Apr 022017
 
 April 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Gillender Building, corner of Nassau and Wall Streets, built 1897, wrecked 1910 1900

 

Why Trump Won’t Cut Taxes (Stockman)
Collapse In Demand (Fear)
Iceland’s Jailed Bankers Say They Were Scapegoats For Financial Crisis (AFP)
Blaming Russia for Everything (Robert Parry)
EU Offers Spain Veto Right Over Gibraltar After Brexit Talks (R.)
The European Union Lays Out A Greek Trap For The United Kingdom (Coppola)
Theresa May May Have Miscalculated (Varoufakis)
The Demise of the Anatolian Tiger – Turkey on Verge of Bankruptcy (Spiegel)
The Pentagon Doesn’t Want Turkey’s Help In Syria (WE)
Salmon Farming In Crisis: ‘A Chemical Arms Race In The Seas’ (G.)
Italy Praised For Giving Lone Child Refugees Legal Protection (Week)
Europe Keeps Its Rescue Ships Far From Where Refugees Drown (I’Cept)

 

 

Stockman won’t let go.

Why Trump Won’t Cut Taxes (Stockman)

[..] even the money printers have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they are done for this cycle, anyway, and that they will be belatedly but consistently raising interest rates for what ought to be a truly scary reason. That is, the denizens of the Eccles Building have finally realized that they have not outlawed the business cycle after all and need to raise rates toward 2-3% so that they have headroom to “cut” the next time the economy slides into the ditch. In effect, the Fed is saying to Wall Street: “Price in” a recession because we are! After all, our monetary central planners are not reluctantly allowing interest rates to lift off the zero bound because they have become converts to the cause of honest price discovery – nor are they fixing to liberate money rates, debt yields, and the prices of stocks and other financial assets to clear on the free market.

Instead, they are merely storing up monetary ammo for the next downturn. But the Wall Street mules keep buying the dips anyway because they are under the preposterous delusion that one source of “stimulus” is just as good as the next. And since the gamblers have now decreed that the “stimulus” baton be handed off to fiscal policy, it only remains for Congress and the White House to shape up and get the job done with all deliberate speed. But they won’t. Not in a million years. The massive Trump tax cut and infrastructure stimulus is DOA because Uncle Sam is broke and the U.S. economy has slithered into moribund old age.

In that context, it’s not remotely the same as the 12 members of the FOMC sitting behind closed doors for two days jawing about the short-term economic weather; and then at the conclusion of their gabfest, ordering the New York Fed’s open market desk to flood the canyons of Wall Street with cash by buying another $80 billion of bonds with digital credits conjured from thin air. Au contraire. Fiscal policy is inherently an exercise in herding cats and an especially impossible one when the cupboards are bare. [..] what lies directly ahead, therefore, is another bumbling attempt by the White House and Congressional Republicans to hammer out an FY 2018 budget resolution and what amounts to a 10-year fiscal plan. And it is there where the whole fantasy of the Trump Stimulus comes a cropper. There are not remotely 218 GOP votes for what would be a $12 -13 trillion add to the national debt with the Trump Stimulus program over the next decade – even with all the “dynamic” scoring and revenue “reflows” that are imaginable.

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How the sytem works (and then doesn’t): “..workers take on debt that fuels the profits of the corporates that dominate the consumer supply chains. However this rise in corporate profits has not been recycled back into the real economy via workers wages. There will come a point where the workers can no longer take on more debt. When this happens consumer demand will fall, wages will fall and unemployment will rise.”

Collapse In Demand (Fear)

John Maynard Keynes said that, a fall in bank lending leads to a fall in consumer demand creating recession. He was right, a fall in bank lending does create a fall in consumer demand, it also creates recession and in extreme cases can cause a complete meltdown of the entire economy as in 2008. So the question is, why does bank lending fall? A rise in interest rates can make new borrowing too expensive, it can also lead to existing borrowers defaulting on their loans. This was the catalyst for the 2007 subprime crash in the United States. The graph below shows that US interest rates went from 1% to 5% in the run up to the subprime crash.

Interest rate rises can accelerate a fall in borrowing and a fall in demand, but interest rate rises are not the cause of these falls. Borrowing would eventually, slowly fall over time even if interest rates had remained low. Most of us are now aware that banks create new deposits when they loan, they don’t lend other peoples deposits. How they do it is not important, accepting that they do, is fundamental to understanding the problem. See graph.

The bank creation of money via lending and debt is nothing new, what has changed is the amount of money creation and the ability to recycle this new money back to the debtors. The large increase in debt over the last 30 to 40 years has funded a massive increase in consumerism, consumerism is no longer constrained by wages but rather by how much debt people can accumulate. The graph below shows the result.

Basically we have a trickle up effect, workers take on debt that fuels the profits of the corporates that dominate the consumer supply chains. However this rise in corporate profits has not been recycled back into the real economy via workers wages. There will come a point where the workers can no longer take on more debt. When this happens consumer demand will fall, wages will fall and unemployment will rise. Existing loans made by workers will fall into default, creating another banking crisis. If the banks are not saved by government or central bank intervention the credit created by the banks will become worthless. So, it is in the interests of the wealthy elite to protect the banking system whatever the cost to the rest of society. In the end the wealthy elite will themselves, destroy the financial system by taking so much of it that demand collapses.

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Well, it’s true they were the only ones to go to jail…

Iceland’s Jailed Bankers Say They Were Scapegoats For Financial Crisis (AFP)

Once reviled symbols of rogue capitalism, Iceland’s ex-bankers now say they were scapegoats: jailed for their roles in the 2008 financial crisis, they’re taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2008, after Iceland’s inflated financial system imploded, the three main banks Kaupthing, Glitnir, and Landsbanki collapsed. The government urgently nationalised them, then asked the IMF for an emergency bailout, a first for a western European country in 25 years. The crisis brought to light the bankers’ questionable practices, often involving artificially inflating the value of the banks’ assets by providing cheap loans to shareholders to buy even more shares in the bank. Without realising it, thousands of Icelanders had thus placed their life savings in a house of cards.

Since then, dozens of so-called “banksters” have been convicted, about 20 of them to prison, for manipulating the market. Some of them now claim they didn’t get fair trials, and have turned to the European Court of Human Rights. Sentenced by an Icelandic appeals court to four years in prison, Sigurdur Einarsson, the former chairman of the board of Kaupthing, spent one year behind bars before being released. He is critical of what he dubs Iceland’s “scapegoat” justice system, which he claims turned a blind eye to unlawful proceedings during his trial. “Some of the judges were partial … because they had lost a lot of money during the economic crisis,” Einarsson told AFP. “This was not a just and fair trial. (This is) very important because Iceland praises itself for being a Western democratic country, and one of the key issues for that is having fair trials for everyone.”

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Good topic for Parry to delve into.

Blaming Russia for Everything (Robert Parry)

When Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign fails seemingly because he was a wet-behind-the-ears candidate who performed like a robot during debates repeating the same talking points over and over, you might have cited those shortcomings to explain why “Little Marco” flamed out. However, if you did, that would make you a Russian “useful idiot”! The “real” reason for his failure, as we learned from Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, was Russia! When Americans turned against President Obama’s Pacific trade deals, you might have thought that it was because people across the country had grown sick and tired of these neoliberal agreements that have left large swaths of the country deindustrialized and former blue-collar workers turning to opioids and alcohol. But if you did think that, that would mean you are a dupe of the clever Russkies, as ex-British spy Christopher Steele made clear in one of his “oppo” research reports against Donald Trump.

As Steele’s dossier explained, the rejection of Obama’s TPP and TTIP trade deals resulted from Russian propaganda! When Hillary Clinton boots a presidential election that was literally hers to lose, you might have thought that she lost because she insisted on channeling her State Department emails through a private server that endangered national security; that she gave paid speeches to Wall Street and tried to hide the contents from the voters; that she called half of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables”; that she was a widely disliked establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year; that she was shoved down the throats of progressive Democrats by a Democratic Party hierarchy that made her nomination “inevitable” via the undemocratic use of unelected “super-delegates”; that some of her State Department emails were found on the laptop of suspected sex offender Anthony Weiner (the husband of Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin); and that the laptop discovery caused FBI Director James Comey to briefly reopen the investigation of Clinton’s private email server in the last days of the campaign.

You might even recall that Clinton herself blamed her late collapse in the polls on Comey’s announcement, as did other liberal luminaries such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. But if you thought those thoughts or remembered those memories, that is just more proof that you are a “Russian mole”! As we all should know in our properly restructured memory banks and our rearranged sense of reality, it was all Russia’s fault! Russia did it by undermining our democratic process through the clever means of releasing truthful information via WikiLeaks that provided evidence of how the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process against Sen. Bernie Sanders, revealed the contents of Clinton’s hidden Wall Street speeches, and exposed pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation in its dealings with foreign entities.

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Weird games. That’s Brussels for you.

EU Offers Spain Veto Right Over Gibraltar After Brexit Talks (R.)

The European Union on Friday offered Spain a right of veto over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU after Britain leaves the bloc, a move that could smooth Brexit talks but also dash Gibraltar’s hopes of winning a special status. The future of Gibraltar, a rocky British enclave on Spain’s southern tip, is set to be a major point of contention in the exit talks along with issues relating to Britain’s access to the EU’s single market or the future rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and of Britons living in Europe. Rows between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar have held up entire EU deals in the past – including current legislation governing air travel – and Brussels is keen to avoid a new bilateral dispute getting in the way of an orderly Brexit.

“This seems intended to give Spain something so they don’t try to hold the whole withdrawal treaty hostage over it,” one senior EU diplomat said in Brussels. According to the EU’s draft joint position on the exit talks, which the remaining members are due to approve on April 29, “after the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.” In essence, it offers Madrid a special share of power over Gibraltar’s fate, but only once the territory is no longer an internal EU problem. A spokesman for the Spanish government said Madrid was satisfied with the decision.

“It is what we wanted and what we have said from the beginning… The recognition by the European Union of the legal and political situation that Spain has defended fully satisfies us,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo told a news conference following the weekly cabinet meeting. The Government of Gibraltar issued a statement on Friday evening saying that the draft suggested Spain was trying to get away with mortgaging the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar. “This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own, narrow, political interests (…) a clear manifestation of the predictably predatory attitude that we anticipated Spain would seek to abusively impose on its partners,” the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said in an e-mailed statement.

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And you should wish to be part of a Union that does such things? I don’t get that. What is that, Stockholm Syndrome?

The European Union Lays Out A Greek Trap For The United Kingdom (Coppola)

Following the UK’s formal resignation on Wednesday March 29th 2017, the European Union has now laid out its approach to negotiating the United Kingdom’s exit from the bloc. At first glance, the draft negotiation guidelines appear friendly and reasonable. But don’t be fooled. They contain a trap with which followers of the Greek bailout negotiations should be all too familiar. At this point, Brexit supporters will no doubt scream “The UK is not like Greece!”. Of course it isn’t. It is one of the largest economies in Europe, and its departure will leave a gaping wound in the EU which will take some time to heal. A smooth, orderly exit is in everyone’s interests, to minimize damage on both sides and promote healing. And this is what both the UK and the EU say they want. So why do I say there is a trap?

The essence of the Greek negotiations is that the debt relief that Greece so desperately needs is conditional on Greece meeting all the EU creditors’ conditions, in full. The EU will not even discuss debt relief until sufficient progress has been made on everything else. Every time Greece draws nearer to debt relief it is snatched away, either by adding new conditions or by finding reasons to doubt that conditions have really been met. Of course, the UK is not looking for debt relief. It is after another prize. Theresa May’s letter outlined what the UK wants “Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries.”

Wonderful. Not only does the UK want a free trade agreement to be agreed before it leaves the bloc, it apparently wants that agreement to give it better terms than any trade agreement the EU has with any other country. I don’t know who constructed this flight of fancy, but it has about as much chance of seeing the light of day as a bottom-feeder in the Marianas Trench.

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“Request a Norway-like agreement for an interim period – something that they cannot refuse..”

Theresa May May Have Miscalculated (Varoufakis)

Prime Minister May is keen to avoid a defeat at the hands of EU negotiators determined to do to the UK that which they did to Greece in 2015. Correctly, she has set out to arm herself with a credible threat. The problem is that she may have miscalculated her optimal strategy. By making a hard Brexit the default of the negotiations’ process, Mrs May has secured its credibility. However, a credible threat can still produce an undesirable outcome. London’s greatest miscalculation would be to assume that the EU’s negotiators are committed to the bloc’s economic interests. Whilst negotiating Greece’s debt to the EU with them, I realised in horror that they cared very little about getting their money back and a great deal more about shoring up their relative positions in the games they play with one another – even if this sacrificed large economic gains. Mrs May will encounter this mindset soon in Berlin, Brussels and Paris.

If my experiences are anything to go by, a frustrating two years await British negotiators. They are faced with the EU’s favourite tactics: The EU Run-Around (as Brussels refers them to Berlin and vice versa), the Swedish National Anthem Routine (the feeling that whether you have outlined a sensible proposal or sung Sweden’s national anthem they react the same way), the All-Or-Nothing Ruse (refusing to discuss any issue unless all issues are simultaneously discussed) and the Blame Game (censuring you for THEIR recalcitrance). Nothing good, for Britain or for the EU, will come out of this process. It is why I recommend a strategy that robs Brussels of all room to manoeuvre. That is: Request a Norway-like agreement for an interim period – something that they cannot refuse – and empower the next UK parliament to design and pursue Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU.

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“Observers fear that Turkey could take other countries along with it. The country holds $270 billion of debt with international banks, with $87 billion of that total in Spain, $42 billion in France and $15 billion in Germany.”

The Demise of the Anatolian Tiger – Turkey on Verge of Bankruptcy (Spiegel)

[..] the aftermath of the coup attempt — the mass arrests of opposition activists and the confiscation of companies – has scared investors off. The rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have slashed Turkey’s credit rating to junk status and foreign investment plunged by over 40% last year. Yigit says that he can hardly find anyone anymore who is interested in doing business in Turkey. “The risk is simply too high for investors,” he says. Meanwhile, clients who have been economically involved in the country for years are now pulling their money out. The capital flight has triggered a downward spiral that has been particularly noticeable in the construction industry.

Turkey’s high growth rates in recent years were fueled primarily by infrastructure projects, with Erdogan pouring money into the construction of highways, hospitals and airports. Now, though, there is insufficient foreign capital available and growth is stagnating. Furthermore, political instability has led to a steep drop in tourism revenues, with a plunge of roughly one-third last year. There are hundreds of hotels up for sale on the Turkish Riviera, on the country’s southwest coast, and some 600 of 2,000 shops in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar have been forced to close since last summer, according to the bazaar’s merchant association. Turkish Airlines has taken 30 planes out of service.

The consequences of the struggling economy can be seen in day-to-day life: Companies have been forced to lay off workers and cut salaries; people have less money. Domestic consumption, which made up 60% of the country’s GDP last year, has shrunk. At the same time, the Turkish currency, the lira, has rapidly lost value and inflation stands at 10%. “We are heading toward the worst-case scenario: economic stagnation combined with persistent inflation,” says Istanbul-based economic writer Mustafa Sönmez. “Turkey is on the verge of bankruptcy.” Observers fear that Turkey could take other countries along with it. The country holds $270 billion of debt with international banks, with $87 billion of that total in Spain, $42 billion in France and $15 billion in Germany. Should the country default or partially default, Sönmez believes, it could trigger another financial crisis in Europe.

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Turkey’s army has gotten even weaker after Erdogan fired tens of thousands, among them many officers.

The Pentagon Doesn’t Want Turkey’s Help In Syria (WE)

Like a marriage held together for the sake of the kids, the U.S. and Turkey keep saying nice things in public, while privately fuming and slowly drifting apart. The growing rift between the two countries stems from the intractable dispute over the U.S. plan to liberate Raqqa with a loose coalition of Syrian fighters comprising roughly 40% Kurdish YPG militia members, who Turkey considers terrorists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered his military to drive the Islamic State out of its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, if only the U.S. will quit the Kurds. Turkey regards the Kurdish Popular Protection Units, or YPG, as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has been declared a terrorist group by both Turkey and the U.S. But the Pentagon says the Kurds have proven to be the most battle-hardened and combat-effective force fighting ISIS in Syria, and it has no plans to abandon them now.

Publicly the U.S. says it’s still working with its NATO ally Turkey to find a role for it in the upcoming Raqqa offensive, but here’s the unspoken truth: The U.S. has also judged that the Turkish military is not up to the task, based on its performance in northern Syria. On Aug. 24, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield,” sending tank and troops into Syria with the stated objective of pushing ISIS back 60 miles from its shared border, and the unstated goal of keeping Kurdish forces from controlling an unbroken swath of land stretching back into Iraq. This past week, Turkey declared Euphrates Shield a success and ended the mission, a move Pentagon sources say was in fact largely because the U.S., Russia and Syria stymied the Turkish offensive from any further gains. The Turks did take the northern Syrian towns of Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab from ISIS, but their plan to move against the Kurds in Manbij was foiled when the U.S. positioned Army Rangers just outside the city and declared Manbij was in no further need of liberation.

And the Turkish forces had also suffered heavy losses in the fight against ISIS in al-Bab, or as one Pentagon official put it, “They got their asses kicked.” Meanwhile, Syrian and Russian forces have advanced across the Turkish forces’ southern flank in Syria, effectively blocking any movement south to Raqqa. Essentially hemmed in with nowhere to go, the Turkish forces called it a day and declared mission accomplished. Several Pentagon officials, who talked the Washington Examiner on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss war planning publicly, said the major U.S. takeaway is that Turkish troops lack the training, logistics and weaponry to successfully launch the siege of a fortified and well-defended city. Consider that across the border in Iraq, 100,000 Iraqi troops have all they can handle trying to finish off fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters in west Mosul.

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Yeah, we’re so smart.

Salmon Farming In Crisis: ‘A Chemical Arms Race In The Seas’ (G.)

Every day, salmon farmers across the world walk into steel cages – in the seas off Scotland or Norway or Iceland – and throw in food. Lots of food; they must feed tens of thousands of fish before the day is over. They must also check if there are problems, and there is one particular problem they are coming across more and more often. Six months ago, I met one of these salmon farmers, on the Isle of Skye. He looked at me and held out a palm – in it was a small, ugly-looking creature, all articulated shell and tentacles: a sea louse. He could crush it between his fingers, but said he was impressed that this parasite, which lives by attaching itself to a fish and eating its blood and skin, was threatening not just his own job, but could potentially wipe out a global multibillion-dollar industry that feeds millions of people.

“For a wee creature, it is impressive. But what can we do?” he asks. “Sometimes it seems nature is against us and we are fighting a losing battle. They are everywhere now, and just a few can kill a fish. When I started in fish farming 30 years ago, there were barely any. Now they are causing great problems.” Lepeophtheirus salmonis, or the common salmon louse, now infests nearly half of Scotland’s salmon farms. Last year lice killed thousands of tonnes of farmed fish, caused skin lesions and secondary infections in millions more, and cost the Scottish industry alone around £300m in trying to control them. Scotland has some of the worst lice infestations in the world, and last year saw production fall for the first time in years.

But in the past few weeks it has become clear that the lice problem is growing worldwide and is far more resistant than the industry thought. Norway produced 60,000 tonnes less than expected last year because of lice, and Canada and a dozen other countries were all hit badly. Together, it is estimated that companies across the world must spend more than £1bn a year on trying to eradicate lice, and the viruses and diseases they bring. As a result of the lice infestations, the global price of salmon has soared, and world production fallen. Earlier this year freedom of information [FoI] requests of the Scottish government showed that 45 lochs had been badly polluted by the antibiotics and pesticides used to control lice – and that more and more toxic chemicals were being used.

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You can’t let children pay the price.

Italy Praised For Giving Lone Child Refugees Legal Protection (Week)

Italy has become Europe’s first country to pass a law giving comprehensive protection to lone child migrants. Known as the Zampa law, the legislation sets minimum standards of care, such as reducing the time children can be kept in migrant reception centres, guaranteeing access to healthcare and setting a ten-day window for authorities to confirm their identities. It also prohibits turning unaccompanied and separated children away at the border or if it could cause them harm, AP reports. Unicef, the UN’s children agency praised the move and said it was the first of its kind in Europe. Afshan Khan, Unicef’s special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, said: “While across Europe we have seen fences going up, children detained and pledges unmet, the Italian parliamentarians have shown their compassion and duty to young refugees and migrants.

“This new law serves not only to give refugee and migrant children a sense of predictability in their uncertain lives after risking so much to get to Europe, it serves as a model for how other European countries could put in place a legislative framework that supports protection.” The number of unaccompanied child migrants arriving in Italy is believed to still be on the increase, says the charity. In 2016, around 26,000 children arrived in the country without their families, the majority crossing the Mediterranean in unsafe boats from North Africa. In the first two months of 2017, 2,000 arrived, the majority aged between 14 and 17. Italy’s move is in stark contrast to the UK, where MPs earlier this month chose not to continue a scheme to accept more lone child refugees from Europe.

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Just lovely.

Europe Keeps Its Rescue Ships Far From Where Refugees Drown (I’Cept)

An average of 3,500 people have died each year while trying to make the journey to Italy from North Africa since 2014. Their vessels are overcrowded, unseaworthy, and have a near-nothing chance of making it to Europe. Most of the boats sink just 20 to 40 miles from the Libyan coast. These are preventable deaths. Since 2014, the European Union has deliberately chosen to keep their coast guard patrol boats far from where the shipwrecks happen, a decision detailed in an internal letter obtained by The Intercept and other leaked documents. Saving more lives, the logic goes, will only encourage more refugees to come. The result is that rescue boats are kept away from where rescues are actually needed.

The Italian navy used to run patrols near the Libyan coast. Their operation, called Mare Nostrum – “our sea” in Latin – involved a large mobilization of ships, planes, and helicopters in international waters close to Libya, where boats carrying refugees regularly capsized and sank. Mare Nostrum was enormously successful — in the year it ran, it saved over 150,000 people. Still, on October 31, 2014, Italy announced it would phase out the program. The following day, Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, took over with an operation called Triton. In a press release at the time, Frontex said its operation followed in the wake of Mare Nostrum and was intended to support the Italian authorities. There was one key difference from Mare Nostrum, however: Frontex would limit its patrols to just 30 miles off Italy’s coast, which was about 130 miles from Libya — at least a 12-hour sail. Frontex was deliberately not patrolling the area where most of the shipwrecks occurred.

What’s more, according to an internal letter obtained by The Intercept, the director of operations at Frontex privately told Italian authorities that his ships should not be called on to immediately respond to distress calls from outside their 30-mile patrol area. “Frontex is concerned about the engagement of Frontex deployed assets in the activities happening significantly outside the operational area,” Frontex’s director, Klaus Roesler, wrote to the head of Italy’s Immigration and Border Police, Giovanni Pinto, on November 25, 2014. The letter has been referenced in Italian newspapers and released with redactions that covered detailed descriptions of how Frontex coordinated its assistance with rescue efforts. The Intercept is publishing the letter in full for the first time.

Like any other vessels at sea, Frontex ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to distress calls when ordered by the relevant national authorities. For the Italians, an overloaded boat with an untrained captain was a distress situation by default. Typically, someone calls the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome by satellite phone from a boat or from the Libyan coast, and Italy initiates search and rescue. But for Frontex, at the time, that was not enough proof. [..] Frontex knew it had to respond to emergency calls. But it was deliberately patrolling in the wrong area and quibbling with definitions of distress, meaning that its ships would almost certainly arrive late, if at all.

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Mar 142017
 
 March 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Arthur Rothstein Family leaving South Dakota drought for Oregon 1936

 

Wall Street Buzz Over Trump Gives Shiller Dot-Com Deja Vu (BBG)
This Is The Most Overvalued Stock Market On Record – Even Worse Than 1929 (MW)
Wall Street Has Found Its Next Big Short in US Credit Market: Malls (BBG)
Fed, In Shift, May Move To Faster Pace Of Rate Hikes (R.)
The Mystery of the Treasury’s Disappearing Cash (Stockman)
Countries With National Health Insurance Spend Less, Live Longer Than US (M&B)
Rand Paul, Tulsi Gabbard Introduce Bill To Stop The US Arming Terrorists (TAM)
Several States Jointly Sue To Block Trump’s Revised Travel Ban (R.)
Shadow Banking Has Made China’s Credit Markets More Complex And Opaque (BI)
The Pause That Refreshes (Jim Kunstler)
Iceland’s Recovery Shows Benefits Of Letting Over-Reaching Banks Go Bust (Tel.)
Merkel Calls Erdogan Attack ‘Absurd’ as Tensions Escalate (BBG)
UK Parliament Passes Brexit Bill And Opens Way To Triggering Article 50 (G.)
Theresa May Rejects Scotland’s Demand For New Independence Vote (G.)
‘1st In Canada’ Supermarket Donation Plan Aids Food Banks, Tackles Waste (G.)
Stock Of Properties Conceded To The Greek State Or Confiscated Grows (G.)

 

 

“They’re both revolutionary eras..” “This time a ‘Great Leader’ has appeared. The idea is, everything is different.”

Wall Street Buzz Over Trump Gives Shiller Dot-Com Deja Vu (BBG)

The last time Robert Shiller heard stock-market investors talk like this in 2000, it didn’t end well for the bulls. Back then, the Nobel Prize-winning economist says, traders were captivated by a “new era story” of technological transformation: The Internet had re-defined American business and made traditional gauges of equity-market value obsolete. Today, the game changer everyone’s buzzing about is political: Donald Trump and his bold plans to slash regulations, cut taxes and turbocharge economic growth with a trillion-dollar infrastructure boom. “They’re both revolutionary eras,” says Shiller, who’s famous for his warnings about the dot-com mania and housing-market excesses that led to the global financial crisis. “This time a ‘Great Leader’ has appeared. The idea is, everything is different.”

For Shiller, the power of a new-era narrative helps answer one of the most hotly debated questions on Wall Street as stocks set one high after another this year: Why are traders so fixated on the upsides of a Trump presidency when the downside risks seem just as big? For all his pro-business promises, the former reality TV star’s confrontational foreign policy and haphazard management style have bred uncertainty – the one thing investors are supposed to hate most. Charts illustrating the conundrum have been making the rounds on trading floors. One, called “the most worrying chart we know” by SocGen at the end of last year, shows a surging index of global economic policy uncertainty severing its historical link with credit spreads, which have declined in recent months along with other measures of investor fear. The VIX index, a popular gauge of anxiety in the U.S. stock market, has dropped more than 30 percent since Trump’s election.

[..] For Hersh Shefrin, a finance professor at Santa Clara University and author of a 2007 book on the role of psychology in markets, the rally is just another example of investors’ remarkable penchant for tunnel vision. Shefrin has a favorite analogy to illustrate his point: the great tulip-mania of 17th century Holland. Even the most casual students of financial history are familiar with the frenzy, during which a rare tulip bulb was worth enough money to buy a mansion. What often gets overlooked, though, is that the mania happened during an outbreak of bubonic plague. “People were dying left and right,” Shefrin says. “So here you have financial markets sending signals completely at odds with the social mood of the time, with the degree of fear at the time.”

Shiller says when markets are as buoyant as they are now, resisting the urge to pile in is hard regardless of what else might be happening in society. “I was tempted to do it, too,” he says. “Trump keeps talking about a new spirit for America and so you could (A) believe that or (B) you could believe that other investors believe that.” On whether stocks are nearing a top, Shiller can’t say with any certainty. He’s loathe to make short-term forecasts. Despite the well-timed publication of his book “Irrational Exuberance” just as the dot-com bubble peaked in early 2000, the Yale University economist had warned (with caveats) that shares might be overvalued as early as 1996. Investors who bought and held an S&P 500 fund in the middle of that year made about 8 percent annually over the next decade, while those who invested at the start of 2000 lost money. The index sank 49 percent from its high in March 2000 through a bottom in October 2002.

