Jan 082018
 
 January 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James Karales Selma to Montgomery March Alabama 1965

 

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)
Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)
New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)
South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)
Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)
Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)
Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)
Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)
The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)
Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)
US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

 

 

It’s not as if a strong yuan is all that good for China. A stable one might be. But the bottom line remains: nobody wants it.

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)

As 2018 gets underway, China seems to be on top again. The yuan has strengthened 6.8% against the dollar over the past 12 months and foreign-exchange reserves are growing. Not so fast.Remember November 2015, when the IMF- with some fanfare – agreed to add the yuan to its prestigious special drawing rights currency basket. Talk then was of the yuan one day becoming one of the world’s reserve currencies, perhaps even rivaling the dollar.Two years on and central banks aren’t buying the notion. Although China’s currency has a weight of more than 10% in the SDR basket, which gives equal importance to a country’s trade status and balance-sheet metrics, just 1.1% of the world’s forex reserves were held in yuan versus 63% in dollars as of the third quarter.

It’s understandable that central banks have been shying away from the euro. German two-year bunds have been offering a negative yield since mid-2014. But why the yuan? China’s short-dated government notes offer among the best interest rates: Part of the explanation is liquidity. According to the Bank of International Settlements, in 2016, the yuan constituted only 4% of the world’s currency trades. The dollar, through pairs with the euro and the yen, accounted for 88% of transactions.

Then there’s the question of time. It could be decades before any currency, yuan or bitcoin, replaces the greenback.But China itself is also to blame. It seems to have abandoned its great yuan ambitions.What happened to the dim sum bond market? The Chinese government, along with policy banks, sold fewer than $3 billion of offshore yuan notes last year, a sharp pullback from 2016 and 2015. And oddly, last October, China sold its first sovereign dollar debenture since 2004 – a move that was widely interpreted as Beijing wishing to develop a vibrant international bond market for its state-owned enterprises. The panda bond market, where foreign companies raise yuan onshore, is also going nowhere. Hungary had a small, 1 billion yuan ($154 million) issue in July, while the Philippines keeps delaying its plans. China has also hit the pause button on the idea of trading oil in yuan.

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Curious new problems.

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)

Two big shareholders of Apple are concerned that the entrancing qualities of the iPhone have fostered a public health crisis that could hurt children – and the company as well. In a letter to the smartphone maker dated Jan. 6, activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health. “There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences,” according to the letter from the investors, who combined own about $2 billion in Apple shares. The “growing societal unease” is “at some point is likely to impact even Apple.”

“Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders,” the letter said. It’s a problem most companies would kill to have: Young people liking a product too much. But as smartphones become ubiquitous, government leaders and Silicon Valley alike have wrestled for ways to limit their inherent intrusiveness. France, for instance, has moved to ban the use of smartphones in its primary and middle schools. Meanwhile, Android co-founder Andy Rubin is seeking to apply artificial intelligence to phones so that they perform relatively routine tasks without needing to be physically handled. Apple already offers some parental controls, such as the Ask to Buy feature, which requires parental approval to buy goods and services. Restrictions can also be placed on access to some apps, content and data usage.

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I must admit, another new problem, and one that hadn’t occurred to me yet.

New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)

U.S. drone sales in 2017 topped $1 billion for the first time ever, but don’t raise a glass too quickly if you are in New Jersey, where lawmakers are poised to outlaw drunken droning next week. It is one of a wave of U.S. states moving to bring the unmanned aircrafts’ high-flying fun back to earth. New Jersey’s Assembly is slated to vote on a bill approved by the state Senate to ban inebriated or drugged droning, as well as to outlaw flying unmanned aircraft systems over prisons and in pursuit of wildlife. The vote was set for Thursday but postponed until Monday because of a severe snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in New Jersey. “It’s basically like flying a blender,” said John Sullivan, 41, of New York, a drone buff and aerial cinematographer.

He said he opposed drunk droning but also fretted about regulatory overreach. “If I had like one drink, I’d be hesitant to even fly it.” A 2015 drone crash on the White House lawn fueled debate in the U.S. Congress over the need for drone regulations. It was a drunken, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who flew the 2-foot-by-2-foot (60 cm by 60 cm) “quadcopter” from a friend’s apartment balcony and lost control of it over the grounds surrounding the White House, the New York Times reported. [..] “Like any technology, drones have the ability to be used for good, but they also provide new opportunities for bad actors,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Elizabeth, New Jersey. She backed the bill, which would impose a punishment of up to six months prison and a $1,000 fine for drunk droning.

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A big gap: “..bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35..?

South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)

South Korean financial authorities on Monday said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The joint inspection by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) and Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) will check if banks are adhering to anti-money laundering rules and using real names for accounts, FSC Chairman Choi Jong-ku told a press conference. [..] Choi said the inspections are intended to provide guidance to banks and are not the result of any suspected wrongdoing. “Virtual currency is currently unable to function as a means of payment and it is being used for illegal purposes like money laundering, scams and fraudulent investor operations,” said Choi. “The side effects have been severe, leading to hacking problems at the institutions that handle cryptocurrency and an unreasonable spike in speculation.”

A Woori Bank spokesperson told Reuters the bank was filling out a checklist for the inspection. The spokesperson said Woori had stopped providing virtual account services last month as the costs of using a real-name transaction system were too prohibitive. [..] Choi said authorities are also looking at ways to reduce risks associated with cryptocurrency trading in the country, which could include shutting down institutions that use such currencies. Last month, the government said it would impose additional measures to regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading within the country, including a ban on anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and new legislation to allows regulators to close virtual coin exchanges if needed.

Bitcoin and other virtual coins have been extremely popular in South Korea, drawing wide investments from housewives and students. Government officials have expressed concern over frenzied speculation, with South Korea’s central bank chief warning of “irrational exuberance” in trading of virtual currency last month. A South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, Youbit, shut down and filed for bankruptcy in December after it was hacked twice last year, highlighting security and regulatory concerns. South Korea’s virtual currency exchanges have been more vulnerable to hackers as bitcoin trades at higher rates on local exchanges than they do elsewhere. As of 0710 GMT, bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35, according to Coinhills.com.

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Bitcoin and Ripple are falling, ether rises.

Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)

In retrospect, the launch of bitcoin futures one month ago has proven to be a modestly disappointing event: while it helped send the price of bitcoin soaring as traders braced for the institutionalization of bitcoin, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency has stagnated since the beginning of December when first the Cboe then CME started trading bitcoin futures, trading in a range between $12,000 and $17,000. And while bitcoin futures markets volumes have been lower than most had expected, the past 4 weeks have provided enough data to observe how volumes and open interest have evolved.

We discussed previously that Bitcoin futures were off to a slow start in the first week of trading, with volumes of CBOE Bitcoin futures averaging just around $40MM per day, despite intense media hype helping fuel heavy trading when both contracts launched, at least in the first hours of trading. Since then, volumes spike briefly in the following week coinciding with the launch of the CME futures, with volumes of on both exchanges at relatively similar levels. Then, as JPM’s Nikolaos Panagirtzoglou shows, after a spike in volumes to around $200mn on 22 December, which saw sharp swings in underlying Bitcoin prices, volumes have averaged around $50mn and $60mn per day on the CBOE and CME futures, respectively.

One month after their launch, futures trading volumes remain very modest compared to average Bitcoin trading volumes of around $15bn per day since futures contracts were launched according to coinmarketcap.com data. While open interest in both the CBOE and CME contracts has risen steadily, it too remains rather modest at around $60mn and $70mn, respectively. Putting futures volumes in context, on Friday, the combined size of the bitcoin-futures markets at the two exchanges was roughly $150 million, measured in terms of the value of outstanding contracts, while the total value of all bitcoins in existence was around $290 billion.

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That’s a big drop.

Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)

Australia on Monday said it expects iron ore prices to average $51.50 a tonne this year, down 20% from 2017, because of rising global supply and moderating demand from top importer China as its steel sector shrinks. The world’s top three mining companies, BHP and Vale rely heavily on iron ore sales for the bulk of their revenue despite efforts to diversify more into other industrial raw materials, such as copper, aluminium and coal. Brazil-based Vale is planning to lift iron ore exports 7% in 2018 to 390 million tonnes. In Australia, Rio Tinto and BHP, along with Fortescue Metals Group aim to add about 170 million tonnes of new capacity over the next several years.

The forecast price decline — from an average of $64.30 a tonne in 2017 — continues into 2019, when the steelmaking raw material will average only $49 a tonne, according to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. “The iron ore price is expected to experience some ongoing volatility in early 2018, as the market responds to uncertainty regarding the impact of winter production restrictions on iron ore demand,” the department warned in its latest commodities outlook paper. Iron ore currently sells for about $75 a tonne.

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All it needs to do is let prices crash. Does wonders for affordability.

Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)

Sydney and Melbourne are entering a housing downturn. While the government has hoped record high levels of property development would have an impact, research shows supply is not behind the price falls. Housing economists say the market slowdown is not due to additional home building but a drop in demand, in part thanks to the banking regulator making it more difficult for some to get a loan. In fact, the effect of new supply on property prices has been very limited despite state governments largely pinning hopes on a surging home building industry to rein in affordability. In a recent Australian National University paper Regional housing supply and demand in Australia academics Ben Phillips and Cukkoo Joseph found supply levels from 2001 to 2017 were larger than necessary to cover demand requirements, with thousands of excess homes in Sydney, but prices boomed over the time period.

This flies in the face of conventional economic wisdom, with the law of supply and demand dictating that the more of something you make, the cheaper it should be. There are many reasons why housing doesn’t respond to increases in supply in the way the market for coal, apples or t-shirts might be expected to react. When economists are making models they usually assume they are calculating the impacts on a “normal” good. One of the assumptions often made when modelling supply and demand for these goods is that what is produced is all homogenous, that is they are more or less the same. Typically, someone will pay the same amount for one item as they will for another that is identical.

Housing is not in this category. Even in the most sterile of apartment blocks, there will be many different design features, flaws, views and aspects that differ in each unit. The impact of new supply on the property market is limited by whether the type of property being built caters to existing demand. For instance, new apartments on the outskirts of greater Sydney or Melbourne may not appeal to the same market bidding up the price of mansions with water views.

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It’s just like Minsky: stability begets instability.

Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)

To sell implied volatility at current 50yr lows, investors must imagine tomorrow will be virtually identical to today. They must imagine that bond yields won’t rise despite every major central bank eager to hike interest rates and exit QE. They must imagine that economies at or near full employment will not create inflation; that GDP will neither accelerate nor decelerate; that governments will tolerate historic levels of income inequality despite citizens voting for the opposite; that strongly rising global debts will be supported by structurally decelerating global growth. And volatility sellers must imagine that nine years into a bull market, amplified by a proliferation of complex volatility-selling strategies and passive ETFs with liquidity mismatches, that we will dodge a destabilizing shock to market infrastructure.

I can imagine a few of those things happening, but neither sustainably nor simultaneously. It is much easier to imagine a tomorrow that looks different from today. Also consider that investment banks and asset managers have always devised creative strategies to make money once asset valuations exceed reasonable levels. These perpetual prosperity machines typically combine leverage and alchemy, transforming real risk into perceived safety. Examples abound. But in this cycle, a proliferation of cleverly disguised volatility-selling strategies has dominated. Zero interest rates and quantitative easing left yield-starved investors with few ways to achieve their target returns. Wall Street’s engineers developed many wonderful solutions to this problem. Their magnificence is matched only by the amount of negative convexity now lurking in investment portfolios.

As volatility has declined, investors have had to sell even more of it to sustain sufficient profits. This selling reinforces the trend lower, which produces an illusion that legacy volatility shorts are less risky today than yesterday. Lower volatility thus begets lower volatility. And this also ensures that quantitative models reduce overall portfolio risk estimates, which allows (and in many cases forces) investors to buy more assets at prevailing prices. This in turn reduces volatility, reflexively. Naturally, the reverse is also true. Rising volatility begets rising volatility. And given the unprecedented volatility-selling in this cycle, this market is exposed to a historic reversal somewhere along the path to policy normalization. Which has now begun.

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aka the everything bubble.

The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)

8 years after the financial crisis we remain in an environment that is entirely dependent on artificial liquidity, be it via central bank liquidity driven low rates and/or QE or now US fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts. And while a reduction in central bank stimulus is anticipated for 2018 the $1.5 trillion US tax cut is the next active artificial boost to hit markets. You can view it perhaps this way: When the US ended QE3 Europe and Japan took over the stimulus baton, and now that Europe is reducing stimulus the US again is taking the lead, this time with fiscal stimulus. It is a bizarre dance that excels in one aspect in particular: It never ends. Consider: German unemployment is at all time lows, and European PMIs are at their highest in over 7 years.

Is the ECB raising rates from record lows? Nope. Has QE ended? Nope. QE continues to run at $30B Euro a month and rates remain in full panic mode. Not what one would’ve expected 8 years ago following a return to full employment. Stimulus programs & interventions used to be methods of crisis management now they have become permanent fixtures in global economies. Why? Because this is what it takes. And they will continue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just instructed central bank chief Kuroda to keep printing as he decides whether to keep him in his job. Wink wink. Normalizing rates? Reducing balance sheets back to pre-crisis levels? Letting markets run on their own without intervention? Call it the big central banking lie. It will never happen. It can’t. Global debt is now exceeding $233 Trillion.

[..] the math of higher rates doesn’t work and will eventual break the camel’s back. Low rates are an absolute must requirement to keep the construct afloat. It is no accident that Morgan Stanley wealth management has decided to pull out of junk bonds. They are warning of US tax cuts accelerating market excesses bringing about a coming recession. And make no mistake, a recession will come as we are very late in the cycle.

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Count me out.

Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)

Considering that Wikileaks made its name by leaking confidential and/or hard to find documents and information, and also considering the reversal in the Trump administration vis-a-vis Julian Assange, whom it first lauded only to threaten with incarceration in recent months, it is perhaps not surprising that moments ago the official Wikileaks twitter account published Michael Wolff’s controversial – and largely sold out – book, “Fire and Fury” in pdf format.

New Trump book “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. Full PDF: https://t.co/sf7vj4IYAx

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 7, 2018

Since, somewhat ironically, WikiLeaks picked a google drive to host the leaked pdf, it will unlikely remain available for an extended period, as it would mean substantial lost revenue for book published Henry Holt and Company. So for those who wish to read what all the hoople is about – for free – they are advised to do so sooner rather than later.

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View from the west only. How do you dress for a flight like that?

US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

Temperature extremes across the globe spanned more than 85 degrees Celsius at the weekend as Sydney melted and parts of the U.S. froze. Western Sydney touched 47.3 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday afternoon local time, the city’s hottest day since 1939. Weekend temperatures at Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire plummeted to minus 36 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 38 degrees Celsius). Roads melted, firefighters battled wildfires across New South Wales state and Sydney residents retreated to air-conditioned shopping malls as temperatures surged. English cricket captain Joe Root was hospitalized with severe dehydration after battling Australia in the cauldron of the Sydney Cricket Ground. At the same time, freezing fog and snow buffeted Mount Washington, tying the observatory for the second-coldest place on Earth.

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Apr 162017
 
 April 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Snow White 1946

 

Who Will Buy Baby Boomers’ Homes? (CityLab)
Canada Completely Lost Its Mind Over Real Estate (McL)
The Bank of Canada Should ‘Cease and Desist’ (Mises)
Will Trump Accept Responsibility When This Shitshow Implodes? (Quinn)
Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (ET)
China Finally Halts Outflows. Now What? (Balding)
Russia Could Soon Take Over A Chunk Of US Oil Infrastructure (Vice)
Britain Set To Lose EU ‘Crown Jewels’ Of Banking And Medicine Agencies (G.)
The Dream Is Officially Over For Iron Ore (SMH)
Brazil’s Odebrecht Paid $3.3 Billion In Bribes Over A Decade (R.)
Zimbabwe Cash Crisis: ‘Coins May Also Disappear’ (AllA)
Marine Le Pen Faces Wipe Out In French Election After Computer Blunder (E.)
The Refugee King of Greece (NYT)
EU ‘Leaving Migrants To Drown’ Say Rescuers (Ind.)

 

 

These people are so stuck in their narrow field and views. Build more! is not an answer to any of this. Homes are grossly overpriced, and they will be ‘re-priced’.

Who Will Buy Baby Boomers’ Homes? (CityLab)

Frequent sales put pressure on the market to produce homes catering to changing tastes among buyers. Nelson notes that the home building industry is now producing less than half the number of new houses it did in the mid-2000s. Though demand now outpaces supply, homeowners are hanging on to properties significantly longer—nine to ten years—because they owe more on their houses than they can get for them, their houses are worth less than before the recession, or they can’t find a home that meets their needs due to insufficient supply. “It’s not that Boomers are going to ‘age in place,’” says Nelson. “They’re going to be stuck in place, and they’re going to make the best of it.” Those who can afford it will remodel. Regardless of when it occurs, the great senior sell-off won’t affect every Boomer equally.

A large chunk of Millennials—Nelson posits around two-thirds—will want to buy suburban homes because they like the lifestyle, or because they will be priced out of cities like Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, where housing costs are exorbitant. Most of the other third, he says, will want to live in central cities and the oldest, closest suburbs—though not necessarily downtown. The small percentage who prefer downtown living but cannot afford certain cities may move to more affordable ones, such as Philadelphia or Minneapolis. Nelson predicts that the fringe areas surrounding cities will bring the biggest headaches for Boomers looking to unload their houses. Because Millennials will be looking for small homes when they finally start to buy in larger numbers, the sprawling McMansions of the exurbs won’t be desirable to many of them.

“The Boomers in the exurbs are going to be in a real pickle,” says Nelson. “Even in a dynamic market like Washington, D.C. or other booming cities, the market for those homes is going to be soft.” Though Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, agrees that exurbs and rural areas will likely be vulnerable to the Boomer/Millennial housing mismatch, she’s not as pessimistic about the sell-off as a whole. “The Baby Boomers are a large generation,” she says. “Nothing they do is going to happen en masse.” She also believes that the Boomers who don’t age in place will demand an increasing array of housing options that will help spread out sales over time, decreasing the likelihood of a sudden glut of housing.

But many analysts do agree on one thing: More housing will need to be built for Millennials—and it needs to be scaled to their desires, not their parents’s. “Millennials are likely to prioritize different features in their homes, such as greener materials or in-law suites,” says Molinsky. And according to the Harvard Joint Center’s projections, nearly 90% of those looking for homes in 2035 will be under 35 or 70 and over—and both groups tend to buy less square footage. The challenge for local governments and developers, says Nelson, “is to anticipate these future needs and build different and smaller homes now—before getting trapped with too many larger homes later.”

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“In British Columbia, real estate and related fields such as construction and finance make up an astounding 40% of GDP..”

Canada Completely Lost Its Mind Over Real Estate (McL)

The average selling price for all homes in the Greater Toronto Area, including houses and condos, surged to $916,567 in March, a 33% rise from the year before, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Since January alone, prices are up 19%. A lowly semi-detached house in the city is now worth more than $1 million. Prices are growing even faster in the surrounding suburbs. More first-time homebuyers and investors are looking to Barrie, Ont., a city about 100 km north of Toronto, where the average selling price jumped 33% compared to the year before.

[..] Canada is a country deeply reliant on real estate. The industry accounts for roughly 12% of its GDP. In British Columbia, real estate and related fields such as construction and finance make up an astounding 40% of GDP. Vancouver is seeing prices rise again after numerous efforts to cool the market. And in Alberta, not even a recession and a 9% unemployment rate did much damage to house prices in Calgary and Edmonton. “It’s surprising how well it has held up, given the severity of two years of contraction,” says Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial.

[..] “Tight supply starts to become a justification for all outcomes,” says Beata Caranci, chief economist at TD Bank Group. If buyers are convinced supply is low, then the big price increases will seem logical, exacerbating their fear of missing out and pushing them to act irrationally. Toronto’s price surge did indeed coincide with a significant drop in listings, but that could be a result of psychology on the seller’s part. Some homeowners could be holding on to their properties in anticipation of prices rising even further. Families that would otherwise sell their homes to upsize could also be staying put simply because prices are so high, and competition is so fierce, that the hassle isn’t worth it. An influx of deep-pocketed foreign investors could also be taking properties off the market, especially since Vancouver implemented a 15% tax last year for foreign nationals. “I do believe that at least some investors went directly from Vancouver to Toronto,” Porter says. “That has played a role in launching Toronto, and some surrounding cities, into the stratosphere.”

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Way too late: “…the Bank of Canada needs to pay more attention to the housing issue because it is a huge threat to the entire economy.”

The Bank of Canada Should ‘Cease and Desist’ (Mises)


“Beneath the symbol
We’ll all assemble
Oh how we’ll fly
Oh how we’ll tremble”

– Captain Beefheart, “Ice Cream for Crow”

If interest rates are the symbol beneath which we all assemble, then there are some bad times ahead. But Canada’s “leading economists,” say interest rates are “too blunt a tool” to cool the housing market.This week, Governor Stephen Poloz as expected did not raise rates, but continues to face tough questions about the connection between low rates and the “hot” housing market. Of course, he deserves every hard question thrown at him. And it’s nice that journalists are actually starting to question the obvious connection between low-interest rates and the housing bubble. With Canadians across the country locked out of their local housing markets, and with foreign buyers using Canadian property to protect their wealth from destructive communist dictatorships, frustration needs an outlet and it looks as if Poloz and the BoC are, finally, in the crosshairs.

But that doesn’t mean Poloz will listen. After all, the central bank is supposed to remain “independent” from democratic government and popular opinion. Poloz is making his decisions based on his misunderstanding of the economy, not the will of the mob. As Avery Shenfeld, CIBC Capital Markets’ chief economist, told BNN in an email, “The Bank of Canada will likely stick to its view that house prices are best dealt with through macro-prudential policies particular to that market, with the interest rate setting used to steer the economy overall.” Meaning, let the banks and federal government deal with the issue. The BoC will do what it can, but it will not include raising rates. Raising interest rates will certainly “cool” the housing market, but it will also lead to some unintended consequences that would “hurt” the overall economy.

Remember, the BoC is stacked with Keynesians, who regard the “hangover theory” as implausible as the irrefutable Say’s Law. So if the Bank can’t or won’t raise rates, and leaving the price of interest to the free market isn’t even on the table, then what about a rate cut? Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, also told BNN, “The BoC should cease and desist with talk of possible further rate cuts, which simply fuel the sense that rates are never going higher, and instead start warning that rates will someday rise.” That would be smart, we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings. So far, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has left real estate to the experts, meaning, not him. Capital Economics Senior Canada Economist David Madani told BNN that the “Bank of Canada needs to pay more attention to the housing issue because it is a huge threat to the entire economy.” But Poloz, like his predecessor before him, prefers “moral suasion.” Madani thinks the Bank should be using “much stronger language.”

Oh, how we’ll fly, oh how we’ll tremble.

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“67% of the US economy is dependent upon Americans spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need.”

Will Trump Accept Responsibility When This Shitshow Implodes? (Quinn)

Donald J. Trump has taken credit for making America’s economy great again. He’s been crowing about all the jobs being created, the soaring consumer confidence and record highs in the stock market. It’s all because the Donald has inspired Americans about our glorious future. But, a funny thing has been happening in the real world. The economy has gone into the shitter and GDP will be lucky to reach 1% in the first quarter of his presidency.

The bullshit consumer confidence surveys mean absolutely nothing. Feelings don’t mean shit.

What consumers do is what matters.

 

67% of the US economy is dependent upon Americans spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need.

And they’ve dramatically reduced that spending. If consumers are so confident, why are a record number of major retailers going bankrupt and closing 3,500 stores in 2017? Mom and pop retailers have been shuttering for years.

If the narrative about a dramatically improving housing market was true, why would furniture store sales and building material store sales be falling?

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That’s a NO. Steve’s new book is out and available on Amazon. Valentin Schmid feels the need to insert his own opinion and veers way out of his depth by questioning Minsky’s instability theory.

Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (ET)

Keen answers the $1 trillion dollar question with a resounding “no.” This is because too many countries rode a wave of private debt explosion during the last boom, and are now in the equivalent of economic purgatory. Keen identifies China as the biggest threat. “They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘Cold Turkey’ now, or continue to shoot up (on credit) and experience a bigger bust later. China is undoubtedly the biggest country facing the debt junkie’s dilemma now. But it doesn’t lack for company,” he writes. Other countries with a high level of private debt and a reliance on debt to fuel economic demand -Keen calls them “debt zombies”- are Australia, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Norway, and Sweden.

In total, the influence of China and these smaller economies is simply too great for the world to avoid a financial crisis. According to Keen, the solution within this layer of economic theory is more government regulation of the banking system and government deficits to counter a fall in private demand – which is essentially the policy response to the 2008 financial crisis. More aggressive options are quantitative easing in the form of ‘helicopter money’, where the central bank monetizes government debt, and the government then writes a check to households to either pay down debt or spend it in case there isn’t any debt to pay down. There could also be a more official debt jubilee where debt is simply forgiven.

“On its own, a Modern Debt Jubilee would not be enough: all it would do is reset the clock to allow another speculative debt bubble to take off. Currently, private money creation is a by product of the activities of a casino (Keynes, 1936, p. 159), rather than what it primarily should be: the consequence of the funding of corporate investment and entrepreneurial activity,” writes Keen. The ultimate objective would be for the government to counter excessive private debt bonanzas. Being an agnostic thinker, Keen also entertains concepts of government issued money and cryptocurrencies, although he doesn’t think they can eventually replace the banking system, partly because of scale, partly because of political resistance. “As long as that model holds sway over politicians and the general public, sensible reforms will face an uphill battle—even without the resistance of the finance sector to the proposals, which of course will be enormous.”

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China strangles itself to save its economy.

China Finally Halts Outflows. Now What? (Balding)

Is China finally making headway in its battle against currency outflows? On the surface, yes: People’s Bank of China foreign exchange reserves are effectively unchanged since December at $3 trillion, and data for February released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange showed a significant narrowing of net outflows of capital based on international bank settlements and sales. That’s a major accomplishment, given that yuan had been leaving the country at an average rate of almost $60 billion per month in the middle of last year. But how this turnaround was achieved raises some serious long-term questions for China. For one thing, it wasn’t driven by economic strength. Officially recorded payments and receipts are both down significantly across all categories.

Total foreign bank inflows are flat, while payments abroad were down by 15% through the first two months of the year. With total outflow payments from banks of $3.1 trillion in 2016, a 15% drop represents a large decline in absolute terms. In other words, balance wasn’t achieved by increasing exports or investment into China, but rather by preventing Chinese from buying from and investing in the rest of the world. Some of the government’s restrictions on currency-exchange transactions – such as cracking down on fake trade data and overpayments for imports – were justified and sensible. But others were more dubious and have led to significant distortions. Most banks, for instance, now can only pay for international transactions if they’ve balanced their books with a corresponding level of inflows.

Beijing-based banks are under particular pressure, required to bring in 100 yuan for every 80 they use to pay for overseas transactions. Unsurprisingly, given these regulations, official bank payments and receipts are now almost perfectly balanced. But accomplishing this has required major declines in foreign investment as well as triple-checking what used to be routine transactions of virtually any size. Foreign firms don’t have it much easier. Although China still officially permits foreign companies to move capital for standard operating transactions, such as dividend payments, more than a few firms have complained about not getting permission to do even that.

The risk is that foreign investment in China, which has declined, will fall even further if investors worry about not being able to bring profits back home. Similarly, stepped-up capital controls on Chinese looking to move cash abroad has increased the attractiveness of gray-market money changers in Hong Kong, who have little difficulty finding firms in China hoping to move large sums. Although their volumes have dropped somewhat, the money changers still do a thriving business selling U.S. dollars at a typical discount of 2% to 5% from the official rate.

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Where’s John McCain when you need him?

Russia Could Soon Take Over A Chunk Of US Oil Infrastructure (Vice)

Russia may soon take control of American oil and gasoline infrastructure in a deal U.S. lawmakers warn represents a threat to energy security. Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil company, could end up with a majority stake in Texas-based Citgo after the entity that owns Citgo, Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA, used almost half of Citgo’s shares as collateral for a loan from Rosneft. In the midst of Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, PDVSA is reportedly in danger of defaulting on that loan. That means Rosneft, a company specifically named in U.S. sanctions levied against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, is poised to become one of the biggest foreign owners of American oil refining capacity. Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, a powerful crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is often seen as a proxy for the Kremlin’s energy policies.

PDVSA put up as collateral about 49.9% of Citgo shares in exchange for a $1.5 billion loan from Rosneft in December. It had used the other half of Citgo as collateral for a bond deal two months before that. Should PDVSA default on its Russian loan, the Russians could relatively easily end up with a majority stake in Citgo by acquiring more PDVSA bonds on the open market. While the exact details and time-frame of the Rosneft loan remain murky, PDVSA successfully made $2.2 billion in payments on notes that matured April 12, sending ripples of relief through financial markets. Still, the possibility of default has set off alarm bells in Congress, where Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin they see Russia’s potential acquisition of Citgo as a threat to the country.

“We are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers, and expose critical U.S. infrastructure to security threats,” six senators wrote in a letter to Mnuchin dated April 10. Those senators include Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. [..] Citgo owns three large U.S. oil refineries in Louisiana, Illinois, and Texas with a combined capacity of almost 749,000 barrels a day, or a bit more than 4% of the total U.S. refining capacity of 18.6 million barrels a day. Citgo-branded fuel is available at more than 5,000 locally owned retail gas stations in 29 states. The company also controls pipeline networks and 48 oil product terminals.

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What Britain need is an election.

Britain Set To Lose EU ‘Crown Jewels’ Of Banking And Medicine Agencies (G.)

The EU is set to inflict a double humiliation on Theresa May, stripping Britain of its European agencies within weeks, while formally rejecting the prime minister’s calls for early trade talks. The Observer has learned that EU diplomats agreed their uncompromising position at a crunch meeting on Tuesday, held to set out the union’s strategy in the talks due to start next month. A beauty contest between member states who want the European banking and medicine agencies, currently located in London, will begin within two weeks, with selection criteria to be unveiled by the president of the European council, Donald Tusk. The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency employ about 1,000 people, many of them British, and provide a hub for businesses in the UK.

It is understood that the EU’s chief negotiator hopes the agencies will know their new locations by June, although the process may take longer. Cities such as Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and Paris are competing to take the agencies, which are regarded as among the EU’s crown jewels. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Britain failed to secure the backing of any of the 27 countries for its case that trade talks should start early in the two years of negotiations allowed by article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The position will be announced at a Brussels summit on 29 April. Despite a recent whistlestop tour of EU capitals by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, diplomats concluded unanimously that the European commission was right to block any talks about a future comprehensive trade deal until the UK agrees to settle its divorce bill – which some estimate could be as high as €60bn – and comes to a settlement on the rights of EU citizens.

