lacked “good insight” about whether there was a connection between the WikiLeaks releases and Russia.

Congressional Republican leaders are taking the allegations seriously. “The Russians are not our friends,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. House Speaker Paul Ryan called any Russian intervention “especially problematic because, under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.” But Intelligence Committee member Peter King of New York flatly accused the U.S. intelligence community of waging a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining Trump’s credibility – if not changing the course of the Electoral College. Not surprisingly, President Obama is seizing a newfound political opportunity and is taking a new interest despite earlier claims of knowing all along of Russian shenanigans but choosing not to go public with whatever evidence he had – none of which he has produced.

[..] The source of the campaign leaks remains an interesting question, but one unlikely to be answered credibly unless the CIA coughs up its findings to Congress. Cooperation also might help answer the question of possible Russian motives if it was involved: Was it to cast doubt on the U.S. election system? If so, it was highly successful with the help of our own intelligence community and desperate Democrats who simply can’t accept that Trump won 306 Electoral College votes. Though the CIA based its supposed findings of pro-Trump intervention on the fact that no Republican emails were leaked before the election, the Republican National Committee says it wasn’t hacked. And Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange stands firm in his claim the Russians were not the source of the leaks.

Cyber hacking has become one of the mainstays of life – Yahoo most recently was hacked of more than one billion user accounts. And intervention into foreign elections is something many nations, including the United States, do regularly. Obama recently tried to influence the Brexit vote. And while nobody should feel good about foreign interests intervening in U.S. elections, the reluctance of the U.S. intelligence community to share its information with official sources charged with making decisions about national security, while leaking information via media outlets, is very disturbing, raising the spectre of a political coup by our nation’s intelligence forces.

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Maybe Britain needs a full-size reboot.

‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)

The number of children living in temporary accommodation this Christmas, including in bed and breakfasts, has risen by more than 10% since last year to 124,000, according to the latest government figures. The numbers of children forced into temporary housing in the run up to Christmas have described as “shocking” by the country’s leading charity for the homeless. The data, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, also reveals a rise of more than 300% since 2014 in the number of families in England who are being housed illegally (for more than the statutory maximum period of six weeks) in B&Bs by local authorities, because they cannot find any alternative places. Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The latest figures show that councils are increasingly struggling to help homeless families.

“But the number of children placed in B&Bs illegally is truly shocking, and there’s a worrying rise in families moved away from their support network to a new area. We know first-hand the devastating impact this can have on their lives.” He blamed a “perfect storm” of welfare cuts and rising rents, together with a lack of social and affordable housing, that was creating impossible pressure for local authorities. “Councils know that neither option is acceptable but increasingly find themselves with no alternatives,” he said. “Welfare cuts have made private rents unaffordable and that – combined with unpredictable rent rises and a lack of genuinely affordable homes – mean many families are struggling to get by.

“With the loss of private rented homes the single biggest cause of homelessness, it’s no wonder that’s so many families are turning to their council, desperate for help.” [.] The number of households that have become homeless after an eviction over the last year is up 12% compared to a year ago at 18,820 while the total number of households in temporary accommodation has risen to 74,630, up 9% on a year earlier. While 21,400 homeless households have been moved away to a different council area – a 15% rise in the last year.

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Helena Smith is the Guardian’s Athens correspondent. I haven’t met a Greek who knows of her and had positive things to say. But this is insane. I know editors make headlines, not reporters, but calling Tsipras’ move to soften the crisis blow a little for pensioners, and to feed children at school who don’t eat at home, a “spending spree”, that is way beyond the pale. Shameless.

Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, likes to shake things up and, in recent days, he has reverted to form. After 16 months of faithfully toeing the line, the leader rebelled, cautiously at first and then almost jubilantly, casting off the fiscal straightjacket that has encased his government with thinly veiled glee. First came the announcement that low-income pensioners, forced to survive in tax-heavy post-crisis Greece on €800 or less a month, would receive a one-off, pre-Christmas bonus. Then came the news that Greeks living on Aegean isles which have borne the brunt of refugee flows would not be subject to a sales tax enforced at the behest of creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat.

Finally, another announcement both antagonising and pointed: 30,000 children living in poverty-stricken areas of northern Greece will henceforth be entitled to free meals in schools. The reaction wasn’t instant but, when it came, it was delivered with force. The European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s financing arm, announced that short-term relief measures, agreed only a week before to ease Greece’s debt pile, would be frozen with immediate effect. It did not take long before the German finance ministry, under the unwavering stewardship of Wolfgang Schäuble, followed suit, requesting that creditor institutions assess whether Tsipras had acted in flagrant violation of Athens’ bailout commitments with his unilateral moves.

The leftist insisted that the aid – €61m in supplementary support for pensions and €11.5m for the school meals – would be taken from the primary surplus his government, unexpectedly, had managed to achieve. The assistance would help “heal the wounds of crisis”. “We want to … alleviate all those who have over these difficult years made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he announced before holding talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel late Friday.

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 December 1, 2016  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC K & W Tire Co. Rainier truck, Washington, DC 1919

Oil Price Surges As OPEC Agrees First Output Cut Since 2008 (G.)
Preet Bharara to Stay On as Manhattan US Attorney Under Trump (WSJ)
Trump’s Tax Cut Means Billion-Dollar Writedowns for US Banks (BBG)
6 Million Americans Are Delinquent On Auto Loans (MW)
‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices 12 Times Annual Income (SMH)
Melbourne Apartment Prices Drop by Most Since 2014 (BBG)
Greece Isn’t ‘Crying Wolf’ on Debt Relief (BBG)
Angry Mobs Lock Up Indian Bankers As Cash Chaos Soars (ZH)
The Pillars Of The New World Order (Pieraccini)
More Than 250,000 People Are Homeless In England (BBC)
Climate Change Will Stir ‘Unimaginable’ Refugee Crisis, Says Military (G.)

 

 

How long will the illusion last?

Oil Price Surges As OPEC Agrees First Output Cut Since 2008 (G.)

The price of oil has surged by 8% after the 14-nation cartel Opec agreed to its first cut in production in eight years. Confounding critics who said the club of oil-producing nations was too riven with political infighting to agree a deal, Opec announced it was trimming output by 1.2m barrels per day (bpd) from 1 January. The deal is contingent on securing the agreement of non-Opec producers to lower production by 600,000m barrels per day. But the Qatari oil minister, Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, said he was confident that the key non-Opec player – Russia – would sign up to a 300,000 bpd cut. Russia’s oil minister, Alexander Novak, welcomed the Opec move but said his country would only be able to cut production gradually due to “technical issues”. A meeting with non-Opec countries in Moscow on 9 December has been pencilled in.

Al-Sada said the deal was a great success and a “major step forward”, but the news that Saudi Arabia had effectively admitted defeat in its long-running attempt to drive US shale producers out of business was enough to send the price of crude sharply higher on the world’s commodity markets. Brent crude was trading at just over $50 a barrel following the completion of the Opec meeting in Vienna – an increase of almost $4 on the day. Saudi Arabia will bear the brunt of Opec’s production curbs, having agreed to a reduction in output of just under 500,000 bpd. Iraq has agreed to a 210,000 bpd cut, followed by the United Arab Emirates (-139,000), Kuwait (-131,000) and Venezuela (-95,000). Smaller countries are also reducing output, but Iran – which has only recently returned to the global oil market after the lifting of international sanctions – has been allowed to continue raising output.

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Let’s say that the jury’s out.

Preet Bharara to Stay On as Manhattan US Attorney Under Trump (WSJ)

Preet Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, has agreed to stay in his current role under the Trump administration, a surprise move that could signal the president-elect is serious about cracking down on Wall Street wrongdoing. Mr. Bharara, famous for his aggressive prosecutions of insider trading and corruption in New York, met with President-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower on Wednesday. Afterward, Mr. Bharara told reporters that Mr. Trump asked whether he was prepared to remain as U.S. attorney, and Mr. Bharara said he was. “We had a good meeting,” Mr. Bharara said. “I agreed to stay on.” Since 2009, Mr. Bharara has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, one of the highest-profile U.S. attorney’s offices in the country.

An appointee of President Barack Obama, he rose to prominence after pursuing dozens of insider-trading cases, leading to his moniker as the “sheriff of Wall Street.” The office is also seen as a leader in public corruption, cybercrime and terrorism prosecutions. His office has brought corruption charges against a dozen state lawmakers in New York and convicted the leaders of both legislative houses. Keeping Mr. Bharara appears to be at odds with other picks Mr. Trump has made. Despite campaigning against Wall Street excesses and the largest banks, Mr. Trump has tapped Wall Street investors for key positions in his cabinet, including a former Goldman Sachs executive, Steven Mnuchin, for Treasury Secretary and a billionaire private-equity investor, Wilbur Ross, to run the Commerce Department.

