Dec 052017
 
 December 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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The Kennedies

 

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)
This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)
What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)
Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)
This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)
Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)
Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)
White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)
Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)
China, the Digital Giant (PS)
Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)
Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)
The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

 

 

It’s all fraud, and none of it is persecuted: “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail..”

“Operating out of small, cramped offices, often in residential blocks, loan agents “re-package” – or falsify documents for mortgage applications. “Around 60% of property buyers in Shanghai are involved in some kind of re-packaging..”

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)

[..] across China, unqualified borrowers use fake documents to secure mortgages, while loans deceptively obtained for other purposes are funnelled into property. These frauds are often committed with the consent and encouragement of other parties to the transactions, including lending brokers, property agents, valuation companies and the banks themselves. And these alleged crimes are rarely punished. Hu Weigang, a senior partner at Guangdong Shen Dadi Law Firm, would like to see the law enforced on the mainland as it is in Hong Kong, where creating a bogus document can lead to jail. But, he acknowledges, the scale of this cheating makes it virtually impossible. “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail,” says Hu, who specializes in real estate litigation.

While property prices in China continue to rise, mortgage fraud remains largely a hidden danger, much as subprime loans in the United States remained mostly out of sight ahead of the 2008 global financial crisis. The fear is that in a property correction, fraudulent mortgages would unravel, accelerating a collapse of housing prices in the world’s second biggest economy. This, in turn, would imperil China’s debt-laden financial system. The danger from gravity-defying home prices is clear to the ruling Communist Party. In his marathon speech at the 19th Party Congress in October, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned about the overheated property market. “Houses are built to be lived in, not for speculation,” he said. Top bank officials are also worried. Xu Zhong, head of the research bureau at the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, sees pitfalls ahead.

“We must be very aware that rapidly rising housing prices could not only hamper our economic development, but could easily result in systemic risks and negatively impact the macroeconomy..” The motive for widespread mortgage fraud is simple: fear of missing out. Millions of homeowners are enjoying the sensation of ever-expanding wealth. The average value of residential housing in China more than tripled between 2000 and 2015 as a huge property market emerged from the early decades of economic reforms. So far, China’s new home-owning class has yet to experience a sustained downturn in housing values. Official data showed prices grew 12.4% in 2016, the fastest rate since 2011. A report tracking home price trends by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state think tank, showed prices in 33 major cities soared 42% in 2016. Private estimates and anecdotal evidence suggest prices in most big Chinese cities actually doubled or tripled since late 2015.

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Look at them bubbles…

This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)

“Market bubbles have NOTHING to do with valuations or fundamentals.” [..] Stock market bubbles are driven by speculation, greed, and emotional biases – therefore valuations and fundamentals are simply a reflection of those emotions. In other words, bubbles can exist even at times when valuations and fundamentals might argue otherwise. Let me show you a very basic example of what I mean. The chart below is the long-term valuation of the S&P 500 going back to 1871.

The pattern of bubbles is interesting because it changes the argument from a fundamental view to a technical view. Prices reflect the psychology of the market which can create a feedback loop between the markets and fundamentals. This pattern of bubbles can be clearly seen at every bull market peak in history. The chart below utilizes Dr. Robert Shiller’s stock market data going back to 1900 on an inflation-adjusted basis with an overlay of the asymmetrical bubble shape.

There is currently a strong belief that the financial markets are not in a bubble. The arguments supporting those beliefs are all based on comparisons to past market bubbles. The inherent problem with much of the mainstream analysis is that it assumes everything remains status quo. However, the question becomes what can go wrong for the market? In a word, “much.” Economic growth remains very elusive, corporate profits appear to have peaked, and there is an overwhelming complacency with regards to risk. Those ingredients combined with an extraction of liquidity by the Federal Reserve leaves the markets more vulnerable to an exogenous event than currently believed.

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I can hear the protests from here…

What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)

2017 was an unusual year where financial conditions actually eased despite the Federal Reserve raising rates. The financial tightness in 2015 and 2016 was catalyzed by weakness in the energy market. With the help of central banks, as we have previously stated, the economy narrowly avoided a recession. It’s still remarkable to see how much financial conditions have eased since. According to the Taylor Rule, financial conditions are the easiest since 1970. The Chicago Fed’s net financial conditions index has financial conditions the easiest since 1993.


Chicago Fed- Financial Conditions Index

This explains why GDP growth was above 3% in Q2 and Q3 2017 for the first time since 2004-2005. It also explains why stock volatility has been very low; the S&P 500 has been up for 13 straight months which is the longest streak since at least 1928 (the index was created in 1923). With low interest rates and easy financial conditions, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen intense speculation in bitcoin. The cryptocurrency space has had other years with great performance, but the break out in 2017 is partially a result of the easy monetary environment. As you can see, the financial conditions in the 1990s and in the past year have both been very loose. The economic expansions were both elongated which further increases speculation as traders forget what a recession is. The chart below compares bitcoin’s rally since 2016 with other bubbles.

As you can see, Qualcomm’s performance in the 1990s is like bitcoin’s rally. This is a great analogy because Qualcomm saw its stock collapse in the dot com bust, but it has had a viable business model recently, making the Snapdragon chips in smartphones. The tech bubble was based on optimism which ended up being realized with the expansion of the mobile internet. However, the tech bubble witnessed exaggerated valuations, much like cryptocurrencies are experiencing today. Most of the blockchain startups today will fail like Pets.com did in the 1990s. However, blockchain technology in the future will likely become as synonymous with daily life as the internet is today.

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And more protests. Lots of older economists speak out against bitcoin.

Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

With the price of bitcoin moving toward $12,000, a top economist on Tuesday sent a stark warning to investors: The cryptocurrency is in a “dangerous speculative bubble.” “This is a toxic concept for investors,” said Stephen Roach, Yale University senior fellow and the former Asia chairman and chief economist at investment bank Morgan Stanley. Roach, described by Yale as one of Wall Street’s most influential economists, spent the bulk of his 30-year career at Morgan Stanley heading up a highly regarded team of economists around the world. He had a critical take on the explosion of buying the world’s most popular cryptocurrency. “This is a dangerous speculative bubble by any shadow or stretch of the imagination,” he told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” “I’ve never seen a chart of a security where the price really has a vertical pattern to it. And bitcoin is the most vertical of any pattern I’ve ever seen in my career,” he added.

Bitcoin has surged more than 1,000% this year, accelerated by rising interest from retail and institutional investors who view the digital currency as a possible future means of exchange and store of value. Major exchanges like the CME and CBOE have also legitimized the currency’s investment credentials by saying they plan to introduce futures contracts to their respective exchanges, likely further supporting the price. Roach suggested that exchange legitimization makes bitcoin “somewhat dangerous” for investors, given what he described as a “lack of intrinsic underlying economic value to the concept.” Many investors admit to not understanding the technicalities of the instrument or the blockchain technology that underpins its existence, hoping instead to profit on the expectation that bitcoin as an investment will simply continue to rise. “Like all bubbles, they burst,” Roach said. “They go down, and the one who’s made the last investment gets hurt the most, there’s no question about it.”

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But the Troika demands 3.5% surpluses! “My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.”

The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)

This is the final part of my four-part discussion of a so-called progressive proposal advanced by German academic Fritz Sharpf to reform the Eurozone into two tiers: a ‘Northern’ hard currency tier and a ‘Southern’ non-euro tier with the latter nations tying their currencies to the euro. We have seen that rather than providing a framework for convergence between the current Eurozone Member States, Sharpfs’ proposal would not liberate the weaker nations from the yoke of the euro, In fact, the proposal would just tie the exiting nations to the euro in a slightly different way – one that will not provide sufficient flexibility to make much difference.

In questioning the current orthodoxy, Sharpf also notes that if the ECB strictly behaved within the Maastricht rules then the need for even more aggressive internal devaluation would be required as the “sanctions would be inflicted by anonymous market forces”. That is, the Member States currently in trouble would soon go broke as they would have trouble raising funds from the bond markets at acceptable yields, given they do not issue their own currencies. In this context, Sharpf concludes that: “It is hard to see why Southern governments, after all the sacrifices that they have already been forced to make under the present regime, should opt for an alternative that would not loosen economic constraints but remove the present protections against state insolvency.” The same might be said of his Proposal 2.

Why would the Southern states, who would be forced to exit under his plan, not then fully exploit their new found currency capacities to improve domestic demand conditions immediately, which would then, after a while push their external balances into deficit, and once there was sufficient volumes of their own currency in the system, place downward pressure on their exchange rates? Greece only has a current account close to balance because the enduring Depression has killed import growth. Turn the growth back on and they will soon be back in deficit. As I noted in Part 1, the real exchange rate data shows that despite the painful internal devaluation that has been imposed on many Eurozone nations, only Ireland has improved its international competitiveness against Germany.

I also cannot see the ECB agreeing to unconditionally provide euro and other foreign currency reserves to the exiting nations who are running their fiscal policy outside the parameters of the Northern states. Can you imagine Germany, which proudly runs fiscal surpluses while its major transport network is falling apart (bridges etc) tolerating Greece running the fiscal deficits it needs to restore some sense of prosperity? While Germany sits on current account surpluses of around 7-8% and thus creating massive imbalances within the Eurozone, they lecture everyone else about fiscal rectitude. My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.

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More entertainment.

This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)

Is this it? The moment when the May premiership is over? Could Corbyn end up taking power in a matter of weeks? It’s at least possible, though I concede it sounds far-fetched at first. In history, some British Prime Ministers have had their premierships wrecked by the “Irish Question”. Others, in more recent times, have been destroyed by Europe. Theresa May is unique in managing to combine both famously intractable and insoluble issues into one lethal cocktail. And so, it seems she is about to swallow the poison. Her premiership may be even shorter than many anticipated, and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could be a fact of British life by the time the snows melt next year. Here’s how.

From what we can discern, the Government is perfectly happy to concede “special status” for Northern Ireland / Ireland in the Brexit talks – anathema to the Ulster Unionists. This is because the Government desperately needs to get onto the second phase of the process – the trade talks for the whole UK – and MPs, without being too crude about it, are happy to sign whatever the EU sticks under their nose and worry about the consequences later. In the end, they will risk their support from the DUP to get moving on Brexit. Jobs (Tory MPs’ included) are at stake. After all, ministers such as David Davis always say that “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed”, so having now ratted on the Democratic Unionists, they can, in due course, re-rat on the Irish and the EU, after a trade deal is sorted out.

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This looks very amateurish. And everybody knows.

Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy is in disarray after the Irish Prime Minister dramatically accused her of reneging on an agreement that would have ended the deadlock in the talks. On a day of drama, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on a deal on the Irish border after it was rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party which props her up in power – triggering claims she is being “held to ransom”. The embarrassment left Ms May scrambling to arrange crisis talks with the DUP before she heads back to Brussels later this week, with the clock ticking on the negotiations. EU leaders have demanded she guarantee there will no hard land border in Ireland before a summit next week, if the talks are to move on to discussing future trade and a transitional deal.

The unravelling of the deal also left many Conservatives questioning Ms May’s handling of the talks, amid disbelief that the DUP had not been squared off in advance. The talks broke down after Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, ruled out any move “which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom”. “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said, speaking at Stormont. The party – despite being the Tories’ partner in government – appeared to be blindsided by the UK’s apparent concession of “regulatory alignment” on both sides of the border, to avoid checks. Within 20 minutes, Ms May interrupted her talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, to telephone Ms Foster. When she went back to the lunch, the deal was off.

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“By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted..”

Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)

“Are you sure we can’t fudge the Northern Ireland border issue just a little bit?” she had asked Juncker on arrival in Brussels. Juncker had sniggered. Absolutely not. What bit of “regulatory alignment” did she not get? Theresa had another go. How about we say that pigs, cheese and a few cows are allowed to wander across the border without a passport? So you’re basically giving in and accepting that Northern Ireland must stay inside the single market and the customs union, Juncker had observed. Mmm, yes and no, Theresa whispered, checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. It was like this. Regulatory divergence and regulatory alignment could almost mean exactly the same thing. It just depended which side you were looking at it from. The secret was to persuade the divergers that you weren’t aligning and the aligners you weren’t diverging by drafting something that was equally open to misinterpretation by both.

“Whatever,” Juncker had yawned. Having persuaded herself she had got a deal she could sell – to herself if no one else – Theresa set about drafting an agreement with the Irish government. As the news seeped out that an agreement had been reached, all hell broke loose. If the Northern Irish could have a special nod and a wink for pigs, the Scots must have the same exemptions for scotch. And heather. Then London started making demands. Just because it could. It had never fancied leaving the EU anyway. By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted, it dawned on the prime minister that maybe she ought to run the agreement past the DUP. Arlene Foster’s response had been unequivocal. Theresa could keep her £1bn. Any deal that didn’t make Northern Ireland exactly the same as the rest of the UK was unacceptable. No special status, no nothing. And if push came to shove, she’d bring down the UK government.

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Erik Prince and Oliver North. Yeah, those are the guys I would trust.

White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.” Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed. The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran. “I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”

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“The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years..”

Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)

According to a top Irish official, Apple has agreed to to pay Ireland around $15.4 billion in back taxes. “We have now reached agreement with Apple in relation to the principles and operation of the escrow fund,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told reporters before a meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We expect the money will begin to be transmitted into the account from Apple across the first quarter of next year.” Ireland was formally referred to the European Court of Justice after it failed to implement a 2016 order that required the island nation to collect the same amount in unpaid taxes. Over a year ago, as Ars reported, the EU’s competition chief Vestager said that a two-year investigation into so-called sweetheart tax deals in 1991 and 2007 had found Apple guilty of receiving illegal state aid from the Emerald Isle.

The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years, according to Vestager. Apple has denied any wrongdoing and has also said that it received no “special deal.” “We have a dedicated team working diligently and expeditiously with Ireland on the process the European Commission has mandated,” Apple said in a Monday statement according to UPI. “We remain confident the General Court of the EU will overturn the Commission’s decision once it has reviewed all the evidence.” Both Apple and Ireland have challenged the EU’s court order.

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Why not check this for fraud too?

China, the Digital Giant (PS)

China has firmly established itself as a global leader in consumer-oriented digital technologies. It is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for more than 40% of global transactions, and ranks among the top three countries for venture capital investment in autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI). One in three of the world’s unicorns (start-ups valued at more than $1 billion) is Chinese, and the country’s cloud providers hold the world record for computing efficiency. While China runs a trade deficit in services overall, it has lately been running a trade surplus in digital services of up to $15 billion per year. Powering China’s impressive progress in the digital economy are Internet giants like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, which are commercializing their services on a massive scale, and bringing new business models to the world.

Together, these three companies have 500-900 million active monthly users in their respective sectors. Their rise has been facilitated by light – or, perhaps more accurate, late – regulation. For example, regulators put a cap on the value of online money transfers a full 11 years after Alipay introduced the service. Now, these Internet firms are using their positions to invest in China’s digital ecosystem – and in the emerging cadre of tenacious entrepreneurs that increasingly define it. Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent together fund 30% of China’s top start-ups, such as Didi Chuxing ($50 billion), Meituan-Dianping ($30 billion), and JD.com ($56 billion). With the world’s largest domestic market and plentiful venture capital, China’s old “copy-cat” entrepreneurs have transformed themselves into innovation powerhouses.

They fought like gladiators in the world’s most competitive market, learned to develop sophisticated business models (such as Taobao’s freemium model), and built impregnable moats to protect their businesses (for example, Meituan-Dianping created an end-to-end food app, including delivery). As a result, the valuation of Chinese innovators is many times higher than that of their Western counterparts. Moreover, China leads the world in some sectors, from livestreaming (one example is Musical.ly, a lip-syncing and video-sharing app) to bicycle sharing (Mobike and Ofo exceed 50 million rides per day in China, and are now expanding abroad).

Most important, China is at the frontier of mobile payments, with more than 600 million Chinese mobile users able to conduct peer-to-peer transactions with nearly no fees. China’s mobile-payment infrastructure – which already handles far more transactions than the third-party mobile-payment market in the United States – will become a platform for many more innovations.

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Merkel is losing ground fast. First inviting refugees and then paying them to leave, what is that?

Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)

Pilots across Germany are refusing to carry out deportations of asylum seekers and have prevented at least 222 planned flights so far, the government said on Monday (4 December) Germany’s main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings halted at least 85 flights in the first eight months of this year, according to a freedom of information request obtained by the Left party. The majority of the cancellations took place at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s largest and most important transport hub. A large number of the flights were scheduled to repatriate refugees to Afghanistan, a move which has been widely condemned by human rights organisations. Earlier this year, Amnesty International called on European governments to “implement a moratorium on returns to Afghanistan until they can take place in safety and dignity”.

Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights, said that government was being “wilfully blind” to the fact that violence was at a record high in Afghanistan. Despite an increase in deportations, Germany remains the top destination for refugees in the European Union. This year, Germany has taken in more asylum seekers than all other 27 EU countries combined. In the first six months of 2017 the country processed 388,201 asylum cases, Die Welt reported, quoting statistics agency Eurostat. To try and curb the numbers, the German government is offering rejected asylum seekers up to €1000 in benefits if they voluntarily return home. Families who agree to leave are entitled to receive up to €3000. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday (3 December): “If you decide by the end of February for a voluntary return, you will get in addition to first aid, a housing aid for the first 12 months in your country of origin.”

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Tsipras has to ask Brussels (re: Merkel) for permission.

Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)

Municipal officials from the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos, which are bearing the brunt of an increased influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey, are due in Athens on Tuesday to press the government for action to ease the pressure on their local communities. The officials decided to coordinate their protests and seek a meeting with Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to speed up the transfer of migrants from the islands to mainland Greece. There are currently more than 15,000 migrants living in state-run camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. More than 15,000 have been transferred to the mainland over the past year. Of those more than 3,500 were transferred in the last month alone. But islanders say more action is needed due to growing tensions in the reception centers and among the local communities as arrivals from Turkey have increased.

Hopes that a European Union refugee relocation program could ease some of the pressure have been largely frustrated as the process is a slow one. European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has said the so-called Dublin Regulation, which dictates that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, must be reformed for pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy to ease. In a related development on Monday, a court on Lesvos indicted 16 North African migrants who participated in the occupation of a central square in Mytilene, the main port of Lesvos. Authorities on the island detained a total of 25 protesters late on Sunday but the other nine were released as they are minors. The migrants had staged the protest in a bid to press authorities to accelerate their asylum applications and their transfer to mainland Greece.

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No question there.

The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

The world’s oceans are under the greatest threat in history, according to Sir David Attenborough. The seas are a vital part of the global ecosystem, leaving the future of all life on Earth dependent on humanity’s actions, he says. Attenborough will issue the warning in the final episode of the Blue Planet 2 series, which details the damage being wreaked in seas around the globe by climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and even noise. Previous BBC nature series presented by Attenborough have sometimes been criticised for treading too lightly around humanity’s damage to the planet. But the final episode of the latest series is entirely dedicated to the issue. “For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them. But now we know that was wrong,” says Attenborough.

“It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans. [They] are under threat now as never before in human history. Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point.” Attenborough says: “Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.” BBC executives were reportedly concerned about the series appearing to become politicised and ordered a fact-check, which it passed. The series producer, Mark Brownlow, said it was impossible to overlook the harm being caused in the oceans: “We just couldn’t ignore it – it wouldn’t be a truthful portrayal of the world’s oceans. We are not out there to campaign. We are just showing it as it is and it is quite shocking.”


Strict management of the herring fishery in Norway has saved it from collapse. Herring now draw in humpback whales and orca. Photograph: Audun Rikardsen

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Dec 042017
 
 December 4, 2017  Posted by at 1:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Saul Leiter Raining on two 1957

 

First of all, let me reiterate that I don’t think Brexit is a bad thing per se. Getting rid of Brussels is at least as much of a relief as it is a headache. Moreover, Britain needed a makeover, badly, as has ironically been shown especially after the referendum. But as an outsider it is still top class theater to see it playing out. And the real high value drama hasn’t even started.

But we can already hear the orchestra changing tone, and mood, and the fat lady’s warming up her voice. To see the whole negotiating process being led and conducted by a woman who voted against initiating it in the first place is a guaranteed added bonus. Not sure Shakespeare would have found it a credible plotline, but there you go.

It’s much less amusing to see that poverty in Britain is soaring and a fifth of the population is now poor, including an additional 400,000 children in the past 5 years. But that is a strong indicator of how much of a failed state the country has become, and it makes the Brexit vote outcome that much easier to explain. Still, whether the vote had been Leave or Remain, the real damage had been done long before.

The people doing the negotiations are to a large extent accountable for that damage, they’re all Tories from the Cameron era, and Tony Blair, who’s just as much to blame, is speaking up again as well. The Brexit mess thus functions to expose the abject failure of the entire British political system as much as Donald Trump’s ascent to the US presidency does in America.

It’s now just a matter of learning the right lessons from these events. And that is not that the US would be fine if Trump were not there, or that Brexit itself is the main problem in the UK. It’s that these are the consequences of systems failing across the board, with Blair turning UK’s Labour party into a right wing force, and the DNC doing the same with the Democrats.

Try to take away people’s voices along with their money, and they will speak up. It’s one easy step from there for the other side of the spectrum to claim they are the real voice of the people, and getting the benefit of the doubt. Not that it will end there, but until and unless the left has re-defined itself as actual left again, representing people instead of themselves, there will be no easy way out.

That said, both Trump and Brexit will become mired in cesspools, just not because of Russia but because both turn against their fast impoverishing populations. But even then, redefining is a crucial issue.

 

As Theresa May is in Brussels to hold talks aimed merely at just getting negotiations started, something she will have to make hefty concessions for, the majority her party had before she called a snap election keeps slip sliding away. Labour would now get that majority. If she were smart, she’d call another election today, lose it and let Corbyn deal with the mess, but she won’t, the Tories are addicted to the smell of power in the morning, and so is May herself.

May seems to have reached some shaky sounding deal with the EU about the Irish border issue (“regulatory alignment”), but that will only lead to more problems (as will all deals she manages to reach in the talks). In this case, her coalition with Northern Ireland DUP party, which keeps her in power to begin with, comes under strain. Every solution will lead to another problem, and she can’t keep everybody happy.

Brexit is Pandora’s gift to Britain. Suppose the DUP accepts open borders with EU member Ireland, why would not Scotland, for instance, demand a similar deal?

 

Labour Open Up 8-Point Lead Over Conservatives In Latest Opinion Poll

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has extended its lead over the Conservatives to eight points, according to a new poll that will provide grim reading for the Prime Minister. The poll by Survation puts Labour on 45%, with Theresa May’s Conservatives trailing behind on 37%, and the Liberal Democrats under Vince Cable on six%. An eight point lead, the polling company added, would likely put Labour into overall majority territory if such vote share totals were reflected at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, ever more people want a say in what Brexit will look like, via another referendum. Before the negotiations are finished, someone will add up how much Brexit will really cost, and that’ll be the end of it, unless the Tories prevent that second referendum. There will come a point that the Tories realize this whole process will push them out of power for a long time, but it’ll be too late then.

 

Second Brexit Referendum Has 16-Point Lead As Half Of Britons Back New Vote

Half of Britons want a public vote on the UK’s final Brexit deal with the EU once the Government’s negotiations are over, a new poll suggests. Of the 1,003 people surveyed in the Survation poll , 497, or 50%, said they would “support holding a referendum asking the public if they will accept or reject the deal”. A total of 343, or 34%, said they were against the idea of a public vote, while 164 (16%) said they did not know. Of the people who were in favour of a referendum on the UK’s deal for exiting the EU, 271 (54.5%) had voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit vote, while 145 (29%) voted Leave.

Jeremy Corbyn is set to become UK PM, if he can shake off Tony Blair, but he hasn’t quite screwed up the courage to turn his back on the Brexit vote, so he’s as much in an impossible split as May is. It’s all he can do is to wait until she makes ever more mistakes and then stumbles over them. Meanwhile, he can carefully open up the second referendum option, because it doesn’t directly contradict the outcome of the first.

 

Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hinted that he could be open to holding a second referendum on Brexit as the consequences of leaving the European Union become clearer. Asked if he was prepared to rule out a second vote after meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in Lisbon on Saturday, Corbyn said his party hasn’t fixed its position on the issue. “We’ve not made any decision on a second referendum,’’ Corbyn said at a European Socialist Party conference in the Portuguese capital. “What we’ve said is that we would respect the result of the first referendum.”

And May’s own people are starting to turn their backs on her, slowly at first but that will pick up, because they start fearing for their own future careers if they back her for too long. She has to balance this with her fanatical Brexiteers who are only looking to replace her.

 

Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy

Theresa May was plunged into a new crisis on Saturday night after the government’s social mobility adviser revealed he and his team were quitting, warning that the prime minister was failing in her pledge to build a “fairer Britain”. In a major blow to No 10, Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s social mobility commission, said that he and all three of his fellow commissioners were walking out – including a leading conservative, Gillian Shephard. The move will be seen as a direct challenge to May’s vow in Downing Street to place fairness and social justice at the heart of her premiership. In his resignation letter, seen by the Observer, Milburn warns that dealing with Brexit means the government “does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality.

An interesting suggestion from commission chair Milburn was that while he thought May might actually want to tackle inequality and connected issues, he doesn’t think the government has the time to do that, because all its attention is most be focused on Brexit. That suggests the country effectively has no functioning government at the moment, and perhaps for years to come. Great prospect for a country deep in doodoo.

And it’s not a big surprise in this climate that May tries to keep all kinds of things secret. Not a big surprise, but certainly a big mistake.

 

Theresa May Under Growing Pressure To Reveal True Cost Of Divorce Bill

Senior Conservatives are demanding Theresa May be clear about how much the British public will be forced to pay to settle the Brexit “divorce bill”. MPs and peers, including former cabinet ministers, say that with the bill agreed this week and likely to be between £40bn and £50bn, the time has come for the Prime Minister to be completely open on how much Brexit will cost. Labour is threatening to bring the matter to a head by calling on Tory MPs to back a plan to let the UK’s spending watchdogs assess the financial settlement and give Parliament a vote on it, The Independent can reveal.

It comes 24 hours before Ms May will sit down with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to secure an agreement-in-principle on the withdrawal terms of Brexit – including the divorce bill, Irish border and EU citizens’ rights. But despite any deal being likely to gain approval at the European Council in mid-December, the British public have not been told by the Government how big the divorce bill is likely to be, or how it is being worked out.

Indeed, secrecy is a policy in Tory Britain.

 

Irish warn Theresa May: Change Course Or Risk Brexit Chaos

Ministers are under mounting pressure to come clean over the extent of economic damage that a “no deal” outcome could cause to the economy. In the budget, Philip Hammond announced that the Office for Budget Responsibility revised downwards forecasts for UK growth over the next few years, mainly because of concerns of low productivity growth. But the OBR made clear that these downgrades were premised on a benign outcome to Brexit negotiations. Both the Treasury, privately, and leading independent economists recognise that actual growth will be considerably lower than the gloomy budget projections if the UK does not achieve most of its negotiating goals, or if there is a “no deal” result.

Government sources said ministers would this week release sections of assessments into the potential economic impact of Brexit carried out across Whitehall, which until recently they had tried to keep secret. Many MPs believe the published sections will be heavily redacted and will not make clear the extent of potential economic damage. Last night Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury select committee, said it was essential that as many projections as possible were made public.

The latest work by economists at the London School of Economics estimates that, if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal, the impact will be far more severe than the projections in the budget suggested. Thomas Sampson of the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance said Brexit could reduce UK living standards by up to 9% in the most pessimistic case.

The best thing by a mile that May could possible do is to get out of the way before the way steamrollers all over her. But as I said, she won’t. And that is as tragic for her as it is for Britain. It’ll be entertaining to see the show -and May- go down. As long as you don’t live in Britain.

 

 

Dec 032017
 
 December 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Nicolas de Staël Paris la nuit 1954

 

Are We Too Optimistic On Global Growth? (Saxo Bank)
The Government Is Coming For Your Bitcoin (Black)
Bitcoin & Tax: The Coming Coinbase Fiasco (Mike Maloney)
Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy (O.)
Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum (BBG)
Theresa May Has Got To Come Clean About The Cost Of Brexit (Ind.)
The Coming Days Will Stretch The Politics Of Brexit To The Limit (RTE)
EU’s Net Starts To Close On Tax Havens (G.)
Greece, Creditors Strike Deal on the Conditions for Fresh Cash (BBG)
Islanders To Descend On Athens Over Refugee Crisis (K.)
US Pulls Out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration (AFP)
Why Did We Start Farming? (LRB)

 

 

Bits and pieces from A Saxo banks missive.