[..] The European commission said earlier this month that talks about a potential trade deal would occur only once “sufficient progress” had been made on Britain’s €60bn divorce bill and the position of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the continent. It is understood diplomats representing the EU27 did discuss a definition of “sufficient progress”, but ultimately left it to the leaders to decide. An EU source said it was hoped that “scoping” talks on a deal, and a transitional arrangement on access to the single market, could start in the autumn. The EU’s negotiating position detailed in the European council’s so-called draft guidelines will also be redrafted to include mention of the European parliament’s role, in a sign that MEPs are angling to play a greater part in shaping the talks. Tusk’s team will “fine-tune” the guidelines ahead of a final meeting of diplomats on 24 April, an EU source said. A one-day summit of leaders will take place on 29 April in Brussels to sign off on the document.

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Not to worry though. Australia already has a new bubble going to replace it.

The Dream Is Officially Over For Iron Ore (SMH)

Nev Power, the man who runs Andrew Forrest’s third force in iron ore, Fortescue, is something of an optimist. As the company’s share price was in freefall on Thursday he fronted up to media and investors putting a relatively positive spin on the outlook for prices of the commodity most pivotal to the health of the Australian economy. In previous periods Power has underestimated price falls and price gains and he now thinks it will settle at about $US60 ($79) to $US65 per tonne. Having ridden price rises in iron ore for more than a year, the big producers like Fortescue now need to reassure investors they are match fit to cope with the wild downward gyration in price. For the sake of the broader economy – and Fortescue shareholders – let’s hope he is right and we don’t reach the $US45 that the previous federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, predicted less than two years ago.

The trouble is that the myriad professional analysts and forecasters that follow this market have a significantly less rosy view of where the price will bottom out – more like $US50 a tonne. As prices have spiralled down over the past few weeks and the decline momentum has moved into full swing this week, the I-told-you-so cries have been louder than ever. As the price of iron ore irrationally moved up to more than US$94 in February – it was these bearish experts that were red faced. Today their predictions have been, at least in part, vindicated. It is now below $US70 and falling – a whopping 28% drop in a matter of weeks. To be fair the big producers including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have not been in denial about the iron ore price bubble – warning investors for more than a month that the recent prices have been something of a mirage.

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Is there anyone left in government who is not on the take?

Brazil’s Odebrecht Paid $3.3 Billion In Bribes Over A Decade (R.)

Odebrecht, the Brazilian engineering company at the center of a historic corruption scandal, paid out a total of about $3.3 billion in bribes in the nine years through 2014, according to testimony cited by local media on Saturday. Through a department specifically established to pay politicians and other recipients for public works contracts, Odebrecht paid as much as $730 million annually in both 2012 and 2013, the years when bribe payments peaked, according to a spreadsheet that a former executive reportedly gave investigators as part of a plea deal. The $3.3 billion figure, and related annual tallies as laid out in the spreadsheet, were reported on Saturday by the G1 news site of the Globo media group and the Estado de S. Paulo, a leading newspaper.

A trove of plea deal testimony unsealed this week by a Supreme Court justice is shedding light on the extent and manner in which Odebrecht, once Latin America’s most successful engineering firm, routinely paid officials in Brazil and other countries in exchange for winning contracts. The testimony was unsealed as the justice, Edson Fachin, authorized investigations of eight government ministers, 12 governors and dozens of federal lawmakers implicated in the scandal, uncovered three years ago because of a kickback investigation at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Odebrecht, whose former chief executive has been jailed since 2015 because of the probe, negotiated a far-reaching plea agreement with Brazilian investigators last year, leading to testimony by about 80 company executives and employees.

Along with an affiliate, Odebrecht also agreed last year to pay at least $3.5 billion to U.S. and Swiss investigators for international charges related to the scandal. Earlier on Saturday, Estado de S. Paulo also reported that Brazilian authorities were investigating if any of the foreign kickbacks the company has already admitted to violated Brazilian law. The company made those payments in countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Angola.

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A whole new form of cashless society…

Zimbabwe Cash Crisis: ‘Coins May Also Disappear’ (AllA)

Coins used to be for the piggy banks used by kids to save money given by their parents for break-time snacks at school. The adults normally kept a few of them when they got them from the grocery store as change. One normally didn’t have to keep lots of these because they broke pockets in the case of men, or made the handbag heavy for women. When the piggy bank became full, a way was always sought to turn the coins into “real cash” – crispy bank notes the parents would use to buy items of choice for the saving kids. Banks did not normally accept large amounts of coins, and these coins were often changed for notes in grocery shops or other retailers who had use for them for change.

In crisis-torn Zimbabwe, things have changed; coins are no longer for children’s piggy banks, they are now treasure items for adults who are failing to get cash from banks due to a worsening liquidity crunch in the economy. Banks are now dispensing large amounts of coins to depositors because they have run out of notes to honour their obligations to the banking public. At a bank in the capital last week, depositors waited in long queues to withdraw US$50 apiece in coins. “I’m at least relieved,” one depositor said, holding a plastic full of coins after a long wait in a bank queue. Bank notes have become a scarce commodity and coins have taken their place as a medium of exchange in the country. The $0,25 and $0,50 bond coins, which were introduced to ease a change problem that had been brought by use of hard currencies in 2009, have become choice monetary instruments in a liquidity-challenged economy.

[..] Economist, Christopher Mugaga, who is also the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, said the situation in the country was increasingly getting desperate. He warned that even the coins could soon become scarce on the market. He blamed the crisis on an erosion of confidence in the banking sector, which has resulted in people avoiding depositing their money with banks because of failure to withdraw it on demand. “When the bond notes were introduced, pressure was on the notes. People are also not banking hence for a every dollar, only $0,05 goes back into the banking system. So when you go back to the bank, you will not find the notes,” Mugaga said. “If the problem persists, coins may also disappear,” he warned.

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A very convenient blunder.

Marine Le Pen Faces Wipe Out In French Election After Computer Blunder (E.)

A monumental computer blunder could cost Marine Le Pen the French general election as 500,000 citizens living outside of France have the chance to vote twice. Half a million people received duplicate polling cards in the post, which would allow them to cast two votes at the first round of the election, held on April 23. French authorities confirmed they would not be investigating the potential electoral fraud until AFTER the election, when retrospective prosecution may take place. This could crush Ms Le Pen’s dreams of surging to power, as most French nationals living outside of their country are not right wing – demonstrated by the fact many feel they depend on the EU to guarantee their stay in foreign countries.

Voting twice is a crime, but police will only find out if they run a check on the individual through their computer systems. The punishment can be up to two years in prison and a fine of about £13,500. France’s Interior Ministry has said it will not be invalidating the election because of the duplicate voting glitch, but with Bloomberg’s latest poll currently showing Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen polling at 22.8%, and far left Mr Melenchon at 18.3%, it is possible an extra 500,000 votes either way could swing the balance of power.

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The New York Times is way late and doesn’t even care to ask where all the money went.

The Refugee King of Greece (NYT)

According to aid experts, more has been spent on the humanitarian response in Greece than on any refugee crisis in history. “Every year, Greece hosts 25 million tourists,” a frustrated aid worker told me, “and to date we have been given 800 million euros in funding for this crisis — but we can’t find proper accommodation for 50,000 people?” The crisis is, instead, the result of deliberate political choices. According to Louise Roland-Gosselin, the advocacy manager of Doctors Without Borders, “Europe has said: ‘We have had enough of this. It’s no longer our problem.’ There are too many elections in too many countries. Politicians are pandering to the right and saving their skins at the price of the refugees.”

As part of the deal with Turkey, the European Union agreed to relocate the refugees who were already stuck in Greece. But only 10% have been settled elsewhere, and member states are trying to weasel out of taking more. A family reunification program is supposed to be more effective, but the number of people being resettled under that program is shrinking, too. [..] The family, like thousands of others, arrived traumatized by war. Now they are being traumatized again, this time by European politics. Europe is doing this on purpose. It wants to dissuade other refugees from making the journey. But desperate people will keep coming, and will simply take greater risks than ever before. [..] By refusing to resettle refugees, Europe is whittling away at its commitment to human rights.

But Europe promised to protect those rights in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in other treaties, charters and national laws. “These states are undermining their obligations — and these are the same states that created the human rights laws and ratified conventions,” says Sari Nissi, who heads up the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Greece.

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The EU has lost its legitimacy. “Efforts by the European Union and its border agency FRONTEX to prevent loss of life at sea [..] have only resulted in more people drowning..”

EU ‘Leaving Migrants To Drown’ Say Rescuers (Ind.)

More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were rescued from the Mediterranean on Friday, while at least one person was found dead, the Italian coastguard confirmed. A spokesperson for the service said 19 rescue operations by coastguards or non-governmental organisations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The coastguard also confirmed that one person had died when the boats sank, but gave no details. The rescues come just days after a boat sank off the coast of Libya on Thursday. Ninety-seven refugees are missing, presumed drowned. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.

The number of migrants increased to a high of 5,079 for 2016, according the the IOM – despite a huge decline in numbers of migrant arrivals since 2014. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a medical charity which has carried out hundreds of rescue operations in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the migrant crisis, has criticised Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard agency, who operate official EU patrols on migration routes. MSF said in a series of tweets that NGOs were being forced to fill gaps in service provision left by the EU coastguard. “Frontex Director says it’s a paradox that a third of rescues are done by NGOs. We agree. Where are Frontex boats in a day like this?” MSF tweeted. “Many more people could have died in a day like this if we arrived a few hours later. We are where we’re needed, what’s the EU doing meanwhile?”

Friday’s rescue operations were performed entirely by NGOs. Mary Jo Frawley, a nurse who was involved in MSF’s patrols this week, said: “Efforts by the European Union and its border agency FRONTEX to prevent loss of life at sea through strengthened border control, increasing militarisation and a focus on disrupting smuggling networks has only resulted in more people drowning not fewer and has had little impact on the flows of arrivals. “This, combined with the lack of adequate EU search and rescue operations has meant that MSF and other humanitarian organisations have – in an unprecedented move – been forced to step in to avoid further loss of life.

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Apr 012017
 
 April 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 1 2017


Claude Monet The Pond at Montgeron 1876

 

Boaty McBoatface, or Don’t Listen To The Public -BoE’s Haldane (Tel.)
UK Households’ Savings Fall To Record Low (G.)
Multiple Bubbles Are Going To Bring America To Its Knees (Lang)
Ports In China Have Enough Iron Ore To Build 13,000 Eiffel Towers (R.)
French Banks Posted ‘Multi-Billion Euro Profits’ In Tax Havens (F24)
European Right Hopes Macron Will Save France (EUO)
Racket of Rackets (Jim Kunstler)
The Big Contraction – An Interview With Jim Kunstler
Julian Assange Waits For Ecuador’s Election To Decide His Future (G.)

 

 

Haldane is not the dumbest of central bankers. But this is crazy. See, the question is this: would Brexit have been prevented by not listening to people, or did not listening to them cause Brexit? And what’s wrong with calling a ship Boaty McBoatface? Maybe it’s an idea to listen more to people, not less? What else would you like to decide for people to protect them from their own madness?

Boaty McBoatface, or Don’t Listen To The Public -BoE’s Haldane (Tel)

The public should not have a direct say in setting interest rates because they can show “madness” when making collective decisions – just look at Boaty McBoatface, the Bank of England’s chief economist has warned. Central bankers have come under pressure to be more accountable to the public after the financial crisis and years of ultra-low interest rates, but it could be dangerous to hold a referendum on rates. It would be feasible to canvas the public online, said Andy Haldane, but could be dangerous. He pointed to the example of Boaty McBoatface, the name chosen in a public ballot for a new polar research ship last year, winning 80pc of votes cast. The National Environmental Research Council overruled the public and called the ship “Sir David Attenborough”, instead using the comedy name for a smaller submersible.

“This is an object lesson in the perils of public polling for policy purposes,” Andy Haldane, the chief economist, said in a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “Sometimes, there is madness in crowds.” He joked: “For some, it was a shameful example of the perils of populism.” He does propose more regular surveying of the public on the economy so the Bank of England knows what people think and how they are affected by monetary policy, however. Mr Haldane also said that “Marmite-gate” – the public row between Tesco and supplier Unilever over the price of the yeast extract spread – was useful in preparing the public for a bout of price rises. “Arguably, “Marmitegate” raised public awareness of rising inflation much more effectively than any amount of central bank jawboning,” he said. “Stories, like Marmite itself, stick.”

Typically the Bank of England struggles to get its message through to the public, often because officials use long words and technical language rather than using phrases which normal people use. “Simple words can make a dramatic difference to readability. ‘Inflation and employment’ leaves the majority of the public cold. ‘Prices and jobs’ warms them up,” he said. Officials should learn from Facebook and from pop songs to learn how to speak in a way which is more clear for the general public, rather than specialist audiences of financiers, Mr Haldane said. “Facebook posts are more likely to be shared the more frequent nouns and verbs and the less frequent adverbs and adjectives,” he said. “The ratio of nouns and verbs to adverbs and adjectives in an Elvis song is 3.3. In my speeches it is 2.7.”

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Hard to believe, this. Brits are scared, they would hoard. It’s just not in their banks accounts that they do. It’s Go To The Mattresses time.

UK Households’ Savings Fall To Record Low (G.)

British households ran down their savings to a record low at the end of 2016 and disposable incomes fell in a warning sign for the economy that a squeeze in living standards is under way. The savings ratio – which estimates the amount of money households have available to save as a%age of their total disposable income – fell sharply in the fourth quarter to 3.3% from 5.3% in the third. It was the lowest since records began in 1963 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and suggested that people are increasingly dipping into their savings to maintain spending. “Today’s figures should set alarm bells ringing. The last thing our economy needs right now is another consumer debt crisis,” said the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady.

“People raiding their piggy banks and borrowing more than they can afford is what helped drive the last financial crash.” In a further sign that household finances are coming under increasing strain from rising inflation and falling wage growth, disposable incomes also fell over the quarter. Real household disposable income – which adjusts for the impact of inflation – shrank by 0.4% compared with the previous three months, the steepest drop in nearly three years. UK growth since the financial crisis has been heavily reliant on consumer spending. The ONS confirmed the wider UK economy grew by 0.7% between October and December, but economists said a weaker consumer backdrop could weigh on growth in the coming months. Growth in 2016 was unrevised at 1.8% as the ONS updated its estimates.

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And the rest of the world.

Multiple Bubbles Are Going To Bring America To Its Knees (Lang)

If you’ve been paying attention to the ongoing degradation of the American economy since the last financial crisis, you’re probably flabbergasted by the fact that our economy has managed to make it this far without imploding. I know I am. I find myself shocked with every year that passes without incident. The warning signs are there for anyone willing to see, and they are flashing red. Even cursory research into the numbers underlying our system will tell you that we’re on an unsustainable financial path. It’s simple math. And yet the system has proven far more durable than most people thought. The only reasonable explanation I can think of, is that the system is being held up by wishful thinking and willful ignorance.

If every single person knew how unsustainable our economy is, it would self-destruct within hours. People would pull their money out of the banks, the bonds, and the stock market, and buy whatever real assets they could while their money is still worth something. It would be the first of many dominoes to fall before the entire financial system collapses. But most people don’t want to think about that possibility. They want the relative peace and prosperity of the current system to continue, so they ignore the facts or try to avoid them as much as possible. They keep their money right where it is and cross their fingers instead. In other words, the only thing propping up the system is undeserved confidence.

Unfortunately, confidence can’t keep an unsustainable system running forever. Nothing can. And our particular system is brimming with economic bubbles that aren’t going to stay inflated for much longer. Most recessions are associated with the bursting of at least one kind of bubble, but there are multiple sectors of our economy that may crash at roughly the same time in the near future. [..] Our economy is awash in cheap money and financial bubbles that threaten to wipe out tens of trillions of dollars worth of savings, investments, and assets. Everyone can close their eyes and hum while they hope that everything is going to be just fine, but it won’t be.

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But the economy is fine, of course…

Ports In China Have Enough Iron Ore To Build 13,000 Eiffel Towers (R.)

With enough iron ore to construct Paris’s Eiffel Tower nearly 13,000 times over, China’s ports are bursting with stockpiles of the raw material and some of them are demolishing old buildings to create more storage space, trading sources said. China’s domestic iron ore production jumped 15.3% in January-February as a price rally last year extended into 2017, causing imported ore to pile up at the ports of the world’s top buyer. Stockpiles are at their highest in more than a decade and are affecting prices. Inventory of imported iron ore at 46 Chinese ports reached 132.45 million tonnes on March 24, SteelHome consultancy said, the highest since it began tracking the data in 2004. A third of the stocks belongs to traders and the rest is owned by China’s steel mills, SteelHome said.

That volume would make about 95 million tonnes of steel, enough to build 12,960 replicas of the 324-metre (1,063-foot) high Eiffel Tower in Paris. Global iron ore prices are now at just above $80 a tonne from a 30-month peak of $94.86 reached in February, largely due to the growing port inventory. Prices surged 81% last year, bringing relief to miners after a three-year rout. The rally stretched into 2017, inspiring marginal producers to resume business and lifting supply as China’s steel demand waned. Further falls in the price of iron ore risk shuttering Chinese capacity again. That could boost China’s reliance on top-grade exporters Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

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Not going to stop as long as we don’t stop it.

French Banks Posted ‘Multi-Billion Euro Profits’ In Tax Havens (F24)

The Eurozone’s 20 biggest banks earned over a quarter of their profits in tax havens in 2015, according to a report released Monday by Oxfam. The report details how, in 2015, top Eurozone banks generated €25 billion in profits in low-tax territories like the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and the American state of Delaware. Despite the massive profits, the banks only conducted 12% of their total business and employed 7% of their workers in those countries – a clear sign of the “tricks” that banks are willing use to avoid countries with stricter tax regimes, according to Oxfam’s Manon Aubry, one of the report’s authors. In Europe, banking is now the only sector in which companies must declare country-by-country tax and profit figures, thanks to legislation passed in the wake of the financial crisis.

The anti-poverty NGO Oxfam took advantage of the new data to write its report. Several of France’s biggest banks figure prominently in the report, including BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and BPCE (which owns Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne). French banks declared almost €2 billion in profit in Luxembourg, as much as they reported in Germany and Spain combined, despite the fact that Luxembourg’s population is only 1% that of Spain’s. Some of the most telling figures come from discrepancies between profit and other key economic measures. “Société Générale, for instance, reported 22% of its profits in tax havens,” Oxfam’s Aubry told FRANCE 24, “but only 4% of its employee pay was generated there.”

In another example, BNP Paribas declared €134 million of profit in the Cayman Islands in 2015, although it had zero employees there. However, Servane Costrel, Wealth Management Press Officer for BNP Paribas, said that these figures were “obsolete”. “Profits earned in the Cayman Islands were taxed in the United States,” Costrel told FRANCE 24 by email. “But this is a non-issue since that figure [of profits in the Cayman Islands] dropped to zero in 2016.”

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Save the right from the right. That should work. The French massively hate their own politicial system.

European Right Hopes Macron Will Save France (EUO)

Not long ago, Francois Fillon was considered the most likely winner of the French presidential election in May. But after he was charged for embezzlement over suspicions of fake parliamentary jobs for his wife and children, even his European allies seem to have lost hope. Meanwhile, the fear of seeing far-right candidate Marine Le Pen taking power is growing. “People are worried, they are wondering what is going on in France,” Joseph Daul, president of the European People’s Party (EPP), told EUobserver on the margins of the EPP congress in Malta this week. “And it goes further than that. There are already committees, at the highest level, working on the hypothesis that France leaves the euro and the EU,” he said. He declined to specify whether these working groups were in EU capitals or in the EU institutions.

Officials in Brussels have warned about the consequences for France and the EU if Le Pen were to be elected, but have said so far that that they do not want to envisage a Le Pen scenario. The National Front (FN) leader has said that she wants to “do away with the EU,” and has promised to organise a referendum on the country’s EU membership. Her possible election “has been a risk for some time,” a high level EU source said recently, pointing to the “explosion” of the two main parties, the Socialist Party (PS) of outgoing president Francois Hollande and Fillon’s Republicans. In the most recent poll published on Wednesday (29 March), Socialist Party (PS) candidate Benoit Hamon was credited with only 10% of voting intentions and Fillon with 18%. Both were far behind Le Pen (with 24%) and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (with 25.5%).

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Pecora for health care.

Racket of Rackets (Jim Kunstler)

My suggestion for real reform of the medical racket looks to historical precedent: In 1932 (before the election of FDR, by the way), the US Senate formed a commission to look into the causes of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and recommend corrections in banking regulation to obviate future episodes like it. It is known to history as the Pecora Commission, after its chief counsel Ferdinand Pecora, an assistant Manhattan DA, who performed gallantly in his role. The commission ran for two years. Its hearings led to prison terms for many bankers and ultimately to the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, which kept banking relatively honest and stable until its nefarious repeal in 1999 under President Bill Clinton — which led rapidly to a new age of Wall Street malfeasance, still underway.

The US Senate needs to set up an equivalent of the Pecora Commission to thoroughly expose the cost racketeering in medicine, enable the prosecution of the people driving it, and propose a Single Payer remedy for flushing it away. The Department of Justice can certainly apply the RICO anti-racketeering statutes against the big health care conglomerates and their executives personally. I don’t know why it has not done so already — except for the obvious conclusion that our elected officials have been fully complicit in the medical rackets, which is surely the case of new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a former surgeon and congressman who trafficked in medical stocks during his years representing his suburban Atlanta district. A new commission could bypass this unprincipled clown altogether.

It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore. Medicine is now a catastrophe every bit as pernicious as the illnesses it is supposed to treat, and a grave threat to a nation that we’re supposed to care about. What party, extant or waiting to be born, will get behind this cleanup operation?

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“..it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse.”

The Big Contraction – An Interview With Jim Kunstler

We’ve been sowing the seeds for our predicament since the end of World War II. You might even call this process “The Victory Disease.” In practical terms it represents sets of poor decisions with accelerating bad consequences. For instance, the collective decision to suburbanize the nation. This was not a conspiracy. It was consistent with my new theory of history, which is Things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. In 1952 we had plenty of oil and the ability to make a lot of cars, which were fun, fun, fun! And we turned our war production expertise into the mass production of single family houses built on cheap land outside the cities. But the result now is that we’re stuck in a living arrangement with no future, the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

Another bad choice was to offshore most of our industry. Seemed like a good idea at the time; now you have a citizenry broadly impoverished, immiserated, and politically inflamed. Of course, one must also consider the possibility that industrial society was a historic interlude with a beginning, middle, and end, and that we are closer to the end of the story than the middle. It was, after all, a pure product of the fossil fuel bonanza, which is also coming to an end (with no plausible replacement in view.) I don’t view all this as the end of the world, or of civilization, per se, but we’re certainly in for a big re-set of the terms for remaining civilized. I’ve tried to outline where this is all going in my four-book series of the “World Made By Hand” novels, set in the near future.

If we’re lucky, we can fall back to sets of less complex social and economic arrangements, but it’s unclear whether we will land back in something like the mid-nineteenth century, or go full-bore medieval, or worse. One thing we can be sure of: the situation we face is one of comprehensive discontinuity — a lot of things just stop, beginning with financial arrangements and long-distance supply lines of resources and finished goods. Then it depends whether we can respond by reorganizing life locally in this nation at a finer scale — if it even remains a unified nation. Anyway, implicit in this kind of discontinuity is the possibility for disorder. We don’t know how that will go, and how we come through it depends on the degree of disorder.

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At some point I can see this turning into a Free Mandela kind of movement.

Julian Assange Waits For Ecuador’s Election To Decide His Future (G.)

For Ecuador’s 15 million inhabitants, Sunday’s presidential election runoff will pose a fundamental question: whether to continue with a leftwing government that has reduced poverty but also brought environmental destruction and authoritarian censorship, or to take a chance on a pro-business banker who promises economic growth but is accused of siphoning money to offshore accounts. But they are not the only ones for whom the result will be critically important. Thousands of miles away, in the country’s tiny embassy in central London, Julian Assange will be watching closely to see if his four and a half years of cramped asylum could be coming to an abrupt, enforced end. Guillermo Lasso, the businessman and leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up.

Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate”, because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers. His government opponent, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said. The most recent polling showed Moreno at least four percentage points ahead of his rival, though earlier polls had Lasso in the lead, and many analysts caution that the results are within the margin of error. Could this weekend really trigger the beginning of the end for Assange’s extraordinary central London refuge? Neither Lasso’s victory, nor precisely what he would do if he won, are certain (he later softened his position to say Assange’s status would be “reviewed”).

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May 132016
 
 May 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano AT&SF Railroad locomotive shops, San Bernardino, CA 1943

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)
With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)
China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)
The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)
Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)
Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)
Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)
Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)
Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)
IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)
The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)
Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)
‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)
Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)
EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

So predictable one must wonder what Xi was/is thinking. A lot of money is being lost in China, and much of it by mom and pop. They’re not going to like it.

Iron Ore Goes From Boom To Bust In Just Three Weeks (BBG)

Don’t say there wasn’t any warning. Iron ore’s gone from boom to bust in the space of just three weeks, fulfilling predictions for a slump in prices that were jacked up to unsustainable levels by a short-lived speculative frenzy in China. The SGX AsiaClear contract for June settlement in Singapore sank as much as 3.5% to $48.64 a metric ton in Singapore [..] It’s collapsed 12% this week, the most since December, after losing 11% the week before. In Dalian, iron ore futures plunged on Friday to the lowest since February as steel in Shanghai headed for the biggest weekly loss on record.

Iron ore and steel are buckling once again after widespread predictions that the trading frenzy in China that had propelled prices upward in April wouldn’t endure as regulators clamped down and the rallies themselves induced higher production. Iron ore stockpiles at ports in China have expanded to near 100 million tons, while mills produced more steel than ever in March. Lower steel prices erode mills’ margins, cutting their ability to restock on iron ore, according to China Merchants Futures. “As steel profits have dropped sharply recently, the desire to replenish iron ore stocks is not strong,” said Zhao Chaoyue, an analyst at China Merchants, said in a note on Friday. “Supplies of steel are recovering as demand weakens. Steel prices remain vulnerable.”

Among those that foresaw a retracement, Goldman Sachs said on April 22 that iron ore’s rally was unsustainable, and a tight steel market in China was a “temporary distraction” from fundamentals. Days later, Fitch said the surge in steel prices wouldn’t last. And at the end of last month, Brazil’s Itau Unibanco said iron would soon drop by $10, describing the speculation as a short-term issue. Spot iron ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 0.9% to $55.05 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin. Prices have sunk 22% since they peaked at more than $70 last month.

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China’s commodity casino starts to spread its losses…

With $100 Billion In Debt, Glencore Emerges As The Next Lehman (ZH)

One week ago, in a valiant attempt to defend the stock price of struggling commodity trading titan Glencore, one of the company’s biggest cheerleaders, Sanford Bernstein’s analyst Paul Gait (who has a GLEN price target of 450p) appeared on CNBC in what promptly devolved into a great example of just how confused equity analysts are when it comes to analyzing highly complex debt-laden balance sheets. In the clip below, starting about 2:30 in, CNBC’s Brian Sullivan gets into a heated spat with Gait over precisely how much debt Glencore really has, with one saying $45 billion the other claiming it is a whopping $100 billion. The reason for Gait’s confusion is that he simplistically looked at the net debt reported on Glencore’s books… just as Ivan Glasenberg intended.

However, since Glencore – like Lehman – is first and foremost a trading operation, one also has to add in all the stated derivative exposure (something we did ten days ago), in addition to all the unfunded liabilities, off balance sheet debt, bank commitments and so forth, to get a true representation of just how big, or rather massive, Glencore’s true risk is to its countless counterparties. Conveniently for the likes of equity analysts such as Gait and countless others who still have GLEN stock at a “buy” rating, Bank of America has done an extensive analysis breaking down Glencore’s true gross exposure. Here is the punchline:

“We consider different approaches to Glencore’s debt. Credit agencies, such as S&P, start with “normal” net debt, i.e. gross debt less cash and then deduct some share (80% in the case of S&P of “RMIs” – Readily Marketable Inventories. These are considered to be “cash like” inventories (working capital) in the marketing business. At the last results, RMIs were about US$17.7 bn. Giving full credit for RMIs plus a pro-forma for the equity raise and interim dividend we derive a “Glencore Adjusted Net Debt” of c. US$28 bn.

On the other hand, from discussions with our banks team, we believe the banks industry (and ultimately regulators) may look at the number i.e. gross lines available (even if undrawn) + letters of credit with no credit for inventories held. On this basis, we estimate gross exposure (bonds, revolver, secured lending, letters of credit) at c. $100 bn. With bonds at around $36 bn, this would still leave $64 bn to the banks’ account (assuming they don’t own bonds).”

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Never listen to people predicting black swans.

China Bubble Set To Rock Global Markets (CNBC)

For the moment, the following is the shock NOT heard ’round the world … at least not yet. Rampant speculation in China’s commodities markets could very well be the next “black swan” event that rocks global markets and possibly the global economy. Though very little attention has been paid to this recent action, speculative excesses in China’s commodity markets have taken traders and investors on a wild ride, which may likely soon spill over to the rest of the world. Trading volumes and volatility have been so extreme they make the recent swings in Shanghai and Shenzhen’s stock markets look mild by comparison. Chinese speculators have driven up, and then down, the prices of everything from iron ore to steel, and from soybeans to egg futures.

Prices in most of these commodities have fallen back to earth after massive, but relatively brief, spikes in prices. But, that’s not to say more damage hasn’t been done to China’s already fragile market system and economy. One truly astonishing feature of this bout of speculation is that the average holding period of a commodity futures contract was just three hours in April, according to Bloomberg. That makes other speculative trading episodes look like long-term investing. It also suggests a massive appetite for risk, which in and of itself, is potentially destabilizing, both in China and, by extension, elsewhere in the world. Why do we care? Well, first of all, the recent rebound in commodity prices, here at home, and the affiliated rebound in raw materials stocks, could have been driven, at least in part, by those very speculative excesses in China.

It also means that the rebound in inflation expectations could be a false signal, which on its face, reads as an indicator of a rebound in demand for raw materials, or a sign that the global economy could be stabilizing and re-accelerating. That’s the type of false signal that could convince the Fed that inflation is accelerating, causing them to mistakenly raise rates. While that hasn’t happened yet, it is a risk that bears watching. The “fake-out breakout” also could have suggested that supply of, and demand for, raw materials is coming back into balance in a world burdened by a commodity glut. That, too, appears to be have been a diversion. There is still more cotton, more copper, more steel and more soybeans than the world demands. The market-based signaling matrix appears to be broken thanks to this bout of speculative excess.

