Jun 202017
 
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Pablo Picasso Dans l’atelier 1954

 

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)
Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)
Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)
Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)
Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)
Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)
UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)
UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)
China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)
China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)
Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)
296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)
Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)
Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)
Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

 

 

Funny how opinions of Russia revert to communism all the time.

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)

The neoconservative American Jan Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine headlined on June 16th about these Showtime interviews, «10 Most WTF Things We Learned From Oliver Stone’s Putin Interviews», and sub-headlined: «From denying any involvement with U.S. election hacking to Putin’s love of Judo and Stalin, our takeaways from these truly baffling conversations».

Wenner’s reporter opened: “What’s the Russian equivalent of Kool-Aid? Whatever it is, it’s definitely red – and Oliver Stone has eagerly drunk it down. The trailers for The Putin Interviews, Showtime’s four-part series documenting conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Stone, would have you believe that you’re going to hear some pretty hard-hitting stuff as the autocrat and the filmmaker face off, Frost-Nixon style. What we got instead was a series of softballs lobbed lovingly in the direction of one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world. Except for a few moments, Stone seems serenely unconcerned with anything beyond flattering his subject – and engaging in some supremely one-sided exchanges about history and policy along the way.”

The term «red» in this context refers, of course, to communism, and alleges that Russia is still a communist country. To allow that type of smear to appear in any ‘news’ vehicle, is to expose itself as being actually a propaganda-vehicle, unless the allegation is backed up by solid documentation, which Wenner’s magazine didn’t do — Wenner’s magazine presented no documentation at all, for the inflammatory allegation. The magazine’s presumption was that their readers will simply believe what Wenner’s operation delivers, to be ipso-facto ‘true’.

But any such reader would be welcoming his own deception by Wenner’s propaganda-operation. Evidently, successful magazines can insult their own subscribers’ intelligence, so long as it’s done in ‘the right way’ — the subscribers won’t despise the publisher for trying to deceive them about such important matters as what countries to invade, or whether to invade, or why to invade. The U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC) can attract cannon-fodder for its operations, by means of such ‘news’ media to produce dupes for that MIC. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Mr. Wenner’s propaganda-machine had ardently campaigned for the neoconservative Hillary Clinton against the moderately progressive Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Democratic Party primaries.

And, then, once she (and her friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz who ran the DNC) managed to steal the nomination from her opponent, Wenner’s operation campaigned for Ms. Clinton against her Republican opponent Trump, who claimed (falsely as it turns out, in lies exceeding Clinton’s own) to be opposed to neoconservatives (whom he has actually loaded into his Administration). Trump now relies upon neocons for his support, but perhaps Wenner and Robert Kagan and other neoconservatives won’t be satisfied until the U.S. government takes control over Russia — which cannot happen except upon all of our dead bodies (WW III) — which is precisely what Hillary Clinton was aiming for (and maybe Trump is, too). That’s how insane the U.S. aristocracy (and its PR organs such as Wenner’s) now is – they’re pushing the world toward nuclear Armageddon.

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There will come a point when Russia’s had enough. But they won’t shoot down US planes.

Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)

Russia says it will now consider US planes in Syria as “aerial targets” and cease communications via a military hotline in a rapid escalation of tensions between the two nations. The Russian defence ministry released a statement Monday afternoon, local time, condemning the US for shooting down a Syrian warplane that had dropped bombs near ground forces supported by the US. The ministry said it would now track all US-led coalition jets and drones found west of the Euphrates River in Syria and treat them as targets. This is a significant development because, while it is not uncommon for the two nations to criticise each other politically, Russia stays in contact with the US-led coalition via a military hotline to ensure there is no unintended military conflict between the two powers in the region.

The statement says that Russia will no longer use the communication channel, designed to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace. “The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the defence ministry said in the statement. Russia said it would now “end co-operation with the American side”. “Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground,” it said. [..] The campaign has often put the US at odds with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is leading its own attack against IS with air cover support from Russia. Syria is also in the grip of a civil war that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

An American F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 about 7pm on Sunday. The coalition said the Syrian plane had dropped bombs near its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which were fighting IS south of Tabqah. Russia said the shooting down of the plane was an act of aggression against Syria and called for a “careful investigation by the US command” into the incident. “Repeated military actions by US aircraft against the lawful armed forces of a United Nations member state, under the guise of a ‘fight against terrorism’, are a profound violation of international law and, in fact, military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Russian Defence Ministry said. “As a result of the strike, the Syrian plane was destroyed. The Syrian pilot catapulted into an area controlled by Islamic State terrorists. His fate is unknown.”

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of coalition partnered forces”. The deputy chairman of the Russian Senate’s defence committee, Frants Klintsevich, said there was “no defence” for the US shooting down the plane. “Blatant aggression and provocation. To provoke, above all, Russia. It seems that the US under Donald Trump is a source of a qualitatively new level of danger not only in the Middle East but also around the world,” he wrote on Facebook.

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“That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent.”

Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)

After nearly a year of investigating, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, DHS, et. al. haven’t been able to leak any substantial fact about “Russian collusion” with the Trump election campaign — and, considering the torrent of leaks about all manner of other collateral matters during this same period, it seems impossible to conclude that there is anything actually there besides utterly manufactured hysteria. Now, one might imagine that this intelligence community could have manufactured some gift-wrapped facts rather than just waves of hysteria, but that’s where the incompetence and impotence comes in. They never came up with anything besides Flynn and Sessions having conversations with the Russian ambassador — as if the ambassadors are not here to have conversations with our government officials.

You’d think that with all the computer graphics available these days they could concoct a cineplex-quality feature film-length recording of Donald Trump making a “great deal” to swap Kansas for Lithuania, or Jared Kushner giving piggyback rides to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. But all we’ve really ever gotten was a packet of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta of the Clinton campaign gloating about how nicely they fucked over Bernie Sanders — and that doesn’t exactly reflect so well on what has evolved to be the so-called “Resistance.” The net effect of all this sound and fury is a government so paralyzed that it can’t even pass bad legislation or execute its existing (excessive) duties. That might theoretically be a good thing, except what we’re seeing are individual departments just veering off on their own, especially the military, which now operates without any civilian control.

Apparently General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, pretty much decided on his own to dispatch another 8,000 US troops to Afghanistan to move things along there in the war’s 16th year. Or did he get President Trump to look up from his Twitter window for three seconds to explain the situation and get a nod of approval? Perhaps you also didn’t notice the news item over the weekend that a US-led fighter plane coalition shot down a Syrian air force plane in Syrian airspace. In an earlier era that could easily be construed as an act of war. Who gave the order for that, you have to wonder. And what will the consequences be? Reasonable people might also ask: haven’t we already made enough deadly mischief in that part of the world? With the US military gone rogue in foreign lands, and the intelligence community off-the-reservation at home, and the Trump White House all gummed up in the tarbaby of RussiaGate, and the House and Senate lost in the shuffle, you also have to wonder what anybody is going to do about the imminent technical bankruptcy of the USA as the Treasury Department spends down its dwindling fund of remaining cash money to pay ongoing expenses — everything from agriculture subsidies to Medicare.

That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent. I don’t see any indication that the House and Senate will be able to bluster their way through this. Instead, the situation will compel extraordinary new acts of financial fraud via the central banks and its cadre of Too-Big-To-Fail associates. In the event, the likely outcome will be a spectacular fall in the value of the US dollar, and perhaps consecutively, the collapse of the equity and real estate markets.

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Actual bankers charged? Or is this just more of the sudden anti-Qatar campaign?

Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)

Barclays and four former executives have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance. The Serious Fraud Office charges come at the end of a five-year investigation and relate to the bank’s fundraising at the height of 2008’s financial crisis. Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July. Barclays says it is considering its position and awaiting further details. Mr Varley, former senior investment banker Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris, a former chief executive of Barclays’ wealth division, and Richard Boath, the ex-European head of financial institutions, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in the June 2008 capital raising. In addition, Mr Varley and Mr Jenkins have also been charged with the same offence in relation to the October 2008 capital raising and with providing unlawful financial assistance.

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The Greeks are the only ones who’ve seen the real face of the EU.

Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)

Two-thirds of Europeans believe the EU should take a hard line with the UK over Brexit, according to a survey. 65% of those questioned in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy Austria, Hungary and Poland said the EU, while trying to maintain a good relationship with Britain, should not compromise on its core principles. The Chatham House-Kantar survey showed just 18% of people in the nine countries – compared with 49% of people in Britain – believed the opposite; that the European commission should aim to keep the UK as close as possible, at the expense of its principles, during the talks, which began on Monday. f those surveyed across the nine continental countries, 57% said the EU had been weakened by Brexit, while 46% felt Britain’s departure would be bad for the bloc. By contrast, 70% of Britons felt the EU would suffer from the UK leaving.

The survey interviewed more than 1,000 people in each of the 10 countries including Britain earlier this year before elections in the Netherlands and France and an economic uptick that have significantly bolstered pro-European sentiment. The election of pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron in France has in particular given the bloc a boost. The eurozone economy, too, is now growing faster than that of the UK or US. Britain’s confusion over what Brexit strategy to adopt have also helped swing EU opinion. A Pew survey last week found markedly higher approval for the EU since the Brexit vote: 63% of respondents in the 10 EU countries had favourable views about the bloc.

The figures mark a sharp increase from spring last year, with favourable opinions up 18 points in Germany and France, 15 in Spain, 13 in the Netherlands – and 10 in the UK. Only 18% of continental respondents wanted their country to leave the EU. Overall, the survey revealed that more than half (58%) of people in 10 countries believed another EU country might leave the bloc within the next decade. Four-fifths of Greeks, hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis, backed this view, compared with less than half of Hungarians and Poles. Asked about what they considered the EU’s greatest achievements, the freedom to live and work across Europe and the creation of the border-free Schengen zone came top among continental respondents (both on 17%), followed by European peace and the euro (13%) and the single market (8%).

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“..almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.”

Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)

The government must secure a transitional Brexit deal to protect the future of the UK car industry, a trade group has said. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said Britain was highly unlikely to reach a final agreement with the EU by the March 2019 deadline. That meant carmakers could face a “cliff edge”, whereby tariff-free trade was sharply pulled away. It warned the industry would suffer without a back-up plan in place. The EU is by far the UK’s biggest automotive export market, buying more than half of its finished vehicles – four times as many as the next biggest market. UK car plants also depend heavily on the free movement of components to and from the continent.

The SMMT said any new relationship with the EU would need to address tariff and non-tariff barriers, regulatory and labour issues, “all of which will take time to negotiate”. “We accept that we are leaving the European Union,” said chief executive Mike Hawes. “But our biggest fear is that, in two years’ time, we fall off a cliff edge – no deal, outside the single market and customs union and trading on inferior World Trade Organization terms. “This would undermine our competitiveness and our ability to attract the investment that is critical to future growth.” UK car manufacturing generated £77.5bn of turnover last year and accounted for 12% of all goods exports, according to the trade group. It added that almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.

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At least divvy up the monopoly money with a little sense of justice, you’d say. The fall will be hard enough already.

UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)

A £2.3tn windfall for those lucky enough to own their own homes during the property boom of the 1990s and early 2000s has opened up a deep and widening inequality gap between the generations, a thinktank has warned. Rising house prices that have enriched older generations have priced the young out of home ownership, said the Resolution Foundation, adding that the pattern whereby each generation was wealthier than the previous one had broken down. In a new report, the thinktank noted that the baby boomers born in the 20 years after the second world war were the big beneficiaries of rapidly rising house prices, but had amassed most of the wealth through no skill of their own. Wealth disparities would have “worrying consequences” for the living standards of younger generations, it added.

Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain’s pre-crash property boom created a huge, unearned and largely tax-free £2.3tn housing wealth windfall for those old enough and lucky enough to be home owners at the time. But while the property bubble hugely benefited many of Britain’s baby boomers, it has also driven generational wealth progress into reverse by pricing younger people out of home ownership. “Property, pension and financial wealth can provide security and opportunities for families, as well as a decent income in retirement. The failure of younger generations to accumulate wealth in the way that earlier generations have been able to is therefore a huge living standards concern for us all.”

The report found that 82% of housing wealth increases between 1993 and 2012-14 were due to the property boom, which saw the average price of a residential property in the UK rise threefold, rather than through any active behaviour – such as buying, moving house or paying off mortgages. At the boom’s zenith in 2003, one in six of all working property-owning adults were earning more from the rising value of their homes than from their jobs.

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What a great idea! Take your money now?!

UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)

The Co-operative Group’s stake in the Co-op Bank could fall dramatically under a rescue plan being drawn up by hedge funds. The UK’s largest mutual, which owns supermarkets and funeral homes, has a 20% stake in the bank, which put itself up for sale in February in a search for £750m of extra funding. But under a proposal being discussed by the bank’s controlling hedge fund shareholders, this stake could drop towards zero unless the group decides to pump millions of pounds into the loss-making bank. In April, the group wrote down the value of its stake to zero, taking a further £140m hit on its shareholding that had stood at 100% before the problems at the banking arm were uncovered in 2013.

Four years ago, hedge funds which owned bonds issued by the Co-op bank helped contribute to its rescue and they are again regarded as the most likely source for the extra capital the bank needs to appease the Bank of England. In an update on the sales process on Monday, the Co-op bank, which has 4 million customers, said it was “in advanced discussions with a group of existing investors with a view to a prospective equity capital raise and liability management exercise”. A liability management exercise would involve bondholders agreeing to convert debt into shares. In a previous update to the market, the bank had warned that it would need to undergo a liability management exercise regardless of whether it was sold, signalling that bondholders faced losses under all the options being considered. In the latest announcement, the Co-op Bank said it was still continuing with talks about a sale of the business.

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A few thoughts:

• A) China’s not all that different from the US, is it? Student debt is hot.

• B) This is largely shadow banking, and Beijing has very little grip on it

• C) Well, OK, haven’t heard this from the US yet: “.. borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral.”

China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)

China is cracking down on online moneylenders who target university students, following concerns about the largely unregulated industry. A recent government directive has ordered such lenders to suspend all activities wooing student borrowers. The move follows reports of exorbitant interest rates and unsavoury practices in the industry, including demanding “nude selfies” as collateral. Online peer-to-peer moneylending has grown popular in China in recent years. Known as “wang dai” in Chinese, it sees strangers providing small loans to others via websites and phone apps. The directive (in Chinese) was made by China’s banking, education and social security authorities, according to a copy released by the Jiangxi provincial government on its website on Friday.

It said the measures were needed to address moneylenders “making extortionate loans” and other behaviour that has “severely harmed the safety of university students”. The exact number of online moneylenders in China is not known, but one microfinancing portal called Wangdaizhijia lists at least 500 such platforms. In recent years some moneylenders and loan sharks have begun targeting university students in need of quick and easy credit, according to Chinese reports. Some students have since fallen prey to spiralling debt as a result of high interest rates. In some cases, borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral. They would threaten to release the pictures if the student defaulted on their debts. In December the naked pictures and contact details of more than 100 young female borrowers were leaked online, causing an outcry and shining a spotlight on the underground business.

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Silly to suggest this is some new development. China prints funny money, and blows bubbles with everywhere. Been going on for years.

China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)

Two weeks ago, a key China-linked concern that made headlines back in 2013 and 2014 reemerged after an extensive analysis by Reuters reporter Engen Tham found that China’s “ghost collateral” problem, or collateral that was either rehypothecated between two or more loans, or simply did not exist, had not only not gone away but was still as prevalent as ever if not worse. The report, a continuation of extensive reporting conducted on this site, said that 60% of all loans issued in China’s system are backed by property, and that China’s property values are “wildly misleading, which is part of the reason that China’s credit rating was recently downgraded.” Reuters reported that Chinese lenders are prone to fraud with loan officers turning a blind eye to the quality of collateral and knowingly accepting dubious and even fraudulent documents.

Now, in a follow up by the Vancouver Sun’s Sam Cooper, the real estate reporter explains that China’s “ghost collateral” problem has jumped across the Pacific and is threatening the Canadian banking system. As Cooper notes, “as a result of the flood of money pouring from Mainland China into Vancouver real estate in recent years, some financial experts say they believe Canadian banks are directly exposed to shadow lending in China and the risks of so-called “ghost collateral”, collateral that may not exist or is used continuously to secure loans for multiple borrowers.” And the stunner: “Postmedia confirmed that Canadian banks are allowed by the federal regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, to accept collateral from China to secure real estate mortgages in B.C.” “OSFI does not dictate what type of collateral (federally regulated banks) can accept,” spokeswoman Annik Faucher said. “Whether the borrower is foreign or domestic, OSFI (allows) financial institutions to compete effectively and take reasonable risks.”

The underlying reason for Canada’s growing, if paradoxical, exposure to Chinese collateral is due to an explosion of Canada’s shadow banking system. An investigation by Cooper found “massive and risky home loans are increasing in number across Metro Vancouver, while mortgage fraud cases are also on the rise, connected to the growth of so-called “shadow banking.” This is similar, if smaller in scale, to the gargantuan $8.5 trillion shadow banking market in China, where “shadow” lenders and creditors bypass conventional banks to provide and obtain funding, often at far higher terms than prevailing rates, an increasingly dangerous proposition at a time when Chinese interest rates, especially on the short-end, are suddenly spiking. The Vancouver Sun adds that as a result of tighter federal lending rules, borrowers trying to buy million-dollar-plus properties in Vancouver’s market “are increasingly taking out dangerous loans from shadow bankers in a fast-growing and poorly regulated financial market.”

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First of many. Canada, Denmark, Netherlands et al, there’s a long list.

Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)

Global ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the big four banks and eight other institutions over fears about the housing market. Moody’s cut ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac by one notch from Aa3 to Aa2. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Newcastle Permanent Building Society went from A3 to A2 while Heritage Bank, Members Equity, QT Mutual, Teachers Mutual, Victoria Teachers Mutual and Credit Union went from A3 to Baa1. Moody’s action comes a month after rival agency S&P Global downgraded almost all Australian banks over fears of “a sharp correction in property prices”. Moody’s said while it did not expect a sharp downturn in housing as its key scenario, it could not ignore the risk that high levels of debt and the rapid credit expansion could pose down the track.

“Whilst mortgage affordability for most borrowers remains good at current interest rates, the reduction in the savings rate, the rise in household leverage and the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans are all indicators of rising risks,” the Moody’s statement said. The agency worries that while Australians have been taking on record amounts of debt, wages have not increased, while underemployment has. It also did not like “the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans” which it believed were indicators of rising risks. Banks are carrying an arsenal of cash, as required now by regulators, in preparedness for any downturn in the economy or problems in the housing market but Moody’s indicates it is not sure whether it will be enough. “The resilience of household balance sheets and, consequently, bank portfolios to a serious economic downturn has not been tested at these levels of private-sector indebtedness,” it said.

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Yellowstone is a huge threat, but specifics must be viewed with extreme caution.

296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)

I spend a lot of time documenting how the crust of our planet is becoming increasingly unstable. Most of this shaking is taking place far away from the continental United States, and so most Americans are not too concerned about it. But we should be concerned about it, because a major seismic event could change all of our lives in a single instant. For instance, a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would have the potential of being an E.L.E. (extinction level event). That is why it is so alarming that there have been 296 earthquakes in the vicinity of the Yellowstone supervolcano within the last 7 days. Scientists are trying to convince us that everything is going to be okay, but there are others that are not so sure.

The biggest earthquake in this swarm occurred last Thursday evening. It was initially measured to be a magnitude 4.5 earthquake, but it was later downgraded to a 4.4. It was the biggest quake in the region since a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck close to Norris Geyser Basin in March 2014. This magnitude 4.4 earthquake was so powerful that people felt it as far away as Bozeman… “The main quake was centered about 5.8 miles underground. The quake and aftershocks occurred just over 8 miles northeast from West Yellowstone, according to the U.S. Geological Service. A witness reported that she felt the building she was in move. Dozens of people reported that they felt it in and around West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Ennis, and Bozeman”. But by itself that one quake would only be of minor concern. What is troubling many of the experts is that this earthquake has been accompanied by 295 smaller ones.

[..] I would like to try to describe for you what a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would mean for this country. Hundreds of cubic miles of ash, rock and lava would be blasted into the atmosphere, and this would likely plunge much of the northern hemisphere into several days of complete darkness. Virtually everything within 100 miles of Yellowstone would be immediately killed, but a much more cruel fate would befall those that live in major cities outside of the immediate blast zone such as Salt Lake City and Denver. Hot volcanic ash, rock and dust would rain down on those cities literally for weeks. In the end, it would be extremely difficult for anyone living in those communities to survive.

In fact, it has been estimated that 90% of all people living within 600 miles of Yellowstone would be killed. Experts project that such an eruption would dump a layer of volcanic ash that is at least 10 feet deep up to 1,000 miles away, and approximately two-thirds of the United States would suddenly become uninhabitable. The volcanic ash would severely contaminate most of our water supplies, and growing food in the middle of the country would become next to impossible. In other words, it would be the end of our country as we know it today.

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Never privatize basic needs. Always a bad idea.

Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)

As the Senate has quietly been toying with the House’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, a new study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of British Columbia, found evidence that single-payer systems may lead to lower pharmaceutical prices. Could that data impact U.S. health care reform? U.S. drug prices are so high that the researchers didn’t even factor them into the study, focusing instead on other developed countries. It’s common knowledge that drug prices have been on the steady rise, increasing faster than average wages; at issue is how to push prices back down, or at least slow their escalation.

Examining the roots of high drug expenditures in 10 wealthy countries with universal health care, the study, published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, discovered lower average drug prices in the nations with single-payer systems, which appeared to be better able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. “There is some advantage to having a not-for-profit body, whether it’s a government body, a crown body… running a system without a profit motive,” said Steven Morgan, one of the authors and a professor of economics at University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. “The blunt instrument of government regulation will not in itself lower drug prices.”

Using drug price and expenditure data for 2015, the researchers established that the 10 countries with universal health care systems examined in the study — New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Australia — exhibited relatively little variation in volume of drug price purchases, with a difference as large as 41%. But the disparities in drug prices told a different story, with the two ends of the spectrum differing by 600%. For example, the average price of drug treatment per capita, per day, in New Zealand, which has a single-payer system, stood at just $23, or a third of those of the nine others. Norway, Australia, Sweden and the U.K., the other countries categorized in the study as single-payer, exhibited average daily per-capita drug expenditures of $59, $91, $56 and $81, respectively.

Switzerland, which has a multi-payer, social insurance-based system, had an average per-diem treatment cost of $171, twice as high as the other nine nations. Its fellow multi-payer countries examined in the study — France, Germany and the Netherlands — paid, per capita, on average, $106, $97 and $49, respectively, per day on drug treatments. Canadians, whose health care system the study described as “mixed,” purchased roughly the same volume of drugs as citizens of the other nine countries, but would’ve collectively saved $1.7 billion if their drug prices were comparable to those of the nine other countries, the study noted.

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As long as there’s plenty free money…

Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)

Whole Foods will eventually be part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s empire. Or will it? Some Wall Street analysts are starting to wonder whether another retailer will come up with a higher offer and start a bidding war. Amazon announced on Friday that it was offering to pay $13.7 billion in cash for Whole Foods – a deal that values the chain of organic grocery stores at $42 a share. But Whole Foods stock closed above $42 on Friday, and it rose again Monday to top $43. That might not sound significant. But any price for Whole Foods stock that is higher than Amazon’s offer could be a sign that Wall Street thinks another company could swoop in with an even better deal. Barclays analyst Karen Short wrote in a report that she “would not be surprised” if other companies make offers for Whole Foods.

She raised her price target on the company to $48 – nearly 15% higher than Amazon’s bid. Short said in the report that “in theory, all retailers that sell food and compete with Amazon” could come up with their own offer for Whole Foods because they may “have too much to lose not to bid.” She said the likely bidders could include Walmart and Target, both of which have big grocery businesses, and the Kroger supermarket chain. She conceded it might be tough to outbid Amazon, but it could still be worth it to drive up the price and make Amazon pay more. Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh agreed. He raised his price target on Whole Foods to $45 after the Amazon deal was announced. He wrote in a report that “another bid cannot be ruled out” because other big retailers may want to do anything they can to prevent Amazon from getting even more powerful.

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The worst thing you can do is let your food supply be controllled from some point a thousand miles away. But then, Amazon has killed so much community already, and no-one sproke up. It’s labeled ‘progress’.

Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

Amazon’s done it to books. And electronics. And clothing. Now it wants to rule the grocery aisles. But Amazon still has a ways to go — the online retailing behemoth has taken a slow, yet calculated approach to attacking the grocery store. After years of testing the AmazonFresh program in its Seattle hometown, it began expanding the grocery delivery service to other cities in 2013. Today, it delivers fresh fruit and meat in parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, Washington and Maryland. It also delivers food through its Amazon.com website and its Prime Now program. And even though research from Cowen & Co pegs Amazon’s market share of food and beverages sold online in 2015 at about 22 percent, that overall online grocery market in the U.S. is pretty small.

Out of the $795 billion Cowen expects Americans to spend on food and drinks this year, it estimates only about $33 billion of it will be spent online. That’s because it has taken shoppers a long time to grow comfortable with buying their apples, chicken breasts and granola online when they can stop by a physical store on the way home from work and actually touch and smell the food they’re buying. Companies struggle to profit from the very expensive business of picking, packing and transporting fresh food to their customers. It’s much easier to mail a video game or book, which doesn’t have to be kept cold or free of bruises. But for Amazon, the grocery business not only brings more sales, it could also make its business more profitable.

People tend to buy groceries weekly or daily, so getting them hooked on delivery justifies sending trucks out more frequently. Then any general merchandise, like a book or toy, that Amazon sells along with the food adds to profits. And since Amazon will need more trucks for grocery delivery, it could reduce its reliance on shipping companies, which have contributed to soaring costs. For now, Amazon is likely to take added grocery costs on the chin, in hopes it will pay off down the line. Growing its AmazonFresh and Prime Now offerings suggests Amazon is gearing up for the long haul in grocery. Though traditional grocers are not likely to see sales migrate to Amazon right away, that luxury won’t last. And just like bookstores, your local grocer could be toast.

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Jun 182017
 
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Fred Lyon Land’s End San Francisco 1953

 

Global Inequality Much Worse Than Previously Thought (Ind.)
The US Is Where the Rich Are the Richest (BBG)
UK Wealth Gap Rises As Home Ownership Falls (G.)
UK Debt Bubble Returns Millions To Days Of 2008 Crash (G.)
Macron Set To Dynamite Parties That Have Dominated For Half A Century (AFP)
Secret Plot To Oust Theresa May If She Fails To Deliver ‘Hard’ Brexit (Tel.)
Arrogance: The Greeks Had A Word For It (G.)
Illinois Finances In ‘Massive Crisis Mode’ (AP)
Metastability (Kocic)
Young Greeks Can’t Name EU Achievements (K.)
Abandoned and Abused: Syrian Refugee Children On Greek Detention Island (G.)

 

 

It’s like the mob rules the world.

Global Inequality Much Worse Than Previously Thought (Ind.)

The gap between rich and poor across the globe is even wider than we currently think, according to a new analysis. Official estimates of inequality only take into account the money that the tax man sees, according to a recent paper by economists, Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman. But recent leaks of vast caches of documents from secretive jurisdictions such as Panama and Switzerland have given a more accurate picture of the sheer scale of global tax evasion – most of it carried out by very wealthy people. The three economists have used this trove of data to make a new assessment of the true wealth of the planet’s richest people, and thus a potentially more accurate measure of just how much richer they are than those at the bottom.

Until now, most assessments of wealth have relied on random tax audits, which do not pick up hidden offshore assets. This would not impact measurements global inequality if the poor dodged paying their dues as much as the rich did. In fact the rich evade many multiples more than the poor, according to Alstadsæter, Johannesen and Zucman. They studied three sets of documents: the Panama Papers, leaked from a Central American law firm which helped people set up tax haven companies; the Swiss Leaks, which revealed the dealings of HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary; and Scandinavian tax records, which give an unusually detailed picture of the income of citizens of that region. By combining the data sets they were able to make an estimate of the true size and scope of tax evasion, and thus inequality.

They found the wealthiest 0.01% in Norway, Sweden and Denmark evaded 30% of their personal taxes on average, compared to just 3% in the total population. In Norway, which has particularly detailed data, the super-rich, ie the top 0.1% of the wealth pyramid, are 30% wealthier than previously thought, when their hidden offshore assets are taken into account. This means they actually own 10% of all wealth, not the 8% previously thought. The authors posit that the scale of tax evasion is likely to be even worse in many other countries which have far less stringent tax disclosure rules. Only when we can truly assess how much personal wealth is stashed offshore will the scale of global equality be known, the economists say.

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It’s also where this won’t last. You CAN go to far.

The US Is Where the Rich Are the Richest (BBG)

It’s an excellent time to be rich, especially in the U.S. Around the world, the number of millionaires and billionaires is surging right along with the value of their holdings. Even as economic growth has slowed, the rich have managed to gain a larger slice of the world’s wealth. Globally, almost 18 million households control more than $1 million in wealth, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group. These rich folk represent just 1% of the world’s population, but they hold 45% of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth. They will control more than half the world’s wealth by 2021, BCG said. Rising inequality is of course no surprise. Reams of data have shown that in recent decades the rich have been taking ever-larger shares of wealth and income—especially in the U.S., where corporate profits are nearing records while wages for the workforce remain stagnant.

In fact, while global inequality is simply accelerating, in America it’s gone into overdrive. The share of income going to the top 1% in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last 35 years, after dropping in the decades after World War II (when the rich were taxed at high double-digit rates). The tide shifted in the 1980s under Republican President Ronald Reagan, a decade when “trickle-down economics” saw tax rates for the rich fall, union membership shrink, and stock markets spike. Now, those policies and their progeny have helped put 63% of America’s private wealth in the hands of U.S. millionaires and billionaires, BCG said. By 2021, their share of the nation’s wealth will rise to an estimated 70%. The world’s wealth “gained momentum” last year, BCG concluded, rising 5.3% globally from 2015 to 2016.

The firm expects growth to accelerate to about 6% annually for the next five years, in both the U.S. and globally. But a lot of that can again be attributed to the rich. The wealth held by everyone else is just barely growing. Where is all this wealth coming from? The sources are slightly different in the U.S. compared with the rest of the world. Globally, about half of new wealth comes from existing financial assets—rising stock prices or yields on bonds and bank deposits—held predominately by the already well-off. The rest of the world’s new wealth comes from what BCG classifies as “new wealth creation,” from people saving money they’ve earned through labor or entrepreneurship. In the U.S., the creation of “new” wealth is a minor factor, making up just 28% of the nation’s wealth increase last year. It’s even lower in Japan, at 21%. In the rest of the Asia Pacific region, meanwhile, two-thirds of the rise is driven by new wealth creation.

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Whenever you see “rising pension wealth” anywhere these days, feel free to laugh out loud.

UK Wealth Gap Rises As Home Ownership Falls (G.)

A fall in home ownership is fuelling the return of rising wealth inequality across Britain, it has emerged. Booming house prices in the run-up to the financial crisis had led to a decade-long fall in the uneven distribution of the country’s wealth. However, comprehensive new analysis of the UK’s wealth divisions has now found that the trend has gone into reverse. The study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found that just a tenth of adults own around half of the nation’s wealth. The top 1% own 14% of the total. It warned that even this figure may be an underestimate because of the difficulties in calculating the assets of the super-rich. By contrast, 15% of adults in Britain have either no share of the nation’s record £11.1 trillion of wealth, or have negative wealth. The study found that wealth is distributed far less evenly than earnings or household income.

The thinktank measured wealth inequality using the “Gini coefficient”, with 0 being perfect wealth equality and 1 representing a society where a single person has it all. Wealth inequality was almost twice as high as earnings inequality. Despite the perception that wealth inequality has been rising for decades, the research found that the inequality of net financial and property wealth fell steadily between 1995 and 2005, with the Gini coefficient falling from 0.71 to 0.64. The fall was driven by high and rising home ownership, with more households benefiting from the pre-crisis property price boom. As a result, the proportion of property wealth owned by the bottom four-fifths of adults grew from 35% in 1995 to 40% in 2005.

However, home ownership has been falling steadily since the mid-2000s, with the wealth held by the bottom four-fifths of the population dipping as a result. Since the financial crisis, home ownership among the least wealthy 50% of the population has fallen by about 12%. Meanwhile, it has risen by 1% for the wealthiest tenth. The shift in property ownership further towards the richest has contributed to the widening of wealth inequality. Including private pensions, the Gini coefficient rose from 0.67 to 0.69 from 2006-08 to 2012-14. Total wealth across Britain, which includes private pensions, property, financial and physical wealth, rose in the wake of the financial crisis from £9.9tn in 2006-08 to £11.1tn in 2012-14. This has been fuelled by rising pension wealth. [..] Private pensions account for 40% of the wealth total – the largest share at £4.5tn.

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Add this to all the other issues. A gutted society.

UK Debt Bubble Returns Millions To Days Of 2008 Crash (G.)

Charities and financial advisers are calling on the government to use the Queen’s speech to address the “bubble” of unmanageable debt that households are rapidly accumulating. Unsecured consumer credit – including credit cards, car loans and payday loans – is this year expected to hit levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash. There has been concern in the Bank of England that consumer spending is being underpinned by debt, amid comparisons to the run-up to the financial crash. In addition, figures published last week show inflation reached a four-year high in May, meaning shopping is getting increasingly expensive, further intensifying the squeeze on household budgets.

Debt advisers are urging the government to make good on fulfil a promise in the Conservative manifesto to introduce a scheme where those in serious debt are protected by law from further interest, charges and enforcement action for up to six weeks. Many campaigners would like to see this extended further, to up to a year. “It would be excellent if the government in the Queen’s speech committed to helping households who are struggling with debt. It really is one of the great problems of the time that politicians have to grapple with,” said Peter Tutton, head of policy at debt charity StepChange. “We are seeing more and more households struggling just to make basic ends meet – to pay their rent, to pay their council tax, to pay their gas bill. We would like to see the government say, ‘we need to do something about this’.”

The charity estimates that 2.9 million people in the UK are experiencing severe financial debt in the aftermath of the recession. One reason is that many who lost their jobs found new jobs that were less well paid. Sara Williams, the author of Debt Camel, a blog advising on money problems, said: “The recent large increases in consumer credit … look alarming to debt advisers – very much like a bubble building up.”

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I still want to see who paid for all this. It’s too fast and furious to be spontaneous.

Macron Set To Dynamite Parties That Have Dominated For Half A Century (AFP)

French voters went to the polls on Sunday for parliamentary elections set to hand a landslide victory to the centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron which would complete his stunning reset of national politics. The new assembly is due to be transformed with a new generation of lawmakers – younger, more female and more ethnically diverse – winning seats in the afterglow of Macron’s success in presidential elections last month. The scale of the change is forecast to be so large that some observers have compared the overhaul to 1958, the start of the present presidential system, or even the post-war rebirth of French democracy in 1945. It is also entirely unexpected: Macron was unknown three years ago and initially given little chance of emerging as president, but he and his 15-month-old Republic on the Move (REM) party have tapped into widespread desire for change.

“It’s like a science fiction movie for me,” REM candidate Beatrice Failles, a weapons inspector, writer and community activist, told AFP this week during campaigning in Paris. REM and its allies are forecast to win 400-470 seats in the 577-strong parliament, one of the biggest majorities post-war that would give the pro-EU Macron a free hand to implement his business-friendly programme. Sunday’s voting is the decisive second round of the election after a first round last weekend which was topped by REM. If confirmed, the victory will come at the expense of France’s traditional parties, the rightwing Republicans and Socialists, but also the far-right National Front which faces major disappointment. The Socialists are set to be the biggest victim of voters’ desire to reject establishment figures associated with years of high unemployment, terror attacks and lost national confidence.

Pollsters predict the party faces financial ruin with its strength in parliament falling from nearly 300 seats to around 20 after their five years in power under president Francois Hollande. The main concern for observers and critics is the likely absence of any political counterweight to Macron, leading some to forecast that opposition could be led through street protests or in the media. “Desperately seeking an opposition,” said the front page of Le Parisien newspaper on Saturday. [..] In the first round, REM won 32% of the total number of votes cast, but this represented only about 15% of the total number of registered voters. Around half of REM’s candidates are virtual unknowns drawn from diverse fields of academia, business or local activism. They include a mathematician, a bullfighter and a former Rwandan orphan. “You could take a goat and give it Macron’s endorsement and it would have good chance of being elected,” political analyst Christophe Barbier joked recently.

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Brexit negotiations will be insane. Multiple governments will fall over this.

Secret Plot To Oust Theresa May If She Fails To Deliver ‘Hard’ Brexit (Tel.)

Theresa May will face a “stalking horse” challenge to topple her as Prime Minister if she waters down Brexit, senior Tories have warned. Leading Eurosceptic MPs have told The Telegraph they are prepared to mount an immediate leadership challenge if Mrs May deviates from her original plan. The revelation comes after a torrid week for the Prime Minister in which she faced fierce criticism for her handling of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Conservative MPs – including Cabinet ministers – have concluded that Mrs May cannot lead them into the next election and they are now discussing when she could go. Eurosceptic MPs have warned that any attempt to keep Britain in the customs union and single market or any leeway for the European Court of Justice to retain an oversight function will trigger an “overnight” coup.

