Nov 042018
 
 November 4, 2018  Posted by at 10:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francisco Goya The straw mannequin 1791-92

 

Where the Heck are Share Buybacks in This Rotten Market? (WS)
Corporate Buybacks Return, Supporting Market (WSJ)
US Mortgage Rates Rise Sharply to Fresh 7-Year Highs (MND)
Theresa May’s ‘Secret’ Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Brexit Puts Good Friday Agreement At Risk – Irish PM (Ind.)
UK Business Leaders Call For Second Brexit Vote (BBC)
Brexit Is Just A Sideshow For An EU Beset By Problems On All Sides (G.)
“Posh Ghost Towers”: Gloom Spreads Over London Housing Market (DQ)
33 Trillion More Reasons Why New York Times Gets Russiagate Wrong (CN)
Break-in Attempted at Assange’s Residence in Ecuador Embassy (CN)

 

 

No blackout, no market. Only deceit.

Where the Heck are Share Buybacks in This Rotten Market? (WS)

Shares fell today in part because Apple, the giant in the indices, gave iffy guidance for the holidays Thursday evening; and with product sales not going anywhere, and only price increases boosting revenues, it said it would no longer disclose unit sales. This combo worked like a charm, and shares dropped 6.6%. So where are the corporate share buybacks when you need them? This is when companies buy back their own shares in order to prop up their price and thereby the overall market. Where is this panacea that was considered securities fraud until 1982? Throughout October, Wall Street gurus promised that shares would rise as soon as companies emerged from their “blackout” period that prevents them from buying back their shares. Alas, there is no federally mandated “blackout” period.

[..] Let’s take a gander at International Business Machines [IBM], one of the biggest share buyback queens. Since 2000, it blew $146 billion on share buybacks. The chart below shows the cumulative amounts since 2013 that IBM wasted on share buybacks: $43 billion (data via YCharts):

Wall Street gurus keep hyping that share buybacks “unlock shareholder value,” or “return cash to shareholders,” or some such thing. But here’s what IBM’s share buybacks did to shareholder value, as measured by the stock price:

[..] IBM has been buying back the shares it issued its own executives as part of their stock compensation plans, and the shares it issued to buy other companies, including minuscule privately-owned startups for billions of dollars. Buybacks covered up the dilutive effects from those actions. IBM could have spent this money on research and invented something cool. But that would have been too hard. Far better to farm out much of the work to cheap countries like India, shut down US operations, waste money on share buybacks in a vain effort to manipulate up its shares, and instead watch them go to heck.

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There are no functioning markets without price discovery, so what exactly is supported here? Deceit?

Corporate Buybacks Return, Supporting Market (WSJ)

U.S. companies are ramping up share buybacks again, offering potential support to volatile markets. Share buybacks fell ahead of earnings season, when regulations bar such repurchases. As that so-called blackout period ends, there has been a resurgence, with companies making the most of last month’s selloff. That has eased analysts’ concerns that the year’s buyback boom is over. Net buybacks in the month totaled just $12 billion by Oct. 19, but jumped to $39 billion by Oct. 29, according to estimates from JPMorgan Chase & Co. That is more than the $30 billion recorded in September and just under the $48 billion recorded in August.

The bank’s estimates are based on the average drop in share count across the S&P 500, FTSE Russell1000, Datastream U.S. and MSCI U.S. indexes. Some analysts hope a resurgence in buybacks could help support share prices during a period of geopolitical and economic uncertainty. Others are skeptical that companies can continue purchasing their own shares at the current pace, particularly as the stream of repatriated cash that helped drive the year’s buybacks slows down. “It is possible that some companies saw the equity correction as an opportunity to buy back their stock” in October, said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, global-markets strategist at JPMorgan. “But this raises the hurdle for November.”

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Great jobs numbers equals higher rates.

US Mortgage Rates Rise Sharply to Fresh 7-Year Highs (MND)

Mortgage rates had a bad week and an especially bad day following a much stronger-than-expected jobs report. The Employment Situation (the most important piece of labor market data and arguably the most important economic report as far as interest rates are concerned) showed the highest pace of wage growth since before the recession and a surprisingly robust addition of new jobs in October. Strong jobs data is the nemesis of low interest rates and today was no exception. Mortgage rates were already operating fairly close to long-term highs, but today’s move easily took them to new highs. The average lender is now quoting conventional 30yr fixed rates of 5% for relatively ideal scenarios.

Those without a big down payment or without perfect credit/income can expect to see even higher rates. Most lenders ended up recalling the morning’s initial rate sheets and reissuing higher rates at least once today. There’s really no silver lining apart from the fact that the higher rates go, and the quicker they get there, the closer we get to the point that the economy slows down as a result. When that happens, rates will begin to fall before just about anything else. Unfortunately, the expected time frame for such things is incredibly wide (not the sort of thing you hope for if you need to buy/refi). And yes… it’s also unfortunate that our one source of solace at the moment involves an economic downturn, but if you want low interest rates, that tends to come with the territory.

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The wool over your eyes.

Theresa May’s ‘Secret’ Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May has reportedly secured concessions from Brussels to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. The agreement reached would prevent the need for Northern Ireland to be treated differently from the rest of the UK, a main stumbling block during Brexit negotiations. The “secret” deal would avoid the need for an Irish backstop and will be written into the legally-binding deal, according to The Sunday Times. However, Downing Street has poured cold water on the report, calling it speculation. The EU has reportedly suggested a backstop post-Brexit customs arrangement covering all of the UK could give mainland Britain some scope to set trade rules.

Preparations for a final deal were far more advanced than previously disclosed, the report said, and would lead to a document of 50 pages or more being published. The agreement would include an “exit clause” designed to convince Brexit-supporting MPs that remaining in the customs union was only temporary, The Sunday Times said. Ms May’s cabinet would meet on Tuesday to discuss her plan, and she hoped there would be enough progress by Friday for the EU to announce a special summit, the newspaper reported. The prime minister’s office has described the report as speculation, but claimed the majority of a deal on Britain’s exit from the bloc in March 2019 had been agreed.

“This is all speculation,” a spokesman for Ms May said. “The prime minister has been clear that we are making good progress on the future relationship and 95 percent of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing.”

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Peace in Ireland is the no.1 concern.

Brexit Puts Good Friday Agreement At Risk – Irish PM (Ind.)

Brexit is “fraying” the relationship between the UK and Ireland and putting peace in Northern Ireland at risk, Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said. The Taoiseach said the Good Friday Agreement was being “undermined” by fractious relations between the two countries over how the Northern Irish border should be managed once Britain leaves the EU. It comes just a day after Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, travelled to Dublin to hold talks with his Irish counterpart, Simon Coveney, in a bid to improve relations between the two governments.

But speaking within hours of the visit, Mr Varadkar described the relationship between the two countries as “fraying”. He told Irish broadcaster RTE: “Brexit has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and is fraying the relationship between Britain and Ireland. “Anything that pulls the communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement, and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.” The warning comes despite Mr Coveney having claimed a deal between the UK and the EU was “very close”.

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Many sides will call for this.

UK Business Leaders Call For Second Brexit Vote (BBC)

More than 70 business leaders have signed a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a public vote on the UK’s Brexit deal. The chief executive of Waterstones and former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King are among those saying a “destructive hard Brexit” will damage the UK economy. A group called Business for a People’s Vote will launch on Thursday. A Downing Street source told the BBC the Prime Minister was clear that there would be no new referendum. The letter was coordinated by The People’s Vote campaign, which wants a ballot on whether to accept the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks, Lord Myners, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer and Martha Lane Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, also signed the letter.

It reads: “The business community was promised that, if the country voted to leave, there would continue to be frictionless trade with the EU and the certainty about future relations that we need to invest for the long term. “Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the proposals being discussed by the government and the European Commission fall far short of this. “The uncertainty over the past two years has already led to a slump in investment.” The letter concludes: “We are now facing either a blindfold or a destructive hard Brexit. “Given that neither was on the ballot in 2016, we believe the ultimate choice should be handed back to the public with a People’s Vote.”

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The only true Brezit reality. Merkel’s departure is a far bigger issue for Europe.

Brexit Is Just A Sideshow For An EU Beset By Problems On All Sides (G.)

There is a weariness to the coterie of diplomats and officials based in Brussels intimately involved in the negotiations over the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European union. Privately they describe it as “Brexit fatigue”, the result of second-guessing a chaotic situation in Westminster for two years, and working through the summer in response to the demand from the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, for continuous negotiations. These officials from the 27 other EU member states were picked as the brightest and the best for the existential crisis of the time, but the hard truth for these ambitious men and women is that the crisis in question is no longer Brexit.

