Nov 062017
 
 November 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí Figure at a window 1925

 

The Next Market Cleanse Will Be Sharp, Deep, Fast (Peters)
Round-Up Of Saudi Princes, Businessmen Widens, Travel Curbs Imposed (R.)
Saudi Arabia Seals Yemen Borders, Accuses Iran Over Missile Strike (AFP)
Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Secrets Of The World Elite’s Hidden Wealth (G.)
Are We Taming Offshore Finance? (BBC)
Queen’s Private Estate Invested Millions of Pounds Offshore (G.)
UK Families Thousands Of Pounds Worse Off After Years Of Cuts (G.)
Britain ‘Would Be Booming’ If It Wasn’t For Brexit – Mark Carney (Tel.)
Most EU Firms Plan Retreat From UK Suppliers (R.)
UK Ministers ‘Could Be In Contempt Of Parliament Over Brexit Papers’ (G.)
China’s Shadow Banking Halts as Regulation Bites – Moody’s (BBG)
Catalonia’s Puigdemont Conditionally Released By Belgian Judge (G.)

 

 

Eric Peters gets points for style.

The Next Market Cleanse Will Be Sharp, Deep, Fast (Peters)

Anecdote: “The most common example is a ball sitting atop a hill,” she said, polished accent, hint of condescension. “Locally stable, but one nudge and it’s all over.” She drove terribly fast, discussing Minsky Moments; the idea that persistent stability breeds instability. “Naturally each cycle is different in key respects, and that’s because you’re far better at preventing past problems from recurring than new ones from arising.” I smiled, amused, insulted. “Despite knowing this all too well, you humans remain inexplicably fixated on the rearview mirror. And this blinds you to all manner of hazards ahead.”

She initiated a few perfect turns of the Tesla, dodging a squirrel or two, tumbling, unhurt. “The source of instability in this cycle is your dissatisfaction with ultra-low bond yields.” $8trln of sovereign debt carries a negative yield, still our central bankers buy. “You should logically respond to this historic rise in valuations across asset classes with a reduction in your expectations for future returns.” I nodded. “But instead you respond with indignation.” So I explained to her that without robust growth and a compounding stream of uninterrupted 7.5% returns, our entitlement systems will implode. They probably will anyway. And lacking the stomach for an honest accounting of this predicament, we prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Is this humor or sarcasm?” she asked. “Both,” I answered. “Fascinating, anyhow, you then demand that we algorithms produce mathematically impossible returns. So we apply leverage, which makes nearly anything possible, even at valuations that are 99th percentile in all of human history. The more leverage we apply, the more stable your system appears. The flatter your hilltop. Naturally, we ensure that today’s leverage looks different from yesterday’s disaster, recognizing your powerful aversion to repeating recent mistakes.” And I stared out the window, lost in thought, fall’s kaleidoscope whizzing by.

Read more …

Not done yet.

Round-Up Of Saudi Princes, Businessmen Widens, Travel Curbs Imposed (R.)

An anti-corruption probe that has purged Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen appeared to be widening on Monday after the founder of one of the kingdom’s biggest travel companies was reportedly detained. Shares in Al Tayyar Travel plunged 10 percent in the opening minutes of trade after the company quoted media reports as saying Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, who is still a board member, had been held by authorities. The company gave no details but online economic news service SABQ, which is close to the government, reported Tayyar had been detained in an investigation by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Dozens of people have been detained in the crackdown, which has consolidated Prince Mohammed’s power while alarming much of the traditional business establishment. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being held, officials said at the weekend. The front page of Okaz, a leading Saudi newspaper, challenged businessmen on Monday to reveal the sources of their assets, asking: “Where did you get this?” in a bright red headline. Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a no-fly list had been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials. The allegations against the men include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters. Those accusations could not be independently verified and family members of those detained could not be reached. A royal decree on Saturday said the crackdown was in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money”.

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The big fear is that it’s all a set-up to go after Iran. Which just signed a $30 billion energy deal with Russia.

Saudi Arabia Seals Yemen Borders, Accuses Iran Over Missile Strike (AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen closed the country’s air, sea and land borders Monday and accused Iran of being behind a weekend missile attack on Riyadh, saying it “may amount to an act of war”. Saudi Arabia intercepted and destroyed the ballistic missile, which was launched from Yemen as rebels appeared to escalate hostilities, near Riyadh’s international airport on Saturday. The missile was the first aimed by the Shiite rebels at the heart of the Saudi capital, underscoring the growing threat posed by the raging conflict. “The leadership of the coalition forces therefore considers this… a blatant military aggression by the Iranian regime which may amount to an act of war,” the official Saudi news agency SPA said in a statement.

Smouldering debris landed inside the King Khalid International Airport, just north of Riyadh, after the missile was shot down but authorities reported no major damage or loss of life. Yemen’s complex war pits the Saudi-backed government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Iran-backed Huthi rebel allies. The Saudi statement said that the borders were being closed “to fill the gaps in the inspection procedures which enable the continued smuggling of missiles and military equipment to the Huthi militias loyal to Iran in Yemen”. Despite the temporary closure of the air, sea and land ports, Saudi would protect “the entry and exit of relief and humanitarian personnel”. “The coalition… affirms the kingdom’s right to respond to Iran at the appropriate time and in the appropriate form,” it added.

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Most of this is legal. But what are the Queen, Bono, Trudeau thinking?

Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Secrets Of The World Elite’s Hidden Wealth (G.)

The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed this week in a major new investigation into Britain’s offshore empires. The details come from a leak of 13.4m files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth. The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times. The project has been called the Paradise Papers. It reveals:

• Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund – and some of her money went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people. • Extensive offshore dealings by Donald Trump’s cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. • How Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions. • The tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s chief moneyman. • A previously unknown $450m offshore trust that has sheltered the wealth of Lord Ashcroft.

• Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple.• How some of the biggest names in the film and TV industries protect their wealth with an array of offshore schemes. • The billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.• The secret loan and alliance used by the London-listed multinational Glencore in its efforts to secure lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. •The complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.

The disclosures will put pressure on world leaders, including Trump and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who have both pledged to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes. The publication of this investigation, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years, comes at a time of growing global income inequality. Meanwhile, multinational companies are shifting a growing share of profits offshore – €600bn in the last year alone – the leading economist Gabriel Zucman will reveal in a study to be published later this week. “Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality,” he said. “As inequality rises, offshore tax evasion is becoming an elite sport.”

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No. Hell no.

Are We Taming Offshore Finance? (BBC)

The offshore finance industry puts trillions of dollars worldwide beyond the taxman’s reach. Bringing it to heel is like taming a cat; not just a normal moggy – a thankless task in itself – but a Cheshire Cat: nebulous, hard to pin down, disappearing and reappearing when it likes. No-one can actually agree on what a tax haven is. Or even on the name: one person’s tax haven is another’s “offshore financial centre”. No-one can agree on how many there are. Nor on exactly how much money is stashed offshore. No statistics are fully reliable. And this suits those who operate in offshore finance, from the owner of the wealth to the lawyer or accountant middlemen who manage the funds, to the often sun-kissed beaches of the jurisdictions where they are secluded or pass through. The industry’s key word is privacy. Or secrecy – a word it doesn’t like so much.

One adage cited by the taxation author and expert Nicholas Shaxson sums it up: “Those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know.” But do we really not know how much is stashed offshore? A report this September, co-authored by the economist Gabriel Zucman, estimates about 10% of global GDP – the way we measure the size of the world’s economy – is held offshore, about $7.8tn (£6tn) . The Boston Consulting Group reported it last year at about $10tn. If you are thinking, wow, that’s bigger than Japan’s economy, you’d be right. But if you want a real wow, try $36tn – the estimate offered by James Henry, author of the book Blood Bankers. That’s twice as big as the US economy.

But no-one really knows. And here’s another wow. Remember the slogan “we are the 99%” coined by the Occupy movement to lambast the top 1% of the population for their disproportionate share of wealth? Well, the Zucman report says 80% of all offshore cash is owned by 0.1% of the richest households, with 50% held by the top 0.01%. So if you read this and are thinking, if you can’t beat them… quite frankly, it’s unlikely you will ever join them.

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This cannot be. Many Britons are miserable, and their Queen dodges taxes. As someone suggested, she should go live where her money is stashed.

Queen’s Private Estate Invested Millions of Pounds Offshore (G.)

Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund as part of an offshore portfolio that has never before been disclosed, according to documents revealed in an investigation into offshore tax havens. Files from a substantial leak show for the first time how the Queen, through the Duchy of Lancaster, has held and still holds investments via funds that have put money into an array of businesses, including the off-licence chain Threshers, and the retailer BrightHouse, which has been criticised for exploiting thousands of poor families and vulnerable people. The duchy admitted it had no idea about its 12-year investment in BrightHouse until approached by the Guardian and other partners in an international project called the Paradise Papers.

Though the duchy characterised its stake in BrightHouse as negligible, it would not disclose the size of its original 2005 investment, which coincided with a boom in the company’s value. BrightHouse has since been accused of overcharging customers, and using hard sell tactics on people with mental health problems and learning disabilities. Last month, it was ordered to pay £14.8m in compensation to 249,000 customers. Critics are likely to ask why the Queen had money in there in the first place, and the duchy may face awkward questions about whether there was enough oversight and management of the Queen’s “onward investments” to ensure they remained ethical. The duchy has also disclosed investments in “a few overseas funds”, including one in Ireland, and will be under pressure to give details of where the money is being held.

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This is Britain’s reality….

UK Families Thousands Of Pounds Worse Off After Years Of Cuts (G.)

Seven years of cuts to tax credits and universal credit have hugely eroded their role in supposedly rewarding people for working, leaving many families thousands of pounds a year worse off, a study has concluded. Ministers’ promises that the systems would benefit families for taking on more work had effectively been broken because of the cuts, according to the report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank. The study, titled Austerity Generation, details what it says are the huge numbers of families with children pushed into poverty due to cuts and freezes to benefits, as well as measures such as the new two-child limit for payments. It calls for the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to tackle the issue in next month’s budget by restoring previous levels of universal credit work allowances, the amount of monthly income that can be earned without penalty. These were cut in April 2016.

It also seeks a pension-style triple lock of the child benefit and child credit element of universal credit, ensuring it kept pace with prices and earnings. This alone, the report argues, would keep 600,000 children out of poverty. Introduced in 2003, working tax credits are intended to top up low earnings. It is among a series of benefits replaced by universal credit, which is gradually being rolled out nationally and is intended to incentivise working. But, according to the report, cuts have eroded much of this effect for families. It calculates that a couple with two young children, one working full-time and the other part-time on the national living wage, will lose more than £1,200 a year due to universal credit cuts. Another example given is that of a single parent with two young children who starts work at 12 hours a week on the national living wage and will have an effective hourly wage of £4.18, as opposed to £5.01 before the cuts.

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… and this is what its central bank chief thinks it is instead.

Britain ‘Would Be Booming’ If It Wasn’t For Brexit – Mark Carney (Tel.)

Britain’s economy would be “booming” if not for Brexit, the Governor of the Bank of England has said. Mark Carney said businesses were waiting for the outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU before making investment decisions, which was slowing down economic growth. He said the bank’s predictions for foreign investment in Britain was now 20 per cent lower than they estimated in the month before the referendum. Speaking to Peston on Sunday, he said: “Since the referendum, what we’re seeing is that business investment has picked up, but it hasn’t picked up to any of the extent that one would have expected given how strong the world is, how easy financial conditions are, how high profitability is and how little spare capacity they have. Despite acknowledging the strength of economy, Mr Carney warned: “It should really be booming, but it’s just growing.

“I think we know why that’s the case, because they’re waiting to see the nature of the deal with the European Union. “It’s the most important investment destination and [businesses] need to know transition and end state, everybody knows this, the government knows it and is working on it, UK businesses know it and the Europeans know it.” Asked if the economy would take a hit if the UK left the EU without a Brexit deal, he said: “In the short term, without question, if we have materially less access (to the EU’s single market) than we have now, this economy is going to need to reorient and during that period of time it will weigh on growth.” He added that in the event of a bad Brexit deal, the bank would not be able to cut future interest rates because of that inflationary pressure.

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Uncertainty.

Most EU Firms Plan Retreat From UK Suppliers (R.)

Most European businesses plan to cut back orders from British suppliers because of the slow progress of Brexit talks, a survey of company managers showed on Monday. 63% of non-British European companies expect to move some of their supply chain out of Britain, up from 44 percent in May, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) said. With only 17 months left until Britain is due to exit the EU, the lack of clear progress in the negotiations has raised fears among executives of an abrupt departure with no transition. Monday’s survey raised the prospect of disruption for British manufacturers with EU clients. On Sunday, the Confederation of British Industry said almost two in three British firms will have implemented Brexit contingency plans by March if Britain and the rest of the EU have not struck a transitional deal by then.

Britain and the EU said last week they were ready to speed up talks, but CIPS said it was already too late for scores of businesses that look likely to be dropped by European customers. “British businesses simply cannot put their suppliers and customers on hold while the negotiators get their act together,” said Gerry Walsh, CIPS’ group CEO. “The lack of clarity coming from both sides is already shaping the British economy of the future – and it does not fill businesses with confidence.” British finance minister Philip Hammond said last month that a transition deal needed to be struck by early 2018. CIPS said a fifth of British businesses were struggling to secure contracts that extend beyond March 2019, the date Britain is due to leave the EU.

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“Offenders can also theoretically be confined to a room in the Big Ben clock tower, although this power has not been used since 1880.”

UK Ministers ‘Could Be In Contempt Of Parliament Over Brexit Papers’ (G.)

Labour is to warn ministers on Monday that they risk being held in contempt of parliament if they do not immediately release dozens of papers outlining the economic impact of Brexit. The government conceded last week that it had to publish the 58 studies covering various parts of the economy after the move was supported in a Labour opposition motion that was passed unanimously on Wednesday. While normal opposition motions are advisory, Labour presented this one as a “humble address”, a rare and antiquated procedure which the Speaker, John Bercow, advised was usually seen as binding. The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said on Thursday that the government accepted the motion as binding, and that “the information will be forthcoming”.

However, she gave no timescale – the government has previously said it will respond to opposition motions within 12 weeks – and indicated some elements of the papers would need to be redacted to avoid “disclosing information that could harm the national interest”. The Labour motion called for the papers to be released immediately to the Brexit select committee, which has a majority of Conservative MPs, and which would then decide what elements should not be published more widely. The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, has warned that Labour will refer the matter to Bercow over possible contempt if the studies are not passed to the committee before parliament’s one-week recess begins on Tuesday.

The parliamentary rulebook, known as Erskine May after its 19th-century author, says actions that obstruct or impede the Commons “in the performance of its functions, or are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands” be can viewed as contempt. MPs held in contempt can be asked to apologise, suspended or even expelled by their fellows. Offenders can also theoretically be confined to a room in the Big Ben clock tower, although this power has not been used since 1880.

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Yeah, yeah, but: “core shadow banking activity,” including entrusted loans, trust loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances, continues to expand…”

China’s Shadow Banking Halts as Regulation Bites – Moody’s (BBG)

China’s shadow banking sector, estimated by some analysts to be worth 122.8 trillion yuan ($18.5 trillion), stopped growing in the first half of the year as issuance of wealth management products declined, according to Moody’s Investors Service. For the first time since 2012, China’s gross domestic product grew faster than shadow banking assets in the six-month period, Moody’s said in a statement Monday. Following last month’s Communist Party Congress, further regulation will continue to rein in shadow banking and address some of the key systemic imbalances, Moody’s said. While Moody’s assessment offers some evidence that China’s crackdown on shadow financing is starting to bite, authorities continue to sound the alarm on high debt levels.

In an article on the People’s Bank of China’s website late Saturday, Governor Zhou Xiaochuan pointed to latent risks that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous.” Government, household and corporate debt adds up to about 260 percent of the economy, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Moody’s said that shadow banking assets accounted for 83 percent of GDP on June 30, down from a peak of 87 percent in 2016. Michael Taylor, the company’s chief credit officer for the Asia-Pacific region, said “core shadow banking activity,” including entrusted loans, trust loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances, continues to expand even as regulation has had an effect.

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The pressure on the judge(s) must be deafening.

Catalonia’s Puigdemont Conditionally Released By Belgian Judge (G.)

A Belgian judge has released the ousted Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his ministers under certain conditions after a hearing lasting more than 10 hours. Puigdemont, who faces charges of misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to the secessionist campaign, turned himself in to Belgian police earlier on Sunday. The judge decided to grant them conditional release late in the evening pending a ruling by a court within the next 15 days whether to execute the European arrest warrant issued by Spain. The five have been told they must not leave the country and stay in a fixed address. “The request made by the Brussels’ Prosecutor’s Office for the provisional release of all persons sought has been granted by the investigative judge,” a statement from the federal prosecutor’s office said.

On Friday, the Spanish government had issued European arrest warrants against Puigdemont, Antoni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig for trying to “illegally change the organisation of the state through a secessionist process that ignores the constitution”. The formal charges, punishable by 30 years in prison, are rebellion, sedition, embezzlement of public funds and disobedience to authority, for their role in organising the referendum on Catalan independence on 1 October. The secessionist politicians fled to Belgium on Monday after the Spanish authorities removed Puigdemont and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with a declaration of independence following an illegal referendum. From his self-imposed exile, Puigdemont claimed he would not receive a fair trial in Spain but promised to cooperate with the Belgian justice system.

[..] In a sign of the growing headache the crisis is causing the Belgian coalition government, the country’s deputy prime minister, Jan Jambon, from the Flemish nationalist party, questioned Spain’s handling of the crisis in Catalonia and suggested the EU should intervene. “When the police hit people, we can still ask questions,” he said. “When the Spanish state has locked two opinion leaders, I have questions. And now the Spanish government will act in the place of a democratically elected government? “Members of a government are put in prison. What have they done wrong? Simply apply the mandate they received from their constituents.”

Read more …

Nov 052017
 
 November 5, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Navajo weaver c. 1907

 

Senior Princes, One Of World’s Richest Men Arrested In Saudi Crackdown (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Detains Princes, Ex-Ministers After Cabinet Reshuffle (MEE)
Shakeup Stuns Analysts Who Say It Shows Saudis Mean Business (BBG)
Lebanon PM Resigns, Bringing Saudi-Iran Proxy Conflict to the Fore (BBG)
Trump Urges Saudi Aramco to List on New York Stock Exchange (BBG)
China’s Zhou Warns on Rising Financial Risk in Blunt Article (BBG)
China To Expand Corruption Supervision Pilot Scheme Nationwide (R.)
Donna Brazile Considered Replacing Hillary Clinton With Joe Biden (G.)
The Great College Loan Swindle (Taibbi)
Santa Claus May Be Coming To Town, But Will The Shoppers Go Too? (G.)
In the World’s Most Livable Cities, Hardly Anyone Can Afford a Home (BBG)
Australia -Again- Snubs New Zealand Offer To Take Refugees (AFP)

 

 

Was there a coup? If so, who against who? Jared Kushner just came back from one of his secretive trips to Saudi a few days ago. He’s allegedly close with MBS. Osama Bin Laden’s older brother also arrested. Too much money floating around. And too many princes.

Senior Princes, One Of World’s Richest Men Arrested In Saudi Crackdown (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman removed one of the royal family’s most prominent princes from his ministerial role and arrested other royals and top officials in an anti-corruption drive that clears any remaining obstacles to his son’s potential ascension to the throne. Acting on orders from a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, police arrested 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said. Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guards. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a shareholder of Citigroup and Twitter, was among those detained, according to a senior Saudi official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Laws will be applied firmly on everyone who touched public money and didn’t protect it or embezzled it, or abused their power and influence,” King Salman said in comments shown on state TV. “This will be applied on those big and small, and we will fear no one.” Prince Miteb was replaced by Prince Khaled Ayyaf, according to a royal decree. Before his ouster, Prince Miteb was one of the few remaining senior royals to have survived a series of cabinet shuffles that promoted allies of the crown prince, who is the direct heir to the throne. King Salman had already sidelined other senior members of the royal family to prevent any opposition to the crown prince, 32-year-old Prince Mohammed, known as MBS among diplomats and journalists, who replaced his elder cousin, Muhammed bin Nayef, in June.

That maneuver removed any doubt of how succession plans will unfold following the reign of King Salman, now 81. “The hardline approach is risky because it will solidify the dislike many powerful Saudis have for the crown prince, but it is likely that MBS succeeds, and emerges from this episode more empowered,” Hani Sabra, founder of Alef Advisory, a Middle East political risk practice, wrote in a note. “We can’t confidently project when a leadership transition will take place, but today’s developments are a signpost that MBS is moving toward the role of king.”

Read more …

From Middle East Eye.

Saudi Arabia Detains Princes, Ex-Ministers After Cabinet Reshuffle (MEE)

Saudi Arabia has detained 11 princes and dozens of former ministers through its newly formed anti-corruption committee, including erstwhile national guard minister Mutaib bin Abdullah. According to an MEE source in Riyadh, Mutaib was arrested along with his brother Turki. Famous multi-billionaire prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz and a number of former ministers and businessmen were also arrested. Both Mutaib bin Abdullah and Al-Waleed bin Talal are senior members of Saudi’s royal family. Also among the arrested were Waleed al-Ibrahim, founder of the MBC broadcasting group, and billionaire businessman Saleh Kamel. The arrests came hours after Saudi appointed new ministers. Economy minister Adel Fakieh was replaced by Mohammed al-Tuwaijri while Khaled bin Ayyaf replaced Mutaib, son of the late King Abdullah, as national guard minister.

The new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was formed by royal decree earlier on Saturday. The arrests and dismissals came just two months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the country’s crown prince. The move consolidates Mohammed’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family. “Since Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince in June, we’ve seen a lot of upheaval,” Ian Black, of the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera. “We’ve seen the announcement of this very ambitious Saudi plan to transform the Saudi economy, Vision 2030.” “The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen at Rice University.

In September the authorities arrested about two dozen people, including influential clerics, in what activists denounced as a coordinated crackdown. Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatising state assets and cutting subsidies.

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“Everybody will be worried now. Some of these names have been there for 30 years.”

Shakeup Stuns Analysts Who Say It Shows Saudis Mean Business (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision to arrest senior princes and billionaires shocked analysts across the region, but to some it’s a sign the kingdom is serious about change. The nation’s stocks declined. A newly formed anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, instructed police to arrest 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said. The decision comes about two weeks after the kingdom announced a series of projects, including a $500 billion city, as part of a plan to overhaul an economy that has been almost entirely dependent on oil revenue for decades. The Tadawul All Share Index fell 1.8% as of 10:04 a.m. in Riyadh.

Purges haven’t “been done at this scale or in this public manner before,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, CEO of Abu Dhabi-based NBAD Securities. “Accountability has been introduced, no one is immune. Everybody will be worried now. Some of these names have been there for 30 years. This affects Kingdom Holding, Saudi Airlines and the Finance Ministry.” A plunge in crude prices has forced Saudi Arabia to face the shortcomings of its $650 billion economy. Part of its plan to prepare for life after oil is to sell shares in oil giant Aramco in 2018 and transform its stock market to a gateway into Saudi Arabia. “There should be some initial speculation in general as people are just concerned about what happened, this will be priced in,” said Mazen Al-Sudairi, the head of research at Al Rajhi Capital in Riyadh. “But if you look on the long term, this should be seen as a positive measure that is good for the country and the market.”

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More Saudi.

Lebanon PM Resigns, Bringing Saudi-Iran Proxy Conflict to the Fore (BBG)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Saturday in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, saying he feared for his life and accusing Iran and its proxies of destabilizing his country and the region. Hariri, a pro-Saudi Sunni politician, said Lebanon has suffered enough because of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its grip on domestic politics. “I want to say to Iran and its followers that they are losing in their interference in the affairs of Arab nations, and our nation will rise as it did before – and the hands that are extended to it with evil will be cut off,” he said. The resignation raises the prospect of a renewed political confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon at a time when the Islamic Republic and its allies are widely seen to have won the proxy war against Sunni powers in neighboring Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite ends of other regional conflicts such as Yemen and Iraq. The Lebanese government includes Hezbollah members, and Hariri’s decision aims to weaken the group’s legitimate representation, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “It’s part of an all-out Saudi confrontation with Iran,” he said. As the war against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq winds down, analysts are warning against a surge in other conflicts as regional and global powers seek to divide spheres of influence. And while Saudi Arabia failed in its pursuit to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, from power, the kingdom has found a backer in U.S. President Donald Trump in his focus on containing Iran’s clout in the Middle East.

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And yet more Saudi.

Trump Urges Saudi Aramco to List on New York Stock Exchange (BBG)

President Donald Trump, raising the political stakes in what would be the largest initial public offering, said the U.S. would “very much appreciate” if Saudi Arabia’s government lists the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. on the New York Stock Exchange. “Important to the United States!” Trump said in a Twitter post from Honolulu early Saturday. Trump’s tweet, sent hours before he was set to depart for an 11-day tour of Asia, came out of the blue for Aramco, according to a person familiar with the company, who asked not to be named. But the move is consistent with a growing push by American regulators to lure companies to U.S. stock exchanges. Trump told reporters later Saturday aboard Air Force One that he was motivated to send the tweet because the Aramco IPO “will be just about the biggest ever” and the U.S. wants “to have all the big listings.”

The Saudis were not currently looking at listing on a U.S. exchange “because of litigation risk, and other risk, which is sad,” he said. “I want them to very strongly consider the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ or frankly anybody else located in this country,” Trump said. He added that he had recently spoken to King Salman. The tweet was “energy geopolitics in action,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former senior oil official in the Obama administration. “At a time when the Saudis are looking for the U.S. to get tougher on Iran, the Saudi-Russian relationship is warming, the Saudis are trying to attract international private capital, and the Chinese are rumored to be considering taking a piece of Aramco, Trump’s personal plea to list in N.Y. raises the diplomatic stakes of Aramco’s decision.”

