May 152017
 
 May 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Fred Stein Ballfield NY 1946

 

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)
3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)
Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia on Monday (R.)
Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)
The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)
Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)
Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)
China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)
Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)
New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)
Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)
Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)
Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)
Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)
What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

 

 

Only real question: will they all fall together like dominoes?

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)

Ever since interest rates were slashed to near zero in the wake of the financial crisis, the world has gone property mad. Residential house prices from Abu Dhabi to Zurich have spiralled as hot money travelled the world looking for a home. For those who got in early it has been incredibly rewarding, even if – whisper it – stock markets have actually done far better. The global property bubble cannot blow much bigger. The best we can hope is that it deflates slowly… but it could burst. Property is still going crazy in China, where prices have been pumped up by yet another bout of government stimulus. Guangzhou, close to Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland, leapt a whopping 36% in the past 12 months, according to Knight Frank. Prices rose around 20% in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in Toronto, Canada.

Seoul in South Korea continues to boom, as does Sydney and Stockholm, both up 10.7% over the last year. Berlin (8.7%), Melbourne (8.6%) and Vancouver (7.9%) are also performing strongly. In most other global cities, property is finally starting to slow. Hong Kong rose a relatively modest 5.3% while Singapore grew 4%, and thereafter price hikes trail away. Half of the 41 countries in the report grew by less than 2%, while nearly one in three saw prices fall, by up to 8.3%. Prime central London was the world’s raciest property market but is now leading the charge in the other direction, falling 6.4%. Former hotspots Zurich, Moscow and Istanbul fell 7% or more over the last 12 months. Cheap money has driven prices ever higher for eight years but is finally losing traction, as affordability is stretched again. Interest rates cannot go any lower and could start rising if the US Federal Reserve continues to tighten. Regulatory authorities are looking to rein in overheated markets, with China only the latest to tighten borrowing requirements. The glory days are over.

Investing in property has one major benefit over stocks and shares – you can leverage up borrowing money to fund your purchase. Thereafter, the advantages are all one way. First, you can trade stocks online within seconds, whereas offloading property can take months (longer in a market crash). You can invest small amounts, rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, euros, yen or renminbi you need to buy a decent property these days. If you buy an investment property you have the effort of doing up and maintaining it, finding tenants, and paying a host of local taxes. You don’t have any of that nonsense with stocks. Best of all, you can invest quickly and easily in a wide spread global stocks, sectors and markets.

Read more …

Greater fools and empty bags.

3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)

Home prices in Canada rose for the 15th straight month in a row in April, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index, which once again hit its highest levels ever. But virtually all the strength seen over the past year came from just three cities — Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria. The index, which tracks repeat sales of single-family homes over time, found Toronto led the way, with the price index rising 2.6% in April. The city has seen prices jump 7.3% since the start of the year, and 26.3% in the past 12 months. Nearby Hamilton, which is experiencing spillover from Toronto’s housing boom, saw its price index rise 2% in April and 23% over the past year. Vancouver, which as recently as a year ago was showing the fastest price growth in the country, is now showing signs of slowing.

The price index fell 0.1% in April, and compared to a year ago, prices are up 9.7%, slower than the national average of 13.4%. Many market experts say Vancouver’s foreign buyer tax has pushed buyers to other cities, including to Victoria, where the price index rose 1.5% in April, and 19% over the past year. “Based on the cooldown in home sales that began early last year, we expect the Vancouver growth rate to fall much lower over the next few months,” wrote David Madani, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics. But Madani expects Toronto to experience a similar cooling. He noted that the city saw a sudden, 30% spike in new home listings in April. That’s “further evidence that the surge in house price inflation is close to a peak and will drop back sharply before the end of this year,” he wrote in a client note.

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So far not so bad. But if the next generation of the attack has no killswitch that can be triggered, anything is possible.

Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia (R.)

Asian governments and businesses reported some disruptions from the WannaCry ransomware worm on Monday but cybersecurity experts warned of a wider impact as more employees turned on their computers and checked e-mails. The ransomware that has locked up hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries has been mainly spread by e-mail, hitting factories, hospitals, shops and schools worldwide. While the effect on Asian entities appeared to be contained on Monday, industry professionals flagged potential risks as more systems came online across the region. Companies that were hit by the worm may be wary of making it public, they added.

“We’re looking at our victims’ profiles, we’re still seeing a lot of victims in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is a global campaign, it’s not targeted,” said Tim Wellsmore, Director of Threat Intelligence, Asia Pacific at cybersecurity firm FireEye. “But I don’t think we can say it hasn’t impacted this region to the extent it has some other regions.” Michael Gazeley, managing director of Network Box, a Hong Kong-based cybersecurity firm, said there were still “many ‘landmines’ waiting in people’s in-boxes” in the region, with most of the attacks having arrived via e-mail.

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Microsoft blames the NSA, and for good reason, but…

Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)

[..] this attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits. This is one reason we called in February for a new “Digital Geneva Convention” to govern these issues, including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them. And it’s why we’ve pledged our support for defending every customer everywhere in the face of cyberattacks, regardless of their nationality. This weekend, whether it’s in London, New York, Moscow, Delhi, Sao Paulo, or Beijing, we’re putting this principle into action and working with customers around the world.

We should take from this recent attack a renewed determination for more urgent collective action. We need the tech sector, customers, and governments to work together to protect against cybersecurity attacks. More action is needed, and it’s needed now. In this sense, the WannaCrypt attack is a wake-up call for all of us. We recognize our responsibility to help answer this call, and Microsoft is committed to doing its part.

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…Microsoft itself carries part of the blame as well. It doesn’t support XP, but does ask for a lot of money for patches.

The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)

The attack was halted by a stroke of luck: the ransomware had a kill switch that a British employee in a cybersecurity firm managed to activate. Shortly after, Microsoft finally released for free the patch that they had been withholding from users that had not signed up for expensive custom support agreements. But the crisis is far from over. This particular vulnerability still lives in unpatched systems, and the next one may not have a convenient kill switch. While it is inevitable that software will have bugs, there are ways to make operating systems much more secure — but that costs real money.

While this particular bug affected both new and old versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, the older ones like XP have more critical vulnerabilities. This is partly because our understanding of how to make secure software has advanced over the years, and partly because of the incentives in the software business. Since most software is sold with an “as is” license, meaning the company is not legally liable for any issues with it even on day one, it has not made much sense to spend the extra money and time required to make software more secure quickly. Indeed, for many years, Facebook’s mantra for its programmers was “move fast and break things.”

[..] If I have painted a bleak picture, it is because things are bleak. Our software evolves by layering new systems on old, and that means we have constructed entire cities upon crumbling swamps. And we live on the fault lines where more earthquakes are inevitable. All the key actors have to work together, and fast. First, companies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn’t expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects).

At a minimum, Microsoft clearly should have provided the critical update in March to all its users, not just those paying extra. Indeed, “pay extra money to us or we will withhold critical security updates” can be seen as its own form of ransomware. In its defense, Microsoft probably could point out that its operating systems have come a long way in security since Windows XP, and it has spent a lot of money updating old software, even above industry norms. However, industry norms are lousy to horrible, and it is reasonable to expect a company with a dominant market position, that made so much money selling software that runs critical infrastructure, to do more.

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tick tick tick.

Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)

Following months of warnings that China’s economy is slowing down as a result of not only a collapse in China’s credit impulse but also tighter monetary conditions, as well as rolling over loan growth which has pressured both CPI and PPI – i.e., the global “reflation trade” – as the following chart from Bloomberg’s David Ingels shows…

… and culminating over the weekend with a warning in no uncertain terms from Citi, which said that at least four key economic indicators are “starting to wave red flags” among which:
• The Markit PMI is starting to turn over
• China’s Inflation Surprise Index – a leading indicator to global inflation metric – has posted a recent sharp drop
• China’s import trade has likewise tumbled after surging recently
• Chinese Iron Ore imports into Qingado port have plunged

… moments ago China’s National Bureau of Statistics validated the mounting fears, when it reported misses across all key economic categories for the month of April, as follows:
• Retail Sales 10.7% Y/Y, Exp. 10.8%, Last 10.9%
• Fixed Asset Investment 8.9% Y/Y, Exp. 9.1%, Last 9.2%
• Industrial Output 6.5% Y/Y, Exp. 7.0%, Last 7.6%
• Industrial Production YTD 6.7% Y/Y, Exp. 6.9%, Last 6.8%

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Big meeting, Putin, Erdogan et al, but not India, US, Germany and more. Shaky.

Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)

It is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programmes ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and expanded presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has been presented as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. But for India, the connotations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” are somewhat different. A flagship programme and the most advanced component of the initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region that belongs to India and is under the control of Pakistan. As a country acutely conscious of its own sovereignty-related claims, China should have no difficulty in appreciating India’s sensitivities in this regard.

While investment in the Gwadar port, roads and energy projects is reported to have increased from US$46 billion to US$55 billion, CPEC lacks economic justification for China and its geopolitical drivers cause legitimate anxieties in India. The Belt and Road plan is a practical economic strategy for China’s objectives to connect the region, seek new growth engines for its slowing economy, utilise its surplus capacity, and develop and stabilise its western regions. It may also bring benefits to partner countries. However, it also has a strategic and political agenda which remains opaque. Apart from the CPEC, India also has misgivings about the manner in which the Belt and Road Initiative is being pursued in its neighbourhood. For instance, the development of ports under Chinese operational control as part of the Maritime Silk Road strategy has raised concerns in India which need to be addressed.

India has repeatedly conveyed its strong objections regarding the CPEC to China. The Belt and Road plan is a Chinese initiative rather than a multilateral enterprise undertaken after prior consultation with potential partner countries, and India has not endorsed it. There is an expectation in India that China will take India’s sensitivities into account while formulating its plans. Clearly, there is room for closer consultations between China and India on the objectives, contours and future directions of the Belt and Road. However, India has considered synergy-based cooperation on a case-by-case basis, where its interests for regional development converge with that of other countries, including China.

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India’s right, the Silk road is financed with Monopoly money.

China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)

Alas, the meticulously scripted plan to showcase China’s growing economic and trade dominance did not go off quite as smoothly as Xi had planned. First, just hours before the summit opened, North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile, provoking Beijing and further testing the patience of China, its chief ally. Ironically, the United States had complained to China on Friday over the inclusion of a North Korean delegation at the event. Then, in a sign that China’s rampant, credit-fuelled growth is making some just a little uncomfortable, some Western diplomats expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally according to Reuters. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Canberra was receptive to exploring commercial opportunities China’s new Silk Road presented, but any decisions would remain incumbent on national interest. Responding to criticism, Xi said that “China is willing to share its development experience with all countries” and added “we will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more will not impose our views on others.” But the biggest surprise was India, the world’s fastest growing nation and the second most populous in the world, which did not even bother to send an official delegation to Beijing and instead criticised China’s global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, asked whether New Delhi was participating in the summit, said “India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.” India is incensed that one of the key Belt and Road projects passes through Kashmir and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region, Reuters notes. “No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Baglay said. Furthermore, he also warned of the danger of debt. One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried out and funded by Chinese companies and banks. “Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

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Really, Brussels, Washington, you think it’s a good idea to let China buy up Greece? No security jiggers at all?

Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)

Fosun International, the Chinese conglomerate that’s part of a venture to transform the former Athens airport site into one of the biggest real-estate projects in Europe, is now turning its attention to Greek tourism. Fosun wants to use its stake in tour operator Thomas Cook to start building vacation packages specifically for the vast Chinese market, Senior Vice President Jim Jiannong Qian said in a May 4 interview in Athens. The Chinese government predicts 1.5 million of its citizens will start vacationing in Greece in the medium term. Tourism accounted for over one-quarter of Greece’s GDP in 2016, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation. Visitor numbers in 2016 reached 28.1 million, up 7.6% from 2015. Tourists generated €13.2 billion in travel receipts, according to the Bank of Greece. Of these travelers, 150,000 came from China, Beijing says.

“Greece is a very safe place for visitors,” said Qian who is also president of Fosun’s Tourism and Commercial Group. There are also good opportunities for tourism investments in Greece, he said. Fosun is in discussions to buy existing hotels and resorts, or for the construction of new ones, in Greece by its fully owned portfolio company Club Med. An increase in Chinese visitors to Greece would eventually lead to direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Athens, Qian said. The 54 year-old Qian said the situation in Greece has changed since the company first invested in Athens-based luxury goods retailer Folli Follie Group in 2011. “Greece’s economy is recovering now and can also deliver very good opportunities for foreign investors,” he said. “We look at the figures from retail sales and of the tourism sector,” and see the improvement.

Fosun, which manages €64.3 billion in total assets globally, has invested more than €200 million in Greece through its direct holding in Folli Follie and indirectly through Thomas Cook and Club Med, Qian said. “If you can help the economy grow, for example if we have the package product for Greece, then we create more jobs for restaurants, for retail stores, for taxi drivers.” The company, the biggest private Chinese company that invests in Europe, owns German lender Hauck & Aufhaeuser and Portuguese insurance company Fidelidade, and doesn’t rule out an investment in the Greek banking sector if an opportunity arises in the future, Qian said, refuting reports that the group has already made a bid to acquire shares in Greek banks. Fosun has already placed a bid for the acquisition of National Bank of Greece’s insurance unit National Insurance, and according to Qian, has no money ceiling when it comes to investments, as long as the opportunity is worth it.

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Rerouted trips to Greece?

New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)

New Zealand has slashed its forecast for Chinese tourist spending over the next six years, denting growth expectations for its biggest foreign-exchange earner. Spending by Chinese tourists will rise to NZ$3.73 billion ($2.5 billion) by 2022 from NZ$1.65 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s latest annual forecasts. That’s 30% less than the NZ$5.32 billion expected in last year’s projections. “There is significant geopolitical risk around the China market,” the ministry said in the report, published Friday, adding that indicators like early-2017 visa approvals were “suggesting a short-term slowing in the market.” The downward revision indicates overall revenue from tourists won’t grow as quickly as previously expected, and that Australia will remain the biggest source of tourist dollars until 2021. Last year, officials forecast China would take the top ranking in 2017.

Tourism, which last year overtook dairy as New Zealand’s top export, has been growing faster than expected. Visitor numbers surged to 3.5 million in 2016, four years sooner than had been envisaged in 2014, and are projected to jump to 4.9 million by 2023. Still, the uncertainty around China “adds some risk to both China’s and the national forecast numbers,” the ministry said in its latest report. The slower forecast trajectory for Chinese spending growth reflects fewer visitors and less spending per day than projected 12 months ago. Arrivals from China are expected to reach 812,000 in 2022. That’s less than the 921,000 estimated in last year’s report. Average spending per day is forecast to be NZ$343 in 2022 rather than the NZ$394 estimated a year ago. As a result, total foreign visitor spending will rise to NZ$15.3 billion in 2023, according to the forecasts. The 2016 prediction was that spending would rise to NZ$16 billion by 2022.

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As if we needed any more evidence that credibility is the least of their worries.

Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)

To protect the poorest Americans, should central bankers raise interest rates faster? At least one of them is making that argument. During a speech last month, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George said she was “not as enthusiastic or encouraged as some when I see inflation moving higher” because “inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.” She was referring in particular to rental inflation, which she said could continue rising if the Fed doesn’t take steps to tighten monetary conditions. And while the idea of inflation as a tax that hits the poor the hardest is not a new one, its role in the current debate over what to do with interest rates marks a bit of a twist from recent years.

Widening disparities in income and wealth have over the past several years permeated national politics and helped fuel the rise of populist movements around the developed world. Against this backdrop, there has been a growing body of research, some of it produced by economists at central banks, backing the idea that easier monetary policy tends to be more progressive. That work, set against the notion that a stricter approach toward containing inflation has the best interests of the lowest-income members of society at heart, is thrusting Fed policy makers toward the center of a debate they usually like to leave to politicians. It’s becoming more contentious as Fed officials seek to declare victory on their goal of maximum employment even while the percentage of prime working-age Americans who currently have jobs is still nowhere close to the peaks of the previous two economic expansions.

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“The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”..”

Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)

Having single-handedly hounded Home Capital Group – the company which we predicted in 2015 would be “ground zero” for any potential Canadian financial crisis, and has emerged as the Canada’s equivalent to the infamous New Century which in 2007 presaged the upcoming global financial crisis – into near oblivion, noted chicken-farmer and short-seller, Marc Cohodes, over the weekend revealed the full details behind his latest short thesis: Canadian oil and gas service provider, Badger Daylighting. Badger, for those unfamiliar, is a company which uses a technique called hydrovac excavation, in which pressurized water and a powerful vacuum are used to expose buried pipes and cables. The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”, already had a bad day on Friday when it revealed earnings and revenues that badly missed consensus expectations.

Insult was added to injury after Cohodes, who most recently gained prominence for his short bet on Home Capital Group, previewed pages of a negative presentation on Badger to his Twitter feed Friday, saying that the shares are overvalued and that there are low barriers to entry. As a result, BAD shares plunged as much as 28% to C$22 in Toronto, the biggest intraday decline since November 2006, after previously dropping 4.8% YTD. To be sure, on Friday Badger CEO Paul Vanderberg, without in depth knowledge of Cohodes’ thesis, responded to Cohodes saying “my focus on that is really not to focus on it” during the earnings call and adding that “I don’t agree with the thesis.” Obviously, especially since neither he nor anyone else had seen or read it.

Chief Financial Officer Jerry Schiefelbein also responded, saying Badger is working to train new workers and managers on how to operate more efficiently, which should help reduce costs. He said the company’s first-quarter sales were “pretty good” following a couple of tough years. As for Cohodes’ criticism about low barriers to entry, Schiefelbein was quoted by Bloomberg saying tat Badger’s size gives it an advantage over mom-and-pop shops that would seek to compete with the company. Badger can tackle bigger projects for municipalities, has safety systems that larger customers require and it can move assets to markets where there is more demand, he said. “It’s not just digging holes in the ground.”

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Only interesting if his French backers want something Germany doesn’t. But then they all want the eurozone.

Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)

Macron has taken over from Francois Hollande hoping to reform not just his own country but the euro as well. “We must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms,” he said during a speech at Humboldt University in Berlin this January. “It has not provided Europe with a full international sovereignty against the dollar on its rules, it has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member-states.” The centrist politician warned that without reform the euro may be obsolete in 10 years. He has proposed a series of changes to improve the single currency, with the centerpiece being a budget for the eurozone that will be monitored by the European Parliament and backed by borrowing capacity so that it can finance investments, provide emergency loans via the European Stability Mechanism and help eurozone members if they suffer significant economic shocks.

Macron has also suggested the pooling of debt in the eurozone through the issuing of eurobonds, which are anathema to German conservatives. “The establishment of this budget will have to come with a convergence agenda for the eurozone, an anti-dumping agenda that will set common rules for fiscal and social matters,” added Macron in a message to his German hosts that proceeded to become clearer during his speech. “In a monetary union, a country’s success cannot be sustainably achieved to the detriment of another, which is a limit of the competitiveness approach, because competitiveness is always about comparing yourself with a neighbor,” he said. “The difficulties of one are always the problems of all.” Although Macron admits that France must carry out its own labor, market and education reforms and respect fiscal targets, his words are a direct attempt to overturn the logic and policy that has dictated the eurozone’s response to its crises since 2010 and to shape how its overall approach will evolve from this point onward.

In doing so, Macron is taking the fight to Germany, which previous French presidents failed to do. “When you look at the situation, the dysfunctioning of the euro is good news for Germany, I have to say. You benefit from this dysfunctioning,” he told his audience in Berlin. “[The] euro today is a sort of weak Deutschmark, which favors the German industry,” he added. These are views that have rarely been aired publicly by key players in the eurozone and it is little surprise that the initial response from Berlin was to suggest that Macron has enough on his plate at home to be focusing on euro reform. “German support cannot replace French policymaking,” was Merkel’s first comment on the subject after Macron comfortably won last Sunday’s vote in France.

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But Schäuble on Friday said transfers were needed. You need a fiscal union to make that work.

Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)

Now what? “More Europe” say those who believe that problems were caused by an inadequate integration process that allowed policy mistakes by incompetent national governments. To avoid similar mistakes in the future, they are now urging a unified fiscal policy to complete the monetary union. That is what the French call the “fuite en avant” – a semiotic delight roughly translated as fleeing from an unsolvable problem. Here is what that problem looks like: The fiscal union implies a euro area federal state with a common management of public finances. The area’s budget, public debt financing, tax policies, transfer payments, etc. would be managed by a euro area finance ministry. That would also require harmonization of labor, health care and education policies, and a whole range of other social welfare programs. Institutionally, this integration drive cannot stop at the finance ministry. There would also have to be a euro area executive and legislative authority to exercise administrative and democratic controls over tax and spend decisions.

[..] How could Germany, with a budget surplus last year of 0.8% of GDP and the public debt of 68.3% of GDP, accept a fiscal union with Spain running the euro area’s largest budget deficit of 4.5% of GDP and a public debt of 100% of GDP? France and Italy have similar public finance profiles. Last year, France had a second-largest euro area budget deficit of 3.4% of GDP and a public debt of 96% of GDP. During the same period, Italy ran a budget deficit of 2.4% of GDP and a public debt of 133% of GDP. This means that half of the euro area economy (France, Italy and Spain), with serious structural problems of public finances, would become part of a de-facto federal state with a fiscally sound Germany. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? And yet, that’s the program that the new French President Emmanuel Macron will apparently discuss Monday when he visits German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

France, Italy and Spain already know the answer. Chancellor Merkel is relieved and delighted that the most dangerous anti-EU parties in France and The Netherlands lost the recent elections, but her government is firmly opposed to the euro area fiscal union. German public opinion fully shares that position. And German media of all political stripes are having a field day lampooning the idea that German taxpayers should be asked to pay for countries that cannot control their debts and deficits. This is also an awkward moment to even talk about the call on the German public purse while the country is gearing up for general elections on Sept. 24, 2017. The best that Germany can offer, under these circumstances, is a strict enforcement of existing euro area fiscal rules: Budget deficits limited to 3% of GDP and the gross public debt to 60% of GDP. About half of the euro area members are now falling far short of these criteria.

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Will the rich world ever come clean? No.

What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

On October 2nd 1904 General Lothar von Trotha issued what is now notorious as “the extermination order” to wipe out the Herero tribe in what was then German South West Africa, now Namibia. “Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot,” his edict read. During the next few months it was just about carried out. Probably four-fifths of the Herero people, women and children included, perished one way or another, though the survivors’ descendants now number 200,000-plus in a total Namibian population, scattered across a vast and mainly arid land, of 2.3m. The smaller Nama tribe, which also rose up against the Germans, was sorely afflicted too, losing perhaps a third of its people, in prison camps or in the desert into which they had been chased.

A variety of German politicians have since acknowledged their country’s burden of guilt, even uttering the dread word “genocide”, especially in the wake of the centenary in 2004. But recent negotiations between the two countries’ governments over how to settle the matter, the wording of an apology and material compensation are becoming fraught. Namibia’s 16,000 or so ethnic Germans, still prominent if not as dominant as they once were in business and farming, are twitchy. The matter is becoming even more messy because, while the German and Namibian governments set about negotiation, some prominent Herero and Nama figures say they should be directly and separately involved—and have embarked on a class-action case in New York under the Alien Tort Statute, which lets a person of any nationality sue in an American court for violations of international law, such as genocide and expropriation of property without compensation.

The main force behind the New York case, Vekuii Rukoro, a former Namibian attorney-general, demands that any compensation should go directly to the Herero and Nama peoples, whereas the Namibian government, dominated by the far more numerous Ovambo people in northern Namibia, who were barely touched by the wars of 1904-07 and lost no land, says it should be handled by the government on behalf of all Namibians. The Namibian government’s amiable chief negotiator, Zedekia Ngavirue, himself a Nama, has been castigated by some of Mr Rukoro’s team as a sell-out. “Tribalism is rearing its ugly head,” says the finance minister, who happens to be an ethnic German.

The German government says it cannot be sued in court for crimes committed more than a century ago because the UN’s genocide convention was signed only in 1948. “Bullshit,” says Jürgen Zimmerer, a Hamburg historian who backs the genocide claim and says the German government is making a mess of things. “They think only like lawyers, not about the moral and political question.” “None of the then existing laws was broken,” says a senior German official. “Maybe that’s morally unsatisfactory but it’s the legal position,” he adds.

