Jul 272018
 
 July 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The three dancers 1925

 

The Mirage That Will Be Q2-GDP (Roberts)
Household Debt In UK ‘Worse Than At Any Time On Record’ (G.)
BRICS Nations Pledge Unity As Trade War Threatens (AFP)
Facebook’s $120 Billion Rout Biggest Loss In Stock Market History (CNBC)
Trade Deal With EU Greater In Scope Than Expected – US Official (R.)
Macron ‘Not In Favour’ Of Vast New US-EU Trade Deal (AFP)
EU’s Barnier Kills Off Theresa May’s Brexit Customs Proposals (G.)
Trump Threatens Turkey Sanctions Over Detained Pastor (AP)
US Government Misses Judge’s Midnight Deadline For Reunifying Families (Ind.)
Taxation Strangles Greece’s Growth Prospects (WSJ)
Death Toll From Greek Wildfires Rises To 85, Scores Stll Missing (K.)
Only 13% Of World’s Oceans Are Still Untouched Wilderness (Ind.)

 

 

Another great piece by Lance Roberts. Here’s the part on debt. It now takes $3.71 of debt to create $1 of economic growth. That won’t last.

The Mirage That Will Be Q2-GDP (Roberts)

With wage growth stagnant, corporations struggling to pass through rising commodity and tariff related costs and debt service requirements on the rise as the Fed continues to hike rates, the drag from the consumption side of the economic equation will likely dwarf the current boosts in the next two quarters. Furthermore, as I noted previously, tax cuts and reform, tariffs and other fiscal remedies promoted by the current administration fail to address the main drag to economic growth over time. The debt. “It now requires $3.71 of debt to create $1 of economic growth which will only worsen as the debt continues to expand at the expense of stronger rates of growth.”

In fact, as recently noted by our friends at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the U.S. deficit is set to surge. To wit: “The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released its annual mid-session review which updated deficit projections in its fiscal year 2019 budget request. The report projected deficits will reach $1.085 trillion in FY 2019 under their budget, which is double the $526 billion called for in the FY 2018 budget.” The report specifically addresses the biggest point of concern:

“The last time the nation experienced trillion-dollar deficits was during a serious economic downturn, no less – lawmakers took the issue seriouly. PAYGO laws were established, a fiscal commission was formed, new discretionary spending caps were implemented and policymakers entered a multi-year debate on how best to bring down long-term debt levels. This time around, with the emergence of trillion-dollar deficits during a period of economic strength – when we should be saving for future downturns – few seem to even take notice. On our current course, debt will overtake the size of the entire economy in about a decade, and interest will be the largest government program in three decades or less. This will weaken both our economy and our role in the world.”

Read more …

And more debt. And then some more.

Household Debt In UK ‘Worse Than At Any Time On Record’ (G.)

British households spent around £900 more on average than they received in income during 2017, pushing their finances into deficit for the first time since the credit boom of the 1980s. The Office for National Statistics said the shortfall amounted to nearly £25bn – equal to almost a quarter of the NHS budget – and the overspend was mostly paid for with borrowed money, though households also ran down savings. The figures pose a challenge to the government, which was warned last year that Britain’s consumer credit bubble of more than £200 billion was unsustainable. A dramatic rise in debt-fuelled spending since 2016 has also taken place against the backdrop of the Brexit vote, which triggered a rise in inflation at a time of weak wage growth. .

Analysts warned that a squeeze on household incomes from benefit cuts, lacklustre wages and high inflation would continue to force poorer households to borrow more to pay basic bills. Tom Selby, a research analyst at financial adviser AJ Bell, said the figures presented ministers with a significant challenge as they sought “to build financial resilience in the UK”. Researchers at the ONS said the situation was worse than at any time on record after the £25bn deficit last year surpassed the £300m deficit recorded in 1988. British household finances also slumped from being among the most solvent in the 1990s to being among the most indebted compared with households in other major western countries.

Read more …

42% of global GDP.

BRICS Nations Pledge Unity As Trade War Threatens (AFP)

Five of the biggest emerging economies on Thursday stood by the multilateral system and vowed to strengthen economic cooperation in the face of US tariff threats and unilateralism. The heads of the BRICS group – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – met in Johannesburg for an annual summit dominated by the risk of a US-led trade war, although leaders did not publicly mention President Donald Trump by name. “We express concern at the spill-over effects of macro-economic policy measures in some major advanced economies,” they said in joint statement. “We recognise that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. We underscore the importance of an open world economy.”

Trump has said he is ready to impose tariffs on all $500 billion of Chinese imports, complaining that China’s trade surplus with the US is due to unfair currency manipulation. Trump has already slapped levies on goods from China worth tens of billions of dollars, as well as tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico. “We should stay committed to multilateralism,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said on the second day of the talks. “Closer economic cooperation for shared prosperity is the original purpose and priority of BRICS.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who held a controversial meeting with Trump last week, echoed the calls for closer ties among BRICS members and for stronger trade within group. “BRICS has a unique place in the global economy — this is the largest market in the world, the joint GDP is 42% of the global GDP and it keeps growing,” Putin said.

Read more …

For what it’s worth.

Facebook’s $120 Billion Rout Biggest Loss In Stock Market History (CNBC)

Facebook on Thursday posted the largest one-day loss in market value by any company in U.S. stock market history after releasing a disastrous quarterly report. The social media giant’s market capitalization plummeted by $119 billion to $510 billion as its stock price plummeted by 19 percent. At Wednesday’s close, Facebook’s market cap had totaled nearly $630 billion, according to FactSet. No company in the history of the U.S. stock market has ever lost $100 billion in market value in just one day, but two came close. On Sept. 22, 2000, Intel shed $90.74 billion in market value as the dot-com bubble burst. Earlier that year, Microsoft lost $80 billion from its market cap in one day.

Other companies that have experienced similar one-day losses in dollar amount include Apple in 2013, when it lost $59.6 billion, and Exxon Mobil in 2008, when it lost $52.5 billion. Facebook’s enormous loss in value came a day after the company reported weaker-than-expected revenue for the second quarter as well as disappointing global daily active users, a key metric for Facebook. The company also said it expects its revenue growth rate to slow in the second half of this year. Several analysts downgraded Facebook’s stock, including Nomura Instinet’s Mark Kelley. “With stagnating core user growth, we think there is too much near- to mid-term uncertainty to recommend shares at this point,” Kelley, who downgraded the stock to neutral from buy, said in a note.

Read more …

But who’s winning?

Trade Deal With EU Greater In Scope Than Expected – US Official (R.)

The U.S. administration got more out of a trade deal with the European Union than it had expected and the two will work together to deal with China’s market abuses, a top White House official told Reuters on Thursday. President Donald Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, struck a surprise deal on Wednesday that ended the risk of an immediate trade war between the two powers. “The EU came into the conversation and they were open to the proposals we had made about getting rid of tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump agreed on Wednesday to refrain from imposing car tariffs while the two sides launch negotiations to cut other trade barriers. Europe agreed to increase purchases of U.S. liquefied natural gas and lower trade barriers to American soybeans. The official stressed on Thursday that Trump retained the power to implement tariffs on cars if needed and said there was no deadline for the completion of talks. He said Trump was committed to getting zero tariffs from the European Union.= As part of the deal, the United States and Europe will work together on China. The two powers in the past have cooperated on measures to deal with theft of company secrets by Chinese entities.

Read more …

France doesn’t want to include agriculture. It gets 100s of billions in subsidies. So Macron talks about steel instead.

Macron ‘Not In Favour’ Of Vast New US-EU Trade Deal (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he viewed talks between US President Donald Trump and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker as “useful”, but he was “not in favour” of a “vast new trade deal” between the European Union and the United States. “European and France never wanted a trade war and the talks yesterday were therefore useful in as far as they helped scale back any unnecessary tension, and working to bring about an appeasement is useful,” the French leader said after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid. “But a good trade discussion… can only be done on a balanced, reciprocal basis, and in no case under any sort of threat,” Macron said. “In this regard, we have a number of questions and concerns that we will clarify”.

Macron said he was “not in favour of us launching a vast trade agreement, along the lines of the TTIP, because the current context does now allow for that,” referring to a transatlantic free-trade deal which stalled two years ago. And he reaffirmed his opposition to including agriculture in any such deal. “I believe that no European standard should be suppressed or lowered in the areas of the environment, health or food, for example.” Macron went on to insist that “clear gestures are needed from the US, signs of de-escalation on steel and aluminium, on which the United States have imposed illegal taxes. That, for me, would constitute a prelude to making further concrete headway” on trade.

Read more …

Rinse and repeat.

EU’s Barnier Kills Off Theresa May’s Brexit Customs Proposals (G.)

Michel Barnier has warned that attempts to appeal to EU leaders over his head were a waste of time as he rejected Theresa May’s proposals on customs after Brexit, in effect killing off the Chequers plan. On Friday Theresa May travels to Austria to meet Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, before heading off on her summer holiday. May’s trip follows the EU chief Brexit negotiator insisting there was no difference of opinion in European capitals to exploit. “Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want are wasting their time, quite frankly,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, in Brussels.

The British negotiators have become increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude to the white paper thrashed out at the prime minister’s country retreat. They feel that it will take an intervention by leaders, most likely at a summit in Salzburg in September, to move the dial in favour of a deal. A number of cabinet ministers have been despatched around EU capitals to make their case for greater flexibility. The impasse in the negotiations was laid bare in the press conference in the European commission’s Berlaymont headquarters as a thunderstorm broke outside. While Raab insisted that with “political will” a deal on trade and on avoiding a border on the island of Ireland was achievable by a crunch summit in October, Barnier offered a damning verdict on a major element of the UK’s vision of the future.

Read more …

And the lira plunges some more…

Trump Threatens Turkey Sanctions Over Detained Pastor (AP)

President Donald Trump says the U.S. will hit Turkey with “large sanctions” over a American pastor detained on terror and espionage charges, and he called for the pastor’s immediate release. Tweeting from aboard Air Force One, Trump said: “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.” Trump said Brunson “is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”

Just hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence said that if Turkey does not take immediate action to free Brunson, “the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey.” Pence spoke at the close of a three-day conference in Washington on religious freedom. Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was let out of jail Wednesday, after 1 1/2 years, to serve house arrest because of “health problems,” according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

Read more …

Hope Judge Sabraw comes down hard on them. When he set the deadlines a month ago, he said: “These are firm deadlines; they’re not aspirational goals.”

US Government Misses Judge’s Midnight Deadline For Reunifying Families (Ind.)

US lawyers and activists have described “chaos and confusion” at immigrant detention facilities as the Trump administration scrambles to reunify the more than 2,500 migrant children it separated from their parents at the border in recent months. The government is rushing to meet a Thursday night deadline set by US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered all of the families reunified as part of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union last month. As of Tuesday, officials said they had identified 1,634 parents possibly eligible for reunification with their children, and successfully reunified some 1,012 of them. The government was scheduled to provide an updated count to Judge Sabraw on Friday morning.

But the government also said more than 900 parents may not be eligible for reunification because they had waived their right to reunification, had criminal backgrounds, or were otherwise deemed unfit. Some 462 of those parents had already left the country, the administration said, though it was unclear whether they had volunteered to leave or had been deported against their will. Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney on the case, took issue with this number, saying the Trump administration was “unilaterally picking and choosing who is eligible for reunification”. “We will continue to hold the government accountable and get these families back together,” he said in a statement.

Immigrants’ rights groups warned that many of the parents who had left the country already may have done so under duress or coercion, or armed with bad information. Advocates described parents being pressured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to sign paperwork they didn’t understand, or being told that they would not be reunified with their children unless they agreed to be deported.

Read more …

The Wall Street Journal forgets to mention that consumers have nothing left to spend. Growth prospects?

Taxation Strangles Greece’s Growth Prospects (WSJ)

Greece is scheduled to exit its marathon bailout this summer after hitting the tough fiscal targets set by its creditors. But the country has done so by raising taxes so high that they are strangling the small businesses that form the backbone of its economy. At the Dandy restaurant in downtown Athens, owner Charalampos Bonatsos said rising taxes have forced him to lay off half his staff and cut his remaining workers’ wages. He said he still struggles to cope with the last three years’ increases in corporate income tax, property tax and sales tax. “All that matters is reaching the bailout goals. No one cares whether doing business is possible with this policy,” Mr. Bonatsos said.

The tax increases have left Greece with some of Europe’s highest tax rates across several categories, including 29% on corporate income, 15% on dividends, and 24% on value-added tax (a rough equivalent of U.S. sales tax). Individuals pay as much as 45% income tax, plus an extra “solidarity levy” of up to 10%. Furthermore, workers and employers pay social-security levies of up to 27% of their salaries. The elevated taxes under Greece’s bailout program have fallen most heavily on small and midsize businesses and self-employed people. Lawyers and engineers, most of whom are self-employed, are fighting the government in court over having to pay what they say is up to 80% of their average monthly takings in taxes and levies.

Some also have to pay retroactive social-security contributions, to the point where professional associations say some of their members are having to pay more to the state than they make. The painfully high taxes reflect the tough demands of Greece’s main creditors: other eurozone countries led by Germany, and the IMF. Since Greece’s finances spun out of control, its bailout lenders have forced the country to cut its budget deficit from over 15% of GDP in 2009 to a surplus of around 1% in 2017. [..] The tax burden creates a serious disincentive for economic activity. It mainly hits the most productive part of the Greek society,” said George Pagoulatos, professor of economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Greece resembles Scandinavian-style taxation, but its welfare state has nothing to compare to theirs: You don’t get anything in return.”

Read more …

Words fail. Yesterday, heavy rains flooded areas 25km from Mati.

Death Toll From Greek Wildfires Rises To 85, Scores Stll Missing (K.)

The death toll from the deadly blaze that ravaged the coastal town of Mati in east Attica on Monday rose to 85 on Thursday, after a 73-year-old man who was in intensive care in Athens’ Evangelismos hospital died and two more bodies were discovered by rescue crews. Earlier in the day, a fire service spokesperson told journalists the number had risen to 82. Stavroula Malliri said rescuers are looking for missing people but have not yet entered closed houses in affected areas. About 300 firemen and volunteers combed through the area looking for dozens reported missing, among them two 9-year old sisters.

“Understanding the agony of the relatives of those missing, we inform you that the search to find them will not stop until all buildings and areas affected by the blaze have been checked,” she told journalists. Malliri called on the relatives of those missing to visit the forensics department of the University of Athens in Goudi until Friday (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) where they will be briefed about the procedure followed to identify the victims. The Infrastructure Ministry announced earlier on Thursday that 1,218 buildings (48.93 pct) out of the 2,489 assessed by its engineers since Tuesday were deemed uninhabitable.

Read more …

Don’t worry, we’ll get to that yet.

Only 13% Of World’s Oceans Are Still Untouched Wilderness (Ind.)

The area of the ocean that remains undamaged by humans is tiny, according to the first ever comprehensive analysis of “marine wilderness”. Global shipping, fishing operations and pollution running into the sea from land have all taken their toll on the world’s seas, including some of the most remote areas. Areas of true wilderness are vital as they are some of the most diverse parts of the ocean and the last places on Earth still inhabited by sizeable numbers of large predators like sharks. Even the few fragments that remain are threatened as advanced fishing technologies and melting sea ice expose them to human activity. Most of the remaining wilderness, which covers no more than 13% of the world’s oceans, can be found in the polar regions and around remote Pacific Island nations.

The scientists behind the study have called for international agreements to recognise the unique value of these zones. Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland, who led the research, said they were “astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains”. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem,” he said. Crucially, less than 5% of the remaining wilderness is officially protected. “This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before,” explained Mr Jones. “Thanks to a warming climate, even some places that were once safe due to year-round ice cover can now be fished.”

Read more …

Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 29 2018


Paul Gauguin The wave 1888

 

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)
Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)
Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)
Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)
The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)
Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)
May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)
Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)
The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)
The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)
Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)
Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)
Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

 

 

Stormy Daniels boosts Da Donald’s stats. What’s not to like?

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)

The last few days have seen a rapid rush to the ‘safe-haven’ dollar, stalling a seemingly non-stop drop in the world’s reserve currency.

Which raises the question, is the correlation between President Trump’s approval rating and ‘king dollar’ about to reignite?

President Trump’s approval rating has been rising since the start of the year, and the results from the most recent presidential job approval survey by CNN shows that Donald Trump is now at an 11-month high. Although he still has majority disapproval, 42% of respondents are currently giving him a thumbs up – the highest rate recorded by CNN since March 2017 where the president was on 44%. So how, during a time of seemingly endless scandals trying to burst their way into the public sphere, is Trump seemingly on the up? [..] Despite being criticized from some corners for his protectionist approach, Trump following through on his America First campaign promises is seemingly helping to win some voters back around. In many ways, the road ahead is looking far from smooth for the president, but having come through scandal and controversy relatively unscathed in the past, who knows where this current wave will lead.

