Feb 102019
 
 February 10, 2019  Posted by at 11:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the outskirts of Paris near Montmartre 1887

 

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)
‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)
Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)
Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)
UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)
250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)
Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)
MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)
IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)
Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)
Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)
Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

 

 

Another Sunday of looking in vain for Yellow Vests articles in the western media.

Best detail: the house of Macron’s leader of the National Assembly was attacked. Nobody knows who, nobody knows why. Yellow Vests? Who knows.

Well, Little Napoleon knows, apparently: “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic..”

On the other hand, intimidations and violence towards his own people is fine. Gory photos galore of another guy who lost most of one of his hands to a police grenade.

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)

Thousands of French gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators marched on Saturdayin what was their 13th weekend of action. There were scuffles in Paris and a demonstrator’s hand was mangled by a small explosive. There was also an overnight arson attack on the Brittany residence of the National Assembly head, Richard Ferrand, though no immediate link was made to the actions against President Emmanuel Macron. The demonstrations, named for high-visibility jackets worn by the protesters, began in mid-November over fuel taxes. They have since broadened into a more general revolt against a political class they view as out of touch with common people. In Paris, several thousand people marched on Saturday beside symbols of power such as the National Assembly and Senate.

The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but some protesters threw objects at security forces, a scooter and a police van were set on fire and some shop windows were smashed. One participant’s hand was severely injured when he tried to pick up a so-called “sting-ball grenade” used by police to disperse crowds with teargas, a police source told Reuters. [..] Politicians from across the spectrum condemned the arson attack on the home of Ferrand, a close ally of Macron and president of parliament’s lower house. He published pictures on Twitter of a scorched living room, saying police found materials soaked in fuel. Ferrand said criminal intent was the likely cause, although the perpetrators’ identity was unclear. “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic,” Macron tweeted in relation to the incident.

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Strong against the weak, and weak against the strong. Does Macron want to fight Onfray?

“Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)

One of France’s foremost public intellectuals has posted a 4,000-word screed exposing collusion between “the brute” Emmanuel Macron and the mainstream media to put down the Gilets Jaunes, all while blaming them for the violence. “Emmanuel Macron has chosen not to maintain order, but to suppress public protest,” writes Michel Onfray in his blog, in an attempt at a definitive account of the protests that have gripped France since November. “Intentionally, the president did not restrain the violence of protesters, and unleashed it on the part of the authorities. As the head of state, he carries responsibility for choosing repressive measures, so every single injury sustained is on him.” A household name in France, Onfray is the author of over 100 books on subjects ranging from philosophy to religion to politics, many of them non-fiction bestsellers.

He is also the founder of a tuition-free private university in Caen, which is part-funded by his publications. He is one of the most respected figures to try to give an overview of the crisis that goes beyond headlines and political allegiances. Onfray writes that the protest did not begin as a “peasants’ revolt of disgruntled right-wingers” refusing to pay an environmental fuel tax – as it is being portrayed by newspapers – but was simply a result of ordinary Frenchmen saying, “We cannot pay!” Instead of listening, however, Macron decided to escalate the conflict “using it for his own benefits, and the interests of the Maastricht camp [the pro-EU establishment].” The philosopher, who has previously aligned with leftist movements, details six “symbolic slaps” the president dealt out to the protesters, in addition to the physical violence they suffered in their weekly clashes during the demonstrations.

Onfray sees the roots of the problem in the “liberal Maastricht state” created in 1992 with the establishment of the European Union, “to promoting which Macron has dedicated his entire short adult life.” “This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong, as is evident from the abolition of the wealth tax and the failure to root out tax havens,” writes the 60-year-old Onfray. “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.” The Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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The EU cares a whole lot more about Macron than about its dignity. Perhaps it should rethink that before it’s too late.

Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)

The row between France and Italy is but the latest in a long-running spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and the newly elected coalition government in Rome. The Italian government is an unlikely coalition between the left-leaning Five Star Movement (5SM) and a rightwing party, La Lega (The League). Both parties are highly critical of the EU establishment and neoliberal capitalist polices which France’s former Rothschild banker-turned-president Macron embodies. Rome has also slammed France for its responsibility in fomenting massive immigration problems for Europe and Italy in particular through Paris’ criminal military interventions, along with the US and other NATO powers, in the Middle East and North Africa.

Things came to a head this week when it emerged that Italian deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio (and 5SM leader) had met with members of the Yellow Vest protest movement in France. The Yellow Vest movement has been holding nationwide demonstrations for the past 12 weeks protesting against Macron’s economic policies and what they call his elitist style of government. Di Maio and the other Italian deputy premier Matteo Salvini (leader of The League) have been openly supporting the French protesters, whom they identify with as part of a popular revolt across Europe against neoliberal austerity.

Reacting to reports of Italian government contact with the French protesters, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “outrageous interference” in his country’s internal affairs. The row has further escalated after France recalled its ambassador from Rome. The last time that happened was in 1940 during the Second World War. This is a major breakdown in relations between two of the EU’s founding members. Here is where the irony descends into farce. France is blustering with rage at Italy’s alleged meddling in its sovereign affairs while at the very same time the French government is party to an international effort led by the US to bring about regime change in Venezuela. The hypocritical arrogance is priceless.

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The revolutionary new plan among MPs from both sides: Vote for May’s deal, and then let the people vote it down. That way, whatever happens is not your fault.

Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)

Theresa May could win parliament’s approval for her controversial Brexit deal in return for guaranteeing another referendum, under a new plan being drawn up by a cross-party group of MPs. The new vote would give the British people a simple choice: to confirm the decision or stay in the EU. The initiative, aimed at breaking the political impasse, is being advanced by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and has won the support of prominent Remainers in the Tory party including Sarah Wollaston, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry. Kyle says the idea, which is likely to be put forward as an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, is also being taken seriously by “people at a high level in government” as a potential way to resolve the Brexit crisis.

The amendment would offer all MPs the chance to support, or abstain on, the withdrawal bill and would specify that, if passed, the decision would be implemented on the condition it was put to the public for approval in a second referendum. If the amendment passed through parliament but the deal was rejected in the subsequent referendum, the UK would stay in the EU under current arrangements. If, however, the British people confirmed the decision of MPs to leave the EU under the terms of May’s deal, Brexit on these terms would immediately come into effect without any need for it to return to parliament.

“The beauty of this plan is that it holds attractions for both Leavers and Remainers. For Leavers, if the deal is confirmed by the British people, it offers a definitive end to the withdrawal process with Brexit sealed once and for all. For Remainers, on the other hand, it offers the chance to make the case to stay in the EU to the public, based on facts not promises as before,” said Kyle.“Remainers could vote for May’s deal, or abstain, even though they might not like it, in the knowledge that they could campaign against it later in the referendum. “The key is that Labour and Tory MPs could choose their own way of allowing the bill to pass, yet both will still be able to campaign in the referendum for their real objectives and their principles will remain intact,” he added.

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These clowns are paid generous salaries to make these decisions. May that’s a good place to start.

UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)

A controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contract awarded to a firm with no ships has been cancelled by the UK’s department for transport. Transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million (€15.7 million) had attracted widespread criticism. The department said it had decided to terminate the contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal. A department of transport spokeswoman said: “Following the decision of Seaborne Freight’s backer, Arklow Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government. We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.

“The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity — including through the port of Ramsgate — in the event of a no-deal Brexit.” Mr Grayling last month defended the Seaborne Freight contract, insisting it was “not a risk”. It was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108 million (€123 million) in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU, despite having never run a Channel service. The department said it had been Arklow Shipping’s backing that gave it confidence in the viability of the deal, and that it stands by the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight.

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How close Brexit is getting. 47 days. A Bloomberg headline this morning says it all:

“Cargo ships are about to set sail from Britain for Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but their goods will arrive in an uncertain post-Brexit world.”

250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)

The Dutch government has said it is in talks with more than 250 companies about moving their operations from the UK to the Netherlands before Brexit. The economic affairs ministry said it had lured 42 companies or branch offices and 1,923 jobs from the UK last year, as it increases its efforts to gain Brexit business. Among those who have chosen to invest in the Netherlands are the Discovery Channel, Sony and Bloomberg. Sony announced last month it was moving its European headquarters to Amsterdam, as companies in the UK continue to progress with contingency plans. Its rival Panasonic has already moved to the Dutch capital.

The government report said another Japanese company, the investment bank Norinchukin, was also moving to Amsterdam, along with the global content company TVT Media, the financial services providers MarketAxess and Azimo, and the maritime insurer UK P&I Club. While Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, recently said he did not see Brexit as a business opportunity, countries including Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg have been actively looking for opportunities to capitalise on Brexit ever since the EU referendum. Banks and other financial services are obliged to have operations in a member state if they want to serve a pan-EU market, while broadcasters who transmit across the EU need to have a licence in one member state to meet regulations.

The BBC is considering setting up an international base in Belgium. The Dutch economic affairs ministry said: “In 2019, several companies including Discovery and Bloomberg have already announced their intention to invest in the Netherlands because of Brexit. “Additionally, the Netherlands foreign investment agency is talking with more than 250 foreign companies considering setting up operations in the Netherlands following Brexit.” Most of the 250 companies were British, but some were American or Asian firms reconsidering their European branch structures, the report said.

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Oh Christ, Britons who think this is a British issue. Lord have patience.

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)

If they did not exist, would we invent them? Given the chance to start from scratch, would Britain regard the Conservative and Labour parties, the two old and ugly sisters of our politics, as the best we can do? Are they fit for the purpose of representing and reconciling the diversity of opinions in a modern and complex country? And for offering it a choice of decent governments? A growing number of us have been saying not and for a long time. Even before Brexit split both parties and scrambled voter allegiances, much of the electorate was expressing its dissatisfaction with the big two. The Tories have not won a solid parliamentary majority since 1987.

The last Labour leader who was not called Tony Blair to secure a healthy Commons majority was Harold Wilson in 1966. The number of voters who enthusiastically identify as red or blue has been in long-term decline. Party membership has also been shrivelling. The Tories, who once boasted that they were a million strong, bump along at around 100,000. Labour enjoyed a trend-defying surge in its membership during the Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn phase of his leadership, but that is going downhill as the magical uncle turns out not to be so wondrous after all. It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election.

But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible. It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither. More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties.

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No, you got that really really wrong, they didn’t fall for anything, they are an integral part of the process.

MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)

The Trump administration’s now completely overt effort to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had a very successful public relations effort this week, as major Western media outlets uniformly echoed its simplistic, pre-packaged claim that the Venezuelan government was heartlessly withholding foreign aid. All of the articles—and scores more like it—repeated the same script: Maduro was blocking aid from the US “out of refusal to relinquish power,” preferring to starve “his own people” rather than feed them. It’s a simple case of good and evil—of a tyrannical, paranoid dictator not letting in aid to feed a starving population.

Except three pieces of key context are missing. Context that, when presented to a neutral observer, would severely undermine the cartoonish narrative being advanced by US media. 1) Both the Red Cross and UN warned the US not to engage in this aid PR stunt. 2) The bridge in question is a visual metaphor contrived by the Trump administration of little practical relevance. 3) The person in charge of US operations in Venezuela has a history of using aid as a cover to deliver weapons to right-wing mercenaries. (1) Not only has the international aid community not asked for the “aid,” earlier this week, both the International Red Cross and United Nations warned the US to explicitly not engage in these types of PR stunts. As Washington Post contributor Vincent Bevins pointed out, the transparent cynicism of these efforts was preemptively warned about by the groups actually charged with keeping starving people fed.

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“..oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades..”

IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)

Public debt has rapidly increased in many Arab countries since the 2008 global financial crisis, due to persistently high budget deficits, the International Monetary Fund warned Saturday. “Unfortunately, the region has yet to fully recover from the global financial crisis and other big economic dislocations over the past decade,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. “Among oil importers, (economic) growth has picked up, but it is still below pre-crisis levels,” she told the Arab Fiscal Forum in Dubai. Lagarde said public debt among Arab oil importing nations had increased from 64 percent to 85 percent of GDP in the decade since 2008.

Nearly half of these countries now have public debt of over 90 percent of GDP, she said. Public debt among oil exporters — including the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – rose from 13 percent of GDP to 33 percent of GDP, accelerated by the crash in oil prices around five years ago, Lagarde said. “The oil exporters have not fully recovered from the dramatic oil price shock of 2014,” she said. “Modest growth continues, but the outlook is highly uncertain.” Lagarde said oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which stipulates a reduction in greenhouse emissions.

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Ironically, the World Bank is a facade for US rule.

Pelosi manages to utter that “Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” An institution whose funds “internal audits and outside reports have tied to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose..” Thanks, Nancy.

Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)

President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the World Bank is a firebrand critic of the world’s largest anti-poverty lender – an institution he has called wasteful, corrupt and overly generous to China. Those complaints are similar to those voiced by others in the development community. But that does not mean they have found a new ally in David Malpass, the senior US Treasury official who has pledged to reform the bank. Nancy Pelosi, the newly reinstalled Democratic speaker of the US House of Representatives, says Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” And Liberia’s former minister of public works W. Gyude Moore tweeted that “an incorrigible arsonist will now be our fire chief.”

Malpass’ many criticisms of the Washington-based lender certainly echo familiar refrains. Many activists have long called for reforms at the World Bank, citing a litany of alleged human rights failures and scandals, and saying projects all too often left the world’s poorest even worse off, harmed the environment or entrenched the power of oligarchies and despots. Those critics might well have nodded their heads in accord in 2017 when Malpass said international financial institutions such as the World Bank “spend a lot of money” but are “not very efficient.” “They are often corrupt in their lending practices and they don’t get the benefit to the actual people in the countries,” he said in congressional testimony.

Internal audits and outside reports have tied World Bank funds to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose, to name just a few examples.

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Spain went from right-wing to socialist government, and nothing changed. A familiar global pattern.

Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)

The trial on Tuesday of 12 Catalan leaders over their role in Catalonia’s failed independence bid will be fought between Madrid and the separatists in the international media as much as in the courtroom. “We have to use this trial as a tool of denunciation, use it in our goal to make Catalonia independent,” the head of influential grassroots separatist group ANC, Elisenda Paluzie, said before the start of the trial at Spain’s Supreme Court on February 12. The separatists who govern the wealthy northeastern region have for years tried to convince the world of the legitimacy of their cause and make the case that Spain lacks political freedoms. But with over 600 journalists from 150 media outlets from around the world accredited to cover the trial, Spain’s central government does not want to remain on the sidelines.

The arrival in power in June of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez marked a change in Madrid’s strategy. The previous conservative government of Mariano Rajoy was largely passive in the face of the separatists’ international campaign. But Sanchez’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell – a Catalan who fiercely opposes independence – and his team spare no efforts to refute their arguments. “We are starting a completely different chapter,” the Global Spain spokesman said, adding the posture of the Rajoy government had “a very high cost in terms of misinformation”.

Officials from Spain’s justice ministry and the Supreme Court also met with foreign correspondents based in Madrid before the trial. And on Thursday Sanchez defended Spain’s judiciary during a visit to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in France. Many separatists are convinced that their leaders were jailed for political reasons and will not have a fair trial. And they see the central government’s public relations push as proof of this. “If the Spanish government is forced to carry out a campaign of marketing and misinformation, that means they feel insecure,” Alfred Bosch, in charge of foreign affairs in Catalonia’s regional government, said during a recent visit to London.

The Catalan government will respond to Madrid’s campaign by explaining “the truth….about a trial which is a political trial” and ease the work for foreign journalists and observers so they “reach their own conclusions”, he added. Catalonia’s public television will offer coverage of the trial in English to give it an “international dimension”. Grassroots separatist organisations ANC and Omnium Cultural are preparing their own information campaigns targeting an international audience which include videos made in several languages and meetings in cities across Europe. The lawyers of several of the defendants, who face long prison sentences if convicted, have demanded the presence of international observers at the trial. But the request was turned down by the Supreme Court..

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What did Elon say, there’s lots of interest but people can’t afford Tesla’s?!

Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

Details trickling out over the 3,200-plus layoffs Tesla announced on January 18 are starting to paint a picture of what is happening on the demand side for the Model 3 in the US. According to two laid-off employees cited by Reuters, the company has gutted its delivery team of 230 people at its Las Vegas facility that delivered tens of thousands of Model 3s to buyers mostly in the US but also in Canada. About 150 of the 230 employees on the team have been let go, the two sources said who were among those let go, as the company struggles with deliveries that have plunged from the pace in the fourth quarter last year.

The federal tax credit of $7,500 was cut in half to $3,750 at the beginning of the year after Tesla’s EV sales rose past the 200,000-threshold in 2018. Yet the $35,000 Model 3 that CEO Elon Musk promised in 2016 remains a distant promise. The company already slashed its Model 3 price twice this year to stimulate demand, yet the least expensive Model 3 still has a price tag of $42,900. “There are not enough deliveries,” one of the laid-off employees told Reuters. “You don’t need a team because there are not that many cars coming through.”

The two laid-off employees said that in the first quarter, delivery targets for North America – mostly buyers in the US but also in Canada – are down 55% to 60% from what they were in Q4 2018. After a herculean effort late last year, Tesla delivered 145,610 Model 3s in 2018, all of them high-priced luxury versions. During this effort to deliver as many Model 3s as possible while the full federal tax credit of $7,500 was still in effect, the reservation list was “plucked clean” of American buyers “willing to pay current prices,” as Reuters put it, citing those two laid-off employees on the delivery team.

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Feb 092019
 
 February 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Le pigeon aux petits pois (Pigeon with Peas) – stolen May 20 2010 1911

 

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)
UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)
Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)
US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)
Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)
Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)
US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)
Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)
Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)
Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

 

 

Almost off the news radar, Germany’s problems get serious, and drag Europe down with it.

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)

“Unexpectedly,” German industrial production fell 3.9% in December 2018 compared to December 2017, after having fallen by a revised 4.0% in November, according to German statistics agency Destatis Thursday morning. These two drops were steepest year-over-year drops since 2009. Even during the European Debt Crisis in 2011 and 2012 – it hit Germany’s industry hard as many European countries weaved in and out of a recession, with some countries sinking into a depression — German industrial production never fell as fast on a year-over-year basis as in November and December:

The declines on a year-over-year basis were broad: Without construction, industrial production fell 3.9% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.5% in November. And just manufacturing production, which includes mining and quarrying, fell 4.0% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.6% in November. On a longer-term scale, the industrial production index peaked in May 2018 and has since fallen 4.6%. It is now back where it had first been in February 2017:

And industrial production is not getting a whole lot better any time soon as new orders for the manufacturing sector have plunged – according to data released by Destatis on Wednesday. New orders dropped 7.0% year-over-year in December (adjusted for calendar differences), after having fallen 3.4% in November and 3.0% in October. In fact, orders have fallen seven months in a row on a year-over year basis in ever larger drops. The chart below shows the decline in each month compared to the same month a year earlier — with a sharp deterioration at the end of the year:

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As I’ve said before, tweaking rates is sort of an instant measure, but re-purchasing $434 billion in assets takes much longer. If only because the Fed will cause a panic if they try.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)

The Fed shed $32 billion in assets in January, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended February 6, released this afternoon. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,026 billion, the lowest since January 2014. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $434 billion.