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Apr 222017
 
 April 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 22 2017
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Andrei Rublev Trinity 1411

 

White House Orders Agencies to Prepare for Potential Government Shutdown (BBG)
Beware: The Next Financial Crisis Is Coming (Planet Ponzi)
Robert Prechter Is Awaiting A Depression-Like Shock In The US (MW)
Fed’s Fisher Warns Trump About Plans To ‘Do A Number’ On Dodd-Frank (BI)
Former FinMin Says China Should Let Local Governments Default on Debt (BBG)
Everything Gets Worse – Pakistan vs. India (Bhandari)
Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF (BBG)
Schaeuble Says Greece to Blame for Delays in Bailout Program
Greece Blows EU-IMF Bailout Targets Away With Strong Budget Performance (R.)
Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market (K.)
On Neocons and their Mental Defects (Taleb)
28 Refugees Found Dead In Drifting Dinghy Off Libyan Coast (Ind.)

 

 

It could happen.

White House Orders Agencies to Prepare for Potential Government Shutdown (BBG)

The White House ordered federal agencies Friday to began preparations for a potential partial government shutdown after signaling President Donald Trump would demand money for key priorities in legislation to continue funding the government beyond April 29. But the president and his aides expressed confidence that Congress would work out a spending agreement and that there won’t be any halt in government operations. Administration officials portrayed the order as normal contingency planning, stressing that the previous administration had followed the same practice as funding deadlines approached. “I think we’re in good shape” on avoiding a deadlock on maintaining funding, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is “confident” because negotiations are ongoing and “no one wants a shutdown.”

The push to reach an agreement on spending is complicated by White House efforts to try again for a House vote on replacing Obamacare next week, crowding the congressional schedule with two politically thorny measures the same week. House approval of an Obamacare repeal would give the president a legislative victory to boast about before his 100th day in office April 29. But failure to reach an agreement on spending legislation would risk marring the anniversary with a government shutdown. House Republicans plan a conference call Saturday with Ryan and other leaders to discuss the health-care bill as well as spending legislation. Republican Congressional leaders have pushed back against scheduling an Obamacare vote during the week, indicating there isn’t a clear strategy yet for achieving passage.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday Democrats will need to agree to pay for some Trump’s top priorities, including a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, in legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. Democrats responded harshly to Mulvaney’s remarks Thursday. “Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand,” said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Read more …

“Constantly printing more money will not end in prosperity, but in ruin.”

Beware: The Next Financial Crisis Is Coming (Planet Ponzi)

There is more debt, credit, and leverage today than there was preceding the banking crisis of 2008. No lessons were learned from that catastrophe as trillions of taxpayer dollars were provided in the form of bank bailouts from the US Federal Reserve. Despite their name, US Federal Reserve Banks are not part of the federal government and they are not banks. For the past 11 years, the Federal Reserve has been run by non-elected officials, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen (career academics), alongside a host of X Goldman and JP Morgan bankers. Since 2007, these non-elected bankers have provided banks “temporary, emergency liquidity measures.” Since when is eight years temporary?

Banks have continued to lend trillions and trillions of dollars to fund the construction of grotesquely overpriced residential and commercial properties around the world. The trillions of dollars given in bank bailouts are a perfect example of government “pay-to-play.” When giving out this money, most bankers are making at least three flawed assumptions:
1. Real estate prices will always go up. Clearly, this is the denial phase of “a bubble mentality.”
2. Rents will always keep rising. Rents peaked a few years ago. There is a massive oversupply of high-end residential and commercial properties on the market while real wages have declined. This is a sign that a crash is imminent.
3. The Federal Reserve will always bail them out. With zero transparency or an audit the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has ballooned from 500 billion to nearly 5 trillion in a short period. The Federal Reserve doesn’t have the money to keep bailing companies out.

The Federal Reserve has become nothing more than a rogue hedge fund taking leveraged, wildly speculative, gargantuan and high-risk positions in bonds and mortgages. Next up, the Fed will angle to dump these toxic real estate assets in your pension fund. There are several steps that need to be taken to address this situation and save your pensions:
1. The President and Congress need to order an immediate audit of the Fed.
2. The Fed’s positions need to be unwound.
3. No more taxpayer funded bailouts – save your pension!

Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Catholicism without hell. Constantly printing more money will not end in prosperity, but in ruin. The coming collapse will be much worse than in 2008-2009 because the debt is so much larger and the Federal Reserve has run out of bullets. Since the 1980s, we have seen real average wages decline, college tuition skyrocket nearly 2,000%, and housing prices hitting all-time new highs while high-paying jobs have disappeared. Rents have risen so much that many small businesses are no longer economically viable. The situation doesn’t look any better for graduates. Graduates entering the jobs market have nearly $250,000 in student debt. A graduate may get a job in Manhattan for $40,000 a year ($3,333 a month before tax) but rent on a studio apartment costs $3,000 a month. The numbers just don’t add up anymore.

Read more …

Social mood: “declining stock and property prices, contracting debt, angry and somber music, more intense horror movies..”

Robert Prechter Is Awaiting A Depression-Like Shock In The US (MW)

Avi Gilburt: You’ve said that, once the stock market tops, you expect a major bear market and economic contraction to take hold. What is your general timing for this to occur?

Robert Prechter: The true top for stocks in terms of real money (gold) occurred way back in 1999. Overall prosperity has waned subtly since then. Primary wave five in nominal terms started in March 2009, and wave B up in the Dow/gold ratio started in 2011. Their tops should be nearly coincident.

Gilburt: What do you foresee will set off this event?

Prechter: Triggers are a popular notion, borrowed from the physical sciences. But I don’t think there are any such things in financial markets. Waves of social mood create trends in the stock market, and economic and political events lag behind them. Because people do not perceive their moods, tops and bottoms in markets sneak right past them. At the top, people will love the market, and events and conditions will provide them with ample bases for rationalizing being heavily invested.

Gilburt: You’ve said we will be mired in a “depression-type” event. How long could that last?

Prechter: I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that the degree of the corrective wave will be larger than that which created the malaise of the 1930s and 1940s.

Gilburt: How are conditions going to change from what we have now?

Prechter: The increasingly positive trend in social mood over the past eight years has been manifesting in rising stock and property prices, expanding credit, buoyant pop music, lots of animated fairy tales and adventure movies, suppression of scandals, an improving economy and — despite much opinion — fairly moderate politics. This trend isn’t quite over yet. In the next wave of negative mood, we should see the opposite: declining stock and property prices, contracting debt, angry and somber music, more intense horror movies, eruption of scandals, a contracting economy and political upheaval. That’s been the pattern of history.

It’s all relative, though, and it’s never a permanent condition. Just as people give up on the future, its brightness will return. The financial contraction during the negative mood trend of 2006-2011 was the second worst in 150 years. Yet, thanks to the return of positive mood, many people have already forgotten about it. Investors again embrace stocks, ETFs, real estate, mortgage debt, auto-loan debt and all kinds of risky investments that they swore off just a few years ago.

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Because the Fed is doing such a great job of keeping banks in check.

Fed’s Fisher Warns Trump About Plans To ‘Do A Number’ On Dodd-Frank (BI)

Stanley Fischer, the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, on Friday delivered an unusually sharp warning to President Donald Trump and his plan to “do a number” on post-crisis reforms aimed at reining in Wall Street. Fed officials usually go out of their way to not appear political, which makes the comments all the more startling. Fischer, a former Citigroup banker and respected policymaker who led the Bank of Israel for many years, appears truly concerned. “We seem to have forgotten that we had a financial crisis, which was caused by behavior in the banking and other parts of the financial system, and it did enormous damage to this economy,” Fischer told CNBC’s Sara Eisen in the lobby of the IMF, responding to a question about the potential rolling back of Dodd-Frank rules.

This happened just as the president was signing an executive order aimed at what he said was “reviewing” Dodd-Frank. “Millions of people lost their jobs. Millions of people lost their houses,” Fischer said. “This was not a small-time, regular recession. This was huge, and it affected the rest of the world, and it affected, to some extent, our standing in the world as well. We should not forget that. “The strength of the financial system is absolutely essential to the ability of the economy to continue to grow at a reasonable rate, and taking actions which remove the changes that were made to strengthen the structure of the financial system is very dangerous.”

Asked specifically about Trump’s vow to “do a number” on Dodd-Frank, Fischer shot back: “I’m not sure precisely what the president said and what a ‘number’ is, but there are aspects of Dodd-Frank, which if they were taken away would have very serious potential consequences for the economy — not immediately but when times get tough.” What provisions is he most worried about? The ability of the Fed and other regulators to wind down large banks, many of which are still seen as too big to fail. “I think it is very important that big banks be subject to the discipline of the possibility of going bankrupt. It is also very important that that discipline extends to not making those changes, the bankruptcy of a big bank, a huge shock and the source of crisis or damage to the overall economy,” Fischer said. “So we need the resolution mechanisms that have been put in place which will allow the authorities and the markets to wind up a big bank.”

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Beware the cascade.

Former FinMin Says China Should Let Local Governments Default on Debt (BBG)

Former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said China should allow smaller local governments to default on debt because it would signal that central government bailouts aren’t assured. Such defaults would educate investors that their investments will be allowed to go bad, Lou said Friday at a public finance forum in Beijing. “They need to shoulder responsibility,” said Lou, who’s now chairman of the country’s social security fund. “Nobody will save them.” Lou’s comments reiterate those by Premier Li Keqiang and other central government officials such as current Finance Minister Xiao Jie that local government debt shouldn’t be bailed out, or benefit from assumptions it will be.

With economic growth accelerating for a second-straight quarter to 6.9% through March, policy makers have more room to cut leverage and rein in risks. A credit surge since 2014 that underpinned growth has also fueled a further buildup in borrowing. Total debt rose to 258% of economic output last year from 161% in 2008, Bloomberg Intelligence estimates show. Lou said government debt remains broadly safe, but borrowing levels are poised to keep climbing given increased investment in substandard public-private partnership projects.

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Great long read on India and its region.

Everything Gets Worse – Pakistan vs. India (Bhandari)

When Narendra Modi announced on 8th November 2016 that he was demonetizing 86% of the monetary value of all currency in circulation, he gave three major reasons for doing so: to end corruption, to end terrorism and to eliminate counterfeit currency. Ironically, all three are now in far worse condition than they were previously, and even worse than the predictions I made. Many ATMs in India still dispense no cash. The economy is in shatters. This had to happen, as any new cash is rapidly moving under the carpets of the financial powerful that hoard currency. Small businesses are traumatized by the lack of access to cash – many are closing for good. People continue to avoid making non-essential purchases. Even food demand has failed to recover. Poor people very likely are still forced to go to bed half-hungry.

No-one knows whether there are famines in parts of India, as none of the mainstream media are covering the issue. Not unlike North Koreans or the Chinese during the times of Mao, Indians today, particularly members of the so-called educated class, simply cannot see what Modi or their nationalistic paradigm does not want them to see. Indian banks and other financial institutions are extremely unethical. Since privatization was implemented in the 1990s, they have charged fees and commissions for accounts that were never agreed upon. Indians never fight, so this continues. After the demonetization exercise, these mysterious charges have started to appear more often. Then they deduct certain services and financial taxes, and most people don’t make the effort to try to understand them. Indians are getting very tired of the banks – not for moral, but simply for financial reasons.

Bank websites are extremely unwieldy. They require a sequence of passwords and OTPs (one time pad codes), which have an automatic expiry date. Getting the whole sequence right to make an online payment without having these websites freeze during the procedure leaves one with a sense of accomplishment. Most people prefer to walk down to their banks to get bank officials to perform such online transactions. India is simply not ready for the digital age. This experiment in going cashless will end in a disaster. Similar to every tyrant, Modi likes to think that tax collection should be at the heart of society. He imagines a society in which subjects dance around the state. The problem is, one can perfect the tax system or minimize corruption, but with a per capita GDP of $1,718, India simply does not have the required productivity.

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Anything you do can and will be used against you: The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

Dijsselbloem Sees ‘Tough’ Greek Debt Relief Talks With IMF (BBG)

Discussions between Greece’s European creditors and the IMF on additional debt relief for the Mediterranean euro region member will be difficult because of political hurdles within the 19-nation bloc, though a solution is on the horizon, Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said. “Greece: We’re very close, it’s really the last stretch,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Friday in Washington with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene. “We have a full agreement on the major reforms. How they are to be designed, when they are to be implemented, the size of them.”

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Friday she had “constructive discussions” with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos in preparation for the return of bailout auditors to Athens after euro-area finance ministers reached a tentative agreement on the measures Greece needs to implement to qualify for the next tranche of emergency loans. Dijsselbloem met Tsakalotos earlier on Friday in Washington. “That will be a tough discussion with the IMF,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch Finance Minister in a caretaker cabinet, “There are some political constraints where we can go and where we can’t go.” The level of Greece’s primary budget surplus is key in determining the kind of debt relief it will need. The more such surplus it has, the less debt relief will be needed.

The Hellenic Statistical Authority on Friday unveiled data on last year’s primary surplus, which Eurostat is expected to validate on Monday. The surplus was 3.9% according to the European Union’s statistics office methodology, or 4.2% according to what has been agreed in the bailout program. The bailout target was for a primary surplus of 0.5% of GDP. In spite of its better-than-expected primary surplus last year, the IMF is not convinced Greece will be able to maintain that level of performance for 2018 and beyond. The fund estimates that at least half of the primarily surplus for 2016 came from one-off measures rather than structural changes that will continue delivering results in the years to come, according to a person familiar with its analysis. That has prompted the fund to demand more austerity measures.

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Groundhog man.

Schaeuble Says Greece to Blame for Delays in Bailout Program

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the Greek government bore responsibility for current delays in the country’s bailout program. Greece is to blame that its creditors didn’t return to Athens during the Greek Easter break to finish negotiations on steps the nation must take to qualify for the next tranche of emergency loans, Schaeuble told reporters Friday on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings. IMF European Department head Poul Thomsen said at a media briefing there’s been enough progress recently to send back a mission to Greece. Greece and its international creditors struck a tentative agreement at a meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Malta earlier this month, breaking the latest deadlock over the country’s rescue and paving the way for about €7 billion in aid for Athens.

Although the decision represents progress, the euro area won’t unlock the payout until their audit in Athens is concluded. “It would have been possible to continue the mission in Athens immediately in the week after Malta,” said Schaeuble. “This was not possible during the Greek Easter break.” In a statement on Friday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she had a “constructive dialogue” with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos “in preparation for the return of the mission to discuss the two legs of the Greece program: policies and debt relief.” The IMF isn’t holding back progress, said Schaeuble. “The IMF isn’t delaying this process at all,” he said.

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The worst thing Greece could do.

Greece Blows EU-IMF Bailout Targets Away With Strong Budget Performance (R.)

Greece far exceeded its international lenders’ budget demands last year, official data showed on Friday, posting its first overall budget surplus in 21 years even when debt repayments are included. The primary surplus – the leftover before debt repayments that is the focus of IMF-EU creditors – was more than eight times what they had targeted. Data released by Greek statistics service ELSTAT – to be confirmed on Monday by the EU – showed the primary budget surplus at 3.9% of GDP last year versus a downwardly revised 2.3% deficit in 2015. This was calculated under European System of Accounts guidelines, which differ from the methodology used by Greece’s in bailout deliberations.

Under EU-IMF standards, the surplus was even larger. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the primary budget surplus under bailout terms reached 4.19% of GDP last year versus the 0.5% of GDP target. “It is more than eight times above target,” Tzanakopoulos said in a statement. “Therefore, the targets set under the bailout program for 2017 and 2018 will certainly be attained.” Debt-strapped Greece and its creditors have been at odds for months over the country’s fiscal performance, delaying the conclusion of a key bailout review which could unlock needed bailout funds. The IMF, which has reservations on whether Greece can meet high primary surplus targets, has yet to decide if it will fund Greece’s current bailout, which expires in 2018.

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The surplus kills the economy even more.

Greek Primary Surplus Chokes Market (K.)

The state’s fiscal performance last year has exceeded even the most ambitious targets, as the primary budget surplus as defined by the Greek bailout program, came to 4.19% of GDP, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos announced on Friday. It came to €7.369 billion against a target for €879 million, or just 0.5% of GDP. A little earlier, the president of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Thanos Thanopoulos, announced the primary surplus according to Eurostat rules, saying that it came to 3.9% of GDP or €6.937 billion. The two calculations differ in methodology, but it is the surplus attained according to the bailout rules that matters for assessing the course of the program. This was also the first time since 1995 that Greece achieved a general government surplus – equal to 0.7% of GDP – which includes the cost of paying interest to the country’s creditors.

There is a downside to the news, however, as the figures point to overtaxation imposed last year combined with excessive containment of expenditure. The amount of €6-6.5 billion collected in excess of the budgeted surplus has put a chokehold on the economy, contributing to a great extent to the stagnation recorded on the GDP level in 2016. On the one hand, the impressive result could be a valuable weapon for the government in its negotiations with creditors to argue that it is on the right track to fiscal streamlining and can achieve or even exceed the agreed targets. On the other hand, however, the overperformance of the budget may weaken the argument in favor lightening the country’s debt load. It is no coincidence that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble noted in Washington that over the last couple of years, Greek government deficit forecasts are more realistic than those of the IMF.

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Skin in the game.

On Neocons and their Mental Defects (Taleb)

So we tried that thing called regime change in Iraq, and failed miserably. We tried it in Libya, and now there are now active slave markets in the place. But we satisfied the objective of “removing a dictator”. By the exact same reasoning, a doctor would inject a patient with “moderate” cancer cells “to improve his cholesterol numbers”, and claim victory after the patient is dead, particularly if the post-mortem shows remarkable cholesterol readings. But we know that doctors don’t do that, or, don’t do it in such a crude format, and that there is a clear reason for it. Doctors usually have some skin in the game. And don’t give up on logic, intellect and education, because a tight but higher order logical reasoning would show that the logic of advocating regime changes implies also advocating slavery.

So these interventionistas not only lack practical sense, and never learn from history, but they even make mistakes at the pure reasoning level, which they drown in some form of semi-abstract discourse. The first flaw is that they are incapable in thinking in second steps and unaware of the need for it –and about every peasant in Mongolia, every waiter in Madrid, and every car service operator in San Francisco knows that real life happens to have second, third, fourth, nth steps. The second flaw is that they are also incapable of distinguishing between multidimensional problems and their single dimensional representations –like multidimensional health and its stripped, cholesterol-reading reduced representation. They can’t get the idea that, empirically, complex systems do not have obvious one dimensional cause and effects mechanisms, and that under opacity, you do not mess with such a system.

An extension of this defect: they compare the actions of the “dictator” to the prime minister of Norway or Sweden, not to those of the local alternative. And when a blow up happens, they invoke uncertainty, something called a Black Swan, not realizing that one should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, avoid engaging in an action if you have no idea of the outcomes. Imagine people with similar mental handicaps, who don’t understand asymmetry, piloting planes. Incompetent pilots, those who cannot learn from experience, or don’t mind taking risks they don’t understand, may kill many, but they will themselves end up at the bottom of, say, the Atlantic, and cease to represent a threat to others and mankind.

So we end up populating what we call the intelligentsia with people who are delusional, literally mentally deranged, simply because they never have to pay for the consequences of their actions, repeating modernist slogans stripped of all depth. In general, when you hear someone invoking abstract modernistic notions, you can assume that they got some education (but not enough, or in the wrong discipline) and too little accountability. Now some innocent people, Yazidis, Christian minorities, Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans had to pay a price for the mistakes of these interventionistas currently sitting in their comfortable air-conditioned offices. This, we will see, violates the very notion of justice from its pre-biblical, Babylonian inception. As well as the ethical structure of humanity.

Read more …

Just a week ago we commemorated a man on a cross whose image we remember but whose teachings we’ve forgotten.

28 Refugees Found Dead In Drifting Dinghy Off Libyan Coast (Ind.)

Almost 30 migrants have been found dead in a boat drifting off the coast of Libya as the number of refugees dying in attempts to reach Europe reach record highs. Fishermen found the bodies of 28 people, including four children, in waters near the smuggling hub of Sabratha after more than 8,300 asylum seekers were rescued over the Easter weekend. “Their boat stopped in the middle of the water because the engine was broken,” said Ahmaida Khalifa Amsalam, the interior ministry’s security commander. He said the victims appeared to have died of thirst and hunger after their vessel was left drifting in the Mediterranean.

They were buried in a cemetery dedicated to migrants whose bodies are regularly washed up on the coast of Libya, which remains embroiled in a bloody civil war six years after the UK helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Smugglers have increasingly resorted to packing migrants into flimsy dinghies that are unable to survive the crossing to Europe, with some being intercepted and forced back by the Libyan coastguard, others being rescued by EU officials and aid agencies, and many sinking. Tuesday’s tragic discovery was the latest incident of refugees being found dead inside boats, with a worrying trend emerging suggesting engines are being removed or sabotaged at sea.

Read more …

Dec 192016
 
 December 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area 1952

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)
Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)
A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)
Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)
The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)
Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)
As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)
China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)
China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)
Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)
Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)
Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)
India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)
Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)
The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

 

 

Hitchens is a veteran. And western propaganda on Aleppo has gotten way out of hand.

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)

[..] the old cliche ‘the first casualty of war is truth’ is absolutely right, and should be displayed in letters of fire over every TV and newspaper report of conflict, for ever. Almost nothing can be checked. You become totally reliant on the people you are with, and you identify with them. If you can find a working phone, you will feel justified in shouting whatever you have got into the mouthpiece – as simple and unqualified as possible. And your office will feel justified in putting it on the front page (if you are lucky). And that is when you are actually there, which is a sort of excuse for bending the rules.

In the past few days we have been bombarded with colourful reports of events in eastern Aleppo, written or transmitted by people in Beirut (180 miles away and in another country), or even London (2,105 miles away and in another world). There have, we are told, been massacres of women and children, people have been burned alive. The sources for these reports are so-called ‘activists’. Who are they? As far as I know, there was not one single staff reporter for any Western news organisation in eastern Aleppo last week. Not one. This is for the very good reason that they would have been kidnapped and probably murdered. The zone was ruled without mercy by heavily armed Osama Bin Laden sympathisers, who were bombarding the west of the city with powerful artillery (they frequently killed innocent civilians and struck hospitals, since you ask).

That is why you never see pictures of armed males in eastern Aleppo, just beautifully composed photographs of handsome young unarmed men lifting wounded children from the rubble, with the light just right. The women are all but invisible, segregated and shrouded in black, just as in the IS areas, as we saw when they let them out. For reasons that I find it increasingly hard to understand or excuse, much of the British media refer to these Al Qaeda types coyly as ‘rebels’ (David Cameron used to call them ‘moderates’). But if they were in any other place in the world, including Birmingham or Belmarsh, they would call them extremists, jihadis, terrorists and fanatics. One of them, Abu Sakkar, famously cut out and sank his teeth into the heart of a fallen enemy, while his comrades cheered. This is a checked and verified fact, by the way.

Sakkar later confirmed it to the BBC, when Western journalists still had contact with these people, and there is film of it if you care to watch. There is also film of a Syrian ‘rebel’ group, Nour al-din al Zenki, beheading a 12-year-old boy called Abdullah Issa. They smirk a lot. It is on the behalf of these ‘moderates’ that MPs staged a wholly one-sided debate last week, and on their behalf that so many people have been emoting equally one-sidedly over alleged massacres and supposed war crimes by Syrian and Russian troops – for which I have yet to see a single piece of independent, checkable evidence.

Read more …

A real American Christmas comedy.

Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)

With even Harvard’s Larry Lessig admitting that his efforts to flip the Electoral College against Trump have failed miserably, it’s a near certainty that Trump will, in fact, be elected President when the Electoral College casts their votes tomorrow. That said, there could always be surprises and, as such, The Hill has published a list of five things you should keep an eye on as electors get set to cast their ballots. First, here is how the 538 electors should cast their ballots if they all strictly follow the will of the voters in their respective states.

That said, we know that at least one Texas elector, Chris Suprun, has vowed to go rogue tomorrow and anxious eyes will be waiting to see if anyone decides to join him. As The Hill points out, there hasn’t been an election since 1836 in which more than 1 elector changed his vote, so even 2 defectors would make history.

There’s no evidence of a widespread number of Republican defections—just one Republican elector from Texas has gone public with plans to break from Trump. But there hasn’t been an election in which more than one elector jumped ship for reasons other than the death of a candidate since 1836, according to the nonprofit FairVote. So a defection by even one more Republican elector would make history.

The next thing to watch is whether any Democrat electors will cast protest votes. A small group of Democratic electors had vowed to join Larry Lessig’s coup attempt by throwing their support behind an alternative Republican candidate. While this now seems like a remote possibility, it is something to watch for.