Read more …

Just on rumors Trump doesn’t like them. Wait till he starts tweeting on the topic.

Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)

Move over, Facebook. U.S. investors have a new punching bag among the FAANGs: Amazon.com, Inc. Facebook Inc. gave up the top loser spot to Amazon.com, which lost $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that President Donald Trump is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce behemoth. The social media giant had previously underperformed the tech megacap group amid concern over the company’s handling of its users’ personal information. The FAANG stocks, once assumed to be a monolith of performance, have suffered degrees of decoupling recently, including the outperformance by Netflix Inc. earlier in the year.

Amazon.com fell as much as 7.4% Wednesday before paring some losses to close 4.4% lower after a Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst said the weakness created a buying opportunity. Facebook diverged from the group in early trading, rallying 0.5% after announcing it’s redesigning a menu of privacy settings in response to public outrage over the user data practices. Netflix was the second-biggest loser in the FAANG group of stocks, sliding 5% on the heels of the #DeleteNetflix campaign. “Netflix and Amazon haven’t really experienced the intense selling that Facebook did,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. “The ‘flu’ that Facebook got is now spreading to the others.”

Read more …

There’s only one real mistake here: the Fed itself.

Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)

Uncertainty over trade policy may be the primary driver of the U.S. stock market at the moment, but the real policy risk facing equities could be coming from the Federal Reserve, with the potential downside a lot more pronounced than investors are currently anticipating. Last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the economic outlook had strengthened, but he painted a mixed picture about what policy might look like going forward. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates but indicated it would only do a total of three rate hikes in 2018, which some saw as a dovish signal given that a number of investors had expected four this year. However, the Fed pushed up its expected rate path in 2019 and 2020.

Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel, said it was a concern that the Fed’s view for 2019 and 2020 had grown more hawkish, which raised the risk of the central bank making a policy mistake. “What matters for investors is that any decline is likely to be unusually rapid and occur as a result of P/E compression, resulting from policy risks not weak GDP,” he wrote in a research report. “Investors need a bit more acrophobia, as our best model points to a bear market and lost decade for stocks.” Bannister argued the new Fed, under Powell, “wishes to fade the ‘Fed put,’” or the idea that the central bank would step in to prop up falling equity prices. “The cost may be a 16% P/E drop,” he wrote, referring to price-to-earnings, a popular measure of equity valuation.

The Fed is expected to regularly raise rates over the coming years, and some investors think it may hasten its pace of increases to rates in the event that inflation returns to the market in a more pronounced fashion. “Maybe it is not that the Fed has actually made an error, perhaps it is fear the Fed may make an error,” Stifel wrote (emphasis in original). “The late-2010s echo the late-1990s as ‘bookends’ for global imbalances. Unlike the yield curve inversion in [the first half of the 2000s] in anticipation of 2% inflation that led to an S&P 500 peak, investors may simply worry that the same outcome is possible in this cycle, causing equities to decline.”

Read more …

And now I can’t get that song out of my head anymore.

Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)

Elon Musk’s creditors are suddenly having a serious bout of buyer’s remorse. In August, they lined up for the chance to finance Tesla’s ambitious rollout of its Model 3 sedan. Wooed by Musk’s personal appeals, bond investors pretty much ignored the carmaker’s prolific cash burn and repeated failures to meet production targets and lent it $1.8 billion at record-low interest rates. But now, after a spate of fresh setbacks in the past week, including a fatal Tesla crash and a credit-rating downgrade, bondholders are asking hard questions about whether Musk can deliver on his bold promise to bring electric cars to the masses before the company runs out of cash. On Wednesday, Tesla’s notes plunged to a low of 86 cents on the dollar, the clearest sign yet creditors aren’t totally sure the company will be money good.

“It’s getting worse and worse every single day” for Tesla, said Bill Zox at Diamond Hill Investment Group. “That’s the nature of being in this negative feedback loop. Everyone is worried.” The consequences are significant. Tesla’s woes have played out most visibly in the stock market, with its shares suffering a two-day, 15% drop that’s the biggest since 2016. But surging borrowing costs, which are now near 8%, could hamper the carmaker’s ability to finance itself at a critical time. The company, which has never shown an annual profit in the 15 years since it was founded, will need to raise over $2 billion to cover not only its cash burn this year, but also about $1.2 billion of debt that comes due by 2019, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Bruce Clark said in a report Tuesday.

Read more …

One of a million pieces denouncing Bolton. Can’t we send Stormy Daniels to his hotel room?

The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)

There is no daylight between the ethos of a thug with a lead pipe shaking down a pedestrian for money and John Bolton, except that one has a J.D. from Yale. Bolton is particularly dangerous because he combines devotion to the ruthless exercise of power for American interests with a glassy-eyed faith in the durability of that same power. Anyone even remotely in touch with reality will have viewed the past two decades as a profound lesson in the limits of American military might — a fact that, ironically, helped Trump come to power. Not Bolton. Despite the ever worsening failure of the war he so desperately wished for, he has been heedlessly slavering for ever more destruction, still entranced by schoolboy myths about American power that the Right long ago turned into a near-evangelical worldview.

Unless Trump grows tired of Bolton’s mustache in record time, the Korean peninsula or the Middle East is very likely headed for war. Yet despite what Bolton thinks — and despite the Democrats’ abdication of this responsibility under Obama — a president cannot declare war without congressional authorization. The question is whether Congress will finally reassert this role under Trump or simply line up behind him. The good news is that Democrats are poised to make significant gains in this year’s midterms, including possibly retaking the House. The bad news is that if they do, they will do so with one of the most conservative and militaristic batch of new Democrats in modern memory.

Whatever happens, Bolton’s dismaying rise to power couldn’t have happened without the Reagan and Bush presidencies that liberals and centrists are now so eager to rehabilitate. Nor could it have happened without the many news outlets that have provided him a platform and legitimized him as a serious foreign policy thinker, instead of the deluded fanatic that he is. Perhaps this will spur some soul-searching, but let’s take things one day at a time.

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Yeah. No. This does it for me. They’re making it up one chapter at a time.

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months, after the father and daughter were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury earlier this month.

Local police have retaken control of The Maltings shopping centre, where the Skripals were first discovered, and London Road cemetery from counter-terrorism detectives, where officers focused their investigation into the nerve agent attack in previous weeks. More than 130 people could have been exposed to the chemical weapon in the aftermath of the poisoning in Salisbury, which the UK government believes was committed by the Russian state. In response to the poisoning, more than 150 Russian officials have been expelled from more than 25 countries, and the UK government is considering further measures to punish Russia, including a ban on the City of London from selling Russian sovereign debt.

Public health experts are still working to establish whether the nerve agent attack presents a long term risks to Salisbury’s residents, which will receive a £1m support package from central government to help recover. Deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said: “At this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door. “We are therefore focusing much of our efforts in and around their address. Those living in the Skripals’ neighbourhood can expect to see officers carrying out searches as part of this but I want to reassure them that the risk remains low and our searches are precautionary.”

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Translation: City tells May what to do.

May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)

Theresa May has agreed to look into imposing a ban on the City of London from helping Russia to sell its sovereign debt, which prop ups the Russian economy. Last month, City clearing houses, working alongside a major sanctioned Russian bank, helped issue $4bn (£2.83bn) of eurobonds to finance Russian sovereign debt, of which nearly half was sold in London markets. Nearly half the debt was bought by London-based investors, predominantly institutional investors. A loophole in EU and UK legislation has allowed sanctioned Russian banks, primarily VTB bank, to act as the main organisers – known as book runners – for the issuance of Russian debt.

A public call for the loophole to be closed has been made three times in the past week by the foreign affairs select committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat. On each occasion ministers seemed to be unaware of the issue, but the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week described the idea as interesting. Speaking to the liaison committee of MPs on Tuesday, the prime minister said she would report back on the policy options. The foreign affairs select committee is setting up an inquiry into how the UK financially props up Vladimir Putin’s allies, and the measures the UK has taken to clamp down on corrupt Russian money in London.

Tugendhat has been briefed by a British research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Emile Simpson, who has argued Russia’s greatest weakness is its dependence on western investors. He contends a policy blindness leads the west to sanction individuals, and sometimes sectors, but not to look at sanctioning the Russian state as a whole. He said: “At present, Russia can borrow in EU and US capital markets despite western sanctions and then can support the sanctioned Kremlin-linked banks and energy companies that can no longer do so”. Tugendhat has proposed that Russian bond sales are no longer made available to key western clearing houses such as Euroclear and Clearstream, making them effectively untradeable on the secondary market and so deterring the majority of EU and US investors from buying them.

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Know why? Skripal.

Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)

Ecuador has cut Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy, where the founder of the whistleblowing WikiLeaks website has been living for nearly six years. The Ecuadorian government said in statement that it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”. It said Assange’s recent behaviour on social media “put at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations”. The move came after Assange tweeted on Monday challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury earlier this month.

The WikiLeaks founder also questioned the decision by the UK and more than 20 other countries to retaliate against the poisoning by expelling Russian diplomats deemed spies. Assange has lived in the embassy since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sex crimes he denies. Sweden has dropped the case but Assange remains subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail and fears he will be extradited to the US for questioning about WikiLeaks’ activities if he leaves the embassy building.

[..] Assange’s comments on the nerve agent attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia prompted the British foreign office minister Alan Duncan to call him a “miserable little worm” during a Commons debate on Tuesday. Duncan said he should leave the embassy and surrender to British justice. Assange replied: “Britain should come clean on whether it intends to extradite me to the United States for publishing the truth and cease its ongoing violation of the UN rulings in this matter. “If it does this disgraceful impasse can be resolved tomorrow. I have already fully served any theoretical (I haven’t been charged) ‘bail violation’ whilst in prison and under house arrest. So why is there a warrant for my arrest?”

The former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and the music producer Brian Eno said in a statement they had heard “with great concern” about Assange’s lost internet access. “Only extraordinary pressure from the US and the Spanish governments can explain why Ecuador’s authorities should have taken such appalling steps in isolating Julian,” they pair said, adding Assange had only recently been granted citizenship. “Clearly, Ecuador’s government has been subjected to bullying over its decision to grant Julian asylum, support and ultimately, diplomatic status.”

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In the end, it’s simple.

The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)

How do you know a major financial crisis is coming? Look for a spike in privately held debt, by households and corporations. That’s the argument of Richard Vague, author of The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. Having worked for more than 30 years in consumer banking, Vague describes how he saw the build-up of private debt in the mortgage and credit card industries first hand–even though it’s an issue that neoclassical economists like Milton Friedman barely acknowledge. To avoid another crisis, Vague says firms and governments need to take debt forgiveness–the biblical “jubilee”–seriously. As he says, after the financial crisis “We helped the banks, we didn’t help the households.”

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We wish Yanis godspeed.

The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)

Yanis Varoufakis is back to rescue Greece and rock the European establishment again. Or so he hopes. On Monday night the flamboyant former finance minister, who enraged European authorities at the height of Greece’s debt crisis in 2015, launched his new Greek political party at a theater here. That year, his country bowed to strict austerity demands. Now his solution to Greece’s sky-high debt is the same as his unsuccessful push before: to show creditors who’s boss. If elected, he told the gathering of around 300 people, he will run looser budgets. Greek banks will be revived with public money. He will swap Greece’s bonds for new ones whose payments depend on economic growth.

These and other policies to end Greece’s “debt colony status” will be implemented on day one, he said. And this time, unlike in 2015, he vowed there will be no negotiation with Europe, no surrender. His party is called the European Realistic Disobedience Front. His refrain is that Europe’s establishment is unrealistic, not him. “When they start sending orders, they will receive strong disobedience,” he said. “They will have to bear the cost of defenestrating us from the euro, or accept our policies,” he said to warm applause.

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Here comes Merkel’s biggest nightmare. She deserves it. The refugees do not.

Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)

Authorities on the Aegean islands were on standby on Wednesday after nearly 300 migrants reached Lesvos on eight boats following several days without new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. Apart from the 295 people who landed on Lesvos, another 50 migrants arrived on Kos. Sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry expressed concern about the spike in arrivals, noting that no boats reached the islands on Monday, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was meeting with European Union leaders in Varna, Bulgaria, for talks that touched on an EU-Turkey migration pact signed in March 2016. The diplomatic stance struck by Erdogan in Varna was in sharp contrast to a string of threats and hostile language against Greece last week. Ministry sources said the next few days would indicate whether the increase in arrivals represents a new trend or not.

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I’ve said it many times before: this risks getting terribly out of hand. He doesn’t mention Turkey by name of course.

Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Wednesday sought to send another firm message to Ankara amid increasingly hostile rhetoric from across the Aegean as a Greek military readiness exercise got under way in the southern Aegean. “Greece will strongly support its borders and those of Europe,” Pavlopoulos said during a visit to the Salamina naval base, repeating that “there are no gray zones” in the Aegean. Defending “international legitimacy… is not simply our right, it is also our duty to the international community,” he said. The president, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, once again called on Turkey to respect international laws and treaties, noting that the only issue of dispute between the two countries relates to the delineation of the continental shelf.

Pavlopoulos said he observed the “readiness of the country’s navy to defend our national sovereignty and borders, and consequently the borders of the European Union.” Kammenos had ordered the one-day exercise, code-named Pyrpolitis (Fire-raiser), to be carried out in the Aegean, northwest of Rhodes, following a long meeting with military officials on Tuesday night, during which the recent activity of Turkish armed forces in the region was discussed. The exercise involved a Hellenic Navy frigate, assault and transport helicopters and a Zubr military hovercraft carrying members of the special forces, and also saw the participation of Hellenic Air Force planes.

The aim of the exercise was to test the readiness of Greek armed forces in a crisis scenario, such as the need to recapture an islet. It was completed successfully at the end of the day without any signs of Turkish transgressions of Greek air space or territorial waters. However, Turkey’s National Security Council issued a stern message on Wednesday, toward Greece as well as the European Union and US, declaring that it will not give up its claims in the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and northern Syria, where Turkish troops have occupied Afrin.

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Well, that was fast… Did make a screenshot last night though.

Surprised? Neh… Some people are just so lost they will never be found.

Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

The Guardian has taken down its Greece crisis-porn holiday package “Greece and the Euro” after a shitstorm on social media. Not only Greeks but also foreigners, among them many from UK, slammed the daily for offering a vacation tour to the debt-ridden country under the perspective meet the suffering Greeks at £2,500 for 7 days. The tour package was taken down sometime late on Wednesday evening. In a statement to Greek media correspondent in London, Thanassis Gavos, the Guardian said: “The Guardian has been working with Political Tours to provide informative trips to Greece and other countries for people who wish to develop their understanding of the political and social landscapes in these places. On reflection we have now paused this project in order to reconsider our approach. All Political Tours/Guardian packages to Greece, Bosnia, Ukraine have been removed from site.”

In other words what the daily says is we will find other ways, less obviously insulting to exploit the suffering of people in areas of economic crisis and wars in the future. In the company of journalists, including the daily’s correspondent in Athens, the happy but crisis conscious traveler will swill wine and then go visit Greek families who will unfold their daily drama in front of people they have never seen before and who have paid to listen to them. It is unknown whether the Greek crisis victims will get a small commission for being live witnesses of an 8-year-old economic crisis. NGOs on the island of Samos and the port of Piraeus will explain every facet of the Refugee Crisis and drama.

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Mar 172018
 


Times Square NYC ca. 1909

 

Higher Interest Rates To Spell Private Debt Trouble in Many Countries (BBG)
The US Economy Is Not Really Growing (RIA)
US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion (WS)
Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats In Retaliation (Ind.)
EU Ready To Hit Big US Tech Firms With 3% Turnover Tax (R.)
Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 2 (Stockman)
School Daze (Jim Kunstler)
‘America’s New Vietnam’: The Homelessness Crisis Seems Unsolvable (G.)
An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves? (G.)
China To Bar People With Bad ‘Social Credit’ From Planes, Trains (R.)
Global Biodiversity Crisis Puts Mankind At Risk (AFP)

 

 

What’s kept us alive will kill us off.

Higher Interest Rates To Spell Private Debt Trouble in Many Countries (BBG)

Hong Kong, Sweden, China and Australia could all find themselves in hot water over private-sector debt if borrowing costs rise, according to research by Oxford Economics. That’s because those countries all have a particularly high share of floating-rate debt in relation to economic output. If interest rates increase, households and companies are likely to feel the pinch, the study of 16 economies found. With global economic momentum picking up, several major central banks are weighing steps to tighten policy, though the pace of movement varies significantly. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again next week and economists also predict that Sweden’s Riksbank will tighten policy later this year.

Oxford Economics estimated that an interest rate rise of 100 basis points would raise Hong Kong’s debt service ratio by around 2.5% of GDP after a year, while Sweden, China and Australia would experience increases of between 1.5% and 1.7% of GDP. By contrast, Germany, where debt levels are moderate, as well as France and the U.S. are less likely to suffer. For the latter two, that’s because mortgages are typically of fixed rate.