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“Latent risks are accumulating, including some that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous..”

China’s Zhou Warns on Rising Financial Risk in Blunt Article (BBG)

China’s financial system is getting significantly more vulnerable due to high leverage, according to central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who also flagged the need for deeper reforms in the world’s second-biggest economy. Latent risks are accumulating, including some that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous,” even as the overall health of the financial system remains good, Zhou wrote in a lengthy article published on the People’s Bank of China’s website late Saturday. The nation should toughen regulation and let markets serve the real economy better, according to Zhou. The government should also open up financial markets by relaxing capital controls and reducing restrictions on non-Chinese financial institutions that want to operate on the mainland, he wrote.

“High leverage is the ultimate origin of macro financial vulnerability,” wrote Zhou, 69, who is widely expected to retire soon after a record 15-year tenure. “In sectors of the real economy, this is reflected as excessive debt, and in the financial system, this is reflected as credit that has been expanding too quickly.” Zhou’s comments signal that policy makers remain committed to a campaign to reduce borrowing levels across the economy. Concern that regulators may intensify the deleveraging drive after the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress has helped push yields on 10-year government bonds to a three-year high. Still, measures of credit continue to show expansion, with aggregate financing surging to a six-month high of 1.82 trillion yuan ($274 billion) in September. China’s corporate debt surged to 159% of the economy in 2016, compared with 104% 10 years ago, while overall borrowing climbed to 260%.

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Hard not to see Saudi and China doing the same thing.

China To Expand Corruption Supervision Pilot Scheme Nationwide (R.)

China will expand a pilot project for anti-graft supervision reforms nationwide next year that will consolidate existing corruption agencies, state-run news agency Xinhua reported, as President Xi Jinping expands his signature policy drive. Xinhua said in a report published late on Saturday China’s top legislature adopted a decision calling for new supervisory commissions to be set up by the People’s Congresses at provincial, city and county-levels to “supervise those exercising public power”. Xi’s signature anti-graft drive has jailed or otherwise punished nearly 1.4 million Communist Party members since 2012. The leader, who began his second five-year term in October, has vowed to maintain the “irreversible” momentum of the campaign to root out corruption.

China aims to pass a national supervision law and set up a new commission at the annual parliament meetings early next year. The new National Supervision Commission will work with the Communist Party’s anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, expanding the purview of Xi’s anti-graft campaign to include employees at state-backed institutions. Xinhua said the commissions to be set up nationwide under the China legislature’s new directive will have the power to investigate illegal activities such as graft, misuse of authority, neglect of duty, and wasting public funds.

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if you didn’t get yet what a catastrophe the Democratic party has become.

Donna Brazile Considered Replacing Hillary Clinton With Joe Biden (G.)

The former head of the Democratic National Committee says she considered initiating effort to replace Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee with then vice-president Joe Biden. Donna Brazile makes the revelation in a memoir being released on Tuesday entitled Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. Brazile writes that she considered initiating Clinton’s removal after she collapsed while leaving a 9/11 memorial service in New York City. Clinton later acknowledged she was suffering from pneumonia. But Brazile says the larger issue was that her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure”.

After considering a dozen combinations to replace Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine from Virginia, Brazile writes that she settled on Biden and Cory Booker of New Jersey as those with the best chance of defeating Trump. Ultimately, the former DNC head says, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”

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“In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.”

The Great College Loan Swindle (Taibbi)

Horror stories about student debt are nothing new. But this school year marks a considerable worsening of a tale that ought to have been a national emergency years ago. The government in charge of regulating this mess is now filled with predatory monsters who have extensive ties to the exploitative for-profit education industry – from Donald Trump himself to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who sets much of the federal loan policy, to Julian Schmoke, onetime dean of the infamous DeVry University, whom Trump appointed to police fraud in education. Americans don’t understand the student-loan crisis because they’ve been trained to view the issue in terms of a series of separate, unrelated problems. They will read in one place that as of the summer of 2017, a record 8.5 million Americans are in default on their student debt, with about $1.3 trillion in loans still outstanding.

In another place, voters will read that the cost of higher education is skyrocketing, soaring in a seemingly market-defying arc that for nearly a decade now has run almost double the rate of inflation. Tuition for a halfway decent school now frequently surpasses $50,000 a year. How, the average newsreader wonders, can any child not born in a yacht afford to go to school these days? In a third place, that same reader will see some heartless monster, usually a Republican, threatening to cut federal student lending. The current bogeyman is Trump, who is threatening to slash the Pell Grant program by $3.9 billion, which would seem to put higher education even further out of reach for poor and middle-income families. This too seems appalling, and triggers a different kind of response, encouraging progressive voters to lobby for increased availability for educational lending.

But the separateness of these stories clouds the unifying issue underneath: The education industry as a whole is a con. In fact, since the mortgage business blew up in 2008, education and student debt is probably our reigning unexposed nation-wide scam. It’s a multiparty affair, what shakedown artists call a “big store scheme,” like in the movie The Sting: a complex deception requiring a big cast to string the mark along every step of the way. In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.

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Fear of Christmas.

Santa Claus May Be Coming To Town, But Will The Shoppers Go Too? (G.)

Christmas is still seven weeks away, but, unsurprisingly, that does not stop retailers getting into the festive spirit early in the hope to attract crowds to the tills. On Tuesday, singer Rita Ora will turn on the Christmas lights on Oxford Street to mark the beginning of the festivities, close to Marks & Spencer’s Marble Arch branch. But will it be a merry Christmas for retailers? This week both M&S and Sainsbury’s will announce half-year results at an uncertain time for the high street. A recent survey from the CBI showed high street sales falling at their fastest rate since the height of the recession in 2009 as inflation causes households to put the brakes on spending. The cost of groceries, clothes and electronics has been rising since the Brexit vote last year, piling pressure on shoppers.

Recently, Asda’s income tracker found that there has been a slump on the spending power of the average household, while research from Lloyds Bank found that families are feeling the strain of the rising costs of living compared with a year ago. All of which could add up to a grim Christmas for retailers as shoppers struggle to deal with the post-Brexit economy. A further warning was sounded last week when Next reported a fall in October high street sales. Retailers will be hoping that Rita Ora will be able to instil some festive cheer to start off the shopping season.

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Same story all over the world.

In the World’s Most Livable Cities, Hardly Anyone Can Afford a Home (BBG)

Home ownership among young Australians has fallen to the lowest level on record, as an explosive property boom squeezes out all but the wealthiest. Supercharged by record low interest rates, a lack of supply and a tax system that favors property investors, home prices have surged more than 140% in the past 15 years, propelling Sydney past London and New York to rank as the world’s second-most expensive housing market. Melbourne, ranked the world’s most livable city the past seven years by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is now the planet’s sixth-most expensive place to buy a house. In response, home ownership among the young has plunged: only 45% of 25-to-34 year-olds own their own home, down 16%age points from the 1980s, with almost half the decline coming in the past decade.

At the same time, hefty mortgages have pushed household debt to a record, acting as a drag on the economy’s 26 years of unbroken growth. As more people retire still owing a mortgage, or renting, they are more likely to qualify for government welfare, undermining the A$2.3 trillion ($1.8 trillion) pension savings system. “The great Australian dream of home ownership is becoming a nightmare,’’ said Brendan Coates, a housing policy expert at the Grattan Institute. “It’s down to a collective failure of government policy that will take at least two decades to fix.” Voter angst over housing affordability is mounting: almost 90% of Australians fear future generations won’t be able to buy a home, according to an Australian National University survey.

Failure to address the issue is heaping pressure on a government already under fire for the botched rollout of a A$49 billion national high-speed internet network, and energy-policy bungling that’s sent power bills soaring and triggered fears of blackouts this summer. One of the biggest flashpoints are tax incentives that have turned housing into a speculative financial asset. First-home buyers complain they can’t compete against investors, who through a perk known as negative gearing can claim the costs of owning a property-for-rent – including mortgage interest – as a tax deduction against other income. The allure of property investment was turbocharged in 1999, when capital gains tax was halved. With housing prices seen as a one-way bet, investors piled in.

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People deserve to go to jail for what Australia has done to these people.

Australia -Again- Snubs New Zealand Offer To Take Refugees (AFP)

Australia Sunday snubbed New Zealand’s renewed offer to resettle 150 refugees held at remote Pacific camps, despite the closure of one detention centre in Papua New Guinea which has triggered a stand-off between detainees and the authorities. Canberra has been forced on the defensive by the move from Wellington’s new government, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying Australia would instead prioritise a similar deal with the US to resettle refugees in America, despite slow progress. The issue re-emerged when the conservative Australian prime minister met his centre-left New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern for the first time Sunday in Sydney. Pressure to resettle refugees increased after the Australian centre on PNG’s Manus Island was shut Tuesday after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

About 600 detainees are refusing to leave citing safety fears if they move to transition centres where locals are reportedly hostile. But conditions in the camp are deteriorating with limited food and water and electricity cut off, with the United Nations warning of a humanitarian emergency. Under its tough immigration policy, Canberra sends asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to two camps, in Manus and Nauru, and they are barred from resettling in Australia. Australia has struggled to move the refugees to third countries such as Cambodia or PNG. “The offer is very genuine and remains on the table,” Ardern told reporters after meeting Turnbull. But the Australian leader replied that while he appreciated the offer – first made by Wellington in 2013 – “we are not taking it up at this time”.

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Jun 212017
 
 June 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Post&Powell Union Square San Francisco 1947

 

100% Chance of Recession Within 7 Months? (DR)
The Secret Source of Eternal Australian Growth (Steve Keen)
We Need A Public Inquiry Into The Economics Profession (Pettifor)
Where Are The Empty Homes In Kensington? (Whoownsengland)
Security…or Surveillance? Ron Paul Edward Snowden Interview (TAM)
Brazil Police Claim To Have Evidence President Temer Received Bribes (G.)
House Republicans Block Russia Sanctions Bill (ZH)
We Are Inches From A New World War (Medium)
Iran Slams Tillerson Call For Regime Change (RT)
The US Seems Keener To Strike At Assad Than To Destroy Isis (Robert Fisk)
EU Says Greece Needs More Debt Relief Despite €10 Billion Buffer (BBG)
Europe’s Unserious Plan for Greece (BBG)
Greek Property Market Has Lost 65% Of Its Value Since 2009 (K.)
At Least 120 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean On World Refugee Day (Ind.)

 

 

The numbers say it.

100% Chance of Recession Within 7 Months? (DR)

We asked this question one week after Trump was elected: “What does history predict for the Trump presidency?” The answer we furnished — based on over a century of data — was this: “A 100% chance of recession within his first year.” Not a 90% chance, that is. Not even a 99% chance. But a 100% chance of recession. That answer came by way of a certain Raoul Pal. He used to captain one of the largest hedge funds in the world. And to prove his case he called the unimpeachable witness of history to the stand… Crunching 107 years worth of data, he showed the U.S. economy enters or is in a recession every time a two-term president vacates the throne: “Since 1910, the U.S. economy is either in recession or enters a recession within 12 months in every single instance at the end of a two-term presidency… effecting a 100% chance of recession for the new president.”

Obama was a two-term president – if memory serves. Only two incoming presidents were not treated to a recession within the first year of office. And both followed one-term reigns: “Not every single election sees a recession, only every two-term incumbent change… Only two presidents in history did not see a recession, and they were inaugurated after single-term presidents.” Mr. Pal couldn’t fully explain the phenomenon. Maybe it takes two terms for presidential mischief to work its way into the economic machinery. One-term presidents just can’t heave enough sand in the gears. Regardless of the reason, this fellow’s research pointed him to one conclusion: “It is not a coincidence.” Trump’s now five months into his first 12. Where does the prediction stand? By grace of God or Janet Yellen or neither or both, no recession yet.

But our pessimistic side reminds us that seven months remain. And anxiety riles the deeps of our being… For we’ve spotted ill omens… disturbing portents of recession among the recent economic data… Old Daily Reckoning hand Wolf Richter: Over the past five decades, each time commercial and industrial loan balances at U.S. banks shrank or stalled… a recession was either already in progress or would start soon. There has been no exception since the 1960s. Last time this happened was during the financial crisis. “Now,” Wolf says, “it’s happening again.” Last month commercial and industrial loans (C&I) outstanding fell to $2.095 trillion, according to the St. Louis Fed. That’s down 4.5% from their November 2016 peak, says Wolf. And it marked the 30th consecutive week of no growth in C&I loans. Wolf argues C&I loans matter because they directly reflect the real economy – unlike today’s stock market, which is crooked as a Brit’s teeth.

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Tons of graphs from Steve. I find his use of ‘debt and ‘credit’ as seemingly separate terms a bit confusing.

The Secret Source of Eternal Australian Growth (Steve Keen)

Much was made of the fact that Australia recently replaced The Netherlands as the world record holder for the longest period without a recession (using the colloquial definition of two consecutive quarters of negative growth). The Netherlands went just under 26 years (103 quarters between 1982 and 2008) without a recession, and Australia surpassed this when it recorded 0.3% growth in the March 2017 quarter (for an annual growth rate of 1.7%).

Rather less attention was given to another Australian record: household debt. Before its recession-free record was set, Australia had already overtaken The Netherlands for the record of the highest level of household debt ever recorded for a large country (one with more than 10 million people).

Australia’s household debt level of 123% of GDP has been exceeded only by Switzerland (population 8.3 million, household debt of 128% of GDP in 2016 Q3) and Denmark (population 5.6 million, 139% of GDP in 2009).2 Australia also stands apart from its household leverage competitors in another important respect: Denmark, Switzerland and The Netherlands also run significant current account surpluses—Switzerland’s average surplus since 2000 has been the highest on the planet at over 10% of GDP; Denmark’s has averaged 5.75% since 2005; The Netherlands’ average current account surplus is around 8% of GDP.

Australia, in contrast, has averaged a current account deficit of 3.2% of GDP since 1960, and 4.3% since 2000. Australia therefore holds the record of the highest level of household debt for a country running a trade deficit, and has done so since 2010, when it overtook the previous record-holder: Ireland. Ireland’s household debt level has also plunged since then, from a peak of 118% of GDP in 2010 to 54%. Australia’s closest competitor now is Canada, which has a household debt level 22% lower than Australia’s, and an average trade deficit of 1.4% of GDP, versus Australia’s long-run average of 3.2%.

 

Why does this matter? Because Australia’s two records are related: Australia avoided a recession in 2008 only by adding additional leverage to its already over-indebted household sector, and the only ways that Australia can keep its winning streak on GDP growth going (given that its government is obsessed with trying to run a surplus) is to either to achieve a huge trade surplus, or for the household sector to continue piling on debt faster than GDP itself grows. A trade surplus is one of three ways to increase both aggregate demand and the amount of money in an economy:3 goods you sell to foreigners are paid for in US dollars, which the exporter then effectively sells to its country’s Central Bank in return for domestic currency (on that front, The Netherlands is, like Germany, a huge beneficiary of the Euro).

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A valiant effort, and economics should be redefined for sure, but Ann shirks far too close to assuming Brexit was about economics only and purely. Tempting when you’re an economist, but…

We Need A Public Inquiry Into The Economics Profession (Pettifor)

If the British economy crashes as a result of Brexit, it will not vindicate economists. It will simply illustrate once again, their failure. I and my colleagues at Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) believe there is urgent need for an independent, public inquiry into the economics profession, and its role in precipitating both the financial crisis of 2007-9, the subsequent very slow ‘recovery’; and in the British European referendum campaign. Financial disarray is not unlikely under Brexit, but whether this turns into anything material depends in the first instance on economic policy. How can we trust economists at the Treasury not to impose more disastrous policies? Economists have once again proved themselves not only irrelevant, but a dangerous irrelevance. For too long they have resisted call after call for reform. If they will not do it themselves then it is time for others to take control.

The profession should be brought to account through a public inquiry into the this failure. In voting to leave the EU, England overwhelmingly has rejected economics – and in particular the dominant economic narrative. Unfortunately, the economics profession as a whole cannot resign, though perhaps the President of the RES, Andrew Chesher, should consider his position. Because this hardship is indirectly a consequence of the economics profession. Economists led the way to financial liberalisation of the past 40 years, which led to soaring levels of debt, crises and financial ruin. Economists dictated the terms for austerity that has so harmed the economy and society over the past years. As the policies have failed, the vast majority of economists have refused to concede wrongdoing, nor have societies been offered alternative economics policies.

While it is risky to second guess public opinion, it may just be that the prospect of hardship to come might not have been very compelling for those already suffering the hardship of low wages, insecure low-skilled jobs, bad housing, high rents, an under-resourced and increasingly privatised NHS, and other forms of public sector ‘austerity’. With this historic vote, the British people have not just rejected the EU. They have done something that should worry the British establishment, and their friends in the City of London, and internationally, far more. Perhaps most symbolically, even the Queen suggested they did not know what they were doing. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the British public did not find the opinion of Remain ‘experts compelling’.

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If you allow for homes to be speculative ‘assets’, you will end up with homeless people.

Where Are The Empty Homes In Kensington? (Whoownsengland)

As the nightmare of the Grenfell Tower disaster continues to unfold, one of the many painful questions being asked by survivors is: ‘Where are we going to live now?’ Kensington & Chelsea Council have still been unable to give firm assurances that residents will be rehoused in the area, issuing a statement on Friday afternoon (later contradicted) that “Given the number of households involved, it is possible the council will have to explore housing options that may become available in other parts of the capital”. On Friday, the Times reported that Jeremy Corbyn had an alternative solution. “Corbyn: seize properties of the rich for Grenfell homeless” ran its above-the-fold headline (£). This was not, of course, what Corbyn had actually proposed, as the article itself revealed.

In a parliamentary debate, the Labour leader had suggested that “Properties must be found, requisitioned if necessary, to make sure those residents do get rehoused locally… It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live.” Not quite the State appropriation of private property conveyed by the sub-editor’s fevered headline, then – but a proposal for making better use of empty housing which happens to be supported by 59% of the British public, according to YouGov. So how many empty homes are there in Kensington? A lot, it turns out. The Department for Communities and Local Government regularly publishes statistics on vacant dwellings, broken down by local authority area.

The latest figures for Kensington & Chelsea reveal there are 1,399 vacant dwellings in the borough, as of April 2017 – and the number hasn’t dropped below a thousand for over a decade. 600 people lived in Grenfell Tower – so there are more than enough empty homes in the borough to house them all, if the properties could be accessed. But where are these empty homes? And who owns them? It turns out that Kensington Council themselves know precisely where they are. In a report published in July 2015, the council’s Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee examined in detail the problem of ‘buy to leave’ in the borough. ‘Buy to leave’ is the phenomenon of purchasing a property where the buyer has no intention to live in it; where the home is regarded purely as an investment – one that, in London’s super-heated property market, will rapidly accrue in value.

The council’s report used a variety of methods to locate empty housing, from council tax registers and payment data, to energy use and Land Registry records. Their findings broadly corroborate central government stats – that there are around a thousand long-term empty homes in Kensington & Chelsea. And on page 13 of the report, they display an extraordinary map of the 941 homes classified as unoccupied dwellings for the purposes of council tax:

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Science and technology will not enforce human rights. Moral values will.

Security…or Surveillance? Ron Paul Edward Snowden Interview (TAM)

Saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.” That comment was made by famed whistleblower Edward Snowden during a recent interview on the Ron Paul Liberty Report. In his conversation with Dr. Paul and Daniel McAdams, published Tuesday, an articulate Snowden discusses the true meaning of freedom, the nature of the deep state, and even his upbringing as a child of a government family. “I’d like to know a little bit, what do you do all day long?” a genuinely curious Dr. Paul asks as his opening question. After talking about the insanity that erupted — both in the political spectrum and his personal life — following the revelations he made back in 2013, Snowden says he’s now become a hot commodity for groups championing causes.

“They want me to sort of front for these issues of privacy and civil liberties and protection of people’s rights,” Snowden replies. “And I want to do what I can, but I’m not a politician. I’m an engineer.” The whistleblower goes on to talk about how he’s now, at long last, finally able to devote time to more practical applications. For him, this means focusing on the area that holds the key to finding a balance between rights and laws in the digital age — technology. “How technically is this even happening?” Snowden poses, digging straight to the heart of the issue of mass surveillance. “How is it that so many governments are spying on so many people? Because even if we pass the best legal reforms in the world in the United States, that doesn’t do anything against China, or Russia, or Germany, or France or Brazil or any other country in the world.”

Continuing, Snowden says that future generations’ rights and protections will be dependent on the current generation’s ability to adapt to a constantly shifting environment: “We need to find new means, new mechanisms, for enforcing these rights in the new times. And I think that’s going to be primarily through science and technology.”

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Wherever you live in the world, if you think things are a mess where you are, spare a thought for Brazil.

Brazil Police Claim To Have Evidence President Temer Received Bribes (G.)

Brazil’s federal police has said that investigators have found evidence the president, Michel Temer, received bribes to help businesses, raising a new threat that the embattled leader could be suspended from office pending a corruption trial. Temer has been under investigation due to plea bargain testimony by the wealthy businessman Joesley Batista of the giant meatpacking company JBS that linked the president and an aide to bribes and the president to an alleged endorsement of hush money for jailed ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha. Temer has denied any wrongdoing and insists he will not resign. If Brazil’s top prosecutor agrees with the federal police recommendation, Congress will decide whether Temer should be investigated by the supreme court, which is the only body that can formally investigate the president.

If two-thirds of Congress voted to allow the investigation, Temer would be suspended from office pending trial. In a report published on Tuesday by Brazil’s top court, federal police investigators said they had enough evidence of bribes being paid to warrant a formal investigation of Temer for “passive corruption” – Brazil’s charge for the act of taking bribes. It said former Temer aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures directly received bribes from JBS on the president’s behalf. A previously released video made by investigators shows Loures carrying a suitcase filled with about $150,000 in cash allegedly being sent from JBS to the president. Loures later gave the bag and most of the money to Brazil’s federal police, authorities have said.

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They’ll pass at some point.

House Republicans Block Russia Sanctions Bill (ZH)

After recruiting Trump, the KGB and Moscow have clearly also managed to make all House Republicans their puppets, because the Senate bill that passed last week and slapped new sanctions on Russia (but really was meant to block the production on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia and which Germany, Austria and France all said is a provocation by the US and would prompt retaliation) just hit a major stumbling block in the House. At least that’s our interpretation of tomorrow’s CNN “hot take.” Shortly after House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said that House leaders concluded that the legislation, S. 722, violated the origination clause of the Constitution, which requires legislation that raises revenue to originate in the House, and would require amendments, Democrats immediately accused the GOP of delaying tactics and “covering” for the Russian agent in the White House.

“House Republicans are considering using a procedural excuse to hide what they’re really doing: covering for a president who has been far too soft on Russia,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. “The Senate passed this bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 98-2, sending a powerful message to President Trump that he should not lift sanctions on Russia.” And, if the House does pass it, a huge diplomatic scandal would erupt only not between the US and Russia, but Washington and its European allies who have slammed this latest intervention by the US in European affairs… a scandal which the Democrats would also promptly blame on Trump. That said, the bill may still pass: Brady pushed back against Democrat suggestions that House GOP leadership is trying to delay the bill, stressing that he thought the Senate legislation was sound policy.

“I strongly support sanctions against Iran and Russia to hold them accountable. We were willing to work with the Senate throughout the process, but the final bill and final language violated the origination clause in the Constitution,” Brady told reporters on Tuesday. “I am confident working with the Senate and Chairman [Ed] Royce that we can move this legislation forward. So at the end of the day, this isn’t a policy issue, it’s not a partisan issue, it is a Constitutional issue that we will address.”

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We’re still not clued in to how dangerous ‘our own’ are.

We Are Inches From A New World War (Medium)

This is your fault, Clinton Democrats. You created this, and if our species is plunged into a new world war or extinction via nuclear holocaust, it will be your fault. You knuckle-dragging, vagina hat-wearing McCarthyite morons made this happen. American military provocations against the pro-Assad coalition in Syria are fast becoming a daily occurrence. In response to the US air force’s gunning down of a Syrian military plane on Sunday, Russia has cut off its hotline with which it was coordinating operations with America to avoid aerial collisions, and has warned that all US aircraft west of the Euphrates river will now be tracked and treated as potential targets. Today, 25 miles northwest of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a US reconnaissance plane was intercepted by an armed Russian aircraft which came within five feet of the plane’s wingtip.

This on the same day that the US shot down yet another Iranian military drone in Syria. Clintonists have been working tirelessly since the election to manufacture these new Cold War tensions. Stephen Cohen, easily America’s foremost authority on US-Russia relations, has warned again and again that the political pressures being placed on the Trump administration to maintain escalations with Russia without conceding an inch has placed our species in a situation that is in some ways even more dangerous than those we faced at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Kennedy had had to negotiate that crisis while being pressured by his entire country to keep escalating tensions with the USSR without yielding an inch, there is no way any terrestrial life would have existed beyond 1962. The Clintonists (along with their neocon buddies on the other side of the aisle) are responsible for creating those pressures.

“You know it’s easy to joke about this, except that we’re at maybe the most dangerous moment in US-Russian relations in my lifetime, and maybe ever. And the reason is that we’re in a new cold war, by whatever name.

We have three cold war fronts that are fraught with the possibility of hot war, in the Baltic region where NATO is carrying out an unprecedented military buildup on Russia’s border, in Ukraine where there is a civil and proxy war between Russia and the west, and of course in Syria, where Russian aircraft and American warplanes are flying in the same territory. Anything could happen.”
~ Stephen Cohen

It wasn’t enough for these Democratic neocons to try and elect a woman who had been pushing for dangerous escalations with Russia since long before any hacking allegations and who campaigned on a promise to invade Syria and seize control of an airspace wherein Russian military planes were conducting operations. No, once their initial bid to start World War 3 failed, these deranged death cultists began attacking Trump for any movement away from escalations with Russia or regime change in Syria and showering him with praise when he launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase. The current administration is culpable for its own actions and should be unequivocally condemned for bowing to these pressures instead of honoring Trump’s campaign promises of pursuing detente with Russia and avoiding regime change in Syria, but if Clintonists had been pushing for peace instead of war this entire time the situation would doubtless look very, very different.

