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 That nostalgia, which will be seen by many as outdated and a grave mistake in these ‘modern times’, instead makes a lot of sense.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
 March 9, 2018  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  

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.”’

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 …


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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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: , , , , , , , , ,  

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.

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Jan 242018
 January 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  

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: , , , , , , , , ,  

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

[email protected]

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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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

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.



Aug 202017
 August 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  

Stanley Kubrick Shoe shine boys New York 1947


What Happens When Credit Spreads Finally Rise (ZH)
Don’t Forget About The Red Swan (Stockman)
Ricardo’s Vice and the Virtues of Industrial Diversity (Steve Keen)
Utilitarian Economics and the Corruption of Conservatism (Philip Pilkington)
‘The Housing Industry Is In A Time Of Major Transformation’ (AFR)
Hard Brexit ‘Offers £135 Billion Annual Boost’ To UK Economy (BBC)
Donald Trump Finally Comes Out of the Closet (Krieger)
The Coming Clash Of Empires (Gavekal)



I wasn’t going to do a Debt Rattle at all. Too much time spent in too narrow and claustrophobic echo chambers. Bunch of loud shrieking parrots. But we have to move on. Tell people who think it all makes sense that really, it doesn’t. What you see is not what you get.


Economics is all about cycles. Central banks trying to deny and prevent them just makes the seasons more extreme.

What Happens When Credit Spreads Finally Rise (ZH)

[..] according to one of the best minds on Wall Street today, Citi’s Matt King, what traders should be far more concerned about, is not who is in the Oval Office or how bombastic the war of words between the US and North Korea may be on any given day, but rather what central banks are preparing to unleash in the coming months. To underscore this, two weeks ago, King made a stark warning when he summarized that we are now more reliant on central banks banks holding markets together than ever before: “with asset prices displaying a high degree of correlation with central bank liquidity additions in recent years, that feedback loop makes the economy, upon which both corporate profitability and bank net interest margins depend, more reliant on central banks holding markets together than almost ever before. That delicate balance may well be sustained for the time being. But with central banks beginning to move, however gingerly, towards an exit, is it really worth chasing the last few bp of spread from here?”

One week later, he followed up with what was arguably his magnum opus on why the market is far too complacent about the threat to risk assets from the upcoming rounds of balance sheet normalization, summarized best in the following charts, showing the correlation between central bank asset purchases and the returns across global stock markets. The unspoken, if all too familiar, message was that riskier financial assets, such as credit and equities, have been artificially boosted by central bank actions, actions which are soon coming to an end whether voluntarily in the case of the Fed, or because the central bank is simply running out of eligible bonds to monetize, in the case of the ECB and BOJ.

In short, King is worried the global market is about to enter another tantrum. Is he right? To answer that question, another Citi strategist, Robert Buckland, admitting that “we are (always) worried”, takes a look at where we currently stand in the business cycle as represented by Citi’s Credit/Equity clock popularized also by Matt King in previous years.

For those unfamiliar, here is a summary of the various phases of the business cycle clock:

Phase 1: Debt Reduction – Buy Credit, Sell Equities Our clock starts as the credit bear market ends. Spreads turn down as companies repair balance sheets, often through deeply discounted share issues. This dilution, along with continued pressure on profits, keeps equity prices falling. For the present cycle, this phase began in December 2008 and ended in March 2009. Global equities fell another 21% even as US spreads tightened.

Phase 2: Profits Grow Faster Than Debt – Buy Credit, Buy Equities The equity bull market begins as economic indicators stabilise and profits recover. The credit bull market continues as improving cashflows strengthen company balance sheets. It’s all-round risk-on. This is usually the longest phase of the cycle. This began in March 2009, and according to most Wall Street analysts, is the phase we find ourselves in right now. Equity and credit investors both do well in this phase.

Phase 3: Debt Grows Faster Than Profits – Sell Credit, Buy Equities This is when credit and equities decouple again. Spreads turn upwards as fixed income investors become increasingly worried about deteriorating balance sheets. But equity markets keep rallying as EPS rise. Share prices are also boosted by the effects of higher corporate leverage, often in the form of share buybacks or M&A. This is the time to favour equities over credit.

Phase 4: Recession – Sell Credit, Sell Equities In this phase, equities recouple with credit in a classic bear market. It is associated with a global recession, collapsing EPS and worsening balance sheets. Insolvency fears plague the credit market, profit warnings plague the equity market. It’s all-round risk-off. Cash and government bonds are usually the best-performing asset classes.

Read more …

More attempts at denial of cycles.

Don’t Forget About The Red Swan (Stockman)

Given the anti-Trump feeding frenzy, we continue to believe that a Swan is on its way bearing Orange. But if that’s not enough to dissuade the dip buyers, perhaps the impending arrival of the Red Swan will at least give them pause. The chart below comprises a picture worth thousands of words. It puts the lie to the latest Wall Street belief that the global economy is accelerating and that surging corporate profits justify the market’s latest manic rip. What is actually going on is a short-lived global credit/growth impulse emanating from China. Beijing panicked early last year and opened up the capital expenditure (CapEx) spigots at the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) out of fear that China’s great machine was heading for stall speed at exactly the wrong time.

The 19th national communist party Congress scheduled for late fall of 2017. This every five year event is the single most important happening in the Red Ponzi. This time the event is slated to be the coronation of Xi Jinping as the second coming of Mao. Beijing was not about to risk an economy fizzling toward a flat line before the Congress. Yet that threat was clearly on the horizon as evident from the dark green line in the chart below which represents total fixed asset investment. The latter is the spring-wheel of China’s booming economy, but it had dropped from 22% per annum growth rate when Mr. Xi took the helm in 2012 to 10% by early 2016. There was an eruption as dramatized in the chart. CapEx growth suddenly more than doubled in the one-third of China’s economy that is already saturated in excess capacity.