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It’s embarrassing that we need this to be pointed out.

The US Economy Is Not Really Growing (RIA)

Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% experienced in the 50 years prior to 2008. As a result of the combination of slow economic growth and deficit spending, most people are also aware that the debt/GDP ratio has been rising. However, what most people don’t know is that, over the past ten years, the dollar amount of cumulative government deficit spending exceeded the dollar amount of GDP growth. Put another way, in the absence of deficit spending, GDP growth would have been less than zero for the past decade. Could that be true?

Let’s begin with a shocking chart that confirms the statements above, and begins to answer the question. The black line shows the difference between quarterly GDP growth and the quarterly increase in Treasury debt outstanding (TDO). When the black line is above zero (red dotted line), the dollar amount is GDP is growing faster than the increase in TDO. From 1971 to 2008, the amount of GDP typically grew at a faster rate than the increase in TDO, which is why the black line is generally above the red dotted line.

Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% During the 1971-2008 period, inflation, budget deficits, and trade deficits varied widely, meaning that the relationship between GDP growth and TDO was stable even in the face of changes in other economic variables. Regardless of those changing economic variables, the US economy tended to grow at a pace faster than TDO for four decades. The only interruptions to the pattern occurred during recessions of the early 1980s, early 1990s, and early 2000s when GDP fell while budget deficits did not.

[..] From 2008-2017, GDP grew by $5.051 trillion, from $14.55 trillion to $19.74 trillion. During that same period, the increase in TDO totaled $11.26 trillion. In other words, for each dollar of deficit spending, the economy grew by less than 50 cents. Or, put another way, had the federal government not borrowed and spent the $11.263 trillion, GDP today would be significantly smaller than it is. It is possible to transform Chart 1, which shows annual changes in TDO and GDP from 1970-2017, into Chart 3 below, which shows the cumulative difference between the growth of TDO and GDP over the entire period from 1970-2017. The graph below clearly shows the abrupt regime change that occurred in the aftermath of the GFC. A period in which growth in GDP growth exceeded increases in TDO has been replaced by a period in which increases in TDO exceeded GDP growth.

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“These dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see.”

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1.2 Trillion in 6 Months, Hits $21 Trillion (WS)

The US gross national debt jumped by $72.8 billion in one day, on Thursday, the Treasury Department reported Friday afternoon. This March 16 is a historic date of gloomy proportions, because on this date, the US gross national debt punched through the $21 trillion mark and reached $21.03 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, a little over six months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.84 trillion. In those six-plus months – 132 reporting days, to be precise – the gross national debt spiked by $1.186 trillion. I tell you, these dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see. And we wonder: What was that? Where did it go?

Whatever it was and wherever it went, it added 6% to the gross national debt in just 6 months. And with 2017 GDP at $19.74 trillion in current dollars, the gross national debt now amounts to 106.4% of GDP. In the chart below, the flat spots are the various debt-ceiling periods. This is a uniquely American phenomenon when Congress forbids the Administration to borrow the money that it needs to borrow in order to spend it on the things that Congress told the Administration to spend it on via the appropriation bills. So that’s where we are, on this glorious day of March 16, 2018:

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So many holes have been pointed out in ‘the official story’ that not much of it remains standing.

Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats In Retaliation (Ind.)

Russia has announced it will expel 23 British diplomats in response to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain. The move marks the latest development in the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday morning that the 23 diplomatic representatives of the British Embassy in Moscow should leave Russia within a week. The ministry also said all activities by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations, would cease in Russia and that the planned reopening of the British consulate in St Petersburg would no longer go ahead. The ministry warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.

Shortly before the announcement, British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the foreign ministry for talks, where he learned of the retaliation measures. As he left the ministry, Mr Bristow said: “This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the UK, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Russia is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Act.” The retaliation from Russia comes four days after Theresa May announced that 23 Russian diplomats would be expelled from Britain after Russia missed a deadline to provide an explanation for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both remain critically ill in hospital.

Russia has continued to dismiss accusations of Russian culpability for the attack and to deny possessing Novichok, the nerve agent used in the incident. On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, saying it was “overwhelmingly likely” Mr Putin personally ordered the assassination attempt. Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, responded to the verbal escalation with a further denial of the state’s involvement. “Any reference or mention of our President in this connection is nothing but a shocking and unforgivable violation of the diplomatic rules of propriety,” Mr Peskov said.

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Once Europe does this, will other ‘entities’ follow?

EU Ready To Hit Big US Tech Firms With 3% Turnover Tax (R.)

Large companies with significant digital revenues in the European Union such as Google and Facebook could face a 3% tax on their turnover under a draft proposal by the European Commission seen by Reuters. The proposal, expected to be adopted next week and still subject to changes, updates an earlier draft which envisaged a tax rate of between 1 and 5%. The tax, if backed by EU states and lawmakers, would only apply to large firms with annual worldwide revenues above 750 million euros (£662.2 million) and annual “taxable” revenues above 50 million euros in the EU. The threshold for EU revenues has been raised from 10 million euros initially foreseen to exempt smaller companies and emerging start-ups from the tax.

Large U.S. firms such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon could also be hit by the new levy, which would apply across the 28 EU countries. Big tech firms have been accused by large EU states of paying too little tax in the bloc by re-routing some of their profits to low-tax member states like Ireland and Luxembourg. Services that will be taxed are digital advertising, which would capture both providers of users’ data like Google, and companies offering ad space on their websites, like popular social media such as Facebook. The tax would be also be levied on online platforms offering “intermediation services,” a concept under which the Commission includes gig economy firms such as Airbnb and Uber. Digital market places, including Amazon, would also be within the scope of the levy.

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True enough: Kudlow was by no means the only one to get it all awfully wrong.

Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 2 (Stockman)

Goldilocks is a conceit of monetary central planning and its erroneous predicate that falsifying financial asset prices is the route to prosperity. In fact, it only leads to immense and unstable financial bubbles which eventually crash – monkey-hammering the purported Goldilocks Economy as they do. It also leads to a complete corruption of the economic and financial narrative on both ends of the Acela Corridor. To wit, the Fed’s serial financial bubbles on Wall Street are falsely celebrated as arising from a booming main street economy. In fact, they are an economic dagger that bleeds it of investment and cash and exposes it to “restructuring” mayhem from the C-suites when the egregious inflation of share prices and stock option values finally gets crushed by another financial meltdown.

In this context, the Washington Post (WaPo) is out this morning with brutal takedown of our friend Larry Kudlow for his ebullient whistling past the graveyard on the eve of the financial crisis and Great Recession. It would be an understatement to say he didn’t see it coming, but it’s also completely unfair not to acknowledge that 95% of Wall Street and 100% of the FOMC were equally bubble-blind. In fact, when Larry Kudlow waxed eloquently in a piece in the National Review about the awesome economy the George Bush Administration had produced in December 2007, he was just delivering the Wall Street consensus forecast for the coming year:

“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told…….In fact, we are about to enter the seventh consecutive year of the Bush boom.”

Well, not exactly. The worst recession since the 1930s actually incepted that very month and 10 months latter came Washington’s hair-on-fire moment when the monetary and fiscal spigots were opened far wider than ever before – bailing out everything that was collapsing, tottering, moving or even standing still.

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Our education system serves uniquely to create pawns in games.

School Daze (Jim Kunstler)

Sunday night was Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s turn through the CBS 60-Minutes wringer of censure with a visibly frustrated inquisitor Lesley Stahl trying to hector her into self-incrimination. The sad truth about American schools is that they’re a mirror for the painful collapse of the society they supposedly serve — a process ongoing for decades before Ms. DeVos came on the scene. The expectation that some uber-regent can or ought to fix public education is bound to disappoint a news media searching for saviors. The further we leave the 20th century behind, the more anomalous its organizing principles look, especially the idea of preparing masses of young people for mass, regimented work at the giant corporate scale.

There’s a big divergence underway between the promises of schooling and the kind of future that the 21st century is actually presenting — of no plausible careers or vocations besides providing “therapy” and policing for the discontented masses stewing in anomie and compensatory pleasure-seeking, with all its nasty side effects. In the meantime, we’re stuck with wildly expensive, out-of-scale, giant centralized schools where the worst tendencies of human status competition are amplified by smart phones and social media to all but eclipse classroom learning.

Education in the years to come is destined to become more of a privilege than a right, and it will probably depend more on how much an individual young person really desires an education than just compelling masses of uninterested or indisposed kids to show up everyday for an elaborate and rather poorly supervised form of day-care. But it’s difficult to let go of old habits and obsolete arrangements, especially when we’ve spent countless billions of dollars on them. I call the future a World Made By Hand because it is going to be entirely unlike the sci-fi robotic fantasy that currently preoccupies the thought-leaders in this culture. A lot of what will be required in this time-to-come will be physical labor and small-scale skilled work in traditional crafts. There never were that many job openings for astronauts, not even in the 1960s, but in the decades ahead there will be none — notwithstanding Elon Musk’s wish to colonize Mars.

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In New York, 111,000 students in the public school system are homeless.

‘America’s New Vietnam’: The Homelessness Crisis Seems Unsolvable (G.)

In Los Angeles, the more the politicians push to solve the city’s festering homelessness crisis, the worse it seems to get. The city leadership has taken one bold step after another: restructuring the budget to free more than $100m a year in homelessness funding, sponsoring one voter-approved initiative to raise more than $1bn for housing and backing another regional proposal to raise the sales tax and generate an estimated $3.5bn for support services over the next decade. And yet the tent cities continue to proliferate, in rich neighborhoods and poor, by the beach, the airport, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and within view of City Hall itself. It’s the sorriest urban scene anywhere in America, and the same voters who not so long ago opened their hearts and their wallets to put an end to it are growing increasingly impatient.

As the numbers of homeless people continue to rise – the latest figures put the countywide number at 58,000, up more than 20% in a single year – and new encampments spring up on sidewalks, under freeways, and along stretches of river and rail lines, the politicians who not so long ago were earning praise for their courage are facing the beginnings of an angry backlash. “How many people have we housed?” the Los Angeles Times asked impatiently in a blistering series of editorials late last month. “How many are we on track toward housing? Is Los Angeles setting the national standard for rapid and effective response to a vexing problem? Or are its leaders merely mastering the art of appearances while passing the buck and hoping things turn around? … Who’s in charge here?”

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Sorry, but that apocalypse is already very much here. ‘Ordinary people’ already have no idea what’s true or real or not.

An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves? (G.)

John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear. The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation.

[..] “Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump. We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.

What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them? Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously. The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.

Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing. But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.

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Would have been nice to see Orwell comment on this.

China To Bar People With Bad ‘Social Credit’ From Planes, Trains (R.)

China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2.

It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1. The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.

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We’re going to figure this one out way too late. The time to stop this is now, not at some future point down the line. But we’re not doing anything at all. We blindly parrot claims about clean energy and electric cars that will allegedly ‘save’ us, because we want to do the saving without paying a price for it that makes our lives one iota less comfy.

Global Biodiversity Crisis Puts Mankind At Risk (AFP)

Earth is enduring a mass species extinction, scientists say – the first since the demise of the dinosaurs and only the sixth in half-a-billion years. The reason? Humanity’s voracious consumption, and wanton destruction, of the very gifts of nature that keep us alive. Starting Saturday, a comprehensive, global appraisal of the damage, and what can be done to reverse it, will be conducted in Colombia. “The science is clear: biodiversity is in crisis globally,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP ahead of a crucial meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “We depend on biodiversity for the food we eat, the water we drink, the clean air we breathe, the stability of weather patterns, and yet our actions are pushing nature’s ability to sustain us to the brink.”

Scientists and government envoys will gather as the 128-member IPBES to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on five monumental assessment reports designed to inform global policymaking into the future. Compiled over the last three years, the reports will provide the most up-to-date picture of the health of the world’s plants, animals and soil. [..] Meeting host Colombia claims to boast the world’s largest variety of birds and orchids and is second only to Brazil in terms of overall species diversity. Paradoxically, decades of conflict have preserved fragile habitats in no-go zones in the country, whose mountainous topography supports 311 different ecosystems.

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Mar 162018
 
 March 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

 

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)
UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)
Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)
Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)
UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)
UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)
More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)
European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)
Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)
EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)
The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)
Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

 

 

Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.

 

 

Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)

[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.

Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:

“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:

“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”

[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’

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People are subject to abuse for questioning the official story. At least Corbyn has the decency to ask for evidence.

UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

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Casino.

Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)

It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.

And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.

The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!

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Household debt. That’s the focal point.

Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)

There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.

So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.

I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).

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You can see the wall ahead that hey’re about to crash into.

UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)

Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.

Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.

He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.

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What QE has brought us. This is a global phenomenon revealed stronger and sooner in Britain because of, but not caused by, Brexit.

UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)

The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.

“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.

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Third world here we come.

More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)

More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.

The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.

[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”

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This is Brussels. Simple as that. The next crony case is already known in the person of Selmayr. More on that soon. There are a few decent people in Brussels, but they don’t have much time left.

European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)

An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.

She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.

[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..

The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”

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Abe had better leave while he can.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.

Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…

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How to spell recovery.

Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)

Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.

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That EU-Turkey refugee deal looks darker by the minute. Dirty politics.

EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)

The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.

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No, really, it’s an industry.

The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)

Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.

My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.

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There are still a few smart people left.

Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.

This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”

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Feb 152018
 
 February 15, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

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When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

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Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

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Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

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Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

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The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

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Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

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Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

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As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

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“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

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It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

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 January 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn The flight into Egypt – a night piece 1651

 

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)
The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)
Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)
Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)
Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)
The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)
Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)
Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)
Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)
Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)
The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s your borrowing that will do you in.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December. Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government. But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.” The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November. The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008). Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher. The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.

At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010. [The next] chart shows household debt service payments as a percentage of after-tax income: “Debt service” is interest + principal payments. With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest. This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows. Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic. What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments. Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008. The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018. However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble. This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble. This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

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Until it does.

The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)

The New Year’s rally has pushed the S&P 500 Index to its best start since the administration of George W. Bush. Now it’s bumping against speed barriers that marked the upper limits of bull markets for decades. Up eight times in the first nine days of 2018, the S&P 500 has broken away from a trend line, its 200-day moving average, with a velocity unseen since 2013, the best year for equities in a generation. The benchmark now sits more than 11% above the level, putting it in the 92nd percentile of momentum, data going back 20 years show. Something has changed in equities. If 2017 was a slow but steady slog, 2018 has been off to the races, with shares rising at four times last year’s daily rate on the back of Donald Trump’s tax package and gathering signs of economic strength.

Forty seven companies in the S&P 500 are already up at least 10% this year, compared with just two down as much. “Even if you were the bullest of the bulls, this crazy rally start to the year took you off guard,” said Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. “We’ve completely run out of ways to describe what’s happening. We get asked a lot, are you seeing anything different that could explain the rally? The answer is no.” Fear of missing out is rampant not just on Wall Street but worldwide. Globally, stock funds saw a $24 billion inflow in the five days through Thursday, the sixth largest weekly total ever. Concern the U.S. stocks have jumped too much too fast prompted Morgan Stanley’s Andrew Sheets to cut the U.S. stocks’s exposure in favor of European equities this week.

Sheets isn’t the only one having a hard time keeping up. The average of 23 strategists predictions is for the S&P 500 to reach 2,914 at year-end. If stocks were to maintain the same upward trajectory they’ve exhibited in the last nine days, it would take roughly two more weeks to reach the strategists’ target. At 3.4 times its book value, the S&P 500 trades at the most expensive level since 2002, while its 14-day relative strength index reached a level unseen since 1996. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 2,786 this week, pushing the spread between the gauge and its 200-day moving average to 11.5%, the widest in five years.

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Because it can.

Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)

The Federal Reserve’s income from operations in 2017 dropped by $11.7 billion to $80.7 billion, the Fed announced today. Its $4.45-trillion of assets – including $2.45 trillion of US Treasury securities and $1.76 trillion of mortgage-backed securities that it acquired during years of QE – produce a lot of interest income. How much interest income? $113.6 billion. It also made $1.9 billion in foreign currency gains, resulting “from the daily revaluation of foreign currency denominated investments at current exchange rates.” For a total income of about $115.5 billion. Those are just “estimates,” the Fed said. Final “audited” results of the Federal Reserve Banks are due in March. This “audit” is of course the annual financial audit executed by KPMG that the Fed hires to do this.

It’s not the kind of audit that some members in Congress have been clamoring for – an audit that would try to find out what actually is going on at the Fed. No, this is just a financial audit. As the Fed points out in its 2016 audited “Combined Financial Statements,” the audit attempts to make sure that the accounting is in conformity with the accounting principles in the Financial Accounting Manual for Federal Reserve Banks. Given that the Fed prints its own money to invest or manipulate markets with – which makes for some crazy accounting issues – the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that apply to US businesses to do not apply to the Fed. This annual audit by KPMG reveals nothing except that the Fed’s accounting is in conformity with the Fed’s own accounting manual.