Partly as a result, financial services executives have quickly warmed to the prospect of a Trump presidency. His team has promised to roll back parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law enacted in the wake of the financial crisis, saying it has cut back on lending. But the decision to keep Mr. Bharara is likely to temper speculation that a Trump administration might focus less on corporate wrongdoing, white-collar lawyers said.

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“In one fell swoop, a significant part of their net worth goes up in smoke.”

Trump’s Tax Cut Means Billion-Dollar Writedowns for US Banks (BBG)

Donald Trump’s planned U.S. corporate tax cuts could translate to a big one-time earnings hit for many of the biggest U.S. banks, thanks to tax benefits they generated during the 2008 financial crisis. Citigroup would take the deepest earnings hit – perhaps $12 billion or more, according to recent estimates by the bank’s chief financial officer and several banking analysts. Others, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo could face multibillion-dollar writedowns. The banks might have to write down deferred tax assets, which often pile up when a company loses money and can’t immediately enjoy the tax benefits of those losses.

Any writedowns won’t have much impact on capital levels for the banks for regulatory purposes, and lower taxes will allow for higher earnings in the long run. But a one-time hit to earnings can make for a bruising quarter – and even year – for a bank’s results. “It’s a traumatic experience for companies with large” amounts of such assets, said Robert Willens, an independent tax and accounting expert in New York. “In one fell swoop, a significant part of their net worth goes up in smoke.” Deferred tax assets, as disclosed in securities filings, consist of benefits that companies expect to use to cut their future tax bills.

For most companies, the bulk of their value is tied to the current U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%. (Assets stemming from, say, state tax bills are tied to state tax rates.) The assets include unused credits for foreign taxes companies have paid; deductions they’re allowed to take in future years for prior losses; and future tax advantages that stem from so-called “timing differences” – or gaps between when income or expenses are reported to shareholders and to the Internal Revenue Service. Analysts say that calculating the value of assets associated with timing differences can be as much an art as a science.

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America without a car.

6 Million Americans Are Delinquent On Auto Loans (MW)

The number of subprime auto loans sinking into delinquency hit their highest level since 2010 in the third quarter, with roughly 6 million individuals at least 90 days late on their car-loan payments. It’s behavior much like that seen in the months heading into the 2007-2009 recession, according to data from Federal Reserve Bank of New York researchers. “The worsening in the delinquency rate of subprime auto loans is pronounced, with a notable increase during the past few years,” the researchers, led by Andrew Haughwout, said Wednesday in a blog on their Liberty Street Economics site. Weakness among the lowest-rated borrowers plays out against a robustly growing vehicle lending market.

Originations of auto loans have continued at a brisk pace over the past few years, with 2016 shaping up to be the strongest of any year within the NY Fed’s data, which began in 1999. It’s worth noting that the majority of auto loans are still performing well—it’s the subprime loans, those with associated credit scores below 620, that heavily influence the delinquency rates, the researchers said. Consequently, auto finance companies that specialize in subprime lending, as well as some banks with higher subprime exposure are likely to have experienced declining performance in their auto loan portfolios. Credit officials have stressed that the contagion risk to the financial system from poor auto loans isn’t like the risk posed when subprime mortgage lending pushed the U.S. into the Great Recession.

That’s in large part because repossessed cars are easier to resell than bank-owned homes. Cars can’t sink whole neighborhoods with foreclosure blight. Subprime mortgage lending remains at very low levels since the financial crisis. But as the financial system has recovered, subprime auto lending has ramped up with little hesitation. New auto loans to borrowers with credit scores below 660 have nearly tripled since the end of 2009. So far in 2016, about $50 billion of new auto loans per quarter have gone to those borrowers and about $30 billion each quarter has gone to borrowers with scores below 620, according to data the Fed provided, citing credit-score tracker Equifax.

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WHAT? “Property experts disagree furiously about whether prices are in a bubble..”

‘Classic Ponzi Scheme’: Sydney House Prices 12 Times Annual Income (SMH)

Sydney houses now cost 12 times the annual income, up from four times when Gough Whitlam was dismissed. As many first time buyers turn to the bank of mum and dad to top up their deposits, a new report “Parental guidance not recommended” warns Australians are being caught up in a classic “Ponzi scheme”. The report by economic consultancy LF Economics – which has previously sensationally warned of a “bloodbath” when Sydney’s property bubble bursts – estimates it will now take the average first time buyer in Sydney nine years to save a deposit, up from three years in 1975. Baby boomers, who have benefited from skyrocketing prices, are increasingly able to fast track their children’s path to property ownership by either stumping up part of the deposit or putting up their own homes as collateral.

LF Economics, founded by Lindsay David and Philip Soos, warns this may be helping a new generation to over-leverage into mortgages they can’t afford, leaving their parents’ homes exposed. “Unfortunately, this loan guarantee strategy in a rising housing market for securing ever-larger amounts of debt is essentially pyramid or Ponzi finance. This leaves many parents in a dangerous predicament should their children experience difficulties making loan payments, let alone defaulting and suffering foreclosure.” “In reality, many parents – the Baby Boomer cohort – are asset-rich but income-poor. The blunt fact is few parents have enough savings and other liquid assets on hand to meet their legal obligations without selling their home if their children default,” the report warns.

Property experts disagree furiously about whether prices are in a bubble and about the best measure of housing affordability. Treasury secretary John Fraser has said that Sydney house prices are in a “bubble”. But many economists remain wary of the term and point out that supply constraints and strong population growth will underpin prices, even if slower wages growth inhibits further price gains. LF Economics argues that price gains have outstripped the fundamental worth of properties. “Financial regulators have ignored the Ponzi lending practices by lenders, believing the RBA will have the adequate ability to bail them out at taxpayers’ expense the day this classic Ponzi lending scheme breaks down.”

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Bailout?

Melbourne Apartment Prices Drop by Most Since 2014 (BBG)

Apartment prices in Melbourne fell at the fastest pace in more than two years in November, reinforcing concerns about a looming oversupply of units in Australia’s second-largest city. The 3.2% month-on-month drop is the largest such decline since May 2014, according to figures from data provider CoreLogic Inc. This dragged down the overall increase in dwelling values across the nation’s state capitals to 0.2%, the smallest rise since March this year. Record low interest rates put in place by the Reserve Bank of Australia to help ease the economy’s shift away from mining investment and combat low inflation have helped to spur a housing boom in the nation’s biggest centers and the central bank has repeatedly voiced concern that apartment gluts are developing in central Melbourne and Brisbane.

“Risks around the projected large increases in supply in some inner-city apartment markets are coming to the fore,” the RBA said in its quarterly financial stability review in October. Shayne Elliott, CEO of Australia and New Zealand Bank, said Wednesday that the lender had become increasingly cautious about parts of the housing market. He warned about pockets of over-building, particularly in the small apartments segment. “There are emerging signs of stress” in the economy, the head of Australia’s third-biggest bank told a Reuters event in Sydney. The difficulty for both the RBA and commercial lenders in judging the state of the market is that in other areas house prices have been accelerating. In Sydney, where auction clearance rates have been around the 80% mark for the past three months, the median dwelling price has risen to A$845,000 ($625,000).

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Schäuble invites in the vultures.

Greece Isn’t ‘Crying Wolf’ on Debt Relief (BBG)

Paul Kazarian says he’s spent “tens of millions of dollars” mobilizing a team of a hundred analysts to scrutinize Greece’s assets and liabilities. According to him, everyone else – including the IMF, the credit-rating agencies, the EU and the Greek government itself — is massively overstating the problem of the nation’s debt burden relative to economic output. The problem is, the more he tries to convince the world to accept his version of the numbers, the harder it may get for Greece to win the additional debt relief that most economic observers agree is vital to its recovery. Kazarian, an alumnus of (where else) Goldman Sachs, says the investment firm he founded in 1988, Japonica Partners, is the largest private holder of Greek government debt.

Since he first made his interest known about four years ago, he’s declined to be specific about how much he’s invested, or what prices he paid, or whether he’s up or down or sideways on the trade. This isn’t just your standard tale of a bondholder trying to boost the value of his investments by talking his book. What Kazarian has tried to do for the past four years is treat the sovereign nation of Greece the same way he might a private company he’d taken over: by detailing its assets and liabilities, looking for ways to enhance asset value while reducing liabilities, and, most importantly, seeking to install his own managers to take charge. The more you reflect on that latter notion, the more disturbing Kazarian’s larger-than-life presence on the Greek financial scene becomes.