“You go to the capitals, you can see that, because no one talks about it any more,” said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the leading EU thinktank, the European Policy Centre. Speaking to his parliament on his return to Madrid from the recent leaders’ summit in Brussels, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, put it succinctly: “The British spend 24 hours a day thinking about Brexit and the Europeans think about it for four minutes every trimester.” While the UK’s chaotic withdrawal has become a dreary process to be managed, the EU is being dealt hammer blows from elsewhere – from crises that really could make or break the bloc, along with many diplomatic careers.

Foremost on the list of problem zones right now is Italy. “Nothing and nobody, no big or small letter will make us backtrack,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, and leader of the far-right League, told his followers in a Facebook video made in his office in Rome on Friday. “Italy will no longer be a slave and will no longer kneel down.”

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Let’s build a few highways to nowhere too.

“Posh Ghost Towers”: Gloom Spreads Over London Housing Market (DQ)

After decades of mind-boggling growth, home prices in metropolitan London, according to official numbers, started to fall this year, if barely. Between March and September, they slid 2.3%. But it’s a lot worse in the most expensive parts of the city: Prices in central London have already dropped 15% since 2014, according to James Hyman, head of the residential agency division at Cluttons. He expects another 7% drop over the next year and a half. And the total volume of transactions has fallen by a fifth, according to Residential Analysts. In 2014, a change in the stamp duty made buying high-end homes in the UK more costly. In London, the city that hosts the highest number of super-rich individuals per capita in the world, high-end homes are the staple product.

And it’s getting harder and harder to offload them: The Guardian reported that over half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell. This freeze at the high end is fueling concerns that the city would be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers.” The newest phantom skyscraper is London’s Centre Point Tower, a 33-story office building from the 1960s that was recently converted into multi-million-pound luxury apartments. But demand is anemic and the developer behind the project, Almacantar, has all but given up trying to sell the flats after receiving too many “detached from reality” lowball offers. Until conditions improve, half of the tower’s 82 flats will lie empty.

Yet even as demand for upscale real estate in London fades, there’s little sign of any slow down in the construction of luxury apartments, meaning there will be an even greater glut of upscale real estate in the near future. That’s likely to further exacerbate the fall in prices. It’s the latest in a long line of reality checks for London. Clearly, those at the thin upper crust of the global wealth and income scale — just about the only people left who can afford to buy residential property in London these days — either have less money to spend on over-priced high-end London real estate or are splashing it elsewhere, including in other parts of the UK.

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Russiagate is a non-story kept alive by papers and TV stations.

33 Trillion More Reasons Why New York Times Gets Russiagate Wrong (CN)

Even more damning evidence has come to light undermining The New York Times‘ assertion in September that Russia used social media to steal the 2016 election for Donald Trump. The Times‘ claim last month that Russian Facebook posts reached nearly as many Americans as actually voted in the 2016 election exaggerated the significance of those numbers by a factor of hundreds of millions, as revealed by further evidence from Facebook’s own Congressional testimony. Further research into an earlier Consortium News article shows that a relatively paltry 80,000 posts from the private Russian company Internet Research Agency (IRA) were engulfed in literally trillions of posts on Facebook over a two-year period before and after the 2016 vote.

That was supposed to have thrown the election, according to the paper of record. In its 10,000-word article on Sept. 20, the Times reported that 126 million out of 137 million American voters were exposed to social media posts on Facebook from IRA that somehow had a hand in delivering Trump the presidency. The newspaper said: “Even by the vertiginous standards of social media, the reach of their effort was impressive: 2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans, and an eventual audience of 126 million Americans on Facebook alone.” The paper argued that 126 million was “not far short of the 137 million people who would vote in the 2016 presidential election.”

But Consortium News, on Oct. 10, debunked that story, pointing out that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti failed to report several significant caveats and disclaimers from Facebook officers themselves, whose statements make the Times’ claim that Russian election propaganda “reached” 126 million Americans an exercise in misinformation. [..] only an estimated 29 million FB users may have gotten at least one story in their feed in two years. The 126 million figure is based only on an assumption that they shared it with others, according to Stretch. Facebook didn’t even claim most of those 80,000 IRA posts were election–related. It offered no data on what proportion of the feeds to those 29 million people were.

In addition, Facebook’s Vice President for News Feed, Adam Moseri, acknowledged in 2016 that FB subscribers actually read only about 10 percent of the stories Facebook puts in their News Feed every day. The means that very few of the IRA stories that actually make it into a subscriber’s news feed on any given day are actually read.

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Completely insane. Next time it might be police, military, mercenaries. Julian’s supporters need to stand watch 24/7 now.

Break-in Attempted at Assange’s Residence in Ecuador Embassy (CN)

An attempted break-in at Julian Assange’s residence inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Oct. 29, and the absence of a security detail, have increased fears about the safety of the WikiLeak’s publisher. Lawyers for Assange have confirmed to activist and journalist Suzie Dawson that Assange was awoken in the early morning hours by the break-in attempt. They confirmed to Dawson that the attempt was to enter a front window of the embassy. A booby-trap Assange had set up woke him, the lawyers said. Scaffolding has appeared against the embassy building in the Knightsbridge section in London which “obscures the embassy’s security cameras,” the lawyers said.


Scaffolding near balcony where Assange has appeared. (Sean O’Brien)

On the scaffolding electronic devices, presumably to conduct surveillance, can be seen, just feet from the embassy windows. Later on the day of the break-in, Sean O’Brien, a lecturer at Yale University Law School and a cyber-security expert, was able to enter the embassy through the front door, which was left open. Inside he found no security present. Someone from the embassy emerged to tell him to send an email to set up an appointment with Assange. After emailing the embassy, personnel inside refused to check whether it had been received or not. O’Brien then noticed more scaffolding being erected and observed the devices, which he photographed. Though a cyber-security expert, O’Brien said he could not identify what the devices are.


One of the apparent surveillance devices. (Sean O’Brien.)

“I’ve never seen devices quite like this, and I take photos of surveillance equipment often,” O’Brien said. “There were curious plastic tubes with yellow-orange caps, zip-tied to the front. I have no idea what these are but they seem to have equipment inside them.” The devices are pointed towards the embassy, where all the blinds were open, and not the street, he said. “The surveillance devices in the photos reveals no manufacturer branding, serial numbers or visible device information,” Dawson said. “The combination of the obscuring of the street-facing surveillance cameras and the installation of surveillance equipment pointed into instead of away from the Embassy, is alarming.”

[..] On Thursday the government suddenly barred all access to Assange visitors, including his legal team until next Monday, raising fears that no witnesses could be present should there be an attempt to abduct Assange over the weekend.

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Oct 292018
 
 October 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Roofs of Paris 1886

 

Volcker Rebukes Bernanke and Yellen Feds (Whalen)
China Takes Delivery Of Massive Amount Of Gold From London, New York (Greyerz)
Getting Out: A Godfather Story (Ben Hunt)
Why Do Investors Hate Everything? Maybe Paranoia (BBG)
Desperate IBM Buys Red Hat For $34 Billion In Largest Ever Acquisition (ZH)
The IMF Has Learned Nothing From The Greek Crisis (Coppola)
Greece Reiterates €288 Billion Claim For Damages Under Nazi Occupation (G.)
There Aren’t Enough Lifeboats For Everyone (CHS)
Thousands Of Ships Could Dump Pollutants At Sea To Avoid Dirty Fuel Ban (G.)
Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda (Lustig)
EU Air Pollution Improves, Causes Only 500,000 Early Deaths A Year (AFP)
Race Doesn’t Come Into It (LRB)

 

 

There goes Yellen’s reputation.

“By pulling tomorrow’s home sales and other economic activity forward via various policy manipulations, tomorrow is now light in terms of growth..”

Volcker Rebukes Bernanke and Yellen Feds (Whalen)

Yellen worries that the rhetorical attacks on the central bank by President Donald Trump is “whittling away the legitimacy and stature of institutions the public has traditionally had some confidence in. I feel it ultimately undermines social and economic stability.” She then goes on to say that “Trump has the potential to undermine confidence in the Fed.” Former Chairman Alan Greenspan, the most politically astute Fed chief in half a century, puts such worries in perspective: “I don’t know a single President, and I worked for a lot of them, who don’t want lower interest rates. Now, obviously that’s not possible. You keep lowering them down to zero, where do you go from there?”

Like Yellen, many observers worry that criticism of the Fed will make it difficult for the central bank to act when necessary. The dual, conflicted political mandate of full employment and price stability created by the Humphrey Hawkins law is not possible to achieve in practice, thus the FOMC lurches from one extreme to the other, causing enormous collateral damage. Consider the effects of QE and Operation Twist on housing. Think about the thousands of people in the mortgage industry, for example, that have lost their livelihoods because the boom and bust policies followed by the Fed since 2008 and even before. Think about the millions of American families today that cannot afford to buy a home because asset prices have skyrocketed over the past five years.

