Sep 122017
 
 September 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Juan Gris Grapes 1913

 

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)
20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)
The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)
Stormy Weather (Davis)
US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)
None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)
Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)
Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)
After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)
China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)
2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)
Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)
UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)
Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)
Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)
Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

 

 

They could see Irma coming a week ahead. And nobody thought of storing extra food and water on the island? And police or soldiers? There are 70,000 people living on the combined St. Martin/St. Maarten island, and there were 6,000 American tourists alone -plus many others. St. Maarten has a ‘status aparte’ in the Dutch Kingdom: it’s self-governing. So much so, though, that no help can arrive until the Governor has explicitly asked for it. But all communication had broken down for days… Smart cookies.

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)

At dawn in St. Martin, people began to gather, quietly planning for survival after Hurricane Irma. They started with the grocery stores, scavenging what they needed for sustenance: water, crackers, fruit. But by nightfall on Thursday, what had been a search for food took a more menacing turn, as groups of looters, some of them armed, swooped in and took whatever of value was left: electronics, appliances and vehicles. “All the food is gone now,” Jacques Charbonnier, a 63-year-old resident of St. Martin, said in an interview on Sunday. “People are fighting in the streets for what is left.” In the few, long days since the storm Irma pummelled the north east Caribbean, killing more than two dozen people and levelling 90% of the buildings on some islands, the social fabric has begun to fray in some of the hardest-hit communities.

Residents of St. Martin, and elsewhere in the region, spoke about a general disintegration of law and order as survivors struggled in the face of severe food and water shortages, and the absence of electricity and phone service. As reports of increasing desperation continued to emerge from the region over the weekend, governments in Britain, France and the Netherlands, which oversee territories in the region, stepped up their response. They defended themselves against criticism that their reaction had been too slow, and insufficient. Both the French and Dutch governments said they were sending in extra troops to restore order, along with the aid that was being airlifted into the region. After an emergency meeting with his government on Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he would travel on Tuesday to St. Martin, an overseas French territory.

Macron also announced late on Saturday that he would double France’s troop deployment to the region, to 2,200 from 1,100; officials say the increase is in part a response to the mayhem on St. Martin. St. Maarten, the Dutch territorial side of the island, which uses a different spelling, has also experienced widespread looting of shops, though the problem was reported to have subsided by Sunday, though not completely. “There was some looting in the first few days, but the Dutch marines and police are on the street to prevent it,” Paul De Windt, publisher of The Daily Herald, a newspaper in St. Maarten, said Sunday. “Some people steal luxury things and booze, but a lot of people are stealing water and biscuits.”

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The Bermuda High.

20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)

Twenty miles may have made a $150 billion difference. Estimates for the damage Hurricane Irma would inflict on Florida kept mounting as it made its devastating sweep across the Caribbean. It was poised to be the costliest U.S. storm on record. Then something called the Bermuda High intervened and tripped it up. “We got very lucky,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If Irma had passed 20 miles west of Marco Island instead of striking it on Sunday, “the damage would have been astronomical.” By one estimate, the total cost dropped to about $50 billion Monday from $200 billion over the weekend. The state escaped the worst because Irma’s powerful eye shifted westward, away from the biggest population center of sprawling Miami-Dade County.

The credit goes to the Bermuda High, which acts like a sort of traffic cop for the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. The circular system hovering over Bermuda jostled Irma onto northern Cuba Saturday, where being over land sapped it of some power, and then around the tip of the Florida peninsula, cutting down on storm surge damage on both coasts of the state. “The Bermuda High is finite and it has an edge, which was right over Key West,” Masters said. Irma caught the edge and turned north. For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.”

For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.” “With Irma, little wobbles made a huge difference,”said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. With a tightly-wound storm like Andrew coming straight into the state, “a 30-mile wobble isn’t going to matter.” Still, when it comes to damage, “Irma may bump Andrew,” Watson said. The company’s most recent estimate is for $49.5 billion in Irma costs for Florida; Andrew’s were an inflation-adjusted $47.8 billion.

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Too many voices blaming Irma on climate change. Don’t make claims you can’t prove, it doesn’t help. Our former Oil Drum co-collaborator Robert Rapier takes a careful approach.

The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)

First, is the climate changing? Almost everyone would agree that this is the case. What some would dispute is whether human activity is a significant contributor. I accept that it is, but I won’t attempt to make that case here. If you don’t accept that human activity is impacting the climate, I won’t be able to convince you in a short article here. But let’s agree that the climate is changing. There are multiple lines of evidence that indicate that the earth is warming. One piece of evidence is that the surface temperature of the oceans is climbing. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has determined that since 1880, the average global surface temperature of the ocean has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (°F). Relative to the average temperature from 1971 to 2000, the surface temperature over the past five years has risen about 0.5°F.

These measurements aren’t controversial, as they have been confirmed by many different studies. But the temperature change varies depending on where it is measured. For example off the coast of Greenland, the surface temperature has actually declined by about 1°F. But according to data from NOAA and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), across much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the surface temperature has risen 1.5°F-2.0°F since 1900. Again, you might dispute the reason, but there is really no disputing the measurements (other than perhaps the magnitude of the increase). There are some effects we can expect from a warmer ocean surface. I will discuss two, that are based on physics. Warmer water will lead to greater evaporation, which should show up as higher humidity in the atmosphere.

That has been observed, although as with the ocean surface temperature, some areas have seen humidity decline. The net effect is that more water vapor in the air means more rainfall on average. This helps explain why Houston, for example, could experience three “500-year” flood events in three years. Since there’s more water in the atmosphere, the probability of these heavy rainfall events has increased. In other words, they aren’t really “500-year” floods anymore. Normal has shifted. Some areas are going to experience more rain and some less, but on average precipitation is on the rise. The other impact of warmer ocean surfaces is stronger hurricanes. Hurricanes (as well as typhoons and cyclones elsewhere in the world) are massive heat engines that convert warm water into strong winds.

Hurricanes are fueled by warm seawater, which is why you see them dissipate when they move over land, or into cooler ocean waters. Thus, it would be expected that we would see stronger storms as a result of warmer ocean surfaces. That was certainly the case with Hurricane Irma, which set a record with top winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) for 37 hours. While some are quick to blame climate change any time there is an extreme weather event, these events have been taking place throughout history. It is wrong to blame any particular event on climate change, but the physics of why we can expect some of these events to become more extreme is well understood – even if some still reject that human activity is driving it.

Read more …

Great piece: “America is a delusion, the grandest one of all”

Stormy Weather (Davis)

In Capitalism: A Ghost Story, 2015, Arundhati Roy writes, “the middle class in India live side-by-side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeist of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 250,000 debt ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for them”. Is it any different in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Other than clarifying class-calibration whereby India’s emergent middle class can be equated with America’s mostly white ten-percenters, or upper-class, I suspect not. Indeed, as the precipitated waters of the gulf coast inundate the sunken oil and chemical lands of Texas and Louisiana, we are experiencing our own sub-continental, Bangladeshi nightmare.

The spirits of dead dinosaurs have arisen to re-arrange geographies and elide the physical certainties that used to exist between solid and liquid, between water and land, between salt water and fresh, and between the potable and the poisoned. Nature and Society now share equal billing. The elephant of climate change trumpets, as it rampages through what we used to think of as our room. Here and elsewhere, we are castaways amidst the hobgoblins of our own horror show. It is not only the demonic cries of over 100,000 suicides amongst Vietnam Vets and a further 25,000 ex-service men and women dead by their own hand since 2012 – from our more recent wars of empire – that we hear: the psychic airwaves tremor not only with their suffering, their sacrifices and their condemnations but also, as Roy writes of her country, are rent with screams from our own mountain-top lobotomies, sickened streams, clear-cut forests and our daily extinctions.

That pounding rhythm you may hear is propelled by the sonorous bass notes of our deeply troubled history. We too have a nether world populated with those trapped in the purgatory of three jobs, a superannuated car and sub-standard housing; or of those a step below them, who roam the black-top parking-lots and streets amidst shuttered malls and fast-food emporia, car-lots and other materially manifest survivors of our digital age; or lurk at night in the shadows between the mercury vapor security lights and surveillance cameras, thinking idle thoughts, perhaps, of what makes America great or, more pressingly, of where they might spend the night.

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And counting.

US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)

The national debt surpassed $20 trillion Opens a New Window. for the first time in U.S. history on Friday. According to data released Monday, the total national debt climbed about $318 billion to $20.162 trillion as of Friday, the same day President Donald Trump signed a bill suspending the debt ceiling and allowing the federal borrowing limit to extend until Dec. 8. The deal Trump signed, which also allocated more than $15 billion in disaster aid for Hurricane Harvey, was passed 316-90 in a House vote; all opposed to the measure were Republicans. “Surpassing $20 trillion in debt is the latest indicator of our nation’s dire fiscal condition,” Michael A. Peterson, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said in a statement.

“As a result of our inability to address our growing debt, we are now on pace to spend $6 trillion on interest alone over the next 10 years.” The U.S. debt ceiling had been capped at around $19.84 trillion since March 15. The 2017 fiscal year budget expires at the end of September. “America’s debt is projected to grow and compound rapidly in the years ahead. Our budget deficit is on track to exceed $1 trillion annually in just five years,” Peterson said. “The good news is that many solutions exist. In the coming months, Congress and the administration have a critical opportunity to enact fiscally responsible tax reform that grows the economy, not the debt.”

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As you know by now, it’s not national debt that is most important. Private debt is.

None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)

The phrase “There are none so blind as those who will not see” normally turns up in religion, but there is no other way to describe the dominant sect in economics today as wilfully blind. One decade after the crisis, most still repeat their mantra that, though a Nobel Laureate had asserted in 2003 that such crises were now impossible, the one that occurred in 2008 could not have been predicted. Nonsense. The data that showed what would cause the crisis, and arguments by empirically oriented economists, were available before it hit: there was a runaway bubble in asset markets caused by too much credit being created by the banks. Credit—your capacity to buy something with money borrowed from a bank, rather than from your own cash—is exactly equal to the increase in private debt every year.

The bigger this is compared to GDP, the more the economy is dependent on credit; and the bigger the accumulated debt is when compared to GDP, the more likely it is that a reduction in credit will cause an economic crisis. The data, if you look at it, is incontrovertible—especially if you consider the epicentre of the 2008 crisis, the USA, in historical context. The Great Depression was preceded by a margin-debt-fuelled bubble on the US stockmarket, with private debt blowing out during the crisis and then collapsing. That’s exactly what happened in the Great Recession.

Private debt affects the economy in two ways: the higher debt is, relative to GDP, the more that a change in credit impacts on total demand. And credit adds to total demand by allowing people in the aggregate to spend more than just the money they currently have—with the price of leading to a higher level of debt in the future. The correlation between credit and employment is staggering—not just because it is so big (the correlation coefficient, for those who follow these things, is 0.8), but because according to mainstream economists like Ben Bernanke, the correlation should be close to zero.

Bernanke, who got the job as Chairman on the Federal Reserve because he was supposed to be the expert on what caused the Great Depression, didn’t even consider similar data that was available at the time, nor the “Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions” put forward by Irving Fisher at the time, because he believed that credit was a “pure redistribution”, and “pure redistributions should have no significant macro¬economic effects” (Bernanke 2000, p. 24). Empirically, this is manifestly untrue, but economists turn a blind eye (and not a Nelsonian one) to this data because it doesn’t suit their preferred model of how banks operate. They model them “as if” they are intermediaries who introduce savers to borrowers, not as originators of both money and debt.

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Growth keeps shrinking.

Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)

Market returns don’t just emerge from nowhere. They are driven by the sum of three factors: growth in fundamentals, income from cash distributions, and changes in valuations (the ratio of prices to fundamentals). Since 1960, for example, the S&P 500 has enjoyed an average rate of return of about 10% annually, which derives from three main components: growth in earnings (and the overall economy) averaging about 6.3% annually, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a gradual increase in price/earnings multiples that has contributed about 0.7% annually to total returns. One can also make a similar attribution using other fundamentals.

For example, the 10% annual total return of the S&P 500 since 1960 also derives from growth in S&P 500 revenues averaging 5.7% annually since the 2000 peak, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a much steeper increase in the S&P 500 price/revenue ratio contributing 1.3% annually (taking the current price/revenue multiple to the same level observed at the 2000 market peak). Consider these drivers today. Combining depressed growth prospects with an S&P 500 dividend yield of just 2.0%, the likelihood is that over the coming 10-12 years, even a run-of-the-mill reversion of valuations will wipe out the entire contribution of growth and dividend income, resulting in zero or negative total returns in the S&P 500 Index on that horizon, with an estimated interim market loss on the order of -60%.

Here are the facts: over the past several decades, due to a combination of demographic factors and persistently slowing productivity growth, the core drivers of real U.S. GDP growth have declined toward just 1% annually, with a likely decline below that level in the coming 10-12 years. Indeed, in the absence of any recession, U.S. nonfarm productivity growth has averaged just 0.8% annually since 2010 and 0.6% over the past 5 years, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates labor force growth of just 0.3% annually in the coming years (which would be matched by similar growth in employment only if the unemployment rate does not rise from the current level of 4.3%). Add 0.6% to 0.3%, and the baseline expectation for real GDP growth is just 0.9%.

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Thanks QE!

Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)

Market Cap to GDP is a long-term valuation indicator that has become popular in recent years, thanks to Warren Buffett. Back in 2001 he remarked in a Fortune Magazine interview that “it is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” The four valuation indicators we track in our monthly valuation overview offer a long-term perspective of well over a century. The raw data for the “Buffett indicator” only goes back as far as the middle of the 20th century. Quarterly GDP dates from 1947, and the Fed’s balance sheet has quarterly updates beginning in Q4 1951. With an acknowledgment of this abbreviated timeframe, let’s take a look at the plain vanilla quarterly ratio with no effort to interpolate monthly data.

The denominator in the charts below now includes the Second Estimate of Q2 GDP. The latest numerator value is extrapolated based on the quarterly change in the Wilshire 5000. The current reading is 131.6%, up from 128.7% the previous quarter and an interim high. Here is a more transparent alternate snapshot over a shorter timeframe using the Wilshire 5000 Full Cap Price Index divided by GDP. We’ve used the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s FRED repository as the source for the stock index numerator (WILL5000PRFC). The Wilshire Index is a more intuitive broad metric of the market than the Fed’s rather esoteric “Nonfinancial corporate business; corporate equities; liability, Level”. This Buffett variant is also at its interim high.

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China is exporting its Ponzi. China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.”

After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)

After ports and industrial parks, the dealmakers leading China’s trillion-dollar push to build a modern Silk Road are turning to the financial sector, targeting Europe’s banks, insurers and asset managers to tap funds and expertise. Last week, sources familiar with the matter said two of China’s most acquisitive conglomerates, HNA and Anbang, had separately considered bidding for the German insurer Allianz. Neither of the two made an offer, but the talks marked a new level of ambition for China: Allianz is a German stalwart, a pillar for local pensions and a global powerhouse with €1.9 trillion ($2.3 trillion) of assets under management. HNA already owns a stake of just under 10% in Deutsche Bank.

Bankers, lawyers and company executives say more financial deals will come, led by state behemoths such as China Life and China Everbright, as well as private firms including Legend Holdings and China Minsheng Financial. “The message from the regulators is clear – they want these companies to go out and get access to large amount of funds and expertise,” said a financial M&A adviser at a global bank, who works with Chinese regulators and companies. “They would look very favorably at transactions that have some links to the Belt and Road program, because the country needs to boost its financial muscle,” the banker said. But Beijing “will ensure the excesses of the past couple of years do not happen again.” The banker said his firm was currently working on several “mid-sized to large” foreign financial takeover deals.

[..] “China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.” [..] Chinese companies will not be expanding into the financial services sector at will, of course. Acquisitions of stakes in foreign banks – never mind full ownership – are already closely monitored by overseas regulators. But while banks may be tough targets, bankers and executives say Chinese institutions and conglomerates could instead target asset management, insurance or wealth managers. China Everbright plans to allocate $1.5 billion of its 2017 spending to the purchase of a fund manager, private bank or insurer overseas to help it raise cash more easily and extend its presence abroad.

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What happened to currency manipulation? “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed..”

Or is it the US who’s the manipulator these days?

China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)

China’s yuan weakened against the U.S. dollar on Monday after the government scrapped measures meant to prop up the currency. The central bank removed reserve requirements for financial institutions settling currency forwards, and for foreign banks holding yuan deposits offshore, reversing actions put in place a few years ago to quash depreciation pressures. The actions were always meant to be temporary and scaled back when the yuan regained firmer footing. But the currency’s immediate market reaction to the rule unwinding is a reminder of how precarious Beijing’s high-wire balancing act really is when it comes to the yuan. “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed,” wrote Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, in a note.

“But they still struggle to manage the expectations that determine medium-term exchange rate pressures.” That’s because China is balancing a number of priorities when it comes to its currency, including engineering stability in the markets ahead of a major leadership shuffle next month. A stronger yuan prompts investors to keep money onshore to chase returns at home. It also lets China defend against long-standing critics, including the U.S., that claim the world’s second-largest economy purposefully keeps the value of the yuan low in order to get a leg up in global trade with cheaper exports. The move is well-timed, as it comes ahead of an expected visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to China later this year, said Callum Henderson, managing director at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Trade tensions have been bubbling between the U.S. and China. But the scales can tip easily the other way — a stronger yuan, coupled with waning demand, is already hurting trade activity. August exports were up 5.5%, posting weaker growth than the 7.2% increase seen in July. On Tuesday, the government lowered its official yuan parity rate to 6.5277 per dollar, snapping an 11-day climb, supporting analyst calls that depreciation worries are subsiding. Despite Monday’s weakness, the yuan is still up 6.5% so far this year against the greenback, and holding onto its erasure of last year’s losses.