The Fed pays the banks interest on their “Required Reserves” and on their “Excess Reserves” at the Fed. Excess Reserves are the biggie: As a result of QE, they jumped from $1.7 billion in July 2008, to $2.7 trillion at the peak in September 2014. They’ve since dwindled, if that’s the right word, to $2.2 trillion:

When the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meets to hash out its monetary policy, it also considers what to do with the interest rates that it pays the banks on “Required Reserves” and on “Excess Reserves.” In this cycle so far, every time the Fed has raised its target range for the federal funds rate (now between 1.25% and 1.50%) it also raised the interest rates it pays the banks on “required reserves” and on “excess reserves,” which went from 0.25% since the Financial Crisis to 1.5% now:

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They’ve been working to achieve it for a decade, and now they manage to fool themselves into thinking they got it, it’s not what they want.

Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)

“I‘m disagreeing with that framework,” Rosengren said at the Global Interdependence Center in San Diego, referring to the Fed’s “balanced” approach to achieving a 2% inflation target and full employment. The Fed adopted this framework six years ago and has reaffirmed it each year since. Now, as Fed Governor Jerome Powell prepares to take the reins as Fed chief from Janet Yellen when her term ends early next month, a growing number of Fed policymakers want to rethink that framework. Rosengren’s comments Friday put the sharpest point to date on the debate, suggesting that a strict 2-percent inflation target could force the Fed to slam the brakes on the economy with aggressive rate hikes if the unemployment rate, now at 4.1%, continues to sink. It is already below the level that many economists think can be sustained without putting upward pressure on inflation.

While inflation running stubbornly below 2% has so far allowed the Fed to lift rates only gradually, that may change, Rosengren warned. “My concern is if we get too far away from where we want to be on a sustainable unemployment rate, and we use this current framework, then we will get to a situation where we have to raise rates fast enough that we will actually find it very difficult to get back to full employment without causing a recession,” Rosengren said. Rosengren suggested replacing the 2% inflation target with a target range for inflation of between 1.5% and 3%, in line with actual experience over the last 20 years. Under current conditions of low productivity and labor force growth, he said, the Fed would target inflation at the upper end of that range, and would be more patient with rate hikes.

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“Marketable borrowings..”

Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)

During yesterday’s surprisingly candid remarks by Bill Dudley, the second most important person in the Federal Reserve – the organization that is responsible for the third consecutive and largest ever yet asset bubble in history – said that one risk he was increasingly worried about was, drumroll, elevated asset prices. Because, supposedly, the Fed has little to input in how asset prices came to be where they are… Just as ominous was Dudley’s admission that the second risk he was concerned about is “the long-term fiscal position of the United States” i.e. US debt. Specifically, Dudley said that the Trump tax cut “will increase the nation’s longer-term fiscal burden, which is already facing other pressures, such as higher debt service costs and entitlement spending as the baby-boom generation retires.”

Oddly there was no mention of which administration doubled US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in under a decade, and which organization enabled this to happen by keeping rates at record low levels, while crushing savers, and bailing out habitual gamblers. In any case, now that the narrative has shifted, and Donald Trump will be scapegoated not only for the upcoming “tremendous” market crash – something he has made especially easy by taking credit for every single uptick in the S&P – but also for the inevitable fiscal collapse of the United States, it is time to provide the backing for this particular strawman, and to do that, this morning Dudley’s former employer, Goldman Sachs released a report in which the bank’s chief economist said the he is updating his Treasury issuance forecast to account for recent revised deficit projections.

As a result, US marketable borrowings will more than double from below $500 billion in 2018 to over $1 trillion in 2019 as the debt tsunami finally get going. To build up the strawman, Goldman explains that US borrowing needs will rise for three reasons: First, recently enacted tax reform legislation is estimated to raise the deficit by more than $200bn, on average, each of the next four years, and Congress looks likely approve substantial new spending as well. Second, Fed portfolio runoff will increase the amount of debt the Treasury must issue to the public. Third, the Treasury’s cash balance is likely to rise by around $200bn once a longer-term debt limit suspension is enacted, which will also necessitate additional borrowing.

Goldman expects that the “substantial increase” in borrowing needs will be announced by the Treasury when it lays out its plans at the February quarterly refunding. What Goldman has left unsaid is what happens to interest rates at a time when on one hand US debt supply is set to double and on the other the Fed is set to continue shrinking its balance sheets, the ECB and BOJ are set to accelerate (and begin) tapering their own QEs and when global inflation is expected to keep rising. What is also unsaid is just who will be the marginal buyer of this debt tsunami when central banks increasingly shift away from debt monetization.

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2018 will show us just what bad shape Britain is in.

The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)

You may never have heard of Carillion. There’s no reason you should have. Its lack of glamour is neatly summed up by the name it sported in the 90s: Tarmac. But since then it has grown and grown to become the UK’s second-largest building firm – and one of the biggest contractors to the British government. Name an infrastructure pie in the UK and the chances are Carillion has its fingers in it: the HS2 rail link, broadband rollout, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the Library of Birmingham. It maintains army barracks, builds PFI schools, lays down roads in Aberdeen. The lot. There’s just one snag. For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90%, it’s issued profit warnings, and it’s on to its third chief executive within six months. And this week, the government moved into emergency mode.

A group of ministers held a crisis meeting on Thursday to discuss the firm. Around the table, reports the FT, were business secretary Greg Clark, as well as ministers from the Cabinet Office, health, transport, justice, education and local government. Even the Foreign Office sent a representative. Why did Chris Grayling give the HS2 contract to a company that was already in existential difficulties? That roll call says all you need to know about the public significance of what happens next at Carillion. This is a firm that employs just under 20,000 workers in Britain – and the same again abroad. It has a huge chain of suppliers – and its habit of going in for joint ventures with other construction businesses means that a collapse at Carillion would send shockwaves through the industry and through the government’s public works programme.

To see what this means, take the HS2 rail link, where Carillion this summer was part of a consortium that won a £1.4bn contract to knock tunnels through the Chilterns. If Carillion goes under, what happens to the largest infrastructure project in Europe? What happens to its partners on the deal, British firm Kier, and France’s Eiffage? The project will need to be put back and the taxpayer will almost certainly have to step in. Imagine that same catastrophe befalling dozens of other projects across the UK and you get a sense of what’s at stake. Jobs will be cut, schools will go unbuilt (just a couple of months ago, Oxfordshire county council pulled the plug on a 10-year schools project) – and the government’s entire private finance initiative (PFI) model for building this country’s essential services will be shaken to the core.

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Good cop bad cop.

Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Spanish and Dutch finance ministers have agreed to push for a Brexit deal that keeps Britain as close to the European Union as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra met earlier this week and discussed their common interests in Brexit, according to the person, who declined to be identified. Both have close trade and investment ties and are concerned about the impact of tariffs. They are also worried about losing U.K. contributions to the EU budget, the person said. The pound jumped to the strongest level since the referendum in 2016, trading 1.2% higher at $1.3690.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish Economy Ministry stressed that both ministers support chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s efforts, and said they’re not working together toward a soft Brexit deal. Earlier, a Spanish economy ministry official said that the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. A spokesman for Hoekstra declined to comment. The 27 remaining EU nations maintained a united front in the first phase of divorce talks, though the solidarity is already showing signs of strain as national interests diverge in the face of future trade discussions. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned countries to be disciplined and stick together to protect all their interests, in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. EU countries have delegated the job of negotiations to Barnier.

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Steve reply to the one-dimensional Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s latest issue.

Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)

Modern Economics is as conformist, and bland, as country and western music. This leaves radical thinkers singing the Blues as their voices go unheard. I’ve had an epiphany about my place in the Universe, and I owe it to the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and its special issue on “Rebuilding Macroeconomic Theory.” I am Elwood Blues, and the Universe (the part I inhabit anyway) is Bob’s Country Bunker. Halfway through the classic movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues cons the band into performing at a bar called Bob’s Country Bunker. When his incredulous brother Elwood asks the bar owner’s wife “What kind of music do you usually have here?” she cheerily replies “Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western”.

So that’s it. I’m a Blues singer, and I’m surrounded by Country and Western fans—otherwise known as Mainstream Economists. Their musical spectrum ranges from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton, and if I play anything outside it — say, some Otis Redding or Muddy Waters — they’ll throw beer bottles at me. Sometimes, even full ones. Suddenly, it all makes sense. This epiphany arrived, not as a Divine revelation, but as a tweet (as they would, were Moses alive today; so much more convenient than stone tablets) on January 1, as the Review touted its soon-to-be-released special issue.

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“..how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?”

Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)

The moral panic of “the Resistance” is back in DefCon 1 mode overnight just as the righteousness orgasm of the Golden Globe Awards was wearing off. Mr. Trump’s casual question to a couple of Senators vis-à-vis immigration policy — “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” — pushed the “racism” button at Resistance Central and CNN staged yet another of the orchestrated anxiety attacks it has perfected over the past year. The spotlight in this three-ring circus of perpetual offense, indignation, and alarm shifts back from the alleged sufferings of movie actresses to another intersectional victim group from the Dem/Prog pantheon of oppressed minorities: would-be immigrants-of-color. The President’s vulgar animus proves the charge that at least half the country is a lynch mob.

Of course, the most interesting feature of this neurotic zeitgeist is the displacement dynamic among the political Left as its frantic virtue-signaling attempts to distract everybody else in the room from its own dark and shameful emotions about the composition of American culture. As a born-and-bred Boomer (ex-)liberal from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I can assure you from direct experience that this group has, at best, ambiguous feelings about the lower orders of mankind — my Gawd, did he actually say that? — and, at worst, a certain unmanageable contempt that stirs deep fears of moral failure. Mr. Trump’s remark raises another interesting question that has not received much analysis amidst the latest panic: namely, how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?

I would avouch, contrary to the limp narrative of boom times, that the USA is visibly whirling around the drain in just about every way that matters. Except for the centers of financialization — New York, Washington, San Francisco — most of our cities are hollowed-out wrecks, and visitors to San Francisco will tell you that the place is literally a shithole, from the army of homeless people who, by definition, have no bathrooms. Our ghastly suburbs, where so many formerly middle-class Americans are now marooned in debt, despair, and civic alienation, have no prospects for serving as a plausible living arrangement anymore, and were so badly built in the first place that their journey to ruin is destined to be an epically short leap that will amaze historians of the future roasting ‘possums around their campfires.

All of the important activities in this land have been converted into odious rackets, by which I mean nakedly dishonest money-grubbing scams, especially the two sectors that used to be characterized by first, doing no harm (medicine), and seeking the truth (education). But everything else we do is infected by engineered falsehood and mendacity, including the news media, the law, banking, government, retail commerce, you name it. We’re living in a culture of pervasive control fraud, in which authorities set up looting and asset-stripping operations without any restraint.

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They should be testing us, not the other way around.

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)

Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old.

But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development.

Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.

The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it. The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.

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A loss of 2% oxygen is all it takes.

The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms. The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960. Two% might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life. Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago. Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history. “[Two%] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “That’s actually pretty scary.” Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years. It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

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Jan 122018
 
 January 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Do these people ever consider this perhaps helps Trump? The Man’s on Fire!

 

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)
Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)
South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)
China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)
China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)
Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)
Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)
We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)
Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)
Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)
Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)
Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)
Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

 

 

It’s a slide! It’s a surge! Depends who you ask, and what time of day. Ask again every half hour, or you may miss the big moves. Translation: bitcoin is far from ready for the big leagues. It’s about stability.

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)

Bitcoin steadied Friday after four days of losses for the largest cryptocurrency amid increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world with concerns ranging from investor losses to strains on power systems. Bitcoin was little changed on the day, at $13,467 as of 1:27 p.m. Hong Kong time, reversing an earlier decline. It was down as much as 23% for the week at one point, on track for the deepest decrease since January 2015, according to Bloomberg composite pricing, and is now down about 20%. The token peaked in mid-December soon after the introduction of futures trading on regulated exchanges in Chicago. Among the blows to cryptocurrencies this week was the South Korean justice minister’s reiteration of a proposal to ban local cryptocurrency exchanges, though the comments were later downplayed by a spokesman for the president.

Meanwhile, bitcoin mining is set to become more expensive as China’s government cracks down on the industry, in part out of concerns about power use. In the U.S., scrutiny is set to increase amid concerns about the potential use of cryptocurrencies for fraudulent purposes such as money laundering. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo are set to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on risks tied to bitcoin and its counterparts, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The committee intends to hold a hearing in early February, the person said.

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The reaction scared the sh*t out of Seoul. But they still have to act, because bitcoin’s wide acceptance in the country means it’s a real danger to the whole economy.

Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)

After what has seemed like a non-stop barrage of bad news for crypto bulls from South Korea, we noted some cracks in the foundation of the anti-cryptocurrency push as the ministry of finance refused to support the ministry of justice’s exchange shutdown bill. Tonight we get further clarification that the end of South Korean crypto trading is not nigh as Yonhap reports the various government ministries need more time and more consultations over the mininstry of justice’s plan to ban crypto-exchanges. “The issue of shutting down (cryptocurrency) exchanges, told by the justice minister yesterday, is a proposal by the justice ministry and it needs consultations among ministries,” Kim said.

Ministers reportedly seek a “soft-landing” considering the shock the measures may have on the market is an issue that can result in huge social, economic damage. Additionally Yonhap notes that even if pursued, shutdown of exchanges would take some time as it needs discussion at parliament (it would take months or even years for a bill to become a law). All of which can be roughly translated as – we have no idea of the impact of banning this stuff and just how much damage to the nation’s wealth could occur if we do… The result is a broad-based rally across the major cryptocurrencies… Tens of thousands of people filed an online petition, asking the presidential office to stop the clampdown against cryptocurrency trading. South Korea is home to one of the world’s biggest private bitcoin exchanges, with more than 2 million people estimated to own some of the best-known digital currency.

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Stand up comedian minister: “..a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.”

South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)

South Korea’s finance minister on Friday said that relevant officials need to hold more consultations over the justice ministry’s plan to ban cryptocurrency exchanges in the country. “All government ministries agree on the need for a government response to an overheating in cryptocurrency speculation and for a degree of regulation,” Minister Kim Dong-yeon told reporters, according to news agency Yonhap. “The issue of banning exchanges that the justice minister talked about yesterday is a proposal by the Justice Ministry and it needs more coordination among ministries,” Kim added. He also said that discussion was under way on how the government could reasonably regulate cryptocurrency trading that’s overheating with irrational and speculative behavior, Yonhap reported.

Kim said “a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.” Kim’s comments followed news that the country’s justice ministry appeared to have softened its stance after remarks from its chief on Thursday saw billions wiped off the global cryptocurrency market. The justice ministry explained, according to Yonhap, that the ban was not a done deal in a text message to reporters on Thursday. “The ministry has been preparing a special law to shut down all cryptocurrency exchanges, but we will push for it after careful consideration with related government agencies,” the justice ministry said.

[..] “Justice Minister Park Sang-ki’s remarks regarding the shutdown of cryptocurrency exchanges is one of the measures that have been prepared by the Justice Ministry, but it is not a finalized decision and will be finalized through discussion and a coordination process with each government ministry,” the chief press secretary to President Moon Jae-in said in a statement reported by Yonhap. Even if a bill aiming to ban all cryptocurrency trading is drafted, it will require a majority vote in the country’s National Assembly before it can be enacted into law. That process could take months — or even years.

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This must worry Xi. China sets itself up for a strong reaction. And then? Withdraw back into its own cocoon? Not an option for an export-dependent economy. The shift to domestic consumption has so far failed miserably.

China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)

China’s 2017 trade surplus with the U.S. was $275.81 billion, the country’s customs data showed Friday, according to Reuters. By that data, last year’s surplus is a record high, the wire service reported. For comparison, the previous record was a surplus of $260.8 billion in 2015. The world’s second-largest economy had a surplus of $25.55 billion in December, data showed, compared to $27.87 billion in November. Trade with China is politically sensitive as the world’s second-largest economy runs surpluses against many of its trading partners. President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled tougher action on what he calls unfair practices that have lead to a massive trade deficit with China. Overall, China’s trade balance for 2017 was a surplus of $422.5 billion

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Stocking up on oil and gas instead of Treasuries, just in case Trump launches a trade war.

China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)

China continues to gobble up the world’s commodities, setting new records for consumption of everything from crude oil to soybeans. In a year of flux marked by industrial capacity cuts, environmental curbs and financial deleveraging, demand for raw materials has continued to grow in the world’s biggest consumer, helping drive a second annual gain in global commodity returns. As President Xi Jinping consolidates power behind an economy that may have posted its first full-year acceleration since 2010, there are few signs of the Chinese commodity juggernaut slowing as it rolls into 2018. “China’s economic expansion has been beating expectations since the second half of last year, boosting demand for all kinds of commodities,” Guo Chaohui at China International Capital, said by phone. “We are expecting continued strength in economic growth in 2018 which will keep up the nation’s import appetite.”