By pulling tomorrow’s home sales and other economic activity forward via various policy manipulations, tomorrow is now light in terms of growth. Tomorrow also carries hidden market and credit risks caused by the Fed’s past actions. As we watch mortgage lending and home building volumes fall next year and thereafter thanks to the property price inflation created by the FOMC under Bernanke and Yellen, remember that Fed policy was explicitly meant to “help” the housing sector.

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“..in normal times, the gold used to stay in London and New York. Now that gold is going via Switzerland to China and India and it will never come back.”

China Takes Delivery Of Massive Amount Of Gold From London, New York (Greyerz)

“They’re all into gold. Absolutely. Yes, virtually all of them own gold. That’s what’s so interesting. The Chinese buying is continuously going up and up and up without stopping. The Chinese know what is happening. They know it and they will continue to buy gold. And one day that’s going to have a major influence on the gold price. And when the paper market breaks, and China dominates the gold market, it’s going to be very interesting because I really look forward to the West failing in their manipulation of the gold price through the various paper markets and through the interbank market. Again last month we saw imports of gold into Switzerland and then exports to Asia and India. Last month, over 70% of the gold import figures (into Switzerland) came from London and the United States.

We again see that Switzerland is buying the 400 ounce bars from the UK and US bullion banks and converting them into 1 kilo bars and then shipping them on to Asia. Last month there was hardly any buying from the mines. It all came out of London and New York. And that proves again, Eric, that central banks are either leasing their physical gold into the market or selling it covertly. And that gold that’s coming into the market in London and New York, before it used to stay in London and stay in New York and it would be traded between the various banks, these banks now get the gold from the central banks and then they give the central bank an IOU. Again, in normal times, the gold used to stay in London and New York. Now that gold is going via Switzerland to China and India and it will never come back. China is never going to send it back, nor is India.

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One of my fave themes: of all the people who say they made so much money over the past 10 years, the very vast majority will be too late to get out.

Getting Out: A Godfather Story (Ben Hunt)

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” It’s one of the most famous quotes in movies, as Michael Corleone rages in Godfather III over the assassination he narrowly avoided and his inability to steer the family into legit businesses. Michael is what I like to call a coyote, someone who is VERY smart and VERY strategic. Actually, too smart and too strategic for his own good, what a Brit would call too clever by half. That’s in sharp contrast to his father, Vito Corleone, who is no less smart and no less strategic, but is somehow far less conniving and far more beloved. You see this difference in character most clearly in the deaths of Vito and Michael. How does Vito Corleone die? Playing in his vegetable garden with his grandson. At home. Surrounded by life and laughter and plenty of bottles of Chianti.

Vito got out. How does Michael Corleone die? Sitting in a stony Sicilian courtyard as two skinny dogs scurry around. Struggling to peel an orange. All dressed up and no place to go. Alone. Utterly alone. For all his smarts and strategy and cleverness, Michael NEVER got out. How did Vito get out, while Michael failed? I think it’s the whole too-clever-by-half coyote thing. Michael never trusted ANYONE in the way that Vito did. Michael was obsessed with finding the Answer, an impossibility in the game of organized crime. Or the game of markets. Michael was a maximizer. Which is another way of saying that, like most coyotes, he wasn’t very good at the metagame. Do you want OUT from the game of markets? I do.

Am I good at the game? Yeah. Do I enjoy it? Not really. I used to. But ever since Lehman it’s been mostly a drag. And that’s okay! The game of markets is a means to an end. It’s a really big, important game, but it’s only one of several big important games within the larger metagame of life and doing. My goal in doing is to have a happy ending. I want the Vito ending, not the Michael ending. How do we get there? We keep our eye on the prize – the happy ending – and we work backwards. We maintain our vision on the metagame and its outcome even while we play the immediate game. My goal as an investor is NOT to maximize my investment returns or to maximize my personal wealth. That’s myopic thinking. That’s coyote thinking. That’s the sort of thinking that ruined Michael.

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Remember: we don’t have functioning markets.

Why Do Investors Hate Everything? Maybe Paranoia (BBG)

Only during the 1970s stagflation period and the global financial crisis have so many asset classes had negative returns in a year. The latter may have a lot to do with why it’s happening again. Investors now overreact to even modest changes late in cycles after not foreseeing the financial crisis, JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategists led by John Normand wrote in a note Friday. Other plausible explanations could be that the global economy and earnings have reached a turning point, or that the Federal Reserve is committing a policy error, they added. “The percentage of asset classes that has generated positive returns this year is only 20 percent, a share that has never been so low outside of 1970s stagflation episodes and the Global Financial Crisis,” the strategists wrote.

“Every market but the Nasdaq, Commodities and U.S. Leveraged Loans has underperformed USD cash in 2018.” The strategists have “no argument with the obvious statement” that markets are tumbling because global growth and U.S. earnings are peaking. However, they said slower growth on those fronts, at least if it remains around long-term-average levels, usually hasn’t been a sufficient condition for investors to turn defensive. “We had expected outperformance for another two to three quarters given near-neutral Fed policy, record share buybacks and significant deleveraging” by some equity investors before earnings season began, the strategists wrote. “This month markets clearly don’t share our time-limited optimism, perhaps given growing fear that the Fed is committing a policy mistake by tightening to restrictive levels eventually.”

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When dinosaurs invest.

Desperate IBM Buys Red Hat For $34 Billion In Largest Ever Acquisition (ZH)

The bad news is that in its desperation for growth at what amounts to be any price, IBM is almost certainly overpaying for Red Hat. This was confirmed by Rometty’s preemptive defense, telling Bloomberg that IBM “paid a very fair price. This is a premium company. If you look underneath, this is strong revenue growth, strong profit strong free cash flow” she said, adding that IBM will not cut jobs as a result of the deal: “this is an acquisition for revenue growth, this is not for cost synergies.” Perhaps, but the bigger question is what the deal means for IBM’s balance sheet. In the press release, IBM said that “the company has ample cash, credit and bridge lines to secure the transaction financing. The company intends to close the transaction through a combination of cash and debt.” In other words, no IBM stock, which is already at the lowest level this decade.

So let’s do the math: IBM ended Q3 with cash of $14.7 billion, and a record $46.9 billion in debt. Which means that IBM will likely incur at least $20 billion in additional debt, and as a result IBM’s already shaky A+/A1 rating could soon be downgraded to BBB. So what is IBM buying for this $34 billion and $20 billion in debt? According to its LTM financials, Red Hat has $3.2BN in revenue and $603MM in EBITDA. These numbers are expected to grow to $3.9BN by 2020, when EBITDA will hit $1 billion. In other words, on an EV basis, IBM is paying roughly 31x (net of $2.2BN in cash) Red Hat’s 2020 forward EBITDA.

Of course, if one assumes continued EBITDA growth for the foreseeable future, this acquisition could make sense. The problem is that between the threat of a recession in the next few years, and aggressive competition from Amazon, Microsoft and others for cloud market share, this is a very aggressive assumption. Meanwhile, in exchange for this $1 billion in EBITDA, IBM’s net debt will grow from $32.5 billion currently to $52 billion, almost doubling IBM’s net leverage from 1.7x level to a whopping 3.2x, and well on its way to a BBB rating if not worse. Which is why IBM promise that it will “target a leverage profile consistent with a mid to high single A credit rating” is, with all due respect, laughable.

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“Harsh adjustment programs do not make unsustainable debt sustainable. They just create misery for the population while making the debt burden even worse.”

The IMF Has Learned Nothing From The Greek Crisis (Coppola)

The IMF has just published a new review of Argentina’s economy. It is grim reading. Argentina is in trouble: economic conditions have worsened considerably since the last IMF review, back in June 2018. But the review also reveals that the IMF could be in even bigger trouble. It is repeating the same mistakes it made in the Greek crisis – but with a much larger amount of money at stake. Argentina has been struggling all year. A drought has severely curtailed agricultural production, widening the current account deficit and triggering a mild recession. Concurrently, Fed interest rate rises and a booming U.S. economy have driven up the U.S. dollar, making it ever more expensive for Argentina to obtain the dollars needed to pay interest on its massive dollar-denominated debt pile.

The central bank has been printing money to finance the government’s growing deficit, but this has helped to fuel inflation that now runs at over 40%. In June, the IMF agreed a standby credit arrangement of $50 billion with Argentina, the largest in the Fund’s history. $15 billion would be drawn immediately and the remainder would be made available as needed over the next three years. Half of the $15 billion would be used for government budget support. But it quickly became apparent that, enormous though this financing agreement was, it would be nowhere near enough. In September, as the peso crashed and Argentina stared default in the face, the IMF hastily agreed to front-load the credit arrangement, so that the Argentine government could immediately draw an additional $13.4 billion (making a total of $28.4 billion).