This is the Wild Wild East of markets these days. After speculating excessively in real estate a few years ago, in stocks last year, driven by heavy margin buying and then a crash, Chinese investors and traders have quickly moved on to commodities. These rolling bubbles are making the Chinese economy more and more unstable and more susceptible to a much-feared “hard landing” in the economy. That has implications for the Mild Mild West, where growth has been hard to come by and could be upended by another deceleration in Chinese economic activity.

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Yup. China again.

The Biggest Source Of Global Growth In 2016 Is About To Hit A Brick Wall (ZH)

After issuing a record $1 trillion in combined bank and shadow loans in the first quarter which just like during the financial crisis provided a short-term boost to global growth (while sending China’s debt/GDP to all time highs), China’s dramatic debt issuance binge is about to hit a brick wall. According to MarketNews, Chinese bank loan growth is expected to slow sharply in April compared with March as the pillar of bank lending, mortgage loans, slowed as the property market cooled. Citing bank officials, the news service said that robust first-quarter lending almost depleted their resources, making it difficult to find good targets to lend to, which also hurt loan growth. It also means that suddenly the credit impulse that drove both Chinese and global growth for the past two months is about to evaporate.

How big is the drop? Sources familiar with the loan number told MNI that combined new loans in April by the Big Four state-owned banks were more than halved from March’s level. As a reminder, the Big Four banks lent out CNY402 billion in March, according to the People’s Bank of China. While there is no preview of how bit (or small) the combined TSF number will be, it is safe to assume it will be a far smaller total than the CNY2.34 trillion in total social financing that flooded the Chinese economy in March. The slowdown mainly came from moderating mortgage growth, which has been the key driving force behind loan growth so far this year. In the city of Shanghai, mortgage loans hit a record high of CNY36.1 billion in March, beating the previous record of CNY34.6 billion set in January, according to PBOC data.

The PBOC said the country’s total outstanding mortgage loan was up 25.5% y/y at the end of March, much faster than the 14.7% of average outstanding loan growth. But that mortgage strength in the first quarter failed to continue into April as property sales growth slowed sharply on government tightening measures. According to Essence Securities, new residential house sales in tier one cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, fell 21.2% on month in April and only edged up 0.5% from a year ago, including a 38.6% m/m and 30.8% y/y plunge in the city of Shenzhen, which leads the current round of property rebound. But if April was bad, May was a disaster: “it appears the situation is even worse into May. Shenzhen saw house sales in the first week of May plummet another 49% when compared with the previous week, dragging year-to-date sales into a 1% drop in terms of floor space.”

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More on the Rew report. It warrants attention, lots of it. It paints the real picture of America. And that’s with Pew’s perhaps somewhat distorting definition of ‘middle class’, which includes 3-person households with incomes of up to $125,000. This may be statistically correct if you try hard enough, but an awful lot of people living on $40,000 or less will not agree.

Middle Class Shrinks In 9 Of 10 American Cities As Incomes Fall (AP)

In cities across America, the middle class is hollowing out. A widening wealth gap is moving more households into either higher- or lower-income groups in major metro areas, with fewer remaining in the middle, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. In nearly one-quarter of metro areas, middle-class adults no longer make up a majority, the Pew analysis found. That’s up from fewer than 10% of metro areas in 2000. That sharp shift reflects a broader erosion that occurred from 2000 through 2014. Over that time, the middle class shrank in nine of every 10 metro areas, Pew found. The squeezing of the middle class has animated this year’s presidential campaign, lifting the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Many experts warn that widening income inequality may slow economic growth and make social mobility more difficult. Research has found that compared with children in more economically mixed communities, children raised in predominantly lower-income neighborhoods are less likely to reach the middle class. Pew defines the middle class as households with incomes between two-thirds of the median and twice the median, adjusted for household size and the local cost of living. The median is midway between richest and poorest. It can better capture broad trends than an average, which can be distorted by heavy concentrations at the top or bottom of the income scale.

By Pew’s definition, a three-person household was middle class in 2014 if its annual income fell between $42,000 and $125,000. Middle class adults now make up less than half the population in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Houston. “The shrinking of the American middle class is a pervasive phenomenon,” said Rakesh Kochhar, associate research director for Pew and the lead author of the report. “It has increased the polarization in incomes.”

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‘We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. Screw the next generation..’ [..] ‘Nobody here gives a rat’s a** about the future and who’s going to pay for all this stuff we vote for. That’s the next generation’s problem. It’s all about immediate publicity, getting credit now, lookin’ good for the upcoming election.’

Congressman X: ‘Screw The Next Generation’ (DM)

A new book threatens to blow the lid off of Congress as a federal legislator’s tell-all book lays out the worst parts of serving in the House of Representatives – saying that his main job is to raise money for re-election and that leaves little time for reading the bills he votes on. Mill City Press, a small Minnesota-based ‘vanity press’ publisher describes ‘The Confessions of Congressman X’ as ‘a devastating inside look at the dark side of Congress as revealed by one of its own.’ ‘No wonder Congressman X wants to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. His admissions are deeply disturbing.’ The 84-page exposé is due in bookstores in two weeks, and Washington is abuzz with speculation about who may be behind it.

The book, a copy of which DailyMail.com has seen, discloses that the congressman is a Democrat – but not much else. The anonymous spleen-venter has had a lot to say about his constituents, however. Robert Atkinson, a former chief of staff and press secretary for two congressional Democrats, took notes on a series of informal talks with him – whoever he is – and is now publishing them with his permission. ‘Voters claim they want substance and detailed position papers, but what they really crave are cutesy cat videos, celebrity gossip, top 10 lists, reality TV shows, tabloid tripe, and the next f***ing Twitter message,’ the congressman gripes in the book. ‘I worry about our country’s future when critical issues take a backseat to the inane utterings of illiterate athletes and celebrity twits.’

Much of what’s in the book will come as little surprise to Americans who are cynical about the political process. ‘Fundraising is so time-consuming I seldom read any bills I vote on,’ the anonymous legislator admits. ‘I don’t even know how they’ll be implemented or what they’ll cost.’ ‘My staff gives me a last-minute briefing before I go to the floor and tells me whether to vote yea or nay. How bad is that?’ And on controversial bills, he says, ‘I sometimes vote “yes” on a motion and “no” on an amendment so I can claim I’m on either side of an issue.’ ‘It’s the old shell game: if you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em.’

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“There is no evidence that 0% is better than 3%. Show me the evidence.”

Nassim Taleb Compares Monetary Policy to Novocaine (BBG)

Nassim Taleb, distinguished scientific advisor at Universa Investments and New York University professor of risk engineering, discusses monetary policy. He speaks with Erik Schatzker from the SALT Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on “Bloomberg Markets.”

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As Taleb says in the video above, Yellen is a very smart person but one who’s only recently found out that she’s stuck.

Yellen Says Won’t Completely Rule Out Negative Rates (R.)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday that while she “would not completely rule out the use of negative interest rates in some future very adverse scenario,” the tool would need a lot more study before it could be used in the United States. Yellen, in responses to written questions from U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman following her February testimony on Capitol Hill, said the Fed plans to raise interest rates gradually, given its expectations that the economy will continue to strengthen and inflation will move back up to the Fed’s 2% goal. She also said that if the economy unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse, the Fed will adjust its stance. Central banks in Europe and Japan have used negative interest rates to try to stimulate their economies, and Yellen said the Fed is attempting to learn as much as it can from their experiences. Before using negative rates at home, she said, policymakers would need to consider a number of issues, “including the potential for unintended consequences.”

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Charles revisits a theme Nicole and I talked a lot about in the past: “.. in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.” As Nicole puts it: “..renting is paying somone else to carry the risk of owning..”.

Dear Homeowner, What Exactly Do You “Own”? (CH Smith)

We’re constantly told ours is an ownership society in which owning a home is the foundation of household wealth. The concept of ownership may appear straightforward, but consider these questions: 1. If the house is mortgaged, what does the homeowner “own” when the bank has the senior claim to the property? 2. If the homeowner owes local government $13,000 a year in property taxes, what does the homeowner “own” once they pay $260,000 in property taxes over 20 years? The answer to the first question: the homeowner only “owns” the homeowners’ equity, the market value of the home minus the the mortgage and closing costs. In a housing bubble, homeowners’ equity can soar as the skyrocketing value accrues to the homeowner, as the mortgage is fixed (in conventional mortgages). But when bubbles pop and housing prices return to reality-based valuations, the declines also accrue to the homeowner’s equity.

If the price declines below the mortgage due the lender, the homeowners’ equity vanishes and the property is underwater. The property may still be worth (say) $400,000, but if the mortgage(s) total $400,000, the owner owns nothing but the promise to pay the mortgage and property taxes and the right to claim a tax deduction for the mortgage interest paid. To answer the second question, let’s consider an example. In areas with high property taxes (California, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, etc.), annual bills in excess of $10,000 annually are not uncommon. If we take $13,000 annually as a typical total property tax in these areas (property taxes can include school taxes, library taxes, and a host of special assessments on top of the “official” base rate), the homeowner “owns” the obligation to pay local tax authorities $130,000 per decade for the right to “own” the house.

In states without Prop 13-type limits on how much property taxes can be raised, there is no guarantee that property taxes won’t jump higher in a decade, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the rate is unchanged. In 20 years of ownership, the homeowner will pay $260,000 in property taxes.Let’s compare that with the rise in their homeowners’ equity. Since home values are high in high-tax regions, let’s assume a $400,000 purchase price with an $80,000 down payment and a conventional 4% 30 year mortgage of $320,000. In 20 years of mortgage and tax payments, the homeowners paid about $197,500 in interest to the bank (deductible from their income taxes), and about $170,000 in mortgage principle, leaving them total homeowner’s equity of the $80,000 down payment and the $170,000 in principle, or a total of $250,000. Since they paid $260,000 in property taxes in the period, have they gained anything?

If we look at the property as merely leased from the local government for the annual fee of $13,000, then was “ownership” a good deal for the local government or for the homeowner? If the homeowner subtracts the lease fee (i.e. property taxes) from their equity, they are underwater by $10,000. The real estate industry answer is that “ownership” is great because the skyrocketing appreciation accrues to the homeowner. If the house doubles in value from $400,000 to $800,000 in a decade, who cares about the $130,000 in property taxes paid? If we subtract this $130,000 lease fee, the homeowner would still pocket a hefty profit: $800,000 sales price minus the $400,000 purchase price, the $130,000 in property taxes, the costs of 10 years of maintaining the home and the selling commission and closing fees. So in effect, anyone “owning” a home with high property taxes is leasing the property from the local government for the “right” to gamble that a new housing bubble is underway.

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Greece has a major payment to the ECB coming in July. Something will be found, but it will not be advantageous to Athens.

IMF Under Pressure From Germany Over Greece (WSJ)

In Europe’s battle with the IMF over Greece, Germany has a way to win. Germany, Europe’s dominant economic power, is leaning heavily on the IMF to accept hypothetical assurances that Greece’s debt burden will be addressed in the future if needed, rather than the definite and far-reaching debt relief that the IMF wanted, according to people familiar with the talks. Berlin believes the IMF will have to accept what’s on offer, even if IMF staff are unhappy about it, these people say. The IMF is also under heavy European pressure to accept Greek austerity policies that are less specific than the cuts the IMF wanted. An accord hasn’t been reached yet, and some warn it could take several weeks. The IMF’s Achilles’ heel: Its board is controlled by Germany, other European Union countries, and the U.S., none of whom want a new crisis over Greece.

That power reality weakens the IMF’s threat to pull out of the Greek bailout if it is unsatisfied. The EU currently faces multiple challenges that threaten to unravel the 60-year-old project of European integration, including the U.K.’s referendum on leaving the bloc, the migration crisis, and the rise of EU-skeptic populist parties. Germany and other European governments have no appetite for another round of brinkmanship over Greece like in 2015, and want a deal in coming weeks that settles Greece’s future—at least for now. Any deal is nevertheless likely to include some important concessions to the IMF. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble -who until recently adopted the hard-line stance in public that Greece needs no debt relief at all- has already permitted discussions to start this week about how eurozone loans to Greece might be restructured in the future.

A deal, which many European officials are now confident of reaching in late May or early June, is expected to include a promise by Germany and other eurozone countries to keep Greece’s debt burden below a certain threshold. That promise would entail easing the terms of Greece’s loans “if necessary.” Crucially for Berlin, however, any decision to restructure the loans would be delayed until 2018—after Germany’s 2017 elections. Mr. Schäuble and his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, are determined to avoid, for now, any material change to Greece’s bailout plan that would force them to hold an awkward debate in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, according to people familiar with their thinking.

An accord on Greek debt and austerity would allow Athens to stay afloat this summer, when large bonds fall due. But it is unlikely to resolve the country’s seven-year-old debt crisis. Participants in the troubled bailout are braced for further drawn-out negotiations in coming years about Greece’s fiscal and other overhauls. The main source of this year’s re-escalation of the Greek debt saga is Germany’s insistence that it cannot release any further bailout funds unless the IMF agrees to resume its own lending to Athens. IMF lending has been in limbo since last July, when IMF staff stated that “Greece’s public debt has become highly unsustainable.”

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One day perhaps more people will start to understand this. Germany is blowing up the eurozone. And the EU. The Q1 2016 growth announced today more than doubled, and that just makes it that much worse.

The German Current Account Surplus Requires Deficits Elsewhere (Harrison)

With the periphery’s downturn came austerity and internal devaluation. And this has meant two adjustments. First, the EU as a whole has moved from a roughly balanced external position to a net creditor position as the German and Dutch export-led model is forced onto the periphery via internal devaluation used to achieve export competitiveness. Second, the Germans and Dutch have been forced to turn elsewhere to maintain their mercantilist trading stance. And they have found willing buyers in Asia and the emerging markets writ large.

The thing to realize about multilateral trade is that the imbalances do not necessarily build up as bilateral imbalances between two countries. Rather, imbalances build multilaterally, with some countries – particularly the reserve-currency holding US – taking on the net debtor position. And we see that now, with the UK showing record trade deficits at the same time Germany is sporting huge surpluses. The IMF faults Germany for the surplus. Martin Wolf faults Germany for this too. Irrespective, there is no mechanism in the current global currency system to correct these imbalances except through balance of payments crisis and the rise of protectionist populist politicians.

And so my conclusion here is that these imbalances will only shift in a crisis – like the one we experienced within the eurozone. Except next time, the crisis will be global. It would be nice to think that world leaders would understand that dangerous imbalances are building that feed a populist and violent political response. Alas, there is no indication that the Germans or any other net surplus country gets this. And while the Swiss and the Dutch are small trading nations, Germany is a global behemoth. Like China, it will attract negative attention when the economy turns down. And the Germans will get the blame when the trade barriers go up. Right now, it seems only a matter of when not if.

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In which the Economist is found short of ideas.

Ideas For Reducing The Debt Burden (Economist)

DEBT levels grew spectacularly in the rich world from 1982 to 2007. When the financial crisis broke, worries about the ability of borrowers to repay or refinance that debt caused the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s. It could have been worse. The danger was that, as private-sector borrowers scrambled to reduce their debts, the resulting contraction in credit would drive the world into depression. Fortunately, this outcome was averted. First, the governments of rich countries allowed their debts to rise, offsetting the reduction in private debt. In addition, emerging markets (notably China) continued to borrow. So there was no global deleveraging; quite the reverse. Central banks also helped, slashing interest rates to zero and below.

Although lower policy rates have not always resulted in cheaper borrowing costs (in Greece, for example), debt-servicing costs have fallen in most developed countries. Although this approach has staved off disaster, it has not got rid of the problem, as a research note from Manoj Pradhan, an economist at Morgan Stanley, makes clear. “High debt forces interest rates to stay low, which encourages yet more debt,” Mr Pradhan writes. Central banks dare not push interest rates up too quickly for fear of causing another crisis; hence the stop-start nature of the Federal Reserve’s statements on monetary policy. The developed world seems stuck with sluggish growth and low rates. In health terms, the disease is chronic, not acute.

A lurch into another global crisis, Mr Pradhan reckons, would require three ingredients. First, the assets financed by the debt build-up would need to fall sharply in price or prove uneconomic. Second, the debtors would have to be concentrated in big, globalised economies. Lastly, global investors would have to be heavily exposed to the debt in question. All this was the case in 2007-08, as debt secured by American housing turned bad, raising doubts about the health of the Western banking system. This time round the debtors are in different places. Some of them are emerging-market governments and commodity producers. But, except for China, none of these is crucial to the world economy. And China’s debts are mainly in domestic hands, rather than widely dispersed in the portfolios of international banks, pension funds and insurance companies.

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“..more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine..”

‘Death Awaits’: Africa Faces Worst Drought in Half a Century (Spiegel)

Herdsman Ighale Utban used to be a relatively prosperous man. Three years ago, he owned around a hundred goats. Now, though, all but five of them have died of thirst at a dried-up watering hole, victims of the worst drought seen in Ethiopia and large parts of Africa in a half-century. Utban, a wiry man of 36 years, belongs to a nomadic people known as the Afar, who spend their lives wandering through the eponymously named state in northeastern Ethiopia. “This is the worst time I’ve experienced in my life,” he says. On some days, he doesn’t know how to provide for himself and his seven-member family. “We can no longer wander,” Utban says, “because death awaits out there.” For now, he’ll have to remain in Lii, a scattered little settlement in which several families have erected their makeshift huts. Lii means “scorching hot earth.”

Since time immemorial, shepherds have wandered with their animals through the endless expanses of the Danakil desert. They live primarily off of meat and milk, and it was always a meagre existence. But with the current drought, which has lasted for over a year, their very existence is threatened. “First the livestock die, then the people,” Utban says. The American relief organization USAID estimates that in Afar alone, over a half million cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels have perished. Reservoirs are empty, pastures dried up, feed reserves nearly exhausted. With no rain, grass no longer grows. Many nomads are selling their emaciated livestock, but oversupply has led to a 50% decline in prices. Currently, millions of African farmers and herders are suffering similar fates to Utban’s. The UN estimates that more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine.

After years of hope for increased growth and prosperity, the people are once again suffering from poverty and malnutrition. The governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have already declared states of emergency, and massive crop losses have caused food prices to explode in South Africa. Particularly hard stricken are the countries in the southern part of the continent as well as around the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and especially Ethiopia. Meteorologists believe the natural disaster is linked to a climate phenomenon that returns once every two to seven years known as El Niño, or the Christ child, a disruption of the normal sea and air currents that wreaks havoc on global weather patterns. The El Niño experienced in 2015-2016 has been particularly strong.

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Summing it up. Europe doesn’t send help to relieve the conditions refugees live in. They send policemen instead. 200 of them.

Europol To Send Experts To Greek Islands To ‘Identify Terrorists’ (Kath.)

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, is soon to deploy 200 officers to refugee centers on the Greek islands and mainland to help identify potential terrorists. The officers, specially trained experts in immigration and terrorism, will not be in charge of border protection but will examine individuals deemed to be suspicious. After several weeks of reduced inflows of migrants from neighboring Turkey, Thursday saw an increase in arrivals with 130 people arriving on Greek shores in one day, amid growing concerns about the fate of an agreement between Turkey and the European Union to curb migration.

The total number of migrants in Greece on Thursday stood at 54,542, according to the spokesman for the government’s coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis. Of this total, nearly 10,000 are living in squalid conditions at a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni close to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Kyritsis said the Idomeni camp would be evacuated but did not specify when. The situation at the camp is tense and local residents are running out of patience, with the head of the Idomeni community on Wednesday lodging a legal suit against Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas for a “complete absence of state control” at the camp.

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Oh my, what a surprise.

EU Mission ‘Failing’ To Disrupt Mediterranean People-Smugglers (BBC)

The EU naval mission to tackle people smuggling in the central Mediterranean is failing to achieve its aims, a British parliamentary committee says. In a report, the House of Lords EU Committee says Operation Sophia does not “in any meaningful way” disrupt smugglers’ boats. The destruction of wooden boats has forced the smugglers to use rubber dinghies, putting migrants at even greater risk, the document says. Operation Sophia began in 2015. It was set up in the wake of a series of disasters in which hundreds of migrants died while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. The EU authorised its vessels to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for people smuggling.

The report states that “the arrests made to date have been of low-level targets, while the destruction of vessels has simply caused the smugglers to shift from using wooden boats to rubber dinghies, which are even more unsafe”. It says that there are also “significant limits to the intelligence that can be collected about onshore smuggling networks from the high seas. “There is therefore little prospect of Operation Sophia overturning the business model of people smuggling,” the document concludes. It adds that the mission is still operating out in international waters, and not – as originally intended – in Libyan waters.

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May 092016
 
 May 9, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Broad Street lunch carts, New York 1906

Iron Ore in Free Fall (BBG)
Dollar Jump Catches Traders Short in One More Currency Calamity (BBG)
China Stocks Plunge Again As Hopes For Economic Recovery Fade (R.)
China Continues to Prop Up Ailing Factories, Adding to Global Glut (WSJ)
Government Policies Make China Prone To Asset Bubbles (Balding)
Even China’s Party Mouthpiece Is Warning About Debt (BBG)
Saudi Aramco Plans London Listing But Doubts Grow On $2.5 Trillion Claim (AEP)
Oil Discoveries Slump To 60-Year Low (FT)
Negative Rates Hit Global Shipping Market (BBG)
Draghi, Schäuble And The High Cost Of Germany’s Savings Culture (Münchau)
The Folly Of German Economic Policy (Coppola)
Turkey Economic A-Team Down to Last Man as Erdogan Exerts Power (BBG)
UK’s Nationwide Raises Home Loan Age Limit To 85 Years (BBC)
The End of American Meritocracy (Luce)
Panama Papers Allege New Zealand Prime Place For Rich To Hide Money (R.)
Greek Lawmakers Pass Painful Reforms To Attain Fiscal Targets (R.)
Greece Keeps Wary Eye On Turkey Border Violations (Kath.)

Well that’s a surprise….

Iron Ore in Free Fall (BBG)

Iron ore’s in free fall. Futures in Asia plummeted after port stockpiles in China expanded to the highest in more than a year following moves by local authorities to quell speculation in raw-material futures. The SGX AsiaClear contract for June settlement tumbled 9.1% to $50.50 a metric ton at 1:24 p.m. in Singapore, while futures in Dalian sank 7.1%, retreating alongside contracts for steel and coking coal. The benchmark Metal Bulletin price for 62% content spot ore in Qingdao plunged 12% last week for the worst loss since 2011. Iron ore is falling back to Earth after an unprecedented wave of speculation in China, triggered by signs the economy was stabilizing, helped to hoist benchmark prices to the highest in 15 months.

The jump prompted regulatory authorities and exchanges to team up to quell the excesses, while banks including Brazil’s Itau Unibanco warned the price gains weren’t justified in an oversupplied market. Data on Friday showed port holdings have expanded to almost 100 million tons. [..] Inventories held at ports across China increased 1.4% to 99.85 million tons last week to the highest since March 2015, according to data from Shanghai Steelhome Information. The holdings have expanded 7.3% this year after rising for five of the past six weeks.

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Really, that was a surpsie too?

Dollar Jump Catches Traders Short in One More Currency Calamity (BBG)

Just when investors thought they’d finally made a good call in the currency market, the dollar’s advance messed it up. The U.S. currency on Friday capped its best week all year versus major peers, shortly after hedge funds finally switched to betting on dollar declines, known as going short. That’s not the only wrong move foreign-exchange managers have made this year – an index tracking their returns shows they’ve failed to turn a profit in 2016. Many of the assumptions traders made at the start of the year turned out to be misguided. Anticipated Federal Reserve interest-rate increases have failed to materialize, creating less policy divergence between the U.S. and its counterparts. And though investors were right to speculate the pound would tumble in the run-up to next month’s EU referendum, it’s recovered since.

“It’s been a very challenging year in the currency market given the lack of solid fundamental themes and the difficulties for some market-consensus trades which haven’t worked,” said Chris Chapman at Manulife Asset Management. “A lot of people were expecting a lower euro, lower yen and higher dollar, but the market moves have so far been against those expectations.” The lack of profit comes at a difficult time for the foreign-exchange market. Banks including Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Societe Generale have cut traders from their currency desks as they grapple with a 20% drop in volumes in the past 18 months amid increasing automation. And it’s not just currency trading that’s suffering: global stocks are headed for a second straight year of losses, following a rout in January and February that wiped out as much as $9 trillion.

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Yeah, sure, a recovery bought with debt. We do it all the time.

China Stocks Plunge Again As Hopes For Economic Recovery Fade (R.)

China stocks fell sharply again on Monday, reaching eight-month lows, as investors saw hopes for a strong economic recovery fade and worried about fresh regulatory curbs on speculation. Following the market’s nearly 3% slump on Friday, China’s blue-chip CSI300 fell 2.1%, to 3,065.62, while the Shanghai Composite lost 2.8%, to 2,832.11 points. China April trade data, released on Sunday, doused investor hopes of a sustainable economic recovery, with both exports and imports falling more than expected. Recovery hopes were further dimmed by an article on Monday in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece.

It cited an “authoritative source” saying China’s economic trend will be “L-shaped”, rather than “U-shaped”, and definitely not “V-shaped”, but the government will not use excessive investment or rapid credit expansion to stimulate growth. Shares fell across the board, but selling concentrated in relatively expensive small caps amid fears of fresh regulatory crackdown on speculation. China’s securities regulator said on Friday that the valuation gap between the domestic and overseas market and speculation on “shell” companies – firms used for backdoor listings – merited attention. An index tracking raw material shares tumbled nearly 5% as China’s commodity prices continued to fall amid a government crackdown on speculative trading.

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Where do they store all the stuff?

China Continues to Prop Up Ailing Factories, Adding to Global Glut (WSJ)

China is doubling down on efforts to keep unprofitable factories afloat despite for years pledging to curb excess capacity, adding to a glut of basic materials flooding the global economy. The country’s overproduction of steel, aluminum, diesel and other industrial goods has driven down prices and crippled competitors, leading to thousands of lost jobs in the U.S. and elsewhere. China’s continuing aid for unneeded factories is triggering a sharp rise in trade disputes and protectionist sentiment, especially in the U.S., where trade has emerged as one of the pivotal issues in the U.S. presidential election. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Chinese public companies, Chinese government support includes billions of dollars in cash assistance, subsidized electricity and other benefits to companies.

Recipients include steelmakers, coal miners, solar-panel manufacturers, and other producers of other goods including copper and chemicals. One beneficiary, Aluminum Corp. of China, or Chalco, said in October one of its units would shut down a roughly 500,000-ton-per-year smelter in the far-western Gansu region as it struggled to make profits. Executives prepped for thousands of layoffs. Then Gansu officials slashed the plant’s electricity bill by 30%, employees say, and the factory was saved. Although a portion of capacity was taken offline, most is operational. “We’re in full production now with 380,000 tons of capacity,” said Fei Zhongchang, a company sales manager.

In Europe, workers have joined protests against Chinese steel imports. Australia has investigated dumping of products including solar panels and steel and India has raised import taxes on steel after a surge of cheap Chinese goods. The U.S. launched seven new investigations into alleged dumping or government subsidies involving Chinese goods in the first three months of this year, more than the same period of any other year dating back to at least 2003, government data show. Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department slapped preliminary import duties of 266% on imported Chinese cold-rolled steel. The decision came after U.S. Steel lost $1.5 billion last year, closed its last blast furnace in the South and laid off thousands of workers, blaming China.

Late last month , U.S. Steel filed a trade complaint against China at the International Trade Commission, alleging price fixing, trans-shipment via third countries to avoid duties and cyber-espionage to loot technology off U.S. Steel computers. China’s Commerce Ministry has urged U.S. authorities to reject the complaint, and said allegations of intellectual property infringement “are completely without factual basis.” China says it isn’t guilty of dumping—or selling a product at a loss in order to gain market share—and calls U.S. and EU measures and investigations forms of protectionism. It says it has mothballed factories and intends to cut more, with plans to lay off up to 1.8 million steel and coal workers.

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Goodness, Gracious, Great Ball of Money.

Government Policies Make China Prone To Asset Bubbles (Balding)

Chinese markets have rarely looked more like Vegas casinos. In recent weeks, investors have driven up trading volumes in China to astronomical levels, betting on everything from rebar to eggs. China traded enough steel in one day last month to build 178,082 Eiffel Towers and enough cotton to make at least one pair of jeans for every person on the planet. These commodity markets aren’t gyrating purely because Chinese are inveterate gamblers. Government policies have made China especially prone to asset bubbles. Even as some of those bubbles are carefully deflated, new ones are sure to emerge unless the policies themselves change. The issue is surplus liquidity – what’s been described as China’s “great ball of money,” which bounces from asset class to asset class as if in a pinball machine.

Even Chinese leaders acknowledge it was their effort to fend off the 2009 global financial crisis that allowed that pile of money to grow to epic proportions. By now, credit and money growth has far outstripped any good opportunities for investment in China’s real economy, which is hobbled by excess capacity. And the mismatch is getting worse: Total social financing, China’s broadest measure of lending, grew nearly four times as fast as nominal GDP last year. Money doesn’t sit still; all this increased liquidity is flooding into real estate and financial assets. Last summer, that led to the boom-and-bust of the Shanghai stock market. Now it’s driving up property prices in top cities – Shenzhen real estate is up more than 50% in the past year – to levels higher than in any U.S. metropolis other than New York. Yet rather than retreating, the government is doubling down on its strategy.

In January, soon after drafting a new five-year plan that focused in part on the need to shrink industries such as steel and coal, the government eased credit yet again, boosting loan growth by 67% in January and 43% through the first quarter. The money was meant to – and did – buy an uptick in GDP growth. But it’s also gone into new loans to zombie companies as well as speculation in the commodity and bond markets. Officials have also maintained their firm grip on the economy, thus encouraging investors to focus on government statements, rather than economic fundamentals, when deciding where to put their money. Prior to the stock market peak in July 2015, top leaders were actively talking up the virtues of equities and boasting of how high the Shanghai index could go. More recently, they’ve extolled the virtues of home ownership and lowered down-payment requirements for some homebuyers.

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Same function as US two-party mouthpieces.

Even China’s Party Mouthpiece Is Warning About Debt (BBG)

China’s leading Communist Party mouthpiece acknowledged the risks of a build-up of debt that is worrying the world and said the nation needed to face up to its nonperforming loans. High leverage is the “original sin” that leads to risks in the foreign-exchange market, stocks, bonds, real estate and bank credit, the People’s Daily said in a full-page interview with an unnamed “authoritative person” starting on page one and filling the second page on Monday. China should put deleveraging ahead of short-term growth and drop the “fantasy” of stimulating the economy through monetary easing, the person was cited as saying. The nation needs to be proactive in dealing with rising bad loans, rather than delaying or hiding them, the report said.