The plot has been likened to Sir Anthony Meyer’s 1989 challenge against Margaret Thatcher. One influential former minister said: “If we had a strong signal that she were backsliding I think she would be in major difficulty. The point is she is not a unifying figure any more. She has really hacked off the parliamentary party for obvious reasons. So I’m afraid to say there is no goodwill towards her.” They added: “What we would do is to put up a candidate to run against her, a stalking horse. You can imagine who would do it. It would be a rerun of the Margaret Thatcher scenario, with Anthony Meyer. Of course Meyer had no chance at all, but she lost support and she was gone. Bear in mind that she was a hell of a lot more popular than the current Prime Minister.” Another former minister said: “If she weakened on Brexit, the world would fall in… all hell would break loose.”

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Hubris. England.

Arrogance: The Greeks Had A Word For It (G.)

“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare – or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad – who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.” So says the immortal Bertie Wooster at the start of the PG Wodehouse story Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest, and it is fairly certain that the hapless hero, in introducing his “fairly rummy” anecdote, is raking back through his sketchily absorbed education to reach for the word “hubris”, a word inherited from those brainy lads, the Greeks.

In the past week of political turmoil, “hubris” is a word that has been exercised rather more than usual. So have other Greek words, most notably “chaos” (the inchoate matter out of which the universe was formed, according to the poet Hesiod). And “crisis”, which began life meaning “a picking apart” or “a separation”; also a bringing to trial, or a moment of judgment. Though whether a universe will be formed from the current chaos, whether a judgment or a moment of clear-eyed seeing will drop neatly out of our present crisis, remains very much to be seen.

Bertie Wooster’s definition of hubris is a perfectly good one as far as our rather limited modern usage of the word goes. The lead piping came for the Tories, first in the shape of an exit poll on election night and, since then, perhaps in their slow, shocked and wholly inadequate reaction to the catastrophe at Grenfell Tower. But hubris, like chaos and crisis, began with a rather different meaning. For the Greeks, it did not simply signal that pride goes before a fall but, rather, something stronger and more morally freighted. Hubris described an act intentionally designed to dishonour its victim. Hubris was something expressly calculated to cause shame to the weak. Hubris was tinged with violence. Hubris was excessive and brutal.

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The first of many. I know I’ve said that before, but these things can be hidden, until they cannot.

Illinois Finances In ‘Massive Crisis Mode’ (AP)

It’s a new low, even for a state that’s seen its financial situation grow increasingly desperate amid a standoff between the Democrat-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Illinois already has $15 billion in overdue bills and the lowest credit rating of any state, and some ratings agencies have warned they will downgrade the rating to “junk” if there’s no budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1. Rauner on Thursday said he was calling lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session, after the Legislature adjourned May 31 without approving a state spending plan — the third straight year lawmakers have been unable to agree on a budget. Legislators are due at the Capitol on Wednesday, and Rauner said the session will continue through June 30 or until the two sides have a deal.

Lawmakers from both parties have acknowledged Illinois needs to raise taxes to make up for revenue lost when a previous tax hike expired, leaving the state on pace to take in $6 billion less than it is spending this year — even without a budget. Rauner, a former businessman who is seeking a second term in 2018, wants Democrats to approve changes he says are needed to improve Illinois’ long-term financial health before he’ll support a tax increase. Among them are term limits for lawmakers, a four-year property tax freeze and new workers’ compensation laws that would reduce costs for employers. Democrats say they’re willing to approve some items on Rauner’s list, but that what he’s demanding keeps changing or goes too far and would hurt working families. Senate Democrats also note that they approved a $37 billion budget with $3 billion in cuts and an income tax increase in May. The House has not taken up that plan.

In the absence of a budget, funding has been reduced or eliminated in areas such as social services and higher education. Many vendors have gone months without being paid. And increasingly, they’re filing lawsuits to try to get paid. The courts already have ruled in favor of state workers who want paychecks, as well as lottery winners whose payouts were put on hold. Transit agencies have sued, as has a coalition of social service agencies, including one that’s run by Rauner’s wife. Health care plans that administer the state’s Medicaid program also asked a federal judge to order Mendoza’s office to immediately pay $2 billion in unpaid bills. They argued that access to health care for the poor and other vulnerable groups was impaired or “at grave risk” because the state wasn’t paying providers, causing them to leave the program.

Judge Joan Lefkow ruled June 7 that Illinois isn’t complying with a previous agreement to pay the bills and gave attorneys for the providers and the state until Tuesday to work out a level of payment. Mendoza says whatever that amount will be, it will likely put Illinois at the point where 100% of revenues must be paid to one of the office’s “core priorities,” such as those required by court order. And if this lawsuit doesn’t do it, the next court ruling against the state will. Then, she’s not sure what will happen, other than more damage. “Once the money’s gone, the money’s gone, and I can’t print it,” Mendoza said.

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A very useful concept. Reference to Minsky would be in order, though.

Metastability (Kocic)

Big changes threaten to explode not when uncertainty begins to rise, but when it is withdrawn. Excessive determinism is almost always the biggest enemy of stability. This seeming contradiction is behind the concept of metastability which captures the mode of market functioning in the last years. Imagine you have to balance a long stick on your finger. By placing it vertically on your fingertip, the stick could fall either left or right from its initial position because standing upright is unstable. However, in trying to keep the stick vertical, you instinctively (and randomly) wiggle your finger. The added randomness (noise) acts as a stabilizer of an otherwise unstable equilibrium. So long as the noise is administered carefully, the stick remains vertical, or metastable. The withdrawal of noise becomes destabilizing.

In general, there are three types of equilibria to distinguish: stable, unstable and metastable. The bottom of the valley is stable; top of the hill is unstable; a dimple at the top of the hill is metastable. Metastability is what seems stable, but is not – a stable waiting for something to happen. Avalanche is a good example of metastability to keep in mind – a totally innocuous event can trigger a cataclysmic event (e.g. a skier’s scream, or simply continued snowfall until the snow cover is so massive that its own weight triggers an avalanche). Complacency is a source of metastability. It has a moral hazard inscribed into it. Complacency encourages bad behavior and penalizing dissent – there is a negative carry for not joining the crowd, which further reinforces bad behavior.

This is the source of the positive feedback that triggers occasional anxiety attacks, which, although episodic, have the potential to create liquidity problems. Complacency arises either when everyone agrees with everyone else or when no one agrees with anyone. In these situations, which capture the two modes of recent market trading, current and the QE period, the markets become calm and volatility selling and carry strategies define the trading landscape. But, calm makes us worry, and persistent worrying causes fear, and fear tends to be reinforcing. Persistence of low volatility causes misallocation of capital. This is how complacency leads to buildup of risk – it is the avalanche waiting to happen. For a given level of uncertainty, on the risk/reward curve investors settle at a point that corresponds to their risk limits. This position is determined by the volatility cone on the risk frontier, its width commensurate with volatility.

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Insanely positive still.

Young Greeks Can’t Name EU Achievements (K.)

An 84% majority of Greeks aged between 16-25 say that peace is the most important result of the country’s membership in the EU, according to an upcoming survey, which also found that 24% are unable to name three or more achievements of the 28-member club. The online survey, which will be published in full on Wednesday, was conducted by pro-European think tank To Diktio (The Network) with the help of MAD TV on a sample of 1,173 high-school and university students using a multiple-choice questionnaire. Asked if they think that Greece’s membership of the 28-member bloc improves their daily life, just over 37% gave a negative answer.

Whereas most of those who took part in the poll said they are in favor of closer European integration, only a minority said they consider the establishment of welfare states a significant contribution of the EU process. Meanwhile, 86% agreed it is “very significant” that they can travel, live, study or work freely across the EU, while 72% said it is positive that “we have a common strong currency which makes our transactions easier.” Finally, 83% said that the union can play a key role in “protecting fundamental rights regardless of gender, race, religion, disability or age.” Greece joined the EEC, the predecessor of today’s EU, in 1981.

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Just to add the proper insult, the picture below comes from Yuan Yang on Twitter: “Five min into this international property fair & I’ve already been offered to emigrate to the UK, Australia & get my kids into school in US”.

While Syrians kids face abuse, Greece offers passports and ‘Easy Living’ to wealthy Chinese. Mankind has fully lost its compass.

Abandoned and Abused: Syrian Refugee Children On Greek Detention Island (G.)

Rasha went missing late afternoon last Saturday. Her peers describe hanging out as normal with the 20-year-old Syrian in the Greek refugee detention camp. Then she vanished. Last Tuesday her friend Amira, 15, received a flurry of images on her phone. Rasha was lying naked in bed with a man. Superimposed upon his head were grotesque cartoon faces and an accompanying message from the anonymous caller: “I promise I will kidnap you also.” This was far from being the first threat that the teenage refugee from the Syrian city of Qamishli has received since arriving on the Aegean island of Chios six months ago. Existence in the razor-wire-fenced detention centre, a former factory known as Vial, deep within the island’s mountainous interior, is fraught for a child hoping for a fresh start in Europe, preferably the UK.

Fellow refugees intimidate her routinely. “Men say they will attack me, they try and trap us by saying don’t go to Souda [another refugee camp on the island] or go into the town. They say: ‘If I see you there, I will attack you. I will kidnap you and kill you.’” Amira is among scores of unaccompanied minors on Chios who are eligible to claim asylum in the UK under the so-called Dubs amendment. A year ago the UK government announced it would urgently offer sanctuary to a sizeable proportion of Europe’s vulnerable child refugees, a figure widely understood to be about 3,000 minors until, in February, the Home Office unexpectedly stopped the scheme after helping just 480, one child for every 130,000 UK residents. Not a single unaccompanied minor has been transferred from Greece to the UK under the Dubs scheme.

On Tuesday the last chance to reopen Dubs will be heard in the high court in London, a legal challenge that describes the Home Office’s premature closure of Dubs as unlawful and “seriously defective”. The three-day hearing holds potentially profound ramifications for Chios, which is separated by a slim strip of water from Turkey, so close that Amira can see its summer homes and factories from the island’s coast. Beyond lie the borders with Syria and Iraq from where each day people board a motley flotilla of rubber boats and dinghies to attempt the short but perilous crossing to Europe’s gateway. What those that successfully make the crossing quickly encounter could hardly be further from their aspirations of a civilised and safe world. The child refugees of Chios describe being stabbed by local people, police beatings, attacks by the far right, knife fights among drunken adult asylum seekers, and sleepless nights in flimsy tents on pebble beaches.


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Jun 092017
 
 June 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Labour Campaign Poster 1922

 

Trump Accuses Comey Of Lying About Leaked Memo (ZH)
Chris Matthews: “There’s No ‘There’ There” On Trump-Russia ‘Collusion’ (ZH)
Theresa May Has ‘No Intention Of Resigning’ After Losses (BBC)
This Is Where Theresa May’s Arrogance Will Lead Us Next (Ind.)
UK’s Shock Election Result May Hamper Brexit Talks, EU Leaders Warn (G.)
The Myth of “Cash on The Sidelines” (Roberts)
US Household Net Worth Hits Record $95 Trillion… There Is a Catch (ZH)
Opioid Overdoses The Leading Killer Of American Adults Under 50 (ZH)
Trump’s $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Mostly Speculative (RT)
Defense Minister Kammenos Says US Is Greece’s Best International Ally (K.)
European Court Of Justice: Refugee Crisis Trumps Dublin Regulation (K.)
The Shield of Law and Humanism (K.)

 

 

I know the echo chamber won’t agree, but after watching quite a bit of it, four things stood out for me in the Comey testimony, other than the somewhat too loud remarks about how the entire White House lied about him and the FBI:

1) He admitted to leaking information of his private talk with Trump in the Oval Office. Comey said he didn’t understand why Trump asked everyone to leave the room, but, well, perhaps it’s this: that if anything leaked, it would be clear whodunnit. And leaking info about a private talk with your president is not an obvious thing to do. Illegal? Borderline? Comey stated that he did it because he thought it would lead to a special counsel being appointed. But who is he to ‘promote’ such a thing?

2) He finally said in public that Trump himself had not been under investigation, something the president had asked him to do on three occasions. There was some excuse about not doing it because he might have to walk that back later, but the fact remains: no Trump investigation, and despite all other leaks, no public acknowledgement of that.

3) Comey insisted in no uncertain terms that the entire US intelligence community is convinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, and Russia here means the Kremlin, re: Putin. Well, let’s finally see the proof.

4) He recounted how then-AG Loretta Lynch pushed him to relabel the criminal investigation into the Clinton server as a “matter”, a term the Clinton campaign used. But why would an AG do it too, and push the FBI to do the same? Very odd. And then Comey added that this was a reason to call the press conference in which he advised the Department of Justice not to indict Clinton.

Trump Accuses Comey Of Lying About Leaked Memo (ZH)

As we detailed earlier, during his testimony today, former FBI Director Comey testified that he only leaked the memo about his contact with the President AFTER he saw President Trump’s tweet…
COMEY: I asked — the president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there’s not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might a tape. My judgement was, I need to get that out into the public square. I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons. I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. I asked a close friend to do it. [..] A close friend who is a professor at Columbia law school.

Pretty clear – it was a response to a tweet. But, as President Trump’s personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz states: “Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the President. The leaks of this privileged information began no later than March 2017 when friends of Mr. Comey have stated he disclosed to them the conversations he had with the President during their January 27, 2017 dinner and February 14, 2017 White House meeting. Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he leaked to friends his purported memos of these privileged conversations, one of which he testified was classified.

He also testified that immediately after he was terminated he authorized his friends to leak the contents of these memos to the press in order to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” Although Mr. Comey testified he only leaked the memos in response to a tweet, the public record reveals that the New York Times was quoting from these memos the day before the referenced tweet, which belies Mr. Comey’s excuse for this unauthorized disclosure of privileged information and appears to entirely retaliatory. We will leave it the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leak should be investigated along with all those others being investigated”

So the question is – having called President Trump a liar, did Comey just get caught in an even bigger lie… ?

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At least on his personal involvement.

Chris Matthews: “There’s No ‘There’ There” On Trump-Russia ‘Collusion’ (ZH)

If you count yourself among the die-hard, disaffected Hillary supporters still holding out hope that President Trump will be impeached for conspiring with Russian spies to stage a coup in the United States, then you may want to sit down because earlier today one of your biggest cheerleaders just threw in the towel on that whole narrative. Yes, MSNBC’s very own Chris Matthews, the same man who confessed he “got a thrill up his leg” from simply watching Obama speak, admitted today that Comey’s testimony pretty much confirmed that “there’s no ‘there’ there” when it comes to Trump colluding with the Russians.

“The assumption of the critics of the President, of his pursuers, you might say, is that somewhere along the line in the last year is the President had something to do with colluding with the Russians … to affect the election in some way. Some conversation he had with Michael Flynn or Pual Manafort or somewhere.” “And yet what came apart this morning was that theory in two regards…the President said, according to the written testimony of Mr. Comey, go ahead and get any satellites of my operation and nail them. I’m with you on that…” “And then also, Comey said that basically Flynn wasn’t central to the Russian investigation.” “And I’ve always assumed that what Trump was afraid of was that he had said something to Flynn and Flynn could be flipped on that and Flynn would testify against the President that he’d had some conversation with Flynn in terms of dealing with the Russians affirmatively.” “And if that’s not the case, where’s the there-there?”

And when Chris Matthews throws in the towel on a liberal narrative, you know the gig is up. Oh, and by the way, this probably doesn’t help your case either… Burr: “Director Comey, did the President at any time ask you to stop the FBI investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections?” Comey: “Not to my understanding, no.” Burr: “Did any individual working for this administration, including the Justice Department, ask you to stop the Russian investigation?” Comey: “No.”

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Theresa May can stay until the Tories throw her out; she’s proven to be an awful liability, not a leader. Far too risky. How much would she lose next time around? Their problem is there’s no-one else who’s obvious, there must be dirty fights in dark and rainy alleys first.

So: Tories will throw out May, while Corbyn will have to throw the Blairites out of Labour who made his position a living hell.

Most likely seems Corbyn as PM of a minority government. But that’s a big risk going into Brexit talks.

Theresa May Has ‘No Intention Of Resigning’ After Losses (BBC)

The UK faces the prospect of a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party after the general election produced no overall winner. With nearly all results in, Theresa May faces having fewer seats than when she called the election. The Tories are projected to get 318 seats, Labour 261 and the SNP 35. Jeremy Corbyn has urged the PM to resign but the BBC understands she has no intention of doing so at this stage and will try to form a government. The prime minister has said the country needs stability after the inconclusive election result and the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said Mrs May intended to try and govern on the basis that her party had won the largest number of votes and seats.

Labour is set to make 29 gains with the Tories losing 13 seats – and the SNP down by 22 seats in a bad night for Nicola Sturgeon, with her party losing seats to the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems. The Conservatives are forecast to win 42% of the vote, Labour 40%, the Lib Dems 7%, UKIP 2% and the Greens 2%. Turnout so far is 68.7% – up 2% up on 2015 – but it has been a return two party politics in many parts of the country, with Labour and the Conservatives both piling up votes in numbers not seen since the 1990s. UKIP’s vote slumped dramatically but rather than moving en masse to the Tories, as they had expected, their voters also switched to Labour.

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New elections? One positive for the former Empire: the threat of Scottish independence was wiped out.

This Is Where Theresa May’s Arrogance Will Lead Us Next (Ind.)

Despite a lot of the good news streaming out of counts everywhere right now, make no mistake: this is going to be chaos. A deep and growing sense of frustration is about to ripple through the country, because what May has essentially done in her arrogance is take a gamble that could cost us decades of stability and prosperity. It is likely that what awaits us over the next few weeks is, to put it bluntly, a mess. Hung parliament. No clear majority. No willingness to form a coalition. A possible resignation from the Prime Minister (whether she’s pushed or jumps is yet to be seen) and then yet another leadership contest. Boris Johnson is said on the Westminster grapevine to already be positioning himself as a candidate, yet his reputation has turned increasingly sour over the last few years.

Many now regard him as a cynical power-grabber without much regard for the people he claims to represent. The Tories have spent the last two years playing Russian roulette with the electorate in the hope of cementing their credibility, and causing utter shambles along the way. Having barely recovered from a referendum result which caused deep divisions and painful rifts within our society, and as Europe watches us scramble for any sort of political legitimacy, who will now head into the talks that will determine our economic and political future? Theresa May has now shoved us off a cliff into political unknowns just when what we actually needed was, ironically enough, some strong and stable leadership.

Any reassurance from Westminster that the lives of ordinary people in this country mattered more than political point-scoring would be welcome. What we’ll get instead, despite the Labour surge, is yet another election, whether that be in two months’ or two years’ time. It feels inspiring and hopeful that we have so many progressive and wonderful MPs back in the Commons. But until we have a government and a plan of how to get ourselves through this, that hope is limited to a symbolic step in the right direction. In the words of one particularly concise campaign poster: strong and stable, my arse.

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It’s going to get terrible no matter what. But for now the EU has no-one to talk to. They’re not going to sit down with May if she may last only a few more weeks.

UK’s Shock Election Result May Hamper Brexit Talks, EU Leaders Warn (G.)

The EU will force a humiliated Theresa May to explain her intentions at a face-to-face meeting in Brussels as senior diplomats and politicians warned that the hung parliament resulting from the UK election was a “disaster” that hugely increases the chance of a breakdown in the Brexit negotiations. The result is likely to delay the point at which Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has someone with whom to negotiate. Sources said a meeting of the European council on 22 June was the deadline by which time the EU27 would want to know the prime minister’s plans. Guenther Oettinger, the German member of the European commission, said: “We need a government that can act. With a weak negotiating partner, there’s the danger than the negotiations will turn out badly for both sides … I expect more more uncertainty now.”

It had been hoped that officials from both sides would have informal talks next week over the logistics of the negotiations, before formal talks began on the week starting 19 June. With the prime minister needing to both seek to form a minority or coalition government, as well as potentially revise her goals for the talks in the light of the election result, the original timetable seems unrealistic to officials in Brussels. The EU had, until now, believed it understood that May wanted to take the UK out of both the single market and the customs union, but in the early hours of Friday morning the Brexit secretary, David Davis, had suggested the election result could prompt a rethink.

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All on red.

The Myth of “Cash on The Sidelines” (Roberts)

[..] despite 8-years of a bull market advance, one of the prevailing myths that seeming will not die is that of “cash on the sidelines.” To wit: “Underpinning gains in both stocks and bonds is $5 trillion of capital that is sitting on the sidelines and serving as a reservoir for buying on weakness. This excess cash acts as a backstop for financial assets, both bonds and equities, because any correction is quickly reversed by investors deploying their excess cash to buy the dip,” Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, the managing director of global market strategy at JPMorgan, wrote in a client note. This is the age old excuse why the current “bull market” rally is set to continue into the indefinite future. The ongoing belief is that at any moment investors are suddenly going to empty bank accounts and pour it into the markets.

However, the reality is if they haven’t done it by now after 3-consecutive rounds of Q.E. in the U.S., a 200% advance in the markets, and ongoing global Q.E., exactly what will that catalyst be? However, Clifford Asness previously wrote: “There are no sidelines. Those saying this seem to envision a seller of stocks moving her money to cash and awaiting a chance to return. But they always ignore that this seller sold to somebody, who presumably moved a precisely equal amount of cash off the sidelines.” Every transaction in the market requires both a buyer and a seller with the only differentiating factor being at what PRICE the transaction occurs. Since this must be the case for there to be equilibrium to the markets there can be no “sidelines.”

Each month, the Investment Company Institute releases information related to the mutual fund industry. Included in this data is the total amount of assets invested in mutual funds, ETFs and money market funds. As a rough measure of investor sentiment, this indicator looks at the total assets invested in equity mutual funds and ETFs, and compares it to the total assets invested in the safety of money market funds. The higher the ratio, the more comfortable investors have become holding stocks; the lower the ratio, the more uncertainty there is in the market. Currently, with the ratio at the highest level on record there is little fear of holding stocks. Negative free cash balances also suggest the same as investors have piled on the highest levels of leverage in market history.

Furthermore, with investors once again “fully invested” in equities, it is not surprising to see cash and bond allocations near historic lows. Cash on the sidelines? Not really. Everyone “all in the boat?” Absolutely. Historical outcomes from such situations? Not Great.

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The No Price Discovery Bubble.

US Household Net Worth Hits Record $95 Trillion… There Is a Catch (ZH)

In the Fed’s latest Flow of Funds report, today the Fed released the latest snapshot of the US “household” sector as of March 31, 2017. What it revealed is that with $110.0 trillion in assets and a modest $15.2 trillion in liabilities, the net worth of the average US household rose to a new all time high of $94.835 trillion, up $2.4 trillion as a result of an estimated $500 billion increase in real estate values, but mostly $1.78 trillion increase in various stock-market linked financial assets like corporate equities, mutual and pension funds, as the stock market continued to soar to all time highs . At the same time, household borrowing rose by only $36 billion from $15.1 trillion to $15.2 trillion, the bulk of which was $9.8 trillion in home mortgages.

And the historical change of the US household balance sheet.

And while it would be great news if wealth across America had indeed risen as much as the chart above shows, the reality is that there is a big catch: as shown previously, virtually all of the net worth, and associated increase thereof, has only benefited a handful of the wealthiest Americans. As a reminder, from the CBO’s latest Trends in Family Wealth analysis, here is a breakdown of the above chart by wealth group, which sadly shows how the “average” American wealth is anything but.

While the breakdown has not caught up with the latest data, it provides an indicative snapshot of who benefits. Here is how the CBO recently explained the wealth is distributed: In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90thpercentiles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt In other words, roughly three-quarter of the $2.4 trillion increase in assets went to benefit just 10% of the population, who also account for roughly 76% of America’s financial net worth,

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Trump and Congress had better go out and do something.

Opioid Overdoses The Leading Killer Of American Adults Under 50 (ZH)

The opioid crisis that is ravaging urban and suburban communities across the US claimed an unprecedented 59,000 lives last year, according to preliminary data gathered by the New York Times. If accurate, that’s equivalent to a roughly 19% increase over the approximately 52,000 overdose deaths recorded in 2015, the NYT reported last year. Overdoses, made increasingly common by the introduction of fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids into the heroin supply, are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. And all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017. One coroner in Western Pennsylvania told a local newspaper that his office is literally running out of room to store the bodies, and that it was recently forced to buy a larger freezer. The initial data points to large increases in these types of deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine.

In Ohio, which filed a lawsuit last week accusing five drug companies of abetting the opioid epidemic, the Times estimated that overdose deaths increased by more than 25% in 2016. In some Ohio counties, deaths from heroin have virtually disappeared. Instead, the primary culprit is fentanyl or one of its many analogues. In Montgomery County, home to Dayton, of the 100 drug overdose deaths recorded in January and February, only three people tested positive for heroin; 97 tested positive for fentanyl or another analogue. In some states in the western half of the US, data suggest deaths may have leveled off for the time being – or even begun to decline. Experts believe that the heroin supply west of the Mississippi River, traditionally dominated by a variant of the drug known as black tar which is smuggled over the border from Mexico, isn’t as easily adulterated with lethal analogues as the powder that’s common on the East Coast.

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Fake News.

Trump’s $110 Billion Arms Deal With Saudis Mostly Speculative (RT)

That $110 billion arms deal President Donald Trump signed with Saudi Arabia isn’t much of a deal at all, according to reports which found the majority of the agreement was based on memos, rather than contracts. On May 20, Trump negotiated an arms deal with Riyadh. The State Department said it was worth nearly $110 billion to support “the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian related threat.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hailed it the “largest single arms deal in US history.” The State Department then released a general list of the weapons that were included in the deal. However, many experts have said that most of the arms sales had not been cleared by the State Department, Congress or even the industries themselves.

On Thursday, Defense News released a more detailed list of the weapons included in the deal, according to documents they obtained from the White House. The ‘deal’ lists $84.8 billion under memos of intent (MOI) “to be offered at visit,” and $12.5 billion under letters of agreement (LOA), rather than contracts. NPR also obtained a list of commercial deals from a White House spokeswoman and found that it added up to $267 billion, but said most of the deals were listed as “memoranda of understanding” (MOU). “There is no $110 billion deal,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel wrote in blog post Monday. “Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts,” Riedel said. “Even then the numbers don’t add up. It’s fake news.”

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So what did they do to prove that?

Defense Minister Kammenos Says US Is Greece’s Best International Ally (K.)

Washington is Greece’s only true international ally, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos insisted on Thursday, and accused the country’s European partners of showing a lack of respect. “The Greek people are well aware that the United States has been the country’s only genuine ally,” Kammenos said. “The others are allies, but they are [allies] only in the form of creditors, without [any sense of] respect and this is because some of them will never forget that they lost World War II to this country,” Kammenos, who is also leader of junior coalition partner Independent Greeks, added during a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the US Office of Defense Cooperation in Athens yesterday. “For this reason, we welcome US support at this very difficult moment for our country,” said Kammenos, who also called for the strengthening of the Hellenic Navy with US help so “that it can operate from Crete to the Suez.”

Bolstering the navy and the country’s military aviation capabilities are necessary, he said, to intercept the flow of drugs, weapons and fuel through which terrorism is funded. He also said that Greece is positively inclined to extend the time frame of the defense agreement between the two countries, adding that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his government are working in that direction. He also referred to the latest developments in the Gulf states and stressed that he supports describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Aiming his fire at Turkey, he said that each country must choose “whose side they want to be on.” It is certain, he said, that “Greece will be on the side of the US.” For his part, US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt praised relations between Athens and Washington, adding that as Greece’s economy stabilizes, it will become even more active in its role as a bridge between countries of the region.

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Nobody cares unless you hold their feet to the fire.

European Court Of Justice: Refugee Crisis Trumps Dublin Regulation (K.)

Any countries in the European Union receiving asylum requests from refugees have an obligation to process them irrespective of where the applicants first entered into the bloc, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice said on Thursday. Eleanor Sharpston said in a non-binding opinion that under the “exceptional circumstances” of the refugee crisis, member states should not be bound by the Dublin Regulation’s requirement that first-entry states handle all asylum applications, even after a refugee or migrant has moved on to a different country. “The words ‘irregular crossing’ in the Dublin III Regulation do not cover a situation where, as a result of the mass inflow of people into border member states, those countries allowed third-country nationals to enter and transit through their territory in order to reach other member states,” she wrote.

Sharpston referred to the case of a Syrian national who traveled to Slovenia via Croatia and that of an Afghan family that entered Europe in Greece and then made its way to Austria. Slovenia and Austria should be responsible for examining their asylum applications, she said. “If border member states… are deemed to be responsible for accepting and processing exceptionally high numbers of asylum seekers, there is a real risk that they will simply be unable to cope with the situation,” Sharpston wrote. “This in turn could place member states in a position where they are unable to comply with their obligations under EU and international law,” she added.

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The last thing Greece has left is rumored to be on the way out.

The Shield of Law and Humanism (K.)

It is difficult to believe that after Greece’s judiciary offered protection to eight members of the Turkish military, rejecting Ankara’s request for their extradition, the government would agree to the illegal, secret and inhuman expulsion of people who requested asylum here. Yet unease grows. On Wednesday the government spokesman stated, “The Greek government does not engage in pushbacks.” Let us hope that is so. The Hellenic League for Human Rights cites two instances where groups of Turkish citizens who requested asylum in Greece appear to have been handed over illegally to Turkish authorities. The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, have expressed concern at the possibility.

There is also the strange story of three Turkish military men who where arrested in Edirne last month, accused of being part of a group that intended to kidnap President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the failed coup last July. Turkish media said the men were arrested while on their way to Greece; some Greek lawyers, however, claim that the three had crossed into Greece when they disappeared, only to turn up in Turkish custody. The Citizens’ Protection Ministry in Greece scoffed that the claims were “fairy tales.” The case of the eight servicemen who arrived in Alexandroupoli in a helicopter the day after the coup attempt shows how difficult it is for any country to withstand Ankara’s pressure. It is understandable that no government would like to open a new front with a neighbor who can cause problems at will. But it is of paramount importance that Greece withstand such pressures.

In the past few years, among our country’s very few victories were the welcome provided to refugees and the institutional way in which it dealt with the “Eight.” Our great wound, though, is the lack of strategy, of method, of goals – of follow-up. On the refugee issue, government incompetence undermined the initial, heroic efforts of citizens. In the case of Turkish asylum seekers, the difficulties of handling the case of the Eight should not lead to cynicism, to injustice, to the violation of international conventions. Greece has a responsibility toward its own people and toward the Turkish people, to serve the principles of humanism, to abide by the law. Strenuous defense of these principles is part of the identity we aspire to but also our shield. And it is the best thing that we can offer our neighbors – the hope that there is something better than that which they are now enduring.

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Dec 282016
 
 December 28, 2016  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 28 2016
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Albert Kahn Paris, Autochrome Lumière color photo 1914

Turkey and Russia Agree on Syria Ceasefire, Into Effect by Midnight (R.)
Erdogan Says He Has Evidence US-Led Coalition Has Given Support To ISIS (Ind.)
Turkey Says Saudis, Qatar Should Attend Syria Peace Talks (AP)
‘US Raised Middle East Terrorists & Wants Them To Stay’ – Iran Def Min (RT)
Toshiba Shares Fall 20%, Hit Limit, As US Nuclear Writedown Sinks In (AFP)
China To Rein In Outward Investment As Domestic Growth Stalls (G.)
Chinese Interbank Funding Freezes Again As Overnight Repo Hits 33% (ZH)
No Happy New Year in China as Currency, Liquidity Fears Loom (BBG)
Greek Taxpayers Face €4 Billion Tax Bill By New Year’s Eve (Xinhua)
Clash Over New Government Sends Romania Spiraling Toward Crisis (BBG)
Inequality and Skin in the Game (Taleb)
The New Normal ‘Safety Net’: Surging Disability Benefits Claims (ZH)
The Battle Against The ‘Superbugs’: Transplants, Chemotherapy At Risk (CNBC)

 

 

Obama’s PR fiasco widens.

Turkey and Russia Agree on Syria Ceasefire, Into Effect by Midnight (R.)

Turkey and Russia have agreed on a proposal toward a general ceasefire in Syria, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said on Wednesday, and will aim to put it into effect by midnight. Anadolu, citing sources, said the two countries have reached a consensus that will be presented to participants in the conflict on expanding the ceasefire that was established in Aleppo earlier this month. Russia, Iran and Turkey said last week they were ready to help broker a peace deal after holding talks in Moscow where they adopted a declaration setting out the principles any agreement should adhere to. Arrangements for the talks, which would not include the United States and be distinct from separate intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations, remain hazy, but Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan, a close ally. Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday said the Syrian government was consulting with the opposition ahead of possible peace talks, while a Saudi-backed opposition group said it knew nothing of the negotiations but supported a ceasefire.

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Accuse the accuser.

Erdogan Says He Has Evidence US-Led Coalition Has Given Support To ISIS (Ind.)

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he has uncovered evidence that US-led coalition forces have helped support terrorists in Syria – including Isis. American-led forces have been working alongside Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad but have attempted to avoid helping Isis and other Islamist militant groups. However, speaking on Tuesday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, he said he believed they had given support to a variety of militant groups, including Isis Kurdish outfits YPG and PYD. “They were accusing us of supporting Daesh [Islamic State],” he told a press conference, according to Reuters. “Now they give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD. It’s very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.”

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So Turkey is accused of aiding ISIS, now accuses the US of doing just that, and wants known ISIS backers to join peace talks. Enter Putin stage left.

Turkey Says Saudis, Qatar Should Attend Syria Peace Talks (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Saudi Arabia and Qatar should join its meeting with Russia and Iran to discuss Syrian peace efforts. Russia, Turkey and Iran, which helped broker the withdrawal of civilians and militants from the Syrian city of Aleppo, have agreed to hold talks on Syria in Kazakhstan next month. Erdogan said Tuesday the meeting of foreign ministers should include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying they had “shown goodwill and given support” to Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the main backers of rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is closely allied with Moscow and Tehran. Erdogan added, however, that Turkey would not take part if any “terror organizations” are also invited, referring to Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

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All the US has ever bet on is chaos.

‘US Raised Middle East Terrorists & Wants Them To Stay’ – Iran Def Min (RT)

Washington appears unready to play a serious role in fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), as it has fostered terrorists itself and now wants them to remain in the Middle East, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told RT. “The Western coalition is of a formal nature, they have no real intention to fight neither in Syria nor in Iraq. We don’t see any readiness on their part to play a truly useful and meaningful role in fighting IS, because it’s them who have raised terrorists and they are interested in keeping them there,” Dehghan said. According to the Iranian defense minister, Tehran has never coordinated its operations with the Americans and “will never collaborate with them.”

“Maybe the coalition forces would like to see terrorists weakened, but certainly not destroyed, because those terrorists are their tool for destabilizing this region and some other parts of the world.” He also mentioned Al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and said that terrorists in Syria receive support from the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He also accused Turkey of supporting terrorists on the ground. “If Iran, Russia and Syria were to reach an agreement with Turkey to end Turkish support for those terrorist groups, particularly IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and start fighting them, then I think we would see the situation in Syria improve,” he added. According to the minister, any ceasefire in Syria demands guarantees and all parties should agree to fulfill the conditions for a truce.

“We shouldn’t let Islamic State or Al-Nusra groups take part in the ceasefire. All other groups should start a political process and negotiations with the Syrian government.” He added that after the truce comes into force, it is important to separate terrorists and opposition groups ready to negotiate with the Syrian government. All sides should fight IS and Al-Nusra Front, Dehghan stated, adding that everyone should stop supporting terrorists in political, financial and military areas.

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That’s a big company to have this happen to.

Toshiba Shares Fall 20%, Hit Limit, As US Nuclear Writedown Sinks In (AFP)

Toshiba shares dived more than 20% on Wednesday in their second straight double-digit plunge as the company said it may book a one-time loss of several billion dollars over its US nuclear business. Toshiba’s stock price dropped by 20.42% to 311.60 yen, the largest fall allowed for a single day, about 30 minutes after the opening bell, as the company failed to remove investor worries over the potential risk. On Tuesday the Tokyo-based conglomerate said costs linked to the acquisition in 2015 by its US subsidiary of a nuclear service company would possibly come to “several billion US dollars, resulting in a negative impact on Toshiba’s financial results”. The exact figure of the potential writedown was still being worked out, Toshiba president Satoshi Tsunakawa said after the announcement, apologising for “causing concern”.

The company statement suggested the figure would be released soon, citing an end-of-year deadline. Toshiba shares had closed nearly 12% lower on Tuesday on media reports about the potential loss. Analysts said uncertainty was fuelling investor anxiety. “Concerns have yet to be cleared away as they said they didn’t know the figure,” Yukihiko Shimada, senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities, told AFP. SMBC Nikko credit analysts Yutaka Ban and Kentaro Harada said in a report that investors “can’t be optimistic about the situation” even though the total writedown may not end up as big as the 500 billion yen (US$4.3bn) reported by local media. Nomura Securities analyst Masaya Yamasaki said in a report issued late on Tuesday that the expected loss “is negative for the company as its financial standing is fragile”.

Tsunakawa answered in the affirmative when asked if Toshiba was considering boosting capital. Its chief financial officer, Masayoshi Hirata, said that after the figure was confirmed the company would “explain and seek support” from financial institutions. Toshiba said the possible loss was related to the valuation of the purchase by subsidiary Westinghouse Electric of the nuclear construction and services business of Chicago Bridge and Iron.

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Something’s not right.

China To Rein In Outward Investment As Domestic Growth Stalls (G.)

