Jan 092019
 January 9, 2019  Posted by at 7:27 pm Finance, Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  

Pablo Picasso Massacre in Korea 1951


In the New Year, after a close to the old one that was sort of terrible for our zombie markets, do prepare for a whole lot of stories about China (on top of Brexit and Yellow Vests and many more windmills fighting the Donald). And don’t count on too many positive ones that don’t originate in the country itself. Beijing will especially be full of feel-good tales about a month from now, around Chinese New Year 2019, which is February 5.

And we won’t get an easy and coherent true story, it’ll be bits and pieces stitched together. What will remain is that China did the same we did, just on steroids. It took us 100 years to build our manufacturing capacity, they did it in under 20 (and made ours obsolete). It took us 100 years to borrow enough to get a debt-to-GDP ratio of 300%, they did it in 10.

In the process they also accumulated 10 times more non-productive assets than us, idle factories, bridges to nowhere and empty cities, but they thought that would be alright, that demand would catch up with supply. And if you look at how much unproductive stuff we ourselves have gathered around us, who can blame them for thinking that? Perhaps their biggest mistake has been misreading our actual wealth situation; they didn’t see how poorly off we really are.


Xiang Songzuo, “a relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing”, expressed some dire warnings about the Chinese economy in a December 15 speech. He didn’t get much attention, not even in the West. Not overly surprising, since both Beijing and Wall Street have a vested interest in the continuing China growth story.

But with the arrival of 2019, that attention started slowly seeping through. Former associate professor of business and economics at the Peking University HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, Christopher Balding, left China 6 months ago after losing his job. At the time, he wrote: “China has reached a point where I do not feel safe being a professor and discussing even the economy, business and financial markets..”. And, noting a change that very much seems related to what is coming down the road:

”One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.”

A few days ago, Balding wrote this on Twitter:

“Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo (claiming Chinese GDP growth could be as low as 1.67%) as implausible…”. No, we didn’t. The GS PE guy and the PKU dean have every reason to deny it. Car and mobile phone shipment down 2% and 16% are not a 6.5% growth economy.”

That certainly sets the tone of the discussion. GDP growth of 1.67% vs the official 6.5%; smartphone shipments down 16%, car sales slumping. Not the kind of numbers you’ll hear from Beijing. And Balding does know China, whether they like it or not. On Monday, Bloomberg, where he was/is a regular contributor, published this from his hand:


China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction

Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion . For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year .

Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017 . External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.


The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor.

The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.


Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure.

To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars . If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.


The Xiang Songzuo speech was also noted by the Financial Times this week. Their conclusions are not much rosier. Recent US imports from China look good only because both buyers and sellers try to stay ahead of tariffs. And whole some truce or another there may smoothen things a little, China must launch a massive stimulus against the background of twice as much investment being needed for a unit of GDP growth.


Nervous Markets: How Vulnerable Is China’s Economy?

A relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing sparked a minor furore last month when he claimed a secret government research group had estimated China’s growth in GDP could be as low as 1.67% in 2018 — far below the officially published rate of 6.7% for the year up to September. 

Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo as implausible, despite longstanding doubts about the reliability of China’s official GDP data. Yet although discussion of his claims was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, the presentation has been viewed more than 1.2m times on YouTube — an indication of the raw nerve Mr Xiang touched with his doom-laden warnings.

[..] the question that is hanging over global markets is just how vulnerable is China to a much sharper slowdown? Ominously, the recent downturn has occurred even though the expected hit to Chinese exports from the trade war has not yet materialised. In fact, analysts say exports probably received a one-off boost in recent months as traders front-loaded shipments to beat the expected tariff rise from 10% to 25% that US president Donald Trump threatened would take effect in January. That rise is now on hold due to the 90-day truce that Mr Trump agreed with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Argentina last month.

[..] The amount of new capital investment required to generate a given unit of GDP growth has more than doubled since 2007 , according to Moody’s Analytics. In other words, investment stimulus produces little bang for Beijing’s buck, even as it adds to the debt levels.

[..] “They [Beijing] will soon have no choice but to launch massive stimulus,” says Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. “They do not want to give away their credibility because they said they wouldn’t do it, but there is no time to be cautious any more. Not having growth is ultimately the worst outcome of all.”


Christopher Whalen picks up on Xiang Songzuo’s speech as well, and quotes him saying that “Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash”. Whereas the China Beige Book states that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Which leads to the conclusion that deflation is, or should be, Beijing’s main worry.

Oh, and Chinese consumer demand has weakened, something we’ve seen more off recently. Reuters headlines “China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption” today, but that headline could have come from any of the past 5 years or so. Domestic consumption is precisely China’s problem, and they can’t achieve nearly enough growth there.


China’s Stability Is at Risk

Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking.

China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.

Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.

Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.


So, China phone shipments are down 16%, as per Balding. But Tim Cook says Apple’s never done better. Still, if that 16% number is correct, either Apple or its Chinese suppliers are doing worse, not better. And 16% is a lot.


Despite Recent Battering, Tim Cook Says Apple’s ‘Ecosystem Has Never Been Stronger’

Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.

“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.”

“We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached . “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.


16% fewer phones, that gets you the second production cut at Apple and its ‘magnificent ecosystem’ in short order. Now sure, Cook can try and blame the tariffs. but Samsung’s Q4 2018 sales fell 11%, and its operating profit fell by 29%. It’s a bigger and wider issue, and China is at the heart of it.


Apple Cuts Q1 Production Plan For New iPhones By 10%

Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10% for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States.

Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.


And very much not least there was this graph of Chinese investments in Africa. What are the conditions? At what point will they call back the loans? And when countries can’t pay back, what’s the penalty? How much of this has been provided by Beijing in US dollars it doesn’t have nearly enough of?



It’s like the much heralded Belt and Road project, or Silk Road 2.0, isn’t it, where the first batch of participating nations have started sounding the alarm over loan conditions. Yes, it sounds great, I admit, but I have long said that in reality Belt&Road is China’s ingenious scheme to export its industrial overcapacity and force other countries to pay for it. It’s like the model Rome had, and the US still do, just all in one single project. And this one has a name, and it can be expanded to Africa.

But no, I don’t see it. I think China’s debt, combined with the vast distance it still has from owning a global reserve currency, will call the shots, not Xi Jinping.

China won’t be taking over. At least, not anytime soon.



May 242018
 May 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  

Wassily Kandinsky Contrasting Sounds 1924


Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)
Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)
US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)
China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)
Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)
Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)
US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)
Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)
NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)
Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)
Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)
The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)



Take their power away?!

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)

Federal Reserve rate increases are a lot like shaking an overripe fruit tree. That’s the analogy offered by Deutsche Bank macro strategist Alan Ruskin in a note late Wednesday, in which he urged clients not to “overcomplicate” the macro picture. “A starting point should be that every Fed tightening cycle creates a meaningful crisis somewhere, often external but usually with some domestic (U.S.) fallout,” he wrote. To back it up, Ruskin offered the following history lesson:

“Going back in history, the 2004-6 Fed tightening looked benign but the US housing collapse set off contagion and a near collapse of the global financial system dwarfing all post-war crises. The late 1990s Fed stop/start tightening included the Asia crisis, LTCM and Russia collapse, and when tightening resumed, the pop of the equity bubble. The early 1993-4 tightening phase included bond market turmoil and the Mexican crisis. The late 1980s tightening ushered along the S&L crisis. Greenspan’s first fumbled tightening in 1987 helped trigger Black Monday, before the Fed eased and ‘the Greenspan put’ took off in earnest. The early 80s included the LDC/Latam debt crisis and Conti Illinois collapse. The 1970s stagflation tightening was when the Fed was behind ‘the curve’ and where inflation masked a prolonged decline in real asset prices.”

So what about now? The fed funds rate stands at 1.50% to 1.75% following a series of slow rate increases that began in December 2015, lifting it from near zero. The degree of tightening might seem pretty tame, but Ruskin notes that it comes after a period of “extreme and prolonged” accommodation and is also taking forms that economists and investors don’t fully understand as swollen balance sheet begins to shrink.

Read more …

The stronger the dollar the more likely rate hikes get.

Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)

Federal Reserve officials in their meeting in early May confirmed they planned to raise interest rates in June and were not concerned they were behind the curve on inflation. “Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate for the FOMC to take another step in removing policy accommodation,” the minutes said. Traders in the federal funds futures market see more than a 90% chance of a June rate hike. Although inflation hit the Fed’s 2% target in the latest reading for March, for the first time in a year, officials were not convinced it would remain there for long.

“It was noted that it was premature to conclude that inflation would remain at levels around 2%, especially after several years in which inflation had persistently run below the Fed’s 2% objective,” the minutes said. Only a “few” officials thought inflation might move “slightly” above the 2% target. “It has taken them so long to get there, with so many fits and starts, they are not quite sure it’s going to stay there,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors. Arone said the minutes were consistent with three total hikes this year although the Fed gave itself wiggle room if inflation picks up markedly. “They didn’t take [a fourth hike] off the table,” he said.

On the trade dispute with China, officials said the possible outcome on inflation and growth remained “particularly wide,” but there was some concern the dispute would hurt business confidence.

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Up to 25% tariffs. How about building better cars? Or weaning yourself off the addiction?

US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)

The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March. The national security probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry’s health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. “There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, promising a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

Higher tariffs could be particularly painful for Asian automakers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai, which count the United States as a key market, and the announcement sparked a broad sell-off in automakers’ shares across the region. The governments of Japan, China and South Korea said they would monitor the situation, while Beijing, which is increasingly eyeing the United States as a potential market for its cars, added that would defend its interests. “China opposes the abuse of national security clauses, which will seriously damage multilateral trade systems and disrupt normal international trade order,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Ministry of Commerce, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday which focused largely on whether it is making any progress in its trade dispute with Washington.

[..] Roughly 12 million cars and trucks were produced in the United States last year, while the country imported 8.3 million vehicles worth $192 billion. This included 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany, according to U.S. government statistics. At the same time, the United States exported nearly 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $57 billion. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW all have large U.S. assembly plants. The United States is the second-biggest export destination for German auto manufacturers after China, while vehicles and car parts are Germany’s biggest source of export income. Asked if the measures would hit Mexico and Canada, a Mexican source close to the NAFTA talks said: “That probably is going to be the next battle.”

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For now it’s all opaque.

China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)

China will import record volumes of U.S. oil and is likely to ship more U.S. soy after Beijing signalled to state-run refiners and grains purchasers they should buy more to help ease tensions between the two top economies, trade sources said on Wednesday. China pledged at the weekend to increase imports from its top trading partner to avert a trade war that could damage the global economy. Energy and commodities were high on Washington’s list of products for sale. The United States is also seeking better access for imports of genetically modified crops into China under the deal. As the two sides stepped back from a full-blown trade war, Washington neared a deal on Tuesday to lift its ban on U.S. firms supplying Chinese telecoms gear maker ZTE, and Beijing announced tariff cuts on car imports.

But U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Wednesday that negotiations were still short of his objectives when he said any deal would need a “different structure”. China is the world’s top importer of both oil and soy, and already buys significant volumes of both from the United States. It is unclear how much more Chinese importers will buy from the United States than they would have otherwise, but any additional shipments would contribute to cutting the trade surplus, as demanded by Trump. Asia’s largest oil refiner, China’s Sinopec will boost crude imports from the United States to an all-time high in June as part of Chinese efforts to cut the surplus, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

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Erdogan defeated?

Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)

Turkey’s central bank intervened to halt the free fall of the Turkish lira on Wednesday, but it isn’t clear whether policy makers will be able to stave off a full-fledged currency crisis. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey raised its late liquidity window lending rate by 300 basis points on Wednesday, in a surprise move that put a halt to the lira selloff — at least for now. The lending rate now sits at 16.5%, compared with 13.5% before. The U.S. dollar had rallied to a historic high against Turkey’s lira on Wednesday, buying 4.9233 lira at the high, before the path reversed on the back of the CBRT’s action and the lira found its feet again. The buck last bought 4.7015 lira. In the year to date, the Turkish currency has dropped more than 20% against the dollar, according to FactSet data.

The euro-lira pair behaved similarly, first rallying to an all-time high but paring the rise after the rate increase. The euro last bought 5.5084 lira. The U.S. and eurozone are two of Turkey’s most important trading partners. The central bank has been operating in a peculiar environment given that Turkey’s inflation has been hitting double digits and its currency keeps sliding to historic lows. Moreover, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been critical of the central bank, calling for lower interest rates.

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Rising dollar.

Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)

Maria Florencia Humano opened a clothing store in 2016, convinced that Argentina’s long history of economic crises had ended under pro-business President Mauricio Macri. She will shutter it later this month, unable to make rent or loan payments. Soaring interest rates and a plunging currency have upended her dream and returned Argentina to a familiar place: asking the IMF for a lifeline. Humano’s decision comes just weeks after a somber Macri announced in a televised May 8 speech that Argentina would start talks with the IMF. He is seeking a credit line worth at least $19.7 billion to fund the government through the end of his first term in late 2019. The unexpected move surprised investors and stoked Argentines’ fears of a repeat of the nation’s devastating 2001-2002 economic collapse.

Many here blame IMF-imposed austerity measures for worsening that crisis, which impoverished millions and turned Argentina into a global pariah after the government defaulted on a record $100 billion in debt. Word of a potential bailout sent thousands of angry Argentines into the streets this month, some with signs declaring “enough of the IMF.” As recently as a few months ago, analysts were hailing Argentina as an emerging-market success story. Now some are predicting recession. Macri’s popularity has plummeted. [..] Macri’s free-market credentials earned him a 2017 invitation to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who just last week on Twitter hailed the Argentine leader’s “vision for transforming his country’s economy.”

But economists say Macri badly damaged his credibility in December when his administration weakened tough inflation targets. The central bank followed with a January rate cut to goose growth, even as consumer prices kept galloping. Rising U.S. interest rates did not help. Argentina is saddled with more than $320 billion in external debt, equivalent to 57.1% of GDP, much of it denominated in dollars. Jittery investors hit the exits. The peso swooned. The central bank sold $10 billion in reserves trying to prop up the peso, forcing Macri to seek assistance from the IMF.

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And getting harsher all the time.

US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)

America’s birth rate has fallen to a 30-year low, let the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begin. It’s those selfish women, wanting careers before kids! Or, gasp, not wanting kids at all! It’s all those abortions! It’s Obama’s fault! The reality is, for all its pro-family rhetoric, the US is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers. It’s a well-known fact, but one that bears repeating in this context, that the US is one of only four countries in the world with no government-subsidized maternity leave. The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, countries that the US doesn’t tend to view as its peer group.

This fact is met with shrugs from those who assume that companies provide maternity leave. Only 56% do, and of those, just 6% offer full pay during maternity leave. This assumption also ignores the fact that 36% of the American workforce, a number expected to surpass 50% in the next 10 years, are contract laborers with no access to such benefits. That gig economy you keep hearing so much about, with its flexible schedule and independence? Yeah, it sucks for mothers. That doesn’t stop companies and pundits from pushing it as a great way for working moms to balance children and career. As a gig-economy mother myself, I can tell you exactly how great and balanced it felt to go back to work two hours after giving birth.

If they return to work, mothers can look forward to an increasingly large pay gap for every child they have, plus fewer promotions. Who could resist? The option for one parent to stay home with kids is increasingly not economically viable for American families, either. A data point that got far less attention than the falling birth rate was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month: 71.1% of American mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce now. It’s not just because they want to be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but increasingly because they have to be in order to support the family.

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Scripted interview?

Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)

In her first interview since surviving an alleged nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She has not shed any light on what happened in March in Salisbury. “I came to the UK on the 3rd of March to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement. She and her father, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double-agent, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, but it has yet to provide evidence for the claim.

Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning. “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both of us were attacked. We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination. Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful,” she said. “The fact that a nerve agent was used to do this is shocking. I don’t want to describe the details but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing.” She also said that she was “grateful” for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, “but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT. “We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

Russia’s Embassy in the UK welcomed the release of the interview, stating: “we are glad to have seen Yulia Skripal alive and well.” The video itself and the wording of the written statements, however, raised concerns with Russian diplomats, who urged London once again to allow consular access to Yulia “in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure.” Skripal said that the ordeal had turned her life “upside down,” both “physically and emotionally.” She added that she was now focused on helping her father to make a full recovery, and that “in the long term I hope to return home to my country.”

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With the level of incompetence in UK politics, the NHS looks beyond salvation.

NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)

Taxes will “almost certainly” have to rise over the coming years simply to prevent the National Health Service and social care system from slipping further into crisis, a major new report concludes. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation state that the NHS, which has been suffering the most severe fiscal squeeze since its foundation over the past eight years, now requires an urgent increase in government spending in order to cope with an influx of older and sicker patients. Funding the projected increases in health spending through the tax system would need taxes to rise by between 1.6 and 2.6% of GDP – the equivalent of between £1,200 and £2,000 per household, the experts said.

The two organisations say that state funding growth rate, which has been just 1.4% a year since 2010, will have to more than double to between 3.3% and 4% over the next 15 years if government pledges, such as bringing down waiting times and increasing the provision of mental health services, are to stand any chance of being delivered. They also say that to finance this increase the government would “almost certainly need to increase taxes”. “If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years. This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax,” said the IFS’s director Paul Johnson.

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Raises some interesting questions. I can block him, but he cannot block me. I can all him “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian” and much much worse, and he’s going to have to swallow it.

Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)

Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums, and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of Constitution. Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision’s effect would reach beyond Trump.

“It would end up applying to a wide range of government officials throughout the country,” he said. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Trump in the case, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps.” Twitter, which is not a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment on the ruling. Buchwald’s ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Trump in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users. The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Holly Figueroa, described in the complaint as a political organizer and songwriter in Washington state; and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump’s account last June after posting an image of the president with words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” said he was “delighted” with Wednesday’s decision. “This increases my faith in the system a little,” he said. Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among the others who have said on Twitter that Trump blocked them. Buchwald rejected the argument by Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” Buchwald said. She said Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.

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Said it before: putting it in monetary terms is counter-productive. Only when we recognize that it’s not about money will we do something.

Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis. Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly. Australia and South Africa would also benefit, with the biggest winners being Middle East nations, which are threatened with extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival.

However, some cold countries – particularly Russia, Canada and Scandinavian nations – are likely to have their growth restricted if the 1.5C target is met, the study suggests. This is because a small amount of additional warming to 2C would be beneficial to their economies. The UK and Ireland could also see some restriction, though the estimates span a wide range of outcomes. The research, published in the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target – a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

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It’s not gone. But it is under threat.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

For kids in Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is dead, according to the World Health Organisation, which says that children in Sweden are more likely to eat fish, olive oil and tomatoes than those in southern Europe. In Cyprus, a phenomenal 43% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Greece, Spain and Italy also have rates of over 40%. The Mediterranean countries which gave their name to the famous diet that is supposed to be the healthiest in the world have children with Europe’s biggest weight problem. Sweets, junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil, said Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” he said at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. “There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it.” Children in southern Europe are eating few fruit and vegetables and drinking a lot of sugary colas and other sweet beverages, said Breda. They snack. They eat sweets. They consume too much salt, sugar and fat in their food. And they hardly move. “Physical inactivity is one of the issues that is more significant in the southern European countries,” he said. “A man in Crete in the 60s would need 3,500 calories because he was going up and down the mountain.”