Inbound shipments from across the globe – Russia to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – jumped about 10% to average 8.43 million barrels a day in 2017, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Friday. The unprecedented purchases may be bettered in 2018, if import quotas granted by the government to China’s independent refiners are a signal. The first batch of allocations was 75% higher than for 2017. The world’s second-biggest economy is also realizing that the key to winning its war on smog may lie overseas. Record amounts of less-polluting grades of iron ore – typically not available within China – are being pulled in to feed the nation’s mammoth steel industry, with imports rising 5% to 1.07 billion metric tons in 2017.

Purchases of less-polluting ore is only one tactic in China’s war against pollution. Another is curbing coal use and encouraging the use of cleaner natural gas instead. Imports of the fuel via both sea and pipeline surged almost 27% to 68.57 million tons in 2017.

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Coherent.

Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)

What causes the ebbs and flows of the business cycle? In the first of two videos, Chicago Booth’s Amir Sufi argues that one key factor is the financial sector and its willingness to lend. As credit becomes more and more available, the economy booms—but when household debt becomes unsustainable, it sows the seeds for a bust.

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Financial stress at a record low. There’s no stronger stress indicator.

Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)

“So, what am I worried about?” New York Fed President William Dudley, who is considered a dove, asked rhetorically during a speech on Thursday at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in New York City. “Two macroeconomic concerns warrant mention,” he continued. And they are: One: “The risk of economic overheating.” He went through some of the mixed data points, including “low” inflation, “an economy that is growing at an above-trend pace,” a labor market that is “already quite tight,” and the “extra boost in 2018 and 2019 from the recently enacted tax legislation.” Two: The markets are blowing off the Fed. He didn’t use those words. He used Fed-speak: “Even though the FOMC has raised its target range for the federal funds rate by 125 basis points over the past two years, financial conditions today are easier than when we started to remove monetary policy accommodation.”

When the Fed raises rates, its explicit intention is to tighten “financial conditions,” meaning that borrowing gets a little harder and more costly at all levels, that investors and banks become more risk-averse and circumspect, and that borrowers become more prudent or at least less reckless – in other words, that the credit bonanza cools off and gets back to some sort of normal. To get there, the Fed wants to see declining bond prices and therefor rising yields, cooling equities, rising risk premiums, widening yield spreads, and the like. These together make up the “financial conditions.” There are various methods to measure whether “financial conditions” are getting “easier” or tighter. Among them is the weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index, whose latest results were published on Thursday.

The Financial Stress Index had dropped to a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, meaning that financial stress in the markets had never been this low in the data series going back to 1994. Things were really loosey-goosey. On Thursday, the index came in at -1.57, barely above the record low, despite another rate hike and the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization. And this rock-bottom financial stress in the markets is occurring even as short-term interest rates have rocketed higher in response to the Fed’s rate hikes, with the two-year Treasury yield on Thursday closing at 1.96% for the third day in a row, the highest since September 2008.

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Nomi doesn’t really clarify what is radical about events.

We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)

In last year’s roadmap, I forecast that 2017 would end with gold prices up and the dollar index down, both of which happened. I underestimated the number of Fed hikes by one hike, but globally, average short term rates have remained around zero. That will be a core pattern throughout 2018. Central banks may tweak a few rates here and there, announce some tapering due to “economic growth”, or deflect attention to fiscal policy, but the entire financial and capital markets system rests on the strategies, co-dependencies and cheap money policies of central banks. The bond markets will feel the heat of any tightening shift or fears of one, while the stock market will continue to rush ahead on the reality of cheap money supply until debt problems tug at the equity markets and take them down.

Central bankers are well aware of this. They have no exit plan for their decade of collusion. But a weak hope that it’ll all work out. They have no dedicated agenda to remove themselves from their money supplier role, nor any desire to do so. Truth be told, they couldn’t map out an exit route from cheap money even if they wanted to. The total books of global central banks (that hold the spoils of QE) have ballooned by $2 Trillion in assets (read: debt) over 2017. That brings the amount of global central banks holdings to more than $21.7 trillion in assets. And growing. Teasers about tapering have been released into the atmosphere, but numbers don’t lie.

That’s a hefty cushion for international speculation. Every bond a central bank buys or holds, gets a price-lift. Trillions of dollars of such buys have artificially lifted all bond prices, and stocks because of the secondary-lift effect and rapacious search for self-perpetuating returns. Financial bubbles pervade the world. Central bank leaders may wax hawkish –manifested in strong words but tepid actions. Yet, overall, policies will remain consistent with those of the past decade to combat this looming crisis. US nationalistic trade policies will push other nations to embrace agreements with each other that exclude the US and shun the US dollar.

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Jean-Michel Paul, founder and Chief Executive of Acheron Capital in London, says: “..one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash.. “. Well, not in my circles, which talk ONLY about that.

Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)

Back in November, former Fed chief Janet Yellen described the current low level of inflation as a “mystery.” Despite a small pickup in prices, Europe has the same mystery to solve: Economic confidence in the euro area is at its highest point for a decade, according to the European Commission’s measure, released this week. But there’s no sign of the inflation that you’d normally expect with that kind of economic upsurge. The ECB minutes from December, released Thursday, show some in the ECB are similarly baffled by what they call a “disconnect” between the real economy and prices. With QE having multiplied the amount of fiat money issued by central banks in just a few years, it’s fair to wonder: How come it didn’t trigger much higher levels of inflation than what we now see?

The technical answer is that the money created has ended up full circle – on the books of the central banks. The more fundamental answer is that QE resulted in a wealth increase for the richest, who consume relatively little of their revenue, while the middle class and the neediest largely failed to reap any benefit. Having not gained from QE, their consumption has not risen, leaving prices pretty much flat. There are many problems with this, from growing inequality to pressures on social cohesion. But one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash, as Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the investment firm GMO, argued in a note last week. He predicts a “melt-up” – where investors pile into assets as prices rise – followed by a significant decline “of some 50%.”

[..] central bankers are still using inflation as a measure to gauge how much more QE they should proceed with. The ECB has repeatedly justified QE expansion because its goal of 2 percent consumer inflation remains unmet. [..] British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, commenting on the Grantham thesis recently in the Daily Telegraph, put the challenge now in the starkest possible terms, as a threat not simply to the recovery but to democracy: “The central banks themselves entered into a Faustian Pact from the mid-Nineties onwards, falsely thinking it safe to drive real interest rates ever lower with each cycle, until they became ensnared in what the Bank for International Settlements calls a policy “debt trap”. This has gone on so long, and pushed debt ratios so high, that the system is now inherently fragile. The incentive to let bubbles run their course has become ever greater.”

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Can’t decide if this is hard to believe, or entirely normal by now.

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)

In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc.’s office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event. Like managers at Uber’s hundreds of offices abroad, they’d been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they’d obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don’t expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn’t most companies. The ride-hailing startup’s reputation for flouting local labor laws and taxi rules has made it a favorite target for law enforcement agencies around the world. That’s where this remote system, called Ripley, comes in. From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven’t been previously reported. The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices.

This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol. Employees aware of its existence eventually took to calling it Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies. The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” [..] Uber deployed Ripley routinely as recently as late 2016, including during government raids in Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Paris, say the people with knowledge of the matter. The tool was developed in coordination with Uber’s security and legal departments, the people say. The heads of both departments, Joe Sullivan and Salle Yoo, left the company last year.

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Monsanto wants a monopoly on all the world’s food. If you don’t stop them now, it’ll soon be too late.

Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)

At the recent Codex meeting in Berlin, there was an attempt to define genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients as ‘biofortified’ and therefore mislead consumers. This contravened the original Codex mandate for defining biofortification. That definition is based on improving the nutritional quality of food crops through conventional plant breeding (not genetic engineering) with the aim of making the nutrients bioavailable after digestion. The attempt was thwarted thanks to various interventions, not least by the National Health Federation (NHF), a prominent health-freedom international non-governmental organization and the only health-freedom INGO represented at Codex. But the battle is far from over.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) convened in Berlin during early December and drafts provisions on nutritional aspects for all foods. It also develops international guidelines and standards for foods for special dietary uses that will be used to facilitate standardized world trade. Based upon previous meetings, the initial intention of the Committee was to craft a definition for biofortification that could then be used uniformly around the World. Biofortification originally referred to increasing certain vitamin and mineral content of basic food crops by way of cross-breeding, not genetic engineering, for example by increasing the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes so that malnourished populations would receive better nutrition.

However, according to president of the NHF, Scott Tips, Monsanto wants to redefine the definition to include GE ‘biofortified’ foods and it has seemingly influenced Codex delegates in that direction. Tips says, “I am sure that Monsanto would be thrilled to be able to market its synthetic products under a name that began with the word ‘bio’.” [..] Including GE foods within any definition of biofortification risks consumer confusion as to whether they are purchasing organic products or something else entirely. “Monsanto seeks to cash in on the organic market with the loaded word ‘bio’,” argues Scott Tips. At the Codex meeting in Berlin, Tips addressed the 300 delegates in the room. “Although NHF was an early supporter of biofortification, we have since come to see that the concept is in the process of being hijacked and converted from something good into something bad,” explained Tips.

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Luckily the CIA is still dividing the people in the Congo. And making money selling all sides weapons.

Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)

When BMW revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600. Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day. For carmakers vying to fill their fleets with electric vehicles, the spike has been a rude awakening as to how much their success is riding on the scarce silvery-blue mineral found predominantly in one of the world’s most corrupt and underdeveloped countries. “It’s gotten more hectic over the past year,” said Markus Duesmann, BMW’s head of procurement, who’s responsible for securing raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, manganese and nickel. “We need to keep a close eye, especially on lithium and cobalt, because of the danger of supply scarcity.”

[..] Complicating the process is the fact that the cobalt trail inevitably leads to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where corruption is entrenched in everyday business practices. The U.S. last month slapped sanctions on Glencore’s long-time partner in Congo, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, saying he used his close ties to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to secure mining deals. There’s also another ethical obstacle to negotiate. The African nation produces more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt, a fifth of which is drawn out by artisanal miners who work with their hands — some of whom are children. The country is also planning to double its tax on the metal.

“There just isn’t enough cobalt to go around,” said George Heppel, a consultant at CRU. “The auto companies that’ll be the most successful in maintaining long-term stability in terms of raw materials will be the ones that purchase the cobalt and then supply that to their battery manufacturer.” To adjust to the new reality, some carmakers are recruiting geologists to learn more about the minerals that may someday be as important to transport as oil is now. Tesla Inc. just hired an engineer who supervised a nickel-cobalt refinery in New Caledonia for Vale to help with procurement. But after decades of dictating terms with suppliers of traditional engine parts, the industry is proving ill-prepared to confront what billionaire mining investor Robert Friedland dubbed “the revenge of the miner.”

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Never use Greece and Recovery in one sentence together. Because you’d be spouting nonsense.

Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

According to the market, the situation in Greece has staged a tremendous recovery. So much so, in fact, that Greek 2Y bonds are now trading inside US 2Y Treasurys. Yes, according to the market, Greece is now a safer credit than the US. And yet, a quick peek inside the actual Greek economy, reveals that nothing has been fixed. In fact, one can argue that things are now worse than they were when Greece defaulted (for the first time), According to statistics from IAPR, unpaid taxes in Greece currently make up more than 55% of the country’s GDP due to – well – the inability of people to pay the rising taxes. Overdue debt to the state has reached nearly €100 billion with only €15 billion possible to be returned to the government’s coffers, as most are due to bankrupt businesses and deceased individuals.

The Greek tax authorities seized pensions, salaries, and assets of more than 180,000 taxpayers in 2017, meanwhile bad debt to the state treasury continue to grow. The Independent Authority for Public Revenue confiscated nearly €4 billion in the first 10 months of this year with forced measures to be reportedly taken against 1.7 million defaulters in 2018. Bad debt owed to the state in Greece has been growing at €1 billion a month since 2014, and nearly 4.17 million taxpayers currently owe money to the country, which means that every second Greek is directly indebted. Demonstrating the full extent of the economic mess, a recent report from Kathimerini revealed that Greek lenders are proposing huge haircuts, as high as 90%, for borrowers with debts from consumer loans, credit cards or small business loans without collateral.

In the context of the sale of a 2.5-billion-euro bad-loan portfolio named Venus, Alpha Bank is using the incentive of major haircuts in letters it has sent to some 156,000 debtors. The fact that this concerns some 240,000 bad loans means that some debtors may have two or three overdue loans. Another major local lender, Eurobank, is employing the same strategy for a set of loans adding up to 350 million euros. Most of them range between 5,000 and 7,000 euros each and have been overdue for over a decade. Yes, most Greek are unable to repay a few thousands euros and would rather default. This means that the banks are expecting to collect a small amount of those debts, coming to 250 million euros for Alpha and 35 million for Eurobank – whopping 90% haircuts – accepting that the rest of the debt is uncollectible.

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Jan 012018
 


Happy New Year Bill Watterson

 

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US Dollar Refuses to Die as Top Global Reserve Currency (WS)
The Rise And Fall Of The Eurodollar (ZH)
Behind Korea, Iran & Russia Tensions: The Lurking Financial War (Crooke)
Polanyi Best Explains Trump, Brexit And The Failure Of Neoliberalism (Prime)
UK Government Relies On Rising Household Debt To Hit Targets – Labour (G.)
‘Desperate Times’ For Overcrowded British Hospitals (PA)
China’s Growth Engine Stutters As Factories Slow Down (G.)
Greece Dismisses Turkey’s Threats Over Asylum Row (GR)
Greece: Turkish Soldiers Won’t Be Extradited Regardless Of Asylum Process (K.)
UK ‘Faces Build-Up Of Plastic Waste’ (BBC)

 

 

The graphs seem to say it all: the demise of the dollar (and petrodollar, eurodollar -dollars held outside US-) has been greatly exaggerated.

US Dollar Refuses to Die as Top Global Reserve Currency (WS)

Over the decades, there have been a number of efforts to deflate the dollar’s hegemony as a global reserve currency, which it has maintained since World War II. Some of these efforts – such as the creation of the euro – have made a visible dent into the dollar’s status. Other efforts have essentially passed unnoticed. Now there’s a new contender: the Chinese yuan. On December 31, the IMF released its report on the Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) for Q3 2017. So how has the US dollar fared as the top world reserve currency, now that the Chinese yuan has also been anointed as one, and that the euro has emerged from its debt crisis? First things, first. The IMF doesn’t really disclose all that much. The COFER data for the individual countries – the level of their reserve currencies and how they allocate them – is “strictly confidential,” it says.

So what we get to look at is the global allocation by currency. Total global foreign exchange reserves rose to $11.3 billion in Q3 2017, within the range of the past three years, between $10.7 trillion (Q4 2016) and $11.8 trillion (Q3, 2014). But something is happening to “allocated reserves.” Not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their foreign exchange reserves are allocated. In Q3 2017, 14.6% of the reserves hadn’t been allocated. But this number is plunging. In Q3 2014, just three years ago, it was still 41.2%. This means that more and more central banks report to the IMF their allocation of foreign exchange reserves, and the COFER is getting broader.

So of the 85.4% of the officially “allocated” reserve currencies in Q3 2017: • US dollar: 63.5% share, down from 64.6% in Q3 2014. • Euro: 20% share, down from 22.6% in Q3 2014. • Yen: 4.5% share, up from 3.6% in Q3 2014. • Pound Sterling: 4.5% share, up from 3.75% in Q3 2014. The Australian and Canadian dollars had a share of 1.8% and 2.0% respectively. • The Chinese yuan – that thin red sliver in the chart below – had a share of 1.1%, up from 1.08% in the prior three quarters, and up from zero before then. • The Swiss franc, the hair-fine black line in the chart below, has a share of 0.2%. • And a number of “other” currencies have a combined share of 2.4%.

The Chinese yuan made its entry after IMF boss Christine Lagarde and the IMF staff declared in mid-November 2015 that they were gung-ho about adding it to the IMF’s currency basket, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), which is an important step toward becoming a major global reserve currency. At the end of November 2015, it was approved by the board. And it took effect in October 2016. Sure enough, in Q4 2016, the Chinese yuan started showing up in the COFER data as a global reserve currency with a share of 1.08%. But rather than soaring, it didn’t move at all over the first two quarters in 2017. And in Q3, it ticked up to a still minuscule 1.1%. Central banks do not appear to be overeager to hold this currency in large amounts. The chart below shows the changes since Q3 2014. The black line at the top is the US dollar – its hegemony unbroken.

Read more …

Russia experienced dollar shortages with oil prices still at $95 a barrel. It can’t do without dollars. Maybe sometime in the future, but that may well be a long time away.