Beijing has signalled plans to curb Chinese firms’ investment in foreign assets, after revealing that companies from China are on course to spend 1.12 trillion yuan (£130bn) on everything from British football clubs to a Hollywood film producer in 2016. Companies from China ramped up their spending on overseas assets during the year, as a weakening domestic economy saw investors turn their attention overseas. A diverse array of targets included the maker of Godzilla, Aston Villa Football Club and the pub in which former prime minister David Cameron and Chinese premier Xi Jinping once shared a pint. The spending spree boosted non-financial overseas investment 55% in the first 11 months of 2016, putting Chinese companies on course to spend £130bn this year, compared with £86bn in 2015, said commerce minister Gao Hucheng.

While foreign investment has soared, the amount of money flowing into the country is set to remain broadly flat at £92bn. This means the difference between investments abroad and those coming into China has reached an unprecedented £39bn. The widening gap has triggered concerns about capital flight, where investors send their money out of the country rather than investing it to spur domestic growth. Gao signalled that Beijing would move to address the investment gap by reining in Chinese firms’ overseas spending and making it easier for firms from abroad to access the Chinese economy.

He said the government would “promote the healthy and orderly development of outbound investment and cooperation in 2017”, in remarks at a conference that were published on the commerce ministry’s website. In November it was reported that China was preparing a clampdown on non-Chinese mergers and acquisitions. Separately, the ministry said on its blog that China would sharply reduce restrictions on foreign investment access in 2017 to make it easier for overseas firms to spend their cash in the People’s Republic. No details were given on what restrictions would be changed.

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Even worse than in other years, and there’s a reason for that.

Chinese Interbank Funding Freezes Again As Overnight Repo Hits 33% (ZH)

… when it comes to more traditional unsecured short-term funding markets, like the simple overnight repo, these reflect overall levels of liquidity in the interbank market, or as the case may be, complete absence thereof. And while China is notorious for suffering major liquidity shortages heading into a new year (including the non-lunar variety), what happened overnight in China is worth pointing out because according to Bloomberg data, the overnight repo rate traded on Shanghai Stock Exchange soared as much as 30.87% to 33%, the highest since September 29, before closing at 18.55%.

And while some of the liquidity squeeze was certainly calendar driven, what is more concerning for Chinese markets, where as we reported recently the local authorities, regulators and even press are confirming that the government crackdown on the credit and housing bubble may be serious for once due to fears about “rising social tensions”, much of the overnight repo rate spike was driven by the PBOC which pulled a net 150 billion yuan of funds in open-market operations today, the most since December 7. The result was another brief, but painful, freeze of the interbank lending market. Should the PBOC continue to not only not inject liquidity among banks, but aggressively withdraw it, it is possible that a repeat of the 2013 bank crisis when as a result of the government’s eagerness to delever the economy it almost crushed its financial sector (it ultimately gave up, with Chinese debt/GDP subsequently rising to 300% according to the IIF), should be one of the more notable risk factors for 2017.

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How can Beijing NOT devalue?

No Happy New Year in China as Currency, Liquidity Fears Loom (BBG)

China bulls could be facing a grim New Year’s eve. The first day of 2017 is when an annual $50,000 quota to convert the yuan into foreign exchange resets, stoking concern there will be a rush to sell the local currency. With tax payments and a regulatory assessment also tightening liquidity in the money market toward year-end, January may bring scant relief as lenders prepare for stronger cash demand before Lunar New Year holidays, which are only a month away. China’s markets are seeing renewed pressure this month as the Federal Reserve projects a faster pace of rate increases for 2017 and its Chinese counterpart tightens monetary conditions to spur deleveraging and defend the exchange rate. The declines are capping off a tough year for investors during which bonds, shares and currency all slumped.

“You have Chinese New Year quite early, and because of that one-month window, most of the banks will try to lock the money in a three-month cycle,” said Arthur Lau, Hong Kong-based head of Asia ex-Japan fixed income at PineBridge Investments. “The current situation in the bond market is partly because of year-end and because of Chinese New Year.” The week-long Lunar New Year holidays are traditionally a time when people give out cash gifts and companies pay employee bonuses. China’s 10-year government bond yield has surged 21 basis points in December, poised for its biggest monthly increase since August 2013, and its first annual gain since that same year. The yuan’s 6.6% decline in 2016 puts it on course for its worst year since 1994, while the Shanghai Composite Index is headed for its largest drop in five years.

The three-month interbank rate known as Shibor rose for a 50th day, its longest streak since 2010, to an 18-month high on Wednesday. The overnight repurchase rate on the Shanghai Stock Exchange jumped to as high as 33% the day before, the highest since Sept. 29. As banks become more reluctant to offer cash to other types of institutions, the latter have to turn to the exchange for money, said Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities in Shanghai. Bond and money markets may stabilize after Lunar New Year holidays – which start Jan. 27 and end Feb. 2 – though they’re unlikely to return to levels before the latest rout owing to yuan weakness and tighter monetary policy, said Lau. The People Bank of China’s yuan position – a gauge of capital flows – dropped the most in 10 months in November amid expectations for faster U.S. rate increases.

The onshore yuan’s surging trading volume suggests outflows are quickening, according to Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at RBS. The daily average value of transactions in Shanghai climbed to $34 billion in December as of Monday, the highest since at least April 2014, according to data from China Foreign Exchange Trade System. “In the new year, the new foreign-exchange purchase quota starts, so we expect yuan positions in January to drop significantly,” Liu Dongliang at China Merchants Bank wrote in a note this month. “Within the foreseeable future, the market will be pessimistic about funding conditions. It happens to be near year-end now, where money markets are tight, and after New Year’s Day it’s almost Chinese New Year.”

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“Happy New Year with fewer taxes!”

Greek Taxpayers Face €4 Billion Tax Bill By New Year’s Eve (Xinhua)

Greek taxpayers are obliged to pay some €4 billion in taxes by New Year Eve, as outstanding debts to the state have soared to more than €94 billion by November, according to Finance Ministry data. However, some recession-hit taxpayers seem unable to pay the full taxes within deadlines and apply for settlements to pay their debts in more installments. To collect as much as possible to reach bailout targets, the Greek state has launched confiscation procedures for debtors. According to official data, in the first 10 months of 2016, the procedures had been applied onto 108,729 debtors. And another 1.6 million debtors are facing confiscation in early 2017 should they do not immediately settle their debts to the Tax office.

However, some debtors complained about the levies, saying they can not afford any more as they have been struggling to make ends meet amid seven-year austerity. Many financial analysts also warned that Greek society has reached a breaking point due to over-taxation combined with salary, pension cuts and high unemployment rates. Despite the levies, the country’s tax evasion still exists. According to a recent study conducted by the independent Greek research organization diaNEOsis, tax evasion in Greece is estimated range between 6% and 9% of the country’s GDP, which means a loss of some €16 billion in taxes a year. Experts as well as ordinary citizens urge the government to do more to address widespread tax evasion instead of adding more burdens on those who are trying to pay their share.

While mentioning the tax obligations due by Friday, the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ESEE), which represents small and medium-sized companies in Greece, wishes in an e-mailed card to its members on Tuesday “Happy New Year with fewer taxes!”

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is this just a stunt to get rid of the president, proposing a female Muslim for PM?

Clash Over New Government Sends Romania Spiraling Toward Crisis (BBG)

Romania tumbled toward a new political crisis after President Klaus Iohannis rejected a prime minister nominee from the Social Democratic Party, which threatened to suspend him after winning a landslide election victory this month. Iohannis called on the party to pick someone else to lead a government after Sevil Shhaideh, a former development minister with little previous political influence, was picked by Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea last week. Dragnea, who can’t take the post himself because he was previously convicted of rigging a referendum, called the decision unjustified. He said he’ll consider his options, including potentially starting the procedure to suspend Iohannis, and will announce a decision by Dec. 29.

“It seems the president clearly wants to be suspended,” Dragnea said in a speech in Bucharest on Tuesday. “We’ll weigh our options very carefully, because we don’t want to take emotional decisions. We don’t want to trigger a political crisis for nothing, but if we come to the conclusion that the president must be suspended, I won’t hesitate.” The standoff in the European Union’s second-poorest country raises the risk of returning to the type of crisis that led to months of bickering between top leaders and culminated in Traian Basescu’s suspension from the presidency in 2012. It may also undermine one of the fastest paces of growth in the EU by delaying investment and the tapping of development funds, an area where Romania has ranked last in the 28-member club.

Iohannis has the constitutional right to reject any premier candidate that he doesn’t consider fit for the job. He didn’t give a reason for his decision. The choice of Shhaideh, a member of the mainly Orthodox country’s tiny Muslim minority, had fueled speculation that Dragnea may try to run the government himself from the sidelines.

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“..the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that [..] there is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.

Inequality and Skin in the Game (Taleb)

There is inequality and inequality. The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one’s understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a “fan”. You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don’t resent them.

The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted –and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don’t just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.

There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave. The author Joan Williams, in an insightful article, explains that the working class is impressed by the rich, as role models. Michèle Lamont, the author of The Dignity of Working Men, whom she cites, did a systematic interview of blue collar Americans and found present a resentment of professionals but, unexpectedly, not of the rich. It is safe to accept that the American public –actually all public –despise people who make a lot of money on a salary, or, rather, salarymen who make a lot of money. This is indeed generalized to other countries: a few years ago the Swiss, of all people almost voted a law capping salaries of managers . But the same Swiss hold rich entrepreneurs, and people who have derived their celebrity by other means, in some respect.

In this chapter I will propose that effectively what people resent –or should resent –is the person at the top who has no skin in the game, that is, because he doesn’t bear his allotted risk, is immune to the possibility of falling from his pedestal, exiting the income or wealth bracket, and getting to the soup kitchen. Again, on that account, the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that, by advertising his episode of bankruptcy and his personal losses of close to a billion dollars, they removed the resentment (the second type of inequality) one may have towards him. There is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money.

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Many countries use these ‘outlets’, pushing people into programs not intended for them.

The New Normal ‘Safety Net’: Surging Disability Benefits Claims (ZH)

If you’ve paid into Social Security, become injured or sick, and can no longer earn more than $1,130 a month, you can get a monthly subsidy from the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. As Bloomberg notes, in 1990 fewer than 2.5% of working-age Americans were “on the check;” by 2015 the number stood at 5.2%, with geographical “disability belts” appearing across America. That growth has left the fund in periodic need of rescues by Congress – most recently in 2015, when the Bipartisan Budget Act shifted money from Social Security’s old-age survivors’ fund to extend the solvency of the disability fund to 2023. Something changed in 2000…

“None of us should be surprised that the cost of the program was rising,” says Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary. He says the program’s growth is mostly a consequence of demographic change. Older workers are more likely to get sick, and as women have entered the workforce, they too have become eligible for benefits.”

In 1956, when the disability insurance fund was created, qualification was based on a list of accepted medical conditions. In 1984, Congress broadened the criteria, giving more weight to chronic pain and mental disorders. The qualification process also became more subjective. Now, rather than check diagnostic conditions against a list, the process determines whether applicants are able to perform work that’s available. It’s not as if you go to the doctor, the doctor says, “I’m sorry, son, you’ve got disability, Autor says. “It’s a social construct, because it’s about whether you can work.”

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I’m prety sure it’s worse than this: “..more than 70% of the antibiotics considered medically important for human health sold in the U.S. are actually used in livestock.”

But also: “..half of antibiotic use in humans is unnecessary.”

The Battle Against The ‘Superbugs’: Transplants, Chemotherapy At Risk (CNBC)

Headlines about antibiotic resistance – the increase in so-called “superbugs” – have been persistent in 2016. The issue of infection-causing bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs used to fight them poses a pressing risk to public health worldwide, and according to a 2014 report from the World Health Organization, “threatens the achievements of modern medicine.” The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the U.K. government, estimated that “by 2050, 10 million lives a year and a cumulative $100 trillion of economic output are at risk due to the rise of drug resistant infections.” For perspective, cancer currently kills 8.2 million people annually. In September of this year, the United Nations agreed on a declaration to fight antibiotic resistance.

This was only the fourth time in the organisation’s 71-year history that a health issue has been treated with such gravity, putting antibiotic resistance on par with HIV and ebola. “It’s hard to be too dramatic,” Prof. Michael Gardam, associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, told CNBC via telephone. Echoing this severity, Prof. Toby Jenkins, a biophysical chemist at the University of Bath, said that “a Doomsday scenario is that transplant surgery will be impossible, chemotherapy likewise.” “Even a dental abscess could become deadly, or at least very painful,” he added. The overprescription of antibiotics is one cause of the problem, with Gardam saying that it is “becoming the norm to use last line drugs” in treating bacterial infections, and that “just in case” prescriptions should be handled with care. The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half of antibiotic use in humans is unnecessary.

But, other contributing factors well integrated into daily life are also to blame. Gardam also criticized antibacterial soap and toothpaste, particularly prevalent in North America. Deeming such products unnecessary, Gardam warned that “your mouth is not meant to be a sterile zone.” He also stressed the importance of “not messing around with the natural flora of the body,” as such consumer products are wont to do. The food industry also plays a significant part in the antibiotic resistance dilemma, with healthy food-producing animals fed drugs to both prevent disease and promote growth. According to 2012 data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and research firm IMS Health, more than 70% of the antibiotics considered medically important for human health sold in the U.S. are actually used in livestock.

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Mar 082016
 
 March 8, 2016  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC Communist Party Young Communist League, Washington, DC 1925

China Exports Crash 25.4%, Imports Down 13.8% (ZH)
Conflicting China Policy Objectives Put Reform at Risk (Moody’s)
Despite Slowdown, China’s Oil Imports Surge (WSJ)
China’s Velocity Of Money Is Now The Lowest In The Entire World (ZH)
Central Banks Are Fixing To Ambush The Casino (David Stockman)
Brussels Seeks Further Reform To Seal Greek Bailout (FT)
Greece Clears Bailout Hurdle With Debt Relief Pledge (AFP)
ECB Solutions Create More Problems (CNBC)
Ontario Plans To Trial Universal Basic Income (Ind.)
Canada Prepares To Fight Inequality (BBG)
Mistakes Were Made (Jim Kunstler)
Germany Once Again Finds Itself In An Age Of Dislocation (MW)
Merkel Ally Fuchs: Syria, Libya Key To Solving Refugee Crisis (CNBC)
Turkey Makes Last-Minute Demands Over Refugees (FT)
EU And Turkey Close In On Refugee Deal (BBC)
EU Defies International Law To Push Back Refugees To Turkey (Mason)
Europe Must Share Refugee Burden With Turkey, Says UNHCR Chief (Reuters)
EU Making ‘Big Mistake’ in Turkey Deal, Kurdish Leader Warns (BBG)
Crisis-Hit Greeks Put Own Woes Aside To Help Refugees (AFP)

Yeah, the New Year break has an impact, but even on an annual basis exports fell 13.1%.

China Exports Crash 25.4%, Imports Down 13.8% (ZH)

Worse than expected is an understatement. Things are not getting better in China as Exports crashed 25.4% YoY (the 3rd largest drop in history), almost double the 14.5% expectation and Imports tumbled 13.8%, the 16th month of YoY decline – the longest ever. Altogether this sent the trade surplus down to $32.6bn (missing expectations of $51bn) to 11-month lows.

 

 

So much for that whole "devalue yourself to export growth" idea…

 

As Bloomberg notes,

China’s exports in yuan terms fell 20.6% year on year in February, down from a 6.6% drop in January, and missing expectations of an 11.3% fall. Imports were down 8.0%, an improvement from January’s 14.4% drop. The trade surplus came in at 209.5 billion yuan ($32 billion), down from 406.2 billion yuan.

The Chinese New Year holiday, which fell at the start of February in 2016 and in the middle of February in 2015, distorts the data in unpredictable ways. Holiday effects mean the outsize drop in February exports overstates the weakness in China’s factory sector. Even so, looking at a year-to-date figure for the first two months of the year, the picture is only slightly less gloomy. In the year through February, exports are down 13.1%.

The policy response has already been announced. The National People’s Congress set a target for 13% growth in money supply in 2016, up from 12% in 2015, and a 3% of GDP fiscal deficit, up from 2.3%. In other words: more lending and more public spending to provide a boost to demand. In the short term, that shores up confidence in the growth outlook. Medium term, of course, there is a price to be paid.

Stocks are mounting a modest rebound on this terrible data (moar stimulus hopes) but after $1 trillion of new credit in 2 months, is there seriously anyone left who thinks moar will help?

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“The depreciation of the RMB can therefore only be avoided by stepping back from the commitment to a more open capital account..”

Conflicting China Policy Objectives Put Reform at Risk (Moody’s)

Moody’s Investors Service says that China’s (Aa3, negative) policy makers appear to have set themselves three main policy objectives: maintaining reasonably high rates of GDP growth, reforming and rebalancing the economy, and ensuring financial and economic — and thereby social — stability. The Government Work Report delivered to the National People’s Congress on 5 March made explicit reference to each of these policy objectives. “However, against the backdrop of China’s slower economic growth, capital outflows and rising corporate stress, it will be increasingly difficult for these policy objectives to be achieved in unison,” says Michael Taylor, a Moody’s Managing Director and Chief Credit Officer for Asia Pacific.

“With the government having now given a strong commitment to a growth target of between 6.5%-7.0%, it seems unavoidable that one of the other policy objectives will assume lesser priority. The most likely near-term casualty is reform momentum.” “We believe that achieving even the lower end of the growth target for 2016 is likely to require further substantial monetary and fiscal stimulus, as evidenced by the 50-basis-point cut to the required reserve ratio in February and the government’s announcement of a 3% fiscal deficit for this year”, adds Taylor. “This level of policy support is likely to frustrate the government’s ability to achieve at least one of its other objectives.” Moody’s analysis is contained in its just-released report titled “China Credit: Conflicts Between Policy Objectives Raise Risk That Momentum on Reform Will Slow”.

Moody’s report points out that it will be difficult even to implement two of the three objectives at any one time. If the authorities choose to prioritize reform while trying to maintain a growth target of in excess of 6.5%, the consequence will be to sacrifice some degree of financial stability, and accept a larger level of RMB depreciation, more widespread defaults, and perhaps even some failures in the banking system. Alternatively, a combination of growth and stability is also achievable, at least for some time, but such a strategy will leave unaddressed the deep imbalances in China’s economy, such as elevated system leverage and excess capacity. The risk is that the support necessary to achieve 6.5% growth instead postpones the restructuring of the SOE sector by creating artificially favorable demand and maintaining accommodative financing conditions for loss-making, as well as viable SOEs.

In addition, the implementation of the accommodative monetary policy needed to support growth would lead to further downward pressure on the RMB and would likely delay much-needed deleveraging. The depreciation of the RMB can therefore only be avoided by stepping back from the commitment to a more open capital account, thereby substantially slowing the pace at which this and related reforms, such as more market-based credit allocation, would be enacted.

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Where would imports numbers be without this?

Despite Slowdown, China’s Oil Imports Surge (WSJ)

China imported 31.80 million metric tons of crude oil in February, equivalent to 8.0 million barrels a day, preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs showed Tuesday. Imports were 24.5% higher than the 25.55 million tons of crude shipped in during the month a year earlier and was up about 19% from 26.69 million tons in January. BMI Research analyst Peter Lee said the rise was likely due to robust crude imports in the beginning of February by local refineries in preparation for expected higher demand during the Lunar New Year holiday. Despite its economic slowdown, China remains a strong importer of crude, driven by the rise of independent refineries. Government efforts to fill the strategic petroleum reserves are also pushing China to import more foreign crude as domestic production is likely to slide by 1.5% this year, according to research firm ICIS.

According to the Chinese government’s forecast, the country’s reliance on foreign crude will likely rise to 62% this year. However, many analysts have said that as China moves to a more consumption and services-oriented economy, China’s oil demand will likely continue on a downtrend. Investment firm CLSA estimates that China’s crude imports will rise about 6% this year, lower than the 8.8% growth in the previous year when China shipped in a total of 336 million tons. The firm also expects the country’s oil demand to reach 2.5% this year. “A low single-digit growth might be the new norm for China’s oil demand,” said Nelson Wang, a CLSA China energy analyst. Refined oil product imports totaled 2.64 million tons, while exports totaled 2.99 million tons, the data showed.

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Here comes deflation.

China’s Velocity Of Money Is Now The Lowest In The Entire World (ZH)

[..] here, courtesy of Macquarie’s Viktor Shvets, is the best encapsulation of the predicament the world finds itself in. From volume 52 of “What Caught My Eye”

Rising leverage levels (whilst positive initially) eventually turn to “poison”, as incremental benefit diminishes and in order to maintain growth rates, economies require an ever increasing infusion of credit and ever declining cost of capital.

Although not perfect there is a well-defined relationship between the overall level of debt and velocity of money. Each economy is different (both in term of structure and efficiency) and therefore the degree of tolerance to rising debt levels and associated volatility also differs; nevertheless, as a generalization, the higher debt levels and the faster pace of debt accumulation tends to coincide with lower (and declining) velocity of money.

Then, after showing the declining velocity of money in all developed markets as leverage exploded higher, Shvets focuses on China:

The massive rise in China’s financial leverage is in a class of its own. As China embarked on a highly capital intensive growth strategy, its debt levels accelerated, driving velocity of money down. As can be seen below, China’s estimated debt burden has increased from US$1.5 trillion in 2000 to US$5.8 trillion in 2007 and exploded to over US$28 trillion by 2014 (and should have reached US$30-31 trillion in 2015).

The punchline: China’s velocity of money is now the lowest in the entire world, a world in which China provided 40% of the entire credit impulse since 2008!

In the last seven years, China has accounted for around ~40% of entire global incremental debt creation. Such a rapid accumulation of debt in less than a decade, when combined with the capital-intensive nature of the economy and a less sophisticated financial sector, drove China’s velocity of money to one of the lowest levels globally (~0.5x, i.e. below that of Japan).

 

And while we agree with the BIS and all those others who suddenly had an epiphany and confirmed what we have been saying for years about China’s debt load, the question remains: just who will propel the global debt-creation growth dynamo if China is taken out of the picture, and if 25% of the world is covered in debt-demand destroying NIRP?

We hope to get some answers just as soon as the massive short squeeze acorss global markets, the biggest in history, is over.

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“Markets are therefore unhinged from any connection to fundamental economic and financial reality, meaning that they are capable of an extended period of spasmodic deadcat bounces that will have only one end result.”

Central Banks Are Fixing To Ambush The Casino (David Stockman)

The casino is incorrigible. After a monumental short squeeze that has lifted the averages right into the jaws of danger, Goldman Sachs has the temerity to print the following: “Our model suggests SPX calls are more attractive than at any time over the past 20 years”. There must have been a mullets’ breeding frenzy awhile back because it’s hard to fathom how Goldman has any real customers left. Then again, its current preposterous call is just indicative of the horrible threat heading menacingly toward what remains of main street’s 401k investments. To wit, the Fed and other central banks have thoroughly falsified financial market prices and destroyed all of the ordinary mechanisms of financial discipline. Foremost among these are short sellers and a meaningfully positive cost of carry trades.

Markets are therefore unhinged from any connection to fundamental economic and financial reality, meaning that they are capable of an extended period of spasmodic deadcat bounces that will have only one end result. Namely, the naïve and desperate among main street investors who still, unaccountably, frequent the casino will presently be taken out back and shot yet another time. The market technicians are pleased to call this “distribution”. Would that someone on Wall Street man-up and amend the phrase to read ”distribution…….of losses to the mullets” and be done with the charade. The S&P 500 is heading through 1300 from above long before it ever again penetrates from below its old May 2015 high of 2130. And now that 97% of Q4 results are in, there is a single number that proves the case.

Reported LTM profits as of year-end 2015 stood at just $86.46 per S&P 500 share. That particular number is a flat-out bull killer. At a plausible PE multiple of 15X, it does indeed imply 1300 on the S&P 500 index. It also represents an 18% decline from peak S&P 500 reported earnings of $106 per share back in September 2014. And more importantly, it means that the robo-machines and hedge fund gamblers have traded the market back up to 23.1X earnings. That’s off the charts…….except for when recession has already arrived unannounced by the hockey stick factories of Wall Street. But here’s the thing with respect to the scarlet 23.1X numerals now painted on the casino’s front entrance. It comes at a time when the so-called historical average PE ratios are way too high for present realities. That is, in a world sliding into a prolonged deflationary decline, capitalization rates should be falling into the sub-basement of history.

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The Troika’s back in Athens.

Brussels Seeks Further Reform To Seal Greek Bailout (FT)

Eurozone finance ministers have moved to break a deadlock between Greece’s warring creditors by sending bailout negotiators back to Athens to agree a new set of economic reforms. Despite continued disagreement over how long the list of reforms must be, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the eurogroup meeting of his 16 counterparts, insisted there was “enough common ground” between the EU and the IMF to restart the negotiations. He said mission chiefs from the bailout monitors could arrive as early as Tuesday. “More work will have to be done in Athens,” Mr Dijsselbloem said after the Monday evening eurogroup meeting in Brussels. “It’s not going to be easy, we’re very much aware of that.”

Officials acknowledged that the IMF and the EU had not reached an agreement on how thorough the reforms must be, essentially putting off a final fight over the future of Greece’s third, €86bn rescue for at least another month. The IMF has hinted it is willing to walk away from the bailout if it deems the reforms inadequate, a move that would plunge Greece back into economic uncertainty. Without the IMF, a German-led group of creditor countries have said they would be unable to secure parliamentary approval for their participation in the EU’s rescue, potentially scuppering the deal. “An interim solution without the IMF would be very difficult for a number of countries, including my own,” Alex Stubb, the Finnish finance minister, said.

Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, acknowledged the talks would restart “despite certain differences”, which he hoped could be overcome in the negotiations. “I’m sure sensible people when they get across the table will come to sensible conclusions,” Mr Tsakalotos said as he left the eurogroup meeting. Under the terms of the new bailout, Greece must pass measures designed to take government finances to a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of economic output by 2018. A country’s primary balance is its revenues minus expenses excluding debt payments.

The IMF and the EU are at loggerheads over both the stringency of the new reform measures and how many of them must be adopted to hit the 3.5% target. Officials said the differences would only be sorted out at a later date. The IMF believes the reform measures on the table are insufficient and has pushed for more concrete and deeper cuts. Athens has caved in to an ultimatum from its creditors and agreed to rush through long-resisted economic reforms in return for a third bailout. Further reading Mr Dijsselbloem appeared to side with the IMF’s tough line, saying “the package of measures needs to become even more solid, needs to go even deeper than what’s been put on the table so far” — though when pressed whether he backed the IMF’s view, he insisted, “I’m not in anyone’s camp.”

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The big words are back.

Greece Clears Bailout Hurdle With Debt Relief Pledge (AFP)

Greece cleared a crucial hurdle in its massive bailout programme on Monday as eurozone ministers promised to consider debt relief to Athens, which is already under pressure from the refugee crisis. Bailout monitors from the EU and IMF will return to Greece as soon as Tuesday in an effort to complete a long-delayed review of the programme that could unlock rescue cash, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “I am very happy that mission chiefs are going to Athens as soon as tomorrow,” Moscovici said after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers in Brussels, taking place in parallel to an EU-Turkey summit on the refugee crisis. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras secured Greece’s third bailout, worth a staggering 86 billion euros ($95 billion), last July after six months of bruising negotiations that shook the EU and nearly saw Athens thrown out of the single currency.

Along with its debt crisis the Greek state is now overwhelmed by the arrival of around a million migrants in a year. As refugees trek across Europe seeking new lives in Germany and elsewhere, the fresh crisis has increased the pressure on Athens’ eurozone partners to soften their demands of Greek austerity. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who last year was one of Greece’s harshest critics, said eurozone ministers would now address debt relief, meeting a key demand of the Greek government that has been resisted by its pro-austerity partners. The EU forecasts that Greece’s debt will soar to 185% of GDP in 2016 – a level generally understood to be unsustainable. “We have a longstanding promise that if the Greek government fulfils its commitments … we will do what is necessary to make debt service manageable,” said Dijsselbloem. “Today… we made explicit that the discussion is on our table,” the Dutch finance minister said.

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They have absolutely no idea where their policies will lead. That’s a very thin premise to throw trillions around on.

ECB Solutions Create More Problems (CNBC)

What a difference a few weeks make. Market sentiment seems to have improved and the fears of imminent recession now appear a touch hasty. But the question of where markets head next continues to depend on policymakers’ ability to deliver bold and decisive action. Step forward “Super” Mario Draghi, the President of the ECB, who is widely expected to tinker with the euro zone’s financial plumbing this week in the face of weaker-than-expected inflation and six weeks of volatility weighing on business sentiment. Once again, with the market already pricing aggressive action, there’s a risk of disappointment just as there was in December 2015. Analyst expectations include a 10-20 basis point cut in the deposit rate, taking it further in to negative territory, an increase of €10 -20 billion in monthly asset purchases, more longer-term cash available for borrowing and even a further extension in the maturity of the programme.

The problem for the ECB is that all the available options come with complications. The most immediate of those hazards applies to negative deposit rates and the impact on bank profitability and consumer behaviour, as the Bank for International Settlements highlighted this past weekend. The BIS warned that it was impossible to predict how borrowers or savers would react to the increasing possibility of negative rates for an extended period of time. A negative deposit rate means that ordinary banks have to actually pay the ECB to deposit money, rather than receiving money as they would in a normal environment. The hope is that, instead of paying up, the banks will decide to lend the money instead. If they don’t lend, they have the choice of passing on the costs to depositors or suffer what is an effect tax on their business. And that’s at a time when profits are tough to come by.

A further complication is that it’s not just the euro zone that has resorted to negative rates, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and most recently Japan are all applying this monetary policy tool. Mohamed el-Erian told CNBC last week that the ‘system is not equipped to deal with negative rates all across the world.’ So while broader sentiment in the market recovers, I think it’s worth asking why the Stoxx Europe banks Index is still down 15% this year. Is this a sign that investors are growing increasingly concerned that the ECB has reached its limits and policy may now be doing more harm than good? And more importantly how cautious are the ECB?

Executive Board Member Benoit Cœuré noted in a speech on 2 March that the ECB is well aware of the issue but pointed out that ‘many (banks) have overcome negative central bank rates and the ECB’s commitment to price stability has actually supported banking profitability. A green light for more action there, I think. No one has been more reticent about further stimulus than the Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who told me this month that the ECB was not a miracle-worker. And more is needed for euro zone policymakers. Yet even the German central banker drew a distinction between longer-term risks and support for the economy in the short term.

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Right on the US doorstep.

Ontario Plans To Trial Universal Basic Income (Ind.)

Ontario has announced it could soon be sending a monthly cheque to its residents as it plans to launch an experiment testing the basic income concept. While officials in the Canadian province are yet to release any specific details of the project – including how much will be given to residents who participate – the finance ministry has published a report confirming the government’s intention to roll out the experiment. The general concept of basic income involves a government handing out a flat-rate income to every single citizen within a country, either by replacing existing benefits or to top them up. Proponents of the idea say it would save on welfare administration costs, reduce the poverty traps of traditional welfare states, be fair to people who have jobs, and give people more autonomy in general.

In Britain, the think tank Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has proposed a system of universal income that would give a basic amount to fit, working-age people that it believes would still give a strong incentive to these people to work. It suggests providing an income of £3,692 for all qualifying citizens between 25 and 65, or £308 per month. “As Ontario’s economy grows, the government remains committed to leaving no one behind. Maintaining an effective social safety net is one part of the government’s broader efforts to reduce poverty and ensure inclusion in communities and the economy,” Ontario’s budget statement said.

It added: “The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. “The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas such as health care and housing supports. The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to implement a Basic Income pilot.”

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Interesting.

Canada Prepares To Fight Inequality (BBG)

[..] Canada is about to embark on an experiment whose outcome ought to matter deeply to U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike as they consider how to respond to Donald Trump’s angry coalition of the downwardly mobile. At issue is this: How far can a market-oriented country, if it were temporarily freed from short-term concerns about politics and budget deficits, push the fight against inequality – without sparking public alienation, a decline in work, a rash of tax avoidance, an exodus of talent or wealth, or some other unpleasant consequence? In other words, what are the practical limits of the inequality agenda? And how much can be done within those limits to satisfy, or at least mollify, the furies of economic insecurity?

Canada is perhaps the ideal setting for that experiment. Despite its image as a North American outpost of Scandinavian social values, the country has experienced a divergence in high and middle incomes similar to the U.S.’s, if not quite as severe. Unlike the U.S., Canada has already done the obvious things to remedy that: Its residents enjoy universal health care, reasonably generous social programs, paid family leave, a relatively high minimum wage, and college tuition that averages less than $5,000 a year. Yet that hasn’t been enough to reverse the trend (interrupted by the recession) toward ever-greater inequality. So the lingering question for progressives in both countries is this: What more is there to do? The short answer: quite a bit. In December, the Liberal government increased the tax rate on income above Canadian $200,000 ($150,800) and cut taxes on the middle class.

The Liberals have said their budget, to be introduced later this month, will introduce benefits to low- and middle-income families of C$6,400 a year ($4,825) for each child under 6, and slightly less for children ages 6 to 17. They also promise to reduce contribution limits for tax-free savings accounts and prevent single-income couples from splitting that income for tax purposes, reversing policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy; increase monthly payments to low-income seniors (think of top-up payments to Social Security); fund the construction of more affordable housing; and make it easier for workers to form unions. In case that’s not enough, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has asked Duclos to develop a national poverty-reduction strategy. Duclos has even mused publicly about introducing a guaranteed minimum income.

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“..if there is just a little more trouble in banking and financial markets before November 8, we can’t even be certain of holding the general election.”

Mistakes Were Made (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the US Department of Justice did nothing under six-plus years of Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute criminal misconduct in banking. And then President Obama, who is ultimately responsible, did absolutely nothing to prompt that Attorney General into action or replace him with somebody who would act. Obama’s lame excuse back in the days when informed people were still wondering about this, was that the bankers had done nothing patently illegal enough to warrant investigation — a claim that was absurd on its face. Obama didn’t do any better with the regulating agencies that are supposed to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, especially the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged with keeping financial markets honest.

There was nothing that difficult about those criminal matters now fading in the nation’s memory: for instance, the bundled bonds (CDOs) of “non-performing” mortgages designed to pay off the issuers handsomely when they failed. A child of ten could have unpacked the Goldman Sachs Timberwolf bond caper. Eventually Goldman and others were slapped with mere fines that could be (and were) written off as the cost of doing business. What a difference it would have made if Lloyd Blankfein and a few hundred other bank executives were personally held accountable and sent to cool their heels in federal prison. As the politicians are fond of saying, make no mistake: this was Barack Obama’s failure to act. Likewise, regarding the Citizens United Supreme Court’s decision that equated arrant corporate bribery of public officials with “free speech;”

Mr. Obama (a constitutional lawyer by training) had a range of remedies at his disposal, foremostly working with the then-majority Democratic congressional leadership to legislate a new and clearer definition of so-far-alleged corporate “personhood,” its duties, obligations, and responsibilities to the public interest — and its limits! Not only did Mr. Obama fail to act then, but nobody in his own party even coughed into his-or-her sleeve when he so failed. And now, of course, nobody remembers any of that. The effects of all this fundamental dishonesty have thundered through our national life to the degree that American society is now divided into the swindlers and the swindled, loosing the monster of collective Id known as Trump on the public. This is what comes of attempting to divorce truth from reality, which has been the principal business of American life for several decades now. When truth and reality become de-linked, a society literally doesn’t know what it is doing.

With that goes the collective sense of purpose, replaced with bromides and platitudes such as Trump’s “make America great again,” and Hillary’s “In America, every family should feel like they belong.” Unbeknownst to the cable news hustlers, events are in the driver’s seat, not the personalities of the puppets and muppets in the spotlight. Come July, there may not be anything that could be called the Republican Party. And Hillary is the first leading contender for the highest office with a possible indictment looming over her. Yes, it’s really there percolating on the FBI’s front burner. Even if the machinery of justice trips over itself again on that, imagine how the questions behind it will color the final battle for the general election. We also fail to appreciate how, if there is just a little more trouble in banking and financial markets before November 8, we can’t even be certain of holding the general election.

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Back to the pre-Nazi era.

Germany Once Again Finds Itself In An Age Of Dislocation (MW)

“Germany is not an island. No country is in the same degree woven actively or passively into the world’s destiny. Germany’s geographical position, its lack of natural borders, condemn it to this role. The Germans, more than anyone, must think politically and economically well beyond their borders. Everything that happens afar sweeps through to the heart of Germany.” So wrote Oswald Spengler, a German writer-philosopher of the Weimar republic and the early-Nazi period, whose gloomy 1920s and 1930s prognostications made him a symbol of that age of dislocation. I first became aware of Spengler’s writings during the build-up to German unification. A mass exodus from East Germany into the Federal Republic from autumn 1989 onwards, a product of relaxation of Soviet control over eastern Europe and the realization that Marxism-Leninism was a bust, brought 300,000 people into the western part of the country.

Reunification followed in October 1990. During 1989, the population rose by 800,000 as a result of immigration from the eastern part of the country and the developing world. Germany was again at the epicenter of far-reaching geopolitical and migration upheavals. It’s not so different today. Germany took more than a million immigrants last year, with more on the way. Soviet uncertainties have been replaced by Russian ones. The European Union will either be dismantled or head for more centralization. Soul searching under Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached Spenglerian proportions. Here are four examples of how Spengler’s painful tales of wrenching interdependence are striking home.

• Real-life events have eclipsed Germany’s vision of leading the EU into a fresh wave of liberal democracy, efficient markets and economic prosperity. The euro has sown European division. Populist anti-European parties are on the march. If Britain leaves the EU — the vote in June is still astonishingly wide open — then no nation will be more negatively affected than Germany.