Read more …

Apr 042018
 April 4, 2018  Posted by at 12:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  

Mayfair Building, Times Square NYC 1951



Dr. D is on a roll.



Dr. D: Since tariffs are in the news again, let’s run down the topic , first in micro, then in macro.


“Trump said this week he’ll slap 25% tariffs on $50 billion to $60 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S., including aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery. The move is aimed at countering Chinese cyber and intellectual property theft of U.S. technology . It also tries to push back against China’s demands for technology transfers from U.S. companies in return for access to China’s market.

The Chinese government, in turn, said it would hit U.S. shipments to China with $3 billion in tariffs, affecting goods such as pork, aluminum pipes, steel and wine.

“A family of four will end up paying about $500 more to buy (clothing, shoes, fashion accessories and travel goods) every year” if those products are subject to 25% tariffs, the American Apparel and Footwear Association says…

Retaliatory tariffs from China, meanwhile, could especially hurt American farmers.  China is the world’s top soybean importer, with the U.S. providing close to 60% of the commodity. And the country is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. pork. Growing talk about a trade war has worried Iowa farmers. The state is the nation’s largest corn and pork producer and second-largest soybean grower.”

Historical background, when Clinton added China to the WTO, it opened the borders and U.S. markets to Chinese goods, but likewise, China promised to treat the exports of the U.S. fairly, which are driven by movies, patents, and intellectual property rights. In theory, that’s how the deal would be equitable. However for 20 years they have not been paying billions in patents or media royalties back to the U.S.. Stealing everything, patents, intellectual rights, ignoring international law, building a mile high tariff wall, and polluting their whole nation to boot, just like we did back in the 19th century when we were a wee country.

Guess what that shows? Tariffs work. It worked for us then and it works for China now. Go to a store and look for any item that isn’t made in China. That has devastated industry, and is arguably dumping, i.e. selling at a loss to ruin your competition. How? China isn’t a “capitalist” country, really. It’s an amalgam of communism and protectionism meant to rapidly modernize China in the footsteps of Stalin or Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and it works. As such, factories are built of debt money printed by the Central State then protected from bankruptcy with more printing and bailing out hand-picked winners by the state — just like we do.

Just like Abe buying up the entire Nikkei or the Swiss Bank buying a trillion in foreign stocks. So in a roundabout way, China is creating all these products at a loss, but doesn’t care about profit because people are employed and their industry rockets into the 21st century. Since profit is not a motive and bankruptcy is not a possibility, the strategy to modernize and compete with the U.S. is enhanced not only by moving China forward, but also by moving the U.S. backward into the last century. So the very concept of WTO, “Free Trade”, “Fair Trade” does not and cannot exist with a centrally-planned, centrally-protected, non-free market economy – theirs and ours. Only national strategy remains.

When that’s the case, you see Trump merely advocating for consequences to China breaking the original treaty, the original parity of hard goods for intellectual property. And why shouldn’t breaking a treaty have consequences? The problem of course is what those consequences mean.

Since from the Chinese perspective, they have reduced U.S. wealth, production, capacity for production, and even the U.S. military to 3rd world levels, and the U.S. no longer has the bargaining power to reverse what was supposed to be a free-market trade, but was executed by China as a mercantile/protectionist trade. And good on them, well played!

Here in the States, we hear people say –still!—“well if they give us cheap goods at a loss, who are we not to take them?” Regardless of the jobs lost since that giant sucking sound started. Or worse, “Since rebuilding industry will cost money, any move to help ourselves should be avoided because it will raise prices.” Yes people, we already missed the 21st century, let’s move back from the 20th century into an 19th century African colony because fighting it would cost something and be inconvenient. Worked for Argentina, right?


Trump said in his Asian tour:

“I don’t blame China – after all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens… I give China great credit,” said Mr. Trump while addressing a room of business leaders. Instead, the US leader said previous US administrations were responsible for what he called “a very unfair and one-sided” trade relationship with China.”

China seemed to understand this and take it pretty well: in the last 30 years 500 million were lifted out of poverty, they got everything they wanted, and are arguably already the largest, most modern economy, but the ride is over. Asia loves gold-plated show-boaters like Trump and their equanimity was unreported by the press.

It’s no surprise; I’m sure they knew it would end someday. Probably never dreamed it would go on this long. However, the way the game is played, China will still negotiate all they can as the inevitable ends. And with retaliatory tariffs, they negotiate their best deal, and as quoted, Trump understands that too. Nothing personal.


Daily news covered, let’s go Macro.

In the bigger sense, a lot of this is window dressing. We hear a lot about how “the world can’t feed itself if such and such,” but it’s feeding itself now: clearly it’s perfectly possible: if anything we may have too much! Same with trade and tariffs. So China refuses to buy American soybeans, but buys Brazilian, great: stick it to those farmers (mega corps actually) in the voting states! Show ‘em!

But here’s the thing: there are X hectares of soybeans grown on planet earth, and Y people who eat them. If China buys “The Beans of Brazil”™, then whoever bought Brazil last year won’t get theirs and will buy American. Same with steel, same with oil. If China now buys Saudi oil or Russian oil, then that oil is simply removed from Europe, and Europe must buy Norwegian or Venezuelan oil. But it’s the same oil, from the same wells, going to the same people: that is, FROM planet earth, TO planet earth, BY the people of planet earth.

There are strategies and prices, advantages and minutia down there, but in the big picture, the effect becomes more subdued than may appear. So China places tariffs, even boycotts Iowa corn, then that corn is sold to Europe instead. What kind of political pressure are they really bringing, aside from making headlines?

The same is with Trump attempting to change the composition of U.S. industry. It’s a lot harder and takes a lot longer to rotate out of services and back into hard goods than it seems. What’s more, to start making your own chips or medical equipment requires a constellation of support industries: power lines, rails, screw machines, sheet metal stamping, servo motors, and behind them the dirty, heavy industries we erased: mining, steel and aluminum smelting, and so on. Yet this has to be done. We can’t run a country by asking China, “pretty please sell us some steel so we can make battleships to bomb you with.”

But like the soybeans, this shift of capacity doesn’t work in the macro view: if we’re not buying Chinese goods because we’re making our own, what is China going to do with all their factories? That capacity exists. It’s going somewhere or it will collapse, we BOTH have a lot to lose. A cutoff of most retail goods, their factories idled and people in the streets, Mutual Assured Destruction.

This goes back to 2005 and something Ben Bernanke said about the “Global Savings Glut.” That is, the problem wasn’t that the U.S. spent too much, but the real problem was the darn Chinese were too productive, too responsible, and spent too little. You might recognize this same argument from Germany and Greece. As much as this deserves raucous laughter, the larger macroeconomic imbalance is only this: the U.S. imports instead of producing, and China exports instead of consuming.

That’s how we come to a $700B yearly trade deficit, a deficit that is not ours alone, but China’s too. This goes back to righting the trade imbalance, the tariffs, in fact the overall inequality of the present (former) globalism: the U.S. prints fake digits and the Chinese send us real goods. If the imbalances are righted, there is only one path: China must spend more and the U.S. must spend less.


What will China do with their own factories if the U.S. reindustrializes and makes their own goods? They’ll buy those Chinese products themselves.


This is a long time coming, too. For decades, China has worked hard and developed their country, so why should they make cheap products and get nothing for their work? They deserve the products of their labor — arguably more than the Americans do. They need to spend more, and as we see with input costs rising back home, we need to spend less. So let them buy their “Make-happy ginsu mango-mango slicer.” No one deserves it more.

What do you think Chairman-for-life Xi thinks of this? Trump is going to make China stop saving and force their middle class to start spending, to start behaving like the modern nation they are. Xi and his predecessors have been unable to convince China to spend. But now Trump can blame his problems on China and Xi can blame his problems on Trump. So do you think Xi is angry? Or happy?

This had to happen. A nation cannot live at the expense of everyone else forever, amen. The only question is when and how it ends. So if China makes and buys Chinese products, and the U.S. makes and buys U.S. products, and we trade equally, where’s the harm?

It’s no fun to re-industrialize, to fall back to the level of real production your country is capable of minus extractive, extortive credit, but there are only two choices: the Neocon’s one world unipolar empire of murder and force, or nation states with borders and the independence and the internal capacity to produce for and defend themselves on all fronts, agricultural, manufacturing, intellectual, and military.

That’s what the “America First” plan was and in the Asian tour, China showed they understand this. So since nation states are going to persist for now, the best we can do is rebuild, re-normalize, and re-localize independently as best we can.

As the imbalances are reversed, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if we can do it, it will be worthwhile. At the very least, better than the alternative (They tried). We can – it is possible – recover our nation again, and with it, what it means to be “America”, and that may be worth the work.



Mar 242018
 March 24, 2018  Posted by at 10:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

Pablo Picasso Don Quixote 1955


EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife (G.)
End the Fed. Are You Nuts? (Claire Connelly)
Stocks Suffer Biggest Weekly Drop In More Than 2 Years (BI)
The Stuff The US Imports From China That Causes A Huge Trade Deficit (MW)
Unspooling (Kunstler)
The Rise of the Trembling Hands (David Stockman)
2.8 Million Hongkongers To Get Cash Handout Of Up To HK$4,000 Each (SCMP)
Seven Days That Shattered Facebook’s Facade (G.)
UK Parties Spend Big On Facebook (G.)
Death Of The High Street (Ind.)



Denial my ass. What’s happening is the EU spends billions in taxpayers money to subsidize the complete demise of their ecosystems as well as their food supplies. The taxpayers may be in denial, but Brussels is not. The Bayer/Monsanto decision is not some stand-alone story.

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife (G.)

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers, via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year. Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP – which will be decided alongside the EU budget by 2019 – will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

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Not a general opinion.

End the Fed. Are You Nuts? (Claire Connelly)

We often see comments on this website from people who want to ‘end the Fed’ because they think it would address the rampant corruption and collusion of governments, central banks and the private sector. In reality, ending the Fed – or any one of the central banks outside of the European Union – would simply give more power to the banks and wealthy elites whose relationships with governments and central banks are already inappropriate. Abolishing central banks would simply formalise this arrangement, undermining democracy and removing the ability of governments to respond to changes in the domestic and global economy.

The claim that banks are privately owned is factually incorrect. With the exception of the EU which began life as an industrial cartel, created and controlled by Europe’s major heavy industries (coal, steel, car manufacturers and farmers), central banks are created by and belong to federal governments. Even the ECB is owned by the central banks of EU member countries, which in turn are owned by their governments, even if most do not have the right to issue their own currencies. The US Federal Reserve was created by Congress, and its chairman is appointed by the President; the Treasury receives nearly all its profits. The same applies to the Bank of England, the Reserve Bank of Australia, Bank of Canada etc which were created by their respective Parliaments.

What do advocates of ‘ending the Fed’ think will happen if the US got rid of central banking altogether? What currency would it use exactly? The only possibility would be to replace the Fed with another, private ‘Fed’ in which case central banks would go from being co-opted by the private sector, to being formally controlled by it. Ending the Fed would make central banks the property of the private sector, which, ironically, some people believe is already the case. So it’s a little bizarre that they think demolishing central banks would somehow address corruption and malfeasance. One need only look at what happened to Greece to understand what happens when a government gives up its central bank, and the right to issue its own currency. Ending central banking is the nail in the coffin of democracy. It is giving capitalism exactly what it wants: the complete takeover of the state by the market.

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What happens inside bubbles.

Stocks Suffer Biggest Weekly Drop In More Than 2 Years (BI)

US stocks sank in trading on Friday afternoon, pushing the S&P 500 to its biggest weekly decline in two years amid concerns about US trade policy and retaliation from China. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 360 points, or 1.5%, to its lowest level since November 22. The S&P 500 fell 56 points, or 2.13%, while the Nasdaq fell 148 points, or 2.23%. On Thursday, China announced planned to impose reciprocal tariffs on 128 US products that had an import value of about $3 billion last year. US President Donald Trump had earlier announced new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, with the aim of reducing the $375 billion trade deficit the US has with China.

The financials sector was the biggest loser among the 11 on the S&P 500. On the Dow, Boeing and Nike were the only stocks in positive territory. The drop on Friday pushed the S&P 500 9% below its peak in late January, just short of the 10% threshold at which the index enters a correction. Meanwhile, Dropbox soared during its trading debut. Shares of the cloud-computing company gained by as much as 44% in trading amid the broader market’s weakness. Treasurys rose slightly, with the 10-year yield up by less than 1 basis point, at 2.823%.

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The US will want to halt the selling off of technology.

The Stuff The US Imports From China That Causes A Huge Trade Deficit (MW)

President Donald Trump intends to apply tariffs on Chinese goods worth up to $60 billion in an effort to slash the huge U.S. trade deficit with China and protect sensitive technologies. It won’t be easy. It might even be impossible. The U.S. has run large deficits with China for years and in some cases no longer produces certain goods such as consumer electronics that are popular with Americans. In 2017, the U.S. posted a $375.2 billion deficit in goods with China. Most glaring is the huge deficit in computers and electronics, but the U.S. is a net importer from China in most market segments except for agriculture. China has been a big buyer of American-grown soybeans and other crops. Planes made by BA also are a product in demand in China.

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Little by little, the pieces fall together.

Unspooling (Kunstler)

With spring, things come unstuck; an unspooling has begun. The turnaround at the FBI and Department of Justice has been so swift that even The New York Times has shut up about collusion with Russia — at the same time omitting to report what appears to have been a wholly politicized FBI upper echelon intruding on the 2016 election campaign, and then laboring stealthily to un-do the election result.

The ominous silence enveloping the DOJ the week after Andrew McCabe’s firing — and before the release of the FBI Inspector General’s report — suggests to me that a grand jury is about to convene and indictments are in process, not necessarily from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office. The evidence already publicly-aired about FBI machinations and interventions on behalf of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump looks bad from any angle, and the wonder was that it took so long for anyone at the agency to answer for it.

McCabe is gone from office and, apparently hung out to dry on the recommendation of his own colleagues. Do not think for a moment that he will just ride off into the sunset. Meanwhile, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr, have been sent to the FBI study hall pending some other shoes dropping in a grand jury room. James Comey is out hustling a book he slapped together to manage the optics of his own legal predicament (evidently, lying to a congressional committee). And way out in orbit beyond the gravitation of the FBI, lurk those two other scoundrels, John Brennan, former head of the CIA (now a CNN blabbermouth), and James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, a new and redundant post in the Deep State’s intel matrix (and ditto a CNN blabbermouth). Brennan especially has been provoked to issue blunt Twitter threats against Mr. Trump, suggesting he might be entering a legal squeeze himself.

None of these public servants have cut a plea bargain yet, as far as is publicly known, but they are all, for sure, in a lot of trouble. Culpability may not stop with them. Tendrils of evidence point to a coordinated campaign that included the Obama White House and the Democratic National Committee starring Hillary Clinton. Robert Mueller even comes into the picture both at the Uranium One end of the story and the other end concerning the activities of his old friend, Mr. Comey. Most tellingly of all, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not shoved out of office but remains shrouded in silence and mystery as this melodrama plays out, tick, tick, tick.

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The old Washington insider doesn’t mince words.

The Rise of the Trembling Hands (David Stockman)

We call it State-Wreck and its been heading this way for a long-time. But the Donald is the coup d’ grace in flesh and blood. He will soon have the Imperial City tied in knots, and that’s even if he doesn’t fire Robert Mueller, which most surely he should and might. Either way, there is a massive partisan blood-letting coming and the ordinarily trans-partisan Deep State will be right in the middle of the brawl. That’s because partisan Democratic hacks – led by the detestable former CIA director John Brennan – got way beyond their skis, and baldly high-jacked the tools of the Deep State in a desperate effort to prevent the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. But the unveiling of what lies in its vasty deep is now beyond recall.

The very real attempt by the Obama/Clinton leadership of the CIA/FBI/NSC/NSA/DNI/State/Homeland Security complex to meddle in the 2016 election against the Donald will all come out – even as the Dems and their legal trolls on Mueller’s witch-hunting squad become ever more shrill in their McCarthyite hysteria about the Russians. Moreover, the coming quasi-civil war will potentially bring both indictments of Obama’s election meddlers and a counter-reaction from a Mueller based campaign to oust the Donald. Indeed, what portends in the months ahead is more incendiary than anything to rock the Imperial City during the last century, at least. But here’s the thing. This is not happening in a splendid vacuum with no import for the other end of the Acela Corridor.

In fact, the entire state-driven economic and financial fantasy that has been building for more than 30 years is now squarely in harm’s way. The former always depended upon Washington based stimulus, subventions, bailouts and booty. But now having attained an asymptotic high, the Great Bubble is stranded with no Washington fixers to keep it going; instead, it is fixing to slide into a long night of deflation, disorder and decay. That is to say, we printed 2870 on the S&P 500, $19.7 trillion of GDP and $97 trillion of household net worth, but those stats weren’t the embodiment of sustainable capitalist prosperity; they were the fruit of a $68 trillion national LBO, a central bank-driven financial asset bubble that has no historical antecedent and the rise of an Imperial Deep State in Washington that is a mortal threat to both democracy and national solvency.

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“..an effort to try to respond to the needs of the community in a proactive manner.”

2.8 Million Hongkongers To Get Cash Handout Of Up To HK$4,000 Each (SCMP)

Over one-third of Hongkongers, or 2.8 million people who did not benefit from the budget announced last month, will get a cash handout of up to HK$4,000 (US$510) each from the government, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said on Friday. Chan’s announcement confirmed reports – including one by the Post – that the government would share the city’s HK$138 billion surplus more broadly. While it faced intense political and public pressure to do more for the needy, the government’s decision to fork out an extra HK$11 billion in handouts was not a U-turn, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor insisted.

“First of all, I wouldn’t say that we are bowing to pressure, and secondly, we have not said we would not do something which we describe as a ‘share and care’ programme,” she said. Chan said he had heard the community “loud and clear”. “I think as government officials we need to have the capacity to step back and reflect the various views expressed and see how we may be able to better serve our people,” he explained. “So this scheme … is an effort to try to respond to the needs of the community in a proactive manner.” The money will be given to Hong Kong residents aged 18 years or above (as of December 31 this year) who do not own property, do not receive any government allowances, and will not pay income tax for the financial year ending next week.

Read more …

The Guardian is gradually shifting its story away from Cambridge Analytica. A bit late?

Seven Days That Shattered Facebook’s Facade (G.)

There are thousands of other developers, including the makers of dating app Tinder, games such as FarmVille as well as consultants to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, who slurped huge quantities of data about users and their friends – all thanks to Facebook’s overly permissive “Graph API”, the interface through which third parties could interact with Facebook’s platform. Facebook opened up in order to attract app developers to join Facebook’s ecosystem at a time when the company was playing catch-up in shifting its business from desktops to people’s smartphones. It was a symbiotic relationship that was critical to Facebook’s growth.

