Jan 272018
 
 January 27, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Grete Stern Bertolt Brecht 1934

 

Bankers, Policy Makers at Davos Revel in ‘Sweet Spot’ Economy (BBG)
IMF Chief Warns Trump’s Tax Cuts Could Destabilise Global Economy (G.)
China Set To Lose ‘Emerging Market’ Status As Growth Declines (F.)
This was 1987. Start Rebalancing – David Rosenberg (ZH)
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Lance Roberts)
Equity Allocations At Record Highs As Investor Cash Hits All Time Low (ZH)
Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchange Loses $535 Million To Hackers (CNBC)
How Bitcoin Regulation Will Happen, And What It Will Mean (Ind.)
Bombardier Gets Surprise Win After U.S. Rebuffs Boeing Trade Case (BBG)
Canada Illegally Subsidized Bombardier: Embraer (R.)
More Than Half Of New-Build Luxury London Flats Fail To Sell (G.)
Building More Homes Will Not Solve Britain’s Housing Crisis (Pettifor)
Brexit Saddles EU With A Huge Budget Problem (CNBC)
Deal With France ‘Could Bring Hundreds More Child Refugees To UK’ (G.)

 

 

Not much longer.

Bankers, Policy Makers at Davos Revel in ‘Sweet Spot’ Economy (BBG)

The global elites have rediscovered their animal spirits. As the World Economic Forum drew to a close in the Swiss ski resort, the overarching mood of the executives, policy makers and investors was that their economies are in fine shape and that stock markets have every reason to extend their run. “Let’s celebrate what could go right for the moment because we are in a sweet spot,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on the closing panel discussion. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has gained about a quarter since the start of 2017 and the IMF is forecasting the strongest worldwide economic growth this year since a brief post-recession bounce in 2011. Some 57% of executives polled by PricewaterhouseCoopers saw the economy improving in 2018, about double the number of a year ago.

The rise of cryptocurrencies was evident in the Swiss town both in conference sessions and on the promenade where companies rent shopfronts to promote their wares. “The greatest worry I’ve heard over the past days in Davos is that there is not enough worry,” Mary Callahan Erdoes, JPMorgan asset-management unit CEO, said on the panel. “It’s O.K. to not be worried, to celebrate how we got here.” Erdoes thanked the policy makers on the stage for working “tirelessly” and “giving all of these government jobs such fabulous prestige and something that I know all of us now perhaps aspire to do.” “Wow,” said Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. “This is fantastic.” Such sentiment led delegates to declare that it was the most upbeat Davos gathering since before the financial crisis. Yet the giddiness also gave some investors pause as they warned against turning too exuberant.

Read more …

Lagarde gets what she wants and then turns against it. Cover all your bases.

IMF Chief Warns Trump’s Tax Cuts Could Destabilise Global Economy (G.)

Donald Trump’s huge tax cuts are a threat to the stability of the global economy, the managing director of the IMF has warned. Christine Lagarde singled out Trump’s tax reforms as one of three risks that could destabilise the current economic recovery, especially given the boom in stock markets in the past year. “While the US tax reforms certainly will have positive effects in the short term, for the US and other countries around, it might also lead to serious risks,” Lagarde told the World Economic Forum in Davos. “That has an impact on financial vulnerability, particularly given the high asset prices that we see around the world, and the easy financing that it still available,” she added. She was speaking shortly after the US president told Davos that his tax reforms had created “a big, beautiful waterfall” of pay rises for US workers, as American companies passed the tax cut on.

However, the IMF is concerned that cutting taxes will lead to a bigger US budget deficit, and that extra borrowing by the US Treasury will force up long-term American interest rates. As a result, it fears growth could be choked off in the longer term, making the stock market vulnerable to a sudden downward lurch. Lagarde cautioned against people becoming too complacent about the pick-up in global growth reported by the IMF at the start of the WEF’s annual meeting. The IMF raised its forecasts for global expansion to 3.9% this year and in 2019, reporting that all major economies – the US, EU and Japan – are doing better. “I don’t think that we’ve completed the job,” said Lagarde, who fears that the growing economic inequality in many countries is creating “fractures”. “Having growth is good, improving productive is good, but [policymakers should] make sure that the results of that growth are properly allocated,” said the IMF chief, adding that inequality is growing in many advanced economies, and very high in emerging markets.

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An emerging market that’s stopped emerging.

China Set To Lose ‘Emerging Market’ Status As Growth Declines (F.)

China has been considered an emerging market for over 25 years due to its rapid reform process. Generally speaking, emerging markets are defined as developing countries moving toward an open market economy. Unfortunately, if one takes a close look at growth levels and reform factors, China has shed some of the key characteristics of an emerging market, due to a sharp slowdown in the reform process, an increasingly state centered economy, and lower levels of true growth. China is an upper middle income country that enjoyed gangbusters growth through the 1990s and 2000s, but that is now suffering from a major economic slowdown that has no end in sight. One major reason for slowing growth is that market forces have been quashed by a a buildup in the state sector and mounting economic and financial risks that would result in economic collapse if the reform process is restarted.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s economic policy has shifted toward enhancing the organization and financial sources of state owned enterprises, and away from liberalizing the currency and financial sector. Strides that were made toward internationalizing the RMB and bringing about a more market-based financial system have been reversed. A simultaneous over-reliance on easy credit has created plenty of risks in the financial sector that now prevent officials from even considering making the financial sector more market-based. Slow reform of the service sector and strong state presence in service subsectors like health and education have contributed to declining growth.

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When fear is gone, all that’s left is greed. No balance.

This was 1987. Start Rebalancing – David Rosenberg (ZH)

When discussing today’s unexpectedly weak Q4 GDP print, which came in at 2.6%, far below consensus and whisper estimates in the 3%+ range, and certainly both the Atlanta and NY Fed estimates, we pointed out the silver lining: personal spending and final sales, which surged 4.6% Q/Q (vs 2.2% in Q3), although even this number had a major caveat: “as we discussed previously, much of it was the result of a surge in credit card-funded spending while the personal savings rate dropped to levels last seen during the financial crisis.” Indeed, recall the stunning Gluskin Sheff chart we presented a month ago, which showed that 13-week annualized credit card balances in the U.S. had gone “completely vertical” in the last few months of 2017 which we said “should make for some great Christmas.”

Meanwhile, even more troubling was the ongoing collapse in the US personal savings rate, which last month tumbled to the lowest level since the financial crisis as US consumers drained what little was left of their savings to splurge on holiday purchases.

And while we highlighted and qualified two trends as key contributors to the spending surge in Q4 personal spending, Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg – who is once again firmly in the bearish camp – did one better and quantified the impact. Not one to mince words, the former Merrill chief economist described what is going on as “The Twilight Zone Economy” for the following reason: “how many times in the past have we seen a 2.6% savings rate coincide with a 4.1% jobless rate? How about never…huge ETF flows driving equities higher, but these metrics are screaming ‘late cycle’.” He then proceeded to give “some haunting math” from the GDP number: “The savings rate fell from 3.3% to 2.6%. If it had stayed the same, real PCE would have been 0.8% (annualized) instead of 3.8% and GDP would have been 0.6% instead of 2.6%.”

[..] a more troubling development is that the conditions observed ahead of the Black Monday crash are becoming increasingly apparent. Here is Rosenberg’s stark assessment of where we stand: “Rising bond yields. Full employment. Fed tightening. Trade frictions. Weak dollar. Rising twin deficits, spurred by tax reform. Sound familiar? It should. This was 1987. Start rebalancing.”

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More 1987.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Lance Roberts)

What goes up, eventually comes down. That is just reality. The bull market that began in 2009, has now entered the final stage of “capitulation” as investors throw caution to the wind and charge headlong into the markets with reckless regard for the consequences.

Of course, it isn’t surprising given the massive amounts of liquidity continually injected into the financial markets and global Central Banks have now figured out that continually rising financial markets solve much of the world’s ills. Simply, with enough liquidity, you can cover up bad (credit risks) by guaranteeing holders they will never default. It’s genius. It’s a “no lose” investment scheme. Unfortunately, we have seen this repeatedly in the past. In the 1980’s it was “Portfolio Insurance” – a “no lose” investment program that eventually erupted into the crash of 1987. But not before the market went into a parabolic advance first.

In the 1990’s – it was the dot.com phenomenon which was “obviously” a “no lose” proposition. Even after Alan Greenspan spoke of “irrational exuberance,” two years later the market went parabolic once again.

Then in 2006-2007, banks invented the CDO-squared, a collateralized derivative obligation based on other collateralized derivative obligations. It was a genius way to invest with “no risk” because the real estate market had never crashed in history.

Today, it is once again an absolute “certainty” that markets will rise from here as global Central Banks have it all under control. What possibly could go wrong?

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Leverage squared.

Equity Allocations At Record Highs As Investor Cash Hits All Time Low (ZH)

While Bank of America may or may not be right in its forecast that as a result of the market meltup, buying panic and sheer euphoria to get into stocks, which just pushed the bank’s proprietary “Bull and Bear” indicator to a level which on 11 out of 11 prior occasions always presaged a ~12% selloff…

… a market correction or worse is imminent, one thing that is indisputable is the funding status of the Private Clients served by BofA’s Global Wealth and Investment Management (GWIM) team. What it shows is that investor cash allocation has just dropped to a record low of just 10%…

… while investor equity exposure is rising at fastest pace in 10 years.

… and total equity allocations are back to record highs.

In other words: ‘bear capitulation’ as everyone is now long stocks in what BofA called a “non-stop euphoric cabaret.” When will this stop, or reverse? According to BofA, keep an eye on the dollar, which as long as it keeps sliding is supporting of risk assets, however the risk is once it bounces, to wit, the “US dollar key catalyst; note US-Europe FX spat sparked ’87 crash” and “higher US$ “pain trade” = risk-off coming weeks”

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Even if cryptos don’t have a security issue, they certainly appear to have one.

Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchange Loses $535 Million To Hackers (CNBC)

Hackers stole several hundred million dollars’ worth of a lesser-known cryptocurrency from a major Japanese exchange Friday. Coincheck said that around 523 million of the exchange’s NEM coins were sent to another account around 3 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET Thursday), according to a Google translate of a Japanese transcript of the Friday press conference from Logmi. The exchange has about 6% of yen-bitcoin trading, ranking fourth by market share on CryptoCompare. The stolen NEM coins were worth about 58 billion yen at the time of detection, or roughly $534.8 million, according to the exchange. Coincheck subsequently restricted withdrawals of all currencies, including yen, and trading of cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin. Bloomberg first reported the hack. A CNBC email sent to Coincheck’s listed address bounced back.

Cryptocurrency NEM, which intends to help businesses handle data digitally, briefly fell more than 20% Friday before recovering to trade about 10% lower near 85 cents, according to CoinMarketCap. Most other major digital currencies, including bitcoin, traded little changed on the day. Coincheck management said in the press conference that it held the NEM coins in a “hot” wallet, referring to a method of storage that is linked to the internet. In contrast, leading U.S. exchange Coinbase says on its website that 98% of its digital currency holdings are offline, or in “cold” storage. The Japanese exchange said it did not appear that hackers had stolen other digital currencies.

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There will never be a global consensus. Just a lot of poorly understood laws.

How Bitcoin Regulation Will Happen, And What It Will Mean (Ind.)

Bitcoin has been surging and falling in recent weeks. And it seems mostly to come down to one thing: regulation. The lack of regulation is, for now, a large part of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies’ intrigue: they seem to allow people to avoid the traditional restrictions in place in money and other assets. But they’re also part of their bad reputation, with the same anonymity and decentralisation allowing them to be used for crime. Many governments have suggested they could introduce such rules. But it’s still not clear what they’d look like, or how they’d arrive; here’s an attempt to predict what might be to come in that most unpredictable of markets. In recent weeks, bitcoin has plunged after the threat of regulation in South Korea.

But it was part of a much broader trend – countries around the world have already introduced new rules, and those that haven’t are talking about it. The price has mostly levelled out in recent weeks, after regulation brought volatility and a slowly sliding price. But there might be more disruption coming, as countries look towards regulation, worried about the activity and behaviour that bitcoin could be enabling. That was obvious as world leaders arrived in Davos and were asked their opinion. The event could be a preview of far more wide-ranging controls that could be introduced in March, when the G20 governments’ financial and economic leaders meet in Argentina – a number of the countries attending have specifically said they will focus on fixing regulation of cryptocurrencies at that meeting.

They include France and Germany, which are said to be working together on bitcoin regulation. Many other countries have called for the international community to work together to bring regulation to bitcoin. Davos has been a platform for various world leaders to give their opinion on bitcoin. And they all seem to agree on one thing. “My number-one focus on cryptocurrencies, whether that be digital currencies or bitcoin or other things, is that we want to make sure that they’re not used for illicit activities,” said Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s most senior financial policymaker, told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We encourage fintech and we encourage innovation, but we want to make sure all of our financial markets are safe,” Mnuchin said. “We want to make sure that the rest of the world – and many of the (Group of) 20 countries are already starting on this – have the same regulations.”

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Airplane makers wars are set to intensify.

Bombardier Gets Surprise Win After U.S. Rebuffs Boeing Trade Case (BBG)

Bombardier can start shipping C Series jets to Delta Air Lines after a surprise ruling by a U.S. trade panel that said the proposed imports won’t hurt American industry. U.S. companies and workers aren’t being harmed by sales of 100- to-150-seat aircraft from Canada, the International Trade Commission said Friday. The tribunal’s unanimous vote blocks a Commerce Department decision last month to impose duties of almost 300%. Friday’s vote deals a blow to Boeing, which said Bombardier sold the C Series in the U.S. at less than fair value while benefiting from government subsidies. The ruling also opens the door for Montreal-based Bombardier to woo new American customers while potentially easing U.S. trade tensions with Canada and the U.K., where the company builds wings for the aircraft. “I’m shocked,” said Chris Murray, an analyst in Toronto. “This clears the way for the jets being to delivered to Delta,” Murray said. “It also removes any concerns about potential future orders in the U.S.”

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Bombardier goes from one lawsuit to another. Should have stuck to making skidoos.

Canada Illegally Subsidized Bombardier: Embraer (R.)

Brazilian planemaker Embraer said on Friday that the U.S. Department of Commerce has shown that the Canadian government “heavily and illegally subsidized” Bombardier and its C Series aircraft, allowing the company to survive and distorting the aviation industry. The statement came just after Bombardier won an unexpected trade victory against U.S. planemaker Boeing when a U.S. agency rejected imposing hefty duties on sales of Bombardier’s new CSeries jet to American carriers.

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Oh well, there’s plenty homeless people.

More Than Half Of New-Build Luxury London Flats Fail To Sell (G.)

Developers have 420 towers in pipeline despite up to 15,000 high-end flats still on the market. More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell, raising fears that the capital will be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers”. The swanky flats, complete with private gyms, swimming pools and cinema rooms, are lying empty as hundreds of thousands of would-be first-time buyers struggle to find an affordable home. The total number of unsold luxury new-build homes, which are rarely advertised at less than £1m, has now hit a record high of 3,000 units, as the rich overseas investors they were built for turn their backs on the UK due to Brexit uncertainty and the hike in stamp duty on second homes.

Builders started work last year on 1,900 apartments priced at more than £1,500 per sq ft, but only 900 have sold, according to property data experts Molior London. A typical high-end three-bedroom apartment consists of around 2,000 sq ft, which works out at a sale price of £3m. There are an extra 14,000 unsold apartments on the market for between £1,000-£1,500 per sq ft. The average price per sq ft across the UK is £211. Molior says it would take at least three years to sell the glut of ultra-luxury flats if sales continue at their current rate and if no further new-builds are started. However, ambitious property developers have a further 420 residential towers (each at least 20 storeys high) in the pipeline, says New London Architecture and GL Hearn. Henry Pryor, a property buying agent, says the London luxury new-build market is “already overstuffed but we’re just building more of them”.

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Building more is the worst of all options. See above. But it’s alos the only option that lets the illusion last a bit longer.

Building More Homes Will Not Solve Britain’s Housing Crisis (Pettifor)

Everyone – from the government, to housing charities, to housebuilders – has bought into the conventional wisdom that the dysfunction that racks our housing market is a matter of demand and supply. We’re not building enough houses, so house prices have been sent rocketing, taking home-ownership out of reach for growing numbers of young people. But in reality, our housing problems are not a simple feature of supply and demand. Rather, our housing market has a bitcoin problem. What has bitcoin mania got in common with house prices, especially in the capital? For starters, both are speculative bubbles. Vast sums of money have been poured into finite supplies of bitcoins and London property. Both have consequently exploded in value, albeit over different time periods.

And so both have become financialised assets that deliver capital gains far in excess of people’s ability to earn income from work, or from investment in the real economy. And as with bitcoin, so with London property: speculators are convinced that prices will continue to rise for ever. It’s speculation in the property market that is fuelling stratospheric house price rises, not shortage of supply. When the “fuel” of private capital, mortgage credit and cash from the bank of mum and dad is supplemented by government subsidies and tax breaks, house prices rise. Moreover, wealthy global and non-resident buyers have funnelled more than £100bn into London property over recent years, making the problem even worse.

So, rather counterintuitively, building more houses is not the right prescription. House prices won’t fall until the tide of cash flowing into the market abates, for example by tightening mortgage credit, or shrinking the pool of buy-to-let investors. That may already be starting to happen as real incomes continue to fall, the Bank of England toughens up buy-to-let mortgages, and stamp duty rises are phased in for second properties. Despite this, the government pretends the real cause of unaffordable housing is a shortage of new builds. It uses this argument to provide cover for further taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax breaks that benefit its property-owning core voters, its close allies in the construction industry and property market, and its supporters in the City of London.

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Germany crony Holland wants to pay less toward Brexit because its economy is hit harder than others. It also wants the entire EU budget cut. Juncker wants to raise that budget and buy more Europe. This could blow up. Expect more heavy handedness from Brussels.

Brexit Saddles EU With A Huge Budget Problem (CNBC)

Brexit is leaving the EU with a big problem on its hands and a “very tough” negotiation ahead, European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen told CNBC on Friday. The U.K. has been one of the main contributors to the European budget, but once it has left the bloc there will be a gap in the EU budget that will have to be worked out somehow, Katainen said. “It is certainly a problem and we have to address it,” he said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. “If I should bet something, we need to adjust the budget to a certain extent but also we need fresh money from member states. We also have to look at how money is spent, how we could get more out of less.”

But many EU members do not want to pay more to compensate for the U.K.’s decision to leave the union. Denmark, for example, made it clear last year that it would not step up its financial commitment because of Brexit. Katainen told CNBC that one solution could be using more financial instruments, including equity investments, to finance European projects rather than direct financial contributions. “This is what we are planning or exploring at the moment… it’s going to be a very though negotiation,” he said.

The current EU budget is planned out until 2020. The European Commission is due to come up with proposals on the future of the budget in May. During a speech in September, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “An important element will be the budgetary plans the commission will present in May 2018. Here again, we have a choice — either we pursue the European Union’s ambitions in the strict framework of the existing budget, or we increase the European Union’s budgetary capacity so that it might better reach its ambitions. I am for the second option.”

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Yeah, the ones they previously promised to take but never did.

Deal With France ‘Could Bring Hundreds More Child Refugees To UK’ (G.)

Charities working to bring unaccompanied refugee children to safety are optimistic that agreements signed by Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron could lead to hundreds more receiving permission to travel legally to the UK. Details emerging from last week’s summit show that officials agreed to extend an eligibility deadline so that children fleeing conflict and arriving in Europe before last Friday could be considered under the Dubs amendment, the scheme launched in 2016 under which the government agreed to offer a safe and legal route to refugee children travelling alone. Previously, refugee children had to have arrived in Europe before March 2016 to be considered for acceptance under the scheme. This deadline meant large numbers of vulnerable young people who had arrived in France, Germany and Italy more recently were not eligible.

Lord Dubs, the Labour peer who forced the government to commit to helping more young refugees in January 2016, welcomed the development. “We hope dozens more will be transferred, but it is crucial that they get a move on. In France they are sleeping under the trees in very bleak conditions.” Although the May-Macron agreement focused on France, concerns are growing for the large number of unaccompanied refugee children in Greece where there are currently 3,150 refugee children, travelling without families, and only 1,109 spaces in shelters, according to the charity Safe Passage, which has campaigned to bring more young refugees to the UK. The charity hopes that a further 250 could be brought to safety under the Dubs scheme. The government has committed to accommodating 480 refugee children under the scheme, but has so far only transferred about 220.

Campaigners hope the announcement could reduce the number of young refugees killed on roads outside Calais, after a spike in deaths in recent weeks among asylum seekers attempting to climb on to lorries in order to travel illegally to the UK. The UK government also agreed to speed up the time it spends considering applications from young refugees for transfer to the UK, committing to providing an answer in 10 days, and to transferring them within 15 days after that. George Gabriel, at Safe Passage, said: “For those who are awaiting family reunion, these changes will mean that there is a much lower incentive to make a dangerous journey to reunite with a loved one.”

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Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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William Claxton John Coltrane at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 1960

 

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)
The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)
Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)
IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)
IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)
Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)
UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)
Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)
Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)
Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

 

 

Make your own solar panels. What’s wrong with that?

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, in his first major move to level a global playing field he says is tilted against American companies. The U.S. will impose new duties of as much as 30 percent on foreign-made solar equipment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday. The president also approved tariffs starting as high as 50 percent on imported washing machines. Chinese and South Korean officials condemned the move, analysts said it could backfire, while markets largely shrugged it off. The tariffs were announced as Trump prepares to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the international business and political elite gather to mull the current state of the global order.

While the measures may sharpen the president’s “America First” policy after months of rhetoric and herald a hotter trade conflict with China, in Asia manufacturers and investors said the reality wasn’t as bad as they had feared. Investors “are used to bluff from Trump, which often turns out to be a non-event,” said Qiu Zhicheng at ICBC International Research in Hong Kong. “As long as the situation doesn’t escalate into a full-scale trade war, the market impact will be limited. We believe the two economies will stay rational, as a trade war would hurt both.” LG Electronics, a maker of domestic appliances, and South Korean solar panel makers fell initially in Seoul trading on the news before recovering. Samsung said the tariff on washing machines is a “great loss” for U.S. workers and consumers.

South Korea’s trade minister said Tuesday that his nation will file a petition with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping duties on Korean washing machine and solar panel makers. The U.S. decision is “excessive,” Kim Hyun-chong said. China exported more than 21 million washing machines worth just under 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) globally from January through November 2017, according to customs data. China is also the world’s largest exporter of solar panels.

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David knows his shutdowns.

The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)

Nowadays, government “shutdowns” are obviously not all that, and we do claim some expertise on the topic. Since 1975 there have been 14 shutdowns and we have had the privilege of being on-hand up close and personnel during 11 of these. Five shutdowns occurred while your editor was a member of the US House (1977-1981) and another six during his stint as director of OMB. The idea back then, needless to say, was that shutdowns came about mainly when anti-spenders refused to capitulate to the incessant demands of the swamp creatures for more appropriations, pork and graft.

[..] What is really happening, of course, is that the Trumpite/GOP is proving in spades that America is now saddled with two pro-government parties. This means a good shutdown is going to waste and that there is no stopping the fiscal doomsday machine that is now racing toward a national calamity, unimpeded. After all, the reason Washington is operating on its 3rd CR of the fiscal year and struggled a whole weekend to get a fourth one lasting a mere 16 days, lies in the utter irresponsibility of the Trump GOP approach to fiscal policy.