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“Don’t be fooled by the booming headline indexes.”

This Is The Most Overvalued Stock Market On Record – Even Worse Than 1929 (MW)

This is the most dangerous and overvalued stock market on record — worse than 2007, worse than 2000, even worse than 1929. Or so warns Wall Street soothsayer John Hussman in his scariest jeremiad yet. “Presently, we observe the broadest market valuation extreme in history,” writes the chairman of the cautious Hussman Funds investment group, “with the steepest median valuations on record, and the most reliable capitalization-weighted measures within a few percent of their 2000 peaks.” On top of such warning signs as “extreme valuations, bullish sentiment, and consumer confidence,” he adds, “market action has deteriorated in interest-sensitive sectors… As of Friday, more than one-third of stocks are already below their 200-day moving averages.” Don’t be fooled by the booming headline indexes.

More NYSE stocks hit new 52-week lows last week than new 52-week highs, he notes. In a nutshell: Run. OK, so, it is always easy to criticize. Husssman, a professional economist and well-known Wall Street figure, has been here before. He’s been warning about stock-market valuations for several years. He’s in that camp that the permabulls, wrongly, call “permabears.” He’s been wrong — or, perhaps, just very early — many times. But he was, notably, also correct and prescient about both the 2000 and 2008 crashes before they happened, when few others were. Opinions, of course, are free. But facts are sacred. And more than a few are suggesting caution. According to the World Bank, the total U.S. stock market is now valued at more than 150% of annual GDP. That is way above historic norms, and about the same as it was at the market extreme of 2000.

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Where are Americans going to meet now? Online?

Wall Street Has Found Its Next Big Short in US Credit Market: Malls (BBG)

Wall Street speculators are zeroing in on the next U.S. credit crisis: the mall. It’s no secret many mall complexes have been struggling for years as Americans do more of their shopping online. But now, they’re catching the eye of hedge-fund types who think some may soon buckle under their debts, much the way many homeowners did nearly a decade ago. Like the run-up to the housing debacle, a small but growing group of firms are positioning to profit from a collapse that could spur a wave of defaults. Their target: securities backed not by subprime mortgages, but by loans taken out by beleaguered mall and shopping center operators. With bad news piling up for anchor chains like Macy’s and J.C. Penney, bearish bets against commercial mortgage-backed securities are growing.

In recent weeks, firms such as Alder Hill Management – an outfit started by protégés of hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper – have ramped up wagers against the bonds, which have held up far better than the shares of beaten-down retailers. By one measure, short positions on two of the riskiest slices of CMBS surged to $5.3 billion last month – a 50% jump from a year ago. “Loss severities on mall loans have been meaningfully higher than other areas,” said Michael Yannell at Gapstow Capital, which invests in hedge funds that specialize in structured credit. Nobody is suggesting there’s a bubble brewing in retail-backed mortgages that is anywhere as big as subprime home loans, or that the scope of the potential fallout is comparable.

After all, the bearish bets are just a tiny fraction of the $365 billion CMBS market. And there’s also no guarantee the positions, which can be costly to maintain, will pay off any time soon. Many malls may continue to limp along, earning just enough from tenants to pay their loans. But more and more, bears are convinced the inevitable death of retail will lead to big losses as defaults start piling up. The trade itself is similar to those that Michael Burry and Steve Eisman made against the housing market before the financial crisis, made famous by the book and movie “The Big Short.” Often called credit protection, buyers of the contracts are paid for CMBS losses that occur when malls and shopping centers fall behind on their loans. In return, they pay monthly premiums to the seller (usually a bank) as long as they hold the position. This year, traders bought a net $985 million contracts that target the two riskiest types of CMBS. That’s more than five times the purchases in the prior three months.

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Run! Hide!

Fed, In Shift, May Move To Faster Pace Of Rate Hikes (R.)

The Federal Reserve, which has struggled to stoke inflation since the financial crisis and up until now raised rates less frequently than it and markets expected, may be about to hit the accelerator on rate hikes. On Wednesday, the U.S. central bank is almost universally expected to raise its benchmark interest rates, a move that just a few weeks ago was viewed by the markets as unlikely. And with inflation showing signs of perking up, Fed policymakers may signal there could be more than the three rate rises they have forecast for this year. “They do not have as much room to be patient as they did before,” said Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, who expects Fed policymakers to lift their rate forecasts this week.

Policymakers have their eyes on achieving full employment and 2-percent inflation. The faster the economy approaches those goals, Duy said, the quicker the Fed will want to tighten policy to avoid getting behind the curve. “That’s an acceleration in the dots,” he said, referring to forecasts published by the Fed that show policymakers’ individual rate-hike forecasts as dots on a chart. The economy already appears closer to its goals than the Fed had expected in December, the last time it released forecasts. The jobless rate, at 4.7%, is below what policymakers see as the long-run norm, and inflation, at 1.7%, is already in the range they had expected by year end. As Fed policymakers prepare to raise rates this week for the second time in three months, the inflation terrain they face looks steeper than it has been since the financial crisis when one of the central bank’s policy aims was to generate inflation.

There are signs of more inflation globally, the dollar is pushing down less on U.S. prices, domestic inflation expectations have picked up and Friday’s closely watched monthly jobs report showed wages rising 2.8% year-on-year in February, with payrolls rising a sturdy 235,000. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the so-called core PCE price index, recorded its biggest monthly increase in five years in January and was up 1.7% year-on-year after a similar gain in December. Most Fed policymakers say such data gives them increasing confidence that inflation will eventually reach the Fed’s goal after years of undershooting.

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“..the bureaucrats have apparently decided to sabotage what they undoubtedly believe to be the usurper in the White House.”

The Mystery of the Treasury’s Disappearing Cash (Stockman)

As of October 24, the U.S. Treasury was flush with $435 billion of cash. That was because the department’s bureaucrats had been issuing debt hand-over-fist and piling up a cash hoard, apparently, for the period after March 15, 2017 when President Hillary Clinton would need to coax another debt ceiling increase out of Congress. Needless to say, Hillary was unexpectedly (and thankfully) retired to Chappaqua, New York. But the less discussed surprise is that the U.S. Treasury’s cash hoard has virtually disappeared in the run-up to the March 15 expiration of the debt ceiling holiday. That’s right. As of the Daily Treasury Statement (DTS) for March 7, the cash balance was down to just $88 billion — meaning that $347 billion of cash has flown out the door since October 24.

And I find that on March 8 alone the Treasury consumed another $22 billion of cash — bringing the balance down to $66 billion! To be sure, there has been no heist at the Treasury Building — other than the normal larceny that is the stock-in-trade of the Imperial City. What’s different this time around is that the bureaucrats have apparently decided to sabotage what they undoubtedly believe to be the usurper in the White House. To this end, they’ve been draining Trump’s bank account rather than borrowing the money to pay Uncle Sam’s monumental bills. This has especially been the case since the January 20 inauguration. The net Federal debt on March 7 was $19.802 trillion — up $237 billion since January 20th. But that’s not the half of it. During that same 47 day period, the Treasury bureaucrats took the opportunity to pay-down $57 billion of maturing treasury bills and notes by tapping its cash hoard.

In all, they drained $294 billion from the Donald’s bank account during that brief period — or about $6.4 billion per day. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong to conclude that even Putin’s alleged world class hackers couldn’t have accomplished such a feat. At this point I could don my tin foil hat because this massive cash drain was clearly deliberate. Last year, for example, during the same 47 day period, the operating deficit was even slightly larger — $253 billion. But the Treasury funded that mainly by new borrowings of $157 billion, which covered 62% of the shortfall. Its cash balance was still $223 billion on March 7. Again, that cash balance is just $66 billion right now. Moreover, the Trump Administration has only a few business days until its credit card expires on March 15 — so it’s also way too late for an eleventh hour borrowing spree to replenish its depleted cash account. (Besides that, I’m predicting a very dangerous market event will start on the 15th.)

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Not that we can’t make it even worse.

Countries With National Health Insurance Spend Less, Live Longer Than US (M&B)

We see health as a basic human right. Every society should provide medical care for its citizens at the level it can afford. And, while the United States has made some progress in improving access to care, the results do not justify the costs. So, while we agree with President Trump’s statement that the U.S. health care system should be cheaper, better and universal, the question is how to get there. In this post, we start by setting the stage: where matters stand today and why they are unacceptable. This leads us to the real question: where can and should we go? As economists, we are genuinely partial to market-based solutions that allow individuals to make tradeoffs between quality and price, while competition pushes suppliers to contain costs.

But, in the case of health care, we are skeptical that such a solution can be made workable. This leads us to propose a gradual lowering of the age at which people become eligible for Medicare, while promoting supplier competition. Before getting to the details of our proposal, we begin with striking evidence of the inefficiency of the U.S. health care system. The following chart (from OurWorldInData.org) displays life expectancy at birth on the vertical axis against real health expenditure per capita on the horizontal axis. The point is that the U.S. line in red lies well below the cost-performance frontier established by a range of advanced economies (and some emerging economies, too). Put differently, the United States spends more per person but gets less for its money.


Life Expectancy and Health Expenditure per capita, 1970-2014

It really doesn’t matter how you measure U.S. health care outlays, you will come away with the same conclusion: the U.S. system is extremely inefficient compared to that of other countries. Today, for example, health expenditures account for more than 17% of U.S. GDP. This is more than twice the average of the share in the 42 other countries shown in the figure, and more than 40% higher than the next highest (which happens to be Sweden at 12%).

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“..considering the Trump administration is directly sending American troops to fight in Syrian territory, perhaps the various rebel groups on the ground have outlived their usefulness..”

Rand Paul, Tulsi Gabbard Introduce Bill To Stop The US Arming Terrorists (TAM)

According to a press release released Friday by the office of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Rand Paul has introduced their bill, the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, in the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan legislation (H.R.608 and S.532) aims to prohibit any federal agency from using taxpayer dollars to provide weapons, cash, intelligence, or any support to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups. It would also prohibit the government from funneling money and weapons through other countries that are directly or indirectly supporting terrorists.

Gabbard said: “For years, the U.S. government has been supporting armed militant groups working directly with and often under the command of terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government. Rather than spending trillions of dollars on regime change wars in the Middle East, we should be focused on defeating terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, and using our resources to invest in rebuilding our communities here at home.” [..] “The fact that American taxpayer dollars are being used to strengthen the very terrorist groups we should be focused on defeating should alarm every Member of Congress and every American. We call on our colleagues and the Administration to join us in passing this legislation.

Rand Paul provided much-needed support for the bill, stating: “One of the unintended consequences of nation-building and open-ended intervention is American funds and weapons benefiting those who hate us. This legislation will strengthen our foreign policy, enhance our national security, and safeguard our resources.” The legislation is currently co-sponsored by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI); Scott Perry (R-PA); Peter Welch (D-VT; Tom Garrett (R-VA); Thomas Massie (R-KY); Barbara Lee (D-CA); Walter Jones (R-NC); Ted Yoho (R-FL); and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). It is endorsed by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Veterans for Peace, and the U.S. Peace Council.

One of Trump’s campaign narratives that resonated deeply with his voter base was an anti-radical Islam agenda, which separated him from Clinton’s campaign as he vowed to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS-controlled oil fields. However, his voter base may or may not be somewhat disillusioned now given that he just approved an arms sale to Saudi Arabia that was so controversial it was even blocked by Obama, a president who made a literal killing from arms sales to the oil-rich kingdom (ISIS adheres to Saudi Arabia’s twisted form of Wahhabist philosophy). In the context of recent events, whether or not the Trump administration will get fully behind Gabbard’s bill remains to be seen. But considering the Trump administration is directly sending American troops to fight in Syrian territory, perhaps the various rebel groups on the ground have outlived their usefulness and the bill will be allowed to proceed unimpeded.

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“The first hurdle for the lawsuits will be proving “standing,” which means finding someone who has been harmed by the policy. With so many exemptions, legal experts have said it might be hard to find individuals who would have a right to sue..”

Several States Jointly Sue To Block Trump’s Revised Travel Ban (R.)

A group of states renewed their effort on Monday to block President Donald Trump’s revised temporary ban on refugees and travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, arguing that his executive order is the same as the first one that was halted by federal courts. Court papers filed by the state of Washington and joined by California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon asked a judge to stop the March 6 order from taking effect on Thursday. An amended complaint said the order was similar to the original Jan. 27 directive because it “will cause severe and immediate harms to the States, including our residents, our colleges and universities, our healthcare providers, and our businesses.” A Department of Justice spokeswoman said it was reviewing the complaint and would respond to the court.

A more sweeping ban implemented hastily in January caused chaos and protests at airports. The March order by contrast gave 10 days’ notice to travelers and immigration officials. Last month, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle halted the first travel ban after Washington state sued, claiming the order was discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution. Robart’s order was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump revised his order to overcome some of the legal hurdles by including exemptions for legal permanent residents and existing visa holders and taking Iraq off the list of countries covered. The new order still halts citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days but has explicit waivers for various categories of immigrants with ties to the country.

[..] The first hurdle for the lawsuits will be proving “standing,” which means finding someone who has been harmed by the policy. With so many exemptions, legal experts have said it might be hard to find individuals who would have a right to sue, in the eyes of a court. To overcome this challenge, the states filed more than 70 declarations of people affected by the order including tech businesses Amazon and Expedia, which said that restricting travel hurts their revenues and their ability to recruit employees. Universities and medical centers that rely on foreign doctors also weighed in, as did religious organizations and individual residents, including U.S. citizens, with stories about separated families.

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That’s the whole idea.

Shadow Banking Has Made China’s Credit Markets More Complex And Opaque (BI)

A research note from Goldman Sachs highlights how large, complex and opaque China’s credit market has become over the last decade. In a report called Mapping China’s Credit, analysts Kenneth Ho and Claire Cui write that the rise in China’s total debt started with a RMB 4 trillion ($AU770 billion) stimulus package in 2009 to counter the global financial crisis. Since late 2008, debt to GDP (excluding financial debt) has risen from 158% to 262%. Including financial debt bumps the figure up to 289%. The rise in China’s debt to GDP follows a similar increase in America, where last week bond fund manager Bill Gross discussed the risks associated with the US debt to GDP ratio, which sits at around 350%. The analysts note they’re struggling to break down and make sense of the country’s credit market.

“Given the development of the shadow banking sector, and the introduction of a number of retail investment channels such as wealth management products, it has become much more difficult to analyse and monitor China’s credit growth,” they say. In 2006, 85% of China’s credit was supplied by bank loans (offset by deposits). According to Ho and Cui’s estimates, the share of credit from bank loans has reduced to 53%. In its place, approximately 31% of debt is now supplied through bond and securities markets, and 16% through the shadow banking sector (more on that later). Ho and Cui write that as China’s debt pool has grown, larger state-related companies have seen a significant increase in leverage through traditional loans from state-affiliated banks. In addition, however, a decrease in domestic interest rates has encouraged smaller companies and individual investors to shift savings away from bank deposits.

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“The Democrats reduced themselves to a gang of sadistic neo-Maoists seeking to eradicate anything that resembles free expression..”

The Pause That Refreshes (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s take a breather from more consequential money matters at hand midweek to consider the tending moods of our time and place — while a blizzard howls outside the window, and nervous Federal Reserve officials pace the grim halls of the Eccles Building. It is clear by now that we have four corners of American politics these days: the utterly lost and delusional Democratic party; the feckless Republicans; the permanent Deep State of bureaucratic foot-soldiers and errand boys; and Trump, the Golem-King of the Coming Greatness. Wherefore, and what the fuck, you might ask. The Democrats reduced themselves to a gang of sadistic neo-Maoists seeking to eradicate anything that resembles free expression across the land in the name of social justice.

Coercion has been their coin of the realm, and especially in the realm of ideas where “diversity” means stepping on your opponent’s neck until he pretends to agree with your Newspeak brand of grad school neologisms and “inclusion” means welcome if you’re just like us. I say Maoists because just like Mao’s “Red Guard” of rampaging students in 1966, their mission is to “correct” the thinking of those who might dare to oppose the established leader. Only in this case, that established leader happened to lose the sure-thing election and the party finds itself unbelievably out-of-power and suddenly purposeless, like a termite mound without a queen, the workers and soldiers fleeing the power center in an hysteria of lost identity.

They regrouped briefly after the election debacle to fight an imaginary adversary, Russia, the phantom ghost-bear, who supposedly stepped on their termite mound and killed the queen, but, strangely, no actual evidence was ever found of the ghost-bear’s paw-print. And ever since that fact was starkly revealed by former NSA chief James Clapper on NBC’s Meet the Press, the Russia hallucination has vanished from page one of the party’s media outlets — though, in an interesting last gasp of striving correctitude, Monday’s New York Times features a front page story detailing Georgetown University’s hateful traffic in the slave trade two centuries ago. That should suffice to shut the wicked place down for once and for all!

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What does it say that only one small island can get it right?

Iceland’s Recovery Shows Benefits Of Letting Over-Reaching Banks Go Bust (Tel.)

It looks set to be a week packed with big financial milestones. In the US, the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, putting the country on a path towards getting back to a normal price for money. In the Netherlands, a tense election may deal the fragile eurozone another blow. In this country, Theresa May could finally trigger Article 50, starting the process of taking the UK out of the European Union. The most significant event, however, as is so often the case, may well be something that hardly anyone is paying attention to. On Sunday, Iceland ended capital controls, finally returning its economy to normal after a catastrophic banking collapse back in 2008 and 2009. Why does that matter? Because Iceland was the one country that defied the global consensus and did not bail out its bankers.

True, there was shock to the system. But it was relatively short, and once the pain was dealt with, the country has bounced back stronger than ever. There is, surely, a lesson in that. It might well be better just to let banks go to the wall. Next time around, we should follow Iceland’s example. The crash of 2008 hit every country in the world. And yet none was quite so completely destroyed as Iceland. A tiny country, home to just 323,000 people, with cod fishing and tourism as its two major industries, it deregulated its finance sector and went on a wild lending spree. Its banks started bulking up in a way that might have made Royal Bank of Scotland’s Fred Goodwin start to wonder if his foot wasn’t pressed too hard on the accelerator. When confidence collapsed, those banks were done for.

In every other country in the world, the conventional wisdom dictated the financiers had to be bailed out. The alternative was catastrophe. Cash machines would stop working, trade would grind to a halt, and output would collapse. It would be the 1930s all over again. The state had no option but to dig deep, and pay whatever it took to keep the financial sector alive. But Iceland did not have that option. Its banks had run up debts of $86bn, an impossible sum for an economy with a GDP of $13bn in 2009. Even Gordon Brown, in full “saving the world’” mode, might have baulked at taking on liabilities of that scale. Iceland did the only thing it could do under the circumstances. It let its banks go bust: as British depositors quickly found out to their cost.

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Much more to come. See my article yesterday, Caesar, Turkey and the Ides of March

Merkel Calls Erdogan Attack ‘Absurd’ as Tensions Escalate (BBG)

Chancellor Angela Merkel derided as “clearly absurd” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s accusation that Germany supports terrorism, as Ankara announced retaliatory measures against the Dutch government amid escalating tensions with Europe. After Erdogan excoriated Merkel’s government for “openly giving support to terrorist organizations” on Monday, the Turkish government announced it would block the Dutch ambassador from re-entering the country. Erdogan has blasted European leaders, including accusing Germany of using “Nazi practices,” after a string of rallies by Turkish ministers on European soil were canceled. “The chancellor has no intention of participating in a competition of provocations” with Erdogan, her chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in an emailed statement on Monday. “She’s not going to join in with that. The accusations are clearly absurd.”

Erdogan is seeking votes from Turkish expatriates in a referendum next month on constitutional changes that would make the presidency his country’s highest authority. He has lashed out at the EU and risked deepening tensions, particularly with Merkel. In an interview on Monday, he said Merkel’s government “mercilessly” supported groups such as the Kurdish PKK group, which has waged a separatist war with the Turkish military for more than three decades. “I don’t want to put all EU countries in the same basket, but some of them can’t stand Turkey’s rise, primarily Germany,” Erdogan told A Haber television. The standoff came to a head over the weekend when the Dutch government prevented Turkish ministers from participating in referendum campaign rallies. Some 3 million Turks outside their country can vote, though fewer than half of them did so in the last general election in 2015.

Merkel struck an unusually strident tone earlier this month, slamming Erdogan for trivializing World War II-era crimes by using a Nazi comparison to censure Germany for canceling ministers’ appearances. Such a tone “can’t be justified,” Merkel said March 6 after Erdogan’s previous outburst. European leaders have been vocal in their disapproval of the referendum, saying the executive-centered system that Erdogan is planning to introduce will concentrate power in the president’s hands at the expense of democracy in a NATO member state and EU membership applicant.

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The fight’s only just starting.

UK Parliament Passes Brexit Bill And Opens Way To Triggering Article 50 (G.)

Theresa May’s Brexit bill has cleared all its hurdles in the Houses of Parliament, opening the way for the prime minister to trigger article 50 by the end of March. Peers accepted the supremacy of the House of Commons late on Monday night after MPs overturned amendments aimed at guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and giving parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. The decision came after a short period of so-called “ping pong” when the legislation bounced between the two houses of parliament as a result of disagreement over the issues. The outcome means the government has achieved its ambition of passing a “straightforward” two-line bill that is confined simply to the question of whether ministers can trigger article 50 and start the formal Brexit process.

It had been widely predicted in recent days that May would fire the starting gun on Tuesday, immediately after the vote, but sources quashed speculation of quick action and instead suggested she will wait until the final week of March. MPs voted down the amendment on EU nationals’ rights by 335 to 287, a majority of 48, with peers later accepting the decision by 274 to 135. The second amendment on whether to hold a meaningful final vote on any deal after the conclusion of Brexit talks was voted down by 331 to 286, a majority of 45, in the Commons. The Lords then accepted that decision by 274 to 118, with Labour leader Lady Smith telling the Guardian that continuing to oppose the government would be playing politics because MPs would not be persuaded to change their minds.

“If I thought there was a foot in the door or a glimmer of hope that we could change this bill, I would fight it tooth and nail, but it doesn’t seem to be the case,” she said. But the decision led to tensions between Labour and the Lib Dems, whose leader, Tim Farron, hit out at the main opposition. “Labour had the chance to block Theresa May’s hard Brexit, but chose to sit on their hands. Tonight there will be families fearful that they are going to be torn apart and feeling they are no longer welcome in Britain. Shame on the government for using people as chips in a casino, and shame on Labour for letting them,” he said.

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We can be independent, but you can not.

Theresa May Rejects Scotland’s Demand For New Independence Vote (G.)

Theresa May has faced down Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum on Scottish independence, accusing the SNP leader of “tunnel vision” and rejecting her timetable for a second vote. The prime minister said that the Scottish leader’s plan to hold a second referendum between the autumn of 2018 and spring 2019 represented the “worst possible timing,” setting the Conservative government on a collision course with the administration in Holyrood. The first minister’s intervention had been timed a day ahead of when May had been predicted to trigger article 50, but No 10 later indicated that it would not serve notice to leave the EU until the end of the month. The confirmation of the later date, in the aftermath of the speech, fuelled speculation the prime minister had been unnerved by Sturgeon.

Buoyed by three successive opinion polls putting support for independence at nearly 50/50, Sturgeon said that she had been left with little choice than to offer the Scottish people, who voted to remain in the EU, a choice at the end of the negotiations of a “hard Brexit” or living in an independent Scotland. “The UK government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement. Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence,” the first minister said, claiming that any pretence of a partnership of equal nations was all but dead. Downing Street denied that it had ever planned to fire the starting gun on Brexit this week, but critics pointed out that ministers had failed to deny the widespread suggestion in media reports over the weekend. The Guardian understands that May will now wait until the final week of March to begin the process, avoiding a clash with the Dutch elections and the anniversary of the Rome Treaty, and giving the government time to seek consensus in different parts of the country.

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This should be so obvious, and implemented in law everywhere. It already is in France.

‘1st In Canada’ Supermarket Donation Plan Aids Food Banks, Tackles Waste (G.)

Supermarkets in Quebec will now be able to donate their unsold produce, meat and baked goods to local food banks in a program – described as the first of its kind in Canada – that also aims to keep millions of kilograms of fresh food out of landfills. The Supermarket Recovery Program launched in 2013 as a two-year pilot project. Developed by the Montreal-based food bank Moisson Montréal, the goal was to tackle the twin issues of rising food bank usage in the province and the staggering amount of edible food being regularly sent to landfills. Provincial officials said the pilot – which last year saw 177 supermarkets donate more than 2.5m kg of food that would have otherwise been discarded – would now begin expanding across the province.

“The idea behind it is: ‘Hey, we’ve got enough food in Quebec to feed everybody, let’s not be throwing things out,’” Sam Watts, of Montreal’s Welcome Hall Mission, which offers several programs for people in need, told Global News on Friday. “Let’s be recuperating what we can recuperate and let’s make sure we get it to people who need it.” Recent years have seen food bank usage surge across Canada, with children making up just over a third of the 900,000 people who rely on the country’s food banks each month. In Quebec, the number of users has soared by nearly 35% since 2008, to about 172,000 people per month.

The program’s main challenge was in developing a system that would allow products such as meat and frozen foods to be easily collected from grocers and quickly redistributed, said Watts. “There is enough food in the province of Quebec to feed everybody who needs food. Our challenge has always been around management and distribution,” he added. “Supermarkets couldn’t accommodate individual food banks coming to them one by one by one.” More than 600 grocery stores across the province are expected to take part in the program, diverting as many as 8m kg of food per year.

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Austerity. Germans can now buy Greek homes on the cheap. Insane.

Stock Of Properties Conceded To The Greek State Or Confiscated Grows (G.)

The austerity measures introduced by the government are forcing thousands of taxpayers to hand over inherited property to the state as they are unable to cover the taxation it would entail. The number of state properties grew further last year due to thousands of confiscations that reached a new high. According to data presented recently by Alpha Astika Akinita, real estate confiscations increased by 73 percent last year from 2015, reaching up to 10,500 properties. The fate of those properties remains unknown as the state’s auction programs are fairly limited. For instance, one auction program for 24 properties is currently ongoing. The precise number of properties that the state has amassed is unknown, though it is certain they are depreciating by the day, which will make finding buyers more difficult.

Financial hardship has forced many Greeks to concede their real estate assets to the state in order to pay taxes or other obligations. Thousands of taxpayers are unable to pay the inheritance tax, while others who cannot enter the 12-tranche payment program are forced to concede their properties to the state. Worse, the law dictates that any difference between the obligations due and the value of the asset conceded should not be returned to the taxpayer. The government had announced it would change that law, but nothing has happened to date. Property market professionals estimate that the upsurge in forfeiture of inherited property will continue unabated in the near future as the factors that have generated the phenomenon, such as high unemployment, the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) etc, remain in place.

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Oct 302016
 
 October 30, 2016  Posted by at 11:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing The White House kitchen, Washington DC 1909

Democrats Should Ask Clinton To Step Aside (Kass)
FBI Still Does Not Have Warrant To Review New Abedin Emails (Yahoo)
DOJ Officials Warned FBI’s Comey About Sending Letter on Clinton Emails (WSJ)
Huma Abedin ‘Doesn’t Know How Emails Wound Up On Husband’s Computer’ (WaPo)
Clinton Hid Email Scandal From Her Own Staff (WE)
The First 100 Days Of A Trump White House: Sea Change (AFP)
Finland’s Millionaire Premier Freezes Pay in Bid to Save Economy (BBG)
Iceland Pirate Alliance Falls Short Of Majority (G.)
Mark Carney Could Quit His Bank of England Role Within Days (DM)
Turkey Fires Another 10,000 Civil Servants In Post-Coup Purge (AFP)
Erdogan Says Turkey Soon Will Bring Back Death Penalty (AP)
UK Taxpayers Will Pick Up Costs Of Hinkley Nuclear Waste Storage (G.)
The Broken Promise of Genetically Modified Crops (NY Times)

 

 

Make that ALL Clintons.