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The opposite of what America needs.

Iran Slams Tillerson Call For Regime Change (RT)

Iran has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs after calls by the US Secretary of State to support “elements” that would ensure a “peaceful transition” in the Islamic Republic. Tehran also officially delivered a note of protest to the UN. Speaking last Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rex Tillerson said Washington will support efforts of a regime change in Iran. “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know,” Tillerson said on June 14. In addition to voicing Washington’s apparent support of a regime change, Tillerson also said the US could pursue sanctions on Iran’s entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Tillerson’s remarks sparked an avalanche of criticism and condemnation from Iran. In the latest development, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires to Tehran to protest Washington’s policy. The Embassy of Switzerland represents American interests in the Islamic Republic after the US cut diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980 in the wake of the 400-day US Embassy hostage crisis of 1979-1981. “Following the interfering and meddling statements made by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… the charge d’affaires of the European country was summoned to express Iran’s complaint about Tillerson’s anti-Iran remarks in the country’s House of Representatives,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement, Mehr News reported.

[..] Tillerson’s remarks “is a brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law, as well as the letter and spirit of UN Charter, and constitutes an unacceptable behavior in international relations,” Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said in the letter. Tehran further accused the US of violating the 1981 Algiers Accords, a set of agreements signed by Washington and Tehran to end the Iran hostage crisis. “The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs,” Point I of the Accord reads.

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No surprise here.

The US Seems Keener To Strike At Assad Than To Destroy Isis (Robert Fisk)

On the ground, the Syrian army is now undertaking one of its most ambitious operations since the start of the war, advancing around Sueda in the south, in the countryside of Damascus and east of Palmyra. They are heading parallel with the Euphrates in what is clearly an attempt by the government to “liberate” the surrounded government city of Deir ez-Zour, whose 10,000 Syrian soldiers have been besieged there for more than four years. If they can lift the siege, the Syrians will have another 10,000 soldiers free to join in the recapture of more territory. More importantly, however, the Syrian military suspects that Isis – on the verge of losing Raqqa to US-supported Kurds and Mosul to US-backed Iraqis – may try to break into the garrison of Deir ez-Zour and declare an alternative “capital” for itself in Syria.

In this context, the American strike on Monday was more a warning to the Syrians to stay away from the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces – the facade-name for large numbers of Kurds and a few Arab fighters – since they are now very close to each other in the desert. The Kurds will take Raqqa – there may well have been an agreement between Moscow and Washington on this – since the Syrian military is far more interested in relieving Deir ez-Zour. The map is quite literally changing by the day. But the Syrian military are still winning against Isis and its fellow militias – with Russian and Hezbollah help, of course – although comparatively few Iranians are involved. The US has been grossly exaggerating the size of the Iranian forces in Syria, perhaps because this fits in with Saudi and American nightmares of Iranian expansion. But the success of the Assad regime is certainly troubling the Americans – and the Kurds.

So who is fighting Isis? And who is not fighting Isis? Russia claims it has killed the terrible and self-appointed “caliph of the Islamic State”, al-Baghdadi. Russia says it is firing Cruise missiles at Isis. The Syrian army, supported by the Russians, is fighting Isis. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. But what is America doing attacking first Assad’s air base near Homs, then the regime’s allies near Al-Tanf and now one of Assad’s fighter jets? It seems that Washington is now keener to strike at Assad – and his Iranian supporters inside Syria – than it is to destroy Isis. That would be following Saudi Arabia’s policy, and maybe that’s what the Trump regime wants to do. Certainly, the Israelis have bombed both the Syrian regime forces and Hezbollah and the Iranians – but never Isis.

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Complete nonsense: “..The baseline scenario is based on nominal GDP growth rates between 3 and 4% until 2060

EU Says Greece Needs More Debt Relief Despite €10 Billion Buffer (BBG)

Greece will need additional debt relief to regain the trust of investors, even though it’s likely to exit its bailout with a €9 billion ($10 billion) cash buffer, the European Commission said in a draft report obtained by Bloomberg. The country’s €86 billion third bailout program from the European Stability Mechanism, agreed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European creditors in 2015, will expire in August 2018 with €27.4 billion left unused, the commission estimates in the so-called “compliance report” dated June 16. Disbursements up to then should also “cater for the build-up of seizable cash buffer” of around €9 billion, according to the document. The report contains an analysis of the country’s public debt that points to potential wrangling with the IMF following an agreement last week to disburse bailout funds, in which the fund only agreed to a new program “in principle.”

Even as the commission’s analysis points “to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greek public debt,” its assumptions about the country’s future growth prospects are still more optimistic than those of the IMF. The IMF hasn’t disbursed funds to Greece in almost three years on fears that the country’s debt is unsustainable. Last week’s compromise deal averts a Greek financing crisis this summer by allowing release of €8.5 billion of ESM funds, while the IMF holds out for more Greek debt relief from European creditors at a later stage before it gives out new loans. The June 15 deal by euro-area finance ministers commits to capping gross financing needs at 15% of GDP for the medium term, and 20% thereafter. The country’s gross financing needs will drop to 9.3% of GDP in 2020 from 17.5% this year, before rising again and surpassing 20% after 2045, according to the baseline scenario of the commission’s debt sustainability report.

[..] The baseline scenario is based on nominal GDP growth rates between 3 and 4% until 2060, considerably higher than past IMF baseline estimates. The fund’s own assessment will be released before its executive board meets to approve the in-principle stand-by arrangement next month. The debt dynamics “become explosive” from the mid-2030s in the the most adverse scenario. In this scenario, which is still more optimistic than IMF assumptions, Greece’s gross financing needs exceed 20% in 2033, reaching 56% by 2060, while debt skyrockets to 241.4% of Greek GDP by 2060.

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Bloomberg, too, will first have to understand that Greece does not have €326 billion in debt, and why it is people state that regardless.

Europe’s Unserious Plan for Greece (BBG)

The deal struck last week between Greece and its euro-zone creditors is business as usual – and that’s not a good thing. This protracted game of “extend and pretend” serves nobody’s long-term interests: not those of the Greek government, the IMF or, most of all, the people of Greece. Euro-zone finance ministers have unlocked a payment of €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion), the newest installment of a rescue plan worth €86 billion. This will let Athens make debt repayments of €7 billion that fall due next month. But there’s still no agreement on how to get Greece’s debt burden under control. The IMF had previously insisted that this question should be settled now. It was right, and it should have stuck to that position. The new agreement fails to recognize what everybody knows: that Greece’s debt is unsustainable on the current terms.

In an effort to pretend otherwise, Athens has promised primary budget surpluses (meaning net of interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP until 2022, and then of “above but close to 2%” until 2060. True, the Greek economy achieved a better-than-expected primary surplus last year. As the European recovery gathers pace, there could be more good fiscal news. But the idea that Greece can maintain this degree of fiscal control for the next 40 years is ridiculous. For instance, at some point during the next four decades, there might be another recession. Stranger things have happened. The blow to the credibility of the IMF could prove to be lasting damage. The fund points to its refusal to disburse money at this point as proof it’s serious about debt relief. Yet it remains a partner in a project that, by its own analysis, is bound to fail.

It should have said, enough. Europe doesn’t need the fund’s money or expertise. Governments only sought the fund’s seal of approval – and should have been denied it. Granted, the euro zone has done a lot to support Greece since its fiscal crisis began. Athens has been granted no fewer three rescue packages, worth €326 billion€ in total. The euro zone has allowed generous grace periods for official loans, extended their maturities and lowered the interest rate. As a result, Greece’s debt repayments are actually quite manageable for now.

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While taxes have risen. An endless hole.

Greek Property Market Has Lost 65% Of Its Value Since 2009 (K.)

The value of the local property market has plummeted some €2 trillion since the outbreak of the financial crisis eight years ago, according to the calculations of a Greek real estate consultancy. CBRE-Atria calculated that the Greek market has lost 65% of its value in the years from 2009 to 2017, dropping from about €3 trillion to €1 trillion today. The head of the consultancy, Yiannis Perrotis, says the problem is that the majority of properties are not quality assets, which means that the economic crisis has affected them more by increasing their value loss. “Properties such as old apartments in less popular areas, fields in non-touristic areas, stores or offices of low standards in secondary spots,” Perrotis explains, have been hardest hit.

The drop in values has been aggravated by the imposition of high taxation. It’s easy to find examples of properties whose value has dropped 60-65% in the last few years: Data from estate agents show that a new fifth-floor apartment of 60 square meters in Kypseli, central Athens, which sold for €150,000 in 2008, was resold at end-2016 for just €60,000, a decline of 60%; a newly built apartment in Ambelokipi, also in Athens, was sold for €270,000 before the crisis, and today is for sale for just €120,000, down 55%.

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So fitting. Though, World Refugee Day is the most cynical expression possible of the disaster we’ve created.

At Least 120 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean On World Refugee Day (Ind.)

More than 120 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat sank off the Libyan cost on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said. Four survivors who were rescued by Libyan fishermen said the boat sank after its motor was stolen by human traffickers, according to IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo. After drifting for a while, the boat, believed to have been carrying 130 refugees — most of them of Sudanese and Nigerian nationality — capsized. News of the deaths comes on World Refugee Day, during which NGOs encourage the world to commemorate and show support for those forced to flee persecution. But there is little sign of the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean abating.

The death toll passed 1,000 in April — marking a record high with that figure not reached until the end of May last year — and the latest count by the IOM shows at least 1,850 have lost their lives on the dangerous crossing. Up to 146 people drowned when a refugee boat sunk in March, and up to 250 refugees, including a baby, were reported to have drowned in May after two refugee boats sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. It comes after a report earlier this month accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea. The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants, according to the report, published by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group.

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Jun 052017
 
 June 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Banksy Girl with a balloon 2002/2017

 

Gulf Countries Cut Ties With Qatar, Oil Price Jumps (CNBC/R.)
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, & Bahrain Cut Ties, Shut Borders With Qatar (ZH)
Theresa May Urged Not To Suppress Report Into Funding Of Jihadi Groups (G.)
Top Cameron Aide: Theresa May ‘Responsible’ For London Terror Attack (BI)
Against Terror, Is London Pride Enough? (NYT)
Nearly 10 Million Britons Are In Insecure Work (G.)
Banksy Offers Free Art To People Who Vote Against The Tories (Ind.)
World Bank Economist: Risks To World Economy Receded (AFP)
Italy Faces Borrowing Shock When ECB Removes Support – Pimco (Tel.)
Joe Biden Boasts of US Role in ‘Saving’ Greece (K.)

 

 

It’s not about Qatar. US neocons are testing a new way to get to Iran.

Gulf Countries Cut Ties With Qatar, Oil Price Jumps (CNBC/R.)

The governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are all wary of the Muslim Brotherhood because it enjoys support as an Islamist party among a broad base, Sluglett said. In the case of Iran, he added, a key factor is the Trump administration’s threat to review a landmark deal that lifted most economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbing its nuclear and missile programs. “The Americans cannot unilaterally back out of the deal as it is the P5+1 [permanent five members of the U.N. security council and Germany], so they are using the GCC and Egypt to put pressure on any countries supporting Iran,” Sluglett said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, which counts Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman as members.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, responded on Twitter to the news by pointing out that Qatar “is very heavily reliant on food supplies accessed” through Saudi Arabia, so a closing of the borders poses a “very” serious challenge to Doha. For its part, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and spreading their violent ideology, in an apparent reference to its influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” state news agency SPA said. The statement went on to accuse Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.

Qatar said in May that hackers had faked remarks by its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, criticizing some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran, a regional adversary. But several Gulf Cooperation Council states rejected Qatar’s explanation, leaving local media to unleash a barrage of attacks accusing the emir of cozying up to Tehran. Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field, South Pars, with Iran. The commercial and business ties have irritated Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries at odds with Iran over Tehran’s support for Shia-linked militants. Sluglett noted that Qatar’s dealings with Iran center on the gas field and that Doha is uncomfortable at times with a hard push against Tehran: “They find it quite ridiculous to blindly follow U.S. views on Iran.”

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Saudi Arabia pointing to Iran as terror source is rich…

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, & Bahrain Cut Ties, Shut Borders With Qatar (ZH)

Just days after president Trump left the region, a geopolitical earthquake is taking place in the Middle East tonight as the rift between Qatar and other members of the (likely extinct) Gulf Cooperation Council explodes with Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of “speading chaos,” by funding terrorism and supporting Iran. The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since, and appears to be climaxing now… just days after President Trump left the region. As Al Arabiya reports, Bahrain has announced it is cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, according to a statement carried on Bahrain News Agency.

The statement on Monday morning said Bahrain decided to sever ties with its neighbor “on the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue destabilizing the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and to intervene in its affairs”. The statement also said Qatar’s incitement of the media and supporting of terrorist activities and financing groups linked to Iran were reasons behind the decision. “(Qatar has) spread chaos in Bahrain in flagrant violation of all agreements and covenants and principles of international law Without regard to values, law or morals or consideration of the principles of good neighborliness or commitment to the constants of Gulf relations and the denial of all previous commitments,” the statement read. Qatari citizens have 14 days to leave Bahraini territories while Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country after being expelled.

Meanwhile, Bahrain has also banned all of its citizens from visiting or residing in Qatar after the severance of ties. Additionally, Bahrain has has closed both air and sea borders with Qatar. Saudi Arabia then confirmed the same – cutting ties and shutting down all sea, airspace, and land crossings with Qatar as well as dissolving Qatar’s role in the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen. Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, and Egypt Air are no longer allowed to fly to Qatar and Saudi Arabia is providing facilities, services to Qatari pilgrims. Egypt then followed, confirming it was cutting diplomatic ties. Then UAE confirmed it would cut ties, shut down all sky, water, and land crossings, and expel all Qataris within 48 hours. The Maldives also just cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.

All of this happens within 24 hours of Iran calling out ‘The West’ for ignoring the real sponsors of terrorism around the world and UK’s Labor party leader outright name-shaming Saudi Arabia’s funding of terrorism. As a reminder, documents obtained by Middle East Eye show strategic alliance includes pledge by Ankara to protect Gulf state from external threats… “In December 2015, Turkey announced, to the surprise of many, that it planned to establish a military base in Qatar. Behind the scenes, the agreement was about forming a major strategic alliance. After a 100-year hiatus, Turkey is militarily back in the Gulf and ramping up its presence overseas. In January, Ankara announced that it would also establish a military base in Somalia. Specific details about the Qatar agreement, which Turkey described as an alliance in the face of “common enemies”, remain scant, but Middle East Eye has acquired copies of the agreements, as well as further details, which include a secret pledge by Ankara to protect Qatar from external threats.

Did Qatar just get scapegoated in the ‘war on terror’? One thing seems clear, support for a Syrian gas pipeline will be dwindling and with it the need for a Syrian war. Notably, this raises further doubts about OPEC’s stability. As Bloomberg notes, while Middle East ructions have historically added risk premia to oil prices, discord here could theoretically put downward pressure on prices as OPEC members struggle to maintain unity and compliance on production cuts.

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Too late now. It’s not like she’ll volunteer to publish the report before June 8.

Theresa May Urged Not To Suppress Report Into Funding Of Jihadi Groups (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have challenged Theresa May over a long-delayed inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the UK, after the Home Office suggested the investigation may not be published. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia. But the Guardian revealed last week that the report was still incomplete and its contents may not be published. The Labour leader used a speech in Carlisle on Sunday evening to challenge the prime minister over the delayed report. Corbyn referenced May’s speech after the London Bridge attack on Saturday, in which she said challenging terrorism would “require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.

In a speech that also criticised May for ignoring warnings about the impact of police cuts, he said: “Yes, we do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology. “It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.” The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, wrote to May last week asking her to commit to not shelving the report. Writing in the Guardian on Monday, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said it was essential the report was not suppressed. “Theresa May now has a choice. Does she publish that report or keep it hidden?” Farron said.

“Theresa May talks of the need to have some difficult and sometimes embarrassing conversations. That should include exposing and rooting out the source funding of terror, even it means difficult and embarrassing conversations with those like Saudi Arabia that the government claims are our allies.” The Conservatives were criticised last year for selling billions of pounds of arms to the Saudis. Cameron ordered the investigation as part of a deal with the Lib Dems in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015. The Home Office’s extremism analysis unit was directed by Downing Street in January 2016 to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to the then home secretary May and Cameron. Eighteen months on, the Home Office said the report, originally due to be published in spring 2016, had not yet been completed and publication was not guaranteed, given the sensitive nature of the content. .

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May the cannabalism begin.

Top Cameron Aide: Theresa May ‘Responsible’ For London Terror Attack (BI)

The Prime Minister should resign over her alleged failure to prevent the London Bridge terror attack, a former senior aide to the last Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Former Downing Street director of Strategy, Steve Hilton, on Monday claimed the Theresa May was “responsible” for the attack that left seven people dead and many more injured, and called for her to resign rather than seek re-election. “Theresa May responsible for security failures of London Bridge, Manchester, Westminster Bridge,” he tweeted. “Should be resigning not seeking re-election.” Hilton posted an excerpt from a Daily Mail report, suggesting that security services had been warned about at least one of the terrorists behind the attack on Saturday.

The Mail reported that one of the attackers had featured in a documentary about extremists and been reported to the security services by friends concerned that he had been radicalised. The paper also reported evidence that the suspect had been quizzed by police last year. Previous reports have indicated that the terrorists behind the Manchester and Westminster attacks earlier this year were also known to security services. May is also under pressure to release a suppressed report Home Office report into the international funding of terror groups in the UK. The report was commissioned by the last coalition government in 2015 and due to be published last year but has never been emerged. The Home Office admitted last week that it may never be published due to the “very sensitive” nature of the report.

The report is expected to reveal links between Saudi Arabia and extremist groups in the UK. Critics of the government believe it has been suppressed due to the UK government’s ongoing trade relationships with the country. The UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, despite criticisms over its involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.

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Keep calm as a myth.

Against Terror, Is London Pride Enough? (NYT)

Cultures live by myths. These create their own reality. Britons may not know much history, but they all know about the spirit of the Blitz, and many lived through the bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican Army of the 1970s and ’80s. Many will remember that, in 1984, on the day Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and half her cabinet team were blown out of their beds in the early morning by the Brighton bomb, in which five people died, she insisted that the Conservative Party conference should still start as scheduled at 9.30 a.m. Terrorism, she said, would never cripple democracy. The country is proud of that stoicism, and on the whole, wishes to live up to it. And yet. Today, there is a ripple of unease spreading through Britain, after the third brutal and unexpected attack in three months. It is the chilling realization that whatever the antiterror strategy has been so far, it clearly hasn’t worked.

However many plots are being foiled, now that anyone with the access to a car or van, a kitchen knife or the internet can choose to kill, some will succeed. This is a bleak and, frankly, unbearable prospect, and it’s concentrating minds. My 25-year-old son says that what terrifies him and his friends is their impotence. If this were indeed the Blitz, they could join up. If it was the ’70s they could either fight the I.R.A. or lobby for peace talks. But here, they have no idea how to combat this, whom to talk to, how to do anything other than wait for the next atrocity to happen, and then send sympathy and hashtags in the aftermath. Others, seeing that good will and candlelit vigils have their limits, are demanding radical action. On social media and phone-ins, and in private conversations, some people are calling for the immediate internment of the 3,000 suspected radicals on the terrorist watch lists, or their deportation, or for mass aerial bombing of the Islamic States abroad.

None of these will be solutions, but everyone is beginning to understand that savagery may become a regular occurrence, rather than an exceptional one — unless whoever is in government can offer a different and more successful approach. That is why Prime Minister Theresa May, only days away from a general election where she is fighting to keep her parliamentary majority, announced this morning that “enough is enough” in the war against terrorism, and that “things need to change.” There had been too much tolerance of extremism in Britain. The police and security services should have all the powers they needed. The internet giants, Facebook and Google, must be held responsible for radicalizing material that appeared on their sites.

Mrs. May knows just how vulnerable she is on these issues. She is already performing unexpectedly badly in the election campaign, appearing wooden and uneasy in comparison to her Labour challenger. Normally, she and the Tories could count on scoring high for law and order, but Mrs. May is in the uncomfortable position of denouncing counterterror policies for which she herself has been responsible over the past six years (in five years as home secretary and one as prime minister).

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The result of what is it, 10 year, Tories?! That’s one in every three jobs? Or is it four? Talk about a gutted society… And then Brexit surprised?

Nearly 10 Million Britons Are In Insecure Work (G.)

Up to 10 million Britons or nearly a third of the UK workforce do not have secure employment, according to the GMB union, which has warned of a heavy impact on health and family life. The union’s research, unveiled at its 100th annual congress in Plymouth on Monday, attempts to quantify people in what it calls precarious employment – those in the gig economy, on zero- or short-hours contracts, temporary workers, the underemployed and those at risk of false self-employment. The data, based on a survey of nearly 3,500 people of working age, emerged before the publication this month of recommendations from Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair who was appointed by the current prime minister to lead a review into the gig economy. He is expected to recommend changes to the rights of self-employed workers.

Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “This paints a shocking picture of the modern world of work. Up to 10 million people go to work either not knowing what their hours are, if they’ll be able to pay the bills, or what their long-term prospects are. That’s a sorry state of affairs in the 21st century and a product of government’s failure to tackle bogus self-employment, the use of agency contracts as a business model and point-blank refusal to ban zero-hours contracts.” Further interviews of those who identified themselves as insecure workers found that 61% had suffered stress or anxiety as a result of their current job and the same proportion said they had been to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on future hours. The rapid change in employment practices was highlighted by more than three-quarters of those interviewed who said they had previously been in permanent employment.

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Not sure it’s entirely legal.

Banksy Offers Free Art To People Who Vote Against The Tories (Ind.)

Banksy has offered fans an exclusive free print if they vote against the Conservatives in the general election. The artist posted on his website asking voters in six Bristol-area constituencies to send him a photo of their ballot paper showing that they voted against the Tories to receive a limited-edition work. He wrote: “Simply send in a photo of your ballot paper from polling day showing you voted against the Conservative candidate and this complimentary gift will be mailed to you.” The artwork is taken from his iconic “girl with a balloon” motif but now features a Union Jack flag in the balloon. Banksy said that it will be released on 9 June. However, critics have pointed out that this would contravene laws designed to ensure votes remain secret, and could also break rules against bribery.

In a “lawyer’s note” disclaimer, Banksy’s post added: “This print is a souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate, has no monetary value, is for amusement purposes only and is strictly not for resale. “Terms and conditions to follow, postage not included.” Under Section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act, it is a criminal offence to “induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted”. It is also illegal to show the paper’s unique identification number. An Electoral Commission spokesman told the BBC: “Given the risk that someone taking a photo inside a polling station may be in breach of the law, whether intentionally or not, the commission’s advice is against taking any photos inside polling stations.”

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At the World Bank they get to smoke the good stuff.

World Bank Economist: Risks To World Economy Receded (AFP)

The World Bank is keeping its forecast for global growth in 2017 unchanged, because for the first time in years, no new risks have arisen to threaten the outlook. “Over the past four years this is the first time we didn’t have a downgrade and I think that’s very good sign. Growth is firming,” World Bank economist Ayhan Kose told AFP. The World Bank expects the global economy to grow by 2.7% this year, and 2.9% in 2018 and 2019, the same as the January forecast. And after 10 years of crisis and tepid recovery, keeping a stable growth forecast is news. Kose, who heads the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group, which twice a year prepares the global economic forecasts, attributes the good news to the fact the risks, while still present, have receded.

The issues that had the potential to derail the incipient recovery included stress in financial markets as they adapt to rising US interest rates, uncertainty over the stability of oil prices, and concerns about election outcomes in Europe. But after the Federal Reserve’s two rate increases in recent months, markets have reacted “very well,” European political uncertainty “has receded quite a bit” – French voters rejected the anti-EU candidate – and oil prices while still low, have stabilized after OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers extended the agreement to limit output. “All in all, we still think that risks are tilted to the downside but the risk profile is a little bit more improved today versus six months ago,” Kose said.

However, uncertainty over policies, especially US trade protectionism and immigration restrictions under the Trump administration, is having immediate, real impacts on conditions that could dampen growth, Kose cautioned. Companies may delay business decisions and postpone investments in the absence of “well-defined policies,” for example in a case where companies have cross-border operations impacted by the North American Free Trade Agreement which President Donald Trump has opened to renegotiation. Kose noted the “serious slowdown” in investment in emerging markets and developing economy already seen over the past six years. “We are of course worried about how policy uncertainty impacts investment growth and then ultimately impacts growth in the real economy,” he said.

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They won’t let Italy fall unless Beppe Grillo wins the next elections. Which by the way is quite possible.

Italy Faces Borrowing Shock When ECB Removes Support – Pimco (Tel.)

Italy faces a “horror” scenario when the ECB winds down its bond buying programme in a move that risks sparking a surge in the country’s borrowing costs, according to one of the world’s largest bond managers. The Pacific Investment Management Company (Pimco) said the ECB’s €60bn-a-month QE programme was “very supportive” for countries such as Italy and Portugal and had helped to limit volatility in these countries. Andrew Balls, chief investment officer for global fixed income, said removing that support was likely to push up bond yields in a country that has struggled to implement reforms and reduce its massive debt pile amid weak growth. Italian 10-year benchmark borrowing costs currently stand at around 2.2pc, compared with 0.2pc in Germany and close to 3pc in Portugal.

Mr Balls said funding Italy at these rates “doesn’t look particularly attractive” considering the risks facing the eurozone’s third largest economy. He said removal of ECB support raised the risk that Italy could be forced into a bail-out programme if its borrowing costs rose to unsustainable levels, even though the country has long lived within its means excluding debt interest costs. “The thing which fills me with horror is an environment where the ECB has finished QE, Italy does need support, and the message is you need to go to the European Stability Mechanism [the eurozone’s bail-out fund],” said Mr Balls. “Replaying the events of a few years ago with Portugal, Greece and others in the case of Italy would be an event that would raise an awful lot of risk – and you’d want to get paid a lot more than a 2pc return over 10 years to take that risk.”

While Pimco believes an Italian exit from the eurozone is “not our baseline”, Mr Balls added: “It doesn’t seem terribly unlikely either”. “Italy can’t grow,” he said. “You have limited political will to implement reform …In contrast to Portugal it’s big and systemic, but its not clear how Italy improves the situation. “In the event of a recession or shock it’s not clear how the policy apparatus deals with something as large as Italy.”

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In a piece on Cyprus, and Biden’s visit to Athens this week. Biden only cares about the impact of the Greek crisis abroad, not inside the country.

Joe Biden Boasts of US Role in ‘Saving’ Greece (K.)

President Obama and I were engaged with all parties in the Greek financial crisis, because we wanted to prevent Greece from experiencing financial collapse. Grexit would have had very serious long-term consequences for Greece and Europe – and could potentially have triggered a wider crisis of confidence in the global economy. We were concerned that in the high-stakes negotiation between Greece and its creditors, failure to reach a sensible agreement would have made all parties much worse off in the end. But because of each side’s desire to secure the best possible terms, this worst-case scenario was a real possibility.

While the ultimate decision was up to the leaders of Greece, the IMF, and the eurozone countries, I think we helped steer the conversation in a more pragmatic direction because of the credibility we had in Athens, Brussels and Berlin. We argued with the creditor countries that Greece had been saddled with an unsustainably high debt burden and that reform would only go so far with such a large debt overhang. At the same time, we encouraged the Greek leadership to think about how to demonstrate to its creditors that it had a credible roadmap for systemic economic reform, which was necessary. While a deal was reached and the worst of the crisis is behind us, we are not yet completely out of the woods. I believe the United States continues to have a role to play in supporting the parties as they move forward with discussions on Greece’s economic future.

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May 222017
 
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Pable Picasso Le Pengouin 1907

 

US Loan Creation Crashes To Six-Year Low (ZH)
UK Has All The Ingredients For A New Credit Crunch (G.)
Media To Trump: Only Cozy Up To The Right Dictators (FAIR)
America’s Cash Cow: ‘Trump Does Not Value The Saudis, Only Their Money’ (RT)
Nassim Taleb Tells Ron Paul: “We’ll Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed” (ZH)
How Did Russiagate Start? (Matt Taibbi)
Jeremy Corbyn Defies His Critics To Become Labour’s Best Hope Of Survival (G.)
UK Labour Pledges To Abolish Tuition Fees As Early As Autumn 2017 (G.)
China’s Tide Of Internal Migration Is Shifting (BBG)
Commodity Traders Are Stuck in a World Where Everybody Knows Everything (BBG)
Interest-Only Loans Could Be ‘Australia’s Subprime’ (AFR)
Greek Creditors Seek to Break Impasse on Stalled Bailout Review (BBG)
Syphilis Is On The Rise Because Penicillin Isn’t Profitable (Qz)

 

 

Our economies cannot function without constant new money creation by banks on the back of mortgages and other loans.

US Loan Creation Crashes To Six-Year Low (ZH)

According to the latest Fed data, the all-important C&I loan growth contraction has not only continued, but over the past two months, another 50% has been chopped off, and what in early March was a 4.0% annual growth is now barely positive, down to just 2.0%, and set to turn negative in just a few weeks. This was the lowest growth rate since May 2011, right around the time the Fed was about to launch QE2. At the same time, total loan growth has likewise continued to decline, and as of the second week of May was down to 3.8%, the weakest overall loan creation in three years.

Another loan category that has seen a dramatic slowdown since last September, when Ford’s CEO aptly predicted that “sales have reached a plateau.” Since then auto loan growth has been slashed by more than 50% and at this runrate, is set to turn negative some time in late 2017. Needless to say, that would wreak even further havoc on the US car market. For a while, despite numerous attempts at explanation, there was no definitive theory why this dramatic slowdown was taking place. It even prompted the WSJ to inquire “who hit the brakes?” Well, after the latest Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey, we may have the answer.

First, recall that in late April we showed another very troubling trend: consumer credit card default rate as tracked by S&P/Experian Bankcard had surged to the highest level since June 2013, suggesting that contrary to reports otherwise, the US consumer is increasingly unwell. A quick look at the latest Fed Senior Loan officer survey revealed even more disturbing trends. According to the report, “banks reported tightening most credit policies on Commercial Real Estate loans over the past year…. On balance, banks reported weaker demand for CRE loans in the first quarter.” Even more troubling was the continued drop in demand for C&I loans among small, medium and large corporations, with “inquiries for C&I lines of credit remained basically unchanged” staying at a modestly depressed rate.

This stark admission that in addition to declining bank supply due to tighter standard (i.e., worries about further losses), there was less demand by businesses and consumers for loans, has explained once and for all the ongoing collapse in commercial bank loan creation, both total, C&I and auto. Of the two, the declining demand for loans businesses, is by far the most concerning aspect of an economy that is supposedly growing, and where companies should be willing to take out new credit to fund expansion (instead of merely issuing bonds to buyback their stock).

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Position very similar to US. And many others, obviously.

UK Has All The Ingredients For A New Credit Crunch (G.)

A credit crunch is brewing and when it happens, the UK is going to get hurt. That is the message emerging from senior executives in the financial services industry, who do not think Britain has changed that much since the 2008 credit disaster and the devastating crash that followed. Three developments lie at the heart of this disturbing analysis: spectacular growth in the sale of second mortgages, car loans and credit cards. Second mortgages are widely seen as a signal of consumers taking on risky levels of debt that leave them vulnerable to a downturn in the economy. It was the same before the last banking crash. Tens of thousands of households, many of them struggling to pay monthly mortgage payments, used second mortgages to bypass borrowing limits set by their mortgage lender.

The latest industry figures show the number of people opting to saddle themselves with a second mortgage leapt 22% in March to its highest level since 2008. Car loans are already on the regulator’s radar. Like second mortgages, they are considered secured credit on the basis that lenders have a claim against an asset when borrowers can no longer pay monthly instalments. But cars depreciate from the moment they are bought, so they rank low down the scale of secure credit. And loans have turned in recent years into leases that have customers renewing contracts every three years, keeping them in effect permanently hooked. The main consumer regulator for the financial services industry, the Financial Conduct Authority, is reviewing the market for car leasing, which now accounts for more than 90% of car sales, to check for mis-selling to poorer households who will be vulnerable to default.

The Bank of England is also on the case. More importantly, it is also looking at the big picture and what happens if unemployment suddenly rises and a large number of households default on payments. Officials at the Bank have a growing list of concerns. Not only is there the second mortgage problem and the number of car loans: figures show consumer spending on unsecured credit has also rocketed in the last year. In March alone, the amount UK consumers owed on loans and cards grew by £1.9bn, the highest figure in 11 years. Households are known to have increased their reliance on short-term unsecured loans to buy cars and furniture, and to kit out new kitchens. Some use them to maintain their lifestyle in the face of a decade of flat wages.

Unfortunately, another group use credit to pay the monthly rent. Shelter, the homelessness charity, says one in three renters – around half a million people – on low incomes are having to borrow money to pay the rent. It said the borrowing is often from family and friends, but also on credit cards and through loans.

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Why US mainstream media are on their last legs.

Media To Trump: Only Cozy Up To The Right Dictators (FAIR)

After a series of friendly gestures by President Donald Trump toward Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over the past few months, US media have recoiled with disgust at the open embrace of governments that ostensibly had heretofore been beyond the pale. “Enabling Egypt’s President Sisi, an Enemy of Human Rights,” was the New York Times‘ editorial position (4/4/17)—followed by “Donald Trump Embraces Another Despot” (5/1/17). A week later, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) lectured Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Times op-ed page (5/8/17) on “Why We Must Support Human Rights.” “How Trump Makes Dictators Stronger” was Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum’s lament (5/1/17). “Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates,” reported an upset Philip Rucker (Washington Post, 5/2/17).

Post contributor Tom Toles (5/2/17) added, “Trump invites ruthless dictators to the White House.” Trump had gone too far, was the media message, crossing a line with his enthusiastic outreach to brutal tyrants. So the Trump administration’s announcement of a plan for not just a friendly visit to Saudi Arabia—scheduled for May 20–21—but also the sale of up to $300 billion in weapons to the oppressive regime, must have provoked the same outcry from these critics, right? Actually, no. Thus far, the LA Times, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS haven’t reported on Trump’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, much less had a pundit or editorial board condemn it. Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen has killed at least 10,000 civilians, resulted in near-famine conditions for 7 million people and led to a deadly cholera epidemic—all made possible with US weapons and logistical support.

John McCain, whose New York Times op-ed was unironically shared by dozens of high-status pundits, aggressively backs Saudi Arabia’s brutal bombing of Yemen, and has called for increased military support to the absolute monarchy. The New York Times hasn’t written an editorial about Saudi Arabia since October of last year (10/1/16), when, for the second time in the span of a week, the paper defended the regime against potential lawsuits over its role in the 9/11 attacks. When the Times does speak out on the topic of Saudi Arabia, it does so to run interference for its possible connection to international terrorism.

Nice words to the wrong dictators unleash a torrent of outrage from our pundit class. Nice words to the right dictators—along with billions in military hardware, which unlike nice words will be used to continue to slaughter residents of a neighboring country and suppress domestic dissent–result in uniform silence. Not a word from Anne Applebaum, no condemnation from Philip Rucker, no moral preening from Sen. John McCain, no sense that any line had been crossed from the New York Times editorial board. The US’s warm embrace and arming of the Saudis is factored in, it’s bipartisan, and thus not worthy of outrage.

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NassimNicholasTaleb on Twitter:

“What @realDonaldTrump is doing: sucking in the last $100 billion before the bankruptcy of SaudiBarbaria. If anything, cruel to the Saudis.”

America’s Cash Cow: ‘Trump Does Not Value The Saudis, Only Their Money’ (RT)

RT: Trump signed a $110-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. How do you think this is going to be received in the US and in the wider international community?

Sharmine Narwani: Not very well. We’ve seen what the Saudis have done with arms in the last six years or so. To understand why this administration is upping arms sales to the Saudis, we have to go back a little bit. In 2010, 2011 at the start of the Arab Spring, the Saudis signed contracts for over $65 billion at that time, the largest ever. And then here we are a number of years later. And the numbers are 110, possibly up to $300 billion. And the reason behind this is basically after the failures of the US intervention in Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans were no longer willing to sacrifice blood and treasure, and moving forward they were going to use local proxies to fight their wars. And Saudi Arabia is willing and able to fight wars in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen on behalf of the American administration. But unfortunately, to no avail; these are not winnable wars. And at this point, I think Trump is looking at them as a cash cow.

RT: Trump says he wants to help bring peace to the Middle East. But does striking such a huge arms deal right off the bat send the right signal?

SN: Peace is a relative term. What do the Americans and what does the Trump administration mean by peace, for starters? Peace means the status quo, it means the Americans continue to exercise hegemony over the region, and that is not possible with an empire in decline. So, I think right now what we are seeing with the Trump administration headed by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, spearheading an effort to create what they are calling the Arab NATO, which is a peace deal struck over the Israel-Palestine conflict in which the Saudis and the Gulf States and other Sunni states will agree to some kind of a solution there in order to cooperate with Israel to target Iran. So, in fact, we are going to see an escalation, not peace.

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“We have today so many people sitting in the New York Times Washington office, in an air conditioned office, who can dictate foreign policy with zero risk.”

Nassim Taleb Tells Ron Paul: “We’ll Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed” (ZH)

Just how homogenous is the U.S. foreign policy elite? Remember that through the end of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State in 2013, either a Bush or a Clinton held one of the three highest offices in the U.S. – the presidency, vice presidency or secretary of state – for eight straight terms. Another reason why interventionist foreign policy often fails is because federal-government bureaucrats and other outsiders don’t have “skin in the game” – an entrenched interest, financial or of another sort, in the conflict – and therefore, are incapable of achieving a comprehensive understanding of the situation. That goes for both elected leaders, beauracrats, and the media. “We have today so many people sitting in the New York Times Washington office, in an air conditioned office, who can dictate foreign policy with zero risk.”

Dr. Paul seized the opportunity to criticize the “Chickenhawks” who advocate interventionism, but avoided serving in the military during Vietnam. “I don’t fault them for trying to avoid the war, but I fault them for advocating war,” Paul said. Many still haven’t internalized the lesson of the 2007-2008 economic crash and how the monetary policy missteps made by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan helped cause the crash. As a result, throughout human history, “we’ve never had so many people transferring risk to others,” Taleb asserts. One reason these actors have been allowed to remain in power is that it’s difficult to assign blame to individuals when you’re dealing with “macro” conflicts like the Syrian conflict that involve many different state actors.

This is one reason the policy elite at the State Department – whom Taleb compared to doctors from ancient times, who inflicted more harm than healing on their patients – have managed to stay in power, while a modern-day doctor who was causing an unusual number of patient deaths would quickly be barred from practicing. Turning the conversation toward the asset bubbles that have continued growing since the last crisis, Taleb explained how Greenspan’s discovery that he could stabilize markets by slashing interest rates has led to our current struggle with unprecedented debt creation and a belief in “perpetual wealth and perpetual growth.” “Lowering rates in such a manner leads to distortions. If we didn’t have a Fed, we’d be better off because the price of money would be negotiated between people.”

[..] Whatever happens to the Federal Reserve -if it’s allowed to continue monetizing debt or not – it may not matter. Because digital currencies like bitcoin, which are quickly growing in popularity and value, could one day supplant the use of fiat currencies altogether, Taleb said. During the last U.S. election, people showed that they aren’t “victims of the New York Times.” Moreover, Twitter has helped upend the media power structure in favor of the people and independent thought. “Trump was elected in spite of 264 top newspapers wanting him to lose,” Taleb noted, adding that he believes the future will be “a libertarian dream.” “We will destroy what needs to be destroyed, and build what needs to be built,” he said.

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Taibbi is crawling back a little.

How Did Russiagate Start? (Matt Taibbi)

[..] there was no way to listen to the March 5th interview and not come away feeling like Clapper believed he would have known of the existence of a FISA warrant, or of any indications of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, had they existed up until the time he left office on January 20th of this year. Todd went out of his way to hammer at the question of whether or not he knew of any evidence of collusion. Clapper again said, “Not to my knowledge.” Here Todd appropriately pressed him: If it did exist, would you know? To this, Clapper merely answered, “This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.” That’s not an unequivocal “yes,” but it’s close. There’s no way to compare Clapper’s statements on March 5th to his interviews last week and not feel that something significant changed between then and now.

Clapper’s statements seem even stranger in light of James Comey’s own testimony in the House on March 20th. In that appearance, Comey – who by then had dropped his bombshell about the existence of an investigation into Trump campaign figures – was asked by New York Republican Elise Stefanik when he notified the DNI about his inquiry. “Good question,” Comey said. “Obviously, the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was, because we didn’t have a DNI – until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning.” Comey was saying that he hadn’t briefed the DNI because between January 20th, when Clapper left office, and March 16th, when former Indiana senator and now Trump appointee Dan Coats took office, the DNI position was unfilled.

But Comey had said the counterintelligence investigation dated back to July, when he was FBI director under a Democratic president. So what happened between July and January? If Comey felt the existence of his investigation was so important that he he had to disclose it to DNI Coats on Coats’ first day in office, why didn’t he feel the same need to disclose the existence of an investigation to Clapper at any time between July and January? Furthermore, how could the FBI participate in a joint assessment about Russian efforts to meddle in American elections and not tell Clapper and the other intelligence chiefs about what would seemingly be a highly germane counterintelligence investigation in that direction?

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If Corbyn doesn‘t beat May, it’ll be due to his own party members. Corbyn equals Sanders in many ways. Left wing parties, to avoid oblivion, must be drastically changed and rebuilt. But vested interests make that very hard in both the UK and US.

Jeremy Corbyn Defies His Critics To Become Labour’s Best Hope Of Survival (G.)

In 2009 the Greek Socialist party, Pasok, entered government with 44% of the vote; by 2015 it was down to seventh, with just 5%. The party’s demise coincided with, and was arguably precipitated by, the rise of the more leftwing Syrza, which went from 5% and fifth place to 36% and government within the same period. This dual trajectory gave rise to the term Pasokification: the dramatic decline of a centre-left party that is eclipsed by a more leftwing alternative. A word was needed for it because there’s a lot of it about. Earlier this month the French Socialist party came fifth in the first round of the presidential election with just 6% of the vote, while the hard left won 20%; back in 2012 the Socialists came first with 28% and went on to win the presidency. In Holland the PvdA, the mainstream social democratic party, won 6% in March and came 7th while the GreenLeft coalition won 9%; back in 2012 the PvdA came second, with 25%.

Less pronounced versions of the same dynamic have occurred across the continent. When parties created to represent the interests of working people in parliament decide instead to make working people pay for the crisis in capital they get punished, and ultimately may be discarded. Anyone who believes that Labour is immune from this contagion just needs to take a look at Scotland, where the party went from 41 seats in 2010 to just one in 2015, before Corbyn was elected leader. To understand the Labour party’s fortunes in this election outside of this trend would be like looking at each national uprising during the Arab spring in 2011, or the collapse of Eastern bloc dictatorships in 1989, as being somehow wholly discrete from each other.

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Bold move. But there’s only two weeks left.

UK Labour Pledges To Abolish Tuition Fees As Early As Autumn 2017 (G.)

New university students will be freed from paying £9,000 in tuition fees as early as this autumn if Labour wins the election, Jeremy Corbyn will say on Monday. The Labour leader and Angela Rayner, his shadow education secretary, will say tuition fees will be completely abolished through legislation from 2018 onwards. But students starting courses in September will have fees for their first year written off retrospectively so as not to encourage them to defer their studies for a year. Labour said it would seek to provide free tuition for EU students and push for reciprocal arrangements at EU universities as part of the Brexit negotiations. Students who are partway through their courses would no longer have to pay tuition fees from 2018, meaning those starting their final year of study in September would be the last cohort liable for the £27,000 of debts to be paid back when graduates pass an earnings threshold.

Labour said those students would be protected from above-inflation interest rate rises on their debts and the party would look for ways to reduce the burden for them in future. “The Conservatives have held students back for too long, saddling them with debt that blights the start of their working lives. Labour will lift this cloud of debt and make education free for all as part of our plan for a richer Britain for the many not the few,” Corbyn will say. “We will scrap tuition fees and ensure universities have the resources they need to continue to provide a world-class education. Students will benefit from having more money in their pockets, and we will all benefit from the engineers, doctors, teachers and scientists that our universities produce.”

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And then they run out of ‘cheaper’ areas. But at least there’s new space to build ghost cities in.

China’s Tide Of Internal Migration Is Shifting (BBG)

Growth in China’s economy has long centered on the coast, where Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta form some of the world’s most productive regions on their own. But now that tide of internal migration that drew hundreds of millions of workers from the farm to factory is shifting, and lifting the economic prospects of the country’s interior.As big-city living costs rise and job openings become less abundant, more migrants are now leaving China’s urban centers than new ones arriving, according to Oxford Economics. “Labor costs on the East Coast are now too high for industries further down the value chain to remain competitive internationally,” London-based economist Alessandro Theiss wrote in a report, citing an 8 million decline in the migrant population from 2014 to 2016.

The shift should benefit inland provinces, especially in southwest regions like Sichuan, as companies move production to take advantage of lower costs while remaining connected to coastal export hubs and industrial clusters, he said. Southern and northwestern provinces are are likely to keep expanding relatively fast as they benefit from catch-up growth, fiscal support and geographic location, while the northeast is likely to remain the slowest-growing region as population declines and coal mining consolidates more in inland provinces, according to Theiss. While the east coast was hit by slower global trade in recent years, conditions are now improving. Specialized manufacturing clusters and export hubs are innovating and moving up the value chain, and research activity is boosting the region.

That’s good news for some of China’s biggest drivers: Coastal Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces each account for around 10% of national output and all had output last year that exceeded Mexico’s, Theiss said. The future looks favorable for east coast provinces with more mature economies, as well as those in central China.

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If “Everybody Knows Everything”, the markets must be rigged if anyone wants to make any money.

Commodity Traders Are Stuck in a World Where Everybody Knows Everything (BBG)

For commodity traders operating in the Information Age, just good old trading doesn’t cut it anymore. Unlike the stock market in which transactions are typically based on information that’s public, firms that buy and sell raw materials thrived for decades in an opaque world where their metier relied on knowledge privy only to a few. Now, technological development, expanding sources of data, more sophisticated producers and consumers as well as transparency surrounding deals are eroding their advantage. “Everything is transparent, everybody knows everything and has access to information,” Daniel Jaeggi, the president of Mercuria Energy Group, said on Thursday at the Global Trader Summit organized by IE Singapore, a government agency that promotes international trade.

Sitting next to him at a panel discussing ‘What’s Next for Commodity Trading: Drivers, Disruptors and Opportunities’, Sunny Verghese, the chief executive officer of food trader Olam International Ltd., lamented declining margins. “The consumers and producers are trying to eat our lunch. So we got to be smart about differentiating ourselves,” he said. As market participants’ access to information increases, the traders highlighted the need to more than simply buy and sell commodities as profits from arbitrage – or gains made from a differential in prices – shrinks. That means getting involved in the supply chain by potentially buying into infrastructure that’s key to the production and distribution of raw materials, and also providing financing for the development of such assets.

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Interest only loans are deadly weapons. Lots of them in various EU countries too.

Interest-Only Loans Could Be ‘Australia’s Subprime’ (AFR)

High-risk mortgage loans to young families, professionals and other over-extended borrowers amounting to more than six times household incomes could wipe out 20% of the major banks’ equity base, institutional investment fund JCP Investment Partners has warned. The fund manager’s study warns that official estimates of average household indebtedness are depressed by the sizeable number of mortgages that are effectively full paid off. In a proprietary study of the nation’s record high-and-growing household debt mountain, the Melbourne-based fund said Irish-style housing losses for the bigger-than-recognised pool of riskier borrowers could wipe out half of the banks’ equity capital.

Interest-only loans, said JCP – which is one of three Australian equities managers appointed by the Future Fund – could be “Australia’s sub-prime”. As regulators crack down on interest-only lending and the Turnbull government’s decision to introduce a bank levy drives up the cost of loans, “only time will tell if such households can afford the mortgages they have”. The dramatic warning echoes concerns raised by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe this month that rising household debt had made the economy more vulnerable, and that it was unclear how stretched consumers might behave in a crisis.

It also follows a review by Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres of bank capital requirements for housing exposures, given the “notable concentration in housing”, announced at The Australian Financial Review Banking and Wealth Summit last month. Among the biggest concerns is what may happen when households feel they can no longer service their loans, for instance, as borrowing costs are reset higher or those with interest only mortgages are forced to repay the principal as well. That creates a negative feedback loop – experienced by Ireland after the financial crisis – in which stressed borrowers slash their spending, in turn crunching the economy, driving up unemployment and adding to downward pressure on house prices.

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They seek to break Greece, not the impasse.

Greek Creditors Seek to Break Impasse on Stalled Bailout Review (BBG)

Euro-area finance ministers gather in Brussels on Monday to try to clinch a deal on easing Greece’s debt burden, which would resolve a stalled review of the country’s bailout and pave the way for a new set of rescue loans. While Greece and its bailout supervisors have agreed on economic overhauls, the completion of the country’s review has been held back by disagreements between key creditors over how much debt relief is needed. At the heart of the impasse lies the IMF’s reluctance to participate in a bailout unless the euro area takes further steps to ensure the country’s €315 billion ($353 billion) debt load becomes sustainable. Some nations like Germany, which is resisting changes to Greece’s debt profile, won’t release any new funds until the IMF joins the program. Athens needs its next aid installment of around €7 billion before it has to repay lenders in July.

A global agreement on Greek debt “is within reach and it’s vital,” EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in an interview on France Inter radio on Sunday. Additional debt relief is also necessary for the ECB to include Greek bonds in its asset purchases program, which would ease the country’s access to bond markets. EU officials see chances for a deal on Monday at 50-50, and point to a meeting of euro-area finance ministry deputies ahead of the ministers’ gathering, which will determine the likelihood of an accord. A key issue of contention is the outlook for Greece’s economy after 2018, when the current bailout expires. The IMF has raised doubts about Greece’s ability to maintain such an optimistic budget performance for decades, while key creditors have been pushing for a more positive outlook. Less ambitious fiscal targets would increase the amount of debt relief needed.

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Celebrate capitalism. While you’re alive.

Syphilis Is On The Rise Because Penicillin Isn’t Profitable (Qz)

At least 18 countries, including South Africa, the US, Canada, Portugal, France, and Brazil, have faced shortages of benzathine penicillin G over the last three years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With only a few companies in the world still manufacturing the medicine, countries can’t find enough supply of the drug that changed modern medicine 76 years ago. Penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it really took off during World War II. In the early 1940s, a US government-led program brought together around 20 commercial firms, plus government and academic research laboratories, who collaborated to scale up penicillin production to supply the military. The goal, according to the book Sickness and Health in America, was to have enough penicillin for the troops landing in France in June 1944.

In March 1945, penicillin was, for the first time, made available for consumers across the US. It’s efficacy made it popular: by 1949, the US annual production of penicillin was 1.3 trillion units—compared to the relative pittance of 1.7 billion units in 1944.\ Penicillin was one of the great achievements of modern medicine. It was the first drug of its kind, considered a miracle, and ushered in the era of antibiotics. Before penicillin, any cut could kill if it got infected; surgeries of any kind could be fatal; and bacterial infections such as strep throat could kill. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted illnesses were basically a death sentence. But a single shot of benzathine penicillin G was enough to kill the first stages of syphilis, which had plagued humankind for over 500 years. It could also cure gonorrhea and other infectious disease. Today, benzathine penicillin G is still the most effective drug against deadly diseases such as rheumatic heart disease and syphilis.

[..] Today, just four companies in the world still produce the active ingredient for benzathine penicillin G. Three are in China: North China Pharmaceutical; CSPC Pharmaceuticals; Jiangxi Dongfeng Pharmaceutical. Austria-based Sandoz is the only producer of the active ingredient for benzathine penicillin G in the Western world. Together, these producers have the capacity to deliver up to 600 metric tons of benzathine penicillin G a year, but they produce less than 20% of that. “There is no money in penicillin,” says Amit Sengupta, the New Delhi-based global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement. A shot of benzathine penicillin G typically costs between $0.20 and $2.00, and usually all you need is one—strep throat and syphilis are both cured with a single injection of penicillin.

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Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Paris 1952

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America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)
Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)
Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)
UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)
Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)
Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)
Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

 

 

“It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban Nationwide (ZH)

Following a brief moment of ‘success’ for the Trump administration as a Boston judge ruled Trump’s immigration policy was not a Muslim ban, a Bush-appointed federal judge in Seattle, who said the states of Washington and Minnesota can sue claiming their residents were harmed by the ban, granted a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s immigration ban. District Judge James Robart ruled the executive order would be stopped nationwide effective immediately: his ruling was the most comprehensive legal rebuke of Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order prohibiting immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria and four other nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Judges in Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles and Alexandria, Virginia, had previouslyissued orders that are less sweeping.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was delighted with the decision: “The Constitution prevailed today,” Ferguson said in a statement after the ruling. “It is not the loudest voice that prevails on the Constitution,” Ferguson continued speaking outside the courthouse. “We are a nation of laws, not even the president can violate the Constitution. It’s our president’s duty to honor this ruling and I’ll make sure he does,” Ferguson added hopefully. Good luck with that. In his ruling, Robart said that “the state has met its burden in demonstrating immediate and irreparable injury” while Fergsuon added that “Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately, effective now, puts a halt to President Trump’s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order. It puts a stop to it immediately, nationwide.” The court order, effective immediately, will remain in place until the judge considers a motion – probably within a month – to permanently invalidate the president’s order, Ferguson said.

Ferguson, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit three days after Trump signed the executive order. The suit argued that the travel ban targets Muslims and violates constitutional rights of immigrants and their families. In his request for the order, according to Bloomberg, Ferguson had said the effects on the state included economic consequences for employers based there, including Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com. Expedia, based in Bellevue, Washington, had about 1,000 customers with flight reservations in or out of the U.S. from the seven countries, he said. Minnesota, like Washington, cited the effect of the ban on students at its colleges and universities, as well as health care centers including the Mayo Clinic. The state’s 5.4 million residents included 30,000 immigrants from the affected countries, it said in the lawsuit.

According to The Hill, in a phone interview with CNN Friday evening, Ferguson said he “expected win, lose or draw” that the case would move “fairly quickly through, up to the Ninth Circuit” Court of Appeals – “just because of the magnitude of the executive order.” And hinting that the Supreme Court showdown we suggested previously now appears inevitable, Ferguson added that he is “prepared for this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court whichever way the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals goes,” he said, anticipating a challenge to Robart’s ruling. “It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

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Trump’s legal team senses difficulties ahead: “..The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay..”

Airlines Told To Allow Banned Travelers Into US After Judge’s Order (G.)

Customs officials have reportedly told US airlines that they can board passengers who had been barred from entering the country after a federal judge in Seattle ordered a temporary halt on Donald Trump’s travel ban for refugees and people from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. District judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order on Friday after hearing arguments from Washington state and Minnesota that the president’s order had unlawfully discriminated against Muslims and caused unreasonable harm. It was not immediately clear whether authorities would comply with the broad order, especially after officials reacted in confusion a week earlier, detaining valid visa holders and arguing with lawyers.

Late on Friday, the White House released a statement saying that it would seek an emergency stay against Robart’s ruling; an earlier request for a stay by a justice department attorney had been denied by the judge. “At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate. The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. In a second “updated” statement, the White House removed the word “outrageous”. The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay, at least on Friday night, and reports said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had informed US airlines that they should board travelers who had been barred by an executive order last week.

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Looks like the worst of the chaos may be over. Trump can’t afford too many court battles, certainly if he loses them. He’s being told to confer with the lawyers first now.

Trump’s Travel Ban Has Revoked 60,000 Visas For Now (R.)

About 60,000 visas were revoked under U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the State Department said on Friday, in one of several government communications clarifying how the order is being rolled out. The revocation means the government voided travel visas for people trying to enter the United States but the visas could be restored later without a new application, said William Cocks, a spokesman for consular affairs at the State Department. “We will communicate updates to affected travelers following the 90-day review,” he said. Earlier news reports, citing a government attorney at a federal court hearing, put the figure at more than 100,000 visas.

The government issued over 11 million immigrant and non-immigrant visas in fiscal year 2015, the State Department said. The immigration executive order signed by Trump a week ago temporarily halted the U.S. refugee program and imposed a 90-day suspension on people traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump said the measures would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Under President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, the United States added those seven countries as “countries of concern” under its visa waiver program, effectively toughening U.S. visa procedures for individuals who visited those places during the past five years.

Trump’s executive order was at least in part informed by those restrictions. The new president, who took office on Jan. 20, went further by temporarily barring passport holders from those seven countries. The State Department first issued the guidance about revoking the visas on Jan. 27, the day Trump signed his executive order, according to a memo filed in a court case in Massachusetts. But confusion about the roll out of the order sparked protests at airports across the country where people had been detained and led to a wave of lawsuits filed by individuals, states and civil rights groups.

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“.. so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.”

If Americans Truly Cared About Muslims, They Would Stop Killing Them (BAR)

In the most dramatic expression of insider opposition to a sitting administration’s policies in generations, over 1,000 U.S. State Department employees signed on to a memo protesting President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries setting foot on U.S. soil. Another recent high point in dissent among the State Department’s 18,000 worldwide employees occurred in June of last year, when 51 diplomats called for U.S. air strikes against the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad. Neither outburst of dissent was directed against the U.S. wars and economic sanctions that have killed and displaced millions of people in the affected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Rather, the diplomatic “rebellion” of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her “Big Tent” full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria, while the memo currently making the rounds of State Department employees claims to uphold “core American and constitutional values,” preserve “good will towards Americans” and prevent “potential damage to the U.S. economy from the loss of revenue from foreign travelers and students.” In neither memo is there a word of support for world peace, nor a hint of respect for the national sovereignty of other peoples – which is probably appropriate, since these are not, and never have been, “core American and constitutional values.” “The diplomatic ‘rebellion’ of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her ‘Big Tent’ full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria.”

Ironically, the State Department “dissent channel” was established during one of those rare moments in U.S. history when “peace” was popular: 1971, when a defeated U.S. war machine was very reluctantly winding down support for its puppet regime in South Vietnam. Back then, lots of Americans, including denizens of the U.S. government, wanted to take credit for the “peace” that was on the verge of being won by the Vietnamese, at a cost of at least four million Southeast Asian dead. But, those days are long gone. Since 2001, war has been normalized in the U.S. – especially war against Muslims, which now ranks at the top of actual “core American values.” Indeed, so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.

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Could be interesting.

Iran To Name US Individuals Involved In ‘Helping And Founding’ Terrorists (ZH)

Following the escalation on Friday morning, in which the US Treasury Department published a list of 13 Iranian individuals and 12 Iranian entities facing new restrictions following Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, Tehran promptly denounced the latest round of sanctions imposed by the US and said it would retaliate – something it has previously said it would do – however added a new twist when Tehran announced it would impose legal restrictions on American individuals and entities helping “regional terrorist groups”, a Foreign Ministry statement read as quoted by TV. For obvious reasons, this naming and shaming of US-based terrorists promises to be far more interesting than if Iran were to actually ban, say, the US national chess team. Such an action will quickly coalesce the world’s attention on a handful of US entities, putting under a microscope all of their offshore activities.

“The new sanctions … are not compatible with America’s commitments and resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council that endorsed the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six powers,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry statement said late on Friday.Tehran said it will react accordingly to any U.S. measure aimed at the Iranian nation’s interests. “In retaliation for the U.S. sanctions, Iran will impose legal restrictions on some American individuals and entities that were involved in helping and founding regional terrorist groups,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. It said names of the entities and individuals would be announced later, although it was not clear when exactly that is. As reported earlier, on Friday, the US Treasury Department blacklisted 13 individuals and a dozen businesses as part of the sanctions. The majority of the individuals in question are from Iran, as well as three Chinese nationals and two Arabs.

“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said. He added that in countering what he called “Iranian malign activity,” Washington will not hesitate to put more pressure and restrictions “to address this behavior.” Countering rising US rhetoric, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a twitter post that “Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people.” “We’ll never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense,” he stressed. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan noted that Tehran “will not allow foreigners to interfere” in the country’s defense issues and insisted “the test did not violate the nuclear deal or (UN) Resolution 2231.”

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Understatement of the year.

EU Flirts With Hypocrisy In Criticising Trump’s Refugee Ban (EUO)

The EU rightly spoke out against Donald Trump’s entry ban on asylum seekers from Syria. But its own track record leaves much to be desired. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (Jan 30) that the EU would continue to host refugees. “It’s our identity: we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” she said in a tweet. Her comments appeared the same day a young man from Pakistan suffocated to death in a tent at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He was trying to keep warm. It was the third death at the camp in a week. The misery of people is well documented in so-called hotspots set up by the EU in both Italy and in Greece. The conditions are so bad that many, including Syrian refugees, have volunteered to return to Turkey from the Greek islands.

The EU blames the Greek government. The Greek government blames EU states for not relocating asylum seekers and for sealing off the Western Balkan route. When Hungary erected a wall on its border with Serbia, the European Commission said it was a national issue. When a Syrian refugee protested against the barrier, Hungarian authorities gave him a 10-year prison sentence. The EU talks endlessly about solidarity. But in reality, solidarity does not exist except among the nameless volunteers on the ground. And some of those are risking jail for their efforts. One Danish woman went on trial for people-smuggling after giving a family of refugees a ride to Copenhagen. A similar case is unfolding in Sweden. Only around 10,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU states.

The two-year scheme, which ends in September, had called for 160,000. Many more have been kicked out. Almost 11,000 people were sent home last year, a four-fold increase compared with 2015 when 3,565 migrants were returned in 66 operations. Both EU commission and member states now appear to oppose issuing humanitarian visas for people in need. Germany may stand out as an exception after welcoming some 1 million in 2015. But the fact that the world’s richest nations are unwilling to properly care for the thousands stranded in Greece and on its islands is a disgrace. The task has largely been delegated to volunteers, NGOs and international aid organisations. With populist parties gaining ground in the Netherlands, France and Germany, the anti-immigrant discourse has also gone mainstream.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte last week told Muslims to “act normal, or go away”. France’s conservative presidential contender Francois Fillon has promised to erect national borders and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere wants zones outside Europe to screen applicants before arrival. De Maiziere’s proposal is gaining traction. The plan is to offshore the problem to war-torn Libya. The job is already under way in a handful of other African states and Afghanistan. This is the EU’s invisible wall.

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Good to see Jim is still reading the Automatic Earth.

America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)

I guess you’ve noticed by now that the center didn’t hold. Instead of a secure platform for political premises like tradition, precedent, rationality, and cultural norms, you see a fiery maw of sheer emotion between the camps of the so-called Left and the so-called Right. I say so-called because the campus Left and the Trump Right have escaped the categorical corrals they formerly occupied. And they may have left their customary official parties stranded and dying too. It may be fatuous to say whether that is a good or bad thing; it just is, for the moment. They are two halves of a polity so broken and so far apart that it is also hard to see how they might ever come back together into a consensus about how a society might operate successfully.

Not having a consensus — some substantial overlap between circles of perspective — it’s not surprising that America can’t construct a coherent view of what is happening, or make a plan for what to do about it. Mainly what’s happening is the running down of fossil fuel based techno-industrial economies, and the main symptom is falling standards of living, with fading prospects for future happiness and security. As I’ve said before, our economic picture is basically untenable due to the falling energy-return-on-investment of the crucial oil supply. At the high point of 1920s oil production the ratio was around 100-1. The shale oil “miracle” is good for about 5-1. The aggregate of all oil these days is under 30-1. Below that number, you’ve got to shed some activities in our complex economy (or they just get too expensive to support) — things like high-paying labor jobs, medical care, tourism, college, commuting, heating 2500 square foot homes…).

Oddly the way it’s actually working out is that America is simply shedding its whole middle class and all its accustomed habits and luxuries. At least that’s how it adds up in effect. Naturally, that produces a lot of bad feeling. President Trump is unlikely to be able to fix that essential problem, unless he can pilot the whole political-economy into a glide-path leading toward neo-medievalism — what I call the World Made By Hand. Trump’s call for restoring the factory economy of 1962 is a low-percentage prospect. Instead, he’ll be saddled with the collateral damage caused by the dishonest effort of his recent predecessors to borrow from the future to pay for the way we live now — that is, racking up debt.

This mighty debt-load, never before seen in history, and the accounting fraud that enables it, has helped produce all kinds of distortions, perversities, and fragilities in our money system (finance and banking) which can easily slip into collapse if a crucial prop fails here or there, and that is exactly what I think will happen under Trump. It will not be his fault, but he’ll get blamed for it. And when it happens, he won’t be able to give his attention to anything but that.

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People don’t recognize it yet, but this is how you spell success.

Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)

Home sales in Vancouver plummeted 39.5% in January from a year ago and fell 11% from December, five months after the government slapped a tax on foreign buyers. January marked the sixth consecutive month of falling sales in Canada’s hottest real estate market, where an influx of mainly Chinese offshore buyers has helped push the price of a typical home to more than 12 times the median resident’s household income. Vancouver topped a list of cities around the world that UBS has identified as most at risk of a housing bubble. Sydney placed fourth after London and Stockholm. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said the monthly sales – 1523 homes sold in January – marked a 10.3pc drop on the 10-year average for the month.

‘It’s a lukewarm start to the year compared to 2016,” said Dan Morrison, the board’s president. “While we saw near record-breaking sales at this time last year, home buyers and sellers are more reluctant to engage so far in 2017.” The government of British Columbia – Vancouver is the province’s biggest city – acted last year to cool the market, slapping a new 15% tax on offshore buyers in August. The average benchmark price for detached properties in the Pacific port has fallen 17.8% to $C1,474,800 from a record high of $C1.83 million in January 2016. The average price has fallen 6.6% in the past six months and edged 0.6% lower from December. The composite benchmark price for all residential properties – detached, units and townhomes – has fallen 3.7% since June.

The BC Ministry of Finance earlier reported that the %age of sales in Vancouver to foreign residents had plummetted since the new foreign buyers’ tax went into effect on August 2. In September, foreign purchasers were involved in 1.3% of all transactions in the city of 1.5 million people. “From June 10 to August 1, the period before the additional tax took effect, foreign purchasers were involved in 13.2% of residential property transfers in Metro Vancouver,” a ministry statement said.

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Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have become far too big for anyone’s good. Time to cut them down to size.

Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)

An analysis by Slice Intelligence released this week found that 43% of all online retail sales in the US went through Amazon in 2016, as the e-commerce giant’s market share continues to grow. According to the study, which analyzed more than 4 million online purchases, Amazon accounted for the majority (53%) of the growth in US e-commerce sales for the year. Simply put, Amazon’s already dominant share of the US e-commerce market is only increasing. It reportedly captured 33% of all US online purchases in 2015, according to Internet Retailer, up from 25% in 2012. If those estimates are correct, then the company increased its share of the US e-commerce market by 10% in 2016, an incredible accomplishment given that it already controlled such a sizeable chunk of the space.

Slice said that Amazon’s growth in 2016 was driven by sales in the electronics, home, and apparel categories. Electronics contributed to an estimated 18% of the company’s sales growth in 2016, as the number of US households that own an Amazon Echo device more than doubled from 2015. The next biggest contributors were the home and kitchen category (15%), apparel and accessories (12%), food (11%), and health and beauty (10%), illustrating that Amazon is seeing significant growth in consumer packaged goods (CPGs). The company’s recent expansion of its Dash Buttons to its online site and mobile app should help fuel further growth in these categories. Amazon’s success has also been fueled by high customer loyalty and brand awareness.

The Amazon Prime subscription service continues to grow: One study released last September by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found that 20% of all US consumers are Prime members. Meanwhile, an Internet Retailer survey of 500 US consumers last December found that more than half of them (52%) go directly to Amazon when they shop online. Although the company faces a wide range of competition in the e-commerce market from both legacy retailers and new entrants, none of them can match Amazon’s customer loyalty and brand awareness when it comes to online shopping. Other online retailers will have to build up their brand awareness to compete with Amazon, but they’ll also likely need to sell through Amazon’s marketplace to stay relevant as its market share keeps growing.

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Slo-mo suffocation. Much better to swallow the bitterness and start afresh.

UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)

UniCredit has heavily written down the value of its €700 million ($756 million) investment in Italy’s bank rescue fund and other investors are likely to follow suit, sources told Reuters, complicating efforts to stabilize the nation’s banking sector. Italy biggest bank has cut the value of its investment in the Atlante fund by significantly more than a third on its books, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The move is part of its plan to clean up its balance sheet before it taps the market for 13 billion euros in a share issue next week. By writing down the stake, UniCredit is indicating that it does not believe it will make money on the investment it made into the state-managed fund created to recapitalize a number of failing Italian banks and help the industry offload bad loans.

A source at another bank estimated UniCredit’s writedown could be closer to 70%. Intesa Sanpaolo, which together with UniCredit is Atlante’s biggest investor, on Friday said it had written down the value of its stake in the fund by 33%. A group of about half a dozen other banks that have invested in Atlante have held a series of meetings in recent days to discuss the scale of their own possible writedowns, said another source with direct knowledge of the talks. They are also likely to write down their investments by 30%, according to the source, who did not name the lenders. Atlante executives have acknowledged that the value of investments has fallen but have said the fund created last April has an investment horizon of five years and aims to create value for its backers over that period.

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And that in a nutshell is what condemns the single currency.

Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)

In an attack on Germany, U.S. President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser said the euro was “grossly undervalued”, a charge which may ring true for the German economy but not for the 19-member currency zone as a whole. The adviser, Peter Navarro, said Germany, the euro zone’s economic powerhouse, was exploiting the euro exchange rate for trade purposes, a charge rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There’s no clear method of establishing how much a currency is under or overvalued but many economists think that some economic measures show the German economy could easily cope with a stronger euro. It hit a 14-year low of $1.0339 last month. Even German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday the single currency could be a bit stronger for Germany.

But he agreed with economists that this would make life hard for other euro members. For weaker economies such as Greece, economic measures show the exchange rate is too strong, and for the whole currency area it is only moderately underpriced. “The euro is below most estimates of fair value. And German exporters appear to be benefiting more than most,” said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics. The White House is concerned about the exchange rate because German companies sell cars, vehicle parts, pharmaceuticals, planes and helicopters around the world, competing with American, as well as other European, manufacturers. Exports account for nearly half Germany’s economic output, with 9.5% going to the United States and around 35% to euro zone countries.

In 2015, the United States became the top destination for German exports, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 due to an upturn in the U.S. economy but also due to the weaker euro. The currency has lost more than 20% of its value against the U.S. dollar since mid 2014. A handful of recent reports found that while the euro was undervalued for Germany it was too strong for other countries. The World Price Index (WPI) published by research firm World Economics each month found that the euro was undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, a measure that takes into account what money can buy in two different currencies based on inflation and the cost of living. A “German euro” was nearly 17% undervalued against the dollar in PPP terms, while a “French euro” was overvalued by nearly 5%. A “Greek euro” was overvalued by 7%.

“German exporters remain the beneficiaries of a system that is causing stagnation and unemployment in the rest of Europe,” World Economics said in the report. The IMF also said last year that the euro was undervalued by anywhere from 0 to 10% for the region as a whole. But for Germany that undervaluation was anywhere between 10 and 20%, making it the most undervalued exchange rate for any of the 29 countries and jurisdictions around the world covered in the report.

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The last gasps: ..Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc..”

Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)

Desperate Eurocrat Donald Tusk will urge EU nations to agree to deeper integration and recommit to the sprawling superstate, a leaked report has hinted. Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc and agree to “an ambitious vision” of “political consolidation”. The European Council president will cite “unprecedented external threats” during a meeting in Malta with leaders from EU nations as a reason for recommitting to the European project. According to Politico, the document which will be proposed to officials later today, says “the EU is at a historical turning point” and is “facing important internal challenges as exemplified by Brexit”. Tusk’s lackeys, along with Italian and Maltese officials, will use Friday’s meeting to draft the proposed “Rome declaration” which will outline a future vision for the bloc.

The document urges leaders to commit to “greater unity in foreign policy and more investments in our defence” and “further deepening the Economic and Monetary Union” – two key reasons why Britain chose to divorce itself from the EU. EU leaders will also be told to sign up to an ever-increasing swathe of legislative measure in June following the “Rome declaration” a few months earlier. The report moans that Trump, Brexit, terrorism, increased military expansion by Russia and the migrant crisis pose serious threats to the stability of the EU. It also details the financial instability in Greece as another hinderance to the volatile political union. It adds that the upcoming meeting in Rome in March should “offer an ambitious vision on how to preserve unity and achieve political consolidation”. The EU is set to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – which laid the basis for “ever closer union” between nation states and which critics argue has forced countries towards a federal Europe.

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“We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

Syriza, like every governing party before it, has been hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of having to apply policies that it came to power vowing to oppose. On Tuesday its parliamentary spokesman took Greeks by storm proposing that Grexit be discussed “without taboo” in the 300-member house. The once unassailable popularity of Tsipras, meanwhile, has been pummelled by the implementation of some of the harshest measures to date and few believe he has the political capital to enforce another round of austerity. “It is not a can but a bomb being kicked down the road,” said one western diplomat. “In a world where liberal values are under threat we could be looking at a very dangerous scenario where the cradle of democracy also collapses.”

Bereft of growth and battered by cuts and tax increases, Greeks have become poorer and ever more cognizant of their own insolvency in a state where sovereignty exists in little more than name. One in three now live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 23%. The latest impasse has not only seen emigration levels rise and non-repayment of household and business loans soar but also nostalgia for the drachma grow. That is what worries Panagopoulos, the pollster, most. What was once a minority view is changing fast, with the majority of Greeks in a recent Alco survey saying it was wrong to have joined the euro. “We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

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Aug 042016
 
 August 4, 2016  Posted by at 8:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 4 2016
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G.G. Bain New York, suffragettes on way to Boston 1913

Is Deutsche as Dangerous to Financial Stability as Citigroup in 2008? (M2)
Pound Volatility Gauge Climbs as Traders Brace for BOE Rate Cut (BBG)
Britain Faces A Nasty Shock When The Global Energy Cycle Turns (AEP)
Cash Handouts Are Best Way To Boost Growth, Say Economists (G.)
Shock At The ATM: 1000s Of Supplementary Greek Pensions Cut By 21%-46% (KTG)
EU Trade Policy ‘Close To Death’ If Canada Deal Fails (Politico)
Reality of BC’s Foreign Buyers Tax Begins To Bite, Deals Collapsing (FP)
Morgan Stanley Discloses $3.21 Billion Italian Swaps Claim (BBG)
Tesla Loses $293 Million as Deliveries Fall Short, Expenses Rise (WSJ)
We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet (STA)
Justice Department Officials Objected to US Cash Payment to Iran (WSJ)
Julian Assange: The Untold Story Of An Epic Struggle For Justice (Pilger)
Court Throws Out Terrorism Conviction In Canada, Cites Police Entrapment (I’Cept)
Italy Adopts ‘Beautiful’ New Law To Slash Food Waste (BBC)

 

 

Martens and Martens. “..a year ago, Deutsche Bank’s stock closed at $34.88. Its share price at the open this morning was $12.56, a loss of 64% in one year’s time. But from June 1 of 2007, Deutsche Bank has lost a whopping 90% of its share value, right on par with Citigroup.”

Is Deutsche as Dangerous to Financial Stability as Citigroup in 2008? (M2)

Deutsche Bank is starting to resemble the financial basket case that Citigroup became in 2008, leading to Citigroup’s partial ownership by the U.S. government for a time and the bank requiring the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. financial history. Citigroup’s teetering condition and its interconnectedness to other mega banks played a critical role in the Wall Street crash and collapse of the U.S. economy. That Deutsche Bank (which is highly interconnected to other major Wall Street banks and locked and loaded with tens of trillions of dollars in derivatives) is now showing the same kind of stresses as Citigroup back in 2008, raises the obvious question about just how effectively the Obama administration has reined in systemic financial risk after six years of reassurances that Dodd-Frank financial reform was getting the job done.

On this date a year ago, Deutsche Bank’s stock closed at $34.88. Its share price at the open this morning on the New York Stock Exchange was $12.56, a loss of 64% in one year’s time. But from June 1 of 2007, prior to the onset of the financial crisis, Deutsche Bank has lost a whopping 90% of its share value, right on par with Citigroup. As of this morning’s open, Deutsche Bank has a measly $17.32 billion in equity capital versus a portfolio of derivatives amounting to just shy of $50 trillion notional (face amount) as of December 31, 2015.


Systemic Risk Among Deutsche Bank and Global Systemically Important Banks (Source: IMF: “The blue, purple and green nodes denote European, US and Asian banks, respectively. The thickness of the arrows capture total linkages (both inward and outward), and the arrow captures the direction of net spillover. The size of the nodes reflects asset size.”)

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Carney’s expected to announce desperate measures today.

Pound Volatility Gauge Climbs as Traders Brace for BOE Rate Cut (BBG)

A measure of overnight potential price swings for the pound against the dollar approached the highest closing level since Britain voted to leave the European Union in June as traders braced for the Bank of England’s policy decision Thursday, which most economists forecast will bring the first interest-rate cut in seven years. Sterling fell versus all but one of its 16 major peers as swaps pricing showed a 100% chance of a rate cut. While all except two of 52 analysts in a Bloomberg survey forecast a reduction, there are a suite of other measures, including an expansion of its bond-purchase program, which the BOE may adopt to tackle a Brexit-induced fallout which are more difficult to predict.

Some economists said they would not rule out the possibility that the BOE will keep its powder dry at this meeting, as it did in July, while awaiting a clearer economic picture. “There is quite a lot of speculation regarding what the BOE might do today, so the short-term volatility is to be expected,” said Mark Dowding, a London-based partner and money manager at BlueBay Asset Management. “We doubt the BOE would be opposed to the idea of the pound falling further as it would support the growth outlook, which is deteriorating markedly. We see the pound falling to $1.20 or lower by the end of the year.”

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Yes, Britain’s in for a bind. But energy is not Ambrose’s strong suit.

Britain Faces A Nasty Shock When The Global Energy Cycle Turns (AEP)

Britain’s energy industry is dying. While the US is striving for self-sufficiency in fuel and power as a primary goal of strategic security in a dangerous world, this country has acted with strange insouciance. We have let matters drift for so long that half of our nuclear reactors will be phased out over the next nine years with nothing ready to replace them. North Sea oil and gas is a spent reserve. Britain’s dependency on imported fuels and electricity has jumped from 17pc to 46pc since 2000. Energy is becoming a corrosive element in Britain’s current account deficit, now 6.9pc of GDP, and the scale of vulnerability has been masked by the slump in world energy prices. When the global fossil cycle turns – inevitable, given the $400 investment freeze in oil and gas projects over the last two years – Britain will face a national energy ‘margin call’.

The confluence of Brexit, a new government, and the review of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant have suddenly thrown open the debate on how the UK should power its economy. It is a dangerous moment, but also giddily fluid. As a summer exercise, I will float a few thoughts on how to seize this chance, open to suggestions from Telegraph readers for better ideas. My heterodox mix will satisfy nobody: it includes fracking a l’outrance, micro-nuclear and molten-salt reactors, more off-shore wind, a Norwegian-style push for electric vehicles by 2030, and a grand plan for carbon capture and storage to take advantage of Britain’s unique competitive advantage in this field and revitalize Northern industries.

There is no shortage of funds. Britain can borrow at 1.47pc for half a century, and it should do so without compunction as an investment stimulus to carry the country through the post-Brexit storm. Oil and gas fracking does not require public money anyway. Britain’s shale industry is already poised to drill, so that is where I will begin today.

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Including Steve Keen, David Graeber.

Cash Handouts Are Best Way To Boost Growth, Say Economists (G.)

Direct cash handouts to households would be a better way of boosting Britain’s flagging economy than the interest-rate cuts expected from the Bank of England on Thursday, according to a group of progressive economists. In a letter to the chancellor, 35 economists have urged Philip Hammond to ditch the approach that has been followed by the government since the recession of 2008-09 and give the Bank the right to try more radical options. The letter, to be printed in Thursday’s Guardian, suggests that the Bank should be allowed to create money to fund key infrastructure projects. Alternatively, the group says the Bank could pay for tax cuts or direct payments to households.

The letter states: “A fiscal stimulus financed by central bank money creation could be used to fund essential investment in infrastructure projects – boosting the incomes of businesses and households, and increasing the public sector’s productive assets in the process. Alternatively, the money could be used to fund either a tax cut or direct cash transfers to households, resulting in an immediate increase of household disposable incomes.” Threadneedle Street would need approval from the Treasury to adopt what the US economist Milton Friedman once described as “helicopter drops” of money on to the economy as a means of removing the threat of deflation. The nine members of the Bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) will announce at midday how they plan to respond to the economic shock caused by the decision to leave the EU in the 23 June referendum.

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The rape of Greece continues.

Shock At The ATM: 1000s Of Supplementary Greek Pensions Cut By 21%-46% (KTG)

It was certainly a shock for thousands of Greek pensioners: beginning of August they saw their supplementary pensions to have undergone cuts from 21% up to 46%. Affected are 311,680 pensioners receiving pensions from 11 pension funds. The 3. bailout and the Pensions Reforms provided that if the sum of main and supplementary pension exceeds €1,300 gross, the supplementary pension has to be cut. The second wave of cuts to be implemented as of September will affect another 924,345 pensioners belonging to other pension funds.

The Pension Reforms ended up in throwing all pensioners in one bag and have them ‘share’ the available pension funds, although this is –first of all- “unfair” for the pensioners of the private sector. They have been loyally paying their social security contributions all through their work life, while the pensioners of the public sector have been paying much less and thus receiving disproportionately much more. Public servants who massively left service with early retirement of 25 years in 2010, they ended up receiving a pension amount equal to their salary – although it should have been much lower. Yes, it is unfair. And this is what I hear from more and more people form the private sector.

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100,000 TTiP protesters in Germany yesterday?!

EU Trade Policy ‘Close To Death’ If Canada Deal Fails (Politico)

One of the EU’s most senior officials has warned that the bloc’s trade policy will be “close to death” if it cannot ratify a landmark agreement with Canada. The alarm sounded by Jean-Luc Demarty, director-general for trade, is a sign of growing concern in Brussels that the European Commission is losing control over one of its core competencies in the face of surging public opposition to free trade. In a frustrating blow to the Commission, the member countries last month wrested the approval process for the trade deal with Canada away from Brussels. The accord will now require approval in Europe’s 38 national and regional parliaments, raising the specter of delays and even vetoes in assemblies ranging from Wallonia to Romania.

Demarty delivered his stark warning at the EU’s trade policy committee ahead of the summer break, according to people present at the confidential meeting. Most diplomats expect the Canadian deal to win the qualified majority required for provisional application at the Council. Notes from the July 15 meeting, seen by POLITICO on Monday, showed that Demarty warned that EU trade policy would have a “big credibility problem” if it could not ratify the deal. He then added that it would be “close to death.” Two other diplomats confirmed the remarks and added that this was now typical of Demarty’s tone on the subject. One observed that Demarty seemed “helpless.”

Traditionally, trade has been the blue-riband portfolio in Brussels, with national governments surrendering all of their powers to negotiate trade deals and impose tariffs to the Commission. But Brussels suffered a significant setback on July 5 when France and Germany unexpectedly insisted that a trade deal with Canada would have to be ratified by the EU’s 38 national and regional assemblies. That has left the Commission scrambling to rescue the deal and preserve its status as the biggest force in global trade.

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It’s healthy when bubbles burst. But painful too for some.

Reality of BC’s Foreign Buyers Tax Begins To Bite, Deals Collapsing (FP)

Realtors and lawyers desperate to get in under the deadline filed a record-setting 15,000 property transfer applications on Thursday and Friday, the last business days before B.C.’s punishing new 15-per-cent tax on foreign property buyers went into effect. More than 9,200 transactions were filed on Friday, breaking the 2007-2008 record of more than 8,400 in a single day, according to the B.C. Land Title and Survey Authority. It also reported over 5,800 transactions on Thursday, representing nearly as many deals registered at month’s end in April. The demand was so heavy that it crashed the land titles office’s electronic filing service on both days, the authority said.

Now, as a new dawn breaks in Metro Vancouver’s real estate market, realty companies and real estate boards are reporting the first anecdotes of deals falling through as foreign buyers forfeited deposits on binding deals rather than pay the new tax. And they report evidence of local buyers withdrawing offers in expectation that the market will soften. Elton Ash, executive vice-president of Re/Max Western Region, said it is too early to accurately quantify how many deals fell apart, but he’s heard from realtors in some of the company’s 30 Metro Vancouver offices of cases where foreign buyers who couldn’t rearrange previously negotiated closing dates have already walked away.

[..] Jonathan Cooper, vice-president of operations at MacDonald Realty, expects many cases to go to court because deposits are held in trust by realtors and usually can’t be released without a court order. “I think the next chapters in this story are going to be written by lawyers,” Cooper said. “There are going to be cases for sellers trying to get the deposit out of trust and maybe suing the buyer for specific performance trying to get them to complete, and/or for damages if they are not able to find a buyer at a similar price point.”

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“Across Italy, cities faced with shrinking income and rising expenses bought swaps from U.S. firms to cut short-term interest costs..”

Morgan Stanley Discloses $3.21 Billion Italian Swaps Claim (BBG)

Morgan Stanley said an Italian prosecutor may seek as much as €2.88 billion ($3.21 billion) over allegations that derivatives the investment bank sold more than a decade ago were improper and unfairly unwound. Italy’s Court of Accounts, the country’s state auditor, sent Morgan Stanley the proposed claim over derivatives created from 1999 through 2005 and terminated by 2012, the New York-based bank said Wednesday in a quarterly regulatory filing. Italy had paid Morgan Stanley $3.4 billion to unwind interest-rate swaps and options that had backfired, as it was cheaper than renewing the contracts, Bloomberg reported in 2012.

Mark Lake, a Morgan Stanley spokesman, said the proposed claim is groundless and that the bank will defend itself vigorously. Wall Street has been accused of duping municipalities with sophisticated and complex instruments. Some banks pitched the derivatives transactions as a way to save on borrowing expenses, but many ended up being costly for their government customers. Across Italy, cities faced with shrinking income and rising expenses bought swaps from U.S. firms to cut short-term interest costs, putting them at risk of paying more in the long run.

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Wonder when this bubble will burst. Tesla rides ‘green waves’ in more than one way.

Tesla Loses $293 Million as Deliveries Fall Short, Expenses Rise (WSJ)

Tesla Motors’s loss widened in the second quarter amid higher costs, but the company stuck to an ambitious plan that calls for building nearly 80,000 cars in 2016 and pulling forward a cheaper sedan aimed at the mass market. The Silicon Valley electric car maker’s report follows a tumultuous period capped by a traffic fatality related to the company’s semiautonomous Autopilot system. Regulators also dinged the company’s practice of having certain buyers sign nondisclosure agreements and the company faced continued questions about the quality of its Model X sport-utility vehicle.

Tesla, long known as a company that moves faster than traditional auto makers, plowed forward during the quarter. It announced its intention to combine with SolarCity Corp., which shares with Tesla Elon Musk as chairman. On Monday, the Tesla announced a firm deal with SolarCity valued at $2.6 billion.

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“..the next leg down in oil prices could be far more disruptive than most investors expect and it may not take much to trigger a major financial event.”

We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet (STA)

The risk of a global shock appears to be rising once again as (1) oil prices fall back into the $30s and (2) modestly improving US economic growth strengthens the case for a rising dollar. In addition to a likely revival in US rate hike expectations, growing foreign demand for US cash flows, or the prospect for more central bank easing abroad (both of which could drive the dollar higher), the world economy may already be nearing another breaking point as foreign central bank assets held at the Federal Reserve continue to fall on a year-over-year basis. Every time this measure has fallen below zero in the last fifty years, it has coincided with a major global event.

My suspicion is that oil producing countries (who officially flipped from current account surplus into current account deficit in 2015) are liquidating their US dollar assets to manage government budget shortfalls. With that in mind, the next leg down in oil prices could be far more disruptive than most investors expect and it may not take much to trigger a major financial event. We’re not aggressively betting on a crisis, but my colleagues and I on the STA Investment Committee continue to run conservative portfolios with an underweight to equities, and a focus on yield-oriented assets (like corporate bonds and preferred stocks) and defensive assets (like cash, gold, managed futures, and long-dated US Treasuries) while we wait for quality assets to go on sale.

If you’ve been paying attention to global markets this year, you are probably still scratching your head as to what fundamentally changed in early February. What pulled us back from the edge of a global crisis and set the stage for one of the most powerful reflations (ex earnings) in recent memory? What caused corporate credit spreads to collapse, crude oil to bottom, and the S&P 500 to scream higher? And, most importantly, is this a sustainable new trend? Or an epic bear trap? As regular FWIW readers may remember, I offered a hypothesis in mid-March – arguing that major central banks had begun to quietly intervene in foreign exchange markets – and I laid out a vision for 2016 as long as policy elites were able to keep the trade-weighted US dollar in a “goldilocks” trading range.

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Ronald Reagan Returns.

Justice Department Officials Objected to US Cash Payment to Iran (WSJ)

Senior Justice Department officials objected to sending a plane loaded with cash to Tehran at the same time that Iran released four imprisoned Americans, but their objections were overruled by the State Department, according to people familiar with the discussions. After announcing the release of the Americans in January, President Barack Obama also said the U.S. would pay $1.7 billion to Iran to settle a failed arms deal dating back to 1979. What wasn’t disclosed then was that the first payment would be $400 million in cash, flown in at the same time, as The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The timing and manner of the payment raised alarms at the Justice Department, according to those familiar with the discussions. “People knew what it was going to look like, and there was concern the Iranians probably did consider it a ransom payment,’’ said one of the people. The disclosures reignited a political furor over the Iran deal in Washington that could complicate White House efforts to fortify it before Mr. Obama’s term ends. Three top Republicans who have been feuding in recent weeks—presidential candidate Donald Trump, Sen. John McCain and House Speaker Paul Ryan—were united Wednesday in blasting the Obama administration.

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Excellent expose by John Pilger.

Julian Assange: The Untold Story Of An Epic Struggle For Justice (Pilger)

The siege of Knightsbridge is both an emblem of gross injustice and a gruelling farce. For three years, a police cordon around the Ecuadorean embassy in London has served no purpose other than to flaunt the power of the state. It has cost £12 million. The quarry is an Australian charged with no crime, a refugee whose only security is the room given him by a brave South American country. His “crime” is to have initiated a wave of truth-telling in an era of lies, cynicism and war. The persecution of Julian Assange is about to flare again as it enters a dangerous stage. From August 20, three quarters of the Swedish prosecutor’s case against Assange regarding sexual misconduct in 2010 will disappear as the statute of limitations expires.

At the same time Washington’s obsession with Assange and WikiLeaks has intensified. Indeed, it is vindictive American power that offers the greatest threat – as Chelsea Manning and those still held in Guantanamo can attest. The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up, and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks continues to expose criminal activity by the US, having just published top secret US intercepts – US spies’ reports detailing private phone calls of the presidents of France and Germany, and other senior officials, relating to internal European political and economic affairs.

None of this is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they]must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama boasted on its website that he had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined.

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The details are stunning, but at the same time familiar.

Court Throws Out Terrorism Conviction In Canada, Cites Police Entrapment (I’Cept)

Sting operations — in which an undercover agent or informant provides the means and opportunity to lure otherwise incapable people into committing a crime — have represented the default tactic for counterterrorism prosecutions since the 9/11 attacks. Critics believe these stings amount to entrapment. Human Rights Watch, for instance, argues that law enforcement authorities in the U.S. have overstepped their role by “effectively participating in developing terrorism plots.” Nonetheless, U.S. courts have rejected entrapment defenses, no matter how hapless the defendants. In Canada, however, the legal standing of counterterrorism stings has suddenly shifted.

Last week, a high-ranking judge in British Columbia stayed the convictions of two alleged terrorists, ruling that they had been “skillfully manipulated” and entrapped by an elaborate sting operation organized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “The specter of the defendants serving a life sentence for a crime that the police manufactured by exploiting their vulnerabilities, by instilling fear that they would be killed if they backed out, and by quashing all doubts they had in the religious justifications for the crime, is offensive to our concept of fundamental justice,” the judge wrote. “Simply put, the world has enough terrorists. We do not need the police to create more out of marginalized people who have neither the capacity nor sufficient motivation to do it themselves.”

This is the first time that a counterterrorism sting — whose tactics were developed by the FBI through modifying those of undercover drug stings — has been thrown out of court whole cloth in Canada or the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Catherine J. Bruce was ruling in the case of John Nuttall and his common-law wife, Amanda Korody, two drug addicts who lived on the streets in British Columbia. As part of sting operation in which the RCMP paid at least 200 officers a total of more than $900,000 Canadian in overtime, law-enforcement agents encouraged the couple to place pressure-cooker bombs at the British Columbia parliament building on Canada Day 2013. As in FBI counterterrorism stings, RCMP provided Nuttall and Korody with everything they needed to become terrorists.

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Can we adopt this throughout the world please?

Italy Adopts ‘Beautiful’ New Law To Slash Food Waste (BBC)

Italy has passed into law a raft of new measures to try to reduce the mountain of food wasted in the country each year. The bill – backed by 181 Senators, with two against and 16 abstaining – aims to cut waste one million tonnes from the estimated five million it wastes each year. It has been heralded as “one of the most beautiful and practical legacies” of the Expo Milano 2015 international exhibition – which focused on tackling hunger and food waste worldwide – by Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina. According to ministers, food waste costs Italy’s business and households more than €12bn per year. Studies suggest it could amount to more than 1% of GDP.

The problem is by no means confined to Italy. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that some one third of food may be wasted worldwide – a figure which rises to some 40% in Europe. “The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people,” the FAO says. It’s not the first time Italy has acted decisively over issues of hunger and food. Three months ago, its highest court ruled that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger was not a crime.

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Jun 062016
 
 June 6, 2016  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)
World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)
China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)
China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)
BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)
As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)
Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)
If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)
Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)
Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)
Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)
‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)
Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)
Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

Well, I’ve pointed a zillion times to the size and power of China’s shadow banks. And here you go…

Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)

In an analysis conducted by Goldman’s MK Tang, the strategist notes that a frequent inquiry from investors in recent months is how much credit has actually been extended to Chinese households and corporates. He explains that this arises from debates about the accuracy of the commonly used credit data (i.e., total social financing (TSF)) in light of an apparent rise in financial institutions’ (FI) shadow lending activity (as well as due to the ongoing municipal bond swap program). Tang adds that while it is clear that banks’ investment assets and claims on other FIs have surged, it is unclear how much of that reflects opaque loans, and also how much such loans and off-balance sheet credit are not included in TSF. By the very nature of shadow lending, it is almost impossible to reach a conclusion on these issues based on FIs’ asset information.

Goldman circumvents these data complications by instead focusing on the “money” concept, a mirror image to credit on FIs’ funding side. The idea is that money is created largely only when credit is extended—hence an effective gauge of “money” can give a good sense of the size of credit. We construct our own money flow measure, specifically following and quantifying the money flow from households/corporates. Goldman finds something stunning: true credit creation in China was vastly greater than even the comprehensive Total Social Financing series. To wit: “a substantial amount of money was created last year, evidencing a very large supply of credit, to the tune of RMB 25tn (36% of 2015 GDP). This is about RMB 6tn (or 9pp of GDP) higher than implied by TSF data (even after adjusting for municipal bond swaps). Divergence from TSF has been particularly notable since Q2 last year after a major dovish shift in policy stance.”

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China stocks are already down 40% in 12 months, but look down below.

World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)

It’s going to take more than the world’s deepest stock-market selloff to turn China into a destination for international bargain hunters. Even after a 40% tumble in the Shanghai Composite Index over the past 12 months, valuations for China’s domestic A shares are three times as expensive as every other major market worldwide. The median price-to-earnings ratio on the nation’s exchanges is 59, higher than that of U.S. technology shares at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000. One year after China’s equity bubble peaked, valuations have yet to fall back to earth as government intervention keeps stock prices elevated at a time of shrinking corporate profits.

For money managers at Silvercrest Asset Management and Blackfriars Asset Management who predicted last year’s selloff, China’s weak economic growth and fragile investor sentiment mean it’s too early to jump back into the $6 trillion market. “We do not own any A shares,” said Tony Hann, the London-based head of equities at Blackfriars, which oversees about $270 million. The firm’s Oriental Focus Fund has outperformed 83% of peers this year. “The bull case seems to be that I can buy at this P/E because someone else will buy it from me at a higher P/E. The biggest risk is that investor psychology on the mainland changes.”

There’s plenty for investors to be worried about. After expanding at the weakest pace since 1990 last year, China’s economy shows few signs of recovery. Earnings at Shanghai Composite companies have declined by 13% since last June, while corporate defaults are spreading and the yuan is trading near a five-year low.

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Debt is hidden, losses are hidden, unemployment is hidden.

China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)

China’s authorities may face a bigger worry than slowing economic growth. The jobless rate may be three times the official estimate, according to a new report by Fathom Consulting, whose China’s Underemployment Indicator has tripled to 12.9% since 2012 even while the official jobless rate has hovered near 4% for five years. The weakening labor market may explain China’s decision to uncork the credit spigots and revive old growth drivers in an effort to stabilize the world’s no. 2 economy. Leaders have stressed that keeping employment stable is a top priority. Fathom’s data shows that while mass layoffs haven’t materialized, the number of people not working at full capacity or hours has increased. “The degree of slack has surged in recent years,” analysts at the London-based firm wrote.

“China has a substantial hidden unemployment problem, in our view, and that explains why the authorities have come under so much pressure to re-start the old growth engines.” Leaders of the world’s most populous nation have promised to slash excess capacity in coal mines and steel mills while at the same time ensuring that the economy grows by at least 6.5% this year. Across the nation, state-backed ‘zombie’ factories are being kept alive by local governments to keep a lid on any social unrest. To keep the plants ticking over, employees in some cases have been asked to work half the time for half the pay. The official registered unemployment gauge is notorious for not changing during economic cycles. It’s compiled from the number of people who register at local governments for unemployment benefits, which excludes most of the nation’s more than 270 million migrant workers.

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China as a robotics guinea pig. What could go wrong?

China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)

China’s shift to consumption and services lies at the heart of Xi’s quest for new growth drivers to escape the middle-income trap, when productivity and profit margins fail to keep up with wage growth. That’s spurred provincial leaders to encourage cities to attract new businesses and upgrade factories, headlined by the aphorisms that China’s administrators are fond of. “Empty the cages to welcome better birds,” demanded former Guangdong Communist Party Chief Wang Yang, meaning let the old industries leave and replace them with new, higher-value ones.

“Replace humans with robots,” added his successor, Hu Chunhua, 53, one of the youngest members of the Politburo, in a 950 billion yuan ($144 billion) plan to upgrade 2,000 companies in three years, the official Guangzhou Daily reported in March 2015, adding that the move is not expected to cause heavy layoffs. Dongguan replaced 43,684 workers with robots in 2015, cutting costs at those factories by nearly 10%, according to the local government. Lu Miao, a vice general manager of Lyric Robot in Guangdong’s Huizhou city, said the government pays as much as 50,000 yuan to Lyric’s customers for each robot they use to replace workers. “The government at all levels in Guangdong has been encouraging companies to replace human workers as rapidly as possible,” said Lu. “I can see our business increasing more than 50% this year.”

The ultimate result is so-called “dark factories” that don’t need lighting because only robots work on the production line. TCL has such a plant making LCD displays, Li said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Huizhou, about an hour’s drive from Dongguan. “For society at large, some workers will be laid off,” said Huizhou Mayor Mai Jiaomeng. “But it’s good for companies to improve their competitiveness.” Local officials say the layoffs are under control, but are reluctant to provide details on how many plants have shut or moved away. A municipal report from Shenzhen in January said that the city has “washed out” or “transformed” more than 17,000 low-end factories over the past five years.

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Looks inevitable, just a question of where on the globe it will begin.

BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)

In a somewhat shocking break from the age-old tradition of lying and obfuscation, Bank of Japan policy board member Takehiro Sato raised significant concerns about global financial stability in a speech last week. In addition to raising concerns about Japanese economic fragility, Sato warned that due to the impact of negative interest rates, he “detected a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.”

Financial institutions are facing the risk of a negative spread for marginal assets due to the extreme flattening of the yield curve and the drop in the yield on government bonds in short- to long-term zones into negative territory. When there is a negative spread, shrinking the balance sheet, rather than expanding it, would be a reasonable business decision. In the future, this may prompt an increasing number of financial institutions to take such actions as restraining loans to borrowers with potentially high credit costs and raising interest rates on loans to firms with poor access to finance.

…a weakening of the financial intermediary functioning could affect the financial system’s resilience against shocks in times of stress. In addition, an excessive drop in bond yields in the super-long-term zone could also make the financial system vulnerable by increasing the risk of a buildup of financial imbalances in the system.

There is also the risk that financial institutions that have problems in terms of profitability or fiscal soundness will make loans and investment without adequate risk valuation. From financial institutions’ recent move to purchase super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yield, I detect a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.

Simply put, as Bloomberg notes, Sato is concerned the government bond market is heading for an historic collapse after 10-year yields plunged below zero, forcing banks to pile into super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yields. This is creating huge concentrated positions with increasing duration risk (as we detailed previously), causing a vulnerability “similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003,” when an initial jump in yields triggered a spectacular sell-off by breaching banks’ models for estimating potential losses.

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Reuniting OPEC.

As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)

More than 25 European and Asian-owned supertankers are shipping Iranian oil, data seen by Reuters shows, allowing Tehran to ramp up exports much faster than analysts had expected following the lifting of sanctions in January. Iran was struggling as recently as April to find partners to ship its oil, but after an agreement on a temporary insurance fix more than a third of Iran’s crude shipments are now being handled by foreign vessels. “Charterers are buying cargo from Iran and the rest of the world is OK with that,” said Odysseus Valatsas, chartering manager at Dynacom Tankers Management. Greek owner Dynacom has fixed three of its supertankers to carry Iranian crude.

Some international shipowners remain reluctant to handle Iranian oil, however, due mainly to some U.S. restrictions on Tehran that remain and prohibit any trade in dollars or the involvement of U.S. firms, including banks and reinsurers. Iran is seeking to make up for lost trade following the lifting of sanctions imposed in 2011 and 2012 over its nuclear program. Port loading data seen by Reuters, as well as live shipping data, shows at least 26 foreign tankers with capacity to carry more than 25 million barrels of light and heavy crude oil, as well as fuel oil, have either loaded crude or fuel oil in the last two weeks or are about load at Iran’s Kharg Island and Bandar Mahshahr terminals.

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One more major price drop and we have panic.

Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s plans to bolster its finances are taking on a new sense of urgency as lower oil prices put the economy under more strain than at any other time in the past decade. In recent weeks, the kingdom raised a $10 billion loan, clamped down on currency speculators and informed banks of plans to raise as much as $15 billion in its first international bond sale, people with knowledge of the matter said. It’s also said to be contemplating IOUs to pay contractor bills and hired HSBC Holdings Plc banker Fahad Al Saif to set up a new debt office. The speed of the measures underscores Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s urgency to shore up the country’s finances as an era of oil-fueled abundance falters.

Though currency reserves remain strong – among the world’s largest – net foreign assets are at a four-year low after declining for 15 months in a row and the kingdom may post a budget deficit of about 13.5% of economic output this year. “The pace of the decline in Saudi Arabia’s foreign assets is faster than in previous oil downturns and the period over which they’ve been falling is longer,” Raza Agha, VTB Capital’s chief economist for the Middle East and Africa, said by e-mail. “This generates a real sense of urgency to get the ball rolling in raising external funding.”

Five years ago, oil surged to more than $100 a barrel, adding billions of dollars to the country’s reserves. The windfall allowed the kingdom to slash its debt and post an average budget surplus of 8.2% between 2000 and 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data. Now, with crude having tumbled about 50%, the country is moving to sell assets and find other ways to raise funds.

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Just a cute graph.

If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)

I don’t have an inherent dislike of solar and wind energy, but I am suspicious of the way they are being pushed. Here’s an example: Renewable energy advocates such as Tony Seba are talking about how solar and battery technology will enable exponential uptake in renewable technology, and that people won’t want to invest in a thermal power plant anymore. But on the other hand: Renewable advocates want government legislation to support their chosen renewable energy targets. e.g. “50% renewable energy would put Australia in line with leading nations” at the Conversation. Or another example might be where energy companies are talking about how the government has to ‘support the transition’ in this AFR article: AGL says government must support power industry exit from coal.

But wait a minute, if wind and solar are truly so amazing and so cheap – why does the government need to get involved? Why wouldn’t these renewable energy companies and advocates find a way to profitably do it and not make any fuss about wanting governmental regulation/subsidies? Borrowing from Mark Perry’s excellent Venn diagram idea over at AEI Carpe Diem blog: (Could it be that renewable advocates are using the government to push renewable energy cost and risk onto taxpayers?)

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17 days still to go. Brace for increased madness. it’s going to be so much fun.

Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)

The pound slumped to a three-week low after polls showed more Britons favor exiting the European Union, reviving concern a June 23 referendum will throw global markets into turmoil and undermine confidence in the 28-nation trading bloc. Sterling weakened against all 10 developed-market peers after two surveys showed more voters were willing to vote to leave the EU than those wishing to stay. A gauge of the currency’s expected swings against the dollar during the next month surged to a seven-year high. The Bank of England has said uncertainty surrounding the referendum vote is damping U.K. growth, while global institutions including the IMF and OECD are warning of dire fallout if Britain votes to quit the EU.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the referendum is undermining confidence in the outlook at a time when the international economy is already losing momentum. “A ‘Leave’ vote would expose a host of uncertainties,” said Sue Trinh at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. “It would be more negative for the euro and the EU since the issue will drag on for other members.” A YouGov poll for television network ITV found 45% would choose ‘Leave,’ compared with 41% picking ‘Remain.’ A separate survey by global market research company TNS showed 43% for ‘Leave’ and 41% for ‘Remain.’

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Well, that seems modeled after the EU’s attitude towards democracy alright. They fit right in.

Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)

Pro-Remain MPs are considering using their Commons majority to keep Britain inside the EU single market if there is a vote for Brexit, the BBC has learned. The MPs fear a post-Brexit government might negotiate a limited free trade deal with the EU, which they say would damage the UK’s economy. There is a pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons of 454 MPs to 147. A Vote Leave campaign spokesman said MPs will not be able to “defy the will of the electorate” on key issues. The single market guarantees the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. The BBC has learned pro-Remain MPs would use their voting power in the House of Commons to protect what they see as the economic benefits of a single market, which gives the UK access to 500 million consumers.

Staying inside the single market would mean Britain would have to keep its borders open to EU workers and continue paying into EU coffers. Ministers have told the BBC they expect pro-EU MPs to conduct what one called a “reverse Maastricht” process – a reference to the long parliamentary campaign fought by Tory eurosceptic MPs in the 1990s against legislation deepening EU integration. Like then as now, the Conservative government has a small working majority of just 17. They say it would be legitimate for MPs to push for the UK to stay in the single market because the Leave campaign has refused to spell out what trading relationship it wants the UK to have with the EU in the future. As such, a post-Brexit government could not claim it had a popular mandate for a particular model.

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Equal partners.

Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)

Britain is trapped in its own little Brexit bubble. For the next two and a half weeks, the country will be obsessed with the result of the referendum on 23 June. Nothing that is going on in the rest of the world will get much of a look-in. But beyond these shores, things are happening. The authorities in China are desperately trying to shore up growth. Eurozone finance ministers have all but guaranteed that, sooner or later, the Greek crisis will flare up again. Most pressingly, the US economy looks to be heading for serious trouble. Make no mistake, the jobs report issued in Washington on Friday was a shocker. Wall Street had been expecting the non-farm payroll – the benchmark for the strength of the US labour market – to increase by 164,000. The actual figure was 38,000, the smallest monthly increase since September 2010.

True, the total was slightly distorted because 35,000 striking workers at Verizon were counted as jobless because they were not being paid. But that still would have meant an NFP increase of just 73,000. The weak jobs report comes at a particularly sensitive time because America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has been softening the markets up for an increase in interest rates, either this month or next. Any such move is now out of the question. US borrowing costs will not be going up again until the autumn at the earliest. This is all rather chastening for the Fed. When it raised interest rates in December for the first time since the Great Recession, the central bank signalled that there would be four more increases during the course of 2016.

Financial markets subsequently went into freefall during the early weeks of the year, forcing the Fed into a crash rethink. In March, it indicated that the number of 2016 rate increases had been halved from four to two – but the guidance was promptly ignored by traders, who based their decisions on the assumption that there would be no further tightening of policy by the Fed until 2017. With its reputation at stake, the Fed has gone out of its way since March to convince the markets that it was serious about two rate rises in 2016. Really, really it was. Janet Yellen, the Fed’s chair, told Wall Street that it might be “confused” about the way the central bank was going about its business.

Yet if anyone is confused it is Yellen, not the markets, which have rightly calculated that the Fed is all talk and should be judged by what it does and not by what it says. Here’s the position. The US economy grew at an annualised rate of 0.8% in the first quarter of 2016, which was not just weaker than the UK but substantially worse than the eurozone. Friday’s May payrolls were not a one-off, since the totals for March and April were revised downwards by a combined 59,000.

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Not quite sure what Ambrose intends here, but yeah, Britons’ dislike of Cameron, Major and any and all EU mouthpieces may well decide the issue.

‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)

British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned. Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society. “The major impression one gets observing the debate is that the reasons for exit are clearly emotional,” he said. “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger. These seem to be powerful enough that they may lead to Brexit,” he said, speaking to The Telegraph at the Amundi world investment forum in Paris.

The counter-critique is that the Remain campaign is equally degrading the debate, playing on visceral reactions and ephemeral issues of the day. In a sense the two sides are egging each other on. That is the sociological fascination of it. Professor Kahneman, who survived the Nazi occupation of France as a Jewish child in the Second World War, said the risk is that the British people will be swept along by emotion and lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error. “They won’t regret it because regret is rare. They’ll find a way to explain what happened and blame somebody. That is the general pattern when things go wrong and people are afraid,” he said. The refusal to face up to the implications of what is really at stake in the referendum comes as no surprise to a man imbued with deep sense of anthropological pessimism.

His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be. People do not always act in their own economic self-interest. Nor do they strive to maximize “utility’ and minimize risk, contrary to the assumptions of efficient market theory and the core premises of the economics profession. “People are myopic. Our brain circuits respond to immediate consequences,” he said.

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Added for entertainment value. BTW, what century is this?

Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday urged Turkish women to have at least three children, saying a woman’s life was “incomplete” if she failed to have offspring. Erdogan’s comments were the latest in a series of controversial remarks aimed at encouraging women to help boost Turkey’s population, which had already risen exponentially in the last years. The president emphasised he was a strong supporter of women having careers but emphasised that this should not be an “obstacle” to having children. “Rejecting motherhood means giving up on humanity,” Erdogan said in a speech marking the opening of the new building of Turkey’s Women’s and Democracy Association (KADEM). “I would recommend having at least three children,” added the president.

“The fact that a woman is attatched to her professional life should not prevent her from being a mother,” he added, saying that Turkey had taken “important steps” to support working mothers. Erdogan had on Monday said that family planning and contraception were not for Muslim families, prompting fury among women’s activists. In his speech Sunday he went on to add: “A woman who says ‘because I am working I will not be a mother’ is actually denying her feminity.” “A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete,” he added.

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And there we go.

Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

The agreement between Turkey and the EU that will facilitate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and allow readmission of Syrian refugees who enter Europe illegally is practically shelved due to ongoing disagreements, according to sources from the Foreign Ministry. The Turkey-EU agreement that will pave the way for visa liberalization was initially signed on Dec. 16, 2013 and was later included in the comprehensive refugee deal by both parties. Although Brussels says the deal will succeed, it also requires Turkey to meet the EU’s 72 benchmarks, which include narrowing its counterterrorism laws.

Turkey’s Aksam daily reported over the weekend that a senior official from the Foreign Ministry said Turkey has used its administrative measures correctly to temporarily suspend the Readmission Agreement, which will return undocumented, illegal refugees who enter Europe via Turkey in exchange for registered migrants. Sources from the Foreign Ministry who spoke to Daily Sabah yesterday said: “In order for the Readmission Agreement to be successfully fulfilled, a Cabinet decision approving the bill published in the Official Gazette must be announced.” Such an approval is not expected anytime soon. Although the European Commission had announced early last week that the Readmission Agreement would come into full force as of June 1, Ankara asserted that “the EU has failed to fulfill its duties resulting from the agreement,” stressing that it suspended the Readmission Agreement as part of administrative measures.

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Apr 172016
 
 April 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)
Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)
Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)
Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)
Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)
Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)
Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)
BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)
Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)
Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)
Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)
Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)
Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)
Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

China’s strongarming all of eastern Asia into submission to its exports. This could get very ugly.

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)

South Korea suffered a 15.7% fall in exports to China in the first quarter this year, data showed Sunday, deepening its overall trade woes. It marks the biggest drop in seven years in South Korea’s outbound shipments to China, its single biggest market. China accounts for about 25% of South Korea’s total exports. Exports to China stood at $28.5 billion in the year’s first three months, down 15.7% from a year earlier, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). By item, exports of semiconductors, flat panel displays, petrochemical products, car parts and synthetic resins recorded notable declines. Experts cited a structural problem and suggested a shift in trade strategy. “Over 70% of South Korean goods exported to China are intermediate goods. China’s demand for those is diminishing,” said Park Jin-woo, head of KITA’s strategic market research office.

“In particular, China is making massive investments and expanding facilities in such sectors as semiconductors, while reducing imports.” He stressed the need for targeting the consumer goods market instead. South Korea’s exports to the United States also sank 3.3% on-year to $16.8 billion in the January-March period and imports were down 4.9% to $10.1 billion. Trade with Japan remains in trouble as well. Exports fell 13.1% to $5.5 billion, representing a double-digit drop for the sixth consecutive quarter, and imports dwindled 11.2% to $10.6 billion. In contrast, exports to Vietnam, which has emerged as South Korea’s third-largest exports market, maintained an upward trend. Exports grew 7.6% to $7 billion, although growth rates showed signs of slowing.

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Mom and pop, shadow banking, P2P, Hollywood, Ponzi, it’s all there.

Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)

A crisis rocking a loosely regulated lending network is underlining the risks of a financing boom that has channeled Chinese household money into Hollywood movies and Wall Street deals Droves of teary-eyed investors from around China have descended on Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group’s swanky offices over the past week to demand their money back after the firm halted redemptions on wealth-management products for the roughly 250,000 clients of the firm and three affiliates. The uncertainty around investments handled by Kuailu could force a re-evaluation of a financing trend that has become widespread, in the latest knock to a financial system damaged by months of stock-market turmoil and a slowing economy.

Kuailu is one of thousands of finance companies in a universe of Chinese “shadow banks” that funnel investors funds to businesses and individuals, often with an assurance of high returns. Moody’s estimated credit extended by nonbank financing companies in China stood at $370 billion in mid-2015. Many Chinese refer to the diverse industry using English: P2P, as in peer-to-peer lending, though that business of matching small lenders and borrowers is just one segment of operations at Kuailu. Kuailu isn’t the first such lender to leave investors hanging amid recent collapses in the sector. What is distinctive is how its problems are exposing an international dimension to the industry, which bankers said is common but little understood.

The Shanghai firm invested in at least 20 feature films, including the coming release of “The Bombing” starring Bruce Willis, according to the company. Client money holds a slice of a $9 billion deal to privatize NYSE-listed Chinese Internet-security company Qihoo 360 Technology, firm marketing documents show. A crisis-management specialist that Kuailu’s founding chairman this month put in charge of sorting through $1.5 billion in liabilities told the WSJ it wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, a fear some investors have raised with the company. “No cash flow. That’s the issue,” said Xu Qi, who estimated assets cover about 90% of what is owed to investors, but that most of it is tied up in investments or projects that can’t be quickly converted to cash.

Companies like Kuailu got their start in peer-to-peer lending, initially a modest effort to supply money to Chinese households and entrepreneurs that was endorsed by top government officials as a way to power new streams of consumer activity. But crowdsourced lending has quickly expanded and now powers financing across China, from wedding loans to land speculation. Like banks, but with less regulation, such lenders compete aggressively for deposits, often via online platforms. Many attract money faster than they can thoroughly research investments, according to analysts.

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B Movie.

Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)

A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers on an agreement to freeze output ran into last-minute trouble in Qatar on Sunday due to a new request by OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia, sources told Reuters. Oil ministers were heading into a meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who was instrumental in promoting output stability in recent months – in an attempt to rescue the deal designed to bolster the flagging price of crude. “There is an issue. Experts are discussing how to find an acceptable solution. I’m confident they will come up with a solution,” one of the sources said. According to another source, Saudi Arabia said it wanted all OPEC members to participate in the talks, despite insisting earlier on excluding Iran because Tehran does not want to freeze production.

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance on Iran, the only major OPEC producer to have refused to participate in the freeze. Tehran says it needs to regain market share after the lifting of international sanctions against it in January. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the kingdom would restrain its output only if all other major producers, including Iran, agreed to freeze production. More than a dozen nations inside and outside OPEC have officially confirmed they would attend the meeting in Doha but the role of Iran has been the key issue overhanging the talks. “We have told some OPEC and non-OPEC members like Russia that they should accept the reality of Iran’s return to the oil market,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, was quoted as saying by his ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday.

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Iran will go all out.

Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)

Iran’s top central banker is adding to growing doubts about an agreement to freeze output at a meeting of oil producers in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. Ahead of a pivotal meeting that may determine the near-term outlook for crude prices, Iran on Saturday announced that it would not participate in the conference. The country, still trying to recover from Western sanctions, is seen trying to preserve market share, and has steadfastly resisted any suggestions that Iran should freeze or curb output in order to prop up prices. On the sidelines of an IMF meeting in Washington, D.C., Valiollah Seif, head of Iran’s central bank told CNBC that asking Iran to freeze output right now is unfair.

“What Iran is doing right now is trying to get back and secure its share of the market,” Seif said, adding that “what Saudi Arabia is asking Iran to do is not a very fair [or] logical request.” On several occasions, the leadership of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said they would agree to an output freeze as long as Iran did too. Currently, analysts believe the two rivals are unlikely to reach a near-term consensus. Seif told CNBC that Iran, as a member of OPEC, has a quota of 2.4 million barrels per day. Under sanctions for its nuclear program, that quota went unfilled.

At the same other members used their output to fill the gap. “And right now, Iran is trying to just take back the quota it is entitled to get, so we are going to do that and this is the main direction of our economy,” Seif added. He went as far as to say other OPEC members are to blame for the sharp fall in oil prices, which are down more than 37% year to date. “This request is coming from those countries which are responsible for this surplus production in the market, because they have exceeded output beyond their quota, and I think this is not fair,” Seif added. He cautioned that this was his personal viewpoint, and the ultimate decision lies with Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh.

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Predators experimenting on an entire nation.

Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)

Greece’s creditors are considering seeking extra austerity measures that would be triggered if Athens misses its fiscal targets, in a bid to bridge differences between Europe and the IMF and break a deadlock threatening to unravel the Greek bailout. Under the proposal, say officials involved in the discussions, Greece would have to sign up to so-called contingency measures of up to about €3 billion, on top of the package of about €5 billion in tax increases and spending cuts Greece and its lenders are already negotiating. The country would only have to implement the extra measures if falls short of targeted budget surpluses for coming years that were set out in last year’s bailout agreement, the officials say.

The idea, which has support from the eurozone’s dominant power Germany, hasn’t yet been agreed upon, and officials on the creditors’ side say it would be politically hard for Greece’s embattled government to swallow. Creditors say the contingency-measures idea could finally overcome the monthslong disagreement between European institutions and the IMF about the outlook for Greece’s budget. That disunity has paralyzed talks about what Greece needs to do to secure a new IMF loan program and unlock rescue funding from Europe. Without billions of euros in fresh bailout funds, Greece faces bankruptcy in July, when large debts fall due. Months of talks without agreement have stoked concern in Europe about another Greek debt drama this summer, reviving fears the country could tumble out of the eurozone.

Athens has argued that imposing even-more austerity measures would go beyond what was agreed in the July 2015 bailout deal, according to people familiar with Athens’s thinking. The deadlock among creditors since last fall stems from Germany’s insistence that Greece get no more money from the eurozone’s bailout fund until the IMF agrees to lend more money too. Since Greece’s bailout odyssey began in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted IMF involvement is essential. But the IMF is unconvinced by the math of the eurozone’s July 2015 bailout plan for Greece. The fund says it can’t resume lending to Greece unless there is a combination of a credible fiscal plan for Greece and debt relief from Europe.

The creditors and Greece agreeing on a fiscal plan would allow for the start of concrete talks on a second thorny issue: debt relief for Greece. Germany is deeply reluctant to offer much debt relief, but tends to agree with the IMF about the weaknesses of Greece’s budget, rather than with the more upbeat assessments of the European Union’s executive arm, the Commission. The Commission believes around €5 billion of austerity measures would be enough for Greece to hit a key target in the bailout plan: a primary budget surplus, meaning before interest payments, of 3.5% of gross domestic product. But the IMF is more pessimistic about Greek growth and finances. It insists about €8 billion of savings are needed to hit the target. The European side’s proposed measures, the IMF thinks, would only get Greece to a primary surplus of 1.5% of GDP.

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Dream on.

Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)

The name Nicolaus Copernicus is not usually mentioned in the same breath as corporate tax planning or Mossack Fonseca. This month, however, it probably should be. Six centuries ago, the Polish astronomer formulated a model of the universe that put the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the solar system. It was a paradigm shift that led to a transformation in the way that we view the universe. I suspect something similar might be happening with global finance. This month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published some 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among other things, these gave details about offshore companies the firm created for the elite.

The leak has already provoked a number of political scandals: last week, the Icelandic prime minister resigned after it emerged that he had an offshore company in Panama; and David Cameron, the British prime minister, has faced a steady stream of criticism about an offshore company created by his late father. Meanwhile, revelations about Chinese and Russian billionaires could spark further recriminations. To my mind, it is not just the revelations concerning the rich and famous that make the Panama Papers so fascinating; after all, it is not illegal to create such companies, unless they are used to evade taxes or launder money. Instead, the most interesting issue is whether this leak will create something akin to a Copernican moment.

Think about it. Most of us vaguely know that money flows through offshore centres but the details of this world are very shadowy and opaque. Thus, insofar as any of us have ever tried to visualise the 21st-century “map” of global finance, we assumed that the visible onshore activity was the “sun” that dominated this universe — and offshore finance just a fuzzy little planet, that hovered on the edge. But the Panama Papers have given contours to that fuzzy, offshore world. More specifically, anyone who wants to get a sense of what has been happening in Panama can now go on to the ICIJ website and search those 11.5 million documents with keywords. Try it out at home — it is as simple as a Wikipedia search.

As further details tumble out, it’s not just more names that will be generated but numbers too. Even before the data were readily available, activist groups such as the Tax Justice Network had claimed that some $21tn-$32tn was being stashed in offshore centres, but they had no real way of verifying the figure. With the Panama Papers online, more precise figures could emerge — and with that the ability to compare them with the overall picture of global banking. Could this spark a bigger policy change, such as a crackdown on tax avoidance or money laundering? A cynic might argue not. Remember, powerful vested interests are involved. But if you want to get a sense of what can happen when that mental map flips, think about how attitudes to shadow banking have changed in the past decade.

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EU does not rhyme with democracy, and never will. We’re going to see a lot of crazy claims and numbers pre-referendum.

Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has warned British chancellor George Osborne that Berlin would be a tough negotiator if the UK votes to leave the EU. Speaking on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings on Saturday, Mr Schäuble, one of the strongest forces in European politics, also jested that British football teams in a post-Brexit world should be excluded from the European champions league — something not actually linked to EU membership. His confirmation that Germany would not readily agree to an easy trading relationship with Britain after Brexit undermines the Leave campaign’s argument that the UK would be able to secure preferential EU trade deals without freedom of movement of people or the need for Britain to contribute to the EU budget.

The German finance minister, who is known for his unyielding negotiating positions, told German media that he wanted the UK to remain in the EU and did not want to inflame the British debate. But he added that if Britain were to leave, the process would not be easy. The Treasury confirmed that Mr Schäuble told Mr Osborne just how tough negotiations would be after Brexit during a bilateral meeting this weekend — and made the same joke about European football. In Washington this weekend, finance minsters from around the world have gradually been waking up to the possibility that Britain will seek to leave the EU within a matter of months. The IMF said it would wreak “severe damage” to the British and European economies.

Christine Lagarde, the IMF head, admitted this week that while she hoped Europe would avoid having to deal with Brexit, “the continued relationship with other countries in the EU would be at risk”. The difficulties of post-Brexit negotiations will be amplified by elections in Germany and France in 2017, European finance ministers said privately on the sidelines of the IMF meetings. With populist rightwing Eurosceptic parties threatening mainstream politics in both countries, the domestic incentives would prevent concessions to Britain as politicians would need to show their electorates that leaving the EU comes with a heavy price.

Many European officials and ministers have tried to avoid the subject of how they would negotiate with the UK after Brexit, saying instead that they hoped the British people would vote to remain. But some did speak out. Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, said that the leave campaign’s ambition to secure full access to the single market without accepting free movement of people and budget contributions “has never happened in Europe”. “I’m pretty certain [the negotiations ] would take quite a while — two years is not enough — so there would be several years of high uncertainty, which would have a negative impact on the UK economy,” Mr Regling said.

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BlackRock and ‘corporate responsibility’.. Yeah, sure.

BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)

For several years, Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock, the money management giant, has been on a crusade, exhorting corporations to change their short-term ways. Executives should forgo tricks that reward short-term stock traders, he argues, like share buybacks purchased at high valuations. Instead, corporate managers should focus on creating value for long-term shareholders. It’s an admirable argument that has won Mr. Fink wise-man status on Wall Street and accolades in the press. Hillary Clinton has echoed his ideas on the campaign trail. Certainly, as the head of BlackRock, Mr. Fink wields an outsize stick. With $4.6 trillion in assets and ownership of shares in roughly 15,000 companies, BlackRock is the world’s largest investment manager.

But if Mr. Fink really wants to get the attention of company executives on stock buybacks and other corporate governance issues, why doesn’t BlackRock vote more often against CEO pay packages of companies that play the short-term game? Executive compensation is inextricably linked to the shareholder-unfriendly actions Mr. Fink has identified; voting against pay packages infected by short-termism would help curb the problem. But BlackRock rarely takes such a stance. From July 1, 2014, to last June 30, according to Proxy Insight, a data analysis firm, BlackRock voted to support pay practices at companies 96.2% of the time. On pay issues, anyway, Mr. Fink’s big stick is more like a wet noodle. BlackRock’s “yes” percentage runs far higher than that of other money managers that express concern about corporate responsibility. Domini Funds supported pay practices only 6% of the time during the period, while Calvert Investments did so at 46% of companies.

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As if Auckland real estate wasn’t bad enough yet.

Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)

As fund manager Mark Williams deliberated from his London office where next to invest, the world’s most remote stock market was just too good to pass up. That’s worrying locals, 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. The S&P/NZX 50 Index is the world’s best-performing developed stock gauge this year, climbing more than 7% to a record after overseas buying of equities jumped 21% in 2015. That’s driven stock valuations in the South-Pacific nation close to a record high, leaving them more expensive than anywhere else in the region. Funds from Henderson Global Investors to Liontrust Asset Management are buying into New Zealand, lured by dividends almost double the global average, rising earnings and expectations the central bank will cut interest rates to maintain growth.

Yet with a market cap of about $75 billion, smaller than the publicly traded value of Nike, opportunities are becoming more limited, says Matthew Goodson, an Auckland-based investor. “We’ve seen significant offshore inflows into larger-cap stocks and that’s driven their valuations to unusually high levels,” Goodson, who helps oversee about $1 billion at Salt Funds Management, said by phone. “It’s swamped the market and it leaves them very vulnerable. We’re somewhat nervous.” Foreigners now own about one third of New Zealand’s market, about three times the overseas ownership of U.S. equities, according to estimates from brokerage JBWere. Mark Williams, a money manager at Liontrust, is optimistic, given he expects the nation’s central bank will cut its key interest rate from an already record-low 2.25%.