The state owned enterprises (SOE) in steel, aluminum, autos, shipbuilding, chemicals, building equipment and supplies, railway and highway construction etc boomed. It was as if a switch had been flicked on by Mr. Xi himself, SOE CapEx soared back toward the 25% year-over-year rate by mid-2016, keeping total CapEx hugging the 10% growth line. However, you cannot grow an economy indefinitely by building pyramids or any other kind of low-return/no return investment – even if the initial growth spurt lasts for years as China’s had. Ultimately, the illusion of Keynesian spending gets exposed and the deadweight costs of malinvestments and excess capacity exact a heavy toll. If the investment boom that was financed with reckless credit expansion is not enough, as was the case in China where debt grew from $1 trillion in 1995 to $35 trillion today, the morning-after toll is especially severe and disruptive. This used to be called a “depression.”

China’s propagated spurt in global trade and commodities was artificial and short-term. It was done to flatter China’s rulers at the 19th party congress. Now that a favorable GDP glide path has been assured, China’s planners and bureaucracy are already back at it trying to find some way to reel in its runaway credit growth and bloated economy before it collapses.

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Globalization dissected.

Ricardo’s Vice and the Virtues of Industrial Diversity (Steve Keen)

That specialization is the primary source of economic gain has been accepted by economists ever since the famous example of the pin factory with which Adam Smith opened The Wealth of Nations: “One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; . . . ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. . . . But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day.” David Ricardo extended Smith’s vision of specialization within a given industry to specialization between industries and nations, and made the argument that two countries can benefit from free trade even if one country is absolutely less competitive in both industries than the other.

In his hypothetical example, Portugal could produce both cloth and wine with less labor than England. If England specialized at the industry it was comparatively better at (cloth, obviously) and Portugal specialized in wine, then the total output of both industries would rise. This concept of the advantages of specialization became the core insight of economics, and it continues to be ingrained in and promoted by economists today. Lionel Robbins’s proposition that “Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses” is the dominant definition of economics. It implicitly emphasizes the importance of specialization, so that those “scarce means which have alternative uses” can be efficiently allocated to achieve the maximum level of output.

This belief in the advantages of specialization lies behind the incredulity with which economists have reacted to the rise of populist politicians like Donald Trump in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom’s vote for Brexit. They have, at their most self-righteous, blamed the rise of anti-globalization sentiment on the public’s irrational failure to appreciate the net benefits of trade. Or, more commonly, they have conceded that perhaps the electorate has reacted negatively because the gains from trade have not been shared fairly. There is, however, another explanation for why anti–free trade sentiment has risen: the gains from specialization at the national level were not there to share in the first place, for sound empirical reasons that were ignored in Ricardo’s example. That ignorance has been ingrained in economics since then, as Robbins’s definition—dominant and superficially persuasive, but fundamentally limited—gave economists a starting point from which they could not properly perceive either the advantages or the costs of globalization.

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Conservatism can mean: hold on to what you hold dear. Like nature. Like civility.

Utilitarian Economics and the Corruption of Conservatism (Philip Pilkington)

The Oxford English Dictionary has two definitions of the word “conservatism.” The first defines it as a “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation”; the second defines it as “the holding of political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” The former definition strikes me as the classical definition; the latter, a more modern invention—as those who supported private ownership and free enterprise, such as John Locke and Adam Smith, were in their own times thought of as progressive liberals. But is there a conflict between the two? Not inherently. With the absolute monarchies either abolished or subordinated to the will of parliaments, private ownership and free enterprise have evolved into the status quo.

Given this, one can see how someone who defends this state of affairs might see him or herself as conservative. But in defending this status quo, many who think themselves conservative have instead slipped into supporting a truly radical social doctrine—namely, utilitarianism—a doctrine that has subsequently morphed into neoclassical or marginalist economics. This is a social doctrine that has very little concern for traditional values. Indeed, it often appears to be entirely nihilistic in its consideration of value and truth. Because utilitarianism in its modern form—neoclassical or marginalist economics—is often the primary doctrine used to defend private property and free enterprise, the two definitions from the Oxford dictionary mentioned earlier begin to clash with one another.

What is the essence of the utilitarian doctrine? At its heart, it is the conversion of the human being in all of his or her richness into simplistic, self-contained atoms that are motivated only by their reaction to pleasure and pain. The individual is viewed as a creature isolated from any community: All considerations of intersubjective dynamics are subordinated to atomistic subjective dynamics. Anything resembling intersubjectivity is, in the utilitarian doctrine, merely a product of atomistic desires. There is, as Margaret Thatcher once said, no such thing as society. Simultaneously, although the individual is stripped of all faculties but the ability to feel pleasure and pain, he or she is invested with the ability to perfectly calculate how to best maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Man is divested of his all-too-human nature and endowed with the extremes of animal desires and godlike, calculating omniscience.

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Famous last words. Hey, if your paycheck depends on it… But sure, major transformation coming. Just not that one.

‘The Housing Industry Is In A Time Of Major Transformation’ (AFR)

Australia’s rising house prices reflect strong fundamentals, says Olumide Soroye, managing director of property data giant Corelogic’s US Information Solutions. Like Australia, which is experiencing rising house prices – which have doubled since the end of the global financial crisis – the US’s affordability is also worsening, Mr Soroye, who visited Australia and New Zealand last week, said. While the proportion of first-home buyers is higher in the US – 35% of total buyers compared with about 8 to 9% in Sydney and Melbourne – people trying to get into the housing markets for the first time are constrained in the US. Five years ago, first-home buyers were 50% of the US market. “The housing industry is in a time of major transformation and one of the forces at work that is going to drive that transformation is the affordability question,” Mr Soroye said.