As the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce in Athens on Monday, the bespectacled, straight-talking American succeeded in turning the afternoon into The Paul Kazarian Show, berating his audience and his fellow speakers with an odd combination of derision and self-effacing charm and dominating the proceedings by sheer force of personality. (In a previous existence, he gained notoriety for firing BB guns into the empty executive chairs in the boardroom of a company he’d seized control of, accompanying the shots with shouts of “Die!”) Presenting a selection of gems from a presentation that runs to more than 110 slides (Kazarian clearly knows them all by heart), the financier leveled a damning accusation against his hosts: Greece, he said, is “crying wolf for debt relief.”

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Payday coming up.

Angry Mobs Lock Up Indian Bankers As Cash Chaos Soars (ZH)

India’s demonetization campaign is not going as expected. Overnight, banks played down expectations of a dramatic improvement in currency availability, raising the prospect of queues lengthening as salaries get paid and people look to withdraw money from their accounts the Economic Times reported. While much of India has become habituated to the sight of people lining up at banks and cash dispensers since the November 8 demonetisation announcement, bank officials said the message from the Reserve Bank of India is that supplies may not get any easier in the near future and that they should push digital transactions. “We had sought a hearing with RBI as we were not allocated enough cash, but we were told that rationing of cash may continue for some time,” said a banker who was present at one of several meetings with central bank officials.

“Reserve Bank has asked us to push the use of digital channels to all our customers and ensure that we bring down use of cash in the economy,” said a banker. This confirms a previous report according to which the demonstization campaign has been a not so subtle attempt to impose digital currency on the entire population. Bankers have been making several trips to the central bank’s headquarters in Mumbai to get a sense of whether currency availability will improve. Some automated teller machines haven’t been filled even once since the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes ceased to be legal tender, they said. Typically, households pay milkmen, domestic helps, drivers, etc, at the start of the month in cash. The idea is that all these payments should become electronic, using computers or mobiles.

This strategy however, appears to not have been conveyed to the public, and as Bloomberg adds, “bankers are bracing for long hours and angry mobs as pay day approaches in India.” “Already people who are frustrated are locking branches from outside in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu and abusing staff as enough cash is not available,” said CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association. The group has sought police protection at bank branches for the next 10 days, he added. Joining many others who have slammed Modi’s decision, the banker said that “this is the fallout of one of the worst planned and executed government decisions in decades.”

He estimates that about 20 million people – almost twice the population of Greece – will queue up at bank branches and ATMs over the coming week, when most employers in India pay their staff. In an economy where 98% of consumer payments are in cash, banks are functioning with about half the amount of currency they need. As Bloomberg notes, retaining public support is crucial for Modi before key state elections next year and a national contest in 2019, however it appears he is starting to lose it. “We are bracing ourselves for payday and fearing the worst,” said Parthasarathi Mukherjee, CEO at Laxmi Vilas Bank. “If we run out of cash we will have to approach the Reserve Bank of India for more. It is tough.”

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It’s kind of funny that Trump is seen as the end of a 70-year era.

The Pillars Of The New World Order (Pieraccini)

Looking at US history over a fairly long period of time, it is easy to see the destructive path that has accompanied the expansion of the American empire over the last seventy years. While World War II was still raging, US strategists were already planning their next steps in the international arena. The new target was immediately identified in the assault and the dismemberment of the Soviet empire. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet economic model as an alternative to the capitalist system, the West found itself faced with what was defined as ‘the end of’ history, and proceeded to act accordingly. The delicate transition from bipolarity, the world-order system based on the United States and the Soviet Union occupying opposing poles, to a unipolar world order with Washington as the only superpower, was entrusted to George H. W. Bush.

The main purpose was to reassure with special care the former Soviet empire, even as the Soviet Union plunged into chaos and poverty while the West preyed on her resources. Not surprisingly, the 90’s represented a phase of major economic growth for the United States. Predictably, on that occasion, the national elite favored the election of a president, Bill Clinton, who was more attentive to domestic issues over international affairs. The American financial oligarchy sought to consolidate their economic fortunes by expanding as far as possible the Western financial model, especially with new virgin territory in the former Soviet republics yet to be conquered and exploited. With the disintegration of the USSR, the United States had a decade to aspire to the utopia of global hegemony. Reviewing with the passage of time the convulsive period of the 90’s, the goal seemed one step away, almost within reach.

The means of conquest and expansion of the American empire generally consist of three domains: cultural, economic and military. With the end of the Soviet empire, there was no alternative left for the American imperialist capitalist system. From the point of view of cultural expansion, Washington had now no adversaries and could focus on the destruction of other countries thanks to the globalization of products like McDonald’s and Coca Cola in every corner of the planet. Of course the consequences of an enlargement of the sphere of cultural influence led to the increased power of the economic system. In this sense, Washington’s domination in international financial institutions complemented the imposition of the American way of life on other countries. Due to the mechanisms of austerity arising from trap-loans issued by the IMF or World Bank, countries in serious economic difficulties have ended up being swallowed up by debt.

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Not surprised. A country that needs to refind itself.

More Than 250,000 People Are Homeless In England (BBC)

More than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England, an analysis of the latest official figures suggests. Researchers from charity Shelter used data from four sets of official 2016 statistics to compile what it describes as a “conservative” total. The figures show homelessness hotspots outside London, with high rates in Birmingham, Brighton and Luton. The government says it does not recognise the figures, but is investing more than £500m on homelessness. For the very first time, Shelter has totted up the official statistics from four different forms of recorded homelessness. These were: • national government statistics on rough sleepers • statistics on those in temporary accommodation • the number of people housed in hostels * the number of people waiting to be housed by social services departments (obtained through Freedom of Information requests).

The charity insists the overall figure, 254,514, released to mark 50 years since its founding, is a “robust lower-end estimate”. It has been adjusted down to account for any possible overlap and no estimates have been added in where information was not available. Charity chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the 1960s slums. “But while those troubled times have faded into memory, 50 years on a modern-day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country. “Hundreds of thousands of people will face the trauma of waking up homeless this Christmas.

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Just in case you thought things are bad now.

Climate Change Will Stir ‘Unimaginable’ Refugee Crisis, Says Military (G.)

Climate change is set to cause a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, according to senior military figures, who warn that global warming is the greatest security threat of the 21st century and that mass migration will become the “new normal”. The generals said the impacts of climate change were already factors in the conflicts driving a current crisis of migration into Europe, having been linked to the Arab Spring, the war in Syria and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency. Military leaders have long warned that global warming could multiply and accelerate security threats around the world by provoking conflicts and migration. They are now warning that immediate action is required.

“Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,” said Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman, chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on climate change and a former military adviser to the president of Bangladesh. He said one metre of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. “We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people.” Previously, Bangladesh’s finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, called on Britain and other wealthy countries to accept millions of displaced people.

Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, said: “Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal. “Climate change impacts are also acting as an accelerant of instability in parts of the world on Europe’s doorstep, including the Middle East and Africa,” Cheney said. “There are direct links to climate change in the Arab Spring, the war in Syria, and the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in sub-Saharan Africa.”

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Oct 012016
 
 October 1, 2016  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 1 2016
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Lewis Wickes Hine Drift Mouth, Sand Lick Mine, near Grafton, West Virginia 1908

Why You Should Be Skeptical Of That $5.4 Billion Deutsche Settlement (CNBC)
A Deutsche Bank Settlement Rumor Overshadows US Equities (R.)
Deutsche Bank Takes a Lashing From the German Public (WSJ)
Trump Will Win, Unless the S&P Rallies in October (BBG)
Global Trade Crashes Back To “Very Old Normal” (ZH)
Global Corporate Default Tally By Far Highest Since 2009 (Barron’s)
US, Canadian IPOs Raise Lowest Annual Total Since 1990 (BBG)
US Consumer Spending Drops, Clouds Fed Rate Hike Outlook (R.)
China’s Yuan Joins Elite Club Of IMF Reserve Currencies (R.)
State Spending Keeps China’s Industrial Sector Humming in September (WSJ)
Has Vancouver Found The Solution To A Super-Heated Housing Market? (G.)
Bundesbank President Rejects Calls for German Stimulus (WSJ)
The “Pardon Snowden” Case Just Got Stronger (Cato)
Brexit Is A ‘Once-in-a-Generation’ Chance To Save UK’s WIldlife (Ind.)
Bees Added To US Endangered Species List For The First Time (G.)
Elephants Have Learned To Avoid Poachers By Hanging Out With Rangers (Konbini)

 

 

A planted rumor. “..if the number was correct, under German capital market rules Deutsche Bank would be required to confirm the amount by now..”

Why You Should Be Skeptical Of That $5.4 Billion Deutsche Settlement (CNBC)

Shares of Deutsche Bank were leaping in New York trade Friday on a report that it was near a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, but there’s reason to be skeptical about the number being cited. Shares of Deutsche Bank have extended their gains, up about 14% in afternoon trading, after an AFP report that Germany’s biggest bank is close to a $5.4-billion dollar settlement with the Justice Department over mortgage bonds. […] But if the number was correct, under German capital market rules Deutsche Bank would be required to confirm the amount by now. Its failure to do so indicates the number is not correct.