[..] the questions going forward are these: One, will the Fed continue to trim its balance sheet on “autopilot,” or will it deviate from plan and slow or stop the balance sheet reductions; Or two, will the Fed reverse course and restart QE all over again at any moment now, as the biggest Wall Street hype-mongers have prophesied; Or three, will the Fed tweak the roll-off – as a slew of Fed governors have suggested – to where it would get rid of its MBS more quickly by outright selling them; and by replacing some of them with short-term Treasury bills to lower the balance sheet’s average maturity, which currently is over eight years.

Over the next few months, the Fed will likely announce some tantalizing tidbits about how it might tweak the balance-sheet reduction. One of those tidbits will likely relate to how it will shed MBS faster and replace those additional reductions of MBS with short-term Treasury bills. The effects of this may not be what the markets had hoped for in their wildest dreams. And the Fed will likely dole out more clues about how much further it wants to cut its balance sheet. But all this will take months, and until those tweaks are nailed down and announced, the balance sheet normalization will proceed on autopilot at its by now customary glacial pace.

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)

Some of the world’s poorest countries are being forced to agree potentially damaging trade deals with the UK by government “threats” in the rush to Brexit, campaigners say. Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is accused of piling pressure on developing nations to “sign up blind” – without knowing the value of the deals – with a warning they will otherwise be lost. Just three of the 40 agreements the UK enjoys through EU membership, covering 71 countries, have been successfully “rolled over” – as the government promised – with Brexit day just seven weeks away. Now the Department for International Trade is under fire for telling the countries concerned they risk punishing tariffs on crucial exports to the UK, unless they re-sign the deals in time.

Among them are Ghana, which relies on banana sales, Mauritius (tuna), Kenya (flowers), Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa), Namibia (grapes and beef), Swaziland (sugar), and scores of other developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. And, says the fair trade charity Traidcraft Exchange, they risk a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under an extraordinary plan to treat EU parts as originating from the UK. “The continuity agreements are being rushed because of the threat of no deal. Countries are being asked to sign up blind,” said Liz May, the charity’s head of policy.

“Without the full picture of how the EU and UK will trade in the future, it is impossible for countries to judge what these deals are really worth, how they will work in practice or even how some elements will be enforced. “Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, the government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports. “This type of bad-faith negotiating – using implicit threats to get countries ‘over the line’ – is not a great way to start the UK’s independent trade policy.”

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“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show..”

The Senate will vote on Barr next week anyway, so why the showboating carnival?

Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist, and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Democrats confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings, and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said congressman Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: “Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.” Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller invesetigation as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management”.

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.” Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s inquiry into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said the Republican congressman Doug Collins ,of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination”.

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The US food crisis is exclusively caused by Big Ag and Monsanto. Farmers depending on China is not in their interest.

US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)

American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food. Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers. They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.” Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.

“A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico. With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis. Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage.

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“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy.”

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy. And consumers are doing it, but in a somewhat lackadaisical manner when it comes to spending money they don’t have. Consumer debt – more enticingly, “consumer credit” similar to “extra credit” – rose 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the fourth quarter last year. In the year 2018, Americans added $179 billion to their balances on their credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Every dime was spent and added to GDP. It amounted to nearly 1% of GDP. If GDP grew 3.1% in 2018, just under one third of the growth was generated by that additional consumer debt.

Without this additional consumer borrowing, if consumers had just maintained their debt levels, GDP growth might only have been 2.2% in 2018, instead of 3.1%. So, a huge round of applause is due our debt slaves that now owe over $4 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Federal Reserve Thursday afternoon. Consumer debt includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. The $4.01 trillion in consumer debt is up 52% from the peak early in the Financial Crisis in Q3 2008. This is not adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index rose 16% and nominal GDP rose 39%. Thus, Americans are sticking to their time-honored plan of out-borrowing both inflation (by a big margin) and economic growth.

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Summary: Trump accused of using the same FBI that spies on him, to spy on Bezos, who’s in bed with the FBI.

I may have temporarily lost the thread, and the logic.

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct. [..] Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic. That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.” “Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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The core of the Venezuela crisis: “Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South..”

Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)

In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, IMF, and the OECD — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and the OECD, as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

[..] Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government. This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine. As the Grayzone Project recently noted: Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)

In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.

William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.

[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.

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“..a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks..”

US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)

The US is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking. Members of the South American country’s security forces fear they or their families could be targeted by Maduro if they defect, so the U.S. would need to offer them something that could outweigh those concerns, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington. “It depends on what they’re offering,” Farnsworth said. “Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?”

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A horse felled Troy.

Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)

Venezuela’s government on Friday said the United States should distribute humanitarian aid in Colombia where it is being stockpiled, while the opposition warned that blocking much-needed food and medicine could constitute crimes against humanity. A day after the aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, President Nicolas Maduro ridiculed the United States for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue. Rival Juan Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, warned military officers against blocking the arrival of aid amid spiraling disease and malnutrition brought on by a hyperinflationary collapse.

“Take all that humanitarian aid and give it to the people of Cucuta, where there is a lot of need,” Maduro said in a news conference. “This is a macabre game, you see? They squeeze us by the neck and then make us beg for crumbs.” “They offer us toilet paper, like (U.S. President) Donald Trump threw at the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at the conference, which experienced technical difficulties including a blackout and a microphone failure. He was referring to Trump’s improvised 2018 aid distribution in the U.S. territory following a hurricane, during which he threw rolls of paper towels.

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“Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes.”

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

We need to protect, and love, life in all its glory and beauty, because we are life. But we don’t see what connects us to all that we kill, we think we’re some separate entity.

There is no more flagrant failure in our education systems than this: they don’t teach us who we are.

Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense. Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.” The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue. [..] shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound. Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing.

[..] Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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Feb 012019
 


Vincent van Gogh Outskirts of Paris: Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade 1887

 

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)
Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)
Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)
Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)
Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)
What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)
UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)
US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)
US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)
Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)
With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)
Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)
Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)
25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

 

 

The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. 95% of them, 56 million, had died by 1600. But who knows this? The history we’ve been told about is white man’s history, almost exclusively. In his lovely books 1491 and 1493, Charles Mann describes this from a different view. First, he says as many people lived in North America as in Europe when Columbus came 500 years ago. Second, the image of roaming herds of buffalo was not accurate then: there was no place for them, the land was farmed. Only after the people had died did the buffalo take over and multiply.

Death Of 95% Of Indigenous People In Colonization Of America Cooled Earth (RT)

European colonization of the Americas contributed to the advent of the 17th century ‘Little Ice Age,’ a new study says. As some 55 million indigenous people were wiped out, their farmland turned into forest and sucked out CO2. Much of the continental US may feel like it is living through a ‘mini ice age’ due to the polar vortex weather pattern. But while this will come and go, there was a proper global drop in temperatures about four centuries ago, which is commonly called the ‘Little Ice Age.’ A team of scientists from University College London says that humans were partially to blame for it – particularly Europeans traveling to the New World for treasure and new life. While there were some natural reasons behind the oddball phenomenon, much of it remains veiled in mystery.

The British researchers argue that they have found a missing link – the “Great Dying” of indigenous people as result of the European conquest. The scientists found that some 56 million hectares of land were abandoned by the native population of the Americas as they fled or died due to epidemics, war, slavery and subsequent famine. Those lands were reclaimed by forests that, in turn, absorbed so much carbon dioxide that the process cooled Earth. “The resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution,” according to the study, published in the Quaternary Science Reviews.

Using a combination of counting methods, the researchers found that prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1492, the Americans were inhabited by some 60.5 million people. About 95 percent of them, or 56 million, had died by 1600. Some 55.8 million hectares (138.3 million acres) of what was previously farmland was reclaimed by the forests and led to a 7.4 pentagram carbon uptake, according to the paper. One pentagram (Pg) of carbon is equivalent to a billion metric tons. “These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2,” the paper notes.

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Treasuries stay at home. Foreigners no longer want them. Japan, China, Russia are all selling.

Who Bought the Gigantic $1.5 Trillion of New 2018 US Government Debt? (WS)

Under the impact of a stupendous spending binge peppered with juicy tax cuts, the Treasury Department has had to issue a flood of Treasury securities to fund the cash outflow. So, over the past 12 months, the US gross national debt has ballooned by $1.5 trillion to $22 trillion as of January 30, according to Treasury Department data. And these are the good times when the economy is hopping. At the next recession, this is going to get cute. But who the heck is buying all this debt? That question will grow increasingly important and worrisome as we move forward with this gigantic ballooning debt, fueled by deficits that Fed chairman Jerome Powell calls “unsustainable” at every chance he gets:

So, who bought all this debt? US government debt, as expensive as it is in terms of interest payments for US taxpayers, is a mildly income-producing asset for the creditors of the US. Somebody has to buy it, every last dollar of it. The US relies on it. So, who bought this pile of debt that got issued in 12 months? China, Japan, other foreign investors? Nope. They’re gradually unloading this debt. All foreign investors combined slashed their holdings of marketable Treasury securities in November by $105 billion from November a year earlier, to $6.2 trillion, according to the Treasury Department’s TIC data released today.

The Treasury Department divides these foreign investors into two categories: “Foreign official” holders (foreign central banks and government entities) cut their holdings by $144 billion over the 12 months, to $3.9 trillion at the end of November. But private-sector investors (foreign hedge funds, banks, individuals, etc.) increased their holdings by $52 billion, to $2.3 trillion. The two largest foreign creditors of the US — China and Japan — have both been unloading their Treasury securities: • China’s holdings fell by $55 billion from a year earlier to $1.12 trillion. • Japan’s holdings fell by $47 billion from a year earlier to $1.04 trillion, having now reduced its stash by 16% since the peak at the end of 2014 ($1.24 trillion).

[..] American banks (very large holders), hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, and other institutions along with individual investors in their brokerage accounts or at their accounts with the US Treasury were huge net buyers, while nearly everyone else was selling, increasing their holdings by $1.36 trillion over the 12-month period. These American entities combined owned the remainder of the US gross national debt, $7.5 trillion, or 34.4% of the total!

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It’s mostly Russia really: The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

Central Bank Gold Buying Hits Highest Level In Half A Century (CNBC)

The amount of gold bought by central banks in 2018 reached the second highest annual total on record, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). Central banks bought the most gold by volume since 1967, according to the industry research firm, which also highlighted it was the largest amount since former U.S. President Nixon Richard’s decision to end the dollar’s peg to bullion in 1971. Central bank net purchases reached 651.5 metric tons in 2018, 74 percent higher than in the previous year when 375 tons were bought. The WGC has estimated that central banks now hold nearly 34,000 tons of gold. The Federal Reserve is reported to hold the most, amounting for almost three quarters of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserve pot.

Taking the current spot price of $1,321.15 per troy ounce, gold purchases by central banks in 2018 amounted to a $27.7 billion spending splurge on the precious metal. “Heightened geopolitical and economic uncertainty throughout the year increasingly drove central banks to diversify their reserves and re-focus their attention on the principal objective of investing in safe and liquid assets,” said the report released on Thursday. The WGC said the bulk of the buying was carried out by a handful of central banks with Russia leading the way as it looks to swap out dollars from its portfolio. The Russian central bank sold almost all of its U.S. Treasury stock to buy 274.3 tons of gold in 2018.

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Every country should hold its own gold. What’s the problem with that?

Refusal To Return Venezuelan Gold Means End Of Britain As Financial Center (RT)

The freezing of Venezuelan gold by the Bank of England is a signal to all countries out of step with US interests to withdraw their money, according to economist and co-founder of Democracy at Work, Professor Richard Wolff.
He told RT America that Britain and its central bank have shown themselves to be “under the thumb of the United States.” “That is a signal to every country that has or may have difficulties with the US, [that they had] better get their money out of England and out of London because it’s not the safe place as it once was,” he said. The Bank of England is currently withholding $1.2 billion in gold from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, but is being urged by Washington to release it to the chairman of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido.

Last week, the US backed Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after he declared himself interim president. According to Professor Wolff, control of Venezuela’s oil has always been an urgent issue for Washington. He also said that the collapse of Britain as a global power, which was accelerated by Brexit, is now about to take another step. “One of the few things left for Britain is to be the financial center that London has been for so long. And one of the ways you stay a financial center is if you don’t play games with other people’s money,” he said.

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Pretty much a given now.

Brexit Could Be Delayed Because Government Is Not Ready (Ind.)

Jeremy Hunt has said Brexit could be delayed as the government may need “extra time” to pass key legislation if Theresa May can agree a deal at the eleventh hour. The foreign secretary admitted that a technical delay to the Article 50 process could be necessary to prepare for Britain’s exit from the EU, which is legally due to take place on 29 March. MPs ordered the prime minister to go back to Brussels to renegotiate a key part of her Brexit deal after her plan was resoundingly defeated in the Commons earlier this month. But despite the Tory truce, Ms May faces an uphill battle to convince the EU to reopen talks on the withdrawal agreement, with European leaders lining up to rebuff her efforts.

Asked about Britain’s exit date, Mr Hunt told the Today programme: “I think that depends on how long this process takes. “I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation. But if we are able to make progress sooner, then that might not be necessary. “We can’t know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen.” There is growing concern among ministers that there is not enough time to pass the necessary legislation before exit day, amid reports that the February recess could be cancelled to give Ms May more time to win over the EU.

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Ironically, Varoufakis points out exactly why Corbyn is too late (all he’s done is wait):

“Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

What Corbyn Must Do To Rescue Britain From Its Brexit Torture (Varoufakis)

Britain’s prime minister has been remarkable in resolutely following a ruinous path that she keeps insisting remains the least perilous road to Brexit. Theresa May’s first crime against logic was to trigger Article 50 without a plan of what to do on 29 March 2019 if no deal had been struck with Brussels. Her second was to forfeit any bargaining power she had by accepting Michel Barnier’s two-phase negotiation (first London delivers all that Brussels demands, then Brussels considers what London wants). May’s two colossal errors combined to allow a gloating European Commission to dictate to her a withdrawal agreement that, independently of whether one is pro-Leave or pro-Remain, resembles the kind of treaty imposed upon a nation defeated at war.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit has turned into a process tearing Britain apart while revealing its constitutional inadequacies. The next few weeks are depressingly predictable. The prime minister will continue to run down the clock putting all the pressure on Remainers, both Tory and Labour, to avert a no-deal Brexit by accepting hers. That was the point of backing the Brady amendment on Tuesday: to take Brexit revocation off the table, gain two weeks during which to pretend to negotiate with a European Commission that does not have the mandate to negotiate and then take a version of the same withdrawal agreement, possibly with some pointless addenda, to parliament. If her blackmail fails again, she will apply for an extension of Article 50 until 1 July to start the same war of attrition anew.

It is imperative that May is prevented from following this path. Those who can stop her and fail to do so will not be forgiven by at least one generation of Britons. Which brings me to my friend and comrade Jeremy Corbyn and his team. Labour’s leadership understands that, with weeks to go before the cliff’s edge, Niccolò Machiavelli’s counsel applies just as much to them too. “Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Until now it was right and proper for Labour to avoid distracting a Tory government while it was making a mess of things. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics were wrong to chastise him for delaying to call a vote of no confidence or for not backing a second referendum. Labour just did not have the numbers to win such votes. However, the time has come for Jeremy Corbyn to give a speech of hope for Britain, one that contains a clear vision of a country that heals itself after two years of wanton destruction by a short-sighted, clueless prime minister thinking solely of the unity of her divided government and party.

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Why Brexit?!

UK Homeless Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Ind.)

Housing charities have criticised government claims of falling numbers of rough sleepers as homeless shelters across Britain report unprecedented demand. Communities secretary James Brokenshire said his department’s strategy was “starting to have an effect” as official figures showed that, on a “snapshot night in autumn”, the number of people sleeping on the street had dropped to 4,677 from 4,751 the year before. But Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of charity Crisis, said the count was widely believed to be an “unreliable” source which “significantly underestimated” the number of people experiencing the devastation of sleeping rough.

Shelters in England, Wales and Scotland contacted by The Independent all reported record levels of demand as temperatures in parts of the country dropped as low as -14C. On the snapshot count, Mr Sparkes said: “The problem is, these counts and estimates inevitably miss a significant number of people, including those not rough sleeping on that particular night, those hidden from view and who aren’t bedded down for the night.” Figures published by his organisation in December revealed levels of rough sleeping in the UK – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in five years, rising by 20 per cent to 24,000 in just 12 months.

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Lawrence Yun still has a job. Amazing.

US Home Sales to Get Even Uglier in Near Future (WS)

What will home sales look like in January and February? Very, very lousy, according to pending home sales, a measure that counts how many contracts were signed. Contract signings run roughly one or two months ahead of when the sales close and are reported as sales. The measure of pending home sales for December projects actual home sales in January and February. To that tune, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that its Pending Home Sales Index for December fell to the lowest level since April 2014. “It’s been dripping down, down, down,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in the interview.

“Frustrating that the housing market is not recovering.” Compared to December a year earlier, contract signings dropped 9.8%, the 12th month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the worst year-over-year decline since the days of housing and mortgage crisis. To show the acceleration of the declines of contract signings toward the end of the year, I marked October, November, and December in red. The NAR’s report blamed the stock market swoon that had sapped consumer confidence, unaffordable home prices – that, after years of price gains had far outgrown wage gains – and mortgage rates. The latter is an interesting theory because mortgage rates, after a peak in early November, were falling starting in mid-November and fell throughout December.

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Let’s see the Fed tackle this one.