“It exists here in the US and in Australia and New Zealand.” “Our view is the value of property since the GFC…the levels in the US while they are high they are still within range. We don’t think there is a systemic overvaluation.” “The question is, how does the system respond?” Mr Soroye said the use of macro-prudential tools – controlling lending to homebuyers – to cool the housing market was prudent and the US had done the same especially after the GFC. But that was not enough to reduce prices, and the key solution was supply, Mr Soroye said. He suggested government intervention, home design and the release of more suburban greenfield land supported by strong infrastructure. Reductions in stamp duty and assisted household funding could also help ease the affordability problem, Mr Soroye said.

Dispersing demand into the outer suburbs was another solution but it should be supported by fast trains and good roads. The pace of delivery of infrastructure must also be fast and timely. Importantly, the change in the designs of homes was crucial. Mr Soroye said in the US builders were starting to construct “multi-generational homes” to accommodate parents and their grown children on different floors. “In the context of the US, in 10 years 20% will be over 65. These are the type of parents who will have their millennial children come into their homes,” he said. “Millennials are over two thirds of first-home buyers so you need to figure out what to do with them.” And while planning was slow, particularly in NSW, Australia’s supply delivery was still better than the US and even the UK, Mr Soroye said.

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Sometimes it’s too obvious that people are just making stuff up.

Hard Brexit ‘Offers £135 Billion Annual Boost’ To UK Economy (BBC)

Removing all trade tariffs and barriers would help generate an annual £135bn uplift to the UK economy, according to a group of pro-Brexit economists. A hard Brexit is “economically much superior to soft” argues Prof Patrick Minford, lead author of a report from Economists for Free Trade. He says eliminating tariffs, either within free trade deals or unilaterally, would deliver huge gains. Campaigners against a hard Brexit said the plan amounts to “economic suicide”. The UK is part of the EU customs union, and so imposes tariffs – taxes on imports – on some goods coming into the country. Countries in the customs union don’t impose tariffs on each other’s goods, and every country inside the union levies the same tariffs on imports from abroad. So, for example, a 10% tariff is imposed on some cars imported from outside the customs union, while 7.5% is imposed on roasted coffee. Other goods have no tariffs.

The UK has said it is leaving the EU’s customs union because as a member it is unable to strike trade deals with other countries. Prof Minford’s full report, From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, is due to be published in the autumn. He argues that the UK could unilaterally – before a reciprocal deal is in place – eliminate trade barriers for both the EU and the rest of the world and reap trade gains worth £80bn a year. The report foresees a further £40bn a year boost from deregulating the economy, as well as other benefits resulting from Brexit-related policies. Prof Minford says that when it comes to trade the “ideal solution” would still be free trade deals with major economic blocks including the EU. But the threat that the UK could abolish all trade barriers unilaterally would act as “the club in the closet”.

The EU would then be under pressure to offer Britain a free trade deal, otherwise its producers would be competing in a UK market “flooded with less expensive goods from elsewhere”, his introduction says. He argues UK businesses and consumers would benefit from lower priced imported goods and the effects of increased competition, which would force firms to raise their productivity. [..] During the referendum campaign last year Prof Minford stoked controversy by suggesting that the effect of leaving the EU would be to “eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech”. However in a recent article in the Financial Times he suggested manufacturing would become more profitable post-Brexit.

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Thinking in the right direction, but not quite there yet.

Donald Trump Finally Comes Out of the Closet (Krieger)

The firing of Steve Bannon is in my opinion the most significant event to happen during the Trump administration thus far. Moreover, it will have massive reverberations across the U.S. political spectrum for years and years to come. I wasn’t planning on writing today, but this news is so incredibly significant I find myself with little choice. Taking a step back, part of the reason I was immediately able to see through the Trump con was due to my upbringing in New York City. The guy was constantly in the news my entire life, so I had a pretty decent understanding of where he was really coming from and what makes him tick. The mindset of your typical NYC-based billionaire real estate developer is filled with all sorts of perspectives and priorities, but thoughts of populism are not amongst them.

Trump used populism to get elected, and then as soon as he won, immediately appointed some of the most destructive oligarchs imaginable to run his administration. The reason I warned about this incessantly at the time, is because I learned the lesson from the Obama administration. People = policy, and the people Trump was elevating were almost unanimously awful. Irrespective of what you think of Bannon, him being out means Wall Street and the military-industrial complex is now 100% in control of the Trump administration. Prepare for an escalation of imperial war around the world and an expansion of brutal oligarchy. The removal of Bannon is the end of even a facade of populism. This is now the Goldman Sachs Presidency with a thin-skinned, unthinking authoritarian as a figurehead.

Meanwhile, guess who’s still there in addition to the Goldman executives? Weed obsessed, civil asset forfeiture supporting Jefferson Sessions. The Trump administration just became ten times more dangerous than it was before. With the coup successful, Trump no longer needs to be impeached. Here’s another prediction. Watch the corporate media start to lay off Trump a bit more going forward. Rather than hysterically demonize him for every little thing, corporate media will increasingly give him more of the benefit of the doubt. After all, a Presidency run by Goldman Sachs and generals is exactly what they like. Trump finally came out of the closet as the anti-populist oligarch he is, and the results won’t be pretty.