The Rise And Fall Of The Eurodollar (ZH)

Gromen, who largely sat out this segment, offers a few thoughts toward the end that add to the picture of weakness defining the contemporary eurodollar system. Looking back to the summer of 2014, Gromen posits that the largest oil exporters were able to maintain current account surpluses because they’d already started settling an increasing percentage of their oil sales in dollars.

“It’s interesting, Jeff and Mark (this is Luke of course) when you look back to September – and we put this in our slide deck (which we can touch on later) – but if you look back at the actual timing of events it’s kind of interesting. And it’s, to me it hints to motive. So I’d love to get your thought on it, Jeff or Mark, of – if you go back to August of 2014, actually back even to May of ‘14, you had the Holy Grail gas and energy deal signed between China and Russia. It was rumored that that deal was going to be done in non-dollars, but no proof of that. It was later proven to be the case. In August of 2014, Putin announced that they wanted to start moving away from the dollar in oil trade, because the dollar’s monopoly in the global energy trade was damaging their economy.

And, what’s kind of interesting – and we wrote about this at the time – at this point oil is still $100 a barrel. And then, all of a sudden, by late September, with oil still $96 a barrel, $95 a barrel, Russia’s having dollar shortages. Russia was still – and they weren’t the only ones – Venezuela, Ecuador, a couple of others – you have three major oil exporters that are running still current account surpluses in the low- to mid-single digits at this point, starting to run into dollar shortages. And it was, I think, an underappreciated point at the time that, basically, if you’re an oil exporter you’re only selling in dollars, you’re running a current account surplus.

And so, if you’re only selling in dollars, in theory, there’s only two explanations for that, for those dollar shortages that began to pop up well before the price of oil crashed. Which was (#1) Russia and other places got dramatically more corrupt in the three months versus the three months before. Or they were starting to sell energy at an accelerating rate in non-dollar terms. And, as a result, you were seeing – where you were getting $100 before, now you were getting whatever, $90, $80, whatever the mix was. And at that point, then you started to see some of the devaluations etc. I guess I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.”

Read more …

Alastair Crooke also looks at the dollar demise.

Behind Korea, Iran & Russia Tensions: The Lurking Financial War (Crooke)

What have the tensions between the US and North Korea, Iran and Russia in common? Answer: It is that they are components to a wider financial war. Russia and Iran (together with China) happen to be the three key players shaping a huge (almost half the global population) alternative currency zone. The North Korean issue is important as it potentially may precipitate the US – depending on events – towards a more aggressive policy toward China (whether out of anger at Chinese hesitations over Korea, or as part and parcel of the US Administration’s desire to clip China’s trading wings). The US has embarked on a project to restore America’s economic primacy through suppressing its main trade competitors (through quasi-protectionism), and in the military context to ensure America’s continued political dominance.

The US ‘America First’ National Security Strategy made it plain: China and Russia are America’s ‘revisionist’ adversaries, and the US must and intends to win in this competition. The sub-text is that potential main rivals must be reminded of their ‘place’ in the global order. This part is clear and quite explicit, but what is left unsaid is that America is staking all on the dollar’s global, reserve currency status being maintained, for without it, President Trump’s aims are unlikely to be delivered. The dollar status is crucial – precisely because of what has occurred in the wake of the Great Financial crisis – the explosion of further debt. But here is a paradox: how is it that a Presidential Candidate who promised less military belligerence, less foreign intervention, and no western cultural-identity imposition, has, in the space of one year, become, as President, a hawk in respect to Korea and Iran.

What changed in his thinking? The course being pursued by both states was well-known, and has offered no sudden surprise (though North Korea’s progress may have proved quantitatively more rapid than, perhaps, US Intelligence was expecting: i.e. instead of 2020 – 2021, North Korea may have achieved its weapons objective in 2018 – some two years or so earlier that estimated)? But essentially Korea’s desire to be accepted as a nuclear weapon state is nothing new. It is ‘the Federal debt’, and a pending ‘debt ceiling’ that is crucial. There is little doubt that the US military is not what it used to be, and the Republican Party possesses a wing that is quite fundamentalist about limiting debt (Freedom Caucus). A serious military crisis is possibly the only way Trump is likely to get a huge ramp-up of military expenditure past Congress’ fiscal hawks.

President Trump – the Tax Bill saga tells us — is going to be a big spender as part of MAGA (Make America Great Again). The increase in proposed US defence spending alone, more or less equates to the whole annual Russian defence spending. US Federal debt is already above $20 Trillion, and accelerating fast: the borrowing requirement is ballooning and interest payments to service this additional borrowing, normally would be expected to rise. But Trump is also explicitly a low interest rate, expanding balance-sheet, sort of guy. So, how does one finance a truly ballooning budget deficit, whilst keeping interest rates low, or at zero? Well a fear-driven rush by foreigners into ‘risk free’ US Treasuries (i.e. military crisis again), historically serves to keep rates low – and dollars plentiful — as ‘overseas dollars’ return ‘home’ to Wall Street.

Read more …

No sure why economists et al have such a hard time understanding why limitless liberalization must by definition backfire.

Polanyi Best Explains Trump, Brexit And The Failure Of Neoliberalism (Prime)

It’s good to see the latest (21 December) New York Review of Books give space to a review – by Robert Kuttner of American Prospect– of a biography of “Karl Polanyi: a Life on the Left” by Gareth Dale. For as we have been arguing for a long time, it was Polanyi who better than any other historian/analyst got to the heart of the contradictions of free market globalised liberalism, and saw that it was such economic liberalism, pushed too far, that is likely to lead to authoritarian, or even fascist, outcomes. As Kuttner puts it, “Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security through the regulation of finance, the empowerment of labor, a welfare state, and elements of public ownership”.

The outcome is extreme inequality and instability. However, as Kuttner reminds, “We have been here before. During the period between the two world wars, free-market liberals governing Britain, France, and the US tried to restore the pre–World War I laissez-faire system. They resurrected the gold standard and put war debts and reparations ahead of economic recovery. It was an era of free trade and rampant speculation, with no controls on private capital. The result was a decade of economic insecurity ending in depression, a weakening of parliamentary democracy, and fascist backlash. Right up until the German election of July 1932, when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, the pre-Hitler governing coalition was practicing the economic austerity commended by Germany’s creditors.”

It was these extremist policies of free market liberalism that Polanyi dissected in his most famous work, “The Great Transformation”, published in 1944. The worst consequences were in Germany and other continental European states, but declining imperial Britain was still the heart of ultra-liberal ideology. I am currently reading David Kynaston’s rambling History of the Bank of England, which sets out the disgraceful pressure that Governor Montagu Norman and the City of London put on elected governments to return to the Gold Standard (at the pre-war rate) and impose harsh austerity, with terrible economic consequences. [..] “[T]he simple proposition that all factors of production must have free markets implies in practice that the whole of society must be subordinated to the needs of the market system.” We see Polanyi’s key insight – in the essays and in the later book – as encapsulated in these passages:

“The real nature of the dangers thus become apparent which are inseparable from the market-utopia. For the sake of society the market mechanism must be restricted. But this cannot be done without grave peril to economic life and therefore to society as a whole. We are caught up on the horns of a dilemma: – either to continue on the paths of a utopia bound for destruction, or to halt on this path and risk the throwing out of gear of this marvellous but extremely artificial system.” “A self-regulating market-system is a utopia. No society could stand its devastating effects once it got really going. Hardly had laissez-faire started when the State and voluntary organizations intervened to protect society through factory laws, Trade Union and Church action from the mechanism of the market.”

Read more …

All western countries do. It’s why interest rates are so low.

UK Government Relies On Rising Household Debt To Hit Targets – Labour (G.)

John McDonnell has accused the government of relying on millions of British families going further into debt in order to meet Treasury targets. The shadow chancellor said families were set to borrow £445bn by the end of the parliament. He also highlighted official figures showing the ratio between household debt and income had reached a five-year high, with forecasts suggesting it will hit 150% by 2022. That means families will have amassed debts worth a year and a half’s income – which Labour warned could result in people falling into financial difficulties. McDonnell is planning for the Labour party to focus heavily on the question of household debt as part of its new year strategy. “The alarming increase in household debt at a time when wages are not keeping up with prices is creating the perfect storm for our economy,” McDonnell told the Guardian.

“There needs to be more done to protect working households from extortionate rates of interest, and also ensure that their earnings are not being squeezed just so Philip Hammond can pretend to meet his own targets, which he has so far failed to meet.” The Labour frontbencher said his party had already promised to cap interest on insecure lending, but would be unveiling a string of further interventions in 2018 about how to protect households from burgeoning debt. He has described the situation as a “personal debt crisis” with levels of unsecured borrowing predicted to hit a record of £19,000 per household by the end of this parliament. Analysis from Labour shows unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year and could go on to exceed £19,000 per household by 2022 if it follows the current trajectory.

Read more …

They had an excellent health care service. Those days are gone. The poor have become expendable.

‘Desperate Times’ For Overcrowded British Hospitals (PA)

Pressures on the NHS have “escalated rapidly” over the festive period, with hospitals experiencing significant bed shortages, a leading doctor has warned. Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM), said many hospitals reported more than 99% capacity in the week before Christmas. He said services are being placed under significant strain as they enter the new year and called for non-urgent operations to be postponed until at least the end of January. Doctors have described corridors overflowing with patients and used social media in a bid to find extra staff to cope with demand. Portsmouth hospitals NHS trust, in Hampshire, tweeted on Sunday: “The hospital is extremely busy at the moment and we are asking any medical or nursing staff available for a shift tonight or tomorrow to make contact.”

Epsom and St Helier University hospitals trust, in London, also appealed for staff to work on New Year’s Eve “due to sickness and high volumes of patients”. Dr Richard Fawcett, from the Royal Stoke University hospital, wrote on Saturday that it had run out corridor space in A&E after ambulances were diverted from County hospital, Stafford. NHS England said hospitals were “generally coping”, with overall bed occupancy levels down from 95% in the lead-up to Christmas to about 93%. Scriven said: “Since the bank holiday, things have escalated rapidly and we are on the cusp of a major issue at least as bad as last year when it was described by the Red Cross as a humanitarian crisis. “There is an awful lot of respiratory illness causing a lot of severe symptoms in the old and young and 10- to 12-hour delays in emergency departments are now not uncommon – along with patients being placed on inappropriate wards.”

Read more …

Good story for 2018.

China’s Growth Engine Stutters As Factories Slow Down (G.)

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector slowed in December as a punishing crackdown on air pollution and a cooling property market start to weigh on the world’s second-largest economy. The data supports the view that the Chinese economy is beginning to gradually lose steam after growing by a forecast-beating 6.9% in the first nine months of the year. However, signs of a sharper slowdown – a major fear among global investors – have yet to materialise. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released on Sunday dipped to 51.6 in December, down from 51.8 in November and in line with forecasts from economists in a Reuters poll. The 50-point level divides growth from contraction on a monthly basis. The figures showed that China’s full-year 2017 economic growth would be at about 6.9% and 6.5% for 2018, according to the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, which compiles the data.

Boosted by hefty government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms have driven solid economic growth this year, with their strong appetite for raw materials boosting global commodity prices. However, a slowdown has started to take hold in the last few months due to a wide-ranging combination of government measures, from a crackdown on smog in some heavily industrialised provinces to continued curbs on the housing market, which are weighing on property investment. Chinese steelmakers in 28 cities have been ordered to curb output between mid-November and mid-March, while a campaign to promote cleaner energy by converting coal to natural gas has also hampered manufacturing activity in some cities, leading to shortages and price rises.

Read more …

Any politician seen as giving in to Turkish strong-arming faces a huge problem at home. Long history and all that.

Greece Dismisses Turkey’s Threats Over Asylum Row (GR)

Greece dismissed Turkish angry threats on Sunday over its decision to grant asylum to a soldier who Ankara accuses of involvement in the abortive coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Turkey said on Saturday the decision by a Greek asylum board undermined relations between the two countries. The soldier was one of eight who fled after the July 15 coup attempt. It also accused Athens of harbouring “coup plotters”, a charge Greece denies. Turkey also threatened that the incident would affect bilateral relations over a host of issues from ethnically split Cyprus to sovereignty over airspace. The asylum board rejected the applications by the other seven soldiers, and the Greek government has appealed the decision to grant the soldier asylum and sought its annulment.

The government announcement that it will appeal the decision has caused a minor political storm, with opposition parties accusing the PM of hypocrisy and of bowing to Turkish threats. the row began when the government added to its appeal release that the country’s judiciary is independent. “Our faith in democratic principles and practices is not a weakness, but a source of strength,” the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday. “Democracies do not threaten, or can be threatened,” the foreign ministry said. “On the contrary, they work responsibly and methodically to promote understanding and entrench stability and good neighbourly relations. Greece will continue this path and hopes its neighbours will do the same.” The eight soldiers had flown by helicopter to Greece in the early hours of July 16, 2016, as the attempted coup against Erdogan crumbled. They have denied any involvement in the attempt.

Read more …

Erdogan is not going to like this one.

Greece: Turkish Soldiers Won’t Be Extradited Regardless Of Asylum Process (K.)

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos has said the eight Turkish soldiers wanted by Ankara in connection with a failed coup attempt in 2016 “will not be extradited regardless of the outcome of their asylum applications.” In a message posted on social media late Sunday, Tzanakopoulos said the asylum claims submitted by the soldiers concerns their granting of refugee status. “This is a completely different from their non-extradition,” he said. Turkey said on Saturday the decision by a Greek asylum board to grant asylum to one of the eight soldiers undermined relations between the two countries. It also accused Athens of harboring “coup plotters.”

On Sunday, Tzanakopoulos said it was up to the Greek justice system to decide if the suspect in question is entitled to refugee protection, “in light of the enormous political significance of the issue which directly impacts on relations with the neighboring country.” “The political position of the Greek government is nevertheless clear,” Tzanakopoulos said. “Those suspected of being involved in Turkey’s coup are not welcome.”

Read more …

It’s not as if this is a British issue. Just refuse to use all the packaging etc.

UK ‘Faces Build-Up Of Plastic Waste’ (BBC)

The UK’s recycling industry says it doesn’t know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. “It’s a huge blow for us… a game-changer for our industry,” he said. “We’ve relied on China so long for our waste… 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. “We simply don’t have the markets in the UK. It’s going to mean big changes in our industry.”

China has introduced the ban from this month on “foreign garbage” as part of a move to upgrade its industries. Other Asian nations will take some of the plastic, but there will still be a lot left. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has admitted that he was slow to spot the problem coming. The UK organisation Recoup, which recycles plastics, said the imports ban would lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and a move towards incineration and landfill. Peter Fleming, from the Local Government Association, told the BBC: “Clearly there’s a part to play for incineration but not all parts of the country have incinerators.

Read more …

Dec 012017
 
 December 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward S. Curtis Mosa Mohave girl c. 1903

 

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)
US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)
We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)
Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)
Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)
I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)
US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)
Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals
Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)
From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)
Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)
Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

 

 

Another great set of graphs from Lance Roberts, who just keep churning them out. I picked these two to show how dependent economies have become on suppressing wages. Problem is, that threatens economies. You need money rolling at the ground level to keep your economy going.

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)

Since 2000, each dollar of gross sales has been increased to more than $1 in operating and reported profits through financial engineering and cost suppression. The next chart shows that the surge in corporate profitability in recent years is a result of a consistent reduction of both employment and wage growth. This has been achieved by increases in productivity, technology, and off-shoring of labor. However, it is important to note that benefits from such actions are finite. (Note the acceleration in profits starting with the Reagan Tax Cuts in the 1989’s. There is no evidence that cutting taxes for corporations leads to higher wages for employees.)

Given the economic landscape of recent years, large offsetting sectoral deficits and surpluses are not surprising, but they should not be taken as evidence that the long-term profitability of the corporate sector has permanently shifted higher. Stocks are not a claim to a few years of cash flows, but decades and decades of them. By pricing stocks as if current profits are representative of the indefinite future, investors have ensured themselves a rude awakening over time. Equity valuations are decidedly a long-term proposition, and from present levels, the implied long-term returns are quite dim.

Read more …

And then you get this…

US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)

The good news: total mortgage debt has decreased since 2008, to $8.743 trillion from $9.29 trillion, but as of the third quarter of 2017, still accounts for 67.5% of overall consumer debt. The bad news: since 2008, the growth in total debt has been attributable to the auto loan and student loan sectors. Auto loan debt has increased by 50% since 2008, to slightly over $1.2 trillion from approximately $800 billion. The most dramatic growth rate, as Zero Hedge readers know well, has been in student loan debt which has grown by 122% since 2008, to $1.357 trillion from $611 billion. But a bigger concern flagged by DBRS is that the growth in consumer debt is raising concerns when viewed in the context of the existing wage stagnation hampering the current economic environment.