“Overall, the report suggests to us that future policy easing may be more cautious and that the government may try to hasten the pace of reform,” said Zhao Yang at Nomura in Hong Kong. Similar commentaries have had a “large impact” in the past, the analyst said in a note. The pace of China’s accumulation of debt and dwindling economic returns on each unit of credit have fueled concern that the nation is set for either a financial crisis or a Japanese-style growth slump. The Bank for International Settlements warned late last year of an increased risk of a banking crisis in China in coming years. Brokerage CLSA was the latest to sound an alarm, saying on Friday that the nation’s true level of nonperforming loans may be at least nine times higher than the official numbers, suggesting potential losses of at least $1 trillion.

“A tree cannot grow up to the sky – high leverage will definitely lead to high risks,” the person was cited as saying. “Any mishandling will lead to systemic financial risks, negative economic growth, or even have households’ savings evaporate. That’s deadly.”

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The value of reserves expressed in dollars. Not pretty: “..any purchase of Aramco is an option play on a future oil boom.”

Saudi Aramco Plans London Listing But Doubts Grow On $2.5 Trillion Claim (AEP)

Saudi Arabia is planning a three-way foreign listing in London, Hong Kong, and New York for the record-smashing privatisation of its $2.5 trillion oil giant Aramco, anchored on a triad of interlocking ties with three foreign energy companies. The Saudi authorities hope to entice ExxonMobil, China’s Sinopec, and potentially BP, into taking strategic stakes, offering them long-term access to upstream operations in return for cutting-edge technology or refinery deals, according to sources close to Saudi thinking. The moves come amid a profound shake-up of the kingdom’s energy strategy, with the dismissal of veteran oil minister Ali al-Naimi over the weekend. Aramco chief Khalid al-Falih will take over, though there may not be immediate changes to Opec policy.

The Aramco sale is planned as soon as 2017 or 2018 and would in theory be five times larger than any IPO in history, a huge prize for the London Stock Exchange. Shares will be listed in Riyadh but the internal Saudi market is too small to absorb such a colossus, responsible for a ninth of global oil supply. Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and de facto ruler, says Aramco will sell 5pc of its equity, valuing the shares at $100bn to $150bn. The vast IPO is the spearhead of his “2030 Vision” to break the country’s “addiction” to oil and diversify, using the proceeds for an investment spree covering everything from car plants to weapons production, petrochemicals, and tourism. “We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility,” he says.

The 31-year-old prince aims to clear away a clutter of subsidies, pushing through a Thatcherite shake-up of what still remains a medieval economic structure. The plans draw on a McKinsey report, “Beyond Oil”, which warned that the kingdom is heading for bankruptcy if it fails to grasp the nettle. London’s hopes for the IPO may have increased with the election of Sadiq Khan as London’s first Muslim mayor, extensively covered in the Saudi media. It underscores Britain’s tolerant outlook at a time when attitudes are hardening in the US. While the Saudis are shocked by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Donald Trump, they are more disturbed by legislation in Congress that would let survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks file lawsuits for damages against Saudi Arabia. Mr Al Falih told the Economist that an Aramco listing in New York would open the country to “frivolous lawsuits”, a hint that the Saudis may eschew the city altogether and concentrate on London and Hong Kong.

[..] Aramco funds the Saudi state, paying for a sprawling bureaucracy and a cradle-to-grave welfare system that keeps a lid on dissent. It also funds the prince’s military ambitions and a war in Yemen. Saudi defence spending was the world’s third highest last year. Robin Mills from Qamar Energy said the market value of Aramco is probably just $250bn to $400bn, given that the state creams off a royalty rate of 20pc and tax of 85pc. Saudi officials insist that a fair deal could be found for shareholder dividends, even though the Saudi constitution stipulates that Aramco’s 260bn barrels of estimated reserves belong to the kingdom. In a sense, any purchase of Aramco is an option play on a future oil boom. At current prices there would be no money for dividends: the Saudi state is consuming all the revenue, and burning through more than $100bn a year in foreign exchange.

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No, there will be no supply shortfall in 2035. Economic reality will make sure of that. In 20 years, the world will be a whole different place.

Oil Discoveries Slump To 60-Year Low (FT)

Discoveries of new oil reserves have dropped to their lowest level for more than 60 years, pointing to potential supply shortages in the next decade. Oil explorers found 2.8bn barrels of crude and related liquids last year, according to IHS, a consultancy. This is the lowest annual volume recorded since 1954, reflecting a slowdown in exploration activity as hard-pressed oil companies seek to conserve cash. Most of the new reserves that have been found are offshore in deep water, where oilfields take an of average seven years to bring into production, so the declining rate of exploration success points to reduced supplies from the mid-2020s. The dwindling rate of discoveries does not mean that the world is running out of oil; in recent years most of the increase in global production has come from existing fields, not new finds, according to Wood Mackenzie.

But if the rate of oil discoveries does not improve, it will create a shortfall in global supplies of about 4.5m barrels per day by 2035, Wood Mackenzie said. That could mean higher oil prices, and make the world more reliant on onshore oilfields where the resource base is already known, such as US shale. Paal Kibsgaard, chief executive of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oil services company, told analysts last month: “The magnitude of the E&P [exploration and production] investment cuts are now so severe that it can only accelerate production decline and the consequent upward movement in [the] oil price.” The slump in oil and gas prices since the summer of 2014 has forced deep cuts in spending across the industry. Exploration has been particularly vulnerable because it does not offer a short-term pay-off.

ConocoPhillips is giving up offshore exploration altogether, and Chevron and other companies are cutting back sharply. The industry’s spending on exploring and appraising new reserves will fall from $95bn in 2014 to an expected $41bn this year, and is likely to drop again next year, according to Wood Mackenzie. There also has been a predominance of gas, rather than oil, in recent finds. In spite of the decline in activity, the total combined volume of oil and gas discovered last year rose slightly, but the proportion of oil dropped from about 35% in 2014 to about 23% in 2015.

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Think anyone recognizes the demise of world trade yet? Or is the bias still too strong?

Negative Rates Hit Global Shipping Market (BBG)

The owner of the world’s biggest shipping line says negative interest rates are hurting the industry by delaying the consolidation wave so badly needed. The monetary policy environment “means that consolidation will be much slower because it’s easy for banks to keep weak shipping companies above water,” Nils Smedegaard Andersen, CEO of A.P. Moeller-Maersk, said in an interview. It’s the latest example of how negative interest rates are distorting markets and potentially even slowing growth. The policy has so far had limited success in reviving inflation while money managers in countries with negative rates are warning of the risk of asset price bubbles. With the unintended consequences potentially including a slower global shipping recovery, questions as to the policy’s efficacy are bound to persist.

“Politicians aren’t making the reforms that are needed and are leaving it to the monetary policy makers to solve the economic problems that many countries face with low competitiveness and low investment levels,” Andersen said. A reliance on cheap finance in container shipping has led to “many negative effects,” he said. The shipping industry doesn’t have the buffers to deal with more hurdles. Container lines are “staring at a terrible 2016,” with a slowdown in global trade volumes, low freight rates and overcapacity, Drewry Maritime Equity Research said in a report last month. It estimates the industry will lose $6 billion this year. Hanjin Shipping, South Korea’s biggest container carrier and the world’s no. 8, is in the middle of a debt restructuring. Its banks on Wednesday agreed on the terms on condition that all creditors, including corporate bond holders, join the plan.

Hanjin shares have slumped 41% this year, compared with a 0.8% gain for the benchmark Kospi index. Maersk surged 6.4% as of the close of trading Wednesday in Copenhagen, bringing the stock to a 3.1% gain this year. Thursday and Friday were holidays in Denmark. Global shipping lines are increasingly forming alliances to help cut costs and underpin freight rates. Last month, CMA CGM SA and three other major lines signed a preliminary agreement to form a new group called Ocean Alliance, which could become the second biggest after Maersk Line’s partnership with Mediterranean Shipping Co. “We’re satisfied with our current position within our alliance,” Andersen said. “But if a container line were to come up for sale – with the right profile and also at the right price – we would consider it. We are, after all, businessmen.”

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Germany stands accused of the causing euro crisis. Something tells me Schäuble doesn’t agree.

Draghi, Schäuble And The High Cost Of Germany’s Savings Culture (Münchau)

Right now the biggest problem for Mario Draghi is not Greece. It is Germany. Last week the president of the European Central Bank hit back at Berlin’s criticism of his loose interest rate policies by pointing out that Germany’s persistent current account surplus is one of the main causes. The furious reaction he faced says much about the faultlines in Europe’s economic debate. Low interest rates and Germany’s current account surplus are the poisonous twins of the eurozone economy. The surplus caused low rates, as Mr Draghi rightly says. But it is also true that low interest rates have increased the German current account surplus through the devaluation of the euro in the past year. A cheaper currency makes German goods and services more competitive outside the eurozone. The more pertinent of the two interpretations is Mr Draghi’s.

By insisting on austerity during the eurozone crisis, and failing to raise investment spending at home, Berlin was instrumental in depressing aggregate demand at home and in the eurozone at large. The eurozone’s long depression caused a fall in inflation below the target rate of just under 2%. The ECB response has been to cut short-term rates to negative levels and buy financial assets. If German fiscal policy had been neutral during that period, the ECB’s job would have been easier. It would have been able to achieve its inflation target and would not have had to cut rates by as much. Berlin views the current account surplus simply as a reflection of Germany’s superior competitiveness. This is an economically illiterate view – or rather it deliberately deflects from the real problem.

If Germany had its own currency and a floating exchange rate, the current account imbalance would have mostly disappeared. Even in a monetary union, a large imbalance would not matter if the union was politically integrated and had a common fiscal policy. But imbalances matter in the monetary union we have, one without redistribution and reinsurance systems. It is no coincidence Germany rejects these redistribution mechanisms. This is how it maximises its current account surplus. It constitutes an implicit policy goal. In the long run, I cannot see how this is in Germany’s interests. Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, was right to say that low rates are driving voters to Alternative for Germany, an anti-euro and anti-immigrant party. Only it was not the ECB’s fault.

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There’s just one way out of this, because Germany won’t change policy: Greece, Italy et al must leave the euro.

The Folly Of German Economic Policy (Coppola)

In his latest blogpost, the economist Michael Pettis is severely critical of European economic policies, especially those of Germany, saying that they are “among the most irresponsible in modern history”. He is not alone. Wolfgang Munchau, writing in the FT, lays the blame for the Eurozone’s protracted depression firmly at Berlin’s door: “[..]Berlin was instrumental in depressing aggregate demand at home and in the eurozone at large. [..] If German fiscal policy had been neutral [..] the ECB’s job would have been easier. It would have been able to achieve its inflation target and would not have had to cut rates by as much.”

Unsurprisingly, Berlin does not agree. For German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble, German economic policy is a model that other countries should adopt. Even the enormous current account surplus is a sign of Germany’s production strength and export competitiveness. It is to be celebrated, not criticized. However, Berlin’s view is not shared by some Eurozone policymakers. In a recent speech to German policymakers, ECB chief Mario Draghi observed that low rates of return are due to an imbalance between saving and investment:

“The forces at play are fairly intuitive: if there is an excess of saving, then savers are competing with each other to find somebody willing to borrow their funds. That will drive interest rates lower. At the same time, if the economic return on investment has fallen, for instance due to lower productivity growth, then entrepreneurs will only be willing to borrow at commensurately lower rates. On both counts, it is structural factors that have lowered the real return on investment. And since we operate in a global capital market, this has exerted downward pressure on returns on savings everywhere.”

And Germany’s current account surplus is a significant contributory factor to low interest rates: “The role of Asian economies in this story has been well-documented, for instance in the “global savings glut” thesis. But today the euro area is also a protagonist. We have a current account surplus over 3% of GDP, and our largest economy, Germany, has had a surplus above 5% of GDP for almost a decade.” The gap between Germany’s domestic saving and investment can be clearly seen on this chart from the IMF . The chart only goes to 2012, but the gap has if anything widened since. Currently, it stands at about 8% of GDP:

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Luckily, he’s our best friend…

Turkey Economic A-Team Down to Last Man as Erdogan Exerts Power (BBG)

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek is the last man standing from the team feted by investors as the driving force behind the nation’s rapid growth years. One-by-one, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is removing the AK Party policy makers whose focus on balancing budgets, taming inflation and fiscal stability led to average growth of 5% over 13 years to 2015. His handpicked prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, decided to step down on Thursday, ending a power struggle over management of the economy and Erdogan’s efforts to add executive power to his traditionally ceremonial office. Like Davutoglu, former Merrill Lynch strategist Simsek has defended the kind of orthodox monetary policy that so riles Erdogan, specifically the use of high interest rates to curb inflation.

Erdogan argues that lower borrowing costs and subsequent faster growth would more effectively slow price gains, and with Davutoglu gone, there may be little to insulate Simsek from pressure to fall into line. That may spell the end to an unspoken truce between Erdogan and investors, who tolerated his quest for more power as long as people trusted by markets like Simsek ran the economy. “There would be no AK Party economic miracle without this team of capable technocrats,” said Tim Ash at Nomura in London. “The concern now is that without these individuals, and with a coterie of untested economic policy advisers around Erdogan, Turkey will be very vulnerable to market pressure.”

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Perverse incentives.“Why pay off the mortgage at at all?” ” [..] why worry about paying it off when you are alive?”

UK’s Nationwide Raises Home Loan Age Limit To 85 Years (BBC)

Nationwide is raising its age limit for people paying off mortgages by 10 years to 85, in the latest sign of the impact of rising house prices on buyers. The building society said the increase was due to “growing demand”, and the limit would be in force from July. It means a 60-year-old could take out a 25-year mortgage as long as they prove they can afford the repayments. The move comes as Halifax increases its age limit for mortgages from 75 to 80 from Monday. There have been calls for the industry to do more to help older buyers after tougher mortgage checks, introduced in the wake of the financial crisis, have made it harder for middle-aged people to get a home loan. Rising house prices have exacerbated the issue, with many people not able to afford to buy their first home until they are in their thirties or forties.

Nationwide said the new age limit would apply to existing customers for all its standard mortgages, but the maximum loan size would be £150,000, and could be no greater than 60% of the property value. “Access to the mainstream market has been a challenge for older customers, resulting in their needs going unfulfilled. This measure helps to address these needs in a prudent, controlled manner,” said Nationwide head of mortgages Henry Jordan. Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, told the BBC the change could shake up the mortgage market. “Why pay off the mortgage at at all?” he said on Radio 5 Live. “As long as the value of the property is there to meet the liability in the future, why worry about paying it off when you are alive?” he added.

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“.. two sides of a debased coin.”

The End of American Meritocracy (Luce)

What is in a word? When it is packed with as much moral zeal as “meritocracy”, the answer is a lot. A meritocrat owes his success to effort and talent. Luck has nothing to do with it — or so he tells himself. He shares his view with everyone else, including those too slow or indolent to follow his example. Things only go wrong when the others dispute it. Now magnify that to a nation of 320m people — one that prides itself on being a meritocracy. Imagine that between a half and two-thirds of its people, depending on how the question is framed, disagree. They believe the system’s divisions are self-perpetuating. They used not to think that way. Imagine, also, that the meritocrats are too enamoured of their just rewards to see it. The fact that they are split — one group calling itself Democratic, the other Republican — is detail.

They are two sides of a debased coin. Sooner or later something will give. An exaggeration? Financial Times readers might be inclined to think so. The fact that Donald Trump has completed a hostile takeover of one of those groups — the Republicans — is a shock to everyone, including, I suspect, the property billionaire himself. The rest should not be a surprise. Since the late 1960s both parties, in different ways, have turned a blind eye to the economic interests of the middle class. In 1972 the McGovern-Fraser Commission revamped the Democratic party’s rules for selecting its nominee after the disastrous 1968 convention in Chicago. The overhaul changed the party’s course. It included obligatory seats for women, ethnic minorities and young people — but left out working males altogether.

“We aren’t going to let these Camelot Harvard-Berkeley types take over our party,” said the head of the AFL-CIO, the largest American union federation. That is precisely what happened. Democrats cemented the shift from a class-based party to an ethnic coalition by enshrining affirmative action for non-whites. Getting a leg up to university, the ultimate meritocratic vehicle, was based on your skin colour rather than your economic situation. Unsurprisingly, swaths of the white middle class turned Republican. Forty years on, many Democrats, not least Bernie Sanders’ supporters, are suffering buyer’s remorse. Before he became president, Barack Obama argued it would be fairer to base affirmative action on income not colour. “My daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged,” he said.

Last week it was announced that Malia Obama had been accepted into Harvard, her father’s alma mater. About a third of legacy applicants, those whose parent attended, are accepted into Harvard. No one suggests she is not deserving of her place. However, there are plenty of lower-income black and white children who do not benefit from the advantages Malia Obama or Chelsea Clinton (Stanford and Oxford) had from birth.

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Would this surpsrise anyone?

Panama Papers Allege New Zealand Prime Place For Rich To Hide Money (R.)

New Zealand is at the heart of a tangled web of shelf companies and trusts that are being used by wealthy Latin Americans to channel funds around the world, according to a report on Monday based on leaks of the so-called Panama Papers. Local media has analyzed more than 61,000 documents relating to New Zealand that are part of the massive leak of offshore data from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm. The papers have shone spotlight on how the world’s rich take advantage of offshore tax regimes. Mossack Fonseca ramped up its interest in using New Zealand as one of its new jurisdictions in 2013, actively promoting the South Pacific nation as a good place to do business due to its tax-free status, high levels of confidentiality and legal security, according to a joint report by Radio New Zealand, TVNZ and investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

Mossack Fonseca’s main contact in New Zealand was allegedly Robert Thompson, co-founder and director of accountant firm Bentleys New Zealand, the registered office of Mossack Fonseca New Zealand, according to the report. Thompson was listed in more than 4,500 Panama paper documents, the report said. Thompson said in his experience, the use of trusts for tax evasion was not common and his firm did not assist people to illegally hide assets. “I think the assumption that all New Zealand foreign trusts are being used for illegitimate purposes is unfounded and based largely on ignorance,” Thompson was quoted as saying by Radio New Zealand. [..] Prime Minister John Key dismissed concerns that international tax avoidance was rife in New Zealand. “New Zealand is barely ever mentioned, it’s a footnote,” Key told TVNZ in reference to the Panama Papers.

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There’s no way protests are not going to intensify going forward. Is Tsipras is ousted, you just watch.

Greek Lawmakers Pass Painful Reforms To Attain Fiscal Targets (R.)

Greece’s parliament on early Monday passed a package of unpopular pension and tax reforms that the country’s leftist-led government hopes will persuade official creditors to unlock bailout cash. The measures aim to ensure Greece will attain savings to meet an agreed 3.5% budget surplus target before interest payments in 2018, helping it to regain bond market access and render its debt load sustainable. The vote was a test of the ruling coalition’s cohesion, given its wafer-thin majority of three lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament. All of the coalition’s 153 lawmakers voted in favor. Athens wants to boost tax revenues and slash pension spending to reduce the drain on the budget, hoping impressed creditors will unlock aid. But Germany and the IMF remain deadlocked over the terms of country’s bailout plan.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government drew fire from the political opposition during the debate on grounds the pension cuts and tax hikes will prove recessionary, dealing another blow to a population fatigued by years of austerity. “Mr. Prime Minister, you promised hope and turned it into despair,” said Fofi Gennimata, leader of the opposition PASOK socialists, who see the package as the bill for Tsipras’ failed push to roll back austerity in last year’s clash with lenders which set back the economy and triggered capital controls. Tsipras’ government was re-elected in September on promises to ease the pain of austerity for the poor and protect pensions after he was forced to sign up to a new bailout in July to keep the country in the euro zone.

The package aims to generate savings equal to 3% of GDP and contemplates raising income tax for high earners and lowering tax-free thresholds. It increases a so-called ‘solidarity tax’ – which goes straight into state coffers – and introduces a national pension of €384 a month after 20 years of work, phases out a benefit for poor pensioners and recalculates pensions. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos defended the reforms, saying lower pension replacement rates will affect the rich and not the poor. He heads to Brussels on Monday to face a Eurogroup meeting, seeking to conclude a key bailout review. “Our word is a contract. We have done what we promised and hence the IMF and Germany must provide a solution that is feasible, a solution for the debt that will open a clear horizon for investors,” Tsakalotos told lawmakers.

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Erdogan will make sure there’s more of this.

Greece Keeps Wary Eye On Turkey Border Violations (Kath.)

Turkey’s continuing violations of Greek air space and waters could lead to a spike in bilateral tensions or to a “serious accident,” Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told Kathimerini’s Sunday edition, adding that NATO’s naval patrols in the area can strengthen the country’s position regarding Ankara’s expansionist policies. Asked about the spate of Greek air space violations and transgressions of the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) by Turkish fighter jets in recent weeks, Kammenos denounced the trend as propaganda aimed at domestic consumption. “Greece knows there are forces [in Turkey] that want to create tension and, perhaps, cause a serious incident or an accident,” said Kammenos, who is also the leader of SYRIZA’s right-wing coalition partner, Independent Greeks.

“Greece will not be dragged into actions that might undermine its rights,” he said, adding that he had recently spoken to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, asking that the transatlantic alliance take action against Turkish hostility. Meanwhile, the minister rejected criticism that NATO’s Aegean mission, aimed at curbing migrant crossings, had strengthened Ankara’s hand in questioning Greece’s sovereign rights, deeming that NATO states, and more importantly those who are also EU members, now had firsthand experience of Turkish provocations. Kammenos referred to a recent incident in the Aegean whereby a Turkish torpedo boat allegedly executed maneuvers in close proximity to a Dutch frigate deployed in the NATO mission. “This dangerous incident has been recorded and included in the Dutch captain’s report to NATO,” he said.

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Dec 082015
 
 December 8, 2015  Posted by at 7:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Poached baby gorilla, Virunga Park

Anglo American, a British company, and one of the world’s biggest miners, and a ‘producer’ (actually just a miner, how did those two terms ever get mixed up?!) of platinum (world no. 1), diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and coal, said today it would scrap dividends AND fire 85,000 of it 135,000 global workforce (that’s 63%!).

Anglo is just the first in a long litany line we’ll see going forward. Commodities ‘producers’ are being completely wiped out, hammered, killed, murdered. They’ve been able to hedge their downside risks so far, but now find they can’t even afford the price of the hedges (insurance) anymore. And then there’s all the banks and funds that financed them.

And they’ve all been gearing up for production increases too, with grandiose plans and -leveraged- investments aiming for infinity and beyond. You know, it’s the business model. 2016 will be a year for the record books.

Just check this Bloomberg graph for copper supply and demand as an example. How ugly would you like it today?

And what’s true for copper goes for the whole range of raw materials. Because China went from double-digit growth to shrinking imports and exports in pretty much no time flat. And China was all they had left.

Iron ore is dropping below $40, and that’s about the break-even point. Of course, oil has done that quite a while ago already. It’s just that we like to think oil’s some kind of stand-alone freak incident. It is not. With oil today plunging below $37 (down some 15% since the OPEC meeting last week), it doesn’t matter anymore how much more efficient shale companies can get.

They’re toast. They’re done. And with them are their lenders. Who have hedged their bets too, obviously, but hedging has a price. Or else you could throw money at any losing enterprise.

But there’s another side to this, one that not a soul talks about, and it has Washington, London and Brussels very worried. Here goes:

These large mining -including oil- corporations most often operate in regions in the world that are remote and located in countries with at best questionable governments (the corporations like it like that, it’s how they know who to bribe to be able to rape and pillage).

The corporations de facto form a large part of the US/UK/EU political/military control system of these areas. They work in tandem with the CIA, MI5, the US and UK military, to keep the areas ‘friendly’ to western industries and regime.

This has caused unimaginable misery across the globe, in for instance (a good example) the Congo, one of the world’s richest regions when it comes to minerals ‘we’ want, but one of the poorest areas on the planet. No coincidence there.

Untold millions have died as a result. ‘We’ have done a lot more damage there than we are presently doing in Syria, if you can imagine. And many more millions are forced to live out their lives in miserable circumstances on top of the world’s richest riches. But that will now change.

Thing is, with the major miners going belly up, ‘our’ control of these places will also fade. Because it’s all been about money all along, and the US won’t be able to afford the -political and military- control of these places if there are no profits to be made.

They’ll be sinkholes for military budgets, and those will be stretched already ‘protecting’ other places. The demise of commodities is a harbinger of a dramatically changing US position in the world. Washington will be forced to focus on protecting it own soil, and move away from expansionist policies.

Because it can’t afford those without the grotesque profits its corporations have squeezed out of the populations in these ‘forgotten’ lands. That’s going to change global politics a lot.

And it’s not as if China will step in. They can’t afford to take over a losing proposition; the Chinese economy is not only growing at a slower pace, it may well be actually shrinking. Beijing’s new reality is that imports and exports both are falling quite considerably (no matter the ‘official’ numbers), and the cost of a huge expansion into global mining territory makes little sense right now.

With the yuan now part of the IMF ‘basket‘m Beijing can no longer print at will. China must focus on what happens at home. So must the US. They have no choice. Other than going to war.

And, granted, given that choice, they all probably will. But the mining companies will still be mere shells of their former selves by then. There’s no profit left to be made.

This is not going to end well. Not for anybody. Other than the arms lobby. What it will do is change geopolitics forever, and a lot.

Dec 072015
 
 December 7, 2015  Posted by at 9:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Cuyahoga River, Lift Bridge and Superior Avenue viaduct, Cleveland, Ohio 1912

Emerging Market Debt Sales Are Down 98% (BBG)
BIS Warns “Uneasy Calm” In Global Markets May Be Shattered By Fed Hike (ZH)
BIS Argues For Tighter Monetary Policy In Spite Of ‘Uneasy Calm’ (FT)
Corporate Bond Market Hit By Rates Fears (FT)
Junk Bonds Set For First Annual Loss Since Credit Crisis (WSJ)
Japan’s Current Recession To Prove An Illusion (FT)
Last Gasps of a Dying Bull Market – And Economy (Hickey)
As Oil Keeps Falling, Nobody Is Blinking (WSJ)
Gradual Erosion Of The EU Will Leave A Glorified Free-Trade Zone (Münchau)
China’s Iron Ore, Steel Demand To Fall Further In 2016 (AFR)
China’s Biggest Broker CITIC Can’t Locate Two Of Its Top Execs (Reuters)
Falling Cattle Prices Put The Hurt On Kansas Ranchers, Feedlots (WE)
Prison Labor In USA Borders On Slavery (AHT)
German States Slam New Refugee Boss For ‘Slow Work’ (DPA)
US Alliance-Supported Groups In Syria Turn Guns On Each Other (Reuters)
Iraq Could Ask Russia for Help After ‘Invasion’ by Turkish Forces (Sputnik)

Maxed out.

Emerging Market Debt Sales Are Down 98% (BBG)

The commodity-price slump and the slowdown in China’s economy are crippling developing nations’ ability to borrow abroad, even as international debt sales from advanced nations remain at a five-year high. Issuance by emerging-market borrowers slumped to a net $1.5 billion in the third quarter, a drop of 98% from the second quarter, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That was the biggest downtrend since the 2008 financial crisis and helped to reduce global sales of securities by almost 80%, a BIS report said. Emerging-market assets tumbled in the third quarter, led by the biggest plunge in commodity prices since 2008 and China’s surprise devaluation of the yuan.

The average yield on developing-nation corporate bonds posted the biggest increase in four years, stocks lost a combined $4.2 trillion and a gauge of currencies slid 8.3% against the dollar. Sanctions on Russian entities and political turmoil in Brazil and Turkey also affected sales by companies in those countries. “Weak debt-securities issuance in the third quarter can only be partially explained by seasonality,” the latest quarterly review from the BIS said. “Growing concerns over emerging-market fundamentals, falling commodity prices and rising debt burdens probably played a role. Additionally, an increasing focus on local markets may also have been a factor.”

One side effect of the decline in international-debt sales was the emergence of the euro as a borrowing currency. The net issuance of securities in the shared currency by non-financial companies was $23 billion in the three months through Sept. 30, while dollar-denominated debt accounted for $22 billion. The main reason for that was a jump in euro-bond offerings from emerging markets, where the share of the currency went up to 62% from 18% in the second quarter. Borrowers from advanced economies issued a net $22 billion in debt, $100 billion less than in the preceding three months. Still, cumulative figures remained the highest since 2010 because of the increases in the first half of the year.

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$3.3 trillion in non-bank EM debt. Hike into that.

BIS Warns “Uneasy Calm” In Global Markets May Be Shattered By Fed Hike (ZH)

[..] the nightmare situation is that you accumulate an enormous amount of foreign currency liabilities only to see your currency crash just as market demand for EM assets dries up. Drilling down further, the bank notes that of the $9.8 trillion in non-bank, USD dollar debt outstanding, more than a third ($3.3 trillion) is concentrated in EM. “Since high overall dollar debt can leave borrowers vulnerable to rising dollar yields and dollar appreciation, dollar debt aggregates bear watching,” Robert Neil McCauley, Patrick McGuire and Vladyslav Sushko warn. The right pane here gives you an idea of how quickly borrowers’ ability to service that debt is deteriorating.

“Any further appreciation of the dollar would additionally test the debt servicing capacity of EME corporates, many of which have borrowed heavily in US dollars in recent years,” Borio reiterates, ahead of the December Fed meeting at which the FOMC is set to hike just to prove it’s actually still possible. All in all, central banks have managed to preserve an “uneasy calm,” Borio concludes, but “very much in evidence, once more, has been the perennial contrast between the hectic rhythm of markets and the slow motion of the deeper economic forces that really matter.” In other words: the market is increasingly disconnected from fundamentals and the rather violent reaction to a not-as-dovish-as-expected Mario Draghi proves that everyone still “hangs on the words and deeds” of central banks.

In the end, Borio is telling the same story he’s been telling for over a year now. Namely that the myth of central banker omnipotence is just that, a myth, and given the abysmal economic backdrop, the market risks a severe snapback if and when that myth is exposed. One of the pressure points is EM, where sovereigns may have avoided “original sin” (borrowing heavily in FX), but corporates have not. With $3.3 trillion in outstanding USD debt, a rate hike tantrum could spell disaster especially given the fact that the long-term, the fundamental outlook for EM continues to darken. Borio’s summary: “At some point, [this] will [all] have to be resolved. Markets can remain calm for much longer than we think. Until they no longer can.”

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“Markets can remain calm for much longer than we think. Until they no longer can.”