These clowns want to spend $120 billion on disaster relief without a single dime of off-setting cuts; raise defense by $80 billion when the Pentagon is already a $620 billion swamp of waste; appropriate $33 billion for an utterly idiotic Wall on the Mexican border when the problem could be solved by cancelling the $32 billion per year “War on Drugs” and putting up guest worker sign-up booths along the border; and authorizing tens of billions on top of that to pay for the backroom “deals” that were made in order to get the votes for a massive tax bill that not a single Senators or House member had read before it was ram-rodded into law by desperate GOP leaders on Christmas Eve.

So this shutdown is indeed different. Unlike the case back in the day, there is no fiscal red line whatsoever at issue; only a prospective eruption of more red ink and an interim game of political chicken about 700,000 Dreamers, who at the end of the day will not be deported and who will eventually get a path to citizenship. That’s because they, and millions of more immigrants to come, comprise the only available “growth” margin for the US work force in the decades ahead; and therefore constitute the next generation of Tax Mules which will be absolutely necessary to support today’s 50 million retirees. That is, as their population inexorably swells toward 100 million during the next four decades.

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Pressure on the FBI is set to increase tenfold.

Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)

On Sunday, the FBI revealed that it had lost five months of text messages between Trump antagonists Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The agency offered a lame explanation that “software upgrades” and “misconfiguration issues” interfered with the app that is supposed to automatically save and archive communications between officials on FBI phones. This was the couple who chattered about an FBI-generated “insurance policy” for the outcome of the 2016 election with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When will these three be invited to testify before a house or senate committee to inform the nation exactly what the “insurance policy” was?

The bad odor at the FBI seeps into several other areas of misbehavior involving Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. Did the Obama White House use the Christopher Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton Campaign, to obtain FISA warrants against her opponent in the election for the purpose of conducting electronic surveillance on him? Was the FBI abetting a Democratic Party coup to get rid of Trump by any means necessary once he got into office?

Did the FBI conduct a stupendously half-assed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by dismissing the charges before interviewing any of the principal characters involved, granting blanket immunities to Obama White House officials, and failing to secure computers that contained evidence? Does the FBI actually know what then Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed with Bill Clinton in the parked airplane on the Phoenix tarmac? Did the FBI fail to investigate enormous contributions (roughly $150 million) to the Clinton Foundation after the Uranium One deal was signed? Did they look into any of the improprieties surrounding the DNC’s effort to nullify Bernie Sander’s primary campaign?

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Growth is God.

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)

The IMF on Monday revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners. However, the IMF, in an update of its World Economic Outlook, also added that U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.\ The tax cuts would likely widen the U.S. current account deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar and affect international investment flows, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said. “Political leaders and policymakers must stay mindful that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long,” Obstfeld told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said economic gains from the tax cuts would be partially paid back later in the form of lower growth as temporary spending incentives, notably for investment, expired and as rising federal debt took a toll. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde pointed to a “troubling” increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency, saying now was the time to address structural deficiencies in their economies. Obstfeld said a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

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IMF wants their cake and eat it. They warn against the failure of their own policy recommendations.

IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)

The global economy is growing faster than expected, fuelling CEO optimism as they arrive this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. But the IMFhas warned that the next crisis will hit sooner and harder that we thought. “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, issuing a warning by quoting British poet William Blake to describe the state of mind of businessmen and politicians in the world. The global economy continues to beat previous forecasts. The Fund revised upward by 0.2% the growth expected for this year and next. In Europe, the IMF increased further its outlook by 0.3% in 2018 (2.2%) and in 2019 (2%). But “complacency is one of the risks we should go against”, Lagarde told reporters in Davos hours before the official opening of the WEF.

The economy is growing but not because countries have lifted their growth potential via investment in human capital or technology. Instead, reforms have been elusive and growth has benefited just the few that are on top of the pile. “We are not satisfied,” Lagarde insisted, because “too many people have been left out of the acceleration of growth”. Against the backdrop of fragile growth and outstanding challenges, including a high level of debt, the Fund’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, stressed that “the next recession will come sooner and will be harder to fight”. He warned political leaders that the economic momentum is due to factors that are “unlikely to last for long”, including the monetary stimulus and supportive fiscal stance. For that reason, he urged countries to adopt measures aimed at improving the resilience of their societies in the fast-changing digital revolution and to improve the inclusiveness of their societies.

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Another huge surge in debt. Insane. But the only way to keep the zombie from dying.

Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)

Is anyone paying attention? I don’t know, but the cost of carrying debt has been rising and it’s already showing measurable impacts despite the Fed Funds rate still being very low. My concern of course is that the global debt construct will bring global growth to a screeching halt (see also The Debt Beneath). As the 10 year is already piercing above the 2.6% area now I want to pay attention to the data coming in as the Fed is dot plotting more rate hikes to come. After all the Fed has hiked 5 times off the bottom floor in the past 2 years:

Can we see any measurable impact? You bet we can. Here are personal interest payments for consumers:

Mind you we are still near the lows of the previous cycle and already total interest payments are near record highs. The driver of course is record consumer debt and credit card debt. But despite rates still being historically low this rise in interest rates has an impact on the consumer. Already we see this: “The big four US retail banks sustained a near 20 per cent jump in losses from credit cards in 2017, raising doubts about the ability of consumers to fuel economic expansion. “People are using their cards to get from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Charles Peabody, managing director at the Washington-based investment group Compass Point. “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” Recently disclosed results showed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo took a combined $12.5bn hit from soured card loans last year, about $2bn more than a year ago.”

I repeat: “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” [..] “Economists with Deutsche Bank expect the extra debt the Treasury must issue to fund President Donald Trump’s tax package and the amount of debt the Federal Reserve plans to redeem at maturity this year will bloat issuance to about $1tn in 2018. That’s up more than 50 per cent from a year earlier and, when coupled with a 30 per cent rise in the amount of corporate debt that’s due to mature, leaves questions of who the eventual buyer will be.“ A good question indeed. That’s a lot of debt issuance:

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2018 will be the year of the Brexit reversal.

UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Business leaders are privately pushing for a new campaign to reverse Brexit as concerns mount about the viability of government plans to prevent a collapse in exports to Europe. On Monday, the CBI launched its most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy by calling for full customs union with the EU and single market participation, even if it means abandoning the pursuit of separate trade deals with the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, senior figures on the CBI policy council are urging the lobby group to toughen its message still further and spell out their belief that this logic should ultimately lead to a national rethink of the decision to leave the EU, perhaps through a second referendum or an election.

While this is not the CBI’s official position, the group says it has decided to speak out about the problems of the government’s approach to Brexit after “thousands of conversations” and workshops with its members over the past two to three months. “It’s not for us to say [whether to reverse Brexit], we are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union,” said a spokesman. “If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision, we are just being very practical about it.”

Government ministers reacted furiously to previews of the CBI’s evolving position over the weekend, which now directly challenges the British strategy of leaving the customs union so that new trade deals can be pursued outside a common tariff area. The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, told an audience at Warwick University on Monday: “There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU; a day when investing in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived.”

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The former government, to be exact.

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10bn (£7.2bn) today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8bn. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government.

As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: • all lost business opportunities since 2012 • his legal costs • loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting • his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion • loss of reputation. “I cannot be expected to accept all the losses to myself and my family as a result of the action of the New Zealand government,” he told the BBC. “This should never have happened and they should have known better. And because they made a malicious mistake, there is now a damages case to be answered.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me.”

Mr Dotcom’s key argument over his extradition is the warrants used for the raid on his mansion and arrest in January 2012 were based on Section 131 of the 1994 Copyright Act of New Zealand. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom. “92B of Section 131 – an amendment created by parliament in 2012 – prohibits any criminal sanction against an internet service provider in New Zealand. “In order for the US to be successful with an extradition, the allegation of the crimes that they are charging someone with also have to be a crime in the country from which they request the extradition.”

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We must find ways to protect Assange et al.

Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)

Former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa has warned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s days are numbered at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Correa, who gave Assange asylum back in 2012, said that he’s “afraid for Julian Assange’s safety” due to the new government´s actions with regards to his case. He said that he believes President Lenin Moreno is likely “take away the support” previously afforded to the anti-secrecy activist. “It will only take pressure from the United States to” withdraw protection for Assange and “surely it’s already being done, and maybe they await the results of the Feb. 4 (referendum) to make a decision,” said Correa, in an article published by AFP.

When asked does he have evidence to support his claim, Correa said it’s clear that Moreno “has no convictions, it’s clear that he has yielded to the usual powerbrokers” and will “soon enough yield regarding the question of Assange.” The 54-year old economist added that the ambassador for the United States was shamelessly interfering in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something “hadn’t occurred during ten years” of his government. Earlier this week Correa officially left the ruling PAIS Alliance, the leftist political movement he founded in 2006 and which he first rose to political prominence. Having referred to Moreno as a “traitor,” someone who has called for an “unconstitutional” referendum that could spell an end to “democracy,” Correa went on to say that “they can rob us of Alianza Pais, but never our will and convictions. Despite the pain, this only strengthens us.”

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In the future, Manus will be compared to Birkenau.

Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)

Dozens of refugees held for years in Australia’s remote Pacific detention camps departed for resettlement in the United States on Tuesday, asylum-seeker advocates said. The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said 40 men flew out from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby under a deal struck by Australia with former US president Barack Obama but bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump. “It was a bitter-sweet moment for the refugees — who on the one hand, are happy to be gaining the freedom that Australia denied them more than four years ago; but on the other, they remain extremely concerned for those that are being left behind,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The refugees, from camps on Manus Island, flew to Manila from where they will fly on to the US in different groups in the coming weeks before being resettled across the country, it said. The group released photos showing the refugees lining up before dawn to get on buses for the airport, then waiting at the gate to board their flight to Manila. Another 18 men were due to leave Port Moresby in the coming weeks, it said. [..] Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru under a tough policy designed to choke off the flow of refugees to the country. More than 1,000 still remain in limbo in the remote locations.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But until now only about 50 refugees have been sent to the US, under an agreement President Trump attacked after taking office as a “dumb deal”. The Refugee Action Coalition said a further 130 people on Nauru have been accepted by the US and are expected to depart next month.

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Merkel can’t take that she’s yesterday’s news.

Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection.

Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach. Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed. In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.”

In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low. The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

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 December 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Claude Monet Houses of Parliament (Sun Breaking through the Fog) 1904

 

Trump Plans Tax Bill Signing on January 3 Due to Technical Issue (BBG)
Why Wall Street Is Furious At The Trump Tax Plan (ZH)
Peak Valuations and Market Corrections (Rosso)
Silicon Valley Homes Going For Nearly $2 Million Over Asking Price (ZH)
Bitcoin Is Biggest Bubble Of Them All, And It’s The Fed’s Fault – Ron Paul (CNBC)
Uber Loses EU Court Fight as Judges Take Aim at Gig Economy (BBG)
Gloomy Brexit Forecasts For UK Are Coming True, Says IMF (G.)
Bank of England To Allow EU Banks To Operate Unchanged After Brexit (G.)
UK PM May Heads to Poland to Seek Brexit Ally After Firing Her Deputy (BBG)
Poland Protests EU ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Judicial Independence (G.)
Catalonia Poised For Hung Parliament In Bitterly Contested Election (G.)
How The US Swindled Russia in The Early 1990s (Zuesse)
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Now Has A $1 Billion Price Tag (G.)
Russians, Chinese Seek Out Greek Properties for Bargains, Visas (BBG)
Lesvos Mayor Files Suit Over Conditions At Moria Migrant Camp (K.)

 

 

Don’t have the impression it’s a great piece of work. But the entire MSM has only one goal: bash anything Trump. A neutral assessment might be appropriate, but where does one get one?

Trump Plans Tax Bill Signing on January 3 Due to Technical Issue (BBG)

President Donald Trump plans to sign the tax bill on Jan. 3 to ensure automatic spending cuts to Medicare and other programs don’t take effect, according to a House Republican aide familiar with the plans. The White House informed House GOP members of the timetable, following the likely decision by House Republicans to leave the so-called PAYGO provision out of a year-end spending deal to avoid a government shut down before Friday, the person said who asked not to be named because the plan hasn’t been publicly announced. Trump and GOP leaders have repeatedly said the president would sign the legislation before Christmas. White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn signaled Wednesday morning that the signing date could be pushed back because of the potential for triggering the cuts.

Under the PAYGO law, automatic cuts to Medicare and other spending categories would be triggered by the tax bill in January because the bill is scored as increasing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Waiting until January means that those cuts would be delayed until 2019, according to budget expert Ed Lorenzen of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. White House officials insisted that no firm timetable had been set. Trump could sign the tax legislation earlier if Congress passed a waiver to the PAYGO rules, but that is unlikely to happen before lawmakers leave Washington for a holiday recess. “I think we’re just working out some of the logistics on that,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on Fox News. “He’ll sign it as quickly as he can.”

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But wait, wasn’t Trump making Wall Street that much richer?

Why Wall Street Is Furious At The Trump Tax Plan (ZH)

Back in October 2016, the “millionaire, billionaire, private jet owners” of America’s elitist, liberal mega-cities (A.K.A. New York and San Francisco) celebrated the tax hikes that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have undoubtedly jammed down their throats proclaiming them to be a ‘patriotic duty’. Unfortunately, now that Trump has given them exactly what they apparently wanted…an amazing opportunity to ‘spread their wealth around”…they’re suddenly feeling a lot less patriotic. Of course, as we’ve noted numerous times, while most people across the country and across the income spectrum will benefit from the Republican tax reform package, the folks who stand to lose are those living in high-tax states with expensive real estate as their SALT, mortgage interest and property tax deductions will suddenly be capped. And, as Bloomberg points out today, that has a lot of Wall Street Traders in New York drowning their sorrows in expensive vodka and considering a move to Florida.

“One trader, sipping a Bloody Mary on a morning flight to somewhere more tropical, said he’s going to stop registering as a Republican. En route, he sent more than a dozen text messages ripping the tax bill. A pair of hedge fund managers said the tax bill is too tilted toward corporations, rather than individuals who should get more relief. “My clients are hard-working young professionals on Wall Street. I don’t have a lot of good news for them,” said Douglas Boneparth, a financial adviser in lower Manhattan who counsels people throughout the industry. Most are coming to terms with it. “I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by the economic reality.” “This provides a clear incentive for financial advisers to go independent,” said Louis Diamond of Diamond Consultants. “We’re hearing from a lot of clients on this; it’s just another reason why it makes a ton of sense, economically, to become self-employed.”

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All bubbles have limited lifespans.

Peak Valuations and Market Corrections (Rosso)

[..] global diversification has enhanced portfolio returns this year. Spreading wealth among different markets and sectors has allowed investors to capture strong equity performance. You see, on the trend higher, investors may seek to employ a series of risk horses to fully participate in the race. Fixed income or bonds, and cash equivalents do a good job of helping investors manage risk through bear markets as they are negatively correlated to stocks. On the way down, stocks across markets connect and head south in sync; some fall faster than others. Unfortunately, when stock diversification is needed the most, it fails. With current valuations and stock prices extended well beyond their long-term trends, investors must be aware of reversions that have the probability of wiping out a decade or longer in gains.

Stock diversification will not protect you if or when this occurs (let me know if you’ve heard this from your broker’s research hub as of late; I bet you haven’t). Strategists for big-box financial retailers are consistently wishy-washy when it comes to the current unsustainable altitude of stock prices. It’s not in their best interest to take a stand. It would be a death knell for their careers. Recently, one of the paunchiest of the brethren shared on CNBC: Stocks are “slightly overvalued;” followed by – “that doesn’t mean you should do anything here.” Perfect. Well done. That’s how seven-figure compensation packages are earned, folks. When it comes to retail investors, time is as or more precious a commodity as money; we at RIA consistently write and research the math of investment losses to make sure you remain emotionally grounded and don’t allow greed to blind your judgment. We are not afraid to outline the risks inherent in extended markets.

Personally, I’m not willing to give up a decade or two to break even. Are you? Don’t worry about your friendly neighborhood talking heads. They’ll continue to collect big paychecks and hefty year-end bonuses as long as they play senior managements’ game. A broker’s research department superstar spokesperson is paid handsomely to point out when markets reach new highs but rarely expound on how long it takes to achieve or in most cases, reclaim them. A big-box financial retail investment strategist’s primary role is to forge and fortify a firm’s presence or brand and help front-line brokers keep investors fully invested through rough market cycles, nothing more.

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It’s different this time, though….

Silicon Valley Homes Going For Nearly $2 Million Over Asking Price (ZH)

If you’re still holding out hope that the following chart is anything but another massive housing bubble in the making then you should probably ignore the disturbing evidence to the contrary that we’re about to present below… Back in 2005/2006, one of the key signs that housing markets across the country were overheating was the number of houses that, thanks to soaring demand from speculators, were suddenly selling at prices well in excess of their asking price. That said, as a local CBS affiliate in San Francisco points out, the premiums of 2005/2006 pale in comparison to homes in Silicon Valley today that are selling for as much as $1-$2 million over their original asking prices.

But if you thought they area housing market couldn’t get any more outrageous, consider a home on Colorado Avenue in Palo Alto. It listed for $2.9 million, but sold for $3.9 million, $1 million over asking price. Another home on Anacapa Drive in the Los Altos hills listed for $2.8 million, but sold for $4.5 million. That is $1.67 million over asking. Finally, there is this home on University Avenue in Los Altos that listed at $7.9 million, but sold for $1.8 million over asking. In 2017, 10 homes in the mid-Peninsula area sold for $1 million over asking. Six of those listings belonged to Deleon Realty.

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Where does the money come from that’s used to buy bitcoin?

Bitcoin Is Biggest Bubble Of Them All, And It’s The Fed’s Fault – Ron Paul (CNBC)

He’s taken on President Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve. Now, libertarian former congressman Ron Paul is taking on bitcoin. According to Paul, cryptocurrencies have become an asset that rivals the bubble he sees in stocks. “I think it’s going to continue to do exactly what it’s doing. It’s going higher and it’s going lower,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “We can look at what’s happening now, which to me is a climactic end of QEs.” Paul, who has done commercials touting currency competition for a company that benefits from bitcoin’s rise, views the crypto craze as a side effect of central banks doing several rounds of quantitative easing to cope with the last financial crisis. “I look at the problems we face. I think they’re gigantic and people are desperate and looking everywhere. Why would they buy bonds that pay negative interest rates? Why would they buy stocks, and say well this time it’s different? ” asked Paul.

“Cryptocurrency is a reflection of the disaster of the monetary dollar system.” Paul, who’s also a medical doctor and former Republican presidential candidate, argues that cryptocurrencies are in an “exponential bubble” where trying to calculate its real value is extremely difficult. Bitcoin, the largest of the cryptocurrencies, has been trading above $17,000. He hasn’t been able to pinpoint when a plunge could happen in cryptocurrencies or the stock market. But Paul says the danger is real. “They’re both big bubbles in the sense that it occurred because there was excessive credit. But if you look at the curves, I think that the cryptocurrency curve looks more threatening,” Paul said.

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Looks like ‘we are tech’ was always a losing argument.

Uber Loses EU Court Fight as Judges Take Aim at Gig Economy (BBG)

Uber Technologies Inc. will be regulated in European Union countries as a transport company after the bloc’s top court rejected its claim to be a digital service provider, a decision that could increase legal risks for other gig-economy companies including Airbnb. While the EU Court of Justice’s ruling covered UberPop – which used drivers without taxi licenses and has already been shuttered in many countries due to the legal issues – it’s a real blow as the first definitive finding that Uber must be regulated by transport authorities. The decision clarifies for the first time that connecting people via an app to non-professional drivers forms an integral part of a transport service. It rejects Uber’s view that such services are purely digital and could fuel further scrutiny of other gig-economy firms.

Paris regulators are already clamping down on Airbnb, treating the home-rental service more like a hotel, and British food-delivery start-up Deliveroo is in the spotlight for its treatment of workers. In the EU judges’ view, “the most important part of Uber’s business is the supply of transport – connecting passengers to drivers by their smartphones is secondary,” said Rachel Farr at law firm Taylor Wessing. “Without transport services, the business wouldn’t exist.” Uber has argued that it’s a technology platform connecting passengers with independent drivers, not a transportation company subject to the same rules as taxi services. The case has been closely watched by the technology industry because of its precedent for regulating the gig economy, where freelancers make money by plying everything from spare rooms to fast-food deliveries via apps on smartphones and PCs.

“After today’s judgment innovators will increasingly be subject to divergent national and sectoral rules,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Uber, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook. “This is a blow to the EU’s ambition of building an integrated digital single market.” While the ruling is valid EU-wide, it remains limited to Uber’s services and won’t directly affect other disputes Uber is facing over how its drivers are treated. One such case is pending at the U.K. court of appeal.

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You don’t really need to be a genius to see this.

Gloomy Brexit Forecasts For UK Are Coming True, Says IMF (G.)

The IMF has strongly defended its gloomy forecasts for the UK after Brexit, saying pre-referendum warnings of slower growth were coming true. Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, said the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 was already having an impact and Britain’s weaker growth this year was in contrast to accelerating activity in the rest of the world. Speaking at the Treasury as the IMF announced the results of its annual health check of the UK economy, Lagarde hit back at those who lambasted the fund when predictions of an immediate post-referendum recession failed to come to pass. “We feared that if Britain decided to leave, it would most likely entail a depreciation of sterling, higher inflation leading to a squeeze on disposable income and a reduction in investment,” she said.

“People said ‘Oh those experts’, but we are seeing the narrative we identified as a potential risk being rolled out as we speak. This is not the experts speaking, it’s what the economy is demonstrating.” The IMF trimmed its forecast for UK growth this year from 1.7% in October to 1.6%, and said it expected the economy to grow by 1.5% in 2018. It was one of several economic forecasters to say the UK would suffer a downturn should voters back leaving the EU. Last year, the fund had said growth for 2017 would be 1.1%, before raising the forecast to 2%. Since the turn of the year, Lagarde said activity had slowed notably and the UK’s recent performance was a disappointment in the light of the best showing by the global economy since the financial crash.

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A deliberate mess?

Bank of England To Allow EU Banks To Operate Unchanged After Brexit (G.)

The Bank of England plans to allow European banks to maintain their UK operations under current rules following Brexit, in a direct challenge to European Union regulators to adopt the same policy towards UK-based banks. The Bank said it wanted to press ahead with assessing the risks posed by the 177 banks and insurance companies based in the European Economic Area that have branches in London, following the agreement between Theresa May and EU officials to move to the second stage of Brexit talks. In a move that pre-empts trade talks between the UK and EU, the Bank said it would assess each foreign bank’s branch operation to decide whether it needed to be converted into a subsidiary, which effectively separates it from its overseas parent with its own capital.

Banks domiciled in the EEA will be keen to maintain UK branches, which are cheaper to run and come under more direct head office control. They also maintain their chief regulator in their home country. Most branches are expected to retain their current status despite needing to satisfy stringent rules. The BoE said it would carry out a broad assessment of the risks posed by branches, though it would rely heavily on cooperation with regulators across the EU. Branches that are considered to pose a systemic risk to London’s financial centre could be forced to convert to being subsidiaries. The Treasury is expected to give the Bank additional powers to supervise foreign bank branches in the UK, a job largely done by regulators based inside the EU.

Some pro-Brexit campaigners are expected to view the move as throwing away a major bargaining chip in trade talks. The UK might have threatened to block EU access to facilities in the City as the price of concessions in other areas, such as manufacturing and fishing rights. However, Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, told MPs on the Treasury select committee on Wednesday that the decision to allow EU banks to continue operating under existing UK rules had been taken on the assumption that a “high degree of supervisory cooperation with the EU” would continue after Brexit.

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Desperate?!