US New Home Prices Drop 12% as Supply Surges (WS)

The Commerce Department has reopened for business, and the good folks there are now in hyperdrive to put together and release the data that was blocked during the partial government shutdown that had also shut down the Commerce Department. This morning, it released the sales data for new homes whose sales closed in November. This report had originally been scheduled for the end of December. In the near future, the Commerce Department will further catch up and release the new-home sales data for December, which had been scheduled for last week. So, time to catch up, and here we go. The median prices of new single-family houses that sold across the US in November 2018 fell 11.9% from November 2017 to $302,400, the lowest median price since October 2016, and in the same range as the median price in November and December 2014:

This new-home sales data – produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development – is very volatile, and subject to revisions in the following months. But after a while, and despite the jumpiness of the data, as the above chart shows, the trend becomes clear. The year-over-year decline of 11.9% was the third months in a row of year-over-year declines, and the largest year-over-year decline since Housing Bust 1. Note the many double-digit year-over-year price increases in prior years, which attest to the boom in prices that has now outrun what the market can bear:

Just how far prices have ballooned before they began to deflate becomes apparent in this long-term chart of the median price of new houses. At the price peak in December 2017 ($343,300), the median price was 31% above the crazy bubble peak in March 2007, before it all blew apart:

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Pelosi will have to come with something. Does she understand this?

Trump Says Border-Wall Talks ‘A Waste Of Money And Time’ (MW)

Negotiations with Congress are a waste of time if Democrats won’t discuss border-wall funding, President Donald Trump said Thursday, vowing to build a wall with or without congressional approval. In a wide-ranging Oval Office interview published Thursday night by the New York Times, Trump also said he’s done playing nice with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed optimism over reaching a trade deal with China and issued numerous denials related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Pelosi has adamantly opposed any funding to build a wall along America’s southern border, and the specter of another government shutdown looms in two weeks, when a temporary funding deal expires.

“If she doesn’t approve the wall, the rest of it’s just a waste of money and time and energy.” A 17-member panel of lawmakers has been tasked with reaching a border-funding compromise. Trump suggested in the interview that an emergency order could be issued if Congress won’t allocate the $5.7 billion that he’s demanded for the wall. “I’ll continue to build the wall, and we’ll get the wall finished,” he told the Times. “Now whether or not I declare a national emergency — that you’ll see.” About Pelosi, Trump said: “I’ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don’t think I will any more. . . . I think she’s doing a tremendous disservice to the country.”

When asked about a number of other subjects, Trump said he ”never did” speak to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks during his campaign; denied he was tampering with witnesses through his tweets; and said testimony by his intelligence chiefs earlier this week was mischaracterized by the media, despite the fact that video of the hearing was shown, along with a 42-page written transcript. He also called being president a “loser” job, financially. “I lost massive amounts of money doing this job,” he said. “This is not the money. This is one of the great losers of all time. You know, fortunately, I don’t need money.”

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Varoufakis and David Adler. Personally, when someone says we need $8 trillion a year for a Green New Deal, I think: forget it. People think in terms of keeping present energy use levels alive, just switching to different sources. But the No. 1 issue should be to use less energy.

With World Bank and IMF In Crisis, Time To Push Radical New Vision (DiEM25)

“Prosperity, like peace, is indivisible,” said the US treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, in his inaugural speech to the Bretton Woods conference, which gave birth to the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and to the IMF. “We cannot afford to have it scattered here or there among the fortunate or enjoy it at the expense of others.” The original Bretton Woods plan was for exchange rates to be fixed, with the IMF helping heavily indebted countries restructure their debt and a stabilization fund curbing capital flight. Meanwhile, the World Bank would offer development finance and an international commodity stabilization corporation would “bring about the orderly marketing of staple commodities at prices fair to the producer and consumer alike”.

Finally, the whole system would be dollar-denominated, with the greenback being the only currency exchangeable for gold at a fixed rate. John Maynard Keynes, the chief British negotiator at Bretton Woods, was worried that the new system could only rely on the dollar as long as America had a trade surplus. The moment the United States became a deficit country, the system would collapse. So, Keynes suggested that instead of building the new world order on the dollar, all major economies would subscribe to a multilateral International Clearing Union (ICU). While keeping their own currencies, and central banks, countries would agree to denominate all international payments in a common accounting unit, which Keynes named the bancor, and to clear all international payments through the ICU.

Once set up, the ICU would tax persistent surpluses and deficits symmetrically so as to balance out capital flows, volatility, global aggregate demand and productivity. Had it been instituted, the ICU would have worked alongside the World Bank to keep the global economy in balance and build shared prosperity worldwide. But Keynes’s ICU was rejected. The United States was unwilling to replace the dollar as the anchor of the new monetary system. And so the IMF was downgraded to a bailout fund, the World Bank was limited to lending from its own reserves (contributed by stressed member states) and, crucially, any possibility of the IMF leveraging the World Bank’s investments (like a central bank might have done) was jettisoned.

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They got young people ‘volunteering’ to be spied upon to an even higher degree than they already were.

Apple Punishes Facebook, Google Over App Rules (BBC)

Apple revoked Google’s ability to offer its employees internal-only iPhone apps, likely causing significant disruption to the search giant. Apple was punishing its rival for breaking its developers’ policy, a day after it took the same action against Facebook. The move came after both firms used special access for market research. Apple restored Google’s access to the software by the end of the working day on Thursday. After more than 24 hours of disruption, Facebook had its access restored earlier on Thursday. “We are in the process of getting our internal apps up and running” a spokeswoman told the BBC. “To be clear, this didn’t have an impact on our consumer-facing services.”

Apple allows companies the ability to exert special control over employee devices in order to add additional security and control. Many firms use this to distribute apps that might contain private information to employees but not the wider public. Some firms also distribute test or beta versions of apps the firm is working on such as, in Google’s case, Maps, Hangouts and Gmail. Both firms use internal iOS apps to help employees access services such as travel. However, Apple explicitly prohibits firms from using this access on regular consumers. On Monday it was revealed that Facebook had used its enterprise access to distribute a market research app to the public, including teenagers. On Tuesday it became known that Google was doing something similar with its own app, Screenwise.

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The Troika is not happy.

Greece Raises Minimum Wage By 11% (K.)

An 11 percent increase in Greece’s minimum wage and the abolition of the so-called subminimum wage paid to young employees which were announced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a cabinet meeting early this week came into effect on Friday. “Today, a new era begins for the country’s young employees. An era with more rights, more dignity,” Labor Minister Effie Achtsioglou told state-run news agency ANA-MPA. “With the increase in the minimum wage and the abolition of the sub-minimum wage, we restore part of what austerity policies deprived employees of. And this is an act of justice.” The hike, the first such wage change in the country in almost a decade, raises the minimum wage from €586 to €650. The measure, however, has generated concern on the part of Greece’s creditors during their recent visit to the country to assess its post-bailout compliance.

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Why those minimum wage were raised. Imagine if Greece were further north.

25% of Greeks Cannot Afford To Heat Their Homes (K.)

Almost one in four Greeks cannot afford to heat their home sufficiently, according to Eurostat data collected as part of the annual EU survey on income and living conditions in the bloc. Based on the report, 25.7 percent of Greeks said they were not able to keep their home adequately warm due to their economic condition. Greeks buy heating oil at an average price of 1,025 euros per liter when the average price for the whole of the European Union is 0.794 euros per litre and 0.781 euros in the eurozone. The largest share of people who shared the same view was recorded in Bulgaria (37 pct), followed by Lithuania (29 pct), Greece, Cyprus (23 pct) and Portugal (20 pct).

In contrast, the lowest shares – close to 2 percent – were recorded in Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. In 2017, eight percent of the EU population said in an EU-wide survey that they could not afford to heat their home sufficiently. This share peaked in 2012 with 11 percent, and has fallen continuously in subsequent years.

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Dec 122018
 
 December 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joseph Mallord William Turner Sunrise over Plain, with Figures 1830

 

Tory MPs Trigger Vote Of No Confidence In Theresa May Today (G.)
1000s Remain In Custody In France After Preventive Arrests (RT)
Macron’s Multi-Billion Giveaways Could Cost France Dearly (CNBC)
Yellen Warns Of Another Financial Crisis: Gigantic Holes In The System (CNBC)
IMF Warns Storm Clouds Are Gathering For Next Financial Crisis (G.)
Trump Says Fed Shouldn’t Hike Rates, But Calls Powell ‘A Good Man’ (R.)
Greece Scraps Pension Cuts (R.)
‘Forced Tech Transfer’ Must Stop Or Be Regulated – EU Envoy To China (CNBC)
Ocasio-Cortez Already Reveals The Inner Workings Of Congress (CNBC)
Faking Moon Landing More Difficult Than Doing It (RT)

 

 

May could well be out by the end of the day.

Listening to May’s speech on this topic this morning was weird. Despite her government having gutted so much of Britain’s social systems, think NHS, think child poverty, she talks about a future in which she will be leaving nobody behind. But she already did just that, in spades. It’s Orwell.

Also worth enjoying: a few hours before the Tories triggered their vote, there was this headline: Labour Keeps Open Possibility Of December No-Confidence Vote. Boy, did they miss the boat there or what? Doesn’t exactly spell having your finger on the pulse, does it? Makes Jeremy Corbyn look like a man fast asleep. Amid all the chaos, they’re still being pre-empted by the people they should have long replaced.

Tory MPs Trigger Vote Of No Confidence In Theresa May Today (G.)

Conservative MPs have triggered a vote of no confidence in Theresa May, plunging the Brexit process into chaos as Tory colleagues indicated they no longer had faith in the prime minister to deliver the deal. Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, has received at least 48 letters from Conservative MPs calling for a vote of no confidence in May. Under party rules, a contest is triggered if 15% of Conservative MPs write to the chair of the committee of Tory backbenchers. A ballot will be held on Wednesday evening between 6pm and 8pm, Brady said, with votes counted “immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible”.

In a press release, he said: “The threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.” The prime minister will now need the backing of at least 158 Tory MPs to see off the Brexiters’ challenge, and her position would then be safe for 12 months. However, the prime minister could decide to resign if votes against her were below the threshold to topple her, but significant enough in number.

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Orwell reigns supreme. 4,500+ arrested. 4,000+ still behind bars. And here’s what the Macron government has to say about it: “..there were in fact no preventive arrests but only “preventive control” measures.”

1000s Remain In Custody In France After Preventive Arrests (RT)

The number of people arrested since the beginning of the massive popular protests that have gripped France for weeks has surpassed a staggering 4,500, with critics calling the actions of the authorities crackdown on democracy. The French police have detained a total of 4,523 people in connection to the so-called Yellow Vests protests that united tens of thousands of people across the country discontent with taxes polices and fuel prices hikes. Of those almost 4,100 still remain in police custody, the French BFM TV broadcaster reported, citing police sources. Earlier, the French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed that more than 1,900 people were arrested in connection to the protests in just one day – on Saturday, December 8.

More than 1,700 of them were taken into custody. However, the French media later reported that the number of those arrested on that day might in fact have reached 2,000 people. Part of those arrests seemed to be a preventive measure as they occurred before the protests. And the practice alarmed many. “When we [see] 1,000 people [detained] and 540 of them released two days later, it is obvious that there were at least 540 absolutely unjustified arrests,” a Paris lawyer, Raphael Kempf, told BFM, commenting on the issue. “Being locked up for 48 hours, they were deprived of their right to join a demonstration and this is shocking for a democratic country,” he added. The government, however, justified its approach by saying that there were in fact no preventive arrests but only “preventive control” measures.


Macron declaring his solidarity with the peuple from behind a gold desk.

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Napoleon is an emperor. He’s bigger than Brussels.

Macron’s Multi-Billion Giveaways Could Cost France Dearly (CNBC)

French President Emmanuel Macron announced tax cuts and wage rises on Monday in a bid to placate anti-government protesters, but the move will increase France’s budget deficit and is likely to create tensions with the European Commission. Macron promised on Monday to raise the minimum wage by 100 euros ($114) a month and that overtime will not be taxed or subject to social welfare charges. He also said the tax hike on pensions will be reversed for anyone with an income of below 2,000 euros a month, and encouraged companies to pay a tax-free end-of-year bonus.

[..] Macron’s promises might be a balm to some protesters, but economists note that they come at a cost. France’s borrowing costs rose on Tuesday with the spread between France and German ten-year bonds – seen as an indicator of risk sentiment – the widest since May 2017. The yield on France’s 10-year bond rose five basis points to 0.756 percent Tuesday before declining to 0.726 percent. Macron’s pledges are likely to get France into trouble with the European Commission for raising its budget deficit, the amount by which its spending exceeds its revenues, above the permitted limit of 2 percent of GDP. Macron’s announcement could also be a gift to Italy, given its own wrangling with the Commission over its spending plans for 2019.

“Macron’s sweeteners are coming at a cost,” Berenberg Economists Kallum Pickering and Florian Hense said in a research note Tuesday. “They add up to 10 billion euros or slightly more, equivalent to 0.4 percent of GDP. On top of the already announced 4 billion to cancel the fuel tax hike, this could push the 2019 deficit from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent of GDP unless offset by savings, which will be difficult to find,” they noted. France’s debt-to-GDP will likely rise beyond 100 percent as a result of the concessions too.

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More Orwell: Yellen’s “The tools that are available to deal with emerging problems are not great in the United States.” Should be:“The tools that are available to deal with the problems I caused are not great in the United States.”

Yellen Warns Of Another Financial Crisis: Gigantic Holes In The System (CNBC)

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told a New York audience she fears there could be another financial crisis because banking regulators have seen reductions in their authority to address panics and because of the current push to deregulate. “I think things have improved, but then I think there are gigantic holes in the system,” Yellen said Monday night in a discussion moderated by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman at CUNY. “The tools that are available to deal with emerging problems are not great in the United States.” Yellen cited leverage loans as an area of concern, something also mentioned by the current Fed leadership. She said regulators can only address such problems at individual banks not throughout the financial system.

The former fed chair, now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said there remains an agenda of unfinished regulation. “I’m not sure we’re working on those things in the way we should, and then there remain holes, and then there’s regulatory pushback. So I do worry that we could have another financial crisis.” In the wake of the financial crisis, some agency regulatory powers were vastly expanded, but others, for example, the ability of the Fed to lend to an individual company in a crisis, were curtailed. Current Fed officials have pushed back against criticism that their reforms are making the system riskier, saying they are making the system more efficient. Speaking in London in June 2017, shortly after leaving office, Yellen had said she did not believe there would be another financial crisis in our lifetimes because of financial reforms.

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What goes for Yellen and the Fed, also applies to the IMF: they apparently remain convinced that crises happen not because of, but despite them.

IMF Warns Storm Clouds Are Gathering For Next Financial Crisis (G.)

The storm clouds of the next global financial crisis are gathering despite the world financial system being unprepared for another downturn, the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, said that “crisis prevention is incomplete” more than a decade on from the last meltdown in the global banking system. “As we have put it, ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’. But, like many of you, I see storm clouds building and fear the work on crisis prevention is incomplete.” Lipton said individual nation states alone would lack the firepower to combat the next recession, while calling on governments to work together to tackle the issues that could spark another crash.

“We ought to be concerned about the potency of monetary policy,” he said of the ability of the US Federal Reserve and other central banks to cut interest rates to boost the economy in the event of another downturn, while also warning that high levels of borrowing by governments constrained their scope for cutting taxes and raising spending. Lipton said the IMF went into the last crash under-resourced before it was handed a war chest worth $1tn from governments around the world, while adding that it was important that national leaders had agreed to complete a review of the fund’s financial firepower next year. “One lesson from that crisis was the IMF went into it under-resourced; we should try to avoid that next time.”

[..] Against a backdrop of Donald Trump engaging in a bitter trade dispute with Beijing, he said China needed to lower trade barriers, while also impose tougher rules to protect intellectual property – a key complaint of the US president. Lipton suggested that Chinese trade policies that were once considered acceptable when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 as a $1tn economy may now be inappropriate as it had become a $16tn international superpower. However, he did warn that the US should not take an overly heavy-handed approach to reform, adding: “China has many reforms that it could carry out that would be in its own interest and in the interest of countries around the globe. But China feels they can’t take those steps, as they put it, with a gun to their head, in the midst of trade tensions.”

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“I think we are a rocket ship going up.”

Trump Says Fed Shouldn’t Hike Rates, But Calls Powell ‘A Good Man’ (R.)

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday it would be a mistake if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates when it meets next week, as it is expected to do, continuing his criticism of the U.S. central bank. “I think that would be foolish, but what can I say?” Trump told Reuters in an interview. Trump said he needed the flexibility of lower interest rates to support the broader U.S. economy as he fights a growing trade battle against China, and potentially other countries. “You have to understand, we’re fighting some trade battles and we’re winning. But I need accommodation too,” he said.

Trump named Jerome Powell as Fed chairman, but has repeatedly railed against him since he took over as head of the U.S. central bank last February. Trump in August told Reuters that he was not “thrilled” with Powell’s raising interest rates. Trump was more conciliatory in his comments about Powell on Tuesday, but still criticized the policies of the man he chose for the top Fed job. “I think he’s a good man. I think he’s trying to do what he thinks is best. I disagree with him,” Trump said. “I think he’s being too aggressive, far too aggressive, actually far too aggressive.” [..] “Are we heading for a recession?” Trump said. “In my opinion, we are doing really well. Our companies are doing really well. If the Fed is going to act reasonably and rationally, I think we’ll go – I think we are a rocket ship going up.”

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Round 14 of pension cuts is reversed. The rest remains.

Greece Scraps Pension Cuts (R.)

Greece’s Parliament on Tuesday voted to scrap plans to cut state pensions, in a motion led by the left-led governing coalition hoping to shore up its flagging support ahead of a general election next year. Eventually the bailout, worth up to 86 billion euros, expired in August without IMF assistance, and Athens has said better-than-expected public finances enable it to rescind the planned cutbacks. The European Commission has approved the government’s decision. “The time has come for people to be rewarded for their sacrifices,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers ahead of the vote, calling the step a “necessary breath for the people of labour … who saw their pensions and their dignity hurt.”

Pensioners, who are in many households the only people with an income due to the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone, have seen earnings shrink by up to 40 percent since Greece toppled into crisis in late 2009. Tsipras’s term ends in 2019. His SYRIZA party is trailing the conservative New Democracy by about 10 points in opinion polls. Since 2010, Greece has signed up to three international bailouts totalling almost 290 billion euros, and will remain heavily indebted for years to come. The country is monitored by its eurozone partners and the IMF to ensure it does not veer off post-bailout targets aimed at maintaining high budget surpluses in coming years.

New Democracy (ND) accused the government of increasing taxes and handing out benefits from budget revenues to win votes. “You are wearing the mask of the philanthropist just to tip people from their own savings,” ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Tsipras in parliament.