The rating agency cites a paper published in October 2017 by the Harvard Business Review which stated that the inflation-adjusted hourly wage has grown by only 0.2% per year since the mid-1970s and labor’s share of income has decreased to its current level of 57% from 65%. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2017, wages were only 5.7% higher than they were a decade earlier. In comparison, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax data shows that consumer debt growth over the same period was 9.3%. In other words, the purchasing power of US households has been largely a function of rapidly rising debt, which over the past decade has risen 60% faster than wages. There is another concern: while overall delinquency rates have stabilized in recent years, the one stubborn outlier remains student debt, where 90+ day delinquencies have risen to more than 10%.

Read more …

“Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.”

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising. This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not. In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible. Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016. But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending.

[..] To put the above in visual terms, here’s an infographic from Howmuch.com that shows per-capita government debt for the world’s major countries. Note that a Japanese family of five’s share of its government’s debt is close to $450,000 while in the US a similar family owes $300,000. That’s in addition to their mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc. Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.

Read more …

More of that same story.

Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)

The lemmings are now in full stampede toward the cliffs. You can literally hear the cold waters churning, foaming and crashing on the boulders far below. From bitcoin to Amazon, the financials, the Russell 2000 and most everything else in between, the casinos are digesting no information except the price action and are relentlessly rising on nothing more than pure momentum. The mania has gone full retard. Certainly earnings have nothing to do with it. As of this morning, the Russell 2000, for instance, was trading at 112X reported LTM earnings. Likewise, Q3 reporting is all over except for the shouting and reported LTM earnings for the S&P 500 came in $107 per share. That’s of signal importance because fully 36 months ago, S&P earnings for the September 2014 LTM period posted at $106 per share.

That’s right. Three years and $1 of gain. They talking heads blather about “strong earnings” only because they think we were born yesterday. What happened in-between, of course, was the proverbial pig passing through the python. First, the global oil, commodities and industrial deflation after July 2014 took earnings to a low of $86.44 per share in the March 2016 LTM period. After that came the opposite—the massive 2016-2017 Xi Coronation Stimulus in China. The new Red Emperor and his minions pumped out an incredible $6 trillion wave of new credit, thereby artificially stimulating a global rebound and a profits recovery back to where it started three years ago.

The difference of course is that $106 of earnings back then were priced at an already heady (by historical standards) 18.6X, whereas $107 of earnings today are being priced at a truly lunatic 24.6X. After all, nothing says earnings bust ahead better than an aging business cycle, a cooling Red Ponzi, an epochal shift toward central bank QT (quantitative tightening) and a massive Washington Fiscal Cliff. Yet every one of those headwinds are self-evident and have made their presence known with a loud clang in the last few days.

Read more …

For good measure, let’s throw in some Catch 22.

Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)

As far as Brexit headaches go, John McFarlane, who chairs Barclays and London’s bank lobby, says that while his firm is on top of job moves, he’s more concerned about rewriting “hundreds of thousands” of contracts. He’s not alone. Andrew Bailey, head of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, said “contract continuity” was among the biggest potential disruptions from a no-deal, no-transition Brexit. Both men were testifying to lawmakers Wednesday. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and ECB President Mario Draghi have also expressed concern about the issue and the dearth of time left for a fix. A week ago, data from the European Banking Authority showed the scope of the issue, and that money is already on the move for precisely this reason: European banks have slashed their U.K. assets by $425 billion, driven by a 35% drop in derivatives exposures.

Insurance policies are affected too: Carney estimates about 20 billion pounds of insurance liabilities in Britain could be affected without swift action. The issue arises because one side or the other of a contract can meet its obligations only thanks to an authorization that’s set to disappear once the U.K. leaves the European Union in 2019. This might result in a firm being obliged by contract law to do something that regulation prohibits it from carrying out, and impossibility generally isn’t a defense against non-performance of a contract, said Simon Gleeson at Clifford Chance in London. “A bank which enters into a contract which becomes illegal to perform by reason of Brexit may well be liable in damages for its non-performance to the counterparty,” said Gleeson. “Dealing with this is so much in everyone’s interest that I’m amazed it hasn’t been addressed.”

[..] Cross-border revolving credits – credit lines that can be drawn down, repaid, then drawn down again – are among such contracts. Many of these are issued to EU companies by syndicates with members based in the U.K. For example, lenders to Volkswagen Financial Services’s €2.5 billion ($3 billion) line include London-based entities for Bank of America and Citigroup, as well as the U.K. units of the major British banks, data compiled by Bloomberg show. A lender that lost its authorization but made an advance to the company under the revolver might find itself in breach of local law in jurisdictions including Germany and France, according to Clifford Chance. On the other hand, it might be in breach of contract if it failed to make the loan.

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Because Morgan Stanley exposes itself this way. As Corbyn himself said: Yes, we’re a threat. To you.

I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)

This week, Morgan Stanley claimed that “Corbyn would be more of a danger to markets than hard Brexit”, something which I saw as supremely ironic. Because the actions of Morgan Stanley, and others like it, laid the foundations for Leave because of their role in the financial crisis: a crisis of capitalism, which ushered in seven years of austerity, falling wages and insecure work. Precisely the conditions that would encourage the majority of British people to vote against the status quo and opt for Leave. Morgan Stanley’s role in the financial crisis cannot be understated; and, given describing things as a “danger to markets” appears to be in fashion right now, let’s remind ourselves what they got up to just over a decade ago.

Essentially, they packaged up sub-prime mortgages as something called Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs), got credit ratings agencies – who were entirely conflicted as their clients were the investment banks – to rate these absolute garbage CDOs triple-A investments. Morgan Stanley then misled investors who bought them. Because they knew what those investments were actually worth, Morgan Stanley’s traders bought what are known as “credit default swaps” on those CDOs – effectively amounting to a bet on it defaulting. You can buy or sell a credit default swap even if you don’t own the investment. They did this thousands of times.

[..] the right-wing press, which gleefully reported on this Corbyn/Brexit warning, clearly has a short memory about what really happened. After all, the lie that Labour caused the financial crisis, and not investment banks like Morgan Stanley, was a convenient pretext for maintaining the economic status quo while cutting to public spending. This forced ordinary working people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It’s little wonder that people voted Leave having been totally shafted by the system. But the opportunity to do so only arose because the narrative that “Labour crashed the economy” helped secure David Cameron a majority in 2015 on a manifesto that promised a referendum.

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Make it 2018.

US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the tax bill will resume at 11 a.m. on Friday as the collapse of a key compromise to win a majority for a Senate tax overhaul left Republicans scrambling to salvage the legislation. Debate over the bill may continue into the evening, McConnell said. It’s unclear when the unlimited amendment vote series known as “vote-a-rama” would begin. After seeming to gain momentum during the day, the GOP’s tax cut plan smacked into a decision from the Senate’s rule-making office that said a so-called trigger proposed by GOP holdouts didn’t pass procedural muster. At least three Republicans – Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma – had tied their votes to the mechanism, which would have increased taxes if revenue targets weren’t met.

The trio is now demanding that leaders agree to other changes in the bill to avoid a huge deficit increase. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and can only afford to lose two members if they want to pass the tax bill without Democratic support. Adding to the difficulty was a ruling by a key fiscal referee that the tax plan would blow a $1 trillion hole in the nation’s debt – even after accounting for economic growth. The day’s events left GOP leaders contemplating a variety of potentially unpalatable measures — including making some tax cuts on the individual and corporate side end within six or seven years. The current version of the Senate bill would sunset individual breaks in 2026.

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Wait till home priced start to plummet. That’s when the scandals will break.

Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals

Australia’s banks will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull bowed to pressure to address scandals besetting the industry. The yearlong royal commission will examine the conduct of the nation’s banks, insurers, financial services providers and pension funds, and consider whether regulators have enough power to tackle misconduct, Turnbull said Thursday. He pledged the inquiry would not put “capitalism on trial.” The announcement came just minutes after Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia & New Zealand Banking, Westpac and National Australia Bank dropped their opposition to an inquiry, saying in an open letter to the government that months of political squabbling over the issue risked undermining offshore investor confidence.

More than A$8 billion ($6 billion) was wiped off the market value of the big four lenders in early Sydney trading, with Commonwealth Bank declining as much as 2.7%. “Ongoing speculation and fear-mongering about a banking inquiry or royal commission is disruptive and risks undermining the reputation of Australia’s world-class financial system,” Turnbull said. The inquiry will “further ensure our financial system is working efficiently and effectively.” The main opposition Labor party has for months been demanding a royal commission into the finance industry, amid a string of scandals ranging from misleading financial advice, attempted rate-rigging and alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws. Pressure was growing on Turnbull to hold an inquiry, with some lawmakers in his Liberal-National coalition threatening to force a vote in parliament next week.

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A big problem for Erdogan. The US takes its sanctions seriously.

Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)

A controversial Turkish-Iranian gold trader has told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran. Reza Zarrab, 34, is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money. Mr Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran. The case has strained relations between Ankara and Washington. In his testimony, Mr Zarrab implicated Mr Erdogan in an international money laundering scheme that he and the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, ran between 2010 and 2015 that allegedly allowed Iran to access international markets despite US sanctions.

He said that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme. Mr Erdogan said earlier on Thursday that Turkey did not breach US sanctions on Iran, Turkish media report. His government has described the case as “a plot against Turkey”. The Turkish president is yet to respond to the new allegations about him made in court. Mr Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Nine people have been charged in total. Mr Zarrab was arrested by US officials in 2016 and accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. But he decided to cooperate with prosecutors and is now their star witness in the New York trial.

On Wednesday, he told the court he paid Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, bribes amounting to more than €50m to facilitate deals with Iran. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, responded to the allegations, saying that Mr Zarrab had been “pressured into committing slander”. Speaking to state-run news agency Anadolu, Mr Bozdag called the trial a “theatre”. The Turkish government had previously said that Mr Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law.

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Overcapacity export.

From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)

The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress made it clear that the New Silk Roads – aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – launched by President Xi Jinping just four years ago, provides the concept around which all Chinese foreign policy is to revolve for the foreseeable future. Up until the symbolic 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, in 2049, in fact. Virtually every nook and cranny of the Chinese administration is invested in making the BRI Grand Strategy a success: economic actors, financial players, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the private sector, the diplomatic machine, think tanks, and – of course – the media, are all on board. It’s under this long-term framework that sundry BRI projects should be examined. And their reach, let’s be clear, involves most of Eurasia – including everything from the Central Asian steppes to the Caucasus and the Western Balkans.

Representatives of no fewer than 50 nations are currently gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia, for yet another BRI-related summit. The BRI masterplan details six major economic “corridors,” and one of these is the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor. That’s where Georgia fits in, alongside neighboring Azerbaijan: both are vying to position themselves as the key Caucasus transit hub between Western China and the European Union. [..] The action in the Caucasus was mirrored in Europe earlier in the week as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban opened the sixth “16+1” summit, involving China and 16 Central and Eastern European nations, in Budapest. “16+1” is yet another of those trademark Chinese diplomatic “away wins.”

Some of these nations are part of the EU, some part of NATO, some neither. From Beijing’s point of view, what matters is the relentless BRI infrastructure and connectivity drive. Beijing may have invested as much as US$8 billion so far in Central and Eastern Europe. China is having a ball in the Western Balkans – especially in Serbia, in Montenegro, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where EU financial muscle is absent. China has invested in multiple connectivity and energy projects in Serbia – including the much-debated Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail link. Construction of the Serbian stretch started this week, with 85% of the total cost (roughly €2.4 billion) coming from the Export-Import Bank of China.

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Dream of power are always costly.

Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)

France’s current zone of influence in Africa is the result of the policies of President Charles de Gaulle, who was unable to come to terms with his defeats in Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962) and therefore sought to achieve the dominance of France in his former colonies. After de Gaulle, however, other presidents did not refrain from using military force and violence in Africa to defend their interests, on the pretext of protecting human rights and democracy. The French often achieved the opposite, because they made the same mistakes in their military actions as Americans made elsewhere in the world: they supported people who later became their enemies or violated human rights.

For example, it was the regime of Juvenal Habyariman in Rwanda that was supported by Paris: the French supplied Hutu combat groups with weapons, thus contributing to the Tutsi massacre. Hollande, who in Paris and Europe was perceived as a weakling, showed the face of a warrior and sent heavy units and fighter planes to Mali in 2013. This would not have been necessary if French President Sarkozy and the USA had not overthrown Qaddafi. It was Sarkozy that initiated the NATO led airstrikes against Libya. The removal of Colonel Qaddafi gave rise to the creation of the Caliphate with the help of Tuaregs in the north of Niger and Mali. After a few years since the start of the mission in Mali one wonders: has it made Europe safer?

Has the flow of migrants been stopped through Sahel countries? Are the Jihadists of African descent a lesser threat in Europe? The cost of the military action in Mali in 2013 amounted to €650 million. Operation Barkhane (as it is called) continues to this day and costs the French budget €500 million per year. Of course, democracy in Mali is a top priority for most Europeans, right? A total of 9,000 French soldiers are currently stationed in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Djibouti. The growing military presence is intended to support the fight against terrorism and crime, in fact it is about the French elites extending their power to the south, reaching for cheap raw materials and outlet markets.

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“..if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before..”

Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

Scientists have detected cosmic ray energy readings that could bring them closer to proving the existence of dark matter, a mysterious substance believed to comprise a quarter of our universe, a study revealed on Thursday. Likely made up of unknown sub-atomic material, dark matter is invisible to telescopes and can be perceived only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe. Beijing’s first astronomical satellite launched two years ago detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and protons, the study said, and unprecedented measurements found curiously low-energy rays. The team of researchers from China, Switzerland and Italy, who published their first results in the journal Nature, said the data may cast light on “the annihilation or decay of particle dark matter”.

“This new unseen phenomena can bring breakthroughs,” Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at a briefing. “After collecting more data, if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before,” Bai added, to applause from fellow scientists. The Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) is now collecting more data from space to help researchers figure out what it could be. DAMPE was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert in December 2015, after nearly 20 years in development. Its designers boast that DAMPE is superior to its US counterpart, the AMS-02 (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) that NASA installed on the International Space Station in 2011.

“Our cosmic ray detection range is 10 times that of AMS-02 and three times as accurate,” said DAMPE chief scientist Chang Jin. “Proving the existence of dark matter takes a lot of time. Now we have worked out the most precise spectrum, but we are not 100% sure that this can lead us to the location of dark matter,” he said.

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Nov 272017
 
 November 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Guatave Courbet The cliffs of Étretat after the storm 1870

 

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)
China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)
Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)
OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)
Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)
Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)
The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)
Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)
Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)
Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

 

 

Asia, that is. Check the marginal productivity of debt graph. And remember, once you’re at zero, you’re done. I’d venture you’re done way before even.

Why Are We Addicted To Debt? (Forbes)

Almost everyone is familiar with Asia’s rags to riches story. The recent economic miracle led to huge increases in living standards across the region. Average incomes rose by factors of 100% to even 400% in some areas. Not to mention the number of people surviving on less than $2 USD a day was cut in half. A major turning point for this economic wonder was when China joined of the World Trade Organization in 2002. Shortly after, Asia’s contribution to the global GDP jumped from 11% to 21%. However, debt distorts these figures in a variety of ways. So, that begs the question; was it a miracle or just an illusion? What tricks does Asia have up its sleeve? Many are becoming increasingly anxious over Asia’s debt-fueled economy. Their fears may soon become a reality.

[..] Asia’s ability to consume credit seems never ending. Even during the recent financial crisis, Asia witnessed governments working hard to maintain cheap money flowing into their financial systems. The Chinese government implemented a stimulus package with record low interest rates. They wanted to mimic the methods used by other global central banks during the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis. Despite the large amount of media attention China’s borrowing levels received, they’re not special. As you can see in the chart below, credit levels have soared throughout Asia. Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia all have increased their debt to GDP ratios since 2001.

An increased dependency on cheap, available credit produced household debt to shoot up in South Korea and Taiwan. What are the possible outcomes? In many of these economies, high debt levels could lead to tragedy. The main culprit would be GDP growth rate’s inability to balance out spiraling debt levels. This situation is called the marginal productivity of debt. Or put more simply, new debt is not as efficient at creating new growth. Look at the chart below to see how the marginal productivity of debt plays out in Asian economies. Even major, regional growth contributors like South Korea, Japan and China, have experienced this downward trend. Indonesia is the only exception.

Since 2001 China’s marginal productivity has declined by a factor just short of 50%. Since investment has been one of China’s main growth drivers (almost entirely financed by debt), this is concerning. To add fuel to the fire, much of that debt has been funneled into China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). For instance, while corporate debt was at 165% of the GDP in 2015, SOEs made up 71% of it. Meanwhile, those SOEs only contributed around 20% to China’s total GDP.

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Unstoppable?

China Debt Grows At Faster Pace Despite Years Of Efforts To Contain It (R.)

For years China’s top officials have touted their ambitious policy priority to wean the world’s second-largest economy off high levels of debt, but there is not much to show for it. On the contrary, a Reuters analysis shows the debt pile at Chinese firms has been climbing in that time, with levels at the end of September growing at the fastest pace in four years. The build-up has continued even as policymakers roll out a series of measures to end the explosive growth of debt, including persuading state firms and local governments to prune borrowing and tighter rules and monitoring of banks’ short-term borrowing. By some estimates, China’s overall debt is now as much as three times the size of its economy.

Without a comprehensive strategy to tackle the overhang, there is a growing risk China will have a banking crisis or sharply slower growth or both, the IMF said last year. China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, made global headlines with a warning last month of the risks of a “Minsky moment”, referring to a sudden collapse in asset prices after long periods of growth, sparked by debt or currency pressures. On the sidelines of a key, twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in October, Zhou referred to relatively high corporate debt and the fast pace of growth in household lending. While also pledging to fend off such risks, Zhou has acknowledged it will take some time to bring debt down to more manageable levels.

Reuters analysis of 2,146 China listed firms showed their total debt at the end of September jumped 23% from a year ago, the highest pace of growth since 2013. The analysis covered three-fifths of the country’s listed firms, but excluded financials, which have seen the brunt of government de-risking and deleveraging efforts so far.

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Michael Pettis still sees isolationism as an answer. But isn’t China too open for that already?

Maybe China Shouldn’t Open Up (Pettis)

China needs reform. This has long been the consensus advice from economists and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, whose recent “China 2030” report argues that Chinese leaders should strengthen the role of markets and liberalize legal, financial and other institutions governing the economy. Their to-do list is virtually gospel by now: free up trade and investment, unshackle the exchange rate and ease capital controls. Such reforms are held not only to be worthy in themselves, but critical to solving China’s biggest problem: its debt, which has skyrocketed to well over 260% of GDP from 162% in 2008. The speed and scale of credit expansion has raised fears of a financial crisis, even from such normally staid figures as central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The hope is that reforms will boost productivity enough to allow China to outgrow its debt burden before that crisis hits.

This logic is flawed for two reasons. First, China is unlikely to suffer a financial crisis, and this is precisely because of the government’s ability to restructure banking-sector liabilities at will. The real threat is different. Once a country’s debt burden is high enough to create uncertainty about allocating future debt-servicing costs, the debt itself becomes an obstacle to growth. This process – known as “financial distress” – is well-understood in finance theory but is still unfamiliar to many economists. So, unfortunately, is the corroborating history. In the past two centuries, there have been dozens of cases of overly-indebted countries whose policymakers have promised to implement liberalizing reforms meant to allow the country to outgrow its debt. None has succeeded. No excessively indebted country has ever outgrown its debt until a meaningful portion has been forcibly assigned to one economic sector or another.

There are many ways this can occur. Mexico restructured its debt at a discount in 1990, thereby forcing the cost onto creditors. Germany inflated the debt away after 1919, forcing the cost onto pensioners and others with fixed incomes. A decade ago, China forced the cost onto household savers through negative real interest rates. If it is going to regain sustainable growth, China, too, must deleverage. The only healthy way to do so is first, to force local governments to liquidate assets and assign part of the proceeds to debt reduction, and second, to wean China off its dependence on excessive investment by transferring wealth from local governments to households, so they can consume more.

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I wanted to include this article because it raises a serious question. The countries with arguably the highest household debt levels (or close) are New Zealand, Australia, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway. They are all missing from the OECD numbers. How can that be a coincidence?

OECD Warns on Rising Debt Risk as Canadians Most in the Red (BBG)

The OECD warned that rising private debt loads in both advanced and developing economies pose a risk to growth as Canada, South Korea and the U.K. lead the world in household borrowing. “Household and corporate debt in many advanced and emerging market economies is high,” the OECD said Thursday in a pre-released section of a report to be presented next week. “While higher indebtedness does not necessarily imply that problems are just around the corner, it does increase vulnerability to shocks”. With the global economy showing its most even expansion since the financial crisis, debt levels and credit quality are among the risks that could trigger a downturn. Consumer debt tops 100% of GDP in Canada, with South Korea and Britain both above 80%. On corporate borrowing, the OECD warned about a shift in risk from banks to the bond market and a “substantial” decrease in credit quality.

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As bitcoin nears $10K, Tchir reflects.

Bit from Twitter: @JorgeStolfi: “Bitcoin’s market cap just passed 150 billion USD. For those who do not know, that is how much money NEW bitcoin “investors” will have to spend, in order for the current bitcoin holders to get the money that they THINK they have.”

Bitcoin – Too Far Too Fast? (Peter Tchir)

As Bitcoin surges above $9,250 on the open this Sunday, I have to admit to having some real trepidation at these levels. I have been a proponent of the view that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies would benefit from the launch of ETFs and futures. My view is that allowing for easier ‘adoption’ of Bitcoin will help fuel its growth as it lets new investors participate indirectly. I should not limit that theory to just more traditional ways to invest, like ETFs and futures, but should also include easier ways to establish wallets and to own Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) the ‘traditional’ way. There are a growing number of ‘easy’ to use guides to getting Bitcoin (I have glanced at many but haven’t followed through to verify how well they work of don’t work).

I am convinced that ease of access and the potential for more mainstream products linked to Bitcoin has helped fuel its surge. But now, I am concerned it has gone too far, too fast. I have three major concerns that could slow the price rise or even cause it to have a significant correction (yes, I am converting from bullish Bitcoin to at best neutral). Here are the three concerns:

1) Are all the ETF and Futures launches a ‘sell the news’ event? Basically the question is, while I believe that easier adoption will lead to inflows, how much of that is priced in? Have speculators loaded their electronic wallets with Bitcoin hoping to capitalize on the expected gains to the point, there won’t be more expected gains? Understanding when something is ‘already’ priced in is difficult at the best of times, let alone with something as complex and growing exponentially like Bitcoin, but, I can’t help but wonder. I have felt a switch in discussions I’m having over the last few weeks. A subtle switch, but one where the Bitcoin bulls seem more eager to name ever higher price targets, while the agnostics seem more willing to do work and think about it more, rather than in a rush to get some money into Bitcoin. The sort of behavior that may be indicating a ‘sell the news’ type of environment.

2) There are becoming too many competing investments which are causing some investors to question how ‘real’ the existing ones are. Yes, I understand that ICO’s aren’t necessarily dilutive, if you can purchase them with Bitcoin, but it does start to appear odd when it seems like virtually every day, someone or some entity is announcing some new variation on the theme.

3) Fedcoin, the potential for the Fed could be classified within concern number 2, but is really only part of a larger, separate concern – that governments or central banks will push back. I read this week, along with a lot of other people, an article describing that Bitcoin was now worth more than McDonald’s. While that sort of article is designed to ‘shock’ investors, especially more conservative investors, I think it represents a larger, growing concern that the ‘establishment’ has surrounding cryptocurrencies. Whether the concerns are more focused on the potential for illegal funds to enter the system, taxation, controlling ‘pump and dump’ schemes or making your own job more difficult to manage, I’m sensing they are rising to the surface again. I think we have hit another tipping point where to expect a response to attempt to slow down the growth and valuation of crytpocurrencies should be expected.

Something that has risen almost a ‘ten-bagger’ in less than a year is bound to attract attention. Bitcoin rebounded strongly after the China crackdown, so this fear might be over-rated, but a more organized government or central bank crackdown shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The bigger question, in my mind, is whether Bitcoin can withstand that – but that is a question for another day. I am torn, because my thesis of ‘ease of adoption’ seems to be playing out and in general it is a long way from being fully played out, which by itself is supportive of greater price appreciation. But, at the moment, my concerns are winning out and I’d be taking some chips, or bits, as the case may be, off the table.

Read more …

Russigate spreads its wings. But what if Russiagate is the real fake news?

Italy’s 5-Star, Stung By Fake News Claims, Wants OSCE Election Monitors (R.)

Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement wants international observers to monitor next year’s national election campaign to help ward off “fake news”, party leader Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday. His comments came after the ruling Democratic Party (PD) accused 5-Star supporters of using interlinked internet accounts to spread misinformation and smear the center-left government. Di Maio, who was elected 5-Star leader in September, said his party was often misrepresented by the traditional media and said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should oversee the forthcoming election. “The problem of fake news exists and we think it is necessary to have the OSCE monitor news and political debate during the election campaign,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

Such a request is unlikely to gain traction with 5-Star’s opponents, who allege that the maverick group is to blame for some of the most egregious smear campaigns. Last week unofficial Facebook accounts that back 5-Star published a photograph purportedly showing a close ally of PD leader Matteo Renzi attending the funeral of Mafia boss Salvatore Riina. In fact it was a photo taken in 2016 at the funeral of a murdered migrant. “Di Maio says he wants to call up OSCE monitors. Why doesn’t he call up U.N. peacekeepers and the Red Cross, and while he is at it, why not telephone (his associates) who are continuing to post this filth,” Renzi told a conference on Sunday. The sharing of false or misleading headlines and mass postings by automated social media “bots” has become a global issue, with accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States and France. Moscow has denied this.

Some PD leaders called this weekend for legislation ahead of the elections, which are due by May, to crack down on the spread of false news. Renzi ruled that out on Sunday, but said his party would release twice-monthly reports on web abuses. “We do not want to shut down any website, but we want accountability,” Renzi said. The 5-Star party complains that it is unfairly treated by mainstream media, saying state broadcaster RAI is under the sway of the government, while the largest private media group is controlled by the family of former center-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italy’s leading newspapers, which are owned by large industrial concerns, have also been highly critical of 5-Star, which has promised a campaign against corruption and is seen as unfriendly to big business.

Latest polls show 5-Star has built a stable lead over other parties, with support of around 28% against 24% for the PD and 15% for Forza Italia. A new electoral law which encourages coalition building ahead of the vote, means Berlusconi’s center-right bloc should emerge as the single largest political force, albeit without a clear parliamentary majority.

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Or the problem is that nobody wants to understand this.

The Problem Isn’t Populism: the Problem Is the Status Quo Has Failed (CHS)

The corporate/billionaires’ media would have us believe that the crisis we face is populism, a code word for every ugly manifestation of fascism known to humanity. By invoking populism as the cause of our distemper, the mainstream media is implicitly suggesting that the problem is “bad people” -those whose own failings manifest in an attraction to fascism. If we can successfully marginalize these troubled troglodytes, then our problem, populism, would go away and the wonderfulness, equality and widespread prosperity of pre-populist America will be restored. The problem isn’t populism -the problem is the status quo has failed 95% of the populace.

Life isn’t wonderful, prosperous and filled with expansive equality except in the Protected Elite of the top 5% of technocrats, corporate executives, tenured academics, bureaucrats, financiers, bankers, lobbyists and wealthy (or soon to be wealthy) politicos. The bottom 95% need a time machine to recover any semblance of prosperity. They need a time machine that goes back 20 years so they can buy a little bungalow on a postage-stamp lot for $150,000 on the Left and Right Coasts, because now the little bungalows cost $1 million and up. Housing valuations have become so detached from what people earn that even the top 5% has trouble qualifying for a jumbo mortgage without the help of the Bank of Mom and Dad or the family trust fund. The bottom 95% need a time machine to return to the days when college tuition and fees were semi-affordable–say, 30 years ago.

The bottom 95% also need a time machine to return to a time when they could afford healthcare insurance without government subsidies–a generation ago, or better yet, two generations ago. In an age where phantom wealth sprouts like poisoned mushrooms from speculative bubbles, the bottom 95% need a time machine that goes back 8 years so they buy the S&P 500 at 670, or better yet, buy bitcoin for $1 or $10, just to make up the loss in the purchasing power of their wages. Populism is the dismissive propaganda term that the media uses to distract us from the real cause of our problems: the total failure of the status quo, the corrupt, predatory, exploitive, inefficient, rentier pay-to-play-“democracy” cartel-state hierarchy that has failed the bottom 95%.

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Boomerang. Right back at you.

Britain Must Accept High Immigration Or Forget Trade Deal With India (BI)

Britain will struggle to sign new free trade deals with economic powerhouses like India after Brexit unless it is willing to accept high levels of immigration from these countries into Britain. That’s according to Lord Bilimoria, co-founder of Cobra beer, and one of Britain’s most well-known entrepreneurs. Bilimoria spoke to Business Insider on Friday following International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s claim that his efforts to make Britain a great trading nation are being undermined by the unwillingness of British businesses to export. The Indian-born British businessman described Fox as “utterly unfit” to serve as International Trade Secretary and claimed that nobody “across the board” in British business “has any respect” for the Conservative minister. “Nobody takes him seriously. That’s a fact,” Bilimoria told BI.

Bilimoria then described what he felt was a contradiction at the heart of the case for Brexit, in that Britain will not be able to significantly reduce inward migration — as many have Brexiteers promised — if it wants any hope of ambitious and wide-ranging free trade deals with countries like India. “What trade deals has he [Fox] actually done?” the life peer said. “The Indian high commissioner has warned that an agreement [between Britain and India] might not be in place until 2030 — and said talks haven’t even begun. “He said India will want the movement of professionals; the movement of doctors, the movement of engineers. He said both sides will benefit from this exchange. It won’t be a one-way street.”

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Excellent expansive overview of the past 100 years.

Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. [..] The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 26 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it. In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.

In short, there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch. So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1991 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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What’s happening to us? Manus, Greece, let alone Yemen, Myanmar, Syria, where are we heading?

Australia’s Final Solution (Connelly)

Over the weekend, 620 refugees were forcibly removed from the now decommissioned prison on Manus Island, following a ruling in October that their incarceration was unconstitutional. Under instruction from Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, prisoners were beaten with steel bars by Papua New Guinea’s paramilitary guards, starved of food, water, and electricity. They are forbidden access to doctors, nurses, social workers, urgently needed medication, and legal representation. Water supplies were deliberately destroyed. Makeshift wells were poisoned. The Australian government claims the prisoners were relocated to new facilities in nearby town, Lorengau, however those at the site say the facilities are both still under construction and at excess capacity. Prisoners forced onto buses were turned away at the gates, left sitting out in the heat for hours with no word on when they would be allowed to enter their new makeshift prisons.

[..] Australia, the ‘innovation nation’, the country of the fair go, could not possibly entertain a system of incarceration whose cruelty wasn’t entirely by design. So anchored are they to the lie that they ‘stopped the boats’, they will let more than 620 refugees fleeing civil war and religious persecution die from starvation, malnutrition, heart-problems and disease than find them a permanent home, lest they appear soft on national security. (FYI, they haven’t stopped the boats. The government has simply stopped reporting on their arrival. I have been told by members of the defence force who work on refugee ‘intercept vessels’ of mothers whose children had died in their arms, being sent back out to sea to drift aimlessly towards… anywhere but here. The boats haven’t stopped).

New Zealand’s Labour government has already volunteered to resettle the prisoners on both Manus and Nauru but their offers have been met with vitriol, scorn and diplomatic threats. Taking responsibility for a mess of its own making is a response too compassionate for this government. It needs to be barbaric. That’s the point of deterrence. If the barbarism isn’t obviously, outrageously cruel, then the system has failed. This is Australia’s final solution: ‘Deterrence’. Robbed of even the right to their own name, the refugees languishing in detention on Manus Island were literally issued numbers that would become their formal identity and how they are referred to by the prison guards (who incidentally have a long and “well-documented history of rapes, sexual assaults, physical abuse, murders and other serious human rights abuses”, according to a report from The Age).

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We’re picking off species one by one. We no longer respect life itself. Who are the gods we’re praying to, and why would they listen?

Fears For World’s Rarest Penguin As Population Plummets (G.)

Almost half the breeding population of the world’s most endangered penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin, has disappeared in one part of New Zealand and conservation groups believe commercial fishing is to blame. The yellow-eyed penguin is endemic to New Zealand’s South Island and sub-Antarctic islands, where there are just 1,600 to 1,800 left in the wild, down from nearly 7,000 in 2000. During a recent survey of the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island), department of conservation staff made the alarming discovery that close to half the island’s breeding population of penguins had vanished. Elsewhere in New Zealand the bird’s population is at its lowest level in 27 years. Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague said because the island was predator-free the evidence pointed to the animals being caught and drowned in the nets of commercial fishing trawlers.

Only 3% of commercial trawlers have independent observers on them to report bycatch deaths. “Unlike previous years where disease and high temperatures caused deaths on land, this year birds have disappeared at sea,” said Hague. “There is an active set net fishery within the penguins’ Whenua Hou foraging ground, and the indications are that nearly half the Whenua Hou hoiho population has been drowned in one or more of these nets.” Last year 24 nests were recorded on Whenua Hou, but this year rangers only found 14. Penguin numbers are declining in other parts of the South Island as well, and researchers fear the beloved bird, which appears on the New Zealand $5 note, is heading ever closer to extinction. University of Otago’s Thomas Mattern, a penguin expert, told the Otago Daily Times he believed time was running out for the birds. “Quite frankly, the yellow-eyed penguins, in my professional opinion, are on their way out,” Mattern said.

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