UK PM May Heads to Poland to Seek Brexit Ally After Firing Her Deputy (BBG)

Fresh from sacking her trusted deputy, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Poland on Thursday to attempt to get close – but not too close – to its new government. May was forced to tell First Secretary of State Damian Green to resign Wednesday afternoon after an inquiry into his behavior found he’d made misleading statements over pornography found on his parliamentary computer by police nearly a decade ago. Green is the third Cabinet minister to quit in two months. A couple of recent Brexit-related successes mean the prime minister is better equipped to handle Green’s departure than she might have been a month ago: The European Union has agreed to move negotiations on to the next phase, and late Wednesday, May’s flagship Brexit Bill completed the detailed scrutiny stage of its journey through the House of Commons.

Still, his departure leaves her without her closest ally in Cabinet. The flight to Warsaw will give May a chance to consider how she manages without him. She’ll be accompanied by her most senior ministers for a summit where she’ll promise cooperation on defense and security as part of a charm offensive to win friends in Europe before negotiations on post-Brexit trade start in March. But Poland’s rift with the EU over judicial reforms – and its government’s fears of a shortfall in EU funding after Britain leaves the bloc – threaten to overshadow the meeting with new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “The prime minister will raise her concerns with the prime minister when they meet,” May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.

“We place importance on respect for the rule of law and we expect all our partners to abide by international norms and standards.” Britain’s rush to forge links with Morawiecki’s populist administration reflects a desire both to win friends for the talks ahead and to reassure former eastern European countries that it will continue to support them against Russian expansionism after Brexit. British troops are already stationed in Poland, and May will announce increased cooperation on cyber security.

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You are not sovereign. All your base are belong to us.

Poland Protests EU ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Judicial Independence (G.)

The Polish government has accused the European commission of a politically motivated attack after the EU’s executive body triggered a process that could see the country stripped of voting rights in Brussels, over legal changes that the bloc claims threaten the independence of the judiciary. In a highly symbolic moment, Poland’s fellow 27 EU member states were advised by the commission on Wednesday that the legislative programme of Poland’s government was putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state by allowing political interference in its courts. The row represents the greatest crisis in the EU since Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year, with the Polish government showing little inclination to back down.

Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the commission, told reporters in Brussels that in two years 13 laws had been adopted that put at serious risk the independence of Poland’s judiciary and the separation of powers. “Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law,” Timmermans, a former Dutch diplomat, said. “We are doing this for Poland, for Polish citizens.” Poland’s new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, responded on Twitter: “Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU.” The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement: “Poland deplores the European commission’s launch of the procedure […] which is essentially political, not legal.”

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‘Election’ today. Can’t even really call this an election. The goal seems to be to divide the independence vote among multiple parties.

Catalonia Poised For Hung Parliament In Bitterly Contested Election (G.)

Catalans head to the polls on Thursday to vote in an extraordinary and bitterly contested election that will pit secessionists against unionists and determine the next phase of the long-running campaign for independence from Spain. The election was called by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, at the end of October when the central government took control of Catalonia and sacked the regional government after it staged an illegal independence referendum and made a unilateral declaration of independence. Polls suggest Catalonia is set for a hung parliament, with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) vying for first place with the unionist, centre-right Citizens party.

With no clear winner in sight, Thursday’s result is likely to lead to coalition negotiations to form a government that will either maintain the drive for independence in some form or defend the constitutional status quo. Tensions remain high in the region following the referendum and the Spanish police’s heavy-handed efforts to stop it. Secessionists believe that Madrid’s imposition of direct rule and the jailing of senior independence leaders could increase support for their cause. Unionists, however, argue that Catalans are sick of the social unrest and economic uncertainty generated by the unilateral actions of the government of deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont.

The exceptional circumstances surrounding the election are compounded by the fact that Puigdemont has been campaigning from Belgium. He fled to Brussels hours before Spain’s attorney general asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against his cabinet almost two months ago. Puigdemont’s former number two, Oriol Junqueras, has been fighting the election from prison, where he and two prominent independence leaders are being held as part of a judicial investigation into October’s events. “This is not a normal election,” Puigdemont told supporters via video link on Tuesday evening as the campaign drew to a close.

Read more …

A long list of documents. NATO expansion.

How The US Swindled Russia in The Early 1990s (Zuesse)

Due to a historic data-dump on December 10th, the biggest swindle that occurred in the 20th Century (or perhaps ever) is now proven as a historical fact; and this swindle was done by the US Government, against the Government and people of Russia, and it continues today and keeps getting worse under every US President. It was secretly started by US President George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990; and, unless it becomes publicly recognized and repudiated so that it can stop, a nuclear war between the US and all of NATO on one side, versus Russia on the other, is inevitable unless Russia capitulates before then, which would be vastly less likely than such a world-ending nuclear war now is.

This swindle has finally been displayed beyond question, by this, the first-ever complete release of the evidence. It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt (as you’ll verify yourself from the evidence here), that US President G.H.W. Bush (and his team) lied through their teeth to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (and his team) to end the Cold War on Russia’s side, when the US team were secretly determined never to end it on the US-and-NATO side until Russia itself is conquered. And this swindle continues today, and keeps getting worse and worse for Russians.

Until now, apologists for the US-Government side have been able to get away with various lies about these lies, such as that there weren’t any, and that Gorbachev didn’t really think that the NATO issue was terribly important for Russia’s future national security anyway, and that the only limitation upon NATO’s future expansion that was discussed during the negotiations to end the Cold War concerned NATO not expanding itself eastward (i.e., closer to Russia) within Germany, not going beyond the then-existing dividing-line between West and East Germany — that no restriction against other east-bloc (Soviet-allied) nations ever being admitted into NATO was discussed, at all. The now-standard US excuse that the deal concerned only Germany and not all of Europe is now conclusively disproven by the biggest single data-dump ever released about those negotiations.

Read more …

When everything is measured in monetary value, nothing will be left in the end.

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Now Has A $1 Billion Price Tag (G.)

Years ago, camping in Alaska’s Arctic national wildlife refuge, I watched a herd of caribou – 100,000 bulls, cows and their three-week-old calves – braid over the tundra, moving to a rhythm as old as the wind. “Not many places like this left today,” said my friend Jeff, sitting next to me above an ice-fringed river. And so Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski believes this refuge – 80 miles east of Prudhoe Bay – could generate $1bn over 10 years once it’s opened to oil leasing. She and her Republican colleagues slipped this drilling provision into the Senate Republican tax bill. Murkowski repeatedly says this development would cover just 2,000 acres, “about one ten-thousandth of ANWR”.

The acronym ANWR conveniently deletes the words “wildlife” and “refuge”, with no regard for the polar bears, Arctic fox, musk oxen and migratory ground-nesting birds that come there every summer, some species from as far away as Patagonia. Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, has said that drilling in ANWR is necessary to deal with climate change. His caddywhompus logic: we need to drill for more oil to raise money to address a problem that’s caused by humanity’s addiction to oil. Why not just say the truth? We want the money. Murkowski adds: “We have waited nearly 40 years for the right technology to come along for a footprint small enough for the environment to be respected.” They have not. Alaskans have been trying to drill here for decades, using one crazy rationale after another.

At one hearing the state’s lone congressman, Don Young, put a blue pen mark on his nose to show how small the industry footprint would be. Clever man. The development would in fact be a spider web of roads, pipelines, well pads and landing strips smack in the middle of the biological heart of the refuge. It would look less like a refuge and more like Prudhoe Bay, where thousands of spills have been reported. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington says the whole idea is “ludicrous”, noting that the Republican tax plan would add roughly $1.5tn to the national deficit in five years [with the richest 1% of Americans reaping half of the tax cuts]. “I am disturbed,” she says. She should be. Christopher Lewis, a retired BP manager of exploration, has said: “I do not believe that there are any adequate, commercially viable reservoirs in the Arctic refuge.” The reality is “there are other less sensitive and less costly places to explore”.

Read more …

Brutal.

Russians, Chinese Seek Out Greek Properties for Bargains, Visas (BBG)

George Kachmazov, a Russian realtor, is buying up property in Athens. The Moscow-based chief executive officer of real-estate platform Tranio.com has bought a building in the Greek capital and is in the process of acquiring five others with a view to selling apartments to international investors. For Kachmazov, the sales pitch is clear: buying property in Greece can give an investor a so-called golden visa to the country – and with it an entree into much of Europe. What’s more, the country’s real estate market may be poised for a rebound, helping buyers make some money on their purchase. “Greece’s real estate market is one of the remaining few in Europe that hasn’t recovered since the 2008 economic crisis,” Kachmazov said in an interview in Athens.

Prices in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Poland and Hungary are heading toward pre-crisis levels because of high liquidity in Europe, he said. Kachmazov is among agents making a beeline for Greece to help property hunters from Russia, China, Turkey and elsewhere bet on a market that may be on the cusp of a revival as the country exits its bailout program in August 2018. Property prices in Greece have fallen more than the 25% contraction in the economy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis began in 2008. Prices of apartments in Athens more than five years old shrank by 45% between 2008 and June 2017, according to Bank of Greece data.

“The belief is that the worst is over and that this is a good time to take advantage of the low prices and to benefit from future capital gains as the market recovers,” said Carrie Law, CEO of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website. Juwai this year signed an agreement with Warren Buffett’s real estate brokerage firm to advertise homes in the U.S. The average price per square meter in Greece is 2,846 euros ($3,369), according to Germany-based statistics company Statista. That’s almost 1,000 euros cheaper than Portugal, which has a similar golden visa program for property buyers, one and a half times cheaper than in Spain and Germany, and almost three times cheaper than in Italy and Austria. Greece is more expensive than Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Estonia.

Read more …

There are reportedly highly superior facilities lying idle on the mainland. But the EU doesn’t want the refugees there.

Lesbos Mayor Files Suit Over Conditions At Moria Migrant Camp (K.)

The mayor of the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos has filed suit against all responsible parties over the conditions at the Moria refugee and migrant processing center. Spyros Galinos filed his suit in Lesvos’s Court of Misdemeanors, claiming that the law is being broken at the government-run facility, which is supervised by the military. His action comes two days after foreign media published videos shot covertly inside the camp and showing the squalor and cramped conditions to which thousands of refugees and migrants are being subjected. The mayor stressed that the facility, a former military base, should not be accommodating more than 1,800 people at a time if decent living standards are to be ensured.

“Unfortunately, though, for the past two years and this year especially there is an extremely large number of third-country citizens and vulnerable groups (men, women – among which pregnant women – and children) indiscriminately trapped and cramped together, coming to more than 6,000 individuals,” Galinos said in his lawsuit. He also stressed poor safety and sanitation standards, saying that an inadequate water and sewerage network is putting the lives of the camp’s residents and workers at risk. People living at the camp “every day experience serious psychological problems and have been led to suicide attempts and self-harm, while others are compelled to serious acts of lawlessness in order to survive,” Galinos said.

His suit came just hours after about a dozen people were injured in a brawl that went on for hours between rival groups at the camp and resulted in extensive destruction. The mayor further stressed the impact of conditions at Moria on the lives of the island’s residents, saying that authorities are failing in their duty to control and monitor such a large number of refugees and migrants. Galinos added that overcrowding at the camp has forced hundreds of migrants to move into the main town of Mytilene in search of some kind of shelter, “taking over public spaces, the city’s parks, sidewalks and courtyards of public and municipal buildings.” In the suit, Galinos asks that “all responsible parties” are taken to task over the situation, as “their actions and omissions are malicious and deliberate, and put at risk the desperate and poor people trapped in [Moria’s] illegal facilities.”

“The disruption of social cohesion and the risk of criminal offenses in defense of life and property by a part of the island’s native population is evident and very likely,” Galinos warned. Since the onset of the refugee crisis at the start of 2015, the residents of Lesvos and its mayor have been distinguished for the support they have given to tens of thousands of migrants that have landed on the island’s shores.

Read more …

Dec 162017
 
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Tamara de Lempicka The refugees 1937

 

Note: I feel kind of sorry this has become such a long essay. But I still left out so much. You know by now I care a lot about Greece, and it’s high time for another look, and another update, and another chance for people to understand what is happening to the country, and why. To understand that hardly any of it is because the Greeks had so much debt and all of that narrative.

The truth is, Greece was set up to be a patsy for the failure of Europe’s financial system, and is now being groomed simultaneously as a tourist attraction to benefit foreign investors who buy Greek assets for pennies on the dollar, and as an internment camp for refugees and migrants that Europe’s ‘leaders’ view as a threat to their political careers more than anything else.

I would almost say: here we go again, but in reality we never stopped going. It’s just that Greece’s 15 minutes of fame may be long gone, but its ordeal is far from over. If you read through this, you will understand why that is. The EU is deliberately, and without any economic justification, destroying one of its own member states, destroying its entire economy.

 

 

A short article in Greek paper Kathimerini last week detailed the latest new cuts in pensions the Troika has imposed on Greece, and it’s now getting beyond absurd. For an economy to function, you need people spending money. That is what keeps jobs alive, jobs which pay people the money they need to spend on their basic necessities. If you don’t do at least that, there’ll be ever fewer jobs, and/or ever less money to spend. It’s a vicious cycle.

We may assume the Troika is well aware of this, and that would mean they are intentionally killing off the Greek economy. Something I’ve said a thousand times before. Still, both the Greek Tsipras government and exterior voices continue to claim the economy is recovering. Even if that is mathematically impossible. There undoubtedly are sectors of the economy being boosted, but they are only the ones the Troika members are interested in.

The economy’s foundation, the ‘normal’ people, who work jobs if they’re lucky, are not recovering or being boosted. Quite the contrary. Half of young people are unemployed and receive no money at all. Most of those who do have jobs receive less than €500 for a full month of work. Mind you, this is while the cost of living is as high as it is in Germany or Holland, where people would protest vehemently if even their unemployment benefits were cut that low. Unemployment benefits hardly exist at all in Greece.

This situation, as also mentioned often before, means that entire families must live off the pension a grandmother or grandfather gets. As of next year, such a pension will be cut to net €480. Of which most will go to rent. And the cuts are not finished. There are plenty neighborhoods in Athens where there are more boarded-up shops then there are open ones. It is fiscal waterboarding, it is strangulation of an entire society, and there is no valid economic reason for it, nor is there a justification.

If Greece had access to international debt markets, if would perhaps pay a higher interest rate, but investors would buy its bonds. The Troika denies Greece that access. Likewise, if the ECB had not excluded the country from its QE bond-buying programs, the country would be nowhere near its present disastrous predicament. The ECB’s decision not to buy Greek bonds can only be a political one, it’s not economic. There is something else going on.

Here’s that latest pension news:

 

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

 

As half of the pensioners see their pensions cut to €480 a month, they’re not the worst off in the country. There are about a million unemployed who get nothing at all, and 580,000 who do have ‘jobs’ but ‘earn’ just €407 a month. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to get a contract. Many don’t, and work for even less. Yeah, that’s how you keep unemployment numbers down; Americans should know all about it.

 

Unemployment Decreases, Yet 580,000 Workers Earn Just €407 Per Month

Greece’s jobless rate fell to 20.2% in July-to-September from 21.1% in the second quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT have showed. About 75.6% of Greece’s 970,000 jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed on Thursday. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%.

Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through June, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. At the same time, part-time employment has been constantly increasing. According to latest data, 580,000 workers earn just 407 euros per month. An amount that is for sure not enough to help people come through the month. And this data refers to declared work contracts. In undeclared work market people earn even 200 or 300 euros.

 

While all these Greeks don’t make enough to feed themselves and their families, the Troika-induced tax rises keep on coming like a runaway train with broken brakes. Every single day, more people are added to the list of those who simply can’t afford to pay their taxes, under the guise of going after ‘strategic defaulters’. There is no way out if this other than large scale debt forgiveness, debt restructuring, debt write-offs. Consumer spending is what keeps economies alive, but in Greece that is what’s shrinking day after day.

 

Greeks Crushed By Tax Burden

Tax authorities have confiscated the salaries, pensions and assets of more that 180,000 taxpayers since the start of the year, but expired debts to the state have continued to rise, reaching almost €100 billion, as the taxpaying capacity of the Greeks is all but exhausted. In the month of October, authorities made almost 1,000 confiscations a day from people with debts to the state of more than €500. In the first 10 months of the year, the state confiscated some €4 billion, and the plans of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue provide for forced measures to be imposed on 1.7 million state debtors next year.

IAPR statistics show that in October alone, the unpaid tax obligations of households and enterprises came to €1.2 billion. Unpaid taxes from January to October amounted to €10.44 billion, which brings the total including unpaid debts from previous years to almost €100 billion, or about 55% of the country’s GDP. The inability of citizens and businesses to meet their obligations is also confirmed by the course of public revenues, which this year have declined by more than €2.5 billion. The same situation is expected to continue into next year, as the new tax burdens and increased social security contributions look set to send debts to the state soaring. Notably, since 2014, there has been a consolidated trend of a €1 billion increase each month in expired debts to the state.

There are now 4.17 million taxpayers who owe the state money. This means that one in every two taxpayers is in arrears to the state, with 1,724,708 taxpayers facing the risk of forced collection measures. Of the €99.8 billion of total debt, just €10-15 billion is still considered to be collectible, as the lion’s share concerns debts from previous years, in many cases of bankrupt enterprises and deceased individuals.

 

Lately, a narrative is being force-fed into, and by, western media about Greece becoming some sort of paradise for investors. But why would anyone want to invest into an economy that clearly is no longer functioning, not even viable? Well, in such an economy, all kinds of things can be bought on the cheap. And because Greece is very beautiful, and has beautiful weather, why not buy it all and turn it into a tourist colony owned by foreigners and the odd rich Greek?

One tiny thing: they would prefer a different, even more business-friendly government. As if Tsipras hasn’t crawled up the Troika’s where-the-sun-never-shines parts enough. That’s the context into which to place for instance Kyle Bass’s comments:

 

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks.

Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism.

So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

Kyle Bass and all his ilk are lining up for the goodies for pennies on the dollar. If only the desolate pensioners and unemployed young are desperate enough to believe that, and vote for, a right-wing government is good, simultaneously, for both their interests and that of international vultures and hedge funds.

 

Funds Take Positions Ahead Of Government Change In Greece

Brevan Howard Asset Management, one of Europe’s biggest hedge funds, revealed to Bloomberg on Tuesday that it has set up two investment funds whose exclusive targets are assets in Greece such as real estate, enterprises and securities, and is aiming to collect 500 million euros from private investors. Co-founder of Brevan Howard and head of one of the two funds Trifon Natsis said that some 250 million euros has already been collected. The company was co-founded by four others, including Alan Howard, in 2002. “After eight years of crisis and recession that’s hit Greece, we’re at a point where the tail risks have disappeared and the country is stabilizing at a low base,” he said.

“We anticipate a material uplift in the Greek economy and asset prices.” “The likely political transition over the next 12 to 18 months will add momentum and reinforce that process,” Natsis said. Brevan Howard seems to be in agreement with Hayman Capital, whose head Kyle Bass said a few weeks ago that the brewing change in government in Greece within the next 18 months will benefit the market: “You’re starting to see green shoots, you’re starting to see the banks do the right things finally in Greece, and you’re about to have new leadership,” he stated recently.

My personal assessment after spending much of my time over the past 2.5 years in Athens is that they will be disappointed. Not only does a country, to make it attractive for foreigners, need a functioning economy, which Greece no longer has even at a “low base”, but the anger that has been building up here, which was held in check by Syriza and its ultimately empty promises, is bound to explode when some right winger manages to seize power.

Athens is the most peaceful city you can imagine, the only violence is between ‘anarchists’ and police, and it mostly takes place at set dates and places. Violence among people is virtually non-existent, despite all the deception, the betrayal, the poverty and the youthful testosterone energy that has nowhere to go. But that’s not going to last, I’m afraid.

 

And that will also be because many Greeks understand the contents of the following, devastating, interview by Michael Nevradakis for Mint Press News with Nicholas Logothetis, former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT). Greece has been set up. And many people here know it. They have put their hopes in the democratic process, in voting into power a different government from the same old clique they have seen for many decades.

The likely winner of the next elections is New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the man the hedge-funders want in. Mitsotakis, a banker, is very much part of the old Greek elite, his father was a prime minister. If he gets elected things are not very likely to remain peaceful. Says my gut.

 

Update: while I was writing this article, the following came out. Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem admitting the first Greek referendum had nothing to do with helping Greece, the reason always provided for why it happened. Instead, it was always, as we’ve said so many times, meant to save German and French banks. And now that he’s leaving the job, Dijsselbloem, who obviously feels untouchable, just lays it out there. After having played a large role in destroying the country, the society, the economy. It’s almost hard to believe. But only almost. Because the Troika doesn’t answer to anyone. Then again, Greece has an independent judicial system.

 

The Aim Of The First Memorandum Was To Rescue Investors Outside Greece, Dijsselbloem Admits

The main aim of the first Greek memorandum, especially, was to rescue investors outside Greece, outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem admitted in the Europarliament on Thursday. “There were mistakes in the first programmes, we improvised. The way we dealt with the banks was expensive and ineffective. It is true that our aim was to rescue investors outside Greece and for this reason I support the rules for bail-ins, so that investors aren’t rescued with tax-payers’ money,” said Dijsselbloem in reply to independent Greek MEP Notis Marias.

Dijsselbloem noted that it had been a huge crisis because the fiscal sector had faced the risk of a total collapse that would have left many countries with a high debt. However, he pointed out that banks had only needed €4.5 billion in the third programme because the private sector had a huge participation. Referring to the non-performing loans, he said that a private solution that did not once again place the burden on tax-payers was near. He also pointed to measures being taken in Greece for the protection of the socially weaker groups, to make sure that they were not the victims of the auctions.

Referring to the early payment of the IMF loans with the remaining money of the programme, the Eurogroup chief said that this made sense financially, given that the IMF’s loans were more expensive than those of the Europeans. However, from a political point of view, the Eurogroup prefers that the IMF remain fully involved in the Greek programme, with its own responsibilities, he added. In any case, he noted that the final decisions on debt relief will be made later, when the programme is concluded and the sustainability of the Greek debt has been examined.

 

As an introduction, a piece of that interview with former Greek Statistical Authority bioard member Nicholas Logothetis (see the rest below). Greece being set up is not just some fantasy idea.

In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known – that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe – until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America – but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

This is some story. It’s being denied in what just about amounts to a full blast PR campaign by many of those involved on the Troika side. Their narrative is: how dare the Greeks attack, and drag into court, their own unblemished ex-IMF statistician (who’s not even a statistician)? Whereas the actual question should be: how dare the Troika et al attack the Greek judicial system?

They’re getting away with it so far, but there are still court cases pending. And as Nicholas Logothetis says, he is confident that the Greek court system is the only party that has the power and the independence to set this straight.

I wanted to take bits and pieces out of this, shorten it etc., but it’s just too good. Sorry, Michael, sorry MintPress! It reads like a crime novel. And you can never again say you didn’t know. We can only hope that the Greek court system will hold Europe to task.

But while they can probably call on Papandreou to stand trial, what about Strauss-Kahn or Lagarde? Or Schäuble and Dijsselbloem? What if they can even prove Greece was set up, who’s going to pay the damage done to the Greek population, society, and the Greek economy, over a decade?

It’ll take many decades for the country to recover from what has been perpetrated upon it. And this could only happen because western media have been too lazy and compliant to question what has been going on. 90%+ of what you’ve been reading about Greece has been fake news. Note: I always put everything I quote in italics, but this is an exception to that rule:

Here we go:

 

The Trials of Andreas Georgiou and the Fraud That Drove Greece into Austerity

The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” — the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

 

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

 

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

 


Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

 

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3%, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4% of GDP. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

 

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?


Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

 

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in his comfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

 

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

 

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.


Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6% of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10%, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

 

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

 

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

 

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75% of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.


Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

 

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

 

 

Oct 152017
 
 October 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Piet Mondriaan Composition in color A 1917

 

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)
ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)
ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)
China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)
PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)
In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)
IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)
Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)
Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)
UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)
Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)
Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

 

 

Funny but very serious. Recommend the whole article.

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)

Tesla shareholders (and bullish Wall Street analysts) are either geniuses or delusional and I am betting on the latter. Typical of the lack of gray matter being applied to this investment is a recent post on Seeking Alpha, often a place where amateurs go to pump stocks they own. Someone calling himself “Silicon Valley Insights” issued an ungrammatical “Strong Buy” recommendation on October 11 based on the following syllogism: (1) “Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated very firmly that they can and will reach his goal of producing 5,000 cars per week by the end of this year.” (2) “Musk has a history of setting aggressive targets (more for his staff than investors) [Editors’s Note: That is a lie.] and then missing them on initial timing but reaching them later. [Editor’s Notes: That is another lie–Musk has NEVER reached a production target.]

(3) “Reaching anything [sic] significant portion of that 5K target (say 1-2K) by the end of December could drive TSLA shares significantly higher.” This genius then suggests that investors stay focused on the Model 3 ramp as the key price driver over the coming weeks and months and argues that the announcement that only 260 Model 3s were produced in the third quarter leaves “much of the risk…now in the stock price.” He is correct – there is a great deal of risk embedded in a stock trading at infinity-times earnings with no prospect of profitability , a track record of breaking promises, a reluctance to sell equity to fund itself even at price levels above the targets of most analysts, and a market cap larger than rivals that are pouring tens of billions of dollars into putting it out of business.

Undeterred, he offers two investment strategies. The first he terms a “reasonable and conservative” one that waits to invest in TSLA shares until the early November third quarter earnings call. In my world, a reasonable and conservative strategy would be to run for the hills or short the stock (as I am doing). A “more aggressive and risky strategy” (compared to skydiving or bungee jumping) would be “to buy shares before that third quarter report and call on the bet that the Model 3 production update will be taken positively.” No doubt investors like Mr. Silicon Valley Insights will put a positive spin on whatever fairy tales Elon Musk spins on that call, but that is a big bet indeed.

Read more …

Bankers involved in LIbor and other scandals regulate themselves. This is the exact opposite of an independent central bank. It’s a criminal racket.

ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)

No single institution has more influence over the lives of European citizens than the European Central Bank. It sets the interest rates for the 19 Member States of the Eurozone, with a combined population of 341 million people. Every month it issues billions of euros of virtually interest-free loans to hard-up financial institutions while splashing €60 billion each month on sovereign and corporate bonds as part of its QE program, thanks to which it now boasts the biggest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. Through its regulatory arm, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, it decides which struggling banks in the Eurozone get to live or die and which lucky competitor gets to pick up the pieces afterwards, without taking on the otherwise unknown risks. In short, the ECB wields a bewildering amount of power and influence over Europe’s financial system.

But how does it reach the decisions it makes? Who has the ECB’s institutional ear? The ECB has 22 advisory boards with 517 seats in total that provide ECB decision-makers with recommendations on all aspects of EU monetary policy. A new report by the non-profit research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals that 508 of the 517 available seats are assigned to representatives of private financial institutions. In other words, 98% of the ECB’s external advisors have some sort of skin in the game. Of the nine seats not taken by the financial sector, seven have gone to non-financial companies such as German industrial giant Siemens and just two to consumer groups, according to the CEO report. In response to questions by CEO, the ECB said that its advisory groups help it to gather information, effectively “discharge its mandate”, and “explain its policy decisions to citizens.”

[..] Many of the above institutions were implicated in two of the biggest financial crimes of this century, the Forex and Libor scandals. In fact, according to CEO, banks involved in a separate forex manipulation scandal that emerged in 2013 have been heavily represented on the ECB’s Foreign Exchange Contact Group. In other words, these banks are supposed to be under direct ECB supervision, and yet they have been repeatedly caught committing serious financial crimes. And now it turns out that they enjoy more influence over ECB decision making than anyone else..

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Spot the nonsense: ”..already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending..”

They buy bonds and magically households will start spending. They don’t belive that themselves either.

ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)

Wages and inflation in the 19-country euro zone will eventually rise but more slowly than earlier thought, requiring continued patience from policymakers, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on Saturday. Wage growth has failed to respond to stimulus for a list of reasons but the ECB remains convinced that labor markets and not a structural change in the nature of inflation is the chief culprit behind low prices, Draghi told a news conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund annual meeting. Having fought low inflation for years, the ECB is due to decide at its Oct. 26 meeting whether to prolong stimulus, having to reconcile rapid economic expansion with weak wage and price growth.

Sources close to the discussion earlier told Reuters that the ECB will likely extend asset purchases but at lower volumes, signaling both confidence in the outlook but also indicating that policy support will continue for a long time. “The bottom line in terms of policy is that we are confident that as the conditions will continue to improve, the inflation rate will gradually converge in a self-sustained manner,” Draghi said. “But together with our confidence, we should also be patient because it’s going to take time.” Even as the euro zone has enjoyed 17 straight quarters of economic growth, wage growth has underperformed expectations, due in part to hidden slack in the labor market and low wage demands from unions.

Some policymakers also argue that globalization and technological changes have made value chains more international, making low inflation a global phenomenon and limiting central banks’ ability to control prices in their own jurisdiction. Draghi acknowledged the debate but said the ECB was convinced the main problem was the labor market and even if there was a broader issue, it would not lead to policy change. The ECB has kept interest rates in negative territory for years and already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending.

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They say one thing and do another.

China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)

China’s broadest gauge of new credit exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. Aggregate financing stood at 1.82 trillion yuan ($276 billion) in September, the People’s Bank of China said Saturday, compared with an estimated 1.57 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and 1.48 trillion yuan the prior month. New yuan loans stood at 1.27 trillion yuan, versus a projected 1.2 trillion yuan. The broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, exceeding estimates and picking up from the prior record low. Policy makers have been clamping down on shadow banking while also working to keep corporate borrowing intact to avoid impeding growth.

The central bank said Sept. 30 it will reduce the amount of cash some banks must hold as reserves from next year, with the size of the cut linked to lending to parts of the economy where credit is scarce. “Momentum continues to be very strong,” said Kenneth Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings and a former Asia vice chairman for Goldman Sachs. “Loan demand of the private sector has finally turned up in recent months.” “This means that there is little hope of further policy easing in the fourth quarter as the monetary policy is very accommodative,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank in Singapore. “There could be even a tightening bias.”

“Household short-term loans have increased too rapidly, with some funds being invested in stock and property markets,” said Wen Bin, a researcher at China Minsheng Banking Corp. in Beijing. “Regulators have started to pay attention to the sector and required banks to strengthen credit review. I think the momentum will show signs of slowing in the fourth quarter.” “Deleveraging is not happening if we look at any measure of credit growth,” according to Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. “Lending in 2017 has actually accelerated significantly from 2016.”

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Yeah. Financed by debt.

PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)

Economic indicators show “stabilized and stronger growth” and the momentum of a 6.9% expansion in the first six months of 2017 “may continue in the second half,” People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said. Imports and exports increased rapidly, fiscal income grew, and prices have been steady, Zhou said, according to a statement the central bank released Saturday after he attended meetings of global finance chiefs this week in Washington. The effects of a campaign to rein in leverage are showing, and China will monitor and prevent shadow banking and real estate risk, he said. China’s broadest gauge of new credit, released Saturday, exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. “Positive progress has been achieved in economic transformation,” the statement said.

“China will continue to pursue a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy, with a comprehensive set of policies to strengthen areas of weakness.” Zhou’s comments, delivered before a gathering of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers, come before the release of third-quarter GDP, scheduled for Oct. 19. Economists project a moderation to 6.8% growth from the 6.9% pace in the second quarter amid government efforts to reduce overcapacity and ease debt risk. Steady growth in the world’s second-largest economy gives policy makers additional room to push ahead with reforms. Zhou recently made a fresh call to further open up the financial sector, warning that such an overhaul will become more difficult if the window of opportunity is missed. Some analysts say they expect reforms will pick up should President Xi Jinping further consolidate power after the 19th Party Congress starting next week.

The IMF this week increased its global growth forecast amid brightening prospects in the world’s biggest economies. It also raised its China growth estimate to 6.8 percent this year and 6.5 percent in 2018, up 0.1 percentage point in each year versus July. “We expect that the authorities can and will maintain a sufficiently expansionary macro policy mix to meet their policy target of doubling 2010 GDP by 2020,” Changyong Rhee, the fund’s Asia and Pacific director, said at a briefing Friday in Washington. “However, as this expansionary policy comes at the cost of a further large increase in debt, it also implies that there’s more downside risk in the medium-term due to this rapid credit expansion.”

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Beijing seems to be getting scared of people’s reactions. Still, when you think about it, closing down 50% of steel production says something about the country’s needs for steel.

In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)

Beijing: In Australia, politicians continue to debate the existence of climate change. Donald Trump’s Environment Protection Agency declared this week that the “war on coal is over”. In China, the outlook could not be more different. The war on coal reached fever pitch here this month. As a deadline looms to achieve clean air targets by the end of 2017, October has seen unprecedented measures come into force to curb air pollution and reduce emissions. Steel production has been halved in major steel cities, coal banned in China’s coal capital, factories closed down for failing pollution inspections, and hundreds of officials sacked for failing to meet environmental targets. The complete shutdowns, or 50% production cuts, will stay in place for an unprecedented five months.

The winter heating season in China is approaching, when coal use has traditionally spiked, worsening northern China’s notorious air pollution. But cities are under pressure to meet important domestic targets for clean air, set five years ago by the State Council in response to a public outcry over pollution. China can’t allow a repeat of last winter, when, after several years of improvement, air quality suddenly worsened in some cities. For a few days in January 2016, the sky darkened and it looked possible that the “airpocalypse” of 2013 – which first drew global attention to Beijing’s severe air pollution – was back. Social media went into overdrive. Fighting air pollution is a matter of social stability, Environment Protection Minister Li Ganjie said a fortnight ago. So now the Chinese government has brought out the “iron fist”.

That was the phrase used by the environment protection bureau in China’s most polluted province, Hebei, as 69 government officials were sacked and 154 handed over to police for investigation last month for failing to implement pollution control measures. Meeting emissions targets has become a key performance indicator for local Communist Party bosses and mayors alike. Local governments that don’t enforce the pollution controls will have environmental assessments for new property developments suspended by the Ministry for Environment Protection, effectively blocking deals. A battle plan has been drawn up by the ministry to cover 28 northern cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, where 7000 pollution inspectors will be deployed to expose violations and look for data fraud. The curbs on industry, particularly steel making, are hitting world resources prices, including Australia’s biggest exports, as demand for iron ore and coal fall.

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Let me guess. They want more reforms.

IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)

The IMF’s steering committee warned that global growth is at risk of faltering in coming years given uncomfortably low inflation and rising geopolitical risks, injecting a cautious note into an otherwise improving economic outlook. “The recovery is not yet complete, with inflation below target in most advanced economies, and potential growth remains weak in many countries,” the International Monetary and Financial Committee said in a communique released Saturday in Washington. “Near-term risks are broadly balanced, but there is no room for complacency because medium-term economic risks are tilted to the downside and geopolitical tensions are rising.” The panel didn’t specify which geopolitical risks it was most concerned about.

In the past few weeks the U.S. and North Korea have engaged in shrill rhetoric about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. And on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump took steps to confront Iran and renegotiate a 2015 multinational accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the U.K. is in the middle of negotiations on the terms of its exit from the EU. The panel nonetheless described the global outlook as strengthening, with rising investment, industrial output and confidence – conditions that make it ripe for nations to “tackle key policy challenges” and enact policies that boost the speed limit of their economies. “It’s when the sun is shining that you need to fix the roof,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at a press briefing to discuss the statement.

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The best part of the iMF is not the front office, it’s the anonymous workers.

Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)

The IMF has been on quite a journey from the days when it was seen as the provisional wing of the Washington consensus. These days the IMF is less likely to harp on about the joys of liberalised capital flows than it is to warn of the dangers of ever-greater inequality. The fund’s latest foray into the realms of progressive economics came last week when it used its half-yearly fiscal monitor – normally a dry-as-dust publication – to make the case for higher taxes on the super-rich. Make no mistake, this is a significant moment. For almost 40 years, since the arrival of Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street and Ronald Reagan in the White House, the economic orthodoxy on taxation has been that higher taxes for the 1% are self-defeating.

Soaking the rich, it was said, would punish initiative and lead to lower levels of innovation, investment, growth and, therefore, reduced revenue for the state. As the Conservative party conference showed, this line of argument is still popular. Minister after minister took to the stage to warn that Jeremy Corbyn’s tax plans would lead to a 1970s-style brain drain. The IMF agrees that a return to the income tax levels seen in Britain during the 1970s would have an impact on growth. But that was when the top rate was 83%, and Corbyn’s plans are far more modest. Indeed, it is a sign of how difficult it has become to have a grown-up debate about tax that Labour’s call for a 50% tax band on those earning more than £123,000 and 45% for those earning more than £80,000 should be seen as confiscatory.

The IMF’s analysis does something to redress the balance, making two important points. First, it says that tax systems should have become more progressive in recent years in order to help offset growing inequality, but have actually become less so. Second, it finds no evidence for the argument that attempts to make the rich pay more tax would lead to lower growth. There is nothing especially surprising about either of the IMF’s conclusions: in fact, the real surprise is that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. Growth rates have not picked up as taxes have been cut for the top 1%. On the contrary, they are much weaker than they were in the immediate postwar decades, when the rich could expect to pay at least half their incomes – and often substantially more than half – to the taxman.

If trickle-down theory worked, there would be a strong correlation between growth and countries with low marginal tax rates for the rich. There is no such correlation and, as the IMF rightly concludes, “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution”. With a nod to the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, the fiscal monitor also says that countries should consider wealth taxes for the rich, to be levied on land and property.

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Why am I thinking it’s the Brit(on)s themselves who’ve done that?

Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)

Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, the years preceding 2017 now resemble an economic golden age for the UK. After the damage imposed by the financial crisis and excessive austerity, Britain recovered to become the fastest growing G7 country. Real earnings finally rose as wages increased and inflation fell (income per person grew by 3.5% in 2015). And then the Brexit vote happened. Though the immediate recession that the Treasury and others forecast did not materialise, the UK has already paid a significant price. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. Real earnings are again in decline owing to the inflationary spike caused by the pound’s depreciation (the UK has the lowest growth and the highest inflation – stagflation – of any major EU economy).

Firms have delayed investment for fear of future chaos and consumer confidence has plummeted. EU negotiator Michel Barner’s warning of a “very disturbing” deadlock in the Brexit talks reflects and reinforces all of these maladies. While Leavers plead with Philip Hammond to set money aside for “a no-deal scenario”, the referendum result is daily harming the public finances. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week). To the UK’s existing defects – low productivity, low investment and low pay – new ones have been added: political uncertainty and economic instability. The Conservatives, to annex former Chancellor George Osborne’s phrase of choice, failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining.

Rather than taking advantage of record-low borrowing rates to invest in infrastructure (and improve the UK’s dismal productivity), the government squandered money on expensive tax cuts. The Sisyphean pursuit of a budget surplus (now not expected until at least 2027) reduced the scope for valuable investment. Productivity in quarter two of this year was just 0.9% higher than a decade ago – the worst performance for 200 years. Having softened austerity, without abandoning it, the Conservatives are now stuck in a political no man’s land.

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Cross-party action against May. It’s quite something. But it’ll just be more fighting.

UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)

A powerful cross-party group of MPs is drawing up plans that would make it impossible for Theresa May to allow Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal in 2019. The move comes amid new warnings that a “cliff-edge” Brexit would be catastrophic for the economy. One critical aim of the group – which includes the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke and several Conservative ex-ministers, together with prominent Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs – is to give parliament the ability to veto, or prevent by other legal means, a “bad deal” or “no deal” outcome. Concern over Brexit policy reached new heights this weekend after the prime minister told the House of Commons that her government was spending £250m on preparations for a possible “no deal” result because negotiations with Brussels had stalled.

Several hundred amendments to the EU withdrawal bill include one tabled by the former cabinet minister Dominic Grieve and signed by nine other Tory MPs, together with members of all the other main parties, saying any final deal must be approved by an entirely separate act of parliament. If passed, this would give the majority of MPs who favour a soft Brexit the binding vote on the final outcome they have been seeking and therefore the ability to reject any “cliff-edge” option. A separate amendment tabled by Clarke and the former Labour minister Chris Leslie says Theresa May’s plan for a two-year transition period after Brexit – which she outlined in her recent Florence speech – should be written into the withdrawal bill, with an acceptance EU rules and law would continue to apply during that period. If such a transition was not agreed, the amendment says, exit from the EU should not be allowed to happen.

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Some nice history, but a weird anti-Islam stance. And a somewhat dubious conclusion.

Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)

To concisely summarize, there’s a very distinct possibility that the EU’s liberal-globalist elite have been planning to divide and rule the continent along identity-based lines in order to further their ultimate goal of creating a “federation of regions”. Catalonia is the spark that could set off this entire process, but it could also just be a flash in the pan that might end up being contained no matter what its final result may be. Flanders, however, is much different because of the heightened symbolism that Belgium holds in terms of EU identity, and the dissolution of this somewhat artificially created state would be the clearest sign yet that the EU’s ruling elite intend to take the bloc down the direction of manufactured fragmentation. Bearing this in mind, the spread of the “Catalan Chain Reaction” to Belgium and the inspiration that this could give to Flanders to break off from the rest of the country should be seen as the true barometer over whether or not the EU’s “nation-states” will disintegrate into a constellation of “Balkanized” ones.

{..] It’s important to mention that the territory of what would eventually become Belgium had regularly been a battleground between the competing European powers of the Netherlands, the pre-unification German states, France, the UK, and even Spain and Austria during their control of this region, and this new country’s creation was widely considered by some to be nothing more than a buffer state. The 1830 London Conference between the UK, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia saw the Great Power of the time recognize the fledgling entity as an independent actor, with Paris even militarily intervening to protecting it during Amsterdam’s failed “Ten Day’s Campaign” to reclaim its lost southern province in summer 1831.

[..] Flanders contributes four times as much to Belgium’s national economy as Catalonia does to Spain’s, being responsible for a whopping 80% of the country’s GDP as estimated by the European Commission, and it also accounts for roughly two-thirds of Belgium’s total population unlike Catalonia’s one-sixth or so. This means that Flemish independence would be absolutely disastrous for the people living in the remaining 55% of the “Belgian” rump state, which would for all intents and purposes constitute a de-facto, though unwillingly, independent Wallonia.

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Austria is as much of a threat to the EU as Flanders is. The Visograd anti-migrants idea is moving west. This worries Germany, which shares quite a long border with Austria.

Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

Austria holds a parliamentary election on Sunday in which a young conservative star hopes to beat the far right at its own game with a hard line on refugees and pledging to prevent a repeat of Europe’s migration crisis. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who is just 31, propelled his conservative People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became its leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party from the spot it had held for more than a year. He is now the clear favorite to become Austria’s next leader. Kurz has pledged to shut down migrants’ main routes into Europe, through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean. Many voters now feel the country was overrun when it threw open its borders in 2015 to a wave of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) are currently in coalition with Kurz’s OVP, but Kurz called an end to the alliance when he took over the helm of his party, forcing Sunday’s snap election. Opinion polls have consistently shown the OVP in the lead with around a third of the vote, and second place being a tight race between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election. “We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday night. Campaigning has been dominated by the immigration issue. Kurz plans to cap benefit payments for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.


Now or never

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Oct 122017
 
 October 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Piet Mondriaan Broadway boogie wooogie 1943

 

The Bubble Economy Is Set To Burst, US Elections Be The Trigger (Andy Xie)
Fed Divide On Inflation Intensified At September Policy Meeting (R.)
UK Resigned To Endless Productivity Gloom (Tel.)
The World Must Spend $2.7 Trillion on Charging Stations for Tesla to Fly (BBG)
Bullet Train Wheel Parts Made By Kobe Steel Failed Quality Tests (BBG)
General Motors Checking Impact Of Kobe Steel Data Cheating (R.)
De-dollarization Not Now (WS)
Xi’s Legacy May Rest on the World’s Biggest Infrastructure Project (BBG)
Retirement in Australia is Unrealisable For Most Workers (Satyajit Das)
With Brexit Talks Stuck, Britain Is Preparing For The Worst (BBG)
IMF Report Suggests New Greek Debt Measures Necessary (K.)

 

 

“In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools.”

“In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises.”

“China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.”

The Bubble Economy Is Set To Burst, US Elections Be The Trigger (Andy Xie)

While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance. China’s most important asset bubble is the property market China’s model is to subsidise investment. The resulting overcapacity inevitably devalues whatever its workers produce. That slows down wage rises and prolongs the deflationary pull. This is the reason that the Chinese currency has had a tendency to depreciate during its four decades of rapid growth, while other East Asian economies experienced currency appreciation during a similar period. Overinvestment means destroying capital. The model can only be sustained through taxing the household sector to fill the gap.

In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises. The most important asset bubble is the property market. It redistributes about 10% of GDP to the government sector from the household sector. The levies for subsidising investment keep consumption down and make the economy more dependent on investment and export. The government finds an ever-increasing need to raise levies and, hence, make the property bubble bigger. In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.

In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius How is this all going to end? Rising interest rates are usually the trigger. But we know the current bubble economy tends to keep inflation low through suppressing mass consumption and increasing overcapacity. It gives central bankers the excuse to keep the printing press on. In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius. In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools. In 2000, the dotcom bubble burst because some firms were caught making up numbers. Today, you don’t need to make up numbers. What one needs is stories.

Hot stocks or property are sold like Hollywood stars. Rumour and innuendo will do the job. Nothing real is necessary. In 2007, structured mortgage products exposed cash-short borrowers. The defaults snowballed. But, in China, leverage is always rolled over. Default is usually considered a political act. And it never snowballs: the government makes sure of it. In the US, the leverage is mostly in the government. It won t default, because it can print money. The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.

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Time to acknowledge these people really don’t have a clue. They are stuck in models that have long since failed, and they have no others.

Fed Divide On Inflation Intensified At September Policy Meeting (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers had a prolonged debate about the prospects of a pickup in inflation and slowing the path of future interest rate rises if it did not, according to the minutes of the U.S. central bank’s last policy meeting on Sept. 19-20 released on Wednesday. The readout of the meeting, at which the Fed announced it would begin this month to reduce its large bond portfolio mostly amassed following the financial crisis and unanimously voted to hold rates steady, also showed that officials remained mostly sanguine about the economic impact of recent hurricanes. “Many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect… the influence of developments that could prove more persistent, and it was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted,” the Fed said in the minutes.

As such several said that they would focus on incoming inflation data over the next few months when deciding on future interest rate moves. Nevertheless, many policymakers still felt that another rate increase this year “was likely to be warranted,” the Fed said. U.S. stocks and yields on U.S. Treasuries were little changed following the release of the minutes. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has repeatedly acknowledged since the meeting that there is rising uncertainty on the path of inflation, which has been retreating from the Fed’s 2% target rate over the past few months. However, Yellen and a number of other key policymakers have made plain they expect to continue to gradually raise interest rates given the strength of the overall economy and continued tightening of the labor market.

“The majority of Fed officials are worried that core inflation might not rebound quickly, but that isn’t going to stop them from continuing to normalize interest rates, particularly not when the unemployment rate is getting so low,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

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More clueless hacks. On Twitter, Tropical Traderhas this: “UK is a f**king leveraged real estate hedge fund Ponzi scheme run by and for spivs and chancers. Of course productivity is going nowhere… ”

UK Resigned To Endless Productivity Gloom (Tel.)