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“We believe in an open economy, we believe in globalization, but we need to make sure that these investments are conducive to growth.”
-Nicolas Chapuis, EU ambassador to China

Really?! Ask the people if they ‘believe’ in globalization. Ask the yellow vests.

‘Forced Tech Transfer’ Must Stop Or Be Regulated – EU Envoy To China (CNBC)

The European Union has a vested interest in promoting technology exchanges with China, but any transfers should be regulated, said the trade bloc’s ambassador to China on Wednesday. “For the last 40 years, EU companies have provided most of the foreign tech that is in China, about 50 percent of what is today in China,” said Nicolas Chapuis, ambassador of the EU delegation to China. However, the diplomat expressed concerns about China trading market access for technology. Beijing sometimes forces foreign companies to hand over their technological know-how in exchange for access to its massive domestic market.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that China cease forced tech transfers, which have become a flashpoint in the U.S.-China trade war. “This has to stop or to be regulated,” Chapuis told CNBC at the European Chamber Annual Conference 2018 in Beijing. “Of course if a company wants to open its tech books to a Chinese company — all right, that’s not an issue, but it has to be regulated so that there is no so-called ‘forced tech transfer,'” Chapuis said. Beijing has claimed it will step up protection of intellectual property rights, but experts point out that the country still wields its state-controlled legal system to take whatever trade secrets it wants for its own companies.

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Anything better than Hillary and Schumer, I guess.

Ocasio-Cortez Already Reveals The Inner Workings Of Congress (CNBC)

Although her first day on the job is still weeks away, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the Capitol. The New York Democrat, along with other incoming freshman lawmakers, is trying to usher in a culture of openness that is enabled by a vast social media following. With nearly 3 million followers combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez has used the platforms to involve her supporters during the transition period before she takes office. Her enthusiastic and often pugnacious transparency campaign has earned her praise from inside and outside the Beltway. Yet it has also drawn criticism from several corners, including from President Donald Trump’s eldest son.

In a series of pictures and videos on Instagram dubbed “Congress Camp,” she gave an inside look into new-member orientation, from choosing an office to voting for House leadership, while also showcasing the unique quirks of life on Capitol Hill. “Guys, there are secret underground tunnels between all of these government buildings!” she whispers in one video. In another post, she polls her followers on whether she should choose an office with more space or one “close to our friends.” But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t just focusing on the novelty of her experience. Last week, she tweeted sharp criticism of an orientation for new members of Congress hosted by Harvard. The event featured corporate CEOs but no labor representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t given any indication that she will let up, however. “Our ‘bipartisan’ Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance,” she tweeted. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?” Fellow freshman member Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., echoed her criticisms. Tlaib said that Gary Cohn, former chief economic advisor to President Donald Trump and former Goldman Sachs executive, told the new members at orientation that they don’t “know how the game is played.” “No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits,” Tlaib tweeted.

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Checking it twice.

Faking Moon Landing More Difficult Than Doing It (RT)

The head of the Russian space agency may joke about ‘verifying’ if the Americans landed on the moon, but there are no doubts for one Russian scientist, who weighed in on the decades-long conspiracy debate. The claim that NASA never landed astronauts on the moon and that evidence to the contrary was fabricated is among the most pervasive in popular culture and has been a point of fierce debates. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s space chief, even recently joked that Russia’s future lunar missions will give the country an opportunity to check whether Neil Armstrong’s footprints are actually out there.

That aside, people who actually study the moon for a living believe there is no need to launch spaceships just to prove the success of the Apollo program. Fabricating a lunar landing would probably be technologically impossible and anyway economically unnecessary, told RIA Novosti Yury Kostitsyn. The man heads the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, which is directly involved in developing sensors for space and was part of the Soviet robotic study of the moon. “Faking the landing of the American astronauts to the Moon would have been more complex and expensive than actually doing it,” the scientist assured. The key piece of evidence in his own field of knowledge is the moon soil, which the Americans said to have retrieved. It was studied in labs of many countries, including the USSR, and it’s definitely not from this planet.

“Falsifying moon soil is impossible. The Americans brought back to Earth about 300 kilos of it, most of it basalt,” he explained. “We have basalts on Earth too, but they are significantly different from the lunar ones in their chemical composition, properties, and structure. There are no rock formations older than 3.7 billion years, and what the Americans brought is over 4 billion years old, comparable to the age of the solar system.” (NB. There are actually rocks of earth origin dated over 4bn years, but the ones brought from the Moon are still older.) “There is nothing to argue about Americans landing on the moon between 1969 and 1972,” Kostitsyn stressed. “You won’t hear a single cosmonaut say they didn’t.”

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Nov 162018
 
 November 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


David Hockney Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

 

Julian Assange Has Been Charged, Prosecutors Reveal Inadvertently (WaPo)
IMF Issues Stark Warning On Leveraged Loans (F.)
Elizabeth Warren Says Fed Makes Same Mistakes As Before The Crisis (CNBC)
Global Auto Industry Collapse Continues (ZH)
Brexit Poll: Remain Takes Big Lead Over Leave, 60% Back 2nd Referendum (Ind.)
Theresa May Braced For More Cabinet Resignations After Day Of Chaos (Ind.)
Pound Tumbles As UK Markets Suffer Brexit Deal Volatility (G.)
The Paranoid Fantasy Behind Brexit (Fintan O’Toole)
Easter Island People To Head To London To Request Statue Back (G.)
It Took A UN Envoy To Hear How Austerity Is Destroying Lives (G.)
Rage Against The Cruelty Of So-Called Austerity (G.)
US Studying Turkey’s Demands To Extradite Preacher Gülen (AFP)
California Judge Orders Next Monsanto Weed-Killer Cancer Trial For March (R.)
John Kerry: Europe Must Tackle Climate Change Or Face Migration Chaos (G.)

 

 

Every single news outlet seems to carry a piece on this, and not a single one of them has bothered to do due diligence. They all just stick to the narrative, even if it’s been exposed as false. Every story mentions Mueller and Russia (some even mention terrorism), though it’s crystal clear that Mueller has nothing that links Assange to Russia, least of all that he got files from Russians. Fabricating an Assange-Russia link is needed for US intelligence and media lest the entire collusion story falls to bits. Mueller issued indictments against Russians he knew would never show up to deny or confirm, and he didn’t even have the guts to mention WikiLeaks, but labeled them Company 1. As Mueller knew Assange was safely incommunicado, and wouldn’t be able to deny or confirm. Mueller’s a liar and a coward. A common profile at the FBI, it seems. And the media; they stand up for Khashoggi and let Assange rot.

Julian Assange Has Been Charged, Prosecutors Reveal Inadvertently (WaPo)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing — a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets. The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.” Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia have long been investigating Assange and, in the Trump administration, had begun taking a second look at whether to charge members of the WikiLeaks organization for the 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents that the anti-secrecy group published. Investigators also had explored whether WikiLeaks could face criminal liability for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cybertools.

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Horse, barn.

IMF Issues Stark Warning On Leveraged Loans (F.)

An unusually blunt warning about the massive market in leveraged loans from a normally-circumspect IMF should give investors pause at a time of rising concern about global financial stability. Fund economists Tobias Adrian, Fabio Natalucci and Thomas Piontek have published a new blogpost highlighting some fairly alarming trends. “We warned in the most recent Global Financial Stability Report that speculative excesses in some financial markets may be approaching a threatening level. For evidence, look no further than the $1.3 trillion global market for so-called leverage loans, which has some analysts and academics sounding the alarm on a dangerous deterioration in lending standards. They have a point.

“This growing segment of the financial world involves loans, usually arranged by a syndicate of banks, to companies that are heavily indebted or have weak credit ratings. These loans are called ‘leveraged’ because the ratio of the borrower’s debt to assets or earnings significantly exceeds industry norms.” Adrian, a former New York Fed economist and now Director of the Monetary and Capital Markets Department, alluded to some of these risks during a presentation at the CATO Institute’s 36th Annual Monetary Conference held on Thursday in Washington.

“With interest rates extremely low for years and with ample money flowing though the financial system, yield-hungry investors are tolerating ever-higher levels of risk and betting on financial instruments that, in less speculative times, they might sensibly shun,” Adrian and his colleagues write. “Speculative-grade companies have been eager to load up on cheap debt. Globally, new issuance of leveraged loans hit a record $788 billion in 2017, surpassing the pre-crisis high of $762 billion in 2007. The United States was by far the largest market last year, accounting for $564 billion of new loans.”

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Why speak out now? She’s had 10 years to do it.

Elizabeth Warren Says Fed Makes Same Mistakes As Before The Crisis (CNBC)

Ahead of the financial crisis, a buildup of leverage on bank balance sheets that went largely undetected by regulators helped cause the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is afraid the same thing is happening again a decade later. The Massachusetts Democrat said Thursday that she thinks the Federal Reserve and its fellow watchdogs of the financial system are overlooking a dangerous buildup of loans going to companies that are already deeply in debt. The so-called leveraged loans helped undermine the financial system before and are building up again, now totaling $1.1 trillion. In a face-to-face hearing with Fed Governor Randal Quarles, vice chairman of supervision and thus the central bank’s leading bank regulator, Warren said she is worried about a lack of oversight.

“I’m not sure that I see much distinction between what you’re doing now and what the Fed was doing in pre-2008, and I think that’s deeply worrisome,” she said. “I’m very concerned that the Fed dropped the ball before and they may be dropping it one more time.” Leveraged lending actually has declined in 2018 from its blistering pace the year before. Total volume in the third quarter hit $177 billion, a 40 percent slide compared with the record pace of the same period in 2017, according to Thomson Reuters. Issuance so far this year is tracking at $930 billion, which is a 12 percent decline from a year ago. Institutional share of leveraged loans edged lower to 58 percent in the third quarter, against 60 percent from 2017.

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Yeah, we can never have enough cars.

Global Auto Industry Collapse Continues (ZH)

The outlook for the global automobile market has been increasingly dire lately, especially after a third quarter that saw sales drop in many major markets across the globe, including China. Now, the latest data from Europe suggests that the difficulties may be nowhere close to over despite optimistic fourth quarter guidance by companies like Volkswagen and Daimler AG. Deliveries of new passenger cars were down 7.4% in the EU and the European Free Trade Association in October from the year prior. This adds to a 23% drop that occurred during September according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, and which was so acute it led to the first negative GDP print for Germany since 2015.

Despite the ongoing sales weakness, which many attribute to one-time events, some analysts – like those at EY Consultancy – still expect the market to turn around in the fourth quarter. They argue that new emissions testing cited by many companies as the reason for disappointing sales, will only have a temporary effect. At the same time, Citigroup analyst Angus Tweedie thinks the downside is not over for companies like BMW and Daimler AG, according to Bloomberg. In a note titled “The Golden Age Ends With a Crash”, Tweedie wrote that “Heading into 2019 we see few remaining avenues of maneuver, and with volume growth slowing in most markets believe the scale of pressures will become obvious.”

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Lots of Brexit stories again today. May has left open an open vote for her allies.

Brexit Poll: Remain Takes Big Lead Over Leave, 60% Back 2nd Referendum (Ind.)

A growing majority of voters would back the UK remaining in the European Union if a fresh referendum was held, a poll suggests. Support for the UK staying in the bloc was at 54 per cent, according to a YouGov survey carried out after Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement text was published on Wednesday night. The poll found 46 per cent would back the Leave side – down two percentage points compared with a survey conducted in August. Almost six in ten (59 per cent) also backed holding a fresh referendum – once “don’t knows” were discounted – the poll, commissioned by the People’s Vote and published in the Evening Standard, found. If Ms May’s deal is voted down by MPs, that gap widened to 64 per cent to 36 per cent, excluding don’t knows.

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She’s going to face a confidence vote. And then another.

Theresa May Braced For More Cabinet Resignations After Day Of Chaos (Ind.)

Theresa May is braced for further cabinet resignations that would spark a challenge to her premiership, after a day of drama that left her Brexit strategy on the verge of collapse. Michael Gove was considering whether to quit, after apparently refusing to take the job of Brexit secretary – dramatically vacated by Dominic Raab – when the prime minister rejected his demands. The environment secretary is believed to have called for Ms May’s draft agreement to be ripped up and renegotiated, and for the cancellation of the 25 November summit with the EU which is intended to seal the deal. Mr Gove left a meeting with the prime minister without an appointment being made – with Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, also thought to be still considering quitting.

A defiant Ms May staged a press conference at which she vowed to fight any vote of no confidence in her, saying: “Am I going to see this through? Yes.” Likening herself to the famously stubborn England batsman Geoffrey Boycott, her cricketing hero, she told reporters: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”Earlier, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Tory Brexiteer, announced he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – creating an expectation that the trigger point of 48 letters would be reached.

However, the threshold was not breached, putting off a vote of no confidence by all 314 other Conservative MPs until Monday at the earliest. Although Ms May is still expected to win such a contest, a large number of Tories rejecting her leadership – perhaps 100 – might still damage her fatally. His position was rocked by seven resignations, with Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, quickly following Mr Raab out of the cabinet. Two junior ministers, two unpaid aides and a trade envoy also quit.

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Once people begin to understand how deep the hole is that the UK is in, the pound will really be pounded.

Pound Tumbles As UK Markets Suffer Brexit Deal Volatility (G.)

Britain’s financial regulator has been in contact with City firms as a raft of resignations over Theresa May’s Brexit deal hit markets, sending the pound lower and putting UK housebuilders on track for their worst one-day drop since 2016. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is understood to have been in touch with stock exchanges, bigger banks, and asset management companies regarding market volatility. An FCA spokesman said: “As you would expect in this type of situation we have regular contact with firms and will continue to engage with them.” Investors were offloading shares in FTSE-quoted companies with large domestic businesses and UK currency holdings in an effort to reduce their exposure to the British economy.

Royal Bank of Scotland was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100, with shares closing down 9.6% at 224p. The market value of the bank, still 62% owned by the government, fell by £2.8bn in Thursday’s sell-off. Housebuilders Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments all closed down more than 7%, with Berkeley Group falling more than 6%. The four FTSE 100 housebuilders lost £1.6bn collectively from their market capitalisations. The pound also took a tumble against major international currencies, dropping from above $1.30 to less than $1.28 against the US dollar by Thursday afternoon, a drop of 1.9%. Against the euro, sterling fell by 2% to just under €1.13.

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Excellent and scary Brexit background. The stupid idea of empire just won’t die. Britain is either an empire or a colony. There’s nothing in between.

The Paranoid Fantasy Behind Brexit (Fintan O’Toole)

Before the narrative of Len Deighton’s bestselling thriller SS-GB begins, there is a “reproduction” of an authentic-looking rubber-stamped document: “Instrument of Surrender – English Text. Of all British armed forces in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland including all islands.” It is dated 18 February 1941. After ordering the cessation of all hostilities by British forces, it sets down further conditions, including “the British Command to carry out at once, without argument or comment, all further orders that will be issued by the German Command on any subject. Disobedience of orders, or failure to comply with them, will be regarded as a breach of these surrender terms and will be dealt with by the German Command in accordance with the laws and usages of war.”

Written amid the anxieties of Britain’s early membership of the European Communities and published in 1978, Deighton’s thriller sets up two ideas that will become important in the rhetoric of Brexit. Since there is no sense that Deighton has a conscious anti-EU agenda, the idea seems to arise from a deeper structure of feeling in England. One is the fear of the Englishman turning into the “new European”, fitting himself into the structures of German domination. His central character is a harbinger of the “rootless cosmopolitan” who cannot be trusted to uphold English independence and English values, and who therefore functions as the enemy within, the quisling class of pro-Europeans. This is the treason of the elite, the puppet politicians and sleek mandarins who quickly accommodate themselves to the new regime.

Deighton was building on real historical memories of the appeasers whose prewar conduct makes the notion that they would have quickly become collaborators in the event of a defeat to the Nazis highly credible. This idea of a treacherous elite would later ferment into a heady and intoxicating brew of suspicion that the Brexiteers would both dispense to the masses and consume themselves. The other crucial idea here is the vertiginous fall from “heart of Empire” to “occupied colony”. In the imperial imagination, there are only two states: dominant and submissive, coloniser and colonised. This dualism lingers. If England is not an imperial power, it must be the only other thing it can be: a colony.

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More of the idiotic empire stuff. Just give back what you’ve stolen, you morons. Yeah, the Parthenon marbles too. You stole them from a European Union member. Put your Stonehenge thingy in the British Museum, not other people’s rightful possessions. Bunch of ordinary thieves.

Easter Island People To Head To London To Request Statue Back (G.)

Towering at the entrance of the British Museum’s Wellcome gallery is a 2.5-metre basalt statue from Easter Island. For indigenous Rapa Nui islanders, such statues – known as moai – carry the spirit of prominent ancestors and are considered the living incarnation of their relatives. Next week, a delegation from the island – which has been part of Chile since 1888 and is officially known as Rapa Nui – will travel to London to request the moai’s return, emboldened by the backing of the Chilean government and the museum’s willingness to engage in talks for the first time since it acquired the statue in 1869.

“We want the museum to understand that the moai are our family, not just rocks. For us [the statue] is a brother; but for them it is a souvenir or an attraction,” says Manutomatoma, who serves on the island’s development commission. “Once eyes are added to the statues, an energy is breathed into the moai and they become the living embodiment of ancestors whose role is to protect us.” Having spent 150 years away from its home, the statue – known as Hoa Hakananai’a –has become the focal point of a movement to return the moai which has steadily gathered momentum since August, when the island’s mayor, Pedro Edmunds, wrote to the museum requesting the statue’s return. Among the proposals the delegation will bring to the table is the idea of a replica statue being carved by artisans on the island to take the place of Hoa Hakananai’a.


Hoa Hakananai’a (‘lost or stolen friend’) c. 1000-1200 AD

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Brexit is playing out in a 3rd world nation. That explains a lot. But it doesn’t explain why Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t lead in the polls.

It Took A UN Envoy To Hear How Austerity Is Destroying Lives (G.)

Over the weekend, I asked Alston whether he heard any echoes between British experiences and the testimonies he heard last December while investigating Donald Trump’s US. “In many ways, you in the UK are far ahead of the US,” he said. He thinks “the Republicans would be ecstatic” to have pushed through the kind of austerity that the Tories have inflicted on the British. Like others at the Guardian, I have been writing on the debacle of austerity Britain for years now. Rather than the goriest details, what strikes me is how normalised our country’s depravities have become over the course of this decade. Ordinary people speak in ordinary voices about horrors that are now quite ordinary.