Corporate media got the scalp it wanted, so the hysterical criticisms of him will die down. This is not to say I think the media will become pro-Trump, it just means the obsessive and aggressive propaganda will be dialed back considerably. Trump is now inline, and he will be rewarded by the establishment for that. He will learn that the more he gets with the program, the easier his life will be and the more secure his power. He is merely being conditioned, and my forecast is that Trump will gladly embrace the worst parts of the establishment going forward. Why? Because Trump’s true worldview fits in way more with Goldman Sachs and the military-industrial complex than with populism. It always has. The whole thing was just an act to get elected. Firing Bannon is just Trump coming home to who he always was. A ruthless oligarch.

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A clash that has nothing to do with Trump.

The Coming Clash Of Empires (Gavekal)

History shows that maritime powers almost always have the upper hand in any clash; if only because moving goods by sea is cheaper, more efficient, easier to control, and often faster, than moving them by land. So there is little doubt that the US continues to have the advantage. Simple logic, suggests that goods should continue to be moved from Shanghai to Rotterdam by ship, rather than by rail. Unless, of course, a rising continental power wants to avoid the sea lanes controlled by its rival. Such a rival would have little choice but developing land routes; which of course is what China is doing. The fact that these land routes may not be as efficient as the US controlled sealanes is almost as irrelevant as the constant cost over-run of any major US defense projects. Both are necessary to achieve imperial status.

As British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson highlighted in his mustread East And West, empires tend to expand naturally, not out of megalomania, but simple commercial interest: “The true explanation lies in the very nature of the trade route. Having gone to all expenses involved… the rule cannot be expected to leave the far terminus in the hands of another power.” And indeed, the power that controls the end points on the trading road, and the power that controls the road, is the power that makes the money. Clearly, this is what China is trying to achieve, but trying to do so without entering into open conflict with the United States; perhaps because China knows the poor track record of continental empires picking fights with the maritime power. Still, by focusing almost myopically on Russia, the US risks having its current massive head-start gradually eroded. And obvious signs of this erosion may occur in the coming years if and when the following happens:

• Saudi Arabia adopts the renminbi for oil payments • Germany changes its stripes and cozies up to Russia and pretty much gives up on the whole European integration charade in order to follow its own naked self-interest. The latter two events may, of course, not happen. Still, a few years ago, we would have dismissed such talk as not even worthy of the craziest of conspiracy theories. Today, however, we are a lot less sure. And our concern is that either of the above events could end up having a dramatic impact on a number of asset classes and portfolios. And the possible catalyst for these changes is China’s effort to create a renminbi-based gold market in Hong Kong. For while the key change to our global financial infrastructure (namely oil payments occurring in renminbi) has yet to fully arrive, the ability to transform renminbi into gold, without having to bring the currency back into China (assuming Hong Kong is not “really” part of China as it has its own supreme court and independent justice system… just about!) is a likely game-changer.

Clearly, China is erecting the financial architecture for the above to occur. This does not mean the initiative will be a success. China could easily be sitting on a dud. But still, we should give credit to Beijing’s policymakers for their sense of timing for has there ever been a better time to promote an alternative to the US dollar? If you are sitting in Russia, Qatar, Iran, or Venezuela and listening to the rhetoric coming out of Washington, would you feel that comfortable keeping your assets, and denominating your trade, in dollars? Or would you perhaps be looking for alternatives? This is what makes today’s US policy hard to understand. Just when China is starting to offer an alternative—an alternative that the US should be trying to bury—the US is moving to “weaponize” the dollar and pound other nations—even those as geo-strategically vital as Russia—for simple domestic political reasons. It all seems so short-sighted.

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Jul 252017
 July 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

Walter Langley Never morning wore to evening but some heart did break 1894


If there’s one myth -and there are many- that we should invalidate in the cross-over world of politics and economics, it‘s that central banks have saved us from a financial crisis. It’s a carefully construed myth, but it’s as false as can be. Our central banks have caused our financial crises, not saved us from them.

It really should -but doesn’t- make us cringe uncontrollably to see Bank of England governor-for-hire Mark Carney announce -straightfaced- that:

“A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.”

Or, for that matter, to see Fed chief Janet Yellen declare that there won’t be another financial crisis in her lifetime, while she’s busy-bee busy building that next crisis as we speak. These people are now saying increasingly crazy things, and that should make us pause.

Central banks don’t serve people, or even societies, as that same myth claims. They serve banks. Even if central bankers themselves believe that this is one and the same thing, that doesn’t make it true. And if they don’t understand this, they should never be let anywhere near the positions they hold.

You can pin the moment central banks went awry at any point in time you like. The Bank of England’s foundation in 1694, the Federal Reserve’s in 1913, the ECB much more recently. What’s crucial in the timing is where and when the best interests of the banks split off from those of their societies. Because that is when central banks will stop serving those societies. We are at such a -turning?!- point right now. And it’s been coming for some time, ‘slowly’ working its way towards an inevitable abyss.

Over the past few years the Automatic Earth has argues repeatedly, along several different avenues, that American society was at its richest between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Yet another illustration of this came only yesterday in a Lance Roberts graph:



Anyone see a recovery in there? Lance uses 1981 as a ‘cut-off’ date, but the GDP growth rate as represented by the dotted line doesn’t really begin to go ‘bad’ until 1986 or so. At the tail end of the late 1960s to early 1980s period, as the American economy was inexorably getting poorer, Alan Greenspan took over as Federal Reserve governor in 1987. A narrative was carefully crafted by and for the media with Greenspan as an ‘oracle’ or even a ‘rock star’, but in reality he has been instrumental in saddling the economy with what will turn out to be insurmountable problems.

Greenspan was a major driving force behind the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was finally established through the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act of 1999. This was an open political act by the Federal Reserve governor, something that everyone should have then protested, and still should now, but didn’t and doesn’t. Central bankers should be kept far removed from politics, anywhere and everywhere, because they represent a small segment of society, banks, not society as a whole.