Britain’s productivity crisis is not going to come to an end any time soon. That is the verdict of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the official watchdog of Britain’s government finances, which monitors the economy closely. Productivity is crucial to economic growth and to living standards – workers can be paid more and work less if they produce more output for every hour worked. But since the financial crisis productivity has barely budged. Back in 2010 the OBR predicted productivity would resume its pre-crash trend, rising by about 15pc from 2009 to 2016. That did not happen. Each time the OBR made a forecast – at the Budget or the Autumn Statement – it thought the strong old trend rate would pick up. But it did not. Productivity remained stubbornly low.

After seven years of persisting with this forecast, the OBR has thrown in the towel. “As the period of historically weak productivity growth lengthens, it seems less plausible to assume that potential and actual productivity growth will recover over the medium term to the extent assumed in our most recent forecasts,” the watchdog said. “Over the past five years, growth in output per hour has averaged 0.2%. This looks set to be a better guide to productivity growth in 2017 than our March forecast.” That paints a gloomy picture for future economic growth, pay rises and the government’s finances. The report notes that “some commentators have argued that advanced economies have entered an era of permanently subdued productivity growth for structural reasons”. However, the OBR does not quite go that far.

This puzzle is a global one. Productivity growth has been disappointing across much of the rich world. But that is barely a silver lining, particularly when the underlying causes are hard to establish. At least the global nature of the problem allows for more ‘cures’ to be attempted. The US is currently engaged in monetary tightening. Interest rates are rising and quantitative easing will soon start to be wound back – gently, but still significantly. The move by Janet Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve should begin to test the idea that low interest rates are in part to blame for low productivity. At some point the theory around employment will surely have to be tested.

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That’s a lot of green.

The World Must Spend $2.7 Trillion on Charging Stations for Tesla to Fly (BBG)

A $2.7 trillion chasm stands between electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to make them popular. That’s how much Morgan Stanley says must be spent on building the supporting ecosystem for EVs to reach its forecast of 526 million units by 2040. The estimate, projected by scaling up Tesla Inc.’s current network of charging stations to assembly plants, shows how infrastructure can be the biggest bottleneck for the industry’s expansion, Morgan Stanley said in a Oct. 9 report. To support half a billion EVs, the projected investment will require a mix of private and public funding across regions and sectors, and any auto company or government with aggressive targets will be at risk without the necessary infrastructure, the report said.

The industry shift to battery-powered cars is being helped by government efforts to reduce air pollution by phasing out fossil fuel-powered engines. China, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and improve air quality, recently joined the U.K. and France in seeking a timetable for the elimination of vehicles using gasoline and diesel. China will become the largest EV market, accounting for about a third of global infrastructure spending by 2040, according to Morgan Stanley.

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Just wait for the dominoes to drop. “In Central Japan Railway’s bullet trains, 310 of the tested parts were found to be sub-standard..”

Bullet Train Wheel Parts Made By Kobe Steel Failed Quality Tests (BBG)

Kobe Steel’s fake data scandal penetrated deeper into the most hallowed corners of Japanese industry as iconic bullet trains were found with sub-standard parts supplied by the steelmaker. While they don’t pose any safety risks, aluminum components connecting wheels to train cars failed Japanese industry standards, according to Central Japan Railway, which operates the high-speed trains between Tokyo and Osaka. West Japan Railway, which runs services from Osaka to Fukuoka, also found sub-standard parts made by Kobe Steel. The latest scandal to hit Japan’s manufacturing industry erupted on Sunday after the country’s third-largest steel producer admitted it faked data about the strength and durability of some aluminum and copper.

As scores of clients from Toyota to General Motors scrambled to determine if they used the suspect materials and whether safety was compromised in their cars, trains and planes, the company said two more products were affected and further cases could come to light. “I deeply apologize for causing concern to many people, including all users and consumers,” Kobe Steel CEO Hiroya Kawasaki said at a meeting with a senior official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Thursday. He said trust in the company has fallen to “zero” and he will work to restore its reputation. “Safety is the top priority.” Shares in the company rebounded 1% Thursday, after plunging 36% over the previous two days. About $1.6 billion of the company’s market value has been wiped out since the revelations were made.

Figures were systematically fabricated at all four of Kobe Steel’s local aluminum plants, with the practice dating back as long as 10 years for some products, the company said Sunday. Data was also faked for iron ore powder and target materials that are used in DVDs and LCD screens, it said three days later. In Central Japan Railway’s bullet trains, 310 of the tested parts were found to be sub-standard and will be replaced at the next regular inspection, spokesman Haruhiko Tomikubo said. They were produced by Kobe Steel over the past five years, he said.

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I suggest mass recalls before Kobe is bankrupt. Or GM will have to pay up.

General Motors Checking Impact Of Kobe Steel Data Cheating (R.)

General Motors is checking whether its cars contain falsely certified parts or components sourced from Japan’s Kobe Steel, the latest major automaker to be dragged into the cheating scandal. “General Motors is aware of the reports of material deviation in Kobe Steel copper and aluminum products,” spokesman Nick Richards told Reuters, confirming a Kyodo News report. “We are investigating any potential impact and do not have any additional comments at this time” GM joins automakers including Toyota and as many as 200 other companies that have received parts sourced from Kobe Steel as the scandal reverberates through global supply chains. On Wednesday fresh revelations showed data fabrication at the steelmaker was more widespread than it initially said, as the company joins a list of Japanese manufacturers that have admitted to similar misconduct in recent years.

Investors, worried about the financial impact and potential legal fallout, again dumped Kobe Steel stock, wiping about $1.6 billion off its market value in two days. On Thursday in Tokyo, the shares stabilized and were up 1.1% [..] Kobe Steel President Hiroya Kawasaki said on Thursday his company would do the utmost to investigate the reason for the tampering and take measures to prevent further occurrences. He was speaking before meeting an industry ministry official to discuss the matter. The steelmaker admitted at the weekend it had falsified data about the quality of aluminum and copper products used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defense equipment, a further hit to Japanese manufacturers’ reputation for quality products. Kobe Steel said late on Wednesday it found 70 cases of tampering with data on materials used in optical disks and liquid crystal displays at its Kobelco Research Institute Inc, which makes and tests products for the company.

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“Dollar denominated debt owed by governments and non-bank corporations in advanced economies with currencies other than the dollar has reached 26% of their GDP, nearly three times the level of the year 2000.”

And now raise rates….

De-dollarization Not Now (WS)

China announced today that it would sell $2 billion in government bonds denominated in US dollars. The offering will be China’s largest dollar-bond sale ever. The last time China sold dollar-bonds was in 2004. Investors around the globe are eager to hand China their US dollars, in exchange for a somewhat higher yield. The 10-year US Treasury yield is currently 2.34%. The 10-year yield on similar Chinese sovereign debt is 3.67%. Credit downgrade, no problem. In September, Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s debt (to A+) for the first time in 19 years, on worries that the borrowing binge in China will continue, and that this growing mountain of debt will make it harder for China to handle a financial shock, such as a banking crisis.

Moody’s had already downgraded China in May (to A1) for the first time in 30 years. “The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” it said. These downgrades put Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s on the same page with Fitch, which had downgraded China in 2013. But the Chinese Government doesn’t exactly need dollars. On October 9th, it reported that foreign exchange reserves – including $1.15 trillion in US Treasuries, according the US Treasury Department – rose to $3.11 trillion at the end of September, an 11-month high, as its crackdown on capital flight is bearing fruit (via Trading Economics):

[..] In total, emerging market governments and companies have issued $509 billion in dollar-denominated bonds so far this year, a new record. Dollar-denominated junk bond issuance in the developing world has hit a record $221 billion so far this year, up 60% from the total for the entire year 2016. [..] Dollar denominated debt owed by governments and non-bank corporations in advanced economies with currencies other than the dollar has reached 26% of their GDP, nearly three times the level of the year 2000. Borrowing in foreign currencies increases the default risks.

When the dollar rises against the currency that the borrower uses – which is a constant issue with many emerging market currencies that have much higher inflation rates than the US – borrowers can find it impossible to service their dollar-denominated debts. And when these economies or corporate cash flows slow down, central banks in these countries cannot print dollars to bail out their governments and largest companies. Financial crises have been made of this material, including the Asian Financial Crisis and the Tequila Crisis in Mexico. But today, none of this matters. What matters are yield-chasing investors that, after years of zero-interest-rate-policy brainwashing by central banks, can no longer see any risks at all. And the dollar remains the foreign currency of choice.

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The new Silk Road isn’t a Chinese idea. The US toyed with it. Xi has realized it’s the way to export China’s Ponzi. They will insist on having countries use Chinese products, and paying for them. Often with Chinese loans.

Xi’s Legacy May Rest on the World’s Biggest Infrastructure Project (BBG)

There’s one ambitious scheme of Xi’s about whose importance we may already be certain, one that will leave a big mark one way or another. It’s fundamentally geopolitical in nature, though it may ultimately maintain China’s historical sense of empire. The project is the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to be nothing less than the biggest infrastructure program the world has ever seen. Sometimes known as One Belt One Road, or OBOR, it will attempt to integrate China’s markets with those on three continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The idea is to build an integrated rail network crisscrossing Central and Southeast Asia and reaching far into Europe, while constructing large, modern deep-water ports to link shipping from China and the surrounding western Pacific to South Asia, Kenya, Tanzania, and beyond.

So far, more than 60 countries have signed on or appear inclined to participate. Together they account for about 70% of the Earth’s population and 75% of its known energy supplies. Finding reasonably accurate statistics about Chinese geopolitical initiatives has long been a challenge, but under Xi, OBOR appears to have amassed well over $100 billion in commitments from various Chinese or Chinese-derived institutions, including the recently formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which some already see as a rival to the World Bank. Backed by Xi’s personal prestige, heft on this scale has turned OBOR into a kind of organizing motif for China’s politics and economy. The clear hope is that it will cement the country’s place as a leading, and, perhaps someday soon, the preeminent center of gravity in the world.

[..] Although downplayed in boosterish Chinese discussions, Beijing’s desire for markets to help soak up some of its overcapacity in steel and cement is an important motive behind OBOR’s focus on infrastructure—especially railroad lines. In 2015, China’s steel surplus was equivalent to the total output of the next four producers, Japan, India, the U.S., and Russia. Much the same is true for other key industrial materials. This push to develop outlets for China’s badly unbalanced economy has led many to skip over basic questions about the economic rationale for a vast rail network in the first place. If the ultimate idea is to link East and West with rapid, modern freight trains, as is often suggested, what’s the category of products that will benefit enough from these connections to make them profitable? Perishable and highly time-sensitive goods will almost always be transported by air. Meanwhile, no train, no matter how modern, will beat ocean freight for capacity or price per mile.

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Sobering.

Retirement in Australia is Unrealisable For Most Workers (Satyajit Das)

Australians make up barely 0.3% of the globe’s population and yet hold $2.1 trillion in pension savings – the world’s fourth-largest such pool. Those assets are viewed as a measure of the country’s wealth and economic resilience, and seem to guarantee a high standard of living for Australians well into the future. Other developed nations, aging even faster than Australia and subject to fraying safety nets, have held up the system as a world-class model to fund retirement. In fact, its future looks nowhere near so bright. Australia’s so-called superannuation scheme is a defined contribution pension plan funded by mandatory employer contributions (currently 9.5%, scheduled to rise gradually to 12% by 2025). Employees can supplement those savings and are encouraged to do so with tax breaks, pension fund earnings and generous benefits.

The gaudy size of the investment pool, however, masks serious vulnerabilities. First, the focus on assets ignores liabilities, especially Australia’s $1.8 trillion in household debt as well as total non-financial debt of around $3.5 trillion. It also overlooks Australia’s foreign debt, which has reached over 50% of GDP – the result of the substantial capital imports needed to finance current account deficits that have persisted despite the recent commodity boom, strong terms of trade and record exports. Second, the savings must stretch further than ever before, covering not just the income needs of retirees but their rapidly increasing healthcare costs. In the current low-income environment, investment earnings have shrunk to the point where they alone can’t cover expenses. That’s reducing the capital amount left to pass on as a legacy.

Third, the financial assets held in the system (equities, real estate, etc.) have to be converted into cash at current values when they’re redeemed, not at today’s inflated values. Those values are quite likely to decline, especially as a large cohort of Australians retires around the same time, driving up supply. Meanwhile, weak public finances mean that government funding for healthcare is likely to drop, forcing retirees to liquidate their investments faster and further suppressing values. Fourth, the substantial size of these savings and the large annual inflow (more than $100 billion per year) into asset managers has artificially inflated values of domestic financial assets, given the modest size of the Australian capital markets. As retirees increasingly draw down their savings, withdrawals may be greater than new inflows, reducing demand for these financial assets.

[..] The real lesson of Australia’s experience may be that the idea of retirement is unrealisable for most workers, who will almost certainly have to work beyond their expected retirement dates if they want to sustain their lifestyles. Governments have implicitly recognised this fact by abandoning mandatory retirement requirements, increasing the minimum retirement age, tightening eligibility criteria for benefits and reducing tax concessions for this form of saving. If the world’s best pension system can’t succeed, we’re going to have to rethink retirement itself.

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I must admit, the circus continues to amaze. By now, everyone involved on the UK side is just trying to save their political careers. But the Tories want to hold on to power too, and those two things will conflict. They’ll need to make a choice.

With Brexit Talks Stuck, Britain Is Preparing For The Worst (BBG)

With Brexit talks stuck, the U.K. is preparing for the worst. As the fifth round of negotiations draws to a close on Thursday, progress is so scant that the European side is stepping back from concessions it was said to be considering last month. The Commission won’t talk about trade before getting assurances that the U.K. will pay its dues, and with less than 18 months to go until the country tumbles out of the bloc, the focus in London has turned to contingency planning. Philip Hammond, the pro-EU chancellor of the exchequer, says he’s reluctant to spend cash on a Plan B just to score negotiating points. But he’ll start releasing money as soon as January if progress hasn’t been made in talks. Judging by the latest EU rhetoric, the chances of that happening are growing.

The goodwill that Prime Minister Theresa May generated in her speech in Florence, where she promised to pay into the EU budget for two years after Brexit and asked in return for a transition period so businesses can prepare for the split, hasn’t translated into progress in talks. Meanwhile May’s Conservatives remain deeply divided on the shape of Brexit, with the premier struggling each week to tread a careful line between rival camps. The political establishment is so conflicted that late on Wednesday two politicians from opposing parties joined forces to try and effectively bind May’s hands by tabling an amendment that would enshrine a two-year transition in law. Pound investors are expecting swings in the currency to get more dramatic over the next three months, options show, as political uncertainty unnerves traders.

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The torture never stops. And in the end the Germans win.

IMF Report Suggests New Greek Debt Measures Necessary (K.)

The third review of Greece’s third bailout could hit a snag after the International Monetary Fund’s forecast Thursday that the country’s primary surplus in 2018 will be at 2.2% of GDP– significantly lower than the 3.5% predicted by European insititutions and stipulated in the government’s draft budget and the bailout agreement. The latest forecast included in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor report released Wednesday could, analysts believe, be a source of misery not just for Athens, which may once again be forced to look down the barrel of fresh measures next year to the tune of €2.3 billion – 1.3% of GDP – but for its European Union partners as well, who will have to decide whether to go along with the IMF’s forecast or not.

If they do not, then the risk of the IMF leaving the Greek program will be higher. If, however, European lenders go along with IMF’s forecast, which it first made in July, then Athens is concerned that they may revise their own predictions downward in order to placate the organization – as was the case during the second review – in order to ensure that it remains on board with the Greek program. The latter outcome could, analysts reckon, be the more likely one given that Germany’s Free Democrats (FDP), expected to form part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, have stated that they will agree to an aid program for Greece on the condition that the IMF takes part in the Greek bailout.

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Oct 042017
 
 October 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Vue de Notre-Dame de Paris 1945

 

Why Greece Took The Fall For A European Banking Crisis (Ren.)
The Fed is a Slave to the S&P 500 (Albert Edwards)
Trump Gets Final List Of Fed Candidates, Yellen Gets The Cold Shoulder (ZH)
Trump Says Puerto Rico’s Debt Will Have To Be Wiped Out (BBG)
White House To Request $29 Billion For Hurricane Relief (R.)
White House: A Tax Plan That Doesn’t Add To The Deficit Won’t Spur Growth (BBG)
IMF Warns That Using Consumer Debt To Fuel Growth Risks Crisis (G.)
IMF Warns That Australia’s Household Debt Hangover Will Hurt (Aus.)
A Debt Bomb Is Growing Down Under (Satyajit Das)
The End of Empire (Chris Hedges)
‘What In God’s Name Were You Thinking?’ Senators Grill Wells Fargo CEO (MW)
King Felipe: Catalonia Authorities Have ‘Scorned’ All Spaniards (G.)
Spain Rules Out Mediator In Catalan Crisis (Pol.)
Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming (G.)

 

 

“If Greece continues to participate in the EU, democracy is doomed”

Claire Connelly’s damning version of the events. Please read the whole thing.

Why Greece Took The Fall For A European Banking Crisis (Ren.)

The Greek financial crisis was actually a French and German banking crisis for which Greece took the fall, the result of decades of irresponsible spending and lending. When Greece joined the Euro it went on a spending spree, building roads, airports, new subway systems, infrastructure and a state-of-the-art military arsenal all built and provided by German companies. Companies which, incidentally, have been accused of bribing Greek politicians to secure military and civilian government contracts. Siemens allegedly paid €100 million to Greek officials to secure a contract to upgrade Athens’s telecommunications infrastructure for the 2004 Olympic Games. The Euro was designed to limit competition between the industries of member nations while shifting deficits and surpluses around the continent. Greece’s deficits are Germany’s surplus, and so on.

Had Greece still been using the Drachma, it had a chance of keeping its deficits in check, because it could decide on its own how to set interest rates and tax currency, but when replaced with the Euro, French and German loans caused its deficits to explode and it had no option but to accept the terms of its creditors, even though they knew the debt had no chance of being repaid. Banks – having been bankrupted by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – stopped lending, and Greece, unable to rollover its debt, became insolvent. As a result, the three French banks which had issued loans to its European nations faced peripheral losses twice the size of its economy. More to the point, the French and German banks didn’t want the debts to be repaid. But they also didn’t want countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland to default.

France’s top three banks had loaned €627 billion to Italy, Spain and Portugal and €102 billion to Greece and were staring down a 30 to 1 leverage ratio, meaning that if it lost only 3.33% of its loans to defaults, its capital would be wiped out and banking regulators would be forced to shut the banks down. And if Greece defaulted on its debt, the banks were concerned Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland would follow, resulting in a 19% loss of French debt assets, far and above the 3% that would lead to its insolvency. The three French banks needed a €562 billion bailout, but unlike the US which can shift its losses to its central bank, the Federal Reserve, France a) had no such central bank to shift its losses to, having dismantled it in favour of the European Central Bank, and b) the ECB was prohibited upon its formation to shift bad debts onto its books.

Likewise, Germany’s banks also went bust and required a €406 billion bailout – which it received – but it was barely enough to cover its US-based toxic derivative trades which led to the crisis in the first place, let alone what they had leant to their European neighbours. The banks came back begging, mere months after being cut a €406 billion cheque by the German government. “Greece’s bankruptcy would force the French state to borrow six time its total annual tax revenues just to hand it over to three idiotic banks,” former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis wrote in his expose of the ‘bailout’ negotiations, Adults In The Room. Had the markets found out this secret, interest rates would have skyrocketed and €1.29 trillion of French government debt would have gone bad and the country bankrupted, and the EU with it.

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Edwards likes Kevin Warsh, frontrunner for Fed chief….

The Fed is a Slave to the S&P 500 (Albert Edwards)

I was the first speaker and afterward I enjoyed listening to every other speaker at the two-day event. Most notable of the outside economics speakers were Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, and most significantly for me, ex Fed-Governor Kevin Warsh. Much to my own regret, I had never familiarised myself with the views of Governor Warsh, who was at the Fed from 2006-11, and played a key role in navigating the Fed through the crisis. He got a rousing reception from the BCA audience as he talked a lot of sense – in particular on how the Yellen Fed has lost its way and current policy is deeply flawed. He explained that the Fed has been “captured” by a groupthink of academics led by the ‘Secular Stagnation’ ideas of his friend, Larry Summers.

Rather than admitting they are wrong, this group, who failed to predict the current economic malaise, have constructed this theory to explain why ever more stimulus is required. In particular, Warsh warned that the Fed had become the slave of the S&P. Summers’ relaxed view on the debt build-up, particularly visible in the corporate sector, is in sharp contrast with our own view that this looks set to wreck the US economy. The problem with Summers’ analysis in my view is that it is the higher debt that is being used to push up asset values (via share buybacks), just as it did during the housing bubble in 2005-7. And by pushing asset values well beyond fundamentals you build debt structures on false asset values, which only become apparent when the asset bubble bursts. And am I in any way reassured that the Fed sees no bubbles? No, I am not. These dudes will never identify an asset bubble – at least before the event!

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… bur Warsh might endanger easy money policies, and make the dollar stronger.

Trump Gets Final List Of Fed Candidates, Yellen Gets The Cold Shoulder (ZH)

[..] we can cross out economist Glenn Hubbard and U.S. Bancorp Chairman Richard Davis, both of whom have been floated as possible candidates, although Trump has no intention of interviewing them. A potential wildcard is Stanford economist John Taylor, a favorite of fiscal conservatives, who is also said to be under consideration. It has also been previously reported that Trump has spoken to Yellen, Cohn, Warsh and Powell about the Fed post, although there is no frontrunner at the moment. According to Bloomberg, “the latest developments show that Trump is closer to making a final selection than previously known.” Last Friday, Trump said that he is “two or three weeks away from announcing his nominee” for the post overseeing the nation’s central bank.

Meanwhile, speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Jeffrey Gundlach – who accurately predicted Trump’s presidency – predicted that Neel Kashkari would be picked as next Fed chair. “I actually have a very non-consensus point of view. I think it’s going to be Neel Kashkari… He happens to be the most easy money guy that’s in the Federal Reserve system today and that’s why he may win.” The Bond King said that Trump needs someone who will keep rates low in order to keep his populist reputation and help his base voters and that’s why he’ll pick Kashkari. “A stronger dollar is not good for achieving that agenda,” he said. Gundlach also is confident that Yellen would not get reappointed: “I think there is no chance that she wants to be chairwoman, nor do I think the president wants her to be,” said the manager of $109 billion.

Judging by the latest PredictIt odds, if Gundlach is right, and if he is willing to bet some money on it, he could make a killing, as Kashkari does not even have a contract. As to the current ranking, Warsh remains in top spot with 38% odds, although following today’s Politico news, Powell surged to second place with 31% odds, and now following the Bloomberg report, John Taylor finds himself in third spot with 20% odds, above both Gary Cohn in 4th and Janet Yellen who has tumbled to 5th with just 13% odds of being reappointed.

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“I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” Wonder how it would be done. And what does it mean for Texas, Florida debt?

Trump Says Puerto Rico’s Debt Will Have To Be Wiped Out (BBG)

President Donald Trump suggested that the government debt accumulated by bankrupt Puerto Rico would need to be wiped clean to help the island recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. “We are going to work something out. We have to look at their whole debt structure,” Trump said during an interview on Fox News Tuesday. “You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be – you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” Puerto Rico is dealing with an immediate humanitarian disaster made worse by the long-term debt crisis that led it to declare a form of bankruptcy this year.