BIS Argues For Tighter Monetary Policy In Spite Of ‘Uneasy Calm’ (FT)

Central banks must not let market volatility halt their plans to retreat from crisis-fighting monetary policies, the Bank for International Settlements has warned ahead of the expected first rate rise by the US Federal Reserve in nine years. While the current “uneasy calm” in financial markets threatened to blow up into bouts of financial turmoil, with clear tensions between markets’ behaviour and underlying economic conditions, such a threat should not dissuade monetary policymakers from taking the first steps towards tighter monetary policy, the BIS argued in its latest quarterly review. “At some point, [the tension] will have to be resolved,” said Claudio Borio, head of the BIS’s monetary and economic department. “Markets can remain calm for much longer than we think. Until they no longer can.”

The Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s rate-setting board, is set to vote on December 16. Recent strong jobs figures have raised the likelihood of an increase to the federal funds rate. An earlier shift towards the exit by the US central bank sparked a “taper tantrum” in financial markets — a reference to the Fed’s decision to announce that it was tapering, or slowing, the pace of its asset purchases made under its quantitative easing package. The Fed resisted raising rates this year in part because of market turmoil over the summer. Going into this month’s meeting, conditions have been milder — although the BIS noted this calm had been uneasy. “Very much in evidence, once more, has been the perennial contrast between the hectic rhythm of markets and the slow motion of the deeper economic forces that really matter,” Mr Borio said. The BIS has long believed that what it describes as “unthinkably” low interest rates are fuelling instability in global financial markets.

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“People are going to be carried out on stretchers..”

Corporate Bond Market Hit By Rates Fears (FT)

Investor alarm at the riskier end of the US corporate bond market is mounting, with borrowing costs for the lowest-rated companies climbing to their highest level since the financial crisis as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. While the US stock market has recovered after a bumpy autumn and is relaxed about the prospect of tighter monetary policy, the corporate bond market has become increasingly jittery. Typically, when bond and stock markets point in different directions, a drop in the former augurs a correction in the latter — as happened this summer.

Concerns over the possible impact of a US interest rate increase on more vulnerable borrowers has been exacerbated by rising indebtedness and shrinking revenues among companies. This has fuelled concerns that the profitable “credit cycle” that has reigned since the financial crisis receded is coming to an end. “People are going to be carried out on stretchers,” said Laird Landmann, a senior bond fund manager at TCW, a Californian asset manager. “When earnings are coming down, leverage is high and interest rates are going up. It’s not good.” Safer corporate bonds judged “investment grade” by Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch have been reasonably steady, with average yields dipping slightly again after a faltering start to November.

But debt rated below that threshold has had a bad autumn, particularly debt issued by companies in the struggling energy industry. UBS estimated in a note last week that as much as $1tn of US corporate bonds and loans rated below investment grade could be in the danger zone as borrowing conditions become tougher just as many face repayments. Much of the pain is in the energy sector but the Swiss bank argues the problems are wider than this. “It is our humble belief that the consensus at the Fed does not fully understand the magnitude of the problems in corporate credit markets and the unintended consequences of their policy actions,” wrote Matthew Mish, a UBS strategist.

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Debt debt debt wherever you look.

Junk Bonds Set For First Annual Loss Since Credit Crisis (WSJ)

Junk bonds are headed for their first annual loss since the credit crisis, reflecting concerns among investors that a six-year U.S. economic expansion and accompanying stock-market boom are on borrowed time. U.S. corporate high-yield bonds are down 2% this year, including interest payments, according to Barclays data. Junk bonds have posted only four annual losses on a total-return basis since 1995. The declines are worrying Wall Street because junk-market declines have a reputation for foreshadowing economic downturns. Junk bonds are lagging behind U.S. stocks following a debt selloff in the past month. The S&P 500 has returned 3.6% on the year, including dividends.

Adding to the worries are signs that the selling has spread beyond firms hit by the energy bust to encompass much of the lowest-rated debt across the market, potentially snarling some takeovers and making it difficult for all kinds of companies to borrow new funds. In the fourth quarter of the year, there has been a “meaningful disconnect between equities and high yield,” said George Bory, head of credit strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “It’s a warning sign about the potential challenges in the economy.” High-yield bonds pay high interest rates, typically above 7%, because the heavily indebted companies that issue them are more likely to default.

Investors flock to the debt in boom times when other securities pay minimal interest and often dump it just as quickly when they get nervous, making junk bonds a bellwether for risk appetite. Defaults are rising after several years near historically low levels, as new bond sales stall and companies with below-investment-grade credit ratings struggle to refinance their debts. The junk-bond default rate rose to 2.6% from 2.1% this year and will likely jump to 4.6% in 2016, breaching the 30-year average of 3.8% for the first time since 2009, said New York University Finance Professor Edward Altman, inventor of the most commonly used default-prediction formula.

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Wow. Abe turns into Catweazle. All about magic.

Japan’s Current Recession To Prove An Illusion (FT)

Japan’s “recession” will soon be exposed as an illusion according to the country’s economy minister, Akira Amari, who on Sunday predicted data revisions this week will turn contraction into growth. Initial figures just three weeks ago showed the economy shrank at an annualised 0.8% in the third quarter, meeting the technical definition of a recession, and prompting gloom about the outlook. But Mr Amari said he expected a revision from 0.8% to zero this week. That would confirm Japan’s economy is not in a downward spiral, despite sluggish consumption and exports, but it would raise fresh questions about the unreliable early growth data. “I expect growth to turn positive from here,” said Mr Amari, an influential figure in the government of prime minister Shinzo Abe. “I think we’re on a path of steady recovery.”

Expectations for an upward revision have grown since the publication of finance ministry data last week showing a third-quarter rise in corporate investment. That was the opposite of the initial gross domestic product data, which showed investment falling. Analysts at Citi in Tokyo expect an upward revision to show growth was flat while Goldman Sachs expects a revision to plus 0.2% for the quarter. Mr Abe wants companies to invest more at home and is planning to encourage them by cutting corporation tax from 32.11% to 29.77% next year. He is also pushing them to raise wages. Mr Abe’s goal is to turn the surge in corporate profits caused by the weak yen into greater demand, in order to sustain economic growth and drive inflation towards the Bank of Japan’s goal of 2%.

One problem is the large number of Japanese companies that make accounting losses and therefore pay no corporation tax anyway. On Sunday, Mr Amari hinted at new measures to push them towards investment. “You have to pay fixed asset taxes regardless of losses,” he said. “I’d like to bring in fixed asset tax relief for companies making new investments, which is something we’ve never done before.”

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“..in the U.S., the economy appears relatively healthier only because the rest of the world is so awful.”

Last Gasps of a Dying Bull Market – And Economy (Hickey)

Deteriorating market breadth and herding into an ever-narrower number of stocks is classic market top behavior. Currently, there are many other warning signs that are also being ignored. The merger mania (prior tops occurred in 2000 and 2007), the stock buyback frenzy (after the record amount of buybacks in 2007 buybacks were less than one-sixth of that level at the bottom in 2009), the year-over-year declines in corporate sales (-4% in Q3 and down every quarter this year) and falling earnings for the entire S&P 500 index, the plunges this year in the high-yield (junk bond) and leveraged loan markets, the topping and rolling over (the unwind) of the massive (record) level of stock margin debt… and I could go on.

It was very lonely as a bear at the tops in 2000 and 2007. I was just a teenager in 1972 so I was not an active investor, but just a few days prior to the early 1973 January top, Barron ‘s featured a story titled: “Not a Bear Among Them.” By “them” Barron ‘s meant institutional investors. I do vividly remember my Dad listening to the stock market wrap-ups on the kitchen radio nearly every night in 1973-74. It seemed to me back then that the stock market only went in one direction — and that was DOWN. The global economy is in disarray. It’s the legacy of the central planners at the central banks. China’s economy has been rapidly slowing despite all sorts of attempts by the government to prop it up (including extreme actions to hold up stocks). China’s economic slowdown has cratered commodity prices to multi-year lows and helped drive oil down to around $40 a barrel.

All the “commodity country” economies (and others) that relied on exports to China are suffering. Brazil is now in a deep recession. Last month Taiwan officially entered recession driven by double-digit declines (for five consecutive months) in exports. Also last month Japan officially reentered recession. Canada and South Korea’s governments recently cut forecasts for economic growth. Despite the lift from an extremely weak euro, Germany’s Federal Statistical Office reported last month that the economy slowed in Q3 due to weak exports and slack corporate investment. The German slowdown led a slide in the overall eurozone economy in Q3 per data from the European Union’s statistics agency. The recent immigration and terrorist problems make matters worse. Tourism will suffer.

Here in the U.S., the economy appears relatively healthier only because the rest of the world is so awful. That has driven the U.S. dollar skyward (DXY index over 100), hurting tourism and multinational companies exporting goods and services overseas. Last month the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast that U.S. farm incomes will plummet 38% this year to $56 billion – the lowest level since 2002.

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But someone will have to take the losses… And they will be spectacular.

As Oil Keeps Falling, Nobody Is Blinking (WSJ)

The standoff between major global energy producers that has created an oil glut is set to continue next year in full force, as much because of the U.S. as of OPEC. American shale drillers have only trimmed their pumping a little, and rising oil flows from the Gulf of Mexico are propping up U.S. production. The overall output of U.S. crude fell just 0.2% in September, the most recent monthly federal data available, and is down less than 3%, to 9.3 million barrels a day, from the peak in April. Some analysts see the potential for U.S. oil output to rise next year, even after Saudi Arabia and OPEC on Friday again declined to reduce their near-record production of crude. With no end in sight for the glut, U.S. oil closed on Friday below $40 a barrel for the second time this month.

The situation has surprised even seasoned oil traders. “It was anticipated that U.S. shale producers, the source of the explosive growth in supply in recent years, would be the first to fold,” Andrew Hall, CEO of commodities hedge fund Astenbeck Capital wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to investors reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “But this hasn’t happened, at least not at the rate initially expected.” For the past year, U.S. oil companies have been kept afloat by hedges—financial contracts that locked in higher prices for their crude—as well as an infusion of capital from Wall Street in the first half of the year that helped them keep pumping even as oil prices continued to fall. The companies also slashed costs and developed better techniques to produce more crude and natural gas per well.

The opportunity for further productivity gains is waning, experts say, capital markets are closing and hedging contracts for most producers expire this year. These factors have led some analysts to predict that 2016 production could decline as much as 10%. But others predict rising oil output, in part because crude production is growing in the Gulf, where companies spent billions of dollars developing megaprojects that are now starting to produce oil. Just five years after the worst offshore spill in U.S. history shut down drilling there, companies are on track to pump about 10% more crude than they did in 2014. In September, they produced almost 1.7 million barrels a day, according to the latest federal data.

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What it always should have been, at the most.

Gradual Erosion Of The EU Will Leave A Glorified Free-Trade Zone (Münchau)

The main characteristic of today’s EU is an accumulation of crises. This is no accident. It happens because policies are not working. Political leaders such as David Cameron and Viktor Orban, the prime ministers of the UK and Hungary, are even questioning some of the fundamental values on which the EU is built – such as the freedom of movement of people. The EU is in an unstable equilibrium: small disturbances can produce large changes. We have reached this point because the various projects of the union now have a negative economic effect on large parts of the European population. I would no longer hesitate to say, for example, that your average Italian is worse off because of the euro.

The country has had no real growth since it joined the euro, while it had grown at fairly average rates before and I have heard no rational explanation that does not attribute this to the flaws in European monetary arrangements. This is not just a problem for the eurozone. As Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform has argued, the worst-paid Britons have been made worse off, too. Their real incomes have fallen, and an inadequate supply of housing has pushed up accommodation costs. Both trends have been exacerbated by a net inflow of workers from abroad, even though net immigration into the UK has not been extreme by European standards.

No individual is in a position to make an objective assessment of the effect of immigration on their own income and wealth, but it is clearly not irrational to suspect that an influx of net immigration and one’s own falling real wages to be somehow related. The Danes, who last week voted against ending the country’s opt-out from EU home and justice affairs, also acted rationally. Why opt into a common justice system that still cannot produce adequate levels of co-ordination between police forces in the fight against terrorism? Home and justice affairs are public goods. Why should a rational voter prefer a dysfunctional public goods provider? The same holds for Finland. The country has been locked in a four-year long recession.

There is now a parliamentary motion in the works that may end up in a referendum on whether to quit the eurozone. I do not think that Finland will take that step, for political reasons. But, at the same time, I have not the slightest doubt that Finnish growth and employment would recover if it did. A currency devaluation would be a much more powerful tool than the policy that the Finnish government is trying to implement right now: improving competitiveness through wage cuts.

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Overextended miners and producers face a lot of hurt.

China’s Iron Ore, Steel Demand To Fall Further In 2016 (AFR)

China’s steel production will not recover next year, according to its official government forecaster, which believes demand for iron ore will decline by 4.2%. The report released on Monday by the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute predicts steel production will fall 3.1% to 781 million tonnes in 2016, as economic growth continues to moderate. The forecast provides another round of bad news for Australian iron ore miners, which are already battling record low prices of around $US40 a tonne. China’s steel industry reached a long predicted turning point in 2015, as the economy slowed and over-supply in the property sector crimped demand for everything from machinery, to home appliances and cars.

This will see China’s steel consumption post its first annual decline since 1995, falling 4.8% this year, according to the government forecaster. The declines are set to continue next year with consumption falling by 3% to 648 million tonnes. “With a slowdown in steel for construction, machinery and vehicles we saw consumption decline for the first time in 20 years,” said the institute in its annual outlook report. The declines this year have been faster than the institute predicted. Monday’s downgrade to 2015 production was the third this year. It believes iron ore demand, which fell 0.4% in 2015, will decline by 4.2% in 2016 to around 1.07 billion tonnes.

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Everyday occurence.

China’s Biggest Broker CITIC Can’t Locate Two Of Its Top Execs (Reuters)

CITIC Securities is not able to contact two of its top executives, China’s biggest brokerage said on Sunday, following media reports that they had been asked by authorities to assist in an investigation. CITIC said in a Hong Kong exchange filing it could not reach two of its most senior investment bankers, Jun Chen and Jianlin Yan. Chinese business publication Caixin said on Friday the pair had been detained, although it was not clear whether they were subjects of an investigation or merely being asked to assist with it. CITIC Securities is among Chinese brokerages facing investigation by the country’s securities regulator for suspected rule breaches. Some employees of CITIC Securities have returned to work after assisting with unspecified government investigations, the company said in the filing.

Chen is head of CITIC’s investment banking division, according to the company website, while Yan runs investment banking at the company’s overseas unit CITIC Securities International. Several high-profile brokerage executives have been investigated in mainland China as authorities looked for answers to explain a slump of more than 40% in stocks between June and August that they blamed in part on “malicious short-selling”. Executives at CITIC Securities have been investigated for insider trading and leaking information. Last month, CITIC said it was choosing a new chairman and incumbent Wang Dongming could not take part because of his age. However, the Financial Times reported that Wang had been forced out because of the scandal, citing people familiar with the matter.

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Yet another way to spell debt deflation.

Falling Cattle Prices Put The Hurt On Kansas Ranchers, Feedlots (WE)

Tumbling cattle prices have left the mood of the state’s ranchers a lot more somber this year. The Kansas Livestock Association held its annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Wichita this week and, on Friday, heard from Randy Blach, president of market analyst CattleFax. Blach’s message is that he knows 2015 has been a rough ride for ranchers as prices have plunged from their record highs a year ago. The reasons have been long in coming. Ranchers and feeders enjoyed a terrific year in 2013 and 2014 as beef and cattle prices skyrocketed. Herds had shrunk because of the drought, and prices hit record highs. High prices and the return of the rains caused ranchers to hold back large numbers of heifers to rebuild herds. Well, now the herds are largely rebuilt. And more steers are being sent to slaughter.

The effect has been dramatic in the second half of the year, Blach said, citing the slaughter price for cattle. “Last year at this time it was $174 a hundred (pounds),” he said. “Now, it’s $125. That’s a $50-a-hundred loss in a very short period of time.” In addition, the export market for beef has dropped significantly as the global economy, particularly in China, has slowed, and the dollar has risen 15 to 20% against foreign currencies. This year has already punished some of the middlemen in the chain. Kansas feedlots have seen steep losses in the second half. For the consumer, high prices will start to fall in grocery stores by mid-2016, Blach said. Shoppers will start seeing more quantity, variety and price specials. “It will start being pretty visible,” he said. And prices will remain down through the end of the decade, he said, rebuilding demand for beef.

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“..a prison where modern day Black men labor in the sun while guards patrol from horseback just as they did a century and a half ago.”

Prison Labor In USA Borders On Slavery (AHT)

When slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, the focus on free labor shifted from human ownership, to forced prison labor. This practice has been exploited for a very long time and the companies that prosper from it, the list of which includes American corporate giants like Wal Mart, McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and a long list of others, are generating huge revenues by people who are reportedly paid 2 cents to $1.15 per hour. According to the USUncut.com article, “These 7 Household Names Make a Killing Off of the Prison-Industrial Complex”, the list of companies benefiting from this questionable type of workforce is a real eye opener. The article reveals how prisoners work an average of 8 hours a day, yet they are paid roughly six times less than the federal minimum wage. Prison labor is an even cheaper alternative to outsourcing.

“Instead of sending labor over to China or Bangladesh, manufacturers have chosen to forcibly employ up to 2.4 million incarcerated people in the United States. Chances are high that if a product you’re holding says it is ‘American Made,’ it was made in an American prison.” It is also noteworthy that items that say “Made in China” are sometimes manufactured in Chinese prisons. According to the NPR article, “Made In China – But Was It Made In A Prison?”, there are few limits to the use of prison labor in Communist China, “Prisoners in China’s re-education-through-labor camps make everything from electronics to shoes, which find their way into U.S. homes.” This is an issue that potentially affects every American family, but squarely impacts the African-American community, where on any given day, more Black males are serving prison time than attending college.

The practice hearkens back to the brutal days of slavery in America’s deep South, in countless ways. An article published by The Atlantic this year, “American Slavery, Reinvented,” examines the Louisiana State Penitentiary called Angola, which was converted from a southern plantation into a prison, where modern day Black men labor in the sun while guards patrol from horseback just as they did a century and a half ago. The article explains that the prisoners who do not perform the labor as expected, will be severely punished, “…once cleared by the prison doctor, (the prisoners) can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?”

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“..964,574 refugees had arrived in Germany by the end of November..”

German States Slam New Refugee Boss For ‘Slow Work’ (DPA)

Ministers rushed to defend the new head of the national refugee authority from attacks by leaders of Germany’s federal states, saying he had only been in position a few weeks and needed time to make a difference. Rhineland-Palatinate minister-president Malu Dreyer said on the weekend that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) was working too slowly and shouldn’t be taking weekends off during the crisis. On Monday, the Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) reported that 964,574 refugees had arrived in Germany by the end of November, based on figures the Interior Ministry gave in response to a parliamentary question. That’s more than four times as many as arrived in 2014, when the total for the whole year was 238,676. The BAMF still faces a backlog of 355,914 cases, the PNP reported.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Peter Altmaier – who has overall responsibility for refugees – leapt to the defence of BAMF boss Frank-Jürgen Weise on Sunday. Altmaier told broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening that Weise “has only been in office for a few weeks, and an unbelievable amount has been done in this time”. Altmaier said that in spite of massively increased numbers of asylum applications, the BAMF had managed to cut down the time it takes to make decisions. “That’s why I don’t think it’s productive when whoever it is thinks they can make political declarations off the backs of the workers” at the BAMF, he said. Labour Minister Andrea Nahles told broadcaster ZDF that things would really pick up at the BAMF after the new year, when 4,000 new officials would join the office. “Then there will be a big step forward,” she said.

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“Allies” fighting one another.

US Alliance-Supported Groups In Syria Turn Guns On Each Other (Reuters)

Groups that have received support from the United States or its allies have turned their guns on each other in a northern corner of Syria, highlighting the difficulties of mobilizing forces on the ground against Islamic State. As they fought among themselves before reaching a tenuous ceasefire on Thursday, Islamic State meanwhile edged closer to the town of Azaz that was the focal point of the clashes near the border with Turkey. Combatants on one side are part of a new U.S.-backed alliance that includes a powerful Kurdish militia, and to which Washington recently sent military aid to fight Islamic State. Their opponents in the flare-up include rebels who are widely seen as backed by Turkey and who have also received support in a U.S.-backed aid program.

Despite the ceasefire, reached after at least a week of fighting in which neither side appeared to have made big gains, trust remains low: each side blamed the other for the start of fighting and said it expected to be attacked again. A monitoring group reported there had still been some firing. The fighting is likely to increase concern in Turkey about growing Kurdish sway near its border. It also poses a new challenge for the U.S.-led coalition which, after more than a year of bombing Islamic State in Syria, is trying to draw on Syrian groups to fight on the ground but finding many have little more in common than a mutual enemy. Azaz controls access to the city of Aleppo from the nearby border with Turkey. It also lies in an area coveted by Islamic State, which advanced to within 10 km of the town on Tuesday and took another nearby village later in the week.

The fighting pitched factions of the Free Syrian Army, supported by Turkey and known collectively as the Levant Front, against the YPG and Jaysh al-Thuwwar – both part of the Democratic Forces of Syria alliance backed by Washington. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, said Levant Front was supported in the fighting by the Ahrar al-Sham Islamist group and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said the rebels had received “new support, which is coming in continuously” from Turkey, a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic State. “Turkish groups against U.S. groups – it’s odd,” he said.

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Russia will act in careful ways. They’re not going to send troops into battle with Turkey.

Iraq Could Ask Russia for Help After ‘Invasion’ by Turkish Forces (Sputnik)

The head of Iraq’s parliamentary committee on security and defense, Hakim al-Zamili, in an interview with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, said that Baghdad could turn to Moscow for help after Turkey had allegedly breached Iraq’s sovereignty. Numerous reports suggest that on Friday Turkey sent approximately 130 soldiers to norther Iraq. Turkish forces, deployed near the city of Mosul, are allegedly tasked with training Peshmerga, which has been involved in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIL. On Saturday, Baghdad described the move as “a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” since it had not been authorized by Iraqi authorities.

“We may soon ask Russia for direct military intervention in Iraq in response to the Turkish invasion and the violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” Iraqi lawmaker al-Zamili said. Earlier, Hakim al-Zamili threatened Turkey with a military operation if the Turkish soldiers do not leave Iraq immediately The parliamentarian reiterated that Turkey sent troops into Iraqi territory without notifying the government. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi urged Ankara to immediately pull out its forces, including tanks and artillery, from the Nineveh province. Iraqi President Fuad Masum referred to the incident as a violation of international law and urged Ankara to refrain from similar activities in the future, al-Sumaria TV Channel reported.

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Nov 252015
 
 November 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing F Street, Washington, DC 1935

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)
If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)
US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)
China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)
Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)
Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)
Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)
Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)
Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)
VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany
This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)
UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)
Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)
EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)
EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)
Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)
Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

All it takes is one spark.

European Banks Sitting On €1 Trillion Mountain Of Bad Debt (Guardian)

European banks are sitting on bad debts of €1tn – the equivalent to the GDP of Spain – which is holding back their profitability and ability to lend to high street customers and businesses. According to a detailed analysis of 105 banks across 21 countries in the European Union conducted by the European Banking Authority (EBA), the experience of Europe’s banks to troubled customers is worse than that of their counterparts in the US. The €1tn (£706bn) of so-called non-performing loans amount to almost 6% of the total loans and advances of Europe’s banks, and 10% when lending to other financial institutions are excluded. The equivalent figure for the US banking industry is around 3%.

Piers Haben, director of oversight at the EBA, said that while the resilience of the financial sector was improving because more capital was being accumulated in banks, he remained concerned about bad debts. “EU banks will need to continue addressing the level of non-performing loans which remain a drag on profitability,” Haben said. Banks in Cyprus have half their lending classified as non-performing while in the UK the figure is 2.8%. Capital ratios – a closely watched measure of financial strength – had reached 12.8% by June 2015, well above the regulatory minimum, as banks held on to profits and also took steps to raise capital – for instance, by tapping shareholders for cash. In 2011 the figure was 9.7%.

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“Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years..”

If China Killed Commodities Super Cycle, Fed Is About to Bury It (Bloomberg)

For commodities, it’s like the 21st century never happened. The last time the Bloomberg Commodity Index of investor returns was this low, Apple’s best-selling product was a desktop computer, and you could pay for it with francs and deutsche marks. The gauge tracking the performance of 22 natural resources has plunged two-thirds from its peak, to the lowest level since 1999. That shows it’s back to square one for the so-called commodity super cycle, a hunger for coal, oil and metals from Chinese manufacturers that powered a bull market for about a decade until 2011. “In China, you had 1.3 billion people industrializing – something on that scale has never been seen before,” said Andrew Lapping, deputy chief investment officer at Allan Gray Ltd., a manager of $33 billion of assets in Cape Town.

“But there’s just no way that can continue indefinitely. You can only consume so much.” If slowing Chinese growth, now headed for its weakest pace in 25 years, put the first nail in the coffin of the super cycle, the Federal Reserve is about to hammer in the last. The first U.S. interest rate increase since 2006 is expected next month by a majority of investors, helping push the dollar up by about 9% against a basket of 10 major currencies this year. That only adds to the woes of commodities, mostly priced in dollars, by cutting the spending power of global raw-materials buyers and making other assets that generate yields such as bonds and equities more attractive for investors.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index takes into account roll costs and gains in investing in futures markets to reflect the actual returns. By comparison, a spot index that tracks raw materials prices fell to a more than six-year low Monday, and a gauge of industry shares to the weakest since 2008 on Sept. 29. The biggest decliners in the mining index, which is down 31% this year, are copper producers First Quantum Minerals, Glencore and Freeport-McMoran. With record demand through the 2000s, commodity producers such as Total SA, Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Plc invested billions in long-term capital projects that have left the world awash with oil, natural gas, iron ore and copper just as Chinese growth wanes. “Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years,” Lapping said.

Oil is among the most oversupplied. Even as prices sank 60% from June 2014, stockpiles have swollen to an all-time high of almost 3 billion barrels. That’s due to record output in the U.S. and a decision by OPEC to keep pumping above its target of 30 million barrels a day to maintain market share and squeeze out higher-cost producers. A Fed move on rates and accompanying gains in the dollar will make it harder to mop up excesses in raw-materials supply. Mining and drilling costs often paid in other currencies will shrink relative to the dollars earned from selling oil and metals in global markets as the U.S. exchange rate appreciates. Russia’s ruble is down more than 30% against the dollar in the past year, helping to maintain the profitability of the country’s steel and nickel producers and allowing them to maintain output levels.

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“..not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China..”

US, German Manufacturers Can’t Shake The Slowdown In China (Forbes)

You wouldn’t know it from looking at stocks, but the US manufacturing sector came darn close to contracting in October. Readings above 50 indicate expansion in the ISM gauge of manufacturing activity, and the October reading of 50.1 was the lowest in 29 months. Overall manufacturing activity has expanded for 34 straight months, but the pace of growth in the main ISM gauge has deteriorated for four consecutive months. There is reason for optimism. Factories saw new orders come in at a faster pace and production was strong. But, other than that, the ISM details were far from impressive. Not surprisingly, the prices paid index came in below 40 for the third consecutive month, reflecting the deflationary headwinds flowing through the economy.

More importantly, the employment details showed a sharp contraction, down to 47.6 versus 50.5 in September. The market is more concerned about non-farm payroll figures, but this sure seems to be a leading indicator, especially when you consider the weakness from September’s NFP report. It’s the same story in Germany, where mechanical engineering orders slumped 13% Y/Y in September, hit by an 18% drop in foreign demand. In a sign that the weakness in September wasn’t just a blip, foreign orders from outside the eurozone were down 7% in the nine months through September from the same period a year earlier, hit by a slowdown in developing economies that account for around 42% of Germany’s plant and machinery exports. It’s clear that most of this industrial weakness is being driven by China.

Domestic orders for Germany’s mechanical engineering industry were up 2% in the nine months through September from the same period a year ago, while eurozone demand rose 13% over this period. European demand looks ok, it’s just not strong enough to offset the weakness driven by China. German car maker Audi said Monday that falling Chinese demand is forcing it to slash production of Audi models at a plant in Changchun nearly 11%. General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra last month said the slowdown in China, the world’s second-largest economy, “is not only affecting our business in China but also in the other international operation markets outside of China because these economies are so dependent on China.”

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The divergence between the two indicators should be stunning, but we’re used to it.

China’s Latest Economic Indicators Make For Gloomy Reading (Bloomberg)

China’s economy is still showing a muted response to waves of monetary and fiscal easing as of the half-way mark for the last quarter of the year, some of the earliest indicators suggest. A privately compiled purchasing managers’ index and a gauge based on search engine interest in small and medium-sized businesses deteriorated this month, while a sentiment indicator dropped sharply from October. Combined, the reports make gloomy reading ahead of official releases, the earliest of which will be manufacturing and services PMI reports due Dec. 1. Six interest-rate cuts in a year and expedited fiscal spending have yet to revive growth as overcapacity and weakness in old drivers like manufacturing and residential construction weigh on the world’s second-biggest economy. If official data confirm the sluggishness, Premier Li Keqiang’s growth goal may be missed for a second-straight year.

Here’s a look at what the economy’s earliest tea leaves show: The unofficial purchasing managers indexes for manufacturing and services sectors both declined, snapping increases in the two previous months. The manufacturing PMI declined to 42.4 in November from 43.3 in October, while the non-manufacturing reading fell to 42.9 from 44.2, according to reports jointly compiled by China Minsheng Banking and the China Academy of New Supply-side Economics. Numbers below 50 signal deteriorating conditions. “China’s economy hasn’t bottomed yet and downward pressures are mounting,” Jia Kang, director of the Beijing-based academy and former head of the finance ministry’s research institute, wrote. “We expect authorities to step up growth stabilization measures.” The Minxin PMIs are based on a monthly survey covering more than 4,000 companies, about 70% of which are smaller enterprises. The private gauges have shown a more volatile picture than the official PMIs in the past year.

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Overleveraged overcapacity.

Iron Ore Rout Deepens as Rising Supply, Weaker Demand Feed Glut (Bloomberg)

Iron ore has taken a fresh beating, with prices sinking to the lowest level in six years as output cuts at Chinese mills hurt demand while low-cost supplies from the biggest miners expand. It may get worse. “The key problem for iron ore is oversupply: the iron ore heavyweights have overestimated China’s appetite,” Gavin Wendt, founding director at MineLife in Sydney, said after prices dropped on Tuesday to the lowest level since daily data began in 2009. “Further price weakness is inevitable.” The commodity has been hurt this year by increasing output from the biggest miners including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale and faltering demand for steel in China, where mills account for half of global output. Goldman Sachs said last week that the global market is oversupplied, with steel consumption in China remaining weak. Mills are battling sinking prices that have eroded profit margins.