A further $22.8 billion would be drawn in 2019 and $5.9 billion in 2020-21. This is no longer a “standby” arrangement. It is a full financing agreement. Argentina has now become dependent on IMF funding – and the IMF has committed to lend by far the largest amount of money in its history. [..] The fundamental problem that the IMF made in Greece was lending to an insolvent country. Harsh adjustment programs do not make unsustainable debt sustainable. They simply create misery for the population while making the debt burden even worse. The IMF should not have lent to Greece at all. It should have faced down Greece’s creditors and insisted on orderly debt restructuring right from the start.

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Greece wants over 1000 times what Germany has paid.

Greece Reiterates €288 Billion Claim For Damages Under Nazi Occupation (G.)

Greece says it will pursue its quest for second world war damages and repayment of a loan forcibly extracted during Nazi occupation with renewed zest, despite Germany openly rejecting the claims. Less than two weeks after German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, used a state visit to apologise for atrocities committed by his forefathers, Athens vowed to relaunch the campaign while hailing the onset of a new era in bilateral ties. “This is an issue that psychologically still rankles, and as a government we are absolutely determined to raise it,” said Costas Douzinas, who heads the Greek parliament’s defence and foreign relations committee.

“Obviously Greece couldn’t do that when it was in a [bailout] programme receiving loans from the EU and Berlin. It would have been totally contradictory.” The leftist-led government is expected to press ahead with the claims after MPs debate what has been described as the first all-inclusive parliamentary inquiry into the damage wrought under Nazi occupation. The report, compiled by a cross-party committee over several years, estimates that compensation of €288bn (£256bn) remains outstanding for the destruction Greece sustained between 1941 and 1944, the years the country was subject to Third Reich rule. It also calculates that a further €11bn is owed for a 476m Reichsmark loan Hitler’s forces seized from the Greek central bank in 1943.

[..] Greeks put up heroic resistance to their German occupiers, but the price was heavy. Tens of thousands were killed in reprisals for a guerrilla campaign against the Wehrmacht, and at least 300,000 died of famine. About 40,000 people are thought to have starved to death in the first year of occupation alone, and Greece’s Jewish community was almost entirely wiped out. “Germany has never properly assumed its historical responsibility for the wholesale destruction of the country,” said Stelios Koulouglou, who represents Greece’s governing Syriza party in the European parliament. “It was a catastrophe that was so complete it played a major part in delaying our country’s development as a modern European state.”

[..] The German government strenuously rejects charges that it owes anything to Greece, or Poland which also suffered greatly, for the wartime horrors. It says the chapter was closed in 1960 when it paid Athens 115m deutschmarks, roughly equivalent to £205m today.

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Ain’t that the truth.

There Aren’t Enough Lifeboats For Everyone (CHS)

[..] the status quo is fragile, and everyone’s grip on the crumbling cliff-edge of “prosperity” is precarious–and we all sense it. The security we all took for granted is turning to sand as the system breaks down. Job security–you’re joking, right? Pension security–you take us for chumps? Sure, your bank account is guaranteed by the FDIC, but nobody’s guaranteeing your income, your purchasing power or the security of your grasp on the good life. Everyone knows the markets are as precarious as the rest of the status quo, and the rational response is to limit exposure to risk by selling at the first signs that the herd is nervous.

Switching metaphors, we all know the global economy scraped alongside an iceberg in 2008, and those who look beneath the reassuring rah-rah know that the hull of the global economy was sliced open just like the Titanic’s. Central banks have created the illusion that the damage was limited by printing money and using the freshly created currency to buy bonds and stocks to prop up the markets.

But even the passengers who accept the authorities’ reassurances sense something is wrong with the ship. The bow is slowly sinking, the engines are straining to power the pumps, the First Class passengers are either already in lifeboats or huddling nervously by the davits, and the ship’s officers are openly wielding pistols to control panic. Nobody dares discuss it openly for fear of triggering a panic, but there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone. A great many passengers are going to find themselves in the icy waters when the great global economic ship finally founders, and humanity’s finely tuned instinct is alerting us to the restless nervousness of the herd.

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A fully adequate picture of my faith in mankind. It costs $2-4 million per ship to cheat the system, and it’s worth it.

Thousands Of Ships Could Dump Pollutants At Sea To Avoid Dirty Fuel Ban (G.)

Thousands of ships are set to install “emissions cheat” systems that pump pollutants into the ocean to beat new international rules banning dirty fuel. The global shipping fleet is rushing to meet a 2020 deadline imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reduce air pollution by forcing vessels to use cleaner fuel with a lower sulphur content of 0.5%, compared with 3.5% as currently used. The move comes after growing concerns about the health impacts of shipping emissions. A report in Nature this year said 400,000 premature deaths a year are caused by emissions from dirty shipping fuel, which also account for 14 million childhood asthma cases per year. But the move to cleaner fuel could see harmful pollutants increasingly dumped at sea.

According to industry analysis seen by the Guardian, between 2,300 and 4,500 ships are likely to install an exhaust gas cleaning system known as a scrubber to meet the regulations on low-sulphur fuel instead of buying the more expensive clean fuel. The scrubbers allow ship owners to continue buying cheaper high-sulphur fuel, which is washed onboard in the scrubber. In the case of the most used system, known as open loop, the waste water is discharged into the ocean. Although expensive at around $2-4m per ship fitting, the cost of buying and fitting a scrubber would be recovered in the first year, the industry analysis says. Cleaner low-sulphur fuel is likely to cost between $300 and $500 more a tonne, according to analysts.

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Sugar addiction.

Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda (Lustig)

Human brain scans demonstrate that glucose activates the cerebral cortex (the “cognitive” part of our brains), while fructose suppresses that signal and instead lights up the limbic system (your “lizard” brain). Moreover, while sugar does not exhibit classic withdrawal symptoms, it does lead to tolerance and dependence that can cause bingeing, craving, and cross-sensitization to narcotics. These are some of the reasons why the World Health Organization and the US Department of Agriculture recommend that people reduce the amount of sugar in their diets. The addictive qualities of sugar are embedded in its economics. Like coffee, sugar is price-inelastic, meaning that when costs increase, consumption remains relatively constant.

Purchases of soft drinks and other sweetened foods are not dramatically affected by taxes or fluctuating prices. Not everyone who is exposed to sugar becomes addicted; but, as with alcohol, many do. While refined sugar is the same compound found in fruit, it lacks fiber and has been crystallized for purity. It is this process that turns sugar from a “food” into a “drug,” allowing the food industry to “hook” unsuspecting consumers. The evidence is visible in every aisle of every grocery store, where a staggering 74% of all food items are spiked with added sugar. In fact, sugar’s allure is a big reason why the processed food industry’s current profit margin is 5% (up from 1%), and why so many of us are sick, fat, stupid, broke, depressed, and just plain miserable.

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One queston: why?

EU Air Pollution Improves, Causes Only 500,000 Early Deaths A Year (AFP)

Air pollution is slowly easing in EU countries but still causes nearly half a million early deaths each year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said in its annual report published Monday. Although pollution levels dropped slightly in 2015, they remain far higher than standards set by both the EU and the World Health Organization, the report said. The findings come just weeks after an EU watchdog said most member states fail to meet the bloc’s air quality targets, warning that the toll on health in eastern European countries was even worse than in China and India. The EEA said on Monday that exposure to fine pollution particles known as PM2.5 was responsible for around 391,000 premature deaths in the 28-nation bloc in 2015.

The report also found that 76,000 early deaths were linked to nitrogen dioxide and some 16,400 to ground-level ozone in EU countries in the same year. Fine pollution particles have been linked to respiratory illnesses and heart problems, with PM2.5, the smallest, posing the greatest health risks as they can penetrate deep into the lungs. The EEA said a wider assessment included in the report found that early deaths each yer due to PM 2.5 have been cut “by about half a million” since 1990.

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Book review. How much do you know about genes?

Race Doesn’t Come Into It (LRB)

Before I got pregnant, I thought I understood how DNA works: parents pass on some combination of their DNA, which codes for various heritable traits, to their children, who pass on some combination to their children, and so on down the neat branching lines of the genealogical tree. What I didn’t know was that women can also receive DNA from their children. During pregnancy, foetal cells get into the mother’s bloodstream, mixing freely with her own cells and resulting in what scientists call a ‘microchimera, a single organism harbouring a small number of cells from another individual. Microchimerism is the reason doctors can use my blood to do genetic testing that looks for markers of disease in the DNA of the growing foetus.

And while the number of foetal cells in my bloodstream will drop after birth, some could stay there for decades, even for the rest of my life. These foetal cells may even sense the tissues around them and develop into the same types of cell, becoming an integral part of my body, which may have both positive and negative effects on my health – a sort of backwards inheritance. Foetal cells have been shown to regenerate a mother’s diseased thyroid gland and to help her body fight breast cancer. If a virus enters her body, even years after pregnancy, cells from the foetus may be among the first to attack it. But they may also make her more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and scleroderma.