• Assembling enormous annual current account surpluses — a product of an undervalued currency and concentrating German resources on exports and savings — will not safeguard Germany’s future. The country has built up unrepayable claims on foreign countries that will be written off.

• Germany’s need for European solidarity over the migration crisis — which Merkel has made worse by overdoing the welcome — has exposed it to blackmail. Turkey, shifting daily to more authoritarianism, is asking for ever more money to keep refugees on Turkish soil. Greece, facing thousands hemmed in between the hemorrhaging south and an increasingly sealed-off north, is suffering a national emergency. So no one can press Athens into completing IMF-ordained reforms.

• To revive euro-area inflation, the European Central Bank will almost certainly cut negative interest rates further on March 10. The Bundesbank will acquiesce. This will have counterproductive consequences. The euro will be weak, exacerbating the German current account surplus; and European banks’ profitability (especially in peripheral countries) will come under fresh pressure, delaying recovery.

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But nothing is done about this.

Merkel Ally Fuchs: Syria, Libya Key To Solving Migrant Crisis (CNBC)

Germany is seeking a longer-term solution to the migrant crisis, a key ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel told CNBC, as European Union (EU) leaders came to a tentative deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people into Europe. Michael Fuchs, vice chairman of Merkel’s central-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that a solution to the crisis needed to be found at the source of the human influx. “We need to have a solution which is including Syria and also Libya because both countries are still filled with refugees which are trying to enter either via Turkey into Europe or directly from Libya into Italy,” Fuchs said. But he admitted that working with migrants’ home countries could be difficult. “One of the problems is, for instance in Libya, to whom to talk. There are three different groups fighting each other: who to talk to? They don’t have a foreign minister to talk to,” Fuchs said.

The comments came after the European Union and Turkey agreed on Monday night local time the outlines of a deal designed to stem the tide of migrants that has flowed into Europe over the past six months. Turkey agreed to take back migrants who crossed into Europe from its soil. In return, the EU may increase the €3 billion of aid already set for Turkey to deal with the migrant crisis; it could also ease visa requirements for Turks traveling to Europe, as well as potentially expedite Turkey’s talks to join the EU. Speaking in Hong Kong, where he was set to deliver a speech at the Asia Society, Fuchs underlined the need for a speedy resolution to the issue. “We have over a million refugees already in Germany, which is quite a lot,” he said. Those figures are likely related to the number of asylum seekers in the country. “We have to find solutions because it cannot be double or three times more, because then it’s coming to a difficult situation.”

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What a mess this is becoming.

Turkey Makes Last-Minute Demands Over Migrants (FT)

Turkey has made a host of last-minute funding and political demands that threaten to derail a controversial EU-Turkey deal to dramatically reduce migrant flows to Europe. Ahead of crunch summit between EU leaders and the Turkish prime minister on Monday, Ankara has called for a an increase to the €3bn in aid previously promised by Brussels, faster access to Schengen visas for Turkish citizens and accelerated progress in its EU membership bid. Although talks remain fluid, the wishlist represents the new price demanded by Ankara to help the EU handle the migrant crisis by facilitating the systematic return of non-Syrian migrants from Greek islands to Turkey. A deal of some kind is still expected at the end of the summit. But four diplomats involved in the talks said that Turkey’s revised demands would be extremely challenging and could blow apart a fragile EU consensus on the sweeteners offered to Ankara.

A deal with Turkey is crucial for reducing the flow of people entering Europe, according to EU officials. This has overridden concerns about the country s asylum system and human rights record. Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the proposed deal demonstrated how indispensable the EU is for Turkey and Turkey for the EU. Speaking before the meeting, Mr Davutoglu added: “The whole future of Europe is on the table”. Last week Mr Davutoglu privately signalled to EU negotiators that Turkey would be willing to accept the systematic return of non-Syrian migrants to Turkey. In the final stages of the negotiation, however, Turkey made clear it would expect its EU agreement on migration to be improved. This includes moving forward a recommendation to grant visa privileges to Turkish citizens, which was expected in the autumn.

Turkey has yet to meet some of the most difficult conditions for visa access, including the recognition of Cyprus. Ankara also wants an increase in the EU’s proposed €3bn in funding, so that it covers municipal infrastructure costs as well as health, education and material support for Syrian refugees in Turkey. On top of these concessions, Turkey wants to speed up the already fast-tracked process of opening several new chapters in its EU membership bid. Cyprus in particular is also loath to make further concessions to Ankara in membership talks. One diplomat said the additional demands could make for a’ train wreck’. Another compared the haggling to a Turkish bazaar. According to draft conclusions for the meetings, EU leaders will declare that the western Balkans route used by more than 1m people to enter Europe has been “closed”, despite opposition from Berlin over such wording.

In Berlin’s view, the statement cannot say the Balkan route is closed when hundreds of people are still arriving via the Balkans in Germany every day. The dispute illustrates the split at the highest levels of the EU over how to cope with the migration crisis. While some such as European Council president Donald Tusk have advocated tough rhetoric to deter people from making the trip, other leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a softer approach. Leaders will also discuss whether to push on with a plan to resettle refugees directly from Turkey into the EU. Turkey, which hosts 2.5m Syrian refugees, has long argued that such an agreement is vital if it is to cut down on the number of people heading to Greece. Ms Merkel, who has been the most vocal proponent of this plan, held late-night talks with the Turkish prime minister in Brussels on Sunday night. Despite pressure from Berlin, other member states have been unwilling to back such a scheme.

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ALL refugees will be forced back to Turkey. Imagine what scenes that will cause on the Greek islands.

EU And Turkey Close In On Refugee Deal (BBC)

The EU and Turkey say they have agreed the broad principles of a plan to ease the migration crisis at a summit in Brussels, but delayed a final decision. European Council President Donald Tusk said all irregular migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey would be returned. For each Syrian returned, Turkey wants the EU to accept a recognised Syrian refugee, and offer more funding and progress on EU integration. Talks on the plan will continue ahead of an EU meeting on 17-18 March. Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War Two. Most migrants come via Turkey, which is already sheltering more than 2.7 million refugees from the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Turkey tabled new proposals ahead of the EU summit on Monday, and there was uncertainty on whether any agreement would be possible.

However, European Council President Donald Tusk said leaders had made a “breakthrough”, and he was hopeful of concluding a deal next week. He said the progress sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”. In a statement, EU leaders said they broadly supported a deal that included:
• the return of all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU
• the resettlement of one Syrian from Turkey to the EU for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greece
• speeding up of plans to allow Turks visa-free travel in Europe, with a view to lifting visa requirements by June 2016
• speeding up the payment of €3bn promised in October, and a decision on additional funding to help Turkey deal with the crisis. Turkey reportedly asked for EU aid to be increased to €6bn.
• preparations for a decision on the opening of new chapters in talks on EU membership for Turkey

Speaking at a news conference after the summit, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had made a “bold decision to accept all irregular illegal migrants… based on the assumption that for every one Syrian readmitted by Turkey from the Greek islands another Syrian will be resettled by Europe.” But he said it was important to see the refugee deal as a package, to include progress on Turkish integration within the EU. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Brussels says that, although this new initiative is bold, it could spark fierce argument and its implementation will not be easy. But, he says, the EU clearly needs Turkey’s co-operation if it is to begin coping with the migration crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the proposals could be a major step forward if realised, stressing that “irregular migration” needed to be turned into “regular migration”.

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Faustian deal.

EU Defies International Law To Push Back Refugees To Turkey (Mason)

It is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming Isis, its military shot down a Russian bomber and yet Turkey wants to join the European Union. The country s swift descent into despotism poses yet another existential problem for the west. The sight of Europe’s leaders kowtowing to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the hope he would switch off the flood of refugees to Greece, was sickening. After the Turkish courts authorised police to seize the Zaman newspaper, tear-gassing its employees and sacking the editors, the new bosses immediately placed Erdogan’s smiling picture on the front page. He has a lot to smile about.

Erdogan’s mass support in Turkey is real. To the conservative heartlands, where Islam was suppressed for decades by one secular military regime after another, he initially seemed to have achieved an ideal stasis. The liberal, networked, progressive part of Turkey would leave the reactionary, religious, patriarchal part in peace, and vice versa. The Kurds would renounce guerilla warfare in favour of parliamentary opposition. Erdogan would lead the country towards EU accession, at a pace slow enough to allow the obvious failings in democracy to be ignored. But it has all gone wrong, and for the same fundamental reason that Assad’s regime in Syria collapsed: the unwillingness of educated youth to be ruled by simpletons running a “benign” police state.

The revolts that swept Turkey’s cities in June 2013 were triggered by the inability of Erdogan and his old-man’s form of Islam to tolerate the basic microfreedoms that the younger generation want: the right to drink alcohol on campus, the right to uncensored social media, the right to protest peacefully about the same things European kids protest about in the case of Gezi Park, the bulldozing of green space for a shopping mall. Since then, Erdogan has overcome all obstacles. The protest was suppressed by the simple method of firing US-made tear gas canisters into the crowd and laying waste to the urban areas of the Kurdish minority, who had joined the struggle.

Then Erdogan got himself made president. And having narrowly lost his parliamentary majority in June 2015, he regained it late last year after a campaign that left the offices of the pro-Kurdish HDP party burned out in several cities. Simultaneously, the Turkish military provoked an end to a three-year ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK, unleashing the army into the Kurdish towns of southern Turkey on a scale that has left some the mirror image of burned-out Syrian towns just across the border.

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The UN should speak out a lot louder and clearer. It’s UN laws that are being violated here.

Europe Must Share Refugee Burden With Turkey, Says UNHCR Chief (Reuters)

The United Nations refugee chief said on Monday he was “very concerned” about what solution European leaders were debating and called for countries to share the burden with Turkey by taking in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told an event at the Geneva Graduate Institute: “In the joint action plan, the most important thing is to help Turkey bear the burden, responsibility by taking people … not in the thousands or tens of thousands but in the hundreds of thousands.” Turkey offered the European Union greater help on Monday to stem a flood of migrants into Europe but raised the stakes by demanding more money, accelerated membership talks and faster visa-free travel for its citizens in return.

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“The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short-sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.”

EU Making ‘Big Mistake’ in Turkey Deal, Kurdish Leader Warns (BBG)

The EEU is making an historic mistake in its haste to conclude a refugee deal with Turkey, overlooking human rights violations that risk plunging the bloc’s largest membership candidate into civil war, said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the nation’s most prominent pro-Kurdish party. The EU is turning a blind eye to an opposition crackdown in Turkey that’s polarizing society and complicating efforts to find a political solution to the nation’s Kurdish conflict, Demirtas said in an impromptu interview en route to Brussels. European leaders are expected to ink an agreement with Turkey on Monday that will offer faster EU membership negotiations and visa-free travel in exchange for stopping refugees from crossing the country to enter Europe. “The EU is trying so hard not to upset Erdogan, and that’s a big mistake,” Demirtas said.

“The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short-sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.” Demirtas’s own experience show how fast things are changing. Less than a year ago, he was celebrating a momentous electoral result that marked him as a rising political star, dealing a blow to Erdogan’s attempts to concentrate more power in his office. But on Sunday night, sitting alone on the front row of a Turkish Airlines flight, Demirtas had a possible jail sentence on his mind. Erdogan has called on parliament to strip HDP lawmakers of their immunity to try them for their links to the Kurdish PKK, considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and EU. PKK gunmen resumed their 30-year-old insurgency after the collapse of the political peace process last year.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday that parliament would take up the subject after budget talks. “There’s a very high risk it will happen,” said Demirtas, with a copy of “Remaking Society” by decentralization advocate Murray Bookchin perched on his armrest. “I don’t see this as a big risk for me personally. But for the country, it is.” Demirtas was speaking two days after Turkish government trustees took over one of Turkey’s primary opposition newspapers in a dramatic raid that sparked clashes between protesters and police. The seizure reflects a broader intolerance of dissent that has also undermined the HDP, who are now largely excluded from mainstream media coverage. “Of course this affects us,” Demirtas said. “We were a party on the rise, and now we can only try to protect our position.”

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“..A friend of mine says that we stopped being human as soon as we became citizens ourselves..”

Crisis-Hit Greeks Put Own Woes Aside To Help Refugees (AFP)

Their own wages and pensions have been slashed by the debt crisis, but thousands of Greeks are putting their economic woes aside to help desperate refugees trapped in the country by the Balkan border blockade. People old and young, from couples with babies to pensioners and teenagers, came to Athens’ Syntagma Square on Sunday loaded with bottles of water, medicine, pasta, nappies and clothes. Panayiotis, a 32-year-old accountant, was just one of those determined to help. “Greek people know what it is to be a refugee,” said Panayiotis, a volunteer with the Red Cross at the Sunday donation organized by a social solidarity network.

“My grandmother came from Turkey in the 1920s. She had to leave everything there and she arrived in Thessaloniki with nothing. A lot of people in Greece have grandparents who experienced this exodus. This is maybe why we are helping those people,” he said. With Greek state services overwhelmed by the arrival of around a million people in a year – most en route to countries in northern Europe – the support of volunteers and private donations has been invaluable in helping aid groups manage the crisis. Like Panayiotis, many donors say they are motivated by the suffering of family relatives who became refugees themselves in the 20th century when Turkey progressively expelled a sizeable Greek minority from Istanbul and Asia Minor.

Giorgos and his wife have came to Syntagma Square with bags of food and clothes after seeing television images of migrants stuck at Idomeni on the Greek side of the Greek border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where over 13,000 people are camping in miserable conditions waiting to cross. FYROM is only allowing a few hundred people through every day, while thousands more continue to arrive from Turkey. “The only thing we want is to help those people. We saw them on TV in Idomeni. A friend of mine says that we stopped being human as soon as we became citizens ourselves,” said the 70-year-old pensioner.

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Dec 022015
 
 December 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 2 2015
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Lewis Wickes Hine News of the Titanic and possible survivors 1912

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)
Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)
7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)
British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)
Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)
Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)
Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)
Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)
Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)
China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)
A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)
‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)
Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)
Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)
Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)
Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)
Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)
Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)
Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)
Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)
4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

“..China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth..”

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)

The danger lurking in the risk asset markets was succinctly captured by MarketWatch’s post on overnight action in Asia. The latter proved once again that the casino gamblers are incapable of recognizing the on-rushing train of global recession because they have become addicted to “stimulus” as a way of life:

Shares in Hong Kong led a rally across most of Asia Tuesday, on expectations for more stimulus from Chinese authorities, specifically in the property sector…….The gains follow fresh readings on China’s economy, which showed further signs of slowdown in manufacturing data released Tuesday (which) remains plagued by overcapacity, falling prices and weak demand. The dimming view casts doubt that the world’s second-largest economy can achieve its target growth of around 7% for the year. The central bank has cut interest rates six times since last November.

More stimulus from China? Now that’s a true absurdity – not because the desperate suzerains of red capitalism in Beijing won’t try it, but because it can’t possibly enhance the earnings capacity of either Chinese companies or the international equities. In fact, it is plain as day that China has reached “peak debt”. Additional borrowing there will not only prolong the Ponzi and thereby exacerbate the eventual crash, but won’t even do much in the short-run to brake the current downward economic spiral. That’s because China is so saturated with debt that still lower interest rates or further reduction of bank reserve requirements would amount to pushing on an exceedingly limp credit string. To wit, at the time of the 2008 crisis, China’s “official” GDP was about $5 trillion and its total public and private credit market debt was roughly $8 trillion.

Since then, debt has soared to $30 trillion while GDP has purportedly doubled. But that’s only when you count the massive outlays for white elephants and malinvestments which get counted as fixed asset spending. So at a minimum, China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth. Indeed, everything is so massively overbuilt in China – from unused airports to empty malls and luxury apartments to redundant coal mines, steel plants, cement kilns, auto plants, solar farms and much, much more – that more borrowing and construction is not only absolutely pointless; it is positively destructive because it will result in an even more destructive adjustment cycle. That is, it will only add to the immense already existing downward pressure on prices, rents and profits in China, thereby insuring that even more trillions of bad debts will eventually implode.

[..] When peak debt is reached, additional credit never leaves the financial system; it just finances the final blow-off phase of leveraged speculation in the secondary markets.

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Pretty much a global trend, and pretty much not unexpected.

Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)

Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly contracted in November at the fastest pace since the last recession as elevated inventories led to cutbacks in orders and production. The Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to 48.6, the lowest level since June 2009, from 50.1 in October, its report showed Tuesday. The November figure was weaker than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Readings less than 50 indicate contraction. The report showed factories believed their customers continued to have too many goods on hand, indicating it will take time for orders and production to stabilize.

Manufacturers, which account for almost 12% of the economy, are also battling weak global demand, an appreciating dollar and less capital spending in the energy sector. “There are some clear signs of weakness — industries that are tied to oil and gas, agriculture or are heavily dependent on exports are all clearly slowing,” Mark Vitner at Wells Fargo Securities said before the report. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the manufacturing numbers remain soft for the next five to six months.”

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We all are…

7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)

It’s seven years after the financial crisis and the banking industry is still in receipt of state support – support that will be available for two more years, and perhaps for longer. The Treasury and the Bank of England have decided to extend their Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), which supplies banks with cheap money with the aim of keeping the supply of credit flowing. What ought, in theory, to be the scheme’s final outing will be very specifically targeted at lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is a sector which is still struggling to obtain the funding it needs at a time when lending to other sectors has largely recovered. The Bank says that things are improving, and its figures bear that out. But not quickly, and the growth in small business lending pales by comparison to the growth in consumer lending.

The expansion of the latter is starting to cause concern, with the Bank’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, fretting about personal loans. He says they’re picking up at a rate of knots. Britain has long nursed an addiction to the drug of debt that it’s never really addressed and the growth in unsecured lending is an indication of a return to bad habits. Given that Mr Haldane and his colleagues are engaged in the unenviable task of walking an economic tightrope, it’s no wonder that he’s getting twitchy. But consumers are not, as yet, shooting up with the sort of wild abandon they exhibited in the run-up to the crisis. And, as Investec’s Philip Shaw points out, it wasn’t so long ago that we were still talking about the need to make more credit available.

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Not to worry: by 2050, pensions will be long gone.

British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)

Workers in the UK will have the worst pensions of any major economy and the oldest official retirement age of any country, according tothe Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The typical British worker can look forward to a pension worth only 40% of their pay , once state and private pensions are combined. The Paris-based thinktank said on Tuesday that this compares with about 90% in the Netherlands and Austria and 80% in Spain and Italy. Only Mexico and Chile offer their workers a worse prospect after retirement, although Turkey is the surprise table-topper, giving its retirees an average pension equal to 105% of average wages, according to the OECD report. Britain has begun an auto-enrolment scheme that will offer millions of low-paid workers a private pension for the first time.

But with contribution rates low, the payouts will not be generous. Last week the chancellor, George Osborne, gave employers a six-month delay to planned increases in their contribution rates. Pensions expert Tom McPhail of Hargreaves Lansdown said: “This analysis makes embarrassing reading for the politicians who have been responsible for the UK’s pensions over the past 25 years. “The state pension was in steady decline for years. Even though it is improving for lower earners now, average payouts will not be rising. It is in the private sector though where the real damage has been done; the collapse in final salary pensions has not yet been replaced with well-funded alternatives.” The age at which workers qualify for a state pension in the UK will, at 68 years old, be the highest of any country in the world, equalled only by Ireland and Czech Republic.

The prize for earliest retirees goes to France and Belgium. “Workers stay the longest in the labour market in Korea, Mexico, Iceland and Japan; men exit the soonest in France and Belgium while women leave the earliest in the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Poland,” said the OECD. While many European countries offer significantly better pensions than in Britain, the cost is now close to sustainable, said the OECD. In recent years there have been frequent warnings about the “demographic timebomb” that will wreck the finances of ageing European nations. But the OECD said that changes to taxation, contribution rates and pensionable ages means that the burden of paying pensions will rise from the current level of 9% of GDP to just 10.1% by 2050.

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Europe sales are a bigger deal. But the scandal isn’t done deepening.

Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)

Standard and Poor’s cut Volkswagen’s credit rating to “BBB+” from “A-” on Tuesday, shortly after the automaker reported that an emissions-cheating scandal took a serious bite out of its U.S. sales last month. The German automaker said that November U.S. sales fell almost 25% from a year ago. The company blamed the decline on stop-sale orders for diesel-powered vehicles that the government says cheated on pollution tests. The VW brand sold just under 24,000 vehicles last month compared with almost 32,000 a year ago.

S&P noted the emissions scandal also contributed to its ratings cut. The agency said it expects Volkswagen to “experience ongoing adverse credit impacts.” The U.S. is a relatively small market for Volkswagen. The VW brand sold 490,000 vehicles worldwide in October, 5% below a year ago. VW has admitted that 482,000 2-liter diesel vehicles in the U.S. contained software that turned pollution controls on for government tests and off for real-world driving. The government says another 85,000 six-cylinder diesels also had cheating software.

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“We” want it that way. It’s how “we” (think we) keep control over the oil.

Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)

Thomas Piketty is out with a new argument about income inequality. It may prove more controversial than his book, which continues to generate debate in political and economic circles. The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality. Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population.

If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70% of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10% of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he’s talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16% of the region’s population in 2012 and almost 60% of its gross domestic product.) This concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.”

Within those monarchies, he continues, a small slice of people controls most of the wealth, while a large — including women and refugees — are kept in a state of “semi-slavery.” Those economic conditions, he says, have become justifications for jihadists, along with the casualties of a series of wars in the region perpetuated by Western powers. His list starts with the first Gulf War, which he says resulted in allied forces returning oil “to the emirs.” Though he does not spend much space connecting those ideas, the clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region’s residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a “powder keg” for terrorism across the region.

Piketty is particularly scathing when he blames the inequality of the region, and the persistence of oil monarchies that perpetuate it, on the West: “These are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their [soccer] clubs or sell some weapons. No wonder our lessons in social justice and democracy find little welcome among Middle Eastern youth.” Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, Piketty continues, is best combated economically.

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All totlly legal, no doubt. “..an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000 [was given to] Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)

Three quarters of the value of all official gifts given to the US administration in 2014 came from Saudi Arabia, according to US government records. US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and US federal government employees received official gifts estimated to be worth a total of $3,417,559 last year. Analysis of the annual disclosure, released by the US Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, found Saudi Arabia gave the US gifts valued at around $2,566,525. It dominated the report and represented 75% of the value of all gifts received by Obama and his government employees last year.

When all other Arab countries are added to the mix the total value rises to nearly $3 million, with the Arab region accounting for 87% of the value of all gifts. The most lavish gift was an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000. It was not given to Obama, his wife Michelle or his children, but Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The jewels were given to Mrs Kerry in January 2014 by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. First Lady Michelle Obama is included in the top five with two gifts of jewels from Saudi Arabia, each worth well over half a million dollars.

The president himself is further down the list, behind his children and wife, and ranked 7th with a white gold men’s watch worth $67,000. The six other Gulf states also gave lavish gifts to the Obama administration. Qatar gave Eric Holder, US Attorney General, a $24,150 gold and silver ship depicting United States and the State of Qatar flags in a case, in addition to an engraved Cartier bracelet. The UAE also gifted a gold necklace and earring set with white stones worth around $3,200 to Deborah K. Jones, Ambassador of the US to the State of Libya. The gift was presented in March 2014 on behalf of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.

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And the Saudi’s don’t stop there:

Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)

Soon after launching a brutal air and ground assault in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began devoting significant resources to a sophisticated public relations blitz in Washington, D.C. The PR campaign is designed to maintain close ties with the U.S. even as the Saudi-led military incursion into the poorest Arab nation in the Middle East has killed nearly 6,000 people, almost half of them civilians. Elements of the charm offensive include the launch of a pro-Saudi Arabia media portal operated by high-profile Republican campaign consultants; a special English-language website devoted to putting a positive spin on the latest developments in the Yemen war; glitzy dinners with American political and business elites; and a non-stop push to sway reporters and policymakers. That has been accompanied by a spending spree on American lobbyists with ties to the Washington establishment.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy, as we’ve reported, now retains the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the leader of one of the largest Republican Super PACs in the country, and a law firm with deep ties to the Obama administration. One of Jeb Bush’s top fundraisers, Ignacio Sanchez, is also lobbying for the Saudi Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the U.S. has come under particular strain in recent years as the government has not only launched the brutal war in Yemen, but has embarked on a wave of repression. Following the appointment of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to the Saudi throne in January, the Kingdom sharply increased the number of people executed — often by beheading and crucifixion — for daring to protest or criticize the government or for crimes as minor as adultery or “witchcraft.” On November 17, a Saudi court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a famed poet, to death for “apostasy.”

There have also been reports that Saudi Arabia continues to be a leading driver of Sunni terror networks worldwide, including in Syria and Iraq. The Saudi Arabian government is currently supplying weapons to a Syrian rebel coalition that includes the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region. As the New York Times has reported, private donors in Saudi Arabia have also worked as fundraisers for the Islamic State, or ISIS. And there is a renewed, bipartisan push by lawmakers to declassify the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, a censored section that reportedly relates to Saudi state support for al Qaeda’s operation.

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It’s been tried before.

Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)

Pope Francis, galvanized by a scandal over Vatican finances, has ordered the most powerful bodies in the city-state to launch an unprecedented audit of its wealth and crack down on runaway spending. At the suggestion of his economic chief, Cardinal George Pell, Francis has set up a “Working-Party for the Economic Future” which brings together the Secretariat of State, or prime minister’s office, the Vatican Bank and other agencies. Francis has told the panel “to address the financial challenges and identify how more resources can be devoted to the many good works of the Church, especially supporting the poor and vulnerable,” Danny Casey, director of Pell’s office at the Secretariat for the Economy, said in an interview.

The pope’s initiatives come as five people stand trial in the Vatican over the leak of confidential documents in two books published last month that described corruption, mismanagement and wasteful spending by church officials. Those on trial deny wrongdoing. Francis, 78, has pushed for more openness and transparency in Vatican financial and economic agencies but he has faced resistance from the Rome bureaucracy. On the flight back to Rome on Monday after a visit to Africa, Francis told reporters that the so-called Vatileaks II scandal was an indication of the mess that he’s trying to sort out.

The trial of two former Vatican employees alongside the books’ authors highlighted Church efforts “to seek out corruption, the things which aren’t right,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the Vatican. The working group, which held its first meeting last week, will study measures to cut costs and raise revenue as part of a long-term financial plan. “This will include comparing actual expenditure against budgets at a consolidated level, which is a new initiative,” Casey said.

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The yaun would have to be perceived as stable first. How long will that take, though?

China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)

The IMF’s decision to add China’s yuan to its reserves basket is a triumph for Beijing, but the fund’s verdict that the currency met its “freely usable” test will have little financial impact unless Beijing recruits more users. The desire of Chinese reformers to internationalize the currency has a clear economic rationale; a yuan in wide circulation overseas would reduce China’s dependence on the dollar system and on policy set in Washington. It would also make it easier for Chinese firms to invoice and borrow offshore in yuan, reducing the risk of exchange rate fluctuations and prompting China’s inefficient state-owned banks to improve their performance or lose business. Those concerned about a potential global liquidity crisis caused by overdependence on the United States might also welcome the yuan as an alternative to the dollar, as would countries locked out of dollar capital markets by sanctions.

But to serve these purposes, there needs to be a much bigger pool of yuan outside China, which requires offshore institutions – and not just in Hong Kong – to buy and hold yuan. Few believe the IMF decision alone, which economist Alicia Garcia-Herrero called a “beauty contest”, will change investor behavior much. For that, says Swiss bank UBS, Beijing needs to continue financial reforms and capital account liberalization to improve the efficiency of capital allocation in China. Foreign investors want Beijing to provide predictable and transparent legal and taxation treatment, and drop its penchant for pilot programs and quotas in favor of consistency. They also want to know they can freely sell their yuan assets, not just buy, a concern that only grew over the summer, when Beijing stepped into its stock markets to stop a sell-off.

Foreign investors aren’t making full use of the existing channels to buy Chinese assets that Beijing allows – quotas for the two Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor programs (QFII and RQFII) and the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect have yet to be used up. And for all the impressive trade statistics, much of the “offshore” yuan isn’t traveling the globe but bouncing to and fro across the internal border with Hong Kong, largely traded between Chinese companies. “The number one thing we would like to see changed is that the QFII and RQFII quotas are dropped, just as they dropped in July the quotas for central banks, sovereign wealth funds and supernationals. It’ll make it a lot easier for global institutional investors,” said Hayden Briscoe at AllianceBernstein in Hong Kong.

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“Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China.”

A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)

Why would China want the IMF to put the yuan in the SDR? It may want to engineer a bump in capital inflows, at a time when money is trying to leave China. Generating some foreign demand for yuan-denominated assets might help stabilize the Chinese currency, which is expected to depreciate a bit in the months ahead. The IMF might be motivated to help China limit the moves in its currency in order to promote global macroeconomic stability, or it might want to lure China into making sovereign loans through the fund instead of on its own. Ultimately, the yuan’s status as a reserve currency will be driven by China’s further liberalization of its capital account. The easier it becomes to move money in and out of yuan, the more asset managers will be willing to put their money in.

And if China ascends to true reserve currency status, the most important effects will be in the long term – not all of them good. True reserve currency status makes it cheaper for a government to borrow, which means that – all else equal – more borrowing will happen. That will increase net capital inflows. And as many countries have learned during the last decade, capital inflows can cause trouble. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, intuitively. How could it harm a country to allow it to borrow cheaply? If countries were rational and foresighted, they would borrow no more than is healthy. But sovereign borrowing decisions are the result of government decisions not market ones, and no one would argue that governments always make wise choices. Even the private sector, though, could be harmed by capital inflows.

As economists Gianluca Benigno, Nathan Converse, and Luca Fornaro have found, large influxes of foreign money can lead to booms and busts. They can also cause a country to shift resources out of manufacturing, where productivity growth is often high, into service-oriented industries where productivity is relatively stagnant. Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China. Those capital inflows in turn have caused a large, persistent trade deficit. Perhaps not coincidentally, U.S. manufacturing hasn’t grown very fast since the late 1990s. In the year ahead, reserve-currency status might help cushion the country’s economic slowdown. But in the long term, it might be a poisoned chalice for China.

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High time people start taking Steve a whole lot more serious. Budget surpluses kill economies.

‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)

The indefatigable Mr. Keen presents lecture no. 8 in the series. The ‘logic’ of a government aiming for a budget surplus is that the people must run a deficit.

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Not much in this FT piece is based on facts.

Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)

The EU is warning Greece it faces suspension from the Schengen passport-free travel zone unless it overhauls its response to the migration crisis by mid-December, as frustration mounts over Athens’ reluctance to accept outside support. Several European ministers and senior EU officials see the threat of pushing out Greece over “serious deficiencies” in border control as the only way left to persuade Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, to deliver on his promises and take up EU offers of help. If the EU follows through on its threat, it would mark the first time a country has been suspended from Schengen since its establishment in 1985. The challenge to Athens comes amid a bigger rethink on tightening joint border control to ensure the survival of the Schengen zone.

The European Commission will this month propose a joint border force empowered to take charge of borders, potentially even against the will of frontline states such as Greece. Greece’s relatively weak administration has been overwhelmed by more than 700,000 migrants crossing its frontiers this year. Given the severity of the crisis, EU officials are vexed by Athens’s refusal to call in a special mission from Frontex, the EU border agency; its unwillingness to accept EU humanitarian aid; and its failure to revamp its system for registering refugees. EU home affairs ministers, who meet on Friday, are to make clear that more drastic measures will be considered if Greece fails to take action before a summit of EU leaders in mid-December, according to four senior European diplomats.

The suspension warning has been delivered repeatedly to Greece this week, including through a visit to Athens by Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. One Greek official strongly denied accusations of being unco-operative and said claims Mr Tsipras has failed to meet pledges made at a summit of western Balkan leaders last month were “untrue”. But another official acknowledged the foot-dragging. He said it stemmed from a legal requirement that only Greeks were allowed to patrol the country’s borders as well as sensitivity over the long-running dispute over Macedonia’s name and suspicions about Turkish designs on certain Greek islands, including Lesbos, point of entry for many migrants.

As Greece shares no land borders with Schengen , Greek officials point out it will have no impact on migrant flows. “There are no refugees leaving Greece who are flying ,” he said. EU officials acknowledge this but say the withdrawal of travel rights for Greeks is one of their few points of leverage over Mr Tsipras. Athens has recently turned down a deployment of up to 400 Frontex staff to immediately reinforce its border with Macedonia, complaining in a letter to the European Commission that their mandate was too broad and went beyond registration. Greek officials have yet to accept an invitation to invoke an emergency aid scheme – the EU civil protection mechanism — that would rush humanitarian support to islands and border areas.

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Very illustrative of the confusion that is an integral part of the EU. Note: Denmark is not in the eurozone.

Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)

Danes head to the polling stations on Thursday (3 December) for their eighth EU referendum since a majority voted Yes to join the club back in 1972. So far, they voted five time Yes and two times No, with a narrow lead for the No side this time around. A Gallup poll published on Saturday in the Berlingske Tidende daily showed 38% intend to vote No, with 34% Yes, and 23% undecided. You need to go back to the Maastricht treaty referendum over 20 years ago to find the reason for this week’s plebiscite. Maastricht was initially rejected by the Danes in 1992. In order to save the entire treaty, Denmark, at a summit in Edinburgh, was offered a handful of treaty-based opt-outs, preserving Danish sovereignty over EU-policy areas, such as the euro and justice and home affairs.

The Maastricht treaty was then approved together with the opt-outs in a re-run of the vote in 1993. EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs has ballooned in the 20 years which followed. Today, it includes important areas such as cybercrime, trafficking, data protection, the Schengen free-travel system, refugee and asylum policy, and closer police co-operation on counter-terrorism. Bound by the old treaty opt-out, Denmark automatically stays out of all the supra-national EU justice and home affairs policies and doesn’t take part in EU Council votes in these areas. A frustrated majority in the Danish parliament, nick-named “Borgen” (The Castle), in August voted to call the referendum asking citizens to scrap the old arragement. They wanted permission from voters to opt in to the justice and home affairs policies over time, without having to consult people, each time, in a referendum.

The Yes parties identified 22 existing EU initiatives they want Denmark to join right after a Yes vote. They also promised Denmark won’t take part in 10 other EU initiatives – including the hot-button issue of asylum and immigration. The day after the referendum was announced, Gallup polled that a safe majority of 58% would vote Yes. But something happened during the campaign. First, the refugee crisis hardened public opinion. Liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen promised there would be a new referendum before Denmark ever joins EU refugee and asylum policies. The move confused voters, who saw no reason to scrap the opt-out if Denmark was to stay out of key policies anyway. Then more terror attacks hit Paris in November.

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Turkey wil never be part of the EU. Any attempt to include it would blow up the union.

Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)

The European People’s Party (EPP) has reiterated its opposition to EU membership for Turkey, despite the agreement that was reached on Sunday (29 November). EurActiv Germany reports. The deal that was struck with Ankara in relation to providing aid to tackle the refugee crisis and reopening accession talks has done nothing to quell the scepticism of the conservative EPP. “For us in the EPP, it is clear that we want a close partnership, but not full membership,” Manfred Weber (CSU), the EPP’s group leader, told Bavarian television on Monday (30 November). Although supporting the financial pledge made by the EU, he called the decision to allow Turks visa-free travel a “bitter pill” to swallow.

On Sunday evening (29 November), the EU and Turkey concluded talks that had been made necessary by the ongoing refugee crisis. Ankara committed itself to strengthening its land and sea borders, as well as stepping up its efforts against traffickers. In return, the EU pledged €3 billion to be used exclusively to care for refugees, to remove the visa-requirement for Turkish travellers and to re-energise accession talks. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP), Vice-President of the European Parliament, criticised the reopening of accession talks, given the civil and human rights situation in Asia Minor. It is not right that the EU have thrown their “values overboard” in dealing with the refugee crisis, the liberal politician said in a radio interview. Lambsdorff accused the German Chancellor of kowtowing to Turkish President Erdogan.

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Can Erdogan run afoul of his own troops?

Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)

Secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service (MIT) have been leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization”. But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair.

When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he had said, “You cannot stop the MIT truck. You cannot search it. You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens”. Since then, Erdogan and his hand-picked new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have repeated at every opportunity that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens. Public prosecutor Aziz Takci, who had ordered the trucks to be searched, was removed from his post and 13 soldiers involved in the search were taken to court on charges of espionage. Their indictments call for prison terms of up to 20 years. In scores of documents leaked by a group of hackers, the Gendarmerie Command notes that rocket warheads were found in the trucks’ cargo. According to the documents that circulated on the Internet before the ban came into effect, this was the summary of the incident:

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For now, Russia’s still trying through the UN. While likely sitting on explosive evidence.

Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)

Russia is working with the UN Security Council on a document that would enforce stricter implementation of Resolution 2199, which aims to curb illegal oil trade with and by terrorist groups, Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told RIA Novosti. The draft resolution intends to quash the financing of terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) extremists. “We are not happy with the way Resolution 2199, which was our initiative, is controlled and implemented. We want to toughen the whole procedure,” Churkin said. “We are already discussing the text with some colleagues and I must say that so far there is not a lot of contention being expressed.” US Ambassador Samantha Power said that America has “a shared objective” with Russia on this, since it is also working towards bringing the financing of terrorism to a halt.