“We’re going through a very difficult time,” said Philip Kirchlechner, director of Iron Ore Research. “It was always expected that it would come down to the $40s again, but not over a sustained period,” said Kirchlechner, former head of marketing at Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. Ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao fell 1.9% to $43.89 a dry metric ton on Tuesday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. The commodity is headed for a third annual retreat, and the latest fall eclipsed the previous low of $44.59 set in July. The steel industry in China is reaching a critical point, according to Andy Xie, an independent economist who’s been bearish for years and sees a drop below $40 before year-end. Mills will have to cut production, said Xie, a former Asia-Pacific chief economist at Morgan Stanley. Crude-steel output in China will drop 23 million tons to 783 million tons next year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

Last month, the nation’s leading industry group reported wider losses and noted that while official interest rates in China have been cut, mills faced higher funding costs. The biggest miners are betting that higher production will enable them to cut costs and raise market share while less efficient suppliers get squeezed. Rio’s Andrew Harding, chief executive officer for iron ore and Australia, said this month the company will keep defending market share and if it cut output, volumes would simply be taken by less efficient rivals. Kirchlechner said that the onset of winter in China may bring something of a reprieve for prices as local ore producers are forced to curtail supplies, spurring increased demand for cargoes from overseas.

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Not sure either Tyler Durden or SocGen defines ‘black swan’ right: they’re the things you’re not supposed to see coming, so how can you predict them?

Presenting SocGen’s 5 Black Swans For 2016 (Zero Hedge)

In its latest quarterly Global Economic Outlook, SocGen takes a look at five political and economic black swans that could touch down in 2016 and also warns that “high levels of public sector debt, already overburdened monetary policy, still high debt stocks and on-going balance sheet clean ups in a number of economies leave the global economy will a low level of ammunition to deal with new shocks.” Here’s the latest SG “swan chart” which is “dominated by downside risks”:

As we and a bevy of others have pointed out, QE is bumping up against the law of diminishing returns and it’s no longer clear that doubling and tripling down on monetization will do anything at all to boost aggregate demand, juice global trade, or raise inflation expectations (but what it surely will do is continue to inflate asset bubbles). In this environment, fiscal stimulus may be the only “solution.” As SocGen puts it, “in the event of a major new significant shock, our baseline scenario remains that both the US and Europe would opt first for further monetary policy stimulus. Later on, however, as this proves inefficient, we would expect fiscal stimulus to be considered.” China, of course, has already gone this route, boosting fiscal spending by 36% in Ocotber as the country’s credit impulse disappeared despite six rate cuts in less than a year. From SocGen:

• Brexit at a probability of 45%, remains our highest probability risk. At this time, a date has yet to be set for the referendum but 3Q16 seems a likely timing, based on the idea that Prime Minister Cameron will want to hold the referendum within a reasonable timeframe on concluding an agreement with his EU partners (which could come as early as the December 2015 Summit, but more likely in March 2016).

• China hard landing remains a significant risk at 30%. Medium-term, we set an even higher probability of 40% on a lost decade scenario. As opposed to a hard landing, however, such a risk scenario would manifest itself only gradually. The most likely trigger for a China hard- landing is policy error with miscalculation of how much financial risk management or structural reform the system can absorb. We identify three main triggers. In practice, a combination thereof seems the most likely cause of such a risk scenario.

• Credit crunch: An intensification of capital outflows, a growing number of non-performing loans and an insufficient response from the PBoC could result in a credit crunch. Such risks could be further exacerbated by pressure coming from Chinese corporations’ foreign exchange denominated debt and overall high level of leverage.

• Dry-up in housing demand: Should a new housing shock emerge, triggering a buyers strike, then real estate developers (also burdened with foreign currency loans) could suffer renewed stress, triggering a significant scaling back of investment.

• Capacity overhang: The still-large excess capacity in the manufacturing sector would be further exacerbated in such a scenario, weighing on corporate margins and profits. The risk is to see bankruptcies and unemployment increase in such a bleak scenario.

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We watch bemused as Ambrose continues to make his case for optimism and inflation.

Elite Funds Prepare For Reflation And A Bloodbath For Bonds (AEP)

One by one, the giant investment funds are quietly switching out of government bonds, the most overpriced assets on the planet. Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed if the latest surge in the global money supply finally catches fire and ignites reflation, closing the chapter on our strange Lost Decade of secular stagnation. The Norwegian Pension Fund, the world’s top sovereign wealth fund, is rotating a chunk of its $860bn of assets into property in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, New York, San Francisco and now Tokyo and East Asia. “Every real estate investment deal we do is funded by sales of government bonds,” says Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive. It already owns part of the Quadrant 3 building on Regent Street, and bought the Pollen Estate – along with Saville Row – from the Church Commissioners last year. But this is just a nibble.

The fund is eyeing a 15pc weighting in property, an inflation-hedge if ever there was one. The Swiss bank UBS – an even bigger player with $2 trillion under management – has issued its own gentle warning on bonds as the US Federal Reserve prepares to kick off the first global tightening cycle since 2004. UBS expects five rate rises by the end of next year, 60 points more than futures contracts, and enough to rattle debt markets still priced for an Ice Age. Mark Haefele, the bank’s investment guru, said his clients are growing wary of bonds but do not know where to park their money instead. The UBS bubble index of global property is already flashing multiple alerts, with Hong Kong off the charts and London now so expensive that it takes a skilled worker 14 years to buy a broom cupboard of 60 square metres.

Mr Haefele says equities are the lesser risk, especially in Japan, where the central bank has bought 54pc of the entire market for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and is itching to go further. As of late November, roughly $6 trillion of government debt was trading at negative interest rates, led by the Swiss two-year bond at -1.046pc. The German two-year Bund is at -0.4pc. The Germans and Czechs are negative all the way out to six years, the Dutch to five, the French to four and the Irish to three. Bank of America says $17 trillion of bonds are trading at yields below 1pc, including most of the Japanese sovereign debt market. This is a remarkable phenomenon given that global core inflation – as measured by Henderson Global Investor’s G7 and E7 composite – has been rising since late 2014 and is now at a seven-year high of 2.7pc.

In the eurozone, the M1 money supply is rising at a blistering pace of 11.9pc. A case can be made that the ECB should go for broke, deliberately stoking a short-term monetary boom to achieve “escape velocity” once and for all. The risk of a Japanese trap is not to be taken lightly. Yet even those who feared looming deflation in Europe two years ago are beginning to wonder whether the bank is losing the plot. If the ECB doubles down next week with more quantitative easing and a cut in the deposit rate to -0.3pc, as expected, it will validate the iron law that central banks are pro-cyclical recidivists, always and everywhere behind the curve. Caution is in order. The investment graveyard is littered with the fund managers who bet against Japanese bonds, only to see the 10-year yield keep falling for two decades, plumbing new depths of 0.24pc this January.

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Something tells me Russia’s info ain’t lying.

Russia: Ankara Defends ISIS, Financial Interest In Oil Trade With Group (RT)

Some Turkish officials have ‘direct financial interest’ in the oil trade with the terrorist group Islamic State, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said as he detailed possible Russian retaliation to Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane in Syria on Tuesday. “Turkey’s actions are de facto protection of Islamic State,” Medvedev said, calling the group formerly known as ISIS by its new name. “This is no surprise, considering the information we have about direct financial interest of some Turkish officials relating to the supply of oil products refined by plants controlled by ISIS.” “The reckless and criminal actions of the Turkish authorities… have caused a dangerous escalation of relations between Russia and NATO, which cannot be justified by any interest, including protection of state borders,” Medvedev said.

According to Medvedev, Russia is considering canceling several important projects with Turkey and barring Turkish companies from the Russian market. Russia has already recommended its citizens not to go Turkey citing terrorist threats, which have resulted in several tourist operators withdrawing tours to Turkey from the market. Russia may further scrap a gas pipeline project, aimed at turning Turkey into a major transit country for Russian natural gas going to Europe, and the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber over Syria on Tuesday, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace. Russia says no violation took place and considers the hostile act as ‘a stab in the back’ and direct assistance to terrorist forces in Syria.

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Including Turkey.

Russia Ready For Joint Command Against Islamic State: Paris Envoy (Reuters)

Russia is prepared to coordinate strikes against Islamic State militants in a joint command with the United States, France and others who want to participate, including Turkey, Moscow’s envoy to Paris said on Wednesday. French President Francois Hollande is trying to rally more international support to destroy Islamic State following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. He visited Washington on Tuesday and is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. “This coalition is a possibility,” Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexandre Orlov, told Europe 1 radio. “For our part, we are prepared to go further, to plan strikes against Daesh (Islamic State) positions together and to set up a joint command with France, America and any country that wants to join this coalition,” he said, noting that this included Turkey.

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Tax cases have been easier to make for prosecutors since Al Capone.

VW Faces Fresh Probe Over Tax Violation Claims in Germany

Volkswagen is facing a new criminal investigation after publishing incorrect emissions data that gave some drivers tax breaks that may have been unjustified. Prosecutors in Braunschweig, already looking into Volkswagen diesels, are now formally examining tax issues linked to faulty carbon-dioxide readings as well, spokesman Klaus Ziehe said by phone Tuesday. A separate probe was necessary because the accusations involve other cars and other people, he said. Five suspects are being investigated, Ziehe said, without identifying them. “German prosecutors like these kinds of investigations,” said Michael Kubiciel, a criminal law professor at the University of Cologne. “It’s easier to pursue charges under German tax law than under environmental protection rules.”

Volkswagen has said the people who bought the cars won’t have to pay the difference in taxes. The bill adds to the mounting tab of recall costs and regulatory fines the carmaker faces over irregular and falsified vehicle emissions, a scandal that began more than two months ago with Volkswagen’s admission to rigging diesel engines in 11 million vehicles worldwide. The CO2 issue arose Nov. 3, after the automaker said about 800,000 cars, mostly in Europe, had emissions of the greenhouse gas that didn’t match up with the levels promised. That matters because CO2 is a key measure for setting tax rates for motor vehicles in many European countries. Improperly labeled cars with higher-than-marketed emissions may lead authorities to reclaim the tax breaks.

Volkswagen estimated the financial risk of manipulating the ratings at about €2 billion. That sum includes paying governments for missing tax revenue. The carmaker already set aside €6.7 billion in the third quarter to fix diesel cars with engine software that allowed them to pass emission tests by illegally restricting pollution during testing. European regulators have approved Volkswagen’s proposals for how to repair about 70% of the diesel engines affected worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller told a gathering of executives in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Audi division will resubmit a revised version of software that the EPA and California Air Resources Board has targeted in its latest probe. If approved, the fix for 85,000 Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars with 3.0-liter diesel engines should cost roughly €50 million. EPA and CARB will review and test the revised software.

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The man behind Jeremy Corbyn.

This is The Day We Say Farewell To All That Was Good About Britain (Murphy)

I think that today we will say farewell to all that made the UK a compassionate, decent, fair and civilised society. After George Osborne has had his way I have a deeply uncomfortable feeling that this country will be more brutal, unequal, divided and profoundly individualistic. Once Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. Today I feel like George Osborne is trying to prove it. Tax is not going to be the focus of today, I suspect. It should be: if George Osborne wants to pursue the goal of a balanced budget (which has no economic merit, at all) then tackling the tax gap and cutting tax expenditures would be the obvious thing to do and that would deliver increased economic fairness and social justice. But those will not be at the heart of today.

Today is about shrinking the state. Apart from the economic illiteracy of this (at the macro level cutting government spending is the same as cutting GDP if there is spare capacity in the economy, and so the policy Osborne is pursuing makes it harder for him to achieve his goal) there is the massive social injustice that this entails to worry about. Social inequality will increase as a result of today. The disabled will be worse off again. The young will suffer disproportionately. The education of many will be harmed. Our long term prospects will be reduced. Those in need of care will have less available. Society will be more vulnerable. And yes, some will die as a result of today. That has to be said.

Those are all choices. And none of them is necessary. The policy of austerity is a political affectation designed to increase the wealth of a few, to favour large companies and to appease bankers. It cannot work, although I think George Osborne does not realise that although the evidence is obvious. And so the question as to why it has been adopted has to be asked. And that comes down to greed, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a blunt indifference to others.

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First encourage them, then…

UK Consumer Borrowing Binge Troubles Bank Of England (Guardian)

Bank of England policymakers may need to take action to prevent a risky consumer borrowing binge as the economy recovers, the bank’s chief economist has warned. Appearing before the cross-party Treasury select committee alongside the Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, Andy Haldane warned that consumer credit, in particular personal loans, had been “picking up at a rate of knots. That ultimately might be an issue that the financial policy committee [FPC] might want to look at fairly carefully.” The Financial Policy Committee (FPC), created after the financial crisis, is meant to prevent a future crash by allowing the Bank to take action in particular markets without using the blunter tool of interest rates. Chaired by the governor, it has 10 members – but does not include Haldane.

The FPC has already stepped in to constrain mortgage lending but its powers to confront a credit bubble are untested. The latest data from the Bank showed the rate of growth of consumer credit picking up sharply. Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee, said: “The FPC has huge new powers which only small numbers of the public have so far been aware of, and it is particularly important that we hold them accountable. Many of these decisions were formerly the preserve of politicians.” Carney told MPs he was limited as to how much he could say about the FPC, as he was in “purdah”, as its next meeting approached; but he confirmed the rapid pace of credit growth was something it might need to look at.

He added that the separate monetary policy committee (MPC), which sets interest rates, has to take into account the historically high debt levels of Britain’s households as it made interest rate decisions. “Without question, more indebted households are more vulnerable,” he said. “The pressure on households because of the debt burden is significant. There is less margin for error.”

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The main focus of that worse-than-useless Paris climate summit.

Consume More, Conserve More: Sorry, But We Just Can’t Do Both (Monbiot)

We can have it all: that is the promise of our age. We can own every gadget we are capable of imagining – and quite a few that we are not. We can live like monarchs without compromising the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The promise that makes all this possible is that as economies develop, they become more efficient in their use of resources. In other words, they decouple. There are two kinds of decoupling: relative and absolute. Relative decoupling means using less stuff with every unit of economic growth; absolute decoupling means a total reduction in the use of resources, even though the economy continues to grow. Almost all economists believe that decoupling – relative or absolute – is an inexorable feature of economic growth. On this notion rests the concept of sustainable development.

It sits at the heart of the climate talks in Paris next month and of every other summit on environmental issues. But it appears to be unfounded. A paper published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes that even the relative decoupling we claim to have achieved is an artefact of false accounting. It points out that governments and economists have measured our impacts in a way that seems irrational. Here’s how the false accounting works. It takes the raw materials we extract in our own countries, adds them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtracts our exports, to end up with something called “domestic material consumption”. But by measuring only the products shifted from one nation to another, rather than the raw materials needed to create those products, it greatly underestimates the total use of resources by the rich nations.

For instance, if ores are mined and processed at home, these raw materials, as well as the machinery and infrastructure used to make finished metal, are included in the domestic material consumption accounts. But if we buy a metal product from abroad, only the weight of the metal is counted. So as mining and manufacturing shift from countries such as the UK and the US to countries like China and India, the rich nations appear to be using fewer resources. A more rational measure, called the material footprint, includes all the raw materials an economy uses, wherever they happen to be extracted. When these are taken into account, the apparent improvements in efficiency disappear. In the UK, for instance, the absolute decoupling that the domestic material consumption accounts appear to show is replaced with an entirely different chart.

Not only is there no absolute decoupling; there is no relative decoupling either. In fact, until the financial crisis in 2007, the graph was heading in the opposite direction: even relative to the rise in our gross domestic product, our economy was becoming less efficient in its use of materials. Against all predictions, a recoupling was taking place. While the OECD has claimed that the richest countries have halved the intensity with which they use resources, the new analysis suggests that in the EU, the US, Japan and the other rich nations, there have been “no improvements in resource productivity at all”. This is astonishing news. It appears to makes a nonsense of everything we have been told about the trajectory of our environmental impacts.

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Which will only lead to more refugees.

EU Countries Diverting Overseas Aid To Cover Refugee Bills (Guardian)

A report published on Tuesday by Concord, the European NGO confederation for relief and development, documents an emerging trend among member states to divert aid budgets from sustainable development to domestic costs associated with hosting refugees and asylum seekers. Some of the expenditure items EU countries report as aid do not translate into a real transfer of resources to developing countries or, ultimately, to people who are poor and marginalised, the report has found. This is not the first time that NGOs have reported that EU monies are increasingly being spent on tackling the refugee crisis and border security, rather than fighting poverty and inequality.

But this time the Concord AidWatch report contains data from the OECD CRS dataset complemented by updated national figures. In some cases, data from the European commission and Eurostat is also used. Concord says that some EU countries are misreporting some of their official development assistance (ODA) expenses by including costs which, under existing guidelines, should not have been counted. The reporting of non-eligible migration-related expenses in Spain and Malta, or the misreporting of refugee costs in Hungary, are among the examples cited. Inflated aid is calculated on the bilateral component of EU aid. Many of the components – imputed student costs, refugee costs, interest and tied aid – do not apply to multilateral aid.

The report found that in 2014, the EU28 and the European institutions inflated their aid by €7.1bn, which represents 12% of all aid flows. Some countries inflate aid more than others. While the percentage of inflated aid for Luxembourg is estimated at 0.3% of the country s total aid, and at 0.5% for the UK, it is, in contrast, 50.6% for Malta, 30.9% for Austria and 27.2% for Portugal. The EU institutions are no different from the member states, having ‘inflated’ their aid by 9.9%.

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See next article.

EU Refugee Numbers Drop for First Time This Year as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)

The number of refugees arriving in the European Union from violence-scarred regions of the Middle East and Africa is set to fall in November as traveling conditions worsen and member states looked to strengthen the bloc’s external borders. The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach the EU this month fell to 116,579 through Nov. 23 compared with a record 220,535 in October, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The deepening chaos in nations from Libya to Syria has spawned an unprecedented wave of more than 860,000 people seeking shelter within the EU this year. The influx opened divisions within the bloc as German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Europe must honor its asylum commitments while other leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban complained of the strain on their communities.

The pressure on Merkel increased this month when jihadists who attacked restaurants and a music venue in Paris. At least two of the assailants are thought to have entered the EU as refugees. On Friday EU nations agreed to bolster controls on frontiers around the bloc. They agreed to start carrying out systematic registration, including fingerprinting of all migrants entering into the Schengen area. All travelers will have their passports checked when they arrive in Europe, extending the full-blown screening that is currently limited to non-EU passport holders. The number of people entering Hungary slowed to a trickle this month after Orban closed the country’s border with Croatia on Oct. 18. Austria overtook Croatia as the nation with most arrivals during the first two weeks of November as the number of people embarking on the journey to Europe declined.

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Betcha the Greeks know more and better than the UN.

Rate Of Refugee Arrivals in Greece Picking Up (Kath.)

After a brief dip in the number of refugees and migrants arriving on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, an increase was noted on Tuesday in the quantity of boats reaching Greek shores from Turkey. The uptick came a day ahead of Frontex’s management board meeting in Warsaw on Wednesday, when it is expected that the European Union border agency will decide to move its operational office from Piraeus. The office has been located in the port city since 2010 and its removal would be seen as a diplomatic blow for Greece, especially given the current flow of refugees to the country. More than 60 dinghies carrying migrants arrived on Lesvos on Tuesday as Alternate Foreign Minister Nikos Xydakis and Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas guided the ambassadors of European Union countries around the island so they could get a closeup view of the impact of the refugee crisis.

Greece has been under pressure to improve the registration process for arrivals and Lesvos is expected to host a so-called hotspot at the Moria camp, where authorities are hoping to register between 1,000 and 1,500 people a day. Police officials said they expect the hotspot to be ready in less than two weeks. The recent letup in the number of people reaching Lesvos allowed authorities in Athens, where migrants are transferred, to empty the sports hall in Galatsi, which is being used for temporary shelter, and move everyone to the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro. Tuesday’s arrivals on Lesvos included a yacht carrying 140 migrants who had each paid around 3,000 euros to travel from Turkey in its relative safety. Two bodies also washed up in the island pn Tuesday.

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How it this possible. Greece needs that money for its own citizens’ health care.

Greece Spends €800,000 On Migrant Healthcare With EU Funding Absent (Kath.)

Greece has so far this year spent more than €800,000 in healthcare for about 2,000 migrants and refugees, according to data from the Health Ministry. According to the data, which were presented by General Secretary for Public Health Yiannis Baskozos during a conference of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Rome on Tuesday, demand for the EKAV emergency medical assistance service has increased by 42% compared to 2014. Ambulance calls doubled between June – November – when the refugee crisis peaked – over the same period last year. “[Greece] has managed to fulfill the current healthcare needs for refugees and migrants notwithstanding the absence of EU funding,” Baskozos told the conference.

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Dec 302014
 
 December 30, 2014  Posted by at 11:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


DPC Times Square seen from Broadway 1908

Greece Comes Back To Haunt Eurozone As Anti-Troika Rebels Scent Power (AEP)
Syriza Can Transform The EU From Within (Costas Lapavitsas)
‘Perfect Storm’ Could Send Euro Even Lower (CNBC)
Oil Falls Further But Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Care (CNBC)
Oil Industry Set For Year Of Mergers And Takeovers, Says PwC (BBC)
The Cartel: How BP Used a Secret Chat Room for Insider Tips (Bloomberg)
Iron-Ore Slump Fails to End Glut as Australia Mines Grow (Bloomberg)
Bernanke Tells UK’s King: We Saved Our Economies (MarketWatch)
Goldman Sachs Set for Fight Over $835 Million Loan to Banco Espírito Santo (WSJ)
Petrobras Deadline Prompts Bondholders To Push For Default (Reuters)
Foreign Automakers Taken To Task In China Over Dealers’ Inventories (Reuters)
Ditching Dollar: China, Russia Launch Financial Tools In Local Currencies (RT)
Jeb Bush and the Making of a $236 Million Federal Contract (Bloomberg)
Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security (Spiegel)
Bill Cosby Hires PI’s To Dig Up Dirt On Women Who Accuse Him of Rape (Ind.)
Large Hadron Collider To Switch Back On At Double Power (Ind.)
The Trigger (James Howard Kunstler)
Ebola Spurs Call for Global Health Reserve Corps, Challenging WHO (Bloomberg)
Ebola in UK: One Patient Diagnosed With Ebola, Two More Tested (Independent)

“The conflict over austerity is politically explosive because it is becoming a conflict between Germany and Italy, and worse, between Germany and France …”

Greece Comes Back To Haunt Eurozone As Anti-Troika Rebels Scent Power (AEP)

The eurozone’s long-simmering crisis has returned with a vengeance as snap elections in Greece open the way for an anti-austerity government and a cathartic showdown over the terms of euro membership. Yields on 3-year Greek debt surged 185 basis points to 11.9pc on Monday amid default fears after premier Antonis Samaras failed to win the extra votes in parliament needed to avert a general election on January 25, despite dire warnings that such an outcome risked “bankruptcy and exit from the euro.” The upset opens the door for the hard-Left Syriza movement, which has vowed to tear up Greece’s hated ‘Memorandum’ with EU-IMF Troika creditors “on its first day in office”, and threatened to default on up to €245bn of rescue loans unless the EU grants debt relief.

Syriza is leading by 29.9pc to 23.4pc in the latest Palmos Analysis poll, though other surveys are closer. It is likely to become the first truly radical group to take power in any EMU state since the creation of monetary union. A quirk in Greece’s electoral law gives the winning party an extra fifty seats in parliament. Alexis Tsipras, the bloc’s firebrand leader, vowed to overthrow of the austerity regime and launch a new era of social salvation, claiming the government’s campaign of “blackmail and terror” had failed. “There will be an end to austerity. The future has started,” he said. Markets were caught off-guard. Flight to safety drove yields on German 10-year Bunds to an historic low of 0.54pc, while the Athens bourse crashed 10pc before partly recovering in late trading.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble warned Greeks not to play with fire by pressing impossible demands. “Fresh elections won’t change Greece’s debt. Each new government must fulfil the contractual obligations of its predecessors. If Greece chooses another way, it’s going to be tough,” he said. JP Morgan said any Syriza-led coalition is likely to soften its line once in office. It is certain to ditch many of the extreme measures unveiled at a disastrous roadshow in London last month, deemed “Communist” by one hedge fund. Yet it will be hard to settle the core dispute over debt relief, likely to be centred on calls for “Bisque bonds” where payment is linked to GDP growth. The IMF said Greece faces “no immediate financing needs” yet the issue will turn serious once Greece runs out of Troika money in February.

“We could have a problem at the beginning of March,” said finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis. It will be even more serious in July and August when Greece must repay €6.7bn to the European Central Bank. Capital markets are effectively closed. The Greek banking system remains on life-support, kept afloat by $40bn of ECB liquidity. Frankfurt has a duty to safeguard the money of other eurozone members and cannot lightly prop up lenders in a country that is at the same time threatening to default on EU debt. Mr Hardouvelis warned that the ECB could “strangle the Greek economy in a split second” if it switched off funding. Holger Schmieding from Berenberg Bank said there is now a 30pc risk that Greece could stumble into a rolling crisis and a potential euro exit. “That is a big risk,” he said.

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Not going to happen. What we’ll see is lots of Brussels chest-thumping. The ‘leaders’ don’t want to be transformed.

Syriza Can Transform The EU From Within (Costas Lapavitsas)

The Greek parliament has failed to elect a new president and the country’s constitution dictates that there should now be parliamentary elections. These will be critical for Greece and also important for Europe. A victory for Syriza, the main leftwing party, would offer hope that Europe might, at last, begin to move away from austerity policies. But there are also grave risks for Greece and the European left. The rise of Syriza is a result of the adjustment programme imposed on Greece in 2010. The troika of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF provided huge bailout loans, with the cost of unprecedented cuts in public expenditure, tax increases and a collapse in wages. It was a standard, if extreme, austerity package, with one vital difference: austerity could not be softened by devaluing the currency as, for instance, had happened in the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Greek membership of the euro had closed all escape routes.

Brutal austerity succeeded in stabilising Greece and keeping it in the economic and monetary union by destroying its economy and society. The budget deficit has been drastically reduced, the current account deficit has turned into a surplus and the prospect of default on foreign debt has receded. But GDP has contracted by 25%, unemployment has shot above 25%, real wages have fallen by 30% and industrial output has declined by 35%. The human cost has been immeasurable, amounting to a silent humanitarian crisis. Homelessness has rocketed, primary healthcare has collapsed, soup kitchens have multiplied and child mortality has increased. Since the summer of 2014, the depression has been drawing to a close, helped by the strong performance of the tourist sector. Yet, the damage from troika policies is so severe that growth prospects are appalling.

The weakness is manifest in foreign trade, which the IMF expected to act as the “engine of growth”. In 2014, Greek exports will probably contract, while imports began to rise as soon as the depression showed signs of ending. This is a deeply dysfunctional economy. In the midst of this catastrophe, the troika is insisting on further austerity to achieve massive primary budget surpluses of 3% in 2015, 4.5% in 2016 and even more in future years. Its purpose is to service the enormous foreign debt, which has risen to 175% of GDP from about 130% in 2009. Astonishingly, the IMF still expects Greece to register average growth of 3.4% during the next five years – provided, of course, that it goes full speed ahead with privatisation, deregulation of labour and market liberalisation. The troika has truly embraced the economics of the absurd.

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Doesn’t need to be perfect.

‘Perfect Storm’ Could Send Euro Even Lower (CNBC)

The euro traded near a 28-month low on Monday, and analysts forecast its decline could continue, after a last-dash vote in Greece failed to secure a new president for the country. A snap general election was called for January following the result, which could potentially jeopardize this year’s economic progress, as well as delicate negotiations with the country’s “troika” of international loan brokers. The currency fell to $1.2165 in early trading—the nadir for the single currency since European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro zone in July 2012. It recovered a little following the results of the Greek vote, but remained subdued at $1.2180, below a key resistance level of $1.2300.

“A perfect political and economic storm is brewing,” said BBH currency strategists led by Marc Chandler in a research note published Monday. Despite the small bounce in the euro after the results were out, SocGen’s Kit Juckes said the currency could continue to decline against the dollar this week. He predicted the euro could move to, or through, $1.20, taking it to lows last seen at the apex of the euro zone debt crisis in 2010. “The failure (of Monday’s vote in Greece) was widely expected, so the immediate response is minimal, despite Greek yields being higher and Greek stocks having failed to bounce,” the macro strategist told CNBC via email. “I think if the euro starts to fall, it could gather some downward momentum, given the uncertainty about the outcome of the elections.”

Lee Hardman, currency economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, forecast that the currency would fall below $1.20 in the first three months of 2015. The euro has typically bottomed around $1.20 over the last 10 years, and Hardman warned of the risk of a sharp adjustment downwards if the currency fell through that level. “Our base case is for the euro to continue to grind lower,” Hardman told CNBC on Monday. “We are looking for a move down below $1.20 within the first quarter, and then our year-end level is $1.14, deeper into undervalued territory.”

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Vying for stupidest headline of the season. The Saudis face civil unrest on a huge scale. They care a lot, but they can’t do anything. There’s too much oversupply.

Oil Falls Further But Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Care (CNBC)

The oil price hit a 5-1/2-year low on Tuesday, in a move likely to wreak yet more economic havoc on countries like Russia and Venezuela but major oil producer Saudi Arabia looked to be relatively unscathed. In fact, despite prices extending losses into a fourth session, one analyst told CNBC that Saudi Arabia – the largest producer in OPEC – was enjoying a “perfect storm”, enabling it to take on its rivals. Brent oil for February delivery fell to under $57 per barrel Tuesday, despite ongoing output disruptions in Libya that had briefly appeared to support prices on Monday. And there is no sign of production being cut any time soon, with Saudi Arabia standing by OPEC’s November decision not to reduce output. “By dint almost of an accident Saudi Arabia is seeing Russia and Iran face some financial pain, and (falling prices) are causing trouble in Canada and some parts of the U.S. as well,” Malcom Graham-Wood, independent oil and gas analysts, told CNBC Tuesday.

“Having this perfect storm of events unwind gave them the chance to play the market share card at the OPEC meeting (in November),” he said. Saudi Arabia is in a stronger position than a number of its fellow oil producers because it is a low-cost producer and can withstand lower prices as it has stockpiled revenues from previous peaks in the oil price in the last five years. But other major oil producers – both inside and outside OPEC – have been hard hit by lower oil revenues. Investment in U.S. shale oil is starting to look threatened, and economic growth forecasts in countries like Russia have been hastily revised lower. Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, said on Monday that the country’s petroleum export price had halved during the second half of 2014 to $48, Reuters reported. But rather than blame its fellow OPEC member Saudi for failing to back a producing cut, Maduro blamed the oil price decline on the U.S., saying the country was trying to hurt Russia and Venezuela.

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You bet. There’ll be an earthquake in the industry.