First graph: China credit impulse in the world economy plummeted 25% in Q2.

Second graph: Saxo smokes funny stuff. It says: Global trade but also non-construction investment in Western countries has been catching up with the pre-crisis long-term trend.. Well, not that I can see there.

Third graph: Stuff about inflation. Look, velocity is sinking through the floor. And Broad Money is not rising much (despite QE). Ergo: no inflation.

Are We Too Optimistic On Global Growth? (Saxo Bank)

Is economic growth on a solid footing?We have a contrarian view on global growth in 2018 and consider that the consensus is a bit too rosy. We expect lower GDP growth in the second and third quarters due to the contraction in the credit impulse in China. As mentioned by the IMF, China still represents one-third of the global growth impulse. In Q2’17, China’s credit impulse declined by 25% year-on-year, therefore reaching a new post-crisis low. Since this index leads the real economy by nine to 12 months, we expect worse data next year for China, but also for the global economy.

The global economic situation has been improving over the past years. Global trade but also non-construction investment in Western countries has been catching up with the pre-crisis long-term trend.

[..] Will inflation ever come back? Lowflation has been one of the main macroeconomic issues in recent years and it is expected to remain a thorn in the foot of central bankers for longer yet. Since September 2016, China – the main exporter of deflation – has started to export inflation along with higher global commodity prices (up 3% in October 2017 year-on-year, based on data from the World Bank), but global inflation still remains subdued. Central bankers, and particularly ECB president Mario Draghi, consider that low inflation is only a transitory phenomenon linked to hysteresis and underemployment and that job gains will eventually push inflation to target. Those elements certainly play a role in the short and medium terms but as pointed out by Benoit Coeuré, the problem is that the Phillips curve is “flatter, non-linear, mid-specified”.

We don’t expect that inflation will significantly pick up next year since, in our view, lowflation is primarily a structural phenomenon. More and more economists are agreeing with that take, including outgoing Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen who recently confirmed that we don’t properly understand inflation dynamics. Monetarists explain low inflation by the slow rate of growth in broad money since the great recession. This might be part of the problem, but it is not completely convincing since the money stock has not been constant and has started to decrease since 1997 in the United States.

Read more …

Two pieces on the same issue: the IRS and bitcoin. First Simon Black, then Mike Maloney.

The Government Is Coming For Your Bitcoin (Black)

The same day Bitcoin cracked its all-time high above $11,000, the government dealt its first blow to the crypto world… On Wednesday, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the popular Bitcoin exchange, Coinbase, to provide the IRS with information on over 14,000 account holders. The taxman noticed that only 800-900 people reported gains related to Bitcoin in each of the years between 2013-2015. It seemed unusual given Bitcoin’s meteoric rise. So the IRS went for its pound of flesh. Initially, the government wanted complete data on every Coinbase user that transacted between 2013 and 2015. The exchange’s website says it has 13 million users (more than the number of Schwab brokerage accounts).

But Coinbase pushed back… and the government agreed to only take limited data (including name, date of birth, address, tax ID number, transaction statements and account logs) for accounts that have bought, sold, sent or received at least $20,000 worth of Bitcoin in a given year. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Coinbase. I told Sovereign Man: Confidential readers last month: “If you’re tempted to purchase Bitcoin from the popular Coinbase exchange, don’t bother. They’ve sold out to regulators.” The IRS is calling this a “partial win.” But you can be sure, there will be a public beheading. This is something governments almost always do. [..] Now that it’s at all-time highs, the government wants its piece.

I read the 400+ pages of the proposed tax code. How many lines in there do you think deal with cryptocurrency? ZERO. How many lines deal with e-commerce? ZERO. The government had every opportunity to set the rules for the 21st century. And they failed miserably. So the rules remain as clear as mud. Instead of trying to make it clear, their tactic is intimidation, force and coercion. This is just the beginning. There will be more. And my advice is don’t be one of those guys. Every transaction that you make in Bitcoin is potentially a taxable event.

Read more …

“And guess what they’re going to have to sell to come up with the cash [to pay the IRS]; because you can’t pay your taxes with bitcoin…

Bitcoin & Tax: The Coming Coinbase Fiasco (Mike Maloney)

Mike Maloney takes a look at a very important Bitcoin issue that could prove to be a market-mover in the new year: The IRS has realized that Bitcoin is a cash cow for them, but at the same time there is just a small percentage of Coinbase users who are filing gains or losses. What could this add up to?

Read more …

May’s problems grow fast. Her own people are starting to leave her. They fear for their own political futures. Cue Corbyn.

Theresa May Faces New Crisis After Mass Walkout Over Social Policy (O.)

Theresa May was plunged into a new crisis on Saturday night after the government’s social mobility adviser revealed he and his team were quitting, warning that the prime minister was failing in her pledge to build a “fairer Britain”. In a major blow to No 10, Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s social mobility commission, said that he and all three of his fellow commissioners were walking out – including a leading conservative, Gillian Shephard. The move will be seen as a direct challenge to May’s vow in Downing Street to place fairness and social justice at the heart of her premiership. In his resignation letter, seen by the Observer, Milburn warns that dealing with Brexit means the government “does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality.

“I have little hope of the current government making the progress I believe is necessary to bring about a fairer Britain,” he tells the prime minister. “It seems unable to commit to the future of the commission as an independent body or to give due priority to the social mobility challenge facing our nation.” The resignations come with the prime minister already under pressure, as she faces crunch Brexit talks and questions over the future of her most senior minister, Damian Green. Milburn says failing to deal with the inequalities that fuelled the Brexit vote would simply lead to a rise of political extremes. In a devastating assessment of the lack of progress, Milburn says: “The worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it. It’s almost better never to say that you’ll do anything about it.

“It’s disappointing at least that the government hasn’t got its shoulder to the wheel in the way it should to deal with these structural issues that lead to social division and political alienation in the country. “In America for 30 years real average earnings have remained flat. Now here the chancellor is predicting that will last for 20 years. That has a consequence for people, but a political consequence as well. It means more anger, more resentment and creates a breeding ground for populism.”

Read more …

Very risky, but once he can make the costs clear, he might pull it off. He’ll need Tory defectors, though, and they won’t want to help him. But if things get bad enough with May, they may.

Corbyn Signals Labour Could Be Open to Second Brexit Referendum (BBG)

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hinted that he could be open to holding a second referendum on Brexit as the consequences of leaving the European Union become clearer. Asked if he was prepared to rule out a second vote after meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa in Lisbon on Saturday, Corbyn said his party hasn’t fixed its position on the issue. “We’ve not made any decision on a second referendum,’’ Corbyn said at a European Socialist Party conference in the Portuguese capital. “What we’ve said is that we would respect the result of the first referendum.”

Britain’s main opposition party is trying to portray itself as a government-in-waiting after gaining seats in June’s general election and stripping Prime Minister Theresa May of her majority. Since going into that vote with a Brexit strategy similar to May’s Conservatives, Labour has diverged in recent months, saying it would keep open the options of remaining in the single market and customs union, both of which the premier has ruled out. “If we were in government, we would immediately legislate to guarantee British residence to all European Union nationals that live and work in Britain, and the right to bring their families to Britain as well,’’ Corbyn told reporters. “We will negotiate the issues of relations with Europe on the basis of a free-trade relationship with Europe.’’

Read more …

This is only about the divorce bill. Someone should ask about the total cost.

Theresa May Has Got To Come Clean About The Cost Of Brexit (Ind.)

We know what the Prime Minister is up to. She wants to keep quiet about the size of the exit fee she is offering to the European Union until after Monday’s lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, the Europan Commission President, and Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator. Indeed, she does not want her own MPs to know the sum until after the European Council on 14 and 15 December, at which she hopes to secure agreement to move to the next phase of Brexit talks. Once again, the national interest is being subordinated to the higher cause of holding the Conservative Party together – the sort of thing that prompted David Cameron to get us into the mess we are now in.

It is a small consolation, therefore, that the official opposition, led on this question by Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, is holding the Government to account. Labour is tabling an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill on Wednesday that would require any financial settlement to be assessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Of course, The Independent regards the prospect of a settlement amounting to between £45bn and £55bn as reasonable in principle. The reasons Conservative Eurosceptics might find it hard to accept are obvious. One is that they ran a referendum campaign on the assumption that leaving the EU would save the British people vast sums that could be diverted to the health service or other popular causes. The divorce bill gives the opposite impression.

This impression is reinforced by the way the sum, made up of several separate items, is rolled up into one very big number. In fact, of the £45bn-£55bn, about £20bn represents the continuation of our net contributions for the two years of a transition period, in which we would continue to be an EU member in all but name (and influence). The rest, Ms May insists, is similarly money that we owe in any case as a consequence of our membership. f so, there can be no objection to its being scrutinised to confirm it – or to giving Parliament the chance to approve or reject it in a vote. As Lord Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister, told The Independent, “What would a Conservative opposition do if a Labour Party proposed to spend £30bn, £40bn or £50bn without telling Parliament what it was doing with it?”

Read more …

And then there’s the Irish question.

The Coming Days Will Stretch The Politics Of Brexit To The Limit (RTE)

When it comes to the border on the island of Ireland, the coming days will stretch the politics of Brexit to the limit. “For a border community, it impacts on every aspect of everyday life. When you get up in the morning, which road do you go out on?” “In Dublin or Belfast they won’t understand.” These are the views of one resident reported in a comprehensive survey of people living along both sides of the border on how Brexit will impact their lives, economically, socially, and psychologically. The paper, Bordering on Brexit: The Views of Local Communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland, has been published by a Queen’s University research team led by Dr Katy Hayward.

“That very close, tight way that it affects everything you think about and everything you do” continues the respondent. “For example, the man who fixes my car lives in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh – to drive you’d go out the Cavan road into Co Fermanagh, then into Co Monaghan, then into Co Fermanagh and then you get to his house. I could do that journey in 10 or 15 minutes; what would that be like if crossing an international European border?” These parochial but very real concerns, from Derry to Dundalk, are this weekend the subject of intense international diplomacy, gripping London, Dublin, Belfast and Brussels in a seemingly irreconcilable tug of politics. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has set Monday as an absolute deadline for Theresa May to tell the EU, during a working lunch with the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, how she intends to solve the border problem, as well as the issue of Britain’s financial settlement and the rights of EU citizens.

Whether that deadline can be met, and what happens between Monday and the summit of EU leaders on 14 and 15 December, will have untold implications for the history of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The outcome may determine whether there is a hard border, no border, or something in between. It will have ramifications for the civil war in the Conservative Party and the stand-off between Sinn Féin and the DUP in Northern Ireland. It will have implications for millions of euro in cross-border trade, for cross-border healthcare, education, energy, waterways and other daily activities whose very nature is encouraged and facilitated by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). And it will have implications for the man in Co Cavan who gets his car fixed in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.

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Just not their own., Ireland; Luxembourg; The Netherlands; Malta.

EU’s Net Starts To Close On Tax Havens (G.)

When Europe’s finance ministers sit down to a working breakfast in Brussels on Tuesday, after deciding whether to order the continental or the full English, the British delegation will be faced with an even tougher decision. Chancellor Philip Hammond and his counterparts will be asked to approve a list of those countries, island states and former colonies which the European Union has deemed to be “non-cooperative jurisdictions”. Put more plainly, the EU will be announcing a blacklist of tax havens. Coming as it does less than a month after the publication of the Paradise Papers – an investigation by the Guardian and 95 partners worldwide into a leak of 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers – the announcement is hotly anticipated. Campaigners, lobbyists and politicians on both sides of the offshore debate are on tenterhooks.

For the kind of small island economies whose GDP depends on selling secrecy and tax breaks, a blacklisting could be devastating, particularly if Brussels follows up with a series of sanctions for doing business in these countries. Speculation about who will be placed on the EU’s naughty step has reached fever pitch. The latest draft, according to reports last week, contains 20 names, down from a possible 92 at the beginning of the year. That number could be further whittled down – the horse-trading is continuing up to the wire. So fierce is the debate that some believe publication might be postponed. “The finance ministers of the member states must not let political considerations cloud their judgment when agreeing their final list next week,” says the influential tax reform campaigner and German MEP Sven Giegold.

One of the big questions is how many, if any, members of the UK’s sprawling offshore network will be named. Any decision taken by ministers on Tuesday will have to be unanimous. Britain may be exiting Europe, but it retains its veto until 2019 and Theresa May’s government has been pulling every lever to protect its dependencies. Whitehall sources have confirmed that those Caribbean territories which suffered the most damage during this year’s devastating hurricanes will be given extra time to get their house in order. It has been reported that seven jurisdictions, not all of them British, have been given a temporary reprieve in order to recover from the damage. This is likely to mean the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks & Caicos Islands – all of which are UK territories that took a battering from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria – are safe for now.

[..] In a recent report, Blacklist or Whitewash?, Oxfam applied the criteria the EU is using to draw up the blacklist to 92 countries screened by the union and its 28 member states. The criteria exclude EU member states, but if they did not, Oxfam concluded that four countries should be blacklisted: Ireland; Luxembourg; The Netherlands; Malta. It also concluded that 35 non-EU states should be on the list: Albania; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bermuda; Bosnia and Herzegovina; British Virgin Islands; Cook Islands; Cayman Islands; Curaçao; Faroe Islands; Macedonia; Gibraltar; Greenland; Guam; Hong Kong; Jersey; Marshall Islands; Mauritius; Montenegro; Nauru; New Caledonia; Niue; Oman; Palau; Serbia; Singapore; Switzerland; Taiwan; Trinidad and Tobago; UAE; US Virgin Islands; Vanuatu.

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Drip drip drip bloodletting.

Greece, Creditors Strike Deal on the Conditions for Fresh Cash (BBG)

Greece and its international creditors agreed on a set of economic overhauls the country must undertake in exchange for fresh loans, paving the way for a payment that will help it build a cash buffer as it seeks to prepare for its bailout exit. The so-called staff level agreement came after a week of talks in Athens saw the two sides reach common ground on politically sensitive issues such as reforms in the energy sector, public administration, the financial system, social-cohesion programs and fiscal performance among others. “We reached the staff-level agreement” Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said after the last meeting with creditor’s representatives in Athens. Greece is going to implement as soon as possible all the measures needed in order to get fresh bailout money, he added.

After January’s Eurogroup, Tsakalotos expects that discussions will start for further debt relief, the fourth bailout review that is expected to conclude in May or June, and for exiting the crisis. The deal marks the completion of a key step in the negotiations between Athens and the auditors of its aid program – representing euro-area governments and the IMF – as the country is starting to prepare for its post-bailout life. A successful conclusion of the current review will not only entail the release of fresh loans but it will also help Greece regain the trust of investors, as it plans to tap financial markets again. The continent’s most indebted state was the first euro-area nation to seek a lifeline from its peers in 2010 and the only one still reliant on such concessional loans to stay afloat. Additional bond sales are a crucial step in the efforts to build up a post-program cash cushion and ensure it can stand on its own feet without external help. “Looking ahead, our baseline remains that Greece will achieve a clean exit from the bailout program when it ends next summer,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence said in a note to clients.

“To this aim, Greece would need to build a buffer of around 12-15 billion euros ahead of its exit from the program.” Still, the Greek government will first have to implement a long list of around 100 overhauls before it can receive any fresh disbursements and formally conclude the ongoing audit of its bailout. Some measures will be voted in December while an omnibus bill to implement the remaining prior actions must be voted in parliament before Jan. 11. Once Greece has undertaken the agreed reforms, euro-area finance ministry deputies can examine whether Athens has fully complied with the conditions attached to its bailout at a meeting on Jan. 11 and green-light the disbursement of fresh loans, which could take place by mid-February, an EU official said on Dec. 1.

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Athens will end up bringing thousands to the mainland. And housing many in deplorable conditions.

Islanders To Descend On Athens Over Refugee Crisis (K.)

Protesters will converge outside the Immigration Policy Ministry on Tuesday to demand immediate relief for the eastern Aegean islands of Samos, Lesvos and Chios, where facilities for migrants and refugees are overflowing with thousands of stranded asylum seekers. The rally is being organized by the municipalities of the three islands and aims to publicize the plight of asylum seekers who have been trapped there for more than a year, testing local communities. “We have decided to protest and to demand again the immediate decongestion of our islands, so that the government reacts to the problem,” a joint statement by the municipalities read. To this end, Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos is in contact with islander associations in Athens to get their support.

Currently the islands of the Aegean are home to a total of 15,486 refugees and migrants, of whom 6,520 are at Lesvos’s Moria hotspot, which was designed to hold 2,300 people. Similarly, on Samos there are 2,083 people sheltered at the center near Vathi which has a capacity of just 700, as does the Vial facility on Chios, which is currently sheltering 2,377 people. With winter arriving, hundreds of people – half of whom are children – at the Lesvos and Chios hotspots are still living in summer tents and exposed to the elements, without access to basic hygiene facilities.

Reports said that work to place prefabricated huts next to the Vial hotspot to help ease the crowded conditions at the center and to make improvements to existing facilities was put on hold on Friday by a local court, pending a January 16 trial which will examine a lawsuit filed by the Chios Municipality against the Immigration Policy Ministry over its decision to house migrants and refugees at that specific hotspot. Meanwhile, in a government bid to relieve some of the pressure on the islands, 500 people were transferred in the last two days alone from the islands to the Greek mainland. Nonetheless, 50 more people arrived on the islands’ shores from Turkey on Friday.

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Given what we see of refugee conditions globally, that Compact doesn’t seem to amount to much.

US Pulls Out of UN’s Global Compact on Migration (AFP)

The administration of President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from a United Nations pact to improve the handling of migrant and refugee situations, deeming it “inconsistent” with its policies, the US mission to the global body announced Saturday. “Today, the US Mission to the United Nations informed the UN Secretary-General that the United States is ending its participation in the Global Compact on Migration,” the Americans said in a statement. In September 2016, the 193 members of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they have access to education and jobs.

“The New York Declaration contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies and the Trump Administration’s immigration principles. As a result, President Trump determined that the United States would end its participation in the Compact process that aims to reach international consensus at the UN in 2018,” the US statement said. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the country would continue its “generosity” in supporting migrants and refugees around the world, but that “our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone.” “We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.”

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Great discussion. Many false assumptions. Farming was not exactly a health booster.

Why Did We Start Farming? (LRB)

Fire changed humans as well as the world. Eating cooked food transformed our bodies; we developed a much shorter digestive tract, meaning that more metabolic energy was available to grow our brains. At the same time, Homo sapiens became domesticated by its dependence on fire for warmth, protection and fuel. If this was the start of human progress towards ‘civilisation’, then – according to the conventional narrative – the next step was the invention of agriculture around ten thousand years ago. Farming, it is said, saved us from a dreary nomadic Stone Age hunter-gatherer existence by allowing us to settle down, build towns and develop the city-states that were the centres of early civilisations. People flocked to them for the security, leisure and economic opportunities gained from living within thick city walls.

The story continues with the collapse of the city-states and barbarian insurgency, plunging civilised worlds – ancient Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica – into their dark ages. Thus civilisations rise and fall. Or so we are told. The perfectly formed city-state is the ideal, deeply ingrained in the Western psyche, on which our notion of the nation-state is founded, ultimately inspiring Donald Trump’s notion of a ‘city’ wall to keep out the barbarian Mexican horde, and Brexiters’ desire to ‘take back control’ from insurgent European bureaucrats. But what if the conventional narrative is entirely wrong? What if ancient ruins testify to an aberration in the normal state of human affairs rather than a glorious and ancient past to whose achievements we should once again aspire?

What if the origin of farming wasn’t a moment of liberation but of entrapment? Scott offers an alternative to the conventional narrative that is altogether more fascinating, not least in the way it omits any self-congratulation about human achievement. His account of the deep past doesn’t purport to be definitive, but it is surely more accurate than the one we’re used to, and it implicitly exposes the flaws in contemporary political ideas that ultimately rest on a narrative of human progress and on the ideal of the city/nation-state.

[..] But why did it take so long – about four thousand years – for the city-states to appear? The reason is probably the disease, pestilence and economic fragility of those Neolithic villages. How did they survive and grow at all? Well, although farming would have significantly increased mortality rates in both infants and adults, sedentism would have increased fertility. Mobile hunter-gatherers were effectively limited by the demands of travel to having one child every four years. An increase in fertility that just about outpaced the increase in mortality would account for the slow, steady increase in population in the villages. By 3500 BCE the economic and demographic conditions were in place for a power-grab by would-be leaders.

Read more …

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A real American Christmas comedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s quite the shift.

The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t believe a word of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, it’s unfair!!

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

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

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

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Everybody appeals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 042016
 
 September 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 4 2016
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NPC “Georgetown-Marines game” 1923

Dollar Hegemony Endures As Share Of Global Transactions Keeps Rising (AEP)
US Has 9.93 Million More Government Workers Than Manufacturing Workers (CI)
German Budget Surpluses Are Bad For The Global Economy (Economist)
ECB’s Mersch: Central Banking Based On “Mathematical Models”, Not Reality (ZH)
Europe’s Broken Banks Need the Urge to Merge (BBG)
Economic Czars Warn G-20 of Risk From Populist Backlash on Trade (BBG)
Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)
6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)
Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)
Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)
Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)
Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)
Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

 

 

It’s nice to be able to agree with Ambrose once in a while.

Dollar Hegemony Endures As Share Of Global Transactions Keeps Rising (AEP)

The US dollar is tightening its grip on the global financial system at the expense of the euro, entrenching American hegemony and rendering the US Federal Reserve more powerful than at any time in history. Newly-released data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show that the dollar’s share of the $5.1 trillion in foreign exchange trades each day has continued rising to 87.6pc of all transactions. It is the latest evidence confirming the extraordinary resilience of the dollar-based international order, confounding expectations of US financial decline a decade ago. Roughly 60pc of the global economy is either in the dollar zone or closely tied to it through currency pegs or ‘dirty floats’, and the level of debt issued in dollars outside US jurisdiction has soared to $9 trillion.

This has profound implications for monetary policy. The Fed has become the world’s central bank whether it likes it or not, setting borrowing costs for much of the global system. The BIS data shows that the volume of transactions in which the euro was on one side of the trade has slipped to 31.3pc from 37pc in 2007. The dollar share has ratcheted up to 87.6pc over the same period. It is much the same picture for the foreign exchange reserves of central banks, a good barometer of global trust. The dollar share has recovered to 63.6pc, roughly where it was a decade ago. The euro share has tumbled over the last eight years from 28pc to 20.4pc, and is barely above Deutsche Mark share in the early 1990s.

“There are no foreseeable rivals to the dollar as a viable reserve currency,” said Eswar Prasad from Cornell University, author of “The Dollar Trap: How the US Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance”. “The US is hard to beat. The US has deep financial markets, a powerful central bank and legal framework the rest of the world has a great deal of trust in,” he said. The eurozone is crippled by the lack of a unified EU treasury, joint bond issuance, and a genuine banking union to back up the currency. It would require a change in the German constitution to open the way for fiscal union, an unthinkable prospect in the current political climate.

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Many years ago I dubbed it the ‘Bulgaria Model’.

US Has 9.93 Million More Government Workers Than Manufacturing Workers (CI)

The August jobs report was filled with some interest factoids, like there are now 9.93 million government workers than there are manufacturing workers. That is a ratio of 1.81 government workers for every manufacturing worker. Such was not always the case. But a variety of factors such as labor cost differentials, EPA regulations and taxes had led to manufacturing jobs to be sent overseas. Now a 1.81 government to manufacturing employment ratio is called OVERHEAD. And you wonder why high paying manufacturing jobs are fleeing to other countries?

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“German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin..”

German Budget Surpluses Are Bad For The Global Economy (Economist)

On August 24th Germans received news to warm any Teutonic heart. Figures revealed a larger-than-expected budget surplus in the first half of 2016, and put Germany on track for its third year in a row in the black. To many such excess seems harmless enough—admirable even. Were Greece half as fiscally responsible as Germany, it might not be facing its eighth year of economic contraction in a decade. Yet German saving and Greek suffering are two sides of the same coin. Seemingly prudent budgeting in economies like Germany’s produce dangerous strains globally. The pressure may yet be the undoing of the euro area. German frugality and economic woes elsewhere are linked through global trade and capital flows.

In recent years, as Germany’s budget balance flipped from red to black, its current-account surplus—which reflects net cross-border flows of goods, services and investment—has soared, to nearly 9% of German GDP this year. The connection between budgets and current accounts might not be immediately obvious. But in a series of papers published in 2011 IMF economists found evidence that cutting budget deficits is associated with reduced investment, greater saving and a shift in the current account from deficit toward surplus. Two IMF economists, John Bluedorn and Daniel Leigh, reckoned that a fiscal consolidation of one percentage point of GDP led to an improvement in the ratio of the current-account balance to GDP of 0.6 percentage points.

On that reckoning, the German government’s thriftiness accounts for a small but meaningful share of its growing current-account surplus; perhaps as much as three percentage points of GDP over the past five years.

That has helped to resurrect an old problem. Global imbalances were a scourge of the world economy before the financial crisis of 2007-08. Back then, China and oil-exporting economies accounted for the surplus side of the world’s trade ledger, which reached nearly 3% of the world’s GDP on the eve of the crisis. Other countries, notably America, ran correspondingly large current-account deficits, financed in part by flows of investment from surplus countries that flooded into the country’s overheating housing market. A similar dynamic played out in miniature within the euro area, as core economies like Germany ran current-account surpluses and peripheral countries like Spain ran deficits.

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Taking away their powers is the only solution. But … that’s not going to happen.

ECB’s Mersch: Central Banking Based On “Mathematical Models”, Not Reality (ZH)

At first (literally the day the Fed announced QE1) it was just “tinfoil fringe blogs” who predicted the failure of the central bank’s attempt to boost the economy by printing money, instead warning that all the Fed would do is unleash an unprecedented income and wealth divide that may culminate in civil war and hyperinflation. Then, gradually, analysts, pundits and even the mainstream press admitted the truth, i.e., that tin-foilers were right all along, until recently even the Fed’s own mouthpiece, Jon Hilsenrath, one day before the Jackson Hole meeting wrote that “Years of Fed Missteps Fueled Disillusion With the Economy and Washington”, an article which set the stage for the pivot to the US issuance of much more debt, because apparently $9 trillion in new debt under Obama is not considered enough “fiscal stimulus.”

However, with virtually everyone else now slamming central banks for fooling the world for the past 7 years that they knew what they were doing, now that even Yellen admitted she has no idea what will happen in just the next 3 years projecting a 70% confidence interval of the Fed Funds rate of between 0% and 5% by the end of 2018 (we wonder what a 100% confidence would look like)…

.. overnight central bankers themselves attacked central bank policies, when ECB board member Yves Mersch warned on Saturday against using “extreme [policy] measures [with] unacceptable side effects” to shore up the eurozone’s weak economy, which he said could undermine trust in the single currency, a warning aimed squarely at Mario Draghi. Mersch’s comments come amid a growing debate over whether central banks in Europe and Japan should bolster economic growth by turning to even more tools such as “helicopter money.” Even more ludicrous, as we reported yesterday, Reuters already lobbed a tentative trial balloon, hinting that the ECB may be “forced” to buy ETFs and equities having virtually run out of bonds to monetize. Still, despite all ongoing ECB deflationary counter-measures, eurozone inflation was just 0.2% in August, far below the ECB’s near-2% target. Investors are increasingly concerned that the central bank is running out of tools.

Surprisingly, at this point Mersch joined the Weidmann bandwagon, and cautioned against “academic proposals [that] seem to prefer sophisticated models to social psychology.” Or in other words, for the first time, a central banker has suggested that broken (which is a far more accurate definition that sophisticated) financial models should be ignored when dealing with reality. “We cannot fulfill our mandate with mathematical equations, but only with instruments that maintain trust in the currency,” Mersch said at an annual economic forum on the shores of Lake Como, Italy. Expanding his tongue in cheek criticism of Mario Draghi’s relentless crusade to hurt the euro and reflate asset prices at all costs, Mersch then said that “extreme measures or legal violations of our mandate aren’t among those instruments.”