Democratic electors are the ones beating the drums for the revolt, yet they’re largely powerless to change the outcome. A handful of electors are already planning on uniting around a Republican alternative as a protest, but it’s still unclear how many are willing to join the protest. In theory, a unified front of the 232 Democrats could join with 38 Republicans to elect an alternative president. But in practice, the anti-Trump electors will be lucky if more than a dozen Democrats break.

With 29 states and the District of Columbia binding their electors by law, it will also be interesting to see if anyone in those states choose to defect, and if so, what penalties will be levied upon them.

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Lots of info from Parry, but basically just confirms what we already knew.

A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)

As Official Washington’s latest “group think” solidifies into certainty – that Russia used hacked Democratic emails to help elect Donald Trump – something entirely different may be afoot: a months-long effort by elements of the U.S. intelligence community to determine who becomes the next president. I was told by a well-placed intelligence source some months ago that senior leaders of the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies – from the CIA to the FBI – were deeply concerned about either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump ascending to the presidency. And, it’s true that intelligence officials often come to see themselves as the stewards of America’s fundamental interests, sometimes needing to protect the country from dangerous passions of the public or from inept or corrupt political leaders.

It was, after all, a senior FBI official, Mark Felt, who – as “Deep Throat” – guided The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate investigation into the criminality of President Richard Nixon. And, I was told by former U.S. intelligence officers that they wanted to block President Jimmy Carter’s reelection in 1980 because they viewed him as ineffectual and thus not protecting American global interests. It’s also true that intelligence community sources frequently plant stories in major mainstream publications that serve propaganda or political goals, including stories that can be misleading or entirely false. So, what to make of what we have seen over the past several months when there have been a series of leaks and investigations that have damaged both Clinton and Trump — with some major disclosures coming, overtly and covertly, from the U.S. intelligence community led by CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey?

Read more …

The WSJ headline is: “Donald Trump’s Team Tones Down Skepticism on Russia Hacking Evidence”. But all he does is say: “show us the proof, show me and the American people.” So let’s have it.

Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)

Fresh signs emerged Sunday that President-elect Donald Trump could embrace the intelligence community’s view that the Russians were behind a computer-hacking operation aimed at influencing the November election. A senior Trump aide said Mr. Trump could accept Russia’s involvement if there is a unified presentation of evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. This followed weeks of skepticism from the president-elect and his supporters that there is sufficient evidence that Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee or leak of stolen emails.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president-elect “would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page.” His statement follows an intensifying bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to launch a separate investigation into the matter. Mr. Trump has called for opening up new lines of cooperation with Russia, and some of his critics in both parties have said his refusal so far to say Russia tried to interfere in the election was a sign that he doesn’t believe that Moscow is a U.S. adversary.

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That’s quite the shift.

The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)

After the financial crisis, regulators were worried about too much risk being concentrated in too few hands.They are still concerned, but the hands have changed. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research is devoted to worrying about everything and anything that could spur another financial crisis, and near the top of the list is the post-crisis explosion in corporate credit. This pile of debt is “a top threat to stability,” according to this Treasury unit’s latest report, as Bloomberg’s Claire Boston wrote on Tuesday. In particular, these researchers are wary of the changing composition of who owns these bonds. Big banks and hedge funds own a much smaller proportion, while insurers and mutual funds own much more of it.


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More specifically, banks and household and nonprofits, a category that includes hedge funds, have reduced their holdings of U.S. corporate credit by $1.6 trillion since 2008, while insurers, mutual funds and the rest of the world have increased it by $3.6 trillion, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs that includes foreign sovereign debt and asset-backed securities. This is a salient matter. The Federal Reserve just raised rates for a second time in two years and predicts three rate increases next year, possibly marking the end of this era of financial repression that’s spurred a record pace of corporate-debt sales.

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With Goldman predicting the biggest fall for the yuan in 20 years, Beijing is in a bind.

Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)

Chinese savers, eager to convert their yuan before the currency keeps depreciating, are snapping up U.S. dollar investment products that offer options for keeping money at home instead of sending it overseas. The latest wealth management products from China Merchants Bank last week, paying 2.37% annual interest on U.S. dollars, sold out in 60 seconds flat. “You won’t be able to get it online because it’s gone in less than a minute,” said a branch manager, who would only give the surname Xu, and encourages customers to book a day in advance next time. A growing number of offerings of such U.S. dollar funds and how quickly they’re being purchased show the surging demand for foreign currency amid outflows that are estimated to have totaled more than $1.5 trillion since the beginning of 2015.

By shifting into dollars – U.S., Australian and Hong Kong are among the favorites – deposit holders are shielded from the yuan’s losses without having to take their money out of the country to seek returns. “It seems an attractive choice to convert the yuan into the dollar sooner rather than later,” Harrison Hu at NatWest Markets, a unit of RBS, wrote in a note. He estimates that household purchases of foreign exchange could double to $15 billion a month in the coming quarter, absent new controls. A more hawkish than expected outlook from the U.S. Federal Reserve after it lifted interest rates last week has helped accelerate a dollar rally, with analysts predicting further gains. As the yuan has declined, China’s authorities have tried to vigorously enforce strict rules on moving cash over the border, where it is often invested in purchases such as real estate.

In recent weeks, policy makers in Beijing have put the brakes on everything from companies buying assets overseas to offshore purchases of life insurance to stem the tide of cash outflows. The fresh measures include checks by the currency regulator on any capital account transactions involving foreign exchange of $5 million or more. That followed steps earlier this year to ban the sharing of foreign-exchange quotas. In November, banks sold 49% more foreign-currency denominated wealth management products, most of them in U.S. dollars, than in October, according to PY Standard. November’s foreign currency deposits increased 11.4% from a year earlier, more than double the 4.8% rise in October, according to the People’s Bank of China.

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If you’re really a market economy, what do you do?

As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)

Zhang Yuting lives and works in Shanghai, has only visited the United States once, and rarely needs to use foreign currency. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old accountant from putting a slice of her bank savings into the greenback. She is not alone. In the first 11 months of 2016, official figures show that foreign currency bank deposits owned by Chinese households rose by almost 32%, propelled by the yuan’s recent fall to eight-year lows against the dollar. The rapid rise – almost four times the growth rate for total deposits in the yuan and other currencies as recorded in central bank data – comes at a time when the yuan is under intense pressure from capital outflows. The outflows are partially a result of concerns that the yuan is going to weaken further as U.S. interest rates rise, and because of lingering concerns about the health of the Chinese economy.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S., as well as tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, have only added to the fears. “Expectations of capital flight are clear,” said Zhang, who used her yuan savings to buy $10,000 this year. “I might exchange more yuan early next year, as long as I’ve got money.” Household foreign currency deposits in China are not huge compared to the money that companies, banks and wealthy individuals have been directing into foreign currency accounts and other assets offshore. All up, households had $118.72 billion of foreign money in their bank accounts at the end of November, while total foreign currency deposits were $702.56 billion. But the high growth rate in the household forex holdings are symbolic of a growing headache for the government as it struggles to counter the yuan’s weakness

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Liquidity is one of the things central banks do not control. Not in the way China sees control.

China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)

China’s central bank stepped in to urge major commercial banks to lend to non-bank financial institutions on Thursday afternoon after many suspended interbank operations amid tight liquidity conditions, Caixin reported. The People’s Bank of China intervened to help institutions such as securities firms and fund managers after banks, including the big four state-owned banks, became reluctant to make loans, the financial magazine said, citing traders and institutional sources. Caixin said that traders pointed to worsening sentiment among banks about market conditions and growing caution over interbank lending, especially after the U.S. Fed triggered a sell-off in the bond futures market on Thursday by signaling more rate hikes in 2017. Liquidity has become a major factor affecting the market after the central bank increased the cost of capital through open market operations in the past month, the magazine added.

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Don’t believe a word of it.

China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)

China will strictly limit credit flowing into speculative buying in the property market in 2017, top leaders said at an economic conference on Friday, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency. “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate,” Xinhua said, citing a statement issued by the leaders after the Central Economic Work Conference concluded. “We must control credits in the macro sense,” they said in the statement. China will also boost the supply of land for cities where housing prices face stiff upward pressure, they said. China must quickly establish a long-term mechanism to restrain property bubbles and prevent price volatility in 2017, Xinhua said. Top leaders began the conference on Wednesday to map out economic and reform plans. The annual event is keenly watched by investors for clues to policy priorities and economic targets in the year ahead.

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That’s what the country always used to be good at after all.

Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)

The Bank of Italy’s Target 2 liabilities towards other Eurozone central banks — one of the most important indicators of banking stress — has risen by €129 billion in the last 12 months through November to €358.6 billion. That’s well above the €289 billion peak reached in August 2012 at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Foreign and local investors are dumping Italian government bonds and withdrawing their funding to Italian banks. The bank at the heart of Italy’s financial crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), has bled €6 billion of “commercial direct deposits” between September 30 and December 13, €2 billion of which since December 4, the date of Italy’s constitutional referendum.

Italy’s new Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who took over from Matteo Renzi after his defeat in the referendum,said his government — a virtual carbon copy of the last one — is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop MPS from collapsing and thereby engulfing other European banks. His options would include directly supporting Italy’s ailing banks, in contravention of the EU’s bail-in rules passed into law at the beginning of this year. Though now, that push comes to shove, the EU seems happy to look the other way. While attention is focused on the rescue of MPS, news regarding another Italian bank, Banca Etruria, has quietly slipped by the wayside. On Friday it was announced that the first part of an investigation concerning fraudulent bankruptcy charges, in which 21 board members are implicated, had been closed.

This strand of the investigation concerns €180 million of loans offered by the bank which were never paid back, leading to the regional lender’s bankruptcy and eventual bail-in/out last November that left bondholders holding virtually worthless bonds. The Banca Etruria scandal is a reminder — and certainly not a welcome one right now for Italian authorities — that a large part of the €360 billion of toxic loans putrefying on the balance sheets of Italy’s banks should never have been created at all and were a result of the widespread culture of corruption, political kickbacks, and other forms of fraud and abuse infecting Italy’s banking sector. Etruria is also under investigation for fraudulently selling high-risk bonds to retail investors — a common practice among banks in Italy (and Spain) during the liquidity-starved years of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Put simply, “misselling” subordinated debt to unsuspecting depositors was “the way they recapitalized the banking system,” as Jim Millstein, the U.S. Treasury official who led the restructuring of U.S. banks after the financial crisis, told Bloomberg earlier this year.

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Yeah, it’s unfair!!

Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)

Ireland will appeal the European Union’s order to force it to collect a record €13bn in taxes from Apple, the Irish government has said. The Irish finance department’s announcement on Monday comes nearly four months after EU competition authorities hit Apple with the back-tax bill based on its longtime reporting of European-wide profits through Ireland. The country charges the American company only for sales on its own territory at Europe-low rates that in turn have been greatly reduced by the controversial use of shell companies at home and abroad. In its formal legal submission, the Dublin says its low taxes are the whole point of its sales pitch to foreign investors — and said it is perfectly legal to levy far less tax on profits than imposed by competitors.

It accuses EU competition authorities of unfairness, exceeding their competence and authority, and seeking to breach Ireland’s sovereignty in national tax affairs. The ruling unveiled 30 August by the European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager called on Apple to pay Ireland the €13bn for gross underpayment of tax on profits across the bloc from 2003 to 2014. Her report concluded that Apple used two shell companies incorporated in Ireland to permit Apple to report its Europe-wide profits at effective rates well under 1%. The scope of the order could have been even greater because EU time limits meant the judgment could include potential tax infringements dating only from 2003, not all the way back to Apple’s original 1991 tax deal with Ireland. But Irish specialists in corporate tax estimate that the EU’s order, if enforced, actually would total €19bn because of compounding interest from delayed payment.

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Everybody appeals.

Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)

Apple will launch a legal challenge this week to a record $14 billion EU tax demand, arguing that EU regulators ignored tax experts and corporate law and deliberately picked a method to maximize the penalty, senior executives said. Apple’s combative stand underlines its anger with the European Commission, which said on Aug. 30 the company’s Irish tax deal was illegal state aid and ordered it to repay up to €13 billion to Ireland, where Apple has its European headquarters. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a former Danish economy minister, said Apple’s Irish tax bill implied a tax rate of 0.005% in 2014. Apple intends to lodge an appeal against the Commission’s ruling at Europe’s second highest court this week, its General Counsel Bruce Sewell and CFO Luca Maestri told Reuters.

The iPhone and iPad maker was singled out because of its success, Sewell said. “Apple is not an outlier in any sense that matters to the law. Apple is a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. It allows the commissioner to become Dane of the year for 2016,” he said, referring to the title accorded by Danish newspaper Berlingske last month. Apple will tell judges the Commission was not diligent in its investigation because it disregarded tax experts brought in by Irish authorities. “Now the Irish have put in an expert opinion from an incredibly well-respected Irish tax lawyer. The Commission not only didn’t attack that – didn’t argue with it, as far as we know – they probably didn’t even read it. Because there is no reference (in the EU decision) whatsoever,” Sewell said.

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A police state that bans gold and creates a huge underground market in it.

India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)

Assaults on people’s private property and the integrity of their homes through tax-raids continue. In a recent notification, government has made it clear that any ownership of jewelry above 500 grams of gold per married woman will be put under the microscopic scrutiny of tax authorities. Steep taxes and penalties will be imposed on those who cannot prove the source of their gold. In India’s Orwellian new-speak this means that because bullion has not been explicitly mentioned, its ownership will be deemed to be illegal. Courts will do what Modi wants. Huge bribes will have to be paid. Sane people are of course cleaning up their bank lockers. The secondary consequence of this will be a steep increase in unreported crimes, for people will be afraid of going to the police after a theft, fearing that the tax authorities will then ask questions.

At the same time, the gold market has mostly gone underground, and apparently the volume of gold buying has gone up. The salaried middle class is the consumption class, often heavily indebted. Poor people have limited amounts of gold. The government is merely doing what pleases the majority and their sense of envy, to the detriment of small businesses and savers. Now, the middle class is starting to face problems as well. This will worsen once the the impact of the destruction of small businesses becomes obvious. India has always had a negative-yielding economy. It has suddenly become even more negative-yielding. Business risk has gone through the roof. Savers will be victimized. It is because of negative yields that Indian savers buy gold. They will buy more going forward.

Sane Indians should stay a step ahead of their rapacious government and the evolving totalitarian society, which are less and less inhibited by any institutions or values in support of liberty. India will become a police state, likely with the full support of most Indians. Nationalism will be the thread that weaves them together. But it is a fake thread, devoid of any value. Eventually, there will be far too many stresses in the system, whose institutions are already in an advance stage of decay. India as it exists today is a British creation. With the British now gone for 69 years, it is an entity has less and less reason to exist in its current form.

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Yeah, let’s all get crazy when Brussels says so.

Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)

Despite widespread opposition in the ranks of SYRIZA to such a prospect, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has called for the creation of “closed” reception centers for migrants on Aegean islands, saying they will help minimize tensions amid local communities. A key reason for building tensions at existing centers on the islands is the slow pace at which migrants’ asylum applications are being processed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a pointed reference to the slow pace of migrant returns from Greece to Turkey last week. However, official figures show that an agreement signed in March between the European Union and Ankara significantly curbed arrivals in Greece. Of the 172,699 migrants that arrived in Greece from Turkey this year, only 20,457 have landed on the islands since the beginning of April, when the EU-Turkey deal went into effect.

Asylum officials on the Aegean islands have received a total of 21,314 applications, while 2,110 have appealed against initial rejections. The government hopes to create new facilities to accommodate migrants who have displayed delinquent behavior in a bid to curb the outbreak of rioting at larger centers and to stop thefts and other petty crimes that have been testing tolerance in local communities. “We propose small facilities for 150-200 people,” Mouzalas told Kathimerini, adding that authorities were not seeking the tolerance but the “solidarity” of islanders to help “normalize the situation.” As for the prospect of transferring some migrants from island centers to facilities on the mainland, Athens has asked EU officials about it but has failed to receive a response amid fears that such a move would constitute a violation of the EU-Turkey pact, Mouzalas said.

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There’s far more than seven, but hey, it’s John Vidal. Who spent half his life doing this.

The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

A baby ibex on a precipitous cliff edge. The hyenas of Harar eating from a human hand. Leopards in Mumbai, whales breaching and baby turtles heading blindly away from the sea. We are amazed by images of wildlife seen in ever more beautifully filmed natural history documentaries. They raise awareness, entertain, inform and amuse. We weep when we hear there are fewer birds in the sky, or that thousands of species are critically endangered. But there are some metaphorical megafauna that the BBC and we in the media really do not want everyone to see. After half a lifetime writing for the Guardian about the decline of the natural world, I have to report that there is a herd of enormous elephants in the forest that are trashing the place. We avert our eyes and pretend they are not there. We hope they will go away, but they appear to be breeding. But it is now clear that they are doing so much damage that unless confronted, there is little chance that the rest of the animals, including us, will survive very long.

Hyper-consumerism is the dominant matriarch of this destructive herd and the dysfunctional economic model that supports it, generating waste and ecological damage on a massive scale. The average US supermarket offers nearly 50,000 products; in the UK we throw away millions of tonnes of food a year; mobile phones have an average lifespan of just over a year; computers and cars just a few years more. The free market economy that has been built around it celebrates speed, obsolescence and quantity over longevity and efficiency. But we know that hyper-consumerism leads directly to deforestation, over-extraction of minerals, the waste of natural resources and pollution. We simply have too much stuff that no one possibly needs. To avoid ecological disaster, it must be culled.

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 December 13, 2016  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies Gus Hodges, 11, and brother Julius, 5, Norfolk VA 1911

Trump-Powered Dollar To Be The Bogeyman Of 2017 For Emerging Markets (MW)
Oil Prices Moderate as Doubts Over OPEC’s Output-Cut Plan Set In (WSJ)
Saudi Arabia Is Playing Defense To Hold On To Its Most Prized Customers (BBG)
UniCredit To Raise €13 Billion In Fresh Capital, Lay Off 14,000 (AFP)
One Bad Deal That Destroyed Four Bad Banks (WSJ)
Indian Banks’ Poisoned Chalice (BBG)
London House Prices Are Having Their Worst December in Years (BBG)
Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Thomas)
Trumpxuberance… Until It’s Not (Jim Kunstler)
Greece Faces Permanent Crisis – IMF: Bail-Out Plan ‘Simply Not Credible’ (Tel.)
Greece Heads Toward New Crisis in Debt Saga, Support for Tsipras Slumps (WSJ)
World’s Largest Reindeer Herd Plummets (BBG)

 

 

Prime candidate for biggest 2017 finance story.

Trump-Powered Dollar To Be The Bogeyman Of 2017 For Emerging Markets (MW)

Foretelling the future is a daunting task. But the one thing that strategists are agreed on for 2017 is that Donald Trump’s presidency will usher in a new era of dominance for the U.S. dollar that will have wide-ranging implications. Among the biggest casualties of the buck’s rise will be developing economies, which tend to be more sensitive to external shock. Ethan Harris at BofAML cautioned that emerging markets are vulnerable on two fronts: capital outflows in response to higher rates in the U.S. and trade restrictions that will hurt economies that heavily depend on U.S. markets. The ICE U.S. Dollar index measure of the greenback’s performance against a basket of six rivals, has recently broken out of its narrow range to trade at the highest level since late 2002, FactSet data show.

That spells trouble for Brazil, China and Russia, which statistically have the highest negative correlation to the dollar, according to Mislav Matejka, an equity strategist at J.P. Morgan Cazenove. Even before Trump’s election, Matejka had downgraded emerging markets to neutral from overweight, citing the bullish dollar on the back of a Federal Reserve rate hike in December. Hans Redeker, a strategist at Morgan Stanley, expects the dollar index to gain 6% before topping out in the second quarter of 2018. Apart from the rallying dollar, Redeker warned that the possibility of a global shift toward protectionism will put trade-centric economies at a disadvantage, weigh on economic growth and add to deflationary pressure.

Meanwhile, higher bond yields on expectations of stronger growth and accelerated inflation will widen the yield spread in favor of the dollar against the Chinese yuan, where authorities are projected to maintain easy monetary policy. The yuan has retreated over 6% in 2016 to 6.92, with more room to fall in the coming months. “We expect the Chinese yuan depreciation to continue. The balance of payments position remains in deficit, indicated by declining foreign exchange reserves,” said Redeker in a report. Even though capital outflows from China have not been as large as they had been earlier this year, muted economic growth and limited investment opportunities domestically could lead to more funds fleeing the country, pressuring the yuan, he said.

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Headfake.

Oil Prices Moderate as Doubts Over OPEC’s Output-Cut Plan Set In (WSJ)

Crude-oil prices lost steam in early Asian trade Tuesday as investors turned bearish over oil producers’ commitment to observe a deal aimed at easing supply to the market. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in January traded at $52.75 a barrel at 0347 GMT, down $0.08 in the Globex electronic session. February Brent crude on London’s ICE Futures exchange rose $0.01 to $55.70 a barrel. The price fall is largely a reflection of investors’ bearishness over a deal that is supposed to lift prices to at least the $60-$70 range per barrel. This shows the market isn’t really buying the OPEC rhetoric and that they recognize the potential risks. Over the weekend, 11 non-OPEC countries, including Russia, agreed to slash their output by 558,000 barrels a day, in concert with OPEC’s own pledge to cut 1.2 million barrels a day.

The total sum represents almost 2% of global supply. The deal will take effect on Jan. 1 but the reduction will be carried out in phases. Participating countries will meet in six months to evaluate progress. Analysts say if producers fully adhere to agreed quotas, the oil market could shift into a deficit. OPEC’s own calculations forecasts world crude demand will hit 95.5 million barrels a day in 2017, an increase of 1.2 million barrels a day. Removing excess barrels will lift prices, possibly into the target range of $60-$70 per barrel, but it would mostly hinge on the compliance of the producers who have been known to cheat, BMI Research said. “We note that the higher the barrel price, the greater the temptation to break allocated quotas,” the firm said. In 17 production cuts since 1982, OPEC members have reduced output by an average of just 60% of their commitments, according to Goldman Sachs.

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OPEC cuts, prices rise, shale expands.

Saudi Arabia Is Playing Defense To Hold On To Its Most Prized Customers (BBG)

As Saudi Arabia goes on a shock and awe attack to curb a global oil glut, it’s also playing defense to hold on to its most prized customers. The kingdom is largely sparing Asia from reductions in crude sales, at least for now. That’s amid the threat of more U.S. and European supply coming to the world’s biggest market, as Saudi-led production cuts have boosted the Middle East oil benchmark relative to other regions. Also, crude’s surge risks reviving shale output while American shipments are already making their way to countries including Thailand, Japan and South Korea. While OPEC’s biggest member could yet curb some volumes to Asia in coming months, it’s unlikely to completely abandon the battle for market share even as it changes tack from its pump-at-will policy of the past two years.

It’s counting on regional refiners’ inability to completely switch over to rival supply, as their plants are geared to process ‘sour’ sulfurous crudes like those produced by Saudi Arabia rather than ‘sweet’ shale or North Sea oil. It can afford to cut sales more significantly in other places that aren’t as valuable as Asia. “Now that Saudi Arabia has committed to such large production cuts, it’s important for them to retain market share in the region where they see the most growth potential,” said Peter Lee at BMI Research. “In Asia, we still have India and China where Saudi Arabia is vying for market share. It makes sense for them to concentrate on the region and try to keep buyers happy.”

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UniCredit’s entire market cap is €14 billion for pete’s sake.

UniCredit To Raise €13 Billion In Fresh Capital, Lay Off 14,000 (AFP)

Italy’s biggest bank, UniCredit, on Tuesday confirmed plans for a capital increase worth €13 billion as it scrambles to raise funds amid market uncertainty. UniCredit also announced plans to shed around 14,000 jobs by the end of 2019, which it said would save it €1.1 billion in staff costs. The bank’s plans to raise fresh funds come at a time when investor confidence in Italy has been shaken by the collapse of former PM Renzi’s government. And the Italian banking sector is in a perilous state, with the world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, scrambling to put together a private-sector rescue after losing 80% of its market capitalisation in the past year. UniCredit’s announcement was part of a major strategic review launched under new chairman Jean-Pierre Mustier, that involves selling off assets to strengthen the bank’s capital base. Mustier said it was a “pragmatic plan based on conservative assumptions, with tangible and achievable targets.” The bank is targeting a net profit of €4.7 billion in 2019.

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When Europe’s bankers and politicians alike proved they’re inept.