The island’s government for decades had been plagued by budget deficits caused by wasteful spending, and borrowed $74 billion. Much of that went to operations. The commonwealth’s budget is under the control of a federally appointed oversight board, a panel that the U.S. Congress created to wield broad sway over the territory’s finances. The panel approves the island’s budget and is meant to help make unpalatable decisions such as closing schools and cracking down on tax evasion. Trump paid a four-and-a-half-hour visit to the island earlier Tuesday, greeting local officials and offering consolation to residents who have been without power and, in many cases, drinking water since the storm struck on Sept. 20. Some in Puerto Rico’s government already are estimating reconstruction costs will be as high as $60 billion.

Prices of the U.S. territory’s bonds have plunged to record lows, signaling investors expect that there will be even less money available to repay its $74 billion of debt. Puerto Rico has little financial ability to navigate the disaster on its own, leaving the recovery heavily dependent on how much aid comes from Washington. It began defaulting on its debts two years ago, seeking to avoid draconian budget cuts officials said would deal another blow to an already shrinking economy. With nearly half of its 3.4 million residents living in poverty, the government filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

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Are they going to fight over this?

White House To Request $29 Billion For Hurricane Relief (R.)

The White House is preparing a $29 billion disaster aid request to send to the U.S. Congress after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, a White House official said on Tuesday. The request is expected to come on Wednesday. It will combine nearly $13 billion in new relief for hurricane victims with $16 billion for the government-backed flood insurance program, the White House official told Reuters. The White House wants Congress to forgive $16 billion of the debt that the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures about 5 million homes and businesses, has racked up.

The request comes as the program is close to running out of money, congressional aides said. The program had racked up nearly $25 billion in debt before this season’s major hurricanes. The Trump administration is also proposing more than a dozen reforms including new means testing and an extreme-loss repetition provision, aides said. Some homes insured under the program have gotten payments repeatedly from the program after multiple storms. The flood insurance money is aimed primarily for areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida, aides said.

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Don’t think the GOP will like this.

White House: A Tax Plan That Doesn’t Add To The Deficit Won’t Spur Growth (BBG)

The White House is showing “softness” on ending a $1.3 trillion federal tax deduction filers get for their state and local taxes, Senator Bob Corker said Monday, warning that it raises questions about the GOP’s “intestinal fortitude” and could imperil a tax overhaul. The framework that President Donald Trump and Republican leaders released Wednesday calls for deep rate cuts and would abolish existing tax breaks to help pay for them. Without such “pay-fors,” Congress might have to settle for only temporary tax cuts. Corker, who insists he won’t vote for a tax bill that adds a penny to the deficit, said in an interview that he’s concerned about the early signals from the White House. On Friday – two days after the tax framework was rolled out – National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said that ending the state and local tax break was negotiable.

“That’s the easiest one,” said Corker, a Tennessee Republican. “Some of the others are actually more offensive and produce lesser amounts of money.” The budget rules that Senate leaders plan to use to pass the legislation require that any changes that boost the federal deficit would have to expire in time. But the nine-page framework released Wednesday provided few details on revenue raisers. It calls for eliminating deductions, but doesn’t specify them. By showing its willingness to negotiate on one such deduction, the White House appears to be charting a rocky path. “As a general matter in tax reform you have to acknowledge that you cannot negotiate with everybody’s single pay-for,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, who runs the American Action Forum, a conservative group that’s working with GOP leaders on taxes. “If you do that for everything, you don’t get tax reform.”

Ending the state and local deduction, which Trump’s aides proposed in April, faces resistance from Republican lawmakers in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey. The same day Cohn commented on the state tax break, tax-writing chiefs Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Kevin Brady dismissed a study that found ending personal exemptions, another one of the few offsets set forth, could raise taxes for some middle-class families. Their response: The committees haven’t made decisions about which tax breaks to end. Asked if the state tax break and personal exemptions were negotiable, Brady reiterated Monday the bill is a work-in-progress. “We’re continuing to work on the final design of the tax reform plan that we’ll have ready after the budget is completed,” he said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is signaling similar flexibility, saying on CNN Sunday that decisions about deductions remain up in the air as “the bill is not finished yet.” He took it a step further on Fox News Sunday, by adding that a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth. “I’ve been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth,” Mulvaney said. “If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you’re never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3% economic growth.”

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Just-in-time politics.

IMF Warns That Using Consumer Debt To Fuel Growth Risks Crisis (G.)

The IMF has issued a warning to governments that rely on debt-fuelled consumer spending to boost economic growth, telling them they run the risk of another major financial collapse. In a report before the IMF’s annual meeting in Washington next week, it said analysis of consumer spending and levels of household debt showed that economies benefited in the first two to three years when households raised their levels of borrowing, but then risks began to mount. Once growth becomes dependent on household debt, it can be a matter of two to three years before a financial crash, the IMF said in its annual report on the global financial system. The study follows a series of warnings about rising levels of household debt in the UK from financial regulators and debt charities.

In a blogpost accompanying the report, one of the authors, Nico Valckx, warned: “Debt greases the wheels of the economy. It allows individuals to make big investments today – like buying a house or going to college – by pledging some of their future earnings. That’s all fine in theory. But as the global financial crisis showed, rapid growth in household debt – especially mortgages – can be dangerous.” He added: “Higher debt is associated with significantly higher unemployment up to four years ahead. And a one percentage point increase in debt raises the odds of a future banking crisis by about one percentage point. That’s a significant increase, when you consider that the probability of a crisis is 3.5%, even without any increase in debt.”

Earlier this year the IMF cut its forecast for the UK’s GDP growth in 2017 by 0.3 percentage points to 1.7% and it is expected to reduce its prediction further next week when its global outlook is published. The uncertainty created by the Brexit vote and negotiations to leave are likely to be blamed, along with a reliance on consumer spending, which has slowed this year. The Bank of England, which regulates the banking sector, said last month that the UK’s banks could incur £30bn of losses on their lending on credit cards, personal loans and for car finance if interest rates and unemployment rose sharply. The debt charity Stepchange has warned that 6.5 million people have used credit to pay for basic items such as food after a change in their circumstances. And MPs have called for an independent commission to examine the effects of rising household debt levels in the UK.

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Same IMF report, specifically for Australia.

IMF Warns That Australia’s Household Debt Hangover Will Hurt (Aus.)

Rapid growth in household debt works as a short-term sugar hit to the economy but leaves a long hangover with reduced growth, higher unemployment and the risk of a banking crisis, the International Monetary Fund has warned. The fund identifies Australia as one of the countries most exposed, with household debts rising to more than 100% of GDP compared with an advanced- country average of 63%. “In the short term, an increase in the household debt-to-GDP ratio is typically associated with higher economic growth and lower unemployment, but the effects are reversed in three to five years, the IMF says in its latest review of global financial stability. Moreover, higher growth in household debt is associated with a greater probability of banking crises.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe yesterday repeated his concern that housing debt has been outpacing the slow growth in household incomes and is now limiting growth in household spending. “Slow growth in real wages and high levels of household debt are likely to constrain growth in household spending,” he said. Announcing that the bank was keeping its benchmark cash rate at the record low of 1.5%, where it has now been sitting since August 2016, he said risks in the housing market were being contained by banking regulator the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which had tightened supervision of real estate lending.

The IMF’s research shows that on average, a 5 percentage point rise in household debt to GDP over a three-year period foreshadows weaker growth in GDP, which would be 1.25 percentage points lower in three years’ time. Reserve Bank statistics on household balance sheets show that total debts have risen from 123% of GDP to 137% over the past five years, or a 14 percentage point increase.

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And Das has some more on the land of Oz.

A Debt Bomb Is Growing Down Under (Satyajit Das)

Australia’s record of 26 years without a recession flatters to deceive. The gaudy numbers mask serious flaws in the country’s economic model. First and most obviously, the Australian economy is still far too dependent on “houses and holes.” During part of the typical business cycle, national income and prosperity are driven by exports of commodities – primarily iron ore, liquefied natural gas and coal – that come out of holes in the ground. At other times, low interest rates and easy credit boost house prices, propping up economic activity. These two forces have combined with one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world (around 1.5% annually, driven mostly by immigration) to prop up headline growth. Yet a significant portion of housing activity is speculative. Going by measures such as price-to-rent or price-to-disposable income, Australia’s property market looks substantially overvalued.

Meanwhile, GDP per capita has been largely stagnant since 2008. Australia’s manufacturing industry, once a significant employer and an important part of the economy, has increasingly been hollowed out. The country’s cost structure is high. Improvements in productivity have, as elsewhere, been lackluster. Infrastructure is aging and unable to cope with the demands of a rising population, especially in major cities. Australia stands at 21st place in the 2017 Global Competitiveness Report. It ranks 15th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business list. Attempts to diversify the economy have had mixed results. Tourism and service exports, mainly of education and health services, have expanded significantly. But they’re nowhere near replacing the revenues brought in by mineral exports.

Second, a debt bomb is growing Down Under. Australia’s total non-financial debt is over 250% of GDP, up around 50% since 2010. Household debt is currently over 120% of GDP, among the highest proportions in the world. The ratio of household debt to income has nearly quintupled since the 1980s, reaching an all-time high of 194%. Stagnant real incomes have contributed to the problem, as have high home prices and the associated mortgage debt. Despite record-low interest rates, around 12% of income is now devoted to servicing all this debt. That’s a third more than in 1989-90, when interest rates neared 20%.

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“..a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.”

The End of Empire (Chris Hedges)

The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by corporations that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and impunity from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, all the while looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of bailouts. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia.

Overseeing this descent at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, thieves, opportunists and warmongering generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too. The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine. Short of a sudden and widespread popular revolt, which does not seem likely, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two.

The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,” by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

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“We serve one out of every three Americans, we have 270,000 team members,” Sloan began, before Schatz cut him off. “So you’re too big?” Schatz asked.

‘What In God’s Name Were You Thinking?’ Senators Grill Wells Fargo CEO (MW)

The chief executive of Wells Fargo & Co. on Tuesday faced senators unimpressed with the bank’s claims of progress in rectifying a massive scandal that lasted years and ensnared millions of customers. “My task is to make sure nothing like this happens again at Wells,” CEO Tim Sloan, a former CFO who was elevated after the ouster of John Stumpf last fall, told the Senate Banking Committee. Sloan outlined steps Wells had taken to address the management structure that incentivized opening accounts for customers fraudulently, and to make affected customers whole. But most legislators said those actions – and Sloan’s testimony – fell far short. The hearing marked one year since regulators settled with Wells over the opening of 2 million phony accounts – and since then, additional wrongdoing has emerged.

In July, the New York Times broke the news that Wells had charged hundreds of thousands of customers for auto insurance they didn’t request or require – a practice that in many cases resulted in overdrawn accounts, fees, and car repossessions. Just days later, the bank told regulators that the number of unauthorized accounts should be revised much higher, to 3.5 million. On Tuesday, Sloan was asked whether the actual count of fraudulent accounts could be even higher than that. He told legislators that he was confident 3.5 million would be the final tally—and more than one noted that Stumpf had said the same thing, a year before. But many senators, it seemed, hadn’t even made peace with the revelations already reported.

“What in God’s name were you thinking?” said Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. “I’m not against large, I’m against dumb. I’m against a business practice which has Wells Fargo first and customers second,” he added. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist Massachusetts Democrat, was even more blunt. “At best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit. And either way you should be fired,” she told Sloan. Warren has previously called for removal of the entire board of directors, and urged Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen to oust the board in her capacity as a regulator, if Wells doesn’t do it voluntarily. Yellen has said that the bank’s actions were “egregious and unacceptable” and has hinted at further penalties or enforcement actions.

“Why shouldn’t the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) simply revoke your charter?” Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, asked Sloan. “We serve one out of every three Americans, we have 270,000 team members,” Sloan began, before Schatz cut him off. “So you’re too big?” Schatz asked.

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The King represents the old Franco interests. He’s being used to turn Spaniards against Catalans.

King Felipe: Catalonia Authorities Have ‘Scorned’ All Spaniards (G.)

King Felipe of Spain has accused the Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain” and warned that their push for independence could risk the country’s social and economic stability. In a rare and strongly worded television address on Tuesday evening, he said the Catalan government’s behaviour had “eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing, unfortunately, to divide it”. Speaking two days after the regional government’s unilateral independence referendum, in which 90% of participants opted to secede from Spain, he described Catalan society as “fractured” but said Spain would remain united. The king made no mention of the violence that marred the referendum when Spanish police officers raided polling stations, beat would-be voters and fired rubber bullets at crowds.

Instead, he focused on the actions of the government of the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. “These authorities have scorned the attachments and feelings of solidarity that have united and will unite all Spaniards,” he said. “Their irresponsible conduct could even jeopardise the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain. He described the regional government actions as “an unacceptable attempt” to take over Catalan institutions, adding that they had placed themselves outside both democracy and the law. “They have tried to break the unity of Spain and its national sovereignty, which is the right of all Spaniards to democratically decide their lives together,” he said.

“Given all that – and faced with this extremely grave situation, which requires the firm commitment of all to the common interest – it is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order and the normal functioning of the institution, the validity of the rule of law and the self-government of Catalonia, based on the constitution and its statute of autonomy.”

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The EU is making mistakes that will threaten its existence.

Spain Rules Out Mediator In Catalan Crisis (Pol.)

The Spanish government Tuesday dismissed calls to bring in a mediator between Madrid and the government of Catalonia in the wake of Sunday’s controversial independence vote. Spanish European Affairs Minister Jorge Toledo told POLITICO that no third-party mediator would be acceptable to Madrid, and that any dialogue must be bilateral. “You can change the law, you can oppose it, but you cannot disobey it,” Toledo said. The comments are a further sign of Madrid’s opposition to providing any sort of encouragement or reward to Catalan separatists as a result of Sunday’s violent clashes, which they blame on the Catalan government.

The European Commission Monday called for “all relevant players to now move very swiftly from confrontation to dialogue.” European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday “appealed for finding ways to avoid further escalation and use of force.” Ahead of Sunday’s vote Amadeu Altafaj, Catalonia’s representative in Brussels, told POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast that he welcomed the idea of a third-party mediator and that “ideally it would have happened some time ago.”

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It’s World Animal Day.

Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming (G.)

What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants? There are plenty to choose from. But one of them, I believe, will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it won’t happen quickly: the great suffering is likely to continue for many years. The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers, is to keep livestock outdoors: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is to swap one disaster – mass cruelty – for another: mass destruction. Almost all forms of animal farming cause environmental damage, but none more so than keeping them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the world’s surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per person per day.

A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that “livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss”. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators. In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in this country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered our hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced.

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Sep 192017
 
 September 19, 2017  Posted by at 8:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Edouard Manet Portrait of Emile Zola 1868

 

When The Market Finally Implodes, Don’t Say These Charts Didn’t Warn You (MW)
S&P 500 Buybacks Have Dropped By 25% Since The First Quarter Of 2016 (MW)
Fed’s Balance-Sheet Unwind Will Be Moment Of Truth For Financial Markets (MW)
$700 Billion Unpaid Mortgage Balances In Harvey And Irma Disaster Areas (ZH)
Rand Paul’s Senate Vote Rolls Back the Warfare State (Ron Paul)
US Senate Backs Massive Increase In Military Spending (R.)
US Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Since 2014 (ZH)
Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than It Disclosed (BBG)
Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (MW)
The IMF Needs to Stop Torturing Greece (Kyle Bass)
Flags, Symbols, And Statues Resurgent As Globalism Declines (SCF)
Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica: ‘We Have Lost All That Money Can Buy’ (BBC)
2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Far From Over (Accuweather)

 

 

“..it will end, and like all previously over-valued, over-extended, over-leveraged and overly-complacent bull cycles in history, it ends badly..“

When The Market Finally Implodes, Don’t Say These Charts Didn’t Warn You (MW)

The perennial headline: Stock market shrugs off everything. North Korea (shrug). Terrorist attacks (shrug). Hurricanes (shrug). Investor complacency (shrug). Lofty valuations (shrug). Trump (the best shrug, believe me). Whatever it is — screw it, buy! On the flip side, bears, of course, have spent the better part of the past few years missing out in one of the greatest bull stretches in market history. But that won’t stop them from revelling in their I-told-ya-so moment when it finally comes. Lance Roberts, chief portfolio strategist for Clarity Financial, is not one of those wild-eyed market alarmists, though he did earn our chart(s) of the day honors with this trio, which he says illustrates his “biggest concern” at the moment.

Chart 1) This just shows how this bull cycle is on pace to become the longest ever. “Regardless, it will end, and like all previously over-valued, over-extended, over-leveraged and overly-complacent bull cycles in history, it ends badly,” Roberts writes.

Chart 2) See those little bends in each red dotted line? There may be something to that. “One of the hallmarks of a late-stage bull-market cycle is the acceleration in price as investors capitulate by ‘jumping in’ as prices accelerate,” Roberts explains.

Chart 3) There might be a tell in what we’re seeing in corporate earnings. “The second downturn in earnings, particularly when sales are stagnating as they are now, tends to be the demarcation point of a repricing phase,” Roberts says.

Obviously, he’s unloading stocks, right? Not exactly … “For now, the bullish trend remains intact which keeps portfolios allocated towards equities,” he says. “BUT, and that is a Kardashian-sized one, we do so with a ‘clear and present’ understanding of the risk that we are undertaking.”

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If the Fed unwinds at the same time buybacks plummet, what would you expect to happen?

S&P 500 Buybacks Have Dropped By 25% Since The First Quarter Of 2016 (MW)

It isn’t just investors who are doing less trading these days: companies seem to be as well, and have been dramatically pulling back on the amount of their own shares that they purchase. Buybacks for companies in the S&P 500 index have been steadily dropping and reached $120.1 billion in the second quarter, according to preliminary data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. That’s down 9.8% from the first quarter of 2017, and off 5.8% from the year-ago period, when companies repurchased $127.5 billion of their own stock. Compared with the first quarter of 2016, the last time the stock market saw a pronounced pullback in prices, buybacks have slowed by more than 25%, per S&P’s data.

The lower buyback activity in the quarter came “as share prices increased, resulting in fewer share repurchases and a weaker tailwind for [earnings per share],” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Corporate profits are measured in earnings per share, or the amount of profit they make divided by their shares outstanding. Reducing the number of shares outstanding through buybacks is a way to boost this metric, aside from organic earnings growth.

About 13.8% of S&P 500 issues “substantially” reduced their year-over-year share out in the second quarter, compared with 26.6% in the second quarter of 2016, as well as the 14.8% that did in the first quarter of this year. Sixty-six issues in the S&P reduced their share count by at least 4%, a level that is seen as having an impact on EPS, down from 134 in the year-ago period and 71 in the first quarter of 2017. The reduction in buybacks isn’t necessarily a signal that companies view their own shares to be overvalued. Silverblatt said investors were interpreting the decline as “a positive sign,” because “while there is less support for EPS growth, companies are showing an ability to meet their EPS targets without the buyback tailwind, as their Q2 2017 record earnings show.”

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Most interesting: what will ECB and BOJ do?

Fed’s Balance-Sheet Unwind Will Be Moment Of Truth For Financial Markets (MW)

If investors have guessed correctly, the Federal Reserve will start reducing its $4.5 trillion portfolio of government securities after its two-day meeting finishes on Wednesday. But for a meeting that could herald the reversal of quantitative easing, a policy credited by some with sparing a cataclysmic economic depression but also blamed for frothy asset valuations and low volatility, investors across all markets appear remarkably sanguine. The ICE Dollar Index, a measure of the U.S. currency against a basket of six major rivals, is trading near a three-year low, bond yields have steadily fallen since the end of last year, and U.S. stock indexes continue to notch all-time highs. “Inching us out of this parallel universe of endless liquidity is going to be a fraught process. No one’s done it before so no one can credibly claim to know what will happen,” said James Athey, senior investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

After slashing official interest rates nearly to zero in December 2008, the Fed was left scrambling for additional ways to provide stimulus to an economy stunned by the fallout from the financial crisis. The central bank, under the leadership of former Chairman Ben Bernanke, began buying up billions of dollars worth of bonds and other assets each month in an effort to drive down long-term interest rates, push investors into riskier assets and, in turn, boost borrowing, spending and the overall economy. The program went through various iterations, but purchases were eventually wound down and then halted in 2014. The assets, however, have remained on the Fed’s balance sheet.

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I wasn’t kidding when I wrote America Can’t Afford to Rebuild recently: “While they will get some federal relief, if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away..”

$700 Billion Unpaid Mortgage Balances In Harvey And Irma Disaster Areas (ZH)

Even as the damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is still being tallied, a preliminary assessment released last week by Black Knight Financial Services estimated that as many as 300,000 borrowers in the vicinity of Houston could become delinquent on their loans and 160,000 could become seriously delinquent, or more than 90 days past due. That number is roughly four times the original prediction because new disaster zones were designated and more homes flooded when officials released water from reservoirs to protect dams, according to CNBC’s Diana Olick. In total, the number of mortgaged properties in Texas disaster zones is 1.18 million, with Black Knight adding that Houston disaster zones contain twice as many mortgaged properties than Katrina zones, with four times the unpaid principal balance.

Putting the Harvey damange in context, after Hurricane Katrina mortgage delinquencies in Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas spiked by 25%. The same could happen in Houston, as borrowers without flood insurance weigh their options and decide to walk away from the property. While they will get some federal relief, if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away according to Olick. What about Irma? According to a preliminary analysis by Black Knight released today, Florida FEMA-designated disaster areas related to Hurricane Irma include a whopping 3.1 million mortgaged properties. As Black Knight’s EVP Ben Graboske explained, both the number of mortgages and the unpaid principal balances of those mortgages in FEMA-designated Irma disaster areas are significantly larger than in the areas impacted recently by Hurricane Harvey.

Quantifying the damage, Black Knight calculates that Irma-related disaster areas contain nearly three times as many mortgaged properties as those connected to Hurricane Harvey, and nearly seven times as many as those connected to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In dollar terms, this means that there is some $517 billion in unpaid principal balances in Irma-related disaster areas, nearly three times the amount as in those related to Harvey and more than 11 times of those connected to Katrina.

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The Paul team’s enthusiasm is commendable. But…

Rand Paul’s Senate Vote Rolls Back the Warfare State (Ron Paul)

Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) reminded Congress that in matters of war, they have the authority and the responsibility to speak for the American people. Most Senators were not too happy about the reminder, which came in the form of a forced vote on whether to allow a vote on his amendment to repeal the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions of 2001 and 2002. It wasn’t easy. Sen. Paul had to jump through hoops just to get a vote on whether to have a vote. That is how bad it is in Congress! Not only does Congress refuse to rein in presidents who treat Constitutional constraints on their war authority as mere suggestions rather than as the law of the land, Congress doesn’t even want to be reminded that they alone have war authority. Congress doesn’t even want to vote on whether to vote on war!

In the end, Sen. Paul did not back down and he got his vote. Frankly, I was more than a little surprised that nearly 40% of the Senate voted with Rand to allow a vote on repealing authority for the two longest wars in US history. I expected less than a dozen “no” votes on tabling the amendment and was very pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Last week, Rand said, “I don’t think that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes that these authorizations from 16 years ago and 14 years ago … authorized war in seven different countries.” Are more Senators starting to see the wars his way? We can only hope so. As polls continue to demonstrate, the American people have grown tired of our interventionist foreign policy, which burns through trillions of dollars while making the world a more dangerous place rather than a safer place.

Some might argue that losing the vote was a defeat. I would disagree. For the first time in years we saw US Senators on the Senate Floor debating whether the president should have authority to take the US to war anywhere he pleases. Even with just the small number of votes I thought we might have gotten on the matter, that alone would have been a great victory. But getting almost 40% of the Senate to vote our way? I call that a very good start!

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…but this is the reality.

US Senate Backs Massive Increase In Military Spending (R.)