Any eventual settlement, however, would almost certainly be well below the reported $14-billion opening bid by the Department of Justice in its talks with Deutsche. Deutsche Bank is not publicly commenting on the supposed $5.4-billion figure. The capital market rules say the bank would have to react almost immediately to a report on such a settlement. That’s why two weeks ago, after The Wall Street Journal reported on the initial $14-billion figure, Deutsche Bank quickly put out a release confirming the news. “The negotiations are only just beginning,” Deutsche Bank said at the time. “The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.”

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Far from over: “Once they come to some resolution on the difference between what they are charged, $14 billion, and what they are going to pay, call it $5 or $6 billion, the market is going to be afraid there is a problem..”

A Deutsche Bank Settlement Rumor Overshadows US Equities (R.)

Deutsche Bank will likely cast a pall over equity markets next week as the largest German lender navigates a possible multi-billion dollar settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the sale of mortgage-backed bonds. Deutsche shares traded in the United States hit a record low on Thursday, falling as much as 24% since the DOJ asked the bank to pay $14 billion to settle charges related to its sale of toxic mortgage bonds before the financial crisis. But the stock had its best day in five years Friday, on record volume, after news agency AFP reported that Deutsche was nearing a much-lower $5.4 billion settlement with the DOJ. Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimated Deutsche could pay about $6 billion to settle with the DOJ. Stocks on Wall Street broadly tracked Deutsche over the past few days and will likely continue to do so, analysts say.

“While it is in the headlines, it is an overhang,” said Art Hogan at Wunderlich Securities in New York. “Once they come to some resolution on the difference between what they are charged, $14 billion, and what they are going to pay, call it $5 or $6 billion, the market is going to be afraid there is a problem,” Hogan said. Deutsche’s market capitalization of near $18 billion makes it much smaller than its U.S. peers like Bank of America, at $155 billion, or Citi, at $133 billion. However its trading relationships with the world’s largest financial institutions make a potential breakdown at Deutsche a bigger risk to the wider financial system than any other global bank, the International Monetary Fund said in June. “Its world print and eurocentric role are unrivaled, so it is going to drive the narrative next week,” said Peter Kenny at Global Markets Advisory Group in New York.

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Merkel’s room to move is shrinking.

Deutsche Bank Takes a Lashing From the German Public (WSJ)

Deutsche Bank is getting rough treatment in the market. It is also having a hard time with its own public. The lender, founded in 1870, has turned from an object of patriotic pride into what critics on both sides of the political spectrum openly deride as a national embarrassment. Multibillion-dollar losses last year, investigations into misconduct around the world, concerns about its capital cushion and rich pay have made Deutsche Bank a handy target for left-leaning critics that accuse it of short-term thinking and greed. Many on the far right, meanwhile, regard Deutsche Bank as German in name only. Three out of its past four chief executives have been foreigners, including current CEO John Cryan, helping detractors tar it as the embodiment of out-of-control stateless capitalism.

The sentiment isn’t confined to political circles. A TNS Emnid poll for news magazine Focus conducted on Wednesday and released on Friday showed that 69% of respondents opposed any kind of state aid for Deutsche Bank, with only 24% in favor. “People feel it’s simply unacceptable that banks should be exempted from business risks,” said Frank Decker, politics professor at Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University in Bonn. [..] the lack of support at home, along with strict bailout rules Germany has backed for banks in the European Union, could limit the government’s room for maneuver should Deutsche Bank end up in a position that it does need help.

Despite the trauma of the financial crisis, large institutions such as Deutsche Bank haven’t learned any lessons, said Manfred Güllner, head of the Forsa polling group, making any bailout a tougher sell than in 2008. “While the returns on savings keep falling in a bottomless pit—and now into negative territory—the banks, as always, keep conducting their risky speculative businesses,” the populist Alternative for Germany party said in a Facebook post Thursday. “Whenever they get in trouble, the politicians are always there to help with taxpayers’ money.”

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“When the stock market ends up for the three-month period, the Democrat wins. When it’s negative, the Republican wins.”

Trump Will Win, Unless the S&P Rallies in October (BBG)

October is the bad boy of the stock market. The Panic of 1907, the Crash of 1929, Black Monday in 1987. It’s notable for another reason, too. The performance of Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index from July 31 to Oct. 31 has a curious way of predicting the winner of the presidential election. As with every prediction, take it with a giant grain of salt. But the pattern is solid, as shown in this chart by Sam Stovall, equity strategist for S&P Global Market Intelligence1. When the stock market ends up for the three-month period, the Democrat wins.

When it’s negative, the Republican wins. Since this July 31, the S&P is in slightly negative territory. Two times the pattern didn’t hold were in 1968 and 1980, when influential third-party candidates were in race, including George Wallace, who took about 14% of the popular vote in ’68. The pattern also failed in 1956, which Stovall says could be attributed to geopolitical events putting the markets on edge. That was the year of the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising, he noted.

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“What if the last 30 years of exuberant world trade growth was the ‘outlier’..”

Global Trade Crashes Back To “Very Old Normal” (ZH)

“Get used to it” is the message from Goldman Sachs when it comes to the collapse in global trade… What if the last 30 years of exuberant world trade growth was the ‘outlier’ and we are now reverting to the pre-Greenspan normal? As Goldman’s Goohoon Kwon explains, a low trade beta may be normal:

“Finally, another explanation for the trade slowdown is that it simply represents a return to normal. Historical trade data show that the global trade beta was slightly higher than 1 in the early 1950s before rising gradually due to a series of extraordinary events. In the 1960s-1980s, it rose to around 1.5, boosted by multilateral efforts for trade reforms, which reduced average tariffs from 35% in 1947 to 6.4% at the start of the of the Uruguay Round (1986-94) of global trade negotiations. Thereafter, the breakup of the Soviet Union enabled global trade to expand rapidly in the 1990s, and the WTO entry of China in 2001 helped sustain the trade beta at around 2 in the 2000s. There is therefore an argument that a series of largely one-off factors drove the trade beta to unusually high levels.”

And as Goldman warns, there is limited upside to global trade from here…

“Given these structural forces, the outlook for global trade remains weak in our view, though it might rebound somewhat in the short term. Asian trade is likely to recover moderately in coming years, helped by the eventual dissipation of capacity overhangs in China and reductions in internal imbalances in the economy. And further trade liberalization, including in services, presents upside for global trade. However, the restructuring of overcapacity sectors seems to be proceeding slowly so far in Asia, as reflected in low and still-falling capacity utilization in China and Korea. Moreover, the current political backdrops in the major economies suggest that another major push for trade liberalization might be off the table, at least for now.”

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By far the worst year since 2009.

Global Corporate Default Tally By Far Highest Since 2009 (Barron’s)

Three corporate defaults in the past week, two metals companies and one telecom firm, brought the total number of defaults around the world to 130. That’s a lot more than last year. Diane Vazza, head of S&P Global Fixed Income Research says: “The default tally is 60% higher than the count at this time in 2015 and has surpassed the total number of defaults recorded in full-year 2015, 113 defaults. The last time the global tally was higher at this point in the year was in 2009, when it reached 223 during the financial crisis.” Energy and commodity-related firms make up over half of the defaults; 70% are U.S. companies. Vazza notes: “As of Aug. 31, 2016, the global speculative-grade default rate for the energy and natural resources sector was 17.9%–more than seven times higher than the default rate of all other sectors.”

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How to make a pretty awful number sound good.

US, Canadian IPOs Raise Lowest Annual Total Since 1990 (BBG)

It’s been a paltry year for initial public offerings. Fewer than 135 companies have made their debuts in U.S. and Canada, putting 2016 on pace to be the slowest for IPOs since 1990, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With $14.4 billion raised so far, we’re also on track to witness the lowest annual total on that score since 1990. For the companies that have made it to market, the dearth of activity has helped underpin demand. That’s especially true in the case of tech IPOs, where (as my colleague Shira Ovide has written) the paucity of new issues has left investors scrambling for any new listing, driving valuations to potentially unsustainable levels.

Nutanix, a tech unicorn that priced Thursday evening, will likely continue the trend, with its shares poised for a surge when they begin trading Friday. But another crop of listings – backed by private equity – has also done well out of the chute this year, and may offer the potential for more lasting gains. On average, new issues of private-equity backed companies have rallied 34.5% this year through Thursday, topping the 28.2% average return for all U.S. and Canadian IPOs during the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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David Stockman put it like this: “They shopped till they dropped.”

US Consumer Spending Drops, Clouds Fed Rate Hike Outlook (R.)