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Mind the time scales. But nice graph.

2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)

Long before the invention of modern day maps or gunpowder, the planet’s major powers were already duking it out for economic and geopolitical supremacy. Today’s chart tells that story in the simplest terms possible. By showing the changing share of the global economy for each country from 1 AD until now, it compares economic productivity over a mind-boggling time period. Originally published in a research letter by Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan, we’ve updated it based on the most recent data and projections from the IMF. If you like, you can still find the original chart (which goes to 2008) at The Atlantic. It’s also worth noting that the original source for all the data up until 2008 is from the late Angus Maddison, a famous economic historian that published estimates on population, GDP, and other figures going back to Roman times.

If you looked at the chart in any depth, you probably noticed a big problem with it. The time periods between data points aren’t equal – in fact, they are not close at all. The first gap on the x-axis is 1,000 years and the second is 500 years. Then, as we get closer to modernity, the chart uses mostly 10 year intervals. Changing the scale like this is a big data visualization “no no”, as rightly pointed out in a blog post by The Economist. While we completely agree, we have a made an exception in this case. Why? Because getting good economic data from the early 20th century is already difficult enough – and so trying to find data in regular intervals before then seems like a fool’s errand. Likewise, a stacked bar chart with different years also doesn’t really do this story justice.

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How to make Brussels nervous. And Berlin.

Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)

Italy’s leading opposition parties are calling for the introduction of a parallel currency to the euro, which they say will boost growth and jobs. Three of the country’s four largest parties – the Five Star Movement, the Northern League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – have proposed introducing a new currency following an election scheduled for next year. The proposals for a parallel currency have replaced the opposition parties’ previous calls to leave the euro completely. By settling on a dual currency, analysts say the parties hope to appeal to anti-euro sentiment in the country while avoiding, for now, the upheaval of an outright exit.

While some lawmakers have said the primary goal of the new currency is to persuade Brussels to change European fiscal rules to allow them to spend more and cut taxes, others backing the scheme have admitted they hope it will help make an eventual euro exit more likely. The proposal is opposed by the European Commission, which says there can only be one legal tender in the eurozone. When the euro was introduced in Italy in 1999, it enjoyed widespread support. However, this has since waned, with many blaming the single currency for drops in living standards and rising unemployment. A poll by the Winpoll agency in March showed that only around half of Italians back the euro. As the election nears, and with opinion polls currently pointing to a hung parliament, only the ruling Democratic Party is not proposing changes to the current euro set-up.

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By the slimmest of margins. A deeply flawed idea, and dangerous, to push through things that way.

UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)

Theresa May’s landmark EU (Withdrawal) Bill has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, paving the way for greater powers to be handed to ministers through the first major piece of Brexit legislation. MPs passed the legislation – often referred to as the Repeal Bill – by 326 votes to 290, giving the Government a majority of 36 after no Conservatives rebelled and several Labour politicians defied Jeremy Corbyn’s instruction to vote against. The Prime Minister described the vote as a “historic decision to back the will of the British people”, adding: “Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said it was “a deeply disappointing result” and described the Bill as as “an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab” by Government ministers. The Bill’s aim is to transpose relevant EU law onto the UK statute book when the UK formally leaves the bloc in March 2019 and will also overturn the 1972 act that took Britain into the European Economic Community. Major concerns had been raised, however, over the so-called Henry VIII powers in the Bill which grants ministers the power to amend law without normal parliamentary scrutiny – the reason for Labour’s decision to oppose the legislation. But as MPs concluded debates at midnight a series of votes were then held. The Bill passed while Labour’s amendment – attempting to block the legislation – was defeated by 318 votes to 296.

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Overtaxed. They don’t have it. This is the Shock Doctrine.

Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)

The figure of €2 billion in unpaid taxes in July alone, shown the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, is a sharp illustration of the fatigue gripping tax-paying individuals and businesses in Greece. The slump in tax payments has brought expired debts to the state since the start of the year from €5.475 billion by end-June to €7.483 billion by end-July. IAPR officials explain that the debts of three enterprises that went bankrupt expanded the expired debts in July; they say that €700 million of debts concern those three companies that happened to have gone bankrupt in July, while the remaining €1.3 billion concerns unpaid taxes.

If this nightmarish picture continues into the rest of the year, the hole in budget revenues will grow considerably, having already come to €700 million in the first seven months of 2017. What concerns the government most is whether the taxpayers who failed to pay in July enter the Finance Ministry’s 12-installment payment plan. Otherwise – if they refrain from paying their taxes, for example – state coffers will find themselves in serious trouble after the addition of 172,704 taxpayers who added their names to those who defaulted on their obligations in July.

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I can attest to the demise of large swaths of the city. Utter insanity.

Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)

Not that long ago I received a questionnaire through my door. How had the 1930s Bauhaus building in which I live survived the rigours of time? Who had designed it? Who was its first owner? And, the form went on, what were my memories of it? Circulated far and wide across Athens, the questionnaire and its findings are part of a vast inventory of 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that now stand at the heart of a burgeoning cultural heritage crisis in Greece. At least 10,600 buildings in the capital are under threat, as the country navigates its worst economic crisis in recent times. Under the weight of austerity – with bank loans frozen, repeated budget cuts and tax rises kicking in – many buildings have already been allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been pulled down altogether.

“In the present climate, people just don’t have the money to restore them,” says Irini Gratsia, co-founder of Monumenta, the association of archaeologists and architects that is collating the database. “There is a great danger that many will be demolished not because their owners want new builds, but because they want to avoid property taxes announced since the crisis began.” Monumenta estimates that, since the 1950s, as many as 80% of Athens’ buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries have been destroyed. Now at risk are some of the last surviving examples of Greek neoclassical architecture and Greek modernism, the latter scorned as “cement boxes” when they began to fill the great Attic plain. Mostly constructed between 1830 and 1940, these buildings comprise the rich architectural mosaic of a city – dominated by the 5th-century BC Acropolis – that often goes unnoticed.

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Salary considerations? People making €500 a month is normal now. That’s third world.

Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

Greece was at the bottom of this year’s ranking of the top countries for expats, according to InterNations’ Expat Insider survey. The survey, carried out between February and March this year, asked nearly 13,000 expats about their quality of life and to rank 43 different aspects of life abroad. Factors included job opportunities, salary considerations, quality of life, and safety. Greece was ranked as the worst country to live in mostly due to the financial situation, with half of the respondents saying that their household income was not enough to cover their daily expenses. Bahrain, Costa Rica, and Mexico were ranked the top three destinations for expats.

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Sep 112017
 
 September 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Gas 1940

 

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)
Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)
Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)
Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)
US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)
Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)
China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)
Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)
Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)
Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)
Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

 

 

Even hurricanes run out of energy eventually. And water.

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)

Irma has weakened since beginning its push up central Florida, but is still a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph and higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center. Its center is about 25 miles northeast of Tampa and continues to move toward the north-northwest. The NHC says Irma is expected to turn northwest later today and further weaken to a tropical storm. Irma’s hurricane force winds extend at least 80 miles from the storm’s center and tropical storm force winds extend as far as 415 miles. The hurricane is forecast to reach the southeastern United States later tonight. The NHC warns coastal areas could see rising water moving inland over the next 36 hours. “This is a life threatening situation,” it said in a bulletin issued at 2 a.m. ET.

Hurricane Irma had touched land again as a Category 3 Sunday afternoon, hitting Marco Island on Florida’s southwest coast, after it plowed through the Florida Keys as a Category 4 earlier in the day. Miami International Airport announced it will remain closed to passenger flights at least through Monday, though some airlines will fly personnel to the airport in preparation for reopening. The airport’s director, Emilio Gonzalez, said via Twitter that the airport had endured wind gusts near 100 mph and “sustained significant water damage throughout.” “The interaction with the Florida Peninsula along with strong southwesterly shear should cause significant weakening, but Irma’s large and powerful circulation will likely maintain hurricane strength until Monday morning at the earliest,” according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast.

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The industry works from Bermuda.

Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)

A global array of reinsurance companies will bear the financial brunt of Hurricane Irma’s damage to potentially millions of homes across Florida. Irma’s winds are expected to leave tens of billions of dollars in insured damage. And when the insurance money arrives for many homeowners, much of it will be via reinsurance companies—not the carrier on their contract. Reinsurers play an especially large role in Florida’s home-insurance market. Andrew, Katrina and other severe hurricanes from 1992 through 2005 devastated the state’s insurance marketplace. Most brand-name national home insurers sharply reduced their presence. Picking up the slack today is a state-run “insurer of last resort,” Citizens Property Insurance, and some 50 small to midsize home insurers.

Those carriers all are required to buy ample amounts of reinsurance to help ensure they have money for their policyholders, because they don’t have the fat capital cushions of the national carriers. These reinsurance firms are specialty insurers that take on the risk of some of the policies sold by primary insurers. They send insurers money to help pay claims once claims reach contractual, designated levels. As a result, the reinsurers “might end up holding the bag” for much of Irma’s damage to residential properties, said Taoufik Gharib, a senior director at Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings. In addition to reinsurance, the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program will face payouts to those homeowners who hold its policies. Under standard homeowners contracts, insurers cover wind damage but exclude flooding.

Much of Irma’s damage is expected to come from storm surge. The use of so much reinsurance introduces a few worries into the marketplace. The home insurers are exposed to potential disputes with their reinsurers over claims payments, industry analysts note. It also ties the home insurers’ fates to the financial health of their reinsurers. Irma’s arrival is well-timed from one perspective: The global reinsurance industry is awash in capital. As of March, it had a record $605 billion capital cushion, which was built up thanks in large part to relatively few major natural disasters in the U.S. since 2005. “Every company in Florida has reinsurance,” said Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, an insurance ratings firm with a specialty in Florida’s homeowners market. “They buy reinsurance for multiple storms, and it is across the entire season.”

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Good luck to all who need it.

Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)

Insurers are scrambling to find inspectors in Texas and Florida after fierce hurricanes battered the states one after the other, causing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of property damage in less than two weeks. Although insurers maintain some number of inspectors, known as claims adjusters, across the U.S. year-round, they must redeploy staff from other areas or hire contract workers to fill gaps when catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike. The speed with which they can do so is critical to residents and business owners awaiting insurance payments. “The one-two punch of Harvey and Irma is no question challenging to the industry,” said Kenneth Tolson, who heads the U.S. property and casualty division of Crawford, which provides claims adjusters and staff after disasters.

Adjusters investigate claims on behalf of property insurers like Travelers, Hartford, Allstate, State Farm and Farmers Insurance. Many other policies are backed by federal or state flood insurance programs. Texas and Florida together have more than 340,000 licensed adjusters, according to state agencies, but it was unclear precisely how many were on the ground. Insurers and industry groups said thousands were headed to affected areas from other parts of the United States. [..] Insurers have been put to the test before. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, it took months for many property owners to receive payouts, partly because there were too few adjusters with the needed expertise. Novice errors like not pulling off drywall to inspect for hidden damage, or not being familiar with software used for loss estimates, can reduce or delay insurance payments, adding to hardships residents are already facing.

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This is the craziest thing. You pay an arm and a leg for a car and then the maker pre-cripples it.

Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)

In what is either a generous act of charity or an unnerving example of the control Tesla exercises over the vehicles it producers, or perhaps both, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has magically unlocked the batteries of every Tesla in Florida to maximize the distance that people fleeing from Hurricane Irma can travel before stopping to refuel at one of the company’s “superstation” charging centers. Typically, these types of over-the-air upgrades can cost thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars. But Musk is temporarily offering full battery capacity to all owners of Model S/X 60/60D vehicles with 75 kilo watt battery packs, according to Electrek, a blog that covers electric vehicles. The upgrade will surely help Floridians who are still rushing to escape as the now category 3 storm makes its second landfall near Naples. The upgrade will last through Saturday.

As a Tesla spokesperson explained to Electrek, the company decided on the mass-unlocking strategy after a customer called and asked if the company could upgrade his battery because he was trying to flee the storm. Tesla’s Supercharger network is fairly extensive in Florida and most owners should be able to get by even with a Model S 60 (the shortest range option). A Tesla Model S 60 owner in Florida told Electrek that his Tesla was getting 40 more miles without a charge after Tesla had temporarily unlocked the remaining 15 kilo watts of the car’s software-limited battery pack. “The company says that a Tesla owner in a mandatory evacuation zone required another ~30 more miles of range to optimize his evacuation route in the traffic and they reached out to Tesla who agreed to a temporary access to the full 75 kWh of energy in the battery pack, an upgrade that has cost between $4,500 and $9,000 depending on the model and time of upgrade.”

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“..market trend of rising valuations and falling economic earnings..”

US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)

While analysts hail “the best earnings season in 13 years,” the market has delivered a solidly lackluster response. Over the past month, the S&P 500 is down roughly 1% despite a string of earnings beats. With valuations this stretched, the market no longer appears willing to reward companies merely for beating quarterly expectations. Perhaps more investors now understand that GAAP net income numbers omit valuable information. They include non-operating items, are subject to manipulation, and don’t account for the cost of capital. GAAP earnings don’t drive valuation. What investors should focus on are economic earnings, which make adjustments to exclude non-operating items and account for all sources of capital, both on and off the balance sheet.

My analysis of the latest 10-K and 10-Q filings for the S&P 500 shows that the GAAP earnings growth in the market has not translated to an increase in economic earnings. Through the first two quarters of 2017, GAAP earnings are up $61 billion from their 2016 levels, while economic earnings have declined by $28 billion. Figure 2 shows the source of the discrepancy between GAAP and economic earnings comes mostly from invested capital growth that has outpaced growth in NOPAT. Companies are generating more operating profits, but they require an ever-larger invested capital base to do so. In other words, companies are growing their balance sheets faster than they are growing profits.

Figure 3 expands upon the trend shown in Figure 2. Companies are earning more profit for each dollar of revenue, but they’re also having to invest more capital to earn that revenue. When investors such as Jeremy Grantham argue that margins are higher today than in the past, they miss the balance sheet side of the story. Declining capital turns more than offset the rise in margins.

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Everybody has trouble with their earnings.

Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)

At first glance, China Inc’s earnings are off to a roaring start to 2017: first-half net profits surged by nearly a quarter, helped by healthy expansion in the world’s second-largest economy. Last year, the rise was a mere 6%. Robust profits have been a key factor in pushing the benchmark Hong Kong index .HSI to three-year highs and its Shanghai counterpart .SSEC to its strongest levels in 20-months. But the corporate investment and M&A that is driving those earnings is being fueled by growth in debt that is too rapid for comfort, analysts say. Frequent use of one-off gains to lift results and unhealthy fundamentals in some sectors may also give investors pause for thought.

Total debt at some 1,200 firms listed in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as of end-June grew 13% from a year earlier, Reuters calculations show, much faster than the first half of 2016 when the rate was 7.5%. Profits were not used to retire debt in significant quantities over the period and cash levels at those firms, selected for the survey as they have reported earnings for at least two years in a row, shot up 12%. All in all, debt-to-equity ratios were little changed from last year, an indication that hopes of a broad deleveraging for Chinese firms, widely seen as having worrisome debt levels, seem premature. “These earnings improvements are credit driven and I have doubts about the sustainability,” said Andrew Kemp Collier at independent research firm Orient Capital.

China’s property developers have led the way in debt creation, and even if some of the most heavily burdened like China Evergrande did cut back, others kept borrowing. Acquisition-hungry Sunac saw contract sales almost double and gross profit climb 86%, but its total borrowing also jumped, up 60% to nearly $28 billion. “The picture is not as rosy as shown by rising earnings – credit is accumulating faster than nominal growth,” said Natixis Chief Economist Alicia Garcia Herrero, also noting that very short term debt is not captured in conventional leverage ratios.

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“Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high.”

China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)

China plans to ban trading of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the $150 billion cryptocurrency market after the country outlawed initial coin offerings last week. The ban will only apply to trading of cryptocurrencies on exchanges, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Authorities don’t have plans to stop over-the-counter transactions, the people said. China’s central bank said it couldn’t immediately comment. Bitcoin slumped on Friday after Caixin reported China’s plans, capping the virtual currency’s biggest weekly retreat in nearly two months. The country accounts for about 23% of bitcoin trades and is also home to many of the world’s biggest bitcoin miners, who use vast amounts of computing power to confirm transactions in the digital currency.

“Trading volume would definitely shrink,” said Zhou Shuoji, Beijing-based founding partner at FBG Capital, which invests in cryptocurrencies. “Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high. This will definitely slow the development of cryptocurrencies in China.” While Beijing’s motivation for the exchange ban is unclear, it comes amid a broad clampdown on financial risk in the run-up to a key Communist Party leadership reshuffle next month. Bitcoin has jumped about 600% in dollar terms over the past year, fueling concerns of a bubble. The People’s Bank of China has done trial runs of its own prototype cryptocurrency, taking it a step closer to being the first major central bank to issue digital money.

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One third lies on their loans.

Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)

Here’s something else for policy makers to worry about as they attempt to engineer a soft landing in Australia’s property market. The country’s lenders could be sitting on A$500 billion ($402 billion) of “liar loans,” or mortgages obtained on inaccurate financial information, according to an estimate from. A survey by the firm of 907 Australians who took out a mortgage in the last 12 months found only 67% stated their application was “completely factual and accurate,” down from 72% the previous year. The most common inaccuracies were overstating income and understating living expenses, the survey found. These findings “suggest mortgagors are more stretched than the banks believe, implying losses in a downturn could be larger than the banks anticipate,” analysts including Jonathan Mott wrote in a note to clients dated Sept. 11. UBS is underweight bank stocks. And “liar loans,” the analysts say, was a term coined in the U.S. during the financial crisis. An ominous moniker for Australian lenders.

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Just go away.

Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)

Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, one of Greece’s largest foreign investors, said Monday it planned to suspend investment at its mines in Greece following what it said are government delays in the issuing of permits and licenses. Eldorado, which runs Greek subsidiary Hellas Gold, operates mines in northern Greece that have faced vehement opposition from parts of local communities on environmental grounds, with protests often turning violent. Eldorado said in an announcement it would continue maintenance and environmental safeguards but would make no further investment in three mines in the Halkidiki area of northern Greece and two projects in the northeastern province of Thrace.

“Despite repeated attempts by Eldorado and its Greek subsidiary, Hellas Gold, to engage constructively with the Greek government, the Ministry of Energy and Environment … and other government agencies, delays continue in issuing routine permits and licences for the construction and development of the Skouries and Olympias projects in Halkidiki, northern Greece,” the company said. “These permitting delays have negatively impacted Eldorado’s project schedules and costs, ultimately hindering the Company’s ability to effectively advance development and operation of these assets.” [..] the Halkidiki mines have been mired in controversy for decades, with Eldorado’s predecessors facing similar protests. Many in the local communities are vehemently opposed to the development of the mines on environmental grounds, saying local forests would be decimated and groundwater could be contaminated.

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“If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe. The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood. “We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

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The revenge of carbon?!

Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets. Following this week’s revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US. Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

“Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere”. Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from US grocery stores around the world. The Guardian received an exclusive look at the forthcoming study. Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials’ advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day. However, most Americans could be ingesting far more, as health officials believe 90% of Americans eat too much salt.

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Sep 102017
 
 September 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Irma gets closer

 

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)
Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)
Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)
Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)
Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)
China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)
China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)
How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)
Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)
Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)
British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)
Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)
Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)
Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

 

 

But it looks like things could have been much worse. Still, do spare a prayer.

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)

Florida faces the “most catastrophic” storm in its history as Hurricane Irma prepares to unleash devastating force on the state, including 120mph winds, life-threatening sea surges that could submerge buildings and an advance battery of tornadoes. “You need to leave – not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Governor Rick Scott commanded in a press conference, 12 hours before the cyclone was expected to make landfall on Sunday morning. “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.” The US national hurricane centre said in its 8pm Saturday update on Irma that “heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes” were already sweeping across south Florida. The US National Weather Service later said the first hurricane-force wind gust had been recorded in the Florida Keys, a low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast.

Irma dropped to a category three hurricane but could regain its category four intensity as the bathtub-warm seawater of nearly 32C (90F) will enable the storm to build strength. It was forecast to hit the Keys first, then again near Cape Coral or Fort Myers, and then a third time near Tampa Bay on its path up Florida’s west coast. Weather stations in Marathon, a city in the Keys, reported sustained winds of 51mph (81kmh) with a gust to 71mph (115kmh) on Saturday night. In Florida’s south-west, officials expected sea surges as high as 15ft (4.5 metres), which can rapidly rise and fall. “Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” Scott said. “Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you.” He said at least 76,000 people were without power as the 350 miles (560km) wide storm unleashes winds and rain on the state. Officials said the window for people in evacuation zones was shutting, with gas stations closing and bridges blocked off.

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Eerie.

Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)

Footage from the Irma-hit Bahamas freaked out social media users on Saturday as it emerged that seawater was missing from a bay as far as the eye could see. The scene turned out to be a rare natural occurrence tied to the outgoing hurricane. “I am in disbelief right now… This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!! That’s as far as they see,” @Kaydi_K wrote on Twitter. The eerie scene was shared over 50,000 times in one day and it spooked web users, many of whom suggested it resembled the sucking away of water before a tsunami. However, weather experts analyzing the scene put the blame on Hurricane Irma, which had just left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and was about to land in Florida. The ominous-looking occurrence was in fact caused by a combination of low tide, low pressure and strong winds in the right direction, which literally pushed the water away from the long narrow bay. The phenomenon has been dubbed “reverse storm surge” by some of those explaining it online.

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“..homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.”

Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)

Angry Houston residents shouted at city officials on Saturday over decisions to intentionally flood certain neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey, as they returned to homes that may have been contaminated by overflowing sewers. A town hall grew heated after City Council member Greg Travis, who represents parts of western Houston, told about 250 people that an Army Corps of Engineers official told him that certain gauges measuring water levels at the Buffalo Bayou – the city’s main waterway – failed due to a decision to release water from two municipal reservoirs to avoid an overflow. Travis’ words inflamed tensions at the town hall, held at the Westin Houston hotel, as the region struggled to recover from Hurricane Harvey, which dropped as much as 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in some areas along Texas’ Gulf Coast, triggering historic floods.

More than 450,000 people either still do not have safe drinking water or need to boil their water first. On Aug. 28, the Army Corps and the Harris County Flood Control District opened the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in western Houston to keep them from overflowing. They warned it would flood neighborhoods, some of which remained closed off two weeks later. Travis said the Army Corps official said they kept releasing water without knowing the extent of the flooding. “They didn’t understand that the bathtub effect was occurring,” he said. Residents attempting to return to flooded homes may have to contend with contaminated water and air because the city’s sewer systems overflowed during the floods. Fire chief Samuel Pena said people returning home should wear breathing masks and consider getting tetanus shots.

“We couldn’t survive the Corps – why should we rebuild?” Debora Kumbalek, who lives in Travis’ district in Houston, shouted during the town hall. Scattered heaps of discarded appliances, wallboard and mattresses can be still seen throughout the city of 2.7 million people, the nation’s fourth-largest. There were no representatives from the Army Corps at the town hall. The Corps released water at an intended maximum rate of 13,000 cubic feet (370 cubic meters) per second to keep those reservoirs from overflowing. However, preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that on at least two days, the average release rate exceeded that 13,000 level.

Many residents face lengthy rebuilding processes, and the majority do not have flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will contribute a maximum of $33,000 per home in assistance to cover damages, a FEMA official said at the town hall, though for heavily flooded homes, damages will likely exceed that amount. Fire chief Pena said homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.

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From JPMorgan. Central banks set prices for everything. But the impulse has turned negative.

Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)

Notwithstanding all the discussion of balance sheet reduction and tapering, the developed market central banks in aggregate are still very much in expansionary mode, with the G4 balance sheets still growing by more than $1 trillion per year on an annualized pace (see Chart). The strength of asset prices in the face of fundamental challenges serves as an enduring reminder for me of the importance of this positive QE flow. The link between QE flow and asset prices makes intuitive sense. The world’s stock of savings is held in two places: cash and everything else (“financial assets”). QE, by its nature, increases the supply of cash in the world, and simultaneously decreases the supply of non-cash financial assets, by removing government bonds, corporates, and in some cases equities from circulation.

Those securities are replaced in the financial system by cash of equivalent value. So, QE increases the ratio of cash to financial assets worldwide, and that ratio reflects the relative abundance or scarcity of cash available to purchase each unit of assets. QE’s influence on that ratio drives up the price of financial assets, all else equal. This rationale suggests that it is the flow of QE, i.e. the speed with which cash is injected and financial assets are removed, that influences the change in asset prices. Flow is positive, asset prices go up; flow is negative, asset prices go down. However, despite this simplicity (or maybe because of it) the relationship between balance sheets and asset prices is still a matter of intense debate.

Some clever analysis yields a compelling case that the impulse, rather than the flow, of global central bank balance sheets is likely to be the primary driver of asset prices. Whereas the “flow” of QE is the speed of balance sheet increase, the “impulse,” is its acceleration. If the speed of balance sheet growth is slowing down, impulse is negative. A carefully constructed dataset shows a remarkably good fit between QE impulse and change in spreads and stock prices. Unfortunately the fit is so good historically that it almost looks like data mining, and recently, there has been a material breakdown: global central bank QE impulse has already turned negative, most demonstrably back in Q2 of this year, and asset prices have continued to remain buoyant.

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Do low rates kill growth?

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)

You don’t have to look very hard to see a rising number of signs that suggest the “Trump Trade” has come to its inevitable conclusion. Following the election, this past November the financial markets rallied sharply on the hopes of major policy reforms and legislative agenda coming out of Washington. Eleven months later, the markets are still waiting as the Administration has remained primarily embroiled in Washington politics with a divisive, Republican controlled, House and Senate. While there are still “hopes” the Administration will pass through tax reform, the failure to “rally the troops” to repeal the Affordable Care Act leaves permanent tax cuts an unlikely outcome. That hopeful outcome was further exacerbated with the deal cut between President Trump and leading Democrats to lift the debt ceiling and fund the Government through December.

That “deal” has effectively nullified any leverage the Republicans had to strong-arm a deal on taxes later this year. The markets are figuring it out as well. If you want to know where the economy is headed over the next few months, you don’t have to look much further than interest rates. Since interest rates are ultimately driven by the demand for credit, and that demand is driven by economic growth, their historical correlation is no surprise.

But like I said, if you want to know where GDP is going to be in the months ahead, keep a close watch on rates. I suspect, before year-end, we will see rates below 2.0%. As a reminder, this is why we have remained rampant bond bulls since 2013 despite the continuing calls for the end of the “bond bull market.” The 3-D’s (Demographics, Deflation & Debt) ensure that rates will remain low, and go lower, in the years to come. Think Japan.

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China’s too late.

China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)

As a flood of unregulated cash swirls through the Chinese economy, Beijing has been taking aim at the trust companies whose unrestrained lending practices are worrying regulators. The trusts, at the heart of a vast shadow banking industry, are being pressured to step up compliance and background checks, and are being pushed towards greater transparency. But the fast-growing 20 trillion yuan ($3 trillion) industry, whose lending operations are cloaked behind opaque structures, will be tough to rein in, according to employees at some trusts. A regulatory sanction against one trust, Shanghai International Trust, and a legal case against another, National Trust, offer rare insights into the industry, and reveals just how hard it will be to police it. Shanghai Trust was fined 200,000 yuan for selling a product that violated leverage rules, according to a regulator’s notice in January.

Under these rules, property developers are only allowed to borrow up to three times their existing net assets. According to two people with direct knowledge of the case, an unknown sum was loaned by China Construction Bank through Shanghai Trust to Cinda Asset Management Company. Cinda then invested the cash. One of the sources said Cinda used the cash to acquire land, a sector rife with speculation that regulators have singled out as a “risky” destination for trust company loans. [..] The case against National Trust, which had revenue of 655 million yuan in 2016, involves wealth management products linked to the steel industry. The trust was sued in June this year by eight investors who allege it misrepresented the risks involved in products it sold them and failed to adequately assess the guarantor’s creditworthiness.

The trust skirted restrictions on loans to the steel industry by using the products to raise money to lend to a subsidiary of Bohai Steel Group, according to Tang Chunlin, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm, who is representing the investors. The plaintiffs invested different sums in the wealth management products, which National Trust promised would deliver an annual return of over 9 percent. National Trust lent the money collected to a Bohai subsidiary, Tianjin Iron and Steel Group. National Trust has now defaulted on the product, according to Tang and Gongyu Zhou, one of the eight investors, because Tianjin Iron and Steel is unable to pay back its loan.The products were also illegally sold via third-party non-financial institutions, Tang and Zhou said.

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Let me guess. When lithium prices go to the moon?

China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)

China has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing comments by the vice industry minister, who predicted “turbulent times” for automakers forced to adapt. Xin Guobin did not give details on when China, the world’s largest auto market, would implement such a ban. The UK and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. “Some countries have made a timeline for when to stop the production and sales of traditional fuel cars,” Xin, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, was quoted as saying at an auto industry event in the city of Tianjin on Saturday. “The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” he said.

To combat air pollution and close a competitive gap between its newer domestic automakers and their global rivals, China has set goals for electric and plug-in hybrid cars to make up at least a fifth of Chinese auto sales by 2025. Xin said the domestic auto industry faced “turbulent times” over the years to 2025 to make the switch towards new energy vehicles, and called on the country’s car makers to adapt to the challenge and adjust their strategies accordingly. Banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars would have a significant impact on oil demand in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Last month, state oil major China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said China’s energy demand will peak by 2040, later than the previous forecast of 2035, as transportation fuel consumption rises through the middle of the century.

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As Hillary’s starting a book tour attacking Bernie, he’s gathering Democrats around him.

How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)

First, consider this: It’s the summer of 2019 and a dozen Democratic presidential candidates are gathered onstage for a debate somewhere in the Midwest. The network moderator concludes her introductions and tees up the opening question. “Who here tonight supports moving the United States toward a single-payer, or ‘Medicare for all,’ taxpayer-funded health care system?” Pause it there and rewind to January 2016 in Iowa. The caucuses are days away, and Hillary Clinton is fending off an unexpected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. The discussion turns to single-payer, and Clinton balks. “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass,” she tells voters in Des Moines, explaining her campaign’s focus on preserving and expanding Obamacare, while dismissing the progressive insurgent’s more ambitious pitch.

Go back even further now to the last contested Democratic primary before that, in 2008, and recall the lone and lonely voices in favor of single-payer care. They belonged to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. The pair combined for a delegate haul of precisely nil. Back to the present – a decade on – and after a chaotic months-long push by Republicans to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the prospect of Sanders’ “Medicare-for-all” program has emerged as the hot-button centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s roiling public policy debate. After a summer that has seen so many of the party’s most ambitious officials and brightest prospects line up in vocal support of what was so recently a fringe cause, consider again how the single-payer question will be received on a Democratic debate stage. Here’s a hint: Expect to see a lot of hands.

[..] .. in mid-July, Sanders returned to Des Moines, Iowa, for the first time since the 2016 election to water the grassroots. “Our immediate test,” he said, was to defeat the Republican plan. “But as soon as we accomplish that, I will be introducing legislation which has gained more and more support all across this country, legislation for a Medicare for All, single-payer system.” Robert Becker, Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign director, was in the hall that day. Between cigarettes, and before his old boss arrived on the scene, Becker sat back and diagnosed the bubbling dynamic. “Every time Paul Ryan, or someone who is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, steps to the podium and starts talking about insurance rates and premiums getting higher and higher and higher, they’re actually making an argument for a single-payer system,” he said. “You don’t hear people on Medicare and Medicaid complaining about their co-pays.”

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But the feeding frenzy will continue.

Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)

The United States shows the world such a ridiculous face that the world laughs at us. The latest spin on “Russia stole the election” is that Russia used Facebook to influence the election. The NPR women yesterday were breathless about it. We have been subjected to ten months of propaganda about Trump/Putin election interference and still not a scrap of evidence. It is past time to ask an unasked question: If there were evidence, what is the big deal? All sorts of interest groups try to influence election outcomes including foreign governments. Why is it OK for Israel to influence US elections but not for Russia to do so? Why do you think the armament industry, the energy industry, agribusiness, Wall Street and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc., etc., supply the huge sum of money to finance election campaigns if their intent is not to influence the election?

Why do editorial boards write editorials endorsing one candidate and damning another if they are not influencing the election? What is the difference between influencing the election and influencing the government? Washington is full of lobbyists of all descriptions, including lobbyists for foreign governments, working round the clock to influence the US government. It is safe to say that the least represented in the government are the citizens themselves who don’t have any lobbyists working for them. The orchestrated hysteria over “Russian influence” is even more absurd considering the reason Russia allegedly interfered in the election. Russia favored Trump because he was the peace candidate who promised to reduce the high tensions with Russia created by the Obama regime and its neocon nazis—Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power.

What’s wrong with Russia preferring a peace candidate over a war candidate? The American people themselves preferred the peace candidate. So Russia agreed with the electorate. Those who don’t agree with the electorate are the warmongers—the military/security complex and the neocon nazis. These are democracy’s enemies who are trying to overturn the choice of the American people. It is not Russia that disrespects the choice of the American people; it is the utterly corrupt Democratic National Committee and its divisive Identity Politics, the military/security complex, and the presstitute media who are undermining democracy. I believe it is time to change the subject. The important question is who is it that is trying so hard to convince Americans that Russian influence prevails over us?

Do the idiots pushing this line realize how impotent this makes an alleged “superpower” look. How can we be the hegemonic power that the Zionist neocons say we are when Russia can decide who is the president of the United States? The US has a massive spy state that even intercepts the private cell phone conversations of the Chancellor of Germany, but his massive spy organization is unable to produce one scrap of evidence that the Russians conspired with Trump to steal the presidential election from Hillary. When will the imbeciles realize that when they make charges for which no evidence can be produced they make the United States look silly, foolish, incompetent, stupid beyond all belief?

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The UK needs a national government. Or else.

Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)

Wales and Scotland will formally lay down a challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit plans this week, warning she risks a constitutional crisis if changes are not made. Governments in both nations are expected to officially submit documents confirming their intention to withhold consent for the Prime Minister’s approach to EU withdrawal unless it radically alters. Conservative ministers have admitted to The Independent that pushing on without their backing could hold up Brexit, while politicians outside England warn it will strain the UK at the seams. The devolved governments claim Ms May’s key piece of Brexit legislation will see London snatch authority over key policy areas and give Conservative ministers unacceptably-strong powers to meddle with other laws.