And this DNA transfer works both ways: a pregnant woman’s cells – with her complete set of DNA – can enter the foetus, eventually becoming part of her child’s body and living on long after her own death. With a second pregnancy, foetal cells from the first could colonise the new foetus, turning the second infant who emerges blinking into the sharp light of a new day into a microchimera of mother, father and sibling. So much for the neat branching lines of vertical heredity.

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Oct 212014
 
 October 21, 2014  Posted by at 11:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 21 2014


Gottscho-Schleisner L Motors at 175th Street and Broadway, NYC Mar 24 1948

Oil Prices Won’t Recover Above $100 – Russian Finance Ministry (RT)
Oil Collapse Raises Risk Of ‘Profit Recession’ (MarketWatch)
How Cheap Oil Could Become a Real Problem for Airlines (BW)
Bond Market Brightest Turn Oil Analysts as Gyrations Mystify (Bloomberg)
“Ending QE Will Plunge US Into Severe Recession” (Zero Hedge)
They Studied Keynes and They’re Doing This. Why Can’t the Fed See It? (Bloomberg)
China GDP Growth Slowest Since Global Crisis (FT)
China Growth Seen Slowing Sharply Over Next Decade (WSJ)
Why Deflation Is So Scary (Yahoo)
Islamic State Earns $800 Million a Year From Oil Sales (Bloomberg)
A Little Volatility Can Be Good for You (Bloomberg)
Forex-Rigging Fines Could Hit $41 Billion Globally (Bloomberg)
How Goldman’s Libya Case Could Disrupt Derivatives (CNBC)
Bank Of England Payment System Crashes Leaving Homebuyers In Limbo (Guardian)
Fed’s Dudley Warns Banks Must Improve Culture or Be Broken Up (Bloomberg)
IBM Is in Even Worse Shape Than It Seemed (BW)
‘Forward Guidance’ Marches Global Economy Backwards (Satyajit Das)
Ukraine And Russia Agree On $385 Gas Price For Winter (RT)
“Anti-Petrodollar” CEO Of French Giant Total Dies In Moscow Plane Crash (ZH)
The Tragedy Of NATO: “Beware Foreign Entanglements” (Mises Canada)
Hobbit Find Rewrites Human History (BBC)

This contradicts a whole lot of western ‘experts’.

Oil Prices Won’t Recover Above $100 – Russian Finance Ministry (RT)

Decreasing oil prices are “inevitable” and the chance they will exceed $100 per barrel is “unlikely” the Russia’s Finance Ministry said. However, the Russian budget can withstand lower prices. “The market is biased in favor of excess supplies. That is why price reduction is inevitable; it will have a structural character. We are unlikely to see prices higher than $100 per barrel in the near future,” Maksim Oreshkin, the head of the Russian Finance Ministry’s strategic planning department told RBC TV in an interview. “In general, the current downward price movement is structural. Investments in oil production have increased dramatically in the past ten years,” Oreshkin said. Russian officials have stressed there will be no sharp rise in Russia’s budget deficit, but the country’s largest bank, Sberbank, says an oil price of $104 is required to balance the 2015 budget. A drop of prices to $80 per barrel could cost Russia 2% of GDP.

The weak ruble will be a buffer to lower oil prices, since costs are in rubles, but revenue in dollars. “The ruble is down which allows Russia to maneuver a bit by making some extra cash from oil sales, since those are done in dollars,” RT correspondent Egor Piskunov reported from Moscow. The Russian state budget is based on oil prices of $96 per barrel, which both Brent and WTI crude fell below in previous days. Last week prices hit a 4-year low, with Brent futures reaching a critical point of $84 per barrel. Just months ago, at the height of the Iraq turmoil, Brent was trading at $116 per barrel. WTI crude, the main North American blend, hit a four-year low dropping below $80 Thursday. Both blends have been falling for the last four months.

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Glad someone brings it up …

Oil Collapse Raises Risk Of ‘Profit Recession’ (MarketWatch)

American drivers are almost giddy over gasoline prices that are now below $3 a gallon in some areas. Investors, however, might want to check themselves, says David Bianco, Deutsche Bank’s top equity strategist. Light, sweet crude traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange has plunged from around $107 a barrel in June to test two-year lows near $80 a barrel. The collapse has prompted Bianco and his team to cut their forecast for S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings per share by 50 cents to $30.50 and to drop their forecast for full-year 2015 earnings by $3 to $123 a share. That still points to 2015 earnings per share growth of around 4% on expectations global growth will remain underpinned by U.S. growth, which will be enhanced, in part, by stronger consumption aided by cheaper oil. But lower oil prices (Deutsche Bank is now penciling in a 2015 average price of $85 a barrel), will weigh heavily on the energy sector, Bianco said in a note.

Deutsche Bank slashed its forecast for fourth quarter energy earnings by nearly 10% — accounting for almost all of the cut in the bank’s estimate of fourth quarter S&P 500 EPS. Deutsche now sees energy earnings falling 10% in 2015 as well, versus an earlier forecast for a fall of 2%. While it’s no surprise that the energy sector will bear the brunt, plunging oil is also bad news for the industrials and materials sectors. They’ll suffer as energy firms reduce capital spending in the U.S. and worldwide, Bianco says, noting that a third of S&P 500 capital spending comes from the energy sector. Meanwhile, the boost to consumer sector earnings from the lower oil price is small, Bianco says. So is the S&P 500 in danger of suffering a “profit recession?” Probably not, but much depends on the oil price, Bianco writes. He notes that since 1960 there have been only 10 instances when there was a fall in trailing fourth-quarter earnings per share.

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They add flights when oil is cheaper …

How Cheap Oil Could Become a Real Problem for Airlines (BW)

Oil futures have been on a torrid plunge in recent weeks, touching lows below $80 per barrel. Great news for airlines, right? Maybe not. For roughly the past 35 years, inexpensive jet fuel has routinely served as a siren call to airline executives. Cheap fuel spurs more flights and wild grabs for whatever business looks attainable in the travel market. Marginal routes become profitable with lower fuel prices, which, in turn, bolsters the argument that new flights can boost revenues with little cost. Cheap fuel also lets an airline experiment more radically with flight schedules in the bid to swipe market share from rivals. “If it keeps trending lower, it totally changes the economics of the industry again,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly, an industry journal. With oil cheaper, Kaplan predicts that many airlines will probably fly their planes in off-peak periods because of the low costs associated with those extra flights. A few additional flights on the weak travel days of Tuesday and Saturday could return to some schedules.

This possibility has some Wall Street analysts in a tizzy, concerned that if oil stays cheap enough for long enough, lower prices will cause airlines to backslide on their new-found religion against deploying too much capacity. “We feel like this industry needs an oil spike now more than ever,” Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay wrote last week in a client note. “[C]apacity discipline of late (from some) seems theoretical at best.” Brent crude, the energy index most airline executives monitor for its correlation to jet fuel, has declined 22% this year; settling Friday at $86; a day earlier, the Brent Index scored a four-year-low, under $83. This constitutes a sharp reversal from recent years: After oil spiked to nearly $150 per barrel in July 2008, U.S. airlines radically restructured to try to cope with oil at whatever price it may be. That effort has left high or low oil prices much less important—quick swings either way are now the enemy—while turning expensive oil into somewhat of a barrier for new flying.

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If those guys are the brightest …

Bond Market Brightest Turn Oil Analysts as Gyrations Mystify (Bloomberg)

Following the most turbulent period for U.S. bonds in more than three years, the top strategists are looking less at jobs and manufacturing and more at the price of oil for clues as to what lies ahead. Treasuries gyrated last week, with yields on benchmark 10-year notes at one point falling below 2% for the first time since June 2013, as a tumble in crude sparked concern that the global economy was on the verge of entering a deflationary spiral. Bond traders who wagered that the trillions of dollars in cash pumped into the financial system by major central banks would cause runaway inflation were forced to reverse those bets.

The moves were the latest shock in a year of surprises in the bond market. The consensus estimate among the more than 60 strategists surveyed by Bloomberg in January was for yields to rise in 2014. Instead, they fell. One of the few to get it right was FTN Financial, and its analysts say even after the rally yields are not far from fair value because cheaper energy prices will help curb gains in consumer prices. “There’s a fundamental series of questions about where we go from here,” Jim Vogel, head of interest-rate strategy at Memphis-based FTN, said in an Oct. 16 telephone interview. Vogel, who added that the 21% drop in oil prices since June “took people by surprise,” sent a note to clients last week recommending they “watch for stability in oil positions,” and noting the “strong ties” between the cost of the commodity and the government’s consumer price index.