“They wanted to push as much of the conversation, ad revenue and digital activity as possible and made it extremely friendly to app developers,” said Jeff Hauser, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Now they are complaining that the developers abused them. They wanted that. They were encouraging it. They may now regret it but they knowingly unleashed the forces that have led to this lack of trust and loss of privacy.” The terms were updated in April 2014 to restrict the data new developers could get hold of, including to people’s friends’ data, but only after four years of access to the Facebook firehose. Companies that plugged inbefore April 2015 had another year before access was restricted.

“There are all sorts of companies that are in possession of terabytes of information from before 2015,” said Jeff Hauser of the Center for Economic Policy and Research. “Facebook’s practices don’t bear up to close, informed scrutiny nearly as well as they look from the 30,000ft view, which is how people had been viewing Facebook previously.” [..] “This is the biggest issue I’ve ever seen any technology company face in my time,” said Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor. “It’s not like tech hasn’t had a lot of scandals,” he said, mentioning the Theranos fraud and MiniScribe packing actual bricks into boxes instead of hard drives. “But no one else has played a role in undermining democracy or the persecution of monitories before. This is a whole new ball game in the tech world and it’s really, really horrible.”

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Isn’t it wonderful? When are people going to demand they stop doing this? But no political party can resist the temptation of influencing voters behavior, by whatever means.

UK Parties Spend Big On Facebook (G.)

Figures released this week by the Electoral Commission are the simplest way to demonstrate the growing influence of Facebook on British politics. Political parties nationally spent about £1.3m on Facebook during the 2015 general election campaign; two years later the figure soared to £3.2m. In each election it was the Conservatives that spent the most, with decidedly mixed results. For David Cameron’s successful re-election in 2015, the party spent £1.2m; that rose to £2.1m in 2017, but it was far less help to Theresa May. Sam Jeffers, the co-founder of Who Targets Me, a body that tries to monitor political Facebook advertising, says the difference stems from the fact that the Conservatives had a better overall strategy in 2015.

“In 2015 they targeted Lib Dem seats in the south-west; in 2017 they targeted Labour seats in London boroughs, spending money on seats they thought they would win but didn’t,” he says. Nevertheless, the Conservative success was so striking in 2015 that every other political party and campaign group felt it had to follow suit. The idea of marketing on Facebook was brought to the UK by the US political consultant Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Barack Obama in 2012, who Tory officials like to say boasted he had “1,000 pieces of data on every voter in the UK”.

It was a big change on the traditional model of supplementing canvass returns with broad demographic data supplied by Experian’s Mosaic, which divides people into groups such as “metro high flyers”, “classic grandparents” and “disconnected youth” – the kind of data used by all the main parties to help deliver targeted mailshots. The idea rapidly took hold – and was arguably tailor-made for the EU referendum in 2016. One of the reasons why the Conservatives made heavy use of Facebook marketing was because its canvassing operation is far weaker than Labour’s, forcing it to try to identify potential voters using technology.

Read more …

All sorts of theories and explanations; just admitting that people are dead broke remains a big taboo.

Death Of The High Street (Ind.)

On Friday, Next – broadly considered a bellwether of the UK fashion retail market – reported a punishing slump in profits, attributing the fall to a weak clothing market coinciding with “self-inflicted product ranging errors and omissions”. “In many ways,” Next said, “2017 was the most challenging year we have faced for 25 years.” Earlier in the week data from the Office for National Statistics showed that retail sales volumes had picked up by 0.8 per cent in February – which was significantly ahead of analyst expectations – but forecasters and economists are pessimistic. Volumes contracted in January, meaning that British retailers this year suffered their worst start to any year since 2013 and the headwinds are still raging.

Commenting on the latest data, economists Sreekala Kochugovindan and Fabrice Montagne at investment bank Barclays said that despite some relief in February, the rebound was not enough to offset the “Christmas drag”, when consumers largely shunned the high street in favour of the internet. And HSBC economist Elizabeth Martins dubbed February’s reading “the bounce before the beast”. She warned that figures next month would likely be additionally burdened by adverse weather conditions that disrupted transport links and kept shoppers from leaving their homes during the early part of March. “The data are better than expected, but considering they do not take into account the effects of the snow at all, they are not brilliant,” she said. “They reflect a small increase after two months of falls, and still point to underlying weakness in household spending.”

The British Retail Consortium, the trade association representing the UK retail sector, has also warned that sales are likely to remain sluggish throughout the rest of the year – a prognosis that will particularly pain shops like Ali’s on Oxford Street that sell items considered non-essential, like clothes, furniture and electronics, and those with a with a large bricks-and-mortar presence. Sarah Garrett, a 51-year old self-employed company director who lives in Notting Hill, speaks for many when she says that she’s of the opinion that “the high street is now a thing of the past”. “Online is definitely where it is at. Maybe I am lazy, but I just prefer home deliveries [from the likes of] Amazon,” she says. “Who wants to lug heavy bags from the supermarket anyway?”

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Dec 222016
 December 22, 2016  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

Shirley Temple Chrismas 1939

Americans Are Now In More Debt Than They Were Before The Financial Crisis (MW)
Americans Want To ‘Live Big’ In The Trump Era (CNBC)
Percentage of Young Americans Living With Parents Rises to 75-Year High (WSJ)
Republican Presidents Can’t Seem To Avoid Recessions (BBG)
Plan To Tax US Imports Has Better Odds Of Becoming Law Than Many Think (CNBC)
Home Ownership Among 25-Year-Olds In England, Wales Halved In 20 Years (G.)
Monte Paschi Headed for Nationalization After Sale Failure (BBG)
China’s Currency Outflows Are Much Larger Than They Appear (MW)
Glenn Greenwald Weighs In On Election Hacks (MSNBC)
EU To Boost Border Checks On Cash, Gold To Tackle ‘Terrorism Financing’ (R.)
EU Court Says Mass Data Retention Illegal (R.)
Greek Low-Pensioners Stand Long Queues For The Christmas Bonus (KTG)
The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)



What a surprise.

Americans Are Now In More Debt Than They Were Before The Financial Crisis (MW)

Americans may soon exceed the amount of credit-card debt they racked up during the Great Recession. The average household with credit card debt owes $16,061, up 10% from $14,546 10 years ago and $15,762 last year, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve Bank of New York and U.S. Census Bureau data by the personal finance company NerdWallet. The amount of household credit card debt is still down from a recent high of $16,912 in 2008 at the height of the recession. The U.S. won’t hit pre-recession credit card debt levels until the end of 2019, NerdWallet’s analysis projects. Total debt (including mortgages, auto loans and student loans) is expected to surpass the amounts owed at the beginning of the Great Recession by the end of 2016, NerdWallet found, mostly due to mortgages and student loans.

Mortgage debt jumped from $159,020 per household in 2010 to $172,806 in 2016, and debt from auto loans grew from $20,032 in 2010 to $28,535 in 2016. Nationwide, total household debt (including mortgages, auto loans and student loans) now equals almost $12.4 trillion, up from about $11.7 trillion in 2010. Why the growth in debt, given that many consumers should be skittish about living beyond their needs after the credit bubble of the Great Recession? The reason concerns a problem that has long dogged Americans. Median household income has grown 28% over the last 13 years, said Sean McQuay, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, but expenses have outpaced it significantly. Case in point: Medical costs increased by 57% and food and beverage prices by 36% in that period.

Many Americans find it difficult to stick to savings goals. And that’s even worse if you have a family. The amount that a two-parent, two-child family needs just to pay the bills (but not have money left over for savings) ranges from about $50,000 to more than $100,000 depending on where a family lives, according to data from the nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank the Economic Policy Institute. Rent has risen 3.9% in the last year alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The economy is doing better, but we’re really not seeing that trickle down to individual households the way we’d hope,” McQuay said. Rising living costs mean, if anything, consumers should pay extra attention to their budgets in the next year, he said. “We’re allergic to the idea of budgeting,” he said. “It sounds just as awful as dieting.”

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No contradiction whatsoever with the article above.

Americans Want To ‘Live Big(ly)’ In The Trump Era (CNBC)

In the Trump era, excess is in and modesty is out. After years of stealth wealth, humility and downsizing, the president-elect is ushering in a new era of living large, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller said Wednesday. “We used to be more into modest living,” the Yale professor told CNBC, speaking about the years after the financial crisis. “Now people are thinking, ‘[that] doesn’t work.’ You know? You have to live big-league and you’re on your way. While there’s no empirical evidence pointing to this shift, Shiller said the excitement is visible at Trump rallies and in the stock market. Despite a slight dip on Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average remained near 20,000.

Shiller’s comments add to budding sentiment that America’s new billionaire-in-chief — with his gold-plated penthouse, private jumbo jet and multiple mansions — could shift American attitudes away from inequality and toward the 1980s-style aspiration and worship of wealth. That quest for the good life could also stimulate spending — particularly in housing, Shiller said. “Trump is a real estate man, right? He talks about living big, living large. I can imagine that this will boost housing demand as well, among at least those who are excited by Trump,” he said. Still, Shiller cautioned that investors shouldn’t get too comfortable, as the Trump rally could end up like Calvin Coolidge’s run nearly a century ago. Coolidge was president during the Roaring ’20s, before the decade-long Great Depression started in 1929. “It could be like … Coolidge prosperity. It went for a while and it ended badly,” he said.

“There’s a difference, though, between Calvin Coolidge and Donald Trump, if you haven’t noticed. Trump is way more controversial,” Shiller added.

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But bigly.

Percentage of Young Americans Living With Parents Rises to 75-Year High (WSJ)

Almost 40% of young Americans were living with their parents, siblings or other relatives in 2015, the largest percentage since 1940, according to an analysis of census data by real estate tracker Trulia. Despite a rebounding economy and recent job growth, the share of those between the ages of 18 and 34 doubling up with parents or other family members has been rising since 2005.

Back then, before the start of the last recession, roughly one out of three were living with family. The trend runs counter to that of previous economic cycles, when after a recession-related spike, the number of younger Americans living with relatives declined as the economy improved. [..] The share of young Americans living with parents hit a high of 40.9% in 1940, just a year after the official end of the Great Depression, and fell to a low of 24.1% in 1960. It hovered between about 31% and 33% from 1980 to the mid-2000s, when the rate started climbing steadily.

The result is that there is far less demand for housing than would be expected for the millennial generation, now the largest in U.S. history. The number of adults under age 30 has increased by 5 million over the last decade, but the number of households for that age group grew by just 200,000 over the same period, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Analysts point to rising rents in many cities and tough mortgage-lending standards as the culprit, making it difficult for younger Americans to strike out on their own.

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It’s been a while. Anything to do with QE?

Republican Presidents Can’t Seem To Avoid Recessions (BBG)

Here’s a frightening factoid for Donald Trump as he prepares to take office next month: Every Republican president since World War II has been in power during at least one recession. Of course, as the saying goes, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results and the billionaire developer may well avoid a downturn on his watch. But with the economic expansion soon to become the third-longest on record, the risk of a contraction occurring during his time in office can’t be cavalierly dismissed. “Republican presidents seemingly can’t do without” recessions, Joachim Fels, global economic adviser for PIMCO, wrote in a blog post dated Dec. 12. The same can’t be said of Democrats. Outgoing President Barack Obama did preside over an economic downturn in his first six months in office – one he inherited from his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

John F. Kennedy took office just before a recession ended. And the U.S. entered and exited slumps when Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman were in charge. But it was recession-free during the tenures of Democrats Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and Bill Clinton in the 1990s. “The U.S. economy has performed better when the president of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican,” Princeton University professors Alan Blinder and Mark Watson wrote in a paper published in the American Economic Review this year. The difference isn’t due to more expansionary fiscal and monetary policies under Democrats, according to Blinder, who served in the Clinton White House, and Watson. Instead it appears to stem from less costly oil shocks, a more favorable international environment, productivity-boosting technological advances and perhaps more optimistic consumers, they wrote. Some of those disparities may be down to better policies, but luck also played a role.

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It’ll happen.

Plan To Tax US Imports Has Better Odds Of Becoming Law Than Many Think (CNBC)

A controversial proposal to tax all goods and services coming into the United States has a better chance of becoming law than many on Wall Street suspect. The so-called “border-adjusted” tax is part of the House tax overhaul plan that also would reduce the corporate rate from 35% to 20%. The idea is to tax goods as they come into the country from overseas, but to avoid taxing U.S. exports at all. For instance, a car imported into the U.S. from Mexico would be taxed, but the American-made steel sent to Mexico would not.

Proponents say the proposed “destination tax” would encourage more U.S. production of goods and create U.S. jobs. But opponents say it will send prices higher, unfairly cut profits for some sectors, particularly the retail industry, and could prompt retaliation. The idea is similar but not quite like a VAT, or value added tax, common in other countries. The stock market has been celebrating promises of lower corporate taxes that could boost business spending, but it has been ignoring proposals that could sting some companies’ bottom lines. Retailers, automakers and refiners are among the industries that could be hit if imports are taxed.

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What you get from blowing bubbles. You destroy societies.

Home Ownership Among 25-Year-Olds In England, Wales Halved In 20 Years (G.)

The proportion of 25-year-olds who own a home has more than halved over the past 20 years, according to a report that points to the generational impact of the housing crisis. Home ownership has dropped from 46% of all 25-year-olds two decades ago to 20% now, the Local Government Association said. The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, said more homes for affordable or social rent are needed to allow people to save up for a deposit and get on the housing ladder. The LGA’s housing spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett, said: “Our figures show just how wide the generational home ownership gap is in this country. A shortage of houses is a top concern for people as homes are too often unavailable, unaffordable and not appropriate for the different needs in our communities.

“The housing crisis is complex and is forcing difficult choices on families, distorting places, and hampering growth. But there is a huge opportunity, as investment in building the right homes in the right places has massive wider benefits for people and places.” Analysis for the LGA by the estate agent Savills found that the construction of social rented homes – owned and managed by local authorities and housing associations – plunged by 88% between 1995-96 and 2015-16. The association warned that the sharp fall, combined with rents rising at a faster pace than incomes, meant that home ownership was becoming more difficult for an increasing number of people. Home ownership across all age groups has fallen by 4.4% since 2008, while private renters increased by 5.1%, the LGA said.

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Beppe Grillo wants full nationalization. The political class just blunders on.

Monte Paschi Headed for Nationalization After Sale Failure (BBG)

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA will probably fail to lure sufficient demand for a €5 billion capital increase, leading to what would be the country’s biggest bank nationalization in decades, said people with knowledge of the matter. No anchor investor has shown interest in the stocks sale, the Siena-based company said in a statement late Wednesday. Two debt-for-equity swap offers will raise about €2 billion, with investors converting bonds for about €2.5 billion, the lender said. The interest is probably insufficient to pull the deal off, said the people, who asked not to be identified before a final assessment. Qatar’s sovereign-wealth fund, which had considered an investment, hasn’t committed to buying shares, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

Other institutions that were considering buying shares have indicated that they would put funds in the troubled bank only if it’s able to raise €1 billion from cornerstone investors, according to the people. Monte Paschi Chief Executive Officer Marco Morelli had crisscrossed the globe looking for investors to back the bank’s reorganization plan, which included a share sale, a debt-for-equity swap and the sale of €28 billion worth of soured loans. A nationalization of Monte Paschi, the biggest in Italy since the 1930s, could be followed by rescues for lenders including Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza as part of a €20 billion government package. State intervention and a hit to bondholders is the most likely scenario for Monte Paschi, Manuela Meroni, an analyst at Intesa Sanpaolo SpA wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “The solution to the Monte Paschi issue could reduce the systemic risk for the sector,” Meroni wrote.

Monte Paschi shares failed to open in Milan on Thursday after being indicated lower. The shares have dropped 87% this year, trimming the bank’s value to €478 million. If government funds are used in the bank’s recapitalization, bondholders will probably have to take losses under European burden-sharing rules. The cabinet is considering a so-called precautionary recapitalization that may reduce the potential losses. A cabinet meeting may be held as early as Thursday evening to rescue Monte Paschi, newspaper La Stampa reported, without saying where it got the information.

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Especially in the rear-view mirror.

China’s Currency Outflows Are Much Larger Than They Appear (MW)

Investors have been drastically underestimating the pace at which money is leaving China. Since June, the People’s Bank of China has liquidated $1.1 trillion in foreign-currency reserves, according to a calculation by a team of analysts at Goldman Sachs. That’s nearly double the $540 billion reported by the PBOC, when adjusted for shifts in the yuan’s valuation, between August 2015 and November 2016. Goldman arrived at its figure by incorporating data provided by the State Authority on Foreign Exchange, the arm of the PBOC responsible for currency flows. That data details flows that are considered approved Chinese corporate demand, as well as money flowing through the offshore yuan market. If one factors in these outflows, the total amount of capital that has left China in that time period balloons from the reported $540 billion to $1.1 trillion, Goldman said. Goldman illustrates these flows in a chart, below:

“Since June, this data has continued to suggest significantly larger [foreign exchange] sales by the PBOC than is implied by FX reserve data [the gap is about $25 billion a month on average in the last several months],” said the team, led by MK Tang, executive director of global investment research Asia, in a research note released to the media on Monday. The PBOC has been selling its foreign currency reserves, which have declined for 14 straight months through November, to help support its rapidly weakened currency, the yuan. After selling off earlier in the year, the dollar has strengthened rapidly against most major currencies including the yuan. In fact, dollar gains accelerated following President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 electoral victory. Presently, the yuan, USDCNY, +0.0706% also known as the renminbi, is trading near its weakest level against the dollar since late 2008.

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Greenwald is very clear. But help me out: does the interviewer try to imply that there is circumstantial evidence regardless of there not being any? That because a lot of so-and-so’s have said there is, that somehow means there must be?

Glenn Greenwald Weighs In On Election Hacks (MSNBC)

Co-founding editor of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, talks to Ari Melber about the investigation into Russian hacks involving the 2016 election.

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Never let a good crisis go to waste. Zero credibility.

EU To Boost Border Checks On Cash, Gold To Tackle ‘Terrorism Financing’ (R.)

The European Commission proposed tightening controls on cash and precious metals transfers from outside the EU on Wednesday, in a bid to shut down one route for funding of militant attacks on the continent. The move follows Monday’s attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, where 12 people were killed as a truck plowed into a crowd. It is part of an EU “action plan against terrorist financing” unveiled after the bombings and shootings in Paris in November 2015. Under the new proposals, customs officials in EU states will be able to step up checks on cash and prepaid payment cards transferred via the post or through freight shipments.

Authorities will also be given the power to seize cash or precious metals carried by suspect individuals entering the EU. People carrying more than 10,000 euros ($10,391.00) in cash are already required to declare this at customs upon entering the EU. The new rules would allow authorities to seize money even below that threshold “where there are suspicions of criminal activity,” the EU executive commission said in a note. “With today’s proposals, we strengthen our legal means to disrupt and cut off the financial sources of terrorists and criminals,” the commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said.

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Not every European is a complete fool yet.

EU Court Says Mass Data Retention Illegal (R.)