U.S. consumer spending fell in August for the first time in seven months while inflation showed signs of accelerating, mixed signals that could keep the Federal Reserve cautious about raising interest rates. The Commerce Department said on Friday that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, fell 0.1% last month after accounting for inflation. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 0.1% gain. “Consumers took a breather in August,” said Chris Christopher of IHS Global Insight. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last week she expected the U.S. central bank would raise rates once later this year to keep the economy from eventually overheating.

Prices for fed funds futures suggest investors see almost no chance of a hike at the Fed’s next policy meeting in early November and roughly even odds of an increase at its mid-December meeting, according to CME Group. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies while U.S. stock prices were trading higher. Consumer spending, which has been robust in recent months, partially offset the drag from weak business investment and falling inventories in the second quarter when the economy expanded at a lackluster 1.4% annual rate.

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A mixed blessing.

China’s Yuan Joins Elite Club Of IMF Reserve Currencies (R.)

China’s yuan joins the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies on Saturday in a milestone for the government’s campaign for recognition as a global economic power. The yuan joins the U.S. dollar, the euro, the yen and British pound in the IMF’s special drawing rights (SDR) basket, which determines currencies that countries can receive as part of IMF loans. It marks the first time a new currency has been added since the euro was launched in 1999.The IMF is adding the yuan, also known as the renminbi, or “people’s money”, on the same day that the Communist Party celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

“The inclusion into the SDR is a milestone in the internationalization of the renminbi, and is an affirmation of the success of China’s economic development and results of the reform and opening up of the financial sector,” the People’s Bank of China said in a statement. China will use this opportunity to further deepen economic reforms and open up the sector to promote global growth, the central bank added. The IMF announced last year that it would add the yuan to the basket, so actual inclusion is not expected to impact financial markets. But it puts Beijing’s often opaque economic and foreign exchange policy in the international spotlight as some central banks add yuan assets to their official reserves.

Critics argue that the move is largely symbolic and the yuan does not fully meet IMF reserve currency criteria of being freely usable, or widely used to settle trade or widely traded in financial markets. U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said he will formally label China a currency manipulator if he wins November’s election. China stunned investors by devaluing the currency last year and the yuan has since weakened to near six-year lows, adding to worries about already feeble global growth. Some China watchers also fear that Beijing’s commitment to further market opening and financial sector reforms will fade after its diplomatic success, despite repeated reassurances from Beijing it will continue with the process.

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Now that China has entered the IMF basket, it’ll get much harder to keep this up: “It’s very clear that this sort of continued funding of industrial overcapacity sectors is unsustainable.”

State Spending Keeps China’s Industrial Sector Humming in September (WSJ)

Activity in China’s crucial industrial sector appeared to stabilize last month, with an official index on manufacturing holding steady, buoyed by state spending on infrastructure. China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers index was unchanged at 50.4 in September compared with August, the National Bureau of Statistics reported Saturday. The gauge has remained above 50, which separates expansion from contraction, for six out of the past seven months. The September reading matched a median forecast of 50.4 by 11 economists polled by The Wall Street Journal.

Subindexes gave mixed readings. One measured new orders weakening, while another for production showed improvement; both remained above 50. The official nonmanufacturing PMI edged up to 53.7 in September from 53.5 in August. Economists said stepped-up bank lending and spending on government projects is helping to steady an economy that got off to a wobbly start to the year and has been slowing overall in recent years. “You’re seeing a bit of a credit-fueled holding pattern,” said Angus Nicholson, an analyst with IG Markets. “The question is: when does that turn around and when are they going to cut credit? It’s very clear that this sort of continued funding of industrial overcapacity sectors is unsustainable.”

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Better question: do other cities have the guts to follow suit?

Has Vancouver Found The Solution To A Super-Heated Housing Market? (G.)

There is a city which is suffering a worse property bubble than Sydney, whose residents are more priced-out than Londoners, and where there is a greater divide between the housing haves and have-nots than even San Francisco. That city is Vancouver, and in response to these mounting challenges, the west-coast Canadian metropolis recently imposed an extraordinary new tax on foreign buyers – whose impact is now being watched closely by other cities grappling with bloated property markets. On 2 August, Vancouver introduced a tax on anyone from outside Canada wanting to buy a home in its super-heated market. In future, city authorities said, if you weren’t Canadian, you would have to pay an extra 15% on the purchase price.

The impact has, by some measures, been more startling than campaigners could have hoped for. The price of the average detached home reportedly slumped by an astonishing 16.7% in August alone to C$1.47m (£856,000), according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Some agents are reporting that the market has gone from red hot to stone cold in a matter of weeks. British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark, who introduced the tax, told reporters there will be no going back on it. “The prices were going up way too fast and if we helped slow that down, that’s good,” she said. In the year before the tax, prices in the city were galloping ahead at a rate of 39% a year amid widespread concern that investors, from China in particular, were pricing out local residents.

It is a concern echoed in cities across the Pacific Rim. In June, Sydney introduced a 4% stamp duty surcharge on foreigners buying homes; the following month, Melbourne hiked stamp duty rates from 3% to 7% for foreign buyers – in both cases to deter rampant property speculation. Queensland, whose capital is Brisbane, has followed suit with an extra 3% duty surcharge that will be slapped on “foreign persons” buying residential property and land from 1 October. In Auckland, New Zealand – currently the world’s frothiest property market – property investors are, as of last month, required to put down at least 40% of the purchase price in cash.

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By ignoring Germany’s role in destroying the Greek and Italian economies, Weidmann ensures the downfall of the eurozone, and thereby of Germany itself.

Bundesbank President Rejects Calls for German Stimulus (WSJ)

It’s absurd to ask Germany’s government to spend more to bolster eurozone growth, German Central Bank President Jens Weidmann said on Thursday, rejecting growing pressure on Berlin to loosen its purse strings. Speaking in the German capital, Mr. Weidmann said a fiscal stimulus program in Germany was unnecessary given the nation’s robust economy, and would have few positive effects for other countries anyway. Earlier this month, ECB President Mario Draghi joined the chorus of voices that have criticized Germany for reining in its spending at a time of weak economic growth. “Countries that have fiscal space should use it,” Mr. Draghi said at a news conference. “Germany has fiscal space.”

But Mr. Weidmann argued that Germany’s national debt was already high, and the country’s aging population “calls for lower rather than higher debts.” Mr. Draghi tempered his remarks on Wednesday after a meeting in Berlin with German lawmakers, who grilled him over the ECB’s easy-money policies and their impact on German savers and banks. “Germany does have fiscal space [but] we need to be nuanced,” Mr. Draghi said. “I never argued for irresponsible fiscal expansion.”

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It couldn’t be more obvious.

The “Pardon Snowden” Case Just Got Stronger (Cato)

Yesterday, the Department of Justice Inspector General (DoJ IG) issued a long overdue Congressionally-mandated report on FBI compliance with the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 “business records” provision between 2012 and 2014. It is the first such report issued that covers the initial period of Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread domestic mass surveillance by the federal government. Since his indictment for leaking the information to the press, Snowden’s lawyers have argued that he should not be prosecuted under the WW I-era Espionage Act because his revelations served the public interest. The DoJ IG report provides the clearest evidence yet that Snowden’s lawyers are correct (p. 6):

“In June 2013, information about the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata program was publicly disclosed by Edward Snowden. These disclosures revealed, among other things, that the FISA Court had approved Section 215 orders authorizing the bulk collection of call detail records. The telephony metadata collected by the NSA included information from local and long-distance telephone calls, such as the originating and terminating telephone number and the date, time, and duration of each call. The disclosures prompted widespread public discussion about the bulk telephony metadata program and the proper scope of government surveillance, and ultimately led Congress to end bulk collection by the government in the USA Freedom Act.”

Public discussion of the controversy. Very public action by Congress to change the law, addressing at least one major abuse brought to light by Snowden. And there was more (p. 33):

“An [National Security Division] Deputy Unit Chief noted that the number of business records orders reached its peak in 2012 and has declined annually since then, and that the number of [Electronic Communication Transation] requests has declined more than other types of requests. The Deputy Unit Chief said that the Snowden revelations have played a role in this decline, both in terms of the stigma attached to use of Section 215 and increased resistance from providers. The Deputy Unit Chief stated, “I think that it’s possible that folks … have decided it’s not worth pursuing [business records orders], you know, obviously things haven’t been great with providers since Snowden either.” ”

Translation: Snowden’s actions forced companies like Verizon, Yahoo and others to grow a spine and start defending the Fourth Amendment rights of their customers. Earlier this month, a group of non-governmental organizations and individuals launched a campaign to get President Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office. We now have the department seeking Snowden’s prosecution offering unambigous evidence that his whistleblowing actions served the public interest. Obama should direct DoJ to drop the case or he should pardon Snowden. Either approach would be in the public interest, just as Snowden’s actions were.

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if there’s anyone left claiming to be surprised by Brexit, they must be blind.