Democrats Should Ask Clinton To Step Aside (Kass)

Has America become so numb by the decades of lies and cynicism oozing from Clinton Inc. that it could elect Hillary Clinton as president, even after Friday’s FBI announcement that it had reopened an investigation of her emails while secretary of state? We’ll find out soon enough. It’s obvious the American political system is breaking down. It’s been crumbling for some time now, and the establishment elite know it and they’re properly frightened. Donald Trump, the vulgarian at their gates, is a symptom, not a cause. Hillary Clinton and husband Bill are both cause and effect. FBI director James Comey’s announcement about the renewed Clinton email investigation is the bombshell in the presidential campaign. That he announced this so close to Election Day should tell every thinking person that what the FBI is looking at is extremely serious.

This can’t be about pervert Anthony Weiner and his reported desire for a teenage girl. But it can be about the laptop of Weiner’s wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and emails between her and Hillary. It comes after the FBI investigation in which Comey concluded Clinton had lied and been “reckless” with national secrets, but said he could not recommend prosecution. So what should the Democrats do now? If ruling Democrats hold themselves to the high moral standards they impose on the people they govern, they would follow a simple process: They would demand that Mrs. Clinton step down, immediately, and let her vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, stand in her place.

Democrats should say, honestly, that with a new criminal investigation going on into events around her home-brew email server from the time she was secretary of state, having Clinton anywhere near the White House is just not a good idea. Since Oct. 7, WikiLeaks has released 35,000 emails hacked from Clinton campaign boss John Podesta. Now WikiLeaks, no longer a neutral player but an active anti-Clinton agency, plans to release another 15,000 emails. What if she is elected? Think of a nation suffering a bad economy and continuing chaos in the Middle East, and now also facing a criminal investigation of a president. Add to that congressional investigations and a public vision of Clinton as a Nixonian figure wandering the halls, wringing her hands.

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I read about this before but couldn’t get it verified when writing my article yesterday. But it’s apparently true: the DOJ may deny the FBI a warrant to look into the emails. They should try. Meanwhile, I wrote the article this morning: James Comey, American Hero.

FBI Still Does Not Have Warrant To Review New Abedin Emails (Yahoo)

When FBI Director James Comey wrote his bombshell letter to Congress on Friday about newly discovered emails that were potentially “pertinent” to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, agents had not been able to review any of the material, because the bureau had not yet gotten a search warrant to read them, three government officials who have been briefed on the probe told Yahoo News. At the time Comey wrote the letter, “he had no idea what was in the content of the emails,” one of the officials said, referring to recently discovered emails that were found on the laptop of disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under investigation for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.

As of Saturday night, the FBI was still in talks with the Justice Department about obtaining a warrant that would allow agency officials to read any of the newly discovered Abedin emails, and therefore was still in the dark about whether they include any classified material that the bureau has not already seen. “We do not have a warrant,” a senior law enforcement official said. “Discussions are under way [between the FBI and the Justice Department] as to the best way to move forward.” That Comey and other senior FBI officials were not aware of what was in the emails – and whether they contained any material the FBI had not already obtained – is important because Donald Trump’s campaign and Republicans in Congress have suggested that the FBI director would not have written his letter unless he had been made aware of significant new emails that might justify reopening the investigation into the Clinton server.

But a message that Comey wrote to all FBI agents Friday seeking to explain his decision to write the controversial letter strongly hinted that investigators did not not yet have legal authority establishing “probable cause” to review the content of Abedin’s emails on Weiner’s electronic devices.

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“FBI officials were also concerned that if they didn’t act, the information might leak out anyway, in a less controlled manner”. Again, see James Comey, American Hero.

DOJ Officials Warned FBI’s Comey About Sending Letter on Clinton Emails (WSJ)

Justice Department officials warned FBI Director James Comey that his letter to Congress about newly discovered emails potentially related to an investigation of Hillary Clinton would contradict the department’s long-established election policy, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Comey acted “independently” when he decided to send the letter, the people said. The FBI is reviewing newly obtained emails linked to its previously closed investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information as secretary of state. Friday’s announcement came just days before voters to go to the polls to choose a new president.

Before the letter was sent, the FBI told senior Justice Department officials what Mr. Comey planned to do, and those officials warned that doing so would contradict the department’s rules against taking steps that could influence—or be seen as trying to influence—an election, these people said. Mr. Comey, however, decided it was better to share the information rather than face possibly greater criticism for keeping quiet until after the election, according to the people familiar with the discussions. FBI officials were also concerned that if they didn’t act, the information might leak out anyway, in a less controlled manner, these people said.

[..] The emails in question were found during the search of a device in the FBI probe of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, who is being investigated for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to a minor. Many of the emails were discovered on a laptop used by both Ms. Abedin and Mr. Weiner, according to people familiar with the matter. In searching the laptop, investigators found thousands of emails, and they determined earlier this week that some of the emails involved Ms. Abedin discussing work issues. Authorities haven’t yet determined how many emails involved such work discussions or if any of those included classified information, these people said. They also haven’t determined if the work emails in question are copies of messages already reviewed by the FBI.

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Should be start to feel pity for here? Abused both at work and at home?

Huma Abedin ‘Doesn’t Know How Emails Wound Up On Husband’s Computer’ (WaPo)

Top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin has told people she is unsure how her emails could have ended up on a device she viewed as her husband’s computer, the seizure of which has reignited the Clinton email investigation, according to a person familiar with the investigation and civil litigation over the matter. The person, who would not discuss the case unless granted anonymity, said Abedin was not a regular user of the computer, and even when she agreed to turn over emails to the State Department for federal records purposes, her lawyers did not search it for materials, not believing any of her messages to be there.

That could be a significant oversight if Abedin’s work messages were indeed on the computer of her estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is under investigation for allegedly exchanging lewd messages with a 15-year-old girl. So far, it is unclear what — if any — new, work-related messages were found by authorities. The person said the FBI had not contacted Abedin about its latest discovery, and she was unsure what the bureau had discovered. According to federal law enforcement officials, investigators found thousands of messages on Weiner’s computer that they believe to be potentially relevant to the separate, Clinton email investigation. How they are relevant — or if they are significant in any respect — remains unknown.

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If/when the entire story gets out, we’re not going to believe it. Or rather, that his person ran for/became president.

Clinton Hid Email Scandal From Her Own Staff (WE)

Hillary Clinton’s closest aides hid the private email scandal from her campaign team in the months before the official launch of her presidential campaign, emails made public by WikiLeaks show. Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, and Neera Tanden, co-chair of Clinton’s transition team, each expressed shock at the revelations about her private server as they emerged in early March 2015. Although Clinton’s team had performed research on her in 2014 as staff prepared for her campaign, Clinton’s inner circle apparently steered Mook and others away from the issue until it was too late. When Podesta asked Mook if he had “any idea of the depth of this story,” Mook answered simply, “Nope.”

“We brought up the existence of emails in reserach [sic] this summer but were told that everything was taken care of,” Mook added in his email reply. Although how Mook approached the emails with researchers in 2014 is not entirely clear, the exchange provides more evidence that Clinton’s team set up her server with the intent to conceal emails from the Freedom of Information Act given their expectation that she would run again for president. In an email to Podesta in July 2015, Tanden hinted that the results of an upcoming CNN poll would likely show Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary opponent, ahead among Democratic voters. “Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?” Tanden joked. “Like whole thing is f***g insane.”

Podesta said their party would have to be “suicidal” to consider nominating Sanders over Clinton. A number of the emails obtained illegally form Podesta’s inbox and published in 20 batches by WikiLeaks have exposed the Clinton campaign’s struggle to confront the controversy over Clinton’s private server. A few days after stories about Clinton’s personal email use broke for the first time, Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton aide, admitted “there is just no good answer” to questions about her server. Later, Tanden pressed Podesta on why Clinton’s team did not disclose their private emails months earlier in order to avoid such a massive distraction around the time of her campaign kickoff. “[I] guess I know the answer,” Tanden said. “[T]hey wanted to get away with it.”

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And now for something completely different.

The First 100 Days Of A Trump White House: Sea Change (AFP)

Donald Trump believes he will score a “tremendous” victory on November 8. If he does, the Republican presidential candidate has indicated he will bring vast change in America during his first 100 days in office. At a recent campaign rally in North Carolina, he promised “a very busy first day,” adding: “The change will begin my first day in office.” The 70-year-old Manhattan real estate mogul, who insists the country suffers from a “rigged” political system, has pledged to “make America great again” with two key ideas: jumpstarting the economy and bolstering national security. He is certainly not without ideas. Trump offered a list of them on October 22 in his own “Gettysburg address” at the same place where Abraham Lincoln tried to unite a divided nation during the Civil War in 1863.

From the first day, Trump has pledged in his “revolutionary Contract with the American Voter” to renegotiate NAFTA and withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He plans to lift restrictions on producing fossil fuels, relaunch the Keystone XL oil pipeline project put on hold by President Barack Obama, and cancel billions of dollars in payments to UN climate change programs. The billionaire will work to “begin removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.” He would “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and carry out “extreme vetting” of those seeking to enter the country. “Our campaign represents the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime,” he said.

Trump has also vowed to “drain the swamp” of what he sees as systemic corruption in Washington – impose term limits on members of Congress, freeze federal hiring and ban lawmakers and White House staff from becoming lobbyists for five years. He also has promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action” undertaken by Obama. Despite his tense ties with the Republican Party, which for now controls both houses of Congress, Trump says he will work with lawmakers to introduce and pass legislation that would see at least 25 million jobs created in a decade.

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The dark days are coming to the north.

Finland’s Millionaire Premier Freezes Pay in Bid to Save Economy (BBG)

The Nordic region’s only euro member is still struggling with austerity. After being stripped of its top AAA credit grade at all three major ratings companies, the government is asking Finns to tighten their belts to keep up with the Germans and the Swedes, who are more productive exporters. Failure to do so will jeopardize Finland’s path away from economic limbo and growing indebtedness, the government warns. Prime Minister Juha Sipila, a self-made millionaire who won elections last year on pledges to reinvigorate Finland’s ailing post-Nokia economy, says exports are the key to economic success. But that requires Finns to produce more without getting more pay if the nation is to close a competitiveness gap as wide as 15 percent relative to its main trading partners.

“We’re behind our main competitor countries,” Sipila said in an interview in Helsinki on Wednesday. “Our problem is that exports are lagging and that growth relies on domestic demand.” But if the economy is to recover, “exports should become the growth motor again.” Finland has been trapped in a low-growth cycle since exiting a series of economic contractions in 2015. Its once dominant paper industry has succumbed to the advent of digital media. The poster child of its consumer technology boom, Nokia Oyj, sold its handset unit off to Microsoft in 2013 after failing to see the potential of smart phones. And the economic crisis in Russia, with whom Finland shares the EU’s longest border, has battered trade.

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Maybe not that bad if they get some more time to learn the ropes.

Iceland Pirate Alliance Falls Short Of Majority (G.)

With about 80% of votes counted, the Pirates, founded four years ago by a group of activists, anarchists and former hackers, and their three left-of-centre partners held 27 seats – five short of a majority in the country’s 63-seat parliament. The Independence party won nearly 30% of the vote, significantly more than pre-election polling had predicted, and with its coalition partner of the past three years, the Progressive party, looks set to end up with 29 seats. “I cannot deny that if the results stay this way … it would be natural that we are a leading party in the next government,” said the leader of the Independence party, Bjarni Benediktsson, one of the its 21 MPs. In a campaign dominated by widespread public discontent with the country’s traditional elites and desire for political reform, the Independence party pledged to lower taxes and keep Iceland’s economic recovery on track.

The preliminary results mean the seven MPs from the newly established, liberal Regeneration party, which split from the Independence party over the issue of Europe earlier this year, could be kingmakers – making coalition negotiations more tricky than usual. Riding a wave of public anger at what many see as endemic political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, the Pirates had been predicted to score as high as 20% and possibly even become Iceland’s largest party. But the party’s co-founder, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an activist, poet and former WikiLeaks collaborator, said it was satisfied with the result, which saw it finish second equal on more than 14% of the vote and with 10 MPs – more than three times as many as in the previous 2013 elections.

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Britain is ruled by vile allegations wherever you look. ‘He never seems to want to recognize the result of the referendum and get on with it. It looks like he is a sore loser.’

Mark Carney Could Quit His Bank of England Role Within Days (DM)

Mark Carney’s days as Governor of the Bank of England appear to be numbered amid rumours he could resign within days. The Canadian – who has been a controversial figure since the Brexit vote as many of his ‘Project Fear’ predictions are yet to materialise – could elect to return to his homeland next year due to family reasons. A decision will be made before the end of the year and could be announced at the Bank’s quarterly inflation report next Thursday. Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Treasury Select Committee member and one of Dr Carney’s most outspoken critics, has been touted as a potential replacement, according to Bloomberg.

Mr Rees-Mogg said earlier this month: ‘On every occasion he wants to talk down the economy and find doom and gloom, which doesn’t seem to me to be the job of the governor of the Bank of England. ‘He never seems to want to recognize the result of the referendum and get on with it. It looks like he is a sore loser.’ Just days ago, Dr Carney delivered a stark warning in the House of Lords that interfering with the independence of the Bank of England could send sterling into a fresh tailspin. In an apparent dig at Theresa May, the governor said markets had ‘taken note’ when politicians criticised monetary policy in the past.

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I lost count, I must admit. How they keep the country going, no idea.

Turkey Fires Another 10,000 Civil Servants In Post-Coup Purge (AFP)

Turkish authorities have fired over 10,000 additional civil servants as the government presses a crackdown over the failed July coup, the official gazette said. A total of 10,131 government employees were removed, mainly from the education, justice and health ministries, according to announcements published late Saturday. The government also announced the closure of 15 pro-Kurdish and other media outlets. University rector elections have also been suspended, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set to pick the winners from a pool of candidates selected by the nation’s education authority. The moves came three months after the government declared a state of emergency following a failed bid by a rogue faction of the army to oust Erdogan. More than 35,000 people have been arrested since then, and many dozens of teachers, police officers and judges have either been suspended or fired.

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Blood and circus.

Erdogan Says Turkey Soon Will Bring Back Death Penalty (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the government will soon submit a bill to Parliament to reinstate the death penalty amid calls for the execution of the plotters of a failed coup in July. Addressing crowds in Ankara on Saturday, Erdogan said he would ratify such a bill once it passed despite any objections it might spark in the West. Erdogan made the comments in response to public chants calling for the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union. Erdogan said: “Soon, our government will bring (the bill) to Parliament…It’s what the people say that matters, not what the West thinks.”

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Excuse me, but does this surprise anyone? It’s what’s going to happen everywhere, no matter what any ‘leader’ says.

UK Taxpayers Will Pick Up Costs Of Hinkley Nuclear Waste Storage (G.)

Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year. The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – in its previous incarnation as the Department for Energy and Climate Change – resisted repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the documents which were submitted to the European commission.

“The government has attempted to keep the costs to the taxpayer of Hinkley under wraps from the start,” said Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist. “It’s hardly surprising as it doesn’t look good for the government’s claim that they are trying to keep costs down for hardworking families.” But, earlier this month, on the very last day before government officials had to submit their defence against an appeal for disclosure of the information, the department released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”

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OK, now kick ’em out. It’s taken far too long already.

The Broken Promise of Genetically Modified Crops (NY Times)

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides. The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise. An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides. One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21%. By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater %age – 65% – and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36%.

The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design – weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany – and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer. “These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.” The industry is winning on both ends – because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half.

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Oct 102016
 
 October 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies in St. Louis 1910

Bank of America Has A Recession Warning That’s Downright ‘Scary’ (CNBC)
The Truly Scary Clowns: Central Bankers (Forsyth)
Far From Stepping Back, Top Central Banks Are Set To Double Down (R.)
The World Bank and the IMF Won’t Admit Their Policies Are The Problem (G.)
China Must Wean Itself Off Debt Addiction To Avoid Financial Calamity-IMF (Tel.)
China Fixes Yuan at Six-Year Low Against the U.S. Dollar (WSJ)
Iceland, Where Bad Bankers Go to Jail, Finds Nine Guilty in Historic Case (CD)
Pound’s Pounding Helped U.K. Absorb Brexit Shock (WSJ)
A Mile-High House Of Cards (IM)
Oil Prices Fall Over Doubts That Non-OPEC Producers Will Cut Output (R.)
Pentagon Spent Half a Billion On Fake Al-Qaeda Propaganda Videos (Ind.)
Russia Says US Actions Threaten Its National Security (R.)

 

 

“.. if they follow the current trends they’re on, we’re going to hit a recession sometime in the second half of next year.”

Bank of America Has A Recession Warning That’s Downright ‘Scary’ (CNBC)

There’s a chilling trend in the market, and it could wreak havoc on your portfolio, a top market watcher said. “We are seven years into a full-fledged, all out, central bankers doing everything they can to stimulate demand,” Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy Savita Subramanian recently warned on CNBC’s “Fast Money.” “We looked at all of these indicators that have been pretty good at forecasting recessions and we extrapolated that if they follow the current trends they’re on, we’re going to hit a recession sometime in the second half of next year.” The most unsettling thing is that this recession risk isn’t discounted into the market at these levels, according to Subramanian.

The S&P is 1.8% away from its intraday all-time high of 2,193.81, hit on August 15. Subramanian’s year-end 2016 S&P 500 price target is 2000, about seven% lower than where it’s trading today. And, if she’s right, it’s about to get a lot worse next year. “What scares me is the market been so fragile. So, remember what happened in January? We got a whiff of bad news and all of the sudden the market is at 1800,” she said—a move that augured poorly for the near-term. “I think that speaks to the reaction function of the market. There are a lot of itchy trigger fingers. There’s lot of violent trades that can really roil a fairly complacent environment.”

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Nice metaphor. Could be used for Trump and Hillary too.

The Truly Scary Clowns: Central Bankers (Forsyth)

At a Grant’s Interest Rate Observer conference last week, Jeffrey Gundlach, DoubleLine’s CEO, commented on the growing belief that interest rates will “never” rise. When it’s said that something can “never” happen, it’s about to happen, he argued. Zero or negative interest rates are doing more harm than good, he continued, with the long decline in the stock of Deutsche Bank being an example. You can’t help the economy by bankrupting the banks, he contended, which is the effect of shrinking their net interest earnings. For these and other reasons, Gundlach suggested, the lows in bond yields were seen in the post-Brexit plunge in the 10-year Treasury to 1.36%, a hair under the nadir of 1.38% touched in 2012. (Some data providers have slightly different numbers, but they’re as close as “damn it” is to swearing.)

The more important inference is that major trend changes are at hand. As described by Bank of America Merrill Lynch global investment strategists led by Michael Hartnett, we may be witnessing “peak liquidity.” That is, the era of excess liquidity from central banks is ending, which is consistent with shifts in ECB and BOJ policies, the U.K. Prime Minister May’s criticism of QE, and the likelihood of a Fed interest-rate hike in December. In addition, the BofA ML strategists also point to “peak inequality,” which would spur fiscal actions, such as greater spending and income redistribution. Finally, they see “peak globalization,” as populism counters the “disinflationary free movement of capital, trade and labor.”

The sum is “peak returns” from financial assets, the BofA ML team concludes. In that scenario, they recommend “Main Street over Wall Street” for 2017, including small-capitalization stocks and commodities, real assets (including collectibles and real estate) over financial ones, and banks over capital markets. In particular, they suggest a shift from bond proxies, including utilities, telecoms, real estate investment trusts, and low-volatility stocks. These sectors, it should be noted, had tough times last week. Investors who have tilted strongly toward these investments, which have benefited from historically low interest rates, have been laughing all the way to the bank. In the future, they may be spooked by those creepy clowns, otherwise known as less-friendly central bankers.

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What happens in one way streets and dead alleys.

Far From Stepping Back, Top Central Banks Are Set To Double Down (R.)

Central banks’ repeated warnings that there are limits to what they can do to bolster the sputtering world economy could suggest they are about to pull back and pass the baton to governments. But a steady flow of research and a new tone in the debate among policymakers and advisers points in a different direction: rather than retreat, central banks are preparing for the day they may need to do more, even at the risk of antagonizing politicians who argue they already have too much power. The shift can be seen in the acknowledgment by Federal Reserve policymakers that their massive $4 trillion balance sheet will not shrink anytime soon, or that asset buying may become a “recurrent” tool of future monetary policy.

It can be seen in the comments of Bank of England officials who talk of crisis-fighting tools as now semi-permanent fixtures, or in the Bank of Japan developing a new monetary policy framework, in this case targeting long-term market interest rates. Driving those developments is an emerging consensus among policymakers who now acknowledge that the global financial crisis has led to a fundamental shift toward low inflation, tepid growth, lagging productivity and interest rates stuck near zero. “We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth and recurrent reliance on unconventional monetary policy,” Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said last week.

For years, Federal reserve and other policymakers have discounted such a scenario, arguing that temporary factors were slowing the recovery and plotting a return to conventional pre-crisis policies. Over the past months, though, that optimism has given way to an admission that such a return is increasingly elusive. Interest rates are set to stay low far longer than thought only a year ago and jumbo balance sheets accumulated through crisis-era asset purchases are now cast as a possibly permanent tool. At the annual Jackson Hole Fed conference in August the discussion had shifted from the mechanics and timing of “normalization,” to how and whether to expand the central bank footprint yet again.

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They don’t talk to people telling them that.

The World Bank and the IMF Won’t Admit Their Policies Are The Problem (G.)

The World Bank, IMF and WTO can sense that they are sitting on the edge of a volcano that could blow at any time. They fear, rightly, that a second big crash within a decade would create a backlash leading to protectionism and the rise of dark political forces that would be difficult, if not impossible, to control. That there are ingredients for a fresh crisis became apparent at various stages last week. According to the IMF, global debt has risen to a record level of $152tn – more than double global GDP – at a time when activity is sluggish. Collapsing commodity prices and weak demand from the west has meant that growth in sub-Saharan Africa is running at half the level of population increases. Companies in the emerging world loaded up on debt during the commodity boom and are vulnerable to rising US interest rates and any softening of the world economy. China is the most egregious example of debt being used to boost activity artificially.

The argument that rising debt is fine, because on the other side of ledger is an asset increasing in value, is specious. The only reason the assets are rising in price is because investors are taking on more debt to buy them. At some point, the asset bubble bursts, leaving borrowers with a major problem. This was the lesson of the sub-prime crisis and it is remarkable that memories are so short. The next big one could come from anywhere and it is good that the World Bank and IMF are aware of the risks. Even so, there was an air of unreality about the discussions in Washington last week. The reason was simple: there was not the slightest hint from the IMF or World Bank that the policies they advocated during the heyday of the so-called Washington consensus – austerity, privatisation and financial liberalisation – have contributed to weak and unequal growth, with all the political discontent that this has caused.

Even worse, Lagarde and Kim seemed oblivious to the fact that the Washington consensus approach is alive and well within their organisations. The IMF’s remedy for Greece and Portugal during the eurozone crisis has been straight out of the structural adjustment playbook: reduce public spending, cut salaries and benefits, insist that state-owned enterprises return to the private sector, reduce minimum wages and restrict collective bargaining. Between them, the IMF and the European authorities are turning Greece into a developing country. It would be fascinating to see what sort of response Lagarde would get if she tried talking about inclusive growth to homeless people huddled on the streets of Athens.

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The IMF will pressure China now it’s in the basket. New meaning to ‘basket case’.

China Must Wean Itself Off Debt Addiction To Avoid Financial Calamity-IMF (Tel.)

China is edging towards “financial calamity” and must wean itself off its debt addiction and reform if it is to avoid a crisis, the IMF has warned. Markus Rodlauer, deputy director of the IMF’s Asia-Pacific department, said the world’s second largest economy was approaching a tipping point where its rapidly growing financial sector and surge in shadow credit could undermine the state’s ability to contain the fallout from a crash. “The level of financial and corporate debt and the complexity of the financial system and rapid growth in shadow banking is on an unsustainable path,” he said. “While still manageable in its size given the size of the public assets under public control, the trend is dangerous and if it’s not corrected it will lead to a correction.

“The longer it lasts … the more serious the disturbance and the disruption might be. [The reaction could range] from a mild growth slowdown, to a sharp slowdown in growth to potentially a financial crisis.” Data show credit and financial sector leverage in China has continued to rise much faster than economic growth. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook said debt in China was rising at a “dangerous pace”, while its Financial Stability Report showed small Chinese banks were heavily exposed to shadow credit as a share of capital buffers, with exposure reaching nearly 600pc at some banks. Mr Rodlauer, who served as the IMF’s China’s mission chief for five years, said stronger trade ties and financial linkages between China and other countries meant the impact of a hard landing on the global economy could also be huge.

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Been in the SDR basket for 10 days, and already there’s this.

China Fixes Yuan at Six-Year Low Against the US Dollar (WSJ)

The Chinese yuan was guided toward a six-year low against the U.S. dollar on Monday, as the country’s markets returned after a weeklong holiday. In onshore trading, the currency was on track for its biggest one-day loss against the U.S. dollar since the Brexit in June. The yuan entered the basket of currencies backing the IMF’s special drawing rights, an international reserve currency, on Oct. 1. The PBOC set its daily reference rate for the yuan at 6.7008 against the U.S. dollar, a depreciation of 0.3% from its last fixing of 6.6778 on Sept. 30, before the National Day holiday. Monday’s fixing was the weakest level for the currency since September 2010.

Onshore, where the yuan is allowed to trade within 2% of the PBOC’s central reference point, the currency traded 0.5% weaker at 6.7032 in early trade. Offshore, the yuan traded 0.1% weaker at 6.7106. Many markets in Asia, including the largest offshore-yuan trading center in Hong Kong, are closed for a holiday Monday. The past week was characterized by volatility in foreign-exchange markets, including a flash crash in the British pound that saw it lose more than 6% shortly after 7 a.m. Hong Kong time Friday before recovering later in the trading day. The U.S. dollar, which accounts for about a quarter of the value of the basket of currencies the yuan tracks, has strengthened during the period.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks its strength against a basket of six currencies, is up 1.1% so far this month. The weakness in the yuan fix reflects data released during the past week, including a faster-than-expected drawdown of $18.79 billion in China’s foreign-currency reserves during September, said Alex Wijaya, senior sales trader at CMC Markets. “For the past year, the Chinese government has been intervening in the currency and this has depleted some of its foreign-exchange reserves, and this could be one of the main contributions to the weakness in the yuan,” he said. “The U.S. dollar has been strengthening as well.”

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Unlike the rest of the western world, Iceland had no austerity, but it did introduce capital controls and it did go after bankers.

Iceland, Where Bad Bankers Go to Jail, Finds Nine Guilty in Historic Case (CD)

Iceland, which became a gold standard for corporate accountability in the wake of its 2008-2011 financial crisis, has found nine bankers guilty for market manipulation in one of the biggest cases of its kind in the country’s history. The verdict from Iceland’s Supreme Court, issued Thursday, overturns a June 2015 decision by the Reykjavik District Court, which found seven of the nine defendants guilty and acquitted two. No punishment has been handed down yet, although sentencing is set to come. The defendants worked at the major international firm Kaupthing Bank until it was taken over by the Icelandic government during the crash.

The bank’s former director Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, who had been sentenced to five and a half years in 2013 in a separate Kaupthing case, had his punishment extended by six months in response to the verdict. The acquittals were overturned for former Kaupthing credit representative Björk Poraninsdottir and former Kaupthing Luxembourg CEO Magnuse Gudmondson, although no penalties have been meted out for them. According to the Iceland Monitor, the decision found that “[b]y fully financing share purchases with no other surety than the shares themselves, the bankers were accused of giving a false and misleading impression of demand for Kaupthing shares by means of deception and pretense.”