One Bad Deal That Destroyed Four Bad Banks (WSJ)

The crisis engulfing the world’s oldest bank, Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, has many causes, but its roots go back nine years to a lunch at a fancy Geneva hotel. It was there, at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, that three of Europe’s top bankers gathered to plot a hostile bid to buy and break up Dutch bank ABN Amro in what became the biggest bank takeover, worth €71 billion (then $101 billion). The deal will go down as one of humankind’s worst business transactions. It led to government rescues of what was then the biggest bank in the world, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the biggest bank in Belgium, Fortis, as well as taking out Dutch bank SNS Reaal. Now its legacy threatens the oldest bank in the world.

With M&A booming again, have investors learned the lessons of ABN? The brief answer is probably that yes, enough of the lessons have sunk in that an equally catastrophic bank takeover is unlikely soon. The longer answer is a resounding no, and investors retain a pigheaded inability to avoid taking excessive risks when the good times beckon—as they do now. The Michelin-starred restaurant in Geneva gave the chief executives of RBS, Fortis and Santander a pleasant start to what became a vicious 2007 bidding battle for ABN. The weak Dutch bank had been an obvious target for years, with a complex string of small businesses spread across retail and investment banking in the Netherlands, U.S., U.K., Italy and Brazil. Each banker saw opportunities, but they had to wrest ABN away from an agreed deal with Barclays.

After succeeding, the canny Santander abandoned its stated aim of expanding in Italy and flipped ABN’s Banca Antonveneta to Monte dei Paschi for €9 billion—before it had even completed the deal. Santander was badly hurt by the crisis, but thanks to its highly profitable Italian switcheroo was the only bank involved not to be critically injured by ABN. Monte dei Paschi, after overpaying wildly, has been short of capital ever since, making it even harder to cope with years of Italian recessions. The biggest lesson is that the good times don’t last forever. RBS, Fortis and Monte dei Paschi took on too much debt to buy parts of ABN, leaving them even weaker than the rest of the overstretched banking system when the bust came.

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Throw in utter corruption and you have a recipe for unrest.

Indian Banks’ Poisoned Chalice (BBG)

What should have been a cornucopia of new deposits from old cash has become a poisoned chalice. Lenders don’t have enough banknotes to meet even the restrictive withdrawal limits the central bank has set for depositors. People have died waiting in ATM queues, and bank staff fear the wrath of crowds. Safety concerns are rising amid pressure from authorities to expand card and online-payment systems that are still rudimentary. Even the ATM networks, running on outdated software, aren’t very secure.To top it all, the taxman is waiting in the wings, ready to confiscate any unusual surge in deposits that people don’t surrender voluntarily. Instead of sympathy for lenders, there’s schadenfreude. Some feel bank employees have colluded with the holders of ill-gotten cash to give their unaccounted wealth safe passage. The poor, and their bank accounts, are suspected to have been used as mules.

The initial premise of demonetization was that a big chunk of cash would be too tainted to dare return to the banking system, and canceling those liabilities would generate a bumper profit for the government. With most old currency deposited into accounts or exchanged into new money, however, that hypothesis has been shredded. Banks – and bankers – are in the crosshairs for robbing the nation of its demonetization rewards. Reporting requirements have gone through the roof: The government wants to know how much of lenders’ fresh deposits are old legal tender, and how much is new. Axis Bank suspended 19 employees for allegedly exchanging old banknotes illegally and asked KPMG to do a forensic audit. That, one suspects, is the genesis of the whisper campaign.

As banking regulator, the Reserve Bank of India ought to be keeping a lid on operational risks, lest they overwhelm the system and scar its reputation. But the monetary authority is too busy shoring up its own sullied credibility to be of any real assistance. The barrage of befuddling rule changes it has unleashed since Nov. 8 – including a temporary but ham-handed confiscation of banks’ excess liquidity with no compensation – have made things worse, and investors have been forced to change their minds about the impact of the cash ban. Amid the chaos, discussions about improving the governance of India’s dominant state-run banks, and selling or shuttering the weakest of them, have come to a standstill.

The more urgent task of cleaning up their compromised balance sheets has also lost the steam it had gathered under previous RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. If a month ago there was fond but foolish hope that banks would get a big one-time recapitalization boost, now there’s despair about how long they can go on fighting fires without any chance of a revival in credit demand. It’s hard to believe PM Modi didn’t think through these unintended consequences. What’s even scarier is the possibility that he did, and topped up the banking industry’s chalice regardless.

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No, their best.

London House Prices Are Having Their Worst December in Years (BBG)

London home prices are having their worst December in six years, led by weakness in prime areas in the capital that is likely persist into 2017. Rightmove said on Monday that asking prices fell 4.3% from November to 616,160 pounds ($775,500), with inner London dropping 6%. The property website operator said the bubble in prime London “continues to deflate,” and it sees prices there declining 5% next year. “Alongside the seasonal slowdown, the readjustment of prices to match buyers’ greater reticence continues, especially in more expensive inner London,” said Rightmove Director Miles Shipside. “Buyers are being put off the really big-ticket purchases.” In a sign of the disparity within the city, average prices in inner London are down 2.6% over the past year, whereas outer areas are up 2.7%.

That left average prices across the capital little changed. The split partly reflects the luxury end of the market, where an April tax increase on property investors and worries about Brexit are sapping demand. Rightmove’s report also showed demand in London — as measured by sales agreements – was down 7.2% in November from a year earlier. Nationally, asking prices fell 2.1% in December from the previous month, in line with the seasonal average, and were up 3.4% from a year earlier. In contrast to London, Rightmove expects national prices to increase for a seventh consecutive year in 2017, forecasting a 2% advance.

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One spark will do.

Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Thomas)

In 1871, a large portion of the city of Chicago burned to the ground. The Chicago Tribune attributed the fire to a cow owned by a Mrs. O’Leary. The Tribune stated that the cow kicked over a lantern as she was being milked, burning the barn and much of Chicago. Whether the story is accurate is of little concern. (Somebody always has to be found to take the blame for catastrophe.) Whatever started the barn fire in Mrs. O’Leary’s neighbourhood, a seemingly minor event resulted in a major conflagration. And so it is with economic events. Bankers are expected to maintain a fractional reserve of 3–10%, depending on the level and type of liabilities, but, not surprisingly, they often drop below the official level, especially in times of economic difficulties. Bank managers assume that they can always increase the reserve when good times return.

The trouble is they’re at their most exposed at a time when a substantial reserve is most critical. But why would bankers take such a risk? Aren’t they fearful that they’ll get caught out if a crisis occurs? Not really. Their assumption is very often that their indiscretion exists in isolation. They assume that if they alone cheat the system a bit, they can always catch up later. For whatever reason, it rarely occurs to them that, in a struggling economy, each of their associates in the industry is also cheating the system. Since each one keeps his activities under wraps, it doesn’t become apparent that the whole system is a house of cards until a black swan jolts the system, which, due to its overall instability, self-destructs. Similarly, in shaky economic times, there’s quite a bit of fiddling that’s done in the stock market.

As the public begins to lose their confidence in the system, they offers their shares for sale. In order to cover up the loss of confidence, these shares may be bought up by central banks, governments, and/or the corporations themselves – buying back their own shares. Of course, this is risky, as crashes are caused by loss of confidence. Papering over that loss of confidence by papering over the cause of the problem only means that when the crash comes, it will be worse than if it had been allowed to collapse earlier. Pensions tend to be heavily invested in the markets, which tends to put them at risk as well. The foremost mutual fund in the US is invested in 507 companies – commodities, energy, financials, industrials, IT, etc. To be sure, these will not suffer equally in a crash, but all will be affected – some severely.

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Trump may have buildings, but he has no room.

Trumpxuberance… Until It’s Not (Jim Kunstler)

When Reagan stepped in the national debt was only (only!) about half a trillion dollars. It will be over $20 trillion when Trump hangs his golden logo on the White House portico. Oh, by the way, consider that a trillion dollars is a thousand billion dollars and a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. Just so you know. Reagan had room for plenty of government finance monkey business. Trump has no room. Bush One, Clinton, Bush Two and Obama dug the deadfall debt trap for poor Donald and the election shoved him right into it. He thinks he’s on an upper floor of his enchanted tower; he’s actually down in a pit. Trump thinks he’s going to rebuild highways and bridges for another century of Happy Motoring — to make America like it was in 1962 forever. Fuggeddabowdit.

The bond market is poised for collapse as I write, and Trump’s money people (that is, the Goldman Sachs gang he has assembled) are talking about issuing fifty and 100 year “Build America” bonds. Their nostrils must be rimed with the frost of Medellin. They’re certainly not going to accomplish this trick by raising taxes. On who? Corporations? Ha! The 1%? Double-Ha! Everyone else? Pitchforks and torches! American oil companies can no longer make a buck doing their thing. Exxon-Mobil’s U.S. production business lost $477 million in the third quarter, the seventh straight quarter in the red. Why? Because it costs a lot more to get the stuff out of the ground than it did ten years ago, and that high cost is bankrupting oil companies and industrial economies. That is the stealth action of Peak Oil that so many people pretend is not happening. It will ultimately destroy the banking system.

The disappointment issuing from this dire set of circumstances is apt to be epic as Trump flounders and the furious tweets of futility waft out of the hole he’s trapped in. Christmas will be over, and with it the hopes of a retail reprieve. Gasoline may remain cheap, but the little people won’t be able to buy the cars to run it in. Or buy much of anything else. Not even tattoos. We’ll soon discover the temperamental difference between Donald J. Trump and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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This will not stop.

Greece Faces Permanent Crisis – IMF: Bail-Out Plan ‘Simply Not Credible’ (Tel.)

The IMF has hit back at claims that it is demanding more austerity in Greece, as the Fund warned that the country’s ambitious budget targets were “simply not credible”. Firing a broadside at Brussels and Athens, Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s chief economist, and Poul Thomsen, director of the IMF’s European department, said cuts to investment and discretionary spending had “gone too far” and would prevent the Greek economy from recovering. Just 48 hours after Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s finance minister, accused the IMF of “betraying” the country by pushing for more belt tightening, the senior IMF officials insisted that they were “not demanding more austerity”. “We have not changed our view that Greece does not need more austerity at this time. Claiming that it is the IMF who is calling for this turns the truth upside down,” they wrote in a blog post.

They warned that demands by Greece’s creditors for a sustained 3.5pc primary surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – were unrealistic and unnecessary. The IMF has previously insisted that a primary surplus target of 1.5pc of GDP is more realistic. It has also called for significant debt relief that goes beyond the action taken this month to reduce Greece’s debt share by 20 percentage points. Mr Obstfeld and Mr Thomsen said the IMF was not demanding more cuts either now or in the future to lower the need for debt relief, as they signalled that Greece itself had signed up for tougher budget targets. “To be more direct, if Greece agrees with its European partners on ambitious fiscal targets, don’t criticise the IMF for being the ones insisting on austerity when we ask to see the measures required to make such targets credible,” they said.

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Tsipras is going to call 2017 snap elections with the intent of losing them.

Greece Heads Toward New Crisis in Debt Saga, Support for Tsipras Slumps (WSJ)

Greece’s crisis is approaching a potential breaking point after a year of relative calm, as a government with declining political stamina confronts creditors’ unyielding demands. The ruling left-wing Syriza party, grappling with slumping popularity, is considering the option of calling snap elections in 2017, as it loses hope of winning concessions on debt relief or austerity from the eurozone and IMF. No decision for elections has been made, said Greek officials, who added that they would review the state of negotiations in January, after pressing creditors again to show more flexibility. Elections would allow Syriza—if not Greece—to escape from the pressures of an unpopular bailout program whose strained math has eventually brought down every Greek government since the crisis began in 2009.

Syriza’s leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, like his predecessors, is struggling to meet strict fiscal targets in a recession-scarred country weary of austerity. A renewed flare-up of the Greek debt crisis in 2017 would create a further test for the cohesion of the EU, whose political establishment is facing challenges from EU-skeptic populists in a string of major elections next year. European governments’ appetite for another bout of Greek drama is low—but so too is willingness to grant Athens concessions to avoid one. The embattled Mr. Tsipras, who is due to hold talks with the leaders of Germany and France in the coming days, surprised Greeks and creditors last week with fiscal gifts that were widely seen as preparing the option of elections.

He promised 1.6 million pensioners a Christmas bonus of between €300 and €800. He also suspended a planned increase in sales tax for Aegean islands that have received large numbers of Middle-East refugees. EU officials said they would study whether Mr. Tsipras’s promises are compatible with Greece’s bailout commitments.

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It all dies baby, that’s a fact. We’re not even trying to stop it from happening. All we got is words.

World’s Largest Reindeer Herd Plummets (BBG)

The world’s largest wild reindeer herd has fallen by 40% since 2000, scientists have warned. They say that the animals, which live in the Taimyr Peninsula in the northernmost tip of Russia, are being affected by rising temperatures and human activity. This is causing the animals to change their annual migration patterns. The research has been presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). “There is a substantial decline – and we are also seeing this with other wild reindeer declining rapidly in other parts of the world,” said Andrey Petrov, who runs the Arctic Centre at the University of Northern Iowa, US. The Taimyr herd is one of the most monitored groups of reindeer in the world. The animals have been tracked for nearly 50 years by aerial surveys and more recently by satellite imagery.

The population reached a peak of one million in 2000, but this latest research suggests that there are now only 600,000 reindeer. “Climate change is at least one of the variables,” explained Prof Petrov. “We know in the last two decades that we have had an increase in temperatures of about 1.5C overall. And that definitely impacts migration patterns.” Industrial development is increasing in the region, which is also changing the animals’ distribution. The researchers found that in the summer, the reindeer were moving east to avoid human activity. But they were also shifting north and to higher elevations. The team thinks this is to try to get to cooler ground and also to avoid the mosquitoes that are booming as the region gets warmer and wetter.

“They just move and move and move to escape them,” said Prof Petrov. This is extending the distance that the animals have to migrate between winter and summer. “They now have to travel much longer distances to reach those areas with their newborn calves, and that means there is an increase in calf mortality.”

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Dec 122016
 
 December 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina July 1941

CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)
Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)
Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)
Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)
China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)
Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)
Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)
Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)
India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)
Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)
Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)
Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)
Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)
Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)
Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)
Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

 

 

A merciless put-down by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, and former Rector of the University of Dundee. Close associate of Assange.

CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also. A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition.

We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt. As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two.

And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened. The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

[..] both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.

Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake. In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.

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He’s not trying to trade the policy.

Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)

Donald Trump attracted stinging criticism from China’s state media after the President-elect stated that the U.S. did not necessarily have to stick to the “One China” policy. Communist Party-owned paper, Global Times, published in an opinion piece with the headline: “Trump, please listen clearly, the One China policy cannot be traded” as it warned Trump that China cannot “cannot be easily bullied”. “If Trump abandons the one-China principle, why should China need to be U.S.’ partner in most international affairs?” said the paper, which is known for its extreme nationalistic views. Most would think Trump is “ignorant like a child” in handling diplomacy, the paper added.

Its English language editor was less strident, with the paper citing a foreign affairs analyst chalking up Trump comments to “inexperience” in a piece entitled “Prevent ‘immature’ Trump being manipulated by conservative forces: analyst”. “As a businessman, he thinks it’s quite normal to do business, but he hasn’t realized that the Taiwan question is not a business to China. The Taiwan question is not negotiable,” China Foreign Affairs University professor Li Haidong was quoted as saying. Li also said Trump didn’t have a plan to challenge the “One China” policy. China and Taiwan parted ways in 1949, when the Nationalist Party (KMT) was forced to retreat to Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party and China views the territory as a renegade province that can be re-taken by force if necessary. Washington embraced the “One China” policy in 1979 under which Beijing views Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as part of China.

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And at the end of the day central banks are going to buy up all the devalued paper again?

Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)

The amount of dollar-denominated debt issued by financial institutions stepped up to reach a record high during the third quarter as the influence of central banks receded, according to the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), released on Sunday. “Developments during this quarter stand out for one reason: For once, central banks took a back seat,” Claudio Borio, head of the BIS’ monetary and economic department was quoted as saying in the review. “It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” he continued. Total issuance of international debt securities during the third quarter slipped 10% to hit $1.4 trillion.

Within advanced economies, a below-average pace of repayments meant quarterly net issuance jumped 40% with the year-to-date net figure at its highest level since 2009. Turning to emerging markets, quarterly net issuance dropped 35% from its abnormally large amount the previous quarter but the year-to-date figure still showed a 73% jump over 2015’s equivalent number. The lower EM net issuance figure this quarter particularly reflected a sharp slowdown in sovereign borrowing by oil-producing governments. However, looking ahead, fourth-quarter figures should be bolstered once again by Saudi Arabia’s $17.5 billion bond issue placed in October and it is worth remembering the heady pace of issuance during the second quarter, driven by oil exporters such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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Who needs central banks?

Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)

Financial markets have been remarkably resilient to rising bond yields and sudden shift in outlook following last month’s shock U.S. election result, but the sheer scale of uncertainties ahead means the adjustment will be “bumpy”, the BIS said on Sunday. While the resilience to recent market swings following the U.S. election and Brexit vote have been welcome, investors should be braced for further bouts of extreme volatilty and “flash crash” episodes like the one that hit sterling in October, the Bank for International Settlements said. “We do not quite fully understand the cause of such unusual price moves … but as long as such moves remain self-contained and do not threaten market functioning or the soundness of financial institutions, they are not a source of much concern: we may need to get used to them,” said Claudio Borio, Head of the Monetary and Economic Department at the BIS.

“It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” Borio said. This suggests investors may finally be learning to stand on their own two feet after years of relying on central bank stimulus, signaling a potential “paradigm shift” for markets, he said. “But the jury is still out, and caution is in order. And make no mistake: bond yields are still unusually low from a long-term perspective,” Borio said. [..] Bond yields have risen sharply since the middle of the year. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has jumped 100 basis points since July’s multi-decade low, with a growing number of investors saying the 35-year bull run in bonds is now over.

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I say it almost every day: shadow banks.

China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)

For China’s highly leveraged real estate developers, 2017 could be the year that the borrowing binge finally catches up with them. Regulators have choked off a key source of funding, with the Shanghai Stock Exchange raising the threshold for property firms to sell bonds on their platform in October. Since then, builders haven’t sold any notes in a market that played host to about 40% of their onshore debentures over the past two years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The curbs couldn’t have come at a worse time, with a record $17.3 billion of developer bonds due next year, and another $27.9 billion in 2018. China’s government is treading a fine line with the curbs on debt issuance as it tries to gently deflate the real-estate bubble while avoiding wider fallout in an industry that accounts for as much as 20% of Asia’s largest economy.

The sector is also threatened by a broader increase in funding costs, with the yield premium on AAA-rated domestic corporate notes reaching the widest since July 2015, amid a global pullback in bonds and targeted central bank steps to stem leverage. Smaller developers will be the hardest hit, with bigger players still able to sell exchange-regulated bonds, according to NN Investment Partners. “Overall, funding conditions will become more challenging in 2017,” said Clement Chong, senior credit analyst in Singapore at NN Investment. “Only stronger developers can issue onshore bonds, subject to a number of conditions. But smaller builders will be forced to come to the offshore market to issue bonds, which will be subject to regulatory approval.”

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Most of them were strong Hillary supporters.

Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)

Top executives from Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Facebook Inc are among a small group of tech leaders invited to a summit to be held on Wednesday by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Recode reported, citing sources. Executives from Microsoft Corp, Intel Corp and Oracle Corp will also be among “a very heady group of less than a dozen, comprising most of the key players in the sector” to attend the summit, Recode said. Billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk will also be in attendance, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

“I plan to tell the president-elect that we are with him and are here to help in any way we can,” Oracle CEO Safra Catz told Reuters in an emailed statement. “If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation, and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology community will be stronger and more competitive than ever.” Amazon.com Inc CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was also invited and is likely to attend, Recode said citing sources with knowledge of the situation.

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What’s in it for Qatar?

Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)

Italy’s troubled Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) bank on Sunday announced it would go ahead with plans to seek a private sector-led rescue, narrowly avoiding the need to seek a government bailout. The world’s oldest bank’s woes have raised concerns over the eurozone’s third-largest economy, particularly in the aftermath of prime minister Matteo Renzi’s resignation after a crushing referendum defeat. The bank’s prospects appeared somewhat less alarming Sunday however, after Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Renzi’s ally Paolo Gentiloni to form a new government. BMPS’s stock tumbled Friday over reports that the ECB had denied it more time to raise the cash it needed to avoid being wound down, triggering speculation it would be forced to seek a government bailout.

The bank – seen as the weak link in Italy’s economy – had asked to be given until January 20 to avoid collapse. The request was reportedly refused, with the ECB’s board believed to have ruled that two weeks of extra time would be of little use in turning around the historic bank. In a statement published late Sunday after a board meeting in Milan, BMPS said it had “decided to go ahead” with plans to seek a market-led rescue by December 31. The bank had initially announced its plan to seek a private sector-led rescue in July. The bank, whose stock has fallen more than 80% this year, plans the sale of €27.6 billion in non-performing loans. It also aims for a capital injection of up to €5 billion. Italian media reports say the Qatar Investment Authority – the Gulf nation’s state-owned holding company – may be willing to contribute €1 billion.

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Everyone’s willing to cut outputs, but not if it costs money or market share. Not going to work.

Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)

Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready to cut oil production more than expected, a surprise announcement made minutes after Russia and several non-other OPEC countries pledged to curb output next year. Taken together, OPEC’s first deal with its rivals since 2001 and the Saudi comments represent a forceful effort by producers to wrest back control of the global oil market, depressed by persistent oversupply and record inventories. “This is shock and awe by Saudi Arabia,” said Amrita Sen at Energy Aspects in London. “It shows the commitment of Riyadh to rebalance the market and should end concerns about OPEC delivering the deal.” Oil prices have surged more than 15% since OPEC announced Nov. 30 it will cut production for the first time in eight years, rising this week briefly above $55. The price rise has propelled the shares of energy groups from Exxon Mobil to shale firms such as Continental Resources.

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Everyone needs a bank account, but the banks have no yime for that since they’re exchanging old for new money. Sounds like a plan.

India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)

Hundreds of thousands of construction workers have returned home since Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished high-denomination banknotes, leaving some building sites across the country facing costly delays. A month after Modi’s shock move to take away 86% of cash in circulation to crush the shadow economy, the growing labour shortage threatens to slow a recovery in India’s construction industry, which accounts for 8% of gross GDP and employs 40 million people. Work at SARE Homes’ residential projects, spanning six cities, has slowed dramatically as migrant workers, who are out of cash and have no bank accounts to draw from, have little choice but to return to their villages. “Construction work at all projects has slowed down in a big way,” managing director Vineet Relia told Reuters.

Property enquiries, meanwhile, have slumped by 80% around the Indian capital since the cash crackdown, according to property portal 99acres. Getamber Anand, president of Indian builders’ association CREDAI, said projects nationwide had been hit, and estimated that roughly half of the migrant workforce, numbering in the low millions, had left for home. Road developers have also reported a slowdown as they struggle to find sufficient labour. The exodus shows little sign of reversing, risking damage to construction activity and the wider economy into 2017, despite Modi’s assurances that hardships from his radical “demonetisation” should be over by the end of the year. [..] for now, millions of workers who depend on daily wages for food and shelter are struggling. Many have never held a bank account, and even if they wanted one, some do not have the necessary documents to do so.

CREDAI’s Anand predicts activity on construction sites will not return to normal until April, and only once labourers are able to open accounts at banks still struggling to serve long queues of people desperate for cash. “Right now the banks say they don’t have time to open accounts. It’s the biggest challenge,” Anand said.

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Modi said it would all be fine by the end of the year. Not going to happen.

Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and poster boy of the government’s Make in India project, has asked nearly a fourth of its 8,000 factory workers to go on paid leave for two weeks after last month’s demonetisation of high value notes sparked a severe cash crunch that saw sales slump almost 50%, forcing the company to slash production by half. The government’s move to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from November 9 has had a domino effect on the mobile phone industry, where a large majority of mobile phones are bought for less than Rs 5,000 and most of the transactions happen through cash.

Consumer purchase power has been reduced dramatically – mobile phone monthly sales halved to Rs 175-200 crore post demonetisation – and sales revival is not looking up, as was perceived earlier, industry insiders said. Leading local players including Intex, Lava and Karbonn are planning to lay off or bench 10-40% of their workforce, as they cut production to control inventory pile-ups in retail channels with consumers delaying cash purchases after Nov 8 demonetisation sucked out cash from the market. Lava is shutting down its plant – which employs around 5000 people -for a week starting December 12, while others could soon follow, industry insiders said.