It comes as MPs are expected to approve the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at its first Commons hurdle on Monday, but the Prime Minister faces a rebellion later on because even Tories want changes to the same clauses that are angering leaders in Cardiff and Edinburgh. On Tuesday the Scottish and Welsh administrations will officially start their drive to force concessions, by submitting ‘legislative consent’ papers in their assemblies that set out how the bill must change. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told The Independent Ms May’s bill will allow Whitehall to “hijack” powers during Brexit that should be passed to Cardiff. He said: “The UK Government is being rigid in its approach. It’s saying there is only one way. It’s acting as if it won a majority at the election in June. It didn’t.

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It needs a national conscience too.

British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)

UK arms manufacturers have exported almost £5bn worth of weapons to countries that are judged to have repressive regimes in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the last election. The huge rise is largely down to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia, but many other countries with controversial human rights records – including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and China – have also been major buyers. The revelation comes before the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair at the Excel centre in east London, one of the largest shows of its kind in the world. Among countries invited to attend by the British government are Egypt, Qatar, Kenya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Campaigners called on the government to end arms sales to the United Arab Emirates in light of its record on human rights.

They accused the government of negotiating trade deals to sell the Gulf state cyber surveillance technology which the UAE government uses to spy on its citizens, and weaponry which, they allege, has been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have historically been a major buyer of British-made weapons, but the rise in sales to other countries signals a shift in emphasis on the part of the government, which is keen to support the defence industry, which employs more than 55,000 people. Following the referendum on leaving the EU, the Defence & Security Organisation, the government body that promotes arms manufacturers to overseas buyers, was moved from UK Trade & Investment to the Department for International Trade. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, would spearhead the push to promote the country’s military and security industries exports.

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What’s going to happen to Tsipras when Greeks find out he can’t deliver?

Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)

Greece will exit successfully its bailout program in 2018 helped by strong growth, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday, vowing to support workers, young Greeks and small businesses as the economy recovers. Addressing a Greek public worn out by austerity and skeptical after years of reform efforts have failed to fix the country’s woes, Tsipras said his leftist-led government would do whatever it takes to end lenders’ supervision next year. “The country, after eight whole years, will have exited bailouts and suffocating supervision. That’s our aim,” Tsipras said in his annual policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “We are determined to do everything we can.” Greece’s current international bailout, worth 86 billion euros, expires next year. Tsipras’ term ends a year later.

Tsipras said Athens would continue to outperform its fiscal targets and fight endemic tax evasion to create fiscal room for tax cuts that would alleviate the burden on businesses and households, long squeezed by the debt crisis. Greece has received about 260 billion euros in bailout aid from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 in return for draconian austerity which has wiped out a quarter of its output and cut tens of thousands of jobs. Unemployment stood at 21.2 percent in June, the euro zone’s highest, with young Greeks the hardest hit. Greece’s economy is expected to grow by about 2 percent in 2018, a sign that sacrifices are bearing fruit, Tsipras said outlining initiatives to boost employment and fight a brain drain.

A march of thousands of workers was largely peaceful outside the venue where he spoke. Tsipras said the state would give financial incentives to employers to hire more younger workers and spend 156 million euros to subsidize social security contributions of employers who will turn contractors into full-time staff. Unregistered work and contract jobs have increased during the debt crisis, as businesses are desperate to cut costs. The government will also pay 100 million euros to subsidize unpaid workers in struggling sectors and businesses, he said, promising to fight labor law violations.

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In a country that has no jobs for its own people.

Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)

Authorities are preparing measures to integrate between 25,000-30,000 asylum seekers who are not entitled to relocation under the existing European Union program, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has said. Speaking to Ta Nea newspaper over the weekend, Mouzalas said that a three-pronged scheme is under way to integrate newcomers, involving a new registration process and the issuing of tax identification and social security numbers; school enrolment for children; and access to the local labor market. Asked about Greece’s recent decision to take back a small number of asylum seekers in line with the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, Mouzalas said that Athens had only accepted returns “from countries who helped us by consenting to up to 17,000 relocations and 7,000 [family] reunions.”

The minister said that a new agreement is currently in the works because the Dublin system is “dead.” Meanwhile, more than 350 police officers took part in a pre-dawn operation on Saturday at the Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos to transfer an unspecified number of migrants to the pre-deportation center. These individuals, who have all received a final rejection of their asylum application, will be returned to Turkey. Moria has been rocked by riots twice in recent weeks in protest at the slow pace of registration and asylum processing for certain nationalities, as well as crowded conditions.

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Interesting mystery. No answers so far.

Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

If you understand how stars work, you can observe the physical properties of one of them and extrapolate its age, and know when it had to have been born. Stars undergo a lot of changes as they age: their radius, luminosity, and temperature all evolve as they burn through their fuel. But a star’s lifespan, in general, is dependent on only two properties that it’s born with: its mass and its metallicity, which is the amount of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium present within. The oldest stars we’ve found in the Universe are nearly pristine, where almost 100% of what makes them up is the hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang. They come in at over 13 billion years old, with the oldest at 14.5 billion. And this is a big problem, because the Universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.

You can’t very well have a star that’s older than the Universe itself; that would imply that the star existed before the Big Bang ever happened! Yet the Big Bang was the origin of the Universe as-we-know-it, where all the matter, energy, neutrinos, photons, antimatter, dark matter and even dark energy originated. Everything contained in our observable Universe came from that event, and everything we perceive today can be traced back to that origin in time. So the simplest explanation, that there are stars predating the Universe, must be ruled out. It’s also possible that we’ve got the age of the Universe wrong! The way we arrive at that figure is from precision measurements of the Universe on the largest scales.

By looking at a whole slew of features, including: • The density and temperature imperfections in the cosmic microwave background, left over from the Big Bang, • The clustering of stars and galaxies at present and going back billions of light years, • The Hubble expansion rate of the fabric of the Universe, • The history of star formation and galactic evolution, and many other sources, we’ve arrived at a very consistent picture of the Universe. It’s made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, 4.9% normal matter, about 0.1% neutrinos and 0.01% radiation, and is right around 13.8 billion years old. The uncertainty on the age figure is less than 100 million years, so even though it might be plausible that the Universe is slightly older-or-younger, it’s extraordinarily improbable to get up to 14.5 billion years.

Read more …

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Adolphe Yvon Genius of America c1870

 

A number of people have argued over the past few days that Hurricane Harvey will NOT boost the US housing market. As if any such argument would or should be required. Hurricane Irma will not provide any such boost either. News about the ‘resurrection’ of New Orleans post-Katrina has pretty much dried up, but we know scores of people there never returned, in most cases because they couldn’t afford to.

And Katrina took place 12 years ago, well before the financial crisis. How do you think this will play out today? Houston is a rich city, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of rich people only. Most homeowners in the city and its surroundings have no flood insurance; they can’t afford it. But they still lost everything. So how will they rebuild?

Sure, the US has a National Flood Insurance Program, but who’s covered by it? Besides, the Program was already $24 billion in debt by 2014 largely due to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. With total costs of Harvey estimated at $200 billion or more, and Irma threating to cause far more damage than that, where’s the money going to come from?

It took an actual fight just to push the first few billion dollars in emergency aid for Houston through Congress, with four Texan representatives voting against of all people. Who then will vote for half a trillion or so in aid? And even if they do, where would it come from?

 

 

Trump’s plans for an infrastructure fund were never going to be an easy sell in Washington, and every single penny he might have gotten for it would now have to go towards repairing existing roads and bridges, not updating them -necessary as that may be-, let alone new construction.

Towns, cities, states, they’re all maxed out as things are, with hugely underfunded pension obligations and crumbling infrastructure of their own. They’re going to come calling on the feds, but Washington is hitting its debt ceiling. All the numbers are stacked against any serious efforts at rebuilding whatever Harvey and Irma have blown to pieces or drowned.

As for individual Americans, two-thirds of them don’t have enough money to pay for a $500 emergency, let alone to rebuild a home. Most will have a very hard time lending from banks as well, because A) they’re already neck-deep in debt, and B) because the banks will get whacked too by Harvey and Irma. For one thing, people won’t pay the mortgage on a home they can’t afford to repair. Companies will go under. You get the picture.

There are thousands of graphs that tell the story of how American debt, government, financial and non-financial, household, has gutted the country. Let’s stick with some recent ones provided by Lance Roberts. Here’s how Americans have maintained the illusion of their standard of living. Lance’s comment:

This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.

 

 

There’s no meat left on that bone. There isn’t even a bone left. There’s only a debt-ridden mirage of a bone. If you’re looking to define the country in bumper-sticker terms, that’s it. A debt-ridden mirage. Which can only wait until it’s relieved of its suffering. Irma may well do that. A second graph shows the relentless and pitiless consequences of building your society, your lives, your nation, on debt.

 

 

It may not look all that dramatic, but look again. Those are long-term trendlines, and they can’t just simply be reversed. And as debt grows, the economy deteriorates. It’s a double trendline, it’s as self-reinforcing as the way a hurricane forms.

 

Back to Harvey and Irma. Even with so many people uninsured, the insurance industry will still take a major hit on what actually is insured. The re-insurance field, Munich RE, Swiss RE et al, is also in deep trouble. Expect premiums to go through the ceiling. As your roof blows off.

We can go on listing all the reasons why, but fact is America is in no position to rebuild. Which is a direct consequence of the fact that the entire nation has been built on credit for decades now. Which in turn makes it extremely vulnerable and fragile. Please do understand that mechanism. Every single inch of the country is in debt. America has been able to build on debt, but it can’t rebuild on it too, precisely because of that.

There is no resilience and no redundancy left, there is no way to shift sufficient funds from one place to the other (the funds don’t exist). And the grand credit experiment is on its last legs, even with ultra low rates. Washington either can’t or won’t -depending on what affiliation representatives have- add another trillion+ dollars to its tally, state capitals are already reeling from their debt levels, and individuals, since they have much less access to creative accounting than politicians, can just forget about it all.

Not that all of this is necessarily bad: why would people be encouraged to build or buy homes in flood- and hurricane prone areas in the first place? Why is that government policy? Why is it accepted? Yes, developers and banks love it, because it makes them a quick buck, and then some, and the Fed loves it because it keeps adding to the money supply, but it has turned America into a de facto debt colony.

If you want to know what will happen to Houston and whatever part of Florida gets hit worst, think New Orleans/Katrina, but squared or cubed -thanks to the 2007/8 crisis.

 

 

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

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How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

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Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

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“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

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“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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Sep 082017
 
 September 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Irma heads for Florida

 

Irma Heads For Florida (R.)
Magnitude 8.4 Earthquake Strikes Off Mexico’s Southern Coast (DW)
Worst US Consumer Data Hack Ever? Equifax Confesses (WS)
Consumer Credit & The American Conundrum (Roberts)
Low Interest Rates Major Source Of Concern – German Financial Watchdog (CNBC)
Japan’s April-June Economic Growth Much Slower Than Preliminary Reading (R.)
The North Korean Endgame is Playing Out Now – Rickards (DR)
Theresa May Apponts Cronies In ‘Sweeping Power Grab’ (Ind.)
At Democracy’s Birthplace, Macron Dreams Of Europe 2.0 (AP)

 

 

650,000 mandatory evacuations. But gas shortages make it hard to get away. Irma is twice the size of hurricane Andrew.

Irma Heads For Florida (R.)

The eye of Hurricane Irma grazed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday, rattling buildings after it smashed a string of Caribbean islands as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, killing 14 people on its way to Florida. With winds of around 185 miles per hour (290 km per hour), the storm the size of France has ravaged small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals. Winds dipped on Thursday to 165 mph as Irma soaked the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and brought hurricane-force winds to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It remained an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, the highest designation by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-m) storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and ploughing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours. Across the Caribbean authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists. On islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation while simultaneously preparing for another major hurricane, Jose, now a Category 3 and due to hit the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

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“Mexico earthquake is most powerful to hit the country in a century, president says”

Magnitude 8.4 Earthquake Strikes Off Mexico’s Southern Coast (DW)

The quake struck late on Thursday, and was recorded as a magnitude 8.4 on the Richter scale according to Mexico’s National Seismological Service. Government officials said that at least five people died in the country’s south. The US Tsunami Warning Center has cautioned that widespread, devastating tidal waves were possible on Mexico’s coast, as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and Ecuador. Shortly thereafter, authorities reported a tsunami was indeed headed towards the coast, fortunately only 0.7 meters (2.3 feet) tall. While there were no immediate reports of major damage, Mexico’s civil protection agency reported that it was the strongest tremor to hit the country since a 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and destroyed entire buildings.

Its epicenter was about 123 km (76 miles) south of the town of Pijijiapan in Chiapas state, but the shock was felt as far away as Mexico City, sending residents fleeing swaying buildings and knocking out electricity in parts of the city. The quake was also felt in much of Guatemala, which borders Chiapas. Civil Defense officials wrote on Twitter that their personnel were patrolling the streets in Chiapas aiding residents and looking for damage. They also issued a warning for aftershocks, several of which themselves registered a 5.0 magnitude according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco told broadcaster Televisa some homes had been damaged and a shopping center had collapsed in the town of San Cristobal. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been affected,” Velasco said.

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The execs delayed reporting the hack so they could offload their shares. Why are these guys walking around free?

Worst US Consumer Data Hack Ever? Equifax Confesses (WS)

Equifax, as a consumer credit bureau, collects financial, credit, and other data on every US consumer. It has names, birth dates, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, mortgage data, and payment history data, including to utilities, wireless service providers, and the like. It collects data on bank balances, loan balances, credit card balances, credit card purchases, and myriad personal details. It has massive digital dossiers on every consumer in the US and in some other countries. And it sells this data to other companies, such as banks, credit card companies, car dealerships, retailers, and others, as a routine part of its business model. That’s how it makes money. But when someone breaks in and steals this data without paying Equifax for it, well, that’s a huge deal. And it is.

Turns out, Equifax got hacked – um, no, not today. Today it disclosed that it had discovered on July 29 – six weeks ago – that it had been hacked sometime between “mid-May through July,” and that key data on 143 million US consumers was stolen. There was no need to notify consumers right away. They’re screwed anyway. But it gave executives enough time to sell 2 million shares between the discovery of the hack and today, when they crashed 13% in late trading. Given the quantity and sensitivity of the stolen data, it may well be the biggest and worst breach in US history. That stolen data “primarily includes”:• Names • Social Security numbers • Birth dates • Addresses • “In some instances,” driver’s license numbers.

In addition, the stolen data includes: • Credit card numbers of around 209,000 US consumers • “Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information” of around 182,000 US consumers. • “Limited personal information for certain UK and Canadian residents.” This is the kind of information with which identities can be stolen and money can be borrowed in your name. Those data points are the crown jewels for hackers.

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It has all been built on debt for decades.

Consumer Credit & The American Conundrum (Roberts)

Under more normal circumstances rising consumer credit would mean more consumption. The rise in consumption should, in theory, led to stronger rates of economic growth. I say, in theory, only because the data doesn’t support the claim. Prior to 1980, when the amount of debt used to support consumption was fairly stagnant, the economy, wages, and personal consumption expanded. However, as I noted previously, that all changed with financial deregulation in the early 80’s which fostered three generations of debt driven excesses. In the past, if they wanted to expand their consumption beyond the constraint of incomes they turned to credit in order to leverage their consumptive purchasing power. Steadily declining interest rates and lax lending standards put excess credit in the hands of every American. (Seriously, my dog Jake got a Visa in 1999 with a $5000 credit limit) .

This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed in America along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.

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Draghi has a fight on his hands. And he’s going to lose it.

Low Interest Rates Major Source Of Concern – German Financial Watchdog (CNBC)

The continued low interest environment in key markets such as Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. is a “major source of concern”, according to Felix Hufeld, the president of the German financial regulatory authority. Alluding to the results of a recent survey, the authority over which he presides carried out alongside staff at Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, Hufeld described the effect on domestic banks. “The impact is massive and is creeping into the balance sheets more and more. The longer it continues, the higher the risk for a change of interest rates is increasing as well,” he warned, speaking from the Handelsblatt annual banking summit in Frankfurt on Thursday. His wariness comes despite his acknowledgment that the banking system has become much more solid than it was 10 years ago when the financial crisis broke out.

“Both the amount as well as the quality of capital has been massively increased. Risk management procedures have been improved, governance procedures have been improved. Remuneration has been curbed – so all sorts of things – a very wide range of things have been done,” he explained before sounding a note of caution. “But one thing should be clear – no regulatory system and no financial market in the world is invulnerable. There can be and there will be new crises coming up somewhere in the future,” Hufeld declared, pointing to real estate as the most notable cause for concern. The BaFin president’s comments echoed those of fellow Handelsblatt summit participants such as Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan and Goldman Sachs’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Cryan joined Hufeld in warning of the possibility of bubbles forming in certain asset classes, adding, “If you look at the higher risk end of the market, I don’t think you get the right reward for the risk you’re taking right now.”

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What a surprise.

Japan’s April-June Economic Growth Much Slower Than Preliminary Reading (R.)

Japan’s economic growth in the second quarter was much slower than seen in a stellar preliminary reading, government data showed on Friday, confounding hopes for a long awaited pick-up in domestic demand. The downgrade was widely expected after data used to revise gross domestic product figures showed capital spending in April-June rose at a slower annual pace than the previous quarter. While the disappointing data may weaken confidence in the government’s economic policies and the business outlook, analysts still expect the economy to sustain a steady recovery as robust global demand underpins exports and a tightening job market improves the prospects for higher wages.

Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, expanded at an annualized rate of 2.5% in the April-June quarter, less than the initial estimate of annualized 4.0% growth, Cabinet Office data showed. That was also lower than a median market forecast for a revision to a 2.9%. On the quarter, the economy grew a revised 0.6% in real, price-adjusted terms, against a preliminary reading of a 1.0% increase and the median estimate of a 0.7% expansion. Capital expenditure, a key component of GDP, rose 0.5% for the quarter, marked down from the preliminary estimate of a 2.4% increase.

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“The United States is facing a six month window to act and I believe they will.”

The North Korean Endgame is Playing Out Now – Rickards (DR)

“North Korea has already beaten the world to the punch. They’ve been building up their strategic oil reserves. What that means is they have an estimated year’s worth of held in reserve and China has played a role in these things in the past.” “The area that would be effective for a reactionary measure would be for the United States to exclude the People’s Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and some of the other major Chinese banks from within the U.S dollar payment systems. The U.S could completely shut down the U.S operations.” “Ultimately, the Chinese are facilitating the North Korean finance. The move would be a kind of sanction with bite behind it. My expectation would be that China wouldn’t necessarily put pressure on North Korea. In reaction we could see escalation of further sanctions from the Chinese against the United States leaving for a trade and financial war without solving the North Korean situation.”

“Currently, North Korea is in what is classified as a ‘break out.’ Under typical nuclear development phases, we’ve normally seen countries that are cheating on nuclear development programs complete their operations in baby steps. In the process they proceed gradually and when they do draw attention will stall programs until beginning again at a later date. North Korea has put that pattern aside and is in complete breakout.” “To give a U.S football comparison, they’re in the red zone and the quarterback is simply about to throw a pass into the end zone. The leader of North Korea is going for it and not hiding anything. The leadership in North Korea is hoping that the United States is bluffing and that they will be able to get a serviceable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a hydrogen bomb that could threaten or destroy Los Angeles before the U.S could do anything. The United States is facing a six month window to act and I believe they will.”

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The mess keeps getting bigger.

Theresa May Apponts Cronies In ‘Sweeping Power Grab’ (Ind.)

Theresa May is poised to make an unprecedented attempt to fix the parliamentary system, allowing her to grab sweeping powers ahead of Brexit, The Independent can reveal. A late-night Commons vote to secure the Conservatives the muscle to use so-called “Henry VIII powers” to make new laws – behind the backs of MPs – will be staged next week. The move has been disguised on the Commons order paper under the innocuous description of “motions relating to House business”, but will be a decisive act in the Brexit process. It will allow the Tories to pack a crucial Commons committee with their own MPs, in defiance of Parliament’s rules, in order to carry out the power grab. To win the vote, the Conservatives will need the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), under the much-criticised “cash-for-votes” deal that props up Ms May in power.

Opposition parties immediately accused the Prime Minister of a bid to “sideline Parliament and grant ministers unprecedented powers” – despite promises to restore sovereignty to MPs. “This is an unprecedented power grab by a minority government that lost its moral authority as well as its majority at the general election,” Valerie Vaz, Labour’s Shadow Commons Leader, told The Independent. And Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said: “The Tories seem determined to ram through their destructive hard Brexit even though they have no mandate for it.” The bid to seize control of the Committee of Selection comes despite unequivocal advice from parliamentary officials that the Tories must not do so, after losing their Commons majority at the election. Without the fix, it would be impossible to force through up to 1,000 “corrections” to EU law as intended through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill – the reason for the accusations of a power grab.

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Europe 2.0 won’t be a democracy.

At Democracy’s Birthplace, Macron Dreams Of Europe 2.0 (AP)

Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a “slow disintegration.” Macron, on a visit on Thursday to Athens, urged EU nations to carry out six-month national reviews on EU reforms before imposing them — signaling his distance with the German-backed approach based on fiscal discipline within the eurozone. “It would be a mistake to abandon the European ideal,” Macron said. “We must rediscover the enthusiasm that the union was founded upon and change, not with technocrats and not with bureaucracy.” Elected by a landslide in May, the 39-year-old Macron has vowed to back efforts for closer integration in the EU, which has been rattled by a financial crisis, migration issues, a populist backlash and Britain’s decision to leave.

His proposal found enthusiastic support in bailout-stricken Greece, which considers France a vital ally and counterweight to fiscally hawkish Germany in its efforts to ease the stringent terms of its international rescue loans. Reinforcing his message, Macron urged the IMF to step back from its role in European bailouts — breaking with a widely accepted policy adopted when Greece sought international help seven years ago. “I don’t think it was the right method for the IMF to supervise European programs and intervene in the way it did,” he said. “Let’s work within Europe and not turn to outside agencies.” The eurozone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should play the lead role in financial rescue within the euro currency zone, he said. France, Europe’s No. 2 economy, had previously backed Germany’s insistence in involving the IMF to enforce austerity measures that came with bailout programs in Greece and other rescued economies including Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.

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Sep 072017
 
 September 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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St. Maarten seen through the eye of Irma

 

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)
Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)
Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)
Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)
New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)
Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)
China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)
Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)
Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)
Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)
Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

 

 

Too early to say much of anything. Barbuda is gone. So is much of St. Martin. Close to uninhabitable.

If Irma hits Puerto Rico anywhere near full force, that would be exceedingly dramatic. Ditto for Haiti, Miami. This has just started.

NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning on CNN: “Irma “is actually getting stronger. … You can’t overhype this storm”.

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)

Nearly every building on the island of Barbuda has been damaged and almost 900,000 people have been left without power in Puerto Rico as the Category 5 Hurricane Irma continues its journey towards mainland US. About 60 percent of Barbuda’s roughly 1,400 people were left homeless, Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, told the Associated Press news agency, when the eye of the storm passed almost directly overhead early on Wednesday. “Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island. “It is just really a horrendous situation.” Browne said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery will take months. A two-year-old was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, he said.

Puerto Rico was buffeted by powerful winds and heavy rain as authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the storm. The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. But as the storm moved west, it devastated the small islands in its path. Significant effects were reported on St Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. The US National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would probably remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it moves past just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and touches Cuba on Friday night.

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“Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea..”

Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)

President Donald Trump forged a surprising deal with Democrats in Congress on Wednesday to extend the U.S. debt limit and provide government funding until Dec. 15, embracing his political adversaries and blindsiding fellow Republicans in a rare bipartisan accord. Trump, living up to his reputation for unpredictability, met at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties and overruled Republicans and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted a longer-term debt-limit extension rather than the three-month Democratic proposal the president embraced. “We could have done a one-year deal today,” Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One later in the day en route back to Washington from an event in North Dakota where Trump spoke about taxes.

Mnuchin said Trump chose a short-term deal to keep his options open on possibly raising military funding later this year, suggesting a longer-term government funding deal might have blocked that. Trump is very focused on military spending, “particularly with what’s going on in North Korea and other parts of the world today,” Mnuchin said. “The president wasn’t willing to give up his need for additional military spending.” If passed by the Republican-led Congress, the three-month agreement would avert an unprecedented default on U.S. government debt, keep the government funded at the outset of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and provide aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a really good moment of some bipartisanship and getting things done,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said. Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea that would “play politics with the debt ceiling.”

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Curious timing. Note that Reuters has fully entered the anti-Trump echo chamber.

Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, a veteran central banker who helped set the course for modern monetary policy, said on Wednesday he will step down from his position in mid-October, potentially accelerating President Donald Trump’s opportunity to reshape the direction of the central bank. In a letter to Trump, Fischer, 73, said he was resigning for personal reasons effective on or around Oct. 13, eight months before his term as vice chair expires in June. In the letter, Fischer said jobs growth had returned to the United States and that “steps to make the financial system stronger and more resilient” had been taken – actions that may now be weakened by the Trump administration.

His departure leaves the seven-person board of governors with as few as three sitting members, depending on whether and when the Senate confirms Trump nominee Randal Quarles to the role of vice chair for supervision, a job distinct from Fischer’s vice chairmanship. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination on Thursday. The White House said it had no immediate comment on Fischer’s departure or on the timing for filling his spot or other positions at the Fed. Though the Fed often operates with fewer than its full complement of seven governors, it has never dipped as low as three. Fischer’s earlier-than-expected departure intensifies the urgency for Trump to decide how deeply he wants to overhaul U.S. monetary policy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires in February. While Trump has spoken approvingly of her performance he has also kept the door open to naming his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, or someone else, to the job.

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He thinks he’s taken all he’s going to get.

Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)

Deutsche Bank chief executive John Cryan has called on the European Central Bank to change course on providing cheap money, warning he sees price bubbles in stocks, bonds and property. “The era of cheap money in Europe should come to an end – despite the strong euro,” Cryan told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt on Wednesday, a day before the ECB’s governors meet to discuss policy. Low interest rates, money printing and a penalty charge for hoarding cash have been at the heart of attempts by the central bank to reinvigorate the 19-country euro zone economy in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. But the policy, which has seen the ECB print more than €2 trillion ($2.4 trillion) so far, has been politically divisive, prompting fierce criticism from famously thrifty Germans.

It has also imposed a heavy cost on still fragile banks, turning deposits into a hot potato that many would rather avoid so as not to pay charges to their central bank for storing them. The head of Germany’s largest commercial bank warned of the fallout from cheap money, cautioning against using the strong euro as a justification for printing more. “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market,” he said. Cryan also said Frankfurt was the most natural location as a financial hub as banks move from London after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – ahead of Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. “There is only one European city which can fulfil these requirements and that city is Frankfurt,” he said, pointing to Frankfurt’s supervisory authorities, law firms, consultancies and airport.

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Multiple papers have been leaked in recent days. They won’t be the last.

New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)

The EU will risk heightening tensions with the UK on Brexit by publishing five combative position papers in the coming days, including one that places the onus on Britain to solve the problem of the Irish border, according to documents leaked to the Guardian. The Irish document shows that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will call on the UK to work out “solutions” that avoid the creation of a hard border and guarantee peace on the island. The leaks come a day after the Guardian obtained a draft memo showing the British government’s position on post-Brexit EU migration, which has been denounced as “completely confused”, “economically illiterate” and “a blueprint on how to strangle London’s economy”. The Ireland paper is one of five due to be published by the European commission in the coming days. Each is dated 6 September and was drawn up by Barnier’s article 50 taskforce in Brussels.

Together, the papers lay bare the complexity of disentangling Britain from the European Union. Each paper is focused on withdrawal day, 29 March 2019, delving into technical minefields not dealt with during the referendum campaign. EU proposals include:
• A demand – likely to inflame Brexiters – for the UK to legislate for the “continued protection” of special foods such as Parma ham and feta cheese, as well as French burgundy and Spanish cava. Brussels wants to ensure that more than 3,300 food and drink products are protected from British copycats after Brexit.
• Ensuring that any goods in transit on Brexit day would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. In effect, British companies and the British government would be liable to fines from Brussels for breaking EU VAT and customs rules.
• A warning to the government that it must guarantee EU data protection standards on classified EU documents. If not, the EU wants these documents erased or destroyed.
• Asking Britain not to discriminate against EU companies which are carrying out state-funded infrastructure projects that began before Brexit day.

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How to spell deflation.

Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)

Debt serves as a regulator of economic growth and is the focus of ill-advised fiscal and monetary policy. It is no coincidence that no matter what economic topic we explore, debt is usually a central theme. Illustrated in the chart below is the actual trajectory of total U.S. debt outstanding (black) through March 2017 and a calculated parabolic curve (red). The parabolic curve uses 1951 as a starting point and a quarterly 1.82% compounding factor to create the best statistical fit to the actual debt curve. If we start with the $434 billion of debt outstanding on December 1951 and grow it by 1.82% each quarter thereafter, the result is the gray line. If debt outstanding continues to follow this parabolic curve, it will exceed $60 trillion by the first quarter of 2020, or nine quarters from now.

Many economists point to the stability of debt service costs as a reason to ignore the parabolic debt chart. Despite rising debt loads, falling interest rates have served as a ballast allowing more debt accumulation at little incremental cost. While that may have worked in the past, near zero interest rates makes it nearly impossible to continue enjoying the benefits of falling interest rates going forward. Importantly, social safety net obligations, demographics, and political dynamics argue that debt growth is likely to continue accelerating as implied by the chart above. Without interest rates falling in step with rising debt burdens, debt service costs will begin to rise appreciably.

The power of compounding, extolled by Albert Einstein as the eighth wonder of the universe, is as damning in its demands as it is merciful in its generosity. Barring negative interest rates, debt service costs will be an insurmountable burden by 2020. However, if the debt trajectory slows as it did in 2008 that too will bring about painful consequences. In other words, all roads lead to trouble.

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“China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad..”

China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)

China is increasingly desperate for foreign investment. Yet foreign companies are less and less interested in what it has to offer. How this problem gets resolved may be one of the most important questions facing China’s economy. After China joined the World Trade Organization, in 2001, overseas investors couldn’t wait to jump in. Foreign direct investment grew at an annualized rate of 10.8% from 2000 to 2008. Enticed by China’s market size and development capacity, companies were willing tolerate almost any kind of restriction. They turned over intellectual property; entered into joint ventures as junior partners, essentially training their eventual competitors; and accepted restricted access to wide swathes of the economy. Since the financial crisis, however, things have changed.

Wages in China have risen by an average of 11% a year, making it less attractive for outsourcing. Despite years of complaints, intellectual property theft hasn’t abated (just ask Michael Jordan, who had to wage a four-year court battle to get ownership of his own name in China). Add in an increasingly hostile business environment, and it’s not surprising that overseas companies are losing enthusiasm. Since 2008, utilized foreign direct investment has increased by an average rate of only 4% a year. According to quarterly balance-of-payment data, FDI has amounted to only $55 billion this year through June. The last time China’s mid-year inflows were that low was in 2009, the year after the financial crisis. This could have serious economic consequences.

Due to shady invoicing – which many firms use to evade capital controls – the money flowing into China through its trade surplus has shrunk. From 2010 through 2014, banks reported net settlement inflows from goods trade of nearly $1.7 trillion. Since January 2015, net settlement by banks has amounted to only $278 billion, while the official trade surplus is $1.3 trillion. For a country that relies on capital accumulation to sustain growth, this is a significant problem. Making matters worse, China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad, which is China’s main method of advancing its foreign-policy objectives.

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All on red.

Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)

Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone (expected to be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Edition) on September 12, and this chart from Guggenheim Securities analyst Robert Cihra gives you a good idea of the giant headache Apple needs that new phone to solve. The graph is interesting because it shows Apple’s business in a seldom-seen way: It charts only the revenue growth of the company, broken out by product. The chart does a good job of showing how Apple’s various product lines have increasingly stalled over the years. In each of the last four years, Apple had one or more major product lines with shrinking sales. In 2016, that came to a head, and Apple’s overall revenue went into decline for the first time ever.

Note that in 2016, Apple’s worst year, the only division growing revenues was Services — apps, content, and software in iTunes. The stakes for iPhone 8 and its kindred models — iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus — couldn’t be higher. If they don’t grow revenues, then the company as a whole doesn’t grow. The task facing Apple is not trivial. As this chart from Deutsche Bank shows, the iPhone tends to grow more slowly than the smartphone market as a whole — and the smartphone market has flatlined.

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Spain threatens criminal charges for people seeking self-determination.

Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)

Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a law on Wednesday (Sep 6) paving the way for an independence referendum on Oct 1 which is fiercely opposed by Madrid, setting a course for Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades. The looming showdown comes three weeks after militant attacks in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a seaside resort which killed 16 people and wounded more than 120. The law was adopted with 72 votes in favour and 11 abstentions after 12 hours of often stormy debate in the regional assembly. Lawmakers who oppose independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain quit the chamber before the vote. After the law was passed, separatist lawmakers, who have a majority in the assembly, sang the Catalan anthem, “Els Segadors”, which recalls a 1640 revolt in the region against the Spanish monarchy.

Lawmakers approved the bill despite a February ruling by Spain’s Constitutional court declaring it would be unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was passed the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the rest of his cabinet signed a decree calling the referendum, presenting a show of unity in the face of threats of legal action by Madrid, which deems the plebiscite illegal. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said before the law was passed that the government had asked the Constitutional Court to declare “void and without effect the agreements adopted” by the Catalan parliament. She also denounced the regional assembly’s agreement to quickly vote on the bill with little debate as an “act of force” characteristic of “dictatorial regimes”. At the same time, public prosecutors announced they would seek criminal charges for disobedience against the president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and other Catalan officials for allowing the vote on the referendum law.

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Macron can only do what Merkel allows him.

Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will make Greece the launchpad for a major policy speech on the future of Europe as he starts his first official trip to the country on Thursday. From the dramatic setting of the ancient Pnyx in Athens, the French president is expected to outline his vision for the continent in what is being called his most important overseas address since taking office in May. Amid the rocky hills of the Pnyx beneath the Acropolis, the speech will focus on the virtues of democracy as the European Union – and Greece – finally show signs of economic revival. “It will be a message of confidence in Greece but also a European symbolic message, given that in many ways Greece has been a symbol of Europe’s crisis,” said an Élysée Palace source. “The restart of Greece is the restart of the eurozone.”

It is a measure of the significance the Greek government is attaching to the visit that Macron is making the address from such an august setting. From the earliest days of Athenian democracy, the Pnyx was a meeting place for popular assemblies. In more modern times its use has been limited to the rare photo op. The young president will be the first French leader to speak from it, in what Greeks are also calling a subliminal message of hope. Macron has been criticised at home for his carefully choreographed media appearances evoking the grandeur of eras past, and has seen his approval ratings drop dramatically. But officials say the rich symbolism of Macron’s Athens speech will underscore the argument that, despite its battle to stay in the eurozone and keep bankruptcy at bay, Greece remains at the heart of Europe’s tradition and history.