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Schiff gets a lot more wrong than right, but this is that exception.

“Ending QE Will Plunge US Into Severe Recession” (Zero Hedge)

“Markets are slowly coming to grips with reality is not going to be as easy as everybody thought,” Peter Schiff tells CNBC’s Rick Santelli, noting the pick up in volatility across asset classes recently. What The Fed clearly does not understand, Schiff blasts, is that “you cannot end quantitative easing without plunging the US into a severe recession.” Because of the Fed’s extreme monetary policy and the mal-investment that flows from it, Schiff says, “The US economy is more screwed up now than it’s ever been in history.” Most prophetically, we suspect, Santelli agrees that “a messy exit is a given,” and Schiff believes they know that and that is why QE4 is coming simply “because it hasn’t worked and they can’t admit it’s been a dismal failure.”

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Not sure why Bloomberg picked this title (3rd different one in a row for the same article), but the topic is relevant.

They Studied Keynes and They’re Doing This. Why Can’t the Fed See It? (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve policy makers are missing a key element as they assess the health of the labor market: data that includes whether those who are employed are overqualified for their job or would like to work more hours. As a result, the “significant underutilization of labor resources” that Fed officials highlighted last month as they renewed a pledge to keep interest rates low for a “considerable period” is probably even more severe than currently estimated. And the information gap means policy makers may have more difficulty gauging the right moment to raise rates off zero. “We have more slack than the official statistics suggest,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior U.S. economist at Bank of America in New York. “Because it’s difficult to measure underutilization, there’s still a lot of uncertainty as to how much slack remains, which means there’s uncertainty as to the appropriate stance of monetary policy.”

The Labor Department can put its finger on how many people are working part-time because full-time jobs aren’t available, or how many are so discouraged that they’re not even looking for employment. Other forms of underemployment — for example the graduate with an English degree who’s working as a barista –are harder to pinpoint though just as important in trying to measure whether the labor market has improved. The data shortfall sparked a discussion at a Peterson Institute for International Economics conference last month in Washington. Erica Groshen, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, asked what additional data would be needed to help quantify labor-market slack. Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, pointed out that while it was possible with current data to determine whether people working less than 35 hours a week are underutilized, those putting in a longer workweek fall off the radar.

The BLS considers anyone working at least 35 hours a week to be full-time. The Census Bureau, which surveys households to get the information needed for the Labor Department to crunch the monthly jobs data, doesn’t ask full-timers whether they’d prefer a different job or additional hours. As far as anyone knows, those workers are fully employed and content.

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China’s numbers come straight out of its political agenda.

China GDP Growth Slowest Since Global Crisis (FT)

China’s economy grew last quarter at its slowest pace since the depths of the global financial crisis, raising concerns over global growth prospects and increasing the likelihood Beijing will introduce broader stimulus measures. Gross domestic product in the world’s second-largest economy expanded 7.3% in the third quarter from the same period a year earlier, its weakest performance since the first quarter of 2009, when growth was just 6.6%. But unlike then, when the economy was in freefall as a result of the global financial crisis originating in the US, China’s growth problems this time are largely homegrown. The latest quarterly reading means China’s economy this year is almost certain to register its slowest annual pace since 1990, when the country faced international sanctions in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

A correction in China’s property sector, the most important driver of the economy for much of the past decade, is the biggest drag on growth and most analysts expect things to get worse, given huge oversupply across the country. Investment in real estate in the first nine months continued to expand but at a slower pace, rising 12.5% over the same period last year, compared with an increase of 13.2% in the first eight months. Housing sales fell in the first nine months of this year by 10.8% compared with the same period in 2013, suggesting that the property investment slowdown has further to go. Other monthly data released on Tuesday, including industrial production and consumer retail sales, showed a mild rebound in September compared with the previous two months but most analysts expect the slowdown to continue. By the end of September, Chinese factory gate prices had been in deflationary territory for 32 consecutive months, the longest period of producer price inflation in the country in the modern era.

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This looks a whole lot more realistic than official numbers, although projections 10 years into the future don’t look terribly useful in the current economic climate.

China Growth Seen Slowing Sharply Over Next Decade (WSJ)

China’s growth will slow sharply during the coming decade to 3.9% as its productivity nose dives and the country’s leaders fail to push through tough measures to remake the economy, according to a report expected to come out Monday. Such an outcome could batter an already fragile global recovery. But the report by the business-research group the Conference Board also finds that multinational companies in China would benefit. Lean times would give foreign firms more local talent to choose from. Foreign companies and investors could also expect “more hospitable” treatment from Communist Party and government officials and a wider selection of Chinese firms they could acquire, according to the report, which was shared with The Wall Street Journal. Foreign companies should realize that China is in “a long, slow fall in economic growth,” the report said. “The competitive game has changed from one of investment-driven expansion to one of fighting for market share.”

Officials representing China’s State Council, or cabinet, referred questions to its National Bureau of Statistics, which didn’t respond. Senior officials of the Communist Party are gathering in Beijing for a major policy meeting that opens Monday and is expected to discuss the slowdown. The Conference Board forecasts that China’s annual growth will slow to an average of 5.5% between 2015 and 2019, compared with last year’s 7.7%. It will downshift further to an average of 3.9% between 2020 and 2025, according to the report. The outlook for the world’s second-largest economy is one of the most important factors affecting the global economy. For the 30 years through 2011, China grew at an average annual rate of 10.2%, a record unmatched by any major nation since at least World War II. That growth lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and turned the country into a major market for commodity producers in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, and consumer and capital-goods makers from the U.S., Europe and Japan.

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“Debt gets more expensive over time, because consumer spending power declines. When prices and corporate revenue fall for a sustained period of time, wages inevitably go down, too. That makes fixed-rate debt more expensive, because you have less money instead of more to make the same regular payments.”

Why Deflation Is So Scary (Yahoo)

If the price of a car or an iPhone drops, that’s usually good news for consumers. So it might be puzzling that investors and economists suddenly seem freaked out about the possibility of deflation, or a sustained drop in the level of all prices, on average. Deflation was a concern back in 2010 and it’s a fresh worry now as oil prices plunge, the stock market wavers and consumers put spending plans on hold.  The paradox of deflation is that falling prices on a few items can generally be good for consumers, leaving more money in their pockets for other things. But falling prices on too many things can have ruinous effects on the economy that are hard to reverse. Japan suffered nearly two decades of deflation starting in the early 1990s, and deflation helped prolong the Great Depression in the 1930s. When all prices fall, consumers have a strong incentive to put off purchases – after all, everything will probably be cheaper tomorrow.

Some purchases are hard to delay – food, medical care, gasoline to get to work. But a lot of the things we buy can wait, which is why sales of cars, clothing, and appliances drop sharply when times get tough. In an economy like ours – in which consumer spending accounts for about 70% of total GDP – a powerful incentive to postpone purchases can be disastrous. When spending drops, so does corporate revenue, raising pressure to cut costs, which leads to layoffs and other personnel cutbacks. Companies are likely to freeze salaries or even cut pay for those workers remaining. Dwindling income makes consumers even more leery about spending money, worsening the whole cycle. The other mechanism for deflationary ruin is debt. One big reason lending helps the economy grow is inflation—most loans become easier to pay back over time, because the principal doesn’t grow but income used to pay it down does.

We typically think of inflation as a rise in prices, but it’s usually accompanied by an increase in workers’ wages as well, and as long as wage increases exceed price hikes, ordinary people get ahead. Home buyers, for instance, often “grow into” a mortgage that might seem onerous at first, because their income climbs as they progress through their careers. The mortgage payments on a fixed-rate loan, by contrast, remain constant. So in a typical economic environment, you gradually earn more income to make the same payment every month.

Deflation creates the opposite phenomenon: Debt gets more expensive over time, because consumer spending power declines. When prices and corporate revenue fall for a sustained period of time, wages inevitably go down, too. That makes fixed-rate debt more expensive, because you have less money instead of more to make the same regular payments. The mismatch affects companies and even governments the same way it does consumers, causing cash-flow shortages, liquidity problems and bankruptcy. Each of these ugly outcomes reinforces the others, making a deflationary spiral very hard to pull out of.

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Lower oil prices don’t look very effective vs IS.

Islamic State Earns $800 Million a Year From Oil Sales (Bloomberg)

The Islamic State is earning about $2 million a day, or $800 million a year, selling oil on the black market, IHS Inc. estimated. The terrorist group is producing 50,000 to 60,000 barrels a day, according to an e-mailed release today from the Englewood, Colorado-based information company. It controls as much as 350,000 barrels a day of capacity in Iraq and Syria. Extremist groups typically reply on foreign donations that can be squeezed by sanctions, diplomacy and law enforcement. By tapping the region’s oil wealth, Islamic State, the group that beheaded American journalist James Foley, resembles the Taliban with oil wells. “This is financing and fueling a lot of their activities, military and otherwise,” Bhushan Bahree, a co-author of the report, said today in an interview. “For argument’s sake, let’s say their capacity were cut by half. They’ll still have $400 million coming in. This is many times more than any other source of funding we know of.”

Islamic State consumes about half its production and sells the rest for $25 to $60 a barrel, according to the report. That estimate is in line with those of U.S intelligence officials and anti-terrorism finance experts. Bombing oil-field pump stations may be the best way to cut off the flow of oil since they are stationary and difficult to replace, Bahree said. U.S.-led air strikes haven’t eliminated truck-mounted refineries that Islamic State uses to produce fuel for its war machines and to supply civilians within the territory it controls. Trafficking has encouraged middlemen to buy crude and smuggle it into Turkey, Jordan or Iraq, where it is blended with other oil and sold to unsuspecting buyers, according to the report. “It is very hard to intercept,” Bahree said. “There has probably been smuggling of all sorts of things in this place for thousands of years.” When Iraq’s regional Kurdish government tried to police long-established smuggling routes along a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) border with what is now Islamic State territory, traffickers found new ones, he said.

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“They blame the shift on new regulations such as higher capital requirements and the Volcker rule”.

A Little Volatility Can Be Good for You (Bloomberg)

Gyrations in financial markets are giving rise to a plaintive cry from investors: Prices are getting more volatile because new regulations are making big banks less willing to buy when others want to sell. Actually, if that’s what’s happening, it would be no bad thing. Following last week’s selloff, investors are complaining about a lack of liquidity, the ability to buy and sell assets (particularly bonds) without moving prices too much. The problem, they say, is that big U.S. banks are pulling back from market making — the buying and selling of assets to meet clients’ needs. They blame the shift on new regulations such as higher capital requirements and the Volcker rule, which aims to limit speculative trading at banks.

Investors are right that something has changed. The big banks are holding much smaller inventories of corporate bonds than they did before the 2008 crisis. In fact, dealers were net sellers of junk bonds in recent weeks, suggesting that they weren’t, in the aggregate, helping clients to unload. From the point of view of an overextended investor needing to sell, this reduction in liquidity can be scary. That said, it’s unclear that regulation is the primary cause. Banks were cutting their inventories long before Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in 2010. And liquidity always disappears in bad times, no matter how abundant it seems in good times. Market makers are no more willing to buy than anybody else when prices appear to be in free fall. Last week’s volatility hit some securities, such as U.S. Treasury bonds, to which the Volcker rule doesn’t even apply.

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Not nearly enough.

Forex-Rigging Fines Could Hit $41 Billion Globally (Bloomberg)

The cost for banks to settle probes into allegations traders rigged foreign-exchange benchmarks could hit as much as $41 billion, Citigroup analysts said. Deutsche Bank is seen as probably the “most impacted” with a fine of as much as 5.1 billion euros ($6.5 billion), Citigroup analysts led by Kinner Lakhani said yesterday, estimating the Frankfurt-based bank’s settlements could reach 10% of its tangible book value, or its assets’ worth. Using similar calculations, Barclays could face as much as 3 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) in fines and UBS penalties of 4.3 billion Swiss francs ($4.6 billion), they wrote in a note first sent to clients on Oct. 3. Authorities around the world are scrutinizing allegations that dealers traded ahead of their clients and colluded to rig currency benchmarks. Regulators in the U.K. and U.S. could reach settlements with some banks as soon as next month, and prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice plan to charge one by the end of the year, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

The Citigroup analysts made their calculations using a Sept. 26 Reuters report that the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority settlements could include fines totaling about 1.8 billion pounds. They derived their estimates for how high fines could go in other investigations from that baseline, using banks’ settlements in the London interbank offered rate manipulation cases as a guide. “Extrapolating European and, more importantly, U.S. penalties from a previous global settlement suggests to us a total potential global settlement on this key issue,” they said in the note. U.K. authorities will probably account about $6.7 billion of fines across all banks, according to the Citigroup analysts. Other European investigations will account for $6.5 billion. Penalties in the U.S. cases could be about four times greater, hitting $28.2 billion.

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Interesting case. If it forces details out into the open.

How Goldman’s Libya Case Could Disrupt Derivatives (CNBC)

A costly legal battle between Goldman Sachs and the Libyan sovereign wealth fund could have more permanent repercussions for the global banking industry, experts have told CNBC. The Libyan Investment Authority has accused Goldman of misleading it and taking advantage of its lack of financial knowledge to make “substantial” profits on a series of derivative trades back in 2008. The bank denies the allegations and a full hearing has been touted to begin in early 2016 after a preliminary hearing was completed earlier in the month. The LIA claims the disputed derivative trades in early 2008 cost $1 billion, and carried a high degree of risk, but lost a substantial amount of value by the end of the year and expired “worthless” in 2011. Court documents allege that Goldman made profits of $350 million were made and a witness statement from a lawyer working for the LIA claims that the usual disclaimers – called non-reliance agreements – were sent after the trades were made and were never signed.

Satyajit Das, an expert on financial derivatives and risk management, told CNBC via telephone that the case has the potential to get “extremely ugly”. “This could be messy for Goldman Sachs and for a whole range of other banks,” he said, adding that this would bring up the issue of opaqueness with these sorts of trades. “It could lead to an investigation into the selling practices at banks and the types of financial products they offer.” Beyond the prospect of an investigation, industry experts are also forecasting further regulation of the complex derivatives market. Anat Admati, a professor of finance and economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business welcomed any new regulation in this space. Without commenting on this particular case, she said that investments in derivatives can be easily misunderstood by untrained investors.

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Egg meet face.

Bank Of England Payment System Crashes Leaving Homebuyers In Limbo (Guardian)

The Bank of England apologised last night after a crucial payments system collapsed, forcing Mark Carney to launch an urgent investigation following the delay of hundreds of thousands of payments, including for homebuyers waiting for money to be transferred to pay for their new homes. The Bank of England governor promised a “thorough, independent review” after MPs demanded answers into how the system which processes payments worth an average £277bn a day had failed for nearly 10 hours. An 88-year-old woman in Sheffield was among those caught up in the collapse of the behind-the-scenes payment mechanism, which failed to open at 6am and remained shut until 3.30pm – usually the cut-off point for money to be transferred for house sales.

The Bank of England did not admit the shutdown had taken place for more than five hours after the system had been due to open, and was later forced to extend opening hours by four hours to 8pm to clear the backlog of 143,000 payments. More than 10 hours after first admitting to the problem with the clearing house automated payment system (Chaps) the Bank of England eventually apologised “for any problems caused by the delays to the settlement system”. While Chaps was down, there were fears that homebuyers and sellers around the country would be left unable to complete purchases on time and that big businesses, which also use the system, would fail to make payments. Only weeks ago the Bank said it had a new contingency plan for the collapse of the payments system. The Bank of England will subject the system to additional monitoring when it reopens at 6am on Tuesday.

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Emptier words were never heard.

Fed’s Dudley Warns Banks Must Improve Culture or Be Broken Up (Bloomberg)

Banks must change the way employees are compensated and take other steps to fix a corporate culture that encourages misdeeds or face being broken up, said William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. If bad behavior persists, “the inevitable conclusion will be reached that your firms are too big and complex to manage effectively,” Dudley told industry leaders in a speech yesterday at the New York Fed. “In that case, financial stability concerns would dictate that your firms need to be dramatically downsized and simplified so they can be managed effectively.” Dudley’s comments, which follow bank scandals involving Libor and foreign exchange trading, were made at a closed-doors workshop attended by senior bankers at the New York Fed on reforming Wall Street culture and behavior.

Large U.S. banks were widely blamed for taking too much risk leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Lawmakers have since enacted a major overhaul of the rules designed to prevent banks becoming “too big to fail.” Dudley said it was fair to question if the “sheer size, complexity and global scope of large financial firms today have left them ‘too big to manage.’” Barclays Plc Chairman David Walker, who also addressed the gathering, separately said banks should be allowed to overhaul their own culture, rather than have regulators do it for them. Dudley, who has had to defend the New York Fed recently against allegations it was too soft on big Wall Street firms, suggested a number of ways to better align bank employee incentives with the interests of the general public. These include deferred compensation plans that switch emphasis to debt, rather than equity, and a centralized, industry-wide registry for tracking individual offenses.

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Chasing the dodo.

IBM Is in Even Worse Shape Than It Seemed (BW)

Like a driver obeying the commands of a GPS system even as passengers shout that the car is clearly headed toward a ditch, IBM’s chief executive officer, Ginni Rometty, has followed the profit “roadmap” laid out by her predecessor. The company was going to reach $20 in adjusted earnings per share by 2015, damn it, even as nine straight quarters of sinking revenue made that an increasingly untenable feat of financial engineering. IBM laid off workers, fiddled with its tax rate, took on debt, and bought back a staggering number of its own shares to make the math work, even as all that left the company less able to compete with the likes of Amazon.com and Google in cloud computing.