Because of the ‘oracle’ narrative, Greenspan was instead praised for saving the world. But all that Greenspan and his accomplices, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, actually did in getting rid of the 1933 Glass-Steagall act separation between investment- and consumer banking was to open the floodgates of debt, and even more importantly, leveraged debt. All part of the ‘financial innovations’ Greenspan famously lauded for saving and growing economies. It was all just more debt on top of more debt.



Greenspan et al ‘simply’ did what central bankers do: they represent the best interests of banks. And the world’s central bankers have never looked back. That most people still find it hard to believe that America -and the west- has been getting poorer for the past 30-40 years, goes to show how effective the narratives have been. The world looks richer instead of poorer, after all. That this is exclusively because of rising debt numbers wherever you look is not part of the narratives. Indeed, ruling economic models and theories ignore the role played by both banks and credit in an economy, almost entirely.

Alan Greenspan left as Fed head in 2006, after having wreaked his havoc on America for almost two decades, right before the financial crisis that took off in 2007-2008 became apparent to the world at large. The crisis was largely his doing, but he has escaped just about all the blame for it. Good PR.

With Ben Bernanke, an alleged academic genius on the Great Depression, as Greenspan’s replacement, the Fed just kept going and turned it up a notch. It was no longer possible in the financial world to pretend that banks and people had the same interests, so the former were bailed out at the expense of the latter. The illusionary narrative for the public, however, remained intact. What do people know about finance, anyway? Just make sure the S&P goes up. Easy as pie.

The narrative has switched to Bernanke, and Yellen after him, as well as Mario Draghi at the ECB and Haruhiko Kuroda at the Bank of Japan, saving the world from doom. But once again, they are the ones who are creating the crisis, not the ones saving us from it. They are saving the banks, and saddling the people with the costs.

In the past decade, these central bankers have purchased $20-$50 trillion in bonds, securities and stocks. The only intention, and indeed the only result, is to keep banks from falling over, increase their profits, and maintain the illusion that economies are recovering and growing.

They can only achieve this by creating bubbles wherever they can. Apart from the QE programs under which they bought all those ‘assets’, they used -and still do- another tool: lowering interest rates to the point where borrowing money becomes so cheap everyone can do it, and then do it some more. It has worked miracles in blowing stock market valuations out of all realistic proportions, and in doing the same for housing markets in locations all over the globe.

The role of China’s central bank in this is interesting too, but it is such an open and obvious political tool that it really deserves its own discussion and narrative. Basically, Beijing did what it saw Washington do and thought: why hold back?


Fast forward to today and we see that we’ve landed in a whole new, and next, phase of the story. The world’s central banks are all stuck in their own – self-created – bubbles and narratives. They all talk about how they solved all the issues, and how they will now return to normal, but the sad truth is they can’t and they know it.

The Fed stopped purchasing assets through its QE program a while back, but it could only do that because Frankfurt and Japan took over. And now they, too, talk about quitting QE. Slowly, yada yada, because of control, yada yada, but they know they must. They also know they can’t. Because the entire recovery narrative is a mirage, a fata morgana, a sleight of hand.

And that means we have arrived at a point that is new and very dangerous for the entire global economy and all of its people.


That is, the world’s central bankers now have an incentive to create the next crisis. This is because they know this crisis is inevitable, and they know their masters and protégés, the banks, risk suffering immensely or even going under. ‘Tapering’, or whatever you might call the -slow- end to QE and the -slow- hiking of interest rates, will prick and blow up bubbles one by one, and often in violent fashion.

When housing bubbles burst, economies lose the primary ingredient for maintaining -let alone increasing- their money supply: banks creating money out of thin hot air. Since the money supply is one of the key components of inflation, along with velocity of money, there will be fantastic outbursts of debt deflation. You’ve never seen -let alone imagined- anything like it.

The worst part of it is not government debt, though that, when financed with bond sales, is not not an instrument to infinity and beyond either. But the big hit to economies will be private debt. Where in many bubble areas, and they’re too numerous too mention, eager potential buyers today fret over affordable housing supply, it’ll all turn on a dime and owners won’t be able to sell without being suffocated by crippling losses.

Pension funds, which have already suffered perhaps more than any other parties because of low interest ZIRP and NIRP policies, have switched en masse to riskier assets like stocks. Well, another whammy, and a bigger one, is waiting just outside the door. Pensions will be so last century.


That another crisis is waiting to happen, and that politics and media have made sure that just about no-one at all is aware of it, is one thing. We already knew this, a few of us. That the world’s main central bankers have an active incentive to bring about the crisis, if only by sitting on their hands long enough, is new. But they do.

Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda may opt to leave before pulling the trigger, or be fired soon enough. But whoever is in the governor seats will realize that unleashing a crisis sooner rather than later is the only option left not to be blamed for it. Let the house of dominoes crumble now, and they can say “nobody could have seen this coming”, while at the same time saving what they can for the banks and bankers they serve. That option will not be on the table for much longer.

We should have never given them, let alone their member/master banks, the power to conjure up trillions out of nothing, and use that power as a political tool. But it is too late now.



Jul 182017
 July 18, 2017  Posted by at 1:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  

Hieronymus Bosch Ascent of the Blessed c1510


Reading the news on America should scare everyone, and every day, but it doesn’t. We’re immune, largely. Take this morning. The US Republican party can’t get its healthcare plan through the Senate. And they apparently don’t want to be seen working with the Democrats on a plan either. Or is that the other way around? You’d think if these people realize they were elected to represent the interests of their voters, they could get together and hammer out a single payer plan that is cheaper than anything they’ve managed so far. But they’re all in the pockets of so many sponsors and lobbyists they can’t really move anymore, or risk growing a conscience. Or a pair.