The new document is a follow-up to Russian-sponsored Resolution 2199, which was adopted by the UN on February 12 to put a stop to illicit oil deals with terrorist structures using the UN Security Council’s sanctions toolkit. February’s resolution “has become an integral part of efforts by the UN Security Council, with Russia’s active involvement, to consolidate the international legal framework for countering the terrorist threat from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, wrote for RT. “Its urgency is prompted by the considerable revenues that the terrorists are receiving from trade in hydrocarbons from seized deposits in Syria and Iraq.” More specifically, it bans all types of oil trade with IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

If such transactions are discovered, they are labeled as financial aid to terrorists and result in targeted sanctions against participating individuals or companies. Back in July, the UN Security Council expressed “grave concern” over reports of oil trading with IS militant groups in Iraq and Syria. The statement came after IS seized control of oilfields in the area and was reportedly using the revenues to finance its nascent “state.” While Ambassador Churkin has proposed sanctioning states trading with IS terrorists, a retired US army general, believes that Churkin should be more specific in identifying the state actors involved in the illegal oil trade. Retired US Army Major General Paul E. Vallely, who has recently been lobbying for the Syrian rebels to cooperate with Russia against Islamic State, as well as for Washington to take a more active role in the war on IS, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be singled out as a “negative force” for supporting Islamic State’s black market oil revenues.

While the rebels in eastern Syria where the oil fields are located “could align with certain forces that are there – the Russians, if they were so inclined to do so… the key is to destroy ISIS, and one of the initiatives that ambassador Churkin should be moving toward with the Security Council is Erdogan in Turkey,” Vallely told RT. “He [Erdogan] has been supporting ISIS since I was over there several years ago. I’ve met some of the black-marketeers along the Syrian border there in [Turkish] Hatay province, and so they’re alive and well. But Erdogan is a problem, he really is, and if I was ambassador Churkin, not only would I propose something in the Security Council for cutting off the finances, but also doing some kind of action against Erdogan. He is a very, very negative force in that area.”

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Looks dead. But so does ‘resetting’ the Ukraine option.

Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)

Russia may freeze work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project for several years in retaliation against Ankara for the shooting down of a Russian Air Force jet, two sources at Russian gas giant Gazprom have told Reuters. The project is to involve, initially, building a new gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, and in subsequent phases the construction of a further line from Turkey to Greece, and then overland into Southeastern Europe. Even before the row with Ankara, the project had been delayed and reduced in scale, leading some industry insiders to doubt if it would ever happen.

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)

Virtually out of cash and with its revenues fast deteriorating, Puerto Rico is moving toward default on $7 billion in loans owed by its public corporations to free up money to repay loans backed by the territory’s full faith and credit, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told a Senate hearing Tuesday. The move allowed Puerto Rico to make a $355 million bond payment due today. Still, the financial gimmick, which violates the terms of some of those bond deals, only provides a short-term fix for the island’s liquidity problems. With at least $687 million in payments due on Jan. 1 and others to follow, it will only be a matter of time before Puerto Rico misses large payments on its $73 billion in outstanding debt, officials said.

“In simple terms we have begun to default on our debt in an effort to attempt to repay bonds issued with full faith and credit of the commonwealth and secure sufficient resources to protect the life, health, safety and welfare of the people of Puerto Rico,” Garcia Padilla told the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Congress does not pass legislation to allow Puerto Rico to reorganize its debts in bankruptcy, Tuesday’s financial move will just be “the beginning of a very long and chaotic process” that will harm the island’s creditors and allow a budding humanitarian crisis on the island to grow out of control, the governor said.

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Obama will stall until his term is over.

Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration on Tuesday to investigate 21 former U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, for potential criminal misconduct for their roles in the CIA’s torture of terrorism suspects in detention. The other officials include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Human Rights Watch argued that details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program that were made public by a U.S. Senate committee in December 2014 provided enough evidence for the Obama administration to open an inquiry.

“It’s been a year since the Senate torture report, and still the Obama administration has not opened new criminal investigations into CIA torture,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned.” Representatives for Bush and Tenet declined comment. Representatives for Cheney, Ashcroft and Rice could not immediately be reached for comment. Former Bush administration officials and Republicans have argued that the CIA used “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not constitute torture. They argue that the Senate report was biased.

“It’s a bunch of hooey,” James Mitchell, one of the architects of the interrogation program told Reuters nearly a year ago after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. “Some of the things are just plain not true.” In a video released in conjunction with the report, “No More Excuses” “A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” the president of the American Bar Association calls for a renewed investigation as well. In June, the ABA sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also saying that the details disclosed in the Senate report merited an investigation. “What we’ve asked the Justice Department to do is take a fresh look, a comprehensive look, into what has occurred to basically leave no stone unturned into investigating possible violations,” said American Bar Association President Paulette Brown.

“And if any are found to take the appropriate action as they would in any other matter.” CIA interrogators carried out the program on detainees who were captured around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States. In 2008, the Bush administration opened a criminal inquiry into whether the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration expanded the inquiry to include whether the interrogation program’s activity involved criminal conduct. In 2012, the Obama administration closed the criminal inquiry. Then Attorney General Eric Holder said that not enough evidence existed for criminal prosecution, including the death of two detainees.

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And here’s your daily dose of dead children.

4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

A 4-year-old child was reported drowned in the early hours of Tuesday as she and 28 fellow passengers tried to swim to the shore of Rho, a small islet off the coast of Kastellorizo in the southeastern Aegean. The coast guard says it was able to rescue the other 28 passengers on board the craft that had set sail from Turkey as they tried to reach Europe, but the young girl drowned in the final scramble. Greek coast guard officers have rescued over 200 refugees and migrants from Greece’s seas since Monday.

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Oct 152015
 
 October 15, 2015  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia. USS Brooklyn spar deck 1898

The Biggest American Debt Selloff In 15 Years (CNN)
Inequality To Drive ‘Massive Policy Shift’: Bank of America (CNBC)
At US Ports, Exports Are Coming Up Empty (WSJ)
Consumers Shutting Down As US Economy Deflates (CNBC)
The US Is Closer To Deflation Than You Think (CNBC)
Walmart Share Plunge Wipes Out $21 Billion In Market Cap In One Day (USA Today)
Wal-Mart Just Made Things Worse For Everybody Else (CNBC)
The Chilling Thing Walmart Said About Financial Engineering (WolfStreet)
Glencore Collapse Could Be Even Worse Than Feared (MM)
Unwinding Of Carry Trade May Unmask China’s True Metal Demand (Bloomberg)
VW: Secret Emissions Tool In 2016 Cars Is Separate From ‘Defeat’ Cheat (AP)
VW Customers Demand Answers And Compensation Over Emissions Scandal (Guardian)
Lavrov: Unclear What Exactly US Is Doing In Syria (RT)
Two-Thirds Of British Hospitals Offer Substandard Care (Guardian)
Assange ‘In Constant Pain’ As UK Denies Safe Passage To Hospital For MRI (RT)
Will Trudeaumania Sweep Canada’s Liberals Into Power – Again? (Guardian)
EU Need for Turkey to Halt Refugee Flow Collides With History (Bloomberg)
Refugee Rhetoric Echoes 1938 Summit Before Holocaust: UN Official (Guardian)
‘Lesbos Is Carrying The Sins Of The Great Powers’ (ES)

This is not reversible.

The Biggest American Debt Selloff In 15 Years (CNN)

China has been selling U.S. debt but it’s not alone. Lots of emerging markets like Brazil, India and Mexico are also selling U.S. Treasuries. Not that long ago all these countries were all huge buyers of U.S. debt, which is viewed as one of the safest places to park money. “Five or six years ago, the big concern was that China was going to own the United States,” says Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Bank. “Now the concern is that China is selling them.” Foreign governments have sold more U.S. Treasury bonds than they’ve bought in the 10 consecutive months through July 2015, the most recent month of available data from the Treasury Department. Just in the first seven months of the year, foreign governments sold off $103 billion of U.S. debt, according to CNNMoney’s analysis of Treasury Department data.

Last year there was an overall increase of nearly $45 billion. It’s a reality of the global economic slowdown. When commodity prices boomed a decade ago, emerging market countries took their profits and invested them in U.S. Treasury bonds and other types of assets that are similar to cash. Now that commodity prices are falling, countries that rely on commodities – Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia – just don’t have the cash they once did to invest in safe assets like U.S. Treasury bonds. “Slow growth means that they just don’t have the same appetite for dollars because they don’t have cash to put to work,” says Lori Heinel, chief portfolio strategist at State Street Global Advisors. “The bigger issue is ‘do they have the dollars flowing into the economies to keep investing in Treasuries?'”

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Interesting thought on PQE. Too little too late though.

Inequality To Drive ‘Massive Policy Shift’: Bank of America (CNBC)

Rising income inequality and a deflationary global economic picture are going to lead to big changes in 2016, according to one Wall Street forecast. Quantitative easing and zero interest rates are on their way out in the U.S., and Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes they will be replaced with massive infrastructure spending. The result would benefit Main Street more than Wall Street, which has had a banner seven-year run helped by historically easy Federal Reserve monetary policy. “If the secular reality of deflation and inequality is intensified by recession and rising unemployment, investors should expect a massive policy shift in 2016,” Hartnett said in a note to clients. “Seven years after the West went ‘all-in’ on QE and ZIRP, the U.S./Japan/Europe would shift toward fiscal stimulus via government spending on infrastructure or more aggressive income redistribution.”

A reversal in trend would have a substantial impact on investing. Investors should move to assets that benefit in reflationary times, like Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, gold (which Hartnett thinks will bottom in 2016), commodities and small-cap Chinese stocks, Hartnett said. TIPs have been around flat for the year, while gold has dropped nearly 2% and commodities overall are off nearly 13%. Easy-money measures have helped boost Wall Street, with the S&P 500 up about 200% since the March 2009 lows as companies have spent some $2 trillion on stock repurchases. Dividend payments also have soared during the period, with the second quarter’s $105 billion increase the biggest in 10 years, according to FactSet.

Asset returns have jumped while global economic growth has been anemic in what Hartnett called “the most deflationary expansion of all time.” GDP gains in the U.S. have averaged barely 2% during the post-Great Recession recovery, while some economists believe a global recession could hit in 2016. The clamor for some of that asset wealth to find its way into the larger economy is growing and giving rise, according to Hartnett, to populist presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and similar movements around the world. “Deflation exacerbates ‘inequality’ of income, wealth, profits, asset valuations,” Hartnett wrote. “The gap between winners and losers is being driven wider and wider by excess liquidity and technological disruption (trends synonymous with the 1920s, another period infamous for ‘inequality’).”

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China exports fell 20%. US exports are pluning. See the trend.

At US Ports, Exports Are Coming Up Empty (WSJ)

One of the fastest-growing U.S. exports right now is air. Shipments of empty containers out of the U.S. are surging this year, highlighting the impact the economic slowdown in China is having on U.S. exporters. The U.S. imports more from China than it sends back, but certain American industries—including those that supply scrap metal and wastepaper—feed China’s industrial production. Those exporters have suffered this year as China’s economy has cooled. In September, the Port of Long Beach, Calif., part of the country’s busiest ocean-shipping gateway, handled 197,076 outbound empty boxes. They accounted for nearly a third of all containers that moved through the port last month. September was the eighth straight month in which empty containers leaving Long Beach outnumbered those loaded with exports.

The empties are shipping out at a faster rate at many U.S. ports, particularly those closely tied to trade with China, while shipments of containers loaded with goods are declining as exporters find it tougher to make foreign sales. That’s at least partly because the strong dollar makes American goods more expensive. Normally, after containers filled with consumer goods are delivered to the U.S. and unloaded, they return to export hubs. There, they typically are stuffed with American agricultural products, certain high-end consumer goods and large volumes of the heavy, bulk refuse that is recycled through China’s factories into products or packaging. Last month, however, Long Beach and the Port of Oakland both reported double-digit gains in exports of empty containers.

So far this year, empties at the two ports are up more than 20% from a year earlier. Long Beach’s containerized exports were down 8.2% this year through September, while Oakland’s volume of outbound loaded containers fell 12.7% from a year earlier in the January-September period. “This is a thermometer,” said Jock O’Connell at Beacon Economics. “The thing to worry about is if the trade imbalance starts to widen.” Trade figures released Tuesday in Beijing underscored China’s faltering demand. China’s imports fell 20.4% year-over-year in September following a 13.8% decline in August. As of June, U.S. exports of scrap materials were down 36% from their peak of $32.6 billion in 2011.

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This is what deflation truly is: “The math is pretty simple: A lack of purchasing power for consumers has led to a lack of pricing power for companies.”

Consumers Shutting Down As US Economy Deflates (CNBC)

The math is pretty simple: A lack of purchasing power for consumers has led to a lack of pricing power for companies. When it comes to the U.S. economy big-picture outlook, the ramifications are more complicated, and not particularly pleasant. Wednesday’s producer price index reading, showing a monthly decline of 0.5%, demonstrates a larger problem: At a time when policymakers are hoping to generate the kind of inflation that would indicate strong growth, the reality is that deflation is looming as the larger threat. Declining prices often would be treated as a net positive by consumers, but income weakness is offsetting the effects. Even Wall Street is feeling the heat. Prices for brokerage-related services and financial advice dropped 4.3% in September, accounting for about a quarter of the entire slide for final demand services.

The prospects heading into year’s end are daunting. In addition to the punk PPI number, retail sales gained by just 0.1% in September. Excluding autos, gasoline and building materials, sales actually declined 0.1%. On top of that, the August retail numbers were revised lower, with the headline rate now flat from the originally reported 0.2% gain. On the same day as the two disappointing data releases, Wal-Mart warned that the weakness is likely to extend through its fiscal year, with sales expected to be flat. The warning sent its shares tumbling 9% in morning trade, the worst performance in 15 years. All in all, then, not a great environment in which to raise rates, which the Federal Reserve hopes to do before the end of the year.

“Consumers are growing increasingly uncertain regarding their future income streams and are less willing to finance today’s spending with the prospect of tomorrow’s improved, future earnings,” Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Fixed Income, said in a note to clients. “With gasoline prices at multiyear lows, consumers should be spending gangbusters but they aren’t.” Wage growth remains elusive for most workers, with the average hourly earnings rising just 2.2% annually. Job growth has slowed as well, with average monthly nonfarm payroll additions in the third quarter down nearly 28% from the previous quarter. The data on the ground shoot holes in a number of theories that were expected to drive the economy, market behavior and Fed policymaking.

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Prices rise only in the West.

The US Is Closer To Deflation Than You Think (CNBC)

Deflation talk these days is mostly centered on the euro zone and parts of emerging markets, but the U.S. is dancing on the brink itself. In fact, if not for a comparatively high inflation rate in the Western quadrant, the U.S. itself actually would have had a negative consumer price index rating in August, driving its economy into the same deflationary malaise found in other slow-growth regions. Of the four Census regions, only the West had a positive CPI for August, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it hasn’t just been a recent occurrence. “All price growth in the U.S. in the past eight months came from the West,” the St. Louis Federal Reserve said in a report on geographic inflation influences. Inflation in the West has been a full percentage point above the other three regions, all of which experienced deflation.

Excluding the West, the national rate of inflation as measured by the CPI would have been -0.19% in August, as compared to the already anemic national rate of 0.2%, according to the St. Louis Fed. (The September reading will be released Thursday morning.) Annualized inflation in the West was 1.3% in August. In the Northeast it was -0.1%, -0.2% in the South and -0.3% in the Midwest. Much of the deflationary pressure came through falling energy prices – down 9.5% annualized in the West, 14.5% in the Midwest, 18.3% in the East and 17.1% in the South. Low inflation, and the possibility of deflation, presents a daunting conundrum for Fed officials, who have dismissed falling energy prices as transitory despite the fundamental factor of slowing global demand.

Wall Street has been waiting all year for signs the U.S. central bank would start down the path to normalizing monetary policy by raising rates for the first time in more than nine years. However, liftoff has been delayed as the FOMC has fussed over when conditions will be ideal for the move. More hawkish members want to raise because they worry the Fed will be too late once inflation accelerates, while also citing the need simply to have wiggle room for policy accommodation that the Fed does not have as long as it keeps its key rate near zero. Futures traders do not believe the Fed will hike until March 2016.

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The direct result of falling consumer spending.

Walmart Share Plunge Wipes Out $21 Billion In Market Cap In One Day (USA Today)

The Waltons had a bad – and expensive – day. Retailing giant Walmart stunned investors Wednesday when it gave disappointing guidance for growth and profit, sending its stock down 10% to $60.03. The stock drop, which was the biggest in decades, instantly wiped out more than $21 billion in shareholder wealth. That drop was bad for anyone who owns shares of Walmart. But it was especially painful for the company’s top 10 shareholders, who collectively own two-thirds of Walmart’s outstanding stock and saw $14.7 billion in wealth vanish Wednesday. The dive in Walmart shares hurt some of the wealthiest people in America including Walton family members Alice, Jim, John and S. Robson. Famed investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway also is a huge owner of Walmart stock.

Each was on the front line for one of the biggest implosions of a blue-chip stock in recent years. Walton Enterprises, an investment vehicle controlled by several members of the Walmart family, suffered the biggest hit. This investment vehicle owns 1.4 billion shares of Walmart, or 44% of the total shares outstanding, S&P Capital IQ says. Its holdings took a $9.5 billion hit. When you Include the holdings of other Walton family-controlled entities, such as the 197 million shares owned by S. Robson Walton and another 194 million held in the Walton Family name, the day’s loss jumps to more than $12 billion. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns 60.4 million shares of Walmart and lost nearly $405 million.

Don’t think it’s just a “rich person’s problem,” either. Walmart’s drop hit many individual investors closer to home. Index fund behemoth Vanguard is the fourth largest owner of Walmart stock because Walmart’s huge market value makes it a key holding in many index funds, which are widely held by individual investors. Vanguard’s 98.6 million shares brought home a $660 million daily loss directly to Vanguard investors. The pain of owning a big chunk of a single stock became painfully clear again Wednesday – especially if your last name is Walton.

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As the no. 1 drops, so must the smaller fish.

Wal-Mart Just Made Things Worse For Everybody Else (CNBC)

Wal-Mart shares had their worst day in 15 years Wednesday, after the world’s largest retailer said sales will be flat in fiscal 2016, while its earnings will slide to between $4.40 and $4.70 a share — down from $4.84 last year. Shares of competitors including Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney fell in sympathy, as Wal-Mart said it would invest billions into price over the next two years. With Wal-Mart already undercutting much of its peers, the move will put added pressure on its competitive set, which is already struggling to grow sales against a backdrop of steep price cuts and rock-bottom starting prices. Deflation in the retail sector was one reason why the National Retail Federation said that holiday sales will increase 3.7% this year, representing a deceleration from 2014.

Analysts and brands alike have said the holiday shopping season is already shaping up to be cutthroat, as retailers will do almost anything to get consumers to spend in their stores. “It’s a never-ending battle to capture their share of the overall spend,” Steve Barr, U.S. retail and consumer leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Tuesday. It’s easy to understand why Wal-Mart, once the undisputed leader in pricing, is putting such an emphasis on delivering the best value to shoppers. According to PwC’s holiday forecast, 87% of shoppers said price is the primary driver behind their holiday spending choices. This is even more pronounced among what the consulting firm has dubbed “survivalists,” those who earn an annual income of less than $50,000.

According to PwC, 90% of survivalists said price is the No. 1 factor behind their holiday purchase decisions. Separately, a study released by coupon website RetailMeNot found consumers said a discount has to offer more than 34% off to be deemed a good deal. “I think we’ll see individuals taking advantage of the fact that prices haven’t moved against them this year,” the NRF’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said on a call after the trade group’s sales forecast.

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“The most chilling words in the news release? “These are exciting times in retail given the pace and magnitude of change.”

The Chilling Thing Wal-Mart Said About Financial Engineering (WolfStreet)

Wal-Mart had a bad-hair day. Its shares plunged $6.71, the largest single-day cliff-dive in its illustrious history. They ended the day down 10%, at $60.02, a number first kissed in 2001. Shares are 34% off their peak in January. So it wasn’t just today. But Wal-Mart didn’t do anything that special at its annual investor meeting today. It announced big “capital investments,” (we’ll get to the quotation marks in a moment), a crummy outlook, and a huge share buyback program. All of which it has done many times before. Only this time, the outlook is even worse, but the promised share buybacks are even larger. Wal-Mart proffered its strategies on how it would try to boost revenue growth in an environment where its primary customers – the 80% that got trampled by the Fed’s policies – are struggling to make ends meet.

A problem Wal-Mart has had for years. The news release hints at these new initiatives, spells out costs, and forecasts the resulting earnings debacle. Wal-Mart will goose “capital investments” by $11 billion in Fiscal 2017, on top of the $16.4 billion it’s spending on “capital investments” in fiscal 2016. This will maul earnings per share. In 2017, they’re expected to drop 6% to 12%, when the analyst community had forecast an increase of 4%. But 2019 is back in the rosy scenario of earnings growth. These capital investments aren’t computers, buildings, or new shelves. They’re largely “investments in wages and training,” which isn’t a capital investment at all, but an ordinary expense. “75% of next year’s investment will be related to people,” CEO Doug McMillon clarified.

That’s why they’ll hit earnings right away. A true capital investment would be an asset that is depreciated over time, with little earnings impact upfront. So sales in fiscal 2016 would be flat, which Wal-Mart blamed on “currency exchange fluctuations.” Would that be the strong dollar? But sales were also flat for the prior three fiscal years when the dollar was weak. Don’t lose hope, however. In the future, starting in fiscal 2017, sales would edge up 3% to 4%. To accomplish this, management is now desperately praying for inflation. The most chilling words in the news release? “These are exciting times in retail given the pace and magnitude of change.”

Then there was the announcement of a $20-billion share buyback program. $8.6 billion remaining from the $15 billion buyback program authorized in 2013 would be retired. That $15-billion program was on top of $36 billion in buyback programs over the preceding four years. Buybacks is what Wal-Mart does best.

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Derivatives.

Glencore Collapse Could Be Even Worse Than Feared (MM)

“Editor’s Note: We’re sharing this update on Glencore’s collapse with you because it’s shaping up to be even worse than Michael originally thought. Glencore still poses a “Lehman Brothers”-level risk to the global economy – but it’s now clear the world’s biggest commodities trader is on the hook for hundreds of billions in “shadow debt” that it simply refuses to address. This crisis is one small step away from upending our financial system, so here’s what you need to know…”

A lot of powerful voices have joined me in warning about the potential threat that Glencore poses to global financial markets. Bank of America, for instance, has published a report on the true size of the fallout. As you’ll see in a moment, it’s staggering. But since we talked about Glencore late last month, something insane has happened: The stock has gone up. But not for any good reason. The company has not righted the ship. The surge is only due to short-sellers covering their positions. The ugly truth is, the company is still a “shining” example of exactly what’s wrong with these markets. And I fear individual investors will get caught in the mess and wiped out on a stock like this or some of the others around it. That’s why I want to call out the misapprehensions and lies that are causing this “fauxcovery” and show you what’s next.

Because it could end up even worse than I thought…Since hitting a low of £0.69 ($1.05) per share on Sept. 28, Glencore stock has doubled to £1.29 ($1.97) per share. Even its credit default swap spreads have recovered to 650 basis points from a panic peak of 900 basis points. To place the last point in context, however, markets are pricing the company like a weak single B credit instead of a CCC credit. So while the major credit rating agencies still consider Glencore an investment-grade company, the actual credit markets have a much dimmer view of its prospects. Naturally, the company is doing everything possible to calm markets. First, last week it took the unusual step of publishing a six-page “funding factsheet” designed to dispel market concerns about its liquidity and solvency.

This factsheet shed very little light on what is really going on at the company, however. It said virtually nothing about Glencore’s derivatives contracts, other than stating that its derivatives contracts were undertaken within “industry standard frameworks.” Here’s the thing – “industry standard frameworks” normally require companies to post additional cash collateral upon the loss of an investment-grade rating, so the company’s statement should not have made anybody feel better. That suggests to me that the rise in the company’s stock price was largely a matter of short covering, not investors suddenly deciding that everything is hunky-dory in the House of Glencore.

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Remember the metals bought with stored and unpaid metals as collateral?

Unwinding Of Carry Trade May Unmask China’s True Metal Demand (Bloomberg)

The great mystery of metals is the amount used to finance the Chinese carry trade, or collateral used to borrow cheap dollars to buy yuan-backed high-interest-carrying notes. The Bank for International Settlements says this trade may be $1 trillion to $2 trillion, tying up tens of millions of metric tons of iron ore, aluminum and other metals. About a year of global copper consumption (22 million mt) equals just 5% to 10% of the estimate. The true figure will determine real China metal demand and future inventory. The impact of the Chinese metal carry trade is in the distortion of the true underlying copper demand, and a buildup in the metal’s inventory, strictly for collateral in financing. China accounts for 46% of global copper demand, according to the Word Bureau of Metals Statistics.

One question analysts must ask: What if it’s just 35%? The potential stopping of this trade, and normalization of the distorted demand, will provide understanding of China’s true copper needs and their potential growth. Nickel prices have fallen by half since year-end 2013, when they surged after No. 1 global exporter Indonesia banned exports of nonprocessed ore. Inventories are near record levels. The likely culprits for the higher inventory and price crash are the large amounts of the metal held off exchanges because they were used as collateral in a carry trade that took advantage of China’s high interest rates. A warehouse scandal at the Qingdao complex prompted banks to call in these trades, pummeling nickel prices.

The lucrative practice of using commodities as collateral to make money from interest-rate differentials inside and outside of China, a practice known as the carry trade, could cause significant pressure on commodity markets, were the trade to unravel. The Bank for International Settlements says this trade exceeds $1.2 trillion worth of commodities and could reach $2 trillion. Any major change in the direction of this trade could flood the market with more supply.

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Actually, it’s a second defeat device. And that means it’s company policy, not a freak incident involving only technicians.

VW: Secret Emissions Tool In 2016 Cars Is Separate From ‘Defeat’ Cheat (AP)

US regulators say they have a lot more questions for Volkswagen, triggered by the company’s recent disclosure of additional suspect engineering of 2016 diesel models that potentially would help exhaust systems run cleaner during government tests. That’s more bad news for VW dealers looking for new cars to replace the ones they can no longer sell because of the worldwide cheating scandal already engulfing the world’s largest automaker. Depending on what the Environmental Protection Agency eventually finds, it raises the possibility of even more severe punishment. Volkswagen confirmed to AP on Tuesday that the “auxiliary emissions control device” at issue operates differently from the “defeat” software included in the company’s 2009 to 2015 models and revealed last month.

The new software was first revealed to EPA and California regulators on 29 September, prompting the company last week to withdraw applications for approval to sell the 2016 model cars in the US. “We have a long list of questions for VW about this,” said Janet McCabe at EPA. “We’re getting some answers from them, but we do not have all the answers yet.” The delay means that thousands of 2016 Beetles, Golfs and Jettas will remain quarantined in US ports until a fix can be developed, approved and implemented. Diesel versions of the Passat sedan manufactured at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, also are on hold. Volkswagen already faces a criminal investigation and billions of dollars in fines for violating the Clean Air Act for its earlier emissions cheat, as well as a raft of state investigations and class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of customers.

If EPA rules the new software is a second defeat device specifically aimed at gaming government emissions tests, it would call into question repeated assertions by top VW executives that responsibility for the cheating scheme lay with a handful of rogue software developers who wrote the illegal code installed in prior generations of its four-cylinder diesel engines. That a separate device was included in the redesigned 2016 cars could suggest a multi-year effort by the company to influence US emissions tests that continued even after regulators began pressing the company last year about irregularities with the emissions produced by the older cars.

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VW has provided precious little info for its clients. That’ll backfire.

VW Customers Demand Answers And Compensation Over Emissions Scandal (Guardian)

Nine out of 10 Volkswagen drivers in Britain affected by the diesel emissions scandal believe they should receive compensation, increasing the pressure on the carmaker as it attempts to recover from the crisis. Almost 1.2m diesel vehicles in Britain are involved in the scandal, out of 11m worldwide, and VW faces a hefty bill if it is forced to make payouts to motorists. The company has put aside €6.5bn (£4.8bn) to deal with the cost of recalling and repairing the affected vehicles, but it also faces the threat of fines and legal action from customers and shareholders. There is a growing frustration among VW drivers in the UK over the lack of information about how their vehicle will be repaired, according to the consumer watchdog Which?. VW has sent letters to affected customers, arriving this week.

However, the letters state that the company is still working on its plans and another letter will be sent when these are confirmed. Paul Willis, the managing director of VW UK, told MPs on Monday that the recall of vehicles may not be completed by the end of 2016 and that it was premature to discuss compensation. However a survey by Which? has found that nine out of 10 affected motorists want compensation. Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?, said: “Many VW owners tell us they decided to buy their car based on its efficiency and low environmental impact, so it’s outrageous that VW aren’t being clear with their customers about how and when they will be compensated.

“Volkswagen UK must set out an urgent timetable for redress to the owners of the affected vehicles. We also need assurances from the government that it is putting in place changes to prevent anything like this happening again.” In the wake of the scandal, 86% of VW drivers are concerned about the environmental impact of their car, while 83% questioned the impact on its resale value and 73% feared the performance of their vehicle would be affected. More than half of the VW customers said they had been put off from buying a VW diesel car in the future. A total of 96% stated that fuel efficiency was an important factor in buying the diesel vehicle, while 90% said it was the seemingly limited environmental impact. Both these issues are affected by the scandal.

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“..it’s unclear “why the results of so many combat sorties are so insignificant.”

Lavrov: Unclear What Exactly US Is Doing In Syria (RT)

The Russian Foreign Ministry has questioned the effectiveness of the US-led year-long air campaign in Syria, saying it’s unclear “why the results of so many combat sorties are so insignificant.” Failing to curb ISIS, the US has now “adjusted” its program. “We have very few specifics which could explain what the US is exactly doing in Syria and why the results of so many combat sorties are so insignificant,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian channel NTV. “With, as far as I know, 25,000 sorties they [US-led air campaign] could have smashed the entire [country of] Syria into smithereens,” the minister noted.

Lavrov questioned the Western coalition’s objectives in their air campaign, stressing that Washington must decide whether its aim is to eliminate the jihadists or to use extremist forces to pursue its own political agenda. “Maybe their stated goal is not entirely sincere? Maybe it is regime change?” Lavrov said, as he expressed doubts that weapons and munitions supplied by the US to the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” will end up in terrorists’ hands. “I want to be honest, we barely have any doubt that at least a considerable part of these weapons will fall into the terrorists’ hands,” Lavrov said. American airlifters have reportedly dropped 50 tons of small arms ammunition and grenades to Arab groups fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in northern Syria.

US officials assure concerned parties that the fighters have been screened and are really confronting IS. “We do not want the events, when [some countries] not only cooperated with terrorists but plainly relied on them, to happen again,” Lavrov said, recalling that the French, for instance supplied weapons to anti-government forces in Libya in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. Lavrov has called on the US to “transcend themselves” and decide what is more important, either “misguided self-esteem realization” or getting rid of the “greatest threat” that is challenging humanity.

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Scary.

Two-Thirds Of British Hospitals Offer Substandard Care (Guardian)

Two-thirds of hospitals are offering substandard care, according to the NHS regulator, which also warns that pressure to cut costs could lead to a further worsening of the health service in the coming years. The Care Quality Commission also said that levels of safety are not good enough in almost three-quarters of hospitals, with one in eight being rated as inadequate. In its annual report, the watchdog detailed examples including one hospital where A&E patients were kept on trolleys overnight in a portable unit and not properly assessed by a nurse; while in another, medicine was given despite the patient’s identity not being properly confirmed. In some care homes, residents either received their medication too late or were given too much of it, leading to overdoses.

Understaffing and money problems are already contributing to a situation where 65% of hospitals, mental health and ambulance services either require improvement or are providing inadequate care.Too many patients are already receiving care that is unacceptably poor, unsafe or highly variable in its quality, from staff who range from the exceptional to those who lack basic compassion, it adds. In the report, England’s health and social care regulator raises concerns that patients could suffer as the service seeks to make the £22bn of efficiency savings by 2020 that NHS England has offered and health secretary Jeremy Hunt is pressing it hard to start delivering. “The environment for health and social care will become even more challenging over the next few years,” it states. “Tensions will arise for providers about how to balance the pressures to increase efficiency with their need to improve or maintain the quality of their care”.

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As much humanity as refugees receive. “They can guard the car with 10,000 police officers if they wish..”

Assange ‘In Constant Pain’ As UK Denies Safe Passage To Hospital For MRI (RT)

The UK has refused to grant Julian Assange safe passage to a hospital for an MRI scan and diagnosis, WikiLeaks has said, adding that he has been in “severe pain” since June. Assange’s lawyer has accused the UK of violating his client’s basic rights. WikiLeaks said that the UK government refused to satisfy Assange’s request to visit a hospital unhindered after the Ecuadorian Embassy filed one on his behalf on September 30. An MRI was recommended by a doctor, Laura Wood, back in August, according to the statement read aloud at a press conference given by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino on Wednesday.

“He [Julian Assange] has been suffering with a constant pain to the right shoulder region…[since June 2015]. There is no history of acute injury to the area. I examined him and all movements of his shoulder (abduction, internal rotation and external rotation) are limited due to pain. I am unable to elicit the exact cause of his symptoms without the benefit of further diagnostic tests, [including] MRI,” Patino read, citing a letter from the doctor. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a reply stating that Assange could not be guaranteed unhindered passage for a more thorough medical diagnosis on October 12.

Patino has criticized the decision saying that “even in times of war, safe passage are given for humanitarian reasons.” The Ecuadorian Embassy asked the UK authorities to offer a safe passage for a few hours for Assange into a London Hospital “under conditions agreed upon by UK and Ecuador,” Patino said, according to the WikiLeaks press release. “They can guard the car with 10,000 police officers if they wish,” the FM stressed, according to the press-release.

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If Canada elects Harper again, forget about the country.

Will Trudeaumania Sweep Canada’s Liberals Into Power – Again? (Guardian)

In the longest official federal election period in the nation’s history, it now appears Liberal leader Justin Trudeau may well be the nation’s next prime minister, with polls showing him establishing a commanding lead over his rivals, and the trend continuing to grow. It’s a stunning development in an election that could be described as an epic cliffhanger. Many, if not most, Canadians are eager for a change from prime minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, but with two worthy and eager rivals – the New Democratic party’s Thomas Mulcair and the Liberal party’s Justin Trudeau – where those change-hungry voters will place their bet has been difficult to decipher. When Harper announced the campaign in early August, it was met with immediate cynicism.

The extended campaign time (79 days as opposed to what had been the standard 37 days) gave the Conservatives an immediate advantage, given that their financial war chest is considerably larger than that of the Liberals or NDP. The Conservative strategy seemed a sound one: let the two opposition parties battle it out while the ruling party would float as much advertising as possible, handily winning over another majority. But the ruling party has faced considerable obstacles, including an astonishingly embarrassing ongoing scandal involving appointees to the unelected Senate (the Canadian version of the House of Lords) and a flagging economy. Polls have indicated many Canadians want change.

Ironically enough, one of the main reasons Canadians may have shifted their allegiances to the Liberal party leader is precisely because of the most famous negative ad campaign of the election, paid for and put into heavy rotation by the Conservatives. The ad, first rolled out in May by the Conservatives, has a group of people looking over an application by Justin Trudeau for the PM’s job. Perhaps most striking for its laughably bad acting, the ad has people concluding Trudeau is a lightweight who is “just not ready” for the job, with one concluding “nice hair, though”.

The ad attempts to suggest that not only is Trudeau simply not ready but voting for him is tantamount to a risky foray into untested waters, given the turbulent global economy and nagging threats of terror (the Cons have been playing both up at every turn). But a funny thing happened on the way through this fear-mongering: by just about any standards, Trudeau has run an excellent campaign. In late August he unveiled a campaign promise to invest billions of dollars in Canada’s roads, bridges, public transit and other public facilities. He suggested these were all necessary investments, which would help to stimulate the moribund economy, and went one step further, suggesting if he formed government, he would be open to deficit spending – moderate deficits, he cautioned, which would be over by 2019.

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Europe has it coming.

EU Need for Turkey to Halt Refugee Flow Collides With History (Bloomberg)

The EU needs Turkey more than ever to halt the flow of refugees from the Middle East – and has little to offer in return. With its decade-old bid to join the 28-nation union stalled, Turkey will be the topic without being at the table at a summit of EU leaders Thursday in Brussels. On the same mission, Angela Merkel plans to travel to Istanbul on Sunday to meet Turkish leaders. Relations have been all downhill since EU membership talks with Turkey began in 2005, years before civil war in neighboring Syria sent refugees streaming toward Europe. Turkey is stymied in part by Cyprus, its Mediterranean rival, and an anti-expansion mood in northern Europe. Meantime, a blossoming Turkish economy fed the sense that the country of 77 million could get along fine on its own.

“Many people in the EU are regretting the unproductive approach they had to the accession negotiations with Turkey, blocking the process and creating a deep sense of resentment in Ankara,” said Amanda Paul, an analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “If it were going along normally, it would be easier to reach this sort of agreement with Turkey.” Contacts are so strained that after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to Brussels on Oct. 5 to consider an “action plan” on migration, Turkish officials said the plan wasn’t discussed. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesman downgraded it to “an accord in principle to undertake a process.”

After Syria descended into war in 2011, European governments were content to let neighboring states such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan cope with the refugee influx. Only once Turkey amassed 2.2 million and they started heading northwest did European leaders wake up, finding themselves in the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Germany, with a population of 81 million, is being roiled by this year’s expected arrival of at least 800,000 refugees, which is causing strains in Merkel’s governing coalition. “Turkey fears that even more refugees will come because the fighting in Syria isn’t letting up,” Merkel said Wednesday in a speech in eastern Germany. “I will fly to Turkey on Sunday to see how we can help on the ground so Turkey’s burden is shouldered more widely.”

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“It’s just a political issue that is being ramped up by those who can use the excuse of even the smallest community as a threat to the sort of national purity of the state..”

Refugee Rhetoric Echoes 1938 Summit Before Holocaust: UN Official (Guardian)

The dehumanising language used by UK and other European politicians to debate the refugee crisis has echoes of the pre-second world war rhetoric with which the world effectively turned its back on German and Austrian Jews and helped pave the way for the Holocaust, the UN’s most senior human rights official has warned. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, described Europe’s response to the crisis as amnesiac and “bewildering”. Although he did not mention any British politicians by name, he said the use of terms such as “swarms of refugees” were deeply regrettable. In July, the UK prime minister, David Cameron, referred to migrants in Calais as a “swarm of people”.

At this month’s Conservative party conference, the home secretary, Theresa May, was widely criticised for suggesting that mass migration made it “impossible to build a cohesive society”. In an interview, the high commissioner said the language surrounding the issue reminded him of the 1938 Evian conference, when countries including the US, the UK and Australia refused to take in substantial numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s annexation of Austria on the grounds that they would destabilise their societies and strain their economies. Their reluctance, Zeid added, helped Hitler to conclude that extermination could be an alternative to deportation.

Three-quarters of a century later, he said, the same rhetoric was being deployed by those seeking to make political capital out of the refugee crisis. “It’s just a political issue that is being ramped up by those who can use the excuse of even the smallest community as a threat to the sort of national purity of the state,” he said. “If you just look back to the Evian conference and read through the intergovernmental discussion, you will see that there were things that were said that were very similar.”

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“..there are cases of Afghan children drowning off Greece that would touch the public deeply if publicised..”

‘Lesbos Is Carrying The Sins Of The Great Powers’ (ES)

Four rubber boats arrive in an hour, 40 to 50 people in each. One man nudges his two-year-old daughter towards me while he fetches his son. I try to soothe her tears. While two French doctors attend the injured, most of the new arrivals seem in good health and high spirits. Many of them, with their fashionable sportswear and smart backpacks, could be day-trippers. But it feels very different as night falls and the coach bearing me and my fellow Startup Boat activists — young volunteers trying to find tech and strategic solutions to the problems posed by the refugee crisis — takes us past a crowd of 150. None of the promised buses have arrived to take them to refugee camps at Moria and Karatape, 20 miles away.

Welcome to Lesbos, where in recent weeks 1,500-3,000 people — predominantly Syrians, then Iraqis and Afghans — have arrived daily, paying traffickers €1,200 for the short passage from Turkey. The former military camp at Moria has an official capacity of 410 but at times has housed 1,000, with hundreds camped outside. Karatape, set up specifically for Syrians, can take 1,000. While we were on Lesbos, a 24-hour period when police were off duty left Karatape at twice capacity, and food stores exhausted. The situation, says Lesbos mayor Spyros Galinos, is like “a bomb in my hands”. “I believe Lesbos is carrying the sins of great powers,” he says. “If this dot on the map could manage to accommodate such high numbers, all member states can help us.”

The problems extend beyond Syrian refugees. In Athens, young Afghan Mohammad Mirzay tells me why EU nations have made a “big mistake”, allowing Syrians the right to remain, however many countries they have travelled through, but not extending this to others. The Taliban are persecuting the Hazaras, he says, while there are cases of Afghan children drowning off Greece that would touch the public deeply if publicised. He takes me to Galatsi Olympic Hall, a venue at the 2004 Games, now designated a safe house. Families are camped in the fetid space. “Why should we be divided?” says Mirzay. “We should push in altogether. We should support ‘human’.”

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Jun 162015
 
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Dorothea Lange Crossroads grocery store and filling station, Yakima, Washington, Sumac Park 1939

Greece Accuses Europe Of Plotting Regime Change (AEP)
Starvation Is The Price Greeks Will Pay For Remaining In The EU (PC Roberts)
Not Just Greece, Everyone Should Leave The Euro -There’s No Point (Worstall)
Why Greece Should Choose Eurozone Exit Rather Than Dependence (Irish Times)
Contagion From Greek Crisis Engulfs Eurozone Bonds (Reuters)
Defiant Tsipras Accuses Creditors Of ‘Pillaging’ Greece (FT)
Why Can’t Greece Just Declare Bankruptcy? (Stiglitz/Guzman)
Greece Isn’t Any Old Troubled Debtor (BBC)
Ex-IMF Official Says ‘Errors’ By Lenders Worsened Greek Crisis (Kathimerini)
What Is Reform? The Strange Case Of Greece And Europe (James Galbraith)
3% of the World’s Top Scientists are Greek (Greek Reporter)
Sunday Times ‘Reporter’ ‘Defends’ Snowden ‘Article’ (CNN)
IMF: Inequality Hurts Economic Growth (Guardian)
1% Of Households In 2014 Made Up 42% Of Total Private Global Wealth (Forbes)
Foreign Investors Pose Threat To US Residential Real Estate (MarketWatch)
$112 Billion Fund Manager Worries Bond-Market Fire Doors Are Locked (Bloomberg)
Fast Track Hands the Money Monopoly to Private Banks, Permanently (Ellen Brown)
CIA Torture Has Broken Spy Agency Rule On Human Experimentation (Guardian)
How Pension Funds Face Huge Risk From Climate Change (Guardian)
Pope Warns Of Destruction Of World’s Ecosystem In Leaked Encyclical (Guardian)

Brussels has experince in this.

Greece Accuses Europe Of Plotting Regime Change (AEP)

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras has accused Europe’s creditor powers of trying to subvert Greece’s elected government after five years of “pillaging”, warning in solemn terms that his country will defend its sovereign dignity whatever the consequences. The defiant stand came as the European Commission lashed out at the Greeks and warned that the country would collapse into a “state of emergency” unless there is a deal to avert a financial crash. Germany’s EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the creditor powers must draw up urgent plans to cope with social unrest in Greece and a break-down of energy supplies and medicine as soon as July. In a terse statement, Mr Tsipras called on the EU institutions and the IMF to “adhere to realism”.

He accused the creditors of “political motives” for demanding further pension cuts, hinting that their real goal is to destroy the credibility of his radical-Left Syriza government and force regime change. “We are not only carrying a historical past underlined with struggles. We are carrying our people’s dignity as well as the aspirations of all Europeans. We cannot ignore this responsibility. It has to do with democracy,” he said. Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that the creditors are drawing an ultimatum to the Greeks, threatening to cut off Greek access to the European payments system and forcing capital controls on the country as soon as this weekend. The plan would lead to the temporary closure of the banks, followed by a rationing of cash withdrawals.

Syriza sources have told the Telegraph that Greece may seek an injunction from the European Court of Justice to stop the creditors and the EU institutions acting in a way that breaches Greek treaty rights. This would be an unprecedented move, greatly complicating the picture. Equity markets fell across the Europe and bonds sold off sharply in the high-debt Latin states as investors start to think through the dramatic implications of a Greek default, followed by EMU rupture. “The Greek saga is finally reaching its climax, we think,” said Hans Redeker from Morgan Stanley. Yields on 10-year Portuguese bonds have jumped almost 170 basis points since their lows in March, reaching an eight-month high of 3.22pc. Spain’s yields have jumped by 120 points to 2.35pc.

While these levels are nothing like the panic spikes in past spasms of the EMU debt crisis, they are approaching levels that could soon tighten borrowing conditions for companies and mortgages. It may become harder for these countries to shake off deflation. Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, said the authorities could handle the immediate fall-out from a Greek default but refused to offer any further assurances. “The consequences in medium to long term to the Union is not something we are in a position to foresee,” he said.

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“Why will creating money for Greece create inflation but not for Goldman Sachs, Citibank, and JPMorganChase?”

Starvation Is The Price Greeks Will Pay For Remaining In The EU (PC Roberts)

Syriza, the new Greek government that intended to rescue Greece from austerity, has come a cropper. The government relied on the good will of its EU “partners,” only to find that its “partners” had no good will. The Greek government did not understand that the only concern was the bottom line, or profits, of those who held the Greek debt. The Greek people are as out to lunch as their government. The majority of Greeks want to remain in the EU even though it means that their pensions, their wages, their social services, and their employment opportunities will be reduced. Apparently for Greeks, being a part of Europe is worth being driven into the ground. The alleged “Greek crisis” makes no sense whatsoever.

It is obvious that Greece cannot with its devastated economy repay the debts that Goldman Sachs hid and then capitalized on the inside information, helping to cause the crisis. If the solvency of the holders of the Greek debt, apparently the NY hedge funds and German and Dutch banks, depends on being repaid, the ECB could just follow the example of the Federal Reserve and print the money to secure the Greek debt. The ECB is already printing 60 billion euros a month to save the European financial system, so why not include Greece? A conservative might say that such a course of action would cause inflation, but it hasn’t. The Fed has been creating money hands over fists for seven years, and according to the government there is no inflation.

We even have negative interest rates attesting to the absence of inflation. Why will creating money for Greece create inflation but not for Goldman Sachs, Citibank, and JPMorganChase? Obviously, the Western world doesn’t want to help Greece. The West wants to loot Greece. The deal is that Greece gets new loans with which to repay existing loans in exchange for selling municipal water companies to private investors (water rates will go up on the Greek people), for selling the state lottery to private investors (Greek government revenues drop, thus making debt repayment more difficult), and for other such “privatizations” such as selling the protected Greek islands to real estate developers. This is a good deal for everyone but Greece.

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The eurozone sinks all boats.

Not Just Greece, Everyone Should Leave The Euro -There’s No Point (Worstall)

If the 100,000 people of my native Bath all use different currencies then trade between the citizenry is going to be rather difficult. If we all use the same currency it will be easier and there will be more trade. Since trade is what gives us Smithian growth (from Adam Smith, the specialisation and division of labour and the trade in the resultant production), makes us all richer, this is a good idea. However, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. If we’re using the same currency then we must, by definition, have the same monetary policy. And the larger the area we cover the more likely it is that we’ll have two more more areas within which it will react differently to an external or asymmetric shock (the definition of that second simply being a shock that hits different areas in different ways).

This is what Paul Krugman has been talking about with Finland and everyone has been talking about with respect to the property booms in Ireland and Spain a decade back. All of this is background: people have been chewing over how optimal the euro area is ever since the idea was first floated (hint: it’s not optimal). However, note that the size of that optimality depends upon the strength of the two effects. And if that increased trade effect is smaller then the optimal area becomes smaller. And what this most recent research seems to be showing is that there’s no extra trade effect at all:

“More importantly, we find that the trade effects of EMU are different from other currency unions. But, most disturbingly, we find that the precise econometric methodology used to estimate the currency effect on trade matters. A lot. In the large, we find no consistent evidence that EMU stimulated trade. Indeed, we are forced to conclude that econometric methodology matters so much that it undermines confidence in our ability to estimate the effect of currency union on trade.”

A reasonable rule of thumb is that if the effect you’re looking for varies a lot dependent upon the method you’re using to look for it (assuming that all the methods you are using are reasonable) then what you’re finding is not actually the effect, but variances due entirely to the measurement method. But even putting that aside they find that there’s a small through zero to possibly even negative effect upon trade of the currency union of the euro. Or, as we might put it, there’s no benefit and we’re left just with the costs. Things that cost us but have no benefit are things that we shouldn’t be doing. Thus, clearly, we shouldn’t be having the euro. Or, as we might put it, everyone should leave it, not just Greece.

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“One doesn’t have to agree with the politics of the far left in Greece to vindicate the integrity of their economic case.”

Why Greece Should Choose Eurozone Exit Rather Than Dependence (Irish Times)

The narrative of the euro zone crisis, the epicentre of which is Greece, has been airbrushed. Germany’s insistence that the 2012 bailout programme is a realistic reference point for current discussion is misconceived. Its assertion that debt relief can be discussed only after the completion of the current programme, rather than being the obvious starting point for a new agreement, is profoundly mistaken. The tenor of the euro zone’s criticism of the government of Alexis Tsipras has shifted from the patronising to the denunciatory, from faux long-suffering indulgence with a brash upstart to near visceral condemnation. The message is that the grown-ups are “exasperated” and “running out of patience” with Greece.

Germany’s minister for economic affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, argues that “Greece’s game theorists are gambling the future of their country. And Europe’s too.” This is revisionist rhetoric. Greece is more right than its critics. One doesn’t have to agree with the politics of the far left in Greece to vindicate the integrity of their economic case. What is true of a relationship is true also for a country: dependence is never healthy. Continued membership means continued dependence. Given the pressures being exerted on Greece, exit rather than dependence would be the better option. In February German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble insisted that Greece complete the 2012 programme, regardless of the sea change in politics since then and the evidence that austerity was taking Greece further into recession.

He warned Athens not to question the framework of existing agreements or “everything is over”. It was a calamitous misjudgment. The “negotiations” have demonstrated how big countries behave when small countries step out of line and just how easily history can be rewritten. Tsipras, in an interview with Le Monde, said the euro zone’s dominant players were, by degrees, bringing about the “complete abolition of democracy in Europe” and were ushering in a technocratic monstrosity with powers to subjugate states that refuse to accept the “doctrines of extreme neoliberalism”.

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So much for ‘we have it under control’.

Contagion From Greek Crisis Engulfs Eurozone Bonds (Reuters)

Italian, Spanish and Portuguese bond yields leapt on Tuesday in one of the most serious episodes of contagion since the height of Europe’s debt crisis after the latest breakdown in talks between Greece and its creditors. Except for a jump in May during a global bond sell-off driven by improving inflation expectations, yields on bonds issued by the eurozone’s most vulnerable states were on track for their biggest three-day move since mid-2013. Similarly sharp moves were seen in 2012 as the crisis peaked, although yields on the three countries’ bonds remain far below the highs of above 7% hit in that period.

The moves, analysts say, could impact the dynamic of the negotiations between Greece and European leaders, who may have thought that the relative calm in markets during the protracted talks was a sign that investors thought a Grexit was manageable. “A lot of people, especially in Germany, have seemed relaxed about Greece. We’ve seen comments saying that if Greece exits it’s not such a big thing,” said Jean-Francois Robin, head of rates strategy at Natixis. “The market is just showing exactly the opposite of that.”

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Sociopaths.

Defiant Tsipras Accuses Creditors Of ‘Pillaging’ Greece (FT)

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, vowed not to give in to demands made by his country’s international creditors, accusing them of “pillaging” Greece for the past five years and insisting it was now up to them to propose a new rescue plan to save Athens from bankruptcy. Mr Tsipras’ remarks came less than 24 hours after the collapse of last-ditch talks aimed at reaching agreement on the release of €7.2bn in desperately needed rescue funds. The comments were part of a chorus of defiance in Athens that left many senior EU officials convinced they can no longer clinch a deal with Greece to prevent it from crashing out of the eurozone.

Without a deal to release the final tranche of Greece’s current bailout, Athens is likely to default on a €1.5bn loan repayment due to be paid to the IMF in two weeks, an event officials fear would set off a financial chain reaction from which Greece would be unable to recover. “One can only suspect political motives behind the fact that [bailout negotiators] insist on further pension cuts, despite five years of pillaging,” Mr Tsipras said in a statement. “We are carrying our people’s dignity as well as the aspirations of all Europeans. We cannot ignore this responsibility. It is not a matter of ideological stubbornness. It has to do with democracy.”

Reflecting the growing fears of a Greek default, Günther Oettinger, Germany’s European commissioner, called for an “emergency plan, a ‘Plan B’” in case Athens failed to reach a deal, saying this would lead to “a state of emergency” in Greece, including difficulties paying for energy, police services and medicines. The growing signs of breakdown sent the Athens stock exchange down nearly 5% and borrowing costs on Greek bonds sharply higher. The jitters appeared to spread to other peripheral eurozone bonds as well, with sell-offs in benchmark Italian, Spanish and Portuguese debt.

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It can. And should.

Why Can’t Greece Just Declare Bankruptcy? (Stiglitz/Guzman)

Governments sometimes need to restructure their debts. Otherwise, a country’s economic and political stability may be threatened. But, in the absence of an international rule of law for resolving sovereign defaults, the world pays a higher price than it should for such restructurings. The result is a poorly functioning sovereign-debt market, marked by unnecessary strife and costly delays in addressing problems when they arise. We are reminded of this time and again. In Argentina, the authorities’ battles with a small number of “investors” (so-called vulture funds) jeopardized an entire debt restructuring agreed to — voluntarily — by an overwhelming majority of the country’s creditors.

In Greece, most of the “rescue” funds in the temporary “assistance” programs are allocated for payments to existing creditors, while the country is forced into austerity policies that have contributed mightily to a 25% decline in gross domestic product and have left its population worse off. In Ukraine, the potential political ramifications of sovereign-debt distress are enormous. So the question of how to manage sovereign-debt restructuring — to reduce debt to levels that are sustainable — is more pressing than ever. The current system puts excessive faith in the “virtues” of markets. Disputes are generally resolved not on the basis of rules that ensure fair resolution, but by bargaining among unequals, with the rich and powerful usually imposing their will on others.

The resulting outcomes are generally not only inequitable, but also inefficient. Those who claim that the system works well frame cases like Argentina as exceptions. Most of the time, they claim, the system does a good job. What they mean, of course, is that weak countries usually knuckle under. But at what cost to their citizens? How well do the restructurings work? Has the country been put on a sustainable debt path? Too often, because the defenders of the status quo do not ask these questions, one debt crisis is followed by another. Greece’s debt restructuring in 2012 is a case in point. The country played according to the “rules” of financial markets and managed to finalize the restructuring rapidly; but the agreement was a bad one and did not help the economy recover.

Three years later, Greece is in desperate need of a new restructuring. Distressed debtors need a fresh start. Excessive penalties lead to negative-sum games, in which the debtor cannot recover and creditors do not benefit from the larger repayment capacity that recovery would entail.

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Note: Peston rarely has anything worth quoting. But even he can see something’s amiss in the Greece ‘debate’.

Greece Isn’t Any Old Troubled Debtor (BBC)

it is not just the quantum of austerity that divides Athens from its creditors, it is also the method of execution. So the eurozone and IMF want further pension cuts and an increase in VAT on electricity. These measures are toxic for the Greek Syriza government because they are regressive, they disproportionately hurt the poorer Greeks who elected Syriza. So “why insist on pensions?”, says Blanchard. His answer is that pension expenditure in Greece is 16% of GDP, and “transfers from the budget to the pension system are close to 10% of GDP”. Now here in Britain we would think that public spending on pensions of close to a tenth of GDP is incredibly lavish: the equivalent figure for the UK, and indeed for most anglophone countries like the US and Canada, is much lower (at around 6% of GDP in Britain).

But in the UK, US and Canada, private pension saving is much higher than on the continent of Europe. And Greece’s government spending on pensions, as a share of GDP, is very much in the ballpark of spending in the rest of the eurozone: on the basis of the last official OECD figures, which admittedly are five years old, Greece spent less than Italy, France and Austria on pensions and only a bit more than Germany. And there is another thing: in 2009 the OECD calculated that Greek government cash spending on old-age and survivors benefits was 13% of its GDP. If the equivalent figure today is 10%, which is what Blanchard seems to suggest, that implies the outlay on pensions has already been reduced by around 40%, given that Greece’s GDP has shrunk by a quarter.

That said, on the basis of the last Eurostat figures, which are for 2012, Greece’s old-age outlay – including disability and incapacity payments – was considerably higher than the euro area average. So the stats are murky. But it is worth pointing out that Greece has proportionately more old people than the eurozone average, and more poor people (thanks to five years of slump). In other words, it is not obvious that there is outrageous excess in the Greek pension system (and there certainly isn’t in comparison with provision in Blanchard’s French home).

To state the obvious, which seems however to be lost on the leaders of the eurozone, once the euro is not forever for any member, it is not forever for all members. And once that clonking penny drops for global investors, the notion that the whole project will fall apart – not tomorrow, but one day – will increasingly become the default view.

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“We should have fought for this from the start.”

Ex-IMF Official Says ‘Errors’ By Lenders Worsened Greek Crisis (Kathimerini)

Greece’s former representative at the IMF, Panayiotis Roumeliotis, appeared before the parliamentary inquiry into the country’s debt and argued that Greece’s lenders have contributed to worsening the Greek crisis through the policies they advocated. “The mistake made by lenders is that they placed emphasis on the fiscal side and high taxes, which they are continuing to do now,” he said. “This resulted in the recession.” Roumeliotis was Greece’s envoy to the IMF when the first bailout was signed in 2010 and he claimed at the hearing that there was contact at the time between German and French officials to ensure that there would not be a restructuring of Greece debt as much of it was held by German and French banks. “They took too long to restructure Greece’s debt,” he said. “We should have fought for this from the start.”

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Galbraith is Varoufakis’ friend and adviser he brought with him from texas.

What Is Reform? The Strange Case Of Greece And Europe (James Galbraith)

On our way back from Berlin on Tuesday, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remarked to me that current usage of the word “reform” has its origins in the middle period of the Soviet Union, notably under Khrushchev, when modernizing academics sought to introduce elements of decentralization and market process into a sclerotic planning system. In those years when the American struggle was for rights and some young Europeans still dreamed of revolution, “reform” was not much used in the West. Today, in an odd twist of convergence, it has become the watchword of the ruling class.[..]

What is missing from the creditors’ demands is, well, reform. Cuts in pensions and VAT increases are not reform; they add nothing to economic activity or to competitiveness. Fire-sale privatization can lead to predatory private monopolies as anyone living in Latin America or Texas knows. Labor market deregulation is in the nature of an unethical experiment, the imposition of pain as therapy, something the internal records of the IMF as far back as 2010 confirm. No one can suggest that wage cuts can bring Greece into effective competition for jobs in traded goods with either Germany or Asia. Instead, what will happen is that anyone with competitive skills will leave. Reform in any true sense is a process that requires time, patience, planning, and money.

Pension reform and social insurance, modern labor rights, sensible privatizations and effective tax collection are reforms. So are measures relating to public administration, the justice system, tax enforcement, statistical integrity and other matters, which are agreed in principle and which the Greeks would implement readily if the creditors would permit it – but for negotiating reasons they do not. So would be an investment program emphasizing the advanced services Greece is well-suited to provide, including in health care, elder-care, higher education, research, and the arts. It requires recognizing that Greece cannot succeed by being the same as other countries; it must be different – a country with small shops, small hotels, high culture, and open beaches. A debt restructuring that would bring Greece back to the markets (and yes, that could be done, and the Greeks have a proposal to do it) would also be, on any reasonable reckoning, a reform.

The plain object of the creditors’ program is therefore not reform. It is the doubling-down on debt collection in the face of disaster. Pension cuts, wage cuts, tax increases and fire sales are offered up on the magical thought that the economy will recover despite the burden of higher taxes, lower purchasing power, and external repatriation of profits from privatization. The magic has already been tested for five years, with no success in the Greek case. That is why, instead of recovering as predicted after the bailout of 2010, Greece has suffered a loss of over 25% of its income with no end in sight. That is why the debt burden has gone from about 100% of GDP to 180%, when measured in terms of face values. But to admit this failure, in the case of Greece, would be to undermine the entire European policy project and the authority of those who run it.

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Still a very well educated people.

3% of the World’s Top Scientists are Greek (Greek Reporter)

Greeks may be only 0.2% of the world population but 3% of top international scientists are of Greek nationality, says a survey. John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, conducted the research and presented it on Saturday at the Panhellenic Medical Conference in Athens. Ioannidis gave a lecture in memory of prominent Doctor and Professor Dimitris Trichopoulos who died in December 2014. The title was “The exodus of Greek scientists – a meta-analysis,” and the survey showed statistics for a total of 672 scientists with Greek names who have the most influence in the international scientific bibliography. The professor used statistical data from the Google Scholar database.

On average, the 672 Greek scientists have received 17,000 reports each in the international scientific bibliography. Only one in seven of them (14%) lived or live in Greece, 86% of them live abroad where several of them were born, and 33 of them have passed away. In the wider scientific community there are about 20 million authors who have made at least one scientific publication. Greek names represent about 1% of those, meaning 200,000, while Greek names represent 3% of all scientists. The most ancient Greek scientist, Aristotle, is constantly used as a reference in the scientific bibliography. Statistically, out of the 672 leading Greek scientists, only 95 (14%) are located in Greece.

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How one can not be speechless after this 4 minute video is beyond us.

Sunday Times ‘Reporter’ ‘Defends’ Snowden ‘Article’ (CNN)

CNN’s George Howell speaks with Sunday Times correspondent Tom Harper about reports that Russia and China have decrypted files stolen by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

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As its leadership promotes more of it.

IMF: Inequality Hurts Economic Growth (Guardian)

The idea that increased income inequality makes economies more dynamic has been rejected by an IMF study, which shows that the widening income gap between rich and poor is bad for growth. A report by five IMF economists dismissed “trickle down” economics, and said that if governments want to increase the pace of growth they should concentrate on helping the poorest 20% of their citizens. The study, covering advanced, emerging and developing countries, said technological progress, weaker trade unions, globalisation and tax policies that favoured thewealthy had all played their part in making widening inequality “the defining challenge of our time”. The IMF report said the way income is distributed matters for growth.

“If the income share of the top 20% [the rich] increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% [the poor] is associated with higher GDP growth,” said the report. Echoing the frequent warnings about rising inequality from the Fund’s managing director Christine Lagarde, the report says governments around the world need to tackle the problem. It said: “Raising the income share of the poor, and ensuring that there is no hollowing-out of the middle class, is actually good for growth.” The study, however, reflects the tension between the IMF’s economic analysis and the harder-line policy advice given to individual countries, such as Greece, that need financial support.

During its negotiations with Athens, the IMF has been seeking to weaken worker rights, but the research paper found that the easing of labour market regulations was associated with greater inequality and a boost to the incomes of the richest 10%. “This result is consistent with forthcoming IMF work, which finds the weakening of unions is associated with a higher top 10% income share for a smaller sample of advanced economies,” said the study.

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Guillotines must follow.

1% Of Households In 2014 Made Up 42% Of Total Private Global Wealth (Forbes)

The total number of millionaire households around the world reached a record 17.4 million in 2014, up 13.7% from 15.3 million the year before. Meanwhile, the ultra high net worth set is expected to grow at an equally impressive rate over the next five years. According to the Boston Consulting Group, wealth for the richest global families worth more than $100 million is projected to cross the $18 trillion mark by 2019. Currently, private wealth held by families with a fortune of more than $100 million total a combined $10 trillion, or roughly 6% of global wealth. Those ultra rich fortunes grew by 11% in 2014. To get to $18 trillion by 2019, the report predicts that household wealth will grow at a compound annual rate of about 12% in the next five years.

The report, published Monday, says there are more than 5,000 U.S. households worth $100 million or more. China follows with more than 1,000 ultra rich households. “This top segment is expected to be the fastest growing, in both the number of households and total wealth,” the reports’ authors wrote. In addition, the research shows that the top 1% of households in 2014 made up 42% of total private global wealth. Keep in mind, the survey only analyzes cash deposits, securities and life and pension plans. That means other big drivers of wealth like real estate, business ownership and collections aren’t included in the estimates.

Forbes’ own billionaires list, which analyzes all assets an individual can hold, counts 1,826 individuals from across the world with personal 10-figure fortunes, according to the World Billionaires list released in March. They controled an estimated $7.05 trillion at the time of the report. In the U.S. alone, Forbes estimates that there’s nearing 450 American billionaires. Many investors are “benefiting from the markets going up,” senior partner and wealth management expert Bruce Holley said at a Monday briefing. The amount of wealth held in equities rose to 64.1 trillion, up 17.5% from 2013, according to the report.

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All over the Anglo world.

Foreign Investors Pose Threat To US Residential Real Estate (MarketWatch)

U.S. real estate purchases by foreign nationals over a recent 12-month period totaled $92 billion. The negative impact of foreign investments in American residential real estate might have been badly overlooked by some U.S. government officials — and the potential harm it might cause is largely unknown to the average American. Reports from a variety of sources suggest that a housing recovery is taking place, though not at the pace expected. As of last month, it was still some 16% below its peak in 2008. Yet at the same time, some U.S. cities are experiencing an unusually high demand for residential real estate, with buyers outbidding each other, often by tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The same kind of outbidding was going on just prior to the 2007 real-estate crash where wealthy buyers, mostly foreign, were buying homes by paying for them in cash. Average American home owners, of whom one in three is on the verge of financial ruin, aren’t fueling such buying frenzies. Skyrocketing real-estate prices in America’s selected urban centers are likely the result of a foreign influx of cash, more particularly mainland Chinese money, which is now flooding major American cities in the billions of dollars. Last year, Bloomberg revealed a secret path that allows wealthy Chinese to transfer billions overseas. Before that, The Wall Street Journal outlined the questionable mechanics of moving cash out of China, where wealthy mainland Chinese bring their funds to Hong Kong and from there to other parts of the world.

Most of it ends up invested in favorite foreign destinations — namely the U.S., Australia, and Canada. Despite some Chinese banks across the border from Hong Kong allowing for a trial program (introduced in 2011) for overseas property purchases and emigration, the Bloomberg report noted that, “China’s foreign-exchange rules cap the maximum amount of yuan that individuals are allowed to convert at $50,000 each year and ban them from transferring the currency abroad directly.” So it’s illegal for mainland Chinese to take more than $50,000 out of the country — but wealthy Chinese are smuggling out billions. You can bet your last dollar that a good chunk of that Chinese money (of dubious origin) was earmarked for residential real-estate purchases, that is, the roofs over American heads.

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Let ‘er rip.

$112 Billion Fund Manager Worries Bond-Market Fire Doors Are Locked (Bloomberg)

If you haven’t realized by now that a lot of people are worried about bond-market liquidity, then I’m not sure why you’re bothering to read me. But in the hope that you’ll at least start taking an interest in where your pension fund is hanging out these days, maybe you’ll listen when a guy who manages $112 billion tells you that if bad things happen in bond land, the fire doors might turn out to be locked. Martin Gilbert runs Aberdeen Asset Management which, as previously mentioned, manages rather a lot of money. On Monday, he explained why he’s lined up a $500 million overdraft facility and has a further $1 billion of cash: “It will get ugly. You want bank lines in place in case you have to meet a redemption and there is no market.”

Let’s pause for a second to parse that sentence. Gilbert was talking about the risk of either Greece leaving the euro or the U.S. starting to raise borrowing costs. Either or both could spook investors, who in turn might ask Aberdeen for their money back. Except Aberdeen is concerned it might not be able to sell the things it bought with their money – so it would either have to deplete its cash to make the repayments, or borrow money to meet those redemptions. Setting aside a rainy day fund of $1.5 billion, just in case, is “a substantial amount but you’ve got to be prepared,” Gilbert said.

With the benefit of hindsight, I decided a while ago that the starting gun for the credit crunch was fired on Aug. 9, 2007. That day, BNP Paribas told investors it was freezing redemptions from three of its investment funds because it had decided there was no reliable way to determine the value of the assets in the funds, which in turn would make it impossible to sell things to repay investors. In other words, to echo Aberdeen’s Gilbert, there was no market.

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Permanently.

Fast Track Hands the Money Monopoly to Private Banks, Permanently (Ellen Brown)

On June 3, 2015, WikiLeaks released 17 key documents related to TiSA, which is considered perhaps the most important of the three deals being negotiated for “fast track” trade authority. The documents were supposed to remain classified for five years after being signed, displaying a level of secrecy that outstrips even the TPP’s four-year classification. TiSA involves 51 countries, including every advanced economy except the BRICS. The deal would liberalize global trade in services covering close to 80% of the US economy, including financial services, healthcare, education, engineering, telecommunications, and many more. It would restrict how governments can manage their public laws, and it could dismantle and privatize state-owned enterprises, turning those services over to the private sector.

Recall the secret plan devised by Wall Street and U.S. Treasury officials in the 1990s to open banking to the lucrative derivatives business. To pull this off required the relaxation of banking regulations not just in the US but globally, so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws. The vehicle used was the Financial Services Agreement concluded under the auspices of the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The plan worked, and most countries were roped into this “liberalization” of their banking rules. The upshot was that the 2008 credit crisis took down not just the US economy but economies globally. TiSA picks up where the Financial Services Agreement left off, opening yet more doors for private banks and other commercial service industries, and slamming doors on governments that might consider opening their private banking sectors to public ownership.

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What the f*ck is this? How much Mengele literature have these bozos been reading?

CIA Torture Has Broken Spy Agency Rule On Human Experimentation (Guardian)

The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees, the Guardian has learned, which raise new questions about the limits on internal oversight over the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research. Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics. But the revelation of the guidelines has prompted critics of CIA torture to question how the agency could have ever implemented what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – despite apparently having rules against “research on human subjects” without their informed consent.

Indeed, despite the lurid name, doctors, human-rights workers and intelligence experts consulted by the Guardian said the agency’s human-experimentation rules were consistent with responsible medical practices. The CIA, however, redacted one of the four subsections on human experimentation. “The more words you have, the more you can twist them, but it’s not a bad definition,” said Scott Allen, an internist and medical adviser to Physicians for Human Rights. The agency confirmed to the Guardian that the document was still in effect during the lifespan of the controversial rendition, detention and interrogation program.

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Just on of the risks to pension funds.

How Pension Funds Face Huge Risk From Climate Change (Guardian)

The pension funds of millions of people across the world, including teachers, public sector workers, health staff and academics in the UK and US, are heavily exposed to the plummeting coal sector, a Guardian analysis has revealed. It has also found that just a dozen people, including the owner of Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich, own coal reserves equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of China, the world’s biggest polluter. The UN, which advocates a shift to clean energy, has more than $100m (£65m) invested in coal through its own pension fund. The Guardian examined the ownership of the biggest 50 publicly traded coal companies, ranked by the reserves held which in total are equivalent to more than 11 years of global emissions.

This alone could push the planet past beyond the 2C of climate change deemed dangerous by the world’s governments. A fast-growing, global fossil fuel divestment movement, backed by the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign, is having particular success in persuading investors to dump coal stocks. The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, held by Norway, decided earlier this month to sell off more than $8bn of coal assets. The World Bank and the Bank of England have both warned that global action to cut carbon emissions could render fossil fuel reserves worthless, as analyses show most must remain in the ground. Coal, the most polluting fuel, is particularly at risk and investment bank Goldman Sachs declared in January the fuel had reached “retirement age”.

The coal price has crashed by 60% since 2011, as gas, renewable energy and climate policies have damaged demand. Tom Sanzillo, a former New York State comptroller who oversaw a $156bn pension fund, said: “Coal is arguably the worst performing sector in the whole world. Pension funds, which have a fiduciary duty to make money, have no business owning any of these companies. It is not a prospective risk, it is a now risk.” “The coal sector is falling into a financial death spiral,” said Mark Campanale, founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which has pioneered analysis of the financial risks of fossil fuels. “The members of university, healthcare and UN pension funds are smart and informed people; they will be shocked to discover just how far exposed their funds are to coal investment risk.”

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How hostile will Washington be when he visits later this year?

Pope Warns Of Destruction Of World’s Ecosystem In Leaked Encyclical (Guardian)

Pope Francis will this week call for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem” before the end of this century, according to a leaked draft of a papal encyclical. In a document released by an Italian magazine on Monday, the pontiff will warn that failure to act would have “grave consequences for all of us”. Francis also called for a new global political authority tasked with “tackling … the reduction of pollution and the development of poor countries and regions”. His appeal echoed that of his predecessor, pope Benedict XVI, who in a 2009 encyclical proposed a kind of super-UN to deal with the world’s economic problems and injustices.

According to the lengthy draft, which was obtained and published by L’Espresso magazine, the Argentinean pope will align himself with the environmental movement and its objectives. While accepting that there may be some natural causes of global warming, the pope will also state that climate change is mostly a man-made problem. “Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he wrote in the draft. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”

The pope will also single out those obstructing solutions. In an apparent reference to climate-change deniers, the draft states: “The attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, range from negation of the problem, to indifference, to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.” The leak has frustrated the Vatican’s elaborate rollout of the encyclical on Thursday. Journalists were told they would be given an early copy on Thursday morning and that it would be released publicly at noon following a press conference. On Monday evening, the Vatican asked journalists not to publish details of the draft, emphasising that it was not the final text. A Vatican official said he believed the leak was an act of “sabotage against the pope”.

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Jun 042015
 
 June 4, 2015  Posted by at 10:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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G.G. Bain Political museums, Union Square, New York 1909

It’s Wealth Inequality That Drags Down The Economy (WaPo)
US Companies Owe $1.267 For Every Dollar Of Earnings (Bloomberg)
BofA Explains How the Bond Rout Could Turn Into a Bloodbath (Bloomberg)
Bond Rout Wipes Out 2015 Gain as Traders Fret Even Leaving Desks (Bloomberg)
Bond Slump Deepens as Europe Shares Slide With Metals, Oil (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Sounds Bond Warning as Holdings Shift Sparks Concern (Bloomberg)
Syriza Could Split, And What Could Europe Have To Deal With Next? (Guardian)
Greek Groundhog Day Drags On As Tsipras Rejects Creditors’ Proposals (Bloomberg)
Europe Has No Choice – It Has To Save Greece (AEP)
Tsipras Turns to Party Hand Tsakalotos to End Talks Impasse (Bloomberg)
Greek Exports Ex-Fuel Products Soar 14% (Kathimerini)
Athens Concerned Over Exclusion From TurkStream Pipeline (Kathimerini)
Here’s What Defaults Did to Other Countries as Greece Teeters (Bloomberg)
A Member Of The Middle Class Responds To Jon Hilsenrath (Zero Hedge)
German And French Ministers Call For Radical Integration Of Eurozone (Guardian)
European Dream Just a Fairy Tale to New Breed of Eastern Leaders (Bloomberg)
EU Home To Widespread Labor Exploitation (RT)
Who Cares About China’s Economy When Stocks Are Rising This Much? (Bloomberg)
Oliver Stone: Wall Street Culture “Horribly Worse” Than Gordon Gekko (SMH)
Elizabeth Warren Blasts Mary Jo White’s SEC Leadership (MarketWatch)
Kim Dotcom Thwarts Huge US Government Asset Grab (TorrentFreak)
WikiLeaks Reveals New Australia Trade Secrets (SMH)
The Big Global Food Game (Beppe Grillo’s blog)
Replanting America: 90% of What We Eat Could Come From Local Farms (Nosowitz)

“Now we’ve reached the bottom 40% of Americans, but guess what? We’ve run out of stuff. Sorry guys, you get nothing.”