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“..suffering Brexit’s pain through the currency may be more comfortable than through higher unemployment or other ills..”

Pound’s Pounding Helped UK Absorb Brexit Shock (WSJ)

When the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in June, the pound took its worst beating in half a century. Many economists saw that as a good thing. Despite the shock of Brexit, more than three months later there are few tangible signs of economic distress in Britain: Employment is steady. The stock market has held up. Government bonds are strong. Houses are still being bought and sold. Consumers are still consuming. Credit, say economists, goes in large part to the decline of the British pound, which has acted as a giant shock absorber against Brexit. It fell 11% against the dollar in two trading days after the vote, and after another sudden slump last week is now down 16%. Seen from abroad, British people are one-sixth poorer and their economy is one-sixth smaller.

In the past week, figures from the IMF suggest, Britain has slid from the world’s fifth-largest economy to sixth, behind its millennium-old rival France. But suffering Brexit’s pain through the currency may be more comfortable than through higher unemployment or other ills—a luxury that wasn’t available to eurozone countries during the currency bloc’s debt crisis. Over the longer term, economic wisdom holds that a weaker currency will boost a nation’s sales abroad, so what the economy loses in the form of lower consumption—because consumers are poorer—will be recovered through higher exports. “It is important that you have a live release valve like this,” said Tim Haywood, an investment director at GAM Holding.

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Italy pre-referendum.

A Mile-High House Of Cards (IM)

According to Webster’s Dictionary, an economic depression is “a period of time in which there is little economic activity and many people do not have jobs.” Italy has had virtually no productive growth since it joined the euro in 1999. Today, the Italian economy (real GDP per person) is smaller than it was at the turn of the century. That’s almost two decades of economic stagnation. The economy today is 10% smaller than it was before its peak prior to the 2008 financial crisis. More than 25% of Italy’s industry has been lost since then. Unemployment is around 12%. Youth unemployment is around 36%. And these are only the official government statistics, which almost certainly understate the true numbers.

The IMF predicts it will take at least until 2025 for the Italian economy to return to its 2008 peak. Since nobody can accurately predict what’s going to happen next year, let alone nine years from now, the IMF is basically saying it has no idea how or when the Italian economy could ever recover. The mass media and establishment economists don’t dare call it a depression. But a depression it is. Italy’s populist Five Star Movement—or M5S, as it’s known by its Italian acronym—is now the country’s most popular political party. M5S blames Italy’s economic malaise squarely on the euro. I’d say a large plurality of Italians agree, and they have a point. They claim that, under the euro, Italian industry and exports have become uncompetitive. M5S believes a return to the lira could be the remedy.

Prior to joining the euro, Italy would regularly post large trade surpluses with Germany. Since joining, it has posted large trade deficits. Because of Italy’s structural economic problems, it should have a significantly weaker currency. But since Italy is wrapped in the euro straightjacket, it gets monetary conditions that are far too tight than appropriate for the country. [..] The Italian economy is made up of many small and medium-sized businesses. Those businesses have taken out loans from Italian banks. But as the economy is in a depression, many of those loans have gone bad or will go bad. This has created a crisis in the Italian banking system. It took years to build up, but now the situation is coming to a head. The Italian banking system is insolvent, and now everyone knows it. Shares of Italian banks have plummeted more than 50% so far this year.

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No need to doubt: rest assured it’s not going to happen.

Oil Prices Fall Over Doubts That Non-OPEC Producers Will Cut Output (R.)

Oil prices fell on Monday over doubts that an OPEC-led plan to cut output would rein in a global oversupply that has dogged markets for over two years. Brent crude futures were trading at $51.53 per barrel at 0511 GMT, down 40 cents or 0.77%, from their last settlement. WTI futures were down 44 cents or 0.88%, at $49.37 a barrel. OPEC plans to agree on an output cut by the time it meets in late November. The targeted range is to cut production to a range of 32.50 million barrels per day (bpd) to 33.0 million bpd. OPEC’s current output stands at a record 33.6 million bpd. To achieve such an agreement among its members, some of which like Saudi Arabia and Iran are political rivals, OPEC officials are embarking on a flurry of meetings in the next six weeks, starting in Istanbul this week.

However, analysts cautioned about too high expectations about the Istanbul talks this week. “A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC producers (namely Russia) will add to oil headlines this week. Don’t expect a firm agreement from Russia, but headlines about cooperation are likely,” Morgan Stanley said on Monday. “It’s also worth noting that Iraq and Iran oil ministers will not be in attendance,” the U.S. bank added. Even if a deal is reached, analysts are unconvinced it would result in much higher prices, as doubts run high over the feasibility of a cut among rivaling members, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. Pouring cold water on expectations, OPEC’s second biggest producer Iraq said over the weekend that it wants to raise output further in 2017.

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“The CDs were encoded to open the videos on RealPlayer software that connects to the Internet when it runs. It would issue an IP address that could then be tracked by US intelligence. ”

Pentagon Spent Half a Billion On Fake Al-Qaeda Propaganda Videos (Ind.)

A former contractor for a UK-based public relations firm says that the Pentagon paid more than half a billion dollars for the production and dissemination of fake Al-Qaeda videos that portrayed the insurgent group in a negative light. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that the PR firm, Bell Pottinger, worked alongside top US military officials at Camp Victory in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War. The agency was tasked with crafting TV segments in the style of unbiased Arabic news reports, videos of Al-Qaeda bombings that appeared to be filmed by insurgents, and anti-insurgent commercials – and those who watched the videos could be tracked by US forces.

The report of Bell Pottinger’s involvement in the video hearkens back to more than 10 years ago, when the Washington-based PR firm Lincoln Group was revealed to have produced print news stories and placed them in Iraqi newspapers. According to the Los Angeles Times, who obtained the 2005 documents, the stories were intended to tout the US-led efforts in Iraq and denounce insurgent groups. Bell Pottinger was first tasked by the interim Iraqi government in 2004 to promote democratic elections. They received $540m between May 2007 and December 2011, but could have earned as much as $120m from the US in 2006. Lord Tim Bell, a former Bell Pottinger chairman, confirmed the existence of the contract with the Sunday Times.

The Pentagon also confirmed that the agency was contracted under the Information Operations Task Force, but insisted that all material distributed was “truthful”. However, former video editor Martin Wells, who worked on the IOTF contract with Bell Pottinger, said they were given very specific instructions on how to produce the fake Al-Qaeda propaganda films. “We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use Al-Qaeda’s footage,” Mr Wells told the Bureau, recalling the instructions he received. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.” According to Mr Wells’ account, US Marines would then take CDs containing the videos while on patrol, then plant them at sites during raids. “If they’re raiding a house and they’re going to make a mess of it looking for stuff anyway, they’d just drop an odd CD there,” he said.

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Russis will not back down.

Russia Says US Actions Threaten Its National Security (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday he had detected increasing U.S. hostility towards Moscow and complained about what he said was a series of aggressive U.S. steps that threatened Russia’s national security. In an interview with Russian state TV likely to worsen already poor relations with Washington, Lavrov made it clear he blamed the Obama administration for what he described as a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties. “We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia,” Lavrov told Russian state TV’s First Channel. “It’s not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security.”

With relations between Moscow and Washington strained over issues from Syria to Ukraine, Lavrov reeled off a long list of Russian grievances against the United States which he said helped contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust that was in some ways more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War. He complained that NATO had been steadily moving military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders and lashed out at Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis. He also said he had heard that some policy makers in Washington were suggesting that President Barack Obama sanction the carpet bombing of the Syrian government’s military air fields to ground its air force. “This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets,” said Lavrov.

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Aug 132016
 
 August 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 13 2016
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Harris&Ewing Red Cross Motor Corps, Washington, DC 1917

The Central Bank Bubble And The Suspension Of Reality (CNBC)
US Farmland Bubble Bursts As Ag Credit Conditions Crumble (ZH)
China Property Oversupply Dampens Growth Outlook (R.)
IMF Says China’s Credit Growth Is Unsustainable (R.)
Negative Rates Reduce Japan Big Banks’ Profits By $2.96 Billion (R.)
Airing The IMF’s Dirty European Laundry (Eichengreen)
UK Treasury To Guarantee Post-Brexit Funding For EU-Backed Projects (G.)
The Scandalous Changes To Company Pension Schemes (G.)
Is Deutsche Bank Kaputt? (Dowd)
Polls Suggest Iceland’s Pirate Party May Form Next Government (G.)
An Incredibly Simple Idea To Help The Homeless (WaPo)

 

 

There are no markets and there are no investors.

The Central Bank Bubble And The Suspension Of Reality (CNBC)

In the middle of a prolonged period of negative real interest rates and loose monetary policy aimed at managing inflation and helping economies, fears are rising that asset bubbles are being created. “We’ve lost our way so we look to central banks, who give us massively loose monetary policy and that’s the little bubble we’re living in,” David Bloom, head of currency strategy at HSBC, told CNBC. New records are constantly being set in the markets, with Thursday’s close of the S&P, up 0.47 percent at 2,185.79, yet another new top. This is happening despite low productivity and growth in the U.S. economy. Analysts at UBS see “scope for the markets to run further still over the near-term” because of central banks’ policies in the developed world.

And it’s not just their own economies which are being helped by these actions. Emerging markets are benefitting too, as investors search for better returns on their money than in the low-growth developed economies and safe havens like U.K. bonds (gilts) and U.S. bonds (Treasurys). “All markets are running – that’s what happens when you have ultra-loose monetary policy and the central banks are handing over money,” Bloom said. “QE distorts markets completely.” Asset classes which are usually closely correlated have lost their usual connections. Examples include cash and equities, both at record highs despite one usually being strong while the other is weak, and oil and gold, which usually move together as they are both pegged to the U.S. dollar, but have diverged as investors pile in to gold.

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Falling land ‘value’ is one thing, falling income is another.

US Farmland Bubble Bursts As Ag Credit Conditions Crumble (ZH)

Aside from a brief pause during the “great recession” of 2009, Midwest farmland prices have been bubbling up for over a decade with annual price increases of 15%-30% in many years. Private Equity and low interest rates no doubt played a role in creating the farmland bubble as “excess cash on the sidelines” sought out investments in hard assets. No matter the cause, data continues to indicate that the farmland bubble is bursting. 2Q 2016 agricultural updates from the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis indicate continued income, credit and farmland price deterioration for Midwest farmers. Lender surveys also suggest that as many as 30% of Midwest farmers are having problems paying loan balances.

Declining asset values and incomes have also caused banks to tighten lending standards which has only served to accelerate the decline. In Kansas’ 10th District (which includes MO, OK, KS, NE), values of non-irrigated and irrigated cropland declined 3% and 5%, respectively, in 2Q 2016. In fact, 2Q 2016 marks the 6th consecutive quarter of YoY declines for irrigated cropland values. Between 2002 to 2014, the value of both irrigated and non-irrigated cropland declined in only one other time in 3Q 2009. Farmland prices in Chicago’s 7th District (IL, IN, IA, MI, WI) paint a similar picture. Before price declines in 2014 and 2015, farmland prices in the 7th District had only declined YoY in 4 other years since 1965.

Respondents to the Tenth District Survey of Agricultural Credit Conditions indicated farm income in the quarter continued to tighten. Nearly 75% of surveyed bankers reported farm income was less than a year ago, although the% of bankers that reported weaker farm income declined slightly from the first quarter (Chart 1). Respondents also noted that agricultural producers continued to reduce capital and household spending as profit margins generally remained weak. Bankers also indicated they expect farm income to remain weak in the third quarter. Similar to last year, a significant number of bankers in each District state expect farm income in the third quarter to be less than a year earlier.

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Whack-a-mole Beijing-style.

China Property Oversupply Dampens Growth Outlook (R.)

Growth in China’s property investment slowed over January to July, even as the government scrambled to balance an increasingly stratified sector, clouding the outlook for China’s economic expansion in the second half of the year. Property investment in January-July rose 5.3% from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Friday, slowing from an increase of 6.1% in January-June, while property sales by floor area grew 26.4%, down from 27.9%. Some analysts believe an oversupply problem still remains largely unresolved, especially in China’s smaller cities. “Today’s data shows that a nation-wide oversupply problem still exists, which will continue putting downward pressure on future growth,” Wendy Chen, macroeconomist at Nomura told Reuters.

China’s property sector had a hot start to the year after slowing in 2015, as monetary easing and stimulus measures took effect. However, the upward trend in investment and sales is proving to be unsustainable, as more first and second tier cities adopt stiffer measures to dampen fast-rising prices, while smaller Chinese cities struggle to clear overhanging housing inventory. Home price gains also have started to slow, as cities start to tighten policies amid signs of overheating in the largest cities. With property investment growth losing momentum and private investment growth remaining stubbornly sluggish, China’s economic growth outlook for the second half looks increasingly gloomy. “China’s property sector is extremely unbalanced, which leads to more control in overheated first and second tier cities while less developed third and fourth tier cities are struggling to clear inventory,” said Liao Qun, chief economist at CITIC Bank International.

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“..non-financial state-owned enterprises accounted for half of bank credit but only a fifth of industrial output..”

IMF Says China’s Credit Growth Is Unsustainable (R.)

The IMF on Friday said China needed to slow its unsustainable credit growth and stop financing weak firms. China’s corporate debt is still manageable, but at approximately 145% of GDP, it is high by any measure,” said James Daniel, IMF Mission Chief for China, in the fund’s annual review of the country. The IMF has urged China to tackle the root causes of its credit growth risk by easing back on unsustainably high growth targets and lax budget constraints, particularly on local governments and state-owned enterprises. “This in turn requires a comprehensive strategy and decisive measures to address the corporate debt problem,” the IMF’s Daniel said.

China’s non-financial state-owned enterprises accounted for half of bank credit but only a fifth of industrial output, the report said, suggesting non-viable SOEs be liquidated and viable ones restructured. Defaults and downgrades have increased and around 14% of debt was held by firms with profit levels below their interest payments, the report said, with credit growth growing twice as fast as nominal GDP. The report reflected views provided by Chinese policymakers who agreed with the IMF that corporate debt had increased “excessively”. However, they argued China’s large pool of domestic savings, banking system buffers, and continued equity market development would ensure a smooth adjustment, the report said.

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Stuffed.

Negative Rates Reduce Japan Big Banks’ Profits By $2.96 Billion (R.)

Japan’s financial watchdog estimates that negative interest rates under the Bank of Japan’s monetary easing policy will reduce profits for the country’s three big banks by at least 300 billion yen ($2.96 billion) for the year through March 2017, the Nikkei business daily reported on Saturday. The Financial Services Agency (FSA) expressed concern to the BOJ regarding the situation as it sees reduced profits weakening the banks’ ability to extend loans, the Nikkei said. If the BOJ was to take interest rates deeper into negative terrain, the agency reckoned that the banks would suffer substantial further drops in profit as their interest rate income would suffer.

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Discussing IMF ‘mistakes’ without paying attention to the victims is dishonest.

Airing The IMF’s Dirty European Laundry (Eichengreen)

[..] the report goes on to criticise the IMF for acquiescing to European resistance to debt restructuring by Greece in 2010; and for setting ambitious targets for fiscal consolidation – necessary if debt restructuring was to be avoided – but underestimating austerity’s damaging economic effects. More interestingly, the report then asks how the IMF should coordinate its operations with regional bodies such as the European commission and the ECB, the other members of the so-called troika of Greece’s official creditors. The report rejects claims that the IMF was effectively a junior member of the troika, insisting that all decisions were made by consensus.

That is difficult to square with everything we know about the fateful decision not to restructure Greece’s debt. IMF staff favoured restructuring, but the European commission and the ECB, which put up two-thirds of the money, ultimately had their way. He who has the largest wallet speaks with the loudest voice. In other words, there are different roads to “consensus”. The Fund encountered the same problem in 2008, when it insisted on currency devaluation as part of an IMF-EU program for Latvia. In the end, it felt compelled to defer to the EU’s opposition to devaluation, because it contributed only 20% of the funds.

The implication is that the IMF should not participate in a programme to which it contributes only a minority share of the finance, but expecting it to provide majority funding implies the need to expand its financial resources. This is something that the IEO report evidently regarded as beyond its mandate – or too sensitive – to discuss. Was the ECB even on the right side of the table in the European debt discussions? When negotiating with a country, the IMF ordinarily demands conditions of its government and central bank. In its programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, however, it and the central bank demanded conditions of the government. This struck more than a few people as bizarre.

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What you can do when you have your own currency.

UK Treasury To Guarantee Post-Brexit Funding For EU-Backed Projects (G.)

Philip Hammond is to guarantee billions of pounds of UK government investment after Brexit for projects currently funded by the EU, including science grants and agricultural subsidies. The chancellor’s funding commitment is designed to give a boost to the economy in what he expects to be a difficult period after the surprise result of the EU referendum in June. The Treasury is expected to continue its funding beyond the UK’s departure from the EU for all structural and investment fund projects, as long as they are agreed before the autumn statement. If a project obtains EU funding after that, an assessment process by the Treasury will determine whether funding should be guaranteed by the UK government post-Brexit.

Current levels of agriculture funding will also be guaranteed until 2020, when the Treasury says there will be a “transition to new domestic arrangements”. Universities and researchers will have funds guaranteed for research bids made directly to the European commission, including bids to the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, an €80bn (£69bn) pot for science and innovation. The Treasury says it will underwrite the funding awards, even when projects continue post-Brexit. Hammond said the government recognised the need to assuage fears in industry and in the science and research sectors that funding would be dramatically reduced post-Brexit.

“We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive,” he said. “The government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020, providing certainty to our agricultural community, who play a vital role in our country.” The chancellor added: “We are determined to ensure that people have stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU and that we use the opportunities that departure presents to determine our own priorities.”

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You cannot taper a Ponzi scheme.

The Scandalous Changes To Company Pension Schemes (G.)

A man in his 40s receives a pension projection that tells him his retirement income is going to collapse from the £38,000 he was expecting to £18,000. His company is having to find a sum equal to 45% of his salary to keep the pension scheme going, a crucifying amount for any employer, and the costs will keep on spiralling. It says it has no choice but to slash the scheme to ribbons. This is the sort of dilemma facing the workers, and bosses, of Royal Mail and the Post Office. Strike action is looming – and quite rightly too, because the cuts are equivalent to someone losing £200,000 or even £300,000 over the course of their retirement.

We are about to enter a new era of trench warfare over pensions. The early battles were easy victories for the employers. They decided to close their final-salary schemes to new entrants, but existing workers were protected and were able to carry on chalking up their entitlement to, let’s face it, rather generous retirement payouts. Nobody seemed to care too much about the millennials who were missing out on what their parents took for granted. Next came the more thorny shift from paying out pensions based on final salaries at age 60 or 65 to cheaper ones based on a “career average” salary. Again the employers won, but it was more bruising.

But now we’re moving into far more dangerous territory. The employers have begun to target existing workers, many in their 40s and 50s, who are in these career average schemes, saying: “You can keep what you’ve built up so far, but nothing beyond that.” In pensions terminology it’s called stopping “future accruals”; Royal Mail, the Post Office and Marks & Spencer are all considering it. To these companies it’s a foregone conclusion. They can’t possibly afford 45% of salary as a pension contribution, or in M&S’s case 34%. The snarky retort is that they’ll always find the money to pay silly sums into their chief executive’s pension, but not for the workers.

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This is just the last paragraph of another long and detailed piece by Kevin Dowd on Deutsche.

Is Deutsche Bank Kaputt? (Dowd)

So what’s next for the world’s most systemically dangerous bank? At the risk of having to eat my words, I can’t see Deutsche continuing to operate for much longer without some intervention: chronic has become acute. Besides its balance sheet problems, there is a cost of funding that exceeds its return on assets, its poor risk management, its antiquated IT legacy infrastructure, its inability to manage its own complexity and its collapsing profits — and thepeak pain is still to hit. Deutsche reminds me of nothing more than a boxer on the ropes: one more blow could knock him out. If am I correct, there are only three policy possibilities. #1 Deutsche will be allowed to fail, #2 it will be bailed-in and #3 it will be bailed-out.

We can rule out #1: the German/ECB authorities allowing Deutsche to go into bankruptcy. They would be worried that that would trigger a collapse of the European financial system and they can’t afford to take the risk. Deutsche is too-big-to-fail. Their preferred option would be #2, a bail-in, the only resolution procedure allowed under EU rules, but this won’t work. Authorities would be afraid to upset bail-in-able investors and there isn’t enough bail-in-able capital anyway. Which consideration leads to the policy option of last resort — a good-old bad-old taxpayer-financed bail-out. Never mind that EU rules don’t allow it and never mind that we were promised never again. Never mind, whatever it takes.

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“.. it also aims to boost the youth vote by persuading the company developing Pokémon Go in Iceland to turn polling stations into Pokéstops.”

Polls Suggest Iceland’s Pirate Party May Form Next Government (G.)

One of Europe’s most radical political parties is expected to gain its first taste of power after Iceland’s ruling coalition and opposition agreed to hold early elections caused by the Panama Papers scandal in October. The Pirate party, whose platform includes direct democracy, greater government transparency, a new national constitution and asylum for US whistleblower Edward Snowden, will field candidates in every constituency and has been at or near the top of every opinion poll for over a year. As befits a movement dedicated to reinventing democracy through new technology, it also aims to boost the youth vote by persuading the company developing Pokémon Go in Iceland to turn polling stations into Pokéstops.

“It’s gradually dawning on us, what’s happening,” Birgitta Jonsdottir, leader of the Pirates’ parliamentary group, told the Guardian. “It’s strange and very exciting. But we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist.” The election, likely to be held on 29 October, follows the resignation of Iceland’s former prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who became the first major victim of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he had millions of pounds of family money offshore. In the face of some of the largest protests the small North Atlantic island had ever seen, the ruling Progressive and Independence parties replaced Gunnlaugsson with the agriculture and fisheries minister, Sigurdur Johansson, and promised elections before the end of the year.

Founded four years ago by a group of activists and hackers as part of an international anti-copyright movement, Iceland’s Pirates captured five per cent of the vote in 2013 elections, winning three seats in the country’s 63-member parliament, the Althingi. “Then, they were clearly a protest vote against the establishment,” said Eva Heida Önnudóttir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland who compares the party’s appeal to Icelandic voters to that of Spain’s Podemos, or Syriza in Greece. “Three years later, they’ve distinguished themselves more clearly; it’s not just about protest. Even if they don’t have clear policies in many areas, people are genuinely drawn to their principles of transforming democracy and improving transparency.”

Propelled by public outrage at what is widely perceived as endemic cronyism in Icelandic politics and the seeming impunity of the country’s wealthy few, support for the party – which hangs a skull-and-crossbones flag in its parliamentary office – has rocketed. A poll of polls for the online news outlet Kjarninn in late June had the Pirates comfortably the country’s largest party on 28.3%, four points clear of their closest rival, Gunnlaugsson’s conservative Independence party. That lead has since narrowed slightly but most analysts are confident the Pirates will return between 18 and 20 MPs to the Althingi in October, putting them in a strong position to form Iceland’s next government.

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“One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.”

An Incredibly Simple Idea To Help The Homeless (WaPo)

Republican Mayor Richard Berry was driving around Albuquerque last year when he saw a man on a street corner holding a sign that read: “Want a Job. Anything Helps.” Throughout his administration, as part of a push to connect the homeless population to services, Berry had taken to driving through the city to talk to panhandlers about their lives. His city’s poorest residents told him they didn’t want to be on the streets begging for money, but they didn’t know where else to go. Seeing that sign gave Berry an idea. Instead of asking them, many of whom feel dispirited, to go out looking for work, the city could bring the work to them.

Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed. In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment. “You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Berry said in an interview.

”They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.” Berry’s effort is a shift from the movement across the country to criminalize panhandling. A recent National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty report found a noticeable increase, with 24% of cities banning it altogether and 76% banning it in particular areas. There is a persisting stigma that people begging for money are either drug addicts or too lazy to work and are looking for an easy handout. But that’s not necessarily the reality. Panhandling is not especially lucrative and it’s demoralizing, but for some people it can seem as if it’s the only option. When panhandlers have been approached in Albuquerque with the offer of work, most have been eager for the opportunity to earn money, Berry said. They just needed a lift. One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.

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Jun 092016
 
 June 9, 2016  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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G. G. Bain Temporary footpath, Manhattan Bridge 1908

Everything’s a Buy as Central Banks Keep on Greasing Markets (BBG)
Draghi Starts Buying Junk Bonds, “Means Business” (BBG)
FinMin: Greece In ECB’s QE Program By This Fall (Kath.)
Europe Junk Borrowers Rush to Refinance Before Brexit Vote (BBG)
China’s Factory-Gate Deflation Eases Somewhat (BBG)
Chinese Trade Data Lies Exposed -Again- (ZH)
Cheap Oil Will Weigh On Global Economy, Says World Bank (G.)
Gulf Nations Must Cut Deficits to Keep Currency Pegs, IMF Says (BBG)
Hedge Funds’ Fast Money Not Welcome as Iceland Bolsters Defenses (BBG)
Britain’s Defiant Judges Fight Back Against Europe’s Imperial Court (AEP)
Greek Asylum Service Starts Process Of Recording Applications (Kath.)
Erdogan’s Draconian New Law Demolishes Turkey’s EU Ambitions (G.)

As per the apt title of my article yesterday, ‘the only thing that grows is debt’. Markets need price discovery to function, but right now it’s everyone’s biggest fear. “Oil at 8-month high!”

Everything’s a Buy as Central Banks Keep on Greasing Markets (BBG)

Misery is making strange bedfellows in global markets. At a time when risky assets including stocks, commodities, junk bonds and emerging-market currencies are rallying to multi-month highs, so are the havens, from gold, government bonds to the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen. No matter that the U.S. labor market is deteriorating and the World Bank has just cut its estimates for global economic growth. Investors either don’t believe the news is bad enough to kill a global recovery that’s already long in the tooth, or they’re betting that sluggishness in some of the biggest economies means central banks will stay more accommodative for longer.

“Everything is being driven by high liquidity that ultimately is being provided by central banks,” Simon Quijano-Evans at Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest lender, said in London. “It’s an unusual situation that’s a spill over from the 2008-09 crisis. Fund managers just have cash to put to work.” For much of the time since the financial meltdown eight years ago, investors have been in the mindset that bad economic data is good news for markets. The near-zero interest-rate policies by major central banks – and negative borrowing costs in Japan and some European nations – have pushed traders to grab anything that offers yield. And every indication that the liquidity punch bowl will stay in place is greeted by markets with a cheer.

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Paraphrasing Springsteen: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem not one bit funny.”

Draghi Starts Buying Junk Bonds, “Means Business” (BBG)

Since a surprise interest-rate cut at his first meeting as ECB President, Mario Draghi has shown a penchant for pushing the envelope. The bank’s entry into the corporate bond market on Wednesday was no exception: buying bonds with junk ratings. Purchases on the first day included notes from Telecom Italia, according to people familiar with the matter, who aren’t authorized to speak about it and asked not to be identified. Italy’s biggest phone company has speculative-grade ratings at both Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings. The company’s bonds only qualifies for the central bank’s purchase program because Fitch Ratings ranks it at investment grade.

By casting his net as wide as the program allows, Draghi ensured that the first day of corporate bond purchases made an impact. While the ECB has said it would buy bonds from companies with a single investment-grade rating, investors expected the central bank to start with the region’s highest-rated securities. “It’s been an aggressive start to the program,” said Jeroen van den Broek at ING Groep in Amsterdam. “The wide-reaching nature of the purchases shows Draghi means business.” [..] Telecom Italia’s bonds are in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Euro High Yield Index and credit-default swaps insuring the notes against losses are part of the Markit iTraxx Crossover Index linked to companies with mostly junk ratings.