They go to food banks, which barely existed before David Cameron took office. Or they go days without food even in London, the city that has more multi-millionaires than any other. They spend their wages to rent houses that have mice or cockroaches or abusive landlords. Any decent society would see these details are shocking; yet they no longer shock anyone in that hall. What will remain with me of that afternoon is the sheer prosaic weight of the abuse being visited on ordinary people who could be my friends or family. Alston has heard so many stories about the toxic failings of universal credit and the malice that is the disability benefits assessment scheme that he is in no doubt about the truth.

The question for McVey, who is due to meet the UN party this week, will be how she responds to the weight of people’s lived experience. None of those giving evidence this afternoon want victim status. They are, as Trinity says, “survivors”. What they want is to be heard – and after that they want remedies. [..] the government, like most of the press, didn’t want the truth to be acknowledged – because then it would be compelled to act. This is what Britain has been reduced to: hoping that a foreigner has the stomach and integrity to hear and record our decade of shame.

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This is the rage that Corbyn should be talking about 24/7. Instead of giving interviews on how Brexit can’t be stopped.

Rage Against The Cruelty Of So-Called Austerity (G.)

Outrage, anger, despair, shame, impotence [..] The truths consequent on the savage, unnecessary, uncaring cuts to public services are not hidden away but confront us daily. Welfare benefits slashed, millions dependent on food banks. Libraries, museums, childcare centres, youth clubs, swimming pools consigned to the scrapheap; road repairs and park budgets cut, bus routes terminated. In Darley Dale a helpful notice tells us that the lavatory is closed and the nearest one is 2.1 miles away. The true story is that of a government that has chosen private profit over civic services, while it wreaks an assault on the services that make towns and communities good places to live.

In a 2015 Guardian article about benefits, sanctions and food banks, Ken Loach called for “public rage” and spoke about “conscious cruelty”. The word “austerity” has allowed the government to disguise both intent and outcome. In its original meaning “austerity” suggests plainness and simplicity, a cosy view of cutting back, perhaps a mythical wartime pulling together. “Austerity” is now a weasel word used to promote the Tory rhetoric that there is no alternative, that anaesthetises public anger as we are led to believe that there is no choice. There must be a new script. We should ban the word.

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Want to lose credibility? This is an excellent way. Assange and Gülen turned into trade objects.

US Studying Turkey’s Demands To Extradite Preacher Gülen (AFP)

The United States is studying Turkey’s demands for the extradition of preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt, the State Department said Thursday. But spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected the allegation in an NBC report that the White House is seeking a way to extradite Gulen — who reportedly has a US Green Card — in a bid to reduce Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of a dissident journalist. “We have received multiple requests from the Turkish government… related to Mr Gulen,” Nauert said.

“We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition,” she said. But Nauert insisted that “there is no relation” between the Gulen extradition issue and Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The White House “has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fetullah Gulen,” she said. NBC, citing four anonymous sources, reported that Trump administration officials had asked law enforcement agencies about “legal ways of removing” Gulen, 77, from the US to persuade Turkey’s president “to ease pressure on the Saudi government.”

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9,300 more lawsuits to go. Better combine a few.

California Judge Orders Next Monsanto Weed-Killer Cancer Trial For March (R.)

A California judge on Thursday granted an expedited trial in the case of a California couple suffering from cancer who sued Bayer AG’s Monsanto unit, alleging the company’s glyphosate-containing weed killer Roundup caused their disease. The order by Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou in Oakland, California, comes on the heels of a $289 million verdict in the first glyphosate trial in San Francisco, in which a jury found Monsanto liable for causing a school groundskeeper’s cancer. Damages were later reduced to $78 million, and Bayer, which denies the allegations, said it would appeal the decision. Its share price, however, has dropped nearly 30 percent since the Aug. 10 jury verdict and the company faces some 9,300 U.S. glyphosate lawsuits.

Petrou’s ruling clears the way for the second California jury trial over glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed killer. The trial of California residents Alva and Alberta Pilliod is scheduled to begin on March 18, 2019, according to a court filing. Glyphosate jury trials will ramp up next year. The company is scheduled to face jurors in a Missouri state court in St. Louis, where the first trial was set to begin in early February. That date, however, was vacated by a judge, Bayer said, and the trial is likely to be postponed to later in 2019. A trial in San Francisco federal court, where federal Roundup lawsuits are consolidated, is scheduled to begin at the end of February.

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If it wasn’t clear yet what a worthless piece of dung John Kerry has always been: it’s not the climate that drives African to Europe, it’s US warfare, interventions and arms sales.

John Kerry: Europe Must Tackle Climate Change Or Face Migration Chaos (G.)

Europe faces even deeper political turmoil and the possibility of mass migration from Africa unless the world urgently addresses the threat of climate change, the former US secretary of state John Kerry said on Thursday. Speaking at a Guardian Live event, he said he was deeply disturbed at how issues such as climate change, cyber wars and the future of the oceans were not ballot box issues, admitting it was hard to translate these issues into an acceptable set of choices for voters. Kerry said: “We are heading for catastrophe unless we respond to some life-threatening challenges very rapidly. We have a climate-denying president that pulls us out of the the Paris climate change agreement at a time when literally every day matters.

“Europe is already crushed under this transformation that is taking place due to migration. In Germany Angela Merkel is weakened. Italian politics is significantly impacted. “Well, imagine what happens if water dries up and you cannot produce food in northern Africa. Imagine what happens if Nigeria hits its alleged 500 million people by the middle of the century … you are going to have hordes of people in the northern part of the Mediterranean knocking on the door. I am telling you. If you don’t believe me, just go read the literature.” The former secretary of state for the Obama administration reminded his audience that climate change scientists had just warned that historically unprecedented steps were needed to prevent an extra 0.5C (32.9F) degrees increase.

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Nov 142018
 
 November 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Still life 1917

 

Britiain, EU Agree on Brexit Plan (G.)
France and Facebook Announce Partnership Against Online Hate Speech (Pol.eu)
Oil’s Unprecedented Slide Accelerates, Capitulates To Darkening Outlook (BBG)
Major Markets Are All Flashing Warning Signs (Roberts)
Trump’s Tariff Battle With China Spurs Record Dollar-Yuan Trading (CNBC)
Goldman Sachs Is Implicated In History’s Largest Financial Con (Ind.)
IMF Says Governments Could Set Up Their Own Cryptocurrencies (G.)
Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ Headquarters Will Cost US Taxpayers $2 Billion (R.)
Decoding The Hypersonic Putin On A Day Of Remembrance (Escobar)
Angela Merkel Calls For Creation Of ‘Real, True’ EU Army (Ind.)
Saudi ‘Kill Team’s’ Luggage Contained Syringes, Defibrillators, Scissors (AFP)
Who Gets to Live in Victimville? (Monics Lewinsky)
Social Media Increases Depression And Loneliness (TI)
Heatwaves Can ‘Wipe Out’ Male Insect Fertility (G.)

 

 

At sort of the last moment, the long awaited deal is announced. Alas, all it really does is push forward any awkward decisions- and there are many. And even that can be voted down by the Cabinet, or parliament, or some other party involved, like the DUP. One thing seems certain: Theresa May will no longer be in charge when actual decisions are made. So why would she care? It’s about saving face by now.

Britiain, EU Agree on Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May summoned her cabinet to an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to sign off her long awaited final Brexit deal, prompting hard-Brexit Tories to call for senior ministers to stand up and block it. The critical meeting is the culmination of months of negotiations and will see May’s senior ministers consider whether they can personally endorse the agreement that the prime minister has been able to reach. Ministers were summoned to No 10 in the early evening and some met individually with May or her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell. They were given the chance to read the key documents, although they were not trusted to take any papers home.

Further one-on-one meetings were expected to take place on Wednesday. “Cabinet will meet at 2pm tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,” a No 10 spokesman confirmed. “Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting.” Key elements of the deal began to leak in the early evening. The UK was understood to have agreed that an independent arbitration committee will judge when a UK-wide customs backstop could be terminated, comprising an equal number of British and EU representatives plus an independent element.

There will be a review in July 2020, Brussels sources added, six months before the end of the transition period, at which it will be determined if the UK is ready to move to a free trade deal; transfer to the backstop; or extend the transition period, possibly by a year to 2021.

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Scary. The leader of one political party seeks to decide with Silicon Valley, what constitutes hate speech. The main potential target of this is Marine le Pen, who’s already had her share of hate accusations. Thing is, Macron has fallen behind her in the -EU election- polls, his popularity has fallen to 23%. And now Zuckerberg gives him the tools to get rid of Le Pen.

France and Facebook Announce Partnership Against Online Hate Speech (Pol.eu)

Emmanuel Macron just “friended” Mark Zuckerberg. The French president announced on Monday a six-month partnership with Facebook aimed at figuring out how the European country should police hate speech on the social network. As part of the cooperation — the first time that Facebook has teamed up with national politicians to hammer out such a contentious issue — both sides plan to meet regularly between now and May, when the European election is due to be held. They will focus on how the French government and Facebook can work together to remove harmful content from across the digital platform, without specifying the outcome of their work or if it would result in binding regulation.

The partnership, which will involve meetings in Paris, Dublin and California, may be broadened out to cover other as yet unnamed areas after six months. A French official who asked not to be named called the partnership an “unprecedented experiment” that would grant authorities insight into Facebook’s processes to formulate recommendations that are “concrete and operational.” The social networking giant is now trying to lobby national lawmakers on the perceived dangers of regulating the internet. “We are giving blind faith to our daily digital tools,” Macron told an audience in Paris. “Today, when I see our democracy, internet is much better used by the extremes … or by terrorist groups.”

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Feeding on itself by now?!

Oil’s Unprecedented Slide Accelerates, Capitulates To Darkening Outlook (BBG)

Oil’s unprecedented decline deepened as investors fled a market hammered by swelling excess supplies, a darkening demand outlook and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter critique of the world’s biggest crude exporter. Futures plunged 7.1 per cent in New York on Tuesday for the biggest one-day drop in three years. OPEC’s dire forecast for 2019 demand came at a time of steadily rising American production and stockpiles. Trump admonished Saudi Arabia for planning to curb output and lamented prices that settled below US$56 a barrel for the first time in a year. “This tweet certainly did not help prices,” said Warren Patterson, a senior commodities strategist at ING Bank.

“Given the growing global surplus over the first half of 2019, OPEC will likely try to ignore President Trump’s call as much as possible.” West Texas Intermediate futures have fallen for a record 12 sessions on fears that a supply glut similar to the price-killing surplus of 2014 is redeveloping. In London, Brent futures have declined in 11 of the past 12 sessions. Money managers’ combined bullish positions in WTI and Brent sank to the lowest in 14 months as of Nov. 6, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show, as long positions shrank and shorts increased.

“Today’s move is just capitulation,” said Nick Gentile, managing partner of commodity trading advisor NickJen Capital Management & Consulting LLC in New York. “You’re getting a combination of the systematic CTAs, the trend following guys, adding to the shorts and global macro guys liquidating longs.” WTI for December delivery dropped US$4.24 to end the session at US$55.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Total volume traded Tuesday was about 90 per cent above the 100-day average.

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Master graphmaker Lance Roberts has some more. I picked a few.

Major Markets Are All Flashing Warning Signs (Roberts)

[..] the failure of the market to hold the 200-dma also increases the downside risk of the market currently. There is an important point here to be made about “bull markets” and “bear markets. While there is no “official” definition of what constitutes a “bull” or “bear” market, the generally accepted definition is a decline of 20% in the market. However, since I really don’t want to subject my clients to a loss of 20% in their portfolios, I would suggest a different definition based on the “trend” of the market as a whole. As shown in the chart below: • If prices are generally “trending higher” then such is considered a “bull market.” • A “bear market” is when the “trend” changes from positive to negative.

[..] what is happening domestically should not be a surprise. The rest of the world markets have already confirmed bear market trends and continue to trade below their long-term moving averages. (The very definition of a bear market.) While it has been believed the U.S. can “decouple” from the rest of the world, such is not likely the case. The pressure on global markets is a reflection of a slowing global economy which will ultimately find its way back to the U.S.

(Note: we closed all international and emerging market positions in our portfolios at the beginning of this year.) Just as a side note, China has been in a massive bear market trend since 2015 and is down nearly 50% from its previous highs.

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China’s foreign reserves are under severe pressure.

Trump’s Tariff Battle With China Spurs Record Dollar-Yuan Trading (CNBC)

Market uncertainty tied to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war has spurred more transactions than ever before between the American dollar and the Chinese yuan in recent months. Much of that volume comes as businesses and investors with exposure to the Chinese market are looking to hedge their foreign exchange risk. Many of them are looking to buy into the strengthening dollar, and that’s stoked speculation that Chinese authorities are intervening in the market to defend their currency, boosting trading volumes to new highs in the process. On Tuesday, currency traders told Reuters major state-owned banks were selling dollars to defend the Chinese yuan, as the greenback climbed to a 16-month peak against a basket for currencies.

Most trading between the two currencies takes place on the spot market, where dollars and yuan change hands as soon as a deal is done. That sort of market has seen volumes surge this year for the currency pair. But futures trading — where the transaction is agreed to take place at a later date at a certain price — is also increasingly catching dollar-yuan traders’ interests, according to Benjamin Lu, an investment analyst with Singapore brokerage Phillip Futures. [..] ups-and-downs in the foreign exchange market have prompted a Singapore-based privately backed Chinese exchange to launch a new dollar-offshore yuan futures contract. “Nobody knows how the trade war will end. There’s a lot of fear and panic in the financial market and worries about trade,” said Eugene Zhu, CEO of the Chinese-backed Asia Pacific Exchange.

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Malaysia should call Blankfein to testify in court. He knew, he was there. But Goldman is far more likely to just pay some huge fine.

Goldman Sachs Is Implicated In History’s Largest Financial Con (Ind.)

Even by Wall Street standards of gouging customers this was one hell of a skim. In 2012 and 2013, the Malaysian government was raising $6.5bn (£5bn) from investors to establish a sovereign wealth fund and finance various domestic infrastructure investment projects. And the cut for Goldman Sachs – the most prestigious investment bank in the world – for arranging the fundraising from the global capital markets? Ten per cent, or $600m. Now we can have a guess as to why the Malaysian authorities were so insouciant about those extortionate fundraising costs: because they themselves were, apparently, going to loot the pot in one of the biggest frauds in history. Around half of the fund has gone missing.

According to the US Justice Department a fair amount has been pumped into luxury American real estate and shady art auction bids. Appropriately, some went into investing in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. At one stage $680m mysteriously appeared in the bank account of the former Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, who chaired the 1MDB advisory board, and who is now charged in his own country with corruption. Malaysian politicians, officials and financiers had effectively bought Goldman Sachs’ blue chip reputation to pull in naive investors to the “1MDB” state investment fund. Ten per cent probably seemed a reasonable cut in the circumstances. The question is: what did Goldman know about the theft?

The bank claims today that it was completely oblivious. But the senior Goldman banker on the ground in Malaysia, Tim Leissner, certainly knew. He pleaded guilty in New York to financial crimes related to 1MDB last week, including bribery of officials to ensure Goldman was the sole fundraiser. What’s even more problematic for the bank is that Leissner told the court there was a “culture” at Goldman Sachs of bypassing internal compliance. That’s backed up by US prosecutors, who say Goldman’s business culture in the region was “highly focused on consummating deals, at times prioritising this goal ahead of the proper operation of its compliance functions”.

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And then let the IMF control them all.

IMF Says Governments Could Set Up Their Own Cryptocurrencies (G.)

Governments should consider offering their own cryptocurrencies to prevent the systems becoming havens for fraudsters and money launderers, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund said referring to the fast-growing fintech industry. Lagarde said central banks had to work quickly to establish digital cash for burgeoning networks of private financial transactions or risk their mushrooming into trading networks that were inherently unstable. A system regulated by central banks could become the basis for a rapid expansion of financial services to developing world countries and the poorest people in western societies without the risks associated with privately managed digital currencies, she said.

[..] Speaking at a fintech conference in Singapore, Lagarde said central banks would take over the processing of transactions while private-sector providers offered innovative services to customers. “The advantage is clear. Your payment would be immediate, safe, cheap, and potentially semi-anonymous. And central banks would retain a sure footing in payments. In addition, they would offer a more level playing field for competition, and a platform for innovation. Meanwhile your bank or fellow entrepreneurs would have ensured a friendly user experience based on the latest technologies,. “Putting it another way. The central bank focuses on its comparative advantage – back-end settlement – and financial institutions and start-ups are free to focus on what they do best – client interface and innovation. This is public-private partnership at its best.”

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Because Bezos is barely scraping by. Everywhere you look, Amazon gets rewarded for destroying communities.

Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ Headquarters Will Cost US Taxpayers $2 Billion (R.)

Amazon.com picked America’s financial and political capitals for massive new offices on Tuesday, branching out from its home base in Seattle with plans to create more than 25,000 jobs in both New York City and an area just outside Washington, D.C. The world’s largest online retailer plans to spend $5 billion on the two new developments in Long Island City and Arlington, Virginia, and expects to get more than $2 billion in tax credits and incentives with plans to apply for more. The prize, which Amazon called HQ2, attracted hundreds of proposals from across North America in a year-long bidding war that garnered widespread publicity for the company. Amazon ended the frenzy by dividing the spoils between the two most powerful East Coast U.S. cities and offering a consolation prize of a 5,000-person center in Nashville, Tennessee, focused on technology and management for retail operations.

[..] At the outset of its search last year, Amazon said it was looking for a business-friendly environment. The company said it will receive performance-based incentives of $1.525 billion from the state of New York, including an average $48,000 for each job it creates. It can also apply for other tax incentives, such as New York City’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program that offers tax breaks potentially worth $900 million over 12 years. What benefit the company would actually get was unclear. In Virginia, Amazon will receive performance-based incentives of $573 million, including an average $22,000 for each job it creates. These rewards come on top of $1.6 billion in subsidies Amazon has received across the United States since 2000, according to a database from watchdog Good Jobs First.