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Failure of Maduro or intervention from abroad? Venezuela still has a lot of oil.

Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)

Venezuela, mired in an economic crisis and facing the world’s highest inflation, will pull its largest bill, worth two US cents on the black market, from circulation this week ahead of introducing new higher-value notes, President Nicolás Maduro said on Sunday. The surprise move, announced by Maduro during an hours-long speech, is likely to worsen a cash crunch in Venezuela. Maduro said the 100-bolivar bill will be taken out of circulation on Wednesday and Venezuelans will have 10 days after that to exchange those notes at the central bank. Critics slammed the move, which Maduro said was needed to combat contraband of the bills at the volatile Colombia-Venezuela border, as economically nonsensical, adding there would be no way to swap all the 100-bolivar bills in circulation in the time the president has allotted.

Central bank data showed that in November, there were more than six billion 100-bolivar bills in circulation, 48% of all bills and coins. Authorities on Thursday are due to start releasing six new notes and three new coins, the largest of which will be worth 20,000 bolivars, less than $5 on the streets. No official inflation data is available for 2016 though many economists see it in triple digits. Economic consultancy Ecoanalitica estimates annual inflation this year at more than 500%. The oil-producing nation’s bolivar currency has fallen 55% against the US dollar on the black market in the last month.

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Putin won’t like this.

Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)

On Sunday, the “Islamic State” (IS) retook the desert city of Palmyra in Syria after being driven out of the city hours earlier by heavy Russian aerial attacks, a group monitoring the country’s conflict reported. “Despite the ongoing air raids, IS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. The Amaq news agency, which has links to the IS militants, also reported that the group had retaken “full control” of the city after first taking Palmyra’s citadel (above photo), which overlooks the historic site.

After launching an offensive in the region a few days before, IS pushed into the city on Saturday, only to be forced to withdraw by a fierce Russian bombing campaign that killed scores of its fighters. The Observatory reported that the militants regrouped on the outskirts of the city and made a successful attempt to retake control. IS has had possession of the city once before, in May last year, destroying many of its ancient treasures, and Palmyra’s recapture could put the remaining artifacts and monuments in extreme danger. The group considers certain artifacts and monuments to be “idolatrous,” and has severely damaged important historic sites and objects across areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

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Nothing else makes sense.

Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)

Any further negotiations with Ankara over its future European Union membership will be blocked by Vienna, the Austrian Foreign Minister said, slamming Ankara’s alleged human rights violations in the post-coup crackdown on any opposition. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on November 24 to freeze Turkey’s EU accession process, citing Ankara’s crackdown after July’s failed coup. The final verdict on Turkey’s immediate EU future will be decided following the European Council meeting that is scheduled to take place on December 15-16. Granting visa liberalization to Turkish citizens will also be on the table during the discussions. Before the crucial meeting, the EU’s General Affairs Council of foreign ministers, which meets once a month, will convene to discuss the potential role of Ankara in the EU.

At the meeting, Austria intends to block the continuation of EU accession talks with Turkey, the country’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, told Spiegel online. “The European Parliament has adopted a courageous and correct resolution demanding that the accession negotiations with Turkey be frozen. In the conclusions of the Foreign Ministers, there must also be a reaction to developments in Turkey. We must also propose that the accession talks be frozen,” Kurz said. The minister added that the Netherlands and Bulgaria seem to share Vienna’s position on Turkey. The 30-year-old politician said that his country believes that Turkey does not share EU values. He called for a clear response from the European Union to the events which followed the July 15 failed coup.

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Over 300 arrivals a day. Numbers are rising again.

Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)

The numbers of migrants crossing from Turkey to the eastern Aegean islands are on the rise, but the%age of those who merit international protection is on the wane, say authorities, who are looking for ways to speed up asylum procedures. Speaking to Kathimerini on condition of anonymity, local officials told the newspaper that refugee families currently stranded on the islands are reluctant to share a roof with economic migrants, mostly young men from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) who allegedly often display delinquent behavior and are on the front lines of riots at reception centers. Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas recently admitted that between 70 and 80% of arrivals were now migrants while before it was refugees escaping conflict and war.

Whereas the latter appear aware that the Balkan route to Western Europe is officially closed, the groups of young male economic migrants appear more willing to take the risks of reaching Europe. A total 324 undocumented migrants crossed from Turkey on Friday, most of them from Africa and Pakistan. Another 330 reached Greece on Saturday. Rising numbers are putting a big strain on Greece’s asylum system as virtually all newcomers make a claim for asylum despite knowing that they do not fulfill the necessary criteria for international protection. “Even so, we are still obliged to follow the formal procedure and fulfill the European directives,” Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, told Kathimerini.

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Firdt you put them down, then you write a report on it.

Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)

Greece came out worst among the bloc’s 28 member-states in the EU’s annual report on social justice for 2015, reflecting the impact of the financial crisis on society, social cohesion and the competitiveness of the Greek economy. The “Social Justice in the EU” report shows that not only is Greece the bloc’s laggard, but the situation in the country is deteriorating, with the gap between Greece and Romania – the second to last in the rankings – growing. Furthermore, the report indicates that the gap between the European North and South is also widening. The social and economic inequality that has emerged in Greece during the crisis is now taking on a permanent structural character, while the local economy appears to be losing its most important comparative advantage – human capital.

The report examines six social justice sectors: poverty prevention, equal rights in education, labor market access, social cohesion, and the absence of discrimination in healthcare and justice. It argues that those sectors have seen a downturn across the EU in the last seven years, reaching their lowest point in the period from 2012 to 2014. On the poverty and social exclusion front, the situation in Greece is particularly worrying, as 35.7% of the population faces the risk of poverty, with the figure for children even higher, at 37.8%, from 36.7% in 2014. The %age of children living in conditions of serious material deprivation has grown to 25.7% from 23.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2008. The situation is also disturbing in the labor market: In 2015 just 50.8% of Greeks of working age actually worked – the lowest rate in the EU.

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What happened to the warm gun?

Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

Most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty, according to a landmark study by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE). Eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty, the report found. Lord Richard Layard, who led the report, said on average people have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite average incomes more than doubling. The economist and former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said the study, called Origins of Happiness, showed that measuring people’s satisfaction with their lives should be a priority for every government. T

he researchers analysed data from four countries including the US and Germany. Extra spending on reducing mental illness would be self-financing, the researchers added, because it would be recovered by the government through higher employment and increased tax receipts together with a reduction in NHS costs from fewer GP visits and hospital A&E admissions. “Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty. It would also pay for itself,” he said. The report supports the arguments put forward by Layard over several decades that social and psychological factors are more important to the wellbeing of individuals than income levels. “Having a partner is as good for you as being made unemployed is bad for you,” he said.

The report claims that state-run organisations, including schools, must become more focused on tackling anxiety and mental health issues. “This evidence demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’,” Layard said. “In the past, the state has successively taken on poverty, unemployment, education and physical health. But equally important now are domestic violence, alcoholism, depression and anxiety conditions, alienated youth, exam mania and much else. These should become centre stage.”

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Nov 152016
 
 November 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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George N. Barnard Atlanta, Georgia. View on Marietta Street 1864

UK Government Has No Plan For Brexit, Leaked Memo Says (BBC)
Why India Wiped Out 86% Of Its Cash Overnight (BBC)
Asian Currencies Drop to 7-Year Low Against US Dollar (BBG)
The Euro-Dollar Parity Bet Is Back (BBG)
‘Trump Thump’ Whacks Bond Market For $1 Trillion Loss (R.)
China: Trump’s First Crisis? (JP Smith)
China’s Central Bank Faces Trump Headache (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Real Estate Binge Is Coming To A City Near You (BBG)
America Has Abdicated Its Leadership of the West (Spiegel)
Memo to Trump: Defense Spending Must Be For Actual Defense (Ron Paul)
The Democratic Party Had a Good if Not Great Candidate in Bernie Sanders (CP)
Russian Economy Minister Detained Over Alleged $2 Million Bribe (R.)
EU Threatens Turkey With Economic Sanctions (TT)
Julian Assange Faces Second Day Of Questioning (ITV)
Highly Contagious Strain Of Bird Flu Sweeps Through Europe ( DW)
100,000 Landslides and Hundreds of Tremors After New Zealand Quake (G._

 

 

It’s only been 5 months, after all….: “Whitehall is working on 500 Brexit-related projects and could need 30,000 extra staff..”

UK Government Has No Plan For Brexit, Leaked Memo Says (BBC)

The government has no overall Brexit plan and a negotiating strategy may not be agreed by the cabinet for six months, a leaked memo has suggested. The memo – obtained by The Times and seen by the BBC – warns Whitehall is working on 500 Brexit-related projects and could need 30,000 extra staff. However, there is still no common exit strategy “because of divisions within the cabinet”, the leaked document adds. A government spokesman said it “didn’t recognise” the claims made in the memo. Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to invoke Article 50 – beginning the formal two-year process for leaving the EU – by the end of March next year. However, BBC political correspondent Chris Mason – who has seen the memo – says the document shows how “complex, fraught and challenging delivering Brexit will be”.

The leaked Cabinet Office memo – written by an un-named consultant and entitled “Brexit Update” of 7 November – suggests it will take another six months before the government decides precisely what it wants to achieve from Brexit or agrees on its priorities. The report criticises Mrs May, who it says is “acquiring a reputation of drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself” – an approach it describes as being “unlikely to be sustainable”. The Times says the document also identifies cabinet splits between Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox on one side, and Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark on the other.

According to the newspaper, the memo said: “Every department has developed a ‘bottom-up’ plan of what the impact of Brexit could be – and its plan to cope with the ‘worst case’. “Although necessary, this falls considerably short of having a ‘government plan for Brexit’ because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.” The memo also suggests the government does not have enough officials to implement Brexit quickly, while departments are developing individual plans resulting in “well over 500 projects”. It estimates an additional 30,000 extra civil servants could be required to meet the workload. The document also says big businesses could soon “point a gun at the government’s head” to secure what they need to maintain jobs and investment.

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Tax evasion.

Why India Wiped Out 86% Of Its Cash Overnight (BBC)

India is in the middle of an extraordinary economic experiment. On 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave only four hours’ notice that virtually all the cash in the world’s seventh-largest economy would be effectively worthless. The Indian government likes to use the technical term “demonetisation” to describe the move, which makes it sound rather dull. It isn’t. This is the economic equivalent of “shock and awe”. Do not believe reports that this is primarily about bribery or terror financing, the real target is tax evasion and the policy is very daring indeed. Mr Modi’s “shock and awe” declaration meant that 1,000 and 500 rupee notes would no longer be valid. These may be the largest denomination Indian notes but they are not high value by international standards – 1,000 rupees is only £12. But together the two notes represent 86% of the currency in circulation.

Think of that, at a stroke 86% of the cash in India now cannot be used. What is more, India is overwhelmingly a cash economy, with 90% of all transactions taking place that way. And that is the target of Mr Modi’s dramatic move. Because so much business is done in cash, very few people pay tax on the money they earn. According to figures published by the government earlier this year, in 2013 only 1% of the population paid any income tax at all. As a result huge numbers of Indians have stashes of tax-free cash hidden away – known here as “black money”. Even the very poorest Indians have some cash savings – maybe just a few thousand rupees stored away for a daughter’s wedding, the kids’ school fees or – heaven forbid – an illness in the family.

But lots of Indians have much more than that. It is not unusual for half the value of a property transaction to be paid in cash, with buyers turning up with suitcases full of 1,000 rupee notes. The size of this shadow economy is reckoned to be as much as 20% of India’s entire GDP. Mr Modi’s demonetisation is designed to drive black money out of the shadows. At the moment you can exchange up to 4,000 (£48) of the old rupees every day in cash for new 500 (£6) and 2,000 (£24) rupee notes. There is no limit to the amount that can be deposited in bank accounts until the end of December, but the government has warned that the tax authorities will be investigating any deposits above 250,000 rupees (£2,962).

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This may continue for a while. Energy in the crosshairs.

Asian Currencies Drop to 7-Year Low Against US Dollar (BBG)

A gauge of emerging Asian currencies is heading for the lowest close since March 2009 as the dollar surged after Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory. The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar Index, which tracks 10 regional currencies, is down 2% this year. As recently as August it was up 1.7%. Emerging assets have tumbled in the past week as the president-elect is seen unleashing a spending surge, pushing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

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The euro is way overvalued anyway, of course. Parity would sake the south to its core, though, much more than the north.

The Euro-Dollar Parity Bet Is Back (BBG)

Donald Trump’s electoral upset has breathed new life into the bet that diverging economic paths will drive the euro toward parity with the dollar for the first time since 2002. Traders see about a 45% chance the European currency will sink to $1 in the next year, about double the probability assigned a week ago. The president-elect’s pledges to boost spending and cut taxes are fueling speculation that economic growth will accelerate, pushing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more quickly. That sentiment sent a gauge of the dollar to the strongest since February on Monday, while the euro fell to about $1.07, touching its lowest since 2015.

For Deutsche Bank, the world’s fourth-biggest currency trader, the election results are enough to jolt the euro out of a range it’s been stuck in for months and push it below $1 in 2017. Calls for parity crumbled this year as the Fed cut back on the number of expected rate hikes, even as the ECB continued to add unprecedented amounts of stimulus. Now Trump’s win is rekindling the wager that drove the dollar to back-to-back annual gains in 2014-2015, for its biggest two-year rally since the euro’s 1999 debut. “Divergence is back,” George Saravelos, a strategist at Deutsche Bank in London, wrote in a report dated Nov. 13. “The Trump victory has changed things.”

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The Trump fairytale lacks all sense of reality. He’s going to stumble upon a zillion roadblocks on his way to get the best of what he can get, and that means volatility.

‘Trump Thump’ Whacks Bond Market For $1 Trillion Loss (R.)

Donald Trump’s stunning victory for the White House may mark the long-awaited end to the more than 30-year-old bull run in bonds, as bets on faster U.S. growth and inflation lead investors to favor stocks over bonds. A two-day thumping wiped out more than $1 trillion across global bond markets worldwide, the worst rout in nearly 1-1/2 years, on bets that plans under a Trump administration would boost business investments and spending while firing up inflation. “We’ve had a sentiment shift in the bond market. We’ve seen it, too. People have already started reallocating out of bonds and into stocks,” said Jeff Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Capital. “The cracks have been forming for five years – we’re in this slow-grinding higher phase in yields,” he said.

The stampede from bonds propelled longer-dated U.S. yields to their highest levels since January with the 30-year yield posting its biggest weekly increase since January 2009. In the stock market, the blue chip Dow Jones industrial average finished out its best week in five years on Friday as it marked a record high close. The 10-year German Bund yield rose to its highest level in eight months, while the 10-year British gilt yield climbed to its highest level prior to Brexit. [..] While investors dumped most types of bonds after Trump’s victory, they piled into Treasury inflation-protected securities as a hedge against a pick-up in inflation. “You are seeing interest in TIPS right now from a widening investors base,” said Brian Smith, portfolio manager at TCW in Los Angeles, which has $197 billion in assets. Investors poured $1 billion into TIPS in the week ended Nov. 9, the second-biggest inflows since records began in October 2002.

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Trump may hand China exactly what it needs but is afraid to face.

China: Trump’s First Crisis? (JP Smith)

There is a growing possibility that China will be at the epicentre of President-elect Trump’s first crisis, triggered by concerns over the potential impact of protectionist measures on China’s trade surplus, which currently supports the increasingly fragile financing chains supporting corporate debt that the IMF estimates at around 155% of GDP. Trump’s pledges to impose tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese manufactured goods threatens to drive a significant uptick in the amount of capital flight from the renminbi, while the prospect of measures to change the US tax system to encourage companies to repatriate cash to the are already pulling the dollar higher.

At this point the likelihood of Trump actually delivering on his protectionist rhetoric is secondary to the psychological impact on resident corporate and household savers of any potential threat to the current uneasy equilibrium within the Chinese economy. The situation could quickly become much more acute than the one faced by the FOMC earlier this year, when the Fed appears to have backed off raising rates primarily due to concerns about China, so that President Trump will have to make a decision whether to clarify his intentions towards China and possibly repudiate his key campaign pledge at a relatively early stage of his presidency.

The consequences of his not doing so could be to precipitate an economic and financial crisis within China, that would obviously have major adverse consequences for the regional and global economies and also some potentially very serious implications for geopolitical stability. In brief, our longstanding bearish view on China has rested on the governance factors at both a central and local government level that have led to massive cost factor subsidies driving overcapacity across a broad range of industries. This has resulted in very high levels of debt which are being financed from an increasing range of institutions and instruments, most recently the city and county banks and shadow financing instruments, all of which are lack transparency even by Chinese standards.

No-one disputes any more that an increasing amount of financing is being used to service and roll over existing loans and that higher write-offs are not keeping pace with the flow of doubtful loans. The financing structures that surround the overcapacity industries are increasingly fragile especially on a regional level; Chinese enterprises are simply too interconnected to fail. Over the course of 2016, there have been some indications of a visible improvement in both the macro-economic and corporate numbers, as well as some of the more physical and therefore reliable indications of activity such as power production and freight journeys. This has, however, been a function of the massive monetary and fiscal stimulus beginning in the second half of 2015, to head off a potential crisis in response to the plunge in the onshore equity market.

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“As if defusing the world’s biggest debt bomb while keeping economic growth humming wasn’t tough enough..”

China’s Central Bank Faces Trump Headache (BBG)

As if defusing the world’s biggest debt bomb while keeping economic growth humming wasn’t tough enough, Donald Trump’s shock election victory has just made the policy outlook even more complex for People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The president-elect’s threats to slap tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese imports cast a shadow over the economy’s stabilization and the world’s most crucial trade relationship. Protectionism may fuel more international use of the yuan, according to Standard Chartered, while UBS says tariffs may push the PBOC to let the yuan fall further. Longer-term ambitions like capital account opening and yuan internationalization are also clouded, hinging on whether President Trump delivers on candidate Trump’s promises.

The PBOC’s monetary policy becomes trickier, and harder to keep neutral, amid “huge uncertainty” about Trump’s impact on China, according to Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “It’s hard to tell what would be actual policies instead of just campaign rhetoric,” Hu wrote in a note. Even before Trump takes office Jan. 20, there’s reason to think his campaign threats to impose tariffs and label China a currency manipulator may be tempered by the reality of governing. He’s already signaled there may be some watering down of other contentious issues such as building a wall on the Mexican border and scrapping President Barack Obama’s health care program. There’s a low probability that the PBOC will cut its benchmark interest rates or the required reserve ratio for banks this year, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday. The central bank has held its main rates at record lows for more than a year to support growth.

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Whatever happened to people’s right to shelter?

The World’s Biggest Real Estate Binge Is Coming To A City Near You (BBG)

If they were anywhere else in Beijing, the five young women in cowboy hats and matching red, white, and blue costumes would look wildly out of place. But here at the city’s biggest international property fair – a frenetic gathering of brokers, developers and other real estate professionals all jockeying for the attention of Chinese buyers – the quintet of wannabe Texans fits right in. As they promote Houston townhouses (“Yours for as little as $350,000!”), a Portugal contingent touts its Golden Visa program and the Australian delegation lures passersby with stuffed kangaroos. Welcome to ground zero for the world’s largest cross-border residential property boom. Motivated by a weakening yuan, surging domestic housing costs and the desire to secure offshore footholds, Chinese citizens are snapping up overseas homes at an accelerating pace.

They’re also venturing further afield than ever before, spreading beyond the likes of Sydney and Vancouver to lower-priced markets including Houston, Thailand’s Pattaya Beach and Malaysia’s Johor Bahru. The buying spree has defied Chinese government efforts to restrict capital outflows and shows little sign of slowing after an estimated $15 billion of overseas real estate purchases in the first half. For cities in the cross-hairs, the challenge is to balance the economic benefits of Chinese demand against the risk that rising home prices spur a public backlash. “The Chinese have managed to accumulate very large amounts of wealth, and the opportunities to deploy that capital in their own market are somewhat restricted,” said Richard Barkham at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial property brokerage. “China has more than a billion people. Personally, I think we have just seen a trickle.”

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I have too much to say on this to say it here.

America Has Abdicated Its Leadership of the West (Spiegel)

Even history sometimes leans toward pathos. In January 2017, when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, the American Age will celebrate its 100th birthday – and its funeral. The West was constituted in its modern form in January 1917. World War I was raging in Europe at the time and in Washington, D.C., President Woodrow Wilson told his country that it was time for Americans to take responsibility for “peace and justice.” In April he said: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” He declared war on Germany and sent soldiers to Europe to secure victory for the Western democracies – and the United States assumed the leadership of the Western world. It was an early phase of political globalization. One hundred years later: Trump.

Trump, who wants nothing to do with globalization; Trump, who preaches American nationalism, isolation, partial withdrawal from world trade and zero responsibility for a global problem like climate change. And all of this after a perverse election campaign marked by resentment, racism and incitement. Human dignity is the centerpiece of the Western project. Following the revolutions in France and the US in the late 18th century, states began guaranteeing human rights for the first time. Human rights have a normative character, as Heinrich August Winkler argued in his monumental work “History of the West.” And a racist cannot embody this normative project. Trump has no sense of dignity – neither for himself nor others. He does not qualify as the leader of the Western world, because he is both unwilling and incapable of assuming that role.

We now face emptiness – the fear of the void. What will happen to the West, to Europe, to Germany without the United States as its leading power? Germany is a child of the West, particularly of the United States, brought to life with American generosity, long spoon-fed and now in a deep state of shock. The American president was always simultaneously our president, at least a little, and Barack Obama was a worthy president of the West. Now, though, we must come to terms with a lack of Western leadership. What were those 100 years like? The history of the modern West can be told in many ways: as a heroic tale, as a story of greed, as a mission or as a tale of fear. This article is about 100 years of fear, in particular the fear for our freedom, a quintessentially American paranoia that spread to the rest of the West. The word is not being used negatively here; we are talking about fear as a bulwark protecting us against danger. There are good fears and bad fears.

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“If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then I am afraid we should prepare for economic collapse in very short order.”

Memo to Trump: Defense Spending Must Be For Actual Defense (Ron Paul)

[..] The military budget is something very different from the defense budget. The military budget is the money spent each year not to defend the United States, but to enrich the military-industrial complex, benefit special interests, regime-change countries overseas, maintain a global US military empire, and provide defense to favored allies. The military budget for the United States is larger than the combined military spending budget of the next seven or so countries down the line. To get the military budget in line with our real defense needs would require a focus on our actual interests and a dramatic decrease in spending. The spending follows the policy, and the policy right now reflects the neocon and media propaganda that we must run the rest of the world or there will be total chaos. This is sometimes called “American exceptionalism,” but it is far from a “pro-American” approach.

Do we really need to continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars manipulating elections overseas? Destabilizing governments that do not do as Washington tells them? Rewarding those who follow Washington’s orders with massive aid and weapons sales? Do we need to continue the endless war in Afghanistan even as we discover that Saudi Arabia had far more to do with 9/11 than the Taliban we have been fighting for a decade and a half? Do we really need 800 US military bases in more than 70 countries overseas? Do we need to continue to serve as the military protection force for our wealthy NATO partners even though they are more than capable of defending themselves? Do we need our CIA to continue to provoke revolutions like in Ukraine or armed insurgencies like in Syria?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then I am afraid we should prepare for economic collapse in very short order. Then, with our economy in ruins, we will face the wrath of those countries overseas which have been in the crosshairs of our interventionist foreign policy. If the answer is no, then we must work to convince our countrymen to reject the idea of Empire and embrace the United States as a constitutional republic that no longer goes abroad seeking monsters to slay. The choice is ours.

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“Their corrupt Democratic Party had a good if not great candidate in Bernie Sanders and their DNC deliberately fought to keep him from winning the primaries..”

The Democratic Party Had a Good if Not Great Candidate in Bernie Sanders (CP)

It’s hard to empathize with the corporate liberals who streamed from the Javits Center in tears [last] Tuesday night. Their corrupt Democratic Party had a good if not great candidate in Bernie Sanders and their DNC deliberately fought to keep him from winning the primaries. In every poll taken during his campaign, Sanders beat Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election. Oh, they’ll start pouring out their bile now, blaming everyone but themselves and their candidate. It was the media’s fault for popularizing Trump (a Clinton strategy). It was the FBI’s fault for re-opening the email case (thanks to Huma Abedin’s ex). It was stupid Middle America’s fault for being racist and sexist (was that why they voted for Trump?). It was third-party supporters who screwed us in Florida again (Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow are furious that leftists didn’t vote for their heroine). It was Russia’s fault for hacking the DNC (no evidence) and plotting to invade Europe (no evidence).