Moody’s and S&P have ranked Telecom Italia one level below investment grade, at Ba1 and an equivalent BB+ respectively, since 2013. Fitch puts the company at the lowest investment-grade rating and only revised its outlook on that level to stable from negative in November. “This dispels any doubts investors may have had about the commitment of the ECB and the central banks to tackle lower-rated names,” said Alex Eventon at Oddo Meriten Asset Management. “Telecom Italia is firmly at the weak end of the spectrum the ECB can buy.”

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I’ll have to see it to believe it. Draghi buys everything not bolted down, but not Greece.

FinMin: Greece In ECB’s QE Program By This Fall (Kath.)

Greece will enter the ECB’s quantitative easing (QE) program “soon,” Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday. However, the Greek government’s optimism is not shared by banking sources and analysts, who estimate that Greece’s inclusion in ECB Governor Mario Draghi’s bond-buying program will be tied to the successful completion of the second bailout review in the fall, as well as the progress in talks on settling the problem of the Greek national debt.

In his interview Tsakalotos went as far as to say that Greece will join the QE program by September, stressing that such a development would open the way for the lifting of the capital controls and the gradual restoration of investor trust. He also said that the ECB will start accepting Greek bonds as collateral for loans after Athens completes the July debt repayments to Frankfurt. “I feel confident the Greek bonds will be eligible” by September, he predicted. He also forecast that once Greece enters the QE program, depending also on the decisions on the country’s debt, “you can take Grexit off the table,” referring to the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. “Then you have a straight runway for investors,” he added in the same optimistic spirit.

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Draghi’s got your back, guys.

Europe Junk Borrowers Rush to Refinance Before Brexit Vote (BBG)

Junk-rated companies in Europe are hurrying to refinance debt, locking in borrowing costs at one-year lows amid concerns that a U.K. referendum on EU membership will paralyze markets. Leveraged-loan borrowers are poised to raise more money in euros this week for refinancing than in the whole of May, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The amount amassed for repaying old debt from selling high-yield bonds is on track to be equal to about two-thirds of comparable sales last month. Companies including Altice and Verisure Holding have entered the market as the start of corporate-bond purchases by the ECB on Wednesday has driven down borrowing costs across the continent.

The window may prove short-lived as banks including Goldman Sachs have said a June 23 vote in favor of a Brexit could roil European markets and endanger economic growth. “It’s possible that uncertainty will rise as we approach the Brexit referendum,” said Colm D’Rosario at Pioneer Investment Management. “Issuers won’t want to wait until then.” Companies may sell about €2.5 billion of leveraged loans and at least €2.6 billion of high-yield bonds for refinancing this week, the Bloomberg data show.

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The new reality: “..raw-material producer prices fell 7.2%, less than the prior month’s 7.7% decline..” And what does BBG call this? Yes, that’s right: “Firmer producer prices..”

China’s Factory-Gate Deflation Eases Somewhat (BBG)

Deflationary pressures in China’s industries eased further in May, while consumer price gains continued to be subdued enough to offer the central bank scope for more easing if needed. Amid a drive by the Communist Party leadership to cut excess capacity, producer prices fell 2.8%, the least since late 2014 and less than the 3.2% decline economists had estimated in a Bloomberg survey. The consumer price index rose 2% from a year earlier, less than the median forecast of 2.2%. Easing factory-gate deflation is the latest signal of stabilization after more than four years of falling producer prices. Tepid consumer price gains may allow the People’s Bank of China, which has kept interest rates at a record low since October, room to add further stimulus in the short term to help prop up growth.

“The deflationary threat has substantially diminished,” said Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Hong Kong. “Domestic demand has stabilized so we don’t see a strong upward pressure either. We still think the PBOC will remain moderately accommodative.” [..] Mining and raw-materials producer prices slumped less in May than the previous month, though still recorded the biggest declines. Mining producer goods fell 9.6% last month, versus a 13% drop in April, while raw-material producer prices fell 7.2%, less than the prior month’s 7.7% decline, the statistics bureau reported.

“Firmer producer prices reflect a combination of factors,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a note. “Commodity prices are a big part of the picture, with oil and iron ore both down less sharply than in 2015. So, too, is slightly more resilient domestic demand. Capacity utilization remains extremely low in historical comparison, but has ticked up over the last few months.”

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Different version of the graph I posted yesterday with the comment: “Where would China’s imports be without the fake invoices?”

Chinese Trade Data Lies Exposed -Again- (ZH)

If March’s 116.5% surge in China imports from Hong Kong didn’t raise eyebrows as the veracity of the trade data, then perhaps following last night’s data drop, this month’s 242.6% explosion year-over in China imports from Hong Kong must at minimum deserve a second glance. As Bloomberg’s Tom Orlik previously noted, the implausible 242.6% YoY surge screams that China is clearly disguising capital flows… Trade mis-invoicing as a way to hide capital flows remains a factor. In the past, over-invoicing for exports was used as a way to hide capital inflows. The latest data show the reverse phenomenon, with over-invoicing of imports as a way of hiding capital outflows. Does this look “real”?

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Yes, that’s right. Cheap oil is now bad, all of a sudden. Who could have thought? Oh wait, me.

Cheap Oil Will Weigh On Global Economy, Says World Bank (G.)

Global growth will slow this year as oil exporters in the developing world struggle to cope with lower energy prices, the World Bank has said in its half-yearly economic health check. The benefit of cheaper oil prices for Europe, Japan and other oil importing nations, which has sustained their growth through 2015 and 2016, has failed to offset a slowdown in parts of Africa, Asia and South America that depend on selling energy to sustain their incomes. In one of the gloomiest predictions by an international forecaster, the bank said the effect of the collapse in oil income on developing countries would restrict global growth to 2.4% this year, well down on its January forecast of 2.9%.

In the UK the growth rate will be restricted to 2% this year and 2.1% in 2017 and in 2018. The US will also stabilise at about 2% annually for the next couple of years, while the eurozone will expand at a more modest 1.6% in 2016 and in 2017 before slipping to 1.5% in 2018. The tumbling price of metals and food on world markets last year hit emerging and developing economies without triggering a significant rise in spending by richer countries. The Washington-based bank, which lends more than £25bn a year to developing countries, said weaker global trade, a downturn in private and public investment and a slump in manufacturing added to the woes of economies that have become dependent on high oil prices to bolster growth.

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They all pray for growing demand. There won’t be any.

Gulf Nations Must Cut Deficits to Keep Currency Pegs, IMF Says (BBG)

Gulf oil exporters must cut spending and narrow their budget shortfalls to keep their currencies pegged to the dollar, the IMF said. While substantial foreign assets have allowed the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to fix the value of their currencies to the greenback, keeping the status quo comes at a price as lower crude prices strain public finances, the lender said in a report titled “Learning to Live with Cheaper Oil.” “When a country faces prolonged fiscal and external deficits, policy adjustment must come from fiscal consolidation measures,” the IMF said in the report authored by Martin Sommer, deputy chief of its regional studies division. Maintaining the currency pegs “will require sustained fiscal consolidation through direct expenditure cutbacks and non-oil revenue increases,” it said.

As investors increased bets that currency fixes may become too expensive to maintain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia renewed their commitment to their pegs – with the latter also said to ban betting against its currency. Gulf oil producers’ budgets swung from surplus to deficit as Brent crude fell by as much as 75% from June 2014 to January this year, before a partial recovery in recent months. Even after cutting spending, the combined budget gap in the GCC region – which also includes Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – as well as Algeria is expected to reach $900 billion for the period 2016-2021, and represent 7% of their gross domestic product in the final year, the IMF said. Their debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise to 45% in 2021 from 13% last year as governments issue debt to plug their budget gaps.

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Iceland’s learned a lesson or two.

Hedge Funds’ Fast Money Not Welcome as Iceland Bolsters Defenses (BBG)

Iceland has gone its own way since its three largest lenders collapsed in 2008 under a mountain of debt almost eight times the size of its economy. The steps included capital controls that locked in hedge funds, mortgage writedowns and throwing bankers in jail. With the recovery well under way, the island nation – once a hedge fund paradise – is continuing on its isolated path. Lawmakers have effectively outlawed the kind of trade that inflated the bubble a decade ago, protecting against a repeat. Surrounded by sub-zero interest rates, Iceland’s benchmark gauge of 5.75%, the highest in the developed world, is luring cash from abroad. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.

“The problem is the ability to have an independent monetary policy and an independent monetary policy means the ability to have a different interest rate than the rest of the world,” central bank Governor Mar Gudmundsson said on Monday. “If that’s not possible, then you can’t have an independent monetary policy. And the problem of very significant interest rate differential – interest rates in Iceland are higher than the rest of the world – will not disappear overnight.” Both geographically and financially Iceland is a small island in vast, turbulent waters. Under the law enacted last week, the central bank over the weekend set rules that will force investors in Icelandic bonds to keep 40% of their investments in a 0% account for a year. That will limit the profit to be made from investing in Iceland, where government bonds offer yields of more than 6%.

Those type of returns are tempting in a world of near zero and even negative key rates. As evidence, the Icelandic krona has strengthened this year even as the central bank has been selling the currency to build up foreign holdings as it prepares to lift the capital controls that have been in place since 2008. But the country may have seen nothing yet, according to the governor. The new rules are a “precautionary” measure to stifle any major flows after the controls are lifted, he said. “There have been certain inflows in the last few months,” he said. “We thought there was a possibility of much greater inflows going forward, especially if the auction goes well and we take further steps to liberalize the capital account and the economy is booming and interest rates are high.”

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As I’ve said many times, the EU is made up of sovereign countries, and they’re not going to give up their sovereignty, not a single one of them.

Britain’s Defiant Judges Fight Back Against Europe’s Imperial Court (AEP)

The British judiciary has begun to draw its sword. For the first time since the European Court asserted supremacy and launched its long campaign of teleological conquest, our own judges are fighting back. It is the first stirring of sovereign resistance against an imperial ECJ that acquired sweeping powers under the Lisbon Treaty, and has since levered its gains to claim jurisdiction over almost everything. What has emerged is an EU supreme court that knows no restraint and has been captured by judicial activists – much like the US Supreme Court in the 1970s, but without two centuries of authority and a ratified constitution to back it up. This is what the Brexit referendum ought to be about, for this thrusting ECJ is in elemental conflict with the supremacy of Parliament. The two cannot co-exist. One or the other must give.

It is the core issue that has been allowed to fester and should have been addressed when David Cameron went to Brussels in February to state Britain’s grievances. It was instead brushed under the carpet. The explosive importance of Lisbon is not just that it enlarged the ECJ’s domain from commercial matters (pillar I), to broad areas of defence, foreign affairs, immigration, justice and home affairs, nor that this great leap forward was rammed through without a referenda – after the French and the Dutch had already rejected it in its original guise as the European Constitution. Lisbon also made the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally-binding. As we have since discovered, that puts our entire commercial, social, and criminal system at the mercy of the ECJ.

The Rubicon was crossed in Åklagaren v Fransson, a VAT tax evasion case in non-euro Sweden. The dispute had nothing to do with the EU. The Charter should come into force only when a country is specifically applying EU law. The ECJ muscled into the case on the grounds that since VAT stems from an EU directive, Sweden was therefore operating “within the scope of EU law”. This can mean anything, and that is the point. To general consternation, it ruled that Sweden had violated the double-jeopardy principle of Article 50 of the Charter. Almost nothing is safe when faced with a court like this, neither the City of London, nor our tax policies or labour laws, nor even our fiscal and monetary self-government. The ECJ can strike down almost any law it wants, with no possibility of appeal.

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The EU slowly but surely forces Greece to take in 10s of 1000s of refugees on a -much more- permanent basis. But Erdogan can send a million more.

Greek Asylum Service Starts Process Of Recording Applications (Kath.)

Greece’s asylum service on Wednesday launched a new scheme for processing registrations from migrants who want to apply for asylum in the country, a process that could take up to a year for many of the applicants, according to sources. The “recognition documents” issued to migrants to date will have their validity extended to cover a year. Many of the documents held by migrants in camps across the country have expired as they apply for six months for Syrians and just one month for all other nationalities.

Once the migrants have been registered, they will be issued with a yellow bracelet bearing their name and other personal details. The registration document and bracelet will grant each migrant the right to legal residence in Greece and access to free healthcare but will not give them permission to work in Greece which must be sought separately. The applicants will be informed by SMS about their interview, according to an official of Greece’s asylum service who said the interview could take place several months after their application “due to the large population of refugees in the country.”

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Got the feeling he’s just getting started.

Erdogan’s Draconian New Law Demolishes Turkey’s EU Ambitions (G.)

Any chance Turkey could join the EU by 2020, as Brexit campaigners have asserted, went up in smoke on Wednesday after the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signed a draconian new law that in effect demolishes any notion that his country is a fully functioning, western-style democracy. EU rules dating to 1993, known as the Copenhagen criteria, insist all applicant states must adhere to a system of democratic governance and uphold other basic principles, such as the rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech, and protection of minorities. Turkey is struggling to meet these standards. The new measures make EU membership even more of a chimera.

They are expected to eviscerate parliamentary opposition to Erdog an’s ruling neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) by allowing politically inspired, criminal prosecutions of anti-government MPs. The main target is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), which Erdog an accuses of complicity in terrorism, although other opposition parties are also affected. By signing the new law, Erdog an, who has dubbed the EU a “Christian club”, has signalled the end of any realistic chance of Turkey joining the union for the foreseeable future. Critics say he may also have sounded the death knell for Turkey’s secular democracy and set the stage for intensified armed conflict with Kurdish groups. Erdogan’s move comes against a backdrop of heightened violence between Turkey’s security forces and militants belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) and its radical offshoots.

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May 292016
 
 May 29, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Matt Black/Magnum Photos USA. El Paso, Texas. 2015

Iceland Puts Freeze on Foreign Investors (WSJ)
Japan’s Abe To Delay Sales Tax Hike Until 2019 (R.)
Fade The Oil Bounce (CNBC)
Trade Deals Going Nowhere (DR)
Schrödinger’s Cat Gets a Playmate (CSM)
The Geography of American Poverty (G.)
Miracle In Athens As Greek Tourism Numbers Keep Growing (Observer)
The EU Has Turned Greece Into a Prison for Refugees (Nation)
13,000 People Rescued In Mediterranean In One Week (G.)
Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank Off Italy With Hundreds Aboard (R.)

Recovering from debt addiction: “We don’t need the money..”

Iceland Puts Freeze on Foreign Investors (WSJ)

Iceland has spent eight years locking down its financial markets to keep foreign investors in. Now some are complaining the island nation is trying to shove them out. A law passed May 22 by Iceland’s parliament offers the foreign holders of about $2.3 billion worth of krona-denominated government bonds a Hobson’s choice: Sell out in June at a below-market exchange rate, or have the money they receive when their bonds mature impounded indefinitely in low-interest bank accounts. Investors, including Boston-based mutual-fund companies Eaton Vance and Loomis Sayles, a unit of Natixis, don’t want to go. They say they will reject the government’s offer. “We would like to stay invested,” said Patrick Campbell, a global bond analyst at Eaton Vance.

The dispute is the result of a wholesale turnaround in Iceland’s relationship with foreign investors. The country became synonymous with financial alchemy after its banks ballooned by borrowing in bond markets and attracting foreign depositors with high interest rates. That system imploded in 2008 when depositors made a run on the banks just as their bonds fell due, causing the krona to sharply devalue against the euro. Yet a growing number of fund managers are now buying Icelandic government bonds, including those that were marooned on the island when it applied capital controls. The country is now one of the few offering a combination of high interest rates and strong economic growth prospects.

Eaton Vance and another holder of the legacy debt, also called “offshore” debt, hedge fund Autonomy Capital LP, have been courting the government for months to allow them to keep their cash on the island, even offering to swap their holdings into long-term bonds that they would pledge to hold on to.But the country isn’t interested. Instead, officials behind the law say they aim to keep the $16.7 billion economy of the island with a population of 327,386 from being swamped anew by the ebb and flow of offshore funds. “We don’t need the money,” said Mar Gudmundsson, governor of Iceland’s central bank. “These are remnants from the last boom and bust, and we are not going to repeat that mistake.”

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“..Japan “must reignite powerfully the engine of Abenomics”..”

Japan’s Abe To Delay Sales Tax Hike Until 2019 (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to delay an increase in sales tax by two and a half years, a government official said on Sunday, as the economy sputters and Abe prepares for a national election. Abe told Finance Minister Taro Aso and the secretary general of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Sadakazu Tanigaki, on Saturday of his plan to propose delaying the tax hike for a second time, until October 2019, said the official, who was briefed on the meeting. The prime minister, who has promised to announce steps on Tuesday to spur economic growth and promote structural reform, is also expected to order an extra budget to fund stimulus measures, just two months into the fiscal year and on the heels of a supplementary budget to pay for recovery from recent earthquakes in southern Japan.

After chairing a summit of Group of Seven leaders on Friday, Abe said Japan would mobilize “all policy tools” – including the possibility of delaying the tax hike – to avoid what he called an economic crisis on the scale of the global financial crisis that followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. “There is a risk of the global economy falling into crisis if appropriate policy responses are not made,” Abe told a news conference after the summit. To play its part, Japan “must reignite powerfully the engine of Abenomics,” he said, referring to his easy-money policies aimed at getting Japan out of two decades of deflation and fitful growth. Abe has long said he would proceed with a plan to raise the tax rate to 10% from 8% next April unless Japan faced a crisis on the magnitude of the Lehman shock.

He said the G7 “shares a strong sense of crisis” about the global outlook, with the most worrisome risk being a global contraction led by a slowdown in emerging economies like China. Other G7 leaders, however, appeared to differ with Abe on the risk of a global crisis, fuelling comment that Abe was using the G7 to justify delaying the painful tax hike.

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Interesting graph.

Fade The Oil Bounce (CNBC)

This week, oil broke above the key $50 level for the first time since October 2015. Yet rather than interpret the move as a sign to buy, one top technician is warning investors not to chase the rally. “I think it’s all about risk-reward and there’s probably no more important chart right now than the oil chart,” Chris Verrone, a technician at Strategas Research Partners, told CNBC’s “Fast Money” this week. According to Verrone, it’s the steepness of the move that bothers him most. In the past 72 days, oil has moved 20% above its 200-day moving average. “It looks excessive to us, we think there’s a higher likelihood you come back and retest the 200 near 39, 40 bucks,” said Verrone.

Also troubling to Verrone is the fact that while crude has surged to new highs, energy stocks and the Mexican peso — both of which are closely tied to oil — have not made new highs in a month. Energy names have fallen since peaking on April 27, whereas crude has surged 12%. Since peaking back April 29, the peso’s gains are still lagging those in oil. They are up 8% and 33%, respectively, this year. Indeed, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned this week that continued strength in the dollar could trigger a series of knock-on effects that may push crude off its new highs. The bank said a “black swan event” such as Saudi Arabia removing its currency peg could lead to a collapse of Brent crude to as deep as $25 per barrel, and it expects oil prices to average $46 per barrel this year. On Friday, crude ended the session above $49 per barrel.

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Pretty soon exactly zero people outside of the elite will want these deals.

Trade Deals Going Nowhere (DR)

As the politics of this election year heat up, the chances of Congress debating — let alone passing — either of the White House’s marque trade deals continue to melt away. Oh, there’s plenty of talk about the westward-looking Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Euro-centered Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TPP and TTIP, respectively. Most of the yakking, however, flows from Obama Administration officials; nary a word trickles out of Congress. Worse than Capitol Hill silence is the vocal pounding free trade takes when any of Obama’s would-be successors talk trade.

Bernie Sanders, a Democrat by name but socialist by heart, makes it crystal clear that he would rather eat glass than back “free” trade. Hillary Clinton, who three years ago called the TPP “exciting,” “innovative” and “ambitious,” now sees it as an agreement that has “failed to provide the basic safety net support needed” for American workers. Take that as an “innovative” no. And the Donald? He’s against TPP because, as he noted in one Republican debate this spring, “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door … ” China, however, is not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so whatever Trump meant must have been more of a “suggestion” than a fact. Whatever.

[..] Big Ag’s big push for the pending trade deals is understandable, given the two changed realities of today’s election year politics. First, even as we lean on the EU to alter its biotech food rules, the U.S. Senate still can’t agree on how to write a biotech food labeling law here. Members know the tide has turned on labeling; 89 out of 100 Americans want it. Majority Republicans, however, don’t and they continue to search for a way to be anti-labeling without becoming anti-incumbents. Second, not one presidential contender sees free trade as a vote-winning issue. Taken together, it’s hard to see how any trade deal goes anywhere this year. After that, you have to take the word of Hillary or Bernie or Donald. Well, maybe not Donald. Or Hillary. Bernie’s solid, though.

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Entanglement is poorly understood, and poorly explained.

Schrödinger’s Cat Gets a Playmate (CSM)

Schrödinger’s cat is something many of us have heard of, but perhaps fewer actually understand. The idea was first dreamed up by an Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrödinger, who wanted to illustrate the mind-bending nature of quantum mechanics. He created a thought experiment in this world to illustrate the point, which would allow a cat to be both dead and alive in a box at the same time. Now, scientists have added another box. And another cat. And the first cat being dead and alive simultaneously in the first box, so this causes the second cat in the second box to also be dead and alive at the same time. Makes perfect quantum sense, right? “It’s understandable that people don’t understand it,” lead author Chen Wang of Yale University told The Washington Post.

“You can’t understand it using common sense. We can’t either.” But here’s the premise: A cat sits in a box. Alongside the cat, there’s poison. That poison will only be released upon the decay of a radioactive subatomic particle. According to quantum mechanics, and specifically the theory of “superposition,” these particles actually exist in all possible states at the same time – until, that is, someone takes a measurement. At that point, the particle falls into a single, known state. So, the particles could be decaying, and not decaying, simultaneously. As a consequence, the poison is being released – and not released. And so the cat is both dead and alive. Until someone opens the box, of course, and is observed. Then, the cat can’t be doing both things at once.

What Dr. Wang and his team have done is to add another dimension: the concept of “entanglement.” This proposes that two objects can be intimately linked, even if billions of light-years separate them, and any change that happens to one will happen to the other instantaneously, a relationship Einstein once described as “spooky action at a distance.” For our cat, this means, quite simply, that there’s a twin, in another box. And everything that happens to one, happens to the other. In Wang’s experiment, there were no cats, just light. He used two aluminum cavities, each with a wave of light bouncing around inside. The researchers induced such a state so that the light existed in two different wavelengths at the same time, in both boxes.

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‘Poverty Is Often Looked At In Isolation, But It Is An American Problem’

The Geography of American Poverty (G.)


USA. Allensworth, California. 2014. Fence post. Allensworth has a population of 471 and 54% live below the poverty level. Matt Black/Magnum Photos

Last summer Matt Black left the Central Valley of California, where he lives, to travel 18,000 miles across the US on a road trip that took him through 30 states and 70 of the poorest towns in America. The startling image of a hand resting on a fence post against a barren backdrop was taken in the small town of Allensworth, California, where 54% of the population of 471 people live below the poverty level. “California always seemed special and unique in terms of how it symbolised promise and progress,” says Black, 45, during a break in shooting landscapes in Idaho, where he’s working on another stage of the same series, Geography of Poverty. “So it seemed somehow symbolic to begin there and travel east, but what has surprised me is the similarities I have encountered as I travelled from one community to another.

All these diverse communities are connected, not least in their powerlessness. In the mainstream media, poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem. It seems to me that it goes unreported because it does not fit the way America sees itself.” As if to bear this out, Black tells me that the route he took was mapped out in advance using geotagged photographs found online alongside census information to identify the poorest areas. In each instance, the communities he visited were never more than a two-hour drive apart. “I was able to drive from California to the east coast and back without ever leaving these poor areas.” Black’s striking images are on show in a group exhibition, New Blood, at the Magnum Print Room in London…


USA. El Paso, Texas. 2015. El Paso has a population of 649,121 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. Matt Black/Magnum Photos

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More tourists, more refugees.

Miracle In Athens As Greek Tourism Numbers Keep Growing (Observer)

It’s been a busy winter in downtown Athens, where scaffolding, tarpaulins and dust have been symbols of hope: a mini construction boom heralding a tourist renaissance. Nine hotels are being built or restored around the city centre. Their arrival correlates with the huge upturn in holidaymakers visiting the Greek capital since a low point in late 2008, when Athens erupted into riots after the police killing of a teenage boy. “It’s a miracle, what’s been happening in Athens,” Greece’s tourism chief, Andreas Andreadis, told the Observer. “The tourist industry in Greece grew two to three times faster than in Spain, Portugal, Italy or France last year. This year we expect around 4.5 million visitors in Athens alone.”

For an economy stuck in depression-era recession, dependent on emergency bails and seemingly locked in a perpetual fiscal vice, tourism is vital. A record 23.5 million holidaymakers visited Greece in 2015 – generating €14.2bn in direct receipts, or 24% of GDP. In 2010, at the start of the country’s debt crisis – which has seen it struggle to avert default and remain in the euro – revenues from tourism were €10bn, or 15% of GDP. The Greek Tourism Confederation, Sete, is predicting another bumper season for an industry that has long been the single biggest contributor to the economy and job market. Arrivals could reach 25 million (27.5 million including cruise ship passengers), which is more than twice the country’s population. Economic recovery will depend on the sector to a great degree.

Andreadis said: “If we get 1.5 million more visitors it will produce an additional €800m in direct receipts. Such a positive kick that would come in the third and fourth quarters.” Much of the upsurge is linked to Greece’s safety record. Tourists are staying away from resort in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and elsewhere in the wake of high-profile attacks. Countries whose economies are also dependent on holidaymakers have suffered incalculable damage following a severe drop in arrivals. Travel advice from governments and fears of fresh violence are simply keeping tourists away. But other countries’ loss could be Greece’s gain. And it could not come at a better time: tourism provides one in five jobs in Greece, at a time when unemployment in the effectively bankrupt nation has hovered stubbornly around 25%. Youth unemployment stands at an astonishing 67%.

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And Greece has no way of dealing with it.

The EU Has Turned Greece Into a Prison for Refugees (Nation)

In the port-side café before the sun comes up, a group of men are talking. “In the beginning, when there were maybe 40 of them in the boats, all wet, we helped them. Now they’re too many. They steal chickens. They shit in the fields. They threw stones at a woman.” “Do you think it’s chance that they’re all coming here? The NGOs, the whatever they’re called, are making money off it. It’s a plan. A racket.” “Eventually they’ll set off a bomb and sink the island.” “Sink or float, what difference does it make? Are we happy, now we’re floating?” Chios, my grandfather’s island in the northeast Aegean Sea, has become an open-air prison for more than 2,000 refugees. Almost all of them arrived after the March 20 “statement” signed by the EU and Turkey, designed to stop the flow of people from Turkey to the Greek islands and then to mainland Europe.

The statement, which followed the unilateral closure by Central European countries of the western Balkans route, cut time and space like a guillotine, arbitrarily separating those who’d arrived before it from those who landed after, trapping more than 50,000 refugees and migrants in Greece. These late arrivals can’t leave the islands until their cases have been decided by the Greek asylum system, which is overloaded to the point of paralysis. The refugees are supposed to prove not only that they’re at risk in their home country but that they’d be at risk in Turkey, which the EU (but not Greece) considers a “safe third country,” if they want to have their asylum claim heard in Greece. Otherwise, they will be returned to Turkey.

Of the 8,500 women, children, and men who have landed on the islands since the agreement was signed, 400 have been returned so far, some to be detained for weeks without legal representation. About 200 have been granted asylum in Greece. The rest are rotting in overcrowded camps, “hot spots,” and locked detention centers, without information, adequate food, medical care, or security. And the boats from Turkey, though many fewer than before, continue to come in.

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Are we going to keep acting as if this will stop when we simply look away?