What we’re witnessing is the demise of the American political system, in real time. We just don’t know it. Actually, we’re witnessing the downfall of the entire western system. And it turns out the media are an integral part of that system. The reason we’re seeing it happen now is that although the narratives and memes emanating from both politics and the press point to economic recovery and a future full of hope and technological solutions to all our problems, people are not buying the memes anymore. And the people are right.

Tyler Durden ran a Credit Suisse graph overnight that should give everyone a heart attack, or something in that order. It shows that nobody’s buying stocks anymore, other than the companies who issue them. They use ultra-cheap leveraged loans to make it look like they’re doing fine. Instead of using the money/credit to invest in, well, anything, really. You can be a successful US/European company these days just by purchasing your own shares. How long for, you ask?

There Has Been Just One Buyer Of Stocks Since The Financial Crisis

As CS’ strategist Andrew Garthwaite writes, “one of the major features of the US equity market since the low in 2009 is that the US corporate sector has bought 18% of market cap, while institutions have sold 7% of market cap.” What this means is that since the financial crisis, there has been only one buyer of stock: the companies themselves, who have engaged in the greatest debt-funded buyback spree in history.

Why this rush by companies to buyback their own stock, and in the process artificially boost their Earning per Share? There is one very simple reason: as Reuters explained some time ago, “Stock buybacks enrich the bosses even when business sags.” And since bond investor are rushing over themselves to fund these buyback plans with “yielding” paper at a time when central banks have eliminated risk, who is to fault them.

More concerning than the unprecedented coordinated buybacks, however, is not only the relentless selling by institutions, but the persistent unwillingness by “households” to put any new money into the market which suggests that the financial crisis has left an entire generation of investors scarred with “crash” PTSD, and no matter what the market does, they will simply not put any further capital at risk.

In other words, the system doesn’t only keep zombies alive, making it impossible for anyone to see who’s healthy or not, no, the system itself has become a zombie. The article mentions Blackrock’s Larry Fink talking about ‘cash on the sidelines’, but puhlease… Central banks have injected another $2 trillion into the zombie system this year alone, and that gives you that graph. Basically no-one supposedly on the sideline has a penny left.

So that’s your stock markets. Let’s call it bubble no.1. Another effect of ultra low rates has been the surge in housing bubbles across the western world and into China. But not everything looks as rosy as the voices claim who wish to insist there is no bubble in [inject favorite location] because of [inject rich Chinese]. You’d better get lots of those Chinese swimming in monopoly money over to your location, because your own younger people will not be buying. Says none other than the New York Fed.

Student Debt Is a Major Reason Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes

College tuition hikes and the resulting increase in student debt burdens in recent years have caused a significant drop in homeownership among young Americans, according to new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The study is the first to quantify the impact of the recent and significant rise in college-related borrowing—student debt has doubled since 2009 to more than $1.4 trillion—on the decline in homeownership among Americans ages 28 to 30. The news has negative implications for local economies where debt loads have swelled and workers’ paychecks aren’t big enough to counter the impact. Homebuying typically leads to additional spending—on furniture, and gardening equipment, and repairs—so the drop is likely affecting the economy in other ways.

As much as 35% of the decline in young American homeownership from 2007 to 2015 is due to higher student debt loads, the researchers estimate. The study looked at all 28- to 30-year-olds, regardless of whether they pursued higher education, suggesting that the fall in homeownership among college-goers is likely even greater (close to half of young Americans never attend college). Had tuition stayed at 2001 levels, the New York Fed paper suggests, about 360,000 additional young Americans would’ve owned a home in 2015, bringing the total to roughly 2.9 million 28- to 30-year-old homeowners. The estimate doesn’t include younger or older millennials, who presumably have also been affected by rising tuition and greater student debt levels.

Young Americans -and Brits, Dutch etc.- get out of school with much higher debt levels than previous generations, but land in jobs that pay them much less. Ergo, at current price levels they can’t afford anything other than perhaps a tiny house. Which is fine in and of itself, but who’s going to buy the existent McMansions? Nobody but the Chinese. How many of them would you like to move in? And that’s not all. Another fine report from Lance Roberts, with more excellent graphs, puts the finger where it hurts, and then twists it around in the wound a bit more:

People Buy Payments –Not Houses- & Why Rates Can’t Rise

Over the last 30-years, a big driver of home prices has been the unabated decline of interest rates. When declining interest rates were combined with lax lending standards – home prices soared off the chart. No money down, ultra low interest rates and easy qualification gave individuals the ability to buy much more home for their money. The problem, however, is shown below. There is a LIMIT to how much the monthly payment can consume of a families disposable personal income.

In 1968 the average American family maintained a mortgage payment, as a percent of real disposable personal income (DPI), of about 7%. Back then, in order to buy a home, you were required to have skin in the game with a 20% down payment. Today, assuming that an individual puts down 20% for a house, their mortgage payment would consume more than 23% of real DPI. In reality, since many of the mortgages done over the last decade required little or no money down, that number is actually substantially higher. You get the point. With real disposable incomes stagnant, a rise in interest rates and inflation makes that 23% of the budget much harder to sustain.

In 1968 Americans paid 7% of their disposable income for a house. Today that’s 23%. That’s as scary as that first graph above on the stock markets. It’s hard to say where the eventual peak will be, but it should be clear that it can’t be too far off. And Yellen and Draghi and Carney are talking about raising those rates.