It’s Wealth Inequality That Drags Down The Economy (WaPo)

Let’s imagine that there are just 100 people in the United States. The richest guy – and, yes, he’s probably a guy – owns more than one-third of the total wealth in this country. He’s got a third of all the property, a third of the stock market and a third of anything else that can be owned. Not bad. The next-richest four people together own 28% of all the stuff. Divvied up four ways that’s still not too shabby. The next five people together own 14% of all the things, and the next 10 own another 12%. We’ve accounted for just 20% of the people, but nearly 90% of the total wealth. 90%! You can probably tell where this is going. The next 20% of people have only nine% of the wealth to split among them. Not great, but they’re still doing a lot better than the 60% of people below them.

The next 20% – the middle wealth quintile – only have 3% of the wealth to split 20 ways. Now we’ve reached the bottom 40% of Americans, but guess what? We’ve run out of stuff. Sorry guys, you get nothing. In fact, Wolff calculates that this bottom 40% actually has an overall negative net worth, which means that they owe more money than they own – and they probably owe that money to somebody in that top 5% or 10%. You’re not necessarily living in squalor if you have a negative net worth. For instance, some student loans and a brand-new mortgage will probably put you in that category. But if you’ve got a bachelor’s degree, a job and a house to show for it, you’re probably doing okay.

But plenty of folks will be stuck in that bottom 40% category forever. And as the OECD report points out, this is a big problem for everyone — even the top 1%. Their data shows that more inequality equals less economic growth: Between 1985 and 2005, the OECD estimates that increasing inequality has knocked nearly 5 percentage points off growth in OECD countries. If you’re one of the fortunate ones with money in the bank, you can think of this as a five% smaller return on your investment over that period, simply because the less fortunate aren’t able to contribute to the economy as much as they could otherwise.

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Much of it used to buy their own stock. The snake-eats-tail economy.

US Companies Owe $1.267 For Every Dollar Of Earnings (Bloomberg)

A dark shadow is lurking behind the happy façade of rising stock prices. U.S. companies are borrowing money faster than they’re earning it – and they’re doing it at the quickest pace since the aftermath of the financial crisis. Instead of deploying the debt to build factories, hire new workers or expand product lines, companies are funneling more of their money to shareholders or using it to fund deals. Stock buybacks reached an all-time high last year and the volume of global mergers and acquisitions announced so far this year would make it the second-busiest ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The debt undermines future growth and could dent company income when borrowing costs rise. Higher interest rates will make already indebted companies less desirable to lend to.

The consequence: profitability, buoyed by cheap money since rates went to near-zero in 2008, will sink. “Companies have said, ‘We don’t have an ability to grow organically, so we can distract shareholders instead,’” according to Jody Lurie, a credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, which manages $63 billion. “When they buy back shares, all it does is optically make earnings per share look better.” As recently as last year, companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had the lowest net-debt-to-earnings ratio in at least 24 years. Examining a slightly different universe – companies, excluding financial firms, with top credit ratings who’ve issued debt – the median net leverage in the first quarter of 1.267 was the highest since 2010 and up from 0.927 in the first quarter of 2014.

The leverage figure means companies owe $1.267 for every dollar of earnings after subtracting cash on hand. Companies reacted to the Federal Reserve’s rumblings about raising interest rates by going on a borrowing spree. “There are a lot of pressures on management to lever up to improve returns,” said Charles Peabody of Portales Partners. “They’ve taken on more leverage because the cost of transactions is very low. If that changes because rates go up, it’s going to be hard to sustain that gain.” Investment-grade non-financial companies issued $366 billion in bonds in the past two quarters. The $194.6 billion they sold in the first quarter was the most in history, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Yield chasing.

BofA Explains How the Bond Rout Could Turn Into a Bloodbath (Bloomberg)

The good news is investors are finally shaking off fears of economic stagnation worldwide. The bad news is this is brutal for credit markets. Prices on U.S. investment-grade bonds have fallen 1.1% in the first two days of June, a pace so fast it’s reminiscent of the notes’ 5% selloff in two months in 2013 when speculation emerged that the Federal Reserve was poised to scale back its bond buying. Bank of America strategists see the pain deepening from here. The reason? Investors who like these bonds tend to prize safety and reliable returns above all. They plowed into corporate bonds, often instead of more-creditworthy notes such as U.S. Treasuries, for higher yields as the Fed purchased debt and held interest rates at record lows to ignite growth.

These buyers, in particular, don’t like to see losses on their monthly mutual-fund statements. When the prospects for their debt look shaky, they’ve often responded by yanking their money. And that’s what they’ll likely do now, according to Bank of America analysts. “We expect high-grade fund flows to turn generally negative in line with the initial experience during the Taper Tantrum,” Hans Mikkelsen, a strategist in New York, wrote “Corporate bond prices are declining at a pace eerily similar to what we saw” during that selloff of 2013. That year, U.S. bond funds reported record withdrawals as investors girded for a period of steadily rising debt yields – or, in other words, losses. Investors pulled more than $70 billion from bond mutual funds in 2013, according to TrimTabs.

Of course, the exodus proved premature. Top-rated corporate bonds have returned 7.6% since the end of 2013 as oil prices plunged and ECB stimulus sent yields down globally. Now, however, there are signs that the American economy is finally improving enough for the Fed to raise rates as soon as this year. Yields on 10-year Treasuries are approaching the highest since November, making them a more attractive alternative to corporate debt for buyers looking for the safest source of income.

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“You want to shove rates down to zero, people are going to make big bets because they don’t think it can last; Every move becomes a massive short squeeze or an epic collapse..”

Bond Rout Wipes Out 2015 Gain as Traders Fret Even Leaving Desks (Bloomberg)

The global bond market selloff has erased all of this year’s gains as historic market moves from Germany to the U.S. and Japan whipsaw traders. After being up as much as 2.3% as of mid-April, the BoAML Global Broad Market Index of bonds with a total face value of $41 trillion is now down 0.4% for the year. Bond traders have been caught off guard by signs the worldwide economy is likely to avoid mass deflation and by improvement in the euro zone’s economy, leaving little incentive to own debt securities with yields that in some cases are below zero. The latest leg lower in bonds came Wednesday, when ECBPresident Mario Draghi said investors should get used to the heightened volatility they’ve seen in recent weeks.

“This is sheer panic in the market from the standpoint of what’s been happening in Europe,” said Thomas di Galoma at ED&F Man Capital Markets in New York. “Most of Wall Street is guarded here as far as taking on new positions.” Like many of his peers around the world, di Galoma said he has had to cancel meetings as yields rose ever higher through key levels that many thought would attract demand, but didn’t. Take the yield on the benchmark 10-year German bund: it soared to as high as 0.94% Thursday as of 7:18 a.m. in London from as low as 0.049% on April 17. During the same period, the yield on similar maturity Treasuries surged to as high as 2.39% from 1.84%. The U.S. yield was little changed at 2.38% in London trading.

At a conference in Cambridge, Mass., Michael Lorizio said he couldn’t keep his eyes away from his phone, where price alerts were announcing a crash in German bond prices. He said he skipped out early from the networking session, and headed back to his office in Boston. “I couldn’t pay attention to any of the content, I was just watching the price action,” said Lorizio, at Manulife. “You’ve had to be a little more decisive because prices are moving very quickly.” At a news conference in Frankfurt Wednesday after an ECB policy meeting, where it didn’t even change rates, Draghi suggested several reasons for the rout in bonds. He cited including an improving economic and inflation outlook in the euro area, heavier issuance, volatility, poor market liquidity and an absence of certain investors.

Draghi, the architect of a €1 trillion bond-buying program, is an unlikely foe of the bond market. Quantitative easing provides an almost endless source of demand for bonds and should keep yields low. Instead, it’s made investors overly sensitive, said Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research LLC in Chicago. “You want to shove rates down to zero, people are going to make big bets because they don’t think it can last,” Bianco said. “Every move becomes a massive short squeeze or an epic collapse – which is what we seem to be in the middle of right now.”

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“There’s a huge selloff all over the world..”

Bond Slump Deepens as Europe Shares Slide With Metals, Oil (Bloomberg)

The global bond rout gathered pace, with Japanese notes and German bunds slipping a fourth day after Mario Draghi forecast faster euro-area inflation and continued market volatility. European shares slid with oil and metals as the Aussie declined. Yields on 10-year German government bonds climbed 2 basis points to 0.9% by 8:13 a.m. in London. The Japanese rate rose 3 basis points to 0.49% and Australia’s topped 3% for the first time in three weeks. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.4% and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index lost 0.5% as U.S. index futures slipped 0.2%. U.S. oil held below $60 before Friday’s OPEC meeting.

This year’s gains in global bonds evaporated as the ECB chief inflamed a selloff in German bunds, saying price growth in the region would pick up further. Greece’s premier claimed to be near agreement with creditors, adding there was no need to worry about an IMF payment due Friday. The U.S. reports jobless claims Thursday, before payrolls data at the end of the week. “There’s a huge selloff all over the world,” said Kim Youngsung at South Korea’s Government Employees Pension Service in Seoul. “The European economy is back on track. The U.S. economy is stable. Suddenly we’re worried about inflation.”

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Index of notes with a total face value of $41 trillion is down 0.4% for the year, after being up as much as 2.3% in mid-April. Ten-year German bund yields have soared by 41 basis points this week to the highest level since October. Rates on Australian government debt due in a decade jumped 15 basis points to 3%. Yields on similar-maturity New Zealand and Singaporean notes climbed at least four basis points. Ten-year South Korean sovereign yields rose 3 basis points to 2.48%. Benchmark Treasury notes held losses, with 10-year rates little changed at 2.36%.

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Talking their books.

Wall Street Sounds Bond Warning as Holdings Shift Sparks Concern (Bloomberg)

More Wall Street executives are sounding alarms about the bond market. The latest to warn were Gary Cohn, president of Goldman Sachs and Anshu Jain, co-CEO of Deutsche Bank. The concern is bond investors looking to buy, or especially to sell, will face wide prices swings and higher costs to get a transaction done. “The problem is on the days when you need liquidity, it probably won’t be there,” said Cohn at a Deutsche Bank investor conference on Tuesday. Large Wall Street banks, or dealers, are carrying a smaller share of bonds on their books, as regulations restrict the capital they can hold on their balance sheets. Money managers, meanwhile, are holding a lot more of them.

Dealer inventories dropped by 27% between 2007 and early 2015 while assets held by bond mutual funds and exchange-traded funds almost doubled. Federal Reserve officials have also taken notice. They discussed changes in the structure of bond markets at recent meetings, and said those changes may be a risk to financial stability. Deutsche Bank’s Jain said at the Tuesday conference that he didn’t have a “dire warning” about the growing gap between the dealers’ holdings and bond funds’ assets. “But I would certainly say as one of the larger market makers in the system, we very much have an eye on this growing imbalance,” Jain said.

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“Europe must also consider what it says to the world if, at a dangerous time, it proves unable to fix its own problems.”

Syriza Could Split, And What Could Europe Have To Deal With Next? (Guardian)

Another crisis of solvency, and Greece is – once again – described as confronting a fork in the road. Athens must finally choose, runs the argument of its creditors, whether it is ready to face up to its responsibilities, or whether instead it prefers to wish away the stack of red final-reminder bills piling up from the IMF, demanding €1.5bn this month. If Greece plumps for denial, however, it should not assume that it can rely on the flow of finance from the north, which is all that is keeping Greek cash dispensers going. Instead, Greeks will have to prepare to slip out of a euro they overwhelmingly wish to keep. There is something in the creditors’ account of events, and yet much is omitted. It neglects to mention how austerity has steadily smothered day-to-day life.

Greece has not merely suffered a recession but a full-blown Grapes of Wrath-style depression, with social and political convulsions to match. The unemployment rate has been 25%-plus for years, with a similar proportion knocked off national income. The “medicine” swallowed so far has proved to be poison. The “Greece must grow up” story also glosses over something else: the frightful choice confronting the rest of Europe. For Greece there is a real dilemma, albeit between two unappealing options. A new drachma would be a leap in the dark, with the disruption of contracts certain and a wipeout of savings likely, even if devaluation could also offer a possible path back to recovery by pricing Greece back into tourism and other markets.

Who is to say whether this mix of the ugly, the bad and the good is worse than the dismal certainties of more stagnation? For the wider eurozone, by contrast, the costs of Greek exit far exceed the costs of preventing it. Yes, bold debt forgiveness may provoke pesky requests for similar help from others in future, but the alternative would mean having to defend for the rest of time a supposedly permanent currency which had proved liable to crumble. Europe must also consider what it says to the world if, at a dangerous time, it proves unable to fix its own problems. The EU confronts Russian chauvinism to its east, terror in the Middle East, and a humanitarian crisis on its Mediterranean shore. Greece stands at the junction. A euro exit would throw the ideal of “ever closer union” – which is soon to be further tested by the UK referendum – into an unprecedented reverse.

This week it was reported that the creditors would offer Greece access to €7.2bn in aid in return for extreme prudence in the longer term, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Before risking a “leave it”, they need to ask themselves who it is they want to deal with. An iron law of modern European history runs thus: extreme economics leads to extremist politics. A line can be drawn from the Versailles treaty to the breakdown of the Weimar Republic. Eighty years on, a similar phenomenon is at work. In the course of its depression, Greece has lurched from a social-democrat government to a centre-right one to Syriza – a coalition of leftist parties ranging from Keynesian to Marxist. As the troika crashed Greece again and again, Syriza shot from nowhere to lead a government. Brussels’ strategy, then, has been politically counterproductive in the extreme.

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Kudos to Tsipras.

Greek Groundhog Day Drags On As Tsipras Rejects Creditors’ Proposals (Bloomberg)

Another round of top-level talks failed to resolve the standoff between Greece and its international creditors as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected proposals that would unlock bailout funds necessary to avert a default. After a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, Tsipras said the basis for any accord must be a Greek proposal meant to avoid spending cuts and tax increases, rather than a plan drafted in recent days by creditors. “The realistic proposals on the table are the proposals of the Greek government,” Tsipras told reporters early Thursday in the Belgian capital. We can’t “make the same mistakes, the mistakes of the past,” he said.

The commission said in a statement that “intense work” will continue and “progress was made in understanding each other’s positions on the basis of various proposals.” Months of antagonism and missed deadlines have given way to a greater urgency to decide the fate of Greece. Without access to capital markets, the country has to meet four payments totaling more than €1.5 billion to the IMF in June, while its euro-area-backed bailout also expires this month. Tsipras signaled that Greece will meet its first June IMF payment, which is due Friday. “Don’t worry,” he said. Tsipras said demands by the euro area and the IMF for cuts in the income of poor pensioners and increases in value-added tax on power are unacceptable, highlighting what have been “red lines” in Greece’s stance since his anti-austerity Syriza party swept to power in snap elections in January.

“Ideas like cutting benefits for low-income pensioners, or raising the VAT rate for electricity by 10 percentage points, can’t be a basis for discussion,” he said. The premier sought to paint the commission, the EU’s executive arm, as more favorable to his proposals than are other creditor representatives deemed by Greece to be taking a harder line in the aid deliberations. “There was a constructive will from the EC to reach a common understanding,” he said. The Tsipras government has looked to the commission for support to dilute the austerity-first formula that’s underpinned two Greek rescues totaling €240 billion since 2010. This has led to clashes with creditors who say such bailout conditions have worked for other countries such as Ireland now out of aid programs and Greece should get no special treatment.

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Really, Ambrose? “..under existential threat from a revanchiste Russia”?

Europe Has No Choice – It Has To Save Greece (AEP)

Greece has been through the trauma of default and currency collapse before. It went horribly wrong. The sequence of events in the inter-war years have a haunting relevance today. In 1932, Greece turned to the League of Nations and British bankers in a last-ditch effort to defend the drachma under the Gold Standard as reserves drained away. The creditors dithered for three months but ultimately said “no”. Greece devalued and imposed a 70pc haircut on loans. Debt service costs fell by two-thirds at a stroke. It seemed like a liberation at first. The economy was growing briskly again – at more than 5pc – within a year. Then the sugar-rush faded. The credit system remained broken. Greek industry was too backward to exploit a cheaper exchange rate, unlike Japanese industry under Takahashi Korekiyo at the same time. .

The government never regained its credibility. There were four attempted coups d’etat, ending in the military dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. Political parties were abolished. Trade union leaders were killed or imprisoned. Greece fell to Balkan fascism. The cautionary episode is dissected in a seminal paper by the University of Athens. “The 1930s should perhaps be given more attention by those currently advocating the ‘Grexit scenario’,” it said. Nobody should underestimate the political hurricane that will follow if Europe proves incapable of holding monetary union together, and Greece spins out of control. The post-war order is already under existential threat from a revanchiste Russia. State authority has collapsed along an arc of slaughter through the Middle East and North Africa, while an authoritarian neo-Ottoman Turkey is slipping from of the Western camp.

To lose Greece in these circumstances – and to lose it badly – would be an earthquake. Yet that is exactly what Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras evoked in a blistering outburst in Le Monde, more or less threatening an economic and strategic rejection of the West if the creditor powers continue to make “absurd demands”. Yet as a matter of strict economics, nobody knows if Greece would thrive or fail outside the euro. None of the previous break-up scenarios – ruble, Yugoslav dinar or Austro-Hungarian crown – tells us much. The chorus of warnings from EMU leaders that Grexit would be ruinous for the Greeks is a negotiating ploy, or mere cant. Each of the sweeping claims made by EMU propagandists over the last twenty years has turned out to be untrue.

The euro did not enhance growth, or bring about convergence, or displace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, or bind EMU states together in spirit, and refuseniks such Britain, Sweden, and Denmark did not pay a price for staying out. To the extent that they believe their mantra on Greece, they risk misjudging the political mood in Athens. It leads them to suppose that Syriza must be bluffing. Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP and an economics professor at London University, thinks the new drachma would plunge by 50pc against the euro before rebounding and stabilising at 20pc below current levels. The trauma would be over within six months. “Greece would be growing at a 5pc rate in a year and it would continue for five years,” he said.

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“..the Syriza government did not come to power supporting 70% of the Memorandum..”

Tsipras Turns to Party Hand Tsakalotos to End Talks Impasse (Bloomberg)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras heads into talks to break a stalemate over a financial lifeline in Brussels on Wednesday surrounded by trusted party hands, chief among them Euclid Tsakalotos. The Oxford-educated economist and Greek deputy foreign minister was asked in April to step into the shoes of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in day-to-day debt negotiations as Tsipras moved to defuse the acrimony building up with creditors. As sparring and missed deadlines to decide the fate of Greece enter a fifth month, Tsipras needs someone by his side who’s as acceptable to creditors as he is to party hardliners because the next stage of the battle to avoid financial collapse will likely be fought in Athens. “Tsakalotos is now, at least on paper, the guy in charge of the negotiations with the creditors,” said Wolfango Piccoli at Teneo Intelligence in London.

“It’s also useful for the prime minister to have him in Brussels in relation to the next big challenge: selling the deal to the party.” Tsipras said he will press creditors to be realistic about what his country can accept. After European leaders and the head of the IMF huddled late into the night in Berlin on Monday, creditors agreed on a new document designed to avert a default. Greece has four payments due to the IMF in June while its existing bailout expires this month. Tsipras, who put forward his own plan, is slated to meet EC President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday evening. “I will explain to Juncker that today, more than ever, it’s necessary that the institutions and the political leadership of Europe move forward to realism,” Tsipras said before traveling to Brussels.

The latest twists put the onus on Tsipras’s anti-austerity government to shelve some election promises or jeopardize the country’s euro status. Sticking points in the talks have included budget measures, pension reforms and changes to Greece’s labor laws, with Tsipras’s Syriza party talking about red lines. Some members of the party have been critical of the backtracking on promises that brought Tsipras to power. John Milios, a member of the Syriza central committee, wrote and tweeted a few days ago that “the Syriza government did not come to power supporting 70% of the Memorandum. If Syriza had pledged so, it would probably not be included in the parliamentary map today, playing the key role.”

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Some things are going well.

Greek Exports Ex-Fuel Products Soar 14% (Kathimerini)

The increase in olive oil exports and the decline in exports of fuel products were the main factors that affected the course of external trade in the first quarter of the year, according to official data. There was also a significant shift in the main exporting products as well as the markets they head to. The total value of exports in the January-March period this year amounted to €6.27 billion, down 1.8% from the same period in 2014. However, when fuel products are exempted, there was a €549.1million increase, amounting to 14% year-on-year.

The European Commission recently revised its forecast regarding the course of Greek exports, reducing their expected growth to 4.1% on annual basis from a previous estimate of 5.6%. Most Greek exports (52.4%) head to fellow European Union member-states and their value climbed by 14.5% in Q1. However, exports to North America soared 45.8%, on the more favorable exchange rate of the euro with the dollar, making the US the sixth most important market for Greece’s exports, from tenth a year earlier.

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The pipeline itself needs EC approval, with the US dead set against it.

Athens Concerned Over Exclusion From TurkStream Pipeline (Kathimerini)

As a spokesman for the TurkStream pipeline said Wednesday that construction of the Gazprom-backed project will start by the end of the month, diplomatic sources in Athens suggested the Greek government was concerned that Moscow was mulling alternative routes which could potentially exclude Greece from the plans. During a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on Tuesday, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico put forward a plan that would see his country, plus another three European states, connected to the Russia-Turkey pipeline that will carry gas all the way to the Greek-Turkish border.

According to Fico’s plan, the pipeline would not cross Greek territory but transfer gas to Central Europe through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Fico’s proposal also appeared to be welcomed by Hungary despite the fact that Budapest recently signed a declaration of intent stating that the pipeline will pass through Greece. The declaration was also signed by Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Diplomatic sources on Wednesday said that Moscow will decide on the exact route only after it has the go-ahead from the European Commission.

The same sources described comments by Greek officials over an imminent deal with Moscow as overoptimistic. On Wednesday, an unnamed official attending an international gas conference in Paris told AFP that a deal signed in May with the Saipem construction company would allow work on the first of four sections to begin by the end of the month. At the same event, it was made known that Turkish Stream had been renamed TurkStream. The project was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin late last year in a bid to replace the ditched South Stream pipeline. Analysts have called attention to a Washington warning against the construction of a pipeline bypassing Ukraine, a strategic US ally.

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The advantages of having one’s own currency.

Here’s What Defaults Did to Other Countries as Greece Teeters (Bloomberg)

By Friday, we may know whether Greece has reached a debt deal with its creditors. A failure could trigger a default and raise the prospect that it becomes the first country to leave the euro currency union. The history of previous economic cataclysms suggests that changes in currency values can work as escape valves that quickly, though not painlessly, relieve pressure on an economy. Massive depreciations allow countries to become more competitive internationally, enabling them to draw back from the brink more quickly. The charts below compare changes in exchange rates before and after four other disruptions that riled markets: Russia’s default in 1998, Argentina’s in 2001, the U.S. during and after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and Greece’s debt restructuring in 2012. For Russia and Argentina, defaults punished their currencies.

For the U.S. dollar, the result was more mixed. Greece is part of the euro zone, and the 2012 impact on that currency was also mixed. The next charts show what happened to gross domestic product. Turns out the Argentine and Russian defaults were boons in those countries, with growth rebounding sharply. Upturns came much more slowly in the U.S. – which while home to the biggest-ever corporate bankruptcy didn’t default on its sovereign debt – and in Greece.

Unemployment rates in Argentina and Russia also showed clear inflection points for the better, while workers in the U.S. and Greece had to suffer through delayed improvement.What separates Greece’s from Argentina and Russia is the Greeks’ membership in the currency union (whereas Argentina and Russia have their own exchange rates). That means the country can’t enjoy the benefits of a massively cheaper currency before exiting the euro first, something that officials across the region have ruled out.

“The problem with Greece is that defaulting on the debt without the followup of a devaluation may buy time but won’t resolve its growth problems,” said George Magnus, senior economic adviser to UBS in London. “If Greece chose to default and stayed inside the euro zone, the option of a devaluation would not exist so it’s not clear why Greece should experience a growth rebound.”This dance that’s happening at the moment could go on for quite some time,” he said.

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“Arbeit macht frei” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning these days for whole bunch of us out here.”

A Member Of The Middle Class Responds To Jon Hilsenrath (Zero Hedge)

Dear Mr Hilsenrath and your Central Bank Team, This is Joe from the disappearing Middle Class in America. You asked me the other day to drop you a note if I felt that something was wrong. What I’m having trouble with is “why” you’re asking me if anything is wrong!? So let me explain. Regarding the weather, as you stated, the sun shined in April. It was also overcast some days some places, rained a few spots here and there, was nice quite a few days and even got dark on time, most evenings. And the Commerce Department is spot on that my spending didn’t increase any adjusted for the inflation that you all keep telling me isn’t there. Have you tried to buy some hamburger recently or do you just eat out on a corporate credit card? The price of a pack of spaghetti has doubled over the past 3 years.

Me and Mrs. J along with the kids kinda like spaghetti now and then and the Mrs. even made a great Bolognese sauce, but the hamburger got too expensive as has the spaghetti, so we had to cut back. So you’re right, we did sit at home and watch Dancing with the Stars a lot. It’s what we can afford. So, I really don’t get what you guys mean by those “winter doldrums” because things have gotten worse independent of the weather. The weather’s had nothing at all to do with it. And talking about worse, you’re right. I did get fired in late 2008 from a high paying salaried job with benefits when the economy dumped due to the Lehman Brothers shock.

Since then I’ve been holding down a part time greeters job at Home Depot with no benefits. I even took on a second part time job with no benefits at another place because I was getting bored watching television all day. Plus, we could use the extra money as our savings has been depleted. And we’re very worried about our health and the cost of healthcare is skyrocketing. But I guess you probably have a health care plan paid for by the Wall Street Journal. Why, feeling particularly liberated, Mrs. Joe’s even picked up a couple of part time jobs, as well. “Arbeit macht frei” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning these days for whole bunch of us out here.

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Surefire road to failure.

German And French Ministers Call For Radical Integration Of Eurozone (Guardian)

German and French politicians are calling for a quantum leap in how the EU’s single currency is run, proposing an embryo eurozone treasury equipped with a eurozone finance chief, single budget, tax-raising powers, pooled debt liabilities, a common monetary fund, and separate organisation and representation within the European parliament. They also propose that all teenagers in the EU be given the chance to spend a subsidised six months in another European country. In an article published in European newspapers, Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s social democratic leader and vice-chancellor in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, and Emmanuel Macron, France’s young reformist economics minister, advocate a radical shift in integration of the eurozone, following five years of single currency crisis that have come close to tearing the EU apart.

They call for the setting up of “an embryo euro area budget”, “a fiscal capacity over and above national budgets”, and harmonised corporate taxes across the bloc. The eurozone would be able to borrow on the markets against its budget, which would be financed from a kind of Tobin tax on financial transactions and also from part of the revenue from the new business tax regime. The eurozone’s current bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which is made up of national contributions under a deal between governments, would be made a common eurozone instrument and converted into a European Monetary Fund. The entire new regime would come under the authority of a new post of euro commissioner who would be answerable to eurozone MEPs who, in turn, would need to have a separate sub-chamber in the European parliament.

In reference to the Greek crisis currently moving towards some form of denouement, the two leading figures say the new regime they are proposing should also establish “a legal framework for orderly and legitimate sovereign debt restructurings, should they become necessary as a last resort. This would prevent both inappropriate use of crisis lending and self-defeating bouts of austerity when countries face unsustainable debts.” Germany and France are the two biggest countries in the eurozone. Gabriel and Macron are both seen as youngish leaders of reformist social democracy in an EU, however, dominated by the centre-right, suggesting that their ideas might struggle to find traction.

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The crumbling union.

European Dream Just a Fairy Tale to New Breed of Eastern Leaders (Bloomberg)

Natalia Krzywicka wasn’t alive when Poland shrugged off the shackles of communism in 1989. When it joined the European Union 15 years later, she was only eight. Now, the 19-year-old student is ready for her country to stop acting like a newcomer to the EU and start doing something for its voters, including her. She helped unseat the government-backed incumbent in a May 24 presidential runoff, eastern Europe’s fifth such upset since 2013. “I know that economic indicators quoted in the mainstream media show Poland is in good shape, but that’s just propaganda,” Krzywicka said in front of Warsaw’s Wilanow Palace, a sprawling 17th-century estate. “Poland’s policy makers need to refocus on defending the country’s interests, like everyone else.”

Krzywicka is among voters in the EU’s east who are shaking up politics after more than two decades of tolerating the fiscal and economic measures needed to qualify for membership in the bloc. After years of their governments focusing on selling state assets, luring foreign investment, overhauling communist-era bureaucracy and trying to meet EU budget and competition rules, they’re now demanding action on bread-and-butter issues including pensions and health care. In Poland, opposition-backed Andrzej Duda defeated President Bronislaw Komorowski by pledging to overturn a government-imposed increase in the pension age and to pull the country of 38 million away from the “European mainstream.” His victory followed presidential upsets against ruling party candidates in Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic over the last two years.

Betting that incomes of the 100 million people in the eastern economies would approach the level of their western neighbors, investors plowed billions into the region even before the EU’s first wave of enlargement in 2004. Since then, they’ve been rewarded by outsized returns. Hungary’s local-currency government bonds have returned 169%, the most among 26 indexes tracked by the European Federation of Financial Analysts Societies. Polish notes have handed investors 107% and Czech securities 77%, compared with an EU average of 71%. Yet there are growing signs that the change from centrally planned to market-driven economies is mostly over.

While the region’s governments sold off most of their state-owned manufacturers, banks and utilities last decade, now governments in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary are criticizing foreign-owned power companies for high prices. The latter two have imposed special taxes, mostly on lenders, to shore up their budgets, a plan Duda wants to emulate in Poland. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has gone the farthest in the region in expanding state control, buying the local businesses of foreign companies including EON and GE Capital. “I expect the efforts to push through structural reform will decrease,” said Peter Schottmueller at Deka Investment in Frankfurt. “This is a major problem every government in Europe has to tackle: wage growth, youth unemployment. We haven’t found a solution.”

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Count me not surprised.

EU Home To Widespread Labor Exploitation (RT)

The European Union is home to widespread employment abuses, according to a new study. Both EU and non-EU citizens have fallen victim to labor exploitation, despite laws which allegedly protect workers. The study, conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), is the first of its kind to thoroughly explore all criminal forms of labor exploitation in the EU. The agency compiled around 600 interviews with representatives of trade unions, police forces and supervisory authorities, finding that employment abuses are prevalent across the EU. “Labor exploitation is a reality in the EU,” FRA spokesperson Bianca Tapia said, as quoted by Deutsche Welle. She added that it is becoming extremely commonplace in some sectors of the economy.

According to the findings, criminal labor exploitation is prominent in a number of industries – particularly construction, agriculture, hotel and catering, domestic work and manufacturing. The FRA said that one in five inspectors dealing with the issue came across severe cases of exploitation at least twice a week. “What these workers in different geographical locations and sectors of the economy often have in common is a combination of factors: being paid 1 euro or much less per hour, working 12 hours or more a day for six or seven days a week, being housed in harsh conditions, and not being allowed to go on holiday or take sick leave,” Tapia said in the report.

While the study stressed that both EU and non-EU citizens face such conditions, Tapia did note that “foreign workforces are at serious risk of being exploited in the EU.” Many migrant workers have their passports taken off of them and are cut off from the outside world by employers, the agency said. The Vienna-based rights group compiled over 200 case studies. Among those were Lithuanians working on British farms and living in sheds with little access to hygiene facilities. A case of Bulgarians harvesting fruit and vegetables in France for 15 hours a day – but being paid for just five of the 22 weeks they worked – was also cited.

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What do you mean, a bubble?

Who Cares About China’s Economy When Stocks Are Rising This Much? (Bloomberg)

When Sean Taylor looks at China’s soaring stock prices, he sees a market more disconnected from economic fundamentals than at any other time in a two-decade career. His advice to investors? Keep buying. The London-based head of emerging markets at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, whose developing-nation equity fund has outperformed 94% of peers tracked by Bloomberg this year, says what matters most in China right now is that policy makers have the motivation and firepower to keep the world-beating rally going. Rising stock prices not only help Chinese companies reduce debt levels by selling new shares, they also make it easier for the government to boost budget revenue and push forward on privatization plans through stake sales.

One way policy makers can support further gains is through further monetary stimulus: banks’ reserve requirement ratios are almost 6 percentage points higher than the 15-year average, even after two cuts this year. “The government wants a strong stock market, to privatize more companies and do more IPOs,” Taylor, whose firm oversees about $1.3 trillion, said in an interview in Hong Kong. He has an overweight position in Chinese shares. The Shanghai Composite has gained 141% in the past 12 months, the most among major global benchmark indexes. The gauge closed little changed today. The following charts underscore the disconnect between Chinese stocks and the economy.

• Shanghai Composite performance: The index rose last week to its highest level in seven years, while Bloomberg’s monthly gross domestic product tracker for China is near the lowest since 2009.

• Financial stocks: The CSI 300 Index’s gauge of banks, property developers and brokers climbed to its highest level since January 2008 last week. Data on May 13 showed the M2 measure of broad money supply grew 10.1% in April from a year earlier, the smallest expansion on record.

• Retail stocks: The consumer discretionary index has rallied 75% this year to a record. Retail sales grew 10% in April, the slowest pace since 2006.

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“Markets might recover, but often people do not.”

Oliver Stone: Wall Street Culture “Horribly Worse” Than Gordon Gekko (SMH)

The culture on Wall Street is “horribly worse” than it was in the 1980s, and America’s regulatory culture is lost, according to Hollywood director Oliver Stone. Mr Stone, who was in Melbourne speaking at the Game Changers event held by superannuation firm Sunsuper, said he made the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010 to address the problem with the culture he exposed in his iconic 1987 film Wall Street. “Gordon Gekko was an immoral character that became worshipped for the wrong reasons… the banks became a version of him, speculating for themselves. To hell with the investor,” he told Fairfax Media.

Gekko’s legacy may be alive and kicking in the finance mecca. A new study of US finance executives found that 47% said they it was likely their competitors had engaged in illegal or unethical conduct to gain a market advantage. A separate study found one third of Wall Street financiers who earned more than $500,000 had witnessed wrongdoing. Mr Stone’s comments came after two of Australia’s top regulators signalled a clampdown on a “rotten culture” that exists within the Australian finance industry. Australian Securities Investment Commission chairman Greg Medcraft said last week the way banks and brokers structured incentives was a driver of white collar crime. ASIC has said it is investigating three investment banks in Australia.

Mr Stone said while money had “polluted politics” in the US, he believed Australia’s regulation was stronger, which helped it avoid the full impact of the global financial crisis. But he was suprised to be told of the financial planning scandal enveloping the big four banks and the subsequent Financial System Inquiry. “You can always make money with banks, the problem is you have to self-discipline so you don’t screw the investors,” he said. Mr Stone said it was the nature of capitalism to bubble and burst. “You can never find a moderate balance. You need supervisroy intelligence to balance the excesses of market, and that is the lesson that [US President Franklin D.] Roosevelt taught us in the 1930s, but that seems to have been forgotten,” he said.

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Posterchild for regulatory failure.

Elizabeth Warren Blasts Mary Jo White’s SEC Leadership (MarketWatch)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday blasted the leadership of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White, calling it “extremely disappointing.” It’s the most aggressive critique yet from the Massachusetts Democrat, who has often criticized regulators over their perceived lax stance against Wall Street firms. In a 13-page letter sent to White on Tuesday, Warren cites four main complaints with White’s two-year tenure:

•The SEC’s failure to finalize Dodd-Frank rules regarding disclosure of CEO pay to median workers.

• White’s failure to curb the use of waivers for companies that violate securities laws. Several firms received a waiver after pleading guilty to Justice Department charges of manipulating the foreign exchange market.

• SEC settlements that don’t require an admission of guilt.

• Numerous SEC enforcement cases that require recusals by White because of conflicts from her prior law firm employment and her husband’s current law practice. Warren even suggests companies may deliberately hire her husband, John White, to lead to a recusal and a 2-to-2 deadlock of remaining commissioners.

White was aggressive in her response, saying the senator mischaracterized her comments. “I am very proud of the agency’s achievements under my leadership, including our record year in enforcement and the Commission’s efforts in advancing more than 30 congressionally mandated rulemakings and other transformative policy initiatives to protect investors and strengthen our markets,” White said in a statement. “Senator Warren’s mischaracterization of my statements and the agency’s accomplishments is unfortunate, but it will not detract from the work we have done, and will continue to do, on behalf of investors.”