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“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

Decoding The Hypersonic Putin On A Day Of Remembrance (Escobar)

A battle of ideas now rages across Europe, epitomized by the clash between the globalist Macron and populism icon Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. Salvini abhors the Brussels system. Macron is stepping up his defense of a “sovereign Europe.” And much to the horror of the US establishment, Macron proposes a real “European army” capable of autonomous self-defense side by side with a “real security dialogue with Russia.” Yet all these “strategic autonomy” ideals collapse when you must share the stage, live, with the undisputed stars of the global show: President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

So the optics in Paris were not exactly of a Yalta 2.0 conference. There were no holds barred to keep Trump and Putin apart. Seating arrangements featured, from left to right, Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, his wife Brigitte and Putin. Neither Trump nor Putin, for different reasons, took part in a “walking in the rain” stunt evoking peace. And yet they connected. Sir Peter Cosgrove, the governor general of Australia, confirmed that Trump and Putin, at a working lunch, had a “lively and friendly” conversation for at least half an hour. No one better than Putin himself to reveal, even indirectly, what they really talked about. Three themes are absolutely key.

[..] Vast sectors of the US Deep State are in denial, but Putin may have been able to impress on Trump the necessity of serious dialogue due to an absolutely key vector: the Avangard. The Avangard is a Russian hypersonic glide vehicle capable of flying over Mach 20 – 24,700km/h, or 4 miles per second – and one of the game-changing Russian weapons Putin announced at his ground-breaking March 1 speech. The Avangard has been in the production assembly line since the summer of 2018, and is due to become operational in the southern Urals by the end of next year or early 2019.

In the near future, the Avangard may be launched by the formidable Sarmat RS-28 intercontinental ballistic missile and reach Washington in a mere 15 minutes, flying in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite” – even if the launch is from Russian territory. Serial production of Sarmat ICBMs starts in 2021. The Avangard simply cannot be intercepted by any existing system on the planet – and the US knows it. Here is General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

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“This is one of the scariest speeches I have heard as an MEP in my nine years. Merkel is an out-and-out European federalist and we should not be pandering to her as if she is on our side. She is on the side of the superstate.”

Angela Merkel Calls For Creation Of ‘Real, True’ EU Army (Ind.)

Angela Merkel has called for the creation of a “real, true” European army, echoing a similar call by her French counterpart. The German chancellor’s backing for the force comes amid a spat with US president Donald Trump, who took offence to a suggestion by Emmanuel Macron that such an army could ensure Europe’s security in the shadow of the United States. Ms Merkel endorsed the creation of the army while addressing MEPs at the European parliament in Strasbourg. “We should work on a vision of one day establishing a real, true European army,” Ms Merkel said. The French president made his call during a radio interview last week: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.” He added: “When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security.” [..] Ms Merkel’s intervention is significant because France has historically been the strongest and most vocal proponent of an EU army, with its neighbour tentatively endorsing proposals for a joint command structure for military interventions. Eurosceptics reacted angrily to the speech. Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman said: “This is one of the scariest speeches I have heard as an MEP in my nine years. Merkel is an out-and-out European federalist and we should not be pandering to her as if she is on our side. She is on the side of the superstate.”

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Bone saw was a local purchase. As was the acid.

Saudi ‘Kill Team’s’ Luggage Contained Syringes, Defibrillators, Scissors (AFP)

Luggage carried by a 15-member Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul included scissors, defibrillators and syringes that may have been used against journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate, a pro-government Turkish daily said Tuesday. X-ray images of the luggage were published in the Sabah newspaper as the New York Times reported that a member of the team at the consulate had told a superior by phone to “tell your boss”, suspected to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that the operation was accomplished. Turkish media has published gruesome details of the murder of 59-year-old Khashoggi who according to a Turkish prosecutor was strangled and dismembered soon after he entered the Istanbul consulate on October 2.

After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Riyadh critic, had been murdered at the mission in a “rogue” operation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the 15-member Saudi team travelled from Riyadh to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. The luggage carried by the team was loaded into two planes that left for Riyadh at 1520 GMT and 1946 GMT on October 2, Sabah newspaper said. The luggage contained 10 phones, five walkie-talkies, intercoms, two syringes, two defibrillators, a jamming device, staplers, and scissors, the paper reported. [..] Khashoggi’s body has never been found, but Sabah reported on Saturday that his killers poured his remains down the drain after dissolving them in acid.

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“..with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire”

Who Gets to Live in Victimville? (Monics Lewinsky)

The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.)

Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole. The process became meta. As the project re-examined the narratives, both personal and political, surrounding the events of 1998, so did I. I revisited then-President Bill Clinton’s famous finger-wagging Oval Office interview from early 1998, in which I was anointed “That Woman,” and was transported to my apartment in the Watergate apartment complex.

Sitting on the edge of my grandma’s bed and watching it unfold on TV, 24-year-old me was scared and hurt, but also happy that he was denying our relationship, because I didn’t want him to have to resign. (“I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” I thought at the time, absolving anyone else of responsibility.) Forty-five-year-old me sees that footage very differently. I see a sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game. Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.

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Just like alcohol and cocaine do.

Social Media Increases Depression And Loneliness (TI)

Ever since sites like Facebook and Instagram became part of daily life, scientists have wondered whether they contribute to mental health problems. In fact, research has hinted at a connection between social media use and depression for several years. A new study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, has added more evidence to the theory. [..] “Here’s the bottom line,” said Melissa G. Hunt, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

She added 18-to-22-year-olds shouldn’t stop using social media altogether, but cutting down might be beneficial. “It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she said. “Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”

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Mammals too. Semen is temperature sensitive.

Heatwaves Can ‘Wipe Out’ Male Insect Fertility (G.)

Heatwaves severely damage the fertility of male beetles and consecutive hot spells leave them virtually sterilised, according to research. Global warming is making heatwaves more common and wildlife is being annihilated, and the study may reveal a way in which these two trends are linked. The scientists behind the findings said there could also be some relevance for humans: the sperm counts of western men have halved in the last 40 years. Researchers studied beetles because their 400,000 species represent about a quarter of all known species. Insect populations are plunging worldwide as temperatures rise, falling by about 80% in 30 years in Puerto Rico’s rainforest and by 75% in German nature reserves.

Insects are such an integral part of life, as pollinators and prey, that scientists say their decline could lead to “ecological Armageddon”. Little is known about the precise causes of the decline, though climate change, habitat destruction and global use of pesticides are considered probable factors. The research, published in the Nature Communications journal, found that exposing beetles to a five-day heatwave in the laboratory reduced sperm production by three-quarters; females were unaffected. “Beetles are thought to constitute a quarter of biodiversity, so these results are very important for understanding how species react to climate change,” said Kris Sales, at the University of East Anglia, who led the work.

Other research has shown that heat can damage male reproduction in humans as well as cows, sheep and other mammals. “There could be relevance for human fertility,” said Prof Matt Gage, co-leader of the UEA research group. “The paradox is that one of the reasons the climate is warming up and we are having more heatwaves is there are too many humans. So maybe this is a leveller.” Stuart Wigby, of the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study, said: “Given what we already know about the generality of the sensitivity of sperm to heat, there is every reason to expect that similar effects would be seen in other insects and also in mammals including humans.”

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


Vincent van Gogh Roofs of Paris 1886

 

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

 

 

There goes Yellen’s reputation.

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

Volcker Rebukes Bernanke and Yellen Feds (Whalen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Out: A Godfather Story (Ben Hunt)

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

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

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

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Remember: we don’t have functioning markets.

Why Do Investors Hate Everything? Maybe Paranoia (BBG)

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

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

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When dinosaurs invest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greece wants over 1000 times what Germany has paid.

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

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

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

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

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

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Ain’t that the truth.

There Aren’t Enough Lifeboats For Everyone (CHS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sugar addiction.

Big Food’s Poisonous Propaganda (Lustig)

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

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

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One queston: why?

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

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

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

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Book review. How much do you know about genes?

Race Doesn’t Come Into It (LRB)

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

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

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

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Oct 132018
 
 October 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Two naked figures 1908

 

40% Of The American Middle Class Face Poverty In Retirement (CNBC)
One-Third Of Young Americans Too Overweight To Join The Military (AFP)
We Are All In….Again! (Roberts)
American Pastor Freed In Turkey Will Visit White House Saturday (AP/R.)
Saudi Isolation Grows Over Khashoggi Disappearance (G.)
UK ‘Gears Up’ To Target Saudis With Sanctions After Journalist Vanishes (Ind.)
‘Pressure Will Be On Turkey’ If Saudis Found Guilty Of Journalist’s Murder (RT)
Theresa May Faces Her Party As A Desperate Gambler In Hope Of A Break (G.)
UK Consumers Face ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences From No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
Merkel Faces Poll Disaster As Coalition Support Collapses (Ind.)
The New Face of the Eurozone Bailout Fund (Spiegel)

 

 

There doesn’t seem to be any initiative to do something about this. Big mistake.

40% Of The American Middle Class Face Poverty In Retirement (CNBC)

Nearly half of middle-class Americans face a slide into poverty as they enter their retirement, a recent study by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School has concluded. That risk has been driven by depressed earnings, depressed asset values and increased health-care costs — causing 74 percent of Americans planning to work past traditional retirement age. Additionally, both private and public pension plans have been allowed to become seriously underfunded. So what can be done? Fundamental changes in the structure of the U.S. economy, combined with increased health-care costs and lack of saving, have created a financial trap for millions of American workers heading into retirement.

Roughly 40 percent of Americans who are considered middle class (based on their income levels) will fall into poverty or near poverty by the time they reach age 65, according to the study. The study also concluded that if workers age 50 to 60 decide to retire at age 62, 8.5 million of them are projected to fall below twice the Federal Poverty Level, with retirement incomes below $23,340 for singles and $31,260 for couples. Further, 2.6 million of those 8.5 million downwardly mobile workers and their spouses will have incomes below the poverty level — $11,670 for an individual and $15,730 for a two-person household.

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In total, “71 percent of Americans aged 17-24 do not meet the military’s sign-up requirements..”

One-Third Of Young Americans Too Overweight To Join The Military (AFP)

Forget about the high-tech military challenges from China and Russia, the Pentagon is facing a fast-growing national security threat that could be even trickier to tackle: America’s obesity crisis. A study released this week has found that nearly one-third of young Americans are now too overweight to join up, a worrying statistic for military officials already facing recruitment challenges. “Obesity has long threatened our nation’s health. As the epidemic grows, obesity is posing a threat to our nation’s security as well,” the Council for a Strong America states in its new report. The Army last month announced it would miss its goal of attracting 76,500 new recruits in 2018. The shortfall is of about 6,500 soldiers — the first time since 2005 the service had missed its hiring targets.

A strong US economy and tight jobs market played a role, but the numbers highlight the dwindling pool of applicants the Pentagon has to draw from. According to the Defense Department, obesity is one of the top reasons why a stunning 71 percent of Americans aged 17-24 do not meet the military’s sign-up requirements. “Given the high percentage of American youth who are too overweight to serve, recruiting challenges will continue unless measures are taken to encourage a healthy lifestyle beginning at a young age,” states the study, entitled “Unhealthy and Unprepared.”

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Double or nothing.

We Are All In….Again! (Roberts)

Despite the recent angst in the market over increasing interest rates, there has been little evidence of concern by investors overall. A recent report showed that investors have the LEAST amount of cash in their investment accounts…EVER. “Individual investors drew down cash balances at brokerage accounts to record lows as the S&P 500 surged 7.2 percent in the three months ended Friday. Cash as a percentage of assets among Charles Schwab Corp. clients in August fell to 10.4 percent, matching the level in January that marked the lowest since at least 2004.” Of course, eight months ago the markets suffered a 10.4% decline just as investors scrambled to “get in.”

The monthly survey from the American Association of Individual Investors shows the same. Individuals are carrying some of the highest levels in history of equities, are reducing their exposure to bonds, and carrying very low levels of cash. As Dana Lyons recently noted: ” From the Federal Reserve’s Z.1 release, we find that U.S. Households had a reported 34.3% of their financial assets invested in the equity market as of the 2nd quarter. Outside of a slightly higher reading in the 4th quarter of 2017, that is the highest level of stock investment in the 70-plus year history of the series, other than the 1999-2000 bubble top.”

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What did Erdogan get?

American Pastor Freed In Turkey Will Visit White House Saturday (AP/R.)

The pastor who was at the center of a diplomatic spat between Turkey and the United States will land at a military base near Washington on Saturday and will likely visit the White House the same day, President Donald Trump said on Friday. “We’re very honored to have him back with us,” Trump told reporters, referring to the release of pastor Andrew Brunson by a Turkish court. “He suffered greatly but we’re very appreciative to a lot of people,” Trump added, saying no deal had been made with Turkey on lifting U.S. sanctions in exchange for Brunson’s release.

Earlier Friday, a Turkish court convicted Brunson of terror links but released him from house arrest and allowed him to leave the country, removing a major irritant in fraught ties between two NATO allies that still disagree on a host of other issues. The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Brunson to just over three years in prison for allegedly helping terror groups, but let him go because the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

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“Khashoggi was wearing an Apple watch when he entered the consulate..”

Saudi Isolation Grows Over Khashoggi Disappearance (G.)

Saudi Arabia has found itself further isolated over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after the business world turned its back on a high-profile investment conference in the kingdom and US officials claimed audio and video recordings had captured the moment the journalist was murdered in Istanbul. The Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held in Riyadh later this month, was rapidly turning into a fiasco on Friday after most media partners and several top business allies pulled out. More were expected to follow. All said they had been disturbed by the circumstances of Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Turkey and the lack of credible responses.

Saudi Arabia has been under pressure to explain what happened to Khashoggi after he entered the consulate building at 1.14pm on 2 October. Turkey has claimed the exiled journalist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was murdered by a hit squad sent from Riyadh. Authorities in Istanbul have hinted they hold undisclosed evidence that proves what took place. On Friday, US officials revealed to Khashoggi’s employer, the Washington Post, that Turkish investigators had claimed audio and video tapes existed of conversations between the missing 59-year-old and his alleged killers. “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” an official said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

The references to recordings could suggest that Turkish intelligence officers had bugged the consulate or some of the accused killers. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, told the Associated Press on Friday that Khashoggi was wearing an Apple watch when he entered the consulate and investigators were examining his cellphones, which he had left with her. In written responses to questions by the AP, Cengiz said Turkish authorities had not told her about any recordings and that Khashoggi was officially “still missing”. Cengiz said Khashoggi was not nervous when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and did not suspect anything bad would happen to him. “He said ‘See you later my darling’ and went in,” Cengiz said, and they were his last words to her.

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As long as the arms sales can go on…

UK ‘Gears Up’ To Target Saudis With Sanctions After Journalist Vanishes (Ind.)

UK officials have begun drawing up a list of Saudi security and government officials who could potentially come under sanctions pending the outcome of investigations into the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source close to both Riyadh and London told The Independent. The list being drawn up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could be used in case the UK decides to invoke the “Magnitsky amendment,” passed this year, which allows Britain to impose sanctions on foreign officials accused of human rights violations, or to apply restrictions on Saudi trade and travel in coordination with the European Union.

Asked to confirm or deny the drawing up of the list, the Foreign Office said it “had nothing to add” to the Khashoggi matter other than comments the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made on Thursday. “Across the world, people who long thought themselves as Saudi’s friends are saying this is a very, very serious matter,” said Mr Hunt. “If these allegations are true there would be serious consequences.” The source, a former government advisor, told The Independent they were briefed by a UK intelligence official and others. “Initially this was a position-paper scenario,” the source said. “Now it is definitely being looked at as a real possibility.”

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“..the sudden attention “seems very strange” considering the “bloody murder that the Saudis have gotten away with for decades.”

‘Pressure Will Be On Turkey’ If Saudis Found Guilty Of Journalist’s Murder (RT)

Former US diplomat Jim Jatras and investigative journalist Rick Sterling tell RT what could happen if allegations that the Gulf monarchy, headed by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is behind the plot prove to be true. If Saudi Arabia is found to be complicit in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Sterling believes “the pressure will be on [Turkish president] Erdogan and Turkey to escalate.” “Saudi Arabia effectively abducted Lebanese Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri and he appeared in Riyadh, resigned – supposedly – and then it turned out he was coerced in some form or manner,” Sterling added. “The Saudi government is extreme, it’s bizarre and we’ll have to see how the facts develop in this case but it points towards the instability of that government that beheads hundreds of citizens a year.”

However, he adds, the Saudi regime has been “an extremely close ally of the US and Israel. This would be a huge earthquake in international relations if the calls for a serious reduction in relations continues.” Despite the years of brutality against their own people, Khashoggi’s disappearance seems to have ushered the Saudi regime’s reckless violence into the global spotlight, Jatras told RT. “Saudi Arabia is usually immune from criticism from the American establishment, They can destroy Yemen, they can cut people’s heads off… and suddenly over one journalist everyone is outraged; We discover that Saudi Arabia is an oppressive regime that kills people,” Jatras said, adding that the sudden attention “seems very strange” considering the “bloody murder that the Saudis have gotten away with for decades.”

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Can’t please everyone.

Theresa May Faces Her Party As A Desperate Gambler In Hope Of A Break (G.)

Brexit is unusual as a game of poker, in that one side folded long ago but has still not revealed its losing hand. For months, the EU has insisted that Theresa May’s only options for a deal would lead to either a soft Brexit for the whole UK, or a sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For months, critics have challenged the government to spell out which of these two ostensibly intolerable concessions it intends to make. Now it seems we know. The prime minister will concede both. Capitulating to Brussels will be the easy part. After that, May will have to lie to the hard Brexiters, bully the Tory remainers, and call the bluff of the Democratic Unionist party. As the Brexit circus enters its final month, here is its tightrope.

First, Brussels. The EU’s offer springs from its immutable and non-negotiable red lines: to preserve the single market, the Good Friday agreement, and Ireland’s invisible border. Only two outcomes can satisfy all those requirements: the whole UK remains in the whole single market and customs union, or Northern Ireland stays in the customs union and single market in goods while Great Britain diverges. May has decided to mix and match those outcomes. It appears the whole UK will remain in the customs union, so there are no tariff divergences or checks either on the island of Ireland or within the United Kingdom. And Great Britain will leave the single market, thus necessitating “de-dramatised” regulatory checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

May’s surrender is not in doubt. Neither is the resistance to this deal from all opposition parties. Consequently, the prime minister’s only task is to fool or blackmail her MPs into supporting it. Her most pressing duty will be to hoodwink the parliamentary hardliners in thrall to Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. May will attempt this ambitious deception principally by insisting that the permanent customs union will in fact be temporary. It will not.

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“..many people were shocked and questioned why they had not been made aware of the implications sooner.”