The mass retention of data is illegal, the European Union’s highest court said on Wednesday, dealing a blow to Britain’s newly passed surveillance law and signaling that security concerns do not justify excessive privacy infringements. The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) said its ruling was based on the view that holding traffic and location data en masse allowed “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained”. Such interference with people’s privacy could only be justified by the objective of fighting serious crime and access to data should be subject to prior review by a court or independent body except in urgent cases, it said.

The ruling is likely to upset governments seeking to deal with the threat of attacks such as those in Paris and Brussels and, on Monday, in Berlin. Those attacks have reinforced calls from governments for security agencies to be given greater powers to protect citizens, while privacy advocates – who welcomed the ruling – say mass retention of data is ineffective in the fight against such crimes. The perpetual debate over privacy versus security took on an extra dimension after Edward Snowden leaked details of mass spying by U.S. and British agents in 2013. The ECJ said governments could demand targeted data retention subject to strict safeguards such as limiting it to a particular geographic location but the data must be stored within the EU given the risk of unlawful access.

The court was responding to challenges against data retention laws in Britain and Sweden on the grounds that they were no longer valid after the ECJ struck down an EU-wide data retention law in 2014. A spokesman for Britain’s interior ministry said it was disappointed with the judgment and would be considering its potential implications in the case launched before Britain voted in June to quit the European Union. “Given the importance of communications data to preventing and detecting crime, we will ensure plans are in place so that the police and other public authorities can continue to acquire such data in a way that is consistent with EU law and our obligation to protect the public,” he said.

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Pretty cold for Athens too.

Greek Low-Pensioners Stand Long Queues For The Christmas Bonus (KTG)

Greece’s low-pensioners have been waiting for the extra Christmas bonus announced by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for days. The magic, sparkling moment was set as December 22nd. The money started to flow into bank accounts already since Wednesday afternoon. Defying the icy-cold weather and Schaeuble’s objections, dozens of elderly rushed to ATMs to withdraw the unexpected Christmas present together with the pension for January. Those unable to use cards rushed to the banks as early as possible in the morning and stood line for many hours before the doors opened. 1.6 million low-pensioners receive the Christmas bonus which is the difference of the pension and lump sum to the amount of €850.

If a pensioner receives €600, the Christmas bonus will be €250. Due to capital controls, the amount that can be withdrawn within two weeks is €840. At the same time, 240,000 low pensioners will see the poverty allowance (EKAS) cut by 50%. It means they will lose €1,380 per year. I asked a neighbor how will he spend the Christmas bonus. “I will have my bones warmed,” the 87-year-old answered with a bright smile. He has been living without heating for the last three years. He went broke and spent all his savings after austerity cuts in 2010 deprived him of the 13th and 14th pension. He lost €1,200 per year.

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My article from yesterday. Please help us help.

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me. And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.

Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens December 2016

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Nov 212016
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  

NPC Fordson tractor exposition at Camp Meigs, Washington DC 1922

Japan Exports Drop 13th Month By 10.3%, Imports Down 22nd Month By 16.5% (WSJ)
Negative Rates Are Failing to Halt Savings Obsession in Europe (BBG)
More Than 1 in 3 European Workers Have Difficulty Making Ends Meet (ETUC)
Now it Begins to Unravel (WS)
Former UBS, Credit Suisse CEO: “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary” (ZH)
Big Shock In France’s Presidential Election As Sarkozy Eliminated (BBG)
The EU’s New Bomb Is Ticking in the Netherlands (WSJ)
APEC Summit Closes With Call for More Globalization, Free Trade (AP)
Obama Says World Leaders Want To Move Forward With TPP (AFP)
The Grey Champion Assumes Command – Part 1 (Quinn)
The Silver Lining In This Disaster: Clinton & Co Are Finally Gone (G.)
Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump. They Had No Other Hope (G.)
Tsipras Ready To Give In On Labor Reform To Ensure Debt Relief (Kath.)



With trade growth goes globalization.

Japan Exports Drop 13th Month By 10.3%, Imports Down 22nd Month By 16.5% (WSJ)

Japanese exports extended their losses to a 13th straight month in October, indicating that the world’s third-largest economy has yet to regain full fitness despite better-than-expected growth in the third quarter. Exports fell 10.3% from a year earlier in October to 5.870 trillion yen, figures released Monday by the Ministry of Finance showed. The reading came in worse than a 9.4% drop forecast by economists polled by WSJ. Exports decreased 6.9% in September. Despite the grim monthly figures, exports appear to be in better shape than in the spring, when Japan’s manufacturers were being buffeted by worries over a Chinese slowdown and other headwinds from abroad. Government estimates released last week showed that Japan’s economy grew 2.2% from the previous quarter in the July-September period, beating economists’ expectations.

Exports were stronger than in the previous three months. The near-term prospects for exports have also improved after Donald Trump’s victory of U.S. presidential election put the yen’s previous uptrend in reversal. The finance ministry said export volumes for October fell 1.4% from their year-earlier levels. That marked the first fall in three months. But seasonally adjusted month-on-month figures showed exports increased 1.6%. Imports declined 16.5% on year in October to Y5.374 trillion, the 22nd consecutive month of contraction, the ministry said. Japan’s trade balance came to Y496.2 billion in surplus, according to the data. Economists polled by the Nikkei expected a surplus of Y610.0 billion.

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Anything reported as a ‘savings obsession’ can be filed under ‘fake news’. It takes this article a while to get to it, but then it does: “About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money..” Combine that with the accounting practice of filing ‘paying off debts’ under ‘saving’, and you know what’s really happening.

Negative Rates Are Failing to Halt Savings Obsession in Europe (BBG)

After years of turbo-driven central bank stimulus, most Europeans still want to leave their spare cash in savings accounts, even if those accounts pay zero interest. That’s the finding of a survey by Europe’s biggest debt collector, Stockholm-based Intrum Justitia AB. “After the financial crisis, people have felt a need – even if they have small means – to create some kind of security,” CEO Mikael Ericson said in an interview in Stockholm on Nov. 16. “It can’t be that people save in a bank account because of the fantastic returns, so it must be about a sense of security, having money in the bank.” Some 69% of Europeans put their savings into bank accounts, according to Intrum Justitia’s European Consumer Payment Report.

The survey is based on feedback gathered in September and covers about 21,000 people in 21 countries. The survey also shows that 26% of Europeans prefer keeping their surplus funds in cash, while 16% hold stocks. Only 14% turn to investment funds, 8% invest in real estate and 8% in bonds. In Denmark and Sweden, where central bank benchmark rates are negative, almost 80% of people put their surplus cash in bank accounts. In France, the U.K. and the Netherlands, the figure is above 80%. [..] The survey also revealed how financially fragile many Europeans continue to be almost half a decade after the region’s debt crisis. About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money, the survey found. Greece was worst, with 76% of households failing to pay on time.

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Yeah. Savings Obsession. Sure.

More Than 1 in 3 European Workers Have Difficulty Making Ends Meet (ETUC)

According to the European Working Conditions Survey launched today more than one third of workers report some or great difficulty in making ends meet. This is the reality behind the rosier picture painted by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions which highlights an “increasingly skilled workforce, largely satisfied with work”. However, the study also reveals that • A shocking 1 in 5 workers “has a poor quality job with disadvantageous job quality features and job holders …. reporting an unsatisfactory experience of working life.” • Only 1 in 4 workers have “a smooth running job where most dimensions of job quality are satisfactory”.

Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said “European workers are struggling to make ends meet. Work no longer assures a decent life. Is it any wonder that more and more voters are losing their faith in “the European Union and mainstream political parties? ”These results only strengthen the ETUC’s determination to fight for more public investment to create quality jobs, and for a pay rise for European workers to tackle poverty and drive economic recovery for all. Economic policies that result in 1 in 3 workers struggling to make ends meet are fundamentally wrong and must be radically changed.” “These are deeply worrying results that cannot be hidden by claiming that the world of work is increasingly complex. The survey actually shows that work is unsatisfactory or unrewarding for far too many workers.”

“The picture painted by the European Working Conditions Survey of widespread poverty in improving working conditions highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle inequality across Europe. Improvements in labour markets and working conditions are modest and uneven at best; what’s more, these are being wiped out by spiralling costs of housing and austerity policies that drive insecurity for workers and their families.”

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“Debt is good” is just another way of saying “Greed is good”.

Now it Begins to Unravel (WS)

Debt is good. More debt is better. Funding consumer spending with debt is even better – that’s what economists have been preaching – because the consumed goods and services are gone after having been added to GDP, while the debt, which GDP ignores, remains until it is paid off with future earnings, or until it blows up. Corporations too have gone on a borrowing binge. Unlike consumers, they have no intention of paying off their debts. They issue new debt and use the proceeds to pay off maturing debts. Funding share-buybacks and dividends with debt is ideal. It’s called “unlocking value.” Debt must always grow. For that purpose, the Fed has manipulated interest rates to rock bottom. Actually paying off and reducing debt has the dreadful moniker, bandied about during the Financial Crisis, “deleveraging.”

It’s synonymous with “The End of the World.” At the institutional level, “debt” is replaced with more politically correct “leverage.” More leverage is better. Particularly if you can borrow short-term at near zero cost and bet the proceeds on risky illiquid long-term assets, such as real estate, or on securities that become illiquid without notice. Derivatives are part of this institutional equation. The notional value of derivatives in the US banking system is $190 trillion, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Four banks hold over 90% of them: JP Morgan ($53 trillion), Citibank ($52 trillion), Goldman ($44 trillion), and Bank of America ($26 trillion). Over 75% of those derivative contracts are interest rate products, such as swaps.

With them, heavily leveraged institutional investors that borrow short-term to invest in illiquid long-term assets hedge against interest rate movements. But Treasury yields and mortgage rates have moved violently in recent weeks, and someone is out some big money. These credit bubbles always unravel to the greatest surprise of those institutions and their economists. When they unravel, the above “End-of-the-World” scenario of orderly deleveraging turns into forced deleveraging, which can get messy. Assets that had previously been taken for granted are either repriced or just evaporate. But they’d been pledged as collateral. Suddenly, the collateral no longer exists….

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“..the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet now accounts for 100% of GDP. Japan is also 100%, but mainly invested in its own state paper. The ECB and the Fed are 30%.”

Former UBS, Credit Suisse CEO: “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary” (ZH)

Remember when bashing central banks and predicting financial collapse as a result of monetary manipulation and intervention was considered “fake news” within the “serious” financial community, disseminated by fringe blogs? Good times. In an interview with Swiss Sonntags Blick titled appropriately enough “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary”, the former CEO of UBS and Credit Suisse, Oswald Grübel, lashed out by criticizing the growing strength of central banks and their ‘supremacy over the markets and other banks’. He claimed that the use of negative interest rates and huge positive balance sheets represent ‘weapons of mass destruction’. He calls for an end to the use of negative interest rates. Sounding more like a “tinfoil” blog than the former CEO of the two largest Swiss banks, Grübel warned that central banks have “crossed the point of no return” which will ultimately “end in a crash.”

Joining Deutsche Bank in slamming NIRP, Grubel said that banks are losing hundreds of millions of francs each year to negative interest rates paid to central banks. Worse, he warned that central banks will eventually lose their credibility in the markets but that this could take 10 years or more, at which point it will “all end in a crash.” What happens then? The former CEO believes that the final outcome will be wholesale financial nationalization: “after that all banks could belong to the state” Grubel also the doubted the wisdom of the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet: “the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet now accounts for 100% of GDP. Japan is also 100%, but mainly invested in its own state paper. The ECB and the Fed are 30%. Switzerland is far, far, far ahead. Is that wise?”

Grübel also touched on a point we have made ever since 2010 when we said that in a world of unprecedented political polarity, politicians now control the world almost exclusively through monetary policy, to wit: “After the financial crisis, politics has taken power in the banking sector: It has bound the banks into a regulatory corset and now they can no longer move. Politicians have told central banks: now you determine what is going on with the economy.” What are the implications of this power shift? “Previously, the risk was distributed to thousands of banks. They had to pay for their mistakes. The risk lay with the shareholders. Today, more and more the state carries the risk.” Which, of course, is another word for taxpayers. In other words, the next crash will be one where central – not commercial – banks are failing, and the one left with the bill will once again be the ordinary person in the street.

In a tangent, Grübel gave his thoughts on what makes a man rich: “rich is a man when he goes to bed in a carefree manner and wakes up without care.” He is then asked if, by that definition, a billionaire is rich to which he replied: “No. Money has little to do with wealth. The real rich are carefree. Those who are healthy, are not dependent. The greatest wealth is independence.”

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“..the winner will be favorite to become president in May..”. Really? Then why am I thinking Le Pen is the favorite?

Big Shock In France’s Presidential Election As Sarkozy Eliminated (BBG)

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, the new front-runner in France’s 2017 presidential election, is offering voters an economic-policy revolution inspired by Margaret Thatcher. Fillon, 62, vaulted from third position in most polls to win the first round of the Republican primary by 16 percentage points from the veteran Alain Juppe on Sunday with the most free-market platform among the seven candidates. They’ll face each other again in next Sunday’s runoff and the winner will be favorite to become president in May 2017. The lifelong politician is pledging to lengthen the work week to 39 hours from 35, to increase the retirement age to 65 and add immigration quotas. He’s vowed to eliminate half a million public-sector jobs and cut spending by €100 billion over his five years in office.

And he proposes a €40 billion tax-cut for companies and a constitutional ban on planned budget deficits. “Who is Fillon? The classic conservative, right-wing candidate,” Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at the Sciences Po Institute in Paris, said in an interview. “He wants a deep reform of the French model: shrinking the role of the state and cutting the welfare system.” Compared with the brash style of former boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, Fillon has a more low-key approach but he makes a virtue of telling it straight. When he took office as premier in 2007, he shocked even Sarkozy by announcing that France was a bankrupt state. Today he’s promising to reverse that, just like his role model when she became U.K. prime minister in 1979.

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Europe and the scourge of direct democracy.

The EU’s New Bomb Is Ticking in the Netherlands (WSJ)

If the European dream is to die, it may be the Netherlands that delivers the fatal blow. The Dutch general election in March is shaping up to be a defining moment for the European project. The risk to the EU doesn’t come from Geert Wilders, the leader of anti-EU, anti-immigration Party for Freedom. He is well ahead in the polls and looks destined to benefit from many of the social and economic factors that paved the way for the Brexit and Trump revolts. But the vagaries of the Dutch political system make it highly unlikely that Mr. Wilders will find his way into government. As things stand, he is predicted to win just 29 out of the 150 seats in the new parliament, and mainstream parties seem certain to shun him as a coalition partner. In an increasingly fragmented Dutch political landscape, most observers agree that the likely outcome of the election is a coalition of four or five center-right and center-left parties.

Instead, the risk to the EU comes instead from a new generation of Dutch euroskeptics who are less divisive and concerned about immigration but more focused on questions of sovereignty—and utterly committed to the destruction of the EU. Its leading figures are Thierry Baudet and Jan Roos, who have close links to British euroskeptics. They have already scored one significant success: In 2015, they persuaded the Dutch parliament to adopt a law that requires the government to hold a referendum on any law if 300,000 citizens request it. They then took advantage of this law at the first opportunity to secure a vote that rejected the EU’s proposed trade and economic pact with Ukraine, which Brussels saw as a vital step in supporting a strategically important neighbor. This referendum law is a potential bomb under the EU, as both Dutch politicians and Brussels officials are well aware.

Mr. Baudet believes he now has the means to block any steps the EU might seek to take to deepen European integration or stabilize the eurozone if they require Dutch legislation. This could potentially include aid to troubled Southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, rendering the eurozone unworkable. Indeed, the Dutch government gave a further boost to Mr. Baudet and his allies when it agreed to accept the outcome of the Ukraine referendum if turnout was above 30%, even though it was under no legal obligation to do so. This was a major concession to the euroskeptics, as became clear when strong turnout among their highly motivated supporters lifted overall turnout to 31%. With Mr. Wilders’s party, currently polling above 25%, and both Mr. Baudet and Mr. Roos having launched their own parties, Dutch euroskeptics are confident they will be able to reach the 30% threshold in future referendums.

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Do they mean things would have been even worse without free trade? (if they do, let them say so): “..the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”

APEC Summit Closes With Call for More Globalization, Free Trade (AP)

Leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations ended their annual summit Sunday with a call to resist protectionism amid signs of increased free-trade skepticism, highlighted by the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also closed with a joint pledge to work toward a sweeping new free trade agreement that would include all 21 members as a path to “sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” despite the political climate. “We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism,” the leaders of the APEC nations said in a joint statement. APEC noted the “rising skepticism over trade” amid an uneven recovery since the financial crisis and said that “the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”

Speaking to journalists at the conclusion of the summit, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the main obstacle to free trade agreements in Asia and around the world is the frustration felt by those left behind by globalization. “Protectionism in reality is a reflection of tough economic conditions,” said Kuczynski, the meeting’s host. Referring to Brexit and Trump’s election win in the U.S., he said those results highlighted the backlash against globalization in former industrial regions in the U.S. and Britain that contrasts with support for trade in more-prosperous urban areas and developing countries. “This is an important point in recent economic history because of the outcome of various elections in very important countries that have reflected an anti-trade, anti-openness feeling,” he said.

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Fuhget about it.

Obama Says World Leaders Want To Move Forward With TPP (AFP)

US President Barack Obama said Sunday that leaders from across the Asia-Pacific have decided to move ahead with a trade deal opposed by his successor Donald Trump. “Our partners made clear they want to move forward with TPP,” Obama said at a press conference after meeting leaders in Peru. “They would like to move forward with the United States.” It is unclear whether there is any future for the TPP, a vast, arduously negotiated agreement between 12 countries that are currently at different stages of ratifying it. It does not include China. Trump campaigned against the proposal as a “terrible deal” that would “rape” the United States by sending American jobs to countries with cheaper labor.

The agreement must by ratified in the US Congress – which will remain in the hands of Trump’s Republican allies when the billionaire mogul takes office on January 20. Without the United States, it cannot be implemented in its current form. However, some have suggested Trump could negotiate a number of changes and then claim credit for turning the deal around. Obama defended the increasing integration of the global economy at the close of his final foreign visit as president – a trade summit held against the backdrop of rising protectionist sentiment in the United States and Europe, seen in both Trump’s win and Britain’s “Brexit” vote. He said that “historic gains in prosperity” thanks to globalization had been muddied by a growing gap “between the rich and everyone else.” “That can reverberate through our politics,” he said.

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Jim Quinn’s longtime series on the Fourth Turning continues. A problem might be that you can’t really know who’s who until afterwards. Maybe Mike Pence will turn out to be the real grey champion, or someone as yet unknown.