Record Numbers Left Homeless After Eviction By Private Landlords In UK (G.)

Record numbers of families are becoming homeless after being evicted by private landlords and finding themselves unable to afford a suitable alternative place to live, government figures show. The end of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) was cited by nearly a third of the 15,170 households in England who were classed as homeless in the three months to June – a number that was up 10% on the same period last year. The problem was particularly acute in London, accounting for 41% of all homelessness acceptances in the capital during the period, according to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The end of an AST has rapidly become the single biggest cause of homelessness in recent years, triggered by spiralling rent rises and cuts to housing benefit support.

In 2010 just 11% of homeless acceptances in England were caused by the end of an AST. The government’s statistical release states: “Affordability [of housing] is an increasingly significant issue, as more households facing the end of a private tenancy are unable to find an alternative without assistance.” Bob Blackman, a Tory backbencher who has drawn up a private member’s bill seeking to require councils to do more to help households at risk of losing their homes, said: “It is a national disgrace when we have the highest number of people in employment ever, we have a low rate of unemployment, that we still have people sleeping rough. Goodness knows what will happen if there is a recession.”

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Not if and when the present political climate perseveres.

Brexit Is A ‘Once-in-a-Generation’ Chance To Save UK’s WIldlife (Ind.)

Brexit will be a “once-in-a-generation chance” to reverse the huge decline in Britain’s wildlife, according to four of the UK’s leading environmental groups. The RSPB, WWF UK, National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts said the British countryside was “key to our identity as a nation” and farmers had the ability address the “urgent challenge of restoring nature”. They called on the Government to replace the much-criticised EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidy system with a British one that pays farmers to maintain “high environmental standards”. Earlier this month, the State of Nature 2016 report – produced by more than 50 organisations – concluded the UK was one of the “most nature-depleted countries in the world”. More than one in seven species face extinction and more than half are in decline.

However, in its response to the conservation groups’ call, the Government insisted the natural environment was “cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution”. The National Farmers Union (NFU) said its members understood “the importance of protecting the environment” and complained that some organisations were making suggestions about agricultural policy “without speaking to those the policy most affects”. In a joint statement, called A new policy for our countryside, the four conservation groups said the UK’s departure from the EU “will be one of the most defining events for farming and our environment in living memory”. “[It] provides an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise our countryside in a way that balances the needs of everyone, for generations to come,” they said.

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We have created far too great a distance between ourselves and the world that gives us life.

Bees Added To US Endangered Species List For The First Time (G.)

Seven types of bees once found in abundance in Hawaii have become the first bees to be added to the US federal list of endangered and threatened species. The listing decision, published on Friday in the Federal Register, classifies seven varieties of yellow-faced or masked bees as endangered, due to such factors as habitat loss, wildfires and the invasion of non-native plants and insects. The bees, so named for yellow-to-white facial markings, once crowded Hawaii and Maui but recent surveys found their populations have plunged in the same fashion as other types of wild bees – and some commercial ones – elsewhere in the United States, federal wildlife managers said.

Placing yellow-faced bees under federal safeguards comes just over a week since the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding the imperilled rusty patched bumble bee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once found in the upper midwest and north-eastern United States, to the endangered and threatened species list. One of several wild bee species seen declining over the past two decades, the rusty patched bumble bee is the first in the continental United States formally proposed for protections. The listing of the Hawaii species followed years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers. The Xerces Society said its goal was to protect nature’s pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.

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Nice, but that’s just a few of them. I think we’re going to end up sending our armies, our children and grandchildren, to Africa and far beyond, to the oceans, to try and keep alive enough of what preceded us on this planet in order to guarantee our own species can survive. But I can’t say I have high hopes.

Elephants Have Learned To Avoid Poachers By Hanging Out With Rangers (Konbini)

In an effort to protect diminishing elephant herds in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, a Kenyan conservation group fitted elephants with collars so they could monitor and track them in real time. Save the Elephants claim some of the herds they track have started changing their behavior to avoid dangerous areas, which the team believes is an adaptation to poaching. “Several elephant families [were seen] clustered around ranger posts, suggesting they had learned to distinguish the heavily armed rangers as harmless,” STE founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton said. In one rebel-afflicted area, elephants had even started hanging out at ranger checkpoints where huge trucks of charcoal and hardwood rumble through every few minutes.

“Yet somehow the elephants sensed that they were safe there and walked close to the voluble rangers.” Elephants that are able to distinguish rangers from poachers represent an incredible feat of animal ingenuity, but according to experts, it’s all quite understandable. According to My Green World, these mammals are similar to gorillas, in that they’re “smart, sensitive, loyal and aware.” But while this is great news for elephants (and bad news for outsmarted poachers), there’s still the matter of curbing the ongoing colossal hunting epidemic. Africa had 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s, but today there are only 500,000. So there is still quite a way to go before elephants can be taken off the endangered species list.

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Sep 232016
 
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Harris&Ewing “Slaves reunion DC. Ages: 100, 104, 103; Rev. Simon P. Drew, born free.” 1921

World Trade Grinds Lower, Hits 2014 Levels (WS)
‘When I Think Of Central Banks, I Think Of Alchemists’: Marc Faber (CNBC)
Central Bankers Are The Arsonists That Create The Fire: Bill Fleckenstein (ZH)
Bad Debts In Chinese Banking System 10 Times Higher Than Admitted: Fitch (AEP)
The Coming Wave of Defaults Will Be Devastating (CH Smith)
Time to ‘Be Alarmed’ about Emerging Market Debt: UN (DQ)
The Ted Spread Is Dead, Baby. The Ted Spread Is Dead (WSJ)
UK Councils ‘Building Up Dangerous Levels Of Debt And Risk’ (Ind.)
You’re Not as Rich as You Think (Satyajit Das)
Deutsche Bank Woes Sparks Concern Among German Lawmakers (BBG)
Regulators Expect Monte Dei Paschi To Ask Italy For Help (R.)
How Does A 60% Increase In NYC Homelessness Constitute A Recovery? (ZH)
Pope Francis: Journalism Based On Gossip And Lies Is A Form Of Terrorism (G.)
Indigenous Australians The Oldest Living Culture; It’s In Our Dreamtime (G.)

 

 

Rising health care costs prop up US GDP. We all know that’s not a good thing.

World Trade Grinds Lower, Hits 2014 Levels (WS)

World trade in merchandise is a reflection of the global goods-producing economy. And it just can’t catch a break. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released the preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for July. The index fell 1.1% from June to 113.4, the lowest since May 2015 – a level it had first reached on the way up it in September 2014. The chart shows that merchandise world trade isn’t falling off a cliff, as it had done during the financial crisis, when global supply chains suddenly froze up. But it’s on a slow volatile grind lower. And compared to the fanciful growth after the Financial Crisis, it looks outright dismal:

This time – after the big adjustment in values months ago – we have another statistical note. In this data release, the CPB shifted the base year of the series from 2005 to 2010, so the values of the entire index shifted down. Hopefully, the change made the series more representative of reality – because getting a good grip on reality these days is really hard, when entire data systems are carefully designed to conceal more than they reveal (such as the official inflation data). The decline in trade was sharper in the emerging economies than the advanced economies. That makes sense: The US, on whose demand the health of the entire world economy seems to depend, experienced falling imports in July, according to the data.

Data point after data point document that the goods-based economy in the US is in trouble – manufacturing, wholesale, retail… nothing is firing on all or even most cylinders. But the service-based economy is not doing all that badly. Its biggest sector – and the biggest sector overall in the US – healthcare, is doing quite well, actually. Among the health-care companies in the S&P 500, revenues rose 5.2% in the second quarter, year over year, when revenues for all S&P 500 companies fell 3.1%. Revenues rose not because people are getting more health care; they rose because health care has been getting more expensive at a breath-taking pace for many years as the industry has been consolidating into oligopolies and as outrageous prices increases on pharmaceutical products regularly grace the headlines.

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“They were trying to mix all kinds of powders and chemicals to produce essentially gold. And they all failed..”

‘When I Think Of Central Banks, I Think Of Alchemists’: Marc Faber (CNBC)

Central bankers trying to spur growth are like alchemists trying to make gold and they’re just as likely to fail, said Marc Faber, the publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report. “When I think of central banks, I think of alchemists,” Faber, also known as Dr. Doom for his pessimistic views, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. “They were trying to mix all kinds of powders and chemicals to produce essentially gold. And they all failed,” he said, although he noted that some alchemists did produce other useful chemicals during their ill-fated search for the precious metal. “But the central banks are just mixing water, in other words, paper money, and the results cannot be a favourable outcome in the long run.”