The U.S. Senate passed its version of a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting the stage for a battle over government spending levels later this year. The Republican-controlled chamber voted 89-8 for the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018, or NDAA, which authorizes the level of defense spending and sets policies controlling how the money is spent. The Senate bill provides about $640 billion for the Pentagon’s main operations, such as buying weapons and paying the troops, and some $60 billion to fund the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The 1,215-page bill includes a wide range of provisions, such as a 2.1% military pay raise and $8.5 billion to strengthen missile defense, as North Korea conducts nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. It also bans Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs products from federal government use. The House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA at a similar spending level in July. The two versions must be reconciled before Congress can consider a final version. A fight over spending is expected because Senate Democrats have vowed to block big increases in funds for the military if spending caps on non-defense programs are not also eased. The versions of the bill increase military spending well beyond last year’s $619 billion, defying “sequestration” spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

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The FBI was listening in to conversations of a sitting president. Hmm..

US Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Since 2014 (ZH)

Meanwhile, and perhaps more interestingly, CNN’s anonymous sources have apparently revealed that Manafort has been under an ongoing wiretap, approved by the FISA courts, going back to 2014 and tied to his consulting arrangements with Ukraine’s former ruling party. Ironically, CNN notes the “surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence” but was then restarted with a “new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year”…all of which sounds an awful lot like the Obama administration using FISA courts to spy on a political opponent. Speaking of “shock and awe”, the NYT piece goes on to cast an even greater shadow over the Trump campaign by comparing it to an “organized crime syndicate.”

Finally, and to our complete shock, the NYT goes on to point out at the bottom of the article (you know about 2,000 words in after most folks have already fallen asleep or just moved on) that Manafort is under investigation for “possible violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying”…all of which seem related to the FBI’s 2014 investigation of Manafort’s consulting practice and not the Trump campaign. Conclusion, Mueller’s team is desperately trying to scare anyone they can into confessing something/anything that might possibly implicate the Trump campaign. Of course, as Katy Harriger, a professor of politics at Wake Forest University, points out, the longer Mueller’s investigation goes on, the more vulnerable he will be to allegations that he is on a fishing expedition…

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Criminal intent?!

Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than It Disclosed (BBG)

Equifax learned about a major breach of its computer systems in March – almost five months before the date it has publicly disclosed, according to three people familiar with the situation. In a statement, the company said the March breach was not related to the hack that exposed the personal and financial data on 143 million U.S. consumers, but one of the people said the breaches involve the same intruders. Either way, the revelation that the 118-year-old credit-reporting agency suffered two major incidents in the span of a few months adds to a mounting crisis at the company, which is the subject of multiple investigations and announced the retirement of two of its top security executives on Friday.

Equifax hired the security firm Mandiant on both occasions and may have believed it had the initial breach under control, only to have to bring the investigators back when it detected suspicious activity again on July 29, two of the people said. Equifax’s hiring of Mandiant the first time was unrelated to the July 29 incident, the company spokesperson said. The revelation of a March breach will complicate the company’s efforts to explain a series of unusual stock sales by Equifax executives. If it’s shown that those executives did so with the knowledge that either or both breaches could damage the company, they could be vulnerable to charges of insider trading. The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the stock sales.

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A curious move just ahead of the holiday season. Then again, remember this from a few days ago: “The company has been saddled with debt since buyout firms KKR and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty took Toys “R” Us private for $6.6 billion in 2005.”

Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (MW)

Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday night. In a statement, the retailer said it intends to use bankruptcy proceedings “to restructure its outstanding debt and establish a sustainable capital structure that will enable it to invest in long-term growth.” The retailer has been hurt by shrinking sales and increased online competition, and has still not recovered from a massive debt load from a leveraged buyout more than a decade ago. “Today marks the dawn of a new era at Toys ‘R’ Us where we expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” said Chairman and Echief Executive Dave Brandon, in a statement. “Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long-term debt on our balance sheet. .

. . We are confident that these are the right steps to ensure that the iconic Toys”R”Us and Babies”R”Us brands live on for many generations.” Toys ‘R’ Us said it has already received a commitment for $3 billion in debtor-in-possession financing, part of which is from a bank syndicate led by JP Morgan. While that financing needs court approval, the company was confident it would be granted. The bankruptcy filing had been expected, and the retailer tried to settle fears that it would be cut off from its holiday inventory. “Toys ‘R’ Us is committed to working with its vendors to help ensure that inventory levels are maintained and products continue to be delivered in a timely fashion,” the company said.

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Kyle is too optimistic about the Greek economy.

The IMF Needs to Stop Torturing Greece (Kyle Bass)

[..] the banks have been fully recapitalized twice. They have bolstered their provisions against bad loans, and their capital ratios are now significantly higher than the European average, providing a buffer against any future losses. Greece, however, still carries a heavy burden: the roughly 250 billion euros that the IMF and its European partners lent the country to save its economy and most likely the entire euro area. This stock of official bail-out debt remains due even though private creditors have been amply haircut, restructured and wiped out. In 2012, for example, the government’s private-sector bondholders were forced to accept a loss of nearly 80%. Greek bank shareholders have seen their investments wiped out twice in recapitalizations.

The IMF could write off its debt and lighten Greece’s burden. This would benefit the country’s long-term economic health, and therefore Europe’s, too. Instead, the fund is demanding further austerity measures and insisting on “structural” reforms of dubious value. By sticking to this economic ideology, it is neutering the nascent economic growth and stifling any hope of real prosperity. The IMF came forward as Greece’s savior during Europe’s financial crisis, but now it looks more like a frenemy. Consider the history of the debt. When a country joins the IMF, it is assigned an initial “quota,” based primarily on its GDP. A member country can typically borrow up to 145% of its quota annually and up to 435% cumulatively – or possibly more in “exceptional circumstances.”

These are essentially credit limits, designed to not overburden the borrower with debt. Yet amid the crisis, the IMF agreed to lend an eye-popping 3,212% of Greece’s quota. Together with loans from the fund’s European partners, Greece’s official-sector debt amounts to more than 135% of GDP. The IMF knew perfectly well that its loans could never be repaid. I have heard this directly from officials involved in the process. All the participants at the time – including U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn – made a conscious and very political (not financial) decision to prevent the crisis from spreading and keep the euro area together.

[..] The IMF’s stance is preposterous. It is motivated by self-interest, rather than by what would be best for Greece. The fund has simultaneously tried to block Greece’s return to the capital markets and attempted to undermine Europe’s new banking union by demanding yet another recapitalization. Considering that the country – like all euro members – can’t achieve macroeconomic adjustment by devaluing its currency, extreme care must be taken. Consumer and investor confidence, not exports, will ultimately drive growth.

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With the economy’s demise, centralization dies.

Flags, Symbols, And Statues Resurgent As Globalism Declines (SCF)

As the forces of globalism retreat after numerous defeats in the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and other nations, there is a resurgent popularity in national, historical, and cultural symbols. These include flags, statues of forbearers, place names, language, and, in fact, anything that distinguishes one national or sub-national group from others. The negative reactions to cultural and religious threats brought about by the manifestations of globalism – mass movement of refugees, dictates from supranational organizations like the European Union and the United Nations, and the loss of financial independence – should have been expected by the globalists. Caught up in their own self-importance and hubris, the globalists are now debasing the forces of national, religious, and cultural identity as threats to the “world order.”

The most egregious examples of globalist pushback against aspirant nationhood and the symbols of national identity are Catalonia and Kurdistan. Two plebiscites on independence, a September 25, 2017 referendum on the Kurdistan Regional Government declaring independence from Iraq and an October 1 referendum on Catalonia beginning the process of breaking away from the Kingdom of Spain, are expected to achieve “yes” votes. Neither plebiscite is binding, a fact that will result in both votes being ignored by the mother countries. Iraq, the United States, Turkey, and Iran have warned Kurdish Iraq against holding the independence referendum. The United States is prepared to double-cross its erstwhile Kurdish allies for a fourth time. President Woodrow Wilson, who has been cited as the “first neoconservative or neocon, reneged on Kurdish independence during the post-World War I Versailles peace conference.

Henry Kissinger double-crossed Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani in 1975 with the Algiers Accord between Iraq and Iran, a perfidious act that forced 100,000 of Barzani’s Kurdish forces into exile in Iran. George H. W. Bush promised the Kurds help after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 if they revolted against Saddam Hussein’s government. US military aid was not forthcoming and the Kurds were forced into a small sliver of northern Iraq, over which a US “no-fly zone” was imposed. Now, Donald Trump’s administration has warned the Kurds not to even think about independence, even though the Kurdish peshmerga forces helped the US and its allies to drive the Islamic State out of Kirkuk and the rest of northern Iraq.

In Spain, the conservative prime minister is trying to emulate the Spanish fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco in making threats against Catalonia’s independence wishes. In response to the Catalan Parliament’s vote to hold an October 1 referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his People’s Party government have promised to round up the pro-independence members of the Catalan government, as well as pro-independence legislators of the parliament and mayors, and criminally charge them with sedition. Rajoy’s stance should be no surprise since his party, the Popular Party, is the political heir of Franco’s Falangist party. Franco’s version of the Nazi Gestapo, the Guardia Civil, brutally suppressed Catalan and Basque identity. Particular targets for suppression, according to Falangist doctrine, were “anti-Spanish activists,” “Reds,” “separatists,” “liberals,” “Jews,” “Freemasons,” and “judeomarxistas.”

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Dominica was hit from south to north, the entire island. 70,000 inhabitants.

Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica: ‘We Have Lost All That Money Can Buy’ (BBC)

Dominica has suffered “widespread damage” from Hurricane Maria, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says. “We have lost all that money can buy,” he said in a Facebook post. The hurricane suddenly strengthened to a “potentially catastrophic” category five storm, before making landfall on the Caribbean island. Earlier Mr Skerrit had posted live updates as his own roof was torn off, saying he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”. “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains,” he wrote after being rescued. Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

It currently has maximum sustained winds of 250km/h (155mph) and has been downgraded to a category four hurricane after hitting Dominica, but it could increase again as it moves towards Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to forecasters. Dominica’s PM called the damage “devastating” and “mind boggling”. “My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured,” he, and called on the international community for help. “We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.” Curtis Matthew, a journalist based in the capital, Roseau, told the BBC that conditions went “very bad, rapidly”. “We still don’t know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak,” he said.

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Maria is headed straight for Puerto Rico.

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Far From Over (Accuweather)

Additional hurricanes, beyond that of Jose and Maria, are likely over the Atlantic and may threaten the United States for the rest of the 2017 season. Hurricane season runs through the end of November, and it is possible the Atlantic may continue to produce tropical storms right up to the wire and perhaps into December. “I think we will have four more named storms this year, after Maria,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. “Of these, two may be hurricanes and one may be a major hurricane,” Kottlowski said. The numbers include the risk of one to two additional landfalls in the United States. As of Sept. 18, there have been four named systems that made landfall, including Harvey and Irma that made landfall in the U.S. as Category 4 hurricanes.

The other two tropical storms were Cindy, near the Texas/Louisiana border in June, and Emily, just south of Tampa, Florida, at the end of July. Jose will impact the coast of the northeastern U.S. much of this week; Lee and Maria are in progress over the south-central Atlantic. Lee will likely remain at sea and is not expected be a threat to the U.S. or any land areas. However, major hurricane Maria will have direct impact on some of the islands of the northern Caribbean. Maria will, at the very least, have indirect impact on the U.S. Maria has the potential to reach the middle or upper part of the U.S. coast next week. On average, strong west to northwest winds with cooler and drier air tend to scour tropical systems out of the western Atlantic during October and November. However, this year, AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that these winds may not occur until later in the autumn or may be too weak to steer tropical threats away from the U.S.

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Sep 152017
 
 September 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Juan Gris Portrait of the artist’s mother 1912

 

Fed To Take Historic Leap Into The Unknown (MW)
Janet Yellen’s Right-Hand Man Is Hanging Up His Boots (BI)
97 Million American Workers Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
“Markets Are Wrong” (Hugh Hendry)
Japanese Told To Find Shelter After North Korea ‘Fires New Missile’ (Y.)
JPMorgan Is In A Bubble And Not Bitcoin – Max Keiser (RT)
Why Europe Will Miss The Disruptive Brits (Gardner)
Brexit’s Irish Question (Fintan O’Toole)
IMF Is Set On Asset Quality Review For Greek Banks (K.)
Greece Sells Its Railway Company To Italian State Operator (AP)
Greek Oil Spill Forces Closure Of Athens Beaches (G.)
100% Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia (Cox)
China Takes The Lead In Building Quantum Data Security Networks (Axios)

 

 

No. The Fed took that leap in 2008. Bernanke himself talked about uncharted territory. Which is where they’ve been ever since. They literally don’t know what they’re doing.

Fed To Take Historic Leap Into The Unknown (MW)

The Federal Reserve is set to take a leap into the unknown next week by beginning to sell some of the roughly $3.7 trillion of bonds and mortgage securities it amassed during the financial crisis. The Fed will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday and is widely expected at the end of the meeting to announce it plans to allow the run-off of its massive balance sheet beginning sometime in October. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen will hold a press conference afterwards to explain the decision. “It will be an historic day” for the Fed, said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities, one the central bank has long thought about but was unsure when it would come. And still the final destination is unknown. “We are heading for a place that is very different from where we are now. It will take years to get there and figure out where we are,” Alexander said.

Trying to keep financial markets calm, the Fed is not celebrating this turning point. Officials have openly admitting they have designed the first steps to be so small it will be like watching paint dry. But economists have no doubt that bond yields will eventually move higher. “The Fed is just hoping desperately it has been transparent enough so that the adjustment will be orderly,” said Jim Glassman, head economist for the commercial bank at J.P. Morgan Chase. The central bank is trying to avoid a repeat “taper tantrum,” the swift run up of nearly 1 percentage point on the yield of the 10-year Treasury in 2013 after then-Chairman Ben Bernanke discussed the tapering of bond purchases for the first time. Fed officials have known they would have to reverse course eventually. Hawks and doves agree the policy is not sustainable over the medium term because it potentially adds too much stimulus to a healthy economy.

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I don’t get how or why people can praise a man whose entire career has been one long litany of either wrong or intentionally bad decisions and policies. He was the teacher to all those central bankers who made all those decisions that the entire world will still be paying for many years from now. Fisher is the one outstanding symbol of everything that’s wrong in the shady area where finance touches politics.

Janet Yellen’s Right-Hand Man Is Hanging Up His Boots (BI)

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer announced last week he was resigning for personal reasons before the end of his term, opening yet another seat in the central bank’s powerful board for President Donald Trump to fill. The departure of Fischer, 73, represents a big loss of institutional knowledge and gravitas for the Fed at a time when many American institutions are sorely lacking in technocratic expertise. Fischer is considered the leader of a generation of prominent academic and professional economics, in part because he taught many of them at MIT. “He is often referred to as the dean of central bankers, having taught most central bankers including former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and ECB president Mario Draghi,” Shawn Baldwin, the chairman of AIA Group, wrote in a LinkedIn post. “Fischer’s departure creates a vacuum not easily filled, adding to the uncertainty in monetary policy.”

Larry Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury secretary, dubbed Fischer’s resignation “the end of an era.” Fischer, who was born in Zambia and later studied in London, started his career as an academic but became a policymaker at the World Bank and later the International Monetary Fund, where he rose to the role of first deputy managing director. Fischer then spent three years at Citigroup as a vice chairman before moving to Israel in 2005 to become the head of its central bank. Fischer returned to the US as Fed vice chairman in 2014. His term was not set to end until June 2018. “The Fed and the international monetary system will be weaker for his departure from official responsibility,” Summers wrote in a blog post. “Stan’s has been a singular career,” he said. “As an MIT professor he coauthored, with his close friend Rudi Dornbusch, the macro textbook that defined the basics of the field for a generation.

With Olivier Blanchard,” the former IMF chief economist, “he wrote the treatise that defined the state of the art for graduate students. His lectures were models of lucid exposition and balanced judgment. My view of monetary economics was shaped by my experience auditing his class in the Fall of 1978.” Not everyone is complimentary about the arc of Fischer’s career. To some, he represents the kind of establishment economics that led to financial instability and income inequality in many parts of the world. During his time at the IMF, Fischer became the face of austerity measures gone wrong. Many of his and the IMF’s recommendations for drastic spending cuts during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s have since been widely discredited as having made matters worse.

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And that’s just the workers. Not their dependents. Or the unemployed.

97 Million American Workers Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

As we’ve noted time and time again, the number of Americans scraping by with almost no money in their savings account (if they even have a savings account) is staggeringly high – and growing. As the Motley Fool pointed out in a recent post, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the personal saving rate in June 2017 was a measly 3.8%, or $3.80 for every $100 they earn. With the median household income in the US at just north of $50,000, that would amount to about $4,000 a year. And that’s when they’re saving money. Another study from GoBankingRates found that 69% of Americans surveyed had less than $1,000 in savings. And about one-third had no money in reserve.

Considering that the US economy is 70% based on consumption, Americans are probably over-consuming rather than saving. The Federal Reserve recently released data showing that aggregate credit card debt had hit an all-time high of $1.027 trillion, eclipsing the previous high that was set before the Great Recession. Add in another trillion of auto-loan debt and $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt, and the aggregate debt pile is not only larger than ever before – it’s growing at its fastest rate in decades. And in what’s perhaps the most troubling statistic highlighted by Motley Fool, a recent survey by CareerBuilder and The Harris Poll found that 78% of full-time US workers – nearly 100 million Americans – are now living paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% in 2016.

The survey suggested that only 19% of workers save more than $501 monthly, while at the other end of the spectrum, 56% were saving less than $100 a month, including 26% who saved nothing monthly. Fewer than one-third of respondents admitted to following a budget. Meanwhile, about half of respondents said they wouldn’t give up their internet, phone or car to save money. Maybe once the Federal Reserve has succeeded in “normalizing” interest rates, spendthrift Americans will have more of an incentive to save, while also making it more expensive to pay down debt – a powerful disincentive. Now, if only the central bank could find a way to revive stagnant wages…

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Hendry has fallen prey to the central bankers. And shut his hedge fund.

“Markets Are Wrong” (Hugh Hendry)

What if I was to tell you I wasn’t bearish on anything? Is that something you would be interested in? It wasn’t supposed to be like this and it is especially frustrating as nothing much has gone wrong with the economy over the summer. If anything we feel more convinced that our thesis of a healing global economy is understated: for the first time in an age all parts of the world are enjoying synchronised economic momentum and I can’t see it ending for some time. It’s just that our substantial risk book became strongly correlated over the short term to the maelstrom of President Trump and the daily news bombs emanating from the Korean Peninsula; that and the increasing regulatory burden which makes it almost impossible to manage small pools of capital today. Like I said, it wasn’t supposed to be like this…

But let me bow out by sharing my team’s views. For the implications of a sustained bout of economic growth are good for you. It’s good because it should continue to underwrite a continuation in the positive performance of global equities. I would stay long. It’s also good because I can’t see interest rates rising abruptly to interrupt the upward path of equities. And commodities have already acknowledged the upturn in the fortunes of the global economy and are likely to trend higher still. That’s a lot of good news. But it is bad news for me because funds like mine are required to demonstrate negative correlation with risk assets (when they go up like this I go down…), avoid large drawdowns and post consistent high risk adjusted returns. Oh, and I forgot, macro fund clients don’t like us investing in the stock market for the understandable fear that we concentrate their already considerable risk undertaking.

That proved to be an almighty puzzle for a fund like mine that has been proclaiming the stock market as a “safe-ish” bet ever since 2013. Let me explain the “markets are wrong and we boom now” argument. To begin with, and for the sake of clarity, I think we have to carefully go back and deconstruct the volatile engagement between capital markets and central banks for the last ten years for an understanding of where we stand today. The first die was cast by the central bankers in early 2009: having stared into the abyss of a deflationary spiral in 2008 the Fed and the BoE announced a radical new policy of bond purchases named Quantitative Easing. The bond market hated the idea as it was expected to cause a severe inflation problem.

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Just yesterday I was telling a friend they would soon fire the next.

Japanese Told To Find Shelter After North Korea ‘Fires New Missile’ (Y.)

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile directly over Japan. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson branded the launch ‘reckless’ and called on China and Russia to take ‘direct action’ against Kim Jong-un, while Seoul responded to the test by launching the missiles of its own. The test sparked panic in Japan, where residents were immediately told to take shelter as the missile passed directly overhead – the second time Pyongyang has done so in the past few weeks. It flew over Hokkaido in northern Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean, sparking a nationwide alert. South Korea said the missile probably reached an altitude of 770km and travelled 3,700km and called an urgent National Security Council meeting.

The North’s launch comes a day after it threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its nuclear test on September 3. The severe sanctions include limits on imports of crude oil and a ban on exports of textiles – which is the country’s second biggest export, worth more than $700m a year. The North previously launched a ballistic missile from Sunan on August 29, which flew over Japan’s Hokkaido island and landed in the Pacific waters

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Max is very crypto. But bitcoin et al had big overnight losses.

JPMorgan Is In A Bubble And Not Bitcoin – Max Keiser (RT)

“JP Morgan, along with the entire finance sector, has been subsidized by the Federal Reserve’s corrupt practice of ‘financial repression’ that moves hundreds of billions from savers and pensioners, and workers, into JP Morgan and Jamie Dimon’s pocket. Jamie’s compensation is tied directly to manipulating JP Morgan’s stock and option prices, thanks to the Fed’s conflicted, corrupt, cozy malfeasance,” [..] “The US dollar, bond markets, and many property markets are in bubbles. Bitcoin and gold are the only financial assets not in bubbles.

To say bitcoin is fraudulent would be like saying gold is fraudulent. Some might say this, but no rational person would agree,” he said. “As the bubbles in fiat money, bonds and stocks pop, capital will flow into bitcoin, gold, and silver. At some point, when his customers start leaving JPMorgan and move to more bitcoin-focused options, Jamie will be forced to capitulate, or get replaced,”[..] “Bitcoin makes banks, essentially price gouging intermediaries and socially unacceptable leeches, obsolete. Bankers rightfully fear for their jobs as bitcoin replaces them,”

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Nigel Gardner is a former European Commission spokesman.

Why Europe Will Miss The Disruptive Brits (Gardner)

The UK’s constant digging-in of heels has allowed other governments to steer clear of negotiating clashes, safe in the knowledge that Britain and its Eurosceptic media would do the blocking of unpopular measures for them. Take the seemingly trivial example from 2013, of rules about how olive oil could be served in restaurants. “There was a daft proposal that it couldn’t be served in bowls or glass jugs at the table, but only in sealed sachets,” recalls a senior Dutch official. “We didn’t have to do anything – the Brits and their tabloids did the heavy lifting for us, and the proposal was withdrawn … Every time the European Commission proposes something, we know we can rely on the British to kick and shout so it’s blocked. With Brexit, that’s no longer going to be possible.”

Even that opt-out over the 48-hour week for which the UK fought its lonely battle is now – 20 years later – quietly being used by 15 other member states. So which country may end up replacing Britain as Europe’s new troublemaker-in-chief? Poland and Hungary are the obvious candidates because, across a whole range of areas, from civil liberties to media freedoms, the two countries find themselves at odds with the EU. As one senior EU official put it: “They are simply not in line with fundamental EU policies. As new member states they should be enthusiastic, but it’s the opposite.” Beata Szydlo, for example, tells us a lot about what the EU will look like after 2019 when Britain is supposed to exit. The Polish prime minister’s intemperate language at a recent European summit was previously the kind of thing the EU’s top brass expected only from the British.