The Grey Champion Assumes Command – Part 1 (Quinn)

In September 2015 I wrote a five part article called Fourth Turning: Crisis of Trust. In Part 2 of that article I pondered who might emerge as the Grey Champion, leading the country during the second half of this Fourth Turning Crisis. I had the above pictures of Franklin, Lincoln, and FDR, along with a flaming question mark. The question has been answered. Donald J. Trump is the Grey Champion. When I wrote that article, only one GOP debate had taken place. There were eleven more to go. Trump was viewed by the establishment as a joke, ridiculed by the propaganda media, and disdained by the GOP and Democrats. I was still skeptical of his seriousness and desire to go the distance, but I attempted to view his candidacy through the lens of the Fourth Turning. I was convinced the mood of the country turning against the establishment could lead to his elevation to the presidency. I was definitely in the minority at the time:

“Until three months ago the 2016 presidential election was in control of the establishment. The Party was putting forth their chosen crony capitalist figureheads – Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. They are hand-picked known controllable entities who will not upset the existing corrupt system. They are equally acceptable to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, the military industrial complex, the sickcare industry, mega-corporate America, the moneyed interests, and the never changing government apparatchiks. The one party system is designed to give the appearance of choice, while in reality there is no difference between the policies of the two heads of one party and their candidate products. But now Donald Trump has stormed onto the scene from the reality TV world to tell the establishment – You’re Fired!!!”

Strauss and Howe wrote their prophetic tome two decades ago. [..] They did not know which events or which people would catalyze this Fourth Turning. But they knew the mood change in the country would be driven by the predictable generational alignment which occurs every eighty years. “Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug of war. This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning

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“This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making.”

The Silver Lining In This Disaster: Clinton & Co Are Finally Gone (G.)

Hillary Clinton has given us back our freedom. Only such a crushing defeat could break the chains that bound us to the New Democrat elites. The defeat was the result of decades of moving the Democratic party – the party of FDR – away from what it once was and should have remained: a party that represents workers. All workers. For three decades they have kept us in line with threats of a Republican monster-president should we stay home on election day. Election day has come and passed, and many did stay home. And instead of bowing out gracefully and accepting responsibility for their defeat, they have already started blaming it largely on racist hordes of rural Americans. That explanation conveniently shifts blame away from themselves, and avoids any tough questions about where the party has failed.

In a capitalist democracy, the party of the left has one essential reason for existing: to speak for the working class. Capitalist democracies have tended towards two major parties. One, which acts in the interest of the capitalist class – the business owners, the entrepreneurs, the professionals – ensuring their efforts and the risks they took were fairly rewarded. The other party represented workers, unions and later on other groups that made up the working class, including women and oppressed minorities. This delicate balance ended in the 1990s. Many blame Reagan and Thatcher for destroying unions and unfettering corporations. I don’t. In the 1990s, a New Left arose in the English-speaking world: Bill Clinton’s New Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour. Instead of a balancing act, Clinton and Blair presided over an equally aggressive “new centrist” dismantling of the laws that protected workers and the poor.

[..] .. let us be as clear about this electoral defeat as possible, because the New Democratic elite will try to pin their failure, and keep their jobs, by blaming this largely on racism, sexism – and FBI director Comey. This is an extremely dangerous conclusion to draw from this election. So here is our silver lining. This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making. And their failure is our chance to regroup. To clean house in the Democratic party, to retire the old elite and to empower a new generation of FDR Democrats, who look out for the working class – the whole working class.

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What happens when you think the economy means the rich.

Disaffected Rust Belt Voters Embraced Trump. They Had No Other Hope (G.)

The industrial midwest is the vast sweep, from western Pennsylvania through eastern Iowa, that drove the American economy for nearly a century. The great industrial cities, such as Chicago and Detroit, led the way, but it spread into hundreds of small towns and cities – from the steel mills of Ohio to the auto parts factories of Michigan and Wisconsin and the appliance makers of Iowa and Illinois. This was Hillary Clinton’s blue wall, the states she had to win to become president. Of the 11 swing states that decided the election, five – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa – lie in this battered old industrial heartland. If, as expected, Trump’s lead in Michigan holds, she lost them all. How did it happen? There are many reasons. The Clinton team barely campaigned there and in Wisconsin until it was too late.

Misogyny played a role. So did Clinton’s personal unpopularity and the relatively low turnout. But the real reason is that the industrial era created this region and gave a good middle-class way of life to the people who worked there. That economy began to vanish 40 years ago, moving first to the sun belt and then Mexico, before finally China. The good jobs that were left increasingly went to robots. Factories closed. So did the stores and bars and schools around them. The brightest kids fled to universities and then to the cities – to New York or Chicago or the state capital. Those left behind worked two or three non-union jobs just to stay afloat. Families broke up. Drug use increased. Life spans shortened. And nobody seemed to care – until Trump. But does he really? Who knows? He said he did.

His tirades – against trade, against elites, against Obamacare, against immigrants, against the Clintons – sounded like unhinged rants in cities and on campuses, which never took him seriously. In the old industrial zones and withering farm towns, he echoed their own resentments. Mitt Romney couldn’t do this; neither could John McCain. But Trump did, and so they embraced him. Why was this such a surprise? It’s impossible to overstate the alienation between the two Americas, between the global citizens and the global left-behinds, between the great cities that run the nation’s economy and media, and the hinterland that feels not only cheated but, worse, disrespected.

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Tsipras goes from one blunder to the next. Still, as long as he’s there, the streets are quiet, amazingly quiet for a society that’s under such economic fire. But he is soon going to be voted out in favor of someone, anyone, who will then see things get much worse in the streets. A smouldering powder keg.

Tsipras Ready To Give In On Labor Reform To Ensure Debt Relief (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is prepared to make further concessions to Greece’s creditors in tough negotiations that are currently under way to ensure that there is no delay in launching crucial talks on relief for the country’s debt burden, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, Tsipras and his key ministers are ready to give in to calls by foreign auditors for more flexibility in the crucial area of labor laws. The government has already agreed to put off its demands for the restoration of collective wage bargaining, a key pledge of leftist SYRIZA before it came to power last year. It is unclear to what degree the Greek side is willing to concede on other issues – such as calls by foreign officials for facilitating mass layoffs for struggling employers and making it harder for unions to call strikes.

A source at the Labor Ministry said over the weekend that the Greek side has submitted its proposals for changes to labor laws and is awaiting the reaction of foreign officials. Tsipras is said to be set on a strategy of withdrawal despite the risks. The key danger is that cohesion in the ranks of leftist SYRIZA, which has already been tested by a series of concessions to foreign creditors, is further compromised, weakening the beleaguered coalition. The other risk is that the further concessions may boost the lead of conservative New Democracy over SYRIZA in opinion polls, which is already significant, thereby enhancing the sense that SYRIZA’s coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks is on its way out.

Read more …

Aug 102016
 August 10, 2016  Posted by at 2:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  

Dorothea Lange Youngest little girl of motherless family 1939


We can, every single one of us, agree that we’re either in or just past a -financial- crisis. But that seems to be all we can agree on. Because some call it the GFC, others a recession, and still others a depression. And some insist on seeing it as ‘in the past’, and solved, while others see it as a continuing issue.

I personally have the idea that if you think central banks -and perhaps governments- have the ability and the tools to prevent or cure financial crises, you’re in the more optimistic camp. And if you don’t, you’re a pessimist. A third option might be to think that no matter what central bankers do, things will solve themselves, but I don’t see much of that being floated. Not anymore.

What I do see are countless numbers of bankers and economists and pundits and reporters holding up high the concept of globalization (a.k.a. free trade, Open Society) as the savior of mankind and its economy.

And I’m thinking that no matter how great you think the entire centralization issue is, be it global or on a more moderate scale, it’s a lost case. Because centralization dies the moment it can no longer show obvious benefits for people and societies ‘being centralized’. Unless you’re talking a dictatorship.

This is because when you centralize, when you make people, communities, societies, countries, subject to -the authority of- larger entities, they will want something in return for what they give up. They will only accept that some ‘higher power’ located further away from where they live takes decisions on their behalf, if they benefit from these decisions.

And that in turn is only possible when there is growth, i.e. when the entire system is expanding. Obviously, it’s possible also to achieve this only in selected parts of the system, as long as if you’re willing to squeeze other parts. That’s what we see in Europe today, where Germany and Holland live the high life while Greece and Italy get poorer by the day. But that can’t and won’t last. Of necessity. It’s an inbuilt feature.

Schäuble and Dijsselbloem squeezed Greece so hard they could only convince it to stay inside the EU by threatening to strangle it to -near- death. Problem is, they then actually did that. Bad mistake, and the end of the EU down the road. Because the EU has nothing left of the advantages of the centralized power; it no longer has any benefits on offer for the periphery.

Instead, the ‘Union’ needs to squeeze the periphery to hold the center together. Otherwise, the center cannot hold. And that is something those of us with even just a remote sense of history recognize all too well. It reminds us of the latter days of the Roman Empire. And Rome is merely the most obvious example. What we see play out is a regurgitation of something the world has seen countless times before. The Maximum Power Principle in all its shining luster. And the endgame is the Barbarians will come rushing in…

Still, while I have my own interests in Greece, which seems to be turning into my third home country, it would be a mistake to focus on its case alone. Greece is just a symptom. Greece is merely an early sign that globalization as a model is going going gone.

Obviously, centralists/globalists, especially in Europe, try to tell us the country is an exception, and Greeks were terribly irresponsible and all that, but that will no longer fly. Not when, just to name a very real possibility, either some of Italy’s banks go belly up or the upcoming Italian constitutional referendum goes against the EU-friendly government. And while the Beautiful Brexit, at the very opposite point of the old continent, is a big flashing loud siren red buoy that makes that exact point, it’s merely the first such buoy.

But Europe is not the world. Greece and Britain and Italy may be sure signs that the EU is falling apart, but they’re not the entire globe. At the same time, the Union is a pivotal part of that globe, certainly when it comes to trade. And it’s based very much on the idea(l) of centralization of power, economics, finance, even culture. Unfortunately (?!), the entire notion depends on continuing economic growth, and growth has left the building.



Centralization/Globalization is the only ideology/religion that we have left, but it has one inbuilt weakness that dooms it as a system if not as an ideology. That is, it cannot exist without forever expanding, it needs perpetual growth or it must die. But if/when you want to, whether you’re an economist or a policy maker, develop policies for the future, you have to at least consider the possibility, and discuss it too, that there is no way back to ‘healthy’ growth. Or else we can just hire a parrot to take your place.

So here’s a few graphs that show us where global trade, the central and pivotal point of globalization, is going. Note that globalization can only continue to exist while trade, profits, benefits, keep growing. Once they no longer do, it will go into reverse (again, bar a dictator):

Here’s Japan’s exports and imports. Note the past 20 months:



Japan’s imports have been down, in the double digits, for close to 3 years?!

Next: China’s exports and imports. Not the exact same thing, but an obvious pattern.



If only imports OR exports were going down for specific countries, that’d be one thing. But for both China and Japan, in the graphs above, both are plunging. Let’s turn to the US:



Pattern: US imports from China have been falling over the past year (or even more over 5 years, take your pick), and not a little bit.



And imports from the EU show the same pattern in an almost eerily similar way.

Question then is: what about US exports, do they follow the same fold that Japan and China do? Yup! They do.



And that’s not all either. This one’s from the NY Times a few days ago:



And this one from last year, forgot where I got it from:



Now, you may want to argue that all this is temporary, that some kind of cycle is just around the corner and will revive the economy, and globalization. By now I’d be curious to see how anyone would want to make that case, but given the religious character of the centralization idea, there’s no doubt many would want to give it a go.

Most of the trends in the graphs above have been declining for 5 years or so. While at the same time the central banks in these countries have been accelerating their stimulus policies in ways no-one could even imagine they would -or could- just 10 years ago.

All of the untold trillions in stimulus haven’t been able to lift the real economy one bit. They instead caused a rise in asset prices, stocks, housing, that is actually hurting that real economy. While NIRP and ZIRP are murdering 95% of the people’s hope to retire when they thought they could, or ever, for that matter.

No, it’s a done deal. Globalization is pining for the fjords. But because it’s become such a religion, and because its high priests have so much invested in it, it’ll be hard to kill it off even just as an -abstract- idea. I’d say wherever you live and whenever your next election is, don’t vote for anyone who promotes any centralization ideas. Or growth. Because those ideas are all in some state of decomposing, and hence whoever promotes them is a zombie.



Lastly, The Economist had a piece on July 30 cheerleading for both Hillary Clinton and ‘Open Society’, a term which somehow -presumably because it sounds real jolly- has become synonymous with globalization. As if your society will be hermetically sealed off if you want to step on the brakes even just a little when it comes to ever more centralization and globalization.

The boys at Saxo Bank, Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen, commented on the Economist piece, and they have some good points:

Priced Out Of The ‘Open Society’

[..] The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.

That’s the center vs periphery issue all empires run into. US, EU, and all the supra-national organizations, IMF, World Bank, NATO, (EU itself), etc, they’ve established. None of that will remain once the benefits for the periphery stop. McKenna is on to this:

It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.

I’d venture that the elites were always distant from the people, but as long as the people saw their wealth grow they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?

Here I have to part ways with Steen (and Mike). Why do ‘we’ need to be more productive? Why do we need to produce more? Who says we don’t produce enough? When we look around us, what is it that tells us we should make more, and buy more, and want more? Is there really such a thing as “healthy wage growth”? And what says that we need “GDP expansion”?

Most people do not spend a great deal of time imagining ideal economic and political systems. Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family, and to feel as if their leaders are doing all they can to enable such a situation. What matters are the data, and if these are not made to become more encouraging, calls for this particular empire’s downfall will come with the same fervour and the same increasing frequency that they have throughout history.

The problem is not that people are choosing the wrong system, it is that they are unhappy enough to want to change course at all. Unless the developed world can find a way to reform itself out of its present malaise, no amount of media-class vituperation over xenophobia, insularity or “the uneducated” will be sufficient to turn the tide.

McKenna answers my question, unwillingly or not. Because, no, ‘Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family..’ is not the same as “they want GDP expansion”, no matter how you phrase it. That’s just an idea. For all we know, the truth may be the exact opposite. The neverending quest for GDP expansion may be the very thing that prevents people from living “satisfying lives among their friends and family”.

How many people see the satisfaction in their lives destroyed by the very rat race they’re in? Moreover, how many see their satisfaction destroyed by being on the losing end of that quest? And how many simply by the demands it puts on them?

The connection between “satisfying lives” and “GDP expansion” is one made by economists, bankers, politicians and other voices driven by ideologies such as globalization. Whether your life is satisfying or not is not somehow one-on-one dependent on GDP expansion. That idea is not only ideological, it’s as stupid as it is dangerous.

And it’s silly too. Most westerners don’t need more stuff. They need more “satisfying lives among their friends and family”. But they’re stuck on a treadmill. If you want to give your kids decent health care and education anno 2016, you better keep running to stand still.

Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen seem to understand exactly what the problem is. But they don’t have the answer. Steen thinks it is about ‘more productivity’.

And I think that may well be the problem, not the solution. I also think it’s no use wanting more productivity, because the economic model we’re chasing is dead and gone. A zombie pushing up the daisies.

But since it’s the only one we have, and even smart people like the Saxo Bank guys can’t see beyond it, it seems obvious that getting rid of the zombie idea may take a lot of sweat and tears and, especially, blood.



Aug 082016
 August 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  

NPC Dr. H.W. Evans, Imperial Wizard 1925

The US Market Has Been And Remains Today, The Last Ponzi Game Standing (Adler)
Priced Out Of The ‘Open Society’ (McKenna)
Shrinking Imports And Exports—A Far More Meaningful Counterpoint To BLS (Alh.)
China’s July Exports, Imports Fall More Than Expected (R.)
China Crude Imports Fall to 6-Month Low, Fuel Exports Surge (BBG)
China’s Great River of Steel Swells as Trade Tensions Build (BBG)
Draghi Jumps Brexit Hurdle to Find Oil Damping Price Outlook (BBG)
Bond Market’s Big Illusion Revealed as US Yields Turn Negative (BBG)
China’s Marshall Plan (BBG)
Earnings Beats Are Concealing Bad Results (MW)
We’re in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here? (NYT)
Musical Chairs in a Depression (Thomas)



Great piece from Lee Adler. “It’s abstract impressionism. It’s a joke.”

The US Market Has Been And Remains Today, The Last Ponzi Game Standing (Adler)

I’m not here to argue whether the July report was lousy or not. The US economy may well be spawning big numbers of crappy low paying jobs. Withholding tax collections were huge in the last 4 weeks of July. We know that that didn’t come from big wage gains by existing workers. They’re running at about a 2.5% annual growth rate. So when tax collections increase by a significant margin over a similar period a year ago, it suggests that there were new jobs, maybe a lot of them. I’m also not here to argue that the headline number bears any semblance of reality. The headline number is the seasonally adjusted month to month gain in the estimated number of jobs. The whole process of seasonal adjustment is a bogus attempt to smooth a jagged trend with peaks and valleys into a continuous modified moving average.

The number is a fiction. Because it’s based on a moving average it has a built in lag, for which statisticians try to compensate with a bunch of statistical hocus pocus. That includes constantly revising the number based first on subsequent surveys, and then on benchmarking the data with actual tax collections in the 5 subsequent years. Not only is the number revised twice after the first month it’s issued, but it’s then fit to the curve of actuality for the next 5 years until the reading is finalized. July’s reading won’t be final until July 2021. The process is really “seasonal finagling.” It’s abstract impressionism. It’s a joke. What I have come to argue here is that the not seasonally adjusted (NSA) numbers, which I have always relied upon in my analysis of the jobs trend, is probably also a joke.

Look at this chart. Do those railroad tracks look like the real world to you, or are these some kind of computer generated auto-numbers that merely make a pretense of reality. Law of Large Numbers or not, I have never seen any other economic series behave with such regularity. This is a joke, a farce, a sham. But it doesn’t matter because the economy doesn’t matter. The world’s central banks have attempted, and largely succeeded, in rigging the financial markets. One of the consequences, intended or unintended, is that the bulk of the benefit of that rigging flows to the US financial markets. That has been so been since 2009. The US market has been and remains today, the Last Ponzi Game Standing. All roads lead to the US.

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Saxo Bank’s Mike McKenna comments on an Economist cheerleading piece on ‘Open Society’, which somehow -presumably because it sounds positive- has become synonymous to globalization. McKenna’s conclusion: the world can’t afford globalization. Which is what I’ve been saying: without growth there can be no centralization. The Saxo boys seem to think that a return to growth is still possible/desirable. I think not.

Priced Out Of The ‘Open Society’ (McKenna)

The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.

It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.

“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?

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Globalization crashing head first into its inherent limits.

Shrinking Imports And Exports—A Far More Meaningful Counterpoint To BLS (Alh.)

In the first six months of 2005, the US imported 27.2% more in Chinese goods than the first six months of 2004, and that was 28.8% more than the first six months of 2003. In the first six months of 2016, the US imported 6.5% less than the first six months of 2015, itself only 6.1% more than the first six months of 2014. The US actually imported slightly less from China so far this year than two years ago.

As we know very well from US production levels it’s not as if some native “buy American” grassroots opposition has successfully convinced American buyers to ditch the cheaper Chinese alternatives, redistributing “strong” consumer spending toward American products. There is much less goods being produced and traded with and within the United States – alarmingly so. Further, as you can see above and below, the timing of this most recent change from plain weakness to dangerous weakness is significant.