Faber noted that from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, people believed inflation was “forever,” but now the same central banks that were fighting inflation were now fighting deflation. This fight was a mistake, he said, claiming that across Asia, price rises were exceeding income gains. “It’s possible that suddenly inflationary pressures will be there, that central banks should then act but they cannot because the system is so overleveraged,” he said. At the same time, Faber noted that the low and negative interest rates globally were hurting pension funds. “Pension funds, even in these beautiful years of returns, 2009 to today, they have become less funded, they have become more underfunded,” he said. “With interest rates at zero and this low, their portion that’s in bonds is never going to meet the expected returns of 7.5%. It’s physically not possible.”

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Alchemists and arsonists.

Central Bankers Are The Arsonists That Create The Fire: Bill Fleckenstein (ZH)

Having been invited on to CNBC to discuss his views of the market, famous short-seller Bill Fleckenstein explained rather eloquently that QE4 is coming and people will wake up to the fact that central bankers “are the arsonists that create the fire, not the firemen that put it out.” This non-mainstream view was treated with disdain by CNBC host Tim Seymour who slammed Fleckenstein for “missing out” on the “artificial market’s” (because even CNBC now admits that’s what it is) gains. The response was epic. “Don’t be such a jerk… I don’t ask to come on this show, you invited me… and don’t get in my face because I won’t join your party…”

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A $2 trillion black hole.

Bad Debts In Chinese Banking System 10 Times Higher Than Admitted: Fitch (AEP)

Bad debts in the Chinese banking system are ten times higher than officially admitted, and rescue costs could reach a third of GDP within two years if the authorities let the crisis fester, Fitch Ratings has warned. The agency said the rate of non-performing loans (NPLs) has reached between 15pc and 21pc and is rising fast as the country delays serious reform, relying instead on a fresh burst of credit to put off the day of reckoning. It would cost up to $2.1 trillion to clean up this toxic legacy even if the state acted today, and much of this would inevitably land in the lap of the government. “There are already signs of stress that point to NPLs being much higher than official estimates (1.8pc), most obviously the increased frequency with which the banks are writing off or offloading loans,” it said.

The banks have been shuffling losses off their balance sheets through wealth management vehicles or by classifying them as interbank credit, seemingly with the collusion of the regulators. Loans are past 90 days overdue are not always deemed bad debts. “The longer debt grows, the greater the risk of asset quality and liquidity shocks to the banking system,” said Fitch. Capital shortfalls are currently 11pc to 20pc of GDP, but this threatens to hit 33pc in a worst case scenario by the end of 2018. “Defaults in China could lead to mutual credit guarantees in the background pulling other firms into distress. A large increase in real defaults risks triggering a chain of bankruptcies that magnifies the potential for financial instability,” it said.

“Mid-tier banks have the weakest buffers, and are the most vulnerable to funding stress,” said the report, by Jonathan Cornish and Grace Wu. The damage eclipses losses during the global financial crisis in Britain and the US, where the direct costs of bank rescues were roughly 8pc of GDP. It would be closer to the trauma suffered by Ireland, Greece, and Cyprus when their banking systems collapsed, but on a vastly greater scale. The Chinese state has deep pockets but strains are mounting. Public debt has reached 55pc of GDP following the bail-out of local governments. This is now higher than among ‘A’ rated peers, mostly in the developing world. “Pressure on China’s sovereign rating could emerge if general government indebtedness were to rise significantly,” said the Fitch report.

China let rip with a fresh burst of credit growth from the middle of last year after a series of policy errors triggered a recession – with ‘Chinese characteristics’ – in early 2015. It ditched any serious effort to reform the economy and opted for stimulus as usual, cutting interest rates and the reserve requirement ratio. Credit reached 243pc of GDP by the end on last year, double the level in 2008. Banking system assets have grown by $21 trillion over that time, 1.3 times greater than the entire US commercial banking nexus.

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“Defaults mean loans and bonds won’t be paid back. The owners of the bonds and debt (mortgages, auto loans, etc.) will have to absorb massive losses.”

The Coming Wave of Defaults Will Be Devastating (CH Smith)

In an economy based on borrowing, i.e. credit a.k.a. debt, loan defaults and deleveraging (reducing leverage and debt loads) matter. Consider this chart of total credit in the U.S. Note that the relatively tiny decline in total credit in 2008 caused by subprime mortgage defaults (a.k.a. deleveraging) very nearly collapsed not just the U.S. financial system but the entire global financial system. Every credit boom is followed by a credit bust, as uncreditworthy borrowers and highly leveraged speculators inevitably default. Homeowners with 3% down payment mortgages default when one wage earner loses their job, companies that are sliding into bankruptcy default on their bonds, and so on. This is the normal healthy credit cycle.

Bad debt is like dead wood piling up in the forest. Eventually it starts choking off new growth, and Nature’s solution is a conflagration–a raging forest fire that turns all the dead wood into ash. The fire of defaults and deleveraging is the only way to open up new areas for future growth. Unfortunately, central banks have attempted to outlaw the healthy credit cycle. In effect, central banks have piled up dead wood (debt that will never be paid back) to the tops of the trees, and this is one fundamental reason why global growth is stagnant. The central banks put out the default/deleveraging forest fire in 2008 with a tsunami of cheap new credit. Central banks created trillions of dollars, euros, yen and yuan and flooded the major economies with this cheap credit.

They also lowered yields on savings to zero so banks could pocket profits rather than pay depositors interest. This enabled the banks to rebuild their cash and balance sheets – at the expense of everyone with cash, of course. Having unleashed tens of trillions of dollars in new credit since 2008, the central banks have simply increased the likelihood and scale of the coming default conflagration. Now the amount of deadwood that’s piled up is many times greater than it was in 2008. Very few observers explore what happens after defaults start cascading through the system. Defaults mean loans and bonds won’t be paid back. The owners of the bonds and debt (mortgages, auto loans, etc.) will have to absorb massive losses.

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We’ve been alarmed about it for years.

Time to ‘Be Alarmed’ about Emerging Market Debt: UN (DQ)

[..] It was the peak of the emerging market bubble, when the amount of debt that low-income developing economies could have sold to eager investors seemed almost limitless. The main reason for this unprecedented surge in appetite for EM debt was the huge monetary expansion unleashed in many of the world’s major economies, led by the Fed’s QE program. The result was the now-all-too-familiar reality of anemic (at best) yield opportunities in developed markets, prompting investors to seek out much riskier emerging market assets. The moment the Fed turned off the spigot, in mid-2014, the flow of funds began to reverse, according to the report, creating ripe conditions for a “prolonged commodity price shock, steep currency depreciations and worsening growth prospects,” which have “quickly driven up borrowing costs and debt-to-GDP ratios.”

For the first time since the Latin American debt crisis in the second half of the 1980s, aggregate net capital flows entered negative territory. Aggregate outflows reached $656 billion in 2015 and $185 billion in the first quarter of 2016. The capital flight was particularly pronounced in China and other parts of Asia. Note how capital flight heated up in 2014 toward the end of the Fed’s “QE Infinity”.

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More consequences of unbridled manipulation of financial markets.

The Ted Spread Is Dead, Baby. The Ted Spread Is Dead (WSJ)

A measure of stress in financial markets, whose alarm bells heralded the 2008 financial crisis, just hit its highest level in over seven years. But don’t worry. It turns out the so-called Ted Spread might be dead, an unlikely casualty of the recent changes in U.S. money-market regulation. This spread charts the difference between the London interbank offered rate and the yield on three-month U.S. Treasury bills. Libor is a dollar-denominated global gauge of private-sector credit strength, particularly that of banks, and three-month bills measure an ultrasafe bet—the U.S. government’s creditworthiness. Ted stands for Treasury-Eurodollar rate, the Eurodollar being the greenback denominated lending reflected in the Libor rate.

If the difference, or spread, between what banks charge each other increases compared with yields on safe government debt, that reflects an elevated risk of defaults in the private sector that the banking sector lends to. For the past year and a half the spread has been creeping higher, rising from 0.2 of a percentage point at the turn of 2015, to 0.653 of a percentage point on Wednesday. That is the highest it has been since May 2009, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, surpassing other moments of extreme stress, like the euro sovereign-debt crisis around 2011. But there is a problem with that. Looming U.S. regulation of money-market funds has driven Libor higher, meaning that it isn’t quite the indicator that it once was.

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Blair and Cameron’s scorched earth.

UK Councils ‘Building Up Dangerous Levels Of Debt And Risk’ (Ind.)