While New Zealand accounts for less than 0.1% of the MSCI All Country World Index, Williams said he has 4.5% of his fund invested in the country. He bought Spark New Zealand and Fletcher Building in March, attracted by dividend yields of more than 5%. Spark, a communications provider, is the largest member by weighting of the S&P/NZX 50 gauge. “We find plenty of opportunities in New Zealand,” Williams, who helps manage $6.7 billion running an Asian equity-income fund at Liontrust, said by phone from London. “Interest rates remain relatively high, so that could lead to further cuts.”

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This author gets it spectacularly wrong.

Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)

The Tata Steel sale has revived the battle between protectionists and free traders, a debate that became particularly acute in the run-up to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, which marked the success of “free traders” all around the world. In the protectionist camp, there is now a wide range of political parties from the extreme left to the extreme right: from Syriza to Ukip, from the Front National to Podemos. The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.

The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are. My children, for example, know more about startup products released for crowdfunding around the world than about what is sold in shops in our high street; they respond to fashions that are created thousands of miles away; and they expect products to reach them almost instantaneously, no matter where they are made. Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting those trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.

Companies are rightly responding as quickly as possible to those new demands and, as a result, we are witnessing a level of international outsourcing that we could never have imagined. “Made in” labels mean little nowadays: companies based in the west often have their production plants elsewhere and use components sourced from third countries; and are financed by investors in yet other countries. If that were not complex enough, when countries impose trade barriers and erect controls, companies simply move overnight. Regulators and governments often do not stand a chance. That does not mean regulators should let modern trade become the Wild West. But it means they need to have the flexibility and tools to react better and faster.

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Banks create money out of nothing. They’re not intermediaries.

Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)

I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute.

But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”: Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing. I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfill their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is.

Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of. The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring.

I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation: Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation. In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. (see Figure 1). The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.

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Time for Trump?!

Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated.

In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot. “It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation. President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks. Saudi officials have long denied that the kingdom had any role in the Sept. 11 plot, and the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”

But critics have noted that the commission’s narrow wording left open the possibility that less senior officials or parts of the Saudi government could have played a role. Suspicions have lingered, partly because of the conclusions of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks that cited some evidence that Saudi officials living in the United States at the time had a hand in the plot. Those conclusions, contained in 28 pages of the report, still have not been released publicly. The dispute comes as bipartisan criticism is growing in Congress about Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, for decades a crucial American ally in the Middle East and half of a partnership that once received little scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, two senators introduced a resolution that would put restrictions on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which have expanded during the Obama administration.

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French protests have been going on for a while. Not sure Yanis should desire a role in this.

Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Saturday addressed opponents of the French government’s workplace reforms at a protest in Paris, telling them the planned changes would “devalue labor.” “He (French President Francois Hollande) wants to devalue French labor… it can’t work,” Varoufakis told protesters as he paid a visit to the latest “Nuit Debout” (Up All Night) gathering at the city’s vast Place de la Republique. “Devaluing French labor can only deepen the crisis… I’m bringing to you solidarity from Athens,” he told the crowd. The labor reforms of France’s Socialist government aim to make it easier for struggling companies to fire people.

The government says they will make France’s rigid labor market more flexible but opponents say the reforms are too pro-business and will fail to reduce the 25% jobless rate among the young. Hundreds, at times thousands, of people have been demonstrating every night for the past two weeks at the Place de la Republique in central Paris. The labor reforms are a unifying theme of the gatherings but the so-called “Nuit Debout” movement is broader, embracing a range of anti-establishment grievances. The nightly protests have been marred by sporadic violence. The latest clashes erupted late Friday when, according to police, some 100 protesters set rubbish on fire and threw bottles and stones at officers, who responded with tear gas. Twenty-two people were arrested. The “Nuit Debout” demonstrations have spread to cities across France, becoming a major headache for the government.

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I still can’t muster much enthousiasm about this. He should have used much harsher words. There are still 3,000 people locked up there, including many children.

Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

Pope Francis made an emotional visit to the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday, plucking 12 Syrian refugees to take back to Rome with him and draw attention to what he called Europe’s most serious humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Francis, who has made migration a defining issue of his papacy, visited a refugee center as he appealed to the international community to deal with the migrants crisis as a humanitarian catastrophe. The pope said there was “reason to weep” on his visit to the refugees, and he brushed aside any political reasons for his invitation to have three families from Syria, 12 people including six children, accompany him on the flight home. “It is a purely humanitarian thing,” he told reporters on his chartered plane.

The Vatican will take financial responsibility for the families and an organization of volunteers, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, will initially host the groups, according to a statement. During the five-hour visit to Lesbos, the pontiff visited a refugee center with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, and was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He also criticized the use of walls to keep migrants out. “In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to conflicts,” Francis said in a speech at the port of Lesbos.

The visit was made days after migrants to Greece started being sent back to Turkey under a European Union agreement that has been criticized by the Vatican and denounced by human rights groups as impractical and legally suspect. Lesbos has become a repository for migrants seeking a better life in the EU: there were 3,560 refugees on the island as of Wednesday morning with more arriving each day, according to a daily tally issued by the Greek authorities. As he began the journey to Greece, the pope told reporters on his flight that the trip is marked by sadness. “This is important. It is a sad trip,” he said. “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such,” the pontiff said through his Twitter account.

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Apr 092016
 
 April 9, 2016  Posted by at 10:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Wyland Stanley Pedestrians ascending steep grade, San Francisco 1935

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)
The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)
Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)
Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)
Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)
The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)
Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)
China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)
Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)
Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)
Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)
5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Demonstrations as we speak in London for Cameron to stand down. He will release tax files instead. But will that stem the protests?!

David Cameron’s Gift To The World: Trickle-Down Tax-Dodging (G.)

An intriguing approach to damage limitation by Panama prat David Cameron, particularly considering the prime minister’s only real life job ever was as a PR. The prime minister appears to have been the last person to realise what everyone else in Westminster could see on Monday. Namely, that he’d be sitting down for an awkward tell-all – or at least a tell-some – by Thursday. My absolute favourite tale from Cameron’s era as press chief for the culturocidal Carlton Television comes courtesy of the Guardian’s then media correspondent, who rang him up on a story. Like all mediocre PRs, a large part of his strategy was ignoring calls, but having accidentally answered this one he was cornered – and consequently pretended to be his own cleaner. “I can’t prove it was him,” the journalist reflected later, “but it certainly sounded a lot like him.”

Well, he does have that central casting cleaner’s voice, so perhaps we ought to leave the case file open. Even so, for the journalists who recall the barefaced whoppers Cameron was able to tell them back in those days, this week has not been an occasion to break out the smelling salts. “I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not,” Cameron claimed to Robert Peston in his belated confession. What about a cleaner? Or a football fan? Evidently the PM judged it the wrong moment to bring up either impersonations of the help, or Aston Villa. Or, indeed, West Ham. Still, at some point, Fortune was always going to collect on the deal Cameron foolishly made when he called the comedian Jimmy Carr’s (also legal) tax arrangements “morally wrong”. Showbiz now joins football on the list of things upon which he ought never to comment again.

Explaining to Peston that “my dad was a man I love and miss every day”, Cameron admitted that he and his wife had in fact invested in Ian Cameron’s offshore firm Blairmore in 1997, then sold their stake in 2010 for “something like £30,000”. That Cameron’s shifty cover-up has been more damaging than his non-crime is almost too insultingly obvious to state. He will not be assisted by the subconscious dismissiveness in that styling – “something like £30,000”. There is a fine line between fastidious precision and sounding like something north of the average British salary is rather forgettable, and the PM fell on the wrong side of it.

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Cameron as PM now guarantees a Brexit vote. But who to replace him? Can’t be Osborne.

The Brexit Nightmare Is Becoming Reality (G.)

[..] Three years ago Cameron put the future of the UK – and even its territorial integrity (think Scotland) – at stake by setting off towards an in-out referendum on the EU as a way of managing his own party. It is obvious he has failed to put internal Tory dissent to rest. That Boris Johnson has sided with leave brings to mind how in 2005 Laurent Fabius, one of France’s socialist heavyweights, opted for no against his own party’s leadership in the referendum campaign on the EU constitution. That led to disastrous results – despite a majority of the French media calling for a yes vote. In Britain the media has long been Eurosceptic. Even the BBC seems hesitant these days. The Daily Telegraph describes the EU as either a threatening entity for Britain, or too weak an institution to protect it.

And long gone are the days when authoritative European voices could reach out to British voters in a convincing manner – as when Jacques Delors singlehandedly swayed the British left towards a pro-European position in 1988. The French president, François Hollande, is dismally weak, and Angela Merkel is less politically sturdy than she once was. Populist movements whose leaders believe they stand to benefit from a British exit are on the rise across the continent. The deeper phenomenon at work is a wider one. British society suffers from an identity crisis not unlike those that have hit other western countries in the wake of globalisation and the 2008 financial crisis. Fragmentation is spreading everywhere as nations become more inward-looking and worried about how the world is changing.

In the British case this general sense of disarray now has the opportunity to express itself in a referendum. Britain’s image has often been associated with common decency, sober assessment and cool-headedness. But this is an age of extremes when moderate voices are fast drowned out by radical slogans. Of course, Cassandras have been wrong before about the European project. The eurozone has held together. Grexit didn’t happen. Merkel may be weaker, but she has not lost power. Yet it would be foolish not to see that the omens for Britain remaining in the EU are very poor. But does anyone care? If they do, they need to wake up now and shout stop.

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Curious: in defense of tax evaders, saying that they pay so much tax.

Swiss Finance Minister Offers Defense For Rich Caught Up In Panama Papers (R.)

Switzerland’s finance minister has defended the use of offshore companies by the world’s wealthy to cut their tax bills, now under scrutiny after publication of the “Panama Papers”. “You have to create these opportunities,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), told Swiss newspaper Blick in an interview published on Friday. “Rich people pay a lot more tax than me,” said Maurer. “I am not rich – and without the rich I would have to pay more tax.” Four decades of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies and has offices in Zurich and Geneva, showed widespread use of those instruments by global banks and triggered investigations around the world.

Maurer’s comments were not echoed by the head of Switzerland’s financial watchdog Mark Branson on Thursday. He said the country’s banks must clamp down on money laundering in the wake of the Panama Papers. The Geneva prosecutor has also opened a criminal inquiry in connection with the millions of documents leaked to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. They then became part of a broader investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Switzerland is the world’s biggest international wealth management center with around $2.5 trillion in assets and has taken on more wealth of late from emerging markets, from which it is harder determine the origin of assets, Branson said.

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Iceland is all of us, on a more practical scale.

Tax Scandal Reheats Iceland Politics (FT)

In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland – one of its unlikely epicentres – has recovered far better than most. It is enjoying robust economic growth, low income inequality and a 4 per cent unemployment rate that would make southern Europe’s lost generation salivate. So why are so many Icelanders now trying to topple their government, hurling eggs, Skyr yoghurt and even fish heads at the parliament? The immediate answer is buried within the Panama Papers of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, which this week revealed prime minister Sigurdur David Gunnlaugsson’s links with an offshore company. In so doing, they prompted protests that rocked Reykjavik and eventually forced Mr Gunnlaugsson’s resignation.

Yet the episode has also laid bare the deep divisions and unresolved anger still festering beneath the subarctic island’s social surface since the 2008 crisis. The politics that have flowed from it are all the more intimate on an island of just 330,000 souls. There are two nations in this country, the ones who own everything… and the rest of us, said Kristjan Saevald, a 28-year-old graphic designer and keen participant in demonstrations outside Iceland’s parliament and presidential residence. “We are sick of it. It’s not just a change of government we want, it’s a change of the system,” Mr Saevald said. For him and others who feel that the pain of Iceland’s rebuilding has not been shared equally, the ruling coalition’s replacement of Mr Gunnlaugsson with his fisheries minister, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, is unlikely to assuage their anger.

Just minutes after Mr Johannsson’s appointment, Asdis Thoroddsen, a tour guide and film-maker, stood in a chill wind outside Iceland’s presidential residence on a spit of coastal land near Reykjavik to show the new prime minister a symbolic red card. Ms Thoroddsen accused Mr Johannsson’s Progressives and his coalition partner, the Independence party, of presiding over a longstanding political system of patronage and state favour. “The cronyism here is very deep rooted and very hard to get rid of,” she said. Iceland’s ills were papered over by the extraordinary boom that preceded the last crisis, when a fishing-dominated economy suddenly became a global banking hub — sucking in foreign money with promises of high returns. Its citizens suddenly enjoyed among the world’s highest per-capita GDP.

Of course, the country’s overly-leveraged banks ended up crashing in spectacular fashion. This week’s demonstrations have echoed Iceland’s 2009 “pots and pans revolution”, when large crowds bashing kitchen utensils together to make more noise besieged parliament in fury and eventually forced then Independence party-led government to resign.

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One delusion fights the other.

Germany Takes Aim at the European Central Bank (Spiegel)

There was a time when the German chancellor and the head of the ECB had nice things to say about each other. Mario Draghi spoke of a “good working relationship,” while Angela Merkel noted “broad agreement.” Draghi, said Merkel, is extremely supportive “when it comes to European competitiveness.” These days, though, meetings between the two most powerful politicians in the euro zone are often no different than their face-to-face at the most recent summit in Brussels. She observed that his forced policy of cheap money is endangering the business model of Germany’s Sparkassen savings banks and retirement insurance companies. He snarled back that the sectors would simply have to adapt, just as the American financial sector has. The alienation between Germany and the ECB has reached a new level.

Back in deutsche mark times, Europeans often joked that the Germans “may not believe in God, but they believe in the Bundesbank,” as Germany’s central bank is called. Today, though, when it comes to relations between the ECB and the German population, people are more likely to speak of “parallel universes.” ECB head Draghi doesn’t understand why he is getting so much resistance from the country that has profited from the euro more than any other. Yet Germans blame Draghi for miniscule yields on savings accounts and life/retirement insurance policies. Frustration is growing. Draghi has pushed the prime rate down to zero and now even charges commercial banks a fee for parking their money at the ECB. He has also bought almost €2 trillion worth of bonds from euro-zone member states, making the ECB one of the largest state creditors of all time.

During his most recent appearance before the Frankfurt reporter pool, he went even further. The idea of pumping money directly into the economy, he said, was a “very interesting concept,” with a helicopter to distribute the money across the country if necessary, as economists have half-jokingly recommended. Doing so is seen as a way of boosting the economy. German money being thrown out of a helicopter: It would be difficult to find a more fitting image to show people that the money they have set aside for retirement may soon be worth very little. The criticism of Draghi had already been significant, but his public ruminations about so-called “helicopter money” have magnified it to extreme levels.

Even economists that tend to back the ECB, such as Peter Bofinger, who is one of Merkel’s economic advisors, are now accusing Draghi of constantly “pulling new rabbits out of the hat.” Leading representatives of the banking and insurance sectors are openly speaking of legal violations. And strategists within Merkel’s governing coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), are concerned that Draghi is handing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) yet another issue where they can score points with the voters. There is hardly any other issue that enrages Germans at town meetings and political party conventions as much as the disappearance of their savings due to the “unconventional measures” adopted by the ECB in Frankfurt.

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“..laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will..”

The Eurodollar As An Economic No-Man’s Land (Kaminska)

What’s the euro really? The collective currency of sovereigns subscribed to the European monetary system? Or an international bridging platform — a no man’s land if you will — for laissez-faire market experimentation intended to prove a fundamental point about the capacity of free markets to organise the economy without the necessary subjugation of free will? The euro-zone, we propose, is not what it seems. And if we see it as something it’s not, it’s mainly because we’ve forgotten the history which made it the thing it is today. That though is the story of the rise and dominance of European-brokered international capital markets from the 1960s onwards, a system itself predicated on the rise of the no-man’s land neutral security: Eurodollars. Euromoney. Eurocurrency. Eurobonds. Eurosecurities.

But also… Offshore arrangements. Through this particular looking glass, offshore doesn’t stand for a safe haven loophole which allows the elite to escape their social duties and obligations. It stands for something entirely different. A honey trap designed to lure capital away from outrageous spending in the consumption markets today, and over to the funding of much riskier development in territories or classes yet to be assimilated to westernised cultural norms. It also provides a neutral territory or common ground were capital can be ranked pari passu irrespective of where it’s come from, for the good of international agreement, trade and neutrality. Hence why the likes of James Quarmby, a wealth structuring expert at law firm Stephenson Harwood, argue the offshore system is the essential “grease on the wheels in international trade”.

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Let the price wars begin.

Iran Steps Up Offense in Oil Market War With Price Discount (BBG)

Iran ratcheted up its offense in the oil market after breaking a pricing tradition, signaling it’s seeking to win market share at a time when rival producers are trying to forge a deal on freezing output. State-run National Iranian Oil Co. will sell the Forozan Blend crude for May to Asia below the level offered by rival Saudi Aramco for Arab Medium, the third month the Persian Gulf state is giving the discount after setting it at a premium for almost seven years through February 2016, data compiled by Bloomberg show. NIOC will also sell the Iranian Light grade to Asian customers at 60 cents below Middle East benchmark prices, a company official said on Friday, asking not to be identified because of internal policy.

While producers including Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest member, and Russia are due to meet in Doha on April 17 to discuss a deal to freeze output in a step toward clearing a global glut, Iran is determined to regain market share lost over the past few years due to sanctions over its nuclear program. To pry away customers relishing oil that is cheaper than mid-2014 levels by more than 50 percent, the Persian Gulf state is expected to focus on pricing and boosting supply. “Unquestionably, since the lifting of sanctions, the Iranians have become a force to be reckoned with in global oil markets,” said John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services Pte, who has spent more than 30 years trading crude and petroleum in Singapore. “Their mission is to recapture market share, pure and simple.”

NIOC will sell the Forozan Blend in May for Asian customers at $2.43 a barrel below the average of the Oman and Dubai benchmark grades, according to the company official. That’s 3 cents lower than state-run Saudi Aramco’s price for the similar Arab Medium variety for a third month, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Forozan was at a premium of 7 cents to the Saudi oil for February sales. The Iranian Heavy grade will sell in May to Asia at a discount of $2.60 a barrel to the Oman-Dubai average while the Soroosh variety’s price was set at $5.65 a barrel below Iranian Heavy, according to the official.

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How about that consumer society, though?!

China’s Robot Army Set To Surge (FT)

China’s uptake of industrial robots is set to rise rapidly in the coming years as higher labour costs and the heightened aspirations of workers push manufacturers to embrace automation. The development may add to fears that workers in poorer countries are most in danger of being displaced by automation, with analysis by Citi and the Oxford Martin School, a research and policy unit of the UK university, published earlier this year suggesting that more than 75% of jobs in China are at a “high risk” of computerisation. Mirae Asset Management, an Asia-focused house with $75bn of assets, predicts that China’s robot army will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 35% until 2020.

Given that the International Federation of Robotics estimates that China had 260,000 industrial robots last year, Rahul Chadha, chief investment officer of Mirae, says: “Using the rule thumb that one industrial robot replaces four to five workers, this suggests that robots have rendered more than 1m people jobless.” This figure is set to rise sharply in the coming years. As the first chart shows, the number of robots per 1,000 employees in China, as of 2013, was just 30% of the level in North America, 11% of the German figure, 9% of Japan’s tally and 7% of that in South Korea. Mirae argues that China’s use of robots is tracing the path blazed by Japan a quarter of a century ago, and still has several years of rapid expansion ahead of it, as the second chart shows.

This concurs with forecasts from the IFR, which says China acquired 57,000 robots in 2014 but is likely to be buying 150,000 a year by 2018. Mr Chadha, who calculates that robots will replace around 3.5m Chinese workers over the next five years, says: “The message that comes from the leadership is on improving productivity via automation. They are paranoid about doing things quickly, they believe they have got to because their competitors will do the same. “When I meet companies on the ground, they say ‘the demand environment is not great, what we can do is improve our processes, improve our productivity’.”

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Shadow banking.

Shanghai Wealth Management Firm Crashes To Earth As Executives Arrested (R.)

Zhongjin Capital Management made a splash in the past couple of years in Shanghai. The wealth management firm’s imposing branch office on Shanghai’s historic Bund pulled in many eager investors seeking the double-digit returns it promised on short-term financing products. It had a big profile, sponsoring popular Shanghai TV dating program “Saturday Date” and signed up domestic billiards star Pan Xiaoting as a spokesperson. But this week, the image of riches and success that it had cultivated came crashing down. Police said they arrested 21 executives linked to Zhongjin Capital on April 5 on suspicion of “illegal fundraising,” a loosely defined term applied to irregular behavior in China’s energetic but opaque shadow banking sector.

The only person named by Shanghai police so far has been top executive Xu Qin, who local media said had been arrested at the Shanghai airport on his way to get married in the Vatican. Xu has been described by domestic media as a high roller, who is under 30 years of age. Chen Jiajing, the 29-year-old chairwoman of Zhongjin’s parent Guotai Investment Holdings, cannot be located. Public statements issued this week by two Hong Kong-listed companies in which Guotai is a major stakeholder indicated they had been unable to reach her. Zhongjin employees told Reuters that other senior managers had been arrested during a raid on company offices. They were interrogated, allowed to use the bathroom only if they had a police escort, then hauled off, the staff said.

Calls to Zhongjin and Guotai headquarters in Shanghai went unanswered. Both company websites were inaccessible on Friday. The authorities did not provide further information about the case, and what the investigation’s focus is. “The really strange part was that our business hit a new all-time high on April 5, but the next day the offices were closed,” one employee who gave her name as Jiang said in a phone interview, adding that investors had been paid off on schedule the day prior to the arrests, but were unable to withdraw funds that were scheduled to mature on April 6. “The victims are the small investors and the low-level employees. We all got our friends and family to invest in the company’s products,” she said.

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Playing God.

Melting Ice Sheets Change The Way The Earth Wobbles On Its Axis (AP)

Global warming is changing the way the Earth wobbles on its polar axis, a new Nasa study has found. Melting ice sheets, especially in Greenland, are changing the distribution of weight on Earth. And that has caused both the North Pole and the wobble, which is called polar motion, to change course, according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances. Scientists and navigators have been accurately measuring the true pole and polar motion since 1899, and for almost the entire 20th century they migrated a bit toward Canada. But that has changed with this century, and now it’s moving toward England, according to study lead author Surendra Adhikari at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “The recent shift from the 20th-century direction is very dramatic,” Adhikari said.

While scientists say the shift is harmless, it is meaningful. Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona, who wasn’t part of the study, said that “this highlights how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet.” Since 2003, Greenland has lost on average more than 272 trillion kilograms of ice a year, and that affects the way the Earth wobbles in a manner similar to a figure skater lifting one leg while spinning, said Nasa scientist Eirk Ivins, the study’s co-author. On top of that, West Antarctica loses 124 trillion kgs of ice and East Antarctica gains about 74 trillion kgs of ice yearly, helping tilt the wobble further, Ivins said. They all combine to pull polar motion toward the east, Adhikari said.

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“Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show..”

Weaknesses Emerge in EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Spiegel)

When the Greek authorities announced last week that they were unable to carry out additional mass deportations because some migrants had suddenly disappeared, they were referring to people like Mohammed. Just as quickly as the deportations had begun, they came to a halt. In the dawn hours on Monday, the EU began implementing the refugee deal it recently reached with Turkey. At least that’s the way things looked. That day, 202 migrants were deported from Lesbos and Chios to Dikili in Turkey. The action was intended to show that the major exchange of refugees had begun. The same day, Syrian refugees arrived in Germany legally on flights from Turkey. By the middle of the week, no more refugees were arriving on the Greek islands. The message appeared to be getting across.

So was the deal working? The short answer is: No. “Perhaps we should wait and see a bit longer,” Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy Greek defense minister responsible for addressing the refugee crisis, says. He says the weather may have played a part and that he doesn’t want to draw premature conclusions. “But the numbers do show that something is working.” But what? Is it the deal with Turkey or the PR machinery that has accompanied it? The deportations that took place on Monday aren’t very telling in terms of whether the mechanism will ultimately work or not. The EU had set April 4 as the day of implementation because it wanted to finally show that it could produce results. The overly hasty operation had one aim: that of sending a strong message.

What went unnoticed by most, though, is that the people sent back to Turkey from Lesbos and Chios on Monday were exclusively migrants who had wanted to continue their journey to Northern Europe and had not submitted applications for asylum in Greece. But Greece had already had the ability to deport these “illegal” migrants to Turkey since 2002 within the scope of a so-called readmission agreement that both countries had agreed to. So the new deal hadn’t even been necessary for the deportations to happen. “Monday was an expensive, but meaningless show,” says Angeliki Dimitriadi, a visiting researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “Now the truly delicate work begins.”

Of the more than 3,000 migrants who are still on Lesbos, almost all have since submitted asylum applications. They hope that doing so will enable them to prevent being deported. The refugees are assuming that it will take weeks or months to process their applications. With the submission of the applications, the Greek government no longer has the right to automatically deport them; the country is legally obligated to review every application. Refugees who have applied can only be deported once asylum status has been rejected. The worry now is that thousands of people may be stuck on the island for months to come without any certainty.

Things will get more difficult when Greece soon begins rejecting Syrian refugees as planned and sending them back to Turkey. At that point, a complicated legal dispute is expected to ensue. First, it remains questionable whether Greece will be capable of carrying out the asylum procedures within only a matter of days as planned. The country lacks both money and the necessary personnel. The Greek asylum agency currently has only 295 employees at its disposal across the entire country. It often takes months if not years before decisions are made.

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And the beat goes on..

5 Refugees Drown Off Greek Island Of Samos In Aegean (AP)

Greece’s coast guard says at least five refugees have drowned in the eastern Aegean Sea after a small plastic boat capsized. The five victims, four women and a child, were found around dawn Saturday northeast of the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish coast. A coast guard spokeswoman says there were also five survivors: two women, two men and a child. The spokeswoman spoke on customary condition of anonymity. She says the coast guard has no information about the ages and nationalities of the refugees or the children’s gender. The survivors, who are in a state of shock, told authorities a total of 11 people were aboard the 3.5-meter boat.

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