Starting September 2015, meaning dating back to August, US imports from China have dropped off a cliff. While year-over-year growth was slightly positive in September, it has been negative in every month since except February 2016 and that was due to calendar effects here and holiday weeks there (and was easily wiped out by the massive contraction in March). The mainstream reading of the payroll reports up to that point indicated that US demand would and should be nothing but strong. Instead, it has been much worse than it already was.

It isn’t just China that is feeling the increasing absenteeism of the US consumer. US imports from Europe contracted for the third straight month, where the -1.8% 6-month average is the lowest since 2010 and the initial recovery from the Great Recession. Imports from Japan were up for the first time in three months, but overall for the first half of 2016 are down nearly 5% in total.

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But that’s only due to who does the ‘expecting’.

China’s July Exports, Imports Fall More Than Expected (R.)

China’s exports and imports fell more than expected in July in a rocky start to the third quarter, suggesting global demand remains weak in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Exports fell 4.4% from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said on Monday, while adding that it expects pressure on exports is likely to ease at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Imports fell 12.5% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since February, suggesting domestic demand remains sluggish despite a flurry of measures to stimulate growth. That resulted in a trade surplus of $52.31 billion in July, versus a $47.6 billion forecast and June’s $48.11 billion.

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Trying to keep the teapots alive…

China Crude Imports Fall to 6-Month Low, Fuel Exports Surge (BBG)

China’s crude imports fell to the lowest level in six months as demand from independent refineries eased. Net fuel exports surged to a record. The world’s biggest energy user imported 31.07 million metric tons of crude in July, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Monday. That’s about 7.35 million barrels a day, the slowest pace since January. Meanwhile, net fuel exports jumped to 2.49 million tons last month.

The nation’s appetite for overseas crude, which increased 14% in the first half year from the same period of 2015, may be weaker in the near term as insufficient infrastructure and scheduled maintenance at some independent refiners will likely hinder their crude purchases, BMI Research said in a report dated Aug. 4. “Teapots’ crude buying has slowed in the third quarter amid maintenance,” Amy Sun, an analyst with ICIS China, said before data were released. “Some plants have also seen their crude-import quotas filling up.”

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They have no intention of halting this either.

China’s Great River of Steel Swells as Trade Tensions Build (BBG)

There’s a river of steel flooding from China despite the best efforts of governments around the world to dam the flow from the world’s top producer, with data on Monday showing that overseas shipments held above 10 million tons in July. Sales increased 5.8% on-year to 10.3 million metric tons last month, compared with 10.9 million tons in June, according to China’s customs administration. Exports in the first seven months expanded 8.5% to 67.4 million tons, a record volume for the period. That’s in line with what South Korea, the world’s sixth-largest producer in 2015, makes in an entire year.

The robust export showing by China’s mills contrasts with the country’s broader performance last month, which fell in dollar terms, and risks further stoking trade tensions with partners from India to Europe after they imposed curbs to keep out the alloy. Premier Li Keqiang has defended the country’s growing presence in overseas steel markets, saying last month that overcapacity isn’t the fault of a single country. “Orders from abroad have held up relatively well as steelmakers in China have a cost advantage,” Dang Man, an analyst at Maike Futures Co. in Xi’an, said before the data. “Attention is still on global trade friction as the number of cases against Chinese exports is quite large.”

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The graph illustrates one thing alright. Food, Alcohol and Tobacco prices rise only because of taxes. That suggests governments could get rid of deflation just by raising taxes. Which, really, is nonsense. Therefore, so is the graph and the methodology it is based on. Rising prices don’t equal inflation.

Draghi Jumps Brexit Hurdle to Find Oil Damping Price Outlook (BBG)

Whenever Mario Draghi clears a hurdle on his path to higher inflation, a new one appears. Just as the 19-nation economy sends encouraging signals that challenges from Brexit to terrorism won’t derail the modest recovery, a new decline in oil prices is casting a shadow over an expected pick-up in inflation. With growth not strong enough to generate price pressures, the ECB president may have to revise his outlook yet again. Inflation remains far below the ECB’s 2% goal after more than two years of unprecedented stimulus and isn’t seen reaching it before 2018.

Staff will begin to draw up fresh forecasts in mid-August, and while officials are in no rush to adjust or expand their €1.7 trillion quantitative-easing plan in September, economists predict Draghi will have to ease policy before the end of the year. “Now that the euro-area economy seems to have shrugged off the Brexit vote, focus will again shift on inflation, against the background of those negative news from oil prices,” said Johannes Gareis, an economist at Natixis in Frankfurt. “Yes, the ECB has managed to dispel deflation fears, but all the uncertainty means inflation will stay lower for longer – and Draghi will have to take notice.”

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Maybe Zimbabwe bonds still offer some yield?

Bond Market’s Big Illusion Revealed as US Yields Turn Negative (BBG)

For Kaoru Sekiai, getting steady returns for his pension clients in Japan used to be simple: buy U.S. Treasuries. Compared with his low-risk options at home, like Japanese government bonds, Treasuries have long offered the highest yields around. And that’s been the case even after accounting for the cost to hedge against the dollar’s ups and downs – a common practice for institutions that invest internationally. It’s been a “no-brainer since forever,” said Sekiai, a money manager at Tokyo-based DIAM. That truism is now a thing of the past. Last month, yields on U.S. 10-year notes turned negative for Japanese buyers who pay to eliminate currency fluctuations from their returns, something that hasn’t happened since the financial crisis.

It’s even worse for euro-based investors, who are locking in sub-zero returns on Treasuries for the first time in history. That quirk means the longstanding notion of the U.S. as a respite from negative yields in Japan and Europe is little more than an illusion. With everyone from Jeffrey Gundlach to Bill Gross warning of a bubble in bonds, it could ultimately upend the record foreign demand for Treasuries, which has underpinned their seemingly unstoppable gains in recent years. “People like a simple narrative,” said Jeffrey Rosenberg at BlackRock. “But there isn’t a free lunch. You can’t simply talk about yield differentials without talking about currency differentials.”

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Imagine the enormous amounts of debt that would be involved in this. Then look at China’s current debt. Then draw your conclusions. More globalization nonsense. The next Chinese bubble.

China’s Marshall Plan (BBG)

China’s ambition to revive an ancient trading route stretching from Asia to Europe could leave an economic legacy bigger than the Marshall Plan or the EU’s enlargement, according to a new analysis. Dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road,’ the plan to build rail, highways and ports will embolden China’s soft power status by spreading economic prosperity during a time of heightened political uncertainty in both the U.S. and EU, according to Stephen L. Jen, CEO at Eurizon SLJ Capital, who estimates a value of $1.4 trillion for the project. It will also boost trading links and help internationalize the yuan as banks open branches along the route, according to Jen.

“This is a quintessential example of a geopolitical event that will likely be consequential for the global economy and the balance of political power in the long run,” said Jen, a former IMF economist. Reaching from east to west, the Silk Road Economic Belt will extend to Europe through Central Asia and the Maritime Silk Road will link sea lanes to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. While China’s authorities aren’t calling their Silk Road a new Marshall Plan, that’s not stopping comparisons with the U.S. effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. With the potential to touch on 64 countries, 4.4 billion people and around 40% of the global economy, Jen estimates that the One Belt One Road project will be 12 times bigger in absolute dollar terms than the Marshall Plan.

China may spend as much as 9% of GDP – about double the U.S.’s boost to post-war Europe in those terms. “The One Belt One Road Project, in terms of its size, could be multiple times larger and more ambitious than the Marshall Plan or the European enlargement,” said Jen. It’s not all upside. Undertaking an expansive plan like this one will inevitably run the risk of corruption, project delays and local opposition. Chinese backed projects have frequently run into trouble before, especially in Africa, and there’s no guarantee that potential recipient nations will put their hand up for the aid. In addition, resurrecting the trading route will need funding during a time of slowing growth and rising bad loans in the nation’s banks. Sending money abroad when it’s needed at home may not have an enduring appeal.

Still, at least China has a plan. “The fact that this is a 30-40 year plan is remarkable as China is the only country with any long-term development plan, and this underscores the policy long-termism in China, in contrast to the dominance of policy short-termism in much of the West,” said Jen. And that’s a win-win for soft power. “The One Belt One Road Project could be a huge PR exercise that could win over government and public support in these countries,” he said.

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“The beat on earnings is due at least in part to negative earnings revisions heading into earnings season, similar to what we have seen for the last 29 quarters..”

Earnings Beats Are Concealing Bad Results (MW)

Investors shouldn’t be fooled by this season’s “better-than-expected” earnings—they are still pretty bad. With nearly 90% of the S&P 500 companies having reported second-quarter results through Friday morning (437 out of 505), aggregate earnings-per-share for the group are on course to decline 3.5% from a year ago, according to FactSet. Many Wall Street strategists are pleased, because that is a lot better than expectations of a 5.5% decline on June 30, just before earnings reporting season kicked off. So are investors, as the S&P and Nasdaq Composite Index closed in record territory Friday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed less than 0.3% away. But that is like saying you should be happy with the “D” you got, because it would really be a “B” if the teacher changed the scale to grade on a curve.

“The beat on earnings is due at least in part to negative earnings revisions heading into earnings season, similar to what we have seen for the last 29 quarters with aggregate upside to expectations,” Morgan Stanley equity strategists wrote in a recent note to clients. Earnings might be beating lowered expectations, but they are still worse than the aggregate FactSet consensus of a 3.1% decline at the end of the first quarter on March 31. It also means S&P 500 earnings will suffer the fifth-straight quarter of year-over-year declines, the longest such streak since the five-quarter stretch from the third quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2009, the heart of the Great Recession.

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By fooling ourselves into thinking we’d never get there again?

We’re in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here? (NYT)

One central fact about the global economy lurks just beneath the year’s remarkable headlines: Economic growth in advanced nations has been weaker for longer than it has been in the lifetime of most people on earth. The United States is adding jobs at a healthy clip, as a new report showed Friday, and the unemployment rate is relatively low. But that is happening despite a long-term trend of much lower growth, both in the United States and other advanced nations, than was evident for most of the post-World War II era. This trend helps explain why incomes have risen so slowly since the turn of the century, especially for those who are not top earners. It is behind the cheap gasoline you put in the car and the ultralow interest rates you earn on your savings.

It is crucial to understanding the rise of Donald J. Trump, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and the rise of populist movements across Europe. This slow growth is not some new phenomenon, but rather the way it has been for 15 years and counting. In the United States, per-person gross domestic product rose by an average of 2.2% a year from 1947 through 2000 — but starting in 2001 has averaged only 0.9%. The economies of Western Europe and Japan have done worse than that. Over long periods, that shift implies a radically slower improvement in living standards. In the year 2000, per-person G.D.P. — which generally tracks with the average American’s income — was about $45,000.

But if growth in the second half of the 20th century had been as weak as it has been since then, that number would have been only about $20,000. To make matters worse, fewer and fewer people are seeing the spoils of what growth there is. According to a new analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, 81% of the United States population is in an income bracket with flat or declining income over the last decade. That number was 97% in Italy, 70% in Britain, and 63% in France.

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“Since 2007, the world has been in an unacknowledged depression.”

Musical Chairs in a Depression (Thomas)

Economics is a bit like musical chairs. In a recession, the economy takes a hit and there are some casualties. Some players fail to get a chair in time and are out of the game. The game then goes on without them. The economy eventually recovers. But a depression is a different game entirely. Since 2007, the world has been in an unacknowledged depression. A depression is like a game of musical chairs in which ten children are walking around, but suddenly nine of the chairs are taken away. This means that nine of the children will soon be out of the game. But it also means that all ten understand that the odds of them remaining in the game are quite slim and that desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s time to toss out the rule book and do whatever you have to, to get the one remaining chair.

Of course, the pundits officially deny that we have even been in a depression. They regularly describe the world as “in recovery from the 2008–2010 recession,” but the “shovel-ready jobs” that are “on the way” never quite materialize. The “green shoots” never seem to blossom. So, what’s going on here? Depressions do not occur all at once. It takes time for them to bottom and, if an economy is propped up through economic heroin (debt), the Big Crash can be a long time in coming. In that regard, this one is one for the record books. As Doug Casey is fond of saying, a depression is like a hurricane. First there are the initial crashes, then a calm as the eye of the hurricane passes over, then, we enter the trailing edge of the other side of the hurricane.

This is the time when things really get rough—when even the politicians will start using the dreaded “D” word. We have entered that final stage, as the economic symptoms demonstrate, and this is the time when the game of musical chairs will evolve into something quite a bit nastier. In normal economic times, even including recession periods, we observe financial institutions maintaining their staunchly conservative image. For the most part, they deliver as promised. But, as we move into the trailing edge of the second half of the hurricane, we notice more and more that the bankers are rewriting the rule book in order to take possession of the wealth that they previously held in trust for their depositors.

And they don’t do this in isolation. They do it with the aid of the governments of the day. New laws are written in advance of the crisis period to assure that the banks can plunder the deposits with impunity. Since 2010, such laws have been passed in the EU, the US, Canada and other jurisdictions. Trial balloons have been sent up to ascertain to what degree they will get away with their freezes and confiscations. Greece has been an excellent trial balloon for the freezes and Cyprus has done the same for the confiscations. The world is now as ready as it’s going to be for the game to be played on an international level.

So what will it look like, this game of musical chairs on steroids? Well, first we’ll see the sudden crashes of markets and/or defaults on debts. Shortly thereafter, one Monday morning (or more likely one Tuesday after a long weekend) the financial institutions will fail to open their doors. The media will announce a “temporary state of emergency” during which the governments and banks must resolve some difficulties in order to “assure a continued sound economy.” Until that time, the banks will either remain shut, or will process only small transactions.

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Oct 222015
 October 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  

LIFE Freedom in peril 1941

Whenever we at the Automatic Earth explain, as we must have done at least a hundred times in our existence, that, and why, we refuse to define inflation and deflation as rising or falling prices (only), we always get a lot of comments and reactions implying that people either don’t understand why, or they think it’s silly to use a definition that nobody else seems to use.

-More or less- recent events, though, show us once more why we’re right to insist on inflation being defined in terms of the interaction of money-plus-credit supply with money velocity (aka spending). We’re right because the price rises/falls we see today are but a delayed, lagging, consequence of what deflation truly is, they are not deflation itself. Deflation itself has long begun, but because of confusing -if not conflicting- definitions, hardly a soul recognizes it for what it is.

Moreover, the role the money supply plays in that interaction gets smaller, fast, as debt, in the guise of overindebtedness, forces various players in the global economy, from consumers to companies to governments, to cut down on spending, and heavily. We are as we speak witnessing a momentous debt deleveraging, or debt deflation, in real time, even if prices don’t yet reflect that. Consumer prices truly are but lagging indicators.

The overarching problem with all this is that if you look just at -consumer- price movements to define inflation or deflation, you will find it impossible to understand what goes on. First, if you wait until prices fall to recognize deflation, you will tend to ignore the deflationary moves that are already underway but have not yet caused prices to drop. Second, when prices finally start falling, you will have missed out on the reason why they do, because that reason has started to build way before a price fall.

A different, but useful, way to define -debt- deflation comes from Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng in a September 24 piece at Project Syndicate, China in the Debt-Deflation Trap:

The debt-deflation cycle begins with an imbalance or displacement, which fuels excessive exuberance, over-borrowing, and speculative trading, and ends in bust, with procyclical liquidation of excess capacity and debt causing price deflation, unemployment, and economic stagnation.

That’s of course just an expensive way of saying that after a debt bubble must come a hangover. And how anyone can even attempt to deny we’re in a gigantic debt bubble is hard to understand. Our entire economic system is propped up, if not built up, by debt.

The mention of the excess capacity that has been constructed is useful, but we’re not happy with ‘price deflation’, since that threatens to confuse people’s understanding, the same way terms like ‘consumer deflation’ or ‘wage inflation’ do.

Central banks can postpone the deflation of a gigantic debt bubble like the one we’re in, but only temporarily and at a huge cost. And it looks like we’ve now reached the point where they’re essentially powerless to do anything more, or else. We are inclined to point to August 24 as a pivotal point in this, the China crash where people lost faith in the Chinese central bank, but it doesn’t really matter, it would have happened anyway.

And today we’re up to our necks in deflation, and nobody seems to notice, or call it that. Likely because they’re all waiting for CPI consumer prices to fall.

But when you see that Chinese producer prices are down 5.9%, in the 43rd straight month of declines, and Chinese imports are down 20% (with Japan imports off 11%), don’t you hear a bell ringing? What does it take? If the dramatic fall in oil prices hasn’t done it either, how about steel? How about the tragedy British steel has been thrown in, how about the demise of Sinosteel even as China is dumping steel on world markets like there’s no tomorrow?

How about the reversal of funds that once flowed into emerging markets and are now flowing right back out?

Or how about major global banks, all of whom see their profits and earnings deplete, and many of whom are laying off staff by the thousands?

Wait, how about global wealth down by 5% since 2008 despite all the QE and ZIRP policies? And global trade off by -8.4% YoY?!

Here’s from Tyler Durden last week:

Credit Suisse’s latest global wealth outlook shows that dollar strength led to the first decline in total global wealth (which fell by $12.4 trillion to $250.1 trillion) since 2007-2008.

[..] from HSBC: “We are already in a global USD recession. Global trade is also declining at an alarming pace. According to the latest data available in June the year on year change is -8.4%. To find periods of equivalent declines we only really find recessionary periods. This is an interesting point. On one metric we are already in a recession. [..] global GDP expressed in US dollars is already negative to the tune of $1,37 trillion or -3.4%.

How about companies like Walmart and Glencore, just two of the many large entities that have large troubles? These are not individual cases, they are part of a global trend: deflation. As evidence also by the increase in US corporate downgrades and defaults:

Moody’s issued 108 credit-rating downgrades for U.S. nonfinancial companies, compared with just 40 upgrades. That’s the most downgrades in a two-month period since May and June 2009, the tail end of the last U.S. recession. Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. companies 297 times in the first nine months of the year…

Everything and everyone is overindebted. All of the above stats, and a million more, point to the beginning of a deleveraging of that debt, something that curiously enough hasn’t happened at all since the 2007/8 crisis. On the contrary, a massive amount of additional debt has been added to a global system already drowning in it. China alone added $20-15 trillion, and that kept up appearances.

But now China’s slowing down everywhere but in its official GDP numbers. And unless we build a base on the moon, there is no other country or region left that can take the place of China in propping up western debt extravaganza. This will come down.

The only way a system that looks like this could be kept running is by issuing more debt. But even that couldn’t keep it going forever. We all understand this. We just don’t know the correct terminology for what’s happening. Which is that debt that has been inflated to such extreme proportions, must lead to deflation, and do so in spectacular fashion.

As long as politicians and media keep talking about disinflation and central bank inflation targets, and all they talk actually about is consumer prices, we will all fail to acknowledge what’s happening right before our very eyes. That is, the system is imploding. Deflating. Deleveraging. And before that is done, there can and will be no recovery. Indeed, this current trend has a very long way to go down.