UK Consumers Face ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences From No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

Millions of consumers could face “immediate” and “catastrophic” consequences in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the watchdog Which? has said. The consumer group said the government’s preparations for a no-deal exit suggested a reduction in consumer rights and choice as well as price hikes that would have a “direct and hard” impact in areas ranging from travel to food and energy. The watchdog, which based its conclusions on its assessment of the government’s technical notices in preparation for the event of a no-deal Brexit, online forums and surveys, said two in five people did not understand the potential implications of a no-deal scenario.

In its report – Brexit no deal: a consumer catastrophe? – Which? says: “Our latest consumer research shows that most people are unprepared for what ‘no deal’ would mean in practice – and many do not understand how it would have multiple impacts across so many aspects of their daily lives. “When the everyday repercussions and government’s plans on issues such as food and medical supplies were explained to people in our research, many people were shocked and questioned why they had not been made aware of the implications sooner.”

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Good to see support for the Greens.

Merkel Faces Poll Disaster As Coalition Support Collapses (Ind.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative allies in the German state of Bavaria are facing losses in regional elections as liberal-minded voters defect to the Greens. The Christian Social Union, which has enjoyed six decades of dominance in the state, is predicted to suffer heavy losses in the vote on 14 October. The party is part of Germany’s grand coalition with its sister party, Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CD) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP). A Forschungsgruppe Wahlen poll predicted the CSU could lose up to 14 percentage points in the upcoming elections as voters flock to the pro-immigration Greens.

Support for the CSU stood at 34 per cent, compared to the 48 per cent it won in the last regional election in 2013. The Greens appear poised to overtake the Social Democrats (SPD) to become Bavaria’s second-largest party, with up to 19 per cent of the vote, an increase of 10 percentage points since the last elections. If the polls are correct, the Greens could become a potential coalition partner for the CSU in Bavaria. The polls also showed the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on 11 per cent, which would be enough to enter the Bavarian state parliament for the first time.

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Europe’s IMF. Too much power.

The New Face of the Eurozone Bailout Fund (Spiegel)

The first step is that of transforming the ESM into a kind of European replacement for the IMF. The IMF played a central role in Greece during the crisis, but there were often clashes over the best way to help the country. In the future, the IMF does not intend to participate in state bankruptcies in Europe. For the ESM to function as a European IMF, the organization is to be granted oversight rights to look over the individual finances of eurozone member states. Should a new crisis crop up, the ESM would be armed with additional control and enforcement rights.

[..] One of the ESM’s new tasks is ringing the alarm bells early when there are signs of an approaching crisis. The ESM possess a deep knowledge of the financial situations of former crisis countries, in part because analysts tag along when donor state representatives visit those countries’ capitals. The organization also knows a lot about larger member states like Germany and France, Regling says. “But if, purely hypothetically, something were to happen in, say, Austria or Malta, we would currently be at a loss.” To fulfill its role as an early-warning system, the ESM must recruit experts on all member countries. A larger staff is also needed for the ESM’s second area of operation. In the future, the plan is for the ESM to provide financial backing for the European mechanism for the resolution of failing credit institutions. For this, Regling needs banking experts.

The ESM will also receive a set of new financial instruments geared toward helping ailing countries quickly. A precautionary line of credit is in discussion that could be extended to countries not yet in acute need but which require help to calm wary investors. In a paper for the Eurogroup, as the board of eurozone finance ministers is known, the ESM also proposes another instrument. It would provide short-term liquidity assistance to countries that have temporarily run out of money because they have unfairly landed in speculators’ crosshairs. “These funds would be paid out without a big fuss, and the country wouldn’t have to subject itself to a complete adjustment program,” the paper reads.

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Oct 102018
 
 October 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Angelus Novus 1920 (see last article)

 

Trump “Doesn’t Like What The Fed Is Doing” (ZH)
Chinese Yuan Could Reach A Record Low Against The Dollar (MW)
China’s (Non-Government) Business Survey Collapses As Trade War Strikes (ZH)
Chinese Firms Now Hold Stakes In Over A Dozen European Ports (NPR)
UK Public Finances Are Among Weakest In The World – IMF (G.)
IMF Warns Italy Not To Breach EU Spending Rules In Next Budget (G.)
Bank of England Warns EU Over Brexit Risk To Financial Stability (G.)
One Good Thing About Brexit: Leaving Disgraceful EU Farming System (Monbiot)
UK Fracking Rules On Earthquakes Could Be Relaxed (G.)
Shell CEO: Mass Reforestation Needed To Limit Temperature Rises To 1.5C (G.)
Florida Panhandle Bracing for Category 4 Hit from Michael (WU)
The Emergency Brake (Sperber)

 

 

Sorry, but I see nothing other than Trump reaffirming the Fed’s independence.

Trump “Doesn’t Like What The Fed Is Doing” (ZH)

With the dollar spiking and rates surging to 7 years highs, President Trump doubled down on his criticism of the Fed and on his way to a rally in Iowa, said the Federal Reserve is moving too fast with interest rates increases, dismissing concerns about inflation. “I don’t like what the Fed is doing”, Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think we don’t have to go as fast” on rate hikes. “I like low interest rates,” Trump said. Trump also said that rates are too high because there’s no inflation, but said that he has not talked to Chair Powell about it because he doesn’t want to get involved. Trump’s comments echoed prior criticisms of the Fed.

When the Fed announced its third increase of the year in September, Trump said he was “not happy” about it. Trump has publicly criticized the Fed’s interest-rate increases on several occasions, breaking with more than two decades of White House tradition of avoiding comments on “independent” monetary policy. Some commented that this is another sly move by the president to preemptively shift blame on the Fed chair ahead of what may be a turbulent 2019 when rates are expected to keep rising, potentially resulting in a sharp slowdown in the economy and/or a stock market crash.

Separately, hours after Nikki Haley announced her departure as US ambassador to the UN, Trump said he would consider Goldman’s Dina Powell for the post. “Dina is certainly a person I would consider,” Trump told reporters at the White House on the way to board the presidential helicopter as he embarked on a trip to Iowa. But he added there are others he would also consider. Earlier CNBC reported that Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs exec and Trump’s former deputy national security advisor, has had discussions with senior members of the administration about possibly replacing Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

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Manipulation?

Chinese Yuan Could Reach A Record Low Against The Dollar (MW)

The pressure on China’s currency continues to mount as the world’s second-largest economy shows more signs of slowing and traders bet that the dollar will soon buy a record amount of yuan in the offshore market. As the country returned to work on Monday after the Golden Week holiday, the People’s Bank of China cut the Reserve Ratio Requirement, the percent of deposit liabilities owed to its customers banks are required to hold, for the fourth time this year. While that may spur banks to lend more, it sent the Chinese yuan another leg lower, moving toward its August low against the greenback and in sight of the psychological 7.00 level. A move through 7.00 would be a record low in offshore trading.

The yuan has already posted six straight monthly declines against the dollar, including a drop of 0.6% in September. The slide in the yuan comes as the economy shows more signs of slowing. A closely watched economic activity indicator, the official Purchasers Manufacturing Index, fell to 52 in September, from 52.2 in August, according to Wei Yao, an economist at Société Générale. Magnifying concerns around the Chinese economy was a steeper-than-expected drop in China’s foreign-exchange holdings during September, to $3.087 trillion. A decline in the country’s reserves raises concerns that the PBOC could not defend the yuan in should a large amount of money flee the country.

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“For most, business has never been worse.”

China’s (Non-Government) Business Survey Collapses As Trade War Strikes (ZH)

As China returns from its Golden Week vacation, it is not just its currency and stock market that is collapsing… As Bloomberg reports, an indicator produced by a Beijing-based business school in the style of the closely-watched purchasing managers index plunged last month, adding to concerns about the slowing economy and raising the question of whether business conditions may be worse than official statistics show. The index is based on a survey of CKGSB students and graduates who are executives at companies operating in China. The respondents represent around 300 privately-owned small and mid-sized enterprises across several sectors of the economy.

“Most surveyed companies are now experiencing unprecedented difficulties and have become increasingly pessimistic about business prospects for the next six months,” Li Wei, the economics professor at CKGSB who oversees the survey, said in a commentary accompanying the September survey results. “For most, business has never been worse.”

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Next up: military presence?

Chinese Firms Now Hold Stakes In Over A Dozen European Ports (NPR)

In the past decade, Chinese companies have acquired stakes in 13 ports in Europe, including in Greece, Spain and, most recently, Belgium, according to a study by the OECD. Those ports handle about 10 percent of Europe’s shipping container capacity. It is part of China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aims to better connect the country to commercial hubs in Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania. China is the European Union’s biggest source of imports and its second-largest export market, adding up to more than $1 billion in trade per day. And sea shipping outweighs rail or air freight. But this is about more than just moving cargo, analysts say. President Xi Jinping’s new silk road, named after the ancient trade route, has sped up China’s advance toward becoming a superpower of the seas, spreading not just commercial ships but naval power and influence to more and more areas of the world.

For instance, Chinese investments in the ports of Djibouti, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have been followed by Chinese naval deployments. While there are no public plans to turn European ports into Beijing’s military bases, Chinese warships have already paid a friendly visit to Greece’s Piraeus port. This all raises a slew of questions about issues ranging from military defense to labor conditions. “The main issue is for Europe to decide how it wants to deal with China’s influence,” says Frans-Paul van der Putten, a China expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. “What degree of China’s influence is unavoidable and acceptable especially in sectors such as ports?”

[..] COSCO, with the world’s fourth-largest container shipping fleet, is leading the charge in Europe, beginning with Piraeus. In 2016, after years of investment, the company bought a majority stake in the Piraeus Port Authority in a concession agreement that runs until at least 2052. It is now in charge of container terminals, cruise ship piers and ferry quays. “A few years ago, when COSCO first became involved in Greece, the European view was it was good because Greece was in a lot of financial difficulties and at least someone wanted to invest there,” van der Putten says. “Piraeus was not a top-ranking port. People in Brussels thought it wouldn’t have a lot of significance.”

Today, about 20 million passengers go through Piraeus each year. Since COSCO’s takeover, it has become the fastest-growing port in the world, according to the industry news outlet Seatrade Maritime. COSCO’S chief executive in Piraeus, Capt. Fu Cheng Qui, says he wants to make it the largest in the Mediterranean.

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“corporation liabilities from zero in 2007 to 189% of GDP in 2008..”

UK Public Finances Are Among Weakest In The World – IMF (G.)

Britain’s public finances are among the weakest in the world following the 2008 financial crash, according to a fresh assessment of government assets and liabilities by the IMF. The Washington-based lender said a health check on the wealth of 31 nations found almost £1tn had been wiped off the wealth of the UK’s public sector – equivalent to 50% of GDP – putting it in the second weakest position, with only Portugal in a worse state. In calculations that combine measures of wealth and stress tests that mimic those applied to the banking sector, the IMF said the bailout of UK banks and the growth of Britain’s public sector pension liabilities were significant factors in the UK’s low ranking.

The tests are an effort by the IMF to show the balance of assets and liabilities in relation to a nation’s overall income to judge how well governments are prepared for economic shocks. Norway ranked as the most secure nation with a war chest built on its publicly held oil wealth, in contrast to the UK, which allowed private sector companies to extract North Sea oil reserves and spent the tax revenues during the 1980s and 1990s. The Gambia, Uganda and Kenya rank above the UK because while they have smaller assets and liabilities than Britain, they have a higher net wealth relative to GDP.

Cruder measures taking a snapshot of a country’s assets and liabilities showed Italy and Greece, which were excluded from the broader tests, fared worse than the UK. Barbados was another country with a lower rating. But most other countries were in a better position relative to their national income, the IMF said. [..] The report said: “The United Kingdom balance sheet expanded massively during the crisis. Most of the expansion in the balance sheet was the result of large-scale financial sector rescue operations that resulted in reclassification of the rescued private banks into the public sector. [This] increased (non–central bank) public financial corporation liabilities from zero in 2007 to 189% of GDP in 2008, with similar [falls] in financial assets.”

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Austerity still rules. Sovereignty, not so much.

IMF Warns Italy Not To Breach EU Spending Rules In Next Budget (G.)

The International Monetary Fund has thrown its weight behind Brussels in its battle with Italy’s coalition government over plans to increase the indebted country’s borrowing in its next budget. The Washington-based lender of last resort, which is holding its annual conference in Bali this week, warned Rome to abide by the EU’s financial rulebook or risk a rebellion by investors that could trigger a debt default. Italy’s populist coalition is targeting a deficit of 2.4% of GDP next year, tripling the previous government’s target, as it pledges more spending despite a huge debt pile, which at about 130% of GDP is the biggest in the eurozone behind Greece.

Brussels has rejected the idea of Italy running a larger budget deficit – the gap between income from taxes and government spending – than previously planned over the next three years. Rome is due to submit its draft budget by 15 October to the EU commission, the bloc’s executive arm, which will check whether it is in line with EU rules. The government has said it wants to use a spending boost to kickstart investment and consumer spending to fuel growth. The IMF’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, said it was important to maintain the confidence of international money markets, especially when the risks of an escalating trade war and a damaging no-deal Brexit were rising.

The IMF’s intervention could prove significant while both sides seek allies in the budget battle as it is considered an important ally by governments as they seek to persuade electorates that debt-fuelled spending could lead to a collapse in confidence and rising borrowing costs. Obstfeld said EU rules that prevented governments adding to already sky-high levels of debt to GDP should be maintained in the current unstable economic climate.

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Only £70 trillion in derivatives?!

Bank of England Warns EU Over Brexit Risk To Financial Stability (G.)

The Bank of England has issued its strongest warning yet to the EU that its lack of adequate planning for Brexit has created growing risks for almost £70tn of complex financial contracts. Threadneedle Street said the bloc had made only limited progress to protect the financial system and time was running out, with little more than six months before the UK is due to leave the EU. Stressing the urgency of the situation in a statement from its financial policy committee, the Bank said: “In the limited time remaining, it is not possible for companies on their own to mitigate fully the risks of disruption to cross-border financial services.”

Without action, the contracts governing the financial derivatives – currently sold across the UK-EU border by banks to companies looking to protect themselves from movements in interest rates and changes in global markets – could be rendered illegal the moment Britain leaves, it warned. EU firms have about £69tn of outstanding derivatives contracts that are handled through a process known as “clearing” in the UK, while as much as £41tn mature after Britain exits the EU in March 2019. In a corner of the finance industry worth more than three times the overall value of the EU economy, the process of clearing derivatives involves banks organising their trades through a central third-party organisation – known as a clearing house – which takes on the risk of either party defaulting.

Clearing has become increasingly important since the financial crisis as the EU introduced rules forcing banks to trade greater volumes via clearing houses, with the idea of improving transparency and to avoid the confusion of banks going bust with complex webs of contracts with multiple parties – as was the case in 2008. EU-authorised clearing houses must handle EU banks’ trades, but UK organisations such as the London Stock Exchange’s LCH handle the bulk of business and could fall outside the rules in the event of a hard Brexit. As much as 90% of EU firms’ interest rate swaps – one of the most common types of financial derivative – are cleared in the UK.

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Don’t think I’ve ever understood how this got so out of hand.

One Good Thing About Brexit: Leaving Disgraceful EU Farming System (Monbiot)

I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy. This is the farm subsidy system that spends €50bn (£44bn) a year on achieving none of its objectives. It is among the most powerful drivers of environmental destruction in the northern hemisphere. Because payments are made only for land that’s in “agricultural condition”, the system creates a perverse incentive to clear wildlife habitats, even in places unsuitable for farming, to produce the empty ground that qualifies for public money. These payments have led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild places across Europe.

It is also arguably the most regressive transfer of public money in the modern world. Farmers are paid by the hectare for owning or using land; so the more you have, the more you get. While in the UK benefits for poor people are capped at £20,000 (outside London), these benefits for the rich are uncapped. Some landowners receive £1m or more. You don’t even have to live in the EU to take this money: you just have to own land here. Among the benefit tourists sucking up public funds in the age of austerity are Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and Texas oil barons.

It is hard to discern any just principle behind an occupational qualification for receiving public money. Some farmers are poor, but seldom as poor as rural people who have no land, no buildings and no jobs. Why should one profession be supported when others aren’t? Yet even farmers have been hurt by these payments. European subsidies have helped turn farmland into a speculative honeypot, making it highly attractive to City financiers. The price of land has more than doubled since payments by the hectare were introduced, pushing it out of reach of most farmers. By reinforcing economies of scale, these subsidies have driven out small farmers and accelerated the consolidation of land ownership.

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Craziest headline in ages.

UK Fracking Rules On Earthquakes Could Be Relaxed (G.)

Rules designed to halt fracking operations if they trigger minor earthquakes could be relaxed as the shale industry begins to expand, the UK energy minister, Claire Perry, has said. A series of small tremors seven years ago prompted tough regulations that mean even very low levels of seismic activity now require companies to suspend fracking. The shale gas firm Cuadrilla plans to start fracking near Blackpool this week if it can see off a last-minute legal challenge on Thursday. If seismic sensors detect anything above 0.5 magnitude on the Richter scale – far below what people can feel at the surface – the company would have to stop and review its operations.

But Perry has told a fellow Conservative MP that the monitoring system was “set at an explicitly cautious level … as we gain experience in applying these measures, the trigger levels can be adjusted upwards without compromising the effectiveness of the controls”. The comments were made in a letter to Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton, whose constituency has several prospective fracking sites. The letter was obtained by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed. Hollinrake, who is pro-fracking if it can be done safely, told the Guardian: “We’d need to be very careful about any revision to the regulations put in place. I’d want to understand why we were doing that and take plenty of evidence. We certainly wouldn’t want to see those rules being relaxed now.”

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Or close down your business?

Shell CEO: Mass Reforestation Needed To Limit Temperature Rises To 1.5C (G.)

The boss of Shell has said a huge tree-planting project the size of the Amazon rainforest would be needed to meet a tougher global warming target, as he argued more renewable energy alone would not be enough. Ben van Beurden said it would be a major challenge to limit temperature rises to 1.5C (equivalent to a rise of 2.7F), which a landmark report from the UN’s climate science panel has said will be necessary to avoid dangerous warming. “You can get to 1.5C, but not by just by pulling the same levers a little bit harder, because they are being pulled roughly as fast and and as hard as we are currently imagining. What we think can be done is massive reforestation. Think of another Brazil in terms of rainforest: you can get to 1.5C,” he told an oil and gas industry audience in London.

“It’s not what some people sometimes think: we’ll just do a little bit more solar, a bit more wind and we’ll get there,” he added. Reforestation is seen as essential in the scenarios outlined this week by the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, if the world is to restrict warming to 1.5C. But Van Beurden stressed that meeting the challenge would be an uphill battle, because while it was “technically about doable”, it would not be commercially viable without changes to government policies and regulation. “Already to get to less than 2C will be [a] quite unimaginable, unprecedented scale of collaboration. Getting to 1.5C is a major challenge on top of it,” he said.