What Lance is warning for, as should be obvious, is that if rates would go up at this particular point in time, even a lot less people could afford a home. If you ask me, that would not be so bad, since they grossly overpay right now, they pay full-throttle bubble prices, but the effect could be monstrous. Because not only would a lot of people be left with a lot of mortgage debt, and we’d go through the whole jingle mail circus again, yada yada, but the economy’s main source of ‘money’ would come under great pressure.

Don’t let’s forget that by far most of our ‘money’ is created when private banks issue loans to their customers with nothing but thin air and keyboard strokes. Mortgages are the largest of these loans. Sink the housing industry and what do you think will happen to the money supply? And since inflation is money velocity x money supply, what would become of central banks’ inflation targets? May I make a bold suggestion? Get someone a lot smarter than Janet Yellen into the Fed, on the double. Or, alternatively, audit and close the whole house of shame.

We’ve had bubbles 1, 2 and 3. Stocks, student debt and housing. Which, it turns out, interact, and a lot. An interaction that leads seamlessly to bubble 4: subprime car loans. Mind you, don’t stare too much at the size of the bubbles, of course stocks and housing are much bigger issues, but focus instead on how they work together. As for the subprime car loans, and the subprime used car loans, it’s the similarity to the subprime housing that stands out. Like we learned nothing. Like the US has no regulators at all.

Fears Mount Over a New US Subprime Boom – Cars

It’s classic subprime: hasty loans, rapid defaults, and, at times, outright fraud. Only this isn’t the U.S. housing market circa 2007. It’s the U.S. auto industry circa 2017. A decade after the mortgage debacle, the financial industry has embraced another type of subprime debt: auto loans. And, like last time, the risks are spreading as they’re bundled into securities for investors worldwide. Subprime car loans have been around for ages, and no one is suggesting they’ll unleash the next crisis.

But since the Great Recession, business has exploded. In 2009, $2.5 billion of new subprime auto bonds were sold. In 2016, $26 billion were, topping average pre-crisis levels, according to Wells Fargo. Few things capture this phenomenon like the partnership between Fiat Chrysler and Banco Santander. [..] Santander recently vetted incomes on fewer than one out of every 10 loans packaged into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s.

If it’s alright with you, we’ll deal with the other main bubble, no.5 if you will, another time. Yeah, that would be bonds. Sovereign, corporate, junk, you name it. The 4 bubbles we’ve seen so far are more than enough to create a huge crisis in America. Don’t want to scare you too much all at once. Just you read the news again tomorrow. There’ll be more. And the US Senate is not going to do a thing about it. They’re too busy not getting enough votes for other things.





Apr 022017
 April 2, 2017  Posted by at 2:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on The American Dream, Twice Removed

Vincent van Gogh Corridor In The Asylum 1889


Nicole Foss is in Christchurch, New Zealand right now for the Living Economies Expo, and sent me, I’m still in Athens, Greece, a piece written by yet another longtime Automatic Earth reader, Helen Loughrey (keep ’em coming!), who describes her efforts trying to find a rental home in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

The first thing that struck me is how effortless and global sending information has become (category things you know but that hit you anyway occasionally, which is a good thing). The second is that the fall-out of the financial crisis has followed the same path as the information ‘revolution’: that is, it’s spreading faster than wildfire.

And I can’t avoid linking that to earlier periods of American poverty (see the photos), times in which ‘leaders’ thought it appropriate to let large swaths of the population live in misery, so everyone else would think twice about raising their voices. A tried and true strategy.

But of course there are large differences as well today between the likes of Greece and Connecticut. In Athens, there’s a poverty problem. In Fairfield County, there’s a (fake) ‘wealth problem’. Ever fewer people can afford to buy a home, so the rental market is ‘booming’ so much many can’t even afford to rent.

We can summarize this as ‘The Ravages Of The Fed’, and its interest rate policies. Or as ‘The Afterburn of QE’. That way it’s more obvious that this doesn’t happen only in the US. Every country and city in the world in which central banks and governments have deliberately blown real estate bubbles, face the same issue. Toronto, Sydney, Hong Kong, Stockholm, you know the list by now.

Helen’s real-life observations offer a ‘wonderful’ picture of how the process unfolds. The demise of America comes in small steps. But it’s unstoppable. The same is true for every other housing bubble. When no-one can afford to buy a home anymore but a bunch of Russians and Chinese, rental prices surge. And then shortly after that the whole thing goes up in smoke.

Here’s Helen:



Helen Loughrey: I am getting a reminder about class systems and downward social drift while searching for a rental in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

First of all, I realize I am extremely lucky to be able to afford a home at all. More and more Americans increasingly cannot. I am very aware that my current socioeconomic status could be gone in an instant. And so I am more inclined to notice class issues. There, but for the grace of GDP, go I.

And as one who studies the economy, I know we are all destined to go ‘there’ in the not-so-distant future. Owners are downsizing to become tenants, occupancy rates may rise to depression era levels, and homelessness will continue to rise up through the social fabric like water wicking up a paper towel.  

This week, I rejected an unoccupied split level rental for the dilapidated condition of the heavily scuff-marked and dingy old wall paint and dirty carpets and peeling deck paint. The house screamed “I do not care about my tenants’ quality of life.” I told my real estate agent that it indicated the landlord would not be responsive to tenant needs. He replied, “Well, after all, it’s a *rental*.”

And that statement in its conventional wisdom summed up class assumptions: buyers deserve better than renters. Yet landlords expect renters to deposit $8,000 to $10,000 of their savings, to maintain excellent credit ratings, to pay more than they would for a monthly mortgage, and to increase payments over time by $100/month every year without commensurate capital improvements to maintain the quality of the premises.