So far down that you will have a very hard time recognizing the world, and its economic system, on the other side of the process. But then again, you have a hard time recognizing the world for what it is on this side as well.

Jun 182014
 June 18, 2014  Posted by at 2:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle Jun 18 2014: Japan Is A Step Or Two Ahead Of Us

Jack Delano Troop train on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Grants, New Mexico March 1943

On June 11, exactly – only – a week ago, I wrote, in Japan Enters Financial Nowhere, about a new phase in Japan’s downfall, the demise of its famous savings surplus which had kept the worst of the worries about its economic reality somewhat at bay until recently.

When its economy crashed early 1990s Japan made one fatefully horrible decision: to not cleanse its banks of their debts, to do basically no defaults or restructuring. And this is the price they’re going to be paying for that decision: once there are no buyers for their cheap debt anymore, the fall will be deep, steep and fast. The rapidly ageing population will see their pension provisions plummet in value, and everyone will see taxes rise more than they can presently imagine just to keep a semblance of a government in place.

PM Shinzo Abe was elected in December 2012 and launched what soon became known as Abenomics almost immediately, It consists of three “arrows”: a giant increase in the money supply (though there was never a shortage), a huge increase in government spending, and “reform” measures, in particular a corporate tax cut. More on the latter below, I’d like to keep a chronological oder here..

A last(?!) desperate move by Abe is to be a massive switch from bonds to riskier assets by the $1.26 trillion Japan public fund GPIF, the worst largest pension fund. A move seemingly destined for failure, because the Bank of Japan has already killed off the market for government bonds by buying up everything. As David Stockman wrote, also on June 11:

Japan Pension Fund Plans Massive Bond Dump Into Dead Market

So this is how it works. Japan has the most massive public debt in the world relative to national income, but the implicit aim of Abenomics is to destroy the government bond market. After all, if inflation goes to 2% or higher, government bonds yielding 0.6% will experience thumbing losses. Even the robotic Japanese fund managers no longer want to hold the JGB – as evidenced by another session when no future contracts on either the 10-year or 20-year bond changed hands. [..] In effect, the BOJ is the bond market – that is, the buyer of first, last and only resort. [..] The implicit assumption is that the BOJ can ultimately buy all the bonds ever issued and the massive outpouring of new bonds yet to come.

On June 12, the Wall Street Journal ran this:

Bank of Japan Raises Export Hopes

The Bank of Japan raised its view on overseas economies Friday, building up hopes for a future pickup in exports that the central bank hopes will make the country’s domestically driven recovery more balanced and sustainable. Speaking after the bank left its monetary policy unchanged earlier in the day, BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said it was fair to expect a moderate increase in exports given improvements in the economic situation abroad. Touching on action taken by other banks, Mr. Kuroda also said he saw no reason for the yen to strengthen against the euro following the European Central Bank’s recent easing decision. Japan’s recovery has so far largely been driven by robust domestic demand, departing from the economy’s usual reliance on the nation’s strength as an export powerhouse.

But a brighter outlook for the global economy could raise hopes for exports finally gaining traction in the coming months, possibly mitigating a likely temporary downturn stemming from a sales tax increase in April. The economy grew at an annualized rate of 6.7% in the first quarter of the year, but private economists expect it to contract more than 4.0% in the current quarter as the higher tax takes its toll on consumption. While Mr. Kuroda said the pullback in consumption after the higher levy was “within the range of expectations,” he held out hopes for a rise in exports on the back of a gain in the global economy. “The U.S. economy will likely accelerate its growth and the Chinese economy is heading for stable growth as its downward shift comes to a halt ” Mr. Kuroda said at a news conference. Against this backdrop, “it is fair to expect Japan exports to increase moderately,” Mr. Kuroda added.

Clearly, Mr. Kuroda is either lying or dreaming. I’ll gladly leave the choice between the two to your discretion. But I think it would be good to note that Kuroda knows about China’s problems, and he knows US Q1 GDP growth was negative, so it’s not overly obvious what his reliance on growth elsewhere in the world is based on.

Then, Reuters reported on June 13 that:

Japan’s Abe Unveils Plan To Cut Corporate Tax Rate To Spur Growth

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a plan on Friday to cut the corporate tax rate below 30% in stages to help pull the economy out of two decades of sluggish growth and deflation. Investors have been scrutinising whether Japan can substantially lower the corporate tax rate – among the highest in the world – to spur growth in the world’s third-largest economy. Abe also needs to strike a delicate balance between stimulating growth and reining in snowballing public debt, twice the size of its $5 trillion economy. The corporate tax cut is a major issue to be included in the government’s key fiscal and economic policy outline, which will be finalised around June 27 along with a detailed “growth strategy” of structural reforms. “Japan’s corporate tax rate will change into one that promotes growth,” Abe told reporters, adding that he hoped the lower burden on companies would lead to job creation and an improvement also for private citizens.

While it’s true that Japan’s corporate tax rate is high, it’s just as true that Japan has the by far highest national debt among richer economies, and that therefore lower tax revenues may not only be no panacea, they may be a really bad idea. Abe could try to offset that with higher taxes on the population, but here’s thinking even he wouldn’t be that thick; for his plans to succeed even a little bit, he needs his people to spend more into the real economy, not on taxes. The April sales tax hike from 5% to 8% has been bad enough in that regard, so much so that step two of the hike to 10% next year has already come under heavy fire.

Today, the next blow in a by now long series is delivered through falling exports and imports numbers. Together, they may result in a shrinking trade deficit, but if the ultra-low yen we’ve seen since Abenomics took off (it lost 20% vs the US$) can’t even raise exports, what will happen now the lows are behind us?

Japan Exports Disappoint, Risks Hitting Economy Hard

Japan’s annual exports declined for the first time in 15 months in May as shipments to Asia and the United States fell, threatening to knock the economy hard at a time when domestic consumption is being crimped by a national sales tax increase. The data backs expectations for additional stimulus from the Bank of Japan in coming months, particularly if market confidence takes a hit as external demand proves elusive. “If exports fail to pick up while domestic demand stagnates, that would heighten calls for the BOJ to act,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

Total exports fell 2.7% in May on the year, Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday, compared with a 1.2% drop seen by economists and a 5.1% rise in April. On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports fell 1.2% in May from the prior month. The central bank is counting on exports growth to partially offset the impact of a sales tax hike to 8% from 5% in April, but the MOF data will be a worry for policy makers. Adding to the BOJ’s concerns over soft exports to Asia is the surprising weakness in shipments to the United States – Japan’s biggest export market – which suggests a recovery in advanced economies is slow to filter through to exporting firms.

This was underscored in Singapore’s exports for May, which unexpectedly fell on weak shipments to its key markets. The city-state’s non-oil domestic exports to the United States fell 8.8% in May from a year earlier, compared with 11.7% growth in April. In South Korea, exports to the U.S. rose 5.5% on-year, but that was much slower than April’s 19.3% jump. The MOF data showed Japan’s U.S.-bound exports fell 2.8%, the first drop in 17 months led by decline in car shipments, while exports to China rose 0.4% on-year. Exports to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s total exports, fell 3.4% in May from a year earlier, the first annual decline in 15 months.

Increases in exports are such a crucial part of Abenomics, it’s hard to overestimate their importance. Well, there are no increases, there are declines. To base one’s entire hopes and confidence of turning the world’s third largest economy around, on growth in the US, EU and China that doesn’t even exist, despite all the brouhaha about recovery that emanates from every media pore on a 24/7 basis, is a bet that the Japanese and their elected representatives should scrutinize until the entire onion has been peeled. Surely there are other options available, imaginable, than to recklessly add vastly more debt to an economy that’s already shouldering an until recently unthinkable load of it.

There comes a point when politicians basically put the lives and well being of their citizens on the line at a crap table in a dark and shady casino, pretending they’re still the ‘house’ while they’re not (they bet and lost the house). Japan and Abe are at that point. Savings rates have fallen through the bottom. Wages and spending have declined for years. Government bonds no longer trade, except when the Bank of Japan steps in. Today’s data make clear that exports won’t save the day, as other nations are mired in various stages of economic decline just as much and almost as deeply. In that light, and this is important to recognize, Japan is merely a step or two ahead of us other nations that live on debt and debt alone, and there’s no way it won’t schlepp us down all the more and all the more rapidly with it.

Great piece I overlooked on June 15.

The Coming ‘Tsunami Of Debt’ And Financial Crisis In America (Guardian)

According to research, sectors of the American economy are building to a bubble of parallel and possibly larger scope than the conditions preceding the 2008 financial crisis. Photograph: Tony O’Brien/Action Images The US Congressional Budget Office is projecting a continued economic recovery. So why look down the road – say, to 2017 – and worry? Here’s why: because the debt held by American households is rising ominously. And unless our economic policies change, that debt balloon, powered by radical income inequality, is going to become the next bust. Our macro models at the Levy Economics Institute are showing that the US economy is about to face a repeat of pre-crisis-style, debt-led growth, based on increased borrowing. Falling government deficits are being replaced by rising debts on everyone else’s ledgers – well, almost everyone else’s.

What’s emerging is a new sort of speculative bubble, this time based on consumer and corporate credit. Right now, America is wrestling a three-headed monster of weak foreign demand, tight government budgets and high income inequality, with every sign that these conditions will continue. With that trio in place, the anticipated growth isn’t going to be propelled by an export bonanza, or by a government investment boom. It will have to be driven by spending. Even a limping recovery like the one we’re nursing along today depends on domestic demand – consumer spending not just by the wealthy, but by everyone else. We believe that Americans will keep consuming at the same ever-rising rates of past decades, during good times and bad. But for the vast majority, wages and wealth aren’t going up, so we’re anticipating that the majority of Americans – the 90% – will once again do what was done before: borrow, and then borrow more.

By early 2017, with growth likely to stall even according to CBO predictions, it should be apparent that we’re reliving an alarming history. Middle- and low-income households have been following a trajectory of an ever-higher ratio of debt to income. That same ratio has been decreasing for the most well-off 10%, who are continuing to see debt decline and wealth rise. Why is the relationship between the debt of the 90% and the gains of the 10% so significant? The evidence demonstrates that the de-leveraging of the very rich and the indebtedness of almost everyone else move in tandem; they follow the same trend line. In short, there’s a strong and continuous correlation between the rich getting richer, and the poor – make that the 90% – going deeper into debt. That the share of income and wealth to the richest has skyrocketed is certainly not a new revelation.

The more the top 10% has prospered, saved and invested, the more the bottom 90% has borrowed.

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US Housing Hit The Wall Of Wall Street In May (TPit)

It always starts with a toxic mix. Last fall when sales that had been predicted to continue their miraculous ascent were suddenly swooning, soothsayers dealt with it by developing a whole plethora of excuses. At each new disappointment, they dragged out new excuses. But in May, the toxic mix came to a boil, and now there are no more excuses: sales plunged and inventories jumped. The housing market is buckling under its own inflated weight. And what excuses they’d come up with! Last fall, the fiscal cliff, the threat of a government shutdown, the possibility of default that was belittled by everyone supposedly made home buyers uncertain. But these issues were swept under the rug, and sales continued to drop into the winter. Polar vortices were blamed, though in California, where the weather was gorgeous, sales dropped faster than elsewhere. Then the spring buying season came around when massive pent-up demand was supposed to sweep like a tsunami over the land.

But sales continued to decline. So tight inventories were blamed. There simply weren’t enough homes for sale, it went. Alas, in May, new listings rose 6.5% from a year ago to a four-year high in the 30 markets that electronic real-estate broker Redfin tracks. People were dumping their homes on the market; new listings soared 25.5% in Ventura, CA, 15.8% in West Palm Beach, and 15.4% in Baltimore. This is what it looked like for all 30 markets combined. The onslaught of new listings added to the unsold inventory and pushed up the total number of homes for sale by 9.1% to the highest level since August 2012. And in this elegant manner, the final excuse of tight inventories causing the plunge in sales went up in smoke. This rise in inventory has been going on all year. Yet, as Redfin pointed out with a soupçon of irony, it was “surprising to some, given the speculation about extremely low inventory creating intense pent-up demand among buyers who have been waiting for months with low interest rates burning holes in their pockets.”

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Facing Extinction, Hedge Funds Go All In (Zero Hedge)

Several years ago we said that in the New centrally-planned normal, in which the Fed chairmanwoman is the Chief Risk Officer of the s0-called market, and where no selloffs are allowed because any major drop in a market artificially supported by trillions in artificial liquidity, would probably be its last (as it would crush the “credibility” of all-in central banks) that old “smartest money” concept, the 2 and 20 hedge fund, has become an anachronistic relic of the past (especially once Stevie Cohen ruined the game for everyone and took legal insider trading aka “expert network” out of the picture and forced hedge funds to make money the old fashioned way – legally).

Now, for the first time, we have empirical proof that hedge funds are indeed on the verge of extinction courtesy of the New artificial Normal. In its hedge fund quarterly note (which it clearly ripped off from Goldman), Bank of America has concluded what we said in the beginning of the decade: “Hedge Funds are less attractive post the financial crisis with lower alpha and less diversification benefits.” Or, in other words, hedge funds (for the most part: this excludes those extortionists also known as activists who successfully bully management teams into levering up in order to buyback record amounts of stock, in the process burying their companies and employers when the next downturn arrives) no longer provide a service commensurate to their astronomical fees. Or any service, for that matter, that one couldn’t get by simply buying the S&P500.

Here is the tombstone for hedge funds, from Bank of America, in two paragraphs:

Since the financial crisis, Hedge funds have generated positive alpha of 0.0999%, which is lower than the 0.7922% of positive alpha generated before the financial crisis. Additionally, hedge funds are more exposed to market risks than before the financial crisis. Since 2009 the CAPM model has explained 75% of HF returns, but pre-financial crisis CAPM explained only 2.96% of returns. In summary, although hedge funds still offer positive risk adjusted returns, the investment is becoming less attractive as an asset class due to the lower alpha and less diversification benefits.

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The Fed too still pretends to be the House.

Horror Show Called “Fed-Gate” May Come To Your Bond Fund Soon (Stockman)

The Financial Times is not exactly a rumor mill, so its recent headline amounts to a thunderbolt: “Fed Looks At Exit Fees On Bond Funds”. And so the shoes begin to fall. Owing to the Fed’s brutal financial repression since December 2008 (i.e. zero yield on short-term funds), there has been massive scramble for yield that has driven trillions into corporate and high yield bond funds. This means that liquid funds which would have normally been parked in bank deposits or money market funds have been artificially displaced. That is, they have been chased by the dictates of the monetary politburo into far more illiquid and risky investment vehicles owing to zero yields in their preferred financial venues. But now it is dawning on at least some of the more market savvy occupants of the Eccles Building that they have created a monumental financial log-jam waiting to happen. In their jargon, the migration of trillions into bond funds since the financial crisis has resulted in a sweeping “maturity transformation”. As former governor Jeremy Stein succinctly put it,

“It may be the essence of shadow banking is … giving people a liquid claim on illiquid assets.”

What Stein means is that the traditional money markets existed for a reason—even if returns were inferior to what could be obtained in longer duration fixed income securities or investments with equity-like features such as junk bonds. Corporations and individuals who invested in money market instruments, including bank CDs, were willing to absorb the yield penalty in return for the assurance of absolute daily liquidity that the funds in question required. But zero return is not a market driven liquidity penalty; it is an arbitrary prohibition imposed on the market by the monetary politburo. So now we have a giant anomaly. Trillions of daily liquidity demanding investments are potentially stuck in bond funds which could not provide it during a crisis. In effect, any attempt by bond funds managers to meet a surge of redemptions calls would make the crisis surrounding the Reserve Prime Fund’s “breaking the buck” in September 2008 seem like a Sunday School picnic.

… in its mindless drive to manipulate financial markets and generate artificial demand for credit, the Fed has created the potential for a massive run on bond funds should a new financial crisis be triggered by one black swan or another. And once again it is evident that the market’s natural process of “price discovery” has been destroyed in favor of ham-handed “price administration” by our monetary central planners. Yet the monster they have already created—-a massive log-jam at the bond fund exit gates—-would pale compared to the deformations and anomalies that would result from the imposition of a government dictated exist fee on unsuspecting investors. Even the announcement of a rule-making would potentially trigger the very kind of sell-off that it would be designed to prevent.

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Japan Exports Disappoint, Risks Hitting Economy Hard (Reuters)

Japan’s annual exports declined for the first time in 15 months in May as shipments to Asia and the United States fell, threatening to knock the economy hard at a time when domestic consumption is being crimped by a national sales tax increase. The data backs expectations for additional stimulus from the Bank of Japan in coming months, particularly if market confidence takes a hit as external demand proves elusive. “If exports fail to pick up while domestic demand stagnates, that would heighten calls for the BOJ to act,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

Total exports fell 2.7% May on the year, Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday, compared with a 1.2% drop seen by economists and a 5.1% rise in April. On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports fell 1.2% in May from the prior month. The central bank is counting on exports growth to partially offset the impact of a sales tax hike to 8% from 5% in April, but the MOF data will be a worry for policy makers. Adding to the BOJ’s concerns over soft exports to Asia is the surprising weakness in shipments to the United States – Japan’s biggest export market – which suggests a recovery in advanced economies is slow to filter through to exporting firms.

This was underscored in Singapore’s exports for May, which unexpectedly fell on weak shipments to its key markets. The city-state’s non-oil domestic exports to the United States fell 8.8% in May from a year earlier, compared with 11.7% growth in April. In South Korea, exports to the U.S. rose 5.5% on-year, but that was much slower than April’s 19.3% jump. The MOF data showed Japan’s U.S.-bound exports fell 2.8%, the first drop in 17 months led by decline in car shipments, while exports to China rose 0.4% on-year. Exports to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s total exports, fell 3.4% in May from a year earlier, the first annual decline in 15 months.

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Bad Trade Data Casts A Cloud Over Japan (CNBC)

Japan’s exports and imports tumbled in May, data on Wednesday showed, raising concern about the outlook for the world’s third biggest economy as it weathers a rise in the country’s consumption tax. May exports fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first annual decline in 15 months. That compared with a 5.1% jump in May and was much worse than analyst expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.2% decline. Imports fell 3.6% on-year, compared with expectations for a 1.7% rise, bringing the trade balance to a deficit of 909 billion yen ($8.9 billion) in May. “In today’s world of very low-dollar value export growth, Abenomics could only count on export-led growth by taking market share. The easiest way to take market share is by depreciating the currency, which hasn’t been happening in Japan since the May 2013 taper tantrum,” said Tim Condon, the head of research of Asia at ING Financial Markets.

“It remains to be seen whether Abenomics can stimulate domestic spending sufficiently to offset weak export demand as only China and Singapore have managed to do this year,” he added. Abenomics is the term many analysts and commenters use to describe the economic policies of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to power in late 2012 with a pledge to revive the country’s growth prospects. Part of that policy has been massive monetary stimulus to help weaken the yen and end deflation. Although the yen weakened about 22% against the dollar in 2013, its impact on exports has faded while the currency has strengthened almost 3% this year. The breakdown of the trade data showed that exports to Asia and the U.S. fell in May. “We see some sluggishness in exports to Asian countries such as China but exports to Europe picked up so that shows Japan is likely to be supported by the developed economies in the months ahead,” said Junko Nishioka, chief economist at RBS in Tokyo.

