Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

May 152018
 
 May 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Odalisque couchée aux magnolias 1923

 

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)
America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)
Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)
Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay (R.)
Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)
China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)
No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)
Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)
Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)
Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply –
Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)
Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

 

 

Bonds yield more than stocks.

Making Money In The Stock Market Just Got A Lot More Difficult (MW)

For almost a decade, it’s been extremely difficult to lose money in the U.S. stock market. Over the next decade, it could be hard to do anything but, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. The outlook for market returns has precipitously worsened in recent months, with analysts and investors growing increasingly confident that the lengthy bull market that began in the wake of the financial crisis could be, if not coming to a close, petering out. More market participants view the economy as being in the late stage of its cycle, and a recession is widely expected in the next few years. All of that could result in an equity-market environment that’s a mirror image of recent years, where gains were pretty much uninterrupted, and volatility was subdued.

“2018 is seeing multiple tailwinds of the last nine years abate,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a report to clients that was entitled “The End of Easy,” in reference to the investing environment. “Decelerating growth, rising inflation and tightening policy leave us with below-consensus 12-month return forecasts for most risk assets. After nine years of markets outperforming the real economy, we think the opposite now applies as policy tightens.” As part of its call, Morgan Stanley reduced its view on global equities to equal weight, saying they were “in a range-trading regime with limited 12-month upside.” It raised its exposure to cash, following Goldman Sachs, which last week upgraded its view on the asset class on a short-term basis.

U.S. GDP grew at an annualized 2.3% in the first quarter, below the 3% average of the previous three quarters, as consumer spending hit its weakest level in five years. While slowing growth isn’t the same as a contraction, the data added to concerns that a period of synchronized global growth was coming to a close. According to a BofA Merrill Lynch Global survey of fund managers in April, just 5% of respondents expect faster global growth over the coming 12 months, compared with the roughly 40% that did at the start of the year.

[..] Howard Wang, the co-founder of Convoy Investments, called the Fed’s ballooning balance sheet “the fundamental driver of asset prices over the last decade.” He provided the chart below, which compares the growth in the U.S. money supply against the long-term return of all assets, including global equities, bond categories, real estate, and gold. “I believe the trend of shrinking money supply in the system will continue for some time to come,” Wang wrote. “This adjustment is a painful but necessary process for healthier markets and economies.”

Read more …

$52,000 per second.

America’s Worst Long-Term Challenges: #1- Debt. (Black)

On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history. It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone. And over that time the country had been through a revolution, civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, the nuclear arms race… plus dozens of other wars, financial panics, and economic crises. Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago. This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.

That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND. But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years. It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt. That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second. Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year. And there is no end in sight.

At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.) Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades. The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that. They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.

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I’ll let Caitlin do the talking. The damage done to America yesterday will be felt for a long time.

Fifteen Thoughts About Israel (Caitlin Johnstone)

1. I hate writing about Israel. The accusations of anti-semitism which necessarily go along with literally any criticism of that nation are gross enough, but even worse are the assholes who take my criticisms of the Israeli government as an invitation to actually be anti-semitic. They really do hate Jews, they really do think that every problem in the world is because of Jews and they post Jewish caricature memes and calls for genocide in the comments section on social media and it’s incredibly gross and I hate it. It feels exactly as intrusive, jarring and violating as receiving an unsolicited dick pic. But the Israeli government keeps committing war provocations and massacring Palestinians, so it’s something I’ve got to talk about.

2. Anti-semitism (or whatever word you prefer to use for the pernicious mind virus which makes people think it’s okay to promote hatred against Jewish people) is a very real thing that does exist, and I denounce it to the furthest possible extent. Anti-semitism is also a label that is used to bully the world into accepting war crimes, apartheid, oppression, and mass murder. Both of those things are true.

3. There were dozens of Palestinians killed and well above a thousand injured in the Gaza protests over the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. I haven’t found any report of so much as a single Israeli injury. The only way to spin this as the fault of the Palestinians is to dehumanize them, to attribute behaviors and motives to them that we all know are contrary to human nature. To paint them as subhuman orc-like creatures who are so crazy and evil that they will keep throwing themselves at a hail of bullets risking life and limb just to have some extremely remote chance of harming a Jewish person for no reason. This is clearly absurd. A little clear thinking and empathy goes a long way.

6. Any position on Israel that is determined by words made up by dead men thousands of years ago is intrinsically invalid. Saying the Jewish people are more entitled to Israel than those who were living there seven decades ago because of some superstitious voodoo written in obsolete religious texts is not an argument. Religious freedom is important, and it’s important to be able to believe whatever you like, but your beliefs do not legitimize your actions upon other people. If you murder someone in the name of Allah, you have murdered someone. If you kill 58 people because you feel some ancient scripture entitles you to a particular section of dirt, you have killed 58 people. Your internal beliefs do not give you a free pass for your egregious actions upon others.

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Betcha it’s true. Making people pay to be spied upon.

Australia Probes Claim Google Harvests Data, Makes Consumers Pay For It (R.)

Google is under investigation in Australia following claims that it collects data from millions of Android smartphones users, who unwittingly pay their telecom service providers for gigabytes consumed during the harvesting, regulators said on Tuesday. Responding to the latest privacy concerns surrounding Google, a spokesman for the U.S. based search engine operator said the company has users’ permission to collect data. The Australian investigations stem from allegations made by Oracle Corp in a report provided as part of an Australian review into the impact that Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, and Facebook have on the advertising market. Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the country’s Privacy Commissioner said they were reviewing the report’s findings.

“The ACCC met with Oracle and is considering information it has provided about Google services,” said Geesche Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the competition regulator. “We are exploring how much consumers know about the use of location data and are working closely with the Privacy Commissioner.” Oracle, according to The Australian newspaper, said Alphabet receives detailed information about people’s internet searches and user locations if they have a phone that carries Android – the mobile operating system developed by Google. Transferring that information to Google means using up gigabytes of data that consumers have paid for under data packages purchased from local telecom service providers, according to the Oracle report.

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As I’ve said for a long time, this is the Belt and Road scheme.

Warning Sounded Over China’s ‘Debtbook Diplomacy’ (G.)

China’s “debtbook diplomacy” uses strategic debts to gain political leverage with economically vulnerable countries across the Asia-Pacific region, the US state department has been warned in an independent report. The academic report, from graduate students of the Harvard Kennedy school of policy analysis, was independently prepared for the state department to view and assessed the impact of China’s strategy on the influence of the US in the region. The paper identifies 16 “targets” of China’s tactic of extending hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to countries that can’t afford to pay them, and then strategically leveraging the debt.

It said while Chinese infrastructure investment in developing countries wasn’t “inherently” against US or global interests, it became problematic when China’s use of its leverage ran counter to US interests, or if the US had strategic interests in a country which had its domestic stability undermined by unsustainable debt. The academics identified the most concerning countries, naming Pakistan and Sri Lanka as states where the process was “advanced”, with deepening debt and where the government had already ceded a key port or military base, as well places including Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where China had not yet used its amassed debt leverage.

Papua New Guinea, which “has historically been in Australia’s orbit”, was also accepting unaffordable Chinese loans. While this wasn’t a significant concern yet, the report said, the country offered a “strategic location” for China, as well as large resource deposits. While there was a lack of “individual diplomatic clout” in Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines, Chinese debt could give China a “proxy veto” in Asean, the academics said.

[..] China’s methods were “remarkably consistent”, the report said, beginning with infrastructure investments under its $1tn belt and road initiative, and offering longer term loans with extended grace periods, which was appealing to countries with weaker economies and governance. Construction projects, which the report said had a reputation for running over budget and yielding underwhelming returns, make debt repayments for the host nations more difficult. “The final phase is debt collection,” it said. “When countries prove unable to pay back their debts, China has already and is likely to continue to offer debt-forgiveness in exchange for both political influence and strategic equities.”

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That’s been obvious for many years.