Today Rometty finally abandoned “Roadmap 2015,” announcing that IBM cannot hit the target after all. IBM also said it will pay a chipmaker called GlobalFoundries $1.5 billion to take its chip division off its hands, while also taking a $4.7 billion charge. And IBM reported its third-quarter results—a 10th consecutive period of falling sales, marked by weaker performance in growth markets. “We are disappointed in our performance,” Rometty said in a statement. “We saw a marked slowdown in September in client buying behavior, and our results also point to the unprecedented pace of change in our industry.” In response, shares of IBM were down more than 7% on Monday morning, Oct. 20.

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Does it matter whether there’s forward guidance or not? Isn’t it just plain stupidity anyway? A much bigger problem seems to be the economic and hence political power handed over to central banks.

‘Forward Guidance’ Marches Global Economy Backwards (Satyajit Das)

A paucity of policy options has increased central banks’ reliance on so-called forward guidance, where policy makers telegraph likely future actions. There are two components to forward guidance. First, it communicates clear policies to which the central bank is committed. Second, the commitment is over a medium- to long time horizon. But forward guidance suffers from a number of weaknesses. A fresh batch of eurozone data out next week is likely to confirm that the economy is slowing, with both consumer confidence and flash PMIs forecast to have slumped in October. In the U.K., third-quarter GDP figures and minutes from the Bank of England’s latest policy meeting will give more clues on the health of the country’s economy.

First, a focus on any single or a narrowly based set of indicators is problematic. The Federal Reserve’s commitment to accommodative monetary policy, for example, was based on a target unemployment rate. A single indicator such as unemployment is not meaningful. It can be affected by participation rates or the definition of employment. Levels can be affected by unexpected disruptions including a government shutdown, strikes or natural catastrophes. What is relevant is the nature of employment, such as part- or full-time, and the type of job or income levels. The composition of unemployment, temporary or long-term, age and skill levels of the unemployed, also may be pertinent.

In Japan, meanwhile, the Bank of Japan’s policy targets 2% inflation. It is not entirely clear which inflation indicator is the most relevant. Core inflation ignores the effect of volatile food and energy prices, which are very relevant to Japan. Inflation in domestic goods or imported inflation, such as the result of currency movements, may have different policy implications. Forward guidance relies on the accuracy of forecasts. It implies an automatic rule-based central banking response, which could lead to a sudden and sharp change in interest rate or monetary policy. In reality, guidance is highly conditional. Environmental changes can negate any earlier policy commitment. The Fed, for instance, was forced to clarify that its unemployment target was merely a non-binding indicator. The most damning problem, as Citibank Chief Economist Willem Buiter has argued, is that central bankers have “no skin in the game.” Central banks do not stand to make or lose money from their forward commitments. Central bankers’ tenure or remuneration is also not linked to outcomes.

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Complicated talks.

Ukraine And Russia Agree On $385 Gas Price For Winter (RT)

Moscow and Kiev have confirmed the price of Russian gas to Ukraine until the end of March at $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We have agreed on a price for the next 5 months, and Ukraine will be able to buy as much gas as it needs, and Gazprom is ready to be flexible on the terms,” Lavrov said Monday at a public lecture. Russia’s foreign minister dispelled rumors of two separate prices, one for winter and one for summer. “At the Europe-Asia summit in Milan, there was no talk of summer or winter gas prices, but just about the next 5 months,” the foreign minister said. Included in the $385 price is a $100 discount by Russia. Ukraine is still insisting on a further discount, asking for $325 for ‘summer prices’ after the 5-month winter period.

“We talked about how there should be two prices, like how the European spot market has two prices, a winter price when demand is high, and summer when demand is low. Our joint proposal with the EU was the following: $325 per thousand cubic meters in the summer and $385 per thousand cubic meters in the winter,“ Poroshenko said in an interview on Ukrainian television Saturday. President Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary agreement in Milan on Friday for the winter period, but Russia won’t deliver any gas to its neighbor without prepayment.

Gas talks are expected to continue Tuesday in Berlin between the energy ministers of Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. On September 26, the three energy ministers agreed to provide 5 billion cubic meters to Ukraine on a “take-or-pay” contract, to help the country survive the winter months. The so-called winter plan is contingent on Ukraine starting to repay at least $3.1 billion worth of debt to Gazprom. Ukraine is still looking for funding to pay for the gas supplies as well as its $4.5 billion arrears to Russia’s state-owned gas company. Moscow reduced the debt from $5.5 billion to $4.5 billion, calculating in the discount of gas, Putin said on Friday.

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Very bright man, and talking to Russia about grand projects at a time of sanctions. On the other hand, accidents do happen.

“Anti-Petrodollar” CEO Of French Giant Total Dies In Moscow Plane Crash (ZH)

Three months ago, the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, dared utter the phrase heard around the petrodollar world, “There is no reason to pay for oil in dollars”. Today, RT reports the dreadful news that he was killed in a business jet crash at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow after the aircraft hit a snow-plough on take-off. The airport issued a statement confirming “a criminal investigation has been opened into the violation of safety regulations,” adding that along with 3 crewmembers on the plane, the snow-plough driver was also killed.

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I don’t know about the assertion that “NATO has succumbed to the socialist phenomenon”. I think it’s blunt power politics all the way, a protection racket.

The Tragedy Of NATO: “Beware Foreign Entanglements” (Mises Canada)

Mises explained that socialism discourages production while it increases demand. Why produce only to be forced to share with others when one can demand to share in the production of others without regard to having previously produced something of value to those same others? Eventually all altruism vanishes in a sea of cynicism and nothing is produced for anyone to share. The result is a tragedy of the commons fed by moral hazard and socialism. Today we see the above destructive economic forces at work in NATO expansion. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1990, the reason for NATO’s existence vanished.

But rather than declare NATO to have been a success in deterring war in Europe, possibly disbanding the alliance and building a new Concert of Europe that would include Russia, NATO bureaucrats set about to expand the alliance to the east. Whereas the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars had quickly embraced France as an important member, NATO expanded to isolate Russia by absorbing its former satellite nations. The last NATO expansion prior to the disintegration of the Soviet Union had occurred in 1982 when Spain joined the alliance. At that point in time NATO was composed of sixteen nations. Starting in 1999 twelve countries have joined NATO, ten of them former members of the Warsaw Pact.

The other two, Slovenia and Croatia, were previously part of Yugoslavia, officially a non-aligned nation, but a communist dictatorship all the same. With the possible exception of Poland, none of these new members contribute much to the alliance’s military capability, meaning that the older members are shouldering their security burden. Naturally expanding NATO to the east has resulted in isolating and antagonizing Russia, who feels its security threatened. So, NATO has succumbed to the socialist phenomenon by adding new members who demand security without much of an obligation and to the moral hazard phenomenon by adding new members whose territories could be used to house American nuclear weapons, a situation that may yet provoke a major world crisis with Russia, which is precisely what NATO was formed to avoid.

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Interesting angles. 10 years since ‘Hobbit’ was found.

Hobbit Find Rewrites Human History (BBC)

The discovery of a tiny species of human 10 years ago has transformed theories of human evolution. The claim is made by Prof Richard Roberts who was among those to have published details of the “Hobbit”. The early human was thought to have lived as recently as 20,000 years ago and so walked the Earth at the same time as our species. The Hobbit’s discovery confirmed the view that the Earth was once populated by many species of human. It’s a far cry from the old view of a linear progression from knuckle-dragging ape-like creatures to upright modern people. Prof Roberts says the discovery of a completely different species of human on the Indonesian Island of Flores that lived until relatively recently, “put paid to this cosy status quo in one fell swoop”. “It surpassed anything else I’d been involved with because it just kept running. People kept on talking about it and it became part of popular culture and a sign of a new view of anthropology. The days of the old linear models of anthropology were gone.

Dr Henry Gee, the manuscript editor who decided to publish the paper in the journal Nature, said that it gradually dawned on him just how important the discovery was. “It is the biggest paper I have been involved with,” he told BBC News.The publication of the discovery on the Indonesian Island of Flores in October 2004, caused a sensation. The news that another species of human walked among us until relatively recently stunned the world. There were even questions about whether the Hobbit, named Homo floresiensis, still existed somewhere on the island. Perhaps there were other species of humans in other very remote parts of the world yet to be discovered?There are many puzzles that remain about the Hobbit. The female skeleton was 1m (3ft) high and was a very primitive form of human. Her brain was about the size of a chimpanzee, yet there is evidence that she used stone tools.

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