Oil Industry Set For Year Of Mergers And Takeovers, Says PwC (BBC)

The oil and gas industry is set for a year of mergers and takeovers as a result of the plummeting oil price, a business consultancy has predicted. PwC said 2015 may bring the first hostile takeover in the sector in living memory. It warned of “uncertain times” for the estimated 440,000 people employed in the UK’s oil and gas industry. The oil price has fallen from $115 a barrel in the middle of the year to about $60. Drew Stevenson, PwC’s UK energy deals leader, said: “Oil prices remaining at the current level for a sustained period will light the touch-paper for mergers and acquisitions in 2015. “As the UK industry positions itself for a more uncertain future, we expect to see deal activity levels pick up throughout the year ahead.” PwC said the industry would be “increasingly cash-constrained” with new debt coming at a cost, and existing debt coming under increased scrutiny.

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Lovely.

The Cartel: How BP Used a Secret Chat Room for Insider Tips (Bloomberg)

Halfway down a muddy, secluded road on marshland in suburban Essex sits Wharf Pool, a lake stocked with some of the biggest freshwater fish you will ever see. A white sign with red lettering reads: “Private Syndicate: Strictly Members Only.” A metal gate, a barbed-wire fence and two CCTV cameras bar the way. Anglers hoping to spend time on the lake’s carefully tended banks must join a waiting list. Those who make it to the top pay a membership fee that buys them the chance to catch a carp that weighs more than a Jack Russell. There are hundreds of them swimming beneath the surface. It’s close to shooting fish in a barrel. An hour away by train, in London’s financial district, the lake’s owners ply their trade.

Wharf Pool was purchased for about £250,000 ($388,000) in 2012 by Richard Usher, the former JPMorgan trader at the center of a global investigation into corruption in the foreign-exchange market, and Andrew White, a currency trader at oil company BP. With revenue of almost $400 billion last year and operations in about 80 countries, BP trades large quantities of currency each day. Traders at the company regularly received valuable information from counterparts at some of the world’s biggest banks – including tips about forthcoming trades, details of confidential client business and discussions of stop-losses, the trigger points for a flurry of buying or selling – according to four traders with direct knowledge of the practice. Copies of messages sent to BP traders over the course of a year were provided to Bloomberg News by a person with access to the online conversations.

The person, who redacted the names of banks sending the messages and dates of conversations, said they came from firms whose senior foreign-exchange traders belonged to a chat room called “The Cartel” that was set up by Usher and included dealers at JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays and UBS. The information offered an insight into currency moves minutes, sometimes hours before they happened. The messages could drag the U.K.’s biggest energy company into a scandal that has enveloped 11 banks and led to more than 30 traders from London to Singapore losing or being suspended from their jobs. Last month six banks were fined $4.3 billion for passing along information about their clients and working together to rig foreign-exchange markets.

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Gambling on China growth that isn’t there.

Iron-Ore Slump Fails to End Glut as Australia Mines Grow (Bloomberg)

The collapse in global iron-ore prices isn’t chasing Gina Rinehart away from the red soil of Western Australia that made her a billionaire. Like producers in Brazil and some in China, she can still profit from the metal. At the $8 billion Roy Hill mine Rinehart is building in the Pilbara region, where her father made the first discoveries in the 1950s, ore must sell for about $56 a metric ton at Chinese ports to avoid losses, and costs are even lower for Australian output from Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, UBS data show. Even with prices down 65% from a record in 2011, top buyer China pays $67 for the steel-making ore today.

While some high-cost operations have closed and demand is slowing, there are enough producers making money to extend a global surplus for another four years, after companies spent about $120 billion since 2011 to expand mines, according to Goldman Sachs. More than 80% of global production is still profitable, Bloomberg Intelligence says. “We did base this project on long-run iron-ore prices, which admittedly were higher than what they are today,” Barry Fitzgerald, the chief executive officer of Rinehart’s Roy Hill, told reporters during a tour of the site last month. “There’s going to be an awful lot of impact on the rest of the industry” before Roy Hill is affected, he said.

The iron-ore glut emerged this year after a record expansion of mine capacity and as China, the world’s second-largest economy, grew at the slowest pace in two decades. The surplus will reach 300 million tons by 2017, because Chinese steel production is unlikely to expand fast enough to absorb the excess supply, Goldman Sachs said in a Nov. 6 report. Rising output of low-cost ore will boost shipments from Australia, the largest producer, said Wayne Calder, deputy executive director of the government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics. Supply from Rio, BHP, Fortescue and Roy Hill will add about 100 million tons a year to exports, Calder said in September. Rinehart, the richest woman in the Asia-Pacific region, is pushing ahead with plans to start shipments by September and produce 55 million tons a year.

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And the BBC just lets them say these things?

Bernanke Tells UK’s King: We Saved Our Economies (MarketWatch)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes history has already vindicated the novel efforts of the U.S. central bank to revive the economy after the financial crisis of 2008. The Fed and the Bank of England offered financial aid to beleaguered banks and deployed tools such as quantitative easing – creating new money – on a massive scale to help heal badly damaged economies. The result has been that the U.S. and Britain have grown much faster than the European Union, whose response has been less aggressive. “By stabilizing the financial system, we avoided much, much worse, persistently bad consequences for our economies,” Bernanke said in an interview with Mervyn King on BBC. King was head of the Bank of England during the crisis and was a constant ally of Bernanke, a longtime friend whom he had first met at MIT three decades earlier.

Critics of quantitative easing contend it’s too early for the Fed to declare victory. The central bank still has to successfully manage the reduction in historically large balance sheets without causing any severe economic side effects, they say. In a Pattonesque way, Bernanke said he found dealing with the crisis “incredibly stimulating” because he was able to draw on a lifetime of academic study about the causes of the Great Depression and how to avoid another one. “I feel that the work I did as a academic paid off and that I was able to use that to help solved these problems,” he said. “That’s very satisfying, though it’s not an experience I would voluntarily repeat.” No surprise there. Bernanke spent countless hours managing the crisis through 2008 and 2009 and had to see a doctor after experiencing episodes of physical discomfort. “There certainly was a lot of stress. I once went to a gastroenterologist,” Bernanke recounted. “He said, ‘Do you think your problem might be caused by stress?’ ‘Well, I said, it’s possible.’ ”

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Golman vs the entire nation of Portugal. We’ll take your bets now.

Goldman Sachs Set for Fight Over $835 Million Loan to Banco Espírito Santo (WSJ)

Goldman Sachs is squaring up for a fight with the Bank of Portugal over repayment of an $835 million loan made to Banco Espírito Santo weeks before the Portuguese lender’s collapse. The four-year loan, arranged by Goldman Sachs through a finance vehicle called Oak Financ, had been transferred in August to Novo Banco, the “good bank” carved out of Banco Espírito Santo. Last week, the Bank of Portugal decided that transfer was a mistake, and that the loan should instead remain at the “bad bank” that kept the Banco Espírito Santo name and its worst assets. The decision means Goldman Sachs and its clients could lose hundreds of millions of dollars from investments in Oak Finance notes backed by the loan, because assets at the bad bank are estimated to be worth less than $100 million in liquidation.

The Bank of Portugal’s move also puts at a disadvantage junior bondholders at Banco Espírito Santo, who are already embroiled in legal efforts to improve their potential payout. A Goldman Sachs spokeswoman said the Bank of Portugal’s unexpected announcement would harm its clients and financial markets generally, and that it plans to pursue remedies. Banco Espírito Santo failed in August after the central bank started untangling a web of cross-funding between the bank and other companies in the vast Espírito Santo family empire. The Bank of Portugal and the Portuguese prosecutor’s office are conducting separate probes into the matter, and authorities in at least three other countries are investigating individuals and group companies over alleged wrongdoing. The Oak Finance transaction stood out in the wreckage of Banco Espírito Santo, both for its timing and because of the companies involved.

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2015 will be tough on Brazil.

Petrobras Deadline Prompts Bondholders To Push For Default (Reuters)

Petrobras, Brazil’s state-run oil company, could be declared in technical default on some of its foreign debt as early as Tuesday if bondholders pursue efforts to force it to speed up its assessment of losses in a giant corruption scandal. The push, led by New York-based Aurelius Capital, applies to $54 billion of Petrobras bonds governed by U.S. law in New York state. Aurelius, a “distressed debt” fund, is asking investors to put the company into default as “a precautionary step,” according to a Dec. 29 letter from the firm reviewed by Reuters. Under the terms of those bonds, Petrobras is required to provide third-quarter financial statements within 90 days of the end of a quarter, in this case by Monday, Dec. 29. Petrobras has not published those accounts because allegations of contract-fixing and bribery at the company have raised doubts about the true value of its assets.

For the default declaration to take effect on any of the more than 20 U.S. law bonds outstanding, investors holding at least 25% of any one series must request the action, Aurelius said in the letter to fellow bondholders. Aurelius was a leading member of a group of investors that refused to accept a debt restructuring with Argentina, taking the country to court. Petrobras, which first planned to release results in early November, has extended the deadline to Jan. 31 as new corruption allegations came to light, saying it had a waiver from investors but not giving any details. “We believe bondholders should immediately take the prudent precaution of giving formal notice of default,” Aurelius managing director Eleanor Chan wrote.

“While mere notice of default should not itself cause a crisis, bondholders cannot avoid a crisis merely by sticking their heads in the sand and accepting Petrobras’ assurances as a certainty.” Distressed debt funds specialize in buying the debt of companies or countries at risk of default. Such hedge funds, also known as vulture funds, often use top flight lawyers to gain favorable terms in any bankruptcy. Few have suggested Petrobras will be unable to pay its debts in the short or medium term. It has huge oil resources and the backing of the Brazilian government, whose officials have said they will backstop the company. Petrobras, though, is already frozen out of capital markets because of the scandal and is in danger of losing its investment-grade debt rating, a situation that would reduce the pool of potential investors and raise its borrowing costs.

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Slow growth.

Foreign Automakers Taken To Task In China Over Dealers’ Inventories (Reuters)

Foreign automakers in China may struggle to dictate sales goals in the future after dealers complained to the government that inflexible targets set during a market boom obliged them to buy too much stock and bear the brunt of a drop in demand. Automakers largely stuck to targets throughout 2014, selling cars to dealers on schedule. But dealers slashed retail prices and booked losses as sales growth in the world’s biggest auto market halved from the previous year’s 14%. “Carmakers have high market expectations. But the reality is: supply exceeds demand,” said Luo Lei, deputy secretary general of the China Automobile Dealers Association (CADA).

“In the past, dealers were angry, but dared not speak out. But now, they have to shout because the situation is getting so unbearable,” said Luo, whose body this month filed a report with authorities on the practice of transferring stock to dealers. The report from China’s biggest dealer body could help change the balance of power at a time when automakers are starting to alter expectations in an economy expanding near its slowest rate in 24 years. Japan’s Honda and Nissan cut their China sales forecasts last month while executives say Toyota Motor Corp is likely to miss its 2014 goal. Germany’s BMW said it expects profit margins to narrow as the market “normalizes” from the growth spurt of the past few years.

“Carmakers are making a compromise to dealers” in their worst-ever spat, said Yale Zhang, managing director of consultancy Automotive Foresight. “Over the past years, carmakers, especially luxury brands, have been too aggressive in their quest for China market share. Now with the problem fully exposed, I expect to see an obvious slowdown in their pace of expansion next year.” Honda has been helping dealers “adjust” inventories since the middle of the year, a company spokesman said. Honda’s China sales have fallen every month since July. BMW China head Karsten Engel said in an interview last month that the luxury carmaker had “listened” to dealers saying stockpiles were building up, and that it had started “reducing wholesale supplies”.

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A $25 billion swap is no threat to the dollar.

Ditching Dollar: China, Russia Launch Financial Tools In Local Currencies (RT)

China and Russia have effectively switched to domestic currencies in trading using financial tools as swaps and forwards, as they seek to reduce the influence of the US dollar and foreign exchange risks. The agreement signed in the end of October comes into force Monday, December 29, and provides a currency swap of CNY150 billion (up to US$25 billion). The country’s Foreign Exchange Trade System will carry out similar transactions with the Malaysian ringgit and the New Zealand dollar. From now on yuan swaps are available for 11 currencies on the foreign exchange market. “China won’t stop yuan globalization or capital account opening because of the volatility in emerging market currencies,” Ju Wang, a senior currency strategist at HSBC in Hong Kong told Bloomberg.

China has set up bilateral currency swap lines with more than 20 countries and regions since 2009, including Switzerland, Brazil, Hong Kong, Indonesia and South Korea, Xinhua News reported in July. A swap is a financial tool to ease transactions by exchanging certain elements of a loan in one currency, like the principal or interest payments into an equivalent loan in another currency. Currency forward is an obligation of two parties to convert an agreed amount of one currency into another by a certain date at an exchange rate specified at the moment of signing the deal. Russia and China have long been looking for ways to cut the dollar’s role in international trade. The question is significant for China as 32%, or $4 trillion of its foreign exchange reserves are in US bonds, which means there is a vulnerability to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

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Business as usual.

Jeb Bush and the Making of a $236 Million Federal Contract (Bloomberg)

Republican donor Ric Cooper had a straight line to Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and days after Hurricane Katrina used the access to help secure a $236 million deal that Democrats later called a “boondoggle contract,” according to a trove of e-mails released last week by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge. The chummy exchange began with a previously unreported direct appeal from Cooper on behalf of Carnival Cruise Line two days after Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast. “None of us have any idea how to reach out to FEMA or whoever is appropriate,” wrote Cooper in an Aug. 31, 2005, e-mail to Bush. “I decided to do my usual ‘I’ll give Jeb a heads-up.’” The Miami-based company wanted a federal contract for “two or three” of their ships to be used in the response effort, he wrote.

Cooper, who at the time was working in Miami at an advertising agency that Carnival used, said in his e-mail that the ships could provide housing for between 6,000 and 10,000 people and “could feed if needed as well.” Once in place, the ships could stay for weeks or months, he offered. “They would minimize costs involved,” pledged Cooper, who during the 2004 election cycle had donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee to help re-elect the governor’s brother, President George W. Bush. What followed became public as Democrats began to investigate the Katrina response in early 2006. Jeb Bush, who was famously responsive to e-mail as governor, replied to Cooper within 13 minutes.“I will pass on to Mike Brown,” Bush wrote, referring to the then-director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “I can’t believe they haven’t asked as of yet but Mike will respond quickly.”

About three hours later, Brown responded to Bush and Cooper with his cell phone number. “Ric, thanks for the note that Jeb sent,” the FEMA director wrote. “I personally think this is a great idea.” Within days, three Carnival ships steamed to the Gulf Coast. It wasn’t a happy ending: The ships sat half empty. Use of them turned out to be rather expensive, and lawmakers used the contract as an example of post-Katrina waste. “This boondoggle contract, which comes to an end this week, has cost federal taxpayers an enormous amount to provide temporary six-month housing aboard Carnival’s ships,” Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, wrote in a February 2006 letter to Jeb Bush. Waxman calculated that the contract cost taxpayers almost $240,000 to shelter a family of five. “At this price, the federal government could have built permanent homes for the families,” Waxman wrote.

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“The Snowden documents reveal the encryption programs the NSA has succeeded in cracking, but, importantly, also the ones that are still likely to be secure.”

Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security (Spiegel)

US and British intelligence agencies undertake every effort imaginable to crack all types of encrypted Internet communication. The cloud, it seems, is full of holes. The good news: New Snowden documents show that some forms of encryption still cause problems for the NSA.

When Christmas approaches, the spies of the Five Eyes intelligence services can look forward to a break from the arduous daily work of spying. In addition to their usual job – attempting to crack encryption all around the world – they play a game called the “Kryptos Kristmas Kwiz,” which involves solving challenging numerical and alphabetical puzzles. The proud winners of the competition are awarded “Kryptos” mugs. Encryption – the use of mathematics to protect communications from spying – is used for electronic transactions of all types, by governments, firms and private users alike. But a look into the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden shows that not all encryption technologies live up to what they promise. One example is the encryption featured in Skype, a program used by some 300 million users to conduct Internet video chat that is touted as secure.

It isn’t really. “Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011,” reads a National Security Agency (NSA) training document from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Less than half a year later, in the fall, the code crackers declared their mission accomplished. Since then, data from Skype has been accessible to the NSA’s snoops. Software giant Microsoft, which acquired Skype in 2011, said in a statement: “We will not provide governments with direct or unfettered access to customer data or encryption keys.” The NSA had been monitoring Skype even before that, but since February 2011, the service has been under order from the secret US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to not only supply information to the NSA but also to make itself accessible as a source of data for the agency.

The “sustained Skype collection” is a further step taken by the authority in the arms race between intelligence agencies seeking to deny users of their privacy and those wanting to ensure they are protected. There have also been some victories for privacy, with certain encryption systems proving to be so robust they have been tried and true standards for more than 20 years. [..] The Snowden documents reveal the encryption programs the NSA has succeeded in cracking, but, importantly, also the ones that are still likely to be secure. Although the documents are around two years old, experts consider it unlikely the agency’s digital spies have made much progress in cracking these technologies. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on,” Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong.

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I wouldn’t normally address topics like this, but women in rape cases deserve more respect than having someone spent hundreds of thousands of dollars digging into their lives.

Bill Cosby Hires PI’s To Dig Up Dirt On Women Who Accuse Him of Rape (Ind.)

Bill Cosby hired private investigators to “dig up dirt” on several women who claimed the comedian had raped them, according to a report by the New York Post. More than two dozen women have come forward in recent weeks to allege that Mr Cosby, 77, drugged and sexually assaulted them between the 1960s and 2000s. But Mr Cosby has reportedly been fighting back behind the scenes, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour the women’s pasts in a bid to discredit his accusers. At a recent meeting of his legal and public relations representatives, an insider told the Post, Mr Cosby said: “If you’re going to say to the world that I did this to you, then the world needs to know, ‘What kind of person are you? Who is this person that’s saying it?’”

This counter-attacking strategy is not new to Hollywood scandals generally, nor to Mr Cosby in particular. At the weekend, the New York Times also reported that in 2005, the comedian’s team presented a dossier of “damaging information” to one newspaper about Tamara Green, a California lawyer who accused Mr Cosby of having drugged and sexually assaulted her during the 1970s. The Times described Mr Cosby’s response to his accusers past and present as: “an organised and expensive effort that involved quashing accusations as they emerged while raising questions about the accusers’ character and motives, both publicly and surreptitiously.”

Mr Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Singer, suggested that the investigators were merely doing the work that the press had failed to, telling the Post: “You don’t need private investigators to find out information about the accusers. A simple Google search will obtain the information.” Mr Cosby himself has avoided addressing specific allegations, but did ask journalists to approach the women’s stories with a “neutral mind”. Though his Netflix stand-up special and an NBC sitcom project were both cancelled in the wake of the accusations, Mr Cosby still has several concert dates in place for the coming months. On Friday, comedy writer-director Judd Apatow took to Twitter to confront two Canadian venues for not having cancelled Cosby’s coming appearances, asking one: “are you really going to let Bill Cosby perform on your stage January 7?”

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God particle.

Large Hadron Collider To Switch Back On At Double Power (Ind.)

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is set to be switched back on in March — hoping that a £97 million upgrade could push it to even greater discoveries, after it found the “God particle” in 2012. The second three year run of the huge atom smasher will begin in March 2015. The Large Hadron Collider has been switched off since its last run finished in 2012. The world’s largest particle collider has been undergoing a £97 million upgrade since then, as scientists comb through the data found during the last run. It is being cooled back down ready for the switch on, and is almost at its operating temperature of 1.9 degrees above absolute zero, or about minus 271.25 degrees Celsius.

Scientists are also testing out the equipment and earlier in December activated one of the magnets required to fire atoms around the collider. Scientists are now gearing up to turn both on at once, in 2015. That will produce collisions of a scale never achieved by any accelerator in the past, equivalent with 154 tons of TNT. The extra power will allow the CERN’s numerous experiments to look into deep mysteries of the universe, such as dark matter. The Large Hadron Collider was used in 2012 to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson, known as the God particle, which explains the very beginning of the universe.

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“I don’t know whether Mr. Obama was a hostage, an empty suit, or a fool, but he broadened and deepened the acquiescence to lying about just about everything.”

The Trigger (James Howard Kunstler)

The futility of politics in America these days has driven the public into exactly the dream-state of zombie blood-lust depicted in so many popular video fantasies, a nightmare of decay, powerlessness, and degeneracy matching the actual condition of a disintegrating polity that has lost collective consciousness and seeks only to infect the dwindling numbers of the still-sentient. Almost nobody in this country believes we can manage our affairs anymore. Well, can we? One of the hallmarks of an imploding culture is that people lose a sense of consequence. Things just seem to happen and unhappen, and nobody really cares about chains of decision and event. Anything goes and nothing matters.

One reason this is happening to us is that we allowed reality to be divorced from truth. Karl Rove wasn’t kidding back in the Bush-2 days when he quipped that “we create our own reality.” The part old Karl left out is that there’s a price for doing that. In the short run, it allows you to pretend that you have superpowers and can act in defiance of the way things really are. In the longer run, your view of the world comports so poorly with the facts of the world that things stop working. The tragedy of Barack Obama is that he continued the basic Karl Rove doctrine only without bragging about it. I don’t know whether Mr. Obama was a hostage, an empty suit, or a fool, but he broadened and deepened the acquiescence to lying about just about everything. Did criminal misconduct run rampant in banking for years?

Oh, nevermind. Is the US economy actually contracting instead of recovering? We’ll just make up better numbers. Did US officials act like Nazi war criminals in torturing prisoners? Well, yeah, but so what? Did the State Department and the CIA scuttle the elected Ukrainian government in order to start an unnecessary new conflict with Russia? Maybe so, but who cares? Was the Affordable Care Act a swindle in the service of insurance and pharmaceutical racketeering? Oh, we’ll read the bill after we pass it. Shale oil will make us “energy independent.” (Not.) Has anyone noticed the way these incongruities percolate into the public attention and then get dismissed, like daydreams, with no resolution.

I’ve harped on this one before because it was, to my mind, Obama’s greatest failure: When the Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were entitled to express their political convictions by buying off politicians, why didn’t the President join with his then-Democratic majority congress to propose legislation, or a constitutional amendment, more clearly redefining the difference between corporate “personhood” and the condition of citizenship? How could this constitutional lawyer miss the reality that corporations legally and explicitly do not have obligations, duties, and responsibilities to the public interest but only to their shareholders? How was this not obvious? And why was there not a rush to correct it?

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IMF policies, too, have been blamed for allowing ebola to spread after squeezing health care systems.

Ebola Spurs Call for Global Health Reserve Corps, Challenging WHO (Bloomberg)

While Ebola rages on in West Africa, world leaders are debating ways to snuff out future contagions. The question they’re asking is: How? The World Bank, headed for the first time by a doctor, wants to create a cadre of outbreak specialists who could be sent anywhere to end deadly epidemics. A similar idea, floated by a World Health Organization panel three years ago in the wake of the swine flu pandemic, didn’t get enough support. The WHO says the idea might not be practical and countries should ideally have the capacity to respond themselves. The Ebola outbreak, which has so far sickened more than 20,000 people in eight countries, shows major weaknesses in global health security. The 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2009 swine flu pandemic were reminders, too, yet the measures necessary to stop Ebola from mushrooming into a three-continent scourge weren’t in place.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is determined to ensure lessons are learned this time. “What the Ebola epidemic has taught every single one of us is that we were not prepared for an outbreak of this size,” Kim, a Harvard University-trained physician and anthropologist, told reporters in Liberia on Dec. 2. “I for one, as president of the World Bank Group, will continue to remind all of the leaders that this flaw that was exposed must be taken care of and must be taken care of as quickly as possible.” The virus has killed at least 7,842 people, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to the WHO. If it continues to spread further in Africa, it could cost as much as $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, the Washington-based World Bank estimated in October.

Kim, who previously headed the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department, has voiced publicly his opinions on Ebola more than a dozen times in op-eds, speeches, statements, media briefings and in webcasts detailing the World Bank’s response and what needs to be done. He’s also been critical of the initial global response, describing it as “late, inadequate and slow.” “Our president is responding to a crisis that he sees first and foremost as a major impediment to the twin objectives of the bank, which are to eliminate extreme poverty and to share prosperity,” said Tim Evans, the World Bank’s senior director of health, nutrition and population. “The fact that he’s had experience with pandemics before and global health perhaps increases his legitimacy as an advocate to bring this epidemic to an end as soon as possible.”

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TIME was right: these courageous people are the Persons of the Year.

Ebola in UK: One Patient Diagnosed With Ebola, Two More Tested (Independent)

Two more patients are being tested for Ebola in Scotland and Cornwall. One patient is being examined for possible symptoms at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, Cornwall, and the other – a female heath worker – at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The virus, which had its first case confirmed in the UK yesterday in Glasgow, is just one of several illnesses they could be suffering from. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, said the Scottish woman had recently returned from West Africa but was “low risk” and had no known contact with the virus. “Although this is another returning healthcare worker from West Africa, the patient here has had no, as far as we’re aware, direct contact with people infected with Ebola,” she told BBC radio. “This patient over the course of today will be transferred for tests.”

A spokesperson for the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust would not give any further details of their patient but said he or she arrived at the hospital, known locally as Treliske, in the early hours of the morning and is being treated in isolation. “It could be nothing but this patient has possibly been at risk,” he added. “We are in contact with Public Health England (PHE) but it could be 24 hours before we know.” The person is understood to have viral symptoms, which are shared by Ebola and many other illnesses including malaria, and samples are undergoing testing at PHE’s national facility. An NHS worker who has been diagnosed with Ebola after returning to Glasgow from Sierra Leone is believed to be on the way to a specialist unit in London this morning.

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Nov 202014
 
 November 20, 2014  Posted by at 12:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Truck service station on US 1, NY Avenue, Washington DC Jun 1940

Growth Isn’t God in Indonesia (Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve In Easy Decision To End Stimulus (BBC)
Fed Debate Shifts to Tightening Pace After First Rate Increase (Bloomberg)
The Only Thing More Bullish Than Inflation Is …. Deflation (Zero Hedge)
Cheap-Oil Era Tilts Geopolitical Power to US (Bloomberg)
Oil Industry Risks Trillions Of ‘Stranded Assets’ On US-China Climate Deal (AEP)
Iron Ore’s Massive Expansion Era Is Finished: BHP Billiton (Bloomberg)
China’s Factory Activity Stalls In November (CNBC)
Distressed Debt in China? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bloomberg)
The Yen Looks Like It’s Ready To Get Crushed (CNBC)
BOJ Warns Abe Over “Fiscal Responsibility” While Monetizing All Debt (ZH)
Why UK Needs ‘Radical’ Change As Exports Fall (CNBC)
Michael Pettis: Spain Needs to Debate Leaving the Euro (Mish)
Eurozone PMI Falls To 16-Month Low In November (MarketWatch)
French Manufacturing Slump Deepens as Economic Weakness Persists (Bloomberg)
Pressure Mounts for EU Crackdown on Tax Havens (Spiegel)
Senator Slaps Plan For Low-Down-Payment Loans At Fannie, Freddie (MarketWatch)
Junk-Bond Banking Boom Peaks as Firms Drop off Deal List (Bloomberg)
Goldman Fires Staff For Alleged NY Fed Breach (FT)
Banking Industry Culture Promotes Dishonesty, Research Finds (Guardian)
New International Gang Of Thieves Make Somali Pirates Look Like Amateurs (Black)

Is there still hope and sanity in the world?

Growth Isn’t God in Indonesia (Bloomberg)

Joko Widodo’s rise from nowhere to Jakarta governor and then the presidential palace showed the wonders of Indonesia’s democracy. Now, he wants to democratize the economy as well, focusing as much on the quality of growth as the quantity. Sixteen years ago, Indonesia was cascading toward failed statehood. In 1998, as riots forced dictator Suharto from office, many wrote off the world’s fourth-most populous nation. Today, Indonesia is a stable economy growing modestly at 5%, with quite realistic hopes of more. There’s plenty for Widodo, known by his nickname “Jokowi,” to worry about, of course. Indonesia still ranks behind Egypt in corruption and near Ethiopia in ease-of-doing-business surveys. More than 40% of the nation’s 250 million people lives on less than $2 a day.

A dearth of decent roads makes it more cost-effective to ship goods to China than across the archipelago. Retrograde attitudes abound: to this day, female police recruits are subjected to humiliating virginity tests. But this week, Jokowi reminded us why Indonesia is a good-news story — one from which Asian peers could learn. His move to cut fuel subsidies, saving a cash-strapped nation more than $11 billion in its 2015 budget, showed gumption and cheered investors. Even more encouraging is a bold agenda focusing not just on faster growth, but better growth that’s felt among more than Jakarta elites. This might seem like an obvious focus in a region that’s home to a critical mass of the world’s extreme poor (those living on $1 or $2 a day).

But grand rhetoric about “inclusive growth” hasn’t even come close to meeting the reality on the ground. In India, for example, newish Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasts that he will return gross domestic product to the glory days of double-digit growth rates, as if the metric mattered more than what his government plans to do with the windfall. The “Cult of GDP,” the dated idea that booming growth lifts all boats, has long been decried by development economists like William Easterly. The closer growth gets to 10%, the more likely governments are to declare victory and grow complacent. In many cases rapid GDP growth masks serious economic cracks. In her recent book, “GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History,” Diane Coyle called the figure a “familiar piece of jargon that doesn’t actually mean much to most people.”

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Janet Yellen lives in virtual reality.

Federal Reserve In Easy Decision To End Stimulus (BBC)

Although the US Federal Reserve was worried about turmoil in emerging markets, the central bank reached an easy consensus to end its stimulus programme, its latest minutes reveal. Minutes from the central bank’s October meeting show officials were concerned about stock market fluctuations and weakness abroad. However, they worried that saying so could send the wrong message. Overall, officials were confident the US economy was on a strong footing. That is why they decided to end their stimulus programme – known as quantitative easing (QE) – in which the Fed bought bonds in order to keep long-term interest rates low and thus boost spending. “In their discussion of the asset purchase programme, members generally agreed … there was sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment,” read the minutes, referring to the decision to end QE. US markets reacted in a muted way to the news, with the Dow Jones briefly rising before falling once more into the red for the day.

However, to reassure markets that the Fed would not deviate from its set course, the central bank decided to keep its “considerable time” language in reference to when the Fed would raise its short term interest rate. That interest rate – known as the federal funds rate – has been at 0% since late 2008, when the Fed slashed rates in the wake of the financial crisis. Most observers expect that the bank will begin raising that rate in the middle of 2015, mostly in an effort to keep inflation in check as the US recovery gathers steam. However, US Fed chair Janet Yellen has sought to reassure market participants that the bank will not act in haste and remains willing to change its timeline should economic conditions deteriorate in the US. The minutes also show that the Fed is still concerned about possibly lower-than-expected inflation, particularly as oil prices continue to decline and wage growth remains sluggish.