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Looks like the US may be losing.

Kim Dotcom Thwarts Huge US Government Asset Grab (TorrentFreak)

Kim Dotcom has booked a significant victory in his battle against U.S. efforts to seize assets worth millions of dollars. In a decision handed down this morning, Justice Ellis granted Dotcom interim relief from having a $67m forfeiture ordered recognized in New Zealand. Dotcom informs TF that the victory gives his legal team new momentum. In the long-running case of the U.S. Government versus Kim Dotcom, almost every court decision achieved by one side is contested by the other. A big victory for the U.S. back in March 2015 is no exception. After claiming that assets seized during the 2012 raid on Megaupload were obtained through copyright and money laundering crimes, last July the U.S. government asked the court to forfeit bank accounts, cars and other seized possessions connected to the site’s operators.

Dotcom and his co-defendants protested, but the Government deemed them fugitives and therefore disentitled to seek relief from the court. As a result District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ordered a default judgment in favor of the U.S. Government against assets worth an estimated $67m. Following a subsequent request from the U.S., New Zealand’s Commissioner of Police moved to have the U.S. forfeiture orders registered locally, meaning that the seized property would become the property of the Crown. Authorization from the Deputy Solicitor-General was granted April 9, 2015 and an application for registration was made shortly after.

In response, Kim Dotcom and co-defendant Bram Van der Kolk requested a judicial review of the decision and sought interim orders that would prevent the Commissioner from progressing the registration application, pending a review. The Commissioner responded with an application to stop the judicial review. In a lengthy decision handed down this morning, Justice Ellis denied the application of the Commissioner while handing a significant interim victory to Kim Dotcom. Noting that the “fugitive disentitlement” doctrine forms no part of New Zealand common law, Justice Ellis highlighted the predicament faced by those seeking to defend themselves while under its constraints.

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“..an “extreme deregulatory agenda” on the part of both the United States and Australia’s negotiators with “serious implications for all service sectors, perhaps human services especially”.

WikiLeaks Reveals New Australia Trade Secrets (SMH)

Highly sensitive details of the negotiations over the little-known Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA) published by WikiLeaks reveals Australia is pushing for extensive international financial deregulation while other proposals could see Australians’ personal and financial data freely transferred overseas. The secret trade documents also show Australia could allow an influx of foreign professional workers and see a sharp wind back in the ability of government to regulate qualifications, licensing and technical standards including in relation to health, environment and transport services.

In its largest disclosure yet relating to the TiSA negotiations, WikiLeaks has published seventeen documents including draft treaty chapters, memoranda and other texts setting out the overall state of negotiations and individual country positions in a secret bargaining on banking and finance, telecommunications and e-commerce, health, as well as maritime and air transport. The leaked documents were to be kept secret until at least five years after the completion of the TiSA negotiations and entry into force of the trade agreement. Dr Patricia Ranald, research associate at the University of Sydney and convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, said WikiLeaks’ publication revealed an “extreme deregulatory agenda” on the part of both the United States and Australia’s negotiators with “serious implications for all service sectors, perhaps human services especially”.

The leaked draft TiSA financial services chapter shows a continuing strong push by the United States, Australia and other countries for deregulation of international financial services, an approach strongly supported by Australian banks keen to increase their business in Asian markets. However Financial Sector Union secretary Fiona Jordan said there was a need to strengthen not weaken financial and banking regulation. “The issue has to be about Australia maintaining the tight regulations it has – and perhaps even adding to these,” Ms Jordan said.

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Global markets for basic necessities is always a bad idea. They can only lead to hunger.

The Big Global Food Game (Beppe Grillo’s blog)

The world’s population continues to grow and as the eating habits of people in developing countries like China and Brazil are changing rapidly, they are beginning to include more meat and cereals in their diets. Land for cultivating crops and raising livestock is a finite resource and the race to get hold of pieces of land, water and animals is already in full swing, with China grabbing the lion’s share. The big food game is already going full speed ahead and anyone who is left out at this stage is lost. In his book entitled Pappa Mundi, Francesco Galietti talks about how food is becoming one of the main issues in International relations. We interviewed him to find out more.

“A big hello to all the friends of Grillo’s Blog. Since we’re dealing with a market here, as always it is dictated by two factors, namely supply and demand, both of which are constantly changing. As far as demand is concerned, obviously the big daddy of all topics of debate on this issue is China, the Chinese Dragon. It’s not that the country’s population is increasing disproportionately, but what is changing, and very fast too, is the ratio of its very fast growing middle class to its total population. This means that there is now a whole range of new prerogatives, including tastes, fashions, desires and wants, all of which have very serious repercussions on foods. For these people, meat used to be something that only the privileged could enjoy in the exclusive restaurants but now that they can afford it too, they also want it.

For example, SmithField is the largest global piggery. It is an American company that breeds and raises pigs and just recently it was bought out by the Chinese. This acquisition came to the attention of the American Military, who were absolutely incredulous and couldn’t understand why on earth Chinese investors would come to America to buy pork. They were equally incredulous when they discovered that China has a specific doctrine in this regard, so much so that they have come up with the so-called Strategic Pork Reserve, in other words a way of making sure that China always maintains a certain stock of pork. Then there is also another component, namely the food anxiety that Middle-East investors have. Notwithstanding its great variety, the Middle-East is and remains little more than a huge sandbox.

This means that the petrol sheiks are looking for that which they don’t have, and they go looking for it all over the world. They have created such a huge expanse of rice paddies that Saudi-Arabia has now become the world’s sixth largest rice producer! There is a general fear of finding ourselves without any food for our people, above all the working people who are most often the disadvantaged ones that come from Pakistan and ’Asia, so I the case of the Middle-East, the search is on for what they don’t have. The third important component in the big food game is the use of food as a weapon of war. Putin has decided to counter western sanctions with counter-sanctions on food, which is a real tragedy for us Italians because it means bye-bye to our significant exports of Grana Padano to Russia, as well as other goodies for the oligarchy’s palates.

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It’s a shame that this focuses on emissions. There are much better reasons to eat local food.

Replanting America: 90% of What We Eat Could Come From Local Farms (Nosowitz)

Eating a local diet—restricting your sources of food to those within, say, 100 miles—seems enviable but near impossible to many, thanks to lack of availability, lack of farmland, and sometimes short growing seasons. Now, a study from the University of California, Merced, indicates that it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. “Although we find that local food potential has declined over time, our results also demonstrate an unexpectedly large current potential for meeting as much as 90% of the national food demand,” write the study’s authors. 90%! What?

Researchers J. Elliott Campbell and Andrew Zumkehr looked at every acre of active farmland in the U.S., regardless of what it’s used for, and imagined that instead of growing soybeans or corn for animal feed or syrup, it was used to grow vegetables. (Currently, only about 2% of American farmland is used to grow fruits or vegetables). And not just any vegetables: They used the USDA’s recommendations to imagine that all of those acres of land were designed to feed people within 100 miles a balanced diet, supplying enough from each food group. Converting the real yields (say, an acre of hay or corn) to imaginary yields (tomatoes, legumes, greens) is tricky, but using existing yield data from farms, along with a helpful model created by a team at Cornell University, gave them a pretty realistic figure.

Still, the study involves quite a few major leaps of faith because it seeks not to demonstrate what is possible for a given American right now but to lay out a basic overview of the ability of local food to feed all Americans. It’s not just projecting yields for vegetables grown on land that is today dominated by corn and soy. The biggest leap of faith is perhaps an unexpected one and is surprisingly underreported: Why do we even want to adjust our food supply to be local in the first place?

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May 302015
 
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Arnold Genthe San Francisco, “Grant Avenue at Sacramento Street.” 1930

Big Banks Run Everything: Austerity, The IMF (Salon)
Investors Helpless Against Wall Street’s Secret Brainwashing Machine (Farrell)
US Economy Shrank 0.7% in First Quarter as Trade Gap Jumped (Bloomberg)
Margin Debt Breaks Out: Hits New Record 50% Higher Than Last Bubble Peak (ZH)
No Recovery Has Seen This Many Dips Since The 1950s (MarketWatch)
The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower (Michael T. Klare)
The Curious Optimism Of The Godfather Of Inequality (Independent)
If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying – How Forex Has Changed (EconIntersect)
Greece Open To Compromise To Seal Deal This Week: Interior Minister (Reuters)
Greece Might Sidestep June 5 IMF Payment Deadline (Reuters)
Varoufakis’s Great Game (Hans-Werner SInn)
Chinese Stock Market’s Wile E. Coyote Moment (Pesek)
Stop Calling China a Currency Manipulator (Pesek)
French Far-Right Calls For In/Out EU Referendum (EUObserver)
Italy Rescues 3,300 Migrants In Mediterranean In One Day (BBC)
Germany Passes Japan To Have World’s Lowest Birth Rate (BBC)
More Charges Expected In FIFA Case (NY Times)

Very, very, good by Patrick Smith. Please read the whole thing.

Big Banks Run Everything: Austerity, The IMF (Salon)

Fascinating to watch the IMF as it fronts for the U.S. Treasury and international lenders in the Greek and Ukrainian debt crises. In the former, the fund pins the Syriza government to the wall because it dares to represent its electorate. In the latter, it stands by the Poroshenko government because it has no intention of representing anybody other than banks, corporations and the global strategy set. “Fascinating” is one word for this and it holds. “Greed in action” is three but they do a better job. Coincidentally enough, both the Greek and Ukrainian cases now near their respective denouements. Miss this and you miss a singularly plain display of power, the way it works and what it works for in the early 21st century.

Athens has debt payments of €1.6 billion due in June and must make them if it is to receive a further tranche of European and IMF funding. This is essential if Greece is to recover—not from the 2008 financial crash and its economic fallout, which was long ago absorbed, but from the recovery program the fund and the EU imposed in 2012. That is textbook neoliberalism, naturally, and the results are before us. PM Alexis Tsipras calls it “a humanitarian crisis,” and I have heard no one dare counter him on the point. The Kiev government owes international bondholders $35 billion, and $23 billion of it is also due in June. Slightly different situation here: Ukraine, too, needs to shake loose I.M.F. and European funds to revive an economy even worse than Greece’s, but this is not about ameliorating any kind of social crisis.

It is about inducing one, in effect, so the neoliberalization process can be completed and working people in Ukraine are made properly, structurally desperate. It is highly unlikely you will read about these two crises in the same news report—this would be asking too much of media committed to conveying disembodied data without context so that readers and viewers cannot understand what they are (not) being told. Let us, then, treat Greece and Ukraine together. It is where the fascination comes in.

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Behavioral economics.

Investors Helpless Against Wall Street’s Secret Brainwashing Machine (Farrell)

Yes, the new behavioral economics is Wall Street’s secret mind-control brainwashing machine. Call it behavioral economics, psychology of investing, the new science of irrationality, it is Wall Street’s most powerful weapon because you can’t see it. They even try to make you think they’re helping you. Bull. Behavioral economists used to be guardians of America’s 95 million Main Street investors, with an aura of integrity, professionals with a fiduciary responsibility. No more. They’re the investors’ enemy, working for Wall Street banks, for Washington politicians, operating in the shadows, like the NSA, developing tools and technologies to secretly control data, manipulate the brains of savers, voters, taxpayers and investors.

Don’t believe me? At first, I couldn’t believe the con game. Back in 2002 when Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences we were hopeful. He disproved Wall Street’s oldest fraud, the myth of the “rational investor.” We cheered. Kahneman’s research that proved investors were never rational .. are in fact irrational .. always have been irrational .. and we always will be irrational. At first we assumed humans can change – we can still educate ourselves to be more rational. We even assumed Wall Street’s behavioral economists would help us become “less irrational.”

Fat chance. Since then, behavioral economists have been capitalizing on their newfound power to get personally richer: Getting research grants, speaking fees, university professorships and, of course, consulting contracts with Wall Street banks, Corporate America and Washington politicians. What did we get? In recent years many of their books resemble high school level self-help “Psych 101” books with cute titles like “Freakonomics,” “Nudge,” “Sway,” “Animal Spirits,” “Blink,” “Blunder,” “Beyond Greed & Fear,” “Predictable Irrational,” all cleverly packaged for mass-market consumption, all with implied promise that their book will make you less irrational, ready to beat the Wall Street casino.

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And they all just go and claim Q2 will be grand. But wasn’t this supposed to be a recovery? Yeah, yeah, snow, I know.

US Economy Shrank 0.7% in First Quarter as Trade Gap Jumped (Bloomberg)

The world’s largest economy hit a bigger ditch in the first quarter than initially estimated, held back by harsh winter weather, a strong dollar and delays at ports. GDP in the U.S. shrank at a 0.7% annualized rate, revised from a previously reported 0.2% gain, according to Commerce Department figures issued Friday in Washington. The median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.9% drop. By contrast, the report also showed incomes climbed, fueling the debate on whether GDP is being underestimated. A swelling trade gap subtracted the most from growth in 30 years as the appreciating dollar caused exports to slump while imports rose following the resolution of labor disputes at West Coast ports.

Federal Reserve officials are among those who believe the setback in growth will be temporary, helping explain why they are considering raising interest rates this year. “The numbers show the economy literally collapsed last quarter, but we know there were a lot of special factors,” Jim O’Sullivan at High Frequency Economics said before the report. O’Sullivan was the top forecaster of GDP in the past two years, according to Bloomberg data. “There’s a good chance we’ll see a second-quarter bounce back.” Economists’ forecasts ranged from a decline of 1.2% to an increase of 0.2%. The GDP estimate is the second of three for the quarter, with the third release scheduled for June, when more information becomes available. The economy grew at a 2.2% pace from October through December.

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And the rise of margin debt in China must be worse and bigger.

Margin Debt Breaks Out: Hits New Record 50% Higher Than Last Bubble Peak (ZH)

For a few months in mid/late 2014 there was some concern among those who still don’t get that in this New Paranormal market the only real buyers are central banks, that while the stock market kept on rising, and rising, NYSE margin debt was flat, and in fact the total amount of purchases on margin at the end of 2014 was nearly the same to those in January. Meanwhile the S&P 500 had soared to recorder highs. A few things here: first, as we explained one year ago, in a world in which levered purchases take place via such shadow banking conduits as repo and primary broker arrangements, margin debt has become an anachronism from a bygone generation in which there wasn’t $2.5 trillion in Fed reserves supporting the market, and is now almost entirely meaningless.

But for those who still cling on to margin debt as indicative of anything, the latest NYSE report should provide some comfort: finally the long-awaited breakout in participation has arrived, and after stagnating for over a year, investors – mostly retail – are once again scrambling to buy stocks on margin, i.e., using debt, and as of April 30, the amount of margin debt just hit a new all time high of $507 billion, $30 billion more than the month before, and nearly 50% higher than the last bubble peak reached in October 2007.

It’s not just margin debt that hit a record high. Investor net worth, which is the inverse, or investor cash and credit balances less total margin debt, just dropped to ($227 ) billion, a new record low, meaning not only is the amount of investors leverage at an all time high, but investor net worth is also at an all time low.

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Because this is not a revovery.

No Recovery Has Seen This Many Dips Since The 1950s (MarketWatch)

The U.S. economy has fallen into negative territory three times since the current recovery began in mid-2009, a dubious feat that last occurred more than a half a century ago. What’s to blame for the most up-and-down recovery since the mid-1950s? Serious flaws in how GDPis calculated is one prime suspect. The government’s GDP report appears to have underestimated growth in the first quarter for decades, a problem that has become even more acute. At the same time GDP probably has overstated growth in the second and third quarters, so the underlying U.S. growth rate is probably the same. “The evidence of a seasonal quirk in the first-quarter GDP growth figures is pretty overwhelming,” said Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics. The second culprit – and evident ring leader – is the U.S. economy itself.

Bad policy, back luck or whatever you call it, the economy is no longer growing as fast as it used to. So any time there’s a temporary dip in economic activity because of poor weather, spiking oil prices or some other major event, it’s no surprise that GDP might show a contraction. The U.S. has grown at a mediocre 2.2% annual pace since the first full year of recovery in 2010. That’s just two-thirds as fast as the economy has grown since the government began keeping track in early 1930s. The less the economy grows, the easier it is for quarterly GDP to slip into the red from time to time, especially if some sort of “shock” occurs. The first-quarter suffered from several of them: unusually harsh weather, a dockworker’s strike, a soaring dollar that undercut U.S. exports and a drop in business investment tied to plunging oil prices.

Of course, such shocks are nothing new, and the economy in the past has shown more resistance to them. The U.S. did not experience a single negative quarter, for example, during the last three major economic expansions: the early 2000s, the 1990s and the 1980s. You have to go a lot further back to the weak 1973-75 expansion to find another episode of a quarterly contraction in a recovery phase. Another one occurred in the short-lived 1958-1960 recovery. The last U.S. recovery to include three negative quarters like the current one was from 1954 to 1957. Yet there is one big difference compared to today: the economy back then expanded by leaps and bounds. The U.S. grew at a 3.8% rate during the “Eisenhower recovery” following the end of the Korean War. And the fastest quarter of growth nearly reached 12% — more than twice as strong as the best quarter in the latest recovery.

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Only little children and psychopaths dream of superpower.

The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower (Michael T. Klare)

Take a look around the world and it’s hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington’s dictates, or actively combating them. Russia refuses to curtail its support for armed separatists in Ukraine; China refuses to abandon its base-building endeavors in the South China Sea; Saudi Arabia refuses to endorse the U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Iran; the Islamic State movement (ISIS) refuses to capitulate in the face of U.S. airpower. What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of such defiance?

This is no small matter. For decades, being a superpower has been the defining characteristic of American identity. The embrace of global supremacy began after World War II when the United States assumed responsibility for resisting Soviet expansionism around the world; it persisted through the Cold War era and only grew after the implosion of the Soviet Union, when the U.S. assumed sole responsibility for combating a whole new array of international threats. As General Colin Powell famously exclaimed in the final days of the Soviet era, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower Lives Here,’ no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate from Eastern Europe.”

Strategically, in the Cold War years, Washington’s power brokers assumed that there would always be two superpowers perpetually battling for world dominance. In the wake of the utterly unexpected Soviet collapse, American strategists began to envision a world of just one, of a “sole superpower” (aka Rome on the Potomac). In line with this new outlook, the administration of George H.W. Bush soon adopted a long-range plan intended to preserve that status indefinitely. Known as the Defense Planning Guidance for Fiscal Years 1994-99, it declared: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”

H.W.’s son, then the governor of Texas, articulated a similar vision of a globally encompassing Pax Americana when campaigning for president in 1999. If elected, he told military cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, his top goal would be “to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity – given few nations in history – to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America’s peaceful influence not just across the world, but across the years.”

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A simple moral question.

The Curious Optimism Of The Godfather Of Inequality (Independent)

Before Piketty, there was Atkinson. The subject of inequality is now, perhaps indelibly, associated with the young French economist who burst into the public arena last year and became an unlikely bestselling author across the Anglophone world. But Thomas Piketty himself drew heavily on the work of a British economist – a debt the Frenchman readily admits. “Tony Atkinson is the godfather of historical studies of income and wealth,” he enthused last year. It’s no exaggeration. Sir Anthony Atkinson has been researching inequality since the 1960s and published his first major book on the subject in 1978, when Mr Piketty was still at primary school. The Atkinson index of inequality is named after him. Some scholars expect him to be awarded the Nobel economics prize at some stage.

And now the 70-year-old London School of Economics professor has produced another tome on the subject, Inequality: What can be done?. Yet for all the book’s scholarly virtues and for all the esteem in which Sir Anthony is held within the profession, it seems unlikely it will sell as many copies as Mr Piketty’s blockbuster Capital in the 21st Century. Lightning, after all, rarely strikes twice in the same spot. When I meet Sir Anthony to discuss his latest work, I ask whether it rankles to see another, much more junior colleague become the celebrated face of the subject. Sitting in his rather spartan office just off Lincoln Inn’s Fields, he smiles at the suggestion: “Not at all. He [Piketty] is an amazing character. He’s very inventive. I think he’s managed to present the issue in a way that’s attracted a lot of attention.”

Nevertheless, Sir Anthony stresses that, much as he shares Mr Piketty’s concerns about the level of income inequality across much of the developed world, his own book has a different emphasis. “I think what I would have done differently is discuss more what we can do about it [inequality],” he says. He certainly doesn’t duck the challenge of coming up with constructive policy ideas. The final chapter of his book is overflowing with ideas on how to reduce inequality back to where it stood before what he calls the great “inequality turn” of the early 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher’s government entered office.

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“..the foreign exchange market seems to be designed to create opportunities for bad behaviour.”

If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying – How Forex Has Changed (EconIntersect)

“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” were the words of one trader working in the foreign exchange market. They belie an attitude that was widespread among traders in this market between 2009 and 2013. Cheating was simply a normal part of a trader’s day job. In fact, not cheating would be to shirk your duties. Widespread cheating in the foreign exchange market has turned out to be very costly indeed. In the past six months, six large banks around the world have paid out US$10 billion in fines over the manipulation of the global foreign exchange market. There have also been fines levied against banks for manipulating other over-the-counter markets such as LIBOR, the ISDAfix and the gold market.

In addition there have been fines for other bad behaviour by banks like money laundering, their role in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, violating sanctions, manipulation of the electricity market, assisting tax evasion, and mis-selling payment protection insurance. This brings the total amount of fines which banks have paid since 2008 to over US$160 billion. To put this in context, this is more than what the UK government spent on education last year. As the cost of misbehaviour mounts, banks are under increasing pressure to clean up their act. Despite widespread public cynicism, much has already changed within the banking sector. Banks have beefed up their risk function and increased oversight of traders.

They have also changed the “tone from the top”. Senior managers of the boom years who promoted a hard-driving, risk-taking culture have largely been replaced by bankers who talk more about ethics, careful risk management and serving the customer. A new legal regime has been put in place to hold senior bank employees personally responsible for wrong-doings on their watch. Banks are required to hold more equity on their balance sheets. There have been new laws which change the way bankers are paid, to emphasise long-term performance rather than short-term risk taking. Riskier trading and investment banking operations are being ring fenced from their more staid retail banks.

All these changes might be making bankers safer, but will they do anything to make the markets which they operate within any less likely to reward bad behaviour? We usually assume a market like foreign exchange emerges from millions of individual decisions. Changing this might sound impossible. But each of these decisions are made within a particular set of constraints. These constraints are the product of deliberate policy design choices. Changing behaviour in a market like foreign exchange involves looking carefully at the design of the market and asking whether this actually does the job it is supposed to do. As it currently stands, the foreign exchange market seems to be designed to create opportunities for bad behaviour..

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Depends what the other side demands…

Greece Open To Compromise To Seal Deal This Week: Interior Minister (Reuters)

Greece’s government is confident of reaching a deal with its creditors this week and is open to pushing back parts of its anti-austerity program to make that happen, the country’s interior minister said Saturday. Greece and its EU/IMF creditors have been locked in talks for months on a cash-for-reforms deal and pressure is growing for a deal, since Athens risks default without aid from a bailout program that expires on June 30. “We believe that we can and we must have a solution and a deal within the week,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis, who is not involved in Greece’s talks with the lenders, told Skai television. “Some parts of our program could be pushed back by six months or maybe by a year, so that there is some balance,” he said.

He did not elaborate on what parts of the ruling Syriza party’s anti-austerity program could be pushed back, but the comments suggested a greater willingness to compromise on pre-election pledges. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stormed to power in January on promises to cancel austerity, including restoring the minimum wage level and collective bargaining rights. The government earlier this week said it hoped for a deal by Sunday, though international lenders have been less optimistic, citing Greece’s resistance to labor and pension reforms that are conditions for more aid. Voutsis said Athens and its partners agreed on some issues, such as achieving low primary budget surpluses in the first two years.

But they still disagreed on a sales tax, with Greece pushing so any VAT hikes will not burden lower incomes. “A powerful majority in the political negotiations has showed respect for the fact that there can’t be further austerity strategies for the Greek issue, the Greek problem and the Greek people,” he said. [..] In an interview with Realnews newspaper published on Saturday, Economy Minister George Stathakis said Athens had no alternative plan. “The idea of a Plan B doesn’t exist. Our country needs to stay in the eurozone but on a better organized aid program,” he said. Stathakis was confident a deal will be reached. “Otherwise, mainly Greece but the European Union as well will step into unchartered waters and no-one wants that.”

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Or it may not. Keep ’em guessing.

Greece Might Sidestep June 5 IMF Payment Deadline (Reuters)

Cash-strapped Greece could avoid paying back the IMF on June 5 and win more time to negotiate a funding deal without defaulting if it lumps together all IMF repayments due in June and pays them at the end of the month, officials said on Tuesday. Greece has to repay the IMF €300 million on June 5, the first of four instalments due in June that total €1.6 billion. Cut off from markets, Athens has said it will not be able to make the June 5 payment without new loans from the euro zone, which insists it can only lend Greece more if the country agrees to reforms that would make its debt sustainable. “There is the possibility of putting together several payments that Greece would need to make to the IMF in the course of June and then just make one payment,” a senior euro zone official close to the talks with Athens said.

A second official close to the talks also acknowledged that possibility. “That’s basically a technical treasury exercise and they could tell the IMF that this is how they want to do it and the IMF would probably have to be OK with that,” the first official said. But the officials noted that Greece could only use such a trick if there was a credible prospect of a funding deal that could be communicated to markets and its citizens. Otherwise, the missed payment could trigger market panic and a bank run in Greece. “So they would get a few extra weeks. But unless there is some perspective how they would deal with this full payment, it would be a risky thing for the Greeks to do. And the consequences would be unpredictable,” said the first official. “People could want to withdraw their savings and who knows what Greece would have to do.”

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Target2 steps into the spotlight.

Varoufakis’s Great Game (Hans-Werner SInn)

Game theorists know that a Plan A is never enough. One must also develop and put forward a credible Plan B – the implied threat that drives forward negotiations on Plan A. Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, knows this very well. As the Greek government’s anointed “heavy,” he is working Plan B (a potential exit from the eurozone), while PM Alexis Tsipras makes himself available for Plan A (an extension on Greece’s loan agreement, and a renegotiation of the terms of its bailout). In a sense, they are playing the classic game of “good cop/bad cop” – and, so far, to great effect. Plan B comprises two key elements.

First, there is simple provocation, aimed at riling up Greek citizens and thus escalating tensions between the country and its creditors. Greece’s citizens must believe that they are escaping grave injustice if they are to continue to trust their government during the difficult period that would follow an exit from the eurozone. Second, the Greek government is driving up the costs of Plan B for the other side, by allowing capital flight by its citizens. If it so chose, the government could contain this trend with a more conciliatory approach, or stop it outright with the introduction of capital controls. But doing so would weaken its negotiating position, and that is not an option. Capital flight does not mean that capital is moving abroad in net terms, but rather that private capital is being turned into public capital.

Basically, Greek citizens take out loans from local banks, funded largely by the Greek central bank, which acquires funds through the European Central Bank’s emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) scheme. They then transfer the money to other countries to purchase foreign assets (or redeem their debts), draining liquidity from their country’s banks. Other eurozone central banks are thus forced to create new money to fulfill the payment orders for the Greek citizens, effectively giving the Greek central bank an overdraft credit, as measured by the so-called TARGET liabilities. In January and February, Greece’s TARGET debts increased by almost €1 billion per day, owing to capital flight by Greek citizens and foreign investors.

At the end of April, those debts amounted to €99 billion. A Greek exit would not damage the accounts that its citizens have set up in other eurozone countries – let alone cause Greeks to lose the assets they have purchased with those accounts. But it would leave those countries’ central banks stuck with Greek citizens’ euro-denominated TARGET claims vis-à-vis Greece’s central bank, which would have assets denominated only in a restored drachma. Given the new currency’s inevitable devaluation, together with the fact that the Greek government does not have to backstop its central bank’s debt, a default depriving the other central banks of their claims would be all but certain.

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The pinnacle question: “How do you deflate a giant bubble without enraging the masses or losing control of the economy?”

Chinese Stock Market’s Wile E. Coyote Moment (Pesek)

Shanghai’s stock market just experienced a Wile E. Coyote moment. For weeks, investors had been chasing higher and higher returns. On Wednesday, however, they suddenly looked down to find their road had disappeared. The realization came courtesy of China’s central bank, which had decided to drain cash from the financial system, and jittery brokerages, which had just tightened lending restrictions. That one-two punch didn’t just send Chinese stocks down 6.5%, the most in four months. It also raised existential questions about one of modern history’s greatest asset bubbles. And it is a bubble. The 127% gain in the Shanghai Composite Index over the past year defies financial gravity.

It’s been driven not by optimism about China’s economic fundamentals or corporate earnings, but record growth in margin debt. Such lending — fueled by speculation that the People’s Bank of China will soon cut interest rates and reduce lenders’ reserve requirements — exceeded $322 billion as of May 27, five times the level of a year earlier. And that’s just the official tally: China’s shadow banking system is estimated to have created $20 trillion of credit since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008. What makes China’s bubble unique is the government’s direct role in creating it, feeding it and now managing it. Last August, for example, as the Chinese stock market threatened to sag, state-run media started prodding the Chinese public to pile their life savings into shares.

During a single week in August 2014, Xinhua News Agency put out eight features espousing the wisdom and patriotism of owning equities. Beijing also reduced trading fees and allowed individuals to open as many as 20 accounts. The implicit message was that the Communist Party could and would protect stock investments, if need be. The plan succeeded beyond Beijing’s wildest expectations, leaving it with an epic challenge: How do you deflate a giant bubble without enraging the masses or losing control of the economy?

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“Convertible or not, the yuan is too big to ignore.”

Stop Calling China a Currency Manipulator (Pesek)

Christine Lagarde’s people say China’s currency is no longer undervalued. Jacob Lew’s argue it still is. There’s a lot at stake in the debate: The yuan can’t gain status as a global currency reserve if China is thought to be manipulating its value. So who should we believe, the head of the IMF or the U.S. Treasury Secretary? It’s worth asking Ben Bernanke. Now that the former Fed chairman is in the private sector, he can say what he really thinks — and, as he pointed out in a recent speech in Seoul, it’s not wise to ignore political factors when managing the rise of the Chinese economy. Bernanke argued that if Washington had heeded IMF requests to allow China to play a larger role in global institutions, Beijing wouldn’t now be creating the $100 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which threatens to undermine the existing global financial system.

It’s worth extending Bernanke’s point to the yuan debate. Japan’s yen is down 30% since late 2012 (hitting a 12-year low this week) while the yuan has risen during the same period. So the IMF has good reason to contradict America’s assessment and bolster China’s case for reserve currency status. But there are two further reasons why the IMF must stand firm, no matter what U.S. officials and lawmakers say. First, China might go it alone. As Bernanke points out, the West is playing hardball with Beijing at its own risk. The AIIB is already diminishing the relevance of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. What’s to keep Beijing, flush with $3.7 trillion of reserves, from now opening its own bailout fund for governments facing balance-of-payments shortfalls? China proposed a similar idea during the region’s 1997 economic crisis.

Although the idea died a quick death at that time amid fears the IMF and U.S. Treasury would lose influence, it might attract more interest now – especially if China promises to demand less austerity from needy countries like Greece. “If the IMF were to sidestep the explicitly stated desire of China’s government,” says Eswar Prasad of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, “it would create more bad blood in an already contentious relationship regarding currency matters.” He worries it would “crystallize emerging market policymakers’ concerns that the IMF remains an institution run by and for the benefit of advanced economies.” That would encourage nations to rally around Beijing’s alternative lending institutions, and could deal a fatal blow to the post-World War II global financial architecture.

Second, Chinese economic reform is accelerating. Bernanke is right that the yuan has a ways to go before it can become a major reserve player. But a new Swift study shows the yuan is Asia’s most-active currency for payments to China and Hong Kong and number five globally. Convertible or not, the yuan is too big to ignore. In that sense, its inclusion in the IMF’s special drawing rights system – along with the dollar, euro, yen and pound – is a matter of when, not if.

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France steps out, it’s over.

French Far-Right Calls For In/Out EU Referendum (EUObserver)

France’s far-right National Front party has called for an in/out referendum on the EU at the same time as the UK holds its vote. Florian Philippot, an MEP and the party’s deputy head, wrote on Thursday (28 May) that president Francois Hollande should “follow the British example” and “follow the calendar outlined by our neighbours across The Channel”. “The time has come to ask everybody in Europe Yes or No – if they want sovereignty to decide on their own future”. He added that British PM David Cameron, who is currently on a tour of European capitals to sound out feeling on a renegotiation of EU powers, “with this referendum … has put himself in a powerful position to demand real reforms”.

He also said that if Hollande declines to do it, the National Front will put an in/out EU vote “at the heart” of its 2017 presidential election campaign. Speaking on BFM-TV earlier in the week, Philippot noted that his party wants a “referendum republic”, in which average people can trigger a popular vote on any subject if they file more than 500,000 signatures. He cited Switzerland as a model and listed French membership in Nato, in the Schengen passport-free area, and the EU-US free trade treaty as other potential votes. For its part, French daily Le Figaro, in an Ifop poll published on Friday, said 62% of French people would vote No to the EU constitution again if they were asked the same question as 10 years ago.

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“It represents an almost 30-fold increase on the same period last year..” How dare Europe still not have a comprehensive answer to this?

Italy Rescues 3,300 Migrants In Mediterranean In One Day (BBC)

Italy helped rescue a total of more than 3,300 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean on Friday, the country’s coastguard has said. In one operation, 17 bodies were found on three boats. Another 217 people who were on board were rescued.
The coastguard said distress calls were made from 17 different boats on Friday. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says at least 1,826 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2015. It represents an almost 30-fold increase on the same period last year, the IOM says. The Corriere della Serra newspaper said (in Italian) that most of the rescues on Friday took place close to the Libyan coast.

Irish, German and Belgian ships took part in the rescue, the newspaper said. The UN estimates that at least 40,000 people tried to cross the Mediterranean between the start of the year and late April. The rise has been attributed to chaos in Libya – the staging post for most crossings – as well as milder weather. Many migrants are trying to escape conflict or poverty in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia. On Thursday, the charity Medecins sans Frontieres reported that a 98-year-old Syrian man had been rescued from a boat, having travelled by sea from Egypt for 13 days. He was taken to Augusta in Sicily.

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Fear? Fear of what?

Germany Passes Japan To Have World’s Lowest Birth Rate (BBC)

A study says Germany’s birth rate has slumped to the lowest in the world, prompting fears labour market shortages will damage the economy. Germany has dropped below Japan to have not just the lowest birth rate across Europe but also globally, according to the report by Germany-based analysts. Its authors warned of the effects of a shrinking working-age population. They said women’s participation in the workforce would be key to the country’s economic future. In Germany, an average of 8.2 children were born per 1,000 inhabitants over the past five years, according to the study by German auditing firm BDO with the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI). It said Japan saw 8.4 children born per 1,000 inhabitants over the same time period.

In Europe, Portugal and Italy came in second and third with an average of 9.0 and 9.3 children, respectively. France and the UK both had an average of 12.7 births per 1,000 inhabitants. Meanwhile, the highest birth rates were in Africa, with Niger at the top of the list with 50 births per 1,000 people. Germany’s falling birth rate means the percentage of people of working age in the country – between 20 and 65 – would drop from 61% to 54% by 2030, Henning Voepel, director of the HWWI, said in a statement (in German). Arno Probst, a BDO board member, said employers in Germany faced higher wage costs as a result. “Without strong labour markets, Germany cannot maintain its economic edge in the long run,” he added. Experts disagree over the reasons for Germany’s low birth rate, as well as the ways to tackle the situation.

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Just the first round.

More Charges Expected In FIFA Case (NY Times)

Chuck Blazer was a powerful figure in international soccer, and he enjoyed the trappings that came with the role: two apartments at Trump Tower in Manhattan, expensive cars, luxury properties in Miami and the Bahamas. But for all of Mr. Blazer’s lavish living, he did not file personal income tax returns. And in August 2011, Steve Berryman, an IRS agent in Los Angeles, opened a criminal investigation. Thousands of miles away in New York, two FBI agents, Jared Randall and John Penza, were working on an investigation of their own, one that had spun off an unrelated Russian organized-crime case in December 2010. The agents on opposite sides of the country were looking at some of the same people.

In December 2011, news reports revealed that the FBI was asking questions about FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, and the California investigators called New York. The two agencies joined forces, setting in motion the sprawling international case that led to the arrests of top soccer officials this week. The investigation, which involved coordination with police agencies and diplomats in 33 countries, was described by law enforcement officials as one of the most complicated international white-collar cases in recent memory. Fourteen people have been indicted in bribery and kickback schemes linked to corruption in the highest echelons of FIFA. And United States authorities say more charges are all but certain.

“I’m fairly confident that we will have another round of indictments,” said Richard Weber, the chief of the I.R.S. unit in charge of criminal investigations. The American government’s aggressive move shocked the soccer world and led to questions about whether the United States had set out on a mission to topple the leadership of FIFA, which has long been troubled by allegations of corruption. But officials at the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the I.R.S. said the impetus was criminal activity and organized crime that just happened to occur in the soccer world. “I don’t think there was ever a decision or a declaration that we would go after soccer,” Mr. Weber said. “We were going after corruption.” He added, “One thing led to another, led to another and another.”

Still, investigators quickly realized the potential scope of their case. By the time the F.B.I. and the I.R.S. teamed up, an undercover sting operation by the British newspaper The Sunday Times had revealed corruption in FIFA’s highest ranks. Reporters around the globe followed with articles about whether soccer’s top officials could be bought. “We always knew it was going to be a very large case,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said.

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