China Really Is To Blame For Millions Of Lost US Manufacturing Jobs (MW)

Millions of Americans who lost manufacturing jobs during the 2000s have long ”known” China was to blame, not robots. And many helped elect Donald Trump as president because of his insistence that China was at fault. Evidently many academics who’ve studied the issue are finally drawing the same conclusion. For years economists have viewed the increased role of automation in the computer age as the chief culprit for some 6 million lost jobs from 1999 to 2010 — one-third of all U.S. manufacturing employment. Firms adopted new technologies to boost production, the thinking goes, and put workers out of the job in the process. Plants could make more stuff with fewer people.

In the past several years fresh thinking by economists such as David Autor of MIT has challenged that view. The latest research to poke holes in the theory of automation-is-to-blame is from Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute. Academic research tends to be dry and complicated, but Houseman’s findings boil down to this: The government for decades has vastly overestimated the growth of productivity in the American manufacturing sector. It’s been growing no faster, really, than the rest of the economy. What that means is, the adoption of technology is not the chief reason why millions of working-class Americans lost their jobs in a vast region stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi river to the shores of the Great Lakes. Nor was it inevitable.

Autor and now Houseman contend the introduction of China into the global trading system is root cause of the job losses. Put another way, President Bill Clinton and political leaders who succeeded him accepted the risk that the U.S. would suffer short-term economic harm from opening the U.S. to Chinese exports in hopes of long-run gains of a more stable China. No longer needing to worry about U.S. tariffs, the Chinese took full advantage. Low Chinese wages and a cheap Chinese currency — at a time when the dollar was strong — gave China several huge advantages. Companies shuttered operations in the U.S., moved to China and eventually set up research hubs overseas in another blow to the America’s economic leadership. The cost to the U.S. is still being tallied up.

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Gee, what a surprise.

No Progress Made On Any Key Area Of Brexit For Months – EU (Ind.)

EU27 ministers met on Monday with the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels to discuss the state of talks so far. “Mr Barnier informed us that since 23 March no significant progress has been made on the three pillars that we work on: withdrawal, future framework, and Ireland,” Ekaterina Zakharieva, the Bulgarian foreign minister chairing the council, told journalists at an official press conference following the meeting. The renewed deadlock in Brussels comes as Theresa May’s cabinet repeatedly fails to agree with itself on what customs arrangement it wants with the EU after Brexit, despite publishing two options in August of last year. Both those options were dismissed as “magical thinking” by the EU at the time.

Speaking at a separate event in Brussels on Monday evening, Mr Barnier himself said that full talks on the future relationship had not even started in earnest despite getting the green light at a summit in March. “There is still a lot of uncertainty. Negotiations on the future with the UK have not started yet. We have had first exploratory discussions,” he said. Ms Zakharieva said the EU27 countries wanted more “intensive engagement by the UK government in the coming weeks”, warning that the October deadline was “only five months from now”. Ms May will next meet EU leaders in Brussels at the end of June for a meeting of the European Council.

Read more …

If you can’t see the material used to accuse you, what rights do you have?

Russian Company Charged In Mueller Probe Seeks Grand Jury Materials (R.)

A Russian company accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of funding a propaganda operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is asking a federal judge for access to secret information reviewed by a grand jury before it indicted the firm. In a court filing on Monday, lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting LLC said Mueller had wrongfully accused the company of a “make-believe crime,” in a political effort by the special counsel to “justify his own existence” by indicting “a Russian-any Russian.” They asked the judge for approval to review the instructions provided to the grand jury, saying they believed the case was deficient because Mueller lacked requisite evidence to show the company knowingly and “willfully” violated American laws.

Concord is one of three entities and 13 Russian individuals charged earlier this year by Mueller’s office, in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to meddle in the U.S. race, boost then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord was controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. Prigozhin, also personally charged by Mueller, has been dubbed “Putin’s cook” by Russian media because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior political figures. He has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. government. Concord is facing charges of conspiring to defraud the United States, and is accused of controlling funding, recommending personnel and overseeing the activities of the propaganda campaign.

Read more …

“..more than half a year ahead of schedule..” Try that at home.

Bridge From Mainland Russia To Crimea Hours Away From Opening (RT)

The bridge across the Kerch Strait, which will connect the Crimean Peninsula and Krasnodar Region is set to open on Tuesday. Construction of the bridge, the longest in Russia with a span of 19 kilometers, has been carried out since February 2016, and it is opening for cars more than half a year ahead of schedule. The bridge capacity is 40,000 cars and 47 pairs of trains per day, 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year. The railway section is scheduled to open in early 2019, the bridge will be opened for trucks starting from October of this year.

The link became vital after Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, as the peninsula’s only land border is with Ukraine. Before the opening, regular passenger and cargo deliveries were organized by direct flights and ferries from ports in southern Russia. Each pillar of the bridge needs about 400 tons of metal structures, which means that all pillars need as much iron as 32 Eiffel towers. The bridge’s piles are installed at least 90 meters under water.

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It’s very easy to just ban the stuff. That your governments haven’t simply done that says a lot.

Industrial Trans Fats Must Be Removed From Food Supply – WHO (G.)

Trans fats used in snack foods, baked foods and fried foods are responsible for half a million deaths worldwide each year and must be eliminated from the global food supply, the World Health Organization says today. Most of western Europe has already acted to reduce industrially made trans fats from factory-made foods. Denmark, like New York, which followed its lead, has an outright ban. Big food companies elsewhere have been under intense pressure to use substitutes. In the UK, the latest national diet and nutrition survey shows average intake of trans fats is well below the recommended upper limit of 2% of food energy, at 0.5-0.7%. Although companies manufacturing processed food in the UK do not use trans fats any more, the fats are in some cheap foods imported from other countries.

The WHO is calling on all governments to take action, including passing laws or regulations to rid their food supply of industrial trans fats. Director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said eliminating trans fats would “represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease”. The WHO is targeting industrially made trans fats, but trans fats are also contained in milk, butter and cheese derived from ruminants, mainly cows and sheep. Dr Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO, said the amounts we eat in dairy products are unlikely to breach the health guidelines. “We are saying that trans fats contained in those products have the same effect as industrial trans fats – we are not able to tell the difference,” he said. “But the amount contained in dairy products is much less.”

Read more …

How about money NOT to build roads?

Bank of England Should Print Money To Prevent Climate Change (Ind.)

The Bank of England should print money for the government to invest in the low-carbon economy to combat climate change, according to a new report. The BoE must also offload fossil fuel assets and use its existing powers more effectively to promote green projects, the campaign and research group Positive Money says. The report argues that the bank’s mandate to secure financial stability “looks incoherent over time unless it considers the long-term viability of the economy”. That viability will be undermined unless the threat of climate change is tackled soon, the researchers say. “The nature of climate change is such that either physical damage from weather or radical changes in technology and policy will occur in some combination, so action is needed now,” the report says.

It challenges the bank’s record on climate change and says its programme of, in effect, printing billions of pounds to prop up the economy has disproportionately helped carbon-intensive companies that are choking the planet. Under quantitative easing (QE), the bank has bought billions of pounds of debt from companies and the government. This is supposed to increase demand for debt, which in turn lowers interest rates. Cheaper borrowing means more borrowing which is supposed to be used to fund economic activity. But the researchers argue that QE has been actively harmful to efforts to combat climate change because the bank’s own criteria have been skewed towards buying debt from high-carbon sectors like manufacturing and utilities.

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The only solution left.

Wildlife Poachers In Kenya ‘To Face Death Penalty’ (Ind.)

Wildlife poachers in Kenya will face the death penalty, the country’s tourism and wildlife minister has reportedly announced. Najib Balala warned the tough new measure would be fast-tracked into law. Existing deterrents against killing wild animals in the east African nation are insufficient, Mr Balala said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency. So in an effort to conserve Kenya’s wildlife populations, poachers will reportedly face capital punishment once the new law is passed. Kenya is home to a wide variety of treasured species in national parks and reserves, including lions, black rhinos, ostriches, hippos, buffalos, giraffe and zebra.

Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 – and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed. “We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000,” Mr Balala reportedly said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”

Read more …

May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Road in Tahiti 1891

 

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)
Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)
At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)
RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)
The Deep State First (Stockman)
Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)
Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)
Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)
Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)
Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?
Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

 

 

“..over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt.”

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)

In 2009, the year President Obama took office, the national debt held by the public was $7.27 trillion. At the end of fiscal 2016, that had soared to approximately $14 trillion. Given that our marketable debt doubled from 2009 to 2016, it’s remarkable that the annual cost of the interest on the debt rose far less, from $185 billion to $223 billion. The long march of rising rates that began recently is a dramatic reversal after nearly 40-years of declining interest rates. The new trend portends a return to more historic rates. You may be asking: what are the historic rates? We calculate that the average rate paid on the federal debt over the last 30 years was close to 5%. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just raised its estimate that debt held by the public will rise to $17.8 trillion in 2020.

Some economists believe that the figure will be much higher. For our exercise though, let’s stick with the CBO estimate. We are postulating that the interest rate on our national debt may return to the long-term, 30-year average of 5%. Note, too, that Treasury debt rolls over every 3 to 4 years so the maturing bonds at low interest rates will be refinanced at the then current higher rates. Let’s do the math together. Take the CBO estimate of debt held by the public of $17.8 trillion in 2020, a 5% average interest on that amount comes to annual debt service of $891 billion, an unfathomable amount. (In 2017, interest on the debt held by the public was $458.5 billion, itself a scary number.)

In its current report, the CBO added: “It also reflects significant growth in interest costs, which are projected to grow more quickly than any other major component of the budget.” Here’s the danger: • According to CBO, individual income taxes produced $1.6 trillion in revenue in fiscal year 2017. • Under this 2020 scenario, over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt. • Annual debt service in 2020 will exceed our newly increased defense budget of $700 billion in FY 2018. • Annual debt service would exceed our Social Security obligations.

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[The IMF] “..admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.”

Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)

Argentina has started talks with the IMF seeking financial rescue once again, as inflation soars and the currency sinks. Buenos Aires looks to be going through another economic nightmare, with prices rising rapidly while the Argentine peso drops. The central bank announced last week another increase in rates to 40% — as the 12-month inflation rate hit 25.4%, above its 15% target. At the same time, since the start of the year, the peso is down by more than 20% against the U.S. dollar. [..] Asking for help from the Fund is a contentious issue for the country. Back in 2001, Argentina defaulted on $132 billion of foreign debt. The Washington-based institution, which was helping the country at the time, admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.

Following Macri’s announcement Tuesday, several people protested against a new IMF intervention, still traumatized by the economic collapse at the start of the century, Reuters reported. “The IMF has a terrible reputation among Argentinians, and so this is a big political gamble for the government,” Fiona Mackie, regional director for Latin America at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via email. “At present, though, (the government) clearly sees the need to regain the confidence of markets as more pressing, and is hoping that its program of adjustment gets back on track in time for the presidential election late next year,” she added.

Read more …

“The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy. ”

At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)

The housing market is dead. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax, says that prices fell in April by 3.1%, the biggest monthly drop in almost eight years. Newspapers bury this disastrous news way back in their editions for fear that it will spread gloom and despondency. We need to wean ourselves off this way of thinking. Falling house prices are not disastrous, and only in a country with such a perverted relationship with bricks and mortar could they be seen as such. In Germany, they scratch their heads in bemusement when they hear Britons boast of how the value of their house has soared. The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy.

The billions that are spent pushing up property prices could be more productively invested elsewhere. Imagine for a second that the next time you went to the train station the rail operating company had unexpectedly cut fares by 5%. Or that when doing your weekly shop you discovered that the supermarket had slashed your normal bill by £10. Would you think this was an unwelcome development? Daft question. Of course you would be happy, because your money would go further. Conversely, you would be less than chuffed to find more of your pay being spent on getting to work or putting food on the table. That’s why there are no headlines in the papers screaming “Boom-boom Britain: joy for commuters as rail fares rise by 10% for third year in a row”, or “Good news for families as supermarkets add £10 a week to the average shop”.

The papers stand up for their readers when they think they are being gouged by train companies and supermarkets. They stick up for buyers rather than sellers. But different rules apply to property. If the average house price had risen rather than fallen by £7,000 in April, that would have been front-page news and hailed as a sign that all was well with the economy. The papers tend to side with owner-occupiers rather than the buyers of property getting the rough end of the deal. This fetishisation of rising house prices is relatively recent. For the first 25 years after the second world war, a combination of mass housebuilding and strict controls on credit meant that the cost of property rose only modestly.

But since 1970, financial deregulation, much lower levels of housebuilding and a tax system heavily weighted in favour of owner-occupation have meant demand for housing in parts of the country has tended to outstrip supply. There have been four big house-price booms – the early 1970s, the late 80s, the mid 00s and the mid 10s. None of them have ended well.

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No criminal charges.

RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)

The British state-backed bank said that $3.46 billion of the proposed civil settlement will be covered by existing provisions and the bank will take a $1.44 billion incremental charge in 2018’s second quarter to cover the rest. The accord would resolve a major issue that has weighed on the company’s share price and complicated the UK government’s plan to sell down its more than 70 percent stake in the bank. RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan called the deal a “milestone.” “Removing the uncertainty over the scale of this settlement means that the investment case for this bank is much clearer,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, which led the probe, confirmed it had reached an agreement in principle with RBS that would resolve potential civil claims related to mortgage-backed securities that were issued from 2005 to 2008. “Further details remain to be negotiated, however, before a formal agreement can be reached,” the office said. The implosion of markets for risky residential mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives contributed to the 2008 global financial crisis and prompted a series of investigations by authorities including the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts had also been conducting a criminal investigation into RBS and former employees who were involved in structuring and selling the securities.

But the settlement that RBS and the office disclosed on Thursday was only civil in nature, signaling no criminal charges were likely to result. RBS previously agreed in July 2017 to pay $5.5 billion to resolve a lawsuit by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming it misled the U.S. mortgage giants into buying mortgage-backed securities. It resolved similar claims by the National Credit Union Administration related to mortgage-backed securities RBS sold to credit unions that later failed for $1.1 billion in 2016.

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“The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security..”

The Deep State First (Stockman)

At his so-called Cabinet meeting this morning, the Donald basically threatened Iran with annihilation if it does what 15 other signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) do every day: Namely, increase production of industrial grade nuclear fuel (3.5%-5.0% purity) at its enrichment plant at Natanz—which, in any event, is crawling with IAEA inspectors. Moreover, it really doesn’t matter whether Trump was play-acting in the style of Art of the Deal or that the JPAOC could be improved. The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security. Nor, for that matter, the security of any other country in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The real purpose of the Donald’s missile-rattling is nothing more than helping Bibi Netanyahu keep his coalition of right wing religious and settler parties (Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home) together, thereby maintaining his slim 61-vote majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu’s malefic political glue is the utterly false claim that Iran is an “existential threat” to Israel because it is hell-bent on getting the bomb. But that’s where the whopper comes in. It amounts to the ridiculous postulate that Iran is so fiendishly evil that if it is involved in the nuclear fuel cycle in any way, shape or form – presumably even just operating a uranium mine – it is only a matter of months before it will have a bomb.

As a matter of record, of course, Netanyahu has been saying this since the early 1990s and he has always been wrong because there were never any facts or logic to support his blatant fear-mongering.

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Madman,

Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)

Turkish police detained 65 suspects on Thursday in an operation targeting air force personnel accused of links to the U.S.-based preacher whom Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for a total 96 people, of which 91 were from the air force, and police were still seeking the remaining suspects in an operation focused on the western city of Izmir and spread across 15 provinces, it said. The suspects were said to have ties to the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network is accused of being behind the failed putsch in July 2016, during which 250 people were killed. Gulen has denied involvement.

In a separate operation, an Ankara prosecutor on Thursday issued detention warrants for 93 employees of a private tutoring center that was previously closed down on suspicion of links to Gulen’s network, Anadolu said. Turkish authorities have detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the failed military intervention, the U.N. human rights office said in March. Among those detained, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during their trials.