“We see it is as a very important visit,” said the deputy minister of economy and development, Stergios Pitsiorlas. “We are very much hoping it will not only deepen economic cooperation but also herald a change in the political dynamic in the EU which for so long has been dominated by a single state, Germany.” France has stood by Greece, often defending it in fraught negotiations, since international creditors, led by Berlin, were forced to come to the debt-stricken country’s rescue issuing the first of three bailouts in return for tough reforms in May 2010. Macron, a former economy minister, has long advocated debt relief for Athens – echoing the view of its leftist-led government that without it the Greek economy can never fully recover.

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While politicians on all sides cheer the ‘recovery’.

Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

The economic crisis continues to plague Greek households struggling too make ends meet – month in, month out. A survey conducted by Nielsen shows a decline in consumption and therefore the plight of thousands of families. Greeks cut on essential goods like milk and bread. The drop in the category of milk in the organized retail market reached 8.6% in the first half of 2017. Sales of essential consumer goods continue to drop, according to a Nielsen survey of the Greek market. Sales of milk, bread and alcoholic beverages are among the goods that suffer most. In the first half of 2017 the drop in the sale of milk reached 8.6%, while sales of packaged bread shrank by 5.3%. Sales of alcoholic beverages also recorded significant losses, as whiskey sales dropped by 6.8% over the same period.

Overall, retail trade lost 1.1% in value in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. More pronounced downward trends were recorded in personal care products at 4.4%, and household goods at 3.5%. Sales of deodorants and diapers dropped by 7.3% and 7.2% respectively. In household goods, chlorine dropped by 8.9% and kitchen paper towel by 7.7%. The only positive trend in all sectors was in fresh / bulk products where sales increased by 2.0%. An earlier Nielsen survey has shown that food sales in Greece have dropped by 18 percent since 2009, when the current economic crisis begun. In 2009, food sales reached a record high, totalling 13.15 billion euros. However, as Greece entered the first bailout program in 2010, the demand for food items started to drop. The decrease was also attributed partly to the closing down of small grocery and convenience stores..

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Sep 062017
 
 September 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Summer evening 1947

 

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)
Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)
The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)
Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)
Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)
UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)
Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)
Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)
The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)
Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)
European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)
Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

 

 

Tropical storm José is close behind, and the next one, Katia, is forming in the Gulf. Prayers. The Saffir-Simpson scale doesn’t go to 6, or Irma would be that. 5++ for now.

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean on Tuesday night local time, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.” The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4. Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people. US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

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‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’

Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns. The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”. “The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says. “This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.” The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows. “Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.” LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says. The report largely sheets the blame home to Australia’s financial regulators, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. “ASIC and APRA have failed to protect borrowers from predatory and illegal lending practices,” it says. “Although ASIC has no official ‘duty of care’, APRA does, and will have some serious questions to answer in relation to systemic criminality within the mortgage market committed by the financial institutions they regulate. The evidence strongly suggests the regulators have done nothing to combat white-collar criminality in the mortgage market.”

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Because the world doesn’t know what it is.

The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)

The Great Recession may be over, but eight years later we can still see the deep scars and unhealed wounds it left on the global economy. In an attempt to prevent an unpleasant revisit to the Stone Age, global governments have bailed out banks and the private sector. These bailouts and subsequent stimuli swelled global government debt, which jumped 75%, to $58 trillion in 2014 from $33 trillion in 2007. (These numbers, from McKinsey, are the latest, but it’s fair to say they have not shrunk since.) There’s a lot about today’s environment that doesn’t fit neatly into economic theory. Ballooning government debt should have brought higher – much higher – interest rates. But central banks bought the bonds of their respective governments and corporations, driving interest rates down to the point at which a quarter of global government debt now “pays” negative interest.

The concept of positive interest rates is straightforward. You take your savings, which you amass by forgoing current consumption — not buying a newer car or making fewer trips to fancy restaurants — and lend it to someone. In exchange for your sacrifice, you receive interest payments. With negative interest rates, something quite different happens: You lend $100 to your neighbor. A year later the neighbor knocks on your door and, with a smile on his face, repays that $100 loan by writing you a check for $95. You had to pay $5 for forgoing your consumption of $100 for a year. The key takeaway: negative and near-zero interest rates show central banks’ desperation to avoid deflation. More important, they highlight the bleak state of the global economy. In theory, low- and negative interest rates were supposed to reduce savings and stimulate spending.

In practice, the opposite has happened: The savings rate has gone up. As interest rates on their deposits declined, consumers felt that now they had to save more to earn the same income. Go figure. Some countries resort to negative interest rates because they want to devalue their currencies. This strategy suffers from what economists call the fallacy of composition: the mistaken assumption that what is true of one member of a group is true for the group as a whole. As a country adopts negative interest rates, its currency will decline against others — arguably stimulating its export sector (at the expense of other countries). But there is absolutely nothing proprietary about this strategy: Other governments will do the same, and in the end all will experience lowered consumption and a higher savings rate.

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Draghi seeks to protect Europe’s biggest banks, but he can’t. Not anymore.

Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)

The European Central Bank may not have as much flexibility left in its bond-buying program as Mario Draghi insists. As the Governing Council kicks off discussion about the future of its asset purchases, the question that will loom large is how much wiggle room policy makers have to extend their 2.3 trillion-euro program ($2.7 trillion). Not much, according to two economists. They believe the ECB’s decision to wind down bond buying next year will be a matter of necessity rather a choice. “Bond scarcity is increasing in more and more countries,” says Louis Harreau, an ECB strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris. “The ECB will be forced to reduce its QE regardless of economic conditions, simply because it has no more bonds to purchase.”

But working out how much space the central bank still has is fiendishly hard. That’s because the asset-purchase program is like a three-dimensional game of chess spread over bonds from 18 euro-area states. The 19th member, Greece, is excluded from the program. The first rule the ECB could trip over is the one that prohibits the accumulation of more than 33% of debt from a single country. Germany could hit this mark as early as spring if the current pace of purchases is maintained, says Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer. It’s long been a red line for Draghi and revisiting it now when the program is awaiting a review at the European Union’s highest court could be particularly tricky.

Yet some rules of the program are more malleable, giving the ECB potential leeway. The euro-area central banks have quotas to meet in buying each nation’s debt based on the size of their economies. But they can deviate from those capital-key guidelines and have done so for months now. A good example is Germany, where debt-buying last month hit the lowest level since the program started more than two years ago. According to Harreau, the ECB could deviate from the capital key by a total of €5 billion a month, twice the amount they do now. That could ease the strain for some countries, but would still require the program to be wound down by the end of next year, he says.

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By the time Brexit is reality, they’ll need to lay them off anyway.

Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)

Frankfurt and Dublin are emerging as the clear favorites for post-Brexit relocation among U.K.-based banks, according to a top official at Germany’s central bank. “From the discussions I have, it is my clear impression that Dublin and Frankfurt are the two cities where there is most interest (from City lenders). We have received quite a number of applications,” Andreas Dombret, an executive board member at the German Bundesbank, told CNBC on Tuesday. “We encourage the banks to finalize their thinking, especially the ones that have not done so, and to really think where they want to move and how they want to move … Let’s all not try to walk through the same narrow door in the 11th hour,” he added. Britain’s financial services industry has been quietly preparing for Brexit given that it’s likely to lose its EU passporting rights – these are special licenses that allow U.K.-based banks to sell their services across the whole of the EU.

The negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing and it remains unclear how many employees will have to be moved from London to other European cities. At the moment, the disruption appears to be minimal compared to the overall size of the industry. But there are clear winners from the exit of some jobs from London with Frankfurt and Dublin perceived to be the top destinations for institutions that wish to continue working with clients across the EU. When asked whether vulnerable European banks could trigger a systemic crisis across the continent, Dombret said that such a prospect “doesn’t keep me up at night.” “I’m not that worried about a systemic crisis at all. There are regions, there are sectors and there are certain banks in certain countries which are more exposed than others but it is not a system wide or country wide issue,” he said.

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An event that shapes an entire nation is negotiated by just one segment of its population. Not even a majority at that.

UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation. The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London. May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region.

The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.” The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc. [..] The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues – including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill. If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.

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In the hands of Congress now.

Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night said he would “revisit” the Obama-era policy shielding hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation in six months if Congress cannot legalize it. It is unclear what action Trump would take if he decided to again address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that he said he would end Tuesday with a six-month delay. However, his tweeted comment appears to cloud his view on the issue after a day in which he and his administration vehemently criticized President Barack Obama’s authority to implement the policy. Trump’s decision set up a potential rush for lawmakers to pass a bill protecting so-called dreamers before the Trump administration’s deadline. It is unclear if the GOP-led Congress, members of which voted to sink similar legislation in the past, can do so in the near future as it faces multiple crucial deadlines to approve legislation.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Trump said he looks forward “to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.” “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” Trump said. Trump allies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged him to end DACA, arguing it will be difficult to defend in court. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said Tuesday in announcing the move.

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“They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that the escalating North Korean crisis could cause a “planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life, and described US proposals for further sanctions on Pyongyang as “useless”. “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he told reporters in China. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.” On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. The underground blast triggered a magnitude-6.3 earthquake and was more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Putin was attending the Brics summit, bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking on Tuesday, the final day of the summit in Xiamen, China, he said Russia condemned North Korea’s provocations but said further sanctions would be useless and ineffective, describing the measures as a “road to nowhere”. Foreign interventions in Iraq and Libya had convinced the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he needed nuclear weapons to survive, Putin said. “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged … We all know how this happened and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. “They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

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History does talk. Jimmy Carter was replaced with “We came, we saw, he died.”

Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)

The 1994 agreement was the United States’ response to a regional political crisis that began that year when North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear states to agree never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Although it had no nuclear weapon, North Korea was producing plutonium, an action that almost led the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against its plutonium facility. That war was averted when Jimmy Carter made a surprise trip to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s founder and leader at the time, Kim Il-sung (he died a few months later, and his power was inherited by his son, Kim Jong-il). The framework was signed in October 1994, ending “three years of on and off vilification, stalemates, brinkmanship, saber-rattling, threats of force, and intense negotiations,” Park Kun-young, a professor of international relations at Korea Catholic University, wrote in a 2009 history of the negotiations.

In addition to shutting its one operating reactor, Yongbyon, the North also stopped construction of two large reactors “that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year,” according to Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department official who helped negotiate the 1994 framework and directs a Northeast Asia security project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Most important for the United States, it remained in the NPT. In exchange for North Korea’s concessions, the United States agreed to provide 500,000 tons a year of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as well two commercial light-water reactors considered more “proliferation resistant” than the Soviet-era heavy-water facility the North was using. The new reactors were to be built in 2003 by a US/Japanese/South Korean consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO. (The reactors, however, were never completed).

[..] First, the Agreed Framework led North Korea to halt its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program for over a decade, forgoing enough enrichment to make over 100 nuclear bombs. “What people don’t know is that North Korea made no fissible material whatsoever from 1991 to 2003,” says Sigal. (The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in 1994 that the North had ceased production of plutonium three years earlier.) “A lot of this history” about North Korea, Sigal adds with a sigh, “is in the land of make-believe.” Second, the framework remained in effect well into the Bush administration. In 1998, the State Department’s Rust Deming testified to Congress that “there is no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement”; four years later, a similar pledge was made by Bush’s then–Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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“Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth..”

The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)

These are not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones refusing to respect the sovereignty of North Korea or any other nation under the sun. The bad guys are the ones invading sovereign nations at will and slaughtering civilians with explosives dropped from flying killing machines. The fact that something so simple and so obvious is not universally known in America speaks to the phenomenal efficacy of its corporate media propaganda machine. Because of that propaganda machine, Americans sincerely think that the bad guys are the tiny little nations that America bullies in proxy conflicts to maintain global hegemony. They’re watching Star Wars and cheering for the stormtroopers.

Because of the neoconservative American supremacist doctrine that the US power establishment has espoused, America has given itself the authority to intervene in any government’s affairs at any time and for any reason. This doctrine of American supremacy is founded on the belief that the United States was selected by destiny to lead the world when it won the Cold War, a divine right of sorts to dominion over the entire planet. This is the real evil. The North Koreans aren’t the bad guys, and the South Koreans want to get along with them. They’re sick of being in a constant state of war, they want dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea by a nearly four to one margin, and they staged large protests against America’s missile defense system which at one point mobilized 8,000 riot police to remove protesters from a South Korean THAAD site.

These are the people who are actually putting their lives on the line with Seoul’s close proximity to the DMZ, and they want peace and de-escalation. They should be allowed to have that, but their US-backed government is talking about bringing American tactical nukes back to the Korean Peninsula. [..] Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth, throughout their schooling and by every screen they interact with throughout their day; it’s a testament to their good will that the elites are forced to put on this Scooby Doo haunted house song and dance every time.

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The Mussolini kind.

Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)

The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services. Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies. Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment and every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism. Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy. The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service. The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.

There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable. Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as depicted accurately in George Orwell’s 1984. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernisation of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernisation of social security in action.

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The EU seeks to forcefully redefine ‘sovereignty’, like it did in Greece. That will not end well. Even if these countries gave in and admitted refugees, how would they be treated?

European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)

The EU’s top court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge by eastern European members over the bloc’s mandatory refugee quota program. The ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia could face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. The ruling is a victory for EU immigration policy, which has divided the bloc as nearly 1.7 million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary argue the mandatory quota system violates their sovereignty and threatens their societies. The legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a few dozen asylum seekers. Only 24,000 of 160,000 refugees from frontline Mediterranean states like Greece and Italy have been transferred to other states under the EU’s refugee burden sharing policy agreed to in 2015.

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Because they have farmland to spare?

Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

China will expand its agricultural use of environment-damaging plastic film to boost crop production even as authorities try to curb soil pollution, a government scientist said. Some 1.45 million metric tons of polyethylene are spread in razor-thin sheets across 20 million hectares (49 million acres) — an area about half the size of California — of farmland in China. Use of the translucent material may exceed 2 million tons by 2024 and cover 22 million hectares, according to Yan Changrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The plastic sheets, used as mulch over 12% of China’s farmland, are growing in popularity because they trap moisture and heat, and prevent weeds and pests. Those features can bolster cotton, maize and wheat yields, while enabling crops to be grown across a wider area.

“The technology can boost yields by 30%, so you can image how much extra production we can get — it can solve the problems of producing sufficient food and fiber,” Yan said in an interview at his office at the academy’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The downside is that polypropylene film isn’t biodegradable and often not recycled. Potentially cancer-causing toxins can be released into the soil from the plastic residue, known locally as “white pollution,” which is present at levels of 60-to-300 kilograms (132-to-661 pounds) per hectare in some provinces. [..] Regrettably, there are no viable alternatives to polyethylene that possess the same agronomic advantages. That means farmers are compelled to keep using it to boost production and income, said Yan, as he flicked through slides showing pollution in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The material enables crops to be grown in both drier and colder environments. In Xinjiang, which accounts for almost 70% of the country’s cotton output, plastic mulch is used on all cotton farms; and across 93% of the country’s tobacco fields, he said. The film reduces water demand by 20-to-30%.

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Sep 052017
 
 September 5, 2017  Posted by at 7:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Irma

 

The Supernova Nature Of Asset Bubbles (CHS)
Bitcoin Tumbles as PBOC Declares Initial Coin Offerings Illegal (BBG)
China ICO Crackdown May Just Be The Start (R.)
Caribbean, Florida Brace For Hurricane Irma (BBC)
Landlords Demand Rent On Flooded Houston Homes (G.)
Germany Must Pay Poland Up To $1 Trillion In Reparations – Minister (Ind.)
Populist Hopeful Shunned by Italian Elite on Shores of Lake Como (BBG)
China May Be The Real Target Of North Korea’s Pressure (AFP)
Nuclear-Armed Nations Brought The North Korea Crisis On Themselves (G.)
New Kind Of Black Hole Found At The Centre Of The Milky Way (RT)
Established Story That Humans Came From Africa May Be Wrong (Ind.)

 

 

It takes ever more effort to keep a bubble inflated.

The Supernova Nature Of Asset Bubbles (CHS)

The trouble with inflating asset bubbles is that you have to keep inflating them or they pop. Unfortunately for the bubble-blowing central banks, asset bubbles are a double-bind: you cannot inflate assets forever. At some unpredictable point, the risk and moral hazard that are part and parcel of all asset bubbles trigger an avalanche of selling that pops the bubble. This is another facet of The Fed’s Double-Bind: if you stop pumping asset bubbles, they pop as participants realize the music has stopped, and if you keep pumping them, they expand to super-nova criticality and implode.

There are several dynamics at play in this double-bind.

1. The process of inflating a bubble (for example, the current bubbles in stocks and real estate) requires pushing investors and speculators alike into risky asset classes. This puts the market at increasing risk as everyone is pushed to one side of the boat.

2. Those on the other side of the boat (i.e. shorts) are slowly but surely eradicated as the pumping keeps inflating the bubble. When the bubble finally bursts, there are no shorts left to cover, i.e. buy stocks at lower prices to reap their profits.

3. As the bubble continues to expand, the money available to enter the market and keep prices rising declines. The very success of the pumping process strips the markets of new sources of new money, leading to a point where normal selling exceeds new-money buying and the bubble collapses.