She would not accept “blackmail from a leader with an approval rating of 4%” she raged against France’s then president François Hollande. Poland is now facing EU legal action over judicial reforms which Brussels says would undermine Polish democracy. Ironically, we may need to look to a more unlikely quarter to find Europe’s true new bad boy. Because post-Brexit, the Germans will end up being much more unpopular. “Without Britain,” one EU official told me, “they will have to assume the role they are historically reluctant to play.”

Indeed, the eurozone crisis provided a foretaste of how this could play out. With Britain outside the single currency, all the anger was directed against Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, when things went wrong. Pictures of Merkel with a Hitler moustache were everywhere in the Greek press. And the old joke about Merkel arriving at Athens airport – the one where the border guard asks “Occupation?” and Merkel replies, “No, just visiting” – took on new life. Expect much more of this.

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He might as well have called it Brexit’s British Question.

Brexit’s Irish Question (Fintan O’Toole)

Brexit is, in a sense, a misnomer. There are five distinct parts of the UK: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the global metropolis that is Greater London, and what the veteran campaigner for democratic reform Anthony Barnett, in his excellent new book The Lure of Greatness, calls England-without-London. In three of these parts—Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London—Brexit was soundly rejected in last year’s referendum. Wales voted narrowly in favor of Brexit. But in England-without-London Brexit was triumphant, winning by almost 11%. It was moreover a classic nationalist revolt in that the support for Brexit in non-metropolitan England cut across the supposedly rigid divides of North and South, rich and poor. Every single region of England-without-London voted to leave the EU, from the Cotswolds to Cumbria, from the green and pleasant hills to the scarred old mining valleys.

This was a genuine nationalist uprising, a nation transcending social class and geographical divisions to rally behind the cry of “Take back control.” But the nation in question is not Britain, it is England. The problem with this English nationalism is not that it exists. It has a very long history (one has only to read Shakespeare) and indeed England can be seen as one of the first movers in the formation of the modern nation-state. The English have as much right to a collective political identity as the Irish or the Scots (and indeed as the Germans or the French) have. But for centuries, English nationalism has been buried in two larger constructs: the United Kingdom and the British Empire. These interments were entirely voluntary. The gradual construction of the UK, with the inclusion first of Scotland and then of Ireland, gave England stability and control in its own part of the world and allowed it to dominate much of the rest of the world through the empire.

Britishness didn’t threaten Englishness; it amplified it. Now, the empire is gone and the UK is slipping out of England’s control. Britain’s pretensions to be a global military power petered out in the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan: the British army was effectively defeated in both Basra and Helmand and had to be rescued by its American allies. The claim on Northern Ireland has been ceded, and Scotland, though not yet ready for independence, increasingly looks and sounds like another country. In retrospect, it is not surprising that the reaction to these developments has created a reversion to an English, rather than a British, allegiance. In the 2011 census, 32.4 million people (57.7% of the population of England and Wales) chose “English” as their sole identity, while just 10.7 million people (19.1%) associated themselves with a British identity only.

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The torture never stops.

IMF Is Set On Asset Quality Review For Greek Banks (K.)

Greece looks set for another difficult series of negotiations with its international creditors in the third review of its third bailout program, as IMF spokesman Gerry Rice made it clear on Thursday that the issue of the asset quality review of Greek banks (AQR) “will form part of the review.” He also said the Fund may demand new measures for next year, stressing that the programs evolve and conditions change. Citing the IMF report dated July 20 – when the Fund approved its participation in the Greek program “in principle” – Rice left no doubt as to whether the AQR would be discussed, branding it an important matter. This will likely cause friction with the European Central Bank, which has scheduled its own stress tests for the banks in 2018.

Sources in Frankfurt have noted that only if the Greek government asks for an AQR will the ECB authorize it. However, Athens, as a senior Finance Ministry official has said, has no such intention. Greek banks are obviously against any such project that would upset their operations, and had hoped that the IMF would eventually decide against raising the issue. In July the IMF had estimated that local lenders would need at least 10 billion euros in additional capital, raising the prospects of another recapitalization. Rice said on Thursday that the Fund is cooperating with the ECB and other European institutions on all issues, but added that “the stability of the credit system is of great significance for the program.”

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For €45 million? An entire railway national company? How much is the kitchen sink?

Greece Sells Its Railway Company To Italian State Operator (AP)

Greece has agreed to sell its railways company to Italy’s own state-owned operator for 45 million euros ($54 million) as part of its privatization drive. The country’s Asset Development Fund said Thursday that the sale of Trainose to Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane completed a four-year process. Greece has pledged to carry out an ambitious privatization program as part of its international bailout, under which it has received billions of euros in emergency loans in return for overhauling its economy. Many of the privatizations have been met with resistance from unions. No trains were running on Thursday as the railway workers’ union called a 24-hour strike to protest the company’s sale.

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An awful mess in more ways than one.

Greek Oil Spill Forces Closure Of Athens Beaches (G.)

An emergency operation is under way to clean up an oil spill from a sunken tanker that has blackened popular beaches and bays in Athens’ Argo-Saronic gulf. What had been thought a containable spill is being described by officials as an ecological disaster after thick tar and oil pollution drifted toward residential coastal areas. By Thursday, four days after the 45-year-old Agia Zoni II sank off Salamína island, mayors in suburbs south of the capital were forced to close beaches, citing public health risks. “This is a major environmental disaster,” said the mayor of Salamína, Isidora Nannou-Papathanassiou. “Clearly the danger [of pollution] was not properly gauged, the currents have moved the spill.” The vessel sank while at anchor in the early hours of Sunday. It was carrying 2,500 tonnes of fuel oil and marine gas when it went down in mild weather.

It has emerged that only two of its 11-strong crew – the captain and chief engineer – were on board when it began to take on water. Both men have since been charged with negligence but freed on bail. The company operating the small, Greek-flagged vessel insisted it was seaworthy. Merchant marine officials said initial emphasis had been placed on sealing the vessel’s cargo holds to stop further leakage. The merchant marine minister, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, who has brought in help from abroad including an anti-pollution truck to collect the oil, ruled out further seepage on Tuesday, saying the ship’s hull had been secured. Late on Wednesday, however, the ministry’s general secretary, Dionysis Kalamatianos, raised the possibility that oil was still leaking from the vessel, telling Skai TV that efforts to seal it were “almost complete”.

The contradictory statements sparked accusations that authorities had not only underestimated the scale of the spill, but also lost valuable time in tackling it. The slick extends for miles, and some officials said the cleanup could last four months – much longer than the 20 days Kouroumblis estimated. In the Athens suburb of Glyfada, where floating dams have been set up and chemicals used to dissolve the spillage, the mayor, Giorgos Papanikolaou, said 28 tonnes of fuel had been removed from one beach alone. Images of of dead and oil-coated turtles and birds underscored the economic and environmental impact, and experts estimated it could take years before the affected area fully recovered.

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The only good alternative energy is the one you don’t use.

100% Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia (Cox)

At the People’s Climate March back last spring, all along that vast river of people, the atmosphere was electric. But electricity was also the focus of too many of the signs and banners. Yes, here and there were solid “System Change, Not Climate Change” – themed signs and banners. But the bulk of slogans on display asserted or implied that ending the climate emergency and avoiding climatic catastrophes like those that would occur a few months later—hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the mega-wildfires in the U.S. West—will be a simple matter of getting Donald Trump out of office and converting to 100-percent renewable energy.

The sunshiny placards and cheery banners promising an energy cornucopia were inspired by academic studies published in the past few years purporting to show how America and the world could meet 100% of future energy demand with solar, wind, and other “green” generation. The biggest attention-getters have been a pair of reports published in 2015 by a team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, but there have been many others. A growing body of research has debunked overblown claims of a green-energy bonanza. Nevertheless, Al Gore, Bill McKibben (who recently expressed hope that Harvey’s attack on the petroleum industry in Texas will send a “wakeup call” for a 100-percent renewable energy surge), and other luminaries in the mainstream climate movement have been invigorated by reports like Jacobson’s and have embraced the 100-percent dream.

And that vision is merging with a broader, even more spurious claim that has become especially popular in the Trump era: the private sector, we are told, has now taken the lead on climate, and market forces will inevitably achieve the 100-percent renewable dream and solve the climate crisis on their own. [..] America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. The “100-percent renewable for 100% of demand” goal is the problem. Scenarios that make that promise, along with the studies that dissect them, lead me to conclude that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better instead to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.

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Quantum is per definition unbreakable. The CIA is not going to like it.

China Takes The Lead In Building Quantum Data Security Networks (Axios)

For decades, physicists have looked to use the behavior of particles of light to securely send information. The basic science underlying quantum cryptography has been determined over the past 40 years, but a slew of papers published this summer by physicist Jian-Wei Pan establishes China as the early leader in deploying the technology on a global scale. Why it matters: Networks using quantum keys theoretically allow for very private communications and safe transactions — because if attacked, the key would be altered and the parties would know it wasn’t secure. That would be valuable for financial transactions or voting that involves transmitting information between two points. But beyond a handful of field tests, there hasn’t been a commitment to develop the technology at this scale until now.

How it works: Two people who want to communicate would share a number key encoded in a string of single photons (particles of light) that can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. It’s secure because if someone tries to intercept the message, the photons would be physically altered and the key would no longer work, but the data would be secure. The vision: Optical fibers carry photons short distances on the ground (anything more than about 200 kilometers and the fiber absorbs the photon signal). So researchers want to pair them with satellites that can relay the signal and then drop it back down to a receiver on Earth. That goes on and on, ultimately carrying the information around the globe to the intended receiver. What they did: China built a 2,000-km fiber optic network between Beijing and Shanghai and launched a satellite last year — both dedicated to basic research on quantum satellite communications. So far, they’ve used it to:

• Send photons from the satellite to telescopes 1,200 km apart on the ground that acted as receivers. • Transmit quantum-encoded information from the ground to the satellite. • Distribute an actual quantum key string of photons from the satellite to the ground. • Shared the key between two ground receivers — during the day. (That’s key because light from the sun, moon and cities on Earth can drown out the photon signal. The current satellite only operates at night.) “They all together prove that a number of different concepts relevant for the quantum internet really do work in a space setting,” says Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at the University of Vienna who was Pan’s advisor.

The bottom line: China’s achievements are more technological than scientific, but they represent a true advance in the development and deployment of these technologies, says Ray Newell of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He points out that many of the fundamental science and technologies for quantum key distribution were invented in the United States. (Satellite-based quantum key distribution was invented at Los Alamos, which holds the original patent for the technology.) Other countries possess the knowledge to build these systems, but China is the first to make a major investment. “In China, the decision to build it was done at the beginning, and then they went through with a lot of manpower and money,” says Norbert Lutkenhaus from the University of Waterloo.

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Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Chile 1963

 

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)
Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)
US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)
Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)
Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)
JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)
America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)
IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)
UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)
We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)
Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)
China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)
Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

 

 

As EU President Juncker this morning unveils his vision of more Europe all the time, here’s what Europe is really like:

42% of Greek mortgage loans are non-performing. Today’s sale prices are 70-80% lower than in 2008. And that’s before 200-300,000 homes will be forced onto the market this fall.

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax. Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks’ may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

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Forget about more Europe, or you’ll wind up with a whole lot less Europe.

Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)

Technical experts representing the country’s creditors started visiting the country’s ministries in Athens on Monday, paving the way for the third bailout review, which has long ceased to be viewed as a simple matter and is increasingly burdened with problems. Pressure for a satisfactory conclusion to the review will grow with the planned visit on September 25 of Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will meet with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Responding to a question by Kathimerini, Dijsselbloem’s spokesman said that the head of the Eurogroup will discuss eurozone issues and certainly the progress of the adjustment program. Government officials estimate that the discussion on the course of the review and the Greek program may be combined with the expiry of Dijsselbloem’s mandate at the Eurogroup chair at year-end.

The Dutch minister – whose last visit in Athens and his meeting with his counterpart at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, was quite eventful – would obviously like to leave on a positive note in regards to the Greek program. It has been rumored that he may seek another office in the eurozone. Sources from Brussels also say that the top European Commission’s top representative, Declan Costello, will also be coming to Athens in the next few days. In addition to the main cluster of 113 prior actions, of which 95 should be implemented by year-end, the creditors have expressed their objections and doubts about recent legislative moves made by the government, such as the labor law passed last Thursday.

Sources say that the creditors have also expressed concerns about clauses related to the reduced value-added tax on agricultural supplies, the opening up of closed professions, as well as the civil service. A large number of the 95 prior actions the government must implement in record time have a high degree of difficulty, and government officials believe this may require revisions on family benefits, the operation of the sell-off hyperfund and its subsidiaries, the opening up of the energy market, etc.

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How would the US pay for all the shiny trinkets?

US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.” Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?” The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank.That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.” In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded. Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter.

So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt. Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

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Xi demands peace for the Party Congress. Brokerages have been told: no holidays during Congress.

Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)

China’s yuan fixing is back in focus, with a run of surprises moving the market in recent days. The central bank set its reference rate – which limits onshore moves to 2% on either side – at a weaker than expected level for the third day in a row Wednesday. The rates, and the removal of a reserve requirement rule on the trading of foreign-exchange forwards, are fueling bets that authorities want to limit gains after the onshore yuan surged more than 4% against the dollar in the three months through Sept. 7. The People’s Bank of China set Wednesday’s fixing at 6.5382 per dollar, compared with the average forecast of 6.5355 in a Bloomberg survey of 19 traders and analysts. The authorities have had greater opportunity to sway the fixing either way since May, with the introduction of a “counter-cyclical factor” to the rate-setting mechanism.

“The PBOC still wants a relatively stable yuan,” said Nathan Chow at DBS. “Even if it strengthens or weakens, the pace needs to be controlled, and in an orderly and gradual manner. This will be easier for exporters to manage risks. The market expectation is that there should be no big changes or surprises before the party congress next month.” The yuan’s rally began to falter on Friday as the removal of the reserve rule made it less expensive to bet on yuan declines. The monetary authority weakened Tuesday’s fixing by the most in eight months following an overnight surge in a gauge of the greenback, pushing the onshore spot rate lower.

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“There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas..”

Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)

China’s move last week to ban initial coin offerings (ICO) has caused chaos among start-ups looking to raise money through the novel fund-raising scheme, prompting halts, about-turns and re-thinks. China is cracking down on fundraising through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting ICOs in a market that has ballooned this year in what has been a bonanza for digital currency entrepreneurs. The boom has fueled a jump in the value of cryptocurrencies, but raised fears of a potential bubble. “This is not unlike the dotcom bubble of 2000,” said a partner at a venture capital fund in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity. “There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas, and these will eventually be weeded out. But even from the big dotcom bust, you still have gems.”

“One of the reasons regulators stepped in was that the ICO fever extended beyond the traditional crypto community. The timing was an attempt to pre-empt this before it goes into a much broader mass market in China,” the partner said. Investors in China contributed up to 2.6 billion yuan ($394 million) worth of cryptocurrencies through ICOs in January-June, according to a state-run media report citing National Committee of Experts on Internet Financial Security Technology data. Pre-ICO roadshows featuring elaborate standing room-only presentations at 5-star hotels drew a diverse crowd, including grandmothers – a likely tipping point for regulators. The hype and subsequent crackdown came as China focuses on economic and social stability ahead of next month’s congress of the Communist Party, a once-in-five-years event.

Beijing is also waging a broader campaign against fraudulent fundraising and speculative investment, which analysts attribute to China’s underdeveloped financial regulation and lack of legitimate investment options. While several start-ups said the exuberance had got out of control and they had expected Beijing to act, they said last week’s move panicked investors and caused confusion.

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Worse than tulip bulbs.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)

Bitcoin “is a fraud” and will blow up, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said on Tuesday. Speaking at a bank investor conference in New York, Dimon said, “The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart.” Dimon said that if any JPMorgan traders were trading the crypto-currency, “I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.” Dimon’s comments come as the bitcoin, a virtual currency not backed by any government, has more than quadrupled in value since December to more than $4,100.

[..] “It is worse than tulips bulbs,” Dimon said, referring to a famous market bubble from the 1600s. JPMorgan and many of its competitors, however, have invested millions of dollars in blockchain, the technology that tracks bitcoin transactions. Blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet. Dimon said such uses will roll out over coming years as it is adapted to different business lines. Financial institutions are hoping blockchain can be adapted to simplify and lower the costs of processes such as securities settlement, loan trading and international money transfers. Dimon predicted big losses for bitcoin buyers. “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” he said.

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From Reagan’s Budget Director.

America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)

Maybe the Democrats did win the 2016 election. Or at least the the Deep State and its accomplices among the beltway political class, K-Street lobbies and the media did. That’s because the media won a giant victory against something they deplore and despise more than anything else — the public debt ceiling. They sanctimoniously admonish that it’s a relic of the nation’s fiscally benighted past. They operate on a belief that this is an episodic tendency to threaten America’s credit and to offer Capitol Hill an opening to grandstand about the fiscal verities is a blight on orderly governance. So the Donald’s latest burst of impetuosity — agreeing with Sen. Schumer to permanently abolish the public debt ceiling — has descended on the beltway like manna from heaven.

Not Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or even the Great Texas Porker, Lyndon Johnson, dared to utter the thought of it — at least not in polite company. Suddenly, and notwithstanding all the good he has done disrupting the status quo, the Donald has become the foremost enemy of America’s very financial survival. The Federal budget is a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. The depository of American wars and entitlements have run rampant. Under the pile drivers of a global empire and the retiring baby boom, it is rapidly propelling the nation toward fiscal catastrophe. That grim outcome is virtually guaranteed if the only remaining safety brake — the debt ceiling — is summarily abolished. Due to entitlements, debt service and the slow pipeline of appropriated spending there is no such thing as an annual Federal budget or accountability for how much Uncle Sam spends and borrows.

Instead, the $4.1 trillion that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the Federal government will spend in FY 2018, and the $563 billion it will borrow, reflects the dead hand of the past. Entitlements and other mandatory spending alone is projected to reach $2.566 trillion or 63% of total FY 2018 outlays. Another $307 billion will be required for interest on the nation’s $20 trillion public debt, while upwards of half the $1.22 trillion for so-called “discretionary” or appropriated programs also reflects funds appropriated years ago. Altogether, $3.5 trillion, or 85% of outlays, will be essentially baked into the cake before a single Congressional vote is taken on anything regarding the FY 2018 budget.

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They just want to lend more.

IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)

The IMF is resisting putting a moratorium on Barbuda’s sovereign debt repayments in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma on the tiny Caribbean island. Barbuda is said to have lost around 90% of its structures in the wake of the storm and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150m. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has also said that around half or the island’s population of 1,600 is now homeless. Yet Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8m and a coalition of US faith institutions have been calling on the Fund to pause the repayments of states battered by the hurricane. However, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested late last week that the Fund would rather lend more money to the island, rather than stop collecting the repayments due.

“Our general view is that we’d rather put new money in than to have moratoria,” he said, according to Court House News. Stressing that were technical and political difficulties in simply stopping the debt collection he said: “We borrow money from our members who lend. So we’d have to get agreement from the lending parties.” “We might borrow money from the United States and loan that to Antigua. If we don’t get paid back on time, we’d have to make an arrangement with the source of the funds themselves. It gets a bit arcane, but there’s a number of constraints on how we operate. We’re like a bank. We borrow and lend.”

In a letter to the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on 7 September the Jubilee USA network wrote: “We invite the IMF to implement an immediate moratorium on debt payments for countries severely impacted by the Category 5 storm until they have rebuilt and recovered.” “For example, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda has almost $3m in debt payments due to the Fund today and a debt payment moratorium could immediately be put into rebuilding Barbuda where almost the entire population is homeless.” The group also urged that further IMF reconstruction payments to Barbuda, and other affected islands, should be in the form of grants, rather than loans.

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All major banks are.

UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)

The UK’s high street banks are an accident waiting to happen and could struggle in another financial crisis, according to a report published on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the run on Northern Rock. The report criticises the annual health checks – stress tests – that have been conducted by the Bank of England since the crisis and concludes that the methodology used by Threadneedle Street is flawed and the tests not gruelling enough. [..] Kevin Dowd, a professor of finance and economics at Durham University and a long-standing critic of the stress tests, said the Bank does not use the correct measures to assess the health of the banking system. Dowd is also a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank. His analysis – which the Bank of England has previously rejected – focuses on the health check of the major lenders published last November.

Those tests were based on a number of hypothetical scenarios including house prices falling and the global economy contracting by 1.9%. Royal Bank of Scotland failed the test and Barclays and Standard Chartered would both have struggled to cope. Dowd argued that the scenarios were “hardly doomsday” and disputes the way banks’ capital strength is measured. “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer. They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of UK banks that simply isn’t there,” said Dowd in the report. “Our banking system is an accident waiting to happen.” The Bank uses the value of assets as calculated by the banks rather than their value on the markets which, he argued, would give a more accurate assessment of their financial health. “It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measures of leverage – those based on market values – indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then,” said Dowd.

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“American warfare in 7 different countries..”

We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)

As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy. The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home.

If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation. Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.

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Not a lot of insight into what’s wrong with US Democrats.

Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ introduces his Medicare-for-All legislation on Wednesday, advocates of a single-payer, government-sponsored health care hope it will be the end of a bitterly fought policy battle that has roiled the Democratic Party for generations. Since Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed a government-sponsored universal health care system in 1945 — and since a Democratic president and Democratic congress first enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s — progressives have hoped that the United States would follow other industrialized countries by guaranteeing health care to all citizens. Indeed, many of the original proponents of Medicare hoped the system would ultimately be expanded to cover the entire country — as former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball wrote, “We expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance.”

And although the intervening years saw the rise of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who derided “socialized medicine,” some Democrats continued to champion the idea. The party’s 1992 presidential contender Jerry Brown ran for the White House promising to support single-payer. But when Bill Clinton defeated him and won the presidency, the Clinton administration opted to back health care reforms that preserved the existing private insurance system — even as Hillary Clinton made favorable comments about single-payer. A generation later, Barack Obama also retreated from single-payer, and instead pushed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes the private insurance system.

Now, things appear once again to be shifting. Even as Sanders has declared that his Medicare-for-All bill is not a litmus test, Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum are flocking to his legislation. On the progressive side, Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) have signed onto the legislation. Within the party establishment, former Vice President Al Gore has expressed support, as has conservative former Sen. Max Baucus — one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act whom single-payer advocates saw as a nemesis. With polls showing rising support for government-sponsored health care, the party’s long civil war over the issue may be over, potentially allowing a more unified party to campaign on Medicare-for-All in 2018.

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China has hardly enough land to feed its people.

China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)

China plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, state media reported on Wednesday citing a government document, as Beijing intensifies its push to boost industrial demand for corn and clean up choking smog. It’s the first time the government has set a targeted timeline for pushing the biofuel, known as E10 and containing 10% corn, across the world’s largest car market, although it has yet to announce a formal policy. Mandates requiring that a minimum amount of biofuel must be blended into fuel for the nation’s cars, similar to the United States and Brazil, are currently set at a provincial level. “This news has greatly boosted confidence inside the industry,” said Michael Mao, analyst with Sublime China Information, adding that without government support ethanol would likely be too expensive to survive in the market.

Shares in biofuel producers rallied on the news, with Shandong Longlive Bio-Technology Co surging 10%, on track for its biggest one-day gain since December 2015. Major producer COFCO Biochemical Anhui Co, a listed unit of state-owned grains trader COFCO, was up almost 6%. A renewed effort to promote the nation’s fledging biofuels industry will be a further blow to major oil producers. On Saturday, the government said it has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels. The news comes after the government said late last year it would aim to double ethanol output by 2020 amid growing pressure to whittle down mountains of ageing corn in state warehouses.

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Some good points, but needs much more work.

Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time. For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required.

Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

[..] A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse. [..] Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.


Illustration: Sebastien Thibault

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