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Restructure. Only way. And again, not going to happen.

Europe’s Broken Banks Need the Urge to Merge (BBG)

The recent flurry of excitement at the idea that Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank contemplated a merger reinforces the view that the European finance industry is ripe for consolidation. Banking leaders themselves talk about the need for mergers in an overbanked market, but no one among the bigger banks seems to want to go first. If something doesn’t change soon, Europe won’t have a banking industry worthy of the name. The relentless collapse in bank share prices this year may speak to difficult market conditions, but they also suggest that Europe’s banking model is broken, amid a deadly combination of negative interest rates, anemic economic growth and a lack of clarity about the future regulatory outlook (albeit in large part because European banks have fought every line of every proposed rule change).

The region’s banks have lost almost a quarter of their value this year, according to the Stoxx 600 Banks index. As Germany has by far the least consolidated banking sector in the euro zone, it’s no surprise that both Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank have done even worse. Merger talk sparked a bit of a rally in the two German banks in recent days, even though the discussions, reported to have taken place over two weeks this summer, have been abandoned. With both banks embarking on major cost-cutting and restructuring projects, it may have been too early to talk of a merger.

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It’s all in the choice of terminology: populism, protectionism, they sound very negative, so they are what you read. But it makes no difference: without growth, centralization withers away all by itself.

Economic Czars Warn G-20 of Risk From Populist Backlash on Trade (BBG)

The heads of three world economic bodies warned of the risk to trade from the protectionist headwinds sweeping many developed nations as global leaders met in Hangzhou, China. In a panel session Saturday ahead of the Group of 20 summit, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, urged business chiefs to lobby governments to help keep trade flows up as she issued a warning about the outlook for growth into 2017. Her views were echoed by Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the WTO. “Trade is way too low and has been way too low for a long time,” Lagarde said. “There is at the moment an undercurrent of anti-trade movement. It’s at the political level. It’s at the public opinion level” and also being reflected in policy, she added.

“If there is no international trade, if there is no cross-border investment, if services, capital, people and goods do not cross borders, then it’s less activity for you, it’s less jobs in whichever country you are headquartered,” she said. Lagarde’s comments come as momentum for ratifying the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would link 12 nations making up about 40% of the world economy, falters in the final months of U.S. President Barack Obama’s term. Both presidential candidates have spoken against the deal, which does not include China, while progress on a U.S.-EU trade and investment deal, known as TTIP, has also stalled.

France’s trade minister Matthias Fekl said late last month that the U.S. hasn’t offered anything substantial in negotiations with the EU on the free-trade deal and that talks should come to an end. His comments followed those of German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said discussions on the TTIP “have de-facto broken down, even if no one wants to say so.” Many Western nations are grappling with a mood of protectionism that is leading to calls for caution on free trade, and on foreign investment in things like property and utilities. Chinese companies recently were dealt a blow on prospective projects in both the U.K. and Australia.

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Let’s see: more debt AND more cars. It’s a win-win! Happy days!

Chinese Consumers Take Credit For Boom In Car Loans (R.)

Chinese households, traditional savers with an aversion to debt, are rapidly warming to the idea of borrowing to buy a car, as automakers push financing deals to boost sales and margins in an increasingly competitive market. Nearly 30% of Chinese car buyers bought on credit last year, up from 18% in 2013, according to analysts from Sanford C. Bernstein and Deloitte, helping a rebound in the car market after a sticky 2015. That is welcome news to China’s government, which wants consumers to borrow and spend more to shift its slowing economy away from heavy industry and investment-led growth. Beijing resident Wang Danian said he planned to buy his first car on credit, saying it was the smart move.

“I can use my cash to do other things,” the 28-year-old said. “If I use all my savings at once to buy a car, and then something happens, I can’t manage the risk.” Six consumers interviewed by Reuters said they would all consider loans, lured by low-fee and interest-free deals, with half saying they’d prefer to buy on credit and save cash for other items. “I’d estimate after the manufacturer came out with the low-interest deal that about 30% of potential cash buyers switched to buying on credit,” said a salesman at a Volkswagen dealership in eastern China’s Jiangsu province who gave his name as Mr. Zhao. That is still a far cry from the more than 80% of cars bought on loans in the United States, but Deloitte predicts China will reach 50% by 2020.

[..] China’s auto market struggled last year thanks to the slowest economic growth in 25 years and a stock market rout, but rebounded in October when the government cut sales tax on smaller cars. By July, vehicle sales were rising at their fastest monthly rate in three and a half years. “While the government’s tax reduction was the most obvious explanation for the rebound in Chinese car sales at the end of 2015, soaring auto financing penetration represented another, lesser noticed, driver of the boom,” Bernstein said in April.

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Excellent thread from The Property Pin. A lot more under the link.

6 Steps To Avoiding All EU (Incl. Irish) And US Taxes Via Ireland (PP)

1. Making the Intellectual Property (IP). Let’s say that Apple US spent $200m (validly) developing iOS (it’s iPhone operating system). What Apple does next is to “sell” a non-US version of iOS to an Apple Ireland entity (generic name), for c $500m. Apple US will then pay full US taxes on this gain of $300m. Easy so far. The US IRS is already starting to probe these “internal” sales.

2. Stepping up the IP value (when the “magic” happens). Specialist IP corporate finances (why Dublin accountancy firms have big corporate finance practices) make two discoveries. First, if the Apple device has no iOS software, it can’t function. iOS is the “secret sauce” (like a drug patent). They then show Apple Ireland that it has done an amazing deal at the expense of its parent, Apple US. They show that if the non-US version of iOS is converted in to 200 different languages (and local network formats), then Apple Ireland can sell devices all over the world (fancy that). The global commercial value is over €50bn (why many MNC jobs in Ireland are “localisation”, or language translation, jobs). Apple has the tax equivalent of “Alchemy”.

3. Avoiding tax on the IP step-up. A €50bn gain in Apple Ireland is going to incur tax (both Irish and US), and would distort Ireland’s National Accounts (our 2014 GDP was only €200bn). Apple, and the Irish State, worked a scheme to have Apple Ireland both resident in Ireland (essential so Apple Ireland can avail of EU TP (Transfer Pricing) rules; you can’t do EU TP from Cayman, or worse, “Stateless” locations), and non-resident in Ireland (to avoid Irish tax). The EU’s Apple report, proves the recent 26% increase in Irish GDP (“leprechaun economics”) was all Apple, forced to unwind it’s “dual” status (as EU report drew near). Apple paid a once-off tax on the transfer (€500m vs. €50bn gain), which increased our EU GDP levies by 380m. Per Annum.

4. Executing the TP of this IP into Europe. Before step 3., if Apple Ireland sold an iPhone in Germany for €500, Apple Germany would offset valid incurred cash costs (Apple China/Foxconn manufacturing costs of about €150, and Apple Germany marketing costs of about €50) giving a German profit of €300 on that iPhone. German Revenue would take €100 of this in German taxes, and €200 can go back to Ireland. EU TP rules allow EU resident companies, like Apple Ireland, to charge Apple Germany a share of their €50bn IP value, expressed as a royalty charge. Charging this royalty to Apple Germany wipes out all Apple’s German profits. Apple Germany pays no German taxes, and the full €300 goes back to Apple Ireland tax-free.

5. The Cherry on Top. EU challenged step 4. in 2011 (we will get to CCCTB), but the UK Veto stopped it (Osborne was turning Britain into an even bigger EU tax-haven than Ireland). Despite Ireland having the “golden ticket” of being INSIDE the EU’s TP system (why Apple Ireland had to be legally resident in Ireland), AND having the lowest EU corporate tax rate, that was not enough. In 2010, Apple Ireland’s tax rate collapsed from a tiny 0.5% to effectively 0%. Apple Ireland’s profits quadrupled (and doubled every year after). The Irish State had perfected a “straw” for Apple, stuck into the EU, allowing Apple to suck all its EU profits (Germany, France, Italy etc.), via Ireland, to offshore locations, free of EU, Irish and US taxes.

6. Locking it in. US tax law requires US MNCs to remit non-US profits back to the US for final taxing. US tax rate is high at 35% (even by EU standards). The Double Tax Treaty system allows the MNCs to get a credit for taxes paid in the countries in which the profits were made. If Apple pays 35% on German profits, no further US taxes apply. The US IRS allows MNCs to leave non-US profits outside of the US if these non-US profits are going to be re-invested in the non-US location. Apple claimed this right in their US 10K Returns (Margrethe showed how Apple violate this). That is how Apple built the largest offshore cash hoard of modern economic history. Profits from the EU, on which they have never paid EU, Irish or US taxes. Period.

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In France, as in UK and US and many other places, voters vote against someone, not for.

Rural France Pledges To Vote For Marine Le Pen As Next President (G.)

In the picturesque hamlet of Brachay, in scorching late summer heat, Marine Le Pen was preaching to the politically converted. “Marine, président”, they chanted. “On va gagner” (we’re going to win). A banner stretching the length of one of the stone buildings overlooking the village square read: “Marine: Save France.” Le Pen’s stump speech was the most closely watched and significant campaign launch of la rentrée, the national return to work after the long summer holidays, and the leader of France’s far-right Front National was welcomed like a conquering hero. Le Pen has been largely absent from the political scene for several weeks and has refrained from adding her 10 cents’ worth to the raging polemic over the burkini and rows about security following deadly attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, both fertile ground for her party.

In the meantime, the country’s governing Socialists and centre-right opposition Les Républicains have engaged in what one FN heavyweight described with schadenfreude as a “bloodbath, left and right”. The Parti Socialiste is bitterly split and in turmoil over whether François Hollande, with his calamitous popularity ratings will, or indeed should, stand for a second term. The alternative, to stand down, would be unprecedented for a serving leader. Emmanuel Macron, the finance minister who resigned last week, might be the rabbit that the party pulls out of the hat, but he is disliked by the PS’s leftwing, which is fielding its own candidates. In any case, Macron has not said whether he will even throw his hat into the presidential ring.

On the right, things are scarcely more harmonious. The deadline for Les Républicains candidates is Friday, and already former president Nicolas Sarkozy, mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé and former prime minister François Fillon have either announced they are standing or are expected to do so. Amid this political free-for-all, Le Pen is trying to throw off the party’s divisive reputation and market herself as a politician above and beyond the fray of the same-old-same-old French elite: a new, unifying, patriotic force who will break the shackles of Europe, end “mass immigration” and give France back to the French. Her slogan is La France apaisée – a soothed France.

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So if people have to spend more to buy the same stuff, that’s good for the economy, right?

Shops Set For Christmas Price Hikes As Millions Of Shipments Stranded (Ind.)

Summer is not yet over but Christmas could be about to get more expensive as millions of gifts including TVs and electrical gadgets could be stranded at sea for months. Retailers have been thrown into turmoil after one of the world’s largest shipping companies collapsed into bankruptcy. South Korean company Hanjin’s vessels have been seized at Chinese ports, while others have been banned from docking until unpaid fees are received. As a result, the cost of transporting goods from Asia to the US and Europe has jumped by more than half, threatening margins as retailers begin stocking up for Christmas. September marks the start of the busiest period of the year for transporting goods.

The US National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, wrote to Penny Pritzker, secretary of commerce, on Thursday, urging them to work with the South Korean government, ports and others to prevent disruptions. The bankruptcy is having “a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain” that could cause significant harm to both consumers and the economy, the association wrote. “Retailers’ main concern is that there (are) millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise that needs to be on store shelves that could be impacted by this,” said Jonathan Gold, the group’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

“Some of it is sitting in Asia waiting to be loaded on ships, some is already aboard ships out on the ocean and some is sitting on US docks waiting to be picked up. It is understandable that port terminal operators, railroads, trucking companies and others don’t want to do work for Hanjin if they are concerned they won’t get paid.” With an estimated half a million 40-foot containers full of goods stuck at sea or in ports there appears to be little hope of a quick resolution to the issue. September marks the start of the busiest time of the year for transporting goods, but a Korean court on Thursday set a deadline of 25 November to submit a plan to resolve the dispute.

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Hilarious!

Row On Tarmac An Awkward G20 Start For US, China (R.)

A Chinese official confronted U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security adviser on the tarmac on Saturday prompting the Secret Service to intervene, an unusual altercation as China implements strict controls ahead of a big summit. The stakes are high for China to pull off a trouble-free G20 summit of the world’s top economies, its highest profile event of the year, as it looks to cement its global standing and avoid acrimony over a long list of tensions with Washington. Shortly after Obama’s plane landed in the eastern city of Hangzhou, a Chinese official attempted to prevent his national security adviser Susan Rice from walking to the motorcade as she crossed a media rope line, speaking angrily to her before a Secret Service agent stepped between the two.

Rice responded but her comments were inaudible to reporters standing underneath the wing of Air Force One. It was unclear if the official, whose name was not immediately clear, knew that Rice was a senior official and not a reporter. The same official shouted at a White House press aide who was instructing foreign reporters on where to stand as they recorded Obama disembarking from the plane. “This is our country. This is our airport,” the official said in English, pointing and speaking angrily with the aide. The U.S. aide insisted that the journalists be allowed to stand behind a rope line, and they were able to record the interaction and Obama’s arrival uninterrupted, typical practice for U.S. press traveling with the president.

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“.. the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly..”

Barack Obama ‘Deliberately Snubbed’ By Chinese In Chaotic Arrival At G20 (G.)

China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou ahead of the start of the G20. Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime pinister Narendra Modi, Russian president Vladimir Putin, South Korean president Park Geun-hye, Brazil’s president Michel Temer and British prime minister Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning. But the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly after no rolling staircase was provided when he landed in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday afternoon.

When Obama did find his way onto a red carpet on the tarmac below there were heated altercations between US and Chinese officials, with one Chinese official caught on video shouting: “This is our country! This is our airport!” “The reception that President Obama and his staff got when they arrived here Saturday afternoon was bruising, even by Chinese standards,” the New York Times reported. Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s former ambassador to China, said he was convinced Obama’s treatment was part of a calculated snub. “These things do not happen by mistake. Not with the Chinese,” Guajardo, who hosted presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón during his time in Beijing, told the Guardian.

“I’ve dealt with the Chinese for six years. I’ve done these visits. I took Xi Jinping to Mexico. I received two Mexican presidents in China. I know exactly how these things get worked out. It’s down to the last detail in everything. It’s not a mistake. It’s not.” Guajardo added: “It’s a snub. It’s a way of saying: ‘You know, you’re not that special to us.’ It’s part of the new Chinese arrogance. It’s part of stirring up Chinese nationalism. It’s part of saying: ‘China stands up to the superpower.’ It’s part of saying: ‘And by the way, you’re just someone else to us.’ It works very well with the local audience. “Why [did it happen]?” the former diplomat, who was ambassador from 2007 until 2013, added. “I guess it is part of Xi Jinping playing the nationalist card. That’s my guess.”

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I am not optimistic.

Half The Forms Of Life On Earth Will Be Gone By 2050 (ZH)

Humanity should start saving nature and switch to 80% renewables by 2030, otherwise the Earth will keep losing species, and within 33 years around 800,000 forms of life will be gone, conservation biologist Reese Halter told RT’s News with Ed. Humans have changed the Earth so much that some scientists think we have entered a new geological age. According to a report in the Science Magazine, the Earth is now in the anthropocene epoch. Millions of years from now our impact on Earth will be found in rocks just like we see fossils of plants and animals which lived years ago – except this time scientists of the future will find radioactive elements from nuclear bombs and fossilized plastic.

RT: Tell us about this new age.
Reese Halter: Yes. There are three things that come to mind. First of all, imagine you’re back on the football field. Each year in America – America alone – we throw away the equivalent of one football field, a 100 miles deep. That is the first thing. The second thing, we’ve entered the age of climate instability. That means from burning subsidized climate altering fossil fuels our food security is in jeopardy. The third thing that is striking is we’re losing species a thousand times faster than in the last 65 million years. At this rate within 33 years, by midcentury – that means 800,000 forms of life, or half of everything we know will be gone. The only way we can reverse this is to two things: save nature now, our life support system, and we do this by switching to 80% renewables by 2030. It is a WWIII mentality. In America we have the technology; we have the blueprint. We lack the political will just right now. But in the next short while we will, because it is a matter of survival.

RT: We’ve just gone through the hottest month on record. There is plenty of data out there to suggest that we truly are entering something our world has never seen in our lifetime. To brand it as a new geological age, what impact is that going to have? RH: It’s got the impact that humans are here. As I said earlier, we’re talking a 160% more than mother Earth can sustain 7.4 billion people. The way to do it is to pull it back to 90%. If we were a big bathtub the ring will read: toxicity, toxicity, toxicity. We’ve got to peal that back, because what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

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 July 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Elks Temple (Eureka Club), Rochester, NY 1908

How Slow Is US Economic Growth? ‘Close To Zero’ (CNBC)
US Non-Consumer Economy Is Now In A Recession (ZH)
US Government Entitlements – Sixth Biggest Economy On Earth (Stockman)
Helicopter Money Talk Takes Flight As Bank of Japan Runs Out Of Runway (R.)
No Clean Bill Of Health For EU Banks In Stress Test (R.)
Ireland Jails Three Top Bankers Over 2008 Banking Meltdown (R.)
Australia’s Property Market Is Completely Bonkers (Schwab)
Minsky’s Moment (Economist)
The IMF Confesses It Immolated Greece On Behalf Of The Eurogroup (YV)
Econocracy Has Split Britain Into Experts And Ordinary People (G.)
Network Close To NATO Military Leader Fueled Ukraine Conflict (Spiegel)
America’s Military Is “Lender Of Last Resort” (Cate Long)

 

 

Not a pretty picture.

How Slow Is US Economic Growth? ‘Close To Zero’ (CNBC)

While 2016’s anemic growth level isn’t an automatic disqualifier for an interest rate increase, the bar just got a little higher. Friday’s GDP reading fell below even the dimming hopes on Wall Street. The 1.2% growth ratein the second quarter combined with a downward revision to the first three months of the year to produce an average growth rate of just 1%. In total, it was far below the Wall Street forecast of 2.6% second-quarter growth and didn’t lend a lot of credence to a Fed statement earlier this week that sounded more confident on the economy. (The Atlanta Fed was much closer, forecasting 1.8%.) In short, they are not numbers upon which a rate hawk would want to hang one’s hat.

“We’re tired of talking about rate hikes when it’s not going to happen for a while,” Diane Swonk of DS Economics told CNBC. “I really think the Fed is sidelined until the end of the year. Or, perhaps, longer. Market expectations for the next Fed hike had been sliding as the release of the GDP report got closer, and they plunged afterward. The fed funds futures market Friday morning was indicating just a 34.4% chance of a rate rise this year, with the next move pushed out until well into 2017. A day earlier, the futures market had moved to just over 50% for a 2016 move. The Fed last hiked in December 2015, which was the first move after eight years of keeping the overnight rate near zero.

To be sure, GDP growth is just one input for the central bank. Ostensibly, the Fed’s mandate is to ensure full employment and price stability, and it has come close to achieving the former while continually falling short of the latter. [..] .. the Fed has been warning about weak business investment, and Friday’s data showed those concerns were well-founded. Business investment fell 2.2%, its third consecutive quarterly decline. Gross private domestic investment tumbled 9.7%, and residential investment, which had been on the rise, reversed course and declined 6.1%, the first decrease since early 2014. Those numbers act as a counterweight to the declining jobless rate, which is down to 4.9%.

“What is really worrying is that pace has still been enough to reduce the unemployment rate further, suggesting that the economy’s potential growth rate could conceivably be close to zero,” Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note. The headline jobless rate has been declining, in part, due to a generational low in labor force participation, suggesting that outside a decline in labor slack, there’s little moving economic growth.

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And consumer spending is set to contract sharply.

US Non-Consumer Economy Is Now In A Recession (ZH)

While yesterday’s GDP report was an undisputed disappointment, printing at 1.2% or less than half the 2.5% expected following dramatic historical data revisions, an even more troubling finding emerged when looking at the annual growth rate of GDP.  This is how Deutsche Bank’s Dominic Konstam summarized what we showed yesterday

The latest GDP release favors our hypothesis of an imminent endogenous labor market slowdown over a more optimistic scenario in which productivity will replace employment as the engine for growth. With real GDP growing at just 1.2%, there is little evidence that productivity is ready to do the heavy lifting. We are particularly concerned because annual nominal growth has slowed to 2.4%, essentially a cyclical trough

He was looking at the following chart (which as the BEA admitted yesterday, may be revised even lower in coming quarters).

 

However, as it turns out, that was not even the biggest risk. Recall that even as overall GDP rose a paltry 1.2%, somehow the consumer-driven portion of this number soared, with Personal Consumption Expenditures surging at an annualized 2.8% rate, nearly triple that recorded in the first quarter.

This means that the non-consumer part of the US economy subtracted 1.6% from GDP growth in the second quarter. In fact, as Deutsche Bank calculates, on an annual basis, the non-consumer portion of the economy is shrinking, i.e., in a recession, not only in real terms but also in nominal terms.

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More parts of Stockman’s upcoming book ‘Trumped’.

US Government Entitlements – Sixth Biggest Economy On Earth (Stockman)

……..Because the main street economy is failing, the nation’s entitlement rolls have exploded. About 110 million citizens now receive some form of means tested benefits. When social security is included, more than 160 million citizens get checks from Washington. The total cost is now $3 trillion per year and rising rapidly. America’s entitlements sector, in fact, is the sixth biggest economy in the world. Yet in a society that is rapidly aging to the tune of 10,000 baby boom retirees per day, this 50% dependency ratio is not even remotely sustainable. As we show in a later chapter, social security itself will be bankrupt within 10 years. Still, there is another even more important aspect of the mainstream narrative’s absolute radio silence about the monumental entitlements problem.

Like in the case of the nation’s 30-year LBO, the transfer payments crisis is obfuscated by the economic blind spots of our Keynesian central banking regime. Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen and their posse of paint-by-the-numbers economic plumbers have deified the great aggregates of consumer, business and government spending as the motor force of economic life. As more fully deconstructed below, however, this boils down to a primitive notion of bathtub economics. In this bogus economic model, it is assumed that the supply-side of the economy is always fully endowed or even over-provided. By contrast, the perennial problem is purportedly a shortfall of an ether called “aggregate demand”.

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Can we please stop talking about it, and do it already?

Helicopter Money Talk Takes Flight As Bank of Japan Runs Out Of Runway (R.)

In the narrowest sense, a government can arrange a helicopter drop of cash by selling perpetual bonds, which never need to be repaid, directly to the central bank. Economists do not expect this in Japan, but they do see a high chance of mission creep, with the BOJ perhaps committing to buy municipal bonds or debt issued by state-backed entities, giving its interventions more impact than in the treasury bond market, where it is currently buying 80 trillion yen a year of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) from financial institutions. “Compared with government debt, these assets have low trading volume and low liquidity, so BOJ purchases stand a high chance of distorting these markets,” said Shinichi Fukuda, a professor of economics at Tokyo University.

“Prices would have an upward bias, so even if the BOJ bought at market rates, this would be considered close to helicopter money.” Other options include creating a special account at the BOJ that the government can always borrow from, committing to hold a certain%age of outstanding government debt or buying corporate bonds, economists say. With the BOJ’s annual JGB purchases already more than twice the volume of new debt issued by the government, Japan has already adopted something akin to helicopter money, said Etsuro Honda, a former special adviser to the Cabinet and a key architect of Abe’s reflationary economic policy. But it has not been enough to stop consumer prices falling in June at their fastest since the BOJ began quantitative easing in 2013.

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And these are half-ass stress tests designed to let banks pass.

No Clean Bill Of Health For EU Banks In Stress Test (R.)

Banks from Italy, Ireland, Spain and Austria fared worst in the latest European Union stress test, which the region’s banking watchdog said on Friday showed there was still work to do in order to boost credit to the bloc’s economy. Eight years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked a global banking meltdown, many of Europe’s banks are still saddled with billions of euros in poorly performing loans, crimping their ability to lend and putting off investors. “While a number of individual banks have clearly fared badly, the overall finding of the European Banking Authority – that Europe’s banks are resilient to another crisis – is heartening,” Anthony Kruizinga at PwC said. Italy’s Monte dei Paschi, Austria’s Raiffeisen, Spain’s Banco Popular and two of Ireland’s main banks came out with the worst results in the EBA’s test of 51 EU lenders.

“Whilst we recognize the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health,” EBA Chairman Andrea Enria said in a statement. “There remains work to do.” Italy’s largest lender, UniCredit, was also among those banks which fared badly, and it said it will work with supervisors to see if it should take further measures. Germany’s biggest banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, were also among the 12 weakest banks in the test, along with British rival Barclays. Monte dei Paschi, Italy’s third largest lender, had been scrambling to pull together a rescue plan and win approval for it from the ECB ahead of the test results. The Italian bank confirmed less than an hour before the results that it had finalised a plan to sell off its entire portfolio of non-performing loans and had assembled a consortium of banks to back a €5 billion capital increase.

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More!

Ireland Jails Three Top Bankers Over 2008 Banking Meltdown (R.)

Three senior Irish bankers were jailed on Friday for up to three-and-a-half years for conspiring to defraud investors in the most prominent prosecution arising from the 2008 banking crisis that crippled the country’s economy. The trio will be among the first senior bankers globally to be jailed for their role in the collapse of a bank during the crisis. The lack of convictions until now has angered Irish taxpayers, who had to stump up €64 billion – almost 40% of annual economic output – after a property collapse forced the biggest state bank rescue in the euro zone. The crash thrust Ireland into a three-year sovereign bailout in 2010 and the finance ministry said last month that it could take another 15 years to recover the funds pumped into the banks still operating.

Former Irish Life and Permanent Chief Executive Denis Casey was sentenced to two years and nine months following the 74-day criminal trial, Ireland’s longest ever. Willie McAteer, former finance director at the failed Anglo Irish Bank, and John Bowe, its ex-head of capital markets, were given sentences of 42 months and 24 months respectively. All three were convicted of conspiring together and with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2 billion circular transaction scheme between March and September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. Irish Life placed the deposits via a non-banking subsidiary in the run-up to Anglo’s financial year-end, to allow its rival to categorize them as customer deposits, which are viewed as more secure, rather than a deposit from another bank.

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“..a couple of generations of Australians will be all the poorer for it…”

Australia’s Property Market Is Completely Bonkers (Schwab)

House prices are no longer a function of value but rather of how much people are prepared to pay. That in turn is determined by how much banks are willing to lend. And that amount continues to rise. Before the current boom started in 1997, the ratio of household debt to GDP was around 40% — it’s now more than 100% (it’s the same story for household income to household debt). In short, the banks are lending Australians a whole load of cash, and we’re using that cash to bid up the price of an unproductive asset (established housing).

The removal of housing prices from reality is almost total. Most investment advisers will tell you that the price of an asset is dependent on the income that asset generates. For example, the more a company earns (or more specifically, the more investors think that company will earn in the future), the higher its share price will rise. Given house and apartment prices are currently high (based on their terrible net rental yield) one would expect rents to be increasing significantly to justify their price. However, the data tells a very different story. CoreLogic found that Australian dwellings increased in price by 10% in the past year. In Sydney and Melbourne the price rises were even more significant, with Sydney increasing by 13% and Melbourne by 13.9%.

If the market had any degree of rationality, given the market is already expensive, rentals would have needed to rise by around 20% during the year to justify those price increases. However, CoreLogic also reported that Sydney rents were up a mere 0.4% and Melbourne up by 1.7% (both well below the inflation rate). That means if the market was insane a year ago, it’s even worse now. Already overprice property is increasing, in Sydney’s case, 20 times as fast as underlying income. The problem is no one seems to care what the banks do (least of all the government, even though taxpayers are on the hook if any of the big banks fall over, which if the history of banking is anything to go by is a virtual certainty at some point).

Moreover, successive governments’ taxation policies (negative gearing, no capital gains tax, minimal land tax) serve to exacerbate the insanity. How long will the boom last? Potentially some time. There are a lot of vested interests (banks, real estate industry, state governments, the media) who are utterly reliant on the bubble continuing. Sadly, a couple of generations of Australians will be all the poorer for it.

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“Economic stability breeds instability. Periods of prosperity give way to financial fragility. With overleveraged banks and no-money-down mortgages still fresh in the mind after the global financial crisis, Minsky’s insight might sound obvious.”

Minsky’s Moment (Economist)

Minsky distinguished between three kinds of financing. The first, which he called “hedge financing”, is the safest: firms rely on their future cashflow to repay all their borrowings. For this to work, they need to have very limited borrowings and healthy profits. The second, speculative financing, is a bit riskier: firms rely on their cashflow to repay the interest on their borrowings but must roll over their debt to repay the principal. This should be manageable as long as the economy functions smoothly, but a downturn could cause distress. The third, Ponzi financing, is the most dangerous. Cashflow covers neither principal nor interest; firms are betting only that the underlying asset will appreciate by enough to cover their liabilities. If that fails to happen, they will be left exposed.

Economies dominated by hedge financing—that is, those with strong cashflows and low debt levels—are the most stable. When speculative and, especially, Ponzi financing come to the fore, financial systems are more vulnerable. If asset values start to fall, either because of monetary tightening or some external shock, the most overstretched firms will be forced to sell their positions. This further undermines asset values, causing pain for even more firms. They could avoid this trouble by restricting themselves to hedge financing. But over time, particularly when the economy is in fine fettle, the temptation to take on debt is irresistible. When growth looks assured, why not borrow more? Banks add to the dynamic, lowering their credit standards the longer booms last.

If defaults are minimal, why not lend more? Minsky’s conclusion was unsettling. Economic stability breeds instability. Periods of prosperity give way to financial fragility. With overleveraged banks and no-money-down mortgages still fresh in the mind after the global financial crisis, Minsky’s insight might sound obvious. Of course, debt and finance matter. But for decades the study of economics paid little heed to the former and relegated the latter to a sub-discipline, not an essential element in broader theories. Minsky was a maverick. He challenged both the Keynesian backbone of macroeconomics and a prevailing belief in efficient markets.

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Yanis calling for heads to roll.

The IMF Confesses It Immolated Greece On Behalf Of The Eurogroup (YV)

[..] an urgent apology is due to the Greek people, not just by the IMF but also by the ECB and the Commission whose officials were egging the IMF on with the fiscal waterboarding of Greece. But an apology and a collective mea culpa from the troika is woefully inadequate. It needs to be followed up by the immediate dismissal of at least three functionaries. First on the list is Mr Poul Thomsen – the original IMF Greek Mission Chief whose great failure (according to the IMF’s own reports never before had a mission chief presided over a greater macroeconomic disaster) led to his promotion to the IMF’s European Chief status.

A close second spot in this list is Mr Thomas Wieser, the chair of the EuroWorkingGroup who has been part of every policy and every coup that resulted in Greece’s immolation and Europe’s ignominy, hopefully to be joined into retirement by Mr Declan Costello, whose fingerprints are all over the instruments of fiscal waterboarding. And, lastly, a gentleman that my Irish friends know only too well, Mr Klaus Masuch of the ECB. Finally, and most importantly, the apology and the dismissals will count for nothing if they are not followed by a complete U-turn over macroeconomic, fiscal and reform policies for Greece and beyond.

Is any of this going to happen? Or will the IMF’s IEO report light up the sky fleetingly, to be forgotten soon? The omens are pointing to the latter. In which case, the EU’s chances of regaining the confidence of its citizens, chances that are already too slim, will run through our leaders’ fingers like thin, white sand.

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“..the shift into an era of post-truth politics…”

Econocracy Has Split Britain Into Experts And Ordinary People (G.)

During the EU referendum debate almost the whole global economic and financial establishment lined up to warn of the consequences of Brexit, and yet 52% of the country ignored them. For many Remain voters it is a clear sign of the shift into an era of post-truth politics. While economists developed rigorous, evidence-based arguments, Leave campaigners slandered experts and appeared to pluck numbers out of the air. Yet they won. Post-truth politics is indeed a scary prospect but to avoid such a future we cannot simply blame “populist politicians” or “ill-informed voters”. We must understand the referendum in its wider context; economists must realise that they are both part of the problem and a necessary part of the solution. We are living in an econocracy.

Such a society seems like a democracy, with political parties and elections, but political goals are expressed in terms of their effect on “the economy”, and economic policymaking is viewed as a technical, not a political, activity. Areas of political life are increasingly delegated to experts, whether at the Bank of England, the government’s behavioural insights team, the Competition Commission or the Treasury. As members of Rethinking Economics, an international student movement seeking to reform the discipline of economics, we are campaigning for a more pluralist, critical and participatory approach. We conduct workshops in schools, run evening crash courses for adults, and this year launched Economy, a website providing accessible economic analysis of current affairs and a platform for lively public debate.

We want economists and citizens to join us in our mission to democratise economics. That’s because the language of economics has become the language of government, and as the experts on “the economy”, economists have secured a position of prestige and authority. Their rise has gone hand in hand with the increasing importance over the 20th century and beyond of the idea of the economy in political and social life. This idea in its modern use took hold only in the 1950s but today GDP growth is one of the central indicators of success for governments, and it is unheard of for a political party to win a general election without being viewed as competent on the economy.

We have also seen the economisation of daily life, so that parts of society as diverse as the arts and healthcare now justify their value in terms of their contribution to the economy. But in this process economists have largely ignored citizens and failed to consider their right to participate in discussion and decision-making.

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A bunch of dangerous sickos.

Network Close To NATO Military Leader Fueled Ukraine Conflict (Spiegel)

The newly leaked emails reveal a clandestine network of Western agitators around the NATO military chief, whose presence fueled the conflict in Ukraine. Many allies found in Breedlove’s alarmist public statements about alleged large Russian troop movements cause for concern early on. Earlier this year, the general was assuring the world that US European Command was “deterring Russia now and preparing to fight and win if necessary.” The emails document for the first time the questionable sources from whom Breedlove was getting his information. He had exaggerated Russian activities in eastern Ukraine with the overt goal of delivering weapons to Kiev. The general and his likeminded colleagues perceived US President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of all American forces, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel as obstacles.

Obama and Merkel were being “politically naive & counter-productive” in their calls for de-escalation, according to Phillip Karber, a central figure in Breedlove’s network who was feeding information from Ukraine to the general. “I think POTUS sees us as a threat that must be minimized,… ie do not get me into a war????” Breedlove wrote in one email, using the acronym for the president of the United States. How could Obama be persuaded to be more “engaged” in the conflict in Ukraine – read: deliver weapons – Breedlove had asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Breedlove sought counsel from some very prominent people, his emails show. Among them were Wesley Clark, Breedlove’s predecessor at NATO, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Kiev.

One name that kept popping up was Phillip Karber, an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC and president of the Potomac Foundation, a conservative think tank founded by the former defense contractor BDM. By its own account, the foundation has helped eastern European countries prepare their accession into NATO. Now the Ukrainian parliament and the government in Kiev were asking Karber for help. On February 16, 2015, when the Ukraine crisis had reached its climax, Karber wrote an email to Breedlove, Clark, Pyatt and Rose Gottemoeller, the under secretary for arms control and international security at the State Department, who will be moving to Brussels this fall to take up the post of deputy secretary general of NATO.

Karber was in Warsaw, and he said he had found surreptitious channels to get weapons to Ukraine – without the US being directly involved. According to the email, Pakistan had offered, “under the table,” to sell Ukraine 500 portable TOW-II launchers and 8,000 TOW-II missiles. The deliveries could begin within two weeks. Even the Poles were willing to start sending “well maintained T-72 tanks, plus several hundred SP 122mm guns, and SP-122 howitzers (along with copious amounts of artillery ammunition for both)” that they had leftover from the Soviet era. The sales would likely go unnoticed, Karber said, because Poland’s old weapons were “virtually undistinguishable from those of Ukraine.”

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What Trump said.

America’s Military Is “Lender Of Last Resort” (Cate Long)

America is slowly awakening from its long debt-induced slumber. It has conducted two major wars, a bailout of banks and a major stimulus program without raising taxes to pay for them. Because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low, it was easy for politicians to continue to raise the debt ceiling and spend without making reductions in other areas of the budget. But those days have ended, the punch bowl has been removed and a new sobriety has rolled into our national capital. Even with its massive deficit problems, America has been providing security for its global allies for decades at no cost to them.

This resulted in spending 4.8% of GDP on U.S. military in 2010, which was ramped up from 3.0% in 2001, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In contrast, you can see that European countries spent 1.73% of total GDP on military in 2010, which declined slightly from 1.99% in 2001. America has been subsidizing European military needs largely due to its role in the NATO alliance. The Council on Foreign Relations explains the new problems with this arrangement:

In 2011, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that ‘there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. . . . to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.’ France in Mali is now a case in point; the Obama administration is providing only grudging assistance to an under-resourced French intervention.

[…] French military spending…has since 2001 exhibited a marked constancy—one which is inconsistent with the country’s newfound passion for military engagement. (Libya in March 2011 was another example of the French, as well as British, military biting off more than it could chew). It also highlights the need for the Obama administration to address Gates’ prescient concern and to develop a clearer policy foundation for America’s global military ‘lender of last resort’ role.

America is woefully underfunded in infrastructure spending and many other social needs. A big question is whether it can also be the global military “lender of last resort” and still maintain its own house. The military contracting industry in America does create a lot of jobs, but in essence it also gives the benefits away free to its allies. Times must change. America must either charge for these services or understand more clearly what we gain from continued military involvement overseas.

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Jul 182016
 
 July 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein General store and railroad crossing, Atlanta, Ohio 1938

Ireland Hits Brexit Alarm in Biggest Foreign Crisis in 50 Years (BBG)
Yuan Declines to 2010 Low as Property Prices Slow, Dollar Rises (BBG)
Goodbye Lenin, Hello Bernanke (ABC.au)
Stocks and Bonds Are on a Collision Course (DR)
Bubbles in Bond Land (David Stockman)
Chinese Cities’ Expansion Plans Could House 3.4 Billion People (BBG)
Slowing China Home Price Rises Add To Doubts About Economy (R.)
Under-35s Could Be The First Generation To Earn Less Than Their Parents (DM)
Boom to Bust (Salt)
Justice Department ‘Uses Aged Computer System To Frustrate FOIA Requests’ (G.)
MH-17: Russia Convicted By Propaganda (PCR)
Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All (New Yorker)
Six Wealthiest Countries Host Less Than 9% Of World’s Refugees (G.)
20 Migrants Dead, 366 Saved From Boats In Mediterranean (NW)

 

 

Huh? Didn’t Ireland grow 26% just last week?

Ireland Hits Brexit Alarm in Biggest Foreign Crisis in 50 Years (BBG)

The prime minister is under pressure, economists are slashing growth forecasts and companies are warning of Brexit’s dire consequences. London? No, Dublin. The intertwining of trade and finance means no other country is feeling the fallout from the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union more than Ireland. In the year the Irish marked the centenary of their uprising against British rule, the country remains at the mercy of the unfolding drama in its closest neighbor. “It’s the most serious, difficult issue facing the country for 50 years,” said John Bruton, 69, who was Irish prime minister between 1994 and 1997 and later served as the EU’s ambassador to the U.S.

Exporters have warned the plummeting pound will erode earnings and economic growth, just as a recovery had taken hold after the 2010 international bailout that followed the banking meltdown. Irish shares have declined, not least because the U.K. is the top destination for the country’s exports after the U.S. and the biggest for its services. Meantime, Prime Minister Enda Kenny is fending off demands by Northern Irish nationalists for a reunification poll as he comes to terms with the loss of a key EU ally and plotters from his own party try to topple him. Then there’s the future of the U.K.’s only land border with the EU. “The consequences are mind-boggling,” said Eoin Fahy, chief economist at Kleinwort Benson Investors in the Irish capital.

Britain and Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973. Ireland was drawn in part to escape what one politician called “our gate-lodge attitude towards England.” More than four decades later, the two countries remain woven together economically as well as culturally and linguistically. Ireland uses the euro, yet does about $45 billion of trade with the U.K. About 380,000 Irish citizens living in Britain were eligible to vote in the Brexit referendum. Britain also chipped in for Ireland’s bailout six years ago, despite not being part of the euro region. When Theresa May took over as British prime minister last Wednesday, Kenny was among three leaders she spoke to, along with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande of France.

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Bloomberg should simply say: “The yuan fell, and we have no idea why”.

Yuan Declines to 2010 Low as Property Prices Slow, Dollar Rises (BBG)

China’s yuan fell to the weakest level since 2010, pulled down by cooling property prices, a dollar rebounding on haven demand and a weaker central bank fixing. New home prices rose in fewer cities in June compared with a month earlier, according to official data released Monday, blunting optimism prompted by last week’s figures showing forecast-beating economic growth. The monetary authority weakened the yuan’s daily fixing to the lowest since 2010 after the dollar strengthened Friday following a coup attempt in Turkey.

The greenback was supported on Monday also as China said it would hold military exercises in the South China Sea. “The dollar strengthened as orders to buy the currency jumped, pressuring the yuan and the rest of Asian currencies lower,” said Andy Ji, a Singapore-based foreign-exchange strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. “There’s news that China will hold military exercises in the South China Sea later this month,” which could spur some haven-demand for the greenback.

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Lookalike contest.

Goodbye Lenin, Hello Bernanke (ABC.au)

Maybe it’s just me, but have you noticed the striking similarity between Vladimir Lenin and Ben Bernanke lately? Superficially, there’s the obvious physical resemblance; whippet build, glabrous pate, facial hair and a penchant for stylish, if somewhat conservative, garb. More significantly, both appear to harbour the same ideological distrust of free markets or, at the very least, a burning desire to control them as much as possible. Separated by almost a century, both men have made it a lifelong ambition to impose state control over the economy. And it has to be said, while Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin achieved significant success in spreading the word from Russia through developing nations, he and his successors never quite got across the line when it came to the so-called free world.

Maybe it was his reputation as a firebrand, an over-reliance on bloody revolution by force and the frightening prospect – for the ruling elite at least – that wealth would be redistributed to the poor. Enter Ben Bernanke. In the space of a mere eight years, the former Federal Reserve chief has managed to achieve what Vladimir could barely conceive. He’s convinced the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe to embark on a revolutionary journey to completely subvert free market instincts. Unlike his Russian predecessor, Ben has opted for the calm, congenial exterior of Central Banker from Central Casting, complete with a mogadon monotone designed to lull his audience into a state of torpor.

He’s also wisely decided to modify the wealth distribution bit. As western governments have raided the kitty, plunging themselves into an ocean of debt, much of the proceeds have flowed directly into asset markets – stocks, bonds and property – which has helped maintain the flow of wealth towards the wealthy. Brilliant! Last week, Ben was in Japan. And that got twitchy fingered traders across the globe all hot under the collar. Ben, after all, is the man who pioneered the implementation of “unorthodox monetary policy”.

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“Bond markets are signaling something very nasty coming down the road at us — an all-encompassing, worldwide deflation.”

Stocks and Bonds Are on a Collision Course (DR)

One of the following is correct: A) The stock market is lying. B) The bond market is lying. They both can’t be true. Consider: The stock market has sprung to record highs this week. Shocking, given the world was coming to an end after Brexit. But it’s true. Both the S&P and the Dow eclipsed previous records this week. What does that normally indicate? A rollicking economy in high gear, stability, investor belief in the future. Maybe some “healthy” inflation into the bargain. Now consider: Bonds are also trading at record highs. Meaning yields are at historic lows (prices and yields move in opposite directions – the higher the price, the lower the yield, and vice versa). Yields on 10-year Treasuries plunged to all-time lows this month. Same with 30-year Treasuries.

That would normally signal an economy on the brink of ruin and investors panicking into government bonds. It also means deflation of the hide-the-women-and-children variety. TheTelegraph: “Bond markets are signaling something very nasty coming down the road at us — an all-encompassing, worldwide deflation.” Two completely different narratives. One wrong, one right. Someone’s in for a nasty shock – and probably soon. Says analyst William Koldus, founder of The Contrarian: The tug of war between inflationary and deflationary assets is likely to be resolved in 2016. Either U.S. stock prices, which have been an outlier to the upside, are wrong, and a significant correction awaits stock investors, or U.S. bond prices, and global sovereign bond yields, which have priced in a significant deflationary head wind, are wrong, and safe-haven bondholders are set for losses.

Who’s the jury to believe? Generally, the bond market. As Neil Irwin of The New York Times explains, “Savvy economic analysts have always known the bond market is the place to look for a real sense of where the economy is going, or at least where the smart money thinks it is going.” Here he dumps more rain on the parade: “And right now, if the bond market is correctly predicting the economic path ahead, we should all be terrified.”

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“Surely, BOJ Governor Kuroda will go down in history as the stupidest central banker of all-time.”

Bubbles in Bond Land (David Stockman)

Last year Japan lost another 272,000 of its population as it marches steadily toward its destiny as the world’s first bankrupt old age colony. At the same time, the return on Japan’s 40-year bond during the last six months has been an astonishing 48%. That’s right! We aren’t talking Tesla, the biotech index or the FANGs. To the contrary, like the rest of the Japanese Government Bond (JGB) yield curve, this bond has no yield and no prospect of repayment. But that doesn’t matter because it’s not really a sovereign bond, anyway. It has actually morphed into a risk free gambling chip. Leveraged front-runners are scooping up whatever odds and sots of JGBs that remain on the market and are selling them to the Bank of Japan (BOJ) at higher, and higher and higher prices.

At the same time, these punters face virtually no risk. That’s because the BOJ already owns 426 trillion yen of JGBs, which is nearly half of the bonds outstanding. And it is buying up the rest at a rate of 80 trillion yen per year under current policy, while giving every indication of sharply stepping up its purchase rate as it segues to outright helicopter money. It can therefore be well and truly said that the BOJ is the ultimate roach motel. Virtually every scrap of Japan’s gargantuan public debt will go marching into its vaults never to return, and at “whatever it takes” bond prices to meet the BOJ’s lunatic purchase quotas. Surely, BOJ Governor Kuroda will go down in history as the stupidest central banker of all-time.

But in the interim the man is contributing — along with Draghi, Yellen and the rest of the central bankers guild — to absolute mayhem in the global fixed income market. That’s because these fools have succeeded in unleashing a pincer movement among market participants that is flat-out suicidal. That is, the leveraged fast money gamblers are chasing prices ever higher as sovereign bonds become increasingly scarce. At the same time, desperate bond fund managers, who will lose their jobs for just sitting on cash, are chasing yields rapidly lower on any bond that still has a positive current return. This is the reason the 30-year U.S. treasury bond has produced a 22% return during the last six months. To say the least, that’s not shabby at all considering that its current yield is just 2.25%.

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Want to see a real housing crisis?

Chinese Cities’ Expansion Plans Could House 3.4 Billion People (BBG)

New areas planned by China’s small cities could accommodate 3.4 billion people by 2030 – or almost half the world’s current population – a target that even Chinese state media calls problematic. A report by the National Development & Reform Commission, China’s central planning agency, found that small- and medium-sized cities were planning more than 3,500 new areas that could accommodate more than twice the country’s current population of 1.4 billion. The entire world has a population of 7.4 billion, according to U.S. Census estimates. The findings were detailed in an analysis by the official Xinhua News Agency, which criticized the planned new areas as unworkable: “Who’s going to live in them? That’s a problem,” the piece said.

The expansion comes amid urbanization calls by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang as China prepares for another 100 million people to move from the countryside to urban metropolises by the end of the decade. People tend favor bigger markets with more opportunities and fewer than 1-in-10 migrant workers moved to small cities last year, according to an NDRC report published in April. Even without the new areas, China already has more housing than it needs and “ghost cities” have proliferated. China has been building more than 10 million new units annually for the past five years, outstripping an estimated of demand of less than 8 million, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence Economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen.

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Look, Reuters, there comes a point where things like “..a construction-led rebound in the economy may not be sustainable..” become meaningless. We reached that point quite a while ago.

Slowing China Home Price Rises Add To Doubts About Economy (R.)

Home price rises in China slowed in June for a second straight month, adding to fears that a construction-led rebound in the economy may not be sustainable. The property market is a key driver of the world’s second-largest economy and a robust recovery in home prices and sales gave a stronger-than-expected boost to activity in the first half of the year. But slowing price growth in smaller cities and cooling property investment show the bounce may already be fading, raising the risk of weaker economic growth in coming months. Home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 7.3% in June from a year earlier, an official survey showed on Monday, accelerating from a 6.9% rise in May.

To be sure, some of the biggest cities showed eye-popping gains on a yearly basis, with prices in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen up 46.7% and Shanghai up 27.7%. Gains on a monthly basis continued to slow, however, as cities tightened policies amid fears of a housing price bubble. The monthly rise slowed slightly to 0.8% in June, easing from 0.9% in May, according to a Reuters calculation based on data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). “We continue to expect the property rebound to subside and property investment growth to fall in the second half of the year,” economists at Nomura said in a note, predicting sales would stabilize and a large glut of unsold homes would keep pressure on prices in some areas.

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Stupidest term in a long time: “generational pay progress”.

Under-35s Could Be The First Generation To Earn Less Than Their Parents (DM)

Millennials could become the first generation to earn less than their predecessors, analysis by a think-tank has found. The Research Foundation found that under-35s have been hit hardest by the recent pay squeeze and earned £8,000 less during their 20s than a typical person in the previous generation – known as generation X. The finding comes just days after new Prime Minister Theresa May warned of a ‘growing divide between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation’. The report, which comes as the thank-tank launches its Intergenerational Commission, warns that a post-Brexit downturn could depress millennials’ wages further.

The Intergenerational Commission report states that while some of the pay squeeze is down to millennials entering the job market as the recession hit, it also found generational pay progress had actually stopped before the 2007/08 financial crash. If the future pay of millennials follows the path of generation X, that would reduce their lifetime earnings to around £825,000 – making them the first ever generation to earn less than their predecessors over the course of their working lives. The comparable figure for Generation X is around £832,000. Even if their wages followed a more optimistic path and improved rapidly like their baby boomer parents, their lifetime earnings would be around £890,000. This would be just 7% more than generation X and a third of the size of the pay progress that generation X are set to enjoy over the baby boomers.

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“Boomers got the Pill, free love, free education and easy jobs. Gen X got AIDS, HECS and the GFC.”

Boom to Bust (Salt)

I feel sorry for Generation X, those of you born between 1965 and 1983 and who are now straddling the load-bearing years of the late 30s and 40s. There is no escaping the big responsibilities at this time in the life cycle. At this very moment, Xers are raising families and paying taxes and working flat out… and yet nary a peep from this lot does anyone hear. It’s all about the baby boomers, and if it’s not about the baby boomers and their interminable retirement woes then it’s all about their gifted Generation-Y children. Are we paying you enough, Gen Y? Is anyone being mean to you? Can I get you a pillow? You do realise that I am a Generation Xer, trapped inside a baby boomer body. The reason I feel sorry for the Xers is that they’re always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Xers are the pissed-off generation. They are heartily sick of baby boomers and their cultural chest-beating. Yes, boomers, we know it was you who saved humanity from the Vietnam War. Yes, we know you discovered free love in the 1960s. No one had thought of sex prior to that, had they? This is what I mean about being pissed off. Baby boomers got the Pill and free love when they were coming of age. But what did older Xers get when they passed through their teens and 20s? The 1980s. Out went the concept of free love; in came the mortal threat of HIV-AIDS. Kind of puts a dampener on the sex thing, don’t you think?

Boomers got fee-free university education courtesy of Gough Whitlam. When did most Xers go to uni? Oh, that’d be after 1989, when we decided fee-free tertiary education was unsustainable and in came HECS. When did many Xers enter the workforce? Oh, that’d be in the early 1990s, when unemployment peaked at nearly 12 per cent. And then they worked for baby boomer managers, biding their time, pacing, scheming, forever waiting for the boomers to let go of the reins. And when was it that baby boomer management let go of the reins? Oh, that’d be around the time of the global financial crisis. “Here you go Xers, it’s your turn now. We’re off on a Rhine River cruise. Make sure you pay your taxes. Bye.”

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If the Department of Justice won’t obey the law, what do you get?

Justice Department ‘Uses Aged Computer System To Frustrate FOIA Requests’ (G.)

A new lawsuit alleges that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) intentionally conducts inadequate searches of its records using a decades-old computer system when queried by citizens looking for records that should be available to the public. Freedom of Information Act (Foia) researcher Ryan Shapiro alleges “failure by design” in the DoJ’s protocols for responding to public requests. The Foia law states that agencies must “make reasonable efforts to search for the records in electronic form or format”. In an effort to demonstrate that the DoJ does not comply with this provision, Shapiro requested records of his own requests and ran up against the same roadblocks that stymied his progress in previous inquiries.

A judge ruled in January that the FBI had acted in a manner “fundamentally at odds with the statute”. Now, armed with that ruling, Shapiro hopes to change policy across the entire department. Shapiro filed his suit on the 50th anniversary of Foia’s passage this month. Foia requests to the FBI are processed by searching the Automated Case Support system (ACS), a software program that celebrates its 21st birthday this year. Not only are the records indexed by ACS allegedly inadequate, Shapiro told the Guardian, but the FBI refuses to search the full text of those records as a matter of policy. When few or no records are returned, Shapiro said, the FBI effectively responds “sorry, we tried” without making use of the much more sophisticated search tools at the disposal of internal requestors.

“The FBI’s assertion is akin to suggesting that a search of a limited and arbitrarily produced card catalogue at a vast library is as likely to locate book pages containing a specified search term as a full text search of database containing digitized versions of all the books in that library,” Shapiro said.

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Will be a big story again when Holland produces its ‘objective’ report. Which has lost all credibility way before publication.

MH-17: Russia Convicted By Propaganda (PCR)

Today is the second anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and we still do not know the explanation. Washington and its European vassal politicians and media instantly politicized the event: The Russians did it. End of story. After 15 months of heavy anti-Russian propaganda had imprinted the message on peoples’ minds, the Dutch Safety Board issued its inconclusive report. By then, it was irrelevant what the report said. Everyone already knew that “the Russians did it.” I remember when pre-trial media accusations resulted in dismissed cases. Anyone declared guilty prior to presentation of evidence and conviction was considered to have been convicted in advance and unable to receive a fair trail. Such cases were dismissed by judges.

Washington’s story never made any sense. Neither Russia nor the separatists in the Donetsk region had any reason to shoot down a Malaysian airliner. In contrast Washington had enormous incentives as Washington’s propaganda machine could place the blame on Russia and use the incident to compel European governments to accept Washington’s sanctions placed on Russia. It worked for Washington. Washington successfully used the incident to wreck Europe’s political and economic relationships with Russia. Four months into the anti-Russian propaganda campaign, a website called Bellingcat, claiming to be an open source site for citizen journalists, but which could be a MI-5, MI-6, or CIA front, issued a report that the Buk missile was fired by a Russian unit, the 53rd Buk Brigade, based in the Russian city of Kursk.

This allegation exposed the propaganda for what it is. Whereas it is possible that separatists unfamiliar with the Buk weapon system could accidentally shoot down a civilian airliner, it is not possible for a Russian military unit to make such a mistake. Moreover, it is unclear why separatists or the Ukrainian government would have any reason to use Buk missiles in their conflict. The separatists have no air force. The Ukrainians attack the separatists at ground level with ground attack aircraft and helicopters, not with high altitude bombing. The Buk missile is a high altitude missile. The only way the separatists could have acquired Buk missiles is by overrunning and capturing Ukrainian positions that for unfathomed reasons had deployed Buk missiles.

It seems to me that if a Buk missile was present in the conflict area, it was moved there for a reason unrelated to the conflict. A European air traffic controller said that MH-17 and the airliner carrying Russian President Vladimir Putin were initially on the same course. Possibly Washington and its vassal in Kiev thought MH-17 was Putin’s plane and destroyed the Malaysian flight by mistake.

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Brought to you by the Clinton Foundation: “I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All (New Yorker)

Last June, as dusk fell outside Tony Schwartz’s sprawling house, on a leafy back road in Riverdale, New York, he pulled out his laptop and caught up with the day’s big news: Donald J. Trump had declared his candidacy for President. As Schwartz watched a video of the speech, he began to feel personally implicated. Trump, facing a crowd that had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue, laid out his qualifications, saying, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ” If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running. Schwartz dashed off a tweet: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ”

Schwartz had ghostwritten Trump’s 1987 breakthrough memoir, earning a joint byline on the cover, half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance, and half of the royalties. The book was a phenomenal success, spending forty-eight weeks on the Times best-seller list, thirteen of them at No. 1. More than a million copies have been bought, generating several million dollars in royalties. The book expanded Trump’s renown far beyond New York City, making him an emblem of the successful tycoon. Edward Kosner, the former editor and publisher of New York, where Schwartz worked as a writer at the time, says, “Tony created Trump. He’s Dr. Frankenstein.”

Starting in late 1985, Schwartz spent eighteen months with Trump—camping out in his office, joining him on his helicopter, tagging along at meetings, and spending weekends with him at his Manhattan apartment and his Florida estate. During that period, Schwartz felt, he had got to know him better than almost anyone else outside the Trump family. Until Schwartz posted the tweet, though, he had not spoken publicly about Trump for decades. It had never been his ambition to be a ghostwriter, and he had been glad to move on. But, as he watched a replay of the new candidate holding forth for forty-five minutes, he noticed something strange: over the decades, Trump appeared to have convinced himself that he had written the book. Schwartz recalls thinking, “If he could lie about that on Day One—when it was so easily refuted—he is likely to lie about anything.”

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While being responsible for 91% of them fleeing in the first place.

Six Wealthiest Countries Host Less Than 9% Of World’s Refugees (G.)

The six wealthiest countries in the world, which between them account for almost 60% of the global economy, host less than 9% of the world’s refugees, while poorer countries shoulder most of the burden, Oxfam has said. According to a report released by the charity on Monday, the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK, which together make up 56.6% of global GDP, between them host just 2.1 million refugees: 8.9% of the world’s total. Of these 2.1 million people, roughly a third are hosted by Germany (736,740), while the remaining 1.4 million are split between the other five countries. The UK hosts 168,937 refugees, a figure Oxfam GB chief executive, Mark Goldring, has called shameful.

In contrast, more than half of the world’s refugees – almost 12 million people – live in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa, despite the fact these places make up less than 2% of the world’s economy. Oxfam is calling on governments to host more refugees and to do more to help poorer countries which provide shelter to the majority of the world’s refugees. “This is one of the greatest challenges of our time yet poorer countries, and poorer people, are left to shoulder the responsibility,” said Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB. “It is a complex crisis that requires a coordinated, global response with the richest countries doing their fair share by welcoming more refugees and doing more to help and protect them wherever they are.

“Now more than ever, the UK needs to show that it is an open, tolerant society that is prepared to play its part in solving this crisis. It is shameful that as one of the richest economies the UK has provided shelter for less than 1% of refugees.”

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Look away.

20 Migrants Dead, 366 Saved From Boats In Mediterranean (NW)

Rescuers saved 366 migrants from rickety boats trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy but at least 20 people were reported to have drowned, Italian police said on Saturday. The survivors, who were rescued in four separate operations, were crammed onto three rubber dinghies and a wooden fishing boat. They were all taken to the Sicilian port of Augusta, where they were questioned on Friday evening by the Italian police unit Interforce, which combats illegal immigration.

The Norwegian ship Siem Pilot went to the aid of one dinghy that sank in the Sicilian Channel, but many migrants were already in the sea when it arrived, Antonio Panzanaro, an Interforce official, told Reuters. One corpse was recovered but survivors said that at least 20 people had drowned before the ship arrived, he said. There were 82 women and 25 children among the 366 people rescued, he said. The survivors were mainly from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Bangladesh. Seven people were arrested from the four boats, including their drivers, on suspicion of people-trafficking, he said.

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May 172016
 
 May 17, 2016  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Clam seller in Mulberry Bend, NYC 1904

Deutsche Bank’s Woes May Be ‘Insurmountable’ (BBG)
Wall Street Banks See A Painful Summer For Stocks Ahead (MW)
IMF Wants Eurozone Debt Relief for Greece Until 2040-2080 (WSJ)
ECB Grants Debt Relief To All Eurozone Nations Except Greece (Vox)
Canada Terrified Of Popping Foreign-Buyer Housing Bubble (CBC)
New Zealand Housing Crisis Forces Hundreds To Live In Tents And Garages (G.)
Chinese Investors Have Spent $300 Billion On US Property (R.)
China’s Economy Is Past The Point Of No Return (Chang)
Money Trail Shows China Sticking To ‘Original Sin’ (R.)
China Challenged to Keep Yuan Stable as Dollar Rises (WSJ)
The Great Foreclosure Fraud (Dayen)
Climate Change Puts 1.3 Billion People, $158 Trillion At Risk: World Bank (G.)
Will Brexit Make Ireland A Nation Once Again? Don’t Write It Off (McWilliams)
The Leftwing Case For Brexit -One Day- (Mason)
As Brexit Vote Looms, US Banks Review Their European Commitments (R.)
UN Urges Greece To Stop Detaining Migrant Children (R.)
Syrians Returned To Turkey In EU Deal ‘Have No Access To Lawyers’ (G.)

A long time coming. Key: derivatives exposure. Something’s bound to push Deutsche eerily close to the edge. What will Berlin do?

Deutsche Bank’s Woes May Be ‘Insurmountable’ (BBG)

Deutsche Bank is stuck in a vicious circle as co-CEO John Cryan seeks to overhaul an impaired business that needs more capital, which the bank would struggle to raise if it tried to tap investors, according to Berenberg. The Frankfurt-based lender’s biggest problem is excessive leverage, Berenberg’s James Chappell wrote Monday in a note that said the bank faces “insurmountable headwinds.” He cut his rating to sell from hold and reduced his target price for the stock to €9 per share, the lowest among more than 30 analysts tracked by Bloomberg and about 40% below current levels. While Cryan, 55, has scrapped dividends, earmarked businesses for sale and pledged to eliminate thousands of jobs, Deutsche Bank earnings have been undermined by €12.6 billion in costs linked to past misconduct.

Efforts to sell assets may be hampered by illiquid credit markets, while Cryan will also struggle to boost capital as the investment-banking industry is in “structural decline,” Chappell wrote “It’s hard to see how Deutsche Bank can escape this vicious circle without raising more capital,” Chappell wrote. “The CEO has eschewed this route for now, in the hope that self-help can break this loop, but with risk being re-priced again, it is hard to see Deutsche Bank succeeding.” Shares in Deutsche Bank have dropped 35% this year. The company trades at about 39% of tangible book value, the lowest ratio among the top global banks, according to Bloomberg data. That means they are worth less than investors would expect to receive if the firm liquidated assets.

Credit Suisse, which last year raised capital to help restructure its businesses, is trading at 65%. Eleven analysts recommend selling Deutsche Bank shares, while 21 have a hold rating and six suggest buying the stock, according to Bloomberg data. The lender’s average 12-month price target is about €18, with analysts at Goldman Sachs forecasting shares to reach €23.80. Cryan has already signaled that Deutsche Bank may post another loss this year, hurt by restructuring costs and charges ties to past misconduct. Chappell cut his estimate for Deutsche Bank’s earnings-per-share by about 35% for 2017 and 2018. He predicts the lender will earn about €2 per share in 2018.

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Talking their books? Sell in May?

Wall Street Banks See A Painful Summer For Stocks Ahead (MW)

If you gathered a group of stock analysts in a room, odds are each analysts would have a different view on the market. So when analysts from three big investment banks are on the same page, it might pay to listen. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are all urging investors to rotate out of equities because they see a painful summer ahead. “An increasing number of trends worry us as we head into summer,” said Savita Subramanian, an equity and quantitative strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The fact that corporate buybacks are near an all-time high while the number of companies projected to post losses has also risen is a huge red flag for Subramanian.

Furthermore, an interest-rate hike during an earnings recession never ends well, she said. “Since 1971, the Fed has begun tightening during a bona fide profits recession only three other times – 1976, 1983, and 1986; two out of those three instances saw stocks drop over the next twelve months. The S&P is just 1% off its Dec. 16 level when the Fed initially hiked,” said the strategist in a report. An earnings recession, like an economic contraction, is two consecutive quarters of negative year-on-year profit growth. First-quarter earnings fell 7.1% from a year earlier, marking four consecutive quarters of declines, according to FactSet. Subramanian also sees signs that capital is drying up with initial public offerings at an all-time low while commercial lending standards have tightened.

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Schäuble says NEIN!

IMF Wants Eurozone Debt Relief for Greece Until 2040 (WSJ)

The IMF is pressing the eurozone to let Greece skip paying interest or principal on bailout loans until 2040, say officials familiar with the talks. The IMF wants the loans to Greece to fall due gradually in the following decades, and as late as 2080, according to the IMF’s proposal. The IMF’s proposal, presented to eurozone governments late last week, would keep Greece’s annual debt-service needs below 15% of its gross domestic product, under the IMF’s relatively pessimistic forecast for Greece’s long-term economic trajectory. The IMF’s demands go far beyond what Greece’s eurozone creditors have said they are willing to do to help Greece regain its financial health.

Eurozone governments, led by Germany, are reluctant to make such major concessions on their loans to Greece, which currently total just over €200 billion with around another €60 billion to come under the latest Greek bailout plan. But Germany, the eurozone’s dominant economic power, also wants the IMF to rejoin the Greek bailout as a lender. The IMF hasn’t yet signed up to the Greek program agreed last summer. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long viewed the IMF as essential to the credibility of the Greek bailout. Her government promised Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, last year that the IMF would join the new bailout program before Europe disburses further money to Athens.

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As Germany gets more debt relief than anyone else.

ECB Grants Debt Relief To All Eurozone Nations Except Greece (Vox)

It looks like Greece may get some debt relief. There is as yet no certainty about this because some German politicians continue to conduct rear-guard battles to prevent it. What is certain, however, is that all Eurozone countries, with the exception of Greece, have been enjoying debt relief since early 2015. That may seem surprising to the outsider. Some explanation is necessary here. As part of its new policy of ‘quantitative easing’ (QE), the ECB has been buying government bonds of the Eurozone countries since March 2015. Since the start of this new policy, the ECB has bought about €645 billion in government bonds. And it has announced that it will continue to do so, at an accelerated monthly rate, until at least March 2017 (Draghi and Constâncio 2015). By then, it will have bought an estimated €1,500 billion of government bonds.

The ECB’s intention is to pump money in the economy. In so doing, it hopes to lift the Eurozone economy out of stagnation. I have no problems with this. On the contrary, I have been an advocate of such a policy. What I do have problems with is the fact that Greece is excluded from this QE programme. The ECB does not buy Greek government bonds. As a result, the ECB excludes Greece from the debt relief that it grants to the other countries of the Eurozone. How is this possible? When the ECB buys government bonds from a Eurozone country, it is as if these bonds cease to exist. Although the bonds remain on the balance sheet of the ECB (in fact, most of these are recorded on the balance sheets of the national central banks), they have no economic significance anymore.

Each national treasury will pay interest on these bonds, but the central banks will refund these interest payments at the end of the year to the same national treasuries. This means that as long as the government bonds remain on the balance sheets of the national central banks, the national governments do not pay interest anymore on the part of its debt held on the books of the central bank. All these governments enjoy debt relief. How large is the debt relief enjoyed by the governments of the Eurozone? Table 1 gives the answer. It shows the cumulative purchases of government bonds by the ECB since March 2015 until the end of April 2016.

As long as these bonds are held on the balance sheets of the ECB or the national central banks, governments do not have to pay interest on these bonds. The ECB has announced that when these bonds come to maturity, it will buy an equivalent amount of bonds in the secondary market. We observe that the total debt relief granted by the ECB until now (April 2016) to the Eurozone countries amounts to €645 billion. We also note the absence of Greece and the fact that the greatest adversary of debt relief for Greece, Germany, enjoys the largest debt relief from the ECB.

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What bubbles can do.

Canada Terrified Of Popping Foreign-Buyer Housing Bubble (CBC)

There’s a bidding war for government action on Canada’s soaring housing market, but as fingers point to foreign buyers as a reason for escalating prices, governments at all three levels are not yet motivated to cool the market down. Young Canadians complain home ownership is increasingly beyond their reach. Governments fear rules to put a lid on stratospheric prices — expected to show another strong increase in today’s real estate data for April — could have an an economic impact far beyond the first-time buyer market. The difficulty governments face is that while Canadian manufacturing and exports fall, while oil and resources crash, the property market has become the spark plug of the economy. The proverbial engine of growth is firing on a single cylinder.

Efforts to tabulate exactly how much foreign money is entering the market are unlikely to be definitive. The debate over whether it is five, 14 or 66% of sales, to quote some of the estimates in a recent Maclean’s article, will not be easily resolved. Family members can be placeholders for overseas investors. Layers of corporate ownership can do something similar [..] And that may be just the way a lot of those who benefit from the real estate market want to keep it. The fact is the foreign contribution to rising prices is only accelerating a global phenomenon that would have happened in Canada anyway. The real issue is land, hence the real estate truism: “They ain’t makin’ any more of it.” As populations grow, prime land close to where people want to live inevitably gets bid up in value.

Compared to the rest of the world, Canada has been living in a bubble. Ours is a huge country with a small population, so for decades Canadians have imagined it their God-given right to sprawl out over the best agricultural land surrounding our cities, offering everyone a suburban backyard and a picket fence. The end of that seemingly endless sprawl just happened to coincide with historically low interest rates and large parts of a global population having risen from poverty to be at least as rich as Canadians. No longer the poor and hungry, many now have a healthy down payment. The very difficult question facing municipal, provincial and federal governments is exactly how they should respond if the new data on foreign ownership shows overseas money is significantly distorting Canadian markets.

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If everything becomes speculation, then so do people.

New Zealand Housing Crisis Forces Hundreds To Live In Tents And Garages (G.)

Hundreds of families in Auckland are living in cars, garages and even a shipping container as a housing crisis fuelled by rising property prices forces low-income workers out of private rental accommodation. Charity groups have warned that, as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, most of the premises have no electricity, sewage or cooking facilities. “This is not people who haven’t been trying. They have been trying very hard and still they’re failing,” said Campbell Roberts of The Salvation Army, who has worked in South Auckland for 25 years. “A few years ago people in this situation were largely unemployed or on very low-incomes. But consistently now we are finding people coming to us who are in work, and have their life together in other ways, but housing is alluding them.”

Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, with property prices increasing 77.5% over the last five years (this growth has now slowed), and the average house price fetching over NZ$940,000 (£440,000), according to CoreLogic, New Zealand. Combined with low interest rates, rising migration, near full occupancy of state housing in South Auckland, and minimal wage rises, the pressure on many low to middle income earners has become too much to bear. Some families are now forced to choose between having a permanent roof over their heads, or feeding themselves and their children. Jenny Salesa, a Labour MP in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, says Maori and Pacific peoples are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of Auckland’s housing crisis, and she has people coming to her office every day begging for help.

“People are living in garages with ten family members and paying close to NZ$400 for the privilege,” said Salesa. “People are ashamed their lives have come to this, and they try to hide. But you can tell which garages are occupied – there are curtains on the windows, small attempts to make it a home. And on the weekends, in the park, there can be up to fifty cars grouped together, with people sleeping in them.” Salesa estimates nearly 50% of people asking for her help in finding a home are in paid employment, and many families have two parents working and are still unable to make ends meet.

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$200 billion of which is in mortgage-backed securities?!

Chinese Investors Have Spent $300 Billion On US Property (R.)

Chinese investment in the U.S. real estate market has surpassed $300 billion and is growing despite China’s economic weakness and increased currency controls, the authors of a new report said on Monday. Between 2010 and 2015 Chinese buyers bought $93 billion in residential real estate, nearly $208 billion of mortgage-backed securities, and roughly $17 billion of commercial real estate, including office towers and hotels, according to the report by the Rosen Consulting Group and the Asia Society. Despite those eye-popping numbers, foreign direct investment from China still only makes up 10% of all foreign direct investment put into the United States. However, the report is significant as the first independent study to prove Chinese investors rank among the top in every real estate sector.

It also shows Chinese investors have stamina and can withstand short-term market events, said Arthur Margon, a co-author of the report and a partner at Rosen Consulting Group, which specializes in real estate. “There are strong signals that there will be continued, maybe even increasing appetite,” said Margon, during an event at New York’s Asia Society. How long the good times will last depends on both the U.S. and Chinese economies. Rosen’s team projects the United States will move out of its economic recovery and into a minor slowdown within 18 to 24 months, during which time China’s slowdown may worsen. China’s President Xi Jinping said Monday that he will push supply-side reforms and focus on increasing the middle-class, underscoring the pressure the country faces to reverse growth rates that are the lowest in 25 years.

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The narrative of the service economy falls flat.

China’s Economy Is Past The Point Of No Return (Chang)

After a near-disastrous start to the year and a one-month recovery in March, the Chinese economy looks like it’s now headed in the wrong direction again. The first indications from April show the country was unable to sustain upward momentum. Even before the first dreadful numbers for last month were released, Anne Stevenson-Yang of J Capital Research termed the uptick the “Dead Panda Bounce.” The economy is essentially moribund as there is not much that can stop the ongoing slide. A contraction is certain, and a severe adjustment downward—in common parlance, a crash—looks likely. At the moment, China appears healthy. The official National Bureau of Statistics reported that growth in the first calendar quarter of this year was 6.7%.

That is just a smidgen off 6.9%, the figure for all of last year. Moreover, the quarterly result cleared the bottom of the range of Premier Li Keqiang’s growth target for this year, 6.5%. The first-quarter 6.7% was too good to be true, however. And there are two reasons why we should be particularly alarmed. First, China’s statisticians appear to be just making the numbers up. For the first time since 2010, when it began providing quarter-on-quarter data, NBS did not release a quarter-on-quarter figure alongside the year-on-year one. And when NBS got around to releasing the quarter-on-quarter number, it did not match the year-on-year figure it had previously reported. NBS’s 1.1% quarter-on-quarter figure for Q1, when annualized, produces only 4.5% growth for the year.

That’s a long distance from the 6.7% year-on-year growth that NBS reported for the quarter. Even China’s own technocrats do not believe their own numbers. Fraser Howie, the coauthor of the acclaimed Red Capitalism, notes that the chief of a large European insurance company, who had just been in meetings with the People’s Bank of China, said that even the Chinese officials were joking and laughing in derision when they talked about official reports showing 6% growth. Second, the central government simply turned on the money taps, flooding the economy with “gobs of new debt,” as the Wall Street Journal labeled the deluge. The surge in lending was one for the record books. Credit growth in Q1 was more than twice that in the previous quarter.

China created almost $1 trillion in new credit during the quarter, the largest quarterly increase in history. [..] The Ministry of Finance also did its part to refloat the economy. Its figures show that in March, the central government’s revenue increased 7.1% while spending soared 20.1%. All that money produced good results—for one month. In April, the downturn continued. Exports, in dollar terms, fell 1.8% from the same month last year, and imports tumbled 10.9%. Both underperformed consensus estimates. A Reuters poll, for instance, predicted that exports would decline only 0.1%, while imports would fall 5%. Exports have now dropped in nine of the last ten months, and imports, considered a vital sign of domestic demand, have fallen for eighteen straight months.

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Iron ore, steel, housing…

Money Trail Shows China Sticking To ‘Original Sin’ (R.)

When it comes to reducing its dependence on debt, China’s actions matter more than its words. Last week the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper quoted an unnamed “authoritative figure” saying that the country’s high leverage was the “original sin”. Yet official data released over the weekend confirm debt is still rising while infrastructure and property investment are increasing at a rapid pace. Until the numbers show otherwise, it’s safe to assume Beijing is still focused on growth. On the surface, recent credit data suggests that China’s economy has entered debt rehab. New total social financing (TSF), a widely used barometer of investment, was 751 billion yuan ($115 billion) in April, down sharply from 2.3 trillion yuan in March. New loans fell to 564 billion yuan from 1.3 trillion yuan in the previous month.

This appeared to confirm speculation that the interview, published in People’s Daily on May 9, had signaled a high-level shift in policy. Yet a closer look at the numbers shows the story remains much as before. The TSF numbers don’t include a monthly record of one trillion yuan of new local government bonds, most of which were issued as part of a scheme to swap bank loans for longer-term securities. Add these back in and UBS calculates that overall credit in China grew 17% year on year. That’s far too high for an economy where nominal GDP is growing at about half that pace. Moreover, the new money is still pouring into the same areas that gave China years of lop-sided growth. Property prices have risen sharply in prime cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Construction starts were 21.4% higher measured by floor space in the first four months of 2016 than a year ago, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said on May 14. Even though infrastructure spending slowed slightly, it still increased by 21% year on year in April, with investment in utilities growing at an even faster pace, according to UBS. Meanwhile, private sector firms complain of a shortage of credit. To rebalance China’s economy, Beijing needs to direct capital to areas that can generate better returns. For now, the numbers show no sign of that happening. Then again, renouncing original sins was never going to be easy.

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“It can choose to keep the yuan stable either against the dollar OR the basket. ”

China Challenged to Keep Yuan Stable as Dollar Rises (WSJ)

Having had it easy for a few months, the Chinese central bank is now coming under renewed pressure to steady the yuan and prevent money from leaving China’s shores. The culprit is the dollar. The greenback’s weakness in the past two months had given the People’s Bank of China some breathing room to stabilize the yuan, reducing the Chinese appetite for foreign assets along the way. But since the end of April, the yuan has depreciated 0.6% against the dollar, eroding the 1% gain the Chinese currency made over the previous two months. The yuan’s renewed weakness puts the PBOC back in a familiar juggling act: Its mandate to support growth requires it to pump credit into the economy, which tends to weaken the yuan. But it must make sure it doesn’t weaken the currency so much that it worsens the flood of money exiting China.

Growing concern about China’s economic outlook also weighs on the yuan. Late Monday, China’s state broadcaster showed footage of President Xi Jinping emphasizing at a top-level meeting the urgency of implementing restructuring steps to put the economy on a stronger footing. Some economists and officials within China, including those at the government think tank China Academy of Social Sciences, have urged the central bank to let the market steer the yuan lower as China’s slowdown deepens. But for officials at the People’s Bank a bigger worry, at least for now, is the potential for ordinary Chinese to exchange their yuan assets for foreign currencies and take them out of the country. The central bank is also wary of causing the kind of market gyrations that have twice in the past year resulted from its exchange-rate maneuvering.

Most recently, in early January, an unexpected move by the People’s Bank to guide the yuan sharply weaker against the dollar triggered a global market selloff. The central bank “wants yuan stability in order to minimize the shocks to the weak economic momentum,” said Chi Lo, China economist at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, the asset-management arm of the Paris-based bank. To do that, it is trying to shift investors’ focus on the yuan’s movements against the dollar to its value against a broader group of currencies. When the dollar declines, the central bank can keep the yuan largely flat or even slightly stronger against the greenback, while it still weakens against the basket of 13 currencies. But when the dollar advances, the central bank needs to guide the yuan weaker against it to safeguard the economy and keep the yuan stable against the basket. The upshot: It can choose to keep the yuan stable either against the dollar or the basket.

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..an excerpt from Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, published on May 17 by The New Press.

The Great Foreclosure Fraud (Dayen)

All whistleblowers are a little bit crazy. They obsess over things most people overlook. They see grand conspiracies where others see only shadows. In this case, these whistleblowers, armed with only a few websites and a hunger for the truth, found that the mortgage industry fundamentally ruptured a centuries-old system of U.S. property law; that millions of documents generated to foreclose on people’s homes were phony; and that all those purchasing a mortgage in America were taking a gamble that they would be tossed onto the street with nothing, even if they made every payment and played by the rules. Virtually everyone to whom they presented this information reacted the same way: “That can’t be true.” Right up until the day the banks admitted it.

These three—Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak— unearthed another layer of the mystery, too. After they exposed foreclosure fraud and forced the nation’s leading mortgage companies to stop repossessing homes, they saw firsthand the unwillingness of our government to deliver any consequences. In fact, walk into any courtroom today and you will see the same false documents, the same ones Lisa, Michael, and Lynn exposed, used to foreclose on homeowners. As America searches for understanding amid the perversity of the financial crisis, they should know that there were a few determined people, far from the corridors of power, who tried to write an alternative history, one where the perpetrators of fraud get rounded up and put away.

But the same democracy that allows ordinary Americans to collaborate and organize and build a movement allows their deep-pocketed opponents to use the tools of entrenched power to counteract it. And we have to reckon with the fact that, in our current system of justice, who you are matters more than what you did. Michael Redman, one of these whistleblowers, sat next to me one night as he told me his story, and said over and over again, “I don’t believe your book. I lived through it, and I don’t believe it.” I will forgive readers their skepticism, as even a protagonist in the tale shares it. It is unbelievable. That doesn’t make it untrue.

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Think if the numbers get big enough we’ll all get smart one day?

Climate Change Puts 1.3 Billion People, $158 Trillion At Risk: World Bank (G.)

The global community is badly prepared for a rapid increase in climate change-related natural disasters that by 2050 will put 1.3 billion people at risk, according to the World Bank. Urging better planning of cities before it was too late, a report published on Monday from a Bank-run body that focuses on disaster mitigation, said assets worth $158tn – double the total annual output of the global economy – would be in jeopardy by 2050 without preventative action. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery said total damages from disasters had ballooned in recent decades but warned that worse could be in store as a result of a combination of global warming, an expanding population and the vulnerability of people crammed into slums in low-lying, fast-growing cities that are already overcrowded.

“With climate change and rising numbers of people in urban areas rapidly driving up future risks, there’s a real danger the world is woefully unprepared for what lies ahead,” said John Roome, the World Bank Group’s senior director for climate change. “Unless we change our approach to future planning for cities and coastal areas that takes into account potential disasters, we run the real risk of locking in decisions that will lead to drastic increases in future losses.” The facility’s report cited case studies showing that densely populated coastal cities are sinking at a time when sea levels are rising. It added that the annual cost of natural disasters in 136 coastal cities could increase from $6bn in 2010 to $1tn in 2070. The report said that the number of deaths and the monetary losses from natural disasters varied from year to year, but the upward trend was pronounced.

Total annual damage – averaged over a 10-year period – had risen tenfold from 1976–1985 to 2005–2014, from $14bn to more than $140bn. The average number of people affected each year had risen over the same period from around 60 million people to more than 170 million.

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The hope of the Irish.

Will Brexit Make Ireland A Nation Once Again? Don’t Write It Off (McWilliams)

If Britain leaves the EU, it could start a domino effect – at the end of which is a united Ireland Here’s a scenario that might not be too far-fetched. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one that would be welcomed here; but it could happen. What will happen if Britain votes to leave the European Union in five weeks’ time? What happens to Northern Ireland? The DUP is campaigning for Brexit, but Brexit may loosen the UK so much that the DUP could be signing its own death warrant. Here is the possible scenario that will unfold if there’s a break-up of the UK. The English lead the British out of Europe. The Scottish then go to the polls again, wanting to stay in Europe. They have to leave the UK to stay in the EU, and by a small margin they vote to stay in Europe but leave the English. Not unfeasible.

The rump UK becomes an entity involving a eurosceptic England, a modestly pro-European but compliant Wales and an ever-divided Northern Ireland. However it is a Northern Ireland shorn of its fraternal brothers, the Scots – in a union with the ambivalent English. There has never been the same cultural affinity between the English and the Northern Unionists. The cultural glue of Protestant Northern Ireland within the UK is Scotland. I have some experience of this. My grandparents were Scottish. My wife is from Belfast. My children were born in the Ulster Hospital (where the missus and me were the only couple at the pre-natal classes not in his-and-hers matching Rangers tracksuits). Unlike many Southerners, my bonds with that part of the world are strong. Ethnically, without Scotland, the union of Northern Ireland and a multicultural but nationalistic little England is not particularly coherent.

All the while, the demographic forces are on the side of nationalism. As I write, I am looking at demographics in Northern Ireland from the 2011 census. The most interesting statistic shows the proportion of Catholics and Protestants in various age groups. Of the elderly, those over-90 in the North, 64% are Protestant and 25% are Catholic. A total of 9% had no declared religion. This reflects the religious status quo when these people were born, in the 1920s, and more or less reflects the realities of the Treaty. When you look at those children and babies born since 2008, the picture changes dramatically. This corresponding figure is 31% Protestant and 44% Catholic. In one (admittedly long) lifetime, the Catholic population in the youngest cohort has nearly doubled, while the Protestant cohort has more than halved. Even given the fact that 23% of parents of infants declared themselves as having no religion, we seem to be en route to a united Ireland.

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I have the idea that making this a left vs right issue is not helpful. And while Paul Mason realizes what’s wrong in Brussels, he doesn’t seem to grasp there’ll be no second chance for a very long time. He says it himself: “..in Britain I can replace the government, whereas in the EU, I cannot.”, but still wants to stay in EU because of Boris Johnson. Where’s the logic?

The Leftwing Case For Brexit -One Day- (Mason)

The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime. It has an executive so powerful it could crush the leftwing government of Greece; a legislature so weak that it cannot effectively determine laws or control its own civil service. A judiciary that, in the Laval and Viking judgments, subordinated workers’ right to strike to an employer’s right do business freely. Its central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited.

The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era. A Corbyn-led Labour government would have to implement its manifesto in defiance of EU law. And the situation is getting worse. Europe’s leaders still do not know whether they will let Greece go bankrupt in June; they still have no workable plan to distribute the refugees Germany accepted last summer, and having signed a morally bankrupt deal with Turkey to return the refugees, there is now the prospect of that deal’s collapse.

That means, if the reported demand by an unnamed Belgian minister to “push back or sink” migrant boats in the Aegean is activated, the hands of every citizen of the EU will be metaphorically on the tiller of the ship that does it. You may argue that Britain treats migrants just as badly. The difference is that in Britain I can replace the government, whereas in the EU, I cannot. That’s the principled leftwing case for Brexit. Now here’s the practical reason to ignore it. In two words: Boris Johnson.

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More threats?

As Brexit Vote Looms, US Banks Review Their European Commitments (R.)

If Britain votes to leave the European Union in June, some U.S. banks could give up parts of their business in the bloc altogether. The option is an extreme scenario under consideration by some Wall Street firms if the terms of an exit, currently a matter of speculation, leave financial services companies in Britain unable under their current set-ups to do business inside the EU, according to discussions Reuters had with several U.S. banks and their lawyers. The scenarios being studied by taskforces at U.S. banks underscore the extent to which the London operations of non-European banks are linked to business on the continent. In particular focus are the banks’ market operations, as trading of most European securities is regulated at the EU level but conducted by many investment banks mainly out of London.

The five largest U.S. banks employ 40,000 people in London, more than in the rest of Europe combined, taking advantage of the EU “passporting” regime that allows them to offer services across the bloc out of their British hubs. Having to reorganize business in order to set up new continental European outposts — which U.S. banks say is a worst-case scenario that they are being forced to consider — would be so costly that it would make some rethink their commitment to the bloc altogether. “The costs may lead some banking groups to reassess how important Europe is in the context of their global business and what sort of presence they wish to maintain post-Brexit,” said Edward Chan, a partner at the law firm Linklaters, which has been advising banks on contingency arrangements.

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Blame EU, not Greece.

UN Urges Greece To Stop Detaining Migrant Children (R.)

A top United Nations official urged Greece on Monday to stop detaining refugee and migrant children, some of whom are locked up in police cells for weeks, and to develop child protection services instead. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, said he had met unaccompanied children held in police stations for more than two weeks without access to the outdoors, and “traumatised and distressed” by the experience. Others were with their families in overcrowded detention centres, where inter-communal frictions and contradictory information created “an unacceptable level of confusion, frustration, violence and fear”, he said. “Children should not be detained – period,” said Crepeau, on a fact-finding mission in Greece from May 12 to 16.

“Detention should only be ordered when people present a risk, a danger, a threat to the public and it has to be a documented threat, it cannot simply be a hunch.” Crepeau said children and families should be offered alternatives to detention. He urged authorities to develop a “substantial and effective” guardianship system for unaccompanied minors and increase the shelter capacity for them. More than a million migrants, many fleeing the Syrian war, have arrived in Europe through Greece since last year. More than 150,000 have arrived in 2016 so far, 38% of them children, according to U.N. refugee agency data. Greece, in its sixth year of economic crisis, has struggled to cope with the numbers.

International charity Save the Children says an estimated 2,000 unaccompanied children who travelled alone to Europe or lost their families on the way are stranded in Greece and only 477 shelter spaces are available across the country. (Unaccompanied minors) are put in … protective custody and the only place there is space (for them) is the cell in police stations and that’s where we find them quite often,” Crepeau said. “Spending 16 days (in a police cell) is way too long. What is needed is specialised body of competent professionals who can take care of unaccompanied minors.”

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What a surprise.

Syrians Returned To Turkey In EU Deal ‘Have No Access To Lawyers’ (G.)

The first Syrians to be returned by plane under the EU-Turkey deal have been detained in a remote camp for the past three weeks with no access to lawyers, casting further doubts over EU claims that they are being sent back to a safe third country. With hundreds more likely to be expelled in similar fashion in the coming weeks, the returnees have warned that those following in their wake face arbitrary detention, an inscrutable asylum process, and substandard living conditions. Their claims undermine the legitimacy of the EU-Turkey migration deal, under which it is likely most Syrians landing on Greek islands will be returned to Turkey, on the assumption that they can live without restrictions once there.

Turkey has said they will be released soon. But a group of 12 Syrians returned by plane on 27 April who were contacted by telephone said they had simply been detained without clear legal recourse since they arrived in a remote detention centre in southern Turkey called Düziçi. The fate of two other Syrians deported along with hundreds of non-Syrians earlier in April is unknown.

“You can’t imagine how bad a situation we are in right now,” said one Syrian mother detained with her children, who now wants to return to Syria because she sees no alternative. “My children and I are suffering, the food is not edible. I’m forcing my children to eat because I don’t have any money to buy anything, but they refuse because there are bugs in it.” The detainees have also been denied access to lawyers and specialised medical care, she alleged. Like all the interviewed detainees, the Syrian asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, but said she now wanted to return to Syria because she felt that even a war-zone would be better for her family than the refugee detention centres in Greece and Turkey.

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Jul 192015
 
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Harris&Ewing “Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage” 1916

China’s $16.1 Trillion Corporate Debt Threat (Reuters)
Chinese Investors Flock To Sell Properties, Cancel Contracts (Nikkei)
Regulators Cannot Eliminate Volatility In China’s Stock Markets (Pettis)
Greece Should Turn To China To Break Debt Spiral – Economic Hit Man (ABC.au)
‘Plan B’ Needed As Euro One Recession Away From Implosion – David McWilliams (GC)
Deeper Eurozone Integration Would Be A ‘Huge Mistake’ (Telegraph)
Built To Foster Friendship, The Euro Is Manufacturing Misery (Economist)
Greece Is Being Taxed To Death (Politico)
Greece: Death Spiral Ahead (James K. Galbraith)
Greece Reforms ‘Will Fail’ – Varoufakis (BBC)
Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)
Dublin, Lisbon And Madrid Beat The Bailout. It’s No Comfort To Athens (Guardian)
Alexis Tsipras Has Shown Greeks He Can Save Them (Spiegel)
Stiglitz Meets With Greek Government Officials (GR)
Greece’s Lesson For Russia – and China (Paul Craig Roberts)
Europe’s Best And Brightest Need To Head For Greece (Helene Rey)
Hillary Clinton and Glass-Steagall (Robert Reich)
Don Quixote Airport Cost €1bn – It Could Sell To China For €10,000 (Guardian)
Lunch with Beppe Grillo (FT)

China borrows itself into oblivion.

China’s $16.1 Trillion Corporate Debt Threat (Reuters)

Beijing may have averted a crisis in its stock markets with heavy-handed intervention, but the world’s biggest corporate debt pile – $16.1 trillion and rising – is a much greater threat to its slowing economy and will not be so easily managed. Corporate China’s debts, at 160% of GDP, are twice that of the United States, having sharply deteriorated in the past five years, a Thomson Reuters study of over 1,400 companies shows. And the debt mountain is set to climb 77% to $28.8 trillion over the next five years, credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s estimates. Beijing’s policy interventions affecting corporate credit have so far been mostly designed to address a different goal – supporting economic growth, which is set to fall to a 25-year low this year.

It has cut interest rates four times since November, reduced the level of reserves banks must hold and removed limits on how much of their deposits they can lend. Though it wants more of that credit going to smaller companies and innovative areas of the economy, such measures are blunt instruments. “When the credit taps are opened, risks rise that the money is going to ‘problematic’ companies or entities,” said Louis Kuijs, RBS chief economist for Greater China. China’s banks made 1.28 trillion yuan ($206 billion) in new loans in June, well up on May’s 900.8 billion yuan.

The effect of policy easing has been to reduce short-term interest costs, so lending for stock speculation has boomed, but there is little evidence loans are being used for profitable investment in the real economy, where long-term borrowing costs remain high, and banks are reluctant to take risks. Manufacturers’ debts are increasingly dwarfing their profits. The Thomson Reuters study found that in 2010, materials companies’ debts were 2.8 times their core profit. At end-2014 they were 5.3 times. For energy companies, indebtedness has risen from 1.1 to 4.4 times core profit. For industrials, from 2.5 to 4.2.

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It’s all just starting. The margin calls will come in fast and furious. From the shadow banking system. Will we see a ban on selling real estate too?

Chinese Investors Flock To Sell Properties, Cancel Contracts (Nikkei)

Turbulence on China’s equity market is starting to rock the country’s property market. Investors are quickly pulling their cash out of housing they purchased to cover losses incurred by stock investments. Some have begun offering discounts on property due to difficulties with finding buyers. Continued turmoil on the stock market looks as though it will have a heavy impact on the country’s real estate market. China’s stock market rally also helped drive up sales of domestic homes. The Shanghai Composite Index surged 60% from its low of around 3,200 in early March, rising to 5,166 logged on June 12. China Securities Depository and Clearing said that the number of accounts opened to trade yuan-denominated A-shares reached 980,000 in May in Shenzhen, where property prices are climbing faster than other areas.

The figure accounted for roughly 80% of the total 1170,000 accounts in Guangdong Province, where large numbers of such account holders reside. Many newbie investors, who have just jumped into the stock market, likely gave a fresh impetus to the property market. China’s share price upswing prompted investors to reach out for new investments, including houses and other properties. A property analyst at major Chinese brokerage Guotai Junan Securities said that sales of luxury properties worth over 10 million yuan ($1.61 million) each for the first half of the year topped annual sales last year in Shanghai and Beijing. After this, Chinese stocks began to crumble. In early July, the Shanghai Composite Index dropped more than 30%, after hitting a seven-year high in mid-June.

Investors who suffered big losses on the stock market were forced to sell property and cancel real estate purchase agreements. The Hong Kong Economic Times said that consumers are increasingly asking real estate firms for grace periods on down payments for mortgage loans, as they run out of cash because of weak stocks. Some canceled home purchase contracts, while others canceled mortgage loans, according to China’s largest property developer China Vanke, which has a strong foothold in Shenzhen. Local media reported that an official at China Vanke is concerned about massive numbers of cancellations in the future.

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“It’s not just that markets are about volatility. It is that volatility can never be eliminated.”

Regulators Cannot Eliminate Volatility In China’s Stock Markets (Pettis)

For now I think we can safely say the panic is finally over, but none of the fundamental questions have been resolved and I expect continued volatility. Because I also think the market remains overvalued, however, I have little doubt that we will see at least one more very nasty bear market. Either way the panic and the policy responses have opened up a ferocious debate on China’s economic reforms and Beijing’s ability to bear the costs of the economic adjustment. Among these costs are volatility. Rebalancing the economy and withdrawing state control over certain aspects of the economy, especially its financial system, will reduce Beijing’s ability to manage the economy smoothly over the short term but it may be necessary in order to prevent a very dangerous surge in volatility over the longer term. Sunday’s Financial Times included an article with the following:

Critics of the measures unleashed by Beijing last week argue that they point to a fundamental tension at the heart of China’s political economy that a free-floating renminbi would test even more severely. The ruling Chinese Communist party, they argue, is ultimately incapable of surrendering control of crucial facets of the country’s economic and financial system. As one person close to policymakers in Beijing puts it: “The problem with this system is that it cannot tolerate volatility and markets are all about volatility.”

It’s not just that markets are about volatility. It is that volatility can never be eliminated. Volatility in one variable can be suppressed, but only by increasing volatility in another variable or by suppressing it temporarily in exchange for a more disruptive adjustment at some point in the future. When it comes to monetary volatility, for example, whether it is exchange rate volatility or interest rate and money supply volatility, central banks can famously choose to control the former in exchange for greater volatility in the latter, or to control the latter in exchange for greater volatility in the former.

Regulators can never choose how much volatility they will permit, in other words. At best, they might choose the form of volatility they least prefer, and try to control it, but this is almost always a political choice and not an economic one. It is about deciding which economic group will bear the cost of volatility.

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China is two-faced being. Economic collapse at home, aid offers abraod.

Greece Should Turn To China To Break Debt Spiral – John Perkins (ABC.au)

A prominent economist says China’s banks are circling debt-stricken countries like Greece, offering an alternative to the brutal austerity measures proposed by the IMF and EU. Former adviser to the IMF and the World Bank, John Perkins, told the ABC’s The Business that China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS bank were courting countries like Greece. Mr Perkins said he believed China had sent people to Greece to offer an alternative bailout deal. “If I were the finance minister running the system I would seriously be looking at that alternative. I think that the Chinese are presenting a competitive edge here,” he said.

Mr Perkins revealed in his international bestseller, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, how international organisations like the IMF and the World Bank enslave countries like Greece by offering crippling and unsustainable loans which never deliver the economic growth they promise. He said he believed Greece and the other European countries in similar positions should turn to China as a means of breaking the debt spiral. “These austerity programs are not the right program, even the IMF said recently there has to be more debt forgiveness we have to readjust the debt and the Europeans don’t seem willing to do this,” he said. Mr Perkins was surprised by the IMF’s public criticism of the eurozone’s bailout deal this week and said it shows the growing influence of China’s banks.

“I think the motivation may have been the Chinese because the Chinese have stepped in before, in Ecuador and several other countries, and we now have these very powerful banks that the Chinese are heading up,” he said. Mr Perkins said the growing strength of the banks will result in a major shift of power away from the United States and European Union. He conceded that there is nothing to stop China from becoming another “economic hit man” but said the Chinese have a good record so far, particularly in South American countries like Ecuador. “I recently met with a minister of Ecuador – and he said ultimately that he has no idea what China will do but we do know that the IMF, the World Bank, the Europeans and the US have screwed us over,” he said. “They’ve put military bases around here and threatened us and China hasn’t done that, so right now we trust China more than the US.”

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“Countries that don’t play ball with Germany will see their banking system used against their democratically elected politicians.”

‘Plan B’ Needed As Euro One Recession Away From Implosion – David McWilliams (GC)

Europe’s next recession will “kill the euro” according to economist, writer and journalist David McWilliams. McWilliams, who is among the best economics commentators from the only Anglophone nation in the euro – Ireland, warns that we only have a few months to plan an alternative to the disastrous consequences on peripheral nations of what he sees as German hegemony. He describes the mismanagement of the euro currency as “both laughable and terrifying”. Marathon negotiation sessions are not conducive to clear headed, rational decision making on the future of a nation or the eurozone. Indeed, it smacks of coercion. He lambasts the suggestion offered that Greece could have a “temporary euro”, adding, “If the board and management of a public company dealt with problems like this, the share price would collapse. There is quite simply no corporate governance within the euro”.

David McWilliams believes that Germany is out control. France is no longer strong enough to offer a counterweight and Britain is happy to allow the circus to continue as they focus on potentially getting out of the EU. He describes last weekends negotiations in Brussels as a “teutonic kangaroo court”. Should Britain successfully navigate its way out of the EU, other countries will likely follow rather than exist as provinces of Germany. Norway and Switzerland have coped just as well from the outside as their EU neighbours. He makes the obvious, though seldom heard assertion that “when economic negotiations stop making economic sense, you should begin to question the motives of the EU”. Pointing to the plundering of Greek state assets to pay off creditors whilst forcing further austerity on the Greek people.

Each previous round of austerity has caused the economy to contract further – thus forcing Greece into a debt trap from which it cannot escape. We believe this is a crucial point. While Germany have played a major role it in the subjugation of Greece it is worth asking who truly benefits from economic negotiations that have stopped making economic sense. Could it be the large banks who, following a similar model imposed on countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa since the 1970’s, continue to extract wealth from the poorest people on earth? Has not almost every development in the EU in the past ten years served to consolidate the power of financial institutions at the expense of the citizenry?

McWilliams highlights the dramatic u-turn in policy where membership of the EU is now conditional. When Mario Draghi initiated the “whatever-it-takes” mass purchase of bonds of peripheral nations the message was clear – the euro is forever. Now, however, countries must bend to Germany’s demands which are the demands of politicians who want to keep their electorate happy if they are to be re-elected. “Countries that don’t play ball with Germany will see their banking system used against their democratically elected politicians. The banking system is the soft underbelly and the Germans are prepared to orchestrate bank runs in member states to get their way. This is not only new, it is outrageous.”

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Amen.

Deeper Eurozone Integration Would Be A ‘Huge Mistake’ (Telegraph)

Deeper fiscal integration in the eurozone is a “huge mistake” that could end up tearing the bloc apart, Sweden’s former finance minister has warned. Anders Borg said forcing countries to cede sovereignty could trigger a right-wing backlash across Europe, as he predicted that countries such as Sweden and Poland, which are obliged to join the euro, would not adopt the single currency for “decades”. “If you go for tighter co-operation that basically brings higher taxes to the north to subsidise the south, you build in a political divide that is not sustainable in the long term,” he said. Mr Borg, who stepped down in October 2014, said that while the current structure of the eurozone was problematic, the only way to secure a broad-based recovery across the bloc without creating a political rift was to focus on competitiveness.

“We’re not talking about good and bad outcomes here, we are talking about only very problematic alternatives. If you push for further fiscal integration, moving more decisions to Brussels, taxing northern European countries more heavily and subsidising countries with long-term competitive issues and deep problems in the south you would obviously have a strong Right-wing reaction that would undermine the political support for that direction and create a less open, less liberal and less dynamic Europe,” he said. “I think there are great risks in connection to the course that we now hear from political integration. There is no voter base for that and it’s not certain either that you’re dealing with the right focus.”

Mr Borg said the eurozone and the wider EU area, which includes the UK, should focus on policies such as “completing the single market, voting for free trade co-operation with the US and increasing infrastructure investment”. “[Countries] are under-spending on infrastructure. We are under-spending in education. Our labour markets are over-regulated and we have tax levels for investment and work that are too high, so we need to do fundamental tax reforms and we need to fix our expenditure so that we are concentrating on the areas where public expenditures have most return.” Mr Borg, who voted for Sweden to join the euro in 2003, said the country’s membership was unlikely for “decades”. “It’s very difficult to argue today to your population that it’s a well functioning system,” he said.

Mr Borg, who predicted in 2012 that Greece would leave the euro, welcomed the news that the eurozone had opened the door to a third Greek bail-out package to begin. He said he was in “full agreement” with the IMF that creditors needed to write off some of the country’s debt “substantially”. “There is a need to establish a credible long-term programme for financing Greece. There is serious rethinking that has to be done on the Greek side but also on the creditors’ side. I would hope that people are ready to do this because the alternative is catastrophic for Greece. It’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

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Shouldn’t have left it in the hands of sociopaths.

Built To Foster Friendship, The Euro Is Manufacturing Misery (Economist)

Unravelling the tangled logic of Greece’s bail-out talks, Charlemagne has learned, is a little like trying to explain the rules of cricket to an American. How to make sense of a process in which Greek voters loudly spurn a euro-zone bail-out offer in a referendum, only to watch Alexis Tsipras, their prime minister, immediately seek a worse deal that is flatly rejected by the euro zone, which in turn presses a yet more stringent proposal to which Mr Tsipras humbly assents? Better, perhaps, not to try. After six months of this nonsense, little wonder everyone is depressed. The immediate danger of Grexit has at least been averted, after Mr Tsipras and his fellow euro-zone heads of government pulled a brutal all-nighter in Brussels this week.

But it comes at the price of a vast taxpayer-funded bail-out for Greece, worth up to €86 billion over three years, and a humiliating capitulation by Mr Tsipras. Greece’s economy is in tatters, its creditors are fuming and Europe’s institutions are in despair. Much to Britain’s disgust even non-euro countries have been sucked into the nightmare: a bridge loan designed to keep Greece afloat while the bail-out talks proceed looks set to tap a fund to which all EU countries have contributed. But wasn’t this week’s agreement a triumph for the shock troops of austerity? Hardly. Finland’s coalition, formed only two months ago, tottered at the prospect of funding a third Greek bail-out. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has admitted that it would violate an election pledge he made in 2012.

One euro-zone diplomat says that 99% of her compatriots would say “no” to the bail-out if offered a Greece-style referendum. Even Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and Mr Tsipras’s chief tormentor, is damaged. The deal, crafted largely by Mrs Merkel, Mr Tsipras and François Hollande, France’s president, has exposed the German chancellor to competing charges: of cruelty abroad and of leniency at home, notably among Germany’s increasingly irritable parliamentarians, who must vote twice on the Greek package. Europe’s single currency, designed to foster unity and ease trade between its members, has thus become a ruthless generator of misery for almost all of them.

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“Looked at separately, each of these suffocating tax rates might appear almost reasonable. Looked at together, they are totally unreasonable.”

Greece Is Being Taxed To Death (Politico)

More than five years have passed since May 2010, when Greece was enticed to borrow €73 billion from the IMF, EC and ECB with painful strings attached. That 2010 program, said the IMF, “had two broad aims: to make fiscal policy and the fiscal and debt position sustainable, and to improve competitiveness.” There was no emphasis on improving domestic economic growth or employment — just “competitiveness” in trade. The IMF speculated that “restoring confidence” would “lead to a growth recovery” in 2012. When that didn’t happen, another €154 billion in loans was provided. And the IMF blamed the bad “investment climate” on a “lack of confidence,” rather than any lack of after-tax income.

Prominent U.S. economists blame the seven-year depression in Greece on savage cutbacks in government spending. “The contraction in government spending has been predictably devastating,” wrote Joseph Stiglitz in February. And Paul Krugman later criticized the period “from 2009 to 2013, the last year of major spending cuts” in Southern Europe. In reality, however, Greek government spending rose from 44.9% of GDP in 2006 to 53.7% from 2009 to 2012 and to 60.1% in 2013. That 2009-2013 “fiscal stimulus” was precisely when the economy contracted — by 4.4% in 2009, 5.4% in 2010, 8.9% in 2011, 6.6% in 2012 and 3.9% in 2013. By contrast, the economy grew slightly in 2014 when government spending was “only” half of GDP.

That is, the economy fell when government’s share rose, and the economy rose when government’s share fell. What is rarely or never mentioned in the typically one-sided misperception of spending “austerity” is the other side of the budget — namely, taxes. The latest Greek efforts to appease creditors would raise corporate tax again to 28%, raise the 5% “solidarity surcharge” on personal incomes, and discourage tourism by raising the VAT on restaurants and island shopping. Looked at separately, each of these suffocating tax rates might appear almost reasonable. Looked at together, they are totally unreasonable.

To offer a Greek employee an extra €100 requires that €42 be first subtracted for Social Security tax, and then up to €46 more subtracted for income tax. Out of the original €100 of marginal labor cost, the remaining €14 of after-tax income going to a skilled worker could only buy about €10 worth of goods after value-added tax is paid. The tax wedge between what employers pay for labor and what workers have left to spend, after taxes, is 43.4% for a Greek family of four with average earnings — the highest in the OECD and more than double the comparable U.S. wedge of 20.6%. This demoralizing tax wedge, which grows even larger at higher incomes, clearly depresses hiring and working in the formal economy. It also helps explain why a third of the Greek labor force is self-employed (making tax avoidance easier).

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“..an economic death spiral — contraction leading to banking failure, banking failure leading to contraction — first in Greece and, later on, elsewhere in Europe.”

Greece: Death Spiral Ahead (James K. Galbraith)

The Greek parliament has now voted to surrender control of the Greek state to platoons of bureaucrats from Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, who will now re-impose the full policy regime against which Greeks rebelled in January 2015 — and which they again rejected, by overwhelming majority, in the referendum of July 5. The orders from Brussels will impose strict new rules on the Greek people in the interest of paying down Greece’s debt. In return, the Europeans and the IMF will put up enough new money so that they themselves can appear to be repaid on schedule — thus increasing Greece’s debt — and the ECB will continue to prop up the Greek banking system. A hitch has already appeared in the plan: the IMF, whose approval is required, has pointed out — correctly — that the Greek debt cannot be paid, and so the Fund cannot participate unless the debt is restructured.

Now Germany, Greece’s main creditor, faces a new decision: either grant debt relief, or force Greece into formal default, which would cause the ECB to collapse Greece’s banks and force the Greeks out of the Euro. There are many ways to rewrite debt, and let’s suppose the Germans find one they can live with. The question arises: What then? An end to the immediate crisis is likely to have some good near-term effect. The Greek banks will “reopen,” likely on Monday, and the European Central Bank will raise the ceiling on the liquidity assistance on which they rely for survival. The ATMs will be filled, although limits on cash withdrawals and on electronic transfers out of the country will likely remain. There will be some talk of new public investment, funded by the EU; perhaps some stalled road projects will restart.

With these measures, it is not impossible that the weeks ahead will see a small uptick of economic life, and certainly, any such will make big news. It’s also possible that even without good news, Greece may limp along in stagnation, within the euro. ut if you walk through the requirements of Greece’s new program, there is another possibility. That possibility is an economic death spiral — contraction leading to banking failure, banking failure leading to contraction — first in Greece and, later on, elsewhere in Europe.

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“This programme is going to fail whoever undertakes its implementation.” Asked how long that would take, he replied: “It has failed already.”

Greece Reforms ‘Will Fail’ – Varoufakis (BBC)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has told the BBC that economic reforms imposed on his country by creditors are “going to fail”, ahead of talks on a huge bailout. Mr Varoufakis said Greece was subject to a programme that will “go down in history as the greatest disaster of macroeconomic management ever”. The German parliament approved the opening of negotiations on Friday. The bailout could total €86bn in exchange for austerity measures. In a damning assessment, Mr Varoufakis told the BBC’s Mark Lobel: “This programme is going to fail whoever undertakes its implementation.” Asked how long that would take, he replied: “It has failed already.”

Mr Varoufakis resigned earlier this month, in what was widely seen as a conciliatory gesture towards the eurozone finance ministers with whom he had clashed frequently. He said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has admitted that he does not believe in the bailout, had little option but to sign. “We were given a choice between being executed and capitulating. And he decided that capitulation was the optimal strategy.” Mr Tsipras has announced a cabinet reshuffle, sacking several ministers who voted against the reforms in parliament this week. But he opted not to bring in technocrats or opposition politicians as replacements. As a result, our correspondent says, Mr Tsipras will preside over ministers who, like himself, harbour serious doubts about the reform programme.

Greece must pass further reforms on Wednesday next week to secure the bailout. Germany was the last of the eurozone countries needing parliamentary approval to begin the talks. But the head of the group of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has warned that the process will not be easy, saying he expected the negotiations to take four weeks. On Saturday, the Greek government ordered banks to open on Monday following three weeks of closures. Separately, the European Council approved the €7bn bridging loan for Greece from an EU-wide emergency fund. The loan was approved in principle by eurozone ministers on Thursday and now has the go-ahead from all non-euro states. It means Greece will now be able to repay debts to two of its creditors, the ECB and IMF, due on Monday.

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Another very transparent essay from Yanis.

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)

The avalanche of toxic bailouts that followed the Eurozone’s first financial crisis offers ample proof that the non-credible ‘no bailout clause’ was a terrible substitute for political union. Wolfgang Schäuble knows this and has made clear his plan to forge a closer union. “Ideally, Europe would be a political union”, he wrote in a joint article with Karl Lamers, the CDU’s former foreign affairs chief (Financial Times, 1st September 2014). Dr Schäuble is right to advocate institutional changes that might provide the Eurozone with its missing political mechanisms. Not only because it is impossible otherwise to address the Eurozone’s current crisis but also for the purpose of preparing our monetary union for the next crisis. The question is: Is his specific plan a good one? Is it one that Europeans should want?

How do its authors propose that it be implemented? The Schäuble-Lamers Plan rests on two ideas: “Why not have a European budget commissioner” asked Schäuble and Lamers “with powers to reject national budgets if they do not correspond to the rules we jointly agreed?” “We also favour”, they added “a ‘Eurozone parliament’ comprising the MEPs of Eurozone countries to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of decisions affecting the single currency bloc.” The first point to raise about the Schäuble-Lamers Plan is that it is at odds with any notion of democratic federalism. A federal democracy, like Germany, the United States or Australia, is founded on the sovereignty of its citizens as reflected in the positive power of their representatives to legislate what must be done on the sovereign people’s behalf.

In sharp contrast, the Schäuble-Lamers Plan envisages only negative powers: A Eurozonal budget overlord (possibly a glorified version of the Eurogroup’s President) equipped solely with negative, or veto, powers over national Parliaments. The problem with this is twofold. First, it would not help sufficiently to safeguard the Eurozone’s macro-economy. Secondly, it would violate basic principles of Western liberal democracy. Consider events both prior to the eruption of the euro crisis, in 2010, and afterwards. Before the crisis, had Dr Schäuble’s fiscal overlord existed, she or he might have been able to veto the Greek government’s profligacy but would be in no position to do anything regarding the tsunami of loans flowing from the private banks of Frankfurt and Paris to the Periphery’s private banks.

Those capital outflows underpinned unsustainable debt that, unavoidably, got transferred back onto the public’s shoulders the moment financial markets imploded. Post-crisis, Dr Schäuble’s budget Leviathan would also be powerless, in the face of potential insolvency of several states caused by their bailing out (directly or indirectly) the private banks. In short, the new high office envisioned by the Schäuble-Lamers Plan would have been impotent to prevent the causes of the crisis and to deal with its repercussions. Moreover, every time it did act, by vetoing a national budget, the new high office would be annulling the sovereignty of a European people without having replaced it by a higher-order sovereignty at a federal or supra-national level.

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Ireland: “30% of people live in deprivation conditions – 40% of children..”

Dublin, Lisbon And Madrid Beat The Bailout. It’s No Comfort To Athens (Guardian)

They used to be pejoratively labelled the “Pigs”: Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the “peripheral” countries carried into the eurozone on a wave of prosperity that were all forced to go cap in hand to their neighbours – and the IMF – when the financial crash came. Yet while Greece’s plight has only worsened over the five years since it was first rescued, the other three bailed-out countries have managed to return to growth, and send the inspectors from the International Monetary Fund back to Washington. Ireland graduated from its bailout programme in 2013. Spain – which never had a full-blown rescue, but received aid to prop up its ailing banks – did so in January last year; Portugal followed suit shortly afterwards.

As Greece attempts to rebuild its shattered economy with the aid of last week’s controversial bailout, it will be encouraged to take heart, and learn the lessons, from these success stories. Yet these countries have taken their own, tough paths back to economic growth – and the pain is still being felt. Ireland, which experienced an extraordinary property boom in the runup to the crisis and a deep downturn when the reckoning came, is expected to see GDP growth of around 5% this year. But its economic output is artificially boosted by the enthusiasm of multinationals for the country’s rock bottom 12.5% corporation tax rate — part of a long-term industrial strategy.

Ireland was also in a very different position to Greece when entering the crisis: until the country’s politicians chose to bail out its fragile banks, the public finances were in a relatively healthy state, with government debt at around 40% of GDP. Nevertheless, Michael Taft of the Unite trade union in Ireland says the deep spending cuts imposed as part of the post-crisis settlement have left long-term scars. “30% of people live in deprivation conditions – 40% of children,” he says. He adds that the fact that parties on both sides of the political divide shared a commitment to spending cuts meant it was hard for a Syriza-style, anti-austerity narrative to take hold: “The debate has been like the sound of one hand clapping.” However, more recently there was a noisy public revolt when the government considered imposing charges for water.

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The view from Germany.

Alexis Tsipras Has Shown Greeks He Can Save Them (Spiegel)

At the moment it appears that Tsipras the pragmatist has knocked out Tsipras the ideologue. “He’s finally putting his country before his party,” one opposition politician said on Wednesday, expressing relief. But Tsipras didn’t have any other choice. If Tsipras hadn’t reached an agreement in Brussels, Greece would have collapsed. The banks would have collapsed; even more businesses would have gone under. And Tsipras would have been the one responsible for it all. But with his U-turn, he also showed that he is ultimately a politician and not a gambler. The latest summit in Brussels lasted 17 hours, during which Tsipras abandoned one position after the other. He repeatedly left the room, where he was negotiating with Angela Merkel, François Hollande and EC President Donald Tusk.

Outside, he telephoned with his people back in Athens. In the end, he did succeed in keeping the fund for privatizing state-owned assets — that was to be based in Luxembourg and used as collateral for the loans — under Athens’ control. The fact that the fund is unlikely to ever bring in the €50 billion expected hardly mattered. Tsipras needed the victory. It is virtually a certainty that this won’t be the only element in the new bailout deal that will not get implemented. Tsipras knows that and so do Greece’s international creditors. Greece will never be able to pay back its debts — the InMF isn’t the only party to have come to this conclusion.

Despite all the broken promises, despite the “no” vote on the austerity diktat that Tsipras would transform into a “yes” vote only a few days later, like some magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, surveys showed 70% of Greeks supporting the deal, which they consider to be “necessary and without alternative.” 68% say they would vote for Tsipras again if there were new elections. Polls also suggest he would be able to govern without a coalition partner. Those are astonishing figures for a prime minister under whose watch the banks had to be shuttered because they were threatened with collapse. Under whom capital controls had to be introduced, limiting daily withdrawals by Greeks to €60.

Furthermore, the Greek economy hasn’t been in this bad a shape at any other point since the start of the crisis five years ago. After one and a half years of consolidation, the economy has fallen back into recession and is shrinking rapidly. The fact that he isn’t being loudly criticized and that he managed to get 61% of Greeks to back him in the July 5 referendum is Tsipras’ political masterpiece. He had pitted “democracy against the Troika” as he often stated. It was a demonstration of power and at the same time a slap in the face of the Europeans. It’s possible they underestimated Tsipras because he had always come across as being so polite and reserved. But Tsipras also tested the limits and had no qualms about crossing the line.

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No, Stiglitz is not a scientist. Economics is NOT a science. See Popper and falsifiability.

Stiglitz Meets With Greek Government Officials (GR)

Former World Bank chief economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz expressed his serious concerns over the economic rationale behind Greece’s rescue agreement during his meetings with Greek government officials in Athens on Friday. He reassured, however, that both he and a large number of eminent scientists from Europe and America are willing to assist the Greek government in any way possible during its agonizing efforts to end the harsh austerity tantalizing the country and its people. The American economist has been opposed to the tactics of the IMF and the structure of the current financial system, defending Greece and the attempts of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his country’s negotiations with creditors, exerting harsh criticism toward Germany. “Germany has shown no common sense regarding the European economy, nor compassion,” he stressed, disapproving the measures imposed to Greece by European forces, and suggested a “brave” haircut to the Greek debt.

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“It is testimony to the insouciance of our time that the stark inconsistency of globalism with American unilateralism has passed unnoticed..”

Greece’s Lesson For Russia – and China (Paul Craig Roberts)

The termination of Greece’s fiscal sovereignty is what is in store for Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and eventually for France and Germany. As Jean-Claude Trichet, the former head of the European Central Bank said, the sovereign debt crisis signaled that it is time to bring Europe beyond a “strict concept of nationhood.” The next step in the centralization of Europe is political centralization. The Greek debt crisis is being used to establish the principle that being a member of the EU means that the country has lost its sovereignty. The notion, prevalent in the Western financial media, that a solution has been imposed on the Greeks is nonsense. Nothing has been solved. The conditions to which the Greek government submitted make the debt even less payable. In a short time the issue will again be before us.

As John Maynard Keynes made clear in 1936 and as every economist knows, driving down consumer incomes by cutting pensions, employment, wages, and social services, reduces consumer and investment demand, and thereby GDP, and results in large budget deficits that have to be covered by borrowing. Selling pubic assets to foreigners transfers the revenue flows out of the Greek economy into foreign hands. Unregulated naked capitalism, has proven in the 21st century to be unable to produce economic growth anywhere in the West. Consequently, median family incomes are declining. Governments cover up the decline by underestimating inflation and by not counting as unemployed discouraged workers who, unable to find jobs, have ceased looking.

By not counting discouraged workers the US is able to report a 5.2% rate of unemployment. Including discouraged workers brings the unemployment rate to 23.1%. A 23% rate of unemployment has nothing in common with economic recovery. Even the language used in the West is deceptive. The Greek “bailout” does not bail out Greece. The bailout bails out the holders of Greek debt. Many of these holders are not Greece’s original creditors. What the “bailout” does is to make the New York hedge funds’ bet on the Greek debt pay off for the hedge funds. The bailout money goes not to Greece but to those who speculated on the debt being paid. According to news reports, Quantitative Easing by the ECB has been used to purchase Greek debt from the troubled banks that made the loans, so the debt issue is no longer a creditor issue.

China seems unaware of the risk of investing in the US. China’s new rich are buying up residential communities in California, forgetting the experience of Japanese-Americans who were herded into detention camps during Washington’s war with Japan. Chinese companies are buying US companies and ore deposits in the US. These acquisitions make China susceptible to blackmail over foreign policy differences. The “globalism” that is hyped in the West is inconsistent with Washington’s unilateralism. No country with assets inside the Western system can afford to have policy differences with Washington. The French bank paid the $9 billion fine for disobeying Washington’s dictate of its lending practices, because the alternative was the close down of its operations in the United States. The French government was unable to protect the French bank from being looted by Washington.

It is testimony to the insouciance of our time that the stark inconsistency of globalism with American unilateralism has passed unnoticed.

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Oh good god, she means tax collectors… Greece “needs” German tax collectors…. What, to revive biblical times?

Europe’s Best And Brightest Need To Head For Greece (Helene Rey)

Last weekend’s negotiations were painful, but the Greeks were not entirely without friends. Amid the conflict and antagonism, France helped Athens draft its proposals and François Hollande, the French president, battled to avoid Grexit while keeping Germany and others on board. European solidarity looked exhausted. But contrary to some reports, it was not dead. The deal to keep Athens in the single currency, despite all its undesirable aspects, remains vastly preferable to Grexit. Now that the tricky business of implementation is about to begin, it is time that Greece received a little more help from its European friends. Admittedly, generosity was not Mr Hollande’s only motive. Grexit would have spelt still more hardship for Greek people and risked creditors losing all their money.

But it would also have imperilled the European project itself. It would have bolstered the likes of the Nationl Front’s Marine Le Pen in France, who is keen to see the euro disintegrate, and Vladimir Putin, Russian president, who has made clear his desire for European fragmentation. Mr Hollande’s actions were also well received by the ruling Socialist party’s disaffected leftwingers, who harbour sympathy for Greece’s Syriza-led government. But this is not enough of an effort, either on Greece’s part or that of its partners. The agreement comes in the wake of massive austerity in Greece, amid deteriorating economic and fiscal conditions and in an environment where elementary pro-growth reforms have yet to be made. The danger is that the deal, and what should be a healing process in Europe, will be derailed.

One huge issue is implementation: the Greek government needs to improve the judicial system, write a new civil code, fight cartels in product markets and reform public administration very quickly. Such reforms should improve the country’s wellbeing, but enacting them speedily would be a tall order for even the best-organised administration. And it is here that the rest of Europe can and should help out. The fabled École nationale d’administration might offer a few tips, but this is not a question of énarques — as its graduates are known — parachuting into Athens, or of more European overlords appearing in Greece. It is instead one of using European know-how to provide technical assistance in areas where Greece needs it and where Syriza, like its predecessor governments, has failed to deliver.

Goals such as more efficient tax collection (particularly from the rich) and fighting clientelism are part of the agreement and are vital. But they come bundled with other measures, such as value added tax increases, that will stifle any recovery. Hence the need for more solidarity to help the Greeks move fast.

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Reich is right, of course. But why did he stay on in Bill Clinton’s cabinet when he disagreed so much on the repeal?

Hillary Clinton and Glass-Steagall (Robert Reich)

For more than six decades after 1933, Glass-Steagall worked exactly as it was intended to. During that long interval few banks failed and no financial panic endangered the banking system. But the big Wall Street banks weren’t content. They wanted bigger profits. They thought they could make far more money by gambling with commercial deposits. So they set out to whittle down Glass-Steagall. Finally, in 1999, President Bill Clinton struck a deal with Republican Senator Phil Gramm to do exactly what Wall Street wanted, and repeal Glass-Steagall altogether. What happened next? An almost exact replay of the Roaring Twenties. Once again, banks originated fraudulent loans and sold them to their customers in the form of securities. Once again, there was a huge conflict of interest that finally resulted in a banking crisis.

This time the banks were bailed out, but millions of Americans lost their savings, their jobs, even their homes. [..] To this day some Wall Street apologists argue Glass-Steagall wouldn’t have prevented the 2008 crisis because the real culprits were nonbanks like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Baloney. These nonbanks got their funding from the big banks in the form of lines of credit, mortgages, and repurchase agreements. If the big banks hadn’t provided them the money, the nonbanks wouldn’t have got into trouble. And why were the banks able to give them easy credit on bad collateral? Because Glass-Steagall was gone. Other apologists for the Street blame the crisis on unscrupulous mortgage brokers. Surely mortgage brokers do share some of the responsibility. But here again, the big banks were accessories and enablers.

The mortgage brokers couldn’t have funded the mortgage loans if the banks hadn’t bought them. And the big banks couldn’t have bought them if Glass-Steagall were still in place. I’ve also heard bank executives claim there’s no reason to resurrect Glass-Steagall because none of the big banks actually failed. This is like arguing lifeguards are no longer necessary at beaches where no one has drowned. It ignores the fact that the big banks were bailed out. If the government hadn’t thrown them lifelines, many would have gone under. Remember? Their balance sheets were full of junky paper, non-performing loans, and worthless derivatives. They were bailed out because they were too big to fail. And the reason for resurrecting Glass-Steagall is we don’t want to go through that ever again.

As George Santayana famously quipped, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the roaring 2000’s, just as in the Roaring Twenties, America’s big banks used insured deposits to underwrite their gambling in private securities, and then dump the securities on their customers. It ended badly. This is precisely what the Glass-Steagall Act was designed to prevent – and did prevent for more than six decades. Hillary Clinton, of all people, should remember.

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All borrowed money anyway. Can someone please hold Brussels accountable?

Don Quixote Airport Cost €1bn – It Could Sell To China For €10,000 (Guardian)

It cost €1bn (£694m) to build and was on sale for a knockdown price of €40m, but now looks set to be sold for just €10,000. Ciudad Real airport, one of the most notorious emblems of Spain’s economic crash, has found a buyer. A Chinese-led consortium has emerged as the only bidder for the deserted site 100 miles south of Madrid, for an apparent bargain price after no one met the much reduced valuation. Its facilities include a runway long enough to land an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, along with a passenger terminal that could handle 10m travellers per year. It is also in pristine condition because it has barely been used, having opened to international flights in 2010 as the eurozone crisis raged, only to shut two years later.

Appropriately for such a vainglorious project, the La Mancha airport was previously named after the region’s most famous, and deluded, literary export: Don Quixote. But Tzaneen International, a Chinese company set up in March with just €4,000 in capital, believes it can succeed where others have failed. Its bid – the only offer – succeeded at a public auction. Its initial €10,000 outlay buys all the land and most of the buildings, including the runway and control tower. Tzaneen says it also wants to acquire the terminal building and the car parks and is prepared to invest up to €100m in the project because “there are several Chinese companies that want to make the airport the European point of entry for cargo”.

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“I am sure that if they take back the drachma, they’ll have a year of trouble but then they will become paradise on earth with 10m people.“

Lunch with Beppe Grillo (FT)

[..] when I ask him directly what he thinks of the deal, he seems more discouraged than angry. “I don’t know, it’s always the same story. Every nation has lost its sovereignty.” This leads into the first of many tangents. “We’ve delegated politics to bankers. The ECB is inside Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank is inside the Bundesbank,” he says before moving on to mention Japanese “just-in-time” manufacturing and Britain’s zero-hour labour contracts. “They trick all the statistics because, if you work one hour, it means you’re employed.” As we nibble on pane carasau, a traditional Sardinian flatbread, I try to reel him back to the main question. A week earlier, Grillo had showed his support for Greece by making the trip to Athens’ Syntagma Square, after Tsipras had unexpectedly called a referendum on earlier bailout terms proposed by Brussels. The “No” vote — backed by Tsipras — won a resounding victory that night.

Now that plebiscite of defiance seems to have been pointless. Greece still needed funds to avoid default, and Tsipras had been forced to cave on many points to get it. So was it worth it, I ask? Grillo, who has been vocal about his desire for Italy to hold its own referendum on the euro, hesitates. “I think it helped clear up the notion that these decisions should be taken by the people, not others,” he says. As for Tsipras, he says: “If he sells out the country, that’s exactly what the Greeks don’t want.” The food arrives and the best of my antipasto is the seared tuna with peach, and the marinated salmon. Grillo loads his salad up with salt and that seems to rev him up a notch. He starts attacking “those people” who have a stranglehold on Europe’s economy.

“They have a kind of illness, it’s called alexithymia, which means difficulty recognising the emotions of others: pain, pleasure, joy,” he says. Does he mean people like Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission? “Yes,” he responds. “They don’t care if they have to put tens of millions of people into hunger to balance an account, it’s collateral damage. We’ve entrusted our lives to people who know nothing about life,” he adds. I suggest that a referendum on euro membership might not appeal to Italians, given the scenes of economic distress they have witnessed in Athens in the past few weeks. But Grillo tells me I’m wrong because Italy’s experience with the single currency has been awful.

The Italian economy has only just started growing again — by 0.3% in the first quarter of this year, after a bruising triple-dip recession. Unemployment remains high — at 12.4% — and for the country’s youth that figure is more than 40%. “We entered monetary union from one day to the next, and they said it was for our own good,” he says. “Since then, all our economic, social and financial indicators have got worse.” The chaos in Athens has, he says, been wildly overstated. “I went there with bread, cheese and nylon socks, to help. I thought there would be people on the ground, screaming, ‘Aaaaaah!’ Instead, I found a splendid city, the restaurants were full. There were many tourists. You ate well — with €18 or €20. It was clean. I am sure that if they take back the drachma, they’ll have a year of trouble but then they will become paradise on earth with 10m people.”

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Jul 182015
 
 July 18, 2015  Posted by at 10:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing State, War & Navy Building, Washington DC 1917

Those In Power Will Risk War And Civil Unrest To Preserve It (Martin Armstrong)
Irish €14.3 Billion Payments To Bank Bondholders May Have Been Avoidable (TFM)
Why Argentina Consistently, and Unapologetically, Refuses to Pay Its Debts (BBG)
China Unleashes $483 Billion to Stem the Market Rout (Bloomberg)
China Destroyed Its Stock Market In Order To Save It (Patrick Chovanec)
Greece’s Tsipras Shakes Up Cabinet in Bid to Rebuild Government (Bloomberg)
Wolfgang Schäuble, The Trust Troll (Steve Keen)
Alice In Schäuble-Land: Where Rules Mean What Wolfgang Says They Mean (Whelan)
Greece, Europe, and the United States (James K. Galbraith)
The Euro Is A Disaster Even For The Countries That Do Everything Right (WaPo)
Blame the Banks (The Atlantic)
Greece’s Debt Can Be Written Off – Whatever Wolfgang Schäuble Says (Guardian)
Greece And Europe: Is Europe Holding Up Its End Of The Bargain? (Ben Bernanke)
Why Is Germany So Tough On Greece? Look Back 25 Years (Guardian)
Greece Made The Wrong Choice (John Lloyd)
The Greek Crisis Represents The Humiliation Of European Democracy (Andrea Mammone)
The End Of Capitalism Has Begun (Paul Mason)
The Freakish Year in Broken Climate Records (Bloomberg)

Absolutely must see Farage video.

Those In Power Will Risk War And Civil Unrest To Preserve It (Martin Armstrong)

Nigel Farage may be the only practical politician these days because he came from the trading sector. He explains the Euro-Project and its failures. He makes it clear that the Greek people never voted to enter the euro, and explains that it was forced upon them by Goldman Sachs and their politicians. Nigel also explains that the Euro project idea that a trade and economic union would then magically produce a political union – the United States of Europe and eliminate war. He has warned that the idea of a political union would end European wars has actually turned Europe into a rising resentment in where there is now a new Berlin Wall emerging between Northern and Southern Europe.

The Euro project was a delusional dream for it was never designed to succeed but to cut corners all in hope of creating the United States of Europe to challenge the USA and dethrone the dollar, That dream has turned into a nightmare and will never raise Europe to that lofty goal of the financial capitol of the world. The IMF acts as a member of the Troika, yet has no elected position whatsoever. The second unelected member is Mario Draghai of the ECB. Then the head of Europe is also unelected by the people. The entire government design is totally un-Democratic and therein lies the crisis.

Not a single member of the Troika ever needs to worry about polls since they do not have to worry about elections. This is authoritarian government if we have ever seen one. The ECB attempts by sheer force to manipulate the economy with zero chance of success employing negative interest rates and defending banks as the (former?) Goldman Sachs man Mario Draghai dictates. Now, far too many political jobs have been created in Brussels. This is no longer about what is best for Europe, it is what is necessary to retain government jobs. The Invisible Hand of Adam Smith works even in this instance – those in power are only interested in their self-interest and will risk war and civil unrest to maintain their failed dreams of power.

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If true, a main argument for Greece.

Irish €14.3 Billion Payments To Bank Bondholders May Have Been Avoidable (TFM)

The legal advisor to the former government has said it WOULD have been legally possible to burn the bondholders of Ireland’s banks, without customers having to lose their deposits. The advice from the former attorney general Paul Gallagher appears to contradict the claims of some former ministers. Ministers in the former administration have consistently claimed that it would have been impossible to ‘burn’ bondholders without also enforcing a haircut on deposits, because the two were considered legally equal. However today Mr Gallagher has said that although it would have been difficult, it was legally possible to break this link and enforce losses on bondholders without depositors also taking a hit.

He said this had also been accepted by the Troika – but that the lenders simply refused to allow any burden-sharing under the bailout programme, making the prospect obsolete. Unsecured senior bondholders were paid around €14.3 billion under the period of the bank guarantee – much of it as a result of the state’s huge investment in the banking sector. Mr Gallagher’s evidence seems to suggest that these payments could have been avoided without depositors also facing any losses, but for the Troika’s stance.

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If Argentina can do it…

Why Argentina Consistently, and Unapologetically, Refuses to Pay Its Debts (BBG)

Argentina’s fight with foreign banks and bondholders is more than just business. It’s part of the national psyche, enshrined in a special museum at the business school at the University of Buenos Aires. The Museum of Foreign Debt is nothing fancy. There are a few flimsy panels plastered with grainy photos, dates, text, and graphs. Oh, but the saga portrayed on those panels! Banks, bond investors, and the International Monetary Fund flood crooked regimes with overpriced credit. The Argentine economy collapses, and the people suffer. International markets are roiled. It happens time and time again. The story has all the emotions of a good tango. Argentina has reneged on foreign debt obligations at least seven times, starting in 1827.

The latest was in July 2014, when Argentina defaulted rather than give in to pressure from Paul Singer of Elliott Management. The fight with Singer has been going on for a dozen years, and the term vulture investor—rather esoteric in much of the world—is now pretty much universally known in Argentina. It’s so much on people’s minds that Buenos Aires toy stores carry a homegrown board game called Vultures, packaged in a box depicting a pair of the birds picking at a pile of dollars. “We planted the anti-vulture flag in the world,” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said in a speech in mid-May. “We gave a name to international usury and despotism.” One May morning at the debt museum, guide Antonella Fagnano, a 21-year-old business major, describes Argentines’ attitude toward default.

She pauses by a black-and-white photo of the late General Jorge Videla, who led a 1976 coup that ushered in a seven-year dictatorship. Successive presidents in that period loaded up on foreign debt to finance, among other things, the 1982 Falklands War with the U.K. Today’s Argentina, Fagnano says, has no moral obligation to make good on debts like those. In fact, it would be wrong to pay. “Foreigners financed a lot of leaders, like these dictators. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do with the money, and left future generations the debt,” she says, shaking her head. “So, of course, you cannot allow that.” Fernandez is nearing the end of her term, and it doesn’t look like things will change under the next president. Daniel Scioli, the front-runner for October elections, vows to carry on the fight against paying the vultures in full.

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And counting.

China Unleashes $483 Billion to Stem the Market Rout (Bloomberg)

China has created what amounts to a state-run margin trader with $483 billion of firepower, its latest effort to end a stock-market rout that threatens to drag down economic growth and erode confidence in President Xi Jinping’s government. China Securities Finance Corp. can access as much as 3 trillion yuan of borrowed funds from sources including the central bank and commercial lenders, according to people familiar with the matter. The money may be used to buy shares and provide liquidity to brokerages, the people said, asking not to be named because the information wasn’t public. While it’s unclear how much CSF will ultimately deploy into China’s $6.6 trillion equity market, the financing is up to 25 times bigger than the support fund started by Chinese brokerages earlier this month.

That’s probably enough to restore confidence among China’s 90 million individual investors, says Bocom International Holdings Co. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.5 % on Friday, capping a two-week rally that’s turned it into one of the world’s best-performing equity gauges. “It doesn’t have to use up all the money, as long as it can make the rest of the market believe that it has enough ammunition,” said Hao Hong, a China strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong. “It is a game of chicken. For now, it seems to be working.” CSF, founded in 2011 to provide funding to the margin-trading businesses of Chinese brokerages, has transformed into one of the key government vehicles to combat a 32 % selloff in the Shanghai Composite from mid-June through July 8.

At 3 trillion yuan, its funding would be about five times bigger than the new proposed bailout for Greece and exceed China’s 2.3 trillion yuan of regulated margin financing during the height of the stock-market boom last month. “What the authorities are demonstrating to the market is that if panic does take hold, they have the resources at their disposal to deal with that,” said James Laurenceson, the deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology in Sydney. “Monetary authorities around the word regularly send the same signal in credit and foreign exchange markets.”

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“Chinese punters were borrowing in large sums, from both brokerages and more shadowy sources — like “umbrella trusts” and peer-to-peer lending websites — to buy shares, with the shares themselves as collateral.”

China Destroyed Its Stock Market In Order To Save It (Patrick Chovanec)

During the Vietnam War, surveying the shelled wreckage of Ben Tre, an American officer famously remarked, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” His comment came to epitomize the sort of self-defeating “victory” that undoes what it aims to achieve. Last week, China destroyed its stock market in order to save it. Faced with a crash in share prices from a bubble of its own making, the Chinese government intervened ruthlessly, and recklessly, to turn those prices around. Its heavy-handed approach seemed to work, for the moment, but only by severely damaging far more important goals and ambitions. Prior to the crash, China’s stock market had enjoyed a blissful disconnect from reality. As China’s economy slowed and corporate profits declined, share prices soared, nearly tripling in just 12 months.

By the peak, half the companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges were priced above a preposterous 85-times earnings. It was a clear warning flag — one that Chinese regulators encouraged people to ignore. Then reality caught up. At first, when prices began to fall, the central bank responded by cutting interest rates and bank reserve requirements — measures to inject more money that had never failed to juice the market. But prices continued to fall. Then the government rallied the major brokerages to form a $19 billion fund to buy shares and waded directly into the market to buy stocks too. A few stocks rose, but most fell even further. The relentless crash was intensified by a new factor in Chinese markets: margin lending.