4. Money pumping by central banks and governments follows a curve of diminishing return. One analogy is insulin insensitivity: as the systemic distortions build, markets become increasingly insensitive to money pumping. Authorities respond to this intrinsic process of increasing insensitivity by pumping even more money into the system. But as with insulin insensitivity, at some point the system loses all sensitivity to money pumping: no matter how much money central authorities inject, the markets refuse to go higher. At this point, the stick-slip nature of bubbles manifests and modest selling triggers a collapse as participants all rush for the exits. Buyers have vanished and there is no longer a bid at any price.

5. Having pumped the assets higher with ever-greater injections of speculative risk and pumping, central banks and states have exhausted their ability to re-inflate assets as they collapse.

Systems cannot be controlled once risk and moral hazard have been raised to levels where instability is an intrinsic feature of the system. Those who actually believe the Fed can keep asset bubbles inflated at a permanently high plateau will discover their error in dramatic fashion, as the bigger the bubble, the more violent the implosion. This is the super-nova nature of asset bubbles: if you try to deflate the bubble slowly, it implodes, but if you keep inflating the bubble it eventually implodes from its internal extremes.

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China needs its foreign reserves. The last thing it needs is a way for money to leave the country that it has no control over. Other countries have no choice but to follow suit.

Bitcoin Tumbles as PBOC Declares Initial Coin Offerings Illegal (BBG)

Bitcoin tumbled the most since July after China’s central bank said initial coin offerings are illegal and asked all related fundraising activity to be halted immediately, issuing the strongest regulatory challenge so far to the burgeoning market for digital token sales. The People’s Bank of China said on its website Monday that it had completed investigations into ICOs, and will strictly punish offerings in the future while penalizing legal violations in ones already completed. The regulator said that those who have already raised money must provide refunds, though it didn’t specify how the money would be paid back to investors. It also said digital token financing and trading platforms are prohibited from doing conversions of coins with fiat currencies. Digital tokens can’t be used as currency on the market and banks are forbidden from offering services to initial coin offerings.

“This is somewhat in step with, maybe not to the same extent, what we’re starting to see in other jurisdictions – the short story is we all know regulations are coming,” said Jehan Chu at Kenetic Capital in Hong Kong, which invests in and advises on token sales. “China, due to its size and as one of the most speculative IPO markets, needed to take a firmer action.” Bitcoin tumbled as much as 11.4%, the most since July, to $4,326.75. The ethereum cryptocurrency was down more than 16% Monday, according to data from Coindesk. ICOs are digital token sales that have seen unchecked growth over the past year, raising $1.6 billion. They have been deemed a threat to China’s financial market stability as authorities struggle to tame financing channels that sprawl beyond the traditional banking system. Widely seen as a way to sidestep venture capital funds and investment banks, they have also increasingly captured the attention of central banks that see in the fledgling trend a threat to their reign.

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The Chinese know how corrupt their countrymen are.

China ICO Crackdown May Just Be The Start (R.)

China is poised to further tighten rules on virtual currencies after regulators on Monday banned virtual coin fundraising schemes, Chinese financial news outlet Yicai reported, citing sources. China banned and deemed illegal the practice of raising funds through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting so-called initial coin offerings (ICO) in a market that has exploded since the start of the year. Yicai’s report late Monday cited a source close to decision-makers as saying the announcement on the ban was just the start of further follow-up regulations of virtual currencies. In total, $2.32 billion has been raised through ICOs globally, with $2.16 billion of that being raised since the start of 2017, according to cryptocurrency analysis website Cryptocompare.

Bitcoin rival ethereum, which token-issuers usually ask to be paid in and which has seen dramatic growth this year, fell sharply on the news. It was down almost 20% on Monday at $283, according to trade publication Coindesk. Bitcoin was also down 8%, while the total value of all cryptocurrencies was down around 10% after China’s ban was announced, according to industry website Coinmarketcap.com.

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Wonder what reporting will look like if islands are destroyed but US mainland is not.

Caribbean, Florida Brace For Hurricane Irma (BBC)

Hurricane Irma has been upgraded to a powerful category four storm as warnings have been issued for several Caribbean islands. The hurricane had sustained winds of up to 220km/h (140mph) and was likely to strengthen in the next 48 hours, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Irma was projected to hit the Leeward Islands, causing storm surges, life-threatening winds and torrential rain. The US state of Florida has declared a state of emergency. It comes as residents in Texas and Louisiana are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which struck as a category four storm, causing heavy rain and destroying thousands of homes. However the NHC warned that it was too early to forecast Irma’s exact path or effects on the continental US. Irma was set to reach the Leeward Islands, east of Puerto Rico, by late Tuesday or early Wednesday (local time), the centre added.

The storm was moving at a speed of 20km/h (13mph). It may cause rainfall of up to 25cm (10in) in some northern areas and raise water levels by up to 3m (9ft) above normal levels, the NHC said. Puerto Rico also declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the opening of emergency shelters able to house up to 62,000 people, and schools would be closed on Tuesday. Long queues of people formed in shops, with residents stocking water, food, batteries, generators and other supplies. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin, Sint Maarten, St Barthelemy, Saba, St Eustatius, Puerto Rico, British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands. It means that hurricane conditions are expected in the next 36 hours.

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Absurdity.

Landlords Demand Rent On Flooded Houston Homes (G.)

An acute housing crisis is starting to grip thousands of other families in south-east Texas as the floodwaters ebb away, with a death toll put at 60 on Monday. More than 180,000 houses in the Houston area have been badly damaged, with only a fraction of occupants owning any flood insurance. And under Texas law, rent must still be paid on damaged dwellings, unless they are deemed completely uninhabitable. A spokeswoman for the city of Houston’s housing department said city officials “are aware these problems exist” but said that state law deals with the situation. She said the city was still assessing the total number of people in need of housing assistance. Under the Texas property code, if a rental premises is “totally unusable” due to an external disaster then either the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease through written notice.

But if the property is “partially unusable” because of a disaster, a tenant may only get a reduction in rent determined by a county or district court. “There are a lot of property owners who aren’t conscious of what has gone on; they are being rude and kicking people out,” said Isela Bezada, an unemployed woman who lived with 10 family members in a Houston house until her landlord took her to court to evict her after the hurricane hit. Bezada, like Fuentes, has had almost every area of her life touched by the flood. Her relatives, who work in home renovations, have little opportunity to bring in money until the full gutting of sodden houses – piles of torn up carpet, broken chairs and children’s toys have become a common adornment to the front of Houston homes – and she worries about other family members stranded in Port Arthur by a flooded highway.

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Greece first.

Germany Must Pay Poland Up To $1 Trillion In Reparations – Minister (Ind.)

Germany should consider paying Poland as much as $1 trillion in World War II reparations, according to the Polish foreign minister. Poland’s foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told local radio station RMF that “serious talks” were needed with Germany to “find a way to deal with the fact that German-Polish relations are overshadowed by the German aggression of 1939 and unresolved post-war issues.” He said Poland’s material losses were about $1 trillion, or higher. Polish defense minister Antoni Macierewicz also accused European critics of trying to “erase” the fate of the Poles at German hands during the war “from the historical memory of Europe”.

The country’s right-wing government has dismissed a 1953 resolution by Poland’s former communist government which dropped any claim to reparations from Germany, and are instead claiming that Germany is “shirking” its moral responsibility. Critics of the government say they are talking about reparations to divert attention from their nationalistic agenda. Around six million Polish citizens, including about three million Jews, were killed during the war and much of Warsaw was destroyed. Mr Waszczykowski did not say when Poland would make public its formal position on repatriations.

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Just keep saying populist often enough. He’s right about the euro: “a currency tailor-made for the German economy.”

Populist Hopeful Shunned by Italian Elite on Shores of Lake Como (BBG)

Populist would-be premier Luigi Di Maio had an awkward introduction to the Italian elite. The Five Star Movement’s most likely candidate for next year’s election was ignored by Italy’s business and financial establishment when he arrived at an exclusive networking event by Lake Como on Sunday. Di Maio, 31, was reduced to posing for photographers, while a passing banking executive muttered that he hoped the populist might learn something from his visit. His group, which wants a referendum on Italy’s euro membership, is virtually tied in opinion polls with the Democratic party of ex-premier Matteo Renzi, and with a possible center-right alliance including the Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi. Di Maio sought to reassure.

Those opinion polls – as well as the possibility of a hung parliament – are prompting fears of political instability and financial turbulence with elections due by late May, even as the third-biggest economy in the euro area recovers from its worst recession since World War II. “We don’t want a populist, extremist or anti-European Italy,” he told the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, in a bid to win round his skeptical audience. The euro referendum plan is simply “a last resort,” he added, to force reforms of the European Union and “a currency tailor-made for the German economy.”

The proposals of Five Star, co-founded by ex-comic Beppe Grillo, also include a monthly €780 “citizen’s income” for the poor and the jobless, purging private lenders from control of the Bank of Italy, and tougher penalties for managers of bankrupt banks. “We want to stay in the EU and discuss some of the rules which are suffocating and damaging our economy,” Di Maio said. “And the money we’re giving the EU budget every year must be one of the themes to put forward to the other countries.” Many of those ideas were anathema to those debating world affairs at the luxury Villa D’Este hotel – a five-star institution with which the assembled ruling class was altogether more comfortable.

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Xi has to polish his image before the Congress in October. He can’t let this continue.

China May Be The Real Target Of North Korea’s Pressure (AFP)

North Korea’s escalating nuclear provocations are putting putative ally China in an increasing bind, and may be part of a strategy to twist Beijing’s arm into orchestrating direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington, analysts said. The North’s Kim dynasty has repeatedly used nuclear brinkmanship over the years in a push to be taken seriously by the United States but traditionally avoided causing major embarrassment to China, its sole major ally and economic lifeline. But leader Kim Jong-Un’s detonation Sunday of what he called a hydrogen bomb marked the second time this year that the 33-year-old family scion upstaged Chinese President Xi Jinping just as he was hosting a carefully choreographed international gathering.

Communist propaganda deifies Xi as an infallible father figure, but Kim’s actions are puncturing the facade and exposing the Chinese leader’s impotence toward the nuclear crisis on his doorstep. “North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests have put China in a more and more difficult position,” said Shi Yinhong, Director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Shi said Kim – who has never met Xi – had become “more and more hostile towards China” after Beijing signed on to tougher new international sanctions against Pyongyang. That has apparently made Kim more willing to bring pressure on Xi, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. Kim may be using Xi “like a cue ball in billiards,” Cabestan said, “in order to get negotiations with the United States.” “But he has to be careful not to infuriate Xi as China is his only lifeline.”

Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, by far its most powerful to date, came just as leaders of the five BRICS emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered for a summit. The meeting in the southeastern city of Xiamen was intended to be the typical China-hosted event — micromanaged to the smallest detail to portray Xi at home as a wise and benevolent world leader. But Kim stole the spotlight, just as he did in May when the North conducted a missile test that embarrassed Xi as he hosted a large international summit on trade.

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Valid points.

Nuclear-Armed Nations Brought The North Korea Crisis On Themselves (G.)

North Korea’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, dramatised by last weekend’s powerful underground test and a recent long-range ballistic missile launch over Japan, has been almost universally condemned as posing a grave, unilateral threat to international peace and security. The growing North Korean menace also reflects the chronic failure of multilateral counter-proliferation efforts and, in particular, the longstanding refusal of acknowledged nuclear-armed states such as the US and Britain to honour a legal commitment to reduce and eventually eliminate their arsenals. In other words, the past and present leaders of the US, Russia, China, France and the UK, whose governments signed but have not fulfilled the terms of the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), have to some degree brought the North Korea crisis on themselves.

Kim Jong-un’s recklessness and bad faith is a product of their own. The NPT, signed by 191 countries, is probably the most successful arms control treaty ever. When conceived in 1968, at the height of the cold war, the mass proliferation of nuclear weapons was considered a real possibility. Since its inception and prior to North Korea, only India, Pakistan and Israel are known to have joined the nuclear “club” in almost half a century. To work fully, the NPT relies on keeping a crucial bargain: non-nuclear-armed states agree never to acquire the weapons, while nuclear-armed states agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and pursue nuclear disarmament with the ultimate aim of eliminating them. This, in effect, was the guarantee offered to vulnerable, insecure outlier states such as North Korea. The guarantee was a dud, however, and the bargain has never been truly honoured.

Rather than reducing their nuclear arsenals, the US, Russia and China have modernised and expanded them. Britain has eliminated some of its capability, but it is nevertheless renewing and updating Trident. France clings fiercely to its “force de frappe”. Altogether, the main nuclear-weapon states have an estimated 22,000 nuclear bombs. A report by the non-governmental British-American Security Information Council in May said nuclear security was getting worse. “The need for nuclear disarmament through multilateral diplomacy is greater now than it has been at any stage since the end of the cold war. Trust and confidence in the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime is fraying, tensions are high, goals are misaligned and dialogue is irregular,” the report said.

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It’s only 100,000 suns. The biggest one is 4,000 times larger.

New Kind Of Black Hole Found At The Centre Of The Milky Way (RT)

A new kind of black hole has been found at the centre of the Milky Way – a find that may help explain the evolution of the phenomena. In research conducted by Japanese astronomers using the ALMA Observatory in northern Chile, a black hole 100,000 times the size of our sun was found within a molecular gas cloud. Its relatively small size means that it is the first to be identified as an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH). Professor Tomoharu Oka of Japan’s Keio University believes that black holes with masses greater than a million solar masses are at the centre of all galaxies and are essential to their growth. The origins of supermassive black hole, however, remain a mystery. “One possible scenario is IMBHs – which are formed by the runaway coalescence of stars in young compact star clusters – merge at the centre of a galaxy to form a supermassive black hole,” said Prof Oka.

Using the ALMA telescope, the team observed the cloud more than 195 light years from the centre of the Milky Way. In findings published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Prof Oka then used computer simulations to show the high speed motion of the gas cloud, which the team concluded was a sign that it is surrounding a black hole. “Based on the careful analysis of gas kinematics, we concluded a compact object with a mass of about 100,000 solar masses is lurking in this cloud,” Prof Oka added. The IMBH is the second-largest black hole discovered in the Milky Way next to Sagittarius A*, which is 400 million times the size of our sun. According to theories, the Milky Way should be home to about 100 million smaller black holes, but only 60 have been found.

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“.. the absence of evidence for later humans could suggest that the journey “may not have ended well..”

Established Story That Humans Came From Africa May Be Wrong (Ind.)

The belief that humans came out of Africa millions of years ago is widely believed. But it might be about to be entirely re-written, according to the authors of a new study. They claim to have found a footprint in Crete that could change the narrative of early human evolution, suggesting that our ancestors were in modern Europe far earlier than we ever thought. The accepted story of the human lineage has been largely set since researchers found fossils of our early ancestors in South and East Africa, in the middle of the 20th century. Later discoveries appeared to suggest that those that followed remained isolated in Africa for millions of years before finally moving out and into Europe and Asia. But the new discovery of a footprint that appears to have belonged to a human that trod down in Crete 5.7 million years ago challenges that story.

Humans may have left and been exploring other continents including Europe far earlier than we knew. “This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate,” said Professor Per Ahlberg, who was an author on the study. “Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen.” The study looked at the characteristics of the footprint, in particular examining its toes. It found that the footprint didn’t have claws, walked on two feet and had inner toes that went out further than its outer ones. All of that led them to conclude that the foot appeared to belong to our early human ancestors, who could have been walking around Europe at an early time than we ever knew.

They also make clear that the owner of the footprint and their species could have developed the same traits separately from those in Africa. At the time the footprint was made, the Sahara Desert didn’t exist and lush, savannah-like environments went all the way from North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean, and Crete hadn’t yet detached from the Greek mainland. All of that makes it easier to see how those early hominins made their way to the island. But the journey might not run into problems. Mark Maslin from University College London told The Times that while the discovery supports the idea that our ancestors used their new found bipedalism to walk into modern Europe, the absence of evidence for later humans could suggest that the journey “may not have ended well”.

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Sep 022017
 
 September 2, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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René Magritte Promenades d’Euclid 1955

 

Whoever Leads In AI Will Rule The World – Putin (RT)
Deflation Is Already Here – Albert Edwards (ZH)
Fiscal Austerity After The Great Recession Was A Catastrophic Mistake (Coppola)
Ugly Jobs Report: August Payrolls Miss (ZH)
Deciphering The Swamp’s Unemployment Deception (Feierstein)
The Working Class Can’t Afford the American Dream (HowMuch)
Central Banks Must Be Ready With Cash To Calm Brexit Nerves – Bank Lobby (R.)
How to Crack the Code on Gold – Rickards (DR)
Trump Seeks $7.85 Billion For Harvey Relief, Warns On Debt Ceiling (R.)
Harvey: “Unprecedented” Disruptions To Supplies Of “Essential” Chemicals (ZH)
Irma Intensifies Over The Atlantic (R.)

 

 

Plenty scary thought.

Whoever Leads In AI Will Rule The World – Putin (RT)

Vladimir Putin spoke with students about science in an open lesson on September 1, the start of the school year in Russia. He told them that “the future belongs to artificial intelligence,” and whoever masters it first will rule the world. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. However, the president said he would not like to see anyone “monopolize” the field.