In Hillary’s farewell speech, she kept to form and quoted scripture–the very last guide she has used to shape her political life. In other words, she remained a hypocrite. She talked to little girls who think she is a great flagbearer for womankind, even though she precipitated the brutal destruction of infrastructure, the breakdown of law and order, and the eventual collapse of the Libyan state, throwing thousands of brown women, boys and girls into extreme danger and exile. She exported the same plan to Syria. And she supported a coup d’état in Honduras that has now led to predictably vicious repression and regular homicide. The truth is, Hillary was a terrible candidate. Like Al Gore. She was charmless and toneless. In an election atmosphere typified by personality politics, Hillary lacked one.

She had a rich track record of foreign policy meltdowns at the State Department and a feckless tenure in the Senate. She alienated Congress in 1993 when she failed to get health care reform passed. And she evidently used high office to peddle access and influence to Clinton Foundation donors. Her positions had changed repeatedly, suggesting she couldn’t be trusted. This, compounded by the scandal surrounding her lazy use of email in the trafficking of confidential information, and ham-fisted attempts to cover it up, cast her in the dimmest of lights with many Americans. An albatross husband still despised by conservatives and who loomed hungrily behind the floodlights of her campaign–didn’t help either.

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Russia’s energy and banking sectors remain murky fields.

Russian Economy Minister Detained Over Alleged $2 Million Bribe (R.)

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev has been detained over a $2-million bribe allegedly received for a “positive” assessment, which led to oil producer Rosneft acquiring a 50% stake in Bashneft, the country’s Investigative Committee said on Tuesday. He is the highest-ranked statesman in Russia arrested since the failed coup in 1991. The Investigative Committee, which directly reports to President Vladimir Putin, said the investigation would put forward charges soon. “Ulyukayev was detained at night, immediately after interrogation,” an Investigative Committee official told Reuters. It was not immediately clear, what exactly Ulyukayev, who has overseen massive government privatization, has been accused of, but Russian news outlet RT reported that the minister had been detained in the act of taking the bribe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS news agency that “this is a serious accusation”. “In any case, only a court is able to decide anything,” he was quoted as saying. RT reported that Peskov said he did not know if Putin was aware of the minister’s detention. According to RT, if found guilty, Ulyukayev could face a fine up to 100 times the size of the bribe plus the loss of the right to serve in some state positions and undertake certain activities for up to 15 years. A prison sentence of as long as 15 years and a fine that was 70 times the size of the bribe were other potential outcomes following a guilty verdict, RT said.

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I’ve said it 1000 times: Turkey will never be a member of the EU. Countries will leave as soon as that propect gets real.

EU Threatens Turkey With Economic Sanctions (TT)

Turkey-EU relations braced for a major showdown after the Turkish government renewed its push for bringing the death penalty back, leading to mutual recriminations, trading barbs over recent days. To reveal the gravity of the situation and its meaning for the EU, European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz even spoke about possible economic sanctions against Turkey over draconian emergency practices that destroyed central pillars of democracy and the rule of law. As Turkey’s record on human rights hits lows, its ramifications for the EU accession process becomes evidently palpable with dying prospects for membership in the foreseeable future. The unrelenting political crackdown inside Turkey has left the EU with few options seen deterrent to force Ankara to change its policies at home.

Speaking to German’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Schulz said about the political climate in Brussels where EU leaders discuss imposing economic sanctions against Turkey in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions to curb the opposition. The consideration of such an option is preferred to terminating entire talks between Turkey and the EU, he argued. “We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take,” Schulz said. One of the arguments he brought forward is that the breakdown in relations would leave the EU with no leverage and option that it could wield influence Turkey to help the opposition and those who are held in pre-trial detention

But his warnings and comment fell on deaf ears in Ankara, prompting a swift rebuke from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called on Schulz to do whatever possible to back up his threats. Speaking at a press conference in Ankara along with his Chinese counterpart, Cavusoglu called on Schulz to remove banners and booths of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and the EU consider as a terrorist group, from EP building in Brussels. His criticism refers to periodic protests of pro-PKK groups near EP headquarters in Brussels as European Kurds demonstrate there against the Turkish state, set up tents and booths filled with PKK flags and images of imprisoned PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan.

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If Sweden had a case, they would have made it eons ago. What a disgrace as a country.

Julian Assange Faces Second Day Of Questioning (ITV)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be questioned for a second day inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London over a sex allegation. Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and Swedish police inspector Cecilia Redell will once again interview Assange through a representative of the Ecuadorian government. They said a DNA sample will be taken if he gives consent. It is believed Assange was “fully cooperative” during their initial meeting on Monday. The process could take three days, before Swedish authorities decide on their next move.

However Ms Isgren will not be giving interviews during her stay in London. A statement said: “As the investigation is ongoing, it is subject to confidentiality. “This confidentiality also applies according to Ecuadorian legislation for the investigative measures conducted at the embassy. “Therefore, the prosecutors cannot provide information concerning details of the investigation after the interview.”

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Still waiting for the big one.

Highly Contagious Strain Of Bird Flu Sweeps Through Europe (DW)

The German state of Schleswig-Holstein widened protection measures on Monday to protect against an outbreak of the H5N8 influenza virus among wild birds, which has spread to poultry. All farms – including smallholdings – will be required to tighten biosecurity, with the use of protective clothing and footwear, and the widespread disinfection of all farm buildings and vehicles used to transport poultry. Over the weekend, 30,000 chickens were culled as a precaution at a farm close to the northern city of Grumby, which saw an outbreak of the virus. The affected breeder farm is currently being disinfected and cleaned, Schleswig-Holstein’s environment ministry said on Monday.

Two smaller poultry farms in the same state and the neighboring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were also affected over the weekend, but neither states registered new H5N8 cases on Monday, local officials said. So far, five German states have seen bird flu outbreaks, including the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, which reported cases around Lake Constance, which is bordered by Switzerland and Austria. The state of Saxony also confirmed the H5N8 virus was detected in a dead heron at a lake near the city of Leipzig. On Monday, Denmark sought to contain its own outbreak among wild birds by ordering a farm to destroy hundreds of thousands of eggs imported from Germany, as a precaution. Some 300,000 eggs from the farm in Grumby were supplied to a hatchery in the Danish town of Baekke, near Kolding. They are all expected to be destroyed by Tuesday.

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Still waiting for the big one here as well. Jitters all around.

100,000 Landslides and Hundreds of Tremors After New Zealand Quake (G._

Up to 100,000 landslides were caused by New Zealand’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, officials said, as aftershocks continued to shake parts of both islands of New Zealand and emergency crews worked to help people in the main affected areas. A major relief effort continued on Tuesday, with thousands of people stranded by the quake, which blocked roads and damaged many buildings across parts of the North and South islands. Emergency services and defence personnel were evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from Kaikoura, the heavily hit South Island town, amid more strong aftershocks on Tuesday.

The powerful earthquake killed two people. It struck just after midnight on Sunday, destroying farm homesteads, sending glass and masonry toppling from buildings in the capital, Wellington, on the North Island and cutting road and rail links throughout the north-east of the South Island. As aftershocks continued to rattle the region on Wednesday, emergency services cordoned off streets in Wellington and evacuated several buildings due to fears one of them might collapse. Gale-force winds and rain were hampering recovery efforts as wild weather brought floods to the Greater Wellington region. Hundreds of aftershocks continued to rock the region. A 5.4 tremor was among the bigger aftershocks and was felt strongly in Wellington.

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Nov 302015
 
 November 30, 2015  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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John Vachon Trucks loaded with mattresses at San Angelo, Texas Nov 1939

COP-21 Climate Deal In Paris Spells End Of The Fossil Era (AEP)
Oil’s Big Players Line Up for $30 Billion of Projects in Iran (Bloomberg)
India Opposes Deal To Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 (Reuters)
Beijing Smog Levels So High They Move ‘Beyond Index’ (Bloomberg)
World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $64 Billion Amid Equity Rout (Bloomberg)
Iron Ore Falls Below $40 A Metric Ton For The First Time (Bloomberg)
Fed To Take Up ‘Too Big To Fail’ Emergency Lending Curb (Reuters)
Did the Yuan Really Pass the IMF Currency Test? You’ll Know Soon (Bloomberg)
IMF Move Would Pressure China on Management of Yuan (WSJ)
IMF’s Yuan Inclusion Signals Less Risk Taking In China (Reuters)
VW Top Execs Knew Fuel Usage In Some Cars Was Too High A Year Ago (Reuters)
BlackRock Spreads its Tentacles in Brussels (Don Quijones)
The Silk Road Affair: Power, Pop and a Bunch of Billionaires (Bloomberg)
The Strange Case Of Julian Assange (Crikey)
Saudi Arabia’s 2015 Beheadings The Most In 20 Years (Al Jazeera)
EU Split Over Refugee Deal As Germany Leads Breakaway Coalition (Guardian)
European Union Reaches Deal With Turkey on Migration (WSJ)
Tsipras Takes On Turkey’s Davutoglu On Twitter (AP)
As the World Turns Away, Refugees are Still Drowning in the Mediterranean (HRW)

Ambroses say the darndest things. This Ambrose looks through rosy glasses. Probably drinks from them too. “..both countries have come to the realisation that it is possible to decarbonise without hurting economic growth..” Oh, for Christ sake.

COP-21 Climate Deal In Paris Spells End Of The Fossil Era (AEP)

A far-reaching deal on climate change in Paris over coming days promises to unleash a $30 trillion blitz of investment on new technology and renewable energy by 2040, creating vast riches for those in the vanguard and potentially lifting the global economy out of its slow-growth trap. Economists at Barclays estimate that greenhouse gas pledges made by the US, the EU, China, India, and others for the COP-21 climate summit amount to an epic change in the allocation of capital and resources, with financial winners and losers to match. They said the fossil fuel industry of coal, gas, andoil could forfeit $34 trillion in revenues over the next quarter century – a quarter of their income – if the Paris accord is followed by a series of tougher reviews every five years to force down the trajectory of CO2 emissions, as proposed by the United Nations and French officials hosting the talks.

By then crude consumption would fall to 72m barrels a day – half OPEC projections – and demand would be in precipitous decline. Most fossil companies would face run-off unless they could reinvent themselves as 21st Century post-carbon leaders, as Shell, Total, and Statoil are already doing. The agreed UN goal is to cap the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels by 2100, deemed the safe limit if we are to pass on a world that is more or less recognisable. Climate negotiators say there will have to be drastic “decarbonisation” to bring this in sight, with negative net emissions by 2070 or soon after. This means that CO2 will have to be plucked from the air and buried, or absorbed by reforestation.

Such a scenario would imply the near extinction of the coal industry unless there is a big push for carbon capture and storage. It also implies a near total switch to electric cars, rendering the internal combustion engine obsolete. The Bank of England and the G20’s Financial Stability Board aim to bring about a “soft landing” that protects investors and gives the fossil industry time to adapt by forcing it to confront the issue head on. Barclays said ,$21.5 trillion of investment in energy efficiency will be needed by 2040 under the current pledges, which cover 155 countries and 94pc of the global economy. It expects a further $8.5 trillion of spending on solar, wind, hydro, energy storage, and nuclear power. Those best-placed to profit in Europe are: Denmark’s wind group Vestas; Schneider and ABB for motors and transmission; Legrand for low voltage equipment; Alstom and Siemens for rail efficiency; Philips, and Osram for LEDs and lighting.

But this is a minimalist scenario. While the Paris commitments suggest a watershed moment, they do not go far enough to meet the targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC). The planet has already used up two-thirds of the allowable “carbon budget” of 2,900 gigatonnes (GT), and will have used up three quarters of the remaining 1,000 GT by 2030. Barclays advised clients to prepare for a more radical outcome, entailing almost $45 trillion of spending on different forms of decarbonisation. “The fact that COP-21 in itself is clearly not going to put the world on a 2 degree track does not mean that fossil-fuel companies can simply carry on with business-as-usual. We think they should be stress-testing their business models against a significant tightening of global climate policy over the next two decades,” it said.

[..] Mr Jacobs said a deal in Paris is highly likely. “You can never rule out a break-down. These meetings always go to the wire. But we have gone past the turning point in the US and China, and both countries have come to the realisation that it is possible to decarbonise without hurting economic growth,” he said. It will not be a legally-binding treaty, but it is expected to have the same effect as each country transposes the targets into its own law. In the US it will be enforced through the legal mechanism of the Clean Air Act, anchored on earlier accords, without need for Senate ratification. The sums of money are colossal. Macro-economists say this is just what is needed to soak up the global savings glut and rescue the world from its 1930s liquidity trap. There might even be a boom.

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End of the fossil era, Ambrose? Not everyone agrees.

Oil’s Big Players Line Up for $30 Billion of Projects in Iran (Bloomberg)

Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Lukoil are among international companies that have selected oil and natural gas deposits to develop in Iran as the holder of the world’s fourth-largest crude reserves presents $30 billion worth of projects to investors. Total is one of the companies that have been in the forefront of discussions and Eni is also looking to invest, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said. Shell, Total and Lukoil all specified fields they would be interested in developing in Iran, Ali Kardor, deputy director of investment and financing at National Iranian Oil Co. said in an interview in Tehran. “Many companies are interested. Europeans are interested, Asian companies are interested,” Zanganeh told reporters at a conference in Tehran on Saturday. “Total is interested, Eni is interested.”

Iran is pitching 70 oil and natural gas projects valued at $30 billion to foreign investors at a two-day conference in Tehran as the Persian Gulf country prepares for the end of sanctions that have stifled its energy production. All banking and economic sanctions will be lifted by the first week of January,” Amir Hossein Zamaninia, deputy oil minister for international and commerce affairs, said at the event. “We are interested to come back to Iran when the sanctions are lifted and if the contracts are interesting,” Stephane Michel, Total’s head of exploration and production in the Middle East said at the conference. “We have worked in this country for a long time, so we know specific fields on which we’ve worked.”

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Eh, Ambrose? “The entire prosperity of the world has been built on cheap energy. And suddenly we are being forced into higher cost energy. That’s grossly unfair..”

India Opposes Deal To Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 (Reuters)

India would reject a deal to combat climate change that includes a pledge for the world to wean itself off fossil fuels this century, a senior official said, underlying the difficulties countries face in agreeing how to slow global warming. Almost 200 nations will meet in the French capital on Nov. 30 to try and seal a deal to prevent the planet from warming more than the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists say is vital if the world is to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. To keep warming in check, some countries want the Paris agreement to include a commitment to decarbonize – to reduce and ultimately phase out the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas that is blamed for climate change – this century.

India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter, is dependent on coal for most of its energy needs, and despite a pledge to expand solar and wind power has said its economy is too small and its people too poor to end use of the fossil fuel anytime soon. “It’s problematic for us to make that commitment at this point in time. It’s certainly a stumbling block (to a deal),” Ajay Mathur, a senior member of India’s negotiating team for Paris, told Reuters in an interview this week. “The entire prosperity of the world has been built on cheap energy. And suddenly we are being forced into higher cost energy. That’s grossly unfair,” he said. Mathur said India, whose position at climate talks is seen by some in the West as intransigent, was committed to the 2 degrees ceiling as a long-term goal and was confident a deal would be reached.

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If PM2.5 is the threat, what good is staying indoors? You’d have to live in a bunker.

Beijing Smog Levels So High They Move ‘Beyond Index’ (Bloomberg)

Smog levels spiked in Beijing on Monday, highlighting the environmental challenges facing China as President Xi Jinping arrives in Paris for global climate talks. The concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, went “beyond index” in the afternoon, according to a U.S. Embassy monitor. The PM2.5 level was 678 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square, the Beijing government said. The World Health Organization recommends average 24-hour exposure to PMI of 25 or below. Public outrage over air pollution has been a catalyst for China’s transformation into a driving force for a breakthrough deal in Paris. Leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to being discussions in the French capital Monday.

Beijing on Sunday raised its air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest level in its four-tier system, for the first time in 13 months. The heavy pollution in Beijing won’t clear up until Dec. 2, according to the environment bureau. The city will ask some factories to suspend or limit production and construction sites to stop transporting materials and waste while the orange alert is active, it said. Under the orange alert, people are advised to cut down on outdoor activity, while the elderly and people with heart and lung ailments should stay inside. Severe pollution was also reported in at least 17 other cities around Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Shanghai’s air was also heavily polluted, the second worst level on a six-grade scale, with the PM2.5 reading at 170.4 micrograms per cubic meter as of 12 p.m..

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I warned this would happen the moment Abe pushed pension funds to prop up stock markets: they lose big. Japanese who read this will save even more, further crippling Abenomics.

World’s Biggest Pension Fund Loses $64 Billion Amid Equity Rout (Bloomberg)

The world’s biggest pension fund posted its worst quarterly loss since at least 2008 after a global stock rout in August and September wiped $64 billion off the Japanese asset manager’s investments. The 135.1 trillion yen ($1.1 trillion) Government Pension Investment Fund lost 5.6% last quarter as the value of its holdings declined by 7.9 trillion yen, according to documents released Monday in Tokyo. That’s the biggest percentage drop in comparable data starting from April 2008. The fund lost 8 trillion yen on its domestic and foreign equities and 241 billion yen on overseas debt, while Japanese bonds handed GPIF a 302 billion yen gain.

The loss was GPIF’s first since doubling its allocation to stocks and reducing debt last October, and highlights the risk of sharp short-term losses that come with the fund’s more aggressive investment style. Fund executives have argued that holding more shares and foreign assets is a better approach as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to spur inflation that would erode the purchasing power of bonds. [..] GPIF had 39% of its assets in Japanese debt at Sept. 30, and 21% in the nation’s equities, according to the statement. That compares with 38% and 23% three months earlier, respectively. The fund had 22% of its investments in foreign stocks at the end of September, and 14% in overseas bonds.

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Overleveraged overcapacity will disappear no matter how powerful the interests.

Iron Ore Falls Below $40 A Metric Ton For The First Time (Bloomberg)

Most-active iron ore futures in Singapore sank below $40 a metric ton for the first time on concern that the economic slowdown in China will cut demand as supplies from the largest miners climb. [..] The raw material has been pummeled since the start of 2014 as surging supplies from low-cost producers including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto in Australia and Brazil’s Vale combine with faltering demand in China to spur a glut. Losses in Singapore and Dalian could presage a drop in the benchmark price for spot ore in Qingdao, which will be updated later in the day. The latest sign of new supply came from Australia, with a vessel waiting offshore on Monday to load the first cargo from Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mine.

“Supply continues to rise while port inventories are starting to climb, weighing on iron ore prices,” analysts at Maike Futures Co. said in a note on Monday. “The overseas producers are still profitable and are greatly reducing costs.” The top miners are betting that higher output will enable them to cut unit costs and defend market share while smaller rivals shut. Mills in China, contending with overcapacity and depressed margins, will cut steel production by almost 3% next year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

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The Fed can elect to ignore the law, and Congress?

Fed To Take Up ‘Too Big To Fail’ Emergency Lending Curb (Reuters)

The Federal Reserve Board will consider on Monday a proposal to curb its emergency lending powers, a change demanded by Congress after the central bank’s controversial decision to aid AIG, Citigroup and others in 2008. A proposed rule, to be considered by the Fed’s Washington-based board in an open meeting, would require that any future emergency lending be only “broad-based” to address larger financial market problems, and not tailored to specific firms. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law instructed the Fed to curtail emergency loans to individual banks and prohibited it from lending to companies considered insolvent.

While some at the Fed worry the new rules will hamper the central bank’s response in future crises, some politicians have said the proposed regulations are too imprecise, for example in defining insolvency, to prevent the types of deals done in 2008. As the financial crisis intensified in 2008, the Fed invoked its little-used emergency lending power to stave off the failure of AIG and Bear Stearns, and help other “too big to fail” companies including Citigroup and Bank of America. The Fed also enacted a series of more general emergency programs, in all providing $710 billion in loans and guarantees. Those programs were separate from the much larger Fed asset and bond purchases known as quantitative easing.

The loans have been repaid and the guarantees ended, ultimately earning the Fed a net profit of $30 billion, according to a September Congressional Research Service review. However the effort was criticized as overreach, arguably important in limiting the crisis but also not clearly in line with the intended use of the Fed’s emergency authority. The Fed routinely lends money to banks on a short-term basis to smooth the operations of the financial system. That is part of why it exists. But since the 1930s it has had the power to lend more broadly in a crisis.

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Can’t see Lagarde crushing the expectations she herself built up. Unless there’s a dirty game going on behind the curtain.

Did the Yuan Really Pass the IMF Currency Test? You’ll Know Soon (Bloomberg)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and some two dozen officials on the fund’s executive board will gather Monday at headquarters in Washington for one of the most-anticipated decisions outside of actually approving loans for nations in crisis. The question inside the 12th-floor, oval boardroom: whether to grant China’s yuan status as a reserve currency by adding it to the fund’s Special Drawing Rights basket. The SDR, created in 1969, gives IMF member countries who hold it the right to obtain any of the currencies in the basket – currently the dollar, euro, yen and pound – to meet balance-of-payments needs. While there’s little suspense in the main thrust of the expected approval – Lagarde already announced that fund staff had recommended the yuan be included and that she supported the finding – the IMF is likely to give more details on how it arrived at the decision.

The IMF’s highest decision-making body is its board of governors, a group of mostly finance ministers and central bankers from its 188 member countries. The board of governors has delegated most of its powers to the executive board, made up of 24 executive directors who represent the membership. The meeting Monday has been classified as “restricted,” meaning no support staff will be allowed to attend. The executive board, which meets more than 200 times a year, usually makes decisions based on consensus, rather than formal votes. Mark Sobel, the U.S. executive director who answers to the Obama administration, wields the most power, with a 17% voting stake. Together, the Group of Seven countries control 43% of the vote, making them a formidable bloc. China, which holds a 3.8% voting share, is represented by former People’s Bank of China official Jin Zhongxia.

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Beijing’s hands will be tied.

IMF Move Would Pressure China on Management of Yuan (WSJ)

The IMF is on the verge of labeling China’s yuan a reserve currency. Now Chinese officials will have to prove they can treat it like one. The IMF on Monday is widely expected to say that next year, it will add the yuan to the elite basket of currencies that comprise its lending reserves, a status enjoyed only by the U.S. dollar, the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen. The inclusion would represent recognition that the yuan’s status is rising along with China’s place in global finance. Now comes the hard part. The inclusion puts new pressure on Beijing to change everything from how it manages the yuan, also known as renminbi, to how it communicates with investors and the world. China’s pledges to loosen its tight grip on the currency’s value and open its financial system will come under new scrutiny.

“We will have to build up confidence in renminbi assets from investors both at home and abroad and at the same time, prevent the financial risks associated with a more global currency,” said Sheng Songcheng, head of the survey and statistics department at the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank. “That calls for carrying out various financial reforms in a coordinated way.” Inclusion would also put pressure on the central bank to offer the same degree of clarity and transparency that the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other vital institutions strive for. That could be difficult: In the past six months alone, the PBOC shocked markets with a surprise currency devaluation, stood mostly silent during a Chinese stock-market rout and confused investors by issuing a new proclamation that turned out to be months old.

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Is the SDR Xi’s Trojan Horse?

IMF’s Yuan Inclusion Signals Less Risk Taking In China (Reuters)

When the IMF agrees on Monday to add the Chinese yuan to its reserves basket in the biggest shake-up in more than three decades, the IMF can afford itself a congratulatory nod. By acknowledging the yuan as a major global currency alongside the dollar, euro, yen, and pound, as is widely expected, IMF members will endorse the efforts of China’s economic reformers and by doing so hope that will spur fresh change in China. But Chinese policy insiders and international policymakers say reforms may not continue at the breakneck pace of recent months. In addition, Chinese sources suggest adding the yuan to the IMF basket leaves economic conservatives better positioned to resist further significant reform in a reminder of the period following China’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

A slowing in the pace has implications for those who bet that making the yuan a global reserve currency will give it a boost. The yuan has fallen almost 3% against the dollar this year, on course for its biggest annual fall since its landmark 2005 revaluation. The IMF decision will remove a key incentive – bolstering national pride – that reformers used to push otherwise reluctant conservatives to support reforms. More importantly, however, are worries in Beijing that the rickety economy can’t handle more aggressive reform that allows a freer flow of currency across China’s borders. Beijing is already rapidly losing a taste for more experimentation with capital flows, say the sources – economists involved in policy discussions who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

After the stock market buckled more than 40% in the summer – which many blamed on nefarious foreign capital – regulators have made it harder for money to leave China to counter yuan selling pressure and have intervened heavily in onshore and offshore currency markets. Not just conservatives, but more liberal economists are calling for a pause. “Our ability to control financial risk has yet to be improved,” said a senior economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), an influential Beijing think-tank. “Any rush to open up the capital account completely could be unfavorable for controlling financial risks … we will definitely be very cautious.”