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Hmmm…

Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)

Just off a 10-hour visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and less than a day after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he doesn’t expect Russia to act against Israeli forces as they continue exchanging fire with Syria. It appears the meeting wrapped up at the very moments a major escalation began along the Golan Heights, with both Syria and Israel trading blame for an initial attack which quickly escalated into Israeli cruise missile launches and shelling on targets in southern Syria and notably, on Damascus itself. The question remains, did Putin give Netanyahu the green light for tonight’s events?

If it wasn’t clear over the past weeks and months of unprovoked Israeli strikes on Syria—ostensibly to roll back Iranian troop presence—then it should be very clear by now that Syria, Israel, and Iran are now in a state of war and all signs point to a continued intensification of the conflict. And crucially, there’s currently no sign that Russia came to the aid of its close ally as rockets rained down on Damascus overnight. Russia has routinely looked the other way while Israel has conducted, by its own admission, over one hundred major strikes on Syria—most of which have come after Russian intervention on behalf of Assad in 2015. As Reuters reported late in the day Wednesday, Netanyahu told reporters just before departing Moscow: “Given what is happening in Syria at this very moment, there is a need to ensure the continuation of military coordination between the Russian military and the Israel Defence Forces.”

The Russians and Israelis coordinate their actions through a direct military hotline intended to avoid accidental clashes which could lead to escalation between the two countries. A reportedly “upbeat” Netanyahu further said, “”In previous meetings, given statements that were putatively attributed to – or were made by – the Russian side, it was meant to have limited our freedom of action or harm other interests and that didn’t happen, and I have no basis to think that this time will be different.” Thus it appears Israel may have been given a green light by Putin to engage targets in Syria, however, at this point it is unclear what limitations or restrictions Putin may have issued, if any at all.

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Victory.

Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)

Three Americans released by North Korea have landed in the US under cover of darkness, with Donald Trump waiting on the tarmac to greet their plane. The three men emerged from a US government plane, flashing peace signs high above their heads. A huge US flag hung between two fire trucks served as a backdrop against the night sky. “I want to thank Kim Jong-un,” Trump said. “I think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.” “We didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did. It was very important to all of us,” he said, referring to the prisoner release. “The true honour will be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.” The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, flew to Pyongyang for a surprise one-day visit on Wednesday, when he met the North Korean leader and secured the release of the three men.

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What do Democrats stand for?

Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)

The lead held by Democrats over Republicans on generic ballot polls ahead of the 2018 midterm elections is beginning to slip, a new CNN poll suggests. Overall, 31% of respondents in a poll released Wednesday told CNN that they believe the country would be better off with Democrats in control of Congress, while 30% said Republicans should hold the reins. However, the largest proportion of respondents, at 34%, said it makes no difference to them who is in charge. Among registered voters asked whether they would vote Democratic or Republican in their congressional district if the elections were held today, Democrats had a three-point advantage, at 44% to 41%, which is within the poll’s margin of error.

Democrats have seen a steady decline in their advantage over Republicans in recent months, according to CNN polling, falling from a 16-point advantage in February to a 6-point one in March, to just a 3-point lead this week, roughly six months away from the midterm elections. An ABC News/Washington Post poll similarly found last month that Democrats’ lead over Republicans among registered voters was only 4 points, at 47% to 43%, down from a 12-point lead the poll found Democrats held in January. Democrats still have an edge in enthusiasm, according to CNN. Among respondents who said they are excited to vote in November, more plan to vote Democratic than Republican, at 53% to 41%.

But enthusiasm does seem to be growing among GOP voters. According to the CNN poll, 44% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting, which is a jump from 36% in March. [..] President Trump’s own job approval has increased recently, with his approval rating at 41% in the CNN poll and his approval over his handling of the economy at 52%.

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On Polanyi.

Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?

In a sweeping, angry new book, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” (Norton), the journalist, editor, and Brandeis professor Robert Kuttner champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. Like Polanyi, he believes that free markets can be crueller than citizens will tolerate, inflicting a distress that he thinks is making us newly vulnerable to the fascist solution. In Kuttner’s description, however, today’s political impasse is different from that of the nineteen-thirties. It is being caused not by a stalemate between leftist governments and a reactionary business sector but by leftists in government who have reneged on their principles.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kuttner contends, America’s Democrats, Britain’s Labour Party, and many of Europe’s social democrats have consistently tacked rightward, relinquishing concern for ordinary workers and embracing the power of markets; they have sided with corporations and investors so many times that, by now, workers no longer feel represented by them. When strongmen arrived promising jobs and a shared sense of purpose, working-class voters were ready for the message.

[..] Polanyi starts “The Great Transformation” by giving capitalism its due. For all but eighteen months of the century prior to the First World War, he writes, a web of international trade and investment kept peace among Europe’s great powers. Money crossed borders easily, thanks to the gold standard, a promise by each nation’s central bank to sell gold at a fixed price in its own currency. This both harmonized trade between countries and stabilized relative currency values. If a nation started to sell more goods than it bought, gold streamed in, expanding the money supply, heating up the economy, and raising prices high enough to discourage foreign buyers—at which point, in a correction so smooth it almost seemed natural, exports sank back down to pre-boom levels.

The trouble was that the system could be gratuitously cruel. If a country went into a recession or its currency weakened, the only remedy was to attract foreign money by forcing prices down, cutting government spending, or raising interest rates—which, in effect, meant throwing people out of work. “No private suffering, no restriction of sovereignty, was deemed too great a sacrifice for the recovery of monetary integrity,” Polanyi wrote. The system was sustainable politically only as long as those whose lives it ruined didn’t have a say. But, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the right to vote spread. In the twenties and thirties, governments began trying to protect citizens’ jobs from shifts in international prices by raising tariffs, so that, in the system’s final years, it hardened national borders instead of opening them, and engendered what Polanyi called a “new crustacean type of nation,” which turned away from international trade, making first one world war, and then another, inevitable.

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More Graeber. Most jobs are bullshit.

Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful. A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all. And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence.

But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off. [..] We’re all taught that people want something for nothing, which makes it easy to shame poor people and denigrate the welfare system, because everyone is lazy at heart and just wants to mooch off other people. But the truth is that a lot of people are being handed a lot of money to do nothing. This is true for most of these middle-management positions I’m talking about, and the people doing these jobs are completely unhappy because they know their work is bullshit. I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable.

[..] You expect this outcome with a Soviet-style system, where you have to have full employment so you make up jobs whether a need exists or not. But this shouldn’t happen in a free market system. I think one of the reasons is there’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what. We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.

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Nov 252017
 
 November 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Zao Wu-Ki The red sun 1950

 

Once again, to my delight, we’re back with former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum organization. We posted a few of his articles this year and last. This time, Alastair writes a reaction to one of his own articles posted at Consortium News, which I included in the November 18 Debt Rattle at the Automatic Earth. My short comment then: “Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.” This morning, the Conflicts Forum reached out again:

Dear Raul, We took the hint on a recent posting your site that referred to one of Alastair’s articles! …. and below is a comment piece he has done. It is an attempt to be strategic at where we’re going.

Anytime, guys! My first reaction to that piece was that Alastair makes Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s role in the Saudi crackdown seem very large, which makes the role played by deep state America look small in comparison. And I’m not so sure about that. The riddle of ‘who’s playing who?’ is not a straightforward one. But that’s by no means a criticism (I ain’t criticizing no MI6!). It’s a question.

First, here are two paragraphs of that article to ‘get in the mood’:

 

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the crackdown seems to have had limited success so far on an international level, this is certainly an interesting issue to delve deeper into. MbS has reportedly, assisted by US mercenaries, hung members of his own family upside down from ceilings in posh hotels and palaces to break them into submission and steal their fortunes, but if the international part of his plan falls short, this becomes a very unpredictable story.

But this new article has a much broader scope. I’ve often said that the falling apart of the American, European and global political systems is caused one-on-one by deteriorating economies (even if 90% of media and politicians stick the recovery narrative). Alastair agrees, and even quotes me again.