“If we become leaders in this area, we will share this know-how with entire world, the same way we share our nuclear technologies today,” he told students from across Russia via satellite link-up, speaking from the Yaroslavl region. During the 45-minute open lesson (the standard academic hour in Russia), Putin also discussed space, medicine, and the capabilities of the human brain, pointing out the importance of cognitive science. “The movement of the eyes can be used to operate various systems, and also there are possibilities to analyze human behavior in extreme situations, including in space,” Putin said, adding that he believes these studies provide unlimited opportunities. The open lesson was attended by students and teachers from 16,000 schools, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports. The total audience exceeded one million.

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“..never since the mid-1960s, when records began, has core CPI (less food, energy and shelter) declined over a six-month period..”

Deflation Is Already Here – Albert Edwards (ZH)

At the start of the year, we were surprised when SocGen’s Albert “Ice Age” Edwards, the biggest perma-deflationist on Wall Street, flipped his outlook on the US economy, and said he now expected a fast spike in inflation driven by wage growth, which in turn would prompt an even more accelerated tightening cycle by the Fed. We did not see it, and said so, pointing out that the bulk of US job growth in recent years has been among industries that have little to no wage power. More than half a year later, and several months after a puzzled Edwards asked “Where Is The Wage Inflation?”, the SocGen strategist has finally thrown in the towel, and in a note released this morning, admits he was wrong, or as he puts it “I was too optimistic”, to wit:

“At this point in the US economic cycle a tight labour market would normally be producing a notable upturn in wage and CPI inflation. This would usually prompt the Fed into a tightening cycle that would typically end in a surprise recession. This is exactly what I expected to occur at the start of this year and I thought it would be that recession that would tip the US into outright deflation ? but I was wrong. I was too optimistic!” And while there has been a modest improvement in average hourly earnings according to the BLS, if not according to the BEA’s wage data, which according to the just released Personal Income data showed another drop in both private and government worker wages…

… broader inflation trends continue to disappoint. Furthermore, when digging through the recent CPI data, Edwards noticed something unexpected: as he writes, although wages have accelerated due to the tight labor market, the last six months has seen consistent downside surprises. And then this: “this has come hand-in-hand with an unprecedented slump in underlying US CPI inflation into outright deflation – in stark contrast to the eurozone where core CPI inflation has decisively risen.” Putting the finding in context, the “wrong, too optimistic” Edwards writes that never since the mid-1960s, when records began, has core CPI (less food, energy and shelter) declined over a six-month period, as demonstrated by the red line in the chart below. Or, as he summarizes, “Deflation did not need another US recession to emerge. It is already here.”

the SocGen strategist has some advice to the Fed: “If I were a Fed Governor I would be pretty shocked/concerned/bemused at inflation developments this year. However confident the Fed is of a self-sustaining-recovery, there is growing evidence of a slide into outright deflation even ahead of the next recession which will likely unambiguously take us deep into deflationary territory.” Imminent deflationary prints notwithstanding, Edwards still thinks rates should be normalised. Why? “Well, because the longer the current credit excesses are allowed to continue, the deeper the next recession and deflationary bust will ultimately be.”

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“What a complete, utter, disastrous failure of public policy, not just for Greece but for the world.”

Fiscal Austerity After The Great Recession Was A Catastrophic Mistake (Coppola)

In a new paper presented at Jackson Hole last week, the economists Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko showed that, contrary to popular belief, fiscal expansion after a major financial shock such as that in 2008 did not cause debt/GDP ratios to rise. In fact, the researchers found that debt could become more sustainable, not less, after fiscal stimulus: For a sample of developed countries, we find that government spending shocks do not lead to persistent increases in debt-to-GDP ratios or costs of borrowing, especially during periods of economic weakness. Indeed, fiscal stimulus in a weak economy can improve fiscal sustainability along the metrics we study. Fiscal stimulus works. What a pity we did not allow ourselves to do it, much. But what about Greece? Surely fiscal austerity was necessary there?

Well, maybe. “The experience of Greece and other countries in Southern Europe is a grave warning about the political risks and limits of fiscal policy,” say the researchers. “Bridges to nowhere, “pet” projects and other wasteful spending can outweigh any benefits of countercyclical fiscal policy.” But they nevertheless find that fiscal expansion works even when debt/GDP levels are high. “The penalty for a high debt-to-GDP ratio does not appear to be high at the debt levels experienced historically for developed countries,” they say. So when Greece’s debt was a mere 100% of GDP, fiscal expansion could have been a good strategy. Now, of course, Greece’s debt/GDP ratio is off the chart, because of the aforementioned catastrophic failure of public policy. The researchers warn that their results are uncertain at very high debt/GDP levels. So fiscal expansion might now be too late for Greece. What a tragedy.

“We have been giving catastrophically bad advice to countries with high debt to GDP ratios”, said Jason Furman, the former chair of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers who is now at Harvard. Too right. And Greece has paid the price. But it is not just Greece that has paid. If Auerbach and Gorodnichenko are right, then the policy path since 2010 has been wrong for many more countries. They have truncated their recoveries and hurt their populations by embarking on premature fiscal consolidation, while cudgeling central banks into somehow conjuring up a recovery that monetary policy is incapable of producing at the lower bound. As a result, there has been a prolonged and wholly unnecessary global slowdown, which will leave lasting scars, particularly on the young. What a complete, utter, disastrous failure of public policy, not just for Greece but for the world.

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Pre-Harvey ugly.

Ugly Jobs Report: August Payrolls Miss (ZH)

[..] moments ago the BLS reported that in August just 156K jobs were created, a big miss to the 180K expected, and following a sharp downward revision to June and July, which were revised to 210K and 189K, respectively, a 41K drop combined. But don’t worry, the worse, the better as the more disappointing the economic data, the less likely the Fed will hike in September, December, or ever for that matter. And keep in mind, today’s data did not include the Harvey devastation, which will assure no rate hikes from the Fed for months, if not decades to come. Not helping matters – for the economy, if not the stock market which now once again loves bad data – was the Household Survey, according to which the number of employed Americans declined by 74,000 to 153,439K. On an annual basis, the increase in the employment level dropped to 1.2%, the lowest since March.

The unemployment rate also disappointed, rising from 4.3% to 4.4%, while the avg hourly earnings missed, increasing by 2.5% Y/Y in August, below the 2.6% estimate and the same as July. The sequential increase in earnings was just 0.1%, also below the 0.2% expected, and far below the 0.3% in July. Furthermore, since average weekly hours declined also, from 34.5 to 34.4, average weekly earnings declined outright from $909.42 to $907.82 in August. Furthermore, average weekly earnings rose just 2.2% Y/Y, the lowest rate of increase since January.

While the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 62.9%, the number of Americans not in the labor force increased once again, growing by 128K in August to 94.785 million.

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Mitch wants investigations. And not the ones going on right now.

Deciphering The Swamp’s Unemployment Deception (Feierstein)

I strongly see the need for a full and open inquiry into Hillary’s illegal server, Clinton’s leaking of top secret documents, the pay-to-play Clinton Foundation, the entire ‘Fake news’ Russian collusion affair and James Comey’s ‘Fake FBI investigation’ with a predetermined outcome. I am not taking a partisan position here. However, I am guessing many people will reason: ‘The Republicans are bashing the Democrats over these inquiries; this guy Feierstein wants an inquiry, so he must be a Republican.’ I don’t blame people for making these assumptions. Our whole country has become infected with this kind of twisted logic. Our entire political debate has caught the virus. Yet, it makes no sense. No sense at all. Here are two facts and one conclusion:

Fact One : Hillary had an illegal server in the basement of her home that contained ‘Top-Secret Emails.’ Fact Two : Senators Grassley and Graham’s statement regarding FBI’s James Comey’s exoneration of Clinton read: “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.” Conclusion : These allegations are serious enough to deserve an open investigation, period. Partisan bickering and political spin is simply a diversion from the action that American people deserve — and the truth that the American people require.

I say all this because I’m about to call attention to another government department: the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, I know that Democrats are currently bashing President Trump over everything he does. I know that Trump is bashing back. But, people, the issue at stake is the creation of jobs in America and the way those things are being recorded and reported. The issues I’m about to address were present under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. They haven’t changed under Donald Trump. The depression which struck this country in the wake of financial crisis 1.0 might have peaked under a Democrat, but it was born in a Republican era. If you yourself are so partisan that you want to make fine distinctions about these things, you should go ahead and make them. Me: I see two peas in a pod.

Good. Preamble over. Here’s the issue: “The number of jobs created in America declined by 74,000 to 153,439 in August. A horrible number, far below expectations. The jobless rate rose to 4.4 and hourly earnings missed increasing only 2.5% year-over-year. Average hours worked also declined, seeing as weekly wages followed suit.” Yet, central bank manipulated stocks are surging, on the terrible economic news, in anticipation of more global central bank easing. News and economic data are irrelevant in our “rigged” system as market participants eagerly line up like heroin addicts awaiting another federal reserve fix.

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As if anyone still believes in that dream.

The Working Class Can’t Afford the American Dream (HowMuch)

The national conversation in the U.S. is focused squarely on improving the lives of people in the working class. The debate revolves around exactly how to do that. Politicians and pundits have all sorts of ideas, from efforts to save jobs, create tax cuts, subsidize housing, and provide universal healthcare. Thing is, people don’t even agree on how to define the working class, much less how their living conditions stack up across the country. We created a data visualization to illustrate this complex situation. Each bubble represents a city. The color corresponds to the amount of money a typical working-class family would have left over at the end of the year after paying for their living costs, like housing, food and transportation.

The darker the shade of red, the worse off you are. The darker the shade of green, the better off you are. The size of the bubble also fits on a sliding scale—large and dark red means the city is totally unaffordable. Bigger dark green bubbles likewise indicate a city where the working class can get by. The data come from our new True Cost of Living Tool. It’s kind of a big deal because it lets you drill down to a specific city and search through layers of relevant information to understand exactly how much money it takes to live in any given area. We stitched together a variety of different reputable sources, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for income levels, the National Bureau of Economic Research for tax data, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the cost of food. Basically, you can check our work.

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Banks say central banks must be ready to give money to … banks.

Central Banks Must Be Ready With Cash To Calm Brexit Nerves – Bank Lobby (R.)

Central banks should be ready to inject cash into the financial markets to keep them stable after Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, a draft report from a bank industry lobby said. The Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), in a draft report seen by Reuters, said that regulators, central banks and national governments should continue to support financial market stability between Britain’s departure from the EU and start of new trading terms. “This may require particular attention during the uncertain period around Brexit, and in particular during the transition, and may involve more regular market communications and targeted support in case of market need, for example, access to liquidity schemes,” the report said. This and other steps would be needed to minimise disruption, it said. AFME’s report also provides a blueprint for a transition phase after Britain’s EU exit in March 2019.

This would include a “bridging phase” to avoid “short-term disruption” until new trading terms are ratified and an “adaptation phase” for moving to the new terms. The report did not specify a time frame for the transition but said it should be limited. “It is crucial that clarity is provided as soon as possible on a transitional period, and ideally before the end of this year,” AFME said. AFME wants existing market arrangements maintained throughout the transitional period, reflecting worries among bankers that they might have to comply first with a transition period and then the new trading terms. “This means that existing legislation, regulation, permissions and authorisations should continue to be effective during the transitional period,” it said. Company bosses also want Britain to negotiate a staggered departure from the EU by the end of this year or they will have to push ahead with plans that assume they will lose all access to the single market after March 2019.

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Rickards sticks to his guns.

How to Crack the Code on Gold – Rickards (DR)

“Don’t underestimate the extent to which gold is being impacted by hedge funds, leverage players, and others that are in the mix for the current high in gold. They don’t really care if it is gold, soybeans, etc. but it is simply another commodity. They receive a nice profit with tight profits, tight stops.” “The bigger picture to look as here is that gold hit an interim low last December and has been grinding higher ever since. Now gold is up over $200 an ounce and is one of the best performing assets in 2017. There’s a pattern of higher highs and shows a very positive occurrence.” [..] “This all relates to currency wars. I think of gold by weight.”

“When most people look at the cost of gold they relate it to the dollar. That gives the dollar a privilege to say that it is the way to count everything. It is also possible to count gold in euro, yen or even bitcoin. I think of gold as money. These are all just cross rates. When I see a higher dollar price for gold, I think of the dollar as being weaker. Likewise, if I see a lower price for gold it just shows that gold is constant and the dollar got stronger.” “There are three things going on right now in gold. There’s a fear trade, there’s technicals with supply shortages and ultimately a weaker dollar. If you want to know where the dollar price for gold is going, ask yourself where the dollar is headed. As the dollar gets weaker due to Federal Reserve Chair Yellen’s plan to tighten rates into weakness. We’re getting disinflation, not inflation and the desire from the Fed is a weaker dollar.”

[..] “I expect to see gold hit $5,000 and eventually to $10,000 an ounce. Maybe not tomorrow or a couple of years but that is the fundamental price of gold as money.” [..] “Bitcoin is a very small market cap compared to gold. I don’t think it has much impact on gold and looks like a bubble right now.” “As someone who has been around Wall Street a long time I’ve seen a lot of different tricks of the trade and frauds that come and go. I am seeing all of the various schemes in bitcoin right now. There’s good forensic evidence that there are people doing wash sales right now and the suckers don’t know they are getting sucked in. Gold is still the ultimate safe haven.”

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That’s just emergency funding. Washington will need to find ways to help the uninsured.

Trump Seeks $7.85 Billion For Harvey Relief, Warns On Debt Ceiling (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, the White House budget director said on Friday, adding that failure to raise the budget ceiling may hinder disaster relief spending. In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the request included $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program. “This request is a down-payment on the president’s commitment to help affected states recover from the storm, and future requests will address longer-term rebuilding needs,” Mulvaney said. Trump had been expected to request $5.95 billion for the recovery effort after Harvey flooded areas of Houston and other parts of Texas.

The White House has said that it would make multiple requests for aid from Congress to fund the Harvey recovery effort. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters on Thursday aid funding requests would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion. Bossert said the Trump administration wanted Congress to pass the disaster relief measure on its own and not add it to other measures, such as the effort to raise the debt ceiling. The U.S. government has a statutory limit on how much money it can borrow to cover the budget deficit that results from Washington spending more than it collects in taxes. Only Congress can raise that limit. Mulvaney urged Congress to act “expeditiously to ensure that the debt ceiling does not affect these critical response and recovery efforts.”

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Ethylene, polypropylene. It’s silly, but we ‘need’ them.

Harvey: “Unprecedented” Disruptions To Supplies Of “Essential” Chemicals (ZH)

The unprecedented destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey will impact the US economy in ways may not be immediately apparent. Until recently, coverage of the storm’s impact has focused on property damage and the impact on the energy industry. But in a story published Friday, Bloomberg explains the devastating impact the storm has had on Texas’s chemicals industry, which is already causing supply-chain headaches for American manufacturers who’re struggling to source the chemicals required to produce plastics and other components used in everything from milk jugs to car parts. Indeed, if Texas’s chemicals plants are closed for an extended period, production at a potentially huge number of American manufacturers to grind to a halt.

More than 60% of the US’s production capacity for ethylene – one of the most important chemical building blocks for American manufacturers – has been taken offline by the storm, a development that could ripple across the US manufacturing industry. “Texas alone produces nearly three quarters of the country’s supply of one of the most basic chemical building blocks. Ethylene is the foundation for making plastics essential to U.S. consumer and industrial goods, feeding into car parts used by Detroit and diapers sold by Wal-Mart. With Harvey’s floods shutting down almost all the state’s plants, 61% of U.S. ethylene capacity has been closed, according to PetroChemWire.” Ethylene, the gas given off by fruit as it ripens, occurs naturally, but it’s also a crucial product of the $3.5 trillion global chemical industry, with factories pumping out 146 million tons last year.

Processing plants turn the chemical into polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic, which is used in garbage bags and food packaging. When transformed into ethylene glycol, it’s the antifreeze that keeps engines and airplane wings from freezing in winter. It’s used to make polyester for both textiles and water bottles. Ethylene is an ingredient in vinyl products such as PVC pipes, life-saving medical devices and sneaker soles. It helps combat global warming with polystyrene foam insulation and lighter, fuel-saving plastic auto parts. It’s used to make the synthetic rubber found in tires. It’s even an ingredient in house paints and chewing gum. Ethylene and its derivatives account for about 40% of global chemical sales, according to Hassan Ahmed, an analyst at Alembic Global Advisors. And the Gulf Coast is a crucial player in the global market: US production accounts for one of every five tons on the market. International ethylene plants were running nearly full out to meet rising demand before Harvey.

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‘T is the season. The lesser Antilles could get hit bigtime.

Irma Intensifies Over The Atlantic (R.)

As Harvey diminishes a new storm has emerged. Irma, the fourth hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, has strengthened over the eastern Atlantic to become a Category 3 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory Thursday. Irma is forecast to intensify Thursday night and is projected to be a very dangerous hurricane for the next few days, the Miami-based center said. Irma is located about 1,845 miles east of the Leeward Islands and has maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, the NHC said. NHC forecast models were showing it heading for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and neighboring Haiti with possible landfall by the middle of next week.

While currently a Category 3 storm, Irma’s winds could strengthen to become a Category 4 storm in five days’ time, the Miami Herald reported. Irma will not reach the eastern Caribbean Lesser Antilles islands until the middle of next week, and it is too soon to determine whether or not the storm will pose a threat to the U.S., according to The Weather Channel. Still, the potential for a U.S. landfall should prompt all who may be affected in those areas to closely monitor the storm in the coming days, The Weather Channel said. “Irma is forecast to become a major hurricane by tonight and is expected to be an extremely dangerous hurricane for the next several days,” the NHC said Thursday, while adding there is no current risk to land from the storm.

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