13,000 People Rescued In Mediterranean In One Week (G.)

A flotilla of ships saved 668 people from boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, authorities in Italy said, bringing the week’s total of refugees plucked from the sea to 13,000 people. The rescues by the Italian coast guard and navy ships, aided by Irish and German vessels and humanitarian groups, are the latest by a multinational patrol south of the Italian island of Sicily. Warner spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. The Irish military said the vessel Le Roisin saved 123 people from a 12m-long (40-ft) rubber dinghy and recovered a male body. A German ship was involved in four separate rescue operations, the Italian coast guard said on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, with shelters filling up in Sicily, the Italian navy vessel Vega headed toward Reggio Calabria, a southern Italian mainland port, bringing 135 survivors and 45 bodies from a rescue a day earlier. The Vega was due to dock on Sunday. Other survivors who arrived on Saturday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo told authorities they had witnessed a fishing boat filled with“ hundreds” of people sink on Thursday, a Save The Children spokeswoman, Giovanna Di Benedetto, told The Associated Press by telephone from Sicily. According to survivors, two smugglers’ fishing boats and a dinghy set sail on Wednesday night from Libya’s coast. Di Benedetto said the survivors were among 500 or so aboard the one fishing boat that didn’t sink and the dinghy. “All of this must be verified, of course,” said Di Benedetto, but if the survivors’ accounts bear out, as many as 400 people could have drowned, with only a very few of those on the vessel that sank able to reach the other boats.

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Not an isolated incident.

Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank Off Italy With Hundreds Aboard (R.)

Migrants rescued from two boats in the Mediterranean this week told humanitarian workers in Italy that they saw another vessel carrying some 400 migrants sink, Save the Children said on Saturday. Three vessels carrying migrants already are confirmed to have sunk or capsized this week. More than 60 bodies are said to have been recovered, including those of three infants, and hundreds are believed to be missing. But the possible sinking of a fourth vessel on Thursday had not been reported, said Giovanna Di Benedetto, spokeswoman for Save the Children in Italy. That ship along with another fishing boat and a rubber boat left Sabratha in Libya late Wednesday night, according to interviews on Saturday with some of the more than 600 survivors from the two other vessels in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.

They said the rubber boat had its own motor, but the smaller fishing boat, carrying some 400 migrants, did not. It was towed by the larger fishing vessel, which held about 500 others. Eventually the smaller boat began to take on water and, when the captain of the larger boat ordered the tow line cut, sank with most of its passengers, the survivors told Save the Children. Those aboard the other two vessels were not rescued until much later. “There were many women and children on board,” the survivors said, according to Di Benedetto. “We collected testimony from several of those rescued from both (the rubber and fishing) boats. They all say they saw the same thing.”

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Apr 092016
 
 April 9, 2016  Posted by at 10:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Wyland Stanley Pedestrians ascending steep grade, San Francisco 1935

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)
The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)
Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)
Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)
Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)
The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)
Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)
China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)
Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)
Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)
Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)
5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Demonstrations as we speak in London for Cameron to stand down. He will release tax files instead. But will that stem the protests?!

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)

An intriguing approach to damage limitation by Panama prat David Cameron, particularly considering the prime minister’s only real life job ever was as a PR. The prime minister appears to have been the last person to realise what everyone else in Westminster could see on Monday. Namely, that he’d be sitting down for an awkward tell-all – or at least a tell-some – by Thursday. My absolute favourite tale from Cameron’s era as press chief for the culturocidal Carlton Television comes courtesy of the Guardian’s then media correspondent, who rang him up on a story. Like all mediocre PRs, a large part of his strategy was ignoring calls, but having accidentally answered this one he was cornered – and consequently pretended to be his own cleaner. “I can’t prove it was him,” the journalist reflected later, “but it certainly sounded a lot like him.”

Well, he does have that central casting cleaner’s voice, so perhaps we ought to leave the case file open. Even so, for the journalists who recall the barefaced whoppers Cameron was able to tell them back in those days, this week has not been an occasion to break out the smelling salts. “I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not,” Cameron claimed to Robert Peston in his belated confession. What about a cleaner? Or a football fan? Evidently the PM judged it the wrong moment to bring up either impersonations of the help, or Aston Villa. Or, indeed, West Ham. Still, at some point, Fortune was always going to collect on the deal Cameron foolishly made when he called the comedian Jimmy Carr’s (also legal) tax arrangements “morally wrong”. Showbiz now joins football on the list of things upon which he ought never to comment again.

Explaining to Peston that “my dad was a man I love and miss every day”, Cameron admitted that he and his wife had in fact invested in Ian Cameron’s offshore firm Blairmore in 1997, then sold their stake in 2010 for “something like £30,000”. That Cameron’s shifty cover-up has been more damaging than his non-crime is almost too insultingly obvious to state. He will not be assisted by the subconscious dismissiveness in that styling – “something like £30,000”. There is a fine line between fastidious precision and sounding like something north of the average British salary is rather forgettable, and the PM fell on the wrong side of it.

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Cameron as PM now guarantees a Brexit vote. But who to replace him? Can’t be Osborne.

The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)

[..] Three years ago Cameron put the future of the UK – and even its territorial integrity (think Scotland) – at stake by setting off towards an in-out referendum on the EU as a way of managing his own party. It is obvious he has failed to put internal Tory dissent to rest. That Boris Johnson has sided with leave brings to mind how in 2005 Laurent Fabius, one of France’s socialist heavyweights, opted for no against his own party’s leadership in the referendum campaign on the EU constitution. That led to disastrous results – despite a majority of the French media calling for a yes vote. In Britain the media has long been Eurosceptic. Even the BBC seems hesitant these days. The Daily Telegraph describes the EU as either a threatening entity for Britain, or too weak an institution to protect it.

And long gone are the days when authoritative European voices could reach out to British voters in a convincing manner – as when Jacques Delors singlehandedly swayed the British left towards a pro-European position in 1988. The French president, François Hollande, is dismally weak, and Angela Merkel is less politically sturdy than she once was. Populist movements whose leaders believe they stand to benefit from a British exit are on the rise across the continent. The deeper phenomenon at work is a wider one. British society suffers from an identity crisis not unlike those that have hit other western countries in the wake of globalisation and the 2008 financial crisis. Fragmentation is spreading everywhere as nations become more inward-looking and worried about how the world is changing.

In the British case this general sense of disarray now has the opportunity to express itself in a referendum. Britain’s image has often been associated with common decency, sober assessment and cool-headedness. But this is an age of extremes when moderate voices are fast drowned out by radical slogans. Of course, Cassandras have been wrong before about the European project. The eurozone has held together. Grexit didn’t happen. Merkel may be weaker, but she has not lost power. Yet it would be foolish not to see that the omens for Britain remaining in the EU are very poor. But does anyone care? If they do, they need to wake up now and shout stop.

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Curious: in defense of tax evaders, saying that they pay so much tax.

Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)

Switzerland’s finance minister has defended the use of offshore companies by the world’s wealthy to cut their tax bills, now under scrutiny after publication of the “Panama Papers”. “You have to create these opportunities,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), told Swiss newspaper Blick in an interview published on Friday. “Rich people pay a lot more tax than me,” said Maurer. “I am not rich – and without the rich I would have to pay more tax.” Four decades of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies and has offices in Zurich and Geneva, showed widespread use of those instruments by global banks and triggered investigations around the world.

Maurer’s comments were not echoed by the head of Switzerland’s financial watchdog Mark Branson on Thursday. He said the country’s banks must clamp down on money laundering in the wake of the Panama Papers. The Geneva prosecutor has also opened a criminal inquiry in connection with the millions of documents leaked to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. They then became part of a broader investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Switzerland is the world’s biggest international wealth management center with around $2.5 trillion in assets and has taken on more wealth of late from emerging markets, from which it is harder determine the origin of assets, Branson said.

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Iceland is all of us, on a more practical scale.

Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)

In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland – one of its unlikely epicentres – has recovered far better than most. It is enjoying robust economic growth, low income inequality and a 4 per cent unemployment rate that would make southern Europe’s lost generation salivate. So why are so many Icelanders now trying to topple their government, hurling eggs, Skyr yoghurt and even fish heads at the parliament? The immediate answer is buried within the Panama Papers of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which this week revealed prime minister Sigurdur David Gunnlaugsson’s links with an offshore company. In so doing, they prompted protests that rocked Reykjavik and eventually forced Mr Gunnlaugsson’s resignation.

Yet the episode has also laid bare the deep divisions and unresolved anger still festering beneath the subarctic island’s social surface since the 2008 crisis. The politics that have flowed from it are all the more intimate on an island of just 330,000 souls. There are two nations in this country, the ones who own everything… and the rest of us, said Kristjan Saevald, a 28-year-old graphic designer and keen participant in demonstrations outside Iceland’s parliament and presidential residence. “We are sick of it. It’s not just a change of government we want, it’s a change of the system,” Mr Saevald said. For him and others who feel that the pain of Iceland’s rebuilding has not been shared equally, the ruling coalition’s replacement of Mr Gunnlaugsson with his fisheries minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, is unlikely to assuage their anger.

Just minutes after Mr Johannsson’s appointment, Asdis Thoroddsen, a tour guide and film-maker, stood in a chill wind outside Iceland’s presidential residence on a spit of coastal land near Reykjavik to show the new prime minister a symbolic red card. Ms Thoroddsen accused Mr Johannsson’s Progressives and his coalition partner, the Independence party, of presiding over a longstanding political system of patronage and state favour. “The cronyism here is very deep rooted and very hard to get rid of,” she said. Iceland’s ills were papered over by the extraordinary boom that preceded the last crisis, when a fishing-dominated economy suddenly became a global banking hub — sucking in foreign money with promises of high returns. Its citizens suddenly enjoyed among the world’s highest per-capita GDP.

Of course, the country’s overly-leveraged banks ended up crashing in spectacular fashion. This week’s demonstrations have echoed Iceland’s 2009 “pots and pans revolution”, when large crowds bashing kitchen utensils together to make more noise besieged parliament in fury and eventually forced then Independence party-led government to resign.

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One delusion fights the other.

Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)

There was a time when the German chancellor and the head of the ECB had nice things to say about each other. Mario Draghi spoke of a “good working relationship,” while Angela Merkel noted “broad agreement.” Draghi, said Merkel, is extremely supportive “when it comes to European competitiveness.” These days, though, meetings between the two most powerful politicians in the euro zone are often no different than their face-to-face at the most recent summit in Brussels. She observed that his forced policy of cheap money is endangering the business model of Germany’s Sparkassen savings banks and retirement insurance companies. He snarled back that the sectors would simply have to adapt, just as the American financial sector has. The alienation between Germany and the ECB has reached a new level.

Back in deutsche mark times, Europeans often joked that the Germans “may not believe in God, but they believe in the Bundesbank,” as Germany’s central bank is called. Today, though, when it comes to relations between the ECB and the German population, people are more likely to speak of “parallel universes.” ECB head Draghi doesn’t understand why he is getting so much resistance from the country that has profited from the euro more than any other. Yet Germans blame Draghi for miniscule yields on savings accounts and life/retirement insurance policies. Frustration is growing. Draghi has pushed the prime rate down to zero and now even charges commercial banks a fee for parking their money at the ECB. He has also bought almost €2 trillion worth of bonds from euro-zone member states, making the ECB one of the largest state creditors of all time.

During his most recent appearance before the Frankfurt reporter pool, he went even further. The idea of pumping money directly into the economy, he said, was a “very interesting concept,” with a helicopter to distribute the money across the country if necessary, as economists have half-jokingly recommended. Doing so is seen as a way of boosting the economy. German money being thrown out of a helicopter: It would be difficult to find a more fitting image to show people that the money they have set aside for retirement may soon be worth very little. The criticism of Draghi had already been significant, but his public ruminations about so-called “helicopter money” have magnified it to extreme levels.

Even economists that tend to back the ECB, such as Peter Bofinger, who is one of Merkel’s economic advisors, are now accusing Draghi of constantly “pulling new rabbits out of the hat.” Leading representatives of the banking and insurance sectors are openly speaking of legal violations. And strategists within Merkel’s governing coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), are concerned that Draghi is handing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) yet another issue where they can score points with the voters. There is hardly any other issue that enrages Germans at town meetings and political party conventions as much as the disappearance of their savings due to the “unconventional measures” adopted by the ECB in Frankfurt.

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“..laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will..”

The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)

What’s the euro really? The collective currency of sovereigns subscribed to the European monetary system? Or an international bridging platform — a no man’s land if you will — for laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will? The euro-zone, we propose, is not what it seems. And if we see it as something it’s not, it’s mainly because we’ve forgotten the history which made it the thing it is today. That though is the story of the rise and dominance of European-brokered international capital markets from the 1960s onwards, a system itself predicated on the rise of the no-man’s land neutral security: Eurodollars. Euromoney. Eurocurrency. Eurobonds. Eurosecurities.

But also… Offshore arrangements. Through this particular looking glass, offshore doesn’t stand for a safe haven loophole which allows the elite to escape their social duties and obligations. It stands for something entirely different. A honey trap designed to lure capital away from outrageous spending in the consumption markets today, and over to the funding of much riskier development in territories or classes yet to be assimilated to westernised cultural norms. It also provides a neutral territory or common ground were capital can be ranked pari passu irrespective of where it’s come from, for the good of international agreement, trade and neutrality. Hence why the likes of James Quarmby, a wealth structuring expert at law firm Stephenson Harwood, argue the offshore system is the essential “grease on the wheels in international trade”.

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Let the price wars begin.

Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)

Iran ratcheted up its offense in the oil market after breaking a pricing tradition, signaling it’s seeking to win market share at a time when rival producers are trying to forge a deal on freezing output. State-run National Iranian Oil Co. will sell the Forozan Blend crude for May to Asia below the level offered by rival Saudi Aramco for Arab Medium, the third month the Persian Gulf state is giving the discount after setting it at a premium for almost seven years through February 2016, data compiled by Bloomberg show. NIOC will also sell the Iranian Light grade to Asian customers at 60 cents below Middle East benchmark prices, a company official said on Friday, asking not to be identified because of internal policy.

While producers including Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member, and Russia are due to meet in Doha on April 17 to discuss a deal to freeze output in a step toward clearing a global glut, Iran is determined to regain market share lost over the past few years due to sanctions over its nuclear program. To pry away customers relishing oil that is cheaper than mid-2014 levels by more than 50 percent, the Persian Gulf state is expected to focus on pricing and boosting supply. “Unquestionably, since the lifting of sanctions, the Iranians have become a force to be reckoned with in global oil markets,” said John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte, who has spent more than 30 years trading crude and petroleum in Singapore. “Their mission is to recapture market share, pure and simple.”

NIOC will sell the Forozan Blend in May for Asian customers at $2.43 a barrel below the average of the Oman and Dubai benchmark grades, according to the company official. That’s 3 cents lower than state-run Saudi Aramco’s price for the similar Arab Medium variety for a third month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Forozan was at a premium of 7 cents to the Saudi oil for February sales. The Iranian Heavy grade will sell in May to Asia at a discount of $2.60 a barrel to the Oman-Dubai average while the Soroosh variety’s price was set at $5.65 a barrel below Iranian Heavy, according to the official.

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How about that consumer society, though?!

China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)

China’s uptake of industrial robots is set to rise rapidly in the coming years as higher labour costs and the heightened aspirations of workers push manufacturers to embrace automation. The development may add to fears that workers in poorer countries are most in danger of being displaced by automation, with analysis by Citi and the Oxford Martin School, a research and policy unit of the UK university, published earlier this year suggesting that more than 75% of jobs in China are at a “high risk” of computerisation. Mirae Asset Management, an Asia-focused house with $75bn of assets, predicts that China’s robot army will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 35% until 2020.

Given that the International Federation of Robotics estimates that China had 260,000 industrial robots last year, Rahul Chadha, chief investment officer of Mirae, says: “Using the rule thumb that one industrial robot replaces four to five workers, this suggests that robots have rendered more than 1m people jobless.” This figure is set to rise sharply in the coming years. As the first chart shows, the number of robots per 1,000 employees in China, as of 2013, was just 30% of the level in North America, 11% of the German figure, 9% of Japan’s tally and 7% of that in South Korea. Mirae argues that China’s use of robots is tracing the path blazed by Japan a quarter of a century ago, and still has several years of rapid expansion ahead of it, as the second chart shows.

This concurs with forecasts from the IFR, which says China acquired 57,000 robots in 2014 but is likely to be buying 150,000 a year by 2018. Mr Chadha, who calculates that robots will replace around 3.5m Chinese workers over the next five years, says: “The message that comes from the leadership is on improving productivity via automation. They are paranoid about doing things quickly, they believe they have got to because their competitors will do the same. “When I meet companies on the ground, they say ‘the demand environment is not great, what we can do is improve our processes, improve our productivity’.”

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Shadow banking.

Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)

Zhongjin Capital Management made a splash in the past couple of years in Shanghai. The wealth management firm’s imposing branch office on Shanghai’s historic Bund pulled in many eager investors seeking the double-digit returns it promised on short-term financing products. It had a big profile, sponsoring popular Shanghai TV dating program “Saturday Date” and signed up domestic billiards star Pan Xiaoting as a spokesperson. But this week, the image of riches and success that it had cultivated came crashing down. Police said they arrested 21 executives linked to Zhongjin Capital on April 5 on suspicion of “illegal fundraising,” a loosely defined term applied to irregular behavior in China’s energetic but opaque shadow banking sector.

The only person named by Shanghai police so far has been top executive Xu Qin, who local media said had been arrested at the Shanghai airport on his way to get married in the Vatican. Xu has been described by domestic media as a high roller, who is under 30 years of age. Chen Jiajing, the 29-year-old chairwoman of Zhongjin’s parent Guotai Investment Holdings, cannot be located. Public statements issued this week by two Hong Kong-listed companies in which Guotai is a major stakeholder indicated they had been unable to reach her. Zhongjin employees told Reuters that other senior managers had been arrested during a raid on company offices. They were interrogated, allowed to use the bathroom only if they had a police escort, then hauled off, the staff said.

Calls to Zhongjin and Guotai headquarters in Shanghai went unanswered. Both company websites were inaccessible on Friday. The authorities did not provide further information about the case, and what the investigation’s focus is. “The really strange part was that our business hit a new all-time high on April 5, but the next day the offices were closed,” one employee who gave her name as Jiang said in a phone interview, adding that investors had been paid off on schedule the day prior to the arrests, but were unable to withdraw funds that were scheduled to mature on April 6. “The victims are the small investors and the low-level employees. We all got our friends and family to invest in the company’s products,” she said.

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Playing God.

Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)

Global warming is changing the way the Earth wobbles on its polar axis, a new Nasa study has found. Melting ice sheets, especially in Greenland, are changing the distribution of weight on Earth. And that has caused both the North Pole and the wobble, which is called polar motion, to change course, according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances. Scientists and navigators have been accurately measuring the true pole and polar motion since 1899, and for almost the entire 20th century they migrated a bit toward Canada. But that has changed with this century, and now it’s moving toward England, according to study lead author Surendra Adhikari at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “The recent shift from the 20th-century direction is very dramatic,” Adhikari said.

While scientists say the shift is harmless, it is meaningful. Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona, who wasn’t part of the study, said that “this highlights how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet.” Since 2003, Greenland has lost on average more than 272 trillion kilograms of ice a year, and that affects the way the Earth wobbles in a manner similar to a figure skater lifting one leg while spinning, said Nasa scientist Eirk Ivins, the study’s co-author. On top of that, West Antarctica loses 124 trillion kgs of ice and East Antarctica gains about 74 trillion kgs of ice yearly, helping tilt the wobble further, Ivins said. They all combine to pull polar motion toward the east, Adhikari said.

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“Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show..”

Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)

When the Greek authorities announced last week that they were unable to carry out additional mass deportations because some migrants had suddenly disappeared, they were referring to people like Mohammed. Just as quickly as the deportations had begun, they came to a halt. In the dawn hours on Monday, the EU began implementing the refugee deal it recently reached with Turkey. At least that’s the way things looked. That day, 202 migrants were deported from Lesbos and Chios to Dikili in Turkey. The action was intended to show that the major exchange of refugees had begun. The same day, Syrian refugees arrived in Germany legally on flights from Turkey. By the middle of the week, no more refugees were arriving on the Greek islands. The message appeared to be getting across.

So was the deal working? The short answer is: No. “Perhaps we should wait and see a bit longer,” Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy Greek defense minister responsible for addressing the refugee crisis, says. He says the weather may have played a part and that he doesn’t want to draw premature conclusions. “But the numbers do show that something is working.” But what? Is it the deal with Turkey or the PR machinery that has accompanied it? The deportations that took place on Monday aren’t very telling in terms of whether the mechanism will ultimately work or not. The EU had set April 4 as the day of implementation because it wanted to finally show that it could produce results. The overly hasty operation had one aim: that of sending a strong message.

What went unnoticed by most, though, is that the people sent back to Turkey from Lesbos and Chios on Monday were exclusively migrants who had wanted to continue their journey to Northern Europe and had not submitted applications for asylum in Greece. But Greece had already had the ability to deport these “illegal” migrants to Turkey since 2002 within the scope of a so-called readmission agreement that both countries had agreed to. So the new deal hadn’t even been necessary for the deportations to happen. “Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show,” says Angeliki Dimitriadi, a visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “Now the truly delicate work begins.”

Of the more than 3,000 migrants who are still on Lesbos, almost all have since submitted asylum applications. They hope that doing so will enable them to prevent being deported. The refugees are assuming that it will take weeks or months to process their applications. With the submission of the applications, the Greek government no longer has the right to automatically deport them; the country is legally obligated to review every application. Refugees who have applied can only be deported once asylum status has been rejected. The worry now is that thousands of people may be stuck on the island for months to come without any certainty.

Things will get more difficult when Greece soon begins rejecting Syrian refugees as planned and sending them back to Turkey. At that point, a complicated legal dispute is expected to ensue. First, it remains questionable whether Greece will be capable of carrying out the asylum procedures within only a matter of days as planned. The country lacks both money and the necessary personnel. The Greek asylum agency currently has only 295 employees at its disposal across the entire country. It often takes months if not years before decisions are made.

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And the beat goes on..

5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Greece’s coast guard says at least five refugees have drowned in the eastern Aegean Sea after a small plastic boat capsized. The five victims, four women and a child, were found around dawn Saturday northeast of the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish coast. A coast guard spokeswoman says there were also five survivors: two women, two men and a child. The spokeswoman spoke on customary condition of anonymity. She says the coast guard has no information about the ages and nationalities of the refugees or the children’s gender. The survivors, who are in a state of shock, told authorities a total of 11 people were aboard the 3.5-meter boat.

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Apr 052016
 
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DPC Surf Avenue, Coney Island, NY 1903

Panama Bombshell Spells Demise Of Shadow Finance, And Privacy (AEP)
Tax Havens Don’t Need To Be Reformed. They Should Be Outlawed (Brooks)
Thousands Protest Demanding Icelandic PM’s Resignation (AFP)
German Banks Enmeshed In Panama Papers Leak (DW)
Data From Panama Law Firm Came From Employee, Not Hackers (Rijock)
Panama Papers Cause Guardian to Collapse into Self-Parody (OG)
China State Paper Sees ‘Powerful Force’ Behind Panama Leak (BBG)
The Forces of Globalization Are Sputtering (WSJ)
China Hard Landing Could Trigger Global Market Bloodbath: IMF (Tel.)
Lagarde Says Risks to Weak Global Recovery Are Increasing (BBG)
Subprime Housing Risks Raise Red Flags In China (WSJ)
Bond Market ‘Exhausted’ as Kuroda Stimulus Enters Fourth Year (BBG)
Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics (NatGeo)
Turkey: The Business Of Refugee Smuggling & Sex Trafficking (ZH)
Italy Pleads For Greek-Style Push To Return Its Migrants (FT)
So The Greece Deportations Are Going ‘Smoothly’? Take A Closer Look (G.)

Ambrose bets on a substantial fall-out.

Panama Bombshell Spells Demise Of Shadow Finance, And Privacy (AEP)

The secret world of offshore banks and money-laundering has been under the microscope ever since the financial crisis. Now it is the turn of lawyers, registrars, and the hidden network of facilitators. The treasure trove of 11.5m documents leaked – or more precisely stolen – from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca lifts the lid on the extraordinary practices of the global elites, and on the alleged services of off-shore legal cabinets for terrorist organisations, drug cartels, sanctions busting, and front companies of all kinds. The files on 213,000 firms first slipped to the Suddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is the biggest data leak in history. It will have long-lasting ramifications. The avalanche of allegations has barely begun.

The red-hot dossier on US citizens has not even been released. Yet the scandal has already triggered a string of criminal investigations around the world, kicking off in Australia and New Zealand within hours. Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the files go far beyond issues of tax evasion, touching on vital national interests and the rule of law. “It is about organized crime, evasion of UN sanctions, and terrorist finance,” he said. “This shadow economy is a risk for global security. We must ban the anonymous letterbox companies. The international community must ostracize any country that allows these dirty dealings,” said Mr Gabriel. Mossack Fonseca’s clients include 23 people under sanctions for helping North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that 33 of those named are on the US black list for terrorism.

Panama has cornered the trade in anonymous shell companies that allow owners to disguise their identity and carry out global operations secretly. While this may be a legitimate for those in the limelight trying to protect their privacy or to safeguard sensitive corporate dealings, many use it to avoid detection for money-laundering, tax avoidance, or predatory behaviour. The country has pushed through reforms in a bid to clear its name and to get off the OECD’s ‘grey list’ of uncooperative tax havens, but has clearly not yet done enough. “Panama has an extremely aggressive and obstructive attitude. Dialogue has broken down,” said Pascal Saint-Amans, the OECD’s tax chief. “It is the last financial centre that has refused to implement global standards of fiscal transparency. There has been very strong pressure from the law firms on the Panamanian government.”

Mr Saint-Amans said offshore secrecy in on the wane in most of the world, but becoming more concentrated in Panama. “The majority of undeclared clients are coming clean in other locations, but those who don’t are going to Panama,” he said.

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Thing is, that’s been obvious for ages.

Tax Havens Don’t Need To Be Reformed. They Should Be Outlawed (Brooks)

The Panama Papers are not really about a central American state. They are a glimpse through a Panamanian keyhole of an orgy of tax evasion, money laundering and kleptocracy – amid the legitimate financial planning – hosted by the world’s tax havens. Seven years after world leaders came together at a post-financial crisis G20 summit in London and committed to end tax haven abuse, it is clear from these papers that no such end is in sight. The good intentions have translated into a blizzard of international agreements on sharing information, amnesties through which tax evaders can come clean, and prosecution drives of variable quality to nail the cheats. All are demonstrably inadequate. Information will not, and cannot, be exchanged to any meaningful extent by countries and territories whose “offer” is that they don’t ask for it or will turn a blind eye to being deceived.

Amnesties teach rich tax evaders that, even if they are caught, they will get off far more lightly than somebody overclaiming a few pounds in social security benefits. Criminal pursuit of offenders, certainly in the UK, is little more than a joke. One prosecution from 1,000 tax evaders using HSBC’s Swiss accounts is the now infamously poor punchline. Here, the Panama Papers lay bare another national disgrace: Britain’s longstanding role at the centre of the offshore web. More than half of the 200,000 secret companies set up by the Panama lawyers Mossack Fonseca were registered in the British Virgin Islands, where details of company ownership don’t have to be filed with the authorities, never mind be made public. While this week’s leak is on an unprecedented scale, it exposes a historic as well as current failing.

As the British empire faded away after the second world war and territories such as the British Virgin Islands drifted into the constitutional limbo of semi-independence, they were encouraged to develop financial services as a way of sustaining precarious economies. If this meant a few of the world’s wealthier people paid a little less tax, thought successive British governments, it was a price worth paying for not having to support the territories. Late 20th-century financial liberalisation turned this already complacent calculation into something more lethal. With fortunes sloshing freely across borders, tax havens became voracious parasites on the world economy, most seriously sucking the life out of some of its poorer parts. All the great national robbers of recent decades, such as Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, have used tax haven companies, including British Virgin Islands ones, as the getaway cars.

Despite this long trail of evidence, leading economies refuse to address the problem at its source. The UK has great leverage over its 17 overseas territories and crown dependencies, all of which depend on the mother country for security and happily trade off its legal system. At a stroke our government could shut down the British Virgin Islands corporate system, for example. But under influence from a banking system that thrives on the legal benefits of offshore centres such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, it takes a more relaxed view. Asked recently about whether Britain’s overseas territories should publish registers of beneficial owners of their companies, foreign office minister James Duddridge replied that these were a “direction, rather than an ultimate destination”. The Panama Papers should expose this indifference for the great scandal that it is.

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Gone tomorrow.

Thousands Protest Demanding Icelandic PM’s Resignation (AFP)

Thousands of Icelanders took to the streets late Monday calling for their prime minister’s resignation after leaked tax documents dubbed the “Panama Papers” prompted allegations that he and his wife used an offshore firm to hide million-dollar investments. Protesters filled the square outside Iceland’s parliament in Reykjavik, footage on public television RUV showed, answering a call from opposition parties to demonstrate against Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Police provided no estimate of the size of the crowd, but said the demonstrators outnumbered the thousands who in 2009 brought down the right-wing government over its responsibility in Iceland’s 2008 banking collapse.

“Take responsibility” and “Where is the new constitution?” read some of the signs carried by demonstrators on Monday, referring to the country’s new charter drawn up after the 2009 political crisis and which has since been held up in parliament. Financial records published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed that Gunnlaugsson, 41, and his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir bought the offshore company Wintris Inc. in the British Virgin Islands in December 2007. The company was intended to manage Palsdottir’s inheritance from her wealthy businessman father, the amount of which has not been disclosed. Gunnlaugsson transferred his 50% stake to his wife at the end of 2009, for the symbolic sum of one dollar.

But when he was elected a member of parliament for the first time in April 2009 as a member of the centre-right Progressive Party, he neglected to mention the stake in his declaration of shareholdings, as required by law. Gunnlaugsson has meanwhile denied any wrongdoing or tax evasion and insisted Monday he would not step down. He said he never hid any money abroad and that his wife paid all her taxes on the company in Iceland. A motion of no-confidence was presented to parliament by the opposition, and will be submitted to a vote at an as yet undetermined date. Almost 28,000 Icelanders, in a country of just 320,000 inhabitants, have also signed a petition demanding his resignation.

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All global banks are involved.

German Banks Enmeshed In Panama Papers Leak (DW)

The two German financial institutions specifically mentioned in media reports as having helped high-ranking politicians, celebrities and sports stars hide their money abroad were Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, and the Hamburg-based Berenberg bank. The allegations were part of the so-called Panama Papers, a massive trove of leaked emails, PDFs and other records that expose a world of letterbox companies and business arrangements that until recently had been largely hidden from public view. The Panama Papers were first obtained by reporters at the German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” and on Sunday, the head of the paper’s investigative unit suggested to a German TV host that every bank in Germany was somehow implicated.

“If you were to ask me which German bank hadn’t helped its customers go to Mossack Fonseca, I would have to think long and hard to see if a single one came to mind,” said Georg Mascolo, referring to the Panama-based law firm that is at the center of the leaks because it’s where the documents originated. Mascolo proceeded to single out Deutsche Bank and Berenberg bank, the latter of which he said had “especially distinguished itself.” Both institutions promptly denied any wrongdoing. Speaking to the news agency DPA, a spokesman for Berenberg’s Swiss subsidiary insisted there was nothing inherently illegal about dealing with offshore companies. “This is, of course, done in line with legal regulations, but it does require greater due diligence on the part of the banks,” he said, noting that such accounts were “permanently monitored.”

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Sort of funny. Note that this story had been playing out for a few years already.

Data From Panama Law Firm Came From Employee, Not Hackers (Rijock)

Now it’s Panama Leaks: massive amounts of customer data stored on the computers of the country’s principal provider of corporations, Mossack Fonseca, have been stolen and delivered to foreign journalists, who reportedly are planning on releasing it as early as Monday. The data is believed to contain information on Panama companies, and bank accounts, held by foreign government officials, other politically exposed persons (PEPs) and organized crime syndicates. The public release of this information could result in widespread criminal charges against corrupt heads of state and other officials who have banked the proceeds of illegal bribes and kickbacks they have received.

There will be special attention paid to individuals who accepted money from American and British firms to allow them to participate in lucrative business arrangements, as the US and UK both strictly enforce their foreign corruption laws. Mossack Fonseca, already reeling being implicated in a major corruption case in Brazil, in which present or former government officials at the highest level are under criminal investigation, has also been in the news lately due to allegations that senior officials in Malta hold secret banks accounts in Panama, facilitated by the Mossack firm. Investigative reporters are allegedly already to publish the names, and sordid details, of a large number of corrupt PEPs. Some television media are reportedly planning on running stories early this week.

Panama insiders have said that the source of the information was not, as Mossack is reporting, an intrusion by hackers, but an inside job. A former female employee, with access to the data, was allegedly involved in an intimate relationship with a Mossack name partner. The relationship ended badly some time ago, and the employee exacted her revenge by going public with Mossack client lists and related data. The impact of this leak cannot be underestimated; it will seriously undermine global confidence in the ability of Panamanian financial service providers to assist corrupt government officials, and career criminals in hiding their ill-gotten gains, which is the major segment of the client base in such firms. It is too early to know whether dirty money will now seek a different opaque haven to be hidden.

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To further illustrate the point I made yesterday.

Panama Papers Cause Guardian to Collapse into Self-Parody (OG)

You’d be forgiven for thinking, given the above picture, that the Panama Papers had something to do with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he was a kingpin of the whole thing. Maybe he was, at least, among the 12 world leaders implicated in various shady financial practices – along with Petro Poroshenko, the saviour of Ukrainian democracy, and the King of Saudi Arabia (dad of the recent Légion d’Honneur winner). Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.

Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do they mention David Cameron’s dad, who is also in there. No, they focus on a cellist friend of Putin’s, talk about his daughter’s marriage, and include an awful lot of diagrams with big arrows that point at pictures of…Vladimir Putin. This is, apparently, all evidence of…something …I’m not sure what, but it will probably be discussed at length in the “book” Luke Harding is probably planning to publish in a couple of weeks. That’s if the NSA don’t delete it all while he’s typing. The only important, or even true, phrase Harding uses appears at the very top of this article:

…the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

That’s a minor detail of course, I mean, they have a video: “How to hide $1 billion”. The title screen is, you guessed it, a photo of Putin. Presumably because he is SO GOOD at hiding his billions that, unlike Petro Poroshenko and David Cameron’s dad:

…the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

So there you go. The Guardian falls into self parody, pasting up a massive picture, a misleading headline and 5000 words (that Harding presumably copied from someone else), at the merest suggestion of a tenuous connection to the Russian president. It’s a bit odd, really.

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While scrambling to delete any and all references. But still, they do have a point. It’s not as if something financed by Soros is even remotely neutral.

China State Paper Sees ‘Powerful Force’ Behind Panama Leak (BBG)

A “powerful force is behind” the leak of more than 11 million documents detailing the offshore accounts of some of the world’s wealthiest people, and the U.S. government stands to gain the most from the revelations, a state-run Chinese newspaper said. An editorial published by the Global Times newspaper Tuesday provided China’s first official reaction to investigations by more than 100 news organizations, detailing overseas holdings of about 140 politicians, public officials and family members, including President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law. The editorial, which focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin and didn’t mention any of the Chinese examples, assessed the “eye-catching” revelations as a salvo in an East-West ideological struggle, echoing the Kremlin’s response.

“The Western media has taken control of the interpretation each time there has been such a document dump, and Washington has demonstrated particular influence in it,” said the Global Times, which is published by the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily. “Information that is negative to the U.S. can always be minimized, while exposure of non-Western leaders, such as Putin, can get extra spin.” The release of the so-called Panama Papers come at an embarrassing time for Xi, who’s requiring party members to give authorities more information about their family wealth to institutionalize his more than three-year-old war on graft. Mentions of the documents were widely scrubbed from China’s heavily censored Internet and news outlets, which have come under increased pressure from Xi to toe the party line.

Links shared on Tencent Holdings’s WeChat messaging service said the “page could not be found.” Attempts to search “Panama Papers” on Baidu’s Google-like search engine returned only a one-line warning that “search results may not comply with relevant laws or regulations.” The Global Times editorial was published only in English.

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Those forces are waiting for TTP and TTiP to be ratified.

The Forces of Globalization Are Sputtering (WSJ)

On the campaign trail, presidential candidates in both parties depict an America under siege from cheap imports, job-stealing globalization or waves of illegal immigration. The reality since the global recession is far more complicated. Across a range of measures, the forces that once pointed to an inexorable internationalization of the world’s economy have slowed, stuttered or swung into reverse. The slowdown points to deeper economic challenges far different from the political alarms. Much of the world is struggling with a sluggishness that is clouding the U.S. outlook, driven by aging demographics, slumping labor productivity and policy makers lacking the tools or the will to pump more life into the global economy. Whatever the causes, signs abound that the forces of globalization have slowed.

Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. declined every year from 1998 to 2009, regardless of whether the overall economy was expanding or in recession. But over the past six years, manufacturing employment has edged up. It’s hardly a renaissance—the U.S. has regained about 1 million manufacturing jobs after losing 8 million since the late 1970s—but it’s a halt to the decline. The U.S. share of global exports fell sharply, especially from 1998 to 2004, but has held steady over the past 12 years at roughly 8.5%. There’s even evidence the trend of illegal immigration in the 1990s and 2000s, when millions of Mexicans crossed the border for the U.S., has stalled or gone into reverse, despite frequent alarms raised by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 2007, the flow of illegal immigrants returning to Mexico has been larger than the number entering the U.S.

“The globalization process, which was firing on all cylinders during the 2000s, has stalled over the past six or seven years,” said Benjamin Mandel, global strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management and a former New York Fed economist. The trend isn’t specific to the U.S. Globalization has sputtered around the world. From 1992 to 2008, trade climbed to about 30% of total world economic output, from 20%. That climb has halted, and remains at about 30% of GDP in the latest World Bank estimates. If the historical trend between trade growth and GDP growth had continued, global trade would be $1.8 trillion larger, according to estimates from Eric Lascelles, chief U.S. economist of RBC Asset Management. That’s equivalent to an economy the size of Canada or Russia disappearing from global output.

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From the IMF research department.

China Hard Landing Could Trigger Global Market Bloodbath: IMF (Tel.)

Jitters over the health of the Chinese economy could trigger a bloodbath on financial markets if a hard landing materialises, the IMF has warned. The IMF said policy choices in the world’s second largest economy would also have “increasing implications for global financial stability” in the coming years as the country opens up its bond and equity markets. The fund said emerging market economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia had driven more than half of global growth over the past 15 years. Stronger trade ties and financial linkages meant spillovers from these countries had become “the norm, not the exception”, increasing the risk that future shocks could send powerful reverberations around the globe. The IMF calculated that emerging market spillovers now accounted for a third of the fluctuations seen in equity and currency markets in advanced nations.

Highlighting last summer’s massive stock market sell-off after China devalued its currency, the IMF noted that Chinese growth had an “increasing” and “significant” impact on global equity prices. “The impact of shocks to China’s fundamentals on global financial markets is expected to grow stronger and wider over time,” the Fund said in a pre-released chapter of its Financial Stability report. “Clear and timely communication of its policy decisions, transparency about its policy goals, and strategies consistent with achieving them will, therefore, be essential to ensure against volatile market reactions, which may have broader repercussions.” The IMF also urged policymakers to do more to rein in corporate debt, which it has previously said could see a wave of defaults as the US hikes interest rates.

“Fire sales” of assets by money managers could also amplify emerging market spillovers in a downturn, if mutual funds rushed to sell illiquid assets, the IMF warned. Financial “spillbacks” triggered by policy actions in advanced economies such as tighter monetary policy in the US underscored “the importance of enhanced international macroeconomic and macroprudential policy co-operation”, the IMF said. The Fund issued a separate warning on the $24 trillion life insurance sector. It said herding behaviour created systemic risks that could make firms “too many to fail”. The IMF said the low interest rate environment had encouraged many firms to increase risk taking in order to “resurrect their fortunes”, particularly among smaller and less capitalised firms. “Jointly firms can propagate shocks, if they act similarly,” the IMF said. “They may be ‘too many to fail’,” it warned.

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From the other IMF orifice. She has absolutely nothing. Zilch. Not a word she utters has any meaning.

Lagarde Says Risks to Weak Global Recovery Are Increasing (BBG)

The global recovery is facing growing risks, and frustration with inequality is increasing the lure of protectionism, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. The world economy’s outlook has dimmed over the last six months, exacerbated by China’s slowdown, lower commodity prices and the risk of financial tightening in many countries, Lagarde said Tuesday in the prepared text of a speech in Frankfurt. The expected passing of the “growth baton” from emerging markets to advanced economies hasn’t occurred, she added. Lagarde, fresh from winning a new five-year term at the fund’s helm, used the opportunity to caution against being drawn to the kinds of forces that have fueled the populism-driven candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election.

While inequality has been declining on a global scale, the perception remains that “the cards are stacked against the common man – and woman – in favor of elites,” said Lagarde, 60. “To some, the answer is to look inward, to somehow unwind these linkages, to close borders and retreat into protectionism,” she said, without naming any politicians. “As history has told us – time and again – this would be a tragic course.” Lagarde’s comments on the global economy add to signs that the IMF will downgrade its growth forecast when it releases its updated World Economic Outlook on April 12. Finance ministers and central bankers from the fund’s 188 member nations will gather later that week in Washington for the IMF’s spring meetings. “The good news is that the recovery continues; we have growth; we are not in a crisis,” Lagarde said. “The not-so-good news is that the recovery remains too slow, too fragile, and risks to its durability are increasing.”

Lagarde said U.S. growth is flat due partly to the strong dollar, while low investment and high unemployment are weighing on growth in the euro zone. Growth and inflation in Japan have been weaker than expected, she added. China’s transition to a more sustainable economic model involves slower growth, Lagarde said, adding that downturns in Brazil and Russia have been worse than expected and Middle Eastern nations have been hit hard by the decline in oil prices. “Certainly, we have made much progress since the great financial crisis,” Lagarde said. “But because growth has been too low for too long, too many people are simply not feeling it.” The persistent low growth can be “self-reinforcing,” because of negative effects on potential output that can be hard to reverse, she said.

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Beijing is deliberately creating an ever bigger housing bubble. Scary.

Subprime Housing Risks Raise Red Flags In China (WSJ)

China’s efforts to tackle a glut of vacant housing by spurring home lending have triggered a bigger problem: A surge in risky subprime-style loans that is generating alarm among regulators. Home buyers in China normally put down a third of the cost of a new property upfront. But a rapid rise in buyers borrowing for their down payments – an echo of the easy credit that cratered the U.S. housing market and sparked the financial crisis – has prompted authorities to clamp down. Peer-to-peer lenders, who raise money from investors and then lend it out at higher interest rates, made 924 million yuan ($143 million) in down-payment loans in January, more than three times the amount made in July, according to Shanghai-based consultancy Yingcan.

A senior banking executive at one of China’s top four state-owned banks said down-payment loans directly contributed to a recent run-up in housing prices in big cities. “It’s a risky practice that should be contained,” he said. Officials at various levels of government are now stepping on the brakes. The central bank and the housing ministry last month started to crack down on loans enticing home-buyers with “zero-down-payment” slogans. [..] Beijing began easing credit in late 2014 to help cities fill empty apartments — a legacy of a housing-construction boom fueled by a decade of urban population growth and cheap credit. As companies and local governments sag under crippling debt, authorities have seen room for more borrowing among households and have tried to widen the pool of home buyers.

But despite a rise in down-payment loans and lower mortgage barriers for groups such as rural migrant workers, it has proven hard to unleash buying in the right places. Instead, the easing measures and new incentives fed a property frenzy in China’s megacities, with buyers driven by fear of being left behind in a market increasingly out of reach. Shenzhen, where housing prices have soared 57% since last year, according to official data, has tightened down-payment requirements. So has Shanghai, where housing loans more than tripled in January compared with a year earlier. Data on loans used to finance down payments is sketchy, as such financing is a relatively new business. In addition, developers sometimes offer such loans, and banks offer mortgage applicants loans for renovations, taxes or travel that can be channeled toward the down payment, according to property agents. Depending on the housing market, agents say, these loans can attract annual interest rates of up to 24%.

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Until there’s nothing left.

Bond Market ‘Exhausted’ as Kuroda Stimulus Enters Fourth Year (BBG)

Three years since Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda embarked on an unprecedented monetary experiment, yields continue to test new lows even as concern grows that his policies will cripple the world’s second-biggest bond market. Yields have tumbled below zero on maturities up to a decade following the central bank’s surprise decision this year to implement negative interest rates, after unleashing two rounds of quantitative easing since April 4, 2013. As the BOJ’s bond holdings have swelled to one-third of total debt outstanding, the market has begun to seize up amid a dearth of liquidity, causing volatility to soar. Even so, inflation – and inflationary expectations – remain far from Kuroda’s 2% target.

That’s why an overwhelming majority of analysts predict the BOJ will expand stimulus again by July, even while some warn that the technical limits to the asset-purchase program are rapidly approaching. In the BOJ’s latest survey of bond market participants, 41% rated market functioning as “low.” Kuroda said Tuesday the central bank can lower the deposit rate from the current minus 0.1% if needed, and he doesn’t think negative rates will make asset purchases difficult. “The bond market is becoming increasingly exhausted, and increasingly volatile,” said Shuichi Ohsaki at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Tokyo. “It’s not a properly functioning market anymore. This stimulus can’t go on indefinitely.”

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The achievements of the ‘intelligent’ human species.

Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics (NatGeo)

Fishing gear and an engine cover are just some of the startling contents found inside the stomachs of sperm whales that recently beached themselves on Germany’s North Sea coast. The 13 sperm whales washed up near the German state of Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year, the latest in a series of whale strandings around the North Sea. So far, more than 30 sperm whales have been found beached since the start of the year in the U.K., the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany. After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs. The garbage included a nearly 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover, and the remains of a plastic bucket, according to a press release from Wadden Sea National Park in Schleswig-Holstein.

However, “the marine litter did not directly cause the stranding,” says Ursula Siebert at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, whose team examined the sperm whales. Instead, the researchers suspect that the whales died because the animals accidentally ventured into shallow seas. Male sperm whales normally migrate from their tropical or subtropical breeding grounds to colder waters at higher latitudes. The species is one of the deepest diving animals in the cetacean family, known to plummet as far as 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of squid, its favorite food. The beached whales were all young males between the ages of 10 and 15, and the necropsies revealed that they died of heart failure. The team believes this particular group mistakenly swam into the North Sea, a shallower zone in between the U.K. and Norway. There the whales could not support their own body weights, and their internal organs collapsed.

“It is thought that the sperm whales may have got lost and entered the North Sea (possibly chasing squid), where the sea floor is not deep enough, causing the whales to become disorientated and die,” Danny Groves, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), wrote in an email. According to the WDC, whales and dolphins may strand for many reasons, such as excessive noise pollution from ships and drilling surveys or even subtle shifts in Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, pilot whales that beached off the coast of Scotland three years ago showed high levels of toxins from ocean pollution, which scientists linked to stress on their brains that may have caused disorientation.

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The EU-Turket deal is a disgrace on more levels than we can count.

Turkey: The Business Of Refugee Smuggling & Sex Trafficking (ZH)

A detailed report on Syrian women refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in Turkey, issued as far back as 2014 by the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed (known in Turkish as Mazlumder), tells of early and forced marriages, polygamy, sexual harassment, human trafficking, prostitution, and rape that criminals inflicted upon Syrians in Turkey. According to the Mazlumder report, Syrians are sexually exploited by those who take advantage of their destitution. Children, especially girls, suffer most. Evidence, both witnessed and forensic, indicates that in every city where Syrian refugees have settled, prostitution has drastically increased. Young women between the ages of 15 and 20 are most commonly prostituted, but girls as young as thirteen are also exploited.

Secil Erpolat, a lawyer with the Women’s Rights Commission of the Bar Association in the Turkish province of Batman, said that many young Syrian girls are offered between 20 and 50 Turkish liras ($7-$18). Sometimes their clients pay them with food or other goods for which they are desperate. Women who have crossed the border illegally and arrive with no passport are at high risk of being kidnapped and sold as prostitutes or sex slaves. Criminal gangs bring refugees to towns along the border or into the local bus terminals where “refugee smuggling” has become a major source of income. Professional criminals convince parents that their daughters are going to a better life in Turkey. The parents are given 2000-5000 Turkish liras ($700-$1700) as a “bride price” – an enormous sum for a poor Syrian family – to smuggle their daughters across the border.

“Many men in Turkey practice polygamy with Syrian girls or women, even though polygamy is illegal in Turkey,” the lawyer Abdulhalim Yilmaz, head of Mazlumder’s Refugee Commission, told Gatestone Institute. “Some men in Turkey take second or third Syrian wives without even officially registering them. These girls therefore have no legal status in Turkey. Economic deprivation is a major factor in this suffering, but it is also a religious and cultural phenomenon, as early marriage is allowed in the religion.” Syrian women and children in Turkey also experience sexual harassment at work. Those who are able to get jobs earn little – perhaps enough to eat, but they work long and hard for that little. They are also subjected to whatever others choose to do to them as they work those long hours.

[..] The organization End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) has produced a detailed report on the “Status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children: Turkey.” ECPAT’s report cites, from the 2014 Global Slavery Index, estimates that the incidence of slavery in Turkey is the highest in Europe, due in no small measure to the prevalence of trafficking for sexual exploitation and early marriage.

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The problem merely shifts.

Italy Pleads For Greek-Style Push To Return Its Migrants (FT)

Italy is pleading for EU help to ramp up the deportation of migrants arriving on its southern shores, warning that the bloc’s immigration system is at risk of collapse without a more aggressive policy on so-called returns. In an interview with the FT, Angelino Alfano, Italy’s interior minister, says the EU should move to secure deals with African nations, which are the source of the vast majority of migrants arriving in Italy, offering economic aid in exchange for taking back their citizens and preventing new flows. His comments come as the EU enacts a scheme with Turkey in which thousands of Middle Eastern refugees will be sent back across the Aegean Sea from Greece in exchange for up to €6bn in EU aid for Ankara. A first group of 135 were returned to Turkey on Monday.

“Europe was able to find the resources when it was urgent – I am referring to Turkey. It’s a matter of political leadership,” Mr Alfano said. “If returns don’t work, the whole Juncker migration agenda will fail,” he said. Mr Alfano’s request reflects renewed nervousness in Rome about the migration crisis following an 80 per cent spike in the number of arrivals to Italy across the central Mediterranean Sea in the first quarter of this year compared to 2015. If that increase holds through the warmer spring and summer months, it would smash the record 170,000 migrants who arrived in Italy in 2014, straining resources and creating a political problem for the centre-left government led by Matteo Renzi. As the Greece plan goes into action, there are worries in Rome that it may compound problems by encouraging Middle Eastern migrants to switch routes and attempt to enter the EU through Italy, boosting the numbers even further.

“If Syrians don’t want to stay in Turkey but want to try the trip to Europe, they will go around and try to get here from Libya,” Mr Alfano said. “We still don’t have any evidence that this is happening, but we are monitoring.” Italy has held talks with Albania about containing a possible surge in flows through the Balkan nation. Mr Alfano also expressed hope that the recent, if wobbly, establishment of a national unity government in Libya could lead to a crackdown against migrant smugglers there. For those who do arrive, Italian officials are hoping that an EU plan to relocate thousands of refugees across its 28 member states will relieve some pressure. So far, only about 500 migrants have been moved from Italy under the plan – “apartment building numbers” – says Mr Alfano, derisively.

Italy last year deported 15,000 people, or about 10 per cent of all arrivals. Officials believe higher figures are essential to alleviate the country’s burden, even if mass returns could trigger concerns about possible violations of human rights and international law. “Irregular [migrants] have to be kept in closed camps from where they cannot escape. So how many tens of thousands of people can you keep, year after year? Without returns, either you organise real prisons, or it’s obvious that the system will collapse,” Mr Alfano said. “It doesn’t take a prophet to glimpse the future”.

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Yesterday’s deportations will prove to be mainly symbolic. From here on in the problems start.

So The Greece Deportations Are Going ‘Smoothly’? Take A Closer Look (G.)

Today had been declared the first day that migrants and refugees would be deported from Greece within the framework of the EU-Turkey deal, and European authorities seemed determined not to miss the date. So as of Sunday, Greek police, along with the EU border agency Frontex, organised a large-scale operation to ensure the smooth handling of today’s returns from the islands of Chios and Lesbos. The operation was initially deemed a success, with reports being limited to the boats and their occupants, which offered some digestible photo ops. There is plenty of evidence, though, that suggests that it has been no more than a media-savvy gesture on behalf of the European commission.

Officials from Frontex clarified that the boats carried mostly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Afghans and Moroccans who were going to be deported to Turkey prior to the deal or didn’t request asylum. There were only two Syrians among them who appear not to have requested international protection. Indeed authorities appear to have rushed to identify such people so they could be available for today’s return. Termed “easy cases” by Frontex spokeswoman Eva Moncure, they are perfect material for today’s photo op. As it turns out, more than 90% of people arriving in Greek islands since 20 March – when the EU-Turkey deal was enacted – have opted for asylum, thus complicating their return under the arrangement. It is no surprise then that no further dates have been announced for future deportations.

The first day of deportations has been met with affirmative statements by credible international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who confirmed that all procedures were regular and rights of deportees were observed. Everything is smooth and tidy, it seems. But this is one version of the story only. There is a second where things have gone less smoothly. Activist lawyers’ accounts and journalist reports from the islands raise the question of whether refugees have been given sufficient time and access to asylum procedures. It appears that many of them do not yet understand the content of the deal or why they have been restricted, and there has been a last-minute rush for asylum claims among the people who are possible deportees. It is also unclear how Turkey plans to handle returnees, how they will be received, and whether they will be able to receive the protection that was previously offered to them there.

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Feb 022016
 
 February 2, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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NPC Minker Motor Co, 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 1922

The Citi Market-Crash Clock Says It’s 5 Minutes To Midnight (BI)
Time Running Out For China On Capital Flight, Warns Bank Chief (AEP)
China Announces 400,000 Steelworker Job Cuts, 3 Million More Expected (WSWS)
Hong Kong Property Sales Slump To 25 Year Low (BBG)
Hong Kong Short Sellers Could Find The Weak Link In Real Estate (MW)
Oil-Price Poker: Why the Saudis Won’t Fold ‘Em (WSJ)
BP Reports 91% Decline In Fourth-Quarter Earnings (BBG)
BP Posts Biggest Loss In 20 Years, Axes 7000 Jobs, Shares Lose 5% (Guardian)
Flood Of Oil Asset Writedowns Across Asia (BBG)
Iceland Central Bank Preparing New Weapons To Fight Capital Rush (Reuters)
World Index Of Economic Freedom Tells Us That EU Should Be Broken Up (AEP)
Ground Control to Captain Zhou Xiaochuan (Jim Kunstler)
Progress On Migration Could ‘Facilitate’ Greece’s Bailout Review (Kath.)
Europe’s Refugee Story Has Hardly Begun (Paul Mason)
Where Are Our Principles? (Boukalas)

Nice concept.