 

 

Alastair Crooke: Robert Kagan first called attention to the fact that America would need to awake from its ‘dream’ a decade ago in End of Dreams: The Return of History, and would have to manage the rise of ‘other’ powers, (some greater than others), with adroitness, if it were to avoid a bad road-crash as emerging competitors clashed with the waning dominant power.  

This meant that the US no longer would be able to assert its will everywhere, and on everything – and would have to give ground – especially to China and Russia.  “There’s going to have to be some very painful horse trading”, historian Sir Max Hastings suggests, adding that its pain will be none the less traumatic, since – like Germany after WW1 – America, does not feel itself defeated: Quite the converse, it sees itself having emerged from the Cold War wholly vindicated: in terms of its societal, governmental and capitalist models.

The American-shaped globalist order, in which three American generations have been steeped, had seemed so naturally to flow out from the Cold War, that the onset of world ‘order’ dissolution seems – shockingly, for many – to have struck out of the blue – as it were – with Brexit, and the election of Mr Trump. 

Commentators speak of America needing to be wary of the Thucydides’ Trap (when the then aspiring power, Athens, threatened the primacy of the established hegemon, Sparta, leading to war). But ‘the trap’ today is not simply just about who’s rising ‘up’, and who’s heading ‘down’, in the great-power stakes – for, as Josh Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, last year  warned, the problem is not just great power competition. But rather: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.”  In short, the two world wars were not just about Germany challenging British hegemony, but were also about globalization ‘backlash’ too – something that is often overlooked. 

In other words, in the wake of WW2, America has been backing itself into the corner of an ‘American-shaped’ (imposed), second wave ‘globalisation’, and that is the major risk posed today (as much as rising China), with ‘populism’ again markedly on the up. And ‘second wave globalisation’ is again yielding predictable political volatility (i.e. in ‘unexpected’ election results).  However, as Max Hastings  suggests, (quoting former UK politician Michael Howard), “we must recognize that the élites, of which he [Howard] himself freely admits to having been a part, have failed to sustain the consent of electorates for this [Euro-centralisation and for globalisation]. This ignoring the need to sustain the consent of the electorate, bears a considerable responsibility for getting us into this mess”.

Further, as Andrew Bracevich underlines globalism has its distinct social ‘flipside’: “[A] war [has been waged] on (genuine) culture: Under whatever guise, liberal-market globalism is hostile to tradition, community, established norms, and the very idea of a common culture – all of which impinge [adversely] upon the operation of the market, or claims of radical individual autonomy”.

 

 
The Thucydides’ Trap for America, rather, as Professor Lears of Rutgers writes, then, is not just the rising of Russia and China, but that of Americans being backed into the corner of not recognizing “that ‘they’ [the liberal globalists] are no longer defending either liberalism or democracy; [these] forms of élite rule – that provoke [such] popular anger – are merely the husk of liberal democracy: The once-vital discourse of liberal democracy has been hollowed out, and transformed into a language of managerial technique … Within this discourse, freedom has been reduced to market behaviour; citizenship to voting; and, efficiency for the public good to efficiency for profit. The rich civic culture that gave rise to popular American politics in the past—unions, churches, local party organizations—has been largely replaced, in both parties, by élites who have benefited from the ‘technocratic turn’”.

“As long as prosperity continued to increase as it has since 1945, western electorates were willing to give élites a very considerable measure of discretion about what they did, [whether in creating the EU], or whatever it might be. They were willing to acquiesce. Now, prosperity is being squeezed, wages are stagnant, and for many people unlikely to rise much in real terms.   It is going to be much more difficult to sustain the consent of Western electorates for purposes which the élites might consider as [somehow] ‘enlightened and unselfish’”. (Hastings again – with emphasis added).

And here lies the real ‘trap’: it is not that “prosperity is being squeezed” as per Hastings, but that the economy has rather, been divaricated into the ‘squeezed 60%’ and the asset-holding, and enriched 40% (as Ray Dalio describes it). Last month Dalio, the billionaire founder of top hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, posted a new article, “The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%”.  He believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions. Dalio explains with this chart:

 

 

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same, but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. But it would be a mistake to understand this phenomenon – ‘populism’ as it is labelled in Dalio’s chart – or, the push to recover national culture and sovereignty – as simply a gripe about inequity. It has become since 2009 much more than that: it has become a matter of survival for a major segment of the American and European population (especially, as it coincides with a pensions crisis, which will leave many impoverished in their old age): 

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living…”, Raúl Ilargi Meijer says, “but less than a decade later, [personal debt], can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.” (Alastair: Or, even, a precursor to civil violence?)

“To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline. 

“Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point, and the crisis never looked back”.

 

 

And Max Hastings’ point is that with austerity gone, early popular acquiescence has turned to anger against the élites – for having so taken them for granted in their utopian globalist projects.

Now the wider point: what we have here is the intersection of geo-politics with geo-finance. Both are now wholly contingent on the ‘saving of appearances’.  One co-constitutes the other.  One is the saving of appearance that America is not losing ‘respect’, or being disdained in the international arena, as it attenuates its global commitments (that is the Thucydides ‘syndrome’), and two, saving the appearance that ‘recovery’ and ‘prosperity for all’, are continuing to unfold nicely in the economy (the world converging globally to western values ‘syndrome’). 

Both these aspects to the dissolution of today’s western ‘modernity’ are intertwined, and co-constituting, and therefore likely to march in tandem – at least for now:  western ‘prosperity’ underwrites the global order, and the global order underwrites American ‘prosperity’.  The American and European élites therefore find themselves painted into a globalised ‘rules-based order’ corner, geo-politically, just as the Central Bankers have been backed into their QE, low or negative interest rate corner – from which there is no easy escape, either. 

The term ‘globalisation’ has been used to paint a landscape that is both inevitable, and beneficent: “free trade floats all boats; everywhere” is the meme. Devotees of globalisation however, never examine rigorously whether David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory still holds good in the contemporary world (Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, however, being a notable exception). There just has been no point in asking the fundamentally political (as opposed to technical) question: Has the resulting off-shoring of supply lines, truly been in our interest – politically, as well as financially?  And has the concomitant – globalist disembedding of humans from national culture, community and sovereignty, and the rise of the apolitical, neo-liberal, chameleon-identity ‘Self’, been in the general political and societal interest, too?

It may be objected that Trump is not a globalist.  Whilst it is true that he does not favour America shouldering the claims of a world order; he – himself – protests loudly that he is a globalist – but it is just that he is a hard-nosed, New York businessman, type of globalist: that’s all.  Globalisation (in the neo-liberal mode), remains as a western totem, rightly, or not, according to political taste.

 

Where now? In the domestic field, the Central Banks’ easy ‘group think’ on QE, low or negative interest-rates, and ballooning public and private debt, has been pursued now for so long and so extensively, that it has both given us Dalio’s Two Economies, and no way back.   It has become a vicious circle: as high debt, to GDP ratios, low-interest zombification of entities and shrinking personal disposable income in the 60%, have depressed growth. Yet, paradoxically, never has the need for more of the same – QE, low or negative interest rates, or even ‘helicopter’ income – been so widely extolled — and, at the very moment when their drawbacks have become so widely identified, even by central bankers, themselves.

So here we are: there is a messy, and bitter, divorce taking place in our societies between the 60% and the 40% ‘tribes’. Asset valuations indeed have never been higher. Yet growth by contrast, has, on average, been ratcheting down, decade by decade – and for some, the situation has become truly existential (those for whom even additional debt cannot sustain their non-discretionary outgoings).

Where do we go from here?  A continuation of the existing financial paradigm is what everyone believes; what everyone expects (wants) – and is what we likely will get.  It might even be deepened a little, in the wake of a market hiccough (S&P down by more than 2%).  And in the case of a financial black swan, we may witness the system literally ‘hosed down’ with newly created ‘money’.  But essentially, the business and trade cycle will continue to be heavily repressed – volatility slammed down – and the S&P be the metric of national well-being.

Not only do the markets ‘believe it’, President Trump needs it: geo-politically he likes to do his style of negotiating from a position of strength (and not from one of economic crisis); and internally, he is at ‘war’ with the Establishment.  With the S&P touching records daily, he is immune from taunts of incompetence (regardless of whether not the highs have anything to do with the President).  His base likes it too: their meagre retirement portfolios at least are rising in value. And in any event, it is not surprising if Trump is a low interest, plentiful liquidity, expanding balance sheet, man globally:  It is how he made his billions, personally.

 

Of course, the flip side to continuing the ‘easing’ paradigm is the ongoing hidden transfer of wealth from general taxpayers (the 60%) to the 40%: more populism; more unexpected election outcomes in Europe; more fake-ness; quicker dissolution of the glue holding society together; more political process, less outcome; less ability to address the needs of collective purpose, etcetera — rising rancour and push-back, in a word. This is the implication.

In parallel, the saving of appearance in geo-politics seems to require its slamming down of volatility too (and in the EU, not least – i.e. Catalonia).  People want to believe it (in American power); important sectors of the economy want it, (need it): the appearance of America’s global standing must be preserved.  Repressing North Korea, ‘slamming down’ Iran can save appearances (America is strong), but the flip-side is the increased danger of war – whether inadvertently triggered, or by the US cornering itself into it.  Actually, ebbing power is something that you smell: false bravura only heightens the odour of weakness.

So, continuance of the paradigms (financial and geopolitical), and the continuance of ‘populist push-back’ (i.e. volatility) seem set. Is Josh Feinman of Deutsche Bank then right when he says: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, [it] sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.” Is a financial crisis inevitable – ultimately?  Is war – a confrontation with either Russia, China or N. Korea – unavoidable?

Who can say, for sure?  But the repeating of history is not inevitable.  Financial re-set at some point, has become inevitable, it would appear. It has taken time for the old meme to fade, and weaken its hold sufficiently. Hemingway famously said about bankruptcy (his), that it starts only very slowly, but ends lightningly fast.  The political impulse for a change in the social and cultural paradigm however does seem to be unfolding at an accelerating pace. ‘Populism’ and ‘unexpected’ election results are acting as its accelerant. And the intellectual context for a seismic economic policy shift, is in place too:  monetary policy is seen to be bust, and the economic ‘models’ have been seen to be plain wrong. TINA (there is no alternative) is wobbling on her pedestal, and seems poised to topple over.

Of course there are alternatives.  But will they arrive in time?  Perhaps the existing paradigms are destined to endure a while yet … ’til Hemingway’s observation about bankruptcy sliding unstoppably fast towards the end is further proven as a truism?  In the meantime: we wait; shackled by inertia, and backed into a corner.
 

 

 

Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 1:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí The oecumenial council 1960

 

Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

 

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip:

 

 

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something.

And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.

 

 

And things are not getting better, Saudi Arabia loses money on every barrel it produces. There are stories about them lowering their break-even price, but let’s take that with a few spoonfuls of salt. A 25% drop in break-even prices in just one year sounds a bit too good. Moreover, main competitors like Iran would still have a much lower break-even price. So even if prices would rise further, the Saudi’s might only break even while Iran gets much richer. Running vs standing still.

 

Saudi Arabia Leads Gulf Nations in Cutting Break-Even Oil Price

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, is also a leader when it comes to slashing the crude price the country needs to balance its budget. The kingdom will need oil to trade at $70 a barrel next year to break even, the IMF said Tuesday in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s down from a break-even of $96.60 a barrel in 2016, the biggest drop of eight crude producers in the Persian Gulf. The break-even is a measure of the crude price needed to meet spending plans and balance the budget.

 

 

Gulf oil producers are cutting spending and eliminating subsidies after crude plunged from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to average just over half that this year. The need to curb spending is more urgent with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting output to reduce a global glut. Oil will trade at $50 to $60 a barrel for the “medium term,” the IMF said.

 

 

So a thorough cleansing job of the royal family is perhaps inevitable, albeit very risky. King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are up against a very large group of rich people. But there’s no way back now.

 

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis…

Much more will have to follow that. Doing a half way job is far too risky once the job has started. Not even $800 billion sounds like all that much. Separate families and factions within the royal family have had decades to accumulate wealth.

 

Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The most visible – and perhaps richest- of all those arrested -in western eyes- is Al-Waleed. The Bloomberg estimate of his wealth that came out this week is $19 billion. But their own article seems to indicate a much higher number. He owns 5% of Apple -says Bloomberg-, and that share alone would be worth $45 billion.

 

Alwaleed, Caught in Saudi Purge, Has Assets Across the World

Apple – Alwaleed bought 6.23 million shares, or 5 percent, of the computer and mobile-device maker for $115.4 million in 1997. He made these purchases between mid-March and April of that year while the company was still struggling to turn itself around. He has since continued to hold the stake while Apple’s valuation has soared to as high as $900 billion.

 

Going through all these numbers, you can imagine why the ruling family, or rather the rulers within that family, are getting nervous. And that’s where we get to an interesting piece by Ryan Grim at the Intercept, who says it’s not even 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, or King Salman, 81, who control the kingdom these days, it’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -and maybe Washington-.

The coup has already been perpetrated.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge – And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it.

MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain.

As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately.

The kingdom’s broke. Not today, or tomorrow morning, but crown prince MBS is able to look at the numbers and go: Oh Shit! And if he doesn’t see it, he has Kushner (re: Israel) and Al-Otaiba to fill him in. All three relative youngsters -MBS is 32, Kushner is 36, Otaiba is 43- are exceedingly nervous by now.

And then you get war, or the threat of war. War in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and now ‘mingling’ in Lebanon with the somewhat mysterious removal of billionaire PM Hariri -allegedly on an Iran/Hezbollah assassination plot-, and outright threats against Iran and Hezbollah:

 

Lebanon’s Hariri Visits UAE As Home Crisis Escalates

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday despite a deepening crisis back home and a rise in regional tensions triggered by his surprise resignation. Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday during a visit to his ally Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Lebanon. He said he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of the regional rivalry that pits a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and allied Gulf monarchies against Shi‘ite Iran and its allies. Hariri’s office said he had flown to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and then returned to Riyadh, but it gave no reason for the trip. It also did not say when he would return home. Hariri’s Future TV channel said he would also visit Bahrain but gave no reason.

In short: billionaire PM Hariri is a puppet. Just perhaps not of Saudi Arabia, but of Abu Dhabi. Whether he’s under house arrest in Riyadh, as has been suggested, is still unclear. But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t fly to Abu Dhabi -and back- alone, or of his own accord. He went to receive instructions.

 

Saudi Arabia Accuses Iran Of ‘Direct Military Aggression’ Over Yemen Missile

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising the stakes in an already tense standoff between the two regional rivals. Mohammed bin Salman linked Tehran to the launch of a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the international airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday. The missile was intercepted and destroyed.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the prince said on Tuesday during a phone conversation with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. He added that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom”. Iran has called Riyadh’s accusations as baseless and provocative.

We have way of knowing what is true or not about this. We do know that Saudi Arabia have been executing a barbaric war in Yemen. With weapons from the US, UK, et al. So someone firing back wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

 

Regardless, Pepe Escobar, a journalist who knows much more than his peers, or at least doesn’t hold back as much as them, doesn’t see this end well for MBS, UAE, Israel, US, and whoever else is in their corner. Another losing war for the US in the Middle East? We’re losing count.

 

The Inside Story Of The Saudi Night Of Long Knives

A top Middle East business/investment source who has been doing deals for decades with the opaque House of Saud offers much-needed perspective: “This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders.” To say the Saudi Arabian Army is in uproar is an understatement. “He’d have to arrest the whole army before he could feel secure.”

[..] The story starts with secret deliberations in 2014 about a possible “removal” of then King Abdullah. But “the dissolution of the royal family would lead to the breaking apart of tribal loyalties and the country splitting into three parts. It would be more difficult to secure the oil, and the broken institutions whatever they were should be maintained to avoid chaos.” Instead, a decision was reached to get rid of Prince Bandar bin Sultan – then actively coddling Salafi-jihadis in Syria – and replace the control of the security apparatus with Mohammed bin Nayef. The succession of Abdullah proceeded smoothly.

Power was shared between three main clans: King Salman (and his beloved son Prince Mohammed); the son of Prince Nayef (the other Prince Mohammed), and finally the son of the dead king (Prince Miteb, commander of the National Guard). In practice, Salman let MBS run the show. And, in practice, blunders also followed. The House of Saud lost its lethal regime-change drive in Syria and is bogged down in an unwinnable war on Yemen, which on top of it prevents MBS from exploiting the Empty Quarter – the desert straddling both nations. The Saudi Treasury was forced to borrow on the international markets. Austerity ruled …

[..] aversion to MBS never ceased to grow; “There are three major royal family groups aligning against the present rulers: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef.” Nayef – who replaced Bandar – is close to Washington and extremely popular in Langley due to his counter-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle. According to the source, “he might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

[..] The source, though, is adamant; “There will be regime change in the near future, and the only reason that it has not happened already is because the old King is liked among his family. It is possible that there may be a struggle emanating from the military as during the days of King Farouk, and we may have a ruler arise that is not friendly to the United States.”

In the end, it all comes down to a familiar theme: follow the money. And we need to seriously question the economic reality of Saudi Arabia. That graph above of their foreign reserves looks downright grim.

With money comes power. Who loses money loses power. Saudi Arabia is bleeding money. The population surge is uncanny, and there are no jobs for all these young people. Perhaps the best they can do is be a US/Israel puppet in an attempt to ‘redo’ the map of the Middle East, but that has not been a very successful project off late -like the past 100 years-.

Then again, when you’re desperate you do desperate things. And when you’re a 32-year-old crown prince with more enemies than you can keep track of, you use what money is left to 1) keep up appearances, 2) steal what others have gathered, 3) buy weapons up the wazoo, and 4) go to war.

It all paints a very dark picture for the world. Russia won’t stand for attacks on Iran. And Iran won’t let attacks on Lebanon/Hezbollah go unanswered. All that is set to push up oil prices further, and all parties involved are just fine with that. Because they can buy more weapons with the additional profits.

I’ll leave you with Nassim Taleb’s comments on the situation. After all, Nassim’s from Lebanon, and knows that part of the world like the back of his hand:

 

 

 

Dec 292016
 
 December 29, 2016  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Negro alley dwellings near the Capitol, Washington DC 1943

 

Trump On Russia Sanctions: ‘We Ought To Get On With Our Lives’ (R.)
Moscow Says It’s “Tired Of The Lie About The ‘Russian Hackers'” (Ptv)
Talking about Starwars: What is Henry Kissinger Up To? (PCR)
US Escalates Tensions With Israel (WSJ)
Hillary Clinton Could Face New Email Probe After Explosive Ruling
House Flipping Makes a Comeback as Home Prices Rise (WSJ)
A China-Watcher’s Guide to 2017 (Balding)
China’s ‘Godfather of Real Estate’ Pitches Reverse Mortgages (NYT)
China Slashes First Round Of Oil Products Export Quotas (R.)
China Fault Lines: Where Economic Turbulence Could Erupt in 2017 (BBG)
Trump Tax Reforms Could Depend On Little-Known ‘Scoring’ Panel (R.)
Greek Migration Minister Vows To Improve Conditions At Camps (Kath.)

 

 

It’s very simple: either the White House shows us prrof of hacking today when sanctions are announced, or all credibility is shot, across US intelligence.

Trump On Russia Sanctions: ‘We Ought To Get On With Our Lives’ (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that the United States and Russia lay to rest the controversy over Moscow’s computer hacking of Democratic Party computers, saying, “We ought to get on with our lives.” Trump has cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers took information from Democratic Party computers and individuals and posted it online to help Trump win the election. The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information, two U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if the United States should sanction Russia, Trump replied: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.” Trump made his remarks at Mar-a-Lago, his seaside Florida resort where he is spending the Christmas and New Year’s holidays while also interviewing candidates for administration jobs. Trump said he was not familiar with remarks earlier on Wednesday by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said Russia and President Vladimir Putin should expect tough sanctions for the cyber attacks. “We have speed. We have a lot of other things but I’m not sure you have the kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I certainly will be over a period of time,” he said.

Read more …

Again: proof or ridicule.

Moscow Says It’s “Tired Of The Lie About The ‘Russian Hackers'” (Ptv)

Moscow has vowed retaliation if Washington issues further economic sanctions over alleged Russian cyber attacks during the US presidential elections. “To be honest, we are tired of the lie about the ‘Russian hackers’, which is being poured down in the United States from the very top,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday. She warned that her country would respond to any manner of “hostile steps” the US decides to undertake. “It concerns any actions against the Russian diplomatic missions in the US which will immediately ricochet the American diplomats in Russia,” she added.

Zakharova went on to stress that the US was attempting to intimidate Moscow with extending sanctions, taking diplomatic measures and sabotage against Russian computer systems, in retaliation for alleged Russian hacking interference during the US presidential elections in November. Earlier in the day, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that Moscow needed to understand it had gone too far during the election, and that new sanctions would target Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It is now time for Russia to understand – enough is enough,” he said. “You can expect that the Congress will investigate the Russian involvement in our elections and there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual,” he added.

Read more …

Oh, right, Starwars. Paul Craig Roberts contends the neocons are still as strong as ever in the US, even under Trump.

Talking about Starwars: What is Henry Kissinger Up To? (PCR)

The myth is widespread that President Reagan won the cold war by breaking the Soviet Union financially with an arms race. As one who was involved in Reagan’s effort to end the cold war, I find myself yet again correcting the record. Reagan never spoke of winning the cold war. He spoke of ending it. Other officials in his government have said the same thing, and Pat Buchanan can verify it. Reagan wanted to end the Cold War, not win it. He spoke of those “godawful” nuclear weapons. He thought the Soviet economy was in too much difficulty to compete in an arms race. He thought that if he could first cure the stagflation that afflicted the US economy, he could force the Soviets to the negotiating table by going through the motion of launching an arms race. “Star wars” was mainly hype. (Whether or nor the Soviets believed the arms race threat, the American leftwing clearly did and has never got over it.)

Reagan had no intention of dominating the Soviet Union or collapsing it. Unlike Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama, he was not controlled by neoconservatives. Reagan fired and prosecuted the neoconservatives in his administration when they operated behind his back and broke the law. The Soviet Union did not collapse because of Reagan’s determination to end the Cold War. The Soviet collapse was the work of hardline communists, who believed that Gorbachev was loosening the Communist Party’s hold so quickly that Gorbachev was a threat to the existence of the Soviet Union and placed him under house arrest. It was the hardline communist coup against Gorbachev that led to the rise of Yeltsin. No one expected the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The US military/security complex did not want Reagan to end the Cold War, as the Cold War was the foundation of profit and power for the complex. The CIA told Reagan that if he renewed the arms race, the Soviets would win, because the Soviets controlled investment and could allocate a larger share of the economy to the military than Reagan could. Reagan did not believe the CIA’s claim that the Soviet Union could prevail in an arms race. He formed a secret committee and gave the committee the power to investigate the CIA’s claim that the US would lose an arms race with the Soviet Union. The committee concluded that the CIA was protecting its prerogatives. I know this because I was a member of the committee.

Read more …

Place this in the context of what’s being said about Russian hackers at the same time.

US Escalates Tensions With Israel (WSJ)

Secretary of State John Kerry rebuked Israel for its settlement policy and warned in unusually harsh terms that a two-state solution was in serious jeopardy as the Obama administration raced to preserve its approach to the Middle East weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes power. Mr. Kerry’s speech on Wednesday—in which he defended a U.S. decision to allow a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlements—was seen by Israeli leaders as a parting shot from an unfriendly American administration in its final weeks. But the address appeared equally intended as a message to the incoming Trump team.

Mr. Kerry spelled out principles that have long been largely consistent in American policy—the goal of Israel existing alongside a separate Palestinian state, the notion that the settlements are an impediment to peace, and the idea that Jerusalem should be the capital of both an Israeli and a Palestinian state. Mr. Trump has suggested he would consider breaking with those principles. “President Obama and I know that the incoming administration has signaled that they may take a different path,” Mr. Kerry said at the State Department. “But we cannot in good conscience do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

Read more …

“This ruling means that the Trump Justice Department will have to decide if it wants to finally enforce the rule of law..”

Hillary Clinton Could Face New Email Probe After Explosive Ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of a conservative group’s lawsuit against the State Department over whether or not enough was done to try to restore Clinton’s missing emails, opening a potential further probe into Clinton’s emails by the Trump administration. Back in January, a District Court judge ruled that the lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch, against the State Department, had no validity because it had there had been a “sustained effort” to recover the emails. In the new ruling, however, Judge Stephen Williams wrote that this wasn’t enough.

“The Department has not explained why shaking the tree harder – e.g., by following the statutory mandate to seek action by the Attorney General – might not bear more still,” wrote Williams. He added: “Absent a showing that the requested enforcement action could not shake loose a few more emails, the case is not moot.” Williams also said that it’s “abundantly clear that, in terms of assuring government recovery of emails” the conservative group that brought the lawsuit hasn’t “been given everything [they] asked for.” Additionally, because former State Secretary Clinton used her Blackberry email account during the first few weeks of her term, the judge felt that efforts to restore just the messages from Clinton’s private email server weren’t sufficient either.

“Because the complaints sought recovery of emails from all of the former Secretary’s accounts, the FBI’s recovery of a server that hosted only one account does not moot the suits,” he wrote. Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton issued a statement after the ruling, claiming “The courts seem to be fed up with the Obama administration’s refusal to enforce the rule of law on the Clinton emails.” Fitton added, “This ruling means that the Trump Justice Department will have to decide if it wants to finally enforce the rule of law and try to retrieve all the emails Clinton and her aides unlawfully took with them when they left the State Department,” he added.

Read more …

Homes are definitely not places for people to live in. Not in the US.

House Flipping Makes a Comeback as Home Prices Rise (WSJ)

House flipping, a potent symbol of the real-estate market’s excess in the run-up to the financial crisis, is once again becoming hot, fueled by a combination of skyrocketing home prices, venture-backed startups and Wall Street cash. After nearly being felled by real-estate forays almost a decade ago, a number of banks are now arranging financing vehicles for house flippers, who aim to make a profit by buying and selling homes in a matter of months. The sector is small—participants say roughly several hundred million dollars in financing deals have been made in recent months—but is expected to keep growing. In recent months, big banks, including Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have started extending credit lines to companies that specialize in lending to home flippers.

[..] Over the past year, 37-year-old David Franco has collected profits of more than $200,000 on houses that he has quickly refurbished and resold, turning a hobby into an unexpectedly lucrative business. “There’s plenty of money to be made,” says Mr. Franco, who lives just outside of Los Angeles. House-flipping television shows and training “schools” for new investors are proliferating. One “super-intense, hardcore” house-flipping boot camp in Bourne, Mass., promised to teach students about real-estate investing in three days to make “REALLY MASSIVE PROFITS,” according to marketing literature. The increasing amount of speculative housing in recent months is “concerning,” ATTOM noted in a recent report. “We’re starting to see home flipping hit some milestones not seen since prior to the financial crisis.”

ATTOM said profit margins are getting squeezed in some markets. While house flippers typically aim to purchase a house at a 30% discount to the market, in some areas they’re buying homes at a 15% or 10% discount, said Senior Vice President Daren Blomquist. The research firm noted that the number of smaller, inexperienced house flippers entering the market is a sign of rising speculation. George Geronsin, 36, a Southern California real-estate agent and house-flipper who has been in the business since 2008, said he recently sold the majority of the homes he was working on and is sitting on cash “until the next big correction” in the housing market. “Anybody and everybody is getting into the business of house-flipping—that’s when you know it’s the end of the rope,” said Mr. Geronsin.

Read more …

Chris Balding confirms what I wrote yesterday.

A China-Watcher’s Guide to 2017 (Balding)

Last year, China’s leaders were touting plans for deleveraging and supply-side reform. This year, they’re touting yet more plans for deleveraging and supply-side reform. In between, total outstanding credit rose from 246% of gross domestic product to about 265%… Although reining in credit is essential for addressing many of China’s economic problems, the government is still targeting 6.5% growth next year, much of which will be reliant on yet more debt. So pay less attention to the talk and more to the data – specifically, metrics such as credit growth and real-estate prices.

Follow the Fed.China remains tied to the U.S. economy, whether it wants to be or not. Unfortunately, not everything that’s good for the U.S. is good for China. With the U.S. labor market tightening, and President-elect Donald Trump promising a $1 trillion economic stimulus, it is all but certain that the Federal Reserve will continue raising interest rates in 2017. That could have some positive effects for China’s real economy, but it will also put pressure on the People’s Bank of China to raise its own interest rates or risk breaking the soft peg of the yuan to the U.S. dollar. Higher rates, in turn, would raise borrowing costs for heavily indebted Chinese companies, many of which could end up in bankruptcy. How fast the U.S. economy grows, and how many times the Fed raises rates, could have as much impact on China’s economy as anything next year.

The cure can be worse than the disease. Rising asset prices in China have helped prop up everything from coal and steel firms to consumer sentiment. But with potential bubbles popping up everywhere, the government seems to be laying the groundwork for reform. That could mean raising interest rates, applying new restrictions on trading or tightening other regulations. Remember that such measures, however necessary, carry risks of their own. For example, given that China has some of the world’s most expensive housing relative to income, and extremely low turnover, withdrawing credit could result in a real-estate price shock. That might cause indebted developers to fail, or lead to much stronger government action to prevent a hard landing. As regulators try to rein in other asset prices, watch for similar turmoil in bonds and the yuan.

Expect the unexpected. China has long been plagued by poor-quality data, with even senior leadership expressing frustration at getting inaccurate information from the provinces. Unreliable data makes it nearly impossible to properly assess risk, which raises the probability of some type of internal shock. It could come from the nearly $4 trillion market in murky wealth-management products. It could come from social instability tied to hidden unemployment. It could come from something totally unexpected: With the bond market in turmoil, liquidity concerns mounting and defaults rising, there are many ways in which a panic could materialize.

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Prey on the elderly.

China’s ‘Godfather of Real Estate’ Pitches Reverse Mortgages (NYT)

He is known in China as the “godfather of real estate,” helping lay the groundwork for private homeownership in China, a move that enriched millions and laid the foundations for a vibrant and thriving Chinese middle class. Now, Meng Xiaosu wants a lot of Chinese — the older ones, specifically — to cash out. Older people need to mortgage their homes to address China’s looming demographic bust, Mr. Meng argues. Because of China’s now-defunct one-child policy and other social trends, the country has a rapidly graying population that someday soon may become too expensive for the Chinese government to support. Mr. Meng’s proposed solution is to bring reverse mortgages to China. Called a house-for-pension plan in China, a reverse mortgage allows homeowners to tap the equity in their homes by taking out loans against it.

His argument faces deep business and cultural opposition – mortgaging homes is a tough sell in a country where parents traditionally passed them on to their children – and only a few dozen people in all the country have signed up so far. But he argues that China may have little choice. “China’s elderly do not have much money,” said Mr. Meng, who drew much of his inspiration about the Chinese property market from a stint studying in America, “but they have valuable homes.” China is increasingly pondering tough questions as it looks to a graying future. Right now, China’s 215 million elderly people account for 15% of the total population. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 350 million – nearly one-quarter of the population.

That has China scrambling to find a more sustainable pension system for its people. In the 1990s, the government dismantled the cradle-to-grave welfare system and borrowed money from younger workers to pay older ones. The country’s pension fