Jul 182019
 


Mathew Brady Abe Lincoln 1864

 

Showdown With Trump Looms As House Votes To Block Arms Sale To Saudi Arabia (AP)
House Votes Down Democrat’s Bid To Impeach Trump Over Recent Tweets (AP)
Feds End Investigation Into Trump Org And Hush Money Payments (CNN)
Foreign Purchases Of US Homes Plunge 36%, Chinese Flee The Market (CNBC)
New Zealand’s Armour-Plated Housing Bubble (Hickey)
Extraordinary Collapse In Home Ownership In Sydney And Melbourne (SMH)
Paradigm Shifts (Ray Dalio)
Ray Dalio Says Gold Top Investment During Upcoming ‘Paradigm Shift’ (CNBC)
US Removes Turkey From F-35 Program After S-400 Purchase From Russia (R.)
Chelsea Manning’s Daily Fines for Grand Jury Resistance Increase to $1000 (SP)

 

 

It’s showdowns all the way down. It would be good if they can do this one with a bit more smart. But they’re losing everything so far, so no high hopes. Of course it’s beyond gross to be chanting “send her home” at a rally. But he’s winning it all and they are not. The Democrats need a plan, they need brains, they need to organize.

Showdown With Trump Looms As House Votes To Block Arms Sale To Saudi Arabia (AP)

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted to block his administration from selling weapons and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia. The Democratic-led House on Wednesday passed the first of three resolutions of disapproval, 238-190, with votes on the others to immediately follow. Trump has actively courted an alliance with Riyadh and has pledged to veto the resolutions. The Senate cleared the measures last month, although by margins well short of making them veto proof. Overturning a president’s veto requires a two-thirds majority. The arms package is worth an estimated $8.1 billion and includes precision guided munitions, other bombs, ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support.

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Very predictable and therefore very stupid. It’s no time to start fights you can’t possibly win.

House Votes Down Democrat’s Bid To Impeach Trump Over Recent Tweets (AP)

The House easily killed a maverick Democrat’s effort Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for his recent racial insults against lawmakers of color, in a vote that provided an early snapshot of just how divided Democrats are over trying to oust him in the shadow of the 2020 elections. Democrats leaned against the resolution by Texas Rep. Al Green by about a 3-2 margin as the chamber killed the measure 332-95. The vote showed that so far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been successful in her effort to prevent a Democratic stampede toward impeachment before additional evidence is developed that could win over a public that has so far been skeptical about ousting Trump.

Even so, the numbers also showed that the number of Democrats open to impeachment remains substantial. About two dozen more conversions would split the party’s caucus in half over an issue that could potentially dominate next year’s presidential and congressional campaigns. “There’s a lot of grief, from a lot of different quarters,” Green, speaking to reporters after the vote, said of the reaction he’s received from colleagues. “But sometimes you just have to take a stand.” Every voting Republican favored derailing Green’s measure.

Pelosi and other party leaders considered his resolution a premature exercise that needlessly forced vulnerable swing-district lawmakers to cast a perilous and divisive vote. It also risked deepening Democrats’ already raw rift over impeachment, dozens of the party’s most liberal lawmakers itching to oust Trump. Recent polling has shown solid majorities oppose impeachment. Even if the Democratic-run House would vote to impeach Trump, the equivalent of filing formal charges, a trial by the Republican-led Senate would all but certainly acquit him, keeping him in office.

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And here’s another loss. It doesn’t stop.

Feds End Investigation Into Trump Org And Hush Money Payments (CNN)

Federal prosecutors in New York have ended their investigation into the Trump Organization’s role in hush money payments made to women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump and have been ordered by a judge to release additional information connected to their related probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, according to court documents filed Wednesday. CNN reported Friday that the Manhattan US Attorney’s office had approached the end of its investigation of the Trump Organization and wasn’t poised to charge any executives involved in the company’s effort to reimburse Cohen for money he paid to silence one of the women. That payment constituted an illegal campaign contribution, according to prosecutors. Trump has denied the affair allegations.

“The campaign finance violations discussed in the Materials are a matter of national importance,” US District Court Judge William Pauley wrote in his decision. “Now that the Government’s investigation into those violations has concluded, it is time that every American has an opportunity to scrutinize the Materials.” Pauley ordered a copy of the government’s July status report and copies of search warrant materials from the Cohen case to be filed publicly with very limited redactions by Thursday at 11 a.m. ET. The conclusion of federal prosecutors’ investigation of the Trump company’s role in the Cohen matter marks a significant victory for the President’s family business, although it likely doesn’t come as a complete surprise.

There had been no contact between the Manhattan US Attorney’s office and officials at the Trump Organization in more than five months, CNN reported Friday. A lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, said: “We are pleased that the investigation surrounding these ridiculous campaign finance allegations is now closed. We have maintained from the outset that the President never engaged in any campaign finance violation.”

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I see many Chinese tourists here in Athens. And often think Beijing can’t let that trend continue, because these people can’t pay for their trips in yuan. But yes, it’s easier to start with halting the outflow of larger amounts.

Foreign Purchases Of US Homes Plunge 36%, Chinese Flee The Market (CNBC)

Challenging conditions in the U.S. housing market, along with tighter currency controls by the Chinese government, caused a stunning drop in foreign demand for American homes. The dollar volume of homes purchased by foreign buyers from April 2018 through March 2019 dropped 36% from the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors. The decline was due to a drop in the number and average price of purchases. Foreigners bought 183,100 properties with a total value of about $77.9 billion, down from 266,800 valued at $121 billion in the previous period. They paid a median price of $280,600, which is higher than the median for all existing homebuyers ($259,600), but it was down from $290,400 the previous year.


“A confluence of many factors — slower economic growth abroad, tighter capital controls in China, a stronger U.S. dollar and a low inventory of homes for sale — contributed to the pullback of foreign buyers,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “However, the magnitude of the decline is quite striking, implying less confidence in owning a property in the U.S.” The Chinese were the leading buyers for the seventh consecutive year, purchasing an estimated $13.4 billion worth of residential property. Yet that was a 56% decline from the previous 12 months and comparatively the biggest percentage drop of all foreign buyers. Chinese economic growth slowed to 6.3% in 2019 compared with 6.9% in 2017, when the previous buyer survey began. The Chinese government also tightened its grip on the outflow of cash to purchase foreign property.

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New Zealand housing, like Australia and Vancouver, depends on the Chinese too.

New Zealand’s Armour-Plated Housing Bubble (Hickey)

New Zealanders usually welcome the praise when overseas authorities describe us as the best in the world. This time, not so much. In the past fortnight, global economic news authorities The Economist and Bloomberg Economics have both declared New Zealand houses to be vastly over-valued relative to both rents and incomes. They describe New Zealand as in bubble territory similar to those seen in other countries before the Global Financial Crisis and vulnerable to the sort of 30-40 percent price crash seen in the likes of Ireland and parts of the US through 2007 to 2010. The Economist’s long-running Global House Price Index was refreshed on June 27 with March quarter data for most countries and showed New Zealand top of the pops when it came to over-valuation relative to incomes and second most over-valued relative to rents behind Canada.

It found New Zealand prices in the December quarter of 2018 to be 57 percent over-valued relative to rents, just above Australia’s 42 percent overvalued in the March quarter. New Zealand was 113 percent over-valued relative to rents, just behind Canada’s 120 percent, The Economist found. New Zealand prices have more than trebled since 1990, while British and American prices are still less than double what they were 30 years ago. “On this basis, house prices appear to be on an unsustainable path in Australia, Canada and New Zealand,” The Economist wrote. “Ten years ago they reached similarly dizzying heights against rents and incomes in Spain, Ireland and some American cities, only to endure a brutal collapse,” it concluded.

[..] New Zealand’s housing market is now worth NZ$1.13 trillion, which is up by more than $1 trillion from NZ$123 billion in 1990. The increase is more than triple because there are more houses with more extras (decks/garages/rooms) added on. That’s $1 trillion in untaxed capital gains, which at the top marginal rate would have generated extra tax revenues of $330 billion, or enough to build nearly 700,000 new state houses or fund the next 14 years of New Zealand Superannuation payments. Our housing market is worth 3.9 times our GDP and more than 7.2 times the value of our stock market. For comparison sake, Australia’s housing market is worth A$6.6 trillion or 3.5 times Australia’s GDP and 3.3 times the value of its stock market. America’s housing market is worth US$33.3 trillion or 1.6 times US GDP and 1.5 times the value of the US stock market.

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Governments like bubbles.

Extraordinary Collapse In Home Ownership In Sydney And Melbourne (SMH)

The number of people owning their home outright has collapsed by a third as house prices have soared four-fold over the past two decades, leaving a growing number of older Australians shackled to mortgages as they head into retirement. In the mid-1990s, almost 44 per cent of people in NSW owned their home outright, but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics this has now fallen to just 29.7 per cent. At the same time, the proportion of people in NSW with a mortgage has jumped by more than 30 per cent, with many of those heading towards their retirement years. The swing from ownership to mortgage has occurred over the past 20 years as the median house price in Sydney lifted by 460 per cent, even taking into account the recent market softening.

It’s a similar story in Victoria, where in the mid-1990s more than 45 per cent of people were mortgage-free, but now that figure has fallen to just 31 per cent. Victorians are among the most exposed to changing interest rates, with more than 37 per cent of people holding a mortgage. Two decades ago less than 30 per cent held a housing debt with their bank. Over the same period, the median house price in Melbourne has soared from $126,131 to $806,000. The Northern Territory has the smallest proportion of people who own their home outright, at just 17 per cent. Among the states, just 27 per cent of residents in Queensland and Western Australia enjoy life without a mortgage or rental payments.

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Dalio channels Minsky: stability leads to instability. He must be aware of that.

Paradigm Shifts (Ray Dalio)

There are always big unsustainable forces that drive the paradigm. They go on long enough for people to believe that they will never end even though they obviously must end. A classic one of those is an unsustainable rate of debt growth that supports the buying of investment assets; it drives asset prices up, which leads people to believe that borrowing and buying those investment assets is a good thing to do. But it can’t go on forever because the entities borrowing and buying those assets will run out of borrowing capacity while the debt service costs rise relative to their incomes by amounts that squeeze their cash flows. When these things happen, there is a paradigm shift.

Debtors get squeezed and credit problems emerge, so there is a retrenchment of lending and spending on goods, services, and investment assets so they go down in a self-reinforcing dynamic that looks more opposite than similar to the prior paradigm. This continues until it’s also overdone, which reverses in a certain way that I won’t digress into but is explained in my book Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises [..] Another classic example that comes to mind is that extended periods of low volatility tend to lead to high volatility because people adapt to that low volatility, which leads them to do things (like borrow more money than they would borrow if volatility was greater) that expose them to more volatility, which prompts a self-reinforcing pickup in volatility.

There are many classic examples like this that repeat over time that I won’t get into now. Still, I want to emphasize that understanding which types of paradigms exist and how they might shift is required to consistently invest well. That is because any single approach to investing—e.g., investing in any asset class, investing via any investment style (such as value, growth, distressed), investing in anything—will experience a time when it performs so terribly that it can ruin you.

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Think he means that for pension funds as well?

Ray Dalio Says Gold Top Investment During Upcoming ‘Paradigm Shift’ (CNBC)

Hedge fund kingpin Ray Dalio is seeing a case for gold as central banks get more aggressive with policies that devalue currencies and are about to cause a “paradigm shift” in investing. Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, wrote in a LinkedIn post that investors have been pushed into stocks and other assets that have equity-like returns. As a result, too many people are holding these types of securities and likely to face diminishing returns. “I think these are unlikely to be good real returning investments and that those that will most likely do best will be those that do well when the value of money is being depreciated and domestic and international conflicts are significant, such as gold,” the Bridgewater Associates leader said.

“Additionally, for reasons I will explain in the near future, most investors are underweighted in such assets, meaning that if they just wanted to have a better balanced portfolio to reduce risk, they would have more of this sort of asset. For this reason, I believe that it would be both risk-reducing and return-enhancing to consider adding gold to one’s portfolio. I will soon send out an explanation of why I believe that gold is an effective portfolio diversifier.” [..] Dalio’s call comes two weeks before the Federal Reserve is expected to cut its benchmark interest rate by at least a quarter point. That move comes after a three-year cycle of raising rates from the historically accommodative near-zero levels implemented during the financial crisis.

The fresh trends are part of what he labeled a new “paradigm shift” that comes after the last one during the crisis. Investors, Dalio said, are going to need to change their mindset about what will work after the longest bull market run in Wall Street history. “In paradigm shifts, most people get caught overextended doing something overly popular and get really hurt,” he wrote. “On the other hand, if you’re astute enough to understand these shifts, you can navigate them well or at least protect yourself against them.”

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“Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35..”

US Removes Turkey From F-35 Program After S-400 Purchase From Russia (R.)

The United States said on Wednesday that it was removing Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, a move long threatened and expected after Ankara began accepting delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system last week. The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were flown to the Murted military air base northwest of Ankara on Friday, sealing NATO ally Turkey’s deal with Russia, which Washington had struggled for months to prevent. “The U.S. and other F-35 partners are aligned in this decision to suspend Turkey from the program and initiate the process to formally remove Turkey from the program,” Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told a briefing.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the move was unfair and could affect relations between the two countries. Lord said moving the supply chain for the advanced fighter jet would cost the United States between $500 million and $600 million in non-recurring engineering costs. Turkey makes more than 900 parts of the F-35, she said, adding the supply chain would transition from Turkish to mainly U.S. factories as Turkish suppliers are removed. “Turkey will certainly and regrettably lose jobs and future economic opportunities from this decision,” Lord said. “It will no longer receive more than $9 billion in projected work share related to the F-35 over the life of the program.”

The F-35 stealth fighter jet, the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, is used by NATO and other U.S. allies. Washington is concerned that deploying the S-400 with the F-35 would allow Russia to gain too much inside information about the aircraft’s stealth system. “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the White House said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

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One of my greatest heroes. She does what Muhammad Ali did.

Chelsea Manning’s Daily Fines for Grand Jury Resistance Increase to $1000 (SP)

Daily fines against Chelsea Manning for resisting a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks increased to $1000 on July 16. On May 16, Judge Anthony Trenga held Manning in civil contempt and ordered her to be sent back to the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria. The court also imposed a fine of $500 per day after 30 days, and then a fine of $1000 per day after 60 days. From June 16 to July 15, the court fined her $500/day. Those fines total $15,000. If Manning “persists in her refusal” for the next 15 months or until the grand jury’s term ends, her legal team says she will face a total amount of fines that is over $440,000. This excessive amount may violate her Eighth Amendment rights under the Constitution.


In May, Manning’s attorneys filed a motion challenging the harshness of the fines. The federal court has yet to rule on the motion or hold a hearing. The motion asserted there is no “appropriate coercive sanction” because Manning will never testify. She should be released from jail and relieved of all fines. “Ms. Manning has publicly articulated the moral basis for her refusal to comply with the grand jury subpoena, in statements to the press, in open court, and most recently, in a letter addressed to this court,” her attorneys stated. “She is suffering physically and psychologically, and is at the time of this writing in the process of losing her home as a result of her present confinement.”

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Jun 262019
 
 June 26, 2019  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Pablo Picasso The muse 1935

 

Iran Says It Will Never Pursue A Nuclear Weapon (ZH)
Iran Foreign Minister Accuses Bolton Of Plotting For War (R.)
NATO Calls On Russia To Destroy New Missile, Warns Of Response (R.)
Mueller To Testify Before Two House Committees July 17 (AFP)
A. Gary Shilling Says The US Is Already In A Recession
Housing Market Slump Could Drive Global Growth To A Decade Low (MW)
Merrill Lynch Caught Criminally Manipulating Precious Metals Market (ZH)
Apple Doubles Down On Buybacks (Axios)
Italy’s Gold Now Belongs To The ECB (ZH)
Investors With $34 Trillion Demand Urgent Climate Change Action (R.)

 

 

“How many people have you killed with a nuclear weapon? How many generations have you wiped out with these weapons?”

Iran Says It Will Never Pursue A Nuclear Weapon (ZH)

Following Iran’s statement that diplomacy with the United States is “closed forever” after Washington sanctioned the Supreme Leader and other key officials, including on the foreign minister himself – making it practically hard to actually “do” diplomacy given sanctions also have the impact of restricting travel for the nation’s top diplomat – FM Javad Zarif slammed America’s track record with nukes. “You were really worried about 150 people? How many people have you killed with a nuclear weapon? How many generations have you wiped out with these weapons?” Zarif said Tuesday in reference to Trump’s calculus that he refrained from ordering last Thursday night’s readied military strike against Iran when informed 150 people would die.


“It is us who, because of our religious views, will never pursue a nuclear weapon,” Zarif added. Indeed it’s been long understood that since Iran’s Islamic revolution the Ayatollahs have been consistently against nuclear weapons on moral grounds, citing Koranic principles. The US remains the only country in the world to have ever deployed nuclear weapons in a wartime situation, dropping two on Japan at the end of WWII. Though scholars generally agree that the overwhelming destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made counting impossible, conservative estimates tend to be at over 200,000 dead and wounded total wrought by the twin atom bombs dropped over those cities. And of course, the overwhelming majority of the Japanese dead and wounded were civilians.

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How dare he.

Iran Foreign Minister Accuses Bolton Of Plotting For War (R.)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton of plotting for war against Iran in a tweet on Tuesday. “Wanna know why those with proven record of detesting diplomacy are suddenly interested in talks? Just read @AmbJohnBolton’s 2017 recipe for destroying the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote, adding a link to a 2017 article written by Bolton in the National Review. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is the landmark 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers. “Iran never left the negotiation table. #B_Team dragged the U.S. out, while plotting for war,” Zarif added. Zarif has in the past said that a “B-team” including Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.

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An excuse for more rockets on Russia’s border.

NATO Calls On Russia To Destroy New Missile, Warns Of Response (R.)

NATO urged Russia on Tuesday to destroy a new missile before an August deadline and save a treaty that keeps land-based nuclear warheads out of Europe or face a more determined alliance response in the region. NATO defense ministers will discuss on Wednesday their next steps if Moscow keeps the missile system that the United States says would allow short-notice nuclear attacks on Europe and break the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). “We call on Russia to take the responsible path, but we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference. “We will need to respond,” Stoltenberg said.


He declined to go into more details. But diplomats said defense ministers will consider more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training and the repositioning U.S. sea-based missiles. The United States and its NATO allies want Russia to destroy its 9M729/SSC-8 nuclear-capable cruise missile system, which Moscow has so far refused to do. It denies any violations of the INF treaty, accusing Washington of seeking an arms race. Without a deal, the United States has said it will withdraw from the INF treaty on Aug. 2, removing constraints on its own ability to develop nuclear-capable, medium-range missiles.

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Brought to you by the Trump 2020 re-election committee.

Mueller To Testify Before Two House Committees July 17 (AFP)

Former US special counsel Robert Mueller is to testify in public about his report into Russian electoral interference, paving the way for a historic television moment in which Democrats will attempt to make the case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment before the American people. The scrupulously tight-lipped Mueller will appear at back-to-back hearings on July 17 of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, which announced Tuesday that the prosecutor had agreed to abide by subpoenas for his testimony. “Russia attacked our democracy to help Trump win. Trump welcomed and used that help,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said on Twitter.


“As Mueller said, that should concern every American. And now, every American will get to hear directly from Mueller.” Trump’s apparent response to the announcement came swiftly in a two-word tweet in which he complained, without referring to Mueller, of “Presidential Harassment!” The Mueller report released in April outlined numerous contacts between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and government-linked Russians, as well as evidence that the president tried on several occasions to stymie the investigation. The Democrats have been split on whether to launch impeachment proceedings against the Republican president but — fearing that much of the country is unaware of the Mueller report’s contents — have been asking major figures in the probe to testify in public on its findings.

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He says it will be mild.

A. Gary Shilling Says The US Is Already In A Recession

Gary Shilling, an economist and financial analyst who is credited with predicting several recessions over the past 40 years, thinks the U.S. is in a relatively mild slump. “I think we’re probably already in a recession but I think it will probably be a run-of-the-mill affair, which means real GDP would decline 1.5% to 2%, not the 3.5% to 4% you had in the very serious recessions,” Shilling, president of economic and financial research firm A. Shilling & Co., said in a recent interview broadcast this week by Real Vision. In such a tempered slide, he says, “Stocks probably wouldn’t fall” but if they did, they likely would tumble about 22% — similar to other recent recessions. That, he says, would take the Standard and Poor’s 500 index about 200 points below it’s Christmas Eve nadir of 2,351.


His view is at odds with the vast majority of economists who expect the economy to grow a solid 2% to 2.5% this year after expanding at about a 3% clip last year and in the first quarter. Shilling points to: • Declining industrial production, a result of a weak global economy and the Trump administration’s trade war with China. • Feeble job growth of 75,000 in May, along with downward revisions to prior months. • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s recession probability chart, which shows about a 30% chance of a downturn the next 12 months, up from about 10% early this year. That data is based on an inversion of the yield curve, which has shown rates on 3-month Treasury bonds topping 10-year notes recently – a sign that investors don’t have much faith in the longer-term outlook. Inversions do herald recessions but often two years in advance.

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China: $6.8 trillion in household debt, a 70% rise in personal debt from just three years ago.

Housing Market Slump Could Drive Global Growth To A Decade Low (MW)

The global housing market is showing cracks. Those fissures could spread throughout the world-wide economy, potentially sending world-wide gross domestic product, or GDP, to its lowest annual pace of in 10 years, according to research from Oxford Economics, led by economists Adam Slater, and John Payne in a research report dated June 24. “A combined slump in house prices and housing investment in the major economies could cut world growth to a 10-year low of 2.2% by 2020 – and to below 2% if it also triggered a tightening in global credit conditions.” the Oxford Economics researchers wrote.

A decade since the 2008-09 U.S. housing bubble imploded, sparking a global financial crisis, worries about the health of the global housing market persist. An Oxford Economics’ proprietary gauge of housing conditions in the globe shows that home prices have declined by 10% and investments in houses have shrunk by 8%. Housing prices across the globe have come in to focus as a protracted tariff squabble between the U.S. and China ripples throughout the global economy, compelling a number of central bankers to entertain the idea of lowering benchmark borrowing costs in an effort to stimulate, or just maintain, economic expansion.

The Federal Reserve last Wednesday signaled a willingness to lower federal-funds rates, currently at 2.25%-2.50%, if financial conditions worsen. In China, a decade long housing boom has sent home values to the lofty levels, with buying in the region underpinned by some $6.8 trillion in household debt, according to the Bank for International Settlements, a 70% rise in personal debt from just three years ago, with much of that tied to residential mortgages. Oxford Economics says data show that residential investment in China is slowing as are starts for new construction also ebb

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Nopbody goes to jail, nobody even pays a fine. A broken system indeed.

Merrill Lynch Caught Criminally Manipulating Precious Metals Market (ZH)

On Tuesday after the close, the CFTC announced that Merrill Lynch Commodities (MLCI), a global commodities trading business, agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the government’s investigation into a multi-year scheme by MLCI precious metals traders to mislead the market for precious metals futures contracts traded on the COMEX (Commodity Exchange Inc.). The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office. In other words, if the Merrill Lynch Commodities group was an individual, he would have gotten ye olde perp walk.

As MLCI itself admitted, beginning in 2008 and continuing through 2014, precious metals traders employed by MLCI schemed to deceive other market participants by injecting materially false and misleading information into the precious metals futures market. They did so in the now traditional market manipulation way – by placing fraudulent orders for precious metals futures contracts that, at the time the traders placed the orders, they intended to cancel before execution. In doing so, the traders intended to “spoof” or manipulate the market by creating the false impression of increased supply or demand and, in turn, to fraudulently induce other market participants to buy and to sell futures contracts at quantities, prices and times that they otherwise likely would not have done so.

Over the relevant period, the traders placed thousands of fraudulent orders. Of course, since we are talking about a bank, and since banks are in charge of not only the DOJ, and virtually every other branch of government, not to mention the Fed, nobody will go to jail and MLCI entered into a non-prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a combined – and measly – $25 million in criminal fines, restitution and forfeiture of trading profits.

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Stock manipulation

Apple Doubles Down On Buybacks (Axios)

Apple again led S&P 500 companies in buybacks, spending a new record $23.8 billion in Q1, more than doubling its spend from the previous quarter, data from S&P Global shows. Apple has long been a buyback behemoth. The company holds 8 of the 10 all-time records for quarterly buybacks, and has spent more than $75 billion on buybacks over just the past year. It has spent $234.7 billion over the most recent 5-year period, and $284.3 billion over the last 10-year period. Apple accounted for 23% of share buybacks made by the top 20 S&P 500 companies. The big picture: While Apple has increased its buyback spending, other S&P 500 companies have slowed from 2018’s record pace.


Companies bought back just $205.8 billion worth of their own shares, a 7.7% decline from Q4 2018, S&P reported. That ended the streak of 4 consecutive quarters of record buybacks. Yes, but: Buybacks rose 8.9% from Q1 2018, which set a record at the time. Outside analysis of the broader stock market, beyond just the S&P, shows announced buyback spending was higher in Q1 2019 than Q4 2018. Ratings agency Moody’s warned last month that companies are spending more on share buybacks and dividends than they were paying in taxes before the 2017 tax cut. The tax savings “can be wiped out entirely by even a modest change in share buybacks,” Christina Padgett, senior vice president at Moody’s, told Axios at the time.

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Italy has quite a lot of it.

Italy’s Gold Now Belongs To The ECB (ZH)

As the squabbling over Italy’s populist government’s plans to blow out its budget deficit to finance an agenda of tax cuts and social spending (including a ‘citizen’s income’ that’s essentially UBI-lite) crowded the headlines, the issue of who owns the 2,451 metric tons of gold reserves held by the Bank of Italy has been quietly ignored – at least, outside of Italy. But that might be about to change. On Tuesday, the ECB asked the League, the dominant party in Italy’s ruling coalition, to remove a reference to the Bank of Italy holding gold as an “exclusive title of deposit” according to Bloomberg. Translation? If Italy is not allowed to have title to Italian gold, then Italy’s gold now belongs to the ECB.

Today’s escalation over Italy’s gold “title” comes two months after the WSJ reported that Italy’s ruling populists pushed ahead with efforts to seize control of the central bank and its gold reserves. Complaining that hundreds of thousands of small individual investors lost billions of dollars after several Italian banks failed in recent years, the current Italian government depicted the central bank as a symbol of a technocratic elite aloof from the needs of ordinary Italians. “We need a change of course at the Bank of Italy if we think about what happened in the last years,” said Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5 Star Movement. Shortly thereafter, 5 Star lawmakers asked parliament to pass two draft laws.

One law would instruct the central bank’s owners, most of them private banks , to sell their shares to the Italian Treasury at prices from the 1930s.The other law would declare the Italian people to be the owners of the Bank of Italy’s reserve of 2451.8 metric tons of gold, worth around $102 billion at current prices. “The gold belongs to the Italians, not to the bankers,” said Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy, a far-right opposition party that supports both bills. “We are ready to battle everywhere in Italy and to bring Italians to the streets if necessary.” So far there has been no fighting but if indeed Draghi just told Italy that its gold now belongs to the Frankfurt-based central bank we expect that to change..

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So how much are they willing to pay?

Investors With $34 Trillion Demand Urgent Climate Change Action (R.)

Investors managing more than $34 trillion in assets, nearly half the world’s invested capital, are demanding urgent action from governments on climate change, piling pressure on leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies meeting this week. In an open letter to the “governments of the world” seen by Reuters, groups representing 477 investors stressed “the urgency of decisive action” on climate change to achieve the Paris Agreement target. Almost 200 nations agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Current policies put the world on track for at least a 3C rise by the end of the century.


The letter comes ahead of a June 28-29 G20 summit in Japan and as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urges countries to back more ambitious climate goals. “There is an ambition gap… This ambition gap is of great concern to investors and needs to be addressed, with urgency,” a statement from the investors accompanying the letter said. Governments were urged to strengthen their Paris Agreement targets by 2020; phase out thermal coal power and fossil fuel subsidies by set deadlines; set a robust global carbon price by 2020 and improve climate-related financial reporting. “It is vital for our long-term planning and asset allocation decisions that governments work closely with investors to incorporate Paris-aligned climate scenarios into their policy frameworks and energy transition pathways,” the statement said.

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Arundhati Roy:

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 062019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with ball 1 1928

 

Amazon To Release Mueller Report in Full Print on March 26 (Taer)
Roger Stone’s Book May Violate Gag Order (R.)
Sharply Lower Prices Help Sell New US Houses, But it’s Not Enough (WS)
Democrats In Search Of A Crime To Punish Trump And His Voters (Sara Carter)
Trump Slams Democrats Over Probe He Calls Harassment (MW)
House Dems’ Rebuke of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons (Greenwald)
Will Congress Repair The Safety Net For Older Americans? (NA)
US Trucking Boom U-Turns (WS)
Division! Brexit Stretches Arcane British Parliament To Breaking Point (R.)
UK Cash System ‘On The Verge Of Collapse’ (G.)
BOE and ECB Activate Emergency Currency Swap Line (Ind.)
Toyota, BMW Warn No-Deal Brexit Could Hit UK Investment, Production (BBC)
What Do The People Of The World Die From? (BBC)
Arctic Animals Shift Feeding Habits (AFP)

 

 

Nice find.

Amazon To Release Mueller Report in Full Print on March 26 (Taer)

If you are a journalist looking for a copy of The Mueller Report, Amazon got news for you. They claim that the report will be out on March 26. It’s not clear if Attorney General William Barr has cleared the released of the full Mueller report. But Amazon announced today the pre-order of “The Mueller Report”, with an introduction by constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz.

As CNN has previously reported, Barr has been closely consulting with top Justice Department officials on the outlines of plans to handle the highly anticipated report, including to what extent it should be shared with Congress, and by extension the public. Could this be a trick from Dershowitz to sell a book about the report or would it be the full report, this we will have to wait and see. Amazon also list Robert Mueller III as author of the book. The book will be offered in both e-book and paperback editions. This is a developing story that will be updated.

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A book that first came out in 2017. That can’t be it. It was re-published under another name and critized Mueller in its introduction. Oh, that’s it. Wait: it was published before the gag order was issued. No, so that can’t be it either.

Roger Stone’s Book May Violate Gag Order (R.)

A federal judge said Tuesday that the publication of a book last month by President Donald Trump’s former political adviser Roger Stone which criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller may violate a media gag order – a transgression that could land the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” behind bars. Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Stone and his lawyers to provide her with a report by Monday explaining how he plans to comply with the order, and also demanded that he turn over certain records detailing everything he knew about the book’s release.

“There is no question that the order prohibited and continues to prohibit the defendant from making any public statements, using any medium, concerning the investigation,” Jackson wrote. “It does not matter when the defendant may have first formulated the opinions expressed, or when he first put them into words: he may no longer share his views on these particular subjects with the world.” Shortly after Stone was charged, Jackson gave him wide latitude to discuss the case against him as long as it was not in the vicinity of the federal courthouse. But just days later, she tightened the reins with a sweeping gag order after Stone posted a photo of her on his Instagram account next to an image resembling the crosshairs of a gun and a message critical of both her and Mueller.

In issuing her gag order on Feb. 21, Jackson warned Stone he would not have a second chance if he violated it. She also said his apologies about the posting, which was later removed, rang hollow. After the gag order, Jackson learned that a 2017 book by Stone originally titled “The Making of the President 2016” had been re-published under the name “The Myth of Russian Collusion” and that it criticized Mueller in its introduction. In addition, Stone also in March posted an item on Instagram that said “Who framed Roger Stone.” It was later removed. Stone’s lawyers have said the book does not violate the gag order because it came out on Feb. 19, before the order was issued.

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Did you notice the similarities between the US and China?

Sharply Lower Prices Help Sell New US Houses, But it’s Not Enough (WS)

Here is the good news: Lower prices stir sales. Clearly, homebuilders are motivated to move their inventory, and they’re making deals at lower prices. The median price of new single-family houses whose sales closed in December fell 7.2% from a year earlier, to $318,000, according to the Commerce Department this morning. December’s 7.2% drop and November’s blistering 11.6% drop were the sharpest year-over-year declines since Housing Bust 1:

The new-house sales data, produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is very volatile. It is revised in the following months, often quite drastically. But despite the ups-and-downs in the monthly data, trends emerge. The steep year-over-year price increases in prior years formed a multi-year boom in prices that has now outrun what the market can bear. The median price of new houses ballooned by about 55% from the range in 2011 and 2012 to the peak in November and December 2017 ($343,300), which exceeded by 31% the crazy bubble peak in March 2007, before it all came apart:

Sales of new houses, in terms of the seasonally adjusted annual rate, had plunged late last year. The year-over-year decline exceeded 15% in November. So in December, this seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales finally responded to lower prices and declined a little, instead of plunging. The year-over-year drop of 2.4%, to an annual rate of sales of 621,000, was the fourth month in a row of year-over-year declines – but a heck of a lot less bad than the double-digit plunges in the prior two months:

That the price declines have not moved the needle enough also shows up in the inventory of new houses for sale that just keeps on rising. In December, the supply surged 17% year-over-year to 344,000 houses, for a supply of 6.6 months at December’s rate of sales (up from 5.5 months a year earlier):

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Trump has this one down: “Basically they’ve started the campaign..”

Democrats In Search Of A Crime To Punish Trump And His Voters (Sara Carter)

The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler is a man in search of a crime. Nadler and his colleague House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff have moved the conversation from Russian collusion and are now promising to investigate virtually everything connected to President Donald Trump. Mind you, we the tax payers will be paying for these investigations and it will drag America and the administration into another two years of endless witch hunts. Yes, a witch-hunt. Can you imagine if someone despised you so much that all they did day in and day out was search for something, anything, that would get those around you to doubt your intentions. Imagine having to fight every single day of your life against never ending accusations.

Even when those accusations are later proven false it won’t matter because the original lie has already been thoroughly disseminated far and wide among the population. Why are Nadler, D-NY, and Schiff, D-CA, promising these investigations? Because they want to impeach Trump. It’s just that simple. They also want to send a message to the American people: your vote really didn’t matter because in the end it’s Congress that holds the power. Think about that. There was never any evidence of crime that called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to establish a special counsel. Yet, he did. In fact, he wrote the letter authorizing Trump to fire former FBI Director James Comey. Comey would’ve been fired the first day had Hillary Clinton been president. However, obstruction charges are at the top of the Nadler’s list of investigations.

He also promises to investigate all of Trump’s financial dealings and past business associations. Why? The pair realize that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report will not do the damage they were hoping it would. Both Democratic leaders, supported by their party, realize that Mueller has found no evidence of a conspiracy with the Russians. It has left believers like Schiff, Nadler and many former Obama Administration officials who’ve worked diligently over the past several years to destroy Trump, seething. They do not want to go on the defensive. Nadler and Schiff don’t want to explain that their narrative has been debunked. They do not want Americans to look too close because in the end what will be discovered is that the crimes they are accusing others of committing are the ones they themselves have committed.

So what do they do? They fish for a crime, use the media to propagate their lies and spread malicious rumors. Those crimes can be anything from obstruction of justice, process crimes or financial crimes. The lawmakers will use the power of America’s purse. They will investigate Trump’s children, those who support him and those who work closely with him at the White House. nHowever, remember this: It is the American people, liberty and the principals endowed in our Constitution that will pay the heaviest burden. Nadler announced his probe on Monday into potential “obstruction of justice.” He will lob accusation, after accusation, against the Trump administration and his family. He will seek documents and communications from over 60 individuals connected with the White House. He will look for that needle in a haystack for as long as it takes.

Nadler and Schiff will conduct what they describe as thorough investigations. They will keep these lengthy investigations going to buy time on the clock until they get close to the Democratic National Convention. Nadler will do so at the cost of our nation. Don’t be fooled. He doesn’t care about the American people or justice. In the end, this all about ‘getting back’ for the Democrats.

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You won’t find anyone saying: “but he’s the president, the people voted for him” anymore. What will that mean for subsequent presidents?

Trump Slams Democrats Over Probe He Calls Harassment (MW)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday escalated attacks on Democrats investigating him and his associates, as he signed an executive order establishing a task force addressing veteran suicide. Trump blasted Democrats who have launched an investigation into his White House and allies, saying on Twitter that lawmakers including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler are looking to “harass” the 81 individuals and entities they’re seeking documents from. Those individuals include Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., as well as David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer.

Calling Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff “stone cold CRAZY,” Trump said letters were “sent to innocent people to harass them.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said late Monday the investigation was “disgraceful and abusive.” Nadler said his committee is beginning a probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power. Trump later said Democrats’ probe was a “disgrace” and said they wanted to “play games” instead of work on infrastructure or health care. “Basically they’ve started the campaign,” he said.

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They’ve started the campaign. But they actually believe they can get rid of Ocasio and Omar whenever they want. And that’s not true. The old guard is done.

House Dems’ Rebuke of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons (Greenwald)

GOP Congressman Steve King has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years, yet Democrats – who controlled the House for four of those years and now control it again – never formally rebuked or condemned him until last month (they did so at the same time that Republicans removed him from his Committee assignments due to a long history of white supremacist remarks). By extremely stark contrast, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar – the first black Muslim woman ever elected to the Congress – has served in the House for a little more than two months, and House Democratic leaders have already formally condemned her once and are preparing to so again, this time even more harshly and officially, on Wednesday.

On February 11, the House Democratic leadership, responding to statements made by Omar about large donors and AIPAC driving pro-Israel policies, issued a joint statement condemning Omar for what they called her “use of anti-Semitic tropes,” adding that her “prejudicial accusations about Israel’s defenders” are “deeply offensive.” They then demanded: “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.” Omar then issued a statement of her own in which she “unequivocally apologized” for unintentionally invoking “anti-Semitic tropes,” but made crystal clear that “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics” – whether it be AIPAC, as well as the NRA or the fossil fuel industry – was one she would continue to aggressively address and combat.

The Congresswoman quickly made good on her promise to continue speaking out about AIPAC’s toxic influence, the destructive and immoral support given to Israel by the U.S., and the subordination of Americans’ Constitutional rights and the country’s national interests to that foreign nation. Speaking last Wednesday in Washington at a town hall meeting with several other progressive House members, Congresswoman Omar was asked about the use of the “anti-semitism” label to shut down debate over Israel. In reply, she said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” That remark created a new outburst of anti-Semitism accusations against Omar, initially provoked by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, whose column carried the most sensationalistic and misleading headline possible: “Ilhan Omar Accuses Israel Hawks of ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country.’”

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Small detail: older Americans own lots of firearms.

Will Congress Repair The Safety Net For Older Americans? (NA)

The first two federal safety net programs, Social Security and Unemployment Insurance, will turn 65 next year. This historic milestone is being preceded by a new focus from the new Congress on how the government’s safety net programs are performing and what changes might be needed to improve them. Safety net programs have evolved over time, from Head Start in 1964 to Supplemental Security Income in 1972 to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, with its expansion of Medicaid to approximately 15 million people. And social safety net programs have done a lot of good over time. For example, Social Security has lifted an estimated 27 million people out of poverty. However, against this backdrop are some more disturbing realities.

First, many eligible Americans, especially older adults, are not receiving safety net benefits to which they are entitled. For example, the National Council on Aging estimates that almost 60% of older Americans eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) aren’t enrolled. Access to federal benefits is especially challenging for older women, who represent nearly two-thirds of all people 65 and older living in poverty. Certain safety net programs have shown a bias against women regarding benefits and coverage by considering work history and salary history; historically, women have been more likely to be unpaid caregivers and to have lower salaries than men. Fixing this type of bias is a prime example of potential safety net reform.

Second, safety net program benefits are not keeping up with the need. For example, Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), a program for low-income older adults and people with disabilities, has only seen minimal benefit increases since it was created nearly 50 years ago. Third, the government’s measurement of what constitutes poverty for safety net programs, especially poverty of older adults, is grossly outdated. This results in many more older Americans living in poverty than the federal guidelines show. Finally, out-of-pocket health care costs are not sustainable for some poorer, older adults in the Medicare program, leaving many with hard choices between paying for food or rent.

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But cyclical.

US Trucking Boom U-Turns (WS)

Orders for Class-8 trucks – made by Daimler (Freightliner, Western Star), Paccar (Peterbuilt, Kenworth), Navistar International, and Volvo Group (Mack Trucks, Volvo Trucks) – plunged 58% in February compared to February last year, to 16,700 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence after they’d already plunged 58% year-over-year in January and 43% in December. The orders in January and February were back in the range of the “transportation recession” that had hit the industry in 2015 and 2016. At the time, truck and engine manufacturers reacted with layoffs. But for now, they’re sitting on a massive backlog from the boom in orders last year (data via FTR):

The business is infamously cyclical, with regular booms that lead to over-ordering and then overcapacity, followed by busts that then sort it all out again. The industry is also seasonal, so we can use year-over-year comparisons to eliminate most of the effects of seasonality. The chart below shows the percent change of Class-8 truck orders for each month compared to the same month a year earlier. The year-over-year plunges over the past three months are of the same magnitude as the plunges during the last transportation recession (data via FTR):

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Brexit according to Henry VIII.

Division! Brexit Stretches Arcane British Parliament To Breaking Point (R.)

Britain’s 800-year-old parliament has a big decision to make, and little time to make it. After months of drama and delay, the country’s fate could be decided next week in a series of Brexit votes in which lawmakers must choose one of two wood-panelled corridors to shuffle down inside the neo-gothic Westminster palace. Each vote, known as a division, takes about 15 minutes. If it takes too long, the Serjeant-at-Arms, dressed in shiny black shoes, knee-high socks and a long woollen suit, will be sent bearing a ceremonial sword to investigate. Rich in pageantry and theater, Westminster’s parliamentary format has been adapted, modernized and exported to more than two dozen countries across the globe.

[..] On March 12, May is expected to try once more to get her deal approved, though much will rest on whether she can secure extra assurances from Brussels about the thorny issue of Northern Ireland’s border. If that vote fails, May will ask parliament a day later whether it wants to leave the European Union without any kind of exit deal – a potentially disruptive divorce with damaging consequences for the world’s fifth largest economy. If parliament rejects that outcome as well, lawmakers will then decide on March 14 if they want to try to delay Brexit, potentially opening the door to a wholesale renegotiation with the EU – or even a second referendum at home. If the process does go to a third ballot, when Speaker John Bercow bellows “Division!” and bells ring across parliament and beyond to alert lawmakers to the vote, Britain could be 15 minutes from taking its first step towards reversing Brexit.

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“17% of the UK population – over 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society”. And nobody cares.

UK Cash System ‘On The Verge Of Collapse’ (G.)

More than 8 million UK adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society, according to a major report which claims that the country’s “cash infrastructure” is in danger of collapsing. With Britons increasingly turning to digital payments, and bank branches and ATMs closing, the Access to Cash Review said companies and organisations providing “essential” services should be required to ensure that consumers can continue to pay by cash. The review is funded by cash machine network Link, but is independent from it, and is chaired by the former head of the Financial Ombudsman Service Natalie Ceeney, with other members including Richard Lloyd, the former executive director of consumer group Which?.

Ceeney said that “17% of the UK population – over 8 million adults – would struggle to cope in a cashless society”. Debit cards last year officially overtook notes and coins as the most popular form of payment in the UK for the first time, and the review’s report predicted that cash could fall to just 10% of all payments within the next 15 years. It also called on the government, regulators and banks to “act now or risk leaving millions behind”. A spokesman for the review claimed the UK’s cash system was “on the verge of collapse”. The bill for running the UK’s cash infrastructure – from ATMs to cash-sorting centres – was about £5bn a year, paid for predominantly by banks (and, ultimately, consumers), said the report. But while the costs were largely fixed, income was declining quickly. As a result, it said, “we have a cash infrastructure which is fast becoming unsustainable”.

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EU banks hold 15 percent of UK bank debt and 10 percent of UK government bonds.

BOE and ECB Activate Emergency Currency Swap Line (Ind.)

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank (ECB) have agreed an emergency currency swap line to ensure banks have access to cash in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The agreement means the Bank of England will offer to lend euros to UK banks on a weekly basis while the ECB will receive pound sterling from the BoE in exchange for euros. It means that even if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, the country will still remain reliant on Frankfurt to help safeguard the financial system. “Activation marks a prudent and precautionary step by the Bank of England… supporting the functioning of markets that serve households and businesses,” the ECB said on Tuesday.

Since 2013, Britain has had similar swap lines with four other central banks: the US, Canada, Japan and Switzerland. The UK needs free access to supplies of foreign currencies to facilitate trade and much of the financial services industry. During a crisis, banks can find it hard to access the volume of foreign currency they need. It is at this point that central banks will be available to provide cash through so-called swap lines. There had been some speculation that the ECB would not support a euro swap line if no Brexit deal is agreed with the UK. But the ECB and BoE confirmed on Tuesday that the facility will be available. The ECB said it will continue to work closely with the Bank of England to monitor market conditions carefully.

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Good. Let them ride bicycles.

Toyota, BMW Warn No-Deal Brexit Could Hit UK Investment, Production (BBC)

Car giants Toyota and BMW have both warned a no-deal Brexit threatens the production of their cars in the UK. BMW told Sky News it could consider moving production of its Mini from the UK in a no-deal scenario. Separately, the head of Toyota’s European operations said a negative outcome could put future investment at its UK factory near Derby at risk. Johan van Zyl told the BBC that if the Brexit “hurdles” are too high it would undermine Toyota’s competitiveness. Speaking to Sky News, BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer said if a “worst case” no-deal scenario happened, “we would need to consider what it exactly means for us in the long run”. “For Mini, this is really a danger,” he added.

Asked if BMW could move Mini production out of Cowley near Oxford, he said: “We at least have to consider it.” Earlier, BMW chief executive Harold Krueger told the BBC that the carmaker was preparing “for a lot of scenarios” and was “very flexible” in its approach to production. He said the company had “reserved some air flight capacity for the transportation of bigger materials” and had prepared its suppliers. “The logistics network is very flexible to adjust to changes,” he said. The warnings come after Japanese rivals Nissan and Honda both recently dealt major blows to the UK motor industry. Last month, Nissan reversed a decision to build a new car in the UK , and Honda said it was closing its Swindon plant , although both cited non-Brexit reasons.

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Our food is killing us.

What Do The People Of The World Die From? (BBC)

Around the world, people are living longer. In 1950, global average life expectancy at birth was only 46. By 2015, it had shot up to over 71. In some countries, progress has not always been smooth. Disease, epidemics and unexpected events are a reminder that ever-longer lives are not a given. Meanwhile, the deaths that may preoccupy us – from terrorism, war and natural disasters – make up less than 0.5% of all deaths combined. But across the world, many are still dying too young and from preventable causes. The story of when people die is really a story of how they die, and how this has changed over time.

About 56 million people in the world died in 2017. This is 10 million more than in 1990, as the global population has increased and people live longer on average. More than 70% die from non-communicable, chronic diseases. These are not passed from person to person and typically progress slowly. The biggest single killer is cardiovascular disease, which affects the heart and arteries and is responsible for every third death. This is twice the rate of cancers – the second leading cause – which account for about one in six of all deaths. Other non-contagious diseases such as diabetes, certain respiratory diseases and dementia are also near the top of the list.

In the past, infectious diseases played a bigger part than they do today. In 1990, one in three deaths resulted from communicable and infectious diseases; by 2017 this had fallen to one in five. Children are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. As recently as the 19th Century, every third child in the world died before the age of five. Child mortality rates have fallen significantly since then thanks to vaccines and improvements in hygiene, nutrition, healthcare and clean water access. Child deaths in rich countries are now relatively rare, while the poorest regions today have child mortality rates similar to the UK and Sweden in the first half of the 20th Century, and are continuing to catch up.

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Impossible choices.

Arctic Animals Shift Feeding Habits (AFP)

Seals and whales in the Arctic are shifting their feeding patterns as climate change alters their habitats, and the way they do so may determine whether they survive, a new study has found. Researchers harnessed datasets spanning two decades to examine how two species of Arctic wildlife – beluga whales, also known as white whales, and ringed seals – are adapting to their changing homes. Both species traditionally hunt for food in areas with sea ice and particularly at so-called tidal glacier fronts, where glaciers meet the ocean. But with climate change melting sea ice and prompting glaciers to retreat, researchers in Norway decided to look at whether and how animals in the affected areas were adapting.

“The Arctic is the bellwether of climate change,” the researchers wrote. “With the rapid pace of change rendering genetic adaptation unfeasible,” they reasoned that behavioural and dietary changes “will likely be the first observable responses within ecosystems”. [..] For the seals, they compared tracker data from 28 individuals between 1996-2003 and then 2010-2016, and for the whales they looked at data from 18 animals between 1995-2001 and 16 animals from 2013-2016. The data showed that two decades ago, both species spent around half their time foraging at glacier fronts and eating a diet dominated by polar cod. But ringed seals now spend “significantly higher proportions of time near tidal glacier fronts” while the white whales had the opposite response and had moved elsewhere to look for food.

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Dec 272018
 
 December 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Francis Tattegrain La ramasseuse d’épaves (The Beachcomber) 1880

 

I haven’t really written about finance since April of this year, and given recent fluctuations in what people persist in calling the markets, maybe it’s time. Then again, nothing has changed since that article in April entitled This Is Not A Market. I was right then, and I still am.

[..] markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is. Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all.

[..] we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

But perhaps that is confusing, and confusion in and of itself doesn’t lead to better understanding. So maybe I should call what there is out there today ‘zombie markets’. It doesn’t really make much difference. What murdered functioning markets is intervention by central banks, in alleged attempts to save those same markets. Cue your favorite horror movie.

Now Jerome Powell and the Fed he inherited are apparently trying to undo the misery Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen before him wrought upon the economic system, and people, cue Trump, get into fights about that one. All the while still handing the Fed, the ECB, the BoJ, much more power than they should ever have been granted.

And you won’t get actual markets back until that power is wrestled from their cold dead zombie fingers. Even then, the damage will be hard to oversee, and it will take decades. The bankers and investors their free and easy trillions were bestowed upon will be just fine, thank you, but everyone else will definitely not be.

Central banks don’t serve societies, they serve banks. They fool everyone, politicians first of all, into believing that societies automatically do well if only the demands of banks are met first, and as obviously stupid as that sounds, nary a squeak of protest can be heard. Least of all from ‘market participants’ who have done nothing for the better part of this millennium except feast at the teat of main street largesse.

In the past few days we’ve had both -stock- market rallies and plunges of 5% or so, and people have started to realize that is not normal, and it scares them. So you get Tyler posting DataTrek’s Nicolas Colas saying “Healthy” Markets Don’t Rally 1,086 Points On The Dow. Well, he’s kinda right, but there hasn’t been a healthy market in 10+ years, and he’s missed that last bit. Like most people have who work in those so-called ‘markets’.

 

Here’s why Colas is right, but doesn’t understand why. Price discovery is the flipside of the coin that is a functional market, because it allows for people to see why something is valued at the level it is, by a large(r) number of participants. Take that away and it is obvious that violent price swings may start occurring as soon as the comforting money teat stutters, or even just threatens to do so; a rumor is enough.

In physics terms, price discovery, and therefore markets themselves -provided they’re ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’- delivers negative feedback to the system, i.e. it injects self-correcting measures. Take away price discovery, in other words kill the market, and you get positive feedback, where -simplified- changes tend to lead to ever bigger changes until something breaks.

Also, different markets, like stocks, bonds, housing, will keep a check on each other, so nothing will reach insane valuations. If they tend to, people stop buying and will shift their money somewhere else. But when everything has an insane value, how would people know what’s insane anymore, and where could they shift that is not insane?

It doesn’t matter much for ‘market participants’, or ‘investors’ as they prefer to label themselves, they shift trillions around on a daily basis just to justify their paychecks, but for mom and pop it’s a whole different story. In between the two you have pension funds, whose rapid forced move from AAA assets to risk will strangle mom and pop’s old-age plans no matter what.

 

People inevitably talk about the chances of a recession happening, but maybe they should first ask what exactly a recession, or a bear market, is or means when it occurs in a zombie (or just plain dead) market.

If asset ‘values’ have increased by 50% because central banks and companies themselves have bought stocks, it would seem logical that a 10% drop doesn’t have the same meaning as it would in a marketplace where no such manipulation has taken place. Maybe a 50% drop would make more sense then.

The inevitable future is that people are going to get tired of borrowing as soon as it becomes too expensive, hence unattractive, to do so. Central banks can still do more QE, and keep rates low for longer, but that’s not an infinity and beyond move. It a simple question of the longer it lasts the higher will be the price that has to be paid. One more, one last, simple question: who’s going to pay? We all know, don’t we?

 

That’s where the Fed is now. You can let interest rates rise, as Powell et al are indicating they want to do, but that will cut off debt growth, and since debt is exclusively what keeps the economy going, it will cut into economic growth as well. Or you can keep interest rates low (and lower), but then people have less and less idea of the actual value of assets, which can, and eventually necessarily will, cause people to flee from these assets.

Powell’s rate hikes schedule looks nice from a normalizing point of view, and g-d knows what normal is anymore, but it would massacre the zombie markets the Fed itself created when it decided to kill the actual markets. You can get back to normal, but only if the Fed retreats into the Eccles Building and stays there until 2050 or so (or is abolished).

They won’t, the banks whose interests they protect will soon be in far too dire straits, and bailouts have become much harder to come by since 2008. It’ll be a long time before markets actually function again, and we won’t get there without a world of pain. Which will be felt by those who never participated in the so-called markets to begin with. Beware of yellow vests.

To top off the perversity of zombie markets, one more thing. Zombie markets build overcapacity. One of the best things price discovery brings to an economy is that it lets zombies die, that bankrupt companies and bankrupt ideas go the way of the dodo.

That, again, is negative feedback. Take that away, as low rates and free money do, and you end up with positive feedback, which makes zombies appear alive, and distorts the valuation of everything.

Most of what the ‘popular’ financial press discusses is about stocks, what the Dow and S&P have done for the day. But the bond markets are much bigger. So what are we to think when the two are completely out of sync -and whack-?

 

Oh well, those are just ‘the markets’, and we already know that they are living dead. Where that may be less obvious, if only because nobody wants it to be true, is in housing markets. Which, though this is being kept from you with much effort, are what’s keeping the entire US, and most of Europe’s, economies going. And guess what?

The Fed and Draghi have just about hit the max on home prices (check 2019 for the sequel). Prices have gotten too high, Jay Powell wants higher interest rates, Draghi can’t be left too far behind him because EU money would all flow to the US, and it’s all well on its way to inevitability.

And anyway, the only thing that’s being achieved with ever higher home prices is ever more debt for the people who buy them, and who will all be on the hook if those prices are subject to the negative feedback loops healthy markets must be subject too, or else.

The only parties who have profited from rising home prices are the banks who dole out the mortgages and the zombie economy that relies on them creating the money society runs on that way. We have all come to rely on a bunch of zombies to keep ourselves from debt slavery, and no, zombies are not actually alive. Nor are the financial markets, and the economies, that prop them up.

Among the first things in 2019 you will see enormous amounts of junk rated debt getting rated ever -and faster- lower , and the pace at which ever more debt that is not yet junk, downgraded to(wards) junk, accelerating. It looks like the zombies can never totally take over, but that is little comfort to those neck deep in debt even before we start falling.

And as for the ‘players’, the economic model will allow again for them to shove the losses of their braindead ventures onto the destiny of those with ever lower paying jobs, who if they’re lucky enough to be young enough, start their careers in those jobs with ever higher student debts.

You’d think that at some point they should be happy they were never sufficiently credit-worthy to afford one of the grossly overpriced properties that are swung like so many carrots before their eyes, but that’s not how the system works. The system will always find a way to keep pushing them deeper into the financial swamp somehow.

The last remaining growth industry our societies have left is inequality, and that’s what our central banks and governments are all betting on to keep Jack Sparrow’s Flying Dutchman afloat for a while longer. Where the poor get squeezed more so the 1% or 10% get to look good a little longer.

But in the end it’s all zombies all the way down, like the turtles, and some equivalent of the yellow vests will pop up in unexpected places. My prediction for next year.

It doesn’t look to me that a year from now we’ll see 2019 as a particular peaceful year, not at all like 2018. I called it from Chaos to Mayhem earlier, and I’m sticking with that. We’re done borrowing from the future, it’s getting time to pay back those loans from that future.

And that ain’t going to happen when there are no functioning markets; after all, how does anyone know what to pay back when the only thing they do know is everything is way overvalued? How wrong can I be when I say debts will only be paid back at fair value?

2019, guys, big year.

 

 

Apr 092018
 


Keith Haring Retrospect 1989

 

Longtime and dear friend of the Automatic Earth, professor Steve Keen, wrote an article recently that everyone should read (that goes for everything Steve writes). It’s hard to select highlights, but I’ll give it a try. Steve explains where our housing markets went off the rails, what (short-sighted) interests politicians have in subverting them, and, something rarely addressed, why housing markets are unlike any other markets (the turnover of existing properties is financed with newly created money)

He then suggests some measures that might counter this subversion, with a twang of It’s a Wonderful Life nostalgia thrown in. That nostalgia, which will be seen by many as outdated and a grave mistake in these ‘modern times’, instead makes a lot of sense. We might even say it’s the only way to get back on our feet. It resides in the idea that money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks should be in charge of the housing market.

Because it’s not supply and demand that rule the market today, it’s available debt (credit). And banks can, and will, always create more debt at the stroke of a keyboard. That is, until they can’t, and then house prices must and will of necessity fall off a cliff. In Steve’s words: “..mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income.

Still, it left me with a big question. But I’ll ask that at the end; here’s Steve first.

 

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There?

[..] the UK data is remarkable, even in the context of a worldwide trend to higher levels of leverage. Between 1880 and 1980, private debt in the UK fluctuated as a percentage of GDP, but it never once reached 75% of GDP. But in 1982, both household and corporate debt took off. In 1982, total private debt was equivalent to 61% of GDP, split equally between households and corporations. 25 years later, as the global financial crisis unfolded, private debt was three times larger at 197% of GDP, again split 50:50 between households and corporations.

The key changes to legislation that occurred in 1982 is the UK let banks muscle into the mortgage market that was previously dominated by building societies. This was sold in terms of improving competition in the mortgage market, to the benefit of house buyers: allegedly, mortgage costs would fall. But its most profound impact was something much more insidious: it enabled the creation of credit money to fuel rising house prices, setting off a feedback loop that only ended in 2008.

Building societies don’t create money when they lend, because they lend from a bank account that stores the accumulated savings of their members. There’s no change in bank deposits, which are by far the largest component of the money supply.

However, banks do create money when they lend, because a bank records a loan as their asset when they make an identical entry in the borrower’s account, which enables the property to be bought. This dramatically inflates the price of housing, since, as the politicians themselves acknowledge – housing supply is inflexible, so prices increase far more than supply.

The supply side of the housing market has two main factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks.

Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public.

The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down.

And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property.

This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

 

Two smaller points first: Steve doesn’t mention the role of ultra-low rates. Which is a huge factor leading the process. Second, he says his proposals will “..transition us from a world in which we treat housing as a speculative asset rather than what it really is, a long-lived consumption good”. I wonder if perhaps we should take this a step further.

We don’t see land as a consumption good either, or water sources. They are assets that belong to a given community. Or should. So shouldn’t buildings be too? A building society (or some local equivalent, It’s a Wonderful Life style) in a community can’t, won’t lend out money to build homes that serve the interests of the owner, but hamper those of the community. But now I sound even more commie than Steve for many, I know.

 

On to my main point: if you return mortgage lending to money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks, who’s going to create the money? Don’t let’s forget that a huge part of our present money supply comes from those banks, and much of that from the mortgage loans they issue. Steve may well have thought about this (was he afraid to ask?), and I’d be curious to see his views.

Inflation/deflation is a function of money supply x money velocity (MxV). There are multiple ways to define this, and discuss it, but in the end this remains valid.

This is what the US money supply (stock) has done over the past 30-odd years

 

 

And here is the Case/Shiller home price index for the US over roughly that period. The correlation is painfully clear. Except maybe for that drop in 2008, but the Fed caught that one. Can’t let the money supply fall off a cliff.

 

 

And why can’t we afford to let the money supply fall off a cliff? Because money velocity already has:

 

 

How dramatic that fall has been is perhaps even clearer on a shorter time-frame.

 

 

We can say that MV = GDP, or we can make it a bit more complex with MV=PT, where P is prices and T is transactions (or national output), and people can say that this is just one of many ways to define inflation, but when you have a drop in velocity as steep as that one, and you combine it with the rise in money supply we saw, the danger should be obvious.

We have made our economies fully dependent on banks creating loans out of thin air. Which is a ridiculous model, and as Steve says: “That is no way to run an economy”, but we still have. And if and when home prices start to fall, and fewer people buy homes, the money supply will first stop rising, and then start falling, and we will have the mother of all deflations.

If you take the MV = GDP formulation, GDP will go down right with the money supply, unless velocity (V) soars. Which it can’t, because people are maxed out on those mortgages. They can’t spend. If you go with MV=PT, then if money supply falls, so will prices. Unless transactions (output) is demolished, but that will just kill off velocity even more. Why many people see inflation in our future is hard to gauge.

 

We could, presumably, get our central banks to pump ginormous amounts of money into our societies, but where are they going to put it? Not into our banks(!), which wouldn’t create all those loans anymore, as It’s a Wonderful Life takes over that role, taking the banks and their present role down with it.

Because it’s starting to get obvious that the present ‘system’ is set to go down big time, since as Steve put it:the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income, and we all know where that goes, we can advocate a version of controlled demolition, but who would lead that?

The banks are the most powerful party at the table right now, and controlled demolition of what we have today, as sensible as it may be for society at large, is not for them. Which makes this not only a financial problem, but a political one too: where does power reside. Down the line, it doesn’t even seem to matter much who gives out the loans, there will be very few takers.

Let’s just say we’re open to suggestions. But they better be good.

 

 

Mar 092018
 


Broadway, New York 1954

 

Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy (BBG)
Trump Sets Steel And Aluminum Tariffs; Canada, Mexico Exempted (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom – Part II (Roberts)
“Gary Cohn, We Hardly Knew Ya” (David Stockman)
The Risk Lurking In The US Mortgage Market (CNN)
The End of Cheap Debt Will Bring a Wave of – Green- Bankruptcies (Mises)
Tesla Chief Musk Says China Trade Rules Uneven, Asks Trump For Help (R.)
China Will Rely Less On Stimulus As It Battles Risks From Debt – PBOC (CNBC)
UK Retirement Bill Rises More Than £1 Trillion In Five Years (Ind.)
Shares, Profits Of Britain’s Largest Estate Agent Countrywide Plummet (G.)
Toronto Home Builders Just Had Their Busiest February Since 1948 (BBG)
EU Freezes Brexit Talks Until Britain Produces Irish Border Solution (Ind.)
Calais ‘To Be 10 Times Worse Than Irish Border’ After Brexit (G.)
Bitcoin Tumbles Further In Broad Selloff For Cryptocurrencies (MW)
US Is Experiencing The Highest Drug Overdose Death Rates Ever (ZH)
Chinese Panda Conservation Park To Be Twice The Size Of Yosemite (G.)
Discarded Fishing Gear Massacres Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Turtles, Birds (Ind.)

 

 

Question is whether that is a bad thing. Or you could say: Trump brings along his own orthodoxy.

Trump’s Historic Bet on Kim Summit Shatters Decades of Orthodoxy (BBG)

Donald Trump took the biggest gamble of his presidency on Thursday, breaking decades of U.S. diplomatic orthodoxy by accepting an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The bet is that Trump’s campaign to apply maximum economic pressure on Kim’s regime has forced him to consider what was previously unthinkable: surrendering the illicit nuclear weapons program begun by his father. If the president is right, the U.S. would avert what appeared at times last year to be a steady march toward a second Korean War. It was classic Trump, showing an unerring confidence to get the better end of any negotiation.

But it was also Trump in another way: high risk and high reward, with little regard for those in the foreign policy establishment who worry it’s too much, too soon. “He’s taking a risk,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “By seizing an opportunity for a summit meeting, a decision that would have taken much more time in another administration, the president has said, ‘I’m going to go right now. And we’re going to test this.”’

Read more …

“If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA..”

Trump Sets Steel And Aluminum Tariffs; Canada, Mexico Exempted (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump pressed ahead on Thursday with import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% for aluminum but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier “no-exceptions” stance. Describing the dumping of steel and aluminum in the U.S. market as “an assault on our country,” Trump said in a White House announcement that the best outcome would for companies to move their mills and smelters to the United States. He insisted that domestic metals production was vital to national security. “If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA,” added Trump, flanked by steel and aluminum workers.

Plans for the tariffs, set to start in 15 days, have stirred opposition from business leaders and prominent members of Trump’s own Republican Party, who fear the duties could spark retaliation from other countries and hurt the U.S. economy. Within minutes of the announcement, U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said he would introduce a bill to nullify the tariffs. But that would likely require Congress to muster an extremely difficult two-thirds majority to override a Trump veto. Some Democrats praised the move, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said it was “past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the president is proposing with these tariffs.”

Read more …

Perhaps somewhat surprising: The consumer spending part of GDP only rises.

There Will Be No Economic Boom – Part II (Roberts)

When the “tax cut” bill was being passed, everyone from Congress to the mainstream media, and even the CFP’s I spoke with yesterday, regurgitated the same “storyline:” “Tax cuts will lead to an economic boom as corporations increase wages, hire and produce more and consumers have extra money in their pockets to spend.” As I have written many times previously, this was always more “hope” than “reality.” The economy, as we currently calculate it, is roughly 70% driven by what you and I consume or “personal consumption expenditures (PCE).” The chart below shows the history of real, inflation-adjusted, PCE as a percent of real GDP.

If “tax cuts” are going to substantially increase the growth rate of the U.S. economy, as touted by the current Administration, then PCE has to be directly targeted. However, while the majority of consumers will receive an “average” of $1182 in the form of a tax reduction, (or $98.50 a month), the increase in take-home pay has already been offset by surging health care cost, rent, energy and higher debt service payments. [..] But this is nothing new as corporations have failed to “share the wealth” for the last couple of decades.

Read more …

Those crazy earnings numbers WILL come crashing down.

“Gary Cohn, We Hardly Knew Ya” (David Stockman)

That was quick. The trade war scare was over by noon yesterday, and by the market close they were singing “Gary Cohn, we hardly knew ya”. Folks, what more evidence do you need that the financial markets are completely uncoupled from reality and that these feeble bounces between the 50-day and 20-day chart points are essentially the rigor mortis of a dead bull? At the moment, the 50-day stands at 2740 on the S&P 500 and is functioning as “resistance” according to the chart mavens, while the 20-day at 2700 is purportedly acting as “support”. So there’s that, but also this: At the exact mid-point of 2720, the broad market is currently trading at 25.6X reported earnings for 2017.

That’s the nosebleed section of history no matter how you slice it – and most especially in the context of an earnings growth trend that is shackled to the flat line, and which has no prospect of breaking away before the next recession, either. With virtually every company having reported, it turns out that GAAP earnings for 2017 came in at $109.46 per share on the S&P 500. Then again, 40 months earlier in September 2014 reported LTM earnings were $105.96 per share. That tabulates to a 1.0% per year gain during what will surely prove to have been the sweet spot (month #63 to month #102) of the current long-in-the-tooth business expansion.

Read more …

Non-banks. How is that different from China?

The Risk Lurking In The US Mortgage Market (CNN)

Low interest rates. Easy credit. Poor regulation. Toxic mortgages. These were just a few reasons regulators gave for the collapse of the US housing market a decade ago. Since then, regulators have improved the standards that lenders use when Americans apply for mortgages. But today increasing danger lurks in the mortgage market, and economists say it could put the financial system at “even greater risk” when the next recession strikes or too many borrowers fall behind on their mortgage payments. A growing segment of the mortgage market is being financed by so-called non-bank lenders — financial institutions that offer loans to consumers but don’t provide saving or checking accounts.

Borrowers with poor credit have increasingly turned to these alternative lenders instead of traditional banks. The alternative lenders are subject to far less regulation and have fewer safeguards when borrower defaults start to pile up. “A collapse of the non-bank mortgage sector has the potential to result in substantial costs and harm to consumers and the US government,” economists at the Federal Reserve and the University of California, Berkeley, write in a paper released Thursday at a Brookings Institution conference. As of 2016, non-bank financial institutions originated close to half of all mortgages. They originated three-quarters of mortgages with explicit government backing, underscoring the risk to taxpayers.

“The experience of the financial crisis suggests that the government will be pressured to backstop the sector in a time of stress,” the authors write. The danger is that non-banks may have fewer resources to weather economic shocks to the mortgage market, like a rise in interest rates or a decline in house prices. “What happens if interest rates rise and non-bank revenue drops? What happens if commercial banks or other financial institutions lose their taste for extending credit to non-banks? What happens if delinquency rates rise and servicers have to advance payments to investors?” the authors write. “We cannot provide reassuring answers to any of these questions,” they write.

Read more …

The entire Green Facade depends on cheap credit. And subsidies.

The End of Cheap Debt Will Bring a Wave of – Green- Bankruptcies (Mises)

The end of the era of cheap money highlights the risk of “Enron-style” bankruptcies in many sectors, including renewable energy. With the path of three rate hikes in the United States in 2018 confirmed by the Federal Reserve and a nervous equity market, the challenges are more evident than ever. The past eight years of massive liquidity and low rates have not helped deleverage, and many companies have used this period to increase imbalances and create complex debt structures. In fact: • Corporate net debt to EBITDA levels is at record highs. About 20% of US corporates face default if rates rise, according to the IMF. • The number of zombie companies has risen above pre-crisis levels according to the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). • This is particularly evident in the renewable sector where, even in the years of high liquidity and low rates, bankruptcies soared.

The renewable sector has undergone an absolutely spectacular transformation in the past eight years. Technology advanced, costs fell and global leaders strengthened when their strategy was to develop an energy model. Understanding that disruptive technologies cannot be more leveraged than traditional ones was key. When technology reduces costs and disrupts inflationary models, basing the business on ever-increasing subsidies and higher prices and financing it with massive debt is suicidal. In the era of cheap money and extreme liquidity, many companies used the “green” subterfuge to implement an extremely leveraged builder-developer model, ignoring demand, costs, and competition. A model whose sole objective was to install for the sake of installing capacity, whether there was a demand or not, and that pursued subsidies while stating that it is very competitive.

Even in a period of falling interest rates and very high liquidity, there have been spectacular bankruptcies, so imagine what can happen when rates rise. [..] If a technology is viable, it does not need subsidies. If it is unviable, no subsidies will change it. Bankruptcies in the solar sector exceed all those of the inefficient coal and fracking companies combined. This domino of bankruptcies, which includes more than 120 corpses of large companies around the world, was self-inflicted. And now, winter is coming. [..] The global renewable sector faces refinancing needs in the next seven to eight years that exceed its entire market capitalization (134 billion euros, Renixx Index).

It is not a problem of technology, it is the addiction to cheap debt and growth for growth sake. And it’s not just a problem in the renewable sector. The combination of lower revenues and increased debt costs is a danger. Cost of debt rises, and cost of equity soars due to higher perceived risk, which in turn can dry up the market for capital increases and refinancing. It is not just renewables, but it is worth highlighting that energy is -again- the most vulnerable sector due to the cyclical nature of its revenues and the perpetuation of overcapacity of the past eight years.

Read more …

Musk is the leader of the Green Facade.

Tesla Chief Musk Says China Trade Rules Uneven, Asks Trump For Help (R.)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Thursday to call on U.S. President Donald Trump to challenge China’s auto trade rules, which limit foreign ownership of Chinese ventures and impose steep tariffs on imported cars. In a series of tweets aimed at the president, Musk said he was “against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult. It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes.” Tesla has been pushing hard to build cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, but has hit roadblocks in negotiations with local authorities, in part because Musk is keen to keep full control of any local venture. “No U.S. auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV (electric vehicle) auto companies in the U.S.,” Musk wrote in another tweet.

Tesla “raised this with the prior administration and nothing happened. Just want a fair outcome, ideally where tariffs/rules are equally moderate. Nothing more. Hope this does not seem unreasonable,” he said. Trump quoted one of Musk’s tweets in his announcement on new tariffs and said American automakers have not been treated fairly by trade rules around the world. Trump announced steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on Thursday. Politicians “have known it for years and never did anything about it. It’s got to change,” Trump said, saying he plans to impose a “reciprocal tax” on other countries. “We’re changing things,” Trump added. “We just want fairness.”

Read more …

Yeah, we all believe that.

China Will Rely Less On Stimulus As It Battles Risks From Debt – PBOC (CNBC)

China has moved away from its old growth model which was heavily reliant on investment and will rely less on stimulus to boost the economy in future, People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Friday. Zhou’s comments echoed those of other top officials at China’s parliament this week which suggested that Beijing will be more cautious about spending this year while it focuses on reducing the risks from a rapid build-up in debt. After years of heavy pump-priming, markets worry less generous stimulus could retard the pace of growth not only in China but globally. But analysts believe Beijing will continue to keep the system well supplied with cash to avoid the risk of a sharp slowdown in economic growth, even as they continue to tighten the screws on financial regulations.

“We now emphasize the new normal of the economy, shifting from the past growth model of quantitative growth… referring to the accumulation of capital and investment to boost economic growth,” Zhou told reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament session. “While pursuing higher quality growth, we will have to reduce our reliance on the old growth model of investment,” said Zhou, in what was likely his last news briefing before his expected retirement this month. Zhou said China needs to improve its regulatory supervision as soon as possible to curb risks to the financial system. He said China has begun to make progress in reducing such risks, but numerous threats remain, such as a lack of transparency at financial holding companies and digital currencies.

Read more …

The Brexit fiasco continues to expose the hidden weaknesses. Which in the case of pensions are global, but mostly remain hidden.

UK Retirement Bill Rises More Than £1 Trillion In Five Years (Ind.)

The UK’s pension funding crisis reached a new crisis milestone this week as the Office for National Statistics revealed the UK’s pension funding liabilities rose to £7.6 trillion at the end of 2015. The figure – the total amount promised to pay Brits’ future retirement income – includes £5.3 trillion of pension entitlements that were the responsibility of central and local government, most of which – around £4 trillion – came from State Pension entitlements. The remaining £2.3 trillion were private sector employee pension entitlements with £2 trillion due to final salary pensions, up from £1.4 trillion in 2010. As things stand, expert commentators suggest there is only around a third of that ‘in the bank’ in company pension funds.

The remainder, it is hoped, will be generated by future working populations. The figures are designed to provide a snapshot of household retirement entitlements, though they don’t include self-invested personal pensions, which have grown significantly in recent years thanks to legislative changes known as pensions freedoms. “While these are obviously large amounts of money, it is important to remember that the payments will be drawn over many years,” says Darren Morgan, head of national accounts for the ONS. “The figures say nothing about the sustainability of our pension system in future.”

In fact, pensions experts have been shocked by the statistics, which come just days after official warnings from the Government Actuary that National Insurance may have to increase by 5% to pay for future state pay outs. “The figures published by the ONS today are astonishing and bring into sharp relief the reasons behind proposed increases in the state pension age,” adds Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell. “Unfunded state pension entitlements are worth more than double UK GDP – these are promises that will, ultimately, have to be paid for by future generations either through higher taxes, a lower state pension income or a later retirement age.

Read more …

Why not say it like it is?

Shares, Profits Of Britain’s Largest Estate Agent Countrywide Plummet (G.)

Countrywide, Britain’s largest estate agent, has reported a 22.5% fall in core annual earnings and scrapped its dividend, sending its shares to record lows. It pledged to go “back to basics” to return its sales and lettings business to profitable growth after what it described as a disappointing year. “We have got to put our resources back in the front line and not at the head office,” said the executive chairman, Peter Long, adding that restructuring would reduce headcount to 350 from 400. Countrywide said its 2018 property pipeline was “significantly lower” and that it expected a fall of about 36% (£10m) in first-half adjusted earnings before interest, taxation and amortisation (Ebitda).

Its 2017 adjusted Ebitda fell 22.5% to £64.7m while group income fell almost 9% to £671.9m. Shares in Countrywide plunged to a record low of 66.64p before rising to 77p in mid-morning trading, down 13.4% . “The next few months will be messy as new plans are put into place,” Jefferies analysts said in a note to clients. “However, banks are lending their support to the new plan and we believe those equity investors who choose to do the same will have their patience rewarded.”

Read more …

As sales are down 35%.

Greater Toronto Home Sales Down 35% From February 2017

Toronto Home Builders Just Had Their Busiest February Since 1948 (BBG)

Toronto developers had one of their busiest months on record in February in another sign the condo market is alive and well in Canada’s biggest real estate market, even amid a broader slowdown. Builders began work on 5,677 units during the month, most of them multiple-unit projects like condos, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Thursday in Ottawa. That’s the strongest February, and the sixth-highest figure for any month, in records back to 1948. The bulk of Toronto condo units are typically sold before construction begins, so the latest surge may simply reflect past sales. But the report also suggests developers are betting the condo market will be less affected by headwinds including higher borrowing costs and tighter mortgage qualification rules that are currently hitting Toronto housing.

“It’s probably lagging a little bit. Historically you tend to see supply follow demand,” said Robert Kavcic, an economist at Bank of Montreal. “The other nuance here is that a lot of the policy changes we’ve seen over the last year, they really had a bigger impact on the higher end of the single detached housing market.” [..] Construction is picking up in Toronto just as sales begin to slide, after various levels of government and regulators took measures to curb surging prices. Most recently, tougher mortgage guidelines came into play on Jan. 1, making it harder for prospective buyers to qualify for loans. Many buyers rushed into the market in December to get ahead of the rules.

Transactions fell 35% in February from a year earlier to 5,175 units, according to data released Tuesday by the Toronto Real Estate Board. It was the weakest February for sales since 2009. Prices are holding up better, particularly in the condo segment, which has gained consistently over the past year and is up 20% since last February. Prices for single-detached homes have fallen 12% since reaching a record last year. Fundamentals that favor condos seem to be at work, as rising immigration levels drive demand. And since the net effect of the new regulations is to limit the size of mortgage credit, the tougher rules may be buoying the less-expensive condo market.

Read more …

Thumbscrews.

EU Freezes Brexit Talks Until Britain Produces Irish Border Solution (Ind.)

The EU has thrown down an ultimatum to Theresa May in Brexit talks, warning that it will not open discussions about trade or other issues until the Irish border question is solved. Speaking in Dublin alongside the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, European Council President Donald Tusk said talks would be a case of “Ireland first” and that “the risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs”. “We know today that the UK Government rejects a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, the EU single market, and the customs union,” the Mr Tusk said. “While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border.

“As long as the UK doesn’t present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations. “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.” British negotiators have long been keen to move to discussions about trade and had hoped to do so after the March meeting of the European Council in two weeks, but Mr Tusk’s latest ultimatum suggests further delays could be in store. The EU says a withdrawal agreement must be negotiated by October to give it time to ratify the deal before the UK falls out of the bloc in March 2019.

Mr Tusk recalled that the Good Friday Agreement, whose 20th anniversary is next month, had been “ratified by huge majorities north and south of the border”. “We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016 – just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences,” he said, in a play on the rhetoric used by Brexiteers regarding the 2016 EU referendum. The EU27 nations granted the UK “sufficient progress” to move to the rest of Brexit talks in the December meeting of the European Council after the UK made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland at all costs.

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30-mile lines of waiting trucks. That was reason no. 1 to establish the EU. Well, they’re back.

Calais ‘To Be 10 Times Worse Than Irish Border’ After Brexit (G.)

The boss of the port of Calais has said there could be tailbacks up to 30 miles in all directions and potential food shortages in Britain if a Brexit deal involves mandatory customs and sanitary checks at the French ferry terminal. Jean-Marc Puissesseau made an impassioned plea to Theresa May and Michel Barnier to put plans in place immediately to avert congestion in Calais and Dover, where bosses have already warned of permanent 20-mile tailbacks. At the same time a leading politician for the Calais region said the problems in France would be 10 times worse than at the Irish border. At a private meeting at the European parliament, Xavier Bertrand, a former French health minister and the president of the Hauts-de-France political region, said politicians needed to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

“I know Ireland is going to be a real problem, but please remember the economic issues in Ireland are 10 times smaller than what is going to happen here,” he said. “This is a black scenario, but it is going to get darker and darker,” he said, urging politicians in Brussels and London to take urgent action by setting up working groups and listening to business. Bertrand angrily denounced those who had power to influence the Brexit outcome. It was not right that economic operators should be expected to “sit on their hands waiting very anxiously for something to happen”.

At the same meeting, Puissesseau said both sides would be affected by the problems at the ports, with suppliers from the UK trying to get their goods through strict EU controls treated no better than those from a developing country. “The UK is part of the 21st century. But this takes us back 100 years. This is sad,” he said. “From Brexit day, 100% of our traffic will be from outside the EU. I tell you honestly that GB will be a third country, this frightens me. There’s such a long history between the UK and EU.” “At the moment, 70% of food imported comes from the EU. Even if that goes down to 50% after Brexit because of controls, it still needs to flow smoothly; people still need to eat,” he said.

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$8,500 as I write this, -8.46%.

Bitcoin Tumbles Further In Broad Selloff For Cryptocurrencies (MW)

Selling intensified for digital currencies on Friday, as the price of the No.1 cryptocurrency bitcoin pushed below $9,000. The price of a single bitcoin fell 4.8% to $8,847.85, but bounced off a low of $8,370.80, according to CoinDesk. In a week, bitcoin has dropped around 20%. Losses were widespread across cryptocurrencies. Ether was down 4.5% to $671.66, bitcoin cash slid 6.4% to $970.66 and Litecoin fell 6.2% to $166.22, according to CoinDesk. Ripple tumbled 10% to $0.78, according to CoinMarketCap. The moves build on sharp drops on Thursday, which some suggested were due to technical factors.

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Winning.

US Is Experiencing The Highest Drug Overdose Death Rates Ever (ZH)

Across the United States, government officials are struggling to combat the next wave of the opioid epidemic, which is expected to deliver a massive blow to the heartland. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms the opioid crisis has dramatically worsened since the second half of 2016. Raw data from hospital emergency rooms show a significant increase in drug overdoses across the U.S. In a press briefing on Tuesday, CDC Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., warned that the U.S. is currently experiencing the highest drug overdose death rates ever.

In the newly issued report, which examined data from 16 states, emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses jumped 30% from July 2016 through September 2017. In some regions of the country, overdoses were far more significant, but overall, data from most areas showed the opioid crisis is worsening, despite President Trump’s new initiative to tackle the epidemic.

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Save the symbols?!

Chinese Panda Conservation Park To Be Twice The Size Of Yosemite (G.)

The Bank of China has pledged at least 10bn yuan (£1.1bn) to create a vast panda conservation park in south-west Sichuan province, the Chinese forestry ministry has said. The Sichuan branch of the central bank signed an agreement with the provincial government to finance the vast national park’s construction by 2023. The park aims to bolster the local economy while providing the endangered animals with an unbroken range in which they can meet and mate with other pandas in order to enrich their gene pool.The ministry said the park will measure 2m hectares (5m acres), making it more than twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US.

Zhang Weichao, a Sichuan official involved in the park planning, told the state-run China Daily the agreement would help alleviate poverty among the 170,000 people living within the project’s proposed territory. Plans for the park were initiated in January last year by the ruling Communist party’s central committee and the state council, the China Daily reported. Giant pandas are China’s unofficial national mascot and live mainly in the Sichuan mountains, with some in neighbouring Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. An estimated 1,864 live in the wild, where they are chiefly threatened by habitat loss. Another 300 live in captivity.

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By treating the oceans as our garbage bin, we will make it exactly that.

Discarded Fishing Gear Massacres Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Turtles, Birds (Ind.)

The world’s biggest seafood firms are all contributing to the deaths of more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and seabirds that are killed in agony every year by discarded fishing equipment, according to a new report. Many of the creatures are drowned, strangled or mutilated by plastic gear lost or abandoned at sea, while others suffer “a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving” either because they cannot fish or their stomachs are full of plastic. Campaigners believe the fishing litter problem is becoming so bad that the oceans could end up unable to provide any catches for humans to eat.

They say “ghost gear” has become a huge but overlooked threat to marine life, and 640,000 tons of it are added to the oceans each year – a rate of more than a ton every minute. A new study analysed the approaches to fishing equipment of the world’s 15 biggest seafood companies, to rank them in five categories – but found that none could be ranked in the top two as having “best practice” or making “responsible handling” of their fishing gear integral to their business strategy. [..] The report, entitled Ghosts beneath the Waves, says abandoned and lost gear is four times more likely to trap and kill creatures than all other forms of marine debris combined, and more than 70% of visible plastic in the sea is fishing-related.

Microplastics – minuscule pieces – were found in the digestive tracts of 80% of seals tested off the coast of Ireland, while other research cited found that plastic accounted for 69% of the debris ingested by whales. Other studies said 98% of whale entanglements involved ghost gear, while 82% of North Atlantic right whales have become entangled at least once. “This is a huge crisis of animal suffering, yet hardly anyone is talking about it,” said World Animal Protection. In one deep water fishery in the north east Atlantic 25,000 nets have been recorded as lost or discarded each year, according to the report. “Even within small areas, the amount of ghost gear can be staggering,” it said. “The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for example, is estimated to be littered with 85,000 active ghost lobster and crab pots.

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Feb 222018
 
 February 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Arthur Rothstein Wasatch Mountains. Summit County, Utah 1940

 

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)
Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)
A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)
Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)
Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)
Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)
Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)
Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)
Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)
Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)
Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)
Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)
Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

 

 

It’s the investors and reporters that live in sweet spots.

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)

The 10-year Treasury yield is getting dangerously close to 3%, a level that some say will set off serious alarm bells for some stock investors. While the entire Treasury market is moving, the 10-year is the benchmark, the rate most widely watched by investors and the one tied to a whole range of business and consumer loans, including mortgages. On Wednesday, it rose to a fresh four-year high of 2.957%, and that helped turn a strong stock market rally after the Fed minutes into a bloodbath. The Dow closed down 166 points at 24,797. That puts the focus again on the bond market Thursday and the events that could impact trading. That would include an appearance by New York Fed President William Dudley on Thursday morning and a 7-year bond auction Thursday afternoon.

The 3% level does not necessarily have to stop the stock market’s bull run, but it is a level where the probability for losses in the S&P 500 increases, according to a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “You’re on the cusp of leaving the sweet spot, but that being said, the rising rates are not necessarily bad for the stock market. Yes, from your finance courses, a higher discount rate means you’re going to see lower valuations, all else being equal. But the ‘all else being equal’ missing ingredient is a high growth rate,” said Marc Pouey, equity and quant strategist at BofAML. Pouey said the “sweet spot” for stocks is a 10-year yield between 2 and 3%, but the fact that not only U.S. growth but global economic growth is strong makes it more likely that stocks will be able to positively navigate a zone where the 10-year is above 3%.

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These buyers don’t exist.

Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)

As of the latest Treasury update showing federal debt as of Wednesday, February 15…federal debt (red line below) jumped by an additional $50 billion from the previous day to $20.76 trillion. This is an increase of $266 billion essentially since the most recent debt ceiling passage. Of course, this isn’t helping the debt to GDP ratio (blue line below) at 105%.

But here’s the problem. In order for the American economy to register growth, as measured by GDP (the annual change in total value of all goods produced and services provided in the US), that growth is now based solely upon the growth in federal debt. Without the federal deficit spending, the economy would be shrinking. The chart below shows the annual change in GDP minus the annual federal deficit incurred. Since 2008, the annual deficit spending has been far greater than the economic activity that deficit spending has produced. The net difference is shown below from 1950 through 2017…plus estimated through 2025 based on 2.5% average annual GDP growth and $1.2 trillion annual deficits. It is not a pretty picture and it isn’t getting better.

Even if we assume an average of 3.5% GDP growth (that the US will not have a recession(s) over a 15 year period) and “only” $1 trillion annual deficits from 2018 through 2025, the US still continues to move backward indefinitely.

The cumulative impact of all those deficits is shown in the chart below. Federal debt (red line) is at $20.8 trillion and the annual interest expense on that debt (blue line) is jumping, now over a half trillion. Also shown in the chart is the likely debt creation through 2025 and interest expense assuming a very modest 4% blended rate on all that debt. So, for America to appear as if it is moving forward, it has to go backward into greater debt?!? If you weren’t troubled so far, here is where the stuff starts to hit the fan.

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These guys can make themselves believe anything.

A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)

There’s one chart that could cast doubt on an age-old market adage. As Treasury yields hover around multiyear highs with the 10-year inching toward the 3% mark, Oppenheimer technician Ari Wald says that history shows that rising rates are actually bullish for the market. A more common belief is that a rising rate environment bodes ill for stocks, but Wald says the technicals point to the opposite. “The key point for us is that the direction of interest rates is equally, if not more important, than the level of interest rates,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “So in general, we’re of the view that low and rising tends to be bullish for stocks and high and [falling rates] is what’s bearish.”

On a chart of the 10-year yield and the S&P 500 going back to 2000, Wald points out that since then falling interest rates have actually coincided with a drop in the market. “If you look back through history, you’ll see that it was a downturn in interest rates that coincided with market tops in 2000 and 2007, as well as what we’ve been calling the top in risk in that 2014 to 2015 period,” he said. “So we see rising rates as growth coming back into the market.” As a result, Wald believes that if investors are looking to put money to work, cyclical sectors like financials look to be a good bet right now. He cautions against bond proxies like utilities, telecom and real estate investment trusts as he believes they are going to “get hammered” in the current environment.

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US housing approaches a bottleneck.

Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with a 20% down-payment and with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) that qualify for backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rose to 4.64%, the highest since January 2014, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, released this morning. This chart shows the recent spike in mortgage rates, as reported by the MBA. There are two spikes actually: The spike off near-historic lows in the summer of 2016 (the absolute low was in late 2012) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping about rate hikes; and the spike when the subsequent rate hikes started belatedly driving up the 10-year Treasury yield late last year. It’s the 10-year yield that impacts mortgage rates. Note that, except for the brief mini-peak in 2013, the average mortgage rate would be the highest since April 2011:

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA with 20% down rose to 4.58%, the highest since April 2011, according to the MBA. And the average interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages with 20% down rose to 4.02%, also the highest since April 2011. This may be far from over: “What worries investors is that if inflation increases faster than expected, the Fed may be obliged to ‘slam on the brakes’ to keep the economy from overheating by raising interest rates faster than expected,” the MBA mused separately. Home prices have skyrocketed in many markets since those years of higher mortgage rates, such as 2011 and before. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index has surged 40% since April 2011:

That’s the national index, which papers over the big differences in individual markets, with prices lagging behind in some markets and soaring in others. For example, in the five-county San Francisco Bay Area, according to the CaseShiller Index, home prices have surged 80% since April 2011:

So with home prices surging for years and with mortgage rates now spiking, what gives? Today the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes fell 4.8% year-over-year in January – the “largest annual decline since August 2014,” it said – even as the median price rose 5.8% year-over-year to $240,000. I’m not sure if the new tax law, which removes some or all of the tax benefits of homeownership, has had an impact yet since it just went into effect. But the lean inventories and falling sales combined with rising prices tell a story of potential sellers not wanting to sell, and this could be exacerbated by the new tax law.

And they have a number of financial and tax reasons for not wanting to sell, including: • They’d lose some or all of the tax benefits that they still enjoy with their existing mortgages that have been grandfathered into the new law. • Given the higher mortgage rates that they would have to deal with on a new mortgage (which might exceed their existing rate by a good margin after repeated refinancing on the way down), and given the high prices of homes on the market, they might not be able to afford to move to an equivalent home, and thus cannot afford to sell.

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Now try and square this with that recovery story.

Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)

U.S. home sales unexpectedly fell in January, leading to the biggest year-on-year decline in more than three years, as a chronic shortage of houses lifted prices and kept first-time buyers out of the market. The supply squeeze and rising mortgage interest rates are stoking fears of a lackluster spring selling season. The second straight monthly drop in home sales reported by National Association of Realtors on Wednesday added to weak retail sales and industrial production in January in suggesting slower economic growth in the first quarter. “There may be some headwinds ahead for home resales with rising mortgage costs affecting how much the buyer can afford and this could put a damper on existing home sales and take some of the wind out of the economy’s sails,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Existing home sales dropped 3.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units last month, with purchases declining in all four regions. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast home sales rising 0.9% to a rate of 5.60 million units in January. Existing home sales, which account for about 90% of U.S. home sales, declined 4.8% on a year-on-year basis in January. That was the biggest year-on-year drop since August 2014. The weakness in home sales is largely a function of supply constraints rather than a lack of demand, which is being driven by a robust labor market. The shortage of properties is concentrated at the lower end of the market. While the number of previously-owned homes on the market rose 4.1% to 1.52 million units in January, housing inventory was down 9.5% from a year ago.

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Everything is.

Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)

The sharp drop in January home sales was not due to a shortage of homes for sale. It was due to a shortage of affordable homes for sale. While real estate economists continue to blame the pitiful 3.4-month supply of total listings (a six-month supply is considered a balanced market), a better indicator is a chart on the second-to-last page of the National Association of Realtors’ monthly sales report. It breaks down sales by price point. Sales of homes priced below $100,000 fell 13% in January year over year. Sales of homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 dropped just more than 2%. The share of first-time buyers also declined to 29%, compared with 33% a year ago.

“Affordable inventory has been more depleted than expected and the upcoming spring homebuying season will likely be filled with bidding wars and multiple offers,” said Joe Kirchner, senior economist at Realtor.com. The biggest sales gains were in homes priced between $500,000 and $750,000, up nearly 12% annually. Apparently there are more of those homes for sale. That’s a problem, because higher price points are not where the bulk of buyers exist and especially not where most first-time buyers exist. If you look at sales distribution, about 55% of buyers are in the below $250,000 category. Just 13% are above $750,000. Unfortunately, the entry-level price point is not where most new-home builders exist either today, given the significantly higher costs of construction.

The median home price of a newly built home is around $335,000, according to the U.S. Census. The lower-price tier is, however, where investors exist. During the recession, when the supply of homes for sale was about four times what it is today, investors bought millions of properties, saving the housing market overall by putting a floor on tumbling home prices. Realtors say now is the time for those same investors to sell.

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“..when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…”

Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)

Nearly a decade after the US unleashed its biggest debt-issuance binge in history, doubling the US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under president Obama, which was only made possible thanks to the Fed’s monetization of $4 trillion in deficits (and debt issuance), the Fed is starting to get nervous about the (un)sustainability of the US debt. The Federal Reserve should continue to raise U.S. interest rates this year in response to faster economic growth fueled by recent tax cuts as well as a stronger global economy, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Wednesday. “I believe the Federal Reserve should be gradually and patiently raising the federal funds rate during 2018,” Kaplan said in an essay updating his views on the economic and policy outlook.

“History suggests that if the Fed waits too long to remove accommodation at this stage in the economic cycle, excesses and imbalances begin to build, and the Fed ultimately has to play catch-up.” The Fed is widely expected to raise rates three times this year, starting next month. Kaplan, who does not vote on Fed policy this year but does participate in its regular rate-setting meetings, did not specify his preferred number of rate hikes for this year. But he warned Wednesday that falling behind the curve on rate hikes could make a recession more likely. [..] The most ironic warning, however, came when Kaplan predicted the US fiscal future beyond 2 years: he said that while the corporate tax cuts and other reforms may boost productivity and lift economic potential, most of the stimulative effects will fade in 2019 and 2020, leaving behind an economy with a higher debt burden than before.

“This projected increase in government debt to GDP comes at a point in the economic cycle when it would be preferable to be moderating the rate of debt growth at the government level,” Kaplan said. A higher debt burden will make it less likely the federal government will be able to deliver fiscal stimulus to offset any future economic downturn, he said, and unwinding it could slow economic growth. “While addressing this issue involves difficult political considerations and policy choices, the U.S. may need to more actively consider policy actions that would moderate the path of projected U.S. government debt growth,” he said. So to summarize: when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…

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Something’s in the air.

Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)

Student loan borrowers may finally have their day in court. The Education Department said Tuesday it would review when borrowers can discharge student loans, an indication it could become easier to expunge those loans in bankruptcy. The department said it is seeking public comment on how to evaluate undue hardship claims asserted by student loan borrowers to determine whether there is any need to modify how those claims in bankruptcy are evaluated. As of now, “it’s almost impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert. “The problem was undue hardship was never defined and the case law has never led to a standardized definition.”

Meanwhile, college-loan balances in the United States have jumped to an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to Experian. The average outstanding balance is $34,144, up 62% over the last 10 years. Roughly 4.6 million borrowers were in default as of Sept. 30, 2017, also up significantly from previous years. The national student loan default rate is now over 11%, according to Department of Education data. Student loans are considered in default if you fail to make a monthly payment for 270 days. Your loan becomes delinquent the first day after you miss a payment. “I’m encouraged that they are asking the question,” Kantrowitz said of the Department of Education’s request for comment, although “this doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any policy changes.” And even still, bankruptcy should only be considered as a very last resort, he added.

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“..what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world..”

Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)

The U.S. Treasury’s top diplomat ramped up his criticisms of China’s economic policies on Wednesday, accusing Beijing of “patently non-market behavior” and saying that the United States needed stronger responses to counter it. David Malpass, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, said at a forum in Washington that China should no longer be “congratulated” by the world for its progress and policies. “They went to Davos a year ago and said ‘We’re into trade,’ when in reality what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world,” Malpass said, at the event hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.

He said market-oriented, democratic governments were awakening to the challenges posed by China’s economic system, including from its state-owned banks and export credit agencies. He reiterated his view that China had stopped liberalizing its economy and was actually reversing these trends. “One of the challenges for the world is that as China has grown and not moved toward market orientation, that means that the misallocation of capital actually increases,” Malpass said. “They’re choosing investments in non-market ways. That is suppressing world growth,” he added. China said that its state-owned enterprises operate on free-market principles and is battling within the WTO’s dispute settlement system to be recognized as a “market economy” — a designation that would weaken U.S. and EU trade defenses.

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Tightening the noose…

Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)

Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will soar by billions of pounds if it tries to extend the transition period beyond the date suggested by Brussels, EU officials have told The Independent. Sources near the EU’s negotiating team said the UK would inevitably have to pay more – with the bill agreed by Theresa May already as high as £39bn – if it wants more time to prepare for its final break from the bloc. It came after a British Government document opened the way for a transition that could go on longer than the EU’s proposed end-date of 31 December 2020, though Downing Street was adamant the period will still be around “two years”. The prospect of a higher divorce bill, charged at millions of pounds a day, is likely to anger Tory Brexiteers as Ms May’s Cabinet gathers at Chequers today to try and hammer out a joint negotiating position for a trade deal with the EU.

Many hardline Eurosceptics are already uncomfortable with the idea of following EU rules with no say in making them – which some MPs have compared to making the UK a “vassal state”. One EU official close to talks told The Independent the financial settlement would “of course” have to be renegotiated if the transition extended into the next budget period, while another added: “Britain will have to pay for any transition beyond 2020, probably annual payments with no rebate.” In a statement published yesterday the Government said that the “period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership” and that while “the UK agrees this points to a period of around two years” it “wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date”.

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Wonder who paid for the study.

Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)

More people should be offered drugs when suffering from mental health problems, according to a new study which calls into question recent concerns about over prescription. Research from Oxford University, which was published in The Lancet, found that more than one million extra people would benefit from being prescribed drugs and criticised “ideological” reasons doctors use to avoid doing so. Data from 522 trials, involving 116,000 patients, found that every one of the 21 antidepressants used were better than a placebo. In general, newer antidepressants tended to be better tolerated due to fewer side effects, while the most effective drug in terms of reducing depressive symptoms was amitriptyline – a drug first discovered in the 1950s.

“Antidepressants are routinely used worldwide yet there remains considerable debate about their effectiveness and tolerability,” said John Ioannidis of Stanford University, who worked with a team of researchers led by Andrea Cipriani. Mr Cipriani said the findings offered “the best available evidence to inform and guide doctors and patients” and should reassure people with depression that drugs can help. “Antidepressants can be an effective tool to treat major depression, but this does not necessarily mean antidepressants should always be the first line of treatment,” he told a briefing in London. The study looks at average effects and therefore should not be interpreted as showing how drugs work for every patient.

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It’s clear where Der Spiegel stands: “Preparing for Chaos”, “Normal city life would be rendered impossible.”

Ironically, the bans may get support from the car industry, since many people and firms would need to buy new vehicles.

Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)

Emissions standards passed by the European Union in 2010 are regularly exceeded, essentially robbing residents of clean air to breathe. They have not, however, stayed quiet. Three years ago, 30 local residents launched a crusade against the city, demanding that traffic-calming measures be implemented and, ultimately, suing the city for inaction. In response, all they got were assurances that the city was looking into it or excuses that they didn’t have enough staff to deal with the problem. “Nothing has happened,” Lill says. That could change on Thursday. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is set to consider whether vague plans to maintain clean air go far enough or whether problematic cities like Hamburg must ensure clean air as rapidly as possible, even if that means implementing driving bans. And there is plenty to indicate that the judges will prioritize health, just as lower courts in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart have done.

The landmark decision could very well send out shock waves affecting more than 60 municipalities in which, like Hamburg, limits on poisonous nitrogen oxide emissions are consistently exceeded. Germany’s major carmakers would also be put on notice, as would the German Chancellery and the ministries responsible. All have ignored the problem for years and are hardly prepared should the court prove stubborn. Things threaten to get even worse after that: Just a few weeks after the Leipzig ruling, the European Commission is also set to decide whether to initiate legal proceedings against Germany at the European Court of Justice for its failure to do anything about high levels of harmful emissions in its cities. Should Brussels decide to do so, it would clearly expose Berlin’s cozy relationship with the automobile industry at the expense of public health. “That would be a real disgrace for the German government,” says a state secretary in Berlin.

[..] The German government is now facing the consequences of its inactivity — or at least it will if the court rejects the appeals from Stuttgart and Düsseldorf against driving bans. Depending on the grace period the court decides on, the cities could be forced to close down their streets within three to six months. A verdict of that nature would destroy billions in value because drivers would suddenly be unable to drive into the city for work or to go shopping. Cars that already have to be marked down significantly in many places could then only be sold in foreign countries. Millions of cars would be affected by the ban and there is a possibility that even delivery vehicles and trucks belonging to craftsmen would not be permitted. Normal city life would be rendered impossible.

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Did anyone actually believe they’d do something?

Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

MPs have attacked a three-month delay since the Chancellor pledged to tackle the huge environmental damage from plastic pollution – protesting that no action has followed. In his November Budget, Philip Hammond vowed to investigate new charges to make the UK a “world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans”. “We cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future,” he told the Commons. But, three months later, the Treasury has failed to start a consultation on what action to take, or even explain which Government department will run it. The protest comes from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which has – in the meantime – recommended a 25p charge is levied on all drinks sold in disposable cups, which are lined with polyethylene.

Mary Creagh, the committee’s chairwoman, said: “Pollution from single use plastic packaging is choking our oceans and devastating marine wildlife. “Three months ago, ministers promised to look at using the tax system reduce the use of throwaway plastics, but still have not published a call for evidence. “The Government has talked the talk on plastics pollution, but it has been too slow to walk the walk.” In a stinging letter, sent to Mr Hammond and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, the committee demands to know when ministers will set out action to curb the “700,000 plastic bottles that are littered every day”. “These are just one example of single-use plastics that can end up in our seas and oceans, killing wildlife and breaking down into harmful microplastics,” Ms Creagh added.

Read more …

Jan 242018
 


Horacio Coppola Florida, Buenos Aires 1936

 

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)
Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)
South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)
South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)
Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)
Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)
Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)
Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)
Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)
German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)
Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)
UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)
Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)
Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

 

 

Chris Hamilton tends to get stuck in a multitude of data and graphs. Bit of a shame. Sometimes it’s about what you leave out.

But point taken: Demographics, Housing and Debt.

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)

I recently wrote an article explaining why a 30% to 50% decline in household net worth is imminent (HERE). No shocker that the primary asset for most in figuring household net worth is real estate, particularly primary residences. This article details why US housing starts and job creation are set to decelerate and a recession will almost surely follow… sending home prices tumbling (and likely equity and bond prices, to boot) severely negatively impacting US households net worth’s. First, the year over year change in housing starts (one unit variety) is highly indicative of the subsequent change (in 12 to 18 months) of full time employees (chart below…year over year change in full time employees blue shaded area) vs. YoY change in housing starts (red line)). As goes housing, so goes subsequent jobs creation.

[..] If you think interest rate changes and housing creation look interdependent…you’re right (chart below).

Again, total annual total population growth, 0-65yr/old population growth, housing starts (1-unit)…but this time including annual change in full time employees.

I believe the interest rate hikes and decelerating deficits will slow housing and jobs creation…but even if I’m wrong, there is still trouble dead ahead as the US is simply running out of employable persons as the percentage of employed 15-64yr/olds is nearing all time highs (also known as potential homebuyers).

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Pensions problems are literally everywhere. But they come to light only when companies themselves collapse first.

Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)

The looming pension crisis has been signalled in the collapse of Carillion. The deficit of latest private sector dead-on-arrival Carillion is officially £580 million. However, private reports suggest it could be as high as £2.6 BILLION. According to a Sky News investigation: ‘the £2.6 billion figure relates to the cost to Carillion of paying an insurance company to guarantee all of its pension liabilities, and is significant because it is likely to be the sum claimed on behalf of the pension schemes as part of the liquidation process.’ Nearly 30,000 UK workers’ pensions are at risk thanks to Carillion management’s total mismanagement of a company that has seen its share price collapse 94% in the last 12 months. Carillion’s 27,500-member pension scheme was placed on an ‘at risk list’ in autumn 2017. Arguably, it like many other pension funds should have been there many months ago.

Sadly, Carillion is just the latest in a very long string of serious company collapses that have highlighted the major pension crisis in the UK and around the Western world. It also likely signals that we may be on the verge of many, many more very large corporate bankruptcies in the UK due to massive debt levels and unfunded liabilities. This is not a situation unique to the private sector. It will be repeated in the years ahead – both in the public and the private sector. In November 2017, the OECD warned that the UK’s defined benefit workplace pension plans (final salary schemes) as ‘persistently underfunded’ and the state pension as seriously lacking. Everyone is exposed by this and it emphasises the importance of saving for retirement and ensuring your pension is both funded and properly diversified. These ongoing disasters in the UK’s pension pots are also a threat to the efforts of prudent individuals who have worked hard to set aside enough for their hard-earned retirements.

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This will be copied across the world.

South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)

South Korea has made moves to ban anonymous cryptocurrency accounts from being used for financial transactions. Financial authorities have already banned banks from offering virtual accounts that are needed to buy or sell cryptocurrency. New regulations set for next week will further the ban already in place by introducing a system to verify a person’s identity before they can make a transaction. Planned regulation also prevents foreigners and underage investors from opening cryptocurrency accounts in South Korea, Yonhap reported, citing financial officials. South Korea’s senior financial regulator Kim Yong-beom told reporters that six South Korean banks will begin issuing new trading accounts next week after the system is implemented. Those banks include Shinhan Bank, NH Bank and the Industrial Bank of Korea.

Existing crypto bank accounts not linked to verified users will be banned on the same day, Kim said. Officials also announced on Sunday that cryptocurrency traders would be required to share user data with the banks, according to Yonhap. Newly proposed regulations would require banks to check whether cryptocurrency exchanges comply with the new transparency measures. The government will also be able to access users’ transaction data through compliant banks, according to officials, which may point to the government looking to enforce taxes on cryptocurrency transactions. Stricter trading regulations are part of a government system to curb speculative investment into virtual money, as many fear that the cryptocurrency bubble may soon burst. The government also hopes to prevent the use of cryptocurrency in illegal activity.

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“Kang noted a loophole. In the new system, foreigners and minors can’t possibly make investments as it operates on a bank’s real-name account, but they could potentially use corporate accounts to make additional investments. “There’s no limit to that for now. We haven’t come up with measures to ban that as there is no actual way to do so,” he said.”

South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)

The system aims to tackle money laundering and related crimes, along with speculation-driven overheating in the market, Kang Young-soo, head of the FSC’s cryptocurrency response team, said by phone on Tuesday after the announcement. “The government is concerned about manipulation of market conditions and injection of illegal funds while market funds are leaked into speculative investments,” he added. “We view that foreigners’ and minors’ investments contribute to our areas of concern.” All foreigners, including residents, nonresidents and “kyopo” ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship, will be banned from trading cryptocurrencies in Korea, the FSC’s foreign media department said by email. Minors are banned after Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon earlier claim the cryptocurrency craze could lead the youth toward crime.

The government first suggested last month to ban minors and nonresident foreigners. But the final decision nets all foreigners regardless of resident status. “If they’re not Korean citizens, then they can invest in exchanges provided in their countries. Why do they have to invest in ours?” Kang quipped. [..] “The government is creating boundaries for instances of foreigners injecting in coins into the country and a phenomenon of more Bitcoins and other cryptocurrency circulating within the Korean market,” says Kim Jin-hwa, corepresentative of the Korea Blockchain Association, which has about 30 member companies including several exchanges. “With the current conditions of our market, higher supply would equate to higher speculation.”

The targets of the latest regulation, says blockchain startup BlockchainOS Choi Yong-kwan, are Chinese investors who have flooded the cryptocurrency market since their country banned cryptocurrency trade last year. Digital coins from China enter Korean exchanges, then are illegally changed into foreign currencies, which are sent back to China, he explained. “These cases are surprisingly high, and difficult to track or identify. This measure can be viewed as a response to ban these illegal activities,” he said by phone, but suggested the ban would have little effect on existing investors. “The biggest problem lies on Chinese cryptocurrency investors, so this matter is an important focus.”

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Trump can simply say NO. But he probably won’t.

Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)

Following the news earlier this month that special counsel Mueller is seeking to question President Trump – and following today’s NYT report that Mueller had interviewed AG Jeff Sessions – moments ago the Washington Post reported that Mueller wants to question Trump over his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn from the White House. According to two WaPo sources, Trump’s legal team could present conditions for Trump to interview with Mueller’s investigators as soon as next week. The Post also adds that Trump’s lawyers hope to have Trump answer some of Mueller’s questions in an in-person interview and some in writing.

Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the two central subjects that investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings. Mueller has also reportedly expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, “according to a person familiar with the probe who said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a “pattern” of behavior by the president.” Earlier this month, Trump declined to say whether he would grant an interview to Mueller and his team, deflecting questions on the topic by saying there had been “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly about meeting with the special counsel. While Trump has told has allegedly told his lawyers that he is not worried about a face to face meeting with the special counsel, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole. Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.” “I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview”, Stone said.

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I googled Sessions. All articles on this are from WaPo, NYT, CNN etc. Where is the balance?

Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)

The leaks from the special counsel’s office just keep coming. After reporting earlier today that AG Jeff Sessions sat for an interview with Mueller last week, the paper is now reporting that Mueller interviewed former FBI Director James Comey last year. The interview with Comey focused on the infamous memo he wrote where he alleged that Trump had asked him to take it easy on Michael Flynn. Many of the special counsel’s critics have warned that Mueller should recuse himself from all dealings with Comey, who is believed to be a key witness in the probe. Comey and Mueller have a long history of working together, and also share a personal friendship, having vacationed together. A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that he had appeared before the committee. Circling back to Sessions, the NYT pointed out that Sessions is perhaps one of the most important witnesses to be interviewed by Mueller.

For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. Mr. Mueller can question Mr. Sessions about his role as the head of the campaign’s foreign policy team. Mr. Sessions was involved in developing Mr. Trump’s position toward Russia and met with Russian officials, including the ambassador. Along with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where one of the campaign’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, pitched the idea of a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Mr. Papadopoulos plead guilty in October to lying to federal authorities about the nature of his contacts with the Russians and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office.

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The FBI is confident it won’t be investigated. There’s no-one to do it.

Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)

During the financial crisis, the federal government bailed out banks it declared “too big to fail.” Fearing their bankruptcy might trigger economic Armageddon, the feds propped them up with taxpayer cash. Something similar is happening now at the FBI, with the Washington wagons circling the agency to protect it from charges of corruption. This time, the appropriate tag line is “too big to believe.” Yet each day brings credible reports suggesting there is a massive scandal involving the top ranks of America’s premier law enforcement agency. The reports, which feature talk among agents of a “secret society” and suddenly missing text messages, point to the existence both of a cabal dedicated to defeating Donald Trump in 2016 and of a plan to let Hillary Clinton skate free in the classified email probe.

If either one is true -and I believe both probably are- it would mean FBI leaders betrayed the nation by abusing their powers in a bid to pick the president. More support for this view involves the FBI’s use of the Russian dossier on Trump that was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. It is almost certain that the FBI used the dossier to get FISA court warrants to spy on Trump associates, meaning it used the opposition research of the party in power to convince a court to let it spy on the candidate of the other party – likely without telling the court of the dossier’s political link. Even worse, there is growing reason to believe someone in President Barack Obama’s administration turned over classified information about Trump to the Clinton campaign. As one former federal prosecutor put it, “It doesn’t get worse than that.” Joseph diGenova, believes Trump was correct when he claimed Obama aides wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower.

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Quite literally nobody seems to understand that governments are not households.

Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)

Taxes do not fund government spending. That’s a core insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) whose radical implications have not been understood very well by the left. Indeed, it’s not well understood at all, and most people who have heard or read it somewhere breeze right past it, and fall back to the taxes-for-spending paradigm that is the sticky common wisdom of the left and right. This, despite the fact that the truth of the proposition is obvious if you think through just a few steps about the process of money-creation. What makes it hard to see is the dense knot of conventional theory and discourse in which we are entangled, and which seems impossible to cut as cleanly as MMT suggests.

But the discussion around the newly-enacted Republican tax bill has brought the issue of tax policy to the forefront again, and it’s time for the left to realize how fundamentally wrong that common wisdom is, and how continuing to argue within the phony terms of the taxes-for-revenue paradigm occludes and reproduces a persistent reactionary fiction regarding what taxes are for. The argument of the common-wisdom economic paradigm is that the government must collect taxes (or borrow money—we’ll get to that) to spend on whatever programs it wants to fund. In this paradigm, the government extracts money from an external, economically prior source, and uses it to pay for government programs. For both the left and the right in this paradigm, taxes are for funding government spending: money first flows into the government through taxes collected, and is then spent into economy in various programs and purchases.

The arguments that ensue are over how much money to collect in taxes, from which sources, and which government programs to fund with the money collected. Most leftists take their stance within this paradigm. Bernie Sanders, for instance, says his Medicare-for-all plan would “raise revenue” from various taxes such as income and capital gains, and from limiting “deductions for the rich.” Dean Baker suggests a 4% increase in payroll taxes to “fully fund” Social Security and Medicare. These kinds of analyses, typical of the left, make points that are helpful in immediate political fights, and they’re also grounded in the conventional paradigm about, money, taxes, and government spending. That paradigm not only informs most thinking—whether conservative, liberal, or left-radical—about money in our society, it also informs the legal and institutional policy framework. It’s the paradigm of the household.

We’re comfortable with the household paradigm because it reflects everyday reality. The household has to get money from somewhere to spend it. It’s obvious. But, also obvious, the household (or business or state) does not create money. That teensy little huge fact makes the household-government finance analogy wrong and wildly misleading. Unless we take that fact as of no significance—And how could we?—we need another paradigm. Analyses and critiques—no matter how radical—of government financing as if it worked like household financing are based on false premises, and false premises lead down meandering dead-end paths to wrong conclusions. We have to reject the household analogy whenever it comes up from any source, including our own minds, where it will sneak in. Most leftists, I’m afraid, do end up assuming it, and ignoring the huge little fact that it cannot be right.

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Governments rejecting Supreme Court decisions. Well, perhaps in Turkey that’s the rule.

Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)

Ankara on Tuesday lodged a third request for the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in July 2016 following a failed coup in the neighboring country, sources said. The request by Ankara was lodged just a few hours after Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis received in Athens a delegation from the Turkish Justice Ministry where, according to sources, the Turkish officials underlined Turkey’s insistence on the return of the eight men who are accused of treason. The same sources indicate that Ankara has included new claims about the servicemen in its third request for their extradition.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkey’s Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Ucar in Athens, Kontonis said that the eight could not be send back given that the country’s Supreme Court has rejected the original extradition request. Kontonis said the ruling was “fully respected by everyone and the Greek government.” However, he said, a proposal to try them in Athens was still on the table, adding that it would be up to Ankara “to take the appropriate legal steps.”

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German weapons fight US allies.

German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)

German politicians have widely opposed plans to provide Turkey with tank modernization upgrades after Leopard 2 combat vehicles were spotted taking part in the military operation against the Kurds in Syria’s Afrin. Amid rumors of potential resumption of arms sales to Turkey, German opposition parties, the Greens and the Left, urged the government to reconsider such deals with Ankara, pointing out that German weapons are now killing innocent people in Syria. “An immediate halt to all arms exports to Turkey is long overdue,” Agnieszka Brugger, a Greens lawmaker told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper. “This intense situation should be a wake-up call for the German government.”

Since the 1980s Germany has sold Turkey some 751 Leopard tanks, including 354 modern Leopard 2 type, which has been previously used by Turkey an a cross border operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and US-supported Kurdish militias in Syria. Throughout its military campaign in the neighboring country, Turkey lost a number of 60-ton Leopard 2 tanks, built by Bavaria’s Krauss-Maffei, due to mine explosions. Ankara has recently pressed Berlin and German arms companies to retrofit the hardware to offer better protection against enemy mines. The tanks used by Turkey come from decommissioned stocks of the Bundeswehr. The frontal armor on the hull and turret on the Leopard 2 is much thicker than on the sides and rear of the tracked vehicle.

[..] The massive outcry from the German politicians was caused by the publication of pictures which allegedly showed German tanks used against the Kurds in Syria. An expert from the Bundeswehr confirmed to the German Press Agency in Berlin on Monday that pictures, distributed by the state-owned Anadolu Turkish news agency, showed Leopard 2 A4 tanks of German production. [..] “Angela Merkel must explain her Turkey policy,” said Jan Korte, an MP from the Left. He noted that German soldiers are directly involved in the war of aggression against the Kurds by flying Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft missions and not doing anything to stop the bloodshed on the ground.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) MP Graf Alexander Lambsdorff also expressed sharp criticism of the Turkish action against the Kurds in Syria. “This invasion is not legitimized by international law. There is no mandate from the United Nations and it is not self-defense. All states should call on Turkey to end the campaign and ask them to work on a political solution instead.”

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When seeing stats like this, one must fear for what is yet to come in Britain.

Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)

Almost half of all children in some UK cities are estimated to be living in poverty, new figures reveal, amid warnings that welfare reforms are leading to an “emerging child poverty crisis”. An analysis of data indicates the most deprived areas in the country have experienced the biggest increases in child poverty over the past two years, with parts of London and Birmingham seeing levels rise by 10 percentage points to above half of all children. The “shocking” figures have been attributed to the benefit freeze – which has been in place since 2015 and leaves children’s benefits frozen until the end of the decade – as well as the high cost of credit for low income families, leaving many “spiralling into debt”.

A report by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last month found that Britain’s record on tackling poverty had reached a turning point and was at risk of unravelling, with nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners living in poverty than five years ago. The JRF stated that while poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – saw the numbers creep up again. Their report showed a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population.

Now the latest figures, collated by the End Child Poverty coalition through analysis of tax credit data and national trends in worklessness, estimate that child poverty in Manchester and Birmingham stands at 44% and 43% respectively. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets this reaches 53%. [..] A child is said to live in poverty if they are in a family living on less than 60 per cent of median household income. According to the latest official statistics, 60 per cent of median income, after housing costs, was around £248 per week.

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EU targets are for 2035. Ergo, they are not ‘strong’. They’re just as bad and weak as the UK 2042 targets. Don’t be fooled.

UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)

The UK government is opposing strong new recycling targets across the EU despite its recent pledge to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones”, confidential documents have revealed. A 25-year environment plan was launched earlier in January by the prime minister, Theresa May, who particularly focused on cutting plastic pollution. The plan, aimed partly at wooing younger voters, says “recycling plastics is critical”. A target to recycle 65% of urban waste by 2035 was agreed by the European council and parliament in December and now awaits a vote of approval by member states. But the UK’s opposition is revealed in a record of a subsequent briefing for EU ambassadors, obtained by Greenpeace’s Unearthed team and seen by the Guardian. “The UK cannot support a binding target of 65% for 2035,” said the record, compiled by officials from one member state and confirmed by others. Furthermore, the UK said its opposition meant it would not support the overall waste agreement.

The recycling target had already been watered down from the 70% by 2030 initially sought by the European parliament. The UK’s own environment officials estimated that meeting ambitious recycling targets would bring benefits totalling billions of pounds, according to a July 2017 internal presentation, also obtained by Greenpeace. It suggested a 65% target by 2030 would save almost £10bn over a decade in waste sector, greenhouse gas and social costs. “This Conservative government must be judged on what they do, not on what they say,” said Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary. “It comes as no surprise that the government are trying to scupper progress on recycling behind the scenes. “Recycling rates have stagnated on this government’s watch and we are way behind meeting our national targets. [Environment secretary] Michael Gove needs to clarify the government’s position on this matter without delay.”

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Fighting GMO resistance with more GMO. A road to nowhere but mass starvation.

Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)

Monsanto is facing major threats to its historic dominance of seed and herbicide technology for the $40 billion U.S. soybean market. Rivals BASF and DowDuPont are preparing to push their own varieties of genetically modified soybeans. At stake is control over seed supply for the next generation of farmers producing the most valuable U.S. agricultural export. The market has opened up as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready line of seeds – engineered to tolerate the weed killer glyphosate – has lost effectiveness as weeds develop their own tolerance to the chemical. Compounding the firm’s troubles is a national scandal over crop damage linked to its new soybean and herbicide pairing – Roundup Ready 2 Xtend seeds, engineered to resist the chemical dicamba.

The newly competitive sector has sown confusion across the U.S. farm belt, particularly among smaller firms that produce and sell seeds with technology licensed from the agrichemical giants. Many of these sellers told Reuters they are amassing a surplus of seeds with engineered traits from multiple developers – at substantial extra cost – because they can only guess which product farmers will buy. “Our job is to meet our customers’ needs, and we don’t know what those are going to be,” said Carl Peterson at Peterson Farms Seed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.” Monsanto has much to lose. Soybeans are the key ingredient in feed used to fatten the world’s cattle, pigs, chickens and fish. Net sales of Monsanto’s soybean seeds and traits totaled almost $2.7 billion in fiscal 2017, or about a fifth of its total net sales. Gross profits from soybean products climbed 35% over 2016, beating 15% growth of its bigger corn seed franchise.

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No, the solution is not more and new antibiotics. The solution is to stop using the present ones the way we do. It can be legislated by tomorrow morning.

Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

The number of new antibiotics being developed has fallen sharply since 2000 and drugmakers need to do much more to tackle the rise of superbugs, according to a report. Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, and its US rival Johnson & Johnson are leading efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, according to the report, which was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation assessed 30 of the world’s biggest drugmakers, including pharma companies, biotech firms and generic drugmakers, and produced the first independent report on the industry’s efforts to address drug-resistant infections.

Overprescription of antibiotics, along with their overuse in animals, has caused growing drug resistance in humans with serious health implications – leading to the rise of superbugs such as MRSA that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics. England’s chief medical officer has repeatedly warned that antibiotic resistance could spell the “end of modern medicine”. Caesarean sections and cancer treatments would become very risky without the drugs used to fight infection. In Europe, an estimated 25,000 people a year die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the US, at least 2m illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year can be attributed to antibiotic resistance, according to the foundation’s report.

New antibiotics are urgently needed but there is little incentive for drugmakers to develop them as they will be tightly controlled once they reach the market to limit the risk of resistance emerging. The number of new antibacterial drugs approved in the US dropped from 33 between 1985 and 1999 to 13 between 2000 and 2014. Jayasree Iyer, the head of the foundation, said: “If we don’t use antibiotics in the right doses or for the right bugs, we risk giving bacteria a chance to adapt and strengthen their defences, which will make it harder to kill them the next time. The threat that once-deadly infections could again become life-threatening is intensifying. “Pharmaceutical companies have a critical contribution to make to the effort to tackle superbugs.”

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Dec 232017
 
 December 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Ansel Adams Boulder Dam 1941

 

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)
2017 Year In Review (David Collum)
2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)
Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)
Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)
Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)
What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)
Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)
Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

 

 

Keep the faith. It’s Christmas time after all.

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)

Bitcoin plunged Friday, taking the digital currency briefly below $11,000 and down 47% from a record high hit at the start of the week. Bitcoin had rallied to a record high above $19,800 on Sunday and was trading near $15,500 for much of Thursday New York time, according to Coinbase. But an afternoon selloff accelerated into the night, and bitcoin dropped 30.2% Friday morning to a low of $10,400 on Coinbase. It had recovered above $14,600 by Friday afternoon, off 27% from the all-time high. There were no immediately apparent explanation for the selloff and extreme volatility.

“I would say the drop in bitcoin is a result of the massive new inflows of retail investors who are relatively ‘weak hands’ and more prone to sell at the sight of falling prices than the capital that has been in the system for a while that has a longer term outlook,” Alex Sunnarborg, founding partner at cryptofund Tetras Capital, said in an email. Adding to the confusion, trading on Coinbase was disabled for more than two hours in the middle of the day. The company had more than 13 million users at the end of November. At its lows, bitcoin had fallen 47% in just five days and lost about $9,400. The digital currency erased more than $1,000 in one hour alone Friday morning.

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You’re on your own with Collum’s as always very very long review:

2017 Year In Review (David Collum)

A poem for Dave’s Year In Review

The bubble in everything grew

This nut from Cornell

Say’s we’re heading for hell

As I look at the data…#MeToo

~@TheLimerickKing

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We have reviews in all sorts and sizes. But with Christmas still to come, can they be complete?!

2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)

2017 was the kind of year when no amount of showers could wash off the feeling of existential yeccchhhhh that crept over you day after day like jungle rot. You needed to go through the carwash without your car… or maybe an acid bath would get the stink off. Cinematically, if 2016 was like The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, then 2017 was more like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a gruesome glimpse into the twisted soul of America. And by that I do not mean simply our dear leader, the Golden Golem of Greatness. We’re all in this horror show together. 2017 kicked off with the report by “seventeen intelligence agencies” — did you know there were so many professional snoops and busybodies on the US payroll? — declaring that Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally, tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“Meddling” and “collusion” became the watch-words of the year: but what exactly did they mean? Buying $100,000 worth of Google ads in a campaign that the two parties spent billions on? No doubt the “seventeen intelligence agencies” the US pays for were not alert to these shenanigans until the damage was done. Since then it’s been Russia-Russia-Russia 24/7 on the news wires. A few pleas bargains have been made to lever-up the action. When and if the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, pounces, I expect the GGG to fire him, pardon some of the plea-bargained culprits (if that’s what they were and not just patsies), and incite a constitutional crisis. Won’t that be fun? Anyway, that set the tone for the inauguration of the Golden Golem, a ghastly adversarial spectacle.

Never in my memory, going back to JFK in 1960, was there such a bad vibe at this solemn transfer of power as with the sight of all those Deep State dignitaries gathering gloomily on the Capitol portico to witness the unthinkable. From the sour scowl on her face, I thought Hillary might leap up and attempt to garrote the GGG with a high-C piano wire right there on rostrum. The “greatest crowd ever” at an inauguration, as the new president saw it, looked pathetically sparse to other observers. The deed got done. Five days later, the Dow Jones stock index hit the 20,000 mark and began a year-long run like no other in history: 50 all-time-highs, and a surge of 5000 points by year’s end, with 12 solid “winning” months of uptick.

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That 15% foreign buyers tax didn’t help much.

Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)

Foreign buyers are driving up the prices of homes in Canada’s two largest housing markets, according to research which will intensify the debate around overseas property ownership in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While people living outside Canada own less than 5% of residential properties in the two cities, those homes are worth significantly more than those held by residents, according to a Reuters analysis of data released this week by Statistics Canada. Public debate over the role of foreign investment in Canada has reached a fever pitch, with locals saying price increases of 60% in Vancouver and 40% in Toronto over the past three years are keeping them out of the market. In Toronto, the average value of a detached home built in 2016-2017 and owned by a non-resident is C$1.7m (US$1.3m), a whopping 48.7% higher than C$1.1m for residents.

Those values for Vancouver average a lofty C$2.5m for non-residents and C$1.8m for residents for a difference of 40.6%. Among all detached homes, not just new ones, those owned by non-residents were larger than residents’ houses by 13.1% in Vancouver and 2.2% in Toronto. The new data reinforces anecdotal evidence that foreign buyers tend to focus on the most affluent neighborhoods, said Jane Londerville, a real estate professor at the University of Guelph in Southern Ontario. “If the goal is to get a couple million dollars out of their country and put it in a very safe, calm economy, you might as well buy a C$2m house,” she said. “So they’re buying in Forest Hill in Toronto and Kerrisdale in Vancouver.” The Statscan data does not look at sales, or flow, but rather is a static snapshot of ownership of housing stock at the time of collection.

Foreign capital also targets new condos, with new Vancouver units owned by non-residents valued at 19.7% more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference is 11.2%. “There’s been a huge spike in foreign ownership in newer buildings,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher at Ryerson University’s urban policy centre in Toronto. [..] A 15% foreign buyers tax was imposed in Vancouver in 2016 and Toronto in 2017 amid a backlash against foreign buyers, particularly from China. This has cooled both markets at least temporarily.

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Canada doesn’t want to solve the issue anymore than any other country does.

Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)

“Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 27 year low for Canadian housing affordability. That’s right, real estate across Canada has not been this un affordable since the year 1990 per RBC. Spoiler alert house prices tumbled shortly thereafter. RBC Bank released their updated Q3 numbers for housing affordability. To no surprise, Vancouver leads the nation in the most unaffordable market to buy a home. Followed by Toronto and then Victoria. “The deterioration in the latest two quarters, in fact, put Vancouver buyers in the worst affordability position ever recorded in Canada.“ The area experienced the sharpest affordability drop among Canada’s major markets between the second and third quarters. RBC’s aggregate measure surged by 5.3 percentage points to 87.5%. This represents a new record high for any market in Canada. We see further downside to Vancouver’s home ownership rate in the period ahead. The rate fell from 65.5% in 2011 to 63.7% in 2016.”

What RBC didn’t mention in their report is the correlation between elevated house prices that cause affordability issues and recessions. When too much household money is spent servicing mortgage payments it eventually becomes a drag on consumer spending and ultimately triggers a recession. This is not to suggest a recession is imminent. But when the percent of income the median family would have to use to service debt pushes above 50% in Toronto and Vancouver, a recession typically follows in Canada. Currently Toronto is at 71.7%, and Vancouver is at 79.87%. With the Bank of Canada expected to follow our US counter parts in 2018, a couple more interest rate increases are sure to erode affordability even further. Across Canada, Household income would need to climb by 8.5% to fully cover the increase in homeownership costs arising from a 75 basis-point hike in mortgage rates. Buckle in.

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Would you bet on MBS?

Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)

In case you were wondering what the going-rate was for one of the world’s richest men’s freedom… it’s $6 billion… in unencumbered cash (not Bitcoin). That is the price that Saudi authorities are demanding from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention. The 62-year-old prince was one of the dozens of royals, government officials and businesspeople rounded up early last month in a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against widespread graft. According to the Mail, al-Waleed, who is (or was, until recently) one of the richest men in the world, has also been hung upside down and beaten.

The Saudi government has disclosed few details of its allegations against the accused, but as The Wall Street Journal reports, people familiar with the matter said the $6 billion Saudi officials are demanding from Prince al-Waleed, a large stakeholder in Western businesses like Twitter, is among the highest figures they have sought from those arrested. While the prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes – which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual – he has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash as an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. Prince al-Waleed is talking with the government about instead accepting as payment for his release a large piece of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Co., people familiar with the matter said.

The Riyadh-listed company’s market value is $8.7 billion, down about 14% since the prince’s arrest. Kingdom Holding said in November that it retained the support of the Saudi government and that its strategy “remains intact.” According to a senior Saudi official, Prince al-Waleed faces accusations that include money laundering, bribery and extortion. The official didn’t elaborate, but said the Saudi government is merely “having an amicable exchange to reach a settlement.” The prince has indicated to people close to him that he is determined to prove his innocence and would fight the corruption allegations in court if he had to. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” said a person close to Prince al-Waleed, referring to the crown prince by his initials, as many do.

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As I said yesterday, this won’t’ be as big as subprime houseing, but it’ll be much messier: “The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.”

What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)

Automotive credit has become easier in the last few years, and manufacturers are still seeking whatever growth they can come up with in our market at any cost. People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy. Used car depreciation is at an all time high for many cars and yet everyday more and more people are trading them in. This whole scenario has a bleak end that became evident when I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services. It was a beautiful Estoril Blue M-Sport car with just under eight thousand miles on the clock. I could only imagine the circumstances where someone let go of a year old BMW, but as we walked through I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new.

Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer. To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit. On the other end, every time I look up from my desk there is a customer who is absolutely drowned in their vehicle. Six thousand dollars in negative equity is the norm, but I’ve witnessed numbers as high as twenty thousand in the last year. Customers are always astounded by how their car has lost so much of its value so quickly. What they fail to realise is their car was worthless from the beginning. Rebates and incentives are at an all time high at many manufacturers, J.D. Power quoted an average around four thousand dollars earlier this year, and I’m sure that number has risen since then. The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.

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Keep squeezing, there’s still some blood left there.

Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)

Auxiliary pensions appear headed for a fresh cut in 2018, as the single auxiliary social security fund (ETEAEP) will end 2017 with a deficit, against the small surplus originally forecast. Crucially, while the ETEAEP budget for next year provides for a surplus of €176.01 million, expenditure on pensions will be reduced by 150 million euros. Based on the latest social security laws introduced by former minister Giorgos Katrougalos and current minister Effie Achtsioglou, the new auxiliary pensions – when they are finally issued – will be reduced by 22% on average, with a cut of up to 18% expected to existing pensions in 2019. The provisions of the ETEAEP budget that Kathimerini has seen suggest that existing pensions might be cut as early as next year. The single auxiliary social security fund is now projecting a deficit of €166.6 million for this year, compared to an original forecast for a €10.07 million surplus.

For next year’s surplus of 176.007 million euros to be attained, spending on auxiliary pensions will have to be reduced from €4.30 billion in 2016 and €4.17 billion this year to €4.02 billion in 2018. This means the sum of auxiliary pensions will decline by 3.59% next year. Revenues from next year’s social security contributions are estimated at €2.68 billion, against €2.566 billion this year (compared to a forecast for €2.581 billion). The ETEAEP budget also shows that the fund sold bonds worth €200 million this yea – at a considerable loss – while next year it will need to cash in bonds worth €80 million from the special fund at the Bank of Greece. In total, takings from the fund’s cash and bond handling for this year are estimated at €397.14 million, against an original projection of €200.54 million. Revenues from the utilization or sale of assets will amount to an estimated €311.65 million next year.

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How typical is this of mankind on the verge of 2018? The idea is environmental problems can be solved by putting monetary values on everything. The idea is as wrong as it is stupid. Cleaning the planet will not be done for monetary reasons.

Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.

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Nov 012017
 
 November 1, 2017  Posted by at 2:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Jean-Léon Gérôme Slave market 1866

 

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Ultra low interest rates mark a shift away from people’s wealth residing in their savings and pension plans, and into to so-called wealth residing in their homes, which are bought with ever growing levels of debt. When interest rates rise, they will lose that so-called wealth.

It is grand theft auto on an unparalleled scale, and it’s a piece of genius, because while people are getting robbed in plain daylight, they actually think they’re winning. But as I wrote back in March of this year, home sales, and bubbles, are the only thing that keeps our economies humming.

We haven’t learned a thing since March, and we haven’t learned a thing for many years. People need a place to live, and they fall for the scheme hook line and sinker. Which in a way is a good thing because the economy would have been dead without that ignorance, but at the same time it’s not because it’s a temporary relief only and the end result will be all the more painful for it.

Whatever Yellen decides as per rates, or Draghi, it doesn’t really matter anymore, this sucker’s going down something awful. This is a global issue. Housing bubbles have been blown not only in the Anglosphere, though they are strong there, many other countries have them as well, Scandinavia, Netherlands, even Germany and France. It’s what ultra low rates do.

First, here’s what I said in March:

 

Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles

What we have invented to keep big banks afloat for a while longer is ultra low interest rates, NIRP, ZIRP etc. They create the illusion of not only growth, but also of wealth. They make people think a home they couldn’t have dreamt of buying not long ago now fits in their ‘budget’. That is how we get them to sign up for ever bigger mortgages. And those in turn keep our banks from falling over.

Record low interest rates have become the only way that private banks can create new money, and stay alive (because at higher rates hardly anybody can afford a mortgage). It’s of course not just the banks that are kept alive, it’s the entire economy. Without the ZIRP rates, the mortgages they lure people into, and the housing bubbles this creates, the amount of money circulating in our economies would shrink so much and so fast the whole shebang would fall to bits.

That’s right: the survival of our economies today depends one on one on the existence of housing bubbles. No bubble means no money creation means no functioning economy.

 

 

What we should do in the short term is lower private debt levels (drastically, jubilee style), and temporarily raise public debt to encourage economic activity, aim for more and better jobs. But we’re doing the exact opposite: austerity measures are geared towards lowering public debt, while they cut the consumer spending power that makes up 60-70% of our economies. Meanwhile, housing bubbles raise private debt through the -grossly overpriced- roof.

This is today’s general economic dynamic. It’s exclusively controlled by the price of debt. However, as low interest rates make the price of debt look very low, the real price (there always is one, it’s just like thermodynamics) is paid beyond interest rates, beyond the financial markets even, it’s paid on Main Street, in the real economy. Where the quality of jobs, if not the quantity, has fallen dramatically, and people can only survive by descending ever deeper into ever more debt.

 

 

Australia’s housing boom has been a thing of beauty, with New Zealand, especially Wellington and Auckland, following close behind. UBS now says the Oz bubble is over. Prices are still rising quite a bit though.

Fresh New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has announced new policies to deter foreign buyers from purchasing more property in the country. She may not like what that does to the country’s economy. Most new Zealanders can no longer afford property in major centers, and forcing prices down this way will expose many present owners to margin calls and foreclosures.

Moreover, because Australian banks own their New Zealand peers, if the Aussie boom is really gone, these banks are going to get hit so hard they’ll take down New Zealand with them. Close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears.

 

Australia’s Housing Boom Is ‘Officially Over’

The housing boom that has seen Australian home prices more than double since the turn of the century is “officially over,” after data showed prices now flatlining, UBS said. National house prices were unchanged in October from September, while annual growth has slowed to 7% from more than 10% as recently as July, CoreLogic data released Wednesday showed. “There is now a persistent and sharp slowdown unfolding,” UBS economists led by George Tharenou said in a report. “This suggests a tightening of financial conditions is unfolding, which we expect to weigh on consumption growth via a fading household-wealth effect.”

An end to Australia’s property boom will be welcome news for first-time buyers, who have struggled to break into the market after surging prices propelled Sydney past London and New York to be the second-most expensive housing market. Less impressed may be property investors, already squeezed by regulatory lending curbs that drove up mortgage rates. The cooling housing market may encourage the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates at a record low. A rate hike would be undesirable as it would put further downward pressure on dwelling prices, said Diana Mousina, senior economist at AMP Capital Investors.

 

 

But perhaps a bigger, and more surprising, story is shaping up in the US. Looks like the American housing bubble is back with a vengeance. It’s always amusing to see claims that this is due to a lack of supply. The real problem is not supply, but artificially fabricated demand. Fabricated by low rates. Though the NAR is not known for its accuracy (it’s a PR firm), this Bloomberg piece is still relevant.

 

Homes Are Getting Snapped Up at the Fastest Pace in 30 Years

Homes are sitting on the market for the shortest time in 30 years, according to an annual report on homebuyers and sellers published today by the National Association of Realtors. The typical home spent just three weeks on the market, according to the report, which focused on about 8,000 homebuyers who purchased their home in the year ending in June. That was down from four weeks in the year ending June 2016 and 11 weeks in 2012, when the U.S. housing market was still reeling from the foreclosure crisis.

It was the shortest time since the NAR report began including data on how long homes spend on the market, in 1987. Buyers are snapping up homes quickly at a time when for-sale listings are in short supply, forcing them to compete. The number of available properties declined in September, according to NAR’s monthly report on existing home sales, marking the 28th consecutive month of year-on-year decline in inventory. In addition to moving fast, buyers also had to pony up to close the deal. 42% of buyers paid at least the listing price, the highest share since the NAR survey started keeping track in 2007.

 

Where the fine bubble plan runs astray is in affordability. Ultra low rates can encourage sales, but that also raises prices, and if and when wages do not keep up there must be a point where you hit a wall. In the US that wall is fast approaching, suggests Tyler Durden:

 

US Homes Have Never Been More Unaffordable

Just under a year ago, US home prices finally surpassed their prior all time highs, one decade after the 2006 bubble… and haven’t looked back since. Which, all else equal, would be great news for America, where the bulk of middle-class wealth is not in the stock market contrary to conventional wisdom, but in its biggest, and most illiquid asset-cum-investment: one’s home. There is just one problem: while house prices are once again hitting new all time highs every month, household incomes have failed to keep up; in fact, as the Political Calculations blog shows, in the past two years there has been a distinct trend in home affordability, or lack thereof.

[..] starting in September 2015, the TTM average median new home sale price in the U.S. has been rising at an average rate of $906 per month. That’s the good news; the bad news is that in terms of affordability, the ratio of the trailing twelve month averages of median new home sale prices to median household income in the U.S. has risen to an all time high of 5.454, which following revisions in the data for new home sale prices, was recorded in July 2017. The initial value for September 2017 is 5.437. In other words, the median new home in the US has never been more unaffordable in terms of current income.

 

 

Never more unaffordable is a bold statement, but it’s probably correct. The graph only goes back as far as 1987, but that should do. Another angle on the same issue, also from Tyler:

Home Prices In All US Cities Grow Faster Than Wages… And Then There’s Seattle

US national home prices are up 6.07% YoY in August – the fastest rate since June 2014. We note this data is for August – before the hurricanes. Seattle (up 13.2%), Las Vegas (up 8.6%), and San Diego (up 7.8%) were the top three cities in terms of year-over-year price appreciation; all cities showed gains of at least 3%. Pushing home prices to a new record high…

“Home-price increases appear to be unstoppable,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “At the same time, “measures of affordability are beginning to slide, indicating that the pool of buyers is shrinking, and the Fed’s interest-rate hikes are likely to push mortgage rates higher over time, “removing a key factor supporting rising home prices,” he said.

 

 

There’s nothing anyone can do to raise wages, and while Yellen may claim not to understand why wages and inflation refuse to shine, it’s not that hard. Whatever is called a job these days is America didn’t use to be labeled that. We’ve all been conned into redefining what a job is, but the benefits and security and all that have still vanished. So what can people afford? They can’t even afford to rent anymore:

 

Renting In The US Has Never Been More Unaffordable

Over the weekend, when looking at the record high ratio in median new home sale prices to household incomes in the US, we concluded that US homes have never been more unaffordable for the average American. What about renting? Isn’t it intuitive that if buying a house has never been more expensive, then at least renting should be cheap(er). Unfortunately no, because not only is renting not cheap(er) in either absolute or relative terms, but when observed through the prism of the only thing that matters, namely disposable income, renting – just like buying a house – has never been more unaffordable.

 

 

Now remember what I said before: millions upon millions see their savings and pensions melt away before their eyes, while at the same time they are forced to spend ever more on housing costs. And when that scheme hits the wall, the economy will remember it’s alive only because of the housing bubble, and then croak. Leaving both renters and owners without jobs and eventually places to live.

A lovely example of where all this is heading comes from a Statista report on the Netherlands 3 weeks ago. The Dutch have tons of interest-only mortgages, just like the Australians, but you can take this graph as a general model for what many of not most countries that have low interest rates and thus housing bubbles, will face:

 

Heading Towards A Mortgage Crisis In The Netherlands?

Bank it or bust. In October 2017, the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) issued a warning on mortgages in the Netherlands. They claimed that almost 55% of the aggregate Dutch mortgage debt consisted of interest-only and investment-based mortgage loans, which did not involve any contractual repayments during the loan term. As prices in the the European housing, or residential real estate, market increase and mortgage rates decrease due the Asset Purchase Programme (APP) of the ECB, interest-only mortgages became more and more popular.

In addition, the Dutch government encouraged home ownership for many years, offering tax exemptions on Dutch mortgage payments alongside other benefits for homebuyers in the Netherlands. Consequently, the total mortgage debt from households in the Netherlands increased from approximately €548 billion in 2006 to approximately €664 billion in 2016. However, the debts must still be repaid when the interest-only mortgages expire.

The DNB stated there could be a risk that the households in question may not have the means to repay their debts before or when their loans expire, risking a new mortgage crisis. Lenders, they say, must actively alert customers to this risk and help them find a suitable solution. Unfortunately, the value of mortgages in 2017 is forecasted to increase with approximately 3.9% compared to 2016.

 

 

The debt accumulation is insane. Combine that with the wholesale erosion of savings and pensions, and you have an economy with either a lot of foreclosures and homelessness in its future, or a bankrupt banking system. More people should, before purchasing property, be shown graphs like that. But that would kill the bubble scheme, wouldn’t it?

Is there a way out of this mess? Well, there is in theory. Just grow your economy, and your wages etc., by let’s say 6.8% per year for decades on end. Problem with that is it’s possible only in a country like China, and that only because whatever Beijing says the growth rate is, goes. But that doesn’t make it real. Still, it entices Chinese grandmas into buying apartments.

What Beijing doesn’t tell them, or us, is how much debt the grandmas have gone into by now to buy all those new nice and shiny apartments. But since stocks and bonds are still not their thing, it’s all they have. Property in China is all on red. In the US about one quarter of household wealth is in housing, in China it’s three quarters.

 

 

So no, there’s no way out. My best guess is the first country to deal with this in an aggressive manner will be the -relative- winner. All others are goners. The governments and politicians who’ve lured their people into this biggest Ponzi in human history will probably be long gone when the house comes down, and if they know what’s good for them will have moved to some street with no name in a land far away.