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Which is why former CEO Winterkorn left in a hurry as soon as the scandal first broke.

VW Top Execs Knew Fuel Usage In Some Cars Was Too High A Year Ago (Reuters)

Volkswagen’s top executives knew a year ago that some of the company’s cars were markedly less fuel efficient than had been officially stated, Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag reported, without specifying its sources. VW in early November revealed that it had understated the level of carbon dioxide emissions and fuel usage in around 800,000 cars sold mainly in Europe. The scandal, which will likely cost VW billions, initially centered on software on up to 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide that VW admitted was designed to artificially suppress nitrogen oxide emissions in a test setting. The Bild am Sonntag report contradicts VW’s assertion, however, that it only uncovered the false CO2 emissions labeling as part of efforts to clear up the diesel emissions scandal, which became public in September.

Months after becoming aware of excessive fuel consumption, former Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn decided this spring to pull one model off the market where the discrepancy was particularly pronounced, the Polo TDI BlueMotion, the paper cited sources close to Winterkorn as saying. The paper did not separately cite its sources for saying that top executives knew about the fuel usage problem a year ago, however. VW at the time cited low sales figures as the reason for the withdrawal. The paper said that VW did not inform Polo TDI BlueMotion owners of the high fuel consumption, which was 18% above the nameplate value.

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Goldman, BlackRock, they are the de facto executive rulers of the world. And it makes them filthy rich.

BlackRock Spreads its Tentacles in Brussels (Don Quijones)

Much like Goldman Sachs, Blackrock is spreading tentacles across Europe at a startling rate. In a sign of its growing influence, the firm met EU officials to discuss financial market matters more times than any other company in the seven months to July, Financial Times reported this week. During that period the firm met Jonathan Hill, European Commissioner for financial services (and former City of London lobbyist), and his team five times — one more time than HSBC and two more times than Deutsche Bank. In fact, the only institutions that met the Commissioner as many times were London Stock Exchange Group, the British Bankers’ Association and Insurance Europe.

BlackRock’s lobbying efforts have worried some investors amidst concerns that the fund house, which offers traditional active mutual funds, passive funds and alternative products such as hedge funds, could have too much influence on European policy. By pure happenstance, the growth in BlackRock’s influence coincided with a 10-fold increase in the company’s self-reported lobbying spending in Brussels: in 2012 the firm spent €150,000; by 2014 that number had catapulted to €1.5m. That kind of money gets you a heck of a lot of access and influence in Brussels, the world’s second most important lobbying hub, especially when you’re already the world’s biggest asset manager.

According to EU Integrity Watch, BlackRock held meetings with Brussels officials over issues as far-reaching as the regulatory agenda in financial services by the EU and the US – a vital issue given the looming TTIP and TiSA trade treaties – capital markets union, Mr. Hill’s plan to boost business funding and investment financing, and money market funds. BlackRock’s most audacious coup to date took place in August, 2014, when the ECB announced its decision to hire BlackRock Solutions to provide advice on the design and implementation of the central bank’s upcoming purchase of asset-backed securities. In other words, just before the ECB embarked on one of the biggest QE programs in world history, it sought the advice of the world’s largest asset manager – i.e. the company most invested in the assets it intended to buy.

To ensure that there were/are no conflicts of interest, BlackRock’s contract stipulates that there must be an effective separation between the project team working for the ECB and its staff involved in any other ABS-related activities, which, as you can imagine, is an immense relief. So too is the fact that “all external audits related to the management of conflicts of interest would be made available to the ECB,” an institution famed worldwide for its blinding institutional transparency and accountability. To put all lingering fears to bed, a spokesperson for BlackRock told FT, “BlackRock advocates for public policies that we believe are in our investors’ long-term best interests.”

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Juicy story. Let’s do a movie.

The Silk Road Affair: Power, Pop and a Bunch of Billionaires (Bloomberg)

Even in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, an ancient crossroads where torture and bribery allegations are endemic, Gulnara Karimova, the president’s Harvard-educated daughter, stood out for her ruthlessness. As the U.S. embassy noted in a secret dispatch from 2005 that was later published by Wikileaks, Karimova was viewed by most Uzbeks “as a greedy, power-hungry individual who uses her father to crush business people or anyone else who stands in her way.” These days the 43-year-old former globetrotting socialite who once publicly praised God for “my face” is confined to her homeland along the legendary Silk Road, watched over by the security services of her aging father, Islam Karimov, who has ruled for a quarter century.

Even in isolation, though, Googoosha, as she’s called herself in music videos, remains in the eye of a storm, the protagonist in a multibillion-dollar tale of alleged greed and graft unfolding across three continents. This story stretches back more than a decade, from the fringes of the czarist empire to the tidy streets of Oslo, via Gibraltar, Geneva and beyond. It touches companies owned by six of Europe’s richest men – five Russians and a native Norwegian – and thrusts the staid Scandinavian business world into a strange new light. It also offers a glimpse into a mercurial U.S. ally, a nation of 30 million that is ranked among the most repressive and corrupt in the world by Freedom House and Transparency International, even while providing occasional logistical support for American troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

[..] In Switzerland, where Karimova once lived in a Geneva mansion, prosecutors have widened their own probe into suspected money-laundering and fraud offenses related to her role in awarding telecommunications contracts in Uzbekistan. In August, they said they’d confiscated more than 800 million Swiss francs ($781 million) of assets linked to her, without elaborating, bringing the total amount seized to about $1.1 billion. Add the $900 million VimpelCom has set aside for potential liabilities and the amount tied up in the investigations is pushing $2 billion. And that’s not even counting the impact on the market values of VimpelCom, MTS and TeliaSonera or the future costs of litigation. VimpelCom’s market value has plunged 59% to $6.3 billion since March 12, 2014, when it disclosed the U.S. and Dutch probes…

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Good overview. No charges have ever been filed. No prosecutor wants to interview Assange.

The Strange Case Of Julian Assange (Crikey)

Julian Assange faces very serious allegations, politicians like to say. That was the description from UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s office three years ago, defending the UK s determination to extradite him to Sweden. And that was the description early this year from then-UK deputy PM Nick Clegg, too – he should go to Sweden to face very serious allegations and charges of rape, said Clegg, not long before leading his party to annihilation in this year’s general election. Clegg, of course, was peddling the oft-repeated lie that there are charges against Assange. But for very serious allegations -sexual molestation, unlawful coercion, sexual assault- the UK and Swedish governments have displayed zero interest in investigating them. In fact, the history of the case against Assange is a history of increasingly bizarre efforts by authorities to avoid questioning him.

When Swedish prosecutors first examined complaints about Assange by two women in 2010, the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm dismissed all but one of the allegations, including the accusation of sexual assault, saying there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever. After speaking to prosecutors, Assange remained in Sweden for another week to be interviewed about the one remaining allegation (of molestation). However, after an appeal by former Swedish politician Claes Borgstrom, another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, reopened the whole case. Assange remained in Sweden and offered to be interviewed again, but, in the first of what would turn out to be a long litany of excuses, was told Ny was ill and unable to speak to him. Ny’s office then told Assange’s lawyer he was free to leave Sweden, but once Assange did so, an arrest warrant was issued for him.

Assange then offered to return to Sweden to speak to Ny and gave her a full week of dates in which he would do so. These were all rejected. This was all despite Swedish police having access to the texts of one of the alleged victims of Assange saying she did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him , that she was shocked when he was arrested given she only wanted him to take an STD test, and that it was the police who made up the charges . Ny’s unwillingnness to interview Assange would become the pattern for the next five years: Assange repeatedly offered to speak to Swedish authorities by phone, by videolink, or in person at the Australian embassy. The Swedes refused all opportunities to do so and demanded Assange return to Sweden, issuing a European arrest warrant for him.

Eventually the EAW would be upheld by British courts under UK laws, which since then have been amended. Under current British law, a similar case to Assange’s would now be successfully appealed and the EAW rejected. Once he had sought refuge in the Ecaudorean embassy in 2012, Assange continued to offer Swedish authorities the opportunity to speak with him, and they continued to reject them. But while they regularly rejected Assange s offer to be interviewed, other suspects were treated very differently: during the last five years, the Swedes have on 44 occasions asked to travel to the UK to interview, or asked British police to interview, other people in Britain in relation to allegations including violent crime, fraud and even murder. Assange, however, couldn’t be treated the same way – he had to go to Sweden.

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Nice company to keep: “Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the United States, and Iraq are the top five countries with the most executions.”

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 Beheadings The Most In 20 Years (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 151 people so far this year – the most put to death in a single year since 1995. The stark rise in the number of executions has seen, on average, one person killed every two days, according to the human rights group, Amnesty International. “The Saudi Arabian authorities appear intent on continuing a bloody execution spree,” Amnesty’s report released on Monday said, quoting James Lynch, deputy director at the Middle East and North Africa programme. It is the most people put to death in the kingdom in one year since 1995, when 192 executions were reportedly carried out. Most recent years have had between 79 and 90 people killed by beheadings annually for crimes including “nonlethal offences, such as drug-related ones,” according to the London-based rights group.

The large number of executions shed further light on what Amnesty referred to as unfair judicial proceedings, with a disproportionate imposition of capital punishment on foreign nationals. “Of the 63 people executed this year for drug-related charges, the vast majority, 45 people, were foreign nationals,” the report said. Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political commentator based in Riyadh, challenged “the integrity” of Amnesty’s report, saying it failed to mention Iran’s execution record. “Iran executes far more people a year than Saudi Arabia, but it does not get the negative publicity Saudi Arabia has. This is something that must be addressed,” Dakhil told Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, the United States, and Iraq are the top five countries with the most executions. In total, 71 people executed so far in 2015 have been foreigners. The majority were migrant workers from poorer countries who are often sentenced to die without any knowledge of the court’s proceedings because they don’t speak Arabic and do not receive translations.

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These people are busy creating absolute mayhem in Europe.

EU Split Over Refugee Deal As Germany Leads Breakaway Coalition (Guardian)

Months of European efforts to come up with common policies on mass immigration unravelled when Germany led a “coalition of the willing” of nine EU countries taking in most refugees from the Middle East, splitting the EU on the issues of mandatory refugee-sharing and funding. An unprecedented full EU summit with Turkey agreed a fragile pact aimed at stemming the flow of migrants to Europe via Turkey. But the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, frustrated by the resistance in Europe to her policies, also convened a separate mini-summit with seven other leaders on Sunday to push a fast-track deal with the Turks and to press ahead with a new policy of taking in and sharing hundreds of thousands of refugees a year directly from Turkey.

The surprise mini-summit suggested that Merkel has given up trying to persuade her opponents, mostly in eastern Europe, to join a mandatory refugee-sharing scheme across the EU, although she is also expected to use the pro-quotas coalition to pressure the naysayers into joining later. Merkel’s ally on the new policy, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, said of the mini-summit: “This is a meeting of those states which are prepared to take in large numbers of refugees from Turkey legally.” But the frictions triggered by the split were instantly apparent. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council who chaired the full summit with Turkey, contradicted the mainly west European emphasis on seeing Ankara as the best hope of slowing the mass migration to Europe.

“Let us not be naïve. Turkey is not the only key to solving the migration crisis. The most important one is our responsibility and duty to protect our external borders. We cannot outsource this obligation to any third country. I will repeat this again: without control on our external borders, Schengen will become history.” He was referring to the 26-country free-travel zone in Europe, which is also in danger of unravelling under the strains of the migratory pressures and jihadi terrorism. Merkel’s mini-summit brought together the leaders of Germany, Austria and Sweden – the countries taking the most refugees – Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Greece. President François Hollande of France did not attend the mini-summit because of scheduling problems, but it is understood that France is part of the pro-quotas vanguard.

The nine countries include the EU’s wealthiest. The EU-Turkey summit agreed to pay Turkey €3bn (£1.4bn) in return for a deal that would see Ankara patrolling the Aegean borders with Greece – the main point of entry to the EU for hundreds of thousands this year. Ankara is also to resume its long-stalled EU membership negotiations by the end of the year and, according to the schedule agreed, is to have visas waived by next year for Turks travelling to the EU. In response, the EU will be able to start deporting “illegal migrants” to Turkey by next summer under a fast-tracked “readmissions agreement”.

Read more …

No there there, just hot air. “..EU leaders made it clear there would be no shortcut in Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the bloc. [..] And the Turks couldn’t say how effective the agreement would be in reducing the number of the migrants and refugees entering the EU..”

European Union Reaches Deal With Turkey on Migration (WSJ)

The EU on Sunday agreed with Turkey’s government for Ankara to take steps to cut the flow of migrants into Europe in exchange for EU cash and help with its bid to join the 28-nation bloc. EU leaders hailed the agreement as a key step toward substantially reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the bloc, while Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday’s summit marked a historic new beginning in the often fraught relations between Brussels and Ankara. Yet the continued lack of trust on both sides remained evident, as EU leaders made it clear there would be no shortcut in Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the bloc.

“The issue hasn’t changed,” French President François Hollande said after leaving the summit to return to Paris for global climate talks. “There is no reason either to accelerate or to slow it down.” And the Turks couldn’t say how effective the agreement would be in reducing the number of the migrants and refugees entering the EU via Turkey. EU officials have said cooperation with Turkey is the best way to reduce migrant flows, arguing that Ankara was very effective in previous years in preventing the outflow of refugees from the country. Alongside fresh efforts to tighten their external borders, EU officials hope the Turkey agreement can help turn the tide in the bloc’s migration crisis, the biggest since the aftermath of World War II.

[..] it appeared that substantial efforts would be required to turn Sunday’s agreement into reality. European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU will closely watch Turkey’s implementation of the deal and will review Ankara’s actions on a monthly basis. EU governments are also still at loggerheads over who would pay the €3 billion Turkey is to receive for its cooperation. Moreover, Turkey must complete dozens of EU requirements to win a recommendation for visa-free access to the bloc by autumn of 2016. Even then, a final decision will need backing of all 28 member states. Meanwhile, Mr. Davutoglu acknowledged he couldn’t promise the number of migrants heading into Europe via Turkey would fall. “Nobody can guarantee a drop,” he said of the refugees heading west from war-torn Syria.

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He’s simply right.

Tsipras Takes On Turkey’s Davutoglu On Twitter (AP)

A highly unusual online exchange took place on Twitter between the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey late Sunday before the former deleted his tweets – but only from the English version of his account. The official English-speaking account of Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras (@Tsipras_eu) posted four tweets addressed to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, needling him about Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet and Turkey’s violations of Greek airspace. “To Prime Minister Davutoglu: Fortunately our pilots are not mercurial as yours against the Russians #EuTurkey” Tsipras tweeted. Both prime ministers attended an EU-Turkey summit on refugees in Brussels Sunday. Tsipras did not explain whether his tweets reproduced a conversation between the two or were written especially for Twitter.

“What is happening in the Aegean is outrageous and unbelievable #EUTurkey” Tsipras continued. “We’re spending billions on weapons. You -to violate our airspace, we -to intercept you #EUTurkey” Tsipras said in a third tweet, referring to intrusions of Turkish planes into Greek airspace, which Turkey contests, and Greek and Turkish pilots frequently buzzing each other. Tsipras said the two countries should focus on saving refugees, not on weapons. “We have the most modern aerial weapons systems–and yet, on the ground, we can’t catch traffickers who drown innocent people #EUTurkey,” the Greek premier said in a fourth tweet. Davutoglu chose to respond to only the first tweet and not engage in a detailed dialogue.

“Comments on pilots by @atsipras seem hardly in tune with the spirit of the day. Alexis: let us focus on our positive agenda,” @Ahmet_Davutoglu responded. Then, the @Tsipras_EU account deleted the four tweets, which have remained posted, however, in Tsipras’ Greek language account, @atsipras. The deletion sparked further furious tweeting, with comments such as “who is handling your account?” being the most common. Then, the English account posted further tweets, but less controversial this time. “Important Summit today for the EU, Turkey and our broader region #EUTurkey” A last Tsipras tweet obliquely referred to the deleted ones: “We are in the same neighborhood and we have to talk honestly so we can reach solutions #EUTurkey.”

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But the disgrace goes on. And it’s ours, you, me, everyone. Want to protest something?

As the World Turns Away, Refugees are Still Drowning in the Mediterranean (HRW)

Her name was Sena. She was four years old. She was wearing blue trousers and a red shirt. She drowned in a shipwreck on November 18 in the Aegean Sea off Bodrum, Turkey. His name was Aylan. He was three years old. He drowned on September 2nd, along with his mother and his five-year-old brother. Like Sena, he was Syrian, dressed in blue and red, and travelling with his family on a desperate journey to reach safety and a future in Europe. The picture of his tiny lifeless body washed up on shore appeared to shake Europe’s—indeed, the world’s—conscience. Yet at least 100 more children, including Sena, have drowned in the Aegean in the weeks since. This year has seen an unprecedented number of asylum seekers and migrants—over 712,000 as of this week—crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands, most of them in overcrowded flimsy rubber dinghies.

One-quarter of those risking their lives are children. We have witnessed an unbearable death toll this year, with at least 585 people missing or lost in the Aegean, most of them since Aylan’s death. War, persecution, geopolitics, dangerous smuggler tactics, the weather – all of these factors contribute to the surge in arrivals as well as the number of lives lost. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 60% of those coming to Greece by sea are Syrians, while 24% are from Afghanistan. The response of the European Union has to be multifaceted. It should include measures to reduce the need for dangerous journeys and tackle the root causes of refugee and migration flows in a way that respects human rights.

But the immediate imperative has to be to save lives. Turkish and Greek coast guard boats are out there every day patrolling the waters. And various EU countries have sent boats, personnel and other equipment to participate in Operation Poseidon in the Aegean, a mission of the EU’s external border agency Frontex. Combined, these actions have saved tens of thousands of lives. I’ve seen a burly Portuguese coast guard officer gently take a baby from her mother’s arms after a rescue. I’ve observed the professionalism of Norwegian police officers on patrol for Frontex. A colleague of mine was impressed by the way Greek coast guard officers handled two difficult rescues. But more needs to be done.

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Jul 012014
 
 July 1, 2014  Posted by at 3:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  5 Responses »
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G. G. Bain Gloria Swanson in New York Sep 4, 1924

We all know that interest rates are at an ultra low level, whether it’s the rate on our savings accounts, our mortgages (though those are quite a bit higher, quelle surprise), central bank rates or yields on government bonds. All this, plus a watershed of global QEs, have led to stock exchanges at highs that have nothing at all to do anymore with the performance of the real economies they’re supposed to represent – and historically did.

Add to that that on stock exchanges, trading volumes are as ultra low as interest rates are, and from what trading is left, a substantial part is machines, i.e. high frequency, and we have a pretty clear idea of just how distorted our picture of our economies have become. We no longer have a clue what really happens, since we don’t know what is worth what. Share prices tell us nothing about a company’s performance, since any strength that is does appear to have left may as well stem from cheap credit borrowed at those same ultra low rates and used for stock buybacks and other purely financial moves.

Still, wouldn’t it be nice to know, from a historical perspective, exactly how low have interest rates become? I saw a nice example today on Dutch business channel RTL-Z. The yield on the 10-year bond in Holland was 1.476% today. Which is not just the lowest the Dutch paid in the past 25 years:

But even in the past 500 years:

You wouldn’t even expect to see such rates in even the most buzzing or otherwise extreme economies, let alone in one that’s as anemic, other than in stock markets, as ours are today. To wit: purchasing managers indices (PMIs) in Europe all fell again today. Perhaps we need to recognize that today’s economy is indeed a very extreme one.

And if you get the feeling from what’s going on that in order for the central banks to be able put lipstick on their pig, they have to kill it in the process, you’re not far off at all. They’ve largely killed bond markets, and not much is left of equity either, as we saw yesterday. The only thing that keeps the zombie pig going is debt, and more debt.

But we shouldn’t forget that the financial world, which can be made to – seem to – show “healthy” growth this way, demands more growth each year, that it’s an exponential growth rate we’re talking about. And that, even central banks cannot deliver. Not for long.

I had an email exchange with Jeffrey Brown recently, since I wondered if he had updates available on his Export Land Model, which deals with declining amounts of oil available for export from oil producing countries, because of depletion rates and relentlessly rising domestic consumption. Jeffrey’s a longtime – and very smart – oil geologist also known as Westexas whom we know from our Oil Drum days. I couldn’t figure out a good way to write up what he sent me back then, but I’ll give it a shot after seeing something he wrote the other day in reply to an article on peakoilbarrel.com, North Dakota and the Bakken by County.

Jeffrey uses terms like Global Net Exports, Avalaible Net Exports, Cumulative Net Exports and Chindia’s Net Imports. That may look confusing at first glance, but it does make a lot of sense once you think about it. The overall idea is that even if total global oil production would not decline, an argument all too easily made by the shale faithful, oil available for sale in global markets would still fall rapidly, because of those domestic consumption numbers (oil producing countries grow both their economies and populations) and because of the surging demand from the 2.5 billion people living in China and India. This is how he puts – part of – the overall picture:

Of course, the really crazy low number is my estimate for the remaining volume of Available CNE (Cumulative Net Exports), i.e., the estimated cumulative remaining volume of GNE (Global Net Exports) available to importers other than China & India.

Available Net Exports (ANE), or GNE less CNI (Chindia’s Net Imports), were 41 mbpd in 2005 (or 15 Gb/year). Based on the 2005 to 2012 rate of decline in the GNE/CNI Ratio, I estimate that post-2005 Available CNE are on the order of about 170 Gb. At the 2005 rate of consumption in ANE, estimated post-2005 Available CNE would be depleted in about 12 years (analogous to a Reserve/Production Ratio).

From 2006 to 2012, cumulative ANE were about 95 Gb, which would put estimated remaining Available CNE at about 75 Gb at the end of 2012. At the 2012 rate of consumption in ANE, estimated remaining Available CNE would be depleted in about 6 years , i.e., the total estimated volume of Global Net Exports of oil available to about 155 net oil importing countries would be totally gone in 6 years (about 2,200 days). Of course, the expectation is for an ongoing decline in ANE, and the current extrapolated data suggest that ANE would theoretically approach zero around the year 2030.

As someone once said, what can’t continue tends not to continue, and there is no way we would have a functioning global economy if two countries consumed anything close to 100% to Global Net Exports of oil, but here’s the problem: Given an inevitable ongoing decline in GNE, unless the Chindia region cuts their GNE consumption at the same rate as the rate of decline in GNE, or at a faster rate, the resulting ANE decline rate will exceed the GNE decline rate, and the ANE decline rate will accelerate with time. It’s a mathematical certainty.

In any case, the projected rate of decline in the GNE/CNI Ratio puts us at a point in 2030 at which we cannot arrive, but the 2013 data will almost certainly show that we continued to slide toward a point at which we cannot arrive:

Quite the conundrum.

What we take away from this is that China and India’s demand for oil is rising so fast, in perhaps 10 years’ time available oil in the markets will either go to them or it will go to us, but not to both. Time to prepare to fight over the stuff, and make it unavailable for the poor at the same time?!

But only if there’s a profit in it.

Admitting Problem Is First Step as HSBC Ditches ‘Optimism Bias’ (Bloomberg)

If recovery starts by admitting you have a problem, then HSBC economists are taking the first step. They say they’ve overestimated global growth prospects for each of the last three years by being too upbeat after the 2008 financial crisis. They’re now taking corrective action. “There is an optimism bias, largely reflecting an attachment to pre-crisis growth trends which, post-crisis, have mostly remained out of reach,” according to a report published last week by the team led by Stephen King, HSBC’s global head of economics and asset-allocation research. “Our latest projections are consistent with this sense of ennui.” HSBC hasn’t been alone. Its economists found that since the crisis their industry’s average estimate of inflation proved off by at least 1 percentage point in the U.S., U.K., Sweden and Spain and by 0.7 point in Germany. Those are big misses given that most major central banks target 2% inflation.