The Citi Market-Crash Clock Says It’s 5 Minutes To Midnight (BI)

Citi published a scary update to its market clock chart at the end of last month. According to Citi’s analysis, the economy has moved into Phase 4 of the economic cycle, the point at which both credit and equities move into recessionary downward cycles. The US is further along in the clock rotation than the eurozone is. But both are heading into the dreaded Phase 4.

The last time Business Insider looked at the Citi clock, in August 2014, it was still in Phase 3. Here is how the clock works, according to Citi global strategy analyst Robert Buckland:

• Phase 1: This begins at the end of a recession, when interest rates have fallen, money is cheap, but stocks are still battered.

• Phase 2: A bull market sets in during phase 2, when stocks start to rise as easy credit lubricates the economy.

• Phase 3: This is the tricky part. Stocks are still flying high, but credits spreads are widening as investors become increasingly unwilling to finance further risk. Corporate CEOs have now experienced a lengthy period of gains and become risk-happy. (And we’d note that central banks are already talking about tightening credit by raising interest rates.) Bubbles can form in Phase 3, as the high-flying stock market ignores the early warning signs of the deteriorating credit market. Hello, tech startup IPOs!

• Phase 4: Stocks react to the lack of available credit by collapsing, and we see the kinds of things you get in a recession: “This is the classic bear market, when equity and credit prices fall together. It is usually associated with collapsing profits and worsening balance sheets,” Buckland said last year.

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“At the moment they won’t impose losses on anybody..”

Time Running Out For China On Capital Flight, Warns Bank Chief (AEP)

China is rapidly losing the confidence of global lenders and capital outflows risk turning virulent if the current policy paralysis continues, the world’s top banking body has warned. “There is a perception that the renminbi could weaken drastically,” said Charles Collyns, the managing-director of the Institute of International Finance in Washington. Mr Collyns said the authorities have so far failed to articulate a coherent strategy, and there are serious worries that outflows of capital could accelerate, broadening into a flood beyond Beijing’s control. “The Chinese have not been rigorous and they have not been very convincing,” he told The Telegraph. Mr Collyns said China has already allowed the renminbi (yuan) to weaken against the country’s new trade-weighted basket of currencies, stoking suspicions that the recent shift from a crawling dollar-peg to a more opaque foreign-exchange regime is really a cover for devaluation.

The IIF, the chief global body for the banking industry, calculates that capital outflows from China reached $676bn last year. The central bank has been burning through foreign exchange reserves to offset the bleeding and shore up the currency, culminating in intervention of $140bn in December, by some estimates. A big drop in the yuan would send a deflationary shockwave through a fragile world economy already on the cusp of a debt-deflation trap, and do so at a time when the eurozone and Japan are actively driving down their currencies. It would risk a pan-Asian currency storm along the lines of 1998, but on a much bigger scale. China is not just another country. Its fixed capital investment has been running at $5 trillion a year, matching the combined total of North America and Europe.

This has led to excess capacity across swathes of industry that casts a shadow over the entire global system. Chinese officials insist solemnly that the new basket rate is the “decided policy of China” and will be upheld come what may, but concerns are mounting that they may be overwhelmed by market forces. The crucial question is whether the exodus of money is chiefly a one-off move by Chinese companies and investors to pay off dollar debt – and to unwind “carry trade” positions in dollars – as the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates and drains liquidity. If so, the outflows are largely benign and should make the world’s financial system safer. Mark Tinker, head of equities for AXA Framlington in Asia, said the bulk of the outflows are to pay off liabilities. “Chinese corporates are issuing corporate bonds in record quantities and using the capital to restructure their balance sheets, both onshore and offshore. This is not capital flight, it is asset liability matching, both duration and currency. It is a good thing being presented as a bad thing,” he said.

The IIF’s Mr Collyns, a former assistant US Treasury Secretary, is less sanguine. He calculates that total dollar debt in China peaked at roughly $1.5 trillion in late 2014, if all forms of exposure are included. “We think they have paid off a third of this. Half of the outflows are to repay dollar debt,” he said. “What is worrying is that there could be a broadening of the outflows. There has been a surge in ‘errors and emissions’ and this is ominous. A lot of this is a capital outflow below board through inflated trade invoices and other forms of subterfuge, and some of it is ending up in the London property market,” he said.

Mr Collyns said there is no guarantee that the outflows will slow even if all the dollar debt is paid off since Chinese companies may start taking out “long” dollar positions (short renminbi) in the currency markets if they fear that Beijing is losing control. “The Chinese have to restore confidence by pushing through reforms. There must be greater transparency in fiscal and monetary policy, and they must tackle excess industrial capacity. At the moment they won’t impose losses on anybody,” he said.

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“..it is estimated that for every job lost in steel, another 3 jobs are lost in related and supporting industries.”

China Announces 400,000 Steelworker Job Cuts, 3 Million More Expected (WSWS)

An estimated 400,000 steelworkers in China will lose their jobs, in line with plans to slash crude steel production capacity by between 100 million and 150 million tons. The announcement was posted Sunday on government web sites, and reports a decision made by the State Council on January 22 to cut steel, coal and other basic industrial production in response to the global slump and declining growth in China. Li Xinchuang, head of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, said that the cuts in production would translate into 400,000 steelworkers losing their jobs. “Large-scale redundancies in the steel sector could threaten social stability,” Li Xinchuang told the official Xinhua News Agency Monday.

The State Council did not say when the cuts would be made, but China, which produces half of the world’s steel, has already cut capacity by 90 million tons in response to the growing slowdown in the Chinese and world economy, and is under enormous pressure to do more. Along with the cuts already made, the new cuts will amount to about a 20% reduction in steelmaking capacity. The reductions will have an enormous impact on Chinese workers. In addition to those directly employed in steel making, it is estimated that for every job lost in steel, another 3 jobs are lost in related and supporting industries. Three million workers in the steel, coal, cement, aluminum and glass industries are expected to lose their jobs in the next few years as these industries seek to cut production by 30%.

Many of these employees are first-generation workers who migrated from impoverished rural villages with hopes of a better life. Often their families are dependent upon money these workers are able to send home. As in the United States and every other country, investors responded to the announced job cuts with joy. The stock price of China’s largest steelmaker, Hebei Iron & Steel, rose 4.3% on the news, and the second-biggest, Baoshan Iron & Steel, rose by 5.3%. The stock prices of China’s coal producers also rose on the news of the layoffs. According to the World Steel Association, China’s steel production in 2014 amounted to 822.7 million tons, or 49.4% of the world output of steel. Japan is the second largest steel producer, at 110.7 million tons, followed by the United States at 88.2 million tons and India at 86.5.

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Square peg in a round trap.

Hong Kong Property Sales Slump To 25 Year Low (BBG)

In a city that saw demand propel property prices to a record last year, the estimate that transactions reached a 25 year-low in Hong Kong shows how quickly sentiment has turned. Home prices have slumped almost 10% since September and monthly sales in January fell to the lowest since at least 1991, according to Centaline Property. Amid a spike in flexible mortgage rates this month and anemic demand for new developments, the low transactions volume for January is the latest evidence that prices have further to fall. “The danger is that when sentiment turns negative, it’s very hard to turn things around,” Michael Spencer, Deutsche Bank’s Hong Kong-based Asian chief economist, said in a telephone interview. “Developers realize they missed the best opportunity to sell.”

Hong Kong’s property market has been showing signs of weakening amid a rising supply of homes, higher short-term interest rates and slowing growth in China. Developers have been slow to make outright price cuts to move real estate while would-be buyers are delaying purchases in anticipation of further price declines, creating a standoff that could put more pressure on prices and drag down the city’s economy. Falling property prices may create a negative wealth effect on consumption by prompting buyers to cut back on their purchases, Deutsche Bank’s Spencer said. That could deal a huge blow to an already vulnerable economy where half the population owns homes and consumption accounts for nearly two-thirds of gross domestic product.

Based on housing and economic growth data going back to 2000, Spencer said that consumption growth declined on average by one percentage point for every 10% decline in housing prices. That suggests economic growth in Hong Kong could be halved to 1.1% this year assuming a 20% drop this year, he said. [..] Housing prices are down 9.5% since their September peak, according to the Centaline Property Centa-City Leading Index and may fall another 20% in 2016, according to some estimates. Centaline estimates that transactions reached 3,000 units last month. The previous low was 3,786 units in November 2008, according to a Jan. 31 release.

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How can Beijing stop this one?

Hong Kong Short Sellers Could Find The Weak Link In Real Estate (MW)

Hong Kong’s monetary chief warned Monday that speculators are wasting their time trying to short the Hong Kong dollar. But could Hong Kong’s property market be the government’s weak spot as more hedge funds line up to short China? The Hong Kong dollar has recently come into the spotlight amid reports that U.S. hedge funds are stepping up bets against the Chinese yuan. This comes after capital outflows have extended from China to Hong Kong in recent weeks as investors’ lack of confidence spreads. Since last week, Beijing’s job to hold the line on the yuan became even more difficult,thanks to the Bank of Japan’s surprise move to negative interest rates on a portion of bank reserves, which sent the yen on a renewed downward trend.

The move by the world’s third-largest economy to effectively target its exchange rate came only hours after Premier Li Keqiang pledged that China would not engage in a trade war by depreciating its currency. This is inconvenient as the market already views the yuan as overvalued as shown by accelerating foreign currency outflows. The latest move to weaken the yen just adds to the yuan’s perceived overvaluation. As well as unhelpful currency moves, confidence in the yuan is unlikely to be helped by renewed signs that China’s extended debt binge will be followed by a messy hangover.

New reports have emerged of multiple arrests after the discovery of a 50 billion yuan ponzi scheme, which may have seen 900,000 people lose money in a people-to-people lending scam. This comes on the heels of a 3.9 billion yuan loss at Agricultural Bank of China after staff reportedly devised a scam where bills of exchange were illegally funneled into the stock market before it crashed. The concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that authorities will have a sizable cleanup bill as they deal with the aftermath of the stock market bubble and the loosely regulated shadow-banking sector. Still, for those with a bear view on China’s economy and currency, this is only likely to strengthen the conviction that the yuan will need to go lower.

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It’s not tactics, it’s sheer desperation.

Oil-Price Poker: Why the Saudis Won’t Fold ‘Em (WSJ)

The game being played in the global oil market today bears more than a passing resemblance to poker. Nobody wants to quit while they’re losing. That is important for investors to keep in mind as they ponder what have become almost daily spikes and drops in the price of crude. So, too, is the role of Saudi Arabia in the game. It remains within Saudi Arabia’s ability to foster at least a partial recovery in crude prices on its own. A sharp rally in prices last Thursday morning was based on comments from Russia’s energy minister that the Saudis might get the ball rolling on 5% output cuts. That was quickly refuted and oil gave up much of the gains. All major producers are suffering financially at today’s low prices—while oil has bounced from its sub-$30 nadir of January, it is still down nearly 7% in 2016 and nearly 70% from its 2014 peak.

And Saudi Arabia hasn’t forfeited only a couple of hundred billion dollars and counting in forgone revenue, but also market share. That has mainly been to a relative newcomer, U.S. shale producers. But going forward it may be to an old adversary: Iran. The Shiite powerhouse is ramping up production following the lifting of nuclear sanctions. And its export surge is occurring against the backdrop of ongoing proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Those make it difficult for Sunni champion Saudi Arabia to take the lead with output cuts. Russia, meanwhile, is pumping the most crude ever, hitting a post-Soviet Union peak. But it may have difficulty maintaining today’s pace given a lack of investment in its aging Siberian fields. The chief executive of Russian oil giant Lukoil predicted that Russian output would drop in 2016 for the first time in several years.

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Nervous boardrooms.

BP Reports 91% Decline In Fourth-Quarter Earnings (BBG)

BP reported a 91% decline in fourth-quarter earnings after average crude oil prices dropped to the lowest in more than a decade. Profit adjusted for one-time items and inventory changes totaled $196 million, the London-based company said Tuesday in a statement. That missed the $814.7 million average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, and compares with year-earlier profit of $2.24 billion. Crude’s collapse has driven BP’s market value below $100 billion for the first time since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. CEO Bob Dudley has cut billions of dollars of spending, removed thousands of jobs and deferred projects in an attempt to protect the balance sheet. Dudley was one of the first of his peers to start preparing for a prolonged slump and that puts BP in a better position, according to Barclays.

Profit has been lower year-on-year for six consecutive quarters as oil prices tumbled. The average price of benchmark Brent crude slumped 42% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier to $44.69 a barrel, the lowest since 2004. PetroChina said last week it expects 2015 profit to fall at least 60%. Chevron Corp. on Friday reported its first quarterly loss since 2002, while Royal Dutch Shell said last month that fourth-quarter profit is likely to drop at least 42%. The European oil major is scheduled to report full earnings on Thursday. BP started cutting costs and selling assets following the 2010 oil spill. In October, it lowered its 2015 capital-spending forecast to about $19 billion after investing about $23 billion in 2014. The company said then it expects to spend $17 billion to $19 billion a year through 2017.

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But: “We’re making good progress in managing and lowering our costs and capital spending, while maintaining safe and reliable operations..”

BP Posts Biggest Loss In 20 Years, Axes 7000 Jobs, Shares Lose 5% (Guardian)

BP is to cut another 3,000 jobs after reporting a loss of $6.5bn, its worst annual loss in at least 20 years. The latest job cuts are in addition to the 4,000 job cuts already announced. The group also said it has set aside a further $440m (£305m) over the last three months for liabilities associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, bringing the total bill so far to $55bn. The latest financial blow from the US Gulf accident nearly six years ago helped to drag BP into a fourth quarter loss of $2.2bn and an annual loss of $6.5bn.. Shares in the group fell by more than 5% as the results underlined the impact of falling oil prices. Despite this, Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, blamed low oil prices for the losses but gave an upbeat message saying the company was continuing to move rapidly to “adapt and rebalance” to cope with a changing environment.

“We’re making good progress in managing and lowering our costs and capital spending, while maintaining safe and reliable operations and continuing disciplined investment into the future of our portfolio.” The underlying profit for the last three months, not counting the Gulf and other factors, was down from $2.2bn last time to $196m, much worse than analysts had expected. A consensus among 17 analysts ahead of the results predicted that underlying profits would fall in the final three months to $730m down almost 70% on the same period a year earlier. The biggest problem for BP has come from low crude prices with Brent averaging $44 a barrel across the fourth quarter compared with $77 for the same period 12 months earlier. Brent is now down to just above $33, 42% less than a year ago.

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Deflation.

Flood Of Oil Asset Writedowns Across Asia (BBG)

Investors in Asian oil and gas companies should prepare for a wave of writedowns after a collapse in crude prices. CNOOC, Santos and Inpex are among explorers and producers that may report full-year net losses because of writedowns that may be equal to as much as 10% of book value, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong wrote in a report Tuesday. “The future value of oil and gas properties has been significantly reduced,” according to the Bernstein analysts, including Neil Beveridge. “The impairment loss will likely be larger than earnings for the year for some companies, pushing several E&P’s in the region into a loss.” Oil prices have tumbled almost 70% in the past two years, weighing on earnings and forcing explorers to cut spending.

Writedowns at Santos, the Adelaide-based energy company that built the $18.5 billion Gladstone liquefied natural gas project in Australia, may exceed A$3.4 billion ($2.4 billion), according to UBS. Companies including PTT Exploration & Production that have been active in mergers and acquisitions over the past five years also are expected to write down the value of assets, the analysts wrote. Writedowns at Chevron last week pushed the company to its first quarterly loss in 13 years. “Investors should look through impairment losses at the underlying earnings or cash flow for each company,” according to the Bernstein analysts, who expect a recovery in oil in the second half of the year. “Assuming an oil price of greater than $50 a barrel, we see value in the sector.”

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Iceland remains a unique and interesting story.

Iceland Central Bank Preparing New Weapons To Fight Capital Rush (Reuters)

Iceland is drawing up plans to tax foreigners who buy its bonds or to remove certain interest privileges to keep from being overwhelmed by a flood of money drawn by the highest interest rates in western Europe. The country is about to start the tricky process of removing the capital controls that have been in place since what the central bank governor, Mar Gudmundsson, calls “the third biggest bankruptcy in the history of mankind”. With its economy recovering and interest rates at 5.75% compared with virtually zero in the rest of Europe, concern is growing about a destabilizing rush of cash coming in. “The conditions are good for lifting capital controls – they have never been better,” Gudmundsson said in an interview with Reuters. “A current account surplus, high level of reserves, a fiscal surplus and, hopefully, inflation that is still not too high.”

He expects the first stage of that process to come in the next few months, which is to remove restrictions on foreigners’ ‘offshore crown’ funds, which are worth around 14% of Iceland’s annual economic output. Once that it is done, the bank has said, it will use some of its foreign exchange reserves to prevent any bad reaction, before taking the more uncertain step of lifting controls for the wider population. “Possibly in the Autumn or hopefully at least before the end of the year” controls on domestic residents can be lifted, Gudmundsson said. With interest rates higher in Iceland than in virtually every other developed economy in the world, Gudmundsson said, it was unlikely locals would be rushing to take their money out of their bank accounts. It was more likely foreign investors will put more in.

Foreign cash flowing into the country’s banks was one reason Iceland got into so much trouble in the first place. It has introduced a raft of measures to prevent those kind of problems. But now has a different one: so many people are buying its government bonds that interest rate increases are losing their effect. As a result, it is drawing up some counter measures. “We are working on designing certain tools that hopefully we do not need to use often but are there on the shelf if capital inflows into the bond market are making it very difficult for us to run our own monetary policy,” Gudmundsson said. “Theoretically we can do it through a tax, so instead of having an interest rate of say 6%, you are getting an interest rate of 3 or 4% in effective terms.

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“The message is that a country can keep most of its economic freedoms within the EU (provided it does not join the euro)..”

World Index Of Economic Freedom Tells Us That EU Should Be Broken Up (AEP)

Britain has overtaken the United States in the global index of economic freedom, jumping three points to 10th place. What is striking about the 2016 index released today by the Heritage Foundation is the shockingly “unfree” state of the European Union. “Greece has dropped to 138 because it has lost control over its economic levers and monetary policy” What you have is a northern free-zone clustered around the UK, Ireland (7), the Netherlands (16), and the Nordic-Baltic region of the old Hanseatic League, with Switzerland (4) as ever near the top, and safely beyond the clutches of Brussels and regulatory asphyxiation. Or put another way, it is the Protestant alliance that battled reactionary Habsburg absolutism in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries – with Germany split within, torn in both directions.

This Northern grouping is roughly that which would emerge as a closely linked area of prosperity if Britain left the EU. In my view most of these states would also pull out within 10 to 15 years – de facto, if not jure – once Britain had set the ball rolling. Germany would be left trying to manage two deeply troubled blocs with demographic crises: a poor sphere to the East where a fragile rule of law is breaking down in one country after another; and a heavily indebted bloc in the South that is trapped in deflation and labour hysteresis, and has yet to claw back its lost competitiveness within the structure of monetary union. The index shows that EU countries are on average less free than other countries with a comparable per capita income and level of development, an indictment that should give cause for thought. Several of them are disasters.

Greece is ranked “mostly unfree” and is deteriorating five years after it crashed into the arms of the Troika, which claimed to be pushing through reforms to make the country more efficient, transparent, modern and competitive – but was in reality collecting debts for northern creditors under false guise. Greece has dropped to 138 – sandwiched between Bangladesh and Mozambique – precisely because it has lost control over its economic levers and monetary policy. Capital controls have been relaxed somewhat since the banking crisis last summer, yet Greeks are still limited to ATM withdrawals of €420 a week. Italy is only “moderately free” at 86. Heritage says it is plagued by high taxes and rigid labour laws. It has yet to sell off the rump of state-owned industries. Court procedures are “extremely slow”. State contracts are tainted by “high-level corruption scandals” and the “involvement of local organized crime.”

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“..this sucker could go down so much further than they imagined, that whatever fortunes they gain from its descent will be foiled by the destruction of the very economic system needed for them to enjoy their gains.”

Ground Control to Captain Zhou Xiaochuan (Jim Kunstler)

Why would anybody suppose that the Peoples Bank of China might want to tell the truth about anything that was within their power to lie about? Especially the soundness of any loan portfolio vested unto the grasp of its tentacles? Of course, most of what China has done in speeding toward the wall of financial crack-up, it learned from watching US bankers slime their way into Too Big To Fail nirvana — most particularly the array of swindles, dodges, and frauds constructed in the half-light of shadow banking to hedge the sudden, catastrophic appearance of reality-based price discovery. When so many loans end up networked as collateral in some kind of bet against previous bets against other previous bets, you can be sure that cascading contagion will follow.

And so that is exactly what’s happening as China’s rocket ride into Modernity falls back to earth. Like most historical fiascos, it seemed like a good idea at the time: take a nation of about a billion people living in the equivalent of the Twelfth Century, introduce the magic of money printing, spend a gazillion of it on CAT and Kubota earth-moving machines, build the biggest cement industry the world has ever seen, purchase whole factory set-ups, and flood the rest of the world with stuff. Then the trouble starts when you try to defeat the business cycles associated with over-production and saturated markets. Poor China and poor us. Escape velocity has failed. Which raises the question: escape from what, exactly? Answer: the implacable limits of life on earth.

The metaphor for all this, of course, is the old journey-into-space idea, which still persists in the salesmanship of Elon Musk, the ragged remnants of NASA, and even the nightmares of Stephen Hawking. Get off this messed-up home planet and light out of the territories, say Mars. Of course, this is a vain and stupid idea, since we already have a planet engineered to perfection for all the life systems associated with the human project. We just can’t respect its limits. So now, that dynamic duo, Nature and Reality, the actual owners of the planet, have showed up to read the riot act to the renters throwing a wild party.

The fourth and perhaps ultimate financial crisis of the last twenty years begins to express itself in terms that only the raptors and vultures can see from on high. George Soros, Kyle Bass, and the other flocking shadow banking scavengers prepare to short the living shit out of the old Middle Kingdom. The immortal words of G.W. Bush ring in their ears: “This sucker is going down,” and they are sure to win big by betting on the obvious. Trouble is, this sucker could go down so much further than they imagined, that whatever fortunes they gain from its descent will be foiled by the destruction of the very economic system needed for them to enjoy their gains.

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Refugees are back on sale.

Progress On Migration Could ‘Facilitate’ Greece’s Bailout Review (Kath.)

Greek authorities are scrambling to set up screening centers for migrants and refugees as soon as possible as German officials have made it clear to Athens that more efficient management of the refugee crisis could help along creditors’ review of the country’s third bailout, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that success in tackling the migration crisis could boost the country’s prospects for progress with the review, which Athens hopes could ease the way for debt talks. Combined with a burgeoning debate about Greece’s future in the passport-free Schengen area, the message from Berlin is said to have encouraged action by Greek officials.

A source close to Tsipras who participated in a meeting of government officials on the refugee crisis over the weekend told Kathimerini that the prospect of a “European solution” to the migration crisis and Schengen issue was “becoming increasingly remote” as EU governments face a backlash from their own people about rising migrant arrivals. Tsipras is expected to meet Merkel on the sidelines of a Syria donors’ conference in London on Thursday where Greece’s response to the refugee crisis is likely to be the key topic of conversation. A broader meeting including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and key officials from other European countries, among them Austria and the Netherlands, is also probable, sources indicated.

On Monday Tsipras met in Athens with visiting European Home and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and reassured him that the Defense Ministry, despite initial objections, would actively participate in finding a solution for accommodating thousands of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece. He insisted, however, that others must also share the burden, indicating other European states.

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Nice try, but Mason drops the ball somewhere.

Europe’s Refugee Story Has Hardly Begun (Paul Mason)

The refugee story has hardly begun. There will be, on conservative estimates, another million arriving via Turkey this year and maybe more. The distribution quotas proposed by Germany, and resisted by many states in eastern Europe, are already a fiction and will fade into insignificance as the next wave comes. Germany itself will face critical choices: if you’re suddenly running a budget deficit to meet the needs of asylum seekers, how do you justify not spending on the infrastructure that s supposed to serve German citizens, which has crumbled through underinvestment in the Angela Merkel era? But these problems are sideshows compared with the big, existential issues that a second summer of uncontrolled migration into Greece would bring.

[..] Greece is not going to push back or sink inflatables containing refugees. However many compromises Alexis Tsipras s government made over austerity, it is full of human rights lawyers, criminology professors and people who spent their lives fighting fascism. There is outrage at Europe s demands inside the Greek political establishment, ranging well beyond the radical-left party Syriza and its small nationalist coalition partner. Eastern Europe is, by and large, going to let the refugees go to hell. There is very little compassion in the media coverage of the refugees east of the former Iron Curtain. Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have swung towards populist nationalism. While there are tens of millions of liberal-minded, largely young people who are prepared to show compassion and adhere to international obligations, they do not control east Europe’s governments.

As for Turkey, it has, to date, taken no visibly stronger measures to keep Syrian refugees inside its own borders and prevent the deadly traffic across the sea to Greece. For a state that can arrest its own newspaper editors at will and bomb its own cities, that demonstrates a clear set of priorities. So there are only two variables: what the EU does next and what the European peoples do. If Germany has given up trying to organise the orderly distribution of refugees inside the EU, then free movement itself is on borrowed time. Everybody understands this, except the political and media classes who have to maintain the fiction that everything is fine. Germany had, by December, registered just over half the 900,000 asylum claims it is facing. The hard-right AfD party has sprung from sixth to third in the polls. Angela Merkel seems frozen in the headlights of the oncoming train.

Which leaves the people. Quietly, and without rhetoric, one of the most spectacular, cross-border solidarity movements ever formed has emerged to help the refugees. Churches, NGOs, communities, police forces and social services – plus ordinary people with no big agenda – just got on and saved people, moved them along, gave them water, food and clothing, and are right now helping them to settle in.

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Solid.

Where Are Our Principles? (Boukalas)

When neo-Nazis are seen heading out in force on a new kind of safari, hunting down and assaulting refugees and migrants, preferably young Africans, in Sweden, a country regarded as a paradigm of prosperity and openness, Europe has a duty to have a good think about what it represents – all of Europe, together, honestly and methodically, not alone, hypocritically and intermittently. When in Germany, which has seen successive neo-Nazi attacks against refugee camps, the head of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party – polling at 13% – demands that refugees be stopped from entering the country by use of force if necessary, we should all be afraid. We should be afraid that not enough people in Europe would mind if Greece were to allow migrant boats to sink, as some of the harder cynics have suggested with a hint of blackmail, even though their problem would not be solved by 244 drowned in January alone.

When European states and regions are caught up in competing over who will further reduce the amount of money refugees are allowed to keep on them (from what wasn’t lost to the extortionate greed of people smugglers and thieves en route) and seize what’s left over so that the beleaguered Asians and African don’t get too comfortable, then “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Denmark here extends to various parts of Europe: to Denmark proper, where the maximum “fortune” a refugee is allowed has been set at €1,340, to Switzerland, where it’s €915, Bavaria, €750, and Baden-Wurttemberg, where it’s just €350. Many already regard this as too much. When in Italy noble merchants are selling “boy and girl refugee costumes” for the Carnival, then every European, not just the Italians, ought to wonder how much longer we will allow our masks to present us as sympathetic champions of a culture that is about solidarity and hospitality.

When countries of the European Union intervene in a non-member state (our neighbor the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) wielding a whip in one hand and a carrot of monetary reward and diplomatic support in the other in order to force it to control the flow of migrants and refugees to Northern Europe at the pace the north sees fit, then many of the principles touted as being inviolate in the EU are exposed as a myth: solidarity between partners and avoidance of unilateral decisions and intervention in third countries. What solidarity is there to talk about when instead of admitting that the refugee crisis is a huge added weight on the exhausted shoulders of Greece and, looking for ways to ease the burden, many Europeans are using it as another opportunity to blackmail the country? Even if Greece has delayed in setting up “hot spots,” who gave the tough guys of Europe the moral authority to threaten it with drowning?

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