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Florida Panhandle has never seen a Cat 4 storm make landfall since records began 167 years ago.

Florida Panhandle Bracing for Category 4 Hit from Michael (WU)

Just hours away from an expected Wednesday afternoon landfall, Hurricane Michael became ever stronger and more organized on Tuesday night over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Michael’s high winds, torrential rain, and very large storm surge were pushing briskly toward the Florida Panhandle and the Big Bend region just to the east, the areas in line to experience the worst impacts. Update (2 am EDT Wednesday): Michael has been upgraded to Category 4 strength as of 2 am EDT, with top sustained winds of 130 mph. Some additional strengthening is possible before landfall.

Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-dropping. A massive blister of thunderstorms (convection) erupted and wrapped around the storm’s eye, which has taken taking a surprisingly long time to solidify. A layer of dry air several miles above the surface being pulled into Michael from the west may have been one of the factors that kept Michael from sustaining a classic, fully closed eyewall (see embedded tweet below). A closed eyewall is normally a prerequisite for a hurricane to intensify robustly, but somehow Michael managed to reach Category 3 status without one.

[..] If Michael reaches the coast with top winds of at least 130 mph (minimal Category 4 strength), it will be the strongest hurricane landfall ever recorded in the Florida Panhandle, as well as along most of Florida’s Gulf Coast—all the way from the Alabama border to Punta Gorda—in records going back to 1851.

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See the painting at the top of this Debt Rattle.

The Emergency Brake (Sperber)

Because we seem to be living through a stretch of history in which history is threatening to extinguish history itself, an examination of the 20th century philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin’s concept of the angel of history, and his interrelated notion of the emergency brake, may point to a way. Evoked by the Swiss artist Paul Klee’s watercolor Angelus Novus, Benjamin introduced the figure of the angel of history in his final essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”Appearing with its face “turned toward the past,” hurtling backward through space by “a storm blowing from paradise,” the angel is unable to close its wings and determine its own movement. Overpowered by this storm, it can do little more than watch impotently as catastrophic wreckage (the manifestation of history and progress) piles up at its feet.

That is, caught in the storm blowing from paradise, the storm of history is preventing the angel from doing what it desires to do. But just what does it desire? As Benjamin writes: the angel “would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what is smashed.” Although prevented from doing so by the storm of progress that determines (and undermines) its flight, the angel’s utopian desire is to repair the world – not in order to restore paradise (a longstanding tendency of utopian messianism), but, rather, to restore life and autonomy to a social world destroyed by the coercive and destructive forces of history and ideology. While the angel desires this, however, the ecocidal storm (the bulldozer of progress, as the Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas phrased the world-ravaging forces of history and technology) is far too powerful.

This is where the messianic notion of the emergency brake enters the picture – rupturing history and releasing its utopian essence. As Benjamin famously put it in his essay’s paralipomena; “Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race traveling in the train applies the emergency brake.” That is, the emergency brake would stop the “bulldozer of progress,” would cut off the ecocidal storm of history, and thereby allow the revolutionary potential of the angel (and humanity) to realize itself.

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Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ford Madox Brown Finding of Don Juan by Haidee 1873

 

 

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)
US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)
Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)
The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)
Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)
QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)
Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)
Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)
IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)
Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)
Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

 

 

Groundhog Day. They just want to get (re-)elected. Which won’t happen if they tell people to cut their driving and flying.

World Leaders ‘Have Moral Obligation To Act’ After UN Climate Report (G.)

World leaders have been told they have moral obligation to ramp up their action on the climate crisis in the wake of a new UN report that shows even half a degree of extra warming will affect hundreds of millions of people, decimate corals and intensify heat extremes. But the muted response by Britain, Australia and other governments highlights the immense political challenges facing adoption of pathways to the relatively safe limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures outlined on Monday by the IPCC. With the report set to be presented at a major climate summit in Poland in December, known as COP24, there is little time for squabbles. The report noted that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030 in order to keep warming within 1.5C.

That means decisions have to be taken in the next two years to decommission coal power plants and replace them with renewables, because major investments usually have a lifecycle of at least a decade. Mary Robinson, a UN special envoy on climate, said Europe should set an example by adopting a target of zero-carbon emissions by 2050. “Before this, people talked vaguely about staying at or below 2C – we now know that 2C is dangerous,” she said. “So it is really important that governments take the responsibility, but we must all do what we can.” The UK, which has gone further than most nations by cutting its annual emissions by 40% since 1990, will need to step up if the more ambitious goal is to be reached.

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Both think adapting to climate change is easy.

US Economists Win Nobel Memorial For Work On Climate And Growth (G.)

Two American economists at the forefront of work on climate change and the role of governments in boosting growth have been jointly awarded the prestigious Nobel Memorial prize for economics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said William Nordhaus and Paul Romer were being honoured for their research into two of the most “basic and pressing” economic issues of the age. Nordhaus made his name by warning policymakers during the first stirrings of concern about climate change in the 1970s that their economic models were not properly taking account of the impact of global warming and he is seen as one of the pioneers of environmental economics.

The Yale economist was honoured a day after the latest UN warning on global warming said that urgent and unprecedented changes were needed to keep climate change to a maximum of 1.5C (2.7F). The co-winner – Romer – is seen as the prime mover behind the endogenous growth theory, the notion that countries can improve their underlying performance if they concentrate on supply-side measures such as research and development, innovation and skills. [..] Responding to news of his award, Romer said it was perfectly possible for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, in line with the latest recommendation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.” [..] Nordhaus has been a prominent advocate of the use of a uniformly applied carbon tax as the best way to put a true cost on the use of burning fossil fuels and so reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The committee that awarded the prize said he was the first person to design “simple but dynamic and quantitative models of the global economic-climate system, now called integrated assessment models (IAMs). “His tools allow us to simulate how the economy and climate would co-evolve in the future under alternative assumptions about the workings of nature and the market economy, including relevant policies.”

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This is useful h/t Yves. Peter Dorman on how Martin Weitzman, who has a far more aggressive take on economics and climate, was snubbed so Nordhaus’ light version would get the attention.

Nobel Prizes in Economics, Awarded and Withheld (NC)

Nordhaus was widely expected to be a winner for his work on the economics of climate change. For decades he has assembled and tweaked a model called DICE (Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy), that melds computable general equilibrium theory from economics and equations from the various strands of climate science. His goal has been to estimate the “optimal” amount of climate change, where the marginal cost of abating it equals the marginal cost of undergoing it. From this comes an optimal carbon price, the “social cost of carbon”, which should be implemented now and allowed to rise over time at the rate of interest. In his first published work using DICE, from the early 1990s, he recommended a carbon tax of $5 a tonne of CO2, inching slowly upward until peaking at $20 in 2085. His “optimal” policy was expected to result in an atmospheric concentration of CO2 of over 1400 ppm (parts per million) at the end of this planning horizon, yielding global warming in excess of 3º C. (Nordhaus, 1992)

Over time Nordhaus has become slightly more concerned with the potential economic costs of climate change but also more sanguine about the prospects for decarbonized economic growth, even in the absence of policy. In his latest work he advocates a carbon tax of $31 per tonne in 2015, increasing at 3% per year over the following century. This too would result in more than 3º warming. To give a sense of how modest his suggestion is, consider that, in the same paper, Nordhaus calculates that the most efficient carbon tax to limit warming to 2.5º is between $107-184 per tonne depending on assumptions. The target of the Paris Accord is 2º, and most scientists consider this an upper bound for the amount of warming we should permit.

What do these “optimal” tax numbers mean? Based on the carbon content of gas, each $1 carbon tax translates into a one cent tax on a gallon of gas at the pump. If we adopted Nordhaus’ suggestion for carbon pricing, the result would be minuscule compared to the year-to-year fluctuations in energy prices due to other causes. In other words, while his prize is being trumpeted as a statement from the Swedish bankers on the importance of climate change, in fact he is a key spokesman for the position, rejected by nearly all climate scientists, that the problem is modest and can be solved by easy-to-digest, nearly imperceptible adjustments to energy prices. If we go down his road we face a significant risk of a climate apocalypse.

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The benefits of climate change.

The End Of The World Will Save Theresa May From Brexit (Ind.)

Brexit has been in its “something will turn up phase” for some time now and possibly, at last, something has. This is meant to be Theresa May’s “Hell Week”, with important post-Brexit proposals to be published in both Brussels and the UK, both of which will of course necessitate demented rows within her own party (current “strategies” include threatening to vote down the Budget), but Hell Week could hardly have got off to a better start. The most sensible reading of Hell Week is that it looks likely to end with May agreeing to keep the UK in the EU’s customs union until 2022. In the circumstances, the prime minister will not have failed to notice that, according to this morning’s report from the UN’s IPCC, that is a mere eight years before all of the planet’s inbuilt life preserving systems are currently scheduled to turn against humanity in act of vengeance that will be swift and total.

To borrow briefly from the probability-based lexicon of the climate science community, let’s take a look at the likelihood of Brexit being concluded by then in any meaningful way. Even in the unlikely event of Britain voting to leave the European Union, right up until around 8am on 24 June 2016, the latest point at which it was all meant to have been sorted out was 24 June 2018. But when David Cameron decided not to trigger the two-year Article 50 process “straight away” as he had consistently claimed he would, but resigned instead, that date was eventually pushed back by May to 29 March 2019, expanding Brexit by 37.5 per cent.

Then, in March 2018, the Brexit “transition period” was agreed to last until until 31 December 2020, and now, just seven months later, that deadline has been extended until the next general election in 2022, a further eighteen months. At the most conservative estimate, that gives Brexit a rate of expansion of around two hundred per cent, or four years for every two. If the depth to which it can be kicked into the long grass can be maintained on this exponential gradient, May has every reason to be optimistic that tornadoes of sulphuric gas will be moving freely over the Irish border long before she has to deliver any acceptable proposals for how to avoid the reintroduction of customs infrastructure across it.

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Not the only issue.

Stock Markets Stage Sharp Sell-Off Amid Fear Of Italy-EU Budget Fight (G.)

Global stock markets staged a sharp sell-off on Monday amid growing concerns over a budget showdown between Italy and the EU and the prospect of weaker growth in the Chinese economy. Italian borrowing costs jumped and the euro dropped on foreign exchanges as the war of words between Rome and Brussels escalated, while shares on Wall Street and other major international markets declined amid growing concerns over the US-China trade war. Italian bond yields jumped by as much as 30 basis points to the highest levels since early 2014 after the Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, attacked the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the economics commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, as enemies of Europe.

Speaking at a news conference with the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, he said the country would not cave to pressure from the financial markets or retreat from its plan for government spending. “We are against the enemies of Europe — Juncker and Moscovici — shut away in the Brussels bunker,” he said. Brussels has told Italy it is concerned over the plan because it would mean the nation running a larger budget deficit – the gap between income from taxes and government spending – than previously planned for the next three years. Rome is to submit its draft budget to the commission, the EU’s executive arm, which will check whether it is in line with EU rules by 15 October.

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When the easy money goes, how do we keep the bubbles inflated?

QE Party Is Drying Up, Even at the Bank of Japan (WS)

As of September 30, total assets on the Bank of Japan’s elephantine balance sheet dropped by ¥5.4 trillion ($33 billion) from a month earlier, to ¥537 trillion ($4.87 trillion). It was the fourth month-over-month decline in a series that started in December. This chart shows the month-to-month changes of the balance sheet. Despite all the volatility, the trend since mid-2016 is becoming clear: Abenomics became the economic religion of Japan in later 2012, and “QQE” (Qualitative and Quantitative Easing) was an integral part of it. So has the “QQE Unwind” commenced? Are central bankers, even at the Bank of Japan, getting cold feet about the consequences?

At BOJ policy meetings, concerns have been voiced over the “sustainability” of the stimulus program, according to the minutes of the July meeting, released on September 25. So the BOJ staff “proposed measures to enhance the sustainability of the current monetary easing while taking into consideration, for example, their effects on financial markets.” And “flexibility” has been proposed as solution to those concerns. The minutes reiterated that the BOJ would continue to buy Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) in “a flexible manner” so that its holdings would increase by about ¥80 trillion a year. But this is precisely what has not been happening, in line with this “flexibility.”

Over the past 12 months, the BOJ’s holdings of JGBs rose by “only” ¥26.2 trillion – not ¥80 trillion. And they declined in September from the prior month (more in a moment). Shortly after the minutes had been released, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, once the most reckless among the money printers, changed his tune and said in a speech that, “in continuing with powerful monetary easing, we now need to consider both its positive effects and side-effects in a balanced manner.” The Fed has already whittled down its balance sheet by $285 billion since it started its QE unwind last October. The ECB has tapered its QE from a peak of buying €85 billion a month to buying €15 billion currently and will end it altogether in December. The discussion has switched to raising rates and unwinding QE.

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Like the graph.

Higher Rates Will Hurt Stocks Far More Than You Think (SA)

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell thinks the economy is awesome. And he has no problem telling us so. What Powell will never discuss, however, is the “way-too-low-for-way-too-long” stimulus that the central bank engaged in to get here. In particular, the Fed has kept the neutral rate of interest far beneath the rate of inflation (CPI) for an entire decade. Consumers, corporations and Uncle Sam predictably borrowed as if there’d never be consequences. What consequences? Asset bubbles. Stocks, bonds, real estate, collectibles, cryptos, alternatives, everything. Straight across the Ouija board.

Perhaps ironically, we have seen this streaming video before. “Too-low-for-to-long” rate policy in the previous economic expansion (11/01-12/07) created an environment whereby the quality and the quantity of household mortgage debt became toxic. Granted, mortgage debt is less of an issue in the current credit cycle. Nevertheless, total household debt levels may not be sustainable at higher average interest costs. Meanwhile, the federal government is making households look downright responsible.

Long after the Great Recession ended, the country averaged $1.07 trillion in deficits (2010-2017). We’ve now hit $21.5 trillion in our national debt. Uncle Sammy’s bar tab won’t be getting smaller anytime soon. The new tax law, which has provided a near-term kick start for economic growth (GDP), will keep the trillion-dollar deficit train running for years to come. None of this would be so ominous were it not for the rapid-fire advance of interest expense. Interest expense alone accounts for 11% of the federal budget. Just interest. No debt repayment. Tack on higher interest rates to new borrowing needs? Pretty soon interest expense will surpass the money that goes to the Department of Defense (13.6%).

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Belt and Road. Silk Road.

Pakistan Seeks Bailout From IMF (WSJ)

Pakistan, the flagship country for China’s global infrastructure building initiative, said Monday that it needed a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, amid growing concerns that Beijing’s program is pushing recipient countries into financial crisis. The fiscal constraints of an IMF program would also undercut the promises made by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new government, which include millions of new jobs and the establishment of a welfare state.

But a ballooning trade deficit and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves left the Pakistani government no other choice, officials said, after markets were spooked by the government’s recent suggestions that it might try to make do without the fund. “Uncertainty was growing and the stock market was falling,” said Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the Information Minister. “We decided to end the uncertainty.” The Pakistani request for an IMF loan could further test already-strained U.S.-China relations. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the U.S. didn’t want to see any IMF lending to Pakistan “go to bail out Chinese bondholders or—or China itself.”

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Growing at 6.9%(?) and still in need of pretty extreme support. I’d be concerned.

IMF Not Concerned About China’s Ability To Defend The Yuan (R.)

IMF Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld said on Tuesday that he was not concerned about the Chinese government’s ability to defend its currency despite the recent depreciation of the yuan. “No, I don’t think it’s a problem,” Obstfeld said when asked about the issue on the sidelines of a news conference at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali. But Obstfeld also told the news conference that Beijing would face a “balancing act” between actions to shore up growth and ensure financial stability. China’s yuan currency has faced strong selling pressure this year, losing over 8% between March and August at the height of market worries, though it has since pared losses as authorities stepped up support.

On Tuesday, China’s central bank fixed the yuan’s official mid-point for trading at 6.9019 per dollar, edging close to the psychologically important 7.0 barrier and helping to send Asian stocks to a 17-month low. A U.S. Treasury official on Monday repeated that the Trump administration was concerned about the yuan’s recent weakening as the department prepares a semi-annual report on currency manipulation due out next week. Obstfeld said financial markets have overly emphasized short-term movements in China’s currency, adding that the yuan has often quickly recovered from periods of volatility in recent years.

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Reading this, I kept thinking: what sharp slowdown? Where is it? Not in the numbers…

Sharp Slowdown In Consumer Spending Cools UK Retail Sales (G.)

Britain’s retailers experienced a sharp slowdown in consumer spending last month, bringing to a close the World Cup-inspired summer spree on the high street. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the accountancy firm KPMG, growth in total sales dropped to the weakest level in almost a year. Total sales grew at an annual rate of 0.7% in September, compared with 2.3% growth during the same month a year ago. The BRC said this was the lowest growth rate since October 2017. Excluding new store openings, like-for-like sales dropped by 0.2% in the year to September, compared with a 19.9% increase for the same period a year ago.

The latest snapshot for the retail sector comes before the important autumn and winter shopping periods, vital for industry profits, when sales of gifts and electrical goods are lifted by the Black Friday sales event in November and shoppers buying Christmas presents. Retailers have been hit hard by a combination of problems that have led to job cuts and store closures across Britain. The ongoing shift to online shopping has increased competition, while sluggish wage growth and high levels of inflation have damaged the spending power of British households. Sales of stationery, footwear and clothing fell last month, while retailers sold more computers, jewellery, furniture, home accessories and food.

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If this doesn’t scare you…

Google Drops Out Of Bidding For $10 Billion Pentagon Data Deal (R.)

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project, without elaborating. Google said in a statement “we couldn’t be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.” The principles bar use of Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) software in weapons as well as services that violate international norms for surveillance and human rights.

Google was provisionally certified in March to handle U.S. government data with “moderate” security, but Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp have higher clearances. Amazon was widely viewed among Pentagon officials and technology vendors as the front-runner for the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI. Google had been angling for the deal, hoping that the $10 billion annual contract could provide a giant boost to its nascent cloud business and catch up with Amazon and fellow JEDI competitor Microsoft. That the Pentagon could trust housing its digital data with Google would have been helpful to its marketing efforts with large companies. But thousands of Google employees this year protested use of Google’s technology in warfare or in ways that could lead to human rights violations.

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