Cash-strapped local councils are building up dangerous levels of risk and debt as they turn to commercial ventures in a bid to raise funds, credit agencies and campaigners have warned. Moody’s, the credit agency, warned that a series of ambitious plans to boost revenue by setting up businesses could put council tax payers at risk should they run into difficulties. The warning, in a report into local government finance, comes amid mounting evidence that local authorities are increasingly turning to borrowing after a run of tough settlements with central Government. Roshana Arasaratnam, a senior credit officer at Moody’s, said in the wake of the report’s publication:

“Borrowing to invest in commercial projects exposes local authorities to additional credit risk, as the revenues that flow from these projects are inherently uncertain. “Those adopting this strategy also face increased project execution risk, and greater competition from the private sector.” Ms Arasaratnam said such borrowing contrasted sharply with local authorities’ traditional investments in schools, housing and transport which are underpinned by government grants and do not depend on generating revenues from commercial activities. The report highlights a series of business ventures set up by councils, some of which are now on negative credit watch. They include Warrington Borough Council, which in 2015 issued £150m of bonds to support an economic development plan aimed at increasing business rate revenues.

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Paper wealth is not wealth.

You’re Not as Rich as You Think (Satyajit Das)

The idea that the world is awash in savings – one factor driving the theory of secular stagnation – is, on the surface, a persuasive one. Too bad it may not be true. Yes, the postwar generation is wealthier than any before it. But the ultimate value of any investment depends upon being able to convert it into cash and thus generate purchasing power. In fact, the world’s accumulated wealth – around $250 trillion, according to Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report – is almost certainly incapable of realization at its paper value. The headline number thus vastly overstates the supposed savings glut. Most of these savings are held in two forms: real estate, primarily principal residences, and retirement portfolios that are invested in stocks and bonds.

Both are rising in value. A combination of population growth, higher incomes, increased access to credit, lower rates and, in some cases, limited housing stock have driven up home prices; those who got in early have done especially well. Meanwhile, increased earnings and dividends, driven by economic growth and inflation, have boosted equity values. So have loose monetary policies designed to counteract the Great Recession since 2009. Yet the appreciating value of one’s own home doesn’t automatically translate into purchasing power. A primary residence produces no income. Indeed, maintenance costs, utility bills and property taxes – which often rise along with home prices – mean that houses are cash-flow negative.

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As soon as they understand the magnitude of the numbers, they’ll look the other way.

Deutsche Bank Woes Sparks Concern Among German Lawmakers (BBG)

Deutsche Bank’s finances, weakened by low profitability and mounting legal costs, are raising concern among German politicians after the U.S. sought $14 billion to settle claims related to the sale of mortgage-backed securities. At a closed session of Social Democratic finance lawmakers this week, Deutsche Bank’s woes came up alongside a debate over Basel financial rules, according to two people familiar with the matter. Participants discussed the U.S. fine and the financial reserves at Deutsche Bank’s disposal if it had to cover the full amount, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the meeting on Tuesday was private. While the participants – members of the junior party in Angela Merkel’s government – didn’t reach any conclusions on the likely outcome, the discussion signals that the risks have the attention of Germany’s political establishment.

The German Finance Ministry last week called on the U.S. to ensure a “fair outcome” for Deutsche Bank, citing cases against other banks where the government settled for reduced fines. Pressure on Germany’s biggest lender has increased since German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Bloomberg Television on Feb. 9 that he has “no concerns about Deutsche Bank.” Germany’s biggest bank was already ranked among the worst-capitalized lenders in European stress tests before U.S. authorities demanded $14 billion during initial talks to settle a probe into how it handled mortgage securities during the 2008 financial crisis. The announcement led Deutsche Bank’s riskiest bonds to plunge.

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Never ending story. Because it can’t end well.

Regulators Expect Monte Dei Paschi To Ask Italy For Help (R.)

European regulators expect Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena will have to turn to the government for support, three euro zone officials with knowledge of the matter said, although Rome would strongly resist such a move if bondholders suffered losses. Less than two months after the Tuscan lender announced an emergency plan to raise €5 billion of fresh capital, having come last in a health check of 51 European banks, there is growing concern among European regulators that the cash bid will fall short. While the bank is determined to see through the capital raising, if it were to disappoint, it would be left with a capital hole. Now euro zone authorities are considering whether state support would have to be tapped after what bankers have described as slack interest in the bank’s share offer.

“There is clearly an execution risk to the capital raising,” said one official with knowledge of the rescue attempt, adding that the bank’s value, about one ninth the size of the planned €5 billion cash call, would be a turn-off for investors. That person said a “precautionary recapitalization by the Italian state” could be used to make up any shortfall once attempts to raise fresh cash from investors had concluded in the coming months. [..] Monte dei Paschi faces a considerable challenge in convincing investors to back its third recapitalisation in as many years. Further complicating the picture, a constitutional referendum, expected to be held by early December that could decide the future of Renzi, is likely to push the bank’s fund-raising into next year, the officials say. The bank’s fragile state poses a threat to confidence in other Italian lenders and even to heavily-indebted Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy.

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There’s 24/7 propaganda and then there’s reality. It’s about air time more than anything else.

How Does A 60% Increase In NYC Homelessness Constitute A Recovery? (ZH)

[..] ..courtesy of data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services, we have a couple of additional charts to add to the list like the one below that shows a ~60% increase in the number of NYC families living in homeless shelters over the past five years. Aside from an increse during the “great recession”, the number of New York City families living in homeless shelter remained fairly constant at around 8,000 from July 2008 through July 2011. That said, over the following 5 years beginning in August 2011 through today, NYC has experienced a nearly 60% increase in the number of families living in homeless shelters to nearly 13,000. Ironically, the increase in homelessness experienced during the “great recession” was just a blip on the radar compared to the past five years as residential rental rates in NYC have soared.

Alternatively, we offer up the following statistics from Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Fiscal 2016 “Mayor’s Management Report” highlighting a 42% increase in applications for “Emergency Rent Assistance” from New York City families at risk of losing their housing. If this is what a “recovery” looks like to Obama we would certainly like to better understand how he would define a recession.

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“..journalism should not be used as a “weapon of destruction against persons and even entire peoples..“

Pope Francis: Journalism Based On Gossip And Lies Is A Form Of Terrorism (G.)

Journalism based on gossip or rumours is a form of “terrorism” and media that stereotype entire populations or foment fear of migrants are acting destructively, Pope Francis has said . The pope, who made his comments in an address to leaders of Italy’s national journalists’ guild, said reporters had to go the extra mile to seek the truth, particularly in an age of round-the-clock news coverage. Spreading rumours is an example of “terrorism, of how you can kill a person with your tongue“, he said. “This is even more true for journalists because their voice can reach everyone and this is a very powerful weapon.“ In Italy, a number of newspapers are highly politicised and are regularly used to discredit those with differing political views, sometimes reporting unsubstantiated rumours about their private lives.

In 2009 several media outlets owned by the family of then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi came under fire from the journalists’ guild over stories questioning the trustworthiness of a magistrate who had ruled against a company owned by the Berlusconi family. The stories were filled with insinuations about the way he dressed, including the colour of his socks, and the way he took walks in the park. The pope, who has often strongly defended the rights of refugees and migrants, said journalism should not be used as a “weapon of destruction against persons and even entire peoples“. “Neither should it foment fear before events like forced migration from war or from hunger,” he added.

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A highly developed culture 10s of 1000s of years before anywhere else on the planet. Ignored as such by Europe and North American bias.

Indigenous Australians The Oldest Living Culture; It’s In Our Dreamtime (G.)

Australia’s Aboriginal people have already been using the tag of “world’s oldest living culture” before given scientific confirmation in a recent study of the DNA of Australia’s Indigenous people. One likely response to the finding from the subjects of the research is a satisfied, “I told you so”. Scientific research often reaffirms what is in an oral history. This has been particularly so in Australia where cultural stories – often referred to as Dreamtime stories – that describe land movements and floods fit in with what later becomes known about seismic and glacial shifts from the geological record. For example, Associate Professor Nick Reid and Professor Patrick D. Nunn have analysed stories from Indigenous coastal communities and have seen a thread of discussions about the rise of tidal waters that occurred between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago.

And these are the newer stories. Other stories collected from around Cairns showed that stories recalled a time when the land covered the area that is now the Great Barrier Reef and stories from the Yorke Peninsula reference a time when there was no Spencer Gulf (it is now 50m below sea level). Reid and Nunn hypothesise that this could make these stories over 12,000 years old. So oral history and observation can reinforce what the science says. Or science can confirm what we’ve been saying all along. For many older Indigenous people, the cultural stories will seem the more trustworthy. There are historic reasons why Indigenous people remain suspicious of science practiced by Europeans, who have not yet countered the legacy of their obsessions with head measuring and blood quantum.

Aboriginal culture and traditions have been often viewed through a Eurocentric gaze that has failed to see the wisdom contained within its values and teachings. Cultural stories were often illustrated for children without looking for deeper meanings and codes. These stories didn’t just tell a tale of how the echidna got its spikes, they contained – like parables in the bible – a set of messages about the importance of sharing resources in a hunter-gatherer society and the consequences of selfishness.

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