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They’re going to do it. Screw the real economy, it’s dead anyway.

Fed Debate Shifts to Tightening Pace After First Rate Increase (Bloomberg)

U.S. central bankers are weighing whether they should communicate more of their views about the probable pace of interest-rate increases after they lift off zero next year. “A number of participants thought that it could soon be helpful to clarify the committee’s likely approach” to the pace of increases, according to minutes of the Oct. 28-29 Federal Open Market Committee meeting released today in Washington. The discussion last month underscored how much officials will rely on forward guidance on the pace of tightening in the future. After bond purchases ended last month, guidance may be the most practical option left to assure investors that policy won’t become overly restrictive if officials decide to take a stand against inflation seen as too low. The pace of rate increases is “going to be slow until they are really convinced that inflation’s sustainably at target and the labor market’s in really, really good shape,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities. “They are going to take their sweet time.”

The minutes showed that many FOMC participants last month felt the committee should stay on the lookout for signs that inflation expectations were declining. Declining expectations could herald an actual fall in prices. Such deflation does economic damage by encouraging consumers to delay spending in anticipation of lower prices in the future. The potency of the first rate increase could be diminished or increased, depending on what the FOMC says about how it views its subsequent moves, said Laura Rosner, U.S. economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York. “It isn’t just the timing of liftoff the Fed cares about, but the whole path of federal funds rate,” said Rosner, a former New York Fed staff member. “I think they do probably want to limit the extent of tightening that people expect, at least at the beginning.” While telegraphing the future rate path may be attractive to some officials, it may also be unpopular with those, such as Chair Janet Yellen, who recall the Fed’s experience in 2004 with language saying the pace of increases would be “measured.”

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“Positioning for a deflationary boom is a binary event.”

The Only Thing More Bullish Than Inflation Is …. Deflation (Zero Hedge)

Deflation. And not just deflation, but a deflationary bust! At least, such is the goalseeked logic of Cornerstone Marco, which has released a bullish (no really) note titled the Coming Deflationary Boom in the U.S. In it the authors throw in the towel on the most conventional concept in modern economics, namely that for growth one needs stable inflation which in turn causes earnings growth and is low enough not to pressure multiples too high. Well, according to the BLS’ hedonic adjustments and courtesy of Japan’s epic exporting of deflation, inflation is nowhere to be seen (except if one eats pork or beef, or drinks milks), so it is time to give ye olde paragidm shift a try. The paradigm that the only thing more bullish for stocks than inflation, is deflation. To wit:

The concept of a deflationary boom is a controversial one in economics. Truth be told it will not work in every economy. Indeed, a prerequisite for this to unfold is an economy driven by consumers. In that sense, it does not get more consumer-centric than the US. The second, and necessary, condition calls for a major decline in commodity prices ideally compounded by a strong currency to provide the fuel for growth. In essence, a decline in commodity and import prices creates disposable income the same way the Fed Funds rate cuts used to a decade ago.

Positioning for a deflationary boom is a binary event. After all, “deflationary” implies that stocks levered to lower inflation will have a powerful tailwind, these are what we like to call early cyclicals such as consumer, transports and other similar segments. Meanwhile, the “boom” part of the story implies that segments levered to growth, US growth in this case, also find a tailwinds. This should help the beleaguered financials to a better year in 2015 and also provides support for sectors like technology and some of the industrials. As we see it, “deflation” is going to become the operative word on the street … that and PE expansion since they typically go hand in hand. As always, we shall see.

Indeed we shall. Then again the only thing we will see is how every time there is deflation somewhere in the world, one after another central bank somewhere will admit its only mandate is to keep stocks at record highs and inject a few trillion in risk-purchasing power into what was once called a market.

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Wait till shale implodes, then we can talk again.

Cheap-Oil Era Tilts Geopolitical Power to US (Bloomberg)

A new age of abundant and cheap energy supplies is redrawing the world’s geopolitical landscape, weakening and potentially threatening the legitimacy of some governments while enhancing the power of others. Some changes already are evident. Surging U.S. oil production enabled America and its allies to impose tough sanctions on Iran without having to worry much about the loss of imports from the Middle Eastern nation. Russia, meanwhile, faces what President Vladimir Putin called a possibly “catastrophic” slump in prices for its oil as its economy is battered by U.S. and European sanctions over its role in Ukraine. “A new era of lower prices is being ushered in” by the U.S. shale oil and gas revolution, Ed Morse, global head of commodities research for Citigroup, said in an e-mail.

“Undoubtedly some of the geopolitical changes will be momentous.” They certainly were a quarter of a century ago. Plunging oil prices in the latter half of the 1980s helped pave the way for the breakup of the Soviet Union by robbing it of revenue it needed to survive. The depressed market also may have influenced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade fellow producer Kuwait in 1990, triggering the first Gulf War. Russia again looks likely to suffer from the fallout in oil markets, along with Iran and Venezuela, while the U.S. and China come out ahead. Oil is “the most geopolitically important commodity,” said Reva Bhalla, vice president of global analysis at Stratfor.

“It drives economies around the world” and is located in some “usually very volatile places.” Benchmark oil prices in New York have dropped more than 30% during the last five months to around $75 a barrel as U.S. crude production reached the highest in more than three decades, driven by shale fields in North Dakota and Texas. Output was 9.06 million barrels a day in the first week of November, the most since at least January 1983, when the weekly data series from the Energy Information Administration began.

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Petrobras was aiming to be the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Now it’s the most indebted company in the world.

Oil Industry Risks Trillions Of ‘Stranded Assets’ On US-China Climate Deal (AEP)

Brazil’s Petrobras is the most indebted company in the world, a perfect barometer of the crisis enveloping the global oil and fossil nexus on multiple fronts at once. PwC has refused to sign off on the books of this state-controlled behemoth, now under sweeping police probes for alleged graft, and rapidly crashing from hero to zero in the Brazilian press. The state oil company says funding from the capital markets has dried up, at least until auditors send a “comfort letter”. The stock price has dropped 87pc from the peak. Hopes of becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company have deflated brutally. What it still has is the debt. Moody’s has cut its credit rating to Baa1. This is still above junk but not by much. Debt has jumped by $25bn in less than a year to $170bn, reaching 5.3 times earnings (EBITDA). Roughly $52bn of this has been raised on the global bond markets over the last five years from the likes of Fidelity, Pimco, and BlackRock.

Part of the debt is a gamble on ultra-deepwater projects so far out into the Atlantic that helicopters supplying the rigs must be refuelled in flight. The wells drill seven thousand feet through layers of salt, blind to seismic imaging. The Carbon Tracker Initiative says the break-even price for these fields is likely to be $120 a barrel. It is much the same story – for different reasons – in the Arctic ‘High North’, off-shore West Africa, and the Alberta tar sands. The major oil companies are committing $1.1 trillion to projects that require prices of at least $95 to make a profit. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says fossil fuel companies have spent $7.6 trillion on exploration and production since 2005, yet output from conventional oil fields has nevertheless fallen. No big project has come on stream over the last three years with a break-even cost below $80 a barrel.

“The oil majors could not even generate free cash flow when oil prices were averaging $100 ,” said Mark Lewis from Kepler Cheuvreux. They have picked the low-hanging fruit. New fields are ever less hospitable. Upstream costs have tripled since 2000. “They have been able to disguise this by drawing down legacy barrels, but they won’t be able to get away with this over the next five years. We think the break-even price for the whole industry is now over $100,” he said. A study by the US Energy Department found that the world’s leading oil and gas companies were sinking into a debt-trap even before the latest crash in oil prices. They increased net debt by $106bn in the year to March – and sold off a net $73bn of assets – to cover surging production costs. The annual shortfall between cash earnings and spending has widened from $18bn to $110bn over the last three years. Yet these companies are still paying normal dividends, raiding the family silver to save face.

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They’ve all invested for continuing huge growth numbers. And now growth is gone.

Iron Ore’s Massive Expansion Era Is Finished: BHP Billiton (Bloomberg)

Iron ore’s golden spending era is history. That’s the verdict of BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company. BHP and rivals Rio Tinto and Vale are flooding the global iron ore market after a $120 billion spending spree to boost the capacity of their mines from Australia to Brazil. Now prices have slumped to the lowest in more than five years as surging supply coincides with a slowdown in China, the world’s biggest consumer. “Our company has been very clear that the time for massive expansions of iron ore are over,” BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie told reporters today after a shareholder meeting in Adelaide, South Australia. While BHP is still increasing production, the company last approved spending on an iron ore expansion in 2011.

It’s shifting investment into copper and petroleum, he said Global seaborne output will exceed demand by 100 million metric tons this year from 16 million tons in 2013, HSBC said last month. Prices, which are trading around $70 a ton in China, may drop to below $60 a ton next year, according to Citigroup forecasts. “At these prices, we still have a very decent business,” Mackenzie said. “We’ve been fairly clear that prices at about these levels were what we were expecting for the longer term.” Investments in copper may help BHP seize on rising demand for energy in emerging economies. Demand from China, the biggest metals consumer, will be supported by electricity grid expansion and greater adoption of renewable energy sources, all of which require more copper wiring, according to Citigroup.

The prospects for an expansion of BHP’s Olympic Dam copper, gold and uranium mine in Australia are looking more promising after testing of new processing technology shows early signs of success, Mackenzie said. Olympic Dam in South Australia is the world’s largest uranium deposit and fourth-biggest copper deposit. BHP is pilot testing a heap leaching extraction process used in its copper mines in Chile. If the tests “are successful, and they are showing considerable promise, we will use this technology and phased expansions of the underground mine to further increase Olympic Dam’s output,” Mackeznie told the meeting. In 2012, BHP halted a proposed expansion of Olympic Dam, estimated by Deutsche Bank AG to cost $33 billion. Mackenzie was addressing the first annual meeting held in the state since the decision.

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Flash PMI at zero growth.

China’s Factory Activity Stalls In November (CNBC)

China’s factory activity stalled in November as output shrank for the first time in six months, a private survey showed on Thursday. The HSBC flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for November clocked in at the breakeven level of 50.0 that separates expansion from contraction, compared with a Reuters estimate for 50.3 and following the 50.4 final reading in October. Overall, new orders picked up slightly but new export orders slowed markedly, dragging on activity. The factory output sub-index fell to 49.5, the first contraction since May.

The Australian dollar eased against the greenback on the news, trading at $0.8607. But shares in China and Hong Kong appear unaffected by the data. The reading is the latest evidence that the world’s second biggest economy continues to lose traction. Recent data on housing prices and foreign direct investments also missed forecasts. “China is slowing and we think it will continue to slow. A lot of it is structural, and in our view, growth will slow to about 4.5% over the next 10 years. We see some sectors that are very challenged; clearly real estate is one,” Robin Bew, MD of Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC.

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“They keep reporting such a low number for so many years, there’s only one way it can go – up …”

Distressed Debt in China? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bloomberg)

Bad debts in China are well underestimated because authorities persist in propping up weak companies and bailing out local investors, according to DAC Management. The Chicago-based asset management and advisory firm, which focuses on distressed credit and special situations in China, says the worst is yet to come, and that means lots of opportunities for the world’s biggest distressed debt traders. Nonperforming loans at Chinese banks jumped by the most since 2005 in the third quarter to 766.9 billion yuan ($125.3 billion), official statistics released earlier this month showed. The People’s Bank of China has injected 769.5 billion yuan into its banking system over the past two months to support an economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade.

“They keep reporting such a low number for so many years, there’s only one way it can go – up,” DAC co-founder Philip Groves said in an interview. “We’ve yet to see it because if you look at corporate defaults, they keep getting covered by the government. At some point, they can’t cover every single one.” DAC manages about $400 million of its own and clients’ money onshore in China. It first bought Chinese bad loans in December 2001 from China Orient Asset Management, one of four asset management companies created by the government to buy, repackage and onsell soured debt, Groves said.

While China’s bad loan ratio is relatively small versus other countries in Asia – soured loans are equivalent to 1.16% of total advances compared with 3.88% in Vietnam and 0.86% in South Korea – their total is still in an order of magnitude greater than the funds raised by distressed investors, Groves said. There hasn’t been enough capital to soak up the nonperforming debt and much ends up being reabsorbed by the government, he said. That’s why distressed activity in China has been “sporadic” over the past 10 years and why some large investors aren’t participating. “It never became a market where you could put a billion dollars to work in a year,” Groves said. “But if the wave of bad debt comes, and there are things to buy, the money will follow.”

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I’ve said it before, Japan is not going to be a nice place to be.

The Yen Looks Like It’s Ready To Get Crushed (CNBC)

Japan has slipped back into recession, with the economy shrinking 1.6% in the third quarter, surprising economists who forecast it would grow 2%. The takeaway? Double down on the dollar versus the yen. How weak can the yen get? Forecasters are lowering their already bearish targets after the new disappointing economic data. “I’d expect another 20% drop next year, which would take us north of 140,” said Peter Boockvar of the Lindsey Group about the dollar-yen rate. The team at Capital Economics raised their forecast for dollar-yen to finish next year at 140 as well, up from 120 previously.

Those are bold calls, because it’s unusual for any currency to move more than 5% to 10% per year. Also, the yen has already tumbled 14% in the past 12 months and 19% the previous year, making it the worst-performing major currency against the dollar both years. But when it comes to the yen right now, it seems, no forecast is too bearish. “When I started in the business, dollar-yen was 230,” recalled David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. “For those that think this move is over, this is probably going to be a round trip, meaning that the dollar’s run-up against the yen has a lot further to go.”

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Japan is a state of panic.

BOJ Warns Abe Over “Fiscal Responsibility” While Monetizing All Debt (ZH)

If one were to look up the definition of hypocrisy, the image of BoJ head Kuroda should be front-and-center. Having tripled-down on his money-printing and ETF-buying largesse just last week, he came out swinging last night at the government’s fiscal irresponsibility blasting Abe’s policies by saying Japan’s fiscal health “is the responsibility of parliament and the government, not an issue for the central bank to be held responsible for.” Aside from the fact that he is directly monetizing all JGB issuance – thus enabling Abe’s arrogant fiscal stimulus plan (by issuing 30Y and 40Y debt), Bloomberg notes that “Kuroda is making it crystal clear the government has to tackle the debt problem and if fiscal trust is lost that’s not going to be on the BOJ.” The world has truly gone mad. Seemingly paying the same lip-service as Bernanke and Yellen in the US and Draghi in Europe, BoJ’s Haruhiko Kuroda is carefully positioning the blame for lack of growth and economic chaos on the government’s lack of growth-oriented policies… and not the central bank’s enabling experiments… (via Bloomberg):

Bank of Japan chief Haruhiko Kuroda emphasized the onus is on the government to strengthen its finances after PM Shinzo Abe postponed a sales-tax hike and outlined plans to boost fiscal stimulus. “It’s the responsibility of parliament and the government, not an issue for the central bank,” Kuroda said when asked about risks to Japan’s fiscal health. The BOJ’s job is to achieve its inflation target, he said at a press conference in Tokyo. Kuroda’s repeated comments at a press conference today on the importance of fiscal discipline indicate the governor is unhappy and may signal a change in strategy, said Credit Suisse economist Hiromichi Shirakawa. “Kuroda is making it crystal clear the government has to tackle the debt problem and if fiscal trust is lost that’s not going to be on the BOJ,” said Shirakawa, a former BOJ official. “This is true, but he used to highlight that the BOJ and the government were working together. Abe might have created an enemy by postponing the sales-tax hike.”

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This is how you expose the madness in all those nonsensical plans and targets.

Why UK Needs ‘Radical’ Change As Exports Fall (CNBC)

The U.K. government needs to make radical changes to halt the slide in export growth, the head of British Chambers of Commerce told CNBC. “Exports are tailing off, the rate of growth is tailing off — it’s the one part of the economy we are failing on,” BCC’s Director- General John Longworth told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. “They always say that the definition of madness is carrying on doing the same thing as before and expecting a different result. We need to do something radically different as a country.” His comments come as the BCC published its third-quarter Trade Confidence Index on Thursday. The survey, carried out with delivery company DHL Express, measures U.K. exporting activity and business confidence of more than 2,300 exporting firms.

It found that in the latest quarter, fewer exporters reported increased sales: 29% of exporters stated that sales had increased in the third quarter of 2014, a sharp drop from 47% in the second quarter. Of those exporters no longer seeing an increase in export sales, most said that sales have remained consistent. “There has a slowdown in the U.K.’s export potential because of the slowdown global economic circumstances,” Longworth said, or government export targets would be missed. The U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in his 2012 budget that he wanted the U.K. to double exports to £1 trillion ($1.5 trillion) by 2020. In order to achieve that, however, Longworth said the U.K. would have to see export growth of nearly 11% year-on-year growth every year. “So far since the beginning of the recovery in 2010, the total growth in those years has been 14%. So we’ve got a real issue and unless we do something different we’re not going to hit those targets.”

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And so must Italy, Greece, and many others. Let the people debate it, and give them alll the information, not just choice bits.

Michael Pettis: Spain Needs to Debate Leaving the Euro (Mish)

Michael Pettis has a very interesting article on the Spanish news site ABC regarding a possible default of Spain and the eventual breakup of the eurozone. [..] What follows is my heavily modified translation of key portions of Pettis’ article after reading both of the above translations.

In the Panic of 1837, two-thirds of the US, including several of the richest states, suspended payment of external debt. The United States survived. If the European Union is to survive, it will have to find a solution to the European debt. The more hope instead of action, the more likely there’s a permanent breakdown of the euro and the European Union. In a gesture more of faith than economic or historical data, Madrid assures us that with the right reforms, it will eventually be able to get out of debt. Other countries in debt crises have made the same promise, but the promise is rarely fulfilled. Excessive debt itself impedes growth. Even without the straitjacket of the euro, Spain probably cannot afford its debt. Even those who are against debt cancellation recognize that the only thing that shielded Germany from a Spanish default was the European Central Bank.

Despite their obnoxious policies, far-right parties across Europe flourish more than ever because the ECB protects the euro and European banks at enormous costs for the working and middle classes. These extremists exploit the refusal of European leaders to acknowledge their errors. The longer the economic crisis, greater their chances of winning, and then comes an end to Europe. The only thing that prevented a suspension of payments by Spain and other countries was the promise of the European Central Bank in 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to protect the euro. But debt continues to grow faster than GDP in Europe, and the ECB load increases inexorably month after month. There will come a time when rising debt and a weakening of the German economy will jeopardize the credibility of the guarantee of the ECB (which will be useless), little by little at first, and then suddenly later. In a matter of months Spain will suspend payments.

For now, with debt settlement postponed, German banks strengthen capital to protect themselves from bankruptcy that many predict. Berlin is playing the same game as Washington during the crisis in Latin America in the 1980s. Then US banks actively strengthened their capital, mainly at the covert expense of ordinary Americans, while insisting that Latin American countries needed further reforms and no debt forgiveness. However, multiple reforms led to extremely high rates of unemployment and enormous social upheaval throughout Latin America. From 1987 to 1988, when US banks finally had enough capital, Washington officially recognized that full payment of the debt in 1990 was impossible and forgave the debt of Mexico. In the years following, US banks forgave almost the entire debt of other Latin American countries.

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It’s getting painful. Stop the experiment, it’s failed beyond repair.

Eurozone PMI Falls To 16-Month Low In November (MarketWatch)

Activity in the eurozone’s private sector slowed in November, according to surveys of purchasing managers, an indication the currency area’s economy will continue to grow weakly, if at all, in the final quarter of the year. The surveys also found that businesses again cut their prices in the face of weak demand, a development that will concern the European Central Bank, which is struggling to raise the currency area’s inflation rate from the very low level it has settled at for more than a year. Data firm Markit on Thursday said its composite purchasing managers index – a measure of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors in the currency bloc – fell to 51.4 from 52.1 in October, reaching a 16-month low. A reading below 50.0 indicates activity is declining, while a reading above that level indicates it is increasing.

Preliminary results from Markit’s survey of 5,000 manufacturers and service providers also showed that a significant pickup in activity is unlikely in the coming months, with new orders falling for the first time since July 2013, while employment was unchanged. The surveys also found that businesses continued to cut their prices, although at a slightly less aggressive pace. “The deteriorating trend in the surveys will add to pressure for the ECB to do more to boost the economy without waiting to gauge the effectiveness of previously announced initiatives,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

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France toast.

French Manufacturing Slump Deepens as Economic Weakness Persists (Bloomberg)

French manufacturing shrank more than analysts forecast in November and demand fell, signaling that an economic rebound seen in the third quarter might be short lived. A Purchasing Managers Index fell to 47.6, the lowest in three months, from 48.5 in October, London-based Markit Economics said today. That’s below the 50-point mark that divides expansion from contraction and compares with the median forecast of 48.8 in a Bloomberg News survey. A separate index showed services also contracted, while new business across both industries fell the most in 17 months. The euro area’s second-largest economy has barely grown in three years and recent data suggests that 2014 will be little different. With unemployment near a record and the budget deficit widening, President Francois Hollande is under pressure to deliver on his promises of business-friendly reforms.

“The continued softness in private-sector activity signaled by the PMIs suggests an ongoing drag on growth during the fourth quarter,” said Jack Kennedy, senior economist at Markit. “Another round of job shedding by companies during November meanwhile provides little hope of bringing down the high unemployment rate.” An index of services activity rose to 48.8 this month from 48.3 in October, while a composite gauge for the whole economy increased to 48.4 from 48.2, according to today’s report. Employment across both manufacturing and services fell for 13th month, though the rate of decline slowed compared with the previous month. The French economy grew 0.3% in the three months through September as a jump in public spending offset a fourth quarterly decline in investment. The unemployment rate stood at 10.5% in September, more than double than Germany’s 5%, according to Eurostat. Hollande, whose popularity is among the lowest ever registered for a French president, has said he won’t run for a second term if he is unable to bring down joblessness.

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Please, let’s have some violent infighting in Brussels.

Pressure Mounts for EU Crackdown on Tax Havens (Spiegel)

In Luxembourg, corporate income taxes are as low as 1% for some companies. An average worker in Germany with a salary of €40,000 ($50,000) who doesn’t joint file with a spouse has to pay about €8,940 in taxes each year. At the Luxembourg rate, the worker would only have to pay €400. But some companies have even managed to finagle a tax rate of 0.1%, which would amount to a paltry €40 for the average German worker. As delightful as those figures may sound, normal workers will never have access to those kinds of tax discounts. That’s why it came across as obscene to many when Juncker defended Luxembourg’s tax arrangements on Wednesday as “legal”. They may be legal, but they are anything but fair. It also strengthens an impression that gained currency during the financial crisis – that capitalism favors banks and companies, not normal people, and that these institutions profit even more than previously known from tax loopholes.

But the Juncker case also sheds light on the two faces of European politics. Top Brussels politicians are recruited from the individual EU member states and, as such, have long representated their countries’ national interests. Then they move to Brussels, where they are expected to advocate for the European Union. At times like this, though, when dealings in Brussels are becoming increasingly politicized, the idea that these politicians are promoting the EU’s interests as a bloc loses credibility. And Juncker, the very man who had a hand in stripping Luxembourg’s neighbors of tax money, is supposed to be the main face representing the EU. It’s also very problematic that he, as the man who led a country that was one of the worst perpetrators of these tax practices, is now supposed to see to it that these schemes are investigated and curbed in the future.

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Kudos Crapo. Let’s cut the crap, not reintroduce it.

Senator Slaps Plan For Low-Down-Payment Loans At Fannie, Freddie (MarketWatch)

A controversial housing-finance proposal quickly came under fire during a Wednesday Capitol Hill hearing, with a top committee Republican questioning whether it’s a good idea to allow federally controlled mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to back mortgages with very low down payments. “I’m troubled,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the leading Republican member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, by a plan from the Federal Housing Finance Agency to enable Fannie and Freddie to buy mortgages with down payments as low as 3%. “After the problems we’ve seen” it could be risky for Fannie and Freddie to buy loans when borrowers have little equity, Crapo said.

In response, Mel Watt, who became FHFA’s director in January and was the sole witness at the agency-oversight hearing, told senators that mortgages with low down payments will require insurance, and that borrowers will be required to have relatively strong credit profiles otherwise. He added that FHFA will provide more details in December about the types of borrowers who would be eligible for such mortgages. “We are not making credit available to people that we cannot reasonably predict, with a high degree of certainty,” will make their mortgage payments, Watt said. Decisions over who can qualify for loans bought by Fannie and Freddie can have a large impact on the housing market. Together Fannie and Freddie back about half of new U.S. mortgages. The FHFA must carefully craft rules that support the housing market’s somewhat erratic recovery without creating too much risk.

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This could make plenty waves, it’s a high stakes game.

Junk-Bond Banking Boom Peaks as Firms Drop off Deal List (Bloomberg)

The explosion of brokers plowing into the lucrative junk-bond underwriting business may be fading. The number of firms managing U.S. high-yield bond sales isn’t growing for the first year since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The ranks will likely thin in upcoming years as yields rise, making it more expensive for speculative-grade companies to borrow, according to Charles Peabody, a banking analyst at research firm Portales Partnersin New York. “You’re going to see fewer and fewer deals,” he said in a telephone interview. “Underwriting volumes are probably going to decline from here and you’re going to see more of a consolidation or exodus.” So far, the decline has been small, with 87 firms managing high-yield bond sales this year, down from the record 92 in the same period in 2013, Bloomberg data show.

The number of underwriters is still about twice as many as in 2009, when a slew of bankers founded their own firms to grab business from Wall Street firms that were shrinking as the credit crisis caused trillions of dollars of losses and writedowns. The new firms sought to win assignments managing smaller deals that bigger banks didn’t have the appetite for anymore. Five years later, the scene is changing. The least-creditworthy companies have borrowed record amounts of debt, spurred by central-bank stimulus that pushed borrowing costs to all-time lows. Now, the Federal Reserve is preparing to raise rates and junk-bond buyers are getting jittery.

The notes have declined 1.7% since the end of August as oil prices plunged, eroding the value of debt sold by speculative-grade energy companies, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show. While junk-bond sales are still on track for a new record this year, issuance has been choppy, with deals being canceled one week and then a flood of sales going through the next. For the past few years, high-yield underwriting has been a bright spot for banks, especially compared with flagging trading revenues. Speculative-grade companies have sold $1.2 trillion of dollar-denominated debt since the end of 2010 to lock in historically low borrowing costs. That’s also meant there have been a swelling number of firms elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to manage those deals, vying for fees that have been almost three times as much as those on higher-rated deals.

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Pot and kettle.

Goldman Fires Staff For Alleged NY Fed Breach (FT)

Goldman Sachs has fired an investment banker who allegedly accessed confidential information from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, his former employer. Goldman said it had fired Rohit Bansal, a junior employee, in September and then fired his supervisor Joe Jiampietro, a better-known senior banker in the financial institutions group, which advises other banks. Mr Jiampietro was himself a former government official – a top adviser to Sheila Bair when she was chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The New York Fed said: “As soon as we learned that Goldman Sachs suspected one of its employees may have inappropriately obtained confidential supervisory information, we alerted law enforcement authorities.”

The news, first reported by the New York Times, comes ahead of a congressional hearing on Friday that is examining whether there is too “cosy” a relationship between regulators and banks. Goldman has been nicknamed “Government Sachs” as the epitome of the “revolving door” between government and banking. Several of its employees formerly worked at government agencies, including the Fed and US Treasury. Hank Paulson, Goldman’s former chief executive, left the bank to become US Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush. On Friday, the Senate banking committee is due to examine allegations from a former New York Fed examiner, who says that she was fired because her bosses wanted her to water down criticism of Goldman. Bill Dudley, president of the New York Fed and himself a former Goldman employee, is due to testify.

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A little skimpy perhaps, but who would doubt the premise?

Banking Industry Culture Promotes Dishonesty, Research Finds (Guardian)

How do you tell if a group of bankers is dishonest? Simply by getting them all to toss a coin. That may not seem like in-depth research, but it is the basis of an academic paper published in Nature magazine this week, which investigates whether the financial sector’s culture encourages dishonesty – and concludes that it does. The academics from the University of Zurich used a sample of 128 employees of a large bank, and split them into two groups. The first set of bankers were primed to start thinking about their job, with questions such as “what is your function at this bank?”. They were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, in private, knowing which outcome would earn them $20 a flip. They then had to report their results online to claim any winnings. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there was cheating – with the percentage of winning tosses coming in at an incredibly fortunate 58.2% (although the research omitted to say how many bankers also trousered the coin).

Meanwhile, the second group completed a survey about their wellbeing and everyday life, that did not include questions relating to their professional life. They then performed the coin-flipping task, which threw up a quite astonishing finding: these bankers proved honest. Identical exercises in other industries did not produce the same skewing in results when participants were primed to start thinking about their work. The research does not reveal which institution took part in the survey, presumably to avoid it suing the authors for unearthing some decent behaviour among the cheating. “The effect induced by the treatment could be attributable to several causes,” the authors muse, “including the competitiveness expected from bank employees, the exposure to competitive bonus schemes, the beliefs about what other employees would do in the same situation or the salience of money in the questionnaire.”

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Anti-tax rant. Simon Black knows quite a bit about moving abroad.

New International Gang Of Thieves Make Somali Pirates Look Like Amateurs (Black)

This past month, a real-life guild of thieves was formed. With 51 governments pledging their support to each other for the protection of their ignoble craft of theft. And another 30 pledging to join by 2018. From day one, governments have been pilfering their citizens’ assets through taxation, claiming a monopoly on thievery. From the largest institution to the pettiest pickpocket, anyone else who tries to engage in theft is severely punished, as governments work to protect their exclusive right to steal. Frighteningly, they do this all out in the open, believing that they actually have a moral right to commit theft. You can see this delusion in the US government’s claims that last year they “lost out” on $337 billion from people avoiding taxes. As if they have some moral claim to the money they’d failed to pilfer. Nonetheless, they use this claim to justify actively hunting down and penalizing anyone who takes action to avoid being stolen from.

The ones that are doing this are the bankrupt countries, and the deeper they slide into debt, the more desperate they become. Which is why these broke governments are now joining forces, pledging to to collect and share information amongst themselves about citizens’ bank accounts, taxes, assets and income outside local tax jurisdictions. Basically – I’ll help you steal from your citizens if you help me steal from mine. Both the punishment and the likelihood of getting caught for tax evasion are growing. Don’t even bother trying. However that doesn’t mean that you have no choice but to sit there and let your self be stolen from. While there are still ways of legally reducing your tax burden from within a country, your best option is to move and diversify. Diversification is key, because if you have all your eggs in one bankrupt basket, you are really taking on extraordinary risk. Moving some assets abroad can legitimately reduce some of this risk. And an even greater strategy is considering moving yourself.

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