I replied, “Well, renters are people too.” I was facing the fact that despite having been a conscientious homeowner and model tenant, I had lost significant socioeconomic status by becoming a renter.


Another anecdote: Our current rental is likewise being shown to potential tenants. This week an until-recently wealthy, brand new divorcée with a pre-teen visited while I was here. She needs to switch her daughter from private school to the public schools and to quickly obtain a separate town residence in order to register her daughter. 

I spiffed up the place for my landlord, put fresh flowers on every table, and told the prospect how marvelous it was to raise our daughter in this school district with the backyard pool available to her new friends, how the third bedroom was a cozy office/family room. She listened politely but she visibly recoiled at the drop in living standards that comes with renting after a divorce. Welcome to the Greenwich renters club, my dear.


Arthur Rothstein Low-cost housing. Saint Louis, Mo. 1936


I remember despairing in our 2013 rental search that we would not find a decent home by the time we had to register our daughter in the Greenwich school system. We had compromised on this residence. Granted, the New York regional prices are stratospheric compared to our southern Maryland experience. You must DOUBLE your housing costs and even then you get much less square footage for the money.

Second, even though Greenwich is notoriously about rich and famous estates in “back country”, nevertheless like any city there are a lot more resident middle class people in average homes and even less well-off poor living in lower quality public housing apartment complexes.

The options in our price range were deplorable when we arrived here. So we paid a lot more than we thought we could afford only to share a portion of a 1950’s era non-updated house with the resident owner living in the in-law apartment.

I tried not to compare it to the larger modern house we had owned in Maryland but on my depressed days, I let my mind wander through our old home for old times’ sake. (But even there during the real estate boom years, I remember thinking we could not afford to buy again in our own neighborhood.)

In 2013 we had offered less than the listed price for our current Greenwich rental but past the top of our affordability. We rationalized that there was a swimming pool bonus for our daughter to invite new friends over. Our offer was accepted. We incorrectly assumed that over the years, the monthly rent would not rise much.

The list price should have been a clue to us that the landlord would attempt to increase the price back to their higher monthly income expectations. Plus the landlord retired from his job and took out a home equity loan a year later.  


G. G. Bain Eviction in an East Side neighborhood of New York 1908


Four years later, the time has come for us to balk at any further increases. This 3 bedroom 2 bath “tear-down” house apartment now is listed at $5500 and in three years the landlord likely expects rent creep to provide the $6000 they want in monthly income. Well, good luck to the next tenant. So we are house-hunting again. We no longer require the public school system,  but since we are paying cash now for college, our options are still limited. (I could write another essay about skyrocketing college costs.)

We recently concluded that we are now priced-out of the Greenwich rental market for what we are seeking: my husband needs a home office. I want to get moving finally on a productive food garden and starting a Permaculture Design school home business.

Convincing a potential landlord to allow me to convert costly wasteful lawn space into productive perennial food garden space; and to accept all my pets, a well behaved 6 pound lapdog plus 24,000 to 140,000 honeybees …. does not endear me to the real estate agents here. (I could write another essay on entitled and controlling listing agents.)

Other factors also place upward pressure on rental pricing: The sales market is in a longterm slump. Fewer potential buyers qualify to enter the market because they have recently lost their life savings in the housing slump themselves or they are too young to have acquired any.

Bank lenders expect larger down payments than in the recent past, amounts which I expect will be forfeited to the banks anyway when the economy tanks and more “homeowners” are thrown out of work. (Tanked economy, thanks in part to those same banks betting their depositors money in declining real estate.)

Renters risk losing their deposits to unscrupulous thieving landlords but nothing beats a thieving bankster. That down payment you saved? Kiss it goodbye, you are very likely never getting it back. And banksters know this. It is why they demand high down payments.

They’re counting on the eventuality that a good portion of current mortgagees will have to forfeit in a depressed economy. But you would not know there is a sales market slump, let alone another looming crash, by reading glowing real estate -sponsored newspaper articles. It is no wonder many  sales are for cash not lien, to wealthy foreign buyers.


Carl Mydans Kitchen of Ozarks cabin purchased for Lake of the Ozarks project, Missouri 1936


Anyone buying housing today should expect an asset value loss to occur when the real estate market adjusts downward again. (Which is another reason we are not buying in this market.) However sellers, listening to advice from hopeful real estate agents and pollyannish economists, are holding out for *higher* prices to return.

They eventually remove their properties from the sales market in order to rent them after they still cannot find a buyer even though dropping the price continuously for two years. And because fewer people can afford buying than renting, the price of rentals is rising now while the price of real estate is dropping.

Landlords who are strapped with high mortgages from the boom years, and other landlords who may have owned their older houses outright but then took out home equity loans to finance eventual roofing or HVAC expenses, and even to afford replacement cars or family vacations, are placing expectations on their tenants to provide the income to pay for those bank loans.

Meanwhile town zoning laws still prevent the tenant cost savings of subletting; and prevent owners from contracting with simultaneous multiple tenants. Yet the pool from which to draw tenants who can afford a whole house or 3/4 of one is still shrinking.

Renters like us may eventually opt (and perhaps should be opting now) for smaller square footage multiple family apartment complexes. (But no food gardening amenities? Rental managers take note.) Whole houses, with high mortgages to cover, will remain vacant and become foreclosed.

And I get it, owning a mortgaged property is also costly. But while renters are seeing standards of living drop now, so too will landlords when their properties sit vacant due to aggregate inability of renters’ incomes to afford to support the mortgaged landlords in the manner to which they had once become accustomed.

There will be a resurgence in foreclosures. And then, if they are lucky to still have a job income, we’ll also welcome them to the renters club.