Chinese punters were borrowing in large sums, from both brokerages and more shadowy sources — like “umbrella trusts” and peer-to-peer lending websites — to buy shares, with the shares themselves as collateral. At the peak, according to Goldman Sachs, formal margin lending alone accounted for 12% of the market float and 3.5% of China’s GDP, “easily the highest in the history of global equity markets.” Margin loans served as rocket fuel for the market on its way up, but prices began to fall and borrowers received “margin calls” that forced them to liquidate their positions, pushing prices down further in a kind of death spiral.

Chinese regulators, who had been trying (ineffectually) to rein in risky margin lending, now suddenly reversed course. They waved rules requiring brokerages to ask for more collateral when stock prices fall and allowed them to accept any kind of asset — including people’s homes — as collateral for stock-buying loans. They also encouraged brokerages to securitize and sell their margin-lending portfolios to the public so that they could go out and make even more loans. All these steps knowingly exposed major financial institutions, and their customers, to much greater risk. Yet no one will borrow if no one is confident enough to buy, and the market continued to fall, wiping out nearly all its gains since the start of the year.

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The deal “has an ownership problem for Tsipras and the Greeks in general..”

Greece’s Tsipras Shakes Up Cabinet in Bid to Rebuild Government (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras replaced some ministers in a cabinet reshuffle after almost a quarter of his lawmakers rejected measures he agreed on with creditors to keep the country in the euro. The prime minister’s office said Friday that Panagiotis Skourletis will replace Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the Left Platform fraction of Tsipras’s Syriza party, as energy minister. George Katrougalos will succeed Panagiotis Skourletis as labor minister. The Greek parliament in the early hours of Thursday backed the deal with creditors, needed to unblock further financing aid, with decisive votes from the opposition. With 38 of 149 Syriza lawmakers refusing to support further spending cuts and tax increases, that marked a blow for Tsipras, who came to power on an anti-austerity platform in January.

Tsipras told his associates after the parliament vote that he would be forced to lead a minority government until a final deal with creditors is concluded. The European Union finalized a €7.2 billion bridge loan to Greece on Friday that will help provide the debt-ravaged nation with a stop-gap until its full three-year bailout is settled. In all, 64 of the parliament’s 300 lawmakers voted against the bill. Half of the “no” votes came from Syriza, including from Lafazanis and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, called in by Tsipras to replace Varoufakis before the final bailout negotiations, discussed on Friday with Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize winning economist, about the difficulties expected in the implementation of the deal with Greece’s creditors.

The deal “has an ownership problem for Tsipras and the Greeks in general,” said Paolo Manasse, a professor of economics at the University of Bologna, Italy. “It’s a liberal program to be carried out by a radical-left premier and imposed on a country that’s just voted no in a referendum.”

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“To the Confidence Fairy we can now add the ‘Trust Troll’ : appease the Trust Troll, and all your macroeconomic ills will magically vanish.”

Wolfgang Schäuble, The Trust Troll (Steve Keen)

Paul Krugman invented the term “confidence fairy” to characterize the belief that all that was needed for growth to resume after the Global Financial Crisis was to restore ‘confidence’. Impose austerity and the economy will not shrink, but will instead grow immediately, because of the boost to confidence:

.. don’t worry: spending cuts may hurt, but the confidence fairy will take away the pain. The idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect, declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, in a recent interview. Why? Because confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery. ( Myths of Austerity , July 1 2010)

To the Confidence Fairy we can now add the ‘Trust Troll’ : appease the Trust Troll, and all your macroeconomic ills will magically vanish. The identity of the Confidence Fairy was never revealed, but the identity of the Trust Troll is obvious. It‘s German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble was clearly the primary architect of the Troika’s dictat for Greece. One only has to compare its language to that used by Schäuble in his OpEd in the New York Times three months ago (Wolfgang Schäuble on German Priorities and Eurozone Myths , April 15 2015). There he stated that ‘My diagnosis of the crisis in Europe is that it was first and foremost a crisis of confidence, rooted in structural shortcomings , and that the essential factor in ending the crisis was the restoration of trust:

The cure is targeted reforms to rebuild trust in member states finances, in their economies and in the architecture of the European Union. Simply spending more public money would not have done the trick nor can it now.

Compare this to the first line of the communique:

The Eurogroup stresses the crucial need to rebuild trust with the Greek authorities as a pre requisite for a possible future agreement on a new ESM programme.

The policies in the document match those in Schäuble’s OpEd as well. Schäuble called for:

.. more flexible labor markets; lowering barriers to competition in services; more robust tax collection; and similar measures.

The Troika’s document forces these measures upon Greece. These include ‘the broadening of the tax base to increase revenue’, ‘rigorous reviews of collective bargaining, industrial action and collective dismissals’ and ‘ambitious product market reforms’. At the same time, Greece is required to aim to achieve a government surplus equivalent to 3.5% of GDP -the opposite of ‘spending more public money’ which Schäuble rejected in his OpEd. Rather than debt reduction and rescheduling as even the IMF now calls for, “The Euro Summit acknowledges the importance of ensuring that the Greek sovereign can clear its arrears to the IMF and to the Bank of Greece and honour its debt obligations”.

This cannot in any sense be seen as an economic document, since an economic document would have to assess the feasibility of its proposals. Instead it simply states Schäuble s ideology: regardless of your economic circumstances, simply implement these (so-called) market-oriented reforms, restore trust, and your economy will grow. With the government debt that Greece currently labours under, this is a fantasy. Even if Greece were to pay a mere 3% on its debt, interest payments alone would absorb over 5% of GDP. To do that, and run a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP in an economy where 25% of the population is unemployed is simply impossible.

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Karl Whelan makes much the same point as Steve Keen: “..the truth is it is really Grade-A concern trolling (“I’d love to help you guys but I can only do it if you leave the euro”) dressed up as legal argumentation.”

Alice In Schäuble-Land: Where Rules Mean What Wolfgang Says They Mean (Whelan)

After trying his best to chuck Greece out of the euro last weekend, Germany’s finance minister Schäuble has continued to openly undermine the deal that was agreed by European leaders and endorsed by the Greek parliament. A key argument he has been putting forward is that a debt write-down for Greece “would be incompatible with the currency union’s rules” but that such a write-down would be possible if Greece left the euro. While this claim is being widely repeated in the German press, the truth is it is really Grade-A concern trolling (“I’d love to help you guys but I can only do it if you leave the euro”) dressed up as legal argumentation.

The rules of the EU and Eurozone are so byzantine that it is quite easy to make false claims about these rules and get away with it. However, I do not believe there is anything in the European Union or Eurozone rules that would preclude a debt write-down inside the euro. The basis for Schäuble’s argument appears to be Article 125.1 of the consolidated treaty on the functioning of the EU. Here is the article in full.

The Union shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of any Member State, without prejudice to mutual financial guarantees for the joint execution of a specific project. A Member State shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of another Member State, without prejudice to mutual financial guarantees for the joint execution of a specific project.

This is the article that used to be called “the no bailout clause”. However, it is nothing of the sort. It simply says that member states cannot take on the debts of another member state. This did not rule out member states “bailing out” other countries by making loans to them. And indeed, the European Court of Justice in its Pringle decision established that the European Stabilisation Mechanism bailout fund was consistent with Article 125. Also worth noting about Article 125 are all the things it doesn’t mention. It doesn’t rule out loans being member states and doesn’t discuss these loans being restructured. And it makes no mention whatsoever of the Eurozone. So there is simply no legal basis for the idea that Greek debt being written down is illegal while they remain in the Eurozone but is fine if they leave the euro.

It is conceivable that someone could still take a case to the ECJ objecting to a write-off on the grounds that the granting and write-off of loans to Greece would result in more debt for European countries and allowed Greece to pay off other creditors. So you could argue that this was effectively the same thing as the other member states assuming Greece’s other debt commitments. To my mind, this line of argumentation moves far away from the simple and clear language of Article 125.1. I also don’t see much in the Pringle decision to suggest the ECJ would uphold such a case. There would be even less case for a legal argument against an “effective write-off” involving postponing interest payments and principal payments for some very long period of time, such as 100 years.

So there is no “Eurozone rule” against a writing off Greek debt. Conversely, despite Schäuble’s enthusiastic support, the rules don’t allow for a euro exit. Rules it appears, mean whatever Mr. Schäuble wants them to mean.

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“After all, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Romania (not to mention Denmark and Sweden, or for that matter the United Kingdom) are still out and will likely remain so—yet no one thinks they will fail or drift to Putin because of that.”

Greece, Europe, and the United States (James K. Galbraith)

SYRIZA was not some Greek fluke; it was a direct consequence of European policy failure. A coalition of ex-Communists, unionists, Greens, and college professors does not rise to power anywhere except in desperate times. That SYRIZA did rise, overshadowing the Greek Nazis in the Golden Dawn party, was, in its way, a democratic miracle. SYRIZA’s destruction will now lead to a reassessment, everywhere on the continent, of the “European project.” A progressive Europe—the Europe of sustainable growth and social cohesion—would be one thing. The gridlocked, reactionary, petty, and vicious Europe that actually exists is another. It cannot and should not last for very long.

What will become of Europe? Clearly the hopes of the pro-European, reformist left are now over. That will leave the future in the hands of the anti-European parties, including UKIP, the National Front in France, and Golden Dawn in Greece. These are ugly, racist, xenophobic groups; Golden Dawn has proposed concentration camps for immigrants in its platform. The only counter, now, is for progressive and democratic forces to regroup behind the banner of national democratic restoration. Which means that the left in Europe will also now swing against the euro.

As that happens, should the United States continue to support the euro, aligning ourselves with failed policies and crushed democratic protests? Or should we let it be known that we are indifferent about which countries are in or out? Surely the latter represents the sensible choice. After all, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Romania (not to mention Denmark and Sweden, or for that matter the United Kingdom) are still out and will likely remain so—yet no one thinks they will fail or drift to Putin because of that. So why should the euro—plainly now a fading dream—be propped up? Why shouldn’t getting out be an option? Independent technical, financial, and moral support for democratic allies seeking exit would, in these conditions, help to stabilize an otherwise dangerous and destructive mood.

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The story comes from everywhere now: non-euro countries fare much better than euro nations. Even in Germany, workers are being stiffed.

The Euro Is A Disaster Even For The Countries That Do Everything Right (WaPo)

The euro might be worse for you than bankruptcy. That, at least, has been the case for Finland and the Netherlands, which have actually grown less than Iceland has since 2007. Iceland, you might recall, went bankrupt in 2008. Now, it’s true that Finland and the Netherlands have had their fair share of economic problems, but those should have been manageable. Neither country is a basket case, and both have done what they were supposed to do. In other words, they’ve followed the rules, and the results have still been a catastrophe. That’s because the euro itself is. Or, if you want to be polite, the common currency is “imperfect, and being imperfect is fragile, vulnerable, and doesn’t deliver all the benefits it could.” That was ECB chief Mario Draghi’s verdict on Thursday.

So what’s happened to them? Well, just your run-of-the-mill bad economic news. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Apple has kneecapped Finland’s economy. Its two biggest exports were Nokia phones and paper products, but, as the country’s former prime minister Alex Stubb has said, the iPhone killed the former and the iPad killed the latter. Now, the normal way to make up for this would be to cut costs by devaluing your currency, except that Finland doesn’t have a currency to devalue anymore. It has the euro. So instead it’s had to cut costs by cutting wages, which not only takes longer, but also causes more economic damage since you have to fire people to convince them to take pay cuts. The result has been a recession longer than anything in Finland’s living memory, longer even than its great depression in the early 1990s. It hasn’t helped, of course, that the rules of the euro zone have forced Finland’s government to cut its budget at the same time that all this has been happening.

It’s been a different kind of story in the Netherlands. Its goods are more than competitive abroad—its trade surplus is an absurd 10 % of economic output—but its domestic spending is a problem. The Netherlands had a huge housing bubble, fueled, in part, by the fact that interest payments are fully tax deductible, that has since deflated some 20%. That’s left Dutch households with a bigger debt burden than anyone else in the euro zone. On top of that, there’s been the usual austerity to keep its recovery from being much—or any—of one. Indeed, the Netherlands’ economy was slightly smaller at the end of 2014 than it was at the end of 2007. That’s a lot better than Finland, whose economy has shrunk 5.2% during that time, but it still lags the 1.1% growth Iceland has eked out.

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Excellent.

Blame the Banks (The Atlantic)

In buying various assets European banks were doing what banks are supposed to do: lending. But by doing so without caution they were doing exactly what banks are not supposed to do: lending recklessly. The European banks weren’t lending recklessly to only the U.S. They were also aggressively lending within Europe, including to the governments of Spain, Portugal, and Greece. In 2008, when the U.S. housing market collapsed, the European banks lost big. They mostly absorbed those losses and focused their attention on Europe, where they kept lending to governments—meaning buying those countries’ debt—even though that was looking like an increasingly foolish thing to do:

Many of the southern countries were starting to show worrying signs. By 2010 one of those countries—Greece—could no longer pay its bills. Over the prior decade Greece had built up massive debt, a result of too many people buying too many things, too few Greeks paying too few taxes, and too many promises made by too many corrupt politicians, all wrapped in questionable accounting. Yet despite clear problems, bankers had been eagerly lending to Greece all along. That 2010 Greek crisis was temporarily muzzled by an international bailout, which imposed on Greece severe spending constraints. This bailout gave Greece no debt relief, instead lending them more money to help pay off their old loans, allowing the banks to walk away with few losses.

It was a bailout of the banks in everything but name. Greece has struggled immensely since then, with an economic collapse of historic proportion, the human costs of which can only be roughly understood. Greece needed another bailout in 2012, and yet again this week. While the Greeks have suffered, the northern banks have yet to account financially, legally, or ethically, for their reckless decisions. Further, by bailing out the banks in 2010, rather than Greece, the politicians transferred any future losses from Greece to the European public. It was a bait-and-switch rife with a nationalist sentiment that has corrupted the dialogue since: Don’t look at our reckless banks; look at their reckless borrowing.

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Legalese.

Greece’s Debt Can Be Written Off – Whatever Wolfgang Schäuble Says (Guardian)

A vote in the Greek parliament means little to Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. The self-appointed guardian of the EU’s financial rulebook says Athens can vote as many times as it likes in favour of a deal that promises, even in the vaguest terms, to write off some of its colossal debts, but that doesn’t mean the rules allow it. In fact, as Schäuble delights in pointing out, any attempt at striking out Greek debt is, according to his advice, illegal. Yet Schäuble knows Greece’s debts are unsustainable unless some of them are written off – he has said as much on several occasions. So faced with its internal contradictions, he posits that the deal must fail and the poorly led Greeks exit the euro.

As a compromise, he repeated his suggestion on Tuesday that Greece leave the euro temporarily. Those who care more for maintaining the current euro currency bloc as a 19-member entity immediately spotted this manoeuvre as a one-way ticket with no way back for Greece. The Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, a centre-left social democrat, said Schäuble was “totally wrong” to create the impression that “it may be useful for us if Greece falls out of the currency union, that maybe we pay less that way”. Faymann, who has consistently taken a sympathetic line on Greece, showed his growing irritation at the German minister’s stance: “It’s morally not right, that would be the beginning of a process of decay … Germany has taken on a leading role here in Europe and in this case not a positive one.”

Greece and Faymann’s problem is that there are plenty of other forces at play pulling at the loose threads of the latest bailout deal. The IMF has said a big debt write-off is needed to prevent a proposed €86bn deal collapsing under the sheer weight of future liabilities and a reluctance in Greece to carry through reforms.

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Bernanke weighs in.

Greece And Europe: Is Europe Holding Up Its End Of The Bargain? (Ben Bernanke)

This week the Greek parliament agreed to European demands for tough new austerity measures and structural reforms, defusing (for the moment, at least) the country’s sovereign debt crisis. Now is a good time to ask: Is Europe holding up its end of the bargain? Specifically, is the euro zone’s leadership delivering the broad-based economic recovery that is needed to give stressed countries like Greece a reasonable chance to meet their growth, employment, and fiscal objectives? Over the longer term, these questions are evidently of far greater consequence for Europe, and for the world, than are questions about whether tiny Greece can meet its fiscal obligations.

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are also obvious. Since the global financial crisis, economic outcomes in the euro zone have been deeply disappointing. The failure of European economic policy has two, closely related, aspects: (1) the weak performance of the euro zone as a whole; and (2) the highly asymmetric outcomes among countries within the euro zone. The poor overall performance is illustrated by Figure 1 below, which shows the euro area unemployment rate since 2007, with the U.S. unemployment rate shown for comparison.

In late 2009 and early 2010 unemployment rates in Europe and the United States were roughly equal, at about 10% of the labor force. Today the unemployment rate in the United States is 5.3%, while the unemployment rate in the euro zone is more than 11%. Not incidentally, a very large share of euro area unemployment consists of younger workers; the inability of these workers to gain skills and work experience will adversely affect Europe’s longer-term growth potential. The unevenness in economic outcomes among countries within the euro zone is illustrated by Figure 2, which compares the unemployment rate in Germany (which accounts for about 30% of the euro area economy) with that of the remainder of the euro zone.

Currently, the unemployment rate in the euro zone ex Germany exceeds 13%, compared to less than 5% in Germany. Other economic data show similar discrepancies within the euro zone between the “north” (including Germany) and the “south.” The patterns illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 pose serious medium-term challenges for the euro area. The promise of the euro was both to increase prosperity and to foster closer European integration. But current economic conditions are hardly building public confidence in European economic policymakers or providing an environment conducive to fiscal stabilization and economic reform; and European solidarity will not flower under a system which produces such disparate outcomes among countries.

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How Wolfie asset-stripped East Germany.

Why Is Germany So Tough On Greece? Look Back 25 Years (Guardian)

It was 25 years ago, during the summer of 1990, that Schäuble led the West German delegation negotiating the terms of the unification with formerly communist East Germany. A doctor of law, he was West Germany’s interior minister and one of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s closest advisers, the go-to guy whenever things got tricky. The situation in the former GDR was not too dissimilar from that in Greece when Syriza swept to power: East Germans had just held their first free elections in history, only months after the Berlin Wall fell, and some of the delegates from East Berlin dreamed of a new political system, a “third way” between the west’s market economy and the east’s socialist system – while also having no idea how to pay the bills anymore.

The West Germans, on the other side of the table, had the momentum, the money and a plan: everything the state of East Germany owned was to be absorbed by the West German system and then quickly sold to private investors to recoup some of the money East Germany would need in the coming years. In other words: Schäuble and his team wanted collateral. At that time almost every former communist company, shop or petrol station was owned by the Treuhand, or trust agency – an institution originally thought up by a handful of East German dissidents to stop state-run firms from being sold to West German banks and companies by corrupt communist cadres. The Treuhand’s mission: to turn all the big conglomerates, companies and tiny shops into private firms, so they could be part of a market economy.

Schäuble and his team didn’t care that the dissidents had planned to hand out shares of companies to the East Germans, issued by the Treuhand – a concept that incidentally led to the rise of the oligarchs in Russia. But they liked the idea of a trust fund because it operated outside the government: while technically overseen by the finance ministry, it was publicly perceived as an independent agency. Even before Germany merged into a single state in October 1990, the Treuhand was firmly in West German hands. Their aim was to privatise as many companies as possible, as soon as possible – and if you were to ask most Germans about the Treuhand today they would say it achieved that objective. It didn’t do so in a way that was popular with the people of East Germany, where the Treuhand quickly became known as the ugly face of capitalism. It did a horrible job in explaining the transformation to shellshocked East Germans who felt overpowered by this strange new agency. To make matters worse, the Treuhand became a hotbed of corruption.

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“As for the future of the euro, it would no longer be the Greeks’ problem. What, they may say, has the euro done for us?”

Greece Made The Wrong Choice (John Lloyd)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has, as Macbeth put it, “strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage.” But he will still be heard some more. While Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pleaded for support Wednesday for a European Union “rescue” plan in which he said he didn’t believe, Varoufakis was busy ripping it apart. In a widely circulated blog, Varoufakis boiled down his belief to this: Greece had been reduced to the status of a slave state. While his words were clearly driven by anger and spite, he’s not entirely out of line. The agreement is, as Tsipras said, a kind of blackmail. The economist Simon Tilford described it as an order to “acquiesce to all our demands or we will evict you from the currency union.”

Pensions will be cut further, labor markets liberalized, working lives extended, collective bargaining “modernized,” and hiring and firing made easier. For a government that takes its inspiration from Karl Marx, this is a neo-liberal dousing. There are few enthusiasts for the deal: the most important of the skeptics is the IMF, which called for the euro zone creditors to allow a partial write-off of its €300+ billion debt, or at least permit a repayment pause for 30 years. In an ironic twist, the IMF, the creditor the Tsipras government most despised, is now its (partial) friend. Skeptics have focused not just on the impossibility of debt repayment, but also on the deepening poverty that will result from the agreement.

Francois Cabeau, an economist in Barclays Bank, told the French daily Figaro that the economy would continue to shrink by between 6 and 8% a year. Because the Greek economy has so few sectors where significant value is added other than shipping and tourism, it depends heavily on consumption — which is being further cut, thus prompting a vicious cycle and a further immiseration of the poor, elderly and sick. These conditions validate Varoufakis’ analysis. Greece is a country so firmly under the unremitting pressure of its creditors and so tied to foreign demands, that it may soon resemble an East European communist state in the high tide of Soviet power. Like two of these states — Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 — Syriza made a failed attempt at a revolt, and was crushed.

[..] So should it leave the euro zone? The objections to a Grexit are twofold: first, that its currency — presumably a newly issued drachma — would be walloped by an unfavorable exchange rate as a result. Foreign goods and foreign travel would be priced out of many families’ reach. At the same time, as euro zone leaders have warned continually, a Grexit would also shake the euro to its foundations — and though the remaining 18 members could be protected, a precedent would be set that this is a contingent currency, with membership dependent on national conditions. That it would be bad is certain: but how much worse than staying in and swallowing bitter medicine? As for the future of the euro, it would no longer be the Greeks’ problem. What, they may say, has the euro done for us?

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“The key (overlooked) question here is: Is this EU reflecting Europeans’ will? ”

The Greek Crisis Represents The Humiliation Of European Democracy (Andrea Mammone)

Fears, disillusionment, uncertainty, and astonishment are mixed together by the hot wind blowing from Greece and the cold rain coming from some of Northern Europe. No, it is not a weather forecast. After the Greek referendum and the recent night-long negotiations, these are the feelings of many people across Europe. Even if the reality will probably be less apocalyptic, the truth is that democracy is being ridiculed around the EU. Some media from all around the world are, in fact, suggesting that Greece has been excessively humiliated and there is a strong attempt to force it out from the Eurozone. And this is not merely because one of the proposals from the summit stated that €50bn of Greek assets had to be handed over to an institution fundamentally controlled by Berlin.

These days Greece has been constantly at the centre of Europe’s microcosm. The “mother” of western democracy and inner culture, according to some, has to learn the lesson. It is a matter of mere power. They rejected austerity, potentially provoking another European downturn, and a default with unclear outcomes. Stories of poverty and unemployment are indeed in the eyes of everyone willing to see them. The situation is undermining the future of the European community. It is not simply opening the way for member states to be essentially pushed out by the strongest ones. Referring to the Greek early approach and a possible “exit”, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that he could not “pull a rabbit out of a hat”. This is very true.

But early post-war politicians pulled many rabbits out when Europe had to be rebuilt after the war, and so one would expect a similar proficiency. This contemporary generation of European leaders might be instead remembered like the one leading to the disappearance of many transnational bonds established by Europeans. Europe is, then, really navigating with no compass. It has not a single voice. Socially, there seems to be no concern with people’s living standards. Politically, they lack any preoccupations with geo-politics, as some of the Mediterranean might fall under Putin’s influence. Budget and austerity are the main interests. As Pierre Moscovici, the socialist EU economic commissioner, in fact, put it, the “integrity” of the Eurozone has been saved with the novel agreement.

The key (overlooked) question here is: Is this EU reflecting Europeans’ will? Its image (and also Germany’s image) is seriously damaged even if all Greeks voted yes. For this reason the statement by the German European MP and chairman of the leading centre-right European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, that Europe is “based on solidarity, not a club of egoists” looks highly paradoxical, especially after what it is happening to Greece.

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From Mason’s upcoming new book. Lots of technohappiness.

The End Of Capitalism Has Begun (Paul Mason)

The 2008 crash wiped 13% off global production and 20% off global trade. Global growth became negative – on a scale where anything below +3% is counted as a recession. It produced, in the west, a depression phase longer than in 1929-33, and even now, amid a pallid recovery, has left mainstream economists terrified about the prospect of long-term stagnation. The aftershocks in Europe are tearing the continent apart. The solutions have been austerity plus monetary excess. But they are not working. In the worst-hit countries, the pension system has been destroyed, the retirement age is being hiked to 70, and education is being privatised so that graduates now face a lifetime of high debt. Services are being dismantled and infrastructure projects put on hold.

Even now many people fail to grasp the true meaning of the word “austerity”. Austerity is not eight years of spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up. Meanwhile in the absence of any alternative model, the conditions for another crisis are being assembled. Real wages have fallen or remained stagnant in Japan, the southern Eurozone, the US and UK. The shadow banking system has been reassembled, and is now bigger than it was in 2008. New rules demanding banks hold more reserves have been watered down or delayed. Meanwhile, flushed with free money, the 1% has got richer.

Neoliberalism, then, has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures. Worse than that, it has broken the 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism wherein an economic crisis spurs new forms of technological innovation that benefit everybody. That is because neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class. If we review the take-off periods studied by long-cycle theorists – the 1850s in Europe, the 1900s and 1950s across the globe – it was the strength of organised labour that forced entrepreneurs and corporations to stop trying to revive outdated business models through wage cuts, and to innovate their way to a new form of capitalism.

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“This El Niño hasn’t peaked yet, but by some measures it’s already the most extreme ever recorded for this time of year and could lead 2015 to break even more records than last year.”

The Freakish Year in Broken Climate Records (Bloomberg)

The annual State of the Climate report is out, and it’s ugly. Record heat, record sea levels, more hot days and fewer cool nights, surging cyclones, unprecedented pollution, and rapidly diminishing glaciers.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues a report each year compiling the latest data gathered by 413 scientists from around the world. It’s 288 pages, but we’ll save you some time. Here’s a review, in six charts, of some of the climate highlights from 2014.

1. Temperatures set a new record It’s getting hot out there. Four independent data sets show that last year was the hottest in 135 years of modern record keeping. The map above shows temperature departure from the norm. The eastern half of North America was one of the few cool spots on the planet.

2. Sea levels also surge to a record The global mean sea level continued to rise, keeping pace with a trend of 3.2 millimeters per year over the last two decades. The global satellite record goes back only to 1993, but the trend is clear and consistent. Rising tides are one of the most physically destructive aspects of climate change. Eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast, and 40 % of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas, where the risk of flooding and erosion continues to rise.

3. Glaciers retreat for the 31st consecutive year Data from more than three dozen mountain glaciers show that 2014 was the 31st straight year of glacier ice loss worldwide. The consistent retreat of glaciers is considered one of the clearest signals of global warming. Most alarming: The rate of loss is accelerating over time.

4. There are more hot days and fewer cool nights Climate change doesn’t just increase the average temperature—it also increases the extremes. The chart above shows when daily high temperatures max out above the 90th %ile and nightly lows fall below the lowest 10th %ile. The measures were near their global records last year, and the trend is consistently miserable.

5. Record greenhouse gases fill the atmosphere By burning fossil fuels, humans have cranked up concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40 % since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, reached a concentration of 400 parts per million for the first time in May 2013. Soon we’ll stop seeing concentrations that low ever again.
The data shown are from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Data collection was started there by C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in March 1958. This chart is commonly referred to as the Keeling curve.

6. The oceans absorb crazy amounts of heat The oceans store and release heat on a massive scale. Over shorter spans of years to decades, ocean temperatures naturally fluctuate from climate patterns like El Niño and what’s known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Longer term, oceans are absorbing even more global warming than the surface of the planet, contributing to rising seas, melting glaciers, and dying coral reefs and fish populations. In 2015 the world has moved into an El Niño warming pattern in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño phases release some of the ocean’s stored heat into the atmosphere, causing weather shifts around the world. This El Niño hasn’t peaked yet, but by some measures it’s already the most extreme ever recorded for this time of year and could lead 2015 to break even more records than last year.

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