Divining growth has also flopped. In the U.S., for example, economists reckon expansion should be as much as 3% in the long run, yet it has averaged just 2% since 2000, according to HSBC. HSBC economists have cut their forecasts for global growth in each of the past three years. They did so again last week in reducing their 2014 forecast to 2.4% from 2.6%, which was down from the 2.8% seen at the end of 2012. The list goes on: Printing money was supposed to lead to higher inflation, yet hasn’t. A run-up in equity prices has failed to ignite economic activity, and house prices are booming even with weak inflation. Behind the errors lay a reliance on “simple rules of thumb,” say the London-based King and his colleagues. Economists are suffering from a bias toward optimism that suggests economic drivers are the same now as before 2008.

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Tricks and sleeves.

The Purpose Of The Fed’s Reverse Repo: Window Dressing (Zero Hedge)

If there ever was any question as to what the purpose of the Fed’s Reverse Repo liquidity facility was, or is, the amount of reverse repos issued by the Fed to make banks appear healthier than they are and to cure whatever “high quality collateral” shortfalls banks are now chronically experiencing, should slam the door shut on any future debate just what the motive behind the Reverse Repo is.

Behold: a record $340 billion in reverse repos submitted by the world’s financial institutions with the Federal Reserve, an increase of $200 billion overnight, and amounting to a record $3.5 billion on average among the 97 operations participants. Considering this is a clear quarterly event, it goes without saying that all the reverse repo is, is a quarter-end window dressing mechanism underwritten by Mr. Chairmanwoman itself. That there was some $200 billion in excess reserve liquidity as of yesterday’s market close (which today was handed over to the Fed in exchange for one day rental of Treasurys), or that banks actually have a third of a trillion gaping shortfall in collateral, hardly needs discussion. Expect total reverse repo usage tomorrow to plunge by at least $150 billion as the banks will have fooled their regulator, which also happens to be the Fed, that they are safe and sound. Rinse, repeat, until the entire financial system collapses once again and people will ask “how anyone could have possibly foreseen this.”

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California Housing And The Bubble At Hand (Stockman)

Janet Yellen is an officious school marm. She constantly lectures us on Keynesian verities as if they were the equivalent of Newton’s Law or the Pythagorean Theorem. In fact, they constitute self-serving dogma of modern vintage that is marshaled to justify what is at bottom an economic absurdity. Namely, that through the primitive act of banging the securities “buy” key over and over and thereby massively expanding its balance sheet, the Fed can cause real wealth—-embodying the sweat of labor, the consumption of capital and the fruits of enterprise – to magically expand beyond what the free market would generate on its own steam. In a fit of professorial arrogance, Bernanke even had the gall to call this the helicopter money process. His contention was that the rubes on main street would happily scoop up the falling bills and coins and soon “spend” the economy into a fit of expansion.

In other words, according to Bernanke the essential ingredient in economic life is money demand, which is a gift of the state’s central banking branch, rather than production, savings, innovation and enterprise, which arise on the free market in consequences of millions of workers and businesses pursuing their own ends. Indeed, under Keynesian dogma the latter can be taken for granted; the supply of labor, enterprise and output is automatic and endless until an ethereal quantity called potential GDP is fully realized. To achieve the latter requires that the state dispense exactly the right level of money demand so that the rubes on main street will not stubbornly remain poorer than they need be. This unhappy estate happens, of course, owing to their inexorable propensity to withhold the production and enterprise of which they are capable (i.e. keep plants idle and labor unemployed).

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Tolerate? You mean create.

The Secret Reason The Fed Is ‘Tolerating’ Bubbles (TPit)

Swiss megabank UBS, one of the great beneficiaries of the Fed’s policies, ponders in its latest FX Comments how to deal with asset bubbles, “most importantly in housing markets,” a topic that is a “hotly debated issue among central banks.” Turns out, after nearly six years of printing money and inflicting ZIRP and financial repression on most developed economies, thus creating these asset bubbles in the first place, central bankers find themselves “essentially in an experimental phase.” Shouldn’t they have thought about this before? It seems. But publically, the Fed and other central banks are still vociferously denying that there are any asset bubbles.

In fact, the Fed prides itself in having “healed” the housing market: prices in many cities, including San Francisco, are now substantially higher than they were at the craziest peak of the last housing bubble. So in this environment of pandemic central-bank bubble-denials, UBS writes that “policymakers around the world are struggling with potential asset bubbles” that are “a logical and inevitable consequence of historically unprecedented monetary policies.” It took nearly six years to figure this out? The report goes on:

Asset prices have indeed in many cases reached stunning levels, quite obviously out of line with ‘fundamentals,’ for example in credit or government bond markets. The most dangerous of bubbles are deemed to be those in housing markets as their bursting could wreck whole economies.

Given central-bank focus on enriching those who hold financial assets, identifying asset bubbles is, according to UBS “notoriously difficult.” In fact, it’s larded with risks: once central banks officially identify asset bubbles – not just a little “froth” – they have to do something about them or lose what is termed, as if it had been a great insider joke all along, their credibility. But from the point of view of those who hold these bubbly assets, there is never a right time. They’re their wealth bubbles that would get pricked. So “tolerating them for a bit longer might look tempting given the risk of pricking them at the wrong time,” UBS muses. But even the IMF, the official international bondholder bailout organ, had warned in June that “the era of benign neglect of house price booms is over.”

So how can central banks stop these bubbles they created, while denying that they exist, and even if they did exist, that central banks created them? It’s a bit of a quandary. One option would be to stop printing money and raise interest rates, the classic maneuver, “which would typically have been seen as the first, and possibly only, line of defense,” UBS explains wistfully. But it would wreak all sorts of havoc on the financial markets and deflate the wealth of those who’ve benefited from the money-printing binge.

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Nice story there.

EU Emergency Credit Line Can’t Halt Fear Of Bulgaria Bank Run (Guardian)

Dozens of depositors have withdrawn savings from Bulgaria’s third biggest bank despite assurances from the government and the European Union that their money was safe after a similar run shut down another major lender last week. Bulgarian authorities have arrested four people suspected of trying to destabilise the banking system in a concerted phone and internet campaign. However, the queues forming to withdraw cash have thrown a spotlight on weak economic governance in the EU’s poorest state. A credit line of 3.3bn levs (£1.3bn), requested by Bulgaria, was approved on Monday by the European commission. The EU executive, echoing the International Monetary Fund and economists, said the Bulgarian banking system was “well capitalised and has high levels of liquidity compared to its peers in other member states” of the 28-nation bloc.

President Rosen Plevneliev urged Bulgarians to keep faith with the banks in a national appeal on Sunday after emergency talks with political party leaders and central bank officials. “There is no cause or reason to give way to panic. There is no banking crisis, there is a crisis of trust and there is a criminal attack,” he said. Queues formed nevertheless outside branches of First Investment Bank, although they were smaller than on Friday. The lender says it has sufficient capital to meet clients’ demand. “I am here because I remember what happened nearly 20 years ago,” said one woman aged about 60 who gave her name only as Gergana. She was referring to a financial crisis in 1996-7 which sparked hyperinflation and the collapse of 14 banks. About two-thirds of Bulgaria’s banks are now foreign-owned, in sharp contrast to the mid-1990s.

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Don’t worry, someone will come up with a positive spin.

Eurozone Unemployment Stuck, ‘Recovery’ Stalls (CNBC)

The euro zone’s unemployment rate held steady in May, at 11.6%, in a further sign that the region’s bumpy recovery is struggling to take hold. It followed separate data which revealed that manufacturing activity in the euro zone slid to a seven-month low in June. Some 18.55 million people were unemployed across the currency bloc in May, according to Eurostat data published Tuesday, a fall of 28,000 from April. However this reduction in joblessness was not enough to drive the unemployment rate lower. The lowest unemployment rates were recorded in Austria and Germany, at around 5%. However joblessness remained worryingly high in Greece (26.8% in March 2014) and Spain (25.1%). The youth unemployment rate, meanwhile, came in at 23.3% for the euro zone in May. Joblessness among the under-25s was a particular issue in Greece, Spain and Croatia where the most recent figures put youth unemployment at 57.7%, 54% and 48.7% respectively.

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Good graphs from Blodget.

It’s Time To Remind You About The Possibility Of A Stock Market Crash (BI)

The stock market has had another good year so far. Despite concerns about high prices (from people like me), stocks have meandered higher over the past 6 months. And they are now, once again, setting new all-time highs. That’s good for me, because I own stocks. But I’m not expecting this performance to continue. In fact, the higher stocks move, the more concerned I get about a day (or days) of reckoning. Why? Because the higher stocks move, the farther their prices get farther away from the long-term average. This doesn’t mean the market will crash anytime soon — or ever. But it does mean that, unless it’s “different this time,” stocks are likely to perform very poorly from this level over the next 7-10 years. And it’s not just price that concerns me. There are three basic reasons I think future stock performance will be lousy:

  • Stocks are very expensive
  • Corporate profit margins are still near record highs
  • The Fed is now tightening

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Like the title, but don’t get your hopes up, this is from dumb-dumb right wing Telegraph. Still, even Jeremy Warner sees that it’s all debt, and debt only. But he still thinks the UK has enough growth anyway …

We Must End This Addiction To Debt As The Engine Of Growth (Telegraph)

Growth is back – after a fashion – but debt levels are rising again, productivity growth in advanced economies is close to post- war lows, capital spending is becalmed, and in Britain, inroads into deep fiscal and current account deficits are proceeding only at glacial pace. Is this a sustainable economic model? The answer from the venerable Basel-based Bank for International Settlements is a definitive no. “As history reminds us, there is little appetite for taking the long-term view”, the BIS thunders in its latest annual report. “Few are ready to curb financial booms that make everyone feel illusively richer. Or to hold back on quick fixes for output slowdowns, even if such measures threaten to add fuel to unsustainable financial booms. Or to address balance sheet problems head-on during a bust when seemingly easier policies are on offer. The temptation to go for shortcuts is simply too strong, even if these shortcuts lead nowhere in the end”.

As you can see, the BIS has lost none of none of its penchant for dampening any suggestion of better times to come with another bucket load of gloom. The BIS is, if you like, the conscience of markets, bankers and policymakers, so pessimism and proselytising come naturally. It is the BIS’s job to warn of developing economic risks, however clement the conditions outside seem to be. This gives the central banks’ banker the characteristics of a stopped clock. Much of the time, it is going to be wrong, with the natural exuberance and animal spirits of markets oblivious to its warnings. Twice a day, however, it is going to be right, as indeed it was about the financial crisis, when it came closer than any to predicting the maelstrom to come.

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GM recalls more than the company’s combined U.S. sales for the years 2005 through 2013 … What sort of business are they in?

GM to Recall 8.45 Million More Vehicles in North America (WSJ)

General Motors recalled another 8.5 million vehicles on Monday, including more than 8 million for ignition-switch defects, and said it knew of three deaths in accidents involving the affected cars. The nation’s largest auto maker also boosted its projected charge to earnings for recalls in the current quarter by $500 million to $1.2 billion. Monday’s action boosts to about 29 million cars and trucks that GM has recalled in North America this year – a number greater than the company’s combined U.S. sales for the years 2005 through 2013. The auto maker said it knows of seven crashes, eight injuries and three fatalities involving the cars recalled for the new ignition-switch problems, which includes models as old as 1997.

The fatalities occurred in two crashes involving Chevrolet Impalas in which the air bags failed to deploy, a GM spokesman said. There is no conclusive evidence that the defect caused those crashes, the company said. GM said its dealers will fix the ignition problem by converting the slot on the vehicles’ key head to a small hole, reducing the potential for swinging key chains to move the ignition out of the run position while the cars are being operated. [..] The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the ignition defects in the latest round of cars “can result in the air bag not deploying in the event of a crash. Until this recall is performed, customers should use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring when operating the vehicle.” The Detroit-based car maker spent $1.3 billion in the first quarter to cover recall costs. The updated second-quarter charge, previously pegged at $700 million, brings the total charges for recall repairs to $2.5 billion this year.

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They’re TBTF anyway.

After BNP, US Targets Range Of Firms On Illicit Money Flows (Reuters)

BNP Paribas’ guilty plea and agreement to pay nearly $9 billion for violating U.S. sanctions is part of a larger U.S. Justice Department shift in strategy that is expected to snare more major banks and other firms across the financial food chain. Two other major French banks, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, Germany’s Deutsche Bank, and Citigroup’s Banamex unit in Mexico are among those being investigated for possible money laundering or sanctions violations, according to people familiar with the matter and public disclosures. The Justice Department and other U.S. authorities, including the Manhattan District Attorney, are probing Credit Agricole and Societe Generale for potentially violating U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Iran, Cuba and Sudan, one of the sources said. Credit Agricole and SocGen have disclosed that they are reviewing whether they violated U.S. sanctions.

SocGen said in its latest annual report that it is engaged in discussions with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control over potential sanctions violations. Another source said the Justice Department’s bank integrity unit is deep into a probe of whether Citigroup’s Banamex operation failed to police money transfers across the U.S.-Mexico border. Citigroup has said it is cooperating with the inquiry, which also involves the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Separately, Citigroup is investigating an alleged fraud involving $565 million in loans at Banamex and as a result of that has fired a dozen employees. Prosecutors have also investigated potential sanctions breaches at Deutsche Bank, according to people familiar with the probe, though it is unclear how far that has progressed. The bank said in its last annual report that it had received requests for information from regulatory agencies and is cooperating with them.

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Saw that coming from 20,000 miles away.

China Regulators Use Creative Accounting To Boost Bank Lending (Bloomberg)

Chinese regulators increased banks’ capacity to lend money and bolster the slowing economy by changing the way loan-to-deposit ratios are devised. Banks from today can include in the calculation negotiable certificates of deposit sold to companies or individuals, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in a statement yesterday. They can also exclude loans advanced to small enterprises and the rural sector that are backed by bonds, the CBRC said. Bank lending is capped at no more than 75% of deposits to prevent an overextension of credit. The changes in calculation may allow lenders such as Bank of Communications, which was approaching its limit under the previous methodology, to lower its ratio and advance more loans. Premier Li Keqiang is seeking to cut funding costs and feed credit into the world’s second-largest economy, which is forecast to expand in 2014 at the weakest pace in 24 years.

Easing the loan-to-deposit requirements “will help amplify lending, especially for banks that focus on small and medium-sized enterprises,” Richard Cao, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities Co., said by phone. “This is an extension of the latest round of targeted easing.” Bank share performance was mixed today as the change fell short of market expectations for the inclusion of some interbank deposits in the calculation, according to analysts at HSBC and China International Capital. Banks can also exclude from the ratio calculation some loans backed by bonds with at least one year of maturity, and credit backed by funding from international financial organizations and foreign governments, the CBRC said. Rural banks can take out loans funded by their largest shareholder that were offered to farmers and smaller companies. Locally incorporated foreign banks can include among their deposits funding put in place by their parents for more than a year, according to the statement.

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Just what we need: more bank profits. Guess who pays.

Global Bank Profits Hit $920 Billion As Chinese Lenders Boom (Reuters)

China’s top banks accounted for almost one-third of a record $920 billion of profits made by the world’s top 1000 banks last year, showing their rise in power since the financial crisis, a survey showed on Monday. China’s banks made $292 billion in aggregate pretax profit last year, or 32% of the industry’s global earnings, according to The Banker magazine’s annual rankings of the profits and capital strength of the world’s biggest 1,000 banks. Last year’s global profits were up 23% from the previous year to their highest ever level, led by profits of $55 billion at Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). China Construction Bank, Agriculture Bank of China and Bank of China filled the top four positions.

Banks in the United States made aggregate profits of $183 billion, or 20% of the global tally, led by Wells Fargo’s earnings of $32 billion. Banks in the eurozone contributed just 3% to the global profit pool, down from 25% before the 2008 financial crisis, the study showed. Italian banks lost $35 billion in aggregate last year, the worst performance by any country. Banks in Japan made $64 billion of profit last year, or 7% of the global total, followed by banks in Canada, France and Australia ($39 billion in each country), Brazil ($26 billion) and Britain ($22 billion), The Banker said.

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Two articles that write up the same gloomy report.

Insurer Warns Some Pooled Pensions Are Beyond Recovery (NY Times)

More than a million people risk losing their federally insured pensions in just a few years despite recent stock market gains and a strengthening economy, a new government study said on Monday. The people at risk have earned pensions in multiemployer plans, in which many companies band together with a union to provide benefits under collective bargaining. Such pensions were long considered exceptionally safe, but the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation reported in its study that some plans are now in their death throes and cannot recover. Bailing out those plans seems highly unlikely. But if they are simply left to die, the collapse of the federal insurance program is all but inevitable, the report said, leaving retirees in failed plans with nothing.

It added that the program “is more likely than not to run out of money within the next eight years” as plan after plan collapses. The multiemployer pension sector, which covers 10 million Americans, represents a mixed bag of financial strength and weakness. The aging of the work force, the decline of unions, deregulation and two big stock crashes have all taken a grievous toll. Ten percent of the people covered are in severely underfunded plans, the study said. The federal insurer is not making any recommendations about what to do at the moment, said Joshua Gotbaum, its director. “This is a legally required actuarial report whose purpose is solely to project the range of outcomes for plans and the P.B.G.C.”

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Federal Pension Plan Safety Net Faces Severe Funds Squeeze (WSJ)

The federal safety net for a type of private-sector pension plan common in the transportation, construction and other industries is at risk of collapse in coming years, according to a report released Monday. Such an outcome has the potential to affect more than a million people. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. program that covers multi-employer pensions “is more likely than not to run out of funds in eight years, and highly likely to do so within 10 years,” the agency said in releasing new projections. The PBGC collects insurance premiums from employers that offer the pensions and helps retirees in insolvent plans by paying them reduced pensions. But the likely failure of several big plans means that the PBGC’s limited resources for helping retirees in failed multi-employer plans likely will be tapped out in coming years.

This year’s report estimates that the $8.3 billion long-term deficit the federal backup plan for multi-employer plans faced in fiscal year 2013 will widen to $49.6 billion by fiscal year 2023. The deficits don’t mean that the backup plan can’t pay now. The PBGC’s new projections “show that insolvencies affecting more than a million of the 10.4 million people in multi-employer plans are now both more likely and more imminent,” the PBGC said. This year’s PBGC projections rely on a new methodology that the agency regards as more realistic about what troubled pension funds can and can’t do to shore themselves up—for instance, plans could raise employer-contribution requirements, but that would tend to drive off remaining participants, accelerating the downward spiral. The options for lawmakers are politically difficult. Bailouts of troubled plans or of the safety-net program itself could spark a backlash among voters, while forcing benefit cuts on beneficiaries—particularly current retirees—would be painful and unpopular.

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No kidding.

Ancient Baby Boom Reveals Dangers Of Population Growth (HNGN)

Researchers mapped out one of the oldest-known baby booms in North American history. The “growth blip” occurred among southwestern Native Americans between 500 and 1300 A.D. A crash in the baby boom is believed to have followed soon after, Washington State University reported. To make their findings the researchers looked at data on thousands of remains from hundreds of sites across the U.S. The team assembled a detailed Neolithic Demographic Transition in which the area’s stone tools reflect a cultural transition from cutting meat to pounding grain. “It’s the first step towards all the trappings of civilization that we currently see,” Tim Kohler, WSU Regents professor of anthropology, said. Maize is believed to have been grown in the region as early as the year 2000 B.C., by 400 B.C. the crop is believed to have made up 80% of the peoples’ calories. At this time birth rates were on the rise, and continued to climb until 500 A.D.

Around 900 A.D. populations remained high but birth rates started to fluctuate. One of the largest-known droughts occurred in the Southwest occurred in the mid-1100s. Even in this time of conflict birth rates remained high. “They didn’t slow down — birth rates were expanding right up to the depopulation,” Kohler said. “Why not limit growth? Maybe groups needed to be big to protect their villages and fields.” “It was a trap,” he said. “A Malthusian trap but also a violence trap.” The northern southwest contained about 40,000 people mid-1200s, but only 30 years later it was mysteriously empty. The population may have been too large to feed itself as the climate changed, causing the society to collapse. As people began to leave it would have been difficult maintain the social unity required for the population to defend themselves and obtain new infrastructure. “Population growth has its consequences,” the researcher said.

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“The Colorado is essentially a dying river. Ultimately, Las Vegas and our civilisation in the American South West is going to disappear, like the Indians did before us.”

The Race To Stop Las Vegas From Running Dry (Telegraph)

Outside Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel tourists gasp in amazement as fountains shoot 500ft into the air, performing a spectacular dance in time to the music of Frank Sinatra. Gondolas ferry honeymooners around canals modelled on those of Venice, Roman-themed swimming pools stretch for acres, and thousands of sprinklers keep golf courses lush in the middle of the desert. But, as with many things in Sin City, the apparently endless supply of water is an illusion. America’s most decadent destination has been engaged in a potentially catastrophic gamble with nature and now, 14 years into a devastating drought, it is on the verge of losing it all. “The situation is as bad as you can imagine,” said Tim Barnett, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly. Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere Las Vegas is out of business. Yet they’re still building, which is stupid.”

The crisis stems from the Las Vegas’s complete reliance on Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir, which was created by the Hoover Dam in 1936 – after which it took six years to fill completely. It is located 25 miles outside the city and supplies 90% of its water. But over the last decade, as Las Vegas’s population has grown by 400,000 to two million, Lake Mead has slowly been drained of four trillion gallons of water and is now well under half full. […]

100% of California is now classified as in “severe drought” and rivers are so low 27 million young migrating salmon are having to be taken to the ocean in trucks. Nevada and California are just two of seven states that rely for water on the 1,450-mile Colorado River, which rises in the Rocky Mountains and used to empty into the Gulf of California in Mexico – but which now rarely reaches the sea, running dry before that. In 1922 seven US states – California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico – first divided up how much river water each could use, and the amounts have been bitterly contested ever since, including by Mexico, which also takes water from it. One proposal is for landlocked Nevada to pay billions of dollars to build solar-powered desalination plants in the Pacific off Mexico, taking Mexico’s share of Colorado River water in exchange. But Mr Mrowka said: “The Colorado is essentially a dying river. Ultimately, Las Vegas and our civilisation in the American South West is going to disappear, like the Indians did before us.”

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More sad.

Emperor Penguins Waddling To Extinction (AFP)

Global warming will send Antarctica’s emperor penguins into decline by 2100, scientists project, calling for the emblematic birds to be listed as endangered and their habitat better protected. The world’s largest penguin species came to global fame with a 2005 documentary, March of the Penguins, portraying their annual trek across the icy wastes, and the 2006 cartoon movie Happy Feet. The new study sheds light on the birds’ reliance on sea ice for breeding and raising their young. The ice also protects their prey – fish and krill – by maintaining the food chain. Declining sea ice caused by climate change would place all 45 known emperor penguin colonies into decline by 2100, according to the population simulation.

“At least two-thirds (of colonies) are projected to have declined by (more than) 50% from their current size” by the end of the century, said the paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Dynamics differ between colonies, but “the global population is projected to have declined by at least 19%,” after growing 10% up to 2048, it added. The team said colonies located between the eastern Wedell Sea and the western Indian Ocean will see the biggest declines, while those in the Ross Sea will be least affected. In fact, the Ross Sea penguin population will continue to grow until 2100, after which the trend will reverse. “Our results indicated that at least 75% of the emperor penguin colonies are at least vulnerable to future sea ice change, and 20% will probably be quasi-extinct by 2100,” the paper said.

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Long and detailed article, part 1 of a series.

The Human Cost Of China’s Untold Soil Pollution Problem (Guardian)

Soil pollution has received relatively little public attention in China. Despite the fact that it poses as big a threat to health as the more widely covered air and water pollution, data on soil pollution has been so closely guarded that it has been officially categorised as a “state secret”. Until recently the Chinese government also resisted media efforts to draw attention to local cancer epidemics in China’s newly industrial areas. It was not until February 2013 that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) finally admitted that “cancer villages” existed in China, and released a list that included the area around Lake Tai and the villages of Fenshui and Zhoutie. Some civil society experts have estimated that there are 450 cancer villages in China, and believe the phenomenon is spreading.

The story of the cancer hotspot of Yixing is characteristic: in the rush to develop that engulfed China from the 1990s, local officials were eager to invite factories and chemical plants into the area, and their already weak environmental controls were often disregarded entirely. “Government officials just care about GDP,” Zhang complained. “They were happy to welcome any polluting firm.” So, for a time, were the villagers who found jobs in the new factories. The first real signs of the troubles to come were in Lake Tai itself, and were the subject of a long campaign by another resident of Yixing township, the fisherman turned environmentalist Wu Lihong. In the early 1990s, Wu grew worried about the deterioration of Lake Tai’s once famously pure waters. He organised a local environmental monitoring group that he called Defenders of Tai Lake, to collect water samples from the lake and its feeder rivers.

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