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Japan May Trade Deficit Shrinks As Energy Imports Fall (AFP)

Japan’s trade deficit narrowed in May as imports turned down for the first time in a year and a half, data showed Wednesday, but weaker shipments abroad helped keep the trade balance in the red. The figures – which suggested the world’s number three economy was slowing – reflected a fall-off in spending after sales taxes rose in April, a move seen as crucial to paying down a huge national debt but one that threatened to stall the nation’s budding economic recovery. The trade deficit has ballooned since the 2011 Fukushima atomic crisis forced the shutdown of nuclear reactors and a shift to pricey fossil-fuel imports to plug the energy gap. Nuclear once supplied more than a quarter of Japan’s power.

“The weaker yen had contributed to the widening of the trade deficit last year, as it pushed up import prices by more than it raised the value of exports,” said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics. “However, the boost to trade values from the weak yen is now clearly over.” On Wednesday, the finance ministry said Japan’s May trade deficit narrowed 8.3% from a year ago to 909 billion yen ($8.9 billion), marking the 23rd consecutive monthly shortfall. Imports were down 3.6% to 6.5 trillion yen, the first on-year drop in 19 months as crude oil shipments fell by nearly 20% in volume terms. Domestic demand for gasoline and other products jumped in the months ahead of the consumption tax rising to 8.0% from 5.0%, as millions of shoppers dashed to stores before prices went up. May exports fell 2.7% to 5.6 trillion yen, the first downturn in over a year as demand for refined fuel and vehicles fell overseas.

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Japan’s Abe Unveils Corporate Tax Cut, Other Reforms (The Tell)

In a series of widely expected policy announcements yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pulled back his bow of state and let fly the “third arrow” of his trio of economic offensives, with a planned cut to the corporate tax serving as the pointy tip. Abe’s first arrow, readers might remember, was massive easing from a cooperative Bank of Japan, while the second arrow involved government spending. And now comes the reform arrow, with corporate tax relief as its highest-profile element. While details of the long-awaited tax cut and other reform proposals are expected later this month, Monday’s announcement made it clear that the current rates, which run as high as 35.64% for Tokyo-based companies, will be reduced drastically. How far it will go varies by source — Kyodo News says the base rate will fall “to below 30% within a few years from fiscal 2015,” while the Nikkei sees it at “the 20% level over the next several years.”

Either way, Capital Economics isn’t completely buying into the hype. In a note out Monday, CapEcon’s Marcel Thieliant notes that for starters, only about 30% of Japanese companies even pay the corporate tax. “It is not clear that corporate investment would strengthen significantly. The return on investment in Japan is lower than elsewhere as a result of a large capital stock, and capital spending is already higher than in other Group of 7 countries,” Thieliant writes, adding that boosting investment would need further tax reforms, including changes to loss carry-forwards and depreciation allowances. “Nonetheless, this is good news both for the equity markets and the economy as a whole,” Thieliant writes. “Japan’s corporate tax rate is among the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and academic studies show that taxes on corporate profits are particularly detrimental to economic growth.”

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Anyone surprised raise your hands. Both.

Britain’s Poor Worse Off Than Ever (RT)

The poorest 20% of UK households earn just $9,530 annually, a dramatically lower rate than in other countries with a similar average income, according to new research. Few Britons would probably agree with the observation that “life is much worse (in the UK) than it is for the poorest fifth in virtually every other northwest European country,” but that is exactly the conclusion the High Pay Centre, an independent British think-tank, has made in a newly released study. Using figures from the OECD Better Life Index, the report shows that average UK household incomes of $53,785, which makes up the wealthiest 20% in the UK, ranked third in EU countries, lagging behind Germany and France. But that is where the economic similarities between the UK and the EU come to a screeching halt.

The OECD estimates the average income of the bottom 20% of UK households at just $9,530, which is significantly lower than the poorest 20% in France ($12,653), Germany ($13,381), Belgium ($12,350), the Netherlands ($11,274) and Denmark ($12,183). The report revealed Britain’s rapid decline from economic equality in just a few decades. “Since 1960, Britain has gone from being more economically equal than Sweden to being one of the most unequal countries in the developed world,” according to the High Pay Centre. “Of the 32 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) only Portugal, Israel, the United States, Turkey, Mexico and Chile are more unequal than the UK.”

In fact, the think-tank said marginalized UK living standards are much closer to those of former Eastern bloc countries, such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic. The report noted that “inequality does not happen by chance,” but arises from deliberate political, social and cultural choices in areas like “taxation, public spending, industrial relations and public tolerance of high and low pay.” “These figures suggest we need to be more concerned about inequality and how prosperity is shared, as well as average incomes or aggregate measures like GDP,” as the Financial Times quotes Deborah Hargreaves, director of the High Pay Centre. “The fact that the rich are richer in the UK than many other countries hides the fact that the poor are poorer.”

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“There are two other explanations. The first is that the governor knows something we don’t, although it would be nice to know what that is. The second is that he is not quite as smart as he thinks he is and is making it up as he goes along.”

Does Mark Carney Know Something We Don’t? (Guardian)

Mark Carney surprised the financial markets last week when he said interest rates could be raised from their emergency level of 0.5% sooner than the City expects. Throughout his first year at Threadneedle Street the governor of the Bank of England has talked down the prospect of higher borrowing costs, using forward guidance to reassure businesses and households that the Bank was not keen on an early tightening of policy. So what changed between the governor’s doveish comments when he presented the Bank’s May inflation report and his Mansion House speech a month later? Not inflation as measured by the consumer price index, clearly. That fell to 1.5% in May is and still on a downward trend. Not the producer prices index, which measures inflationary pressure in the pipeline. This shows that despite annual growth of 3%, manufacturers’ factory gate prices are increasing by less than 1% a year. Not inflation expectations, a measure of where the public think the cost of living is heading.

And certainly not trends in wages, where whole-economy earnings growth is running at below 1% a year. All this makes Carney’s new hawkishness a bit hard to explain, particularly as he has been banging on for months about how the Bank’s new macro-prudential tools will enable it to cool down the property market – the one part of the economy where inflation is a looming problem. Forward guidance, his big policy initiative on taking over as governor from Mervyn King, appears to have been junked in favour of doing what his predecessor did – assessing the state of the economy on a month-by-month basis. If you want to be generous to the governor, you could argue that he is waving the interest-rate stick in the hope that he doesn’t have to use it. There are two other explanations. The first is that the governor knows something we don’t, although it would be nice to know what that is. The second is that he is not quite as smart as he thinks he is and is making it up as he goes along.

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Lost shine. “We have seen the property market change rapidly this year”.

China Home Prices Fall Month-On-Month, First TIme In 2 Years (CNBC)

China’s home prices rose at the slowest annual pace so far this year in May, official data showed on Wednesday. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 5.6% from a year earlier, slowing from April’s 6.7% rise, according to Reuters’ calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In month-on-month terms, prices dropped 0.2% to register its first fall in two years. In Beijing, new home prices rose 7.7% in May from a year earlier compared with April’s 8.9% increase, while prices in Shanghai were up 9.6% versus 11.5% growth in April. Markets took the news in stride; real-estate developer stocks traded mostly higher with Gemdale, Poly Real Estate and China Merchants Property up 0.4% each. Shanghai and Hong Kong stocks opened flat.

After increasing at double-digit rates through most of last year, home prices started cooling in late 2013 as a sustained campaign to clamp down on speculative investment and easy credit took a bite. The softening real estate market helped drag annual economic growth to 7.4% in the first quarter, and a sustained fall would risk China missing its economic growth target for the first time in 15 years, analysts have warned China’s property sector is estimated to account for around 20% of the mainland’s gross domestic product (GDP); the segment is closely watched for cues about the direction of the world’s second-largest economy. “We have seen the property market change rapidly this year. I think this quarter and coming quarter till rest of the year, market will be under pressure which means transaction volume will be struggling there or go down, and price is definitely not going to go up nation-wide,” said Vincent Mo, executive chairman at SouFun Holdings, a leading real estate Internet portal in China.

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‘They did it “for the family”‘.

Relatives Shed Assets As China’s Leader Fights Graft (NY Times)

As President Xi Jinping of China prepares to tackle what may be the biggest cases of official corruption in more than six decades of Communist Party rule, new evidence suggests that he has been pushing his own family to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, reducing his own political vulnerability. In January of last year, just after Mr. Xi took power, his older sister and brother-in-law finalized the sale of their 50% stake in a Beijing investment company they had set up in partnership with a state-owned bank. According to the billionaire financier Xiao Jianhua, who co-founded the company that bought the stake, the move was part of a continuing effort by the family to exit investments. They did it “for the family,” Mr. Xiao’s spokeswoman said. A review of Chinese records shows that there is evidence to back up Mr. Xiao’s claim. From 2012 until this year, Mr. Xi’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao and brother-in-law Deng Jiagui sold investments in at least 10 companies, mostly focused on mining and real estate.

In all, the companies the couple sold, liquidated or, in one case, transferred to a close business associate, are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, part of a fortune documented in a June 2012 report by Bloomberg News. No investment stakes have been tied directly to Mr. Xi or his wife and daughter. But the extensive business activities of his sister and brother-in-law are part of a widespread pattern among relatives of the Politburo elite, who have built up considerable fortunes by trading on their family’s political standing. After taking power, Mr. Xi vowed to do battle with the “tigers and flies” — senior and petty officials engaged in corrupt or unseemly business activities — to shore up the party’s credibility. But there are doubts that he could carry out a wholesale crackdown on financial dealings by ruling families, who are deeply enmeshed in the state-driven business culture of the country.

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Printing presses?

What Should China Buy With Its $3.9 Trillion Reserves? (Caixin)

China’s foreign exchange reserves rose to $3.948 trillion at the end of the first quarter. The figure in 1978 was $167 million, and in November 1996 it surpassed $100 billion for the first time. The change has been amazing. There have been many thoughts about how we in China can make use of the forex reserve, ranging from buying assets abroad to using it as leverage in diplomatic talks. What needs emphasizing is that the reserve is not a free buffet. It corresponds to the central bank’s debt in yuan and costs dearly to maintain. In a traditional sense, the forex reserve is meant to serve as a buffer in times of emergency and is to be used for repayment of external debt. The basic requirement for its investment is guaranteeing the safety of the principal rather than pursuing high yields. This is true for even the part of forex reserve in excess of the amount required for ensuring its traditional purposes are met. Also, it is important to know that 40% of the forex reserve came through operations under the capital account.

In other words, about $1.6 trillion of the reserve, be it hot money or foreign direct investment, flew into China because the investors were betting on the country’s positive outlook. If these investors want to take their investments out of the country, the government can take measures to slow the exit of capital, but there is no legal way to stop it. Granted, the odds are extremely low that all foreign investments would leave the country, especially if China sticks to the path of reform and opening up. The other 60% of the reserve, which resulted from operations under the current account, correspond to the debt owed to companies and individuals who sold their forex holdings to banks. The reason they did not hold the money in foreign currencies is that investing in yuan is currently more profitable. Also, there is a lack of channels for private investors to invest overseas. That is why China’s forex investments are primarily conducted by the forex administrator.

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And nobody cares.

One Quarter Of Public Company Deals Involve Insider Trading (RT)

An award-winning new study claims that more than a quarter of all public company deals involve transactions that could be consider examples of insider trading. The recently published report from Menachem Brenner and Marti G. Subrahmanyam at New York University and Patrick Augustin of McGill examined years of data concerning mergers and acquisitions, or M&As, to spot unusual trends in the 30 days preceding those announcement. According to their research, around one-in-four deals contained evidence of insider trading. “We became intrigued by reports of a number of illegal insider trading cases in options ahead of takeover announcements, in particular the leveraged buyout of Heinz by Warren Buffet and 3G Capital,” co-author Augustin said in a statement. “Hence, we set out to investigate whether instances of informed trading in options occur systematically or whether they were just random bets.”

“The statistical evidence we present is consistent with informed trading strategies, and is too strong to be dismissed as just random speculation. Our findings likely will be highly useful to regulators, firms and investors in understanding where and how informed investors trade,” Augustin added. Journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin called the group’s study “perhaps the most detailed and exhaustive of its kind” and said its results show that “the truth is worse than we imagine” when it comes down to just how commonplace insider trading really is. The results of their study, Sorkin wrote, “are persuasive and disturbing, suggesting that law enforcement is woefully behind — or perhaps is so overwhelmed that it simply looks for the most egregious examples of insider trading, or for prominent targets who can attract headlines.”

Indeed, the professors wrote that their research suggests that even though roughly a quarter of public deals involve insider trading, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission litigated only “about 4.7% of the 1,859 M&A deals included in our sample,” which was composed of hundreds of transactions made between 1996 and the end of 2012. When the SEC does intervene, they added, it takes “on average, 756 days to publicly announce its first litigation action in a given case. Thus, assuming that the litigation releases coincide approximately with the actual initiations of investigations, it takes the SEC a bit more than two years, on average, to prosecute a rogue trade,” which on average was worth about $1.6 million apiece, according to their study.

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US courts will break this down too.

Argentina Plans Debt Swap To Prevent Default (WSJ)

Argentina unveiled a plan to change the terms of its bonds that aims to prevent the country’s second default in 13 years, while continuing a long-running battle with a small group of creditors. The proposal would swap bonds governed by U.S. law for debt that falls under Argentina’s jurisdiction. Investors would give up the rights conferred by U.S. law and the security of having payments processed by a U.S. bank. But they would continue to receive income from Argentina’s bonds, which are among the world’s highest-yielding sovereign debt. The maneuver is an end run around a U.S. court ruling requiring Argentina to pay hedge funds that refused to go along with a debt restructuring after the country’s 2001 default.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision, leaving Argentina until the end of the month to reach a deal with the holdouts or default on more than $500 million in payments to holders of the restructured bonds. “What they’re going to attempt to do is very challenging,” said Jorge Mariscal, emerging-markets chief investment officer at UBS Wealth Management, which manages $1 trillion in assets. “It would be extremely unusual for Argentina to get away with something like this.” Mr. Mariscal has been recommending clients avoid Argentine bonds. No government has attempted this maneuver before, and it isn’t clear whether Argentina will be able to pull it off, analysts said. The plan to switch jurisdictions underscores how Argentina has become hemmed in by a string of defeats in U.S. courts and requires more desperate measures to avoid paying over $1.5 billion to holdout creditors, payments President Cristina Kirchner on Monday likened to “extortion.”

Argentina’s bond prices steadied Tuesday after falling sharply following Monday’s Supreme Court action, as investors waited for the Argentine government to announce its next move. However, the price of insuring Argentina’s debt rose, indicating fears of a default. The country’s main stock index rose 3.8%, with the market closing before the government’s announcement, after falling 10% a day earlier. On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services downgraded Argentina’s debt to triple-C-minus with a negative outlook, three notches above default, from triple-C-plus. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund reiterated its warning that Argentina’s legal defeat could undermine future sovereign-debt restructurings by other governments. “We are concerned about possible broader systemic implications,” the IMF said.

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As I said when this first was mentioned.

Ukraine Seeks To Fill ‘Gas Gap’ With Reverse Flows. Is It Legal? (RT)

Reverse flows of Russian gas from some of the European countries like Slovakia and Poland are neither legal nor viable, experts tell RT. The comments follow Ukraine’s claims it’s going to use reverse schemes, after Gazprom cut its supplies. On Monday, Russia switched Ukraine to a prepayment system for gas supplies, saying it wouldn’t send gas directly unless it paid its $4.5 billion debt in full. Ukraine has responded by saying it could receive up to 20 billion cubic meters in reverse flow from neighboring Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, a practice Gazprom and RT experts doubt is legal. “It depends on the contracts between Gazprom and the European recipient. As far as we know, there is a non re-export clause that means gas received in Europe should actually be utilized in Europe for downstream purposes, it shouldn’t be re-exported, there is strong legal question there,” Marat Terterov, Executive Director of the Brussels Energy Club, told RT.

One of the main, and most simple stumbling blocks, is the contract itself, which doesn’t allow the importing countries to redistribute the supplies as they please. “A lot of this gas is Gazprom gas being delivered to the EU and it may be outside of the legal abilities of EU customers to de facto export that back to Ukraine,” Terterov said. The next big hurdle is Ukraine’s position as a non-EU member state, and the European Commission’s jurisdiction over it. At present, neither body has any official precedent in how to deal with the situation. “Oriented towards mitigating the energy security concerns of the East EU members, they are not intended to mitigate the concerns at the energy security level of a non-EU member such as Ukraine,” Terterov said. Brussels will therefore have no choice but to leave discussions between Gazprom and Naftogaz.

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More Francis. Bless him.

Pope Calls Out ‘Greedy’ Bankers Getting Rich On Financial Speculation (RT)

Pope Francis has called on “greedy” bankers to establish a stricter ethics code, and stop getting rich through financial market speculation. He attacked the practice of hedging as ‘intolerable’ equating it to stealing food from the poor. “It is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences,” Pope Francis said at an investors ethics’ seminar at the Vatican on Monday. Specifically, the pope denounced the practice of betting on the price of commodities such as corn, meat, and rice, which can drive up food prices and trigger periods of starvation in parts of the worlds.

“Speculation on food prices is a scandal which seriously compromises access to food on the part of the poorest members of our human family,” he said. This Pope called for an end to this “scandal” and said that finance institutions should serve the interests of all mankind, and not just wealthy and privileged individuals. Pope Francis has been more vocal than any other Pope on the modern superstructure of wealth, which in his first major published work as a Pope, The Joy of the Gospel, he slammed as a “new tyranny” and called on the rich to share their wealth. In the same speech he equated not sharing wealth with the poor to stealing.

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There’s profit in misery.

Bentley in Belgravia Shows Greece Is Good for Buyout CEO (Bloomberg)

Few financiers in London covet a job with a government-owned Greek bank. A glimpse of Pavlos Stellakis’s Bentley or his townhouse in Belgravia might have changed their minds. For more than a decade, Stellakis has presided over a private-equity business for Greece’s oldest and largest lender. While the bank and the country’s economy spiraled toward collapse, he prospered. National Bank of Greece received its first state rescue in 2009, the same year Stellakis was awarded a $3.8 million bonus. Since 2010, he has earned at least 60% more annually in salary than the bank’s chief executive officer, according to company documents. The funds he oversees have underperformed most peers and delivered few profits, the documents show.

Greek taxpayers, who own 57% of Athens-based National Bank after its $11.5 billion bailout last year, have no say in Stellakis’s compensation, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Instead of being determined by the bank, it’s set by a three-person committee at NBGI Private Equity Ltd. that includes Stellakis himself, according to the company’s website. “At a time when people’s wages and pensions are being cut, for executives at banks that are being supported by public funds to be paid so much is wrong and it shouldn’t happen,” Louka Katseli, who was Greece’s economy minister when the nation received its first international bailout in 2010, said, speaking generally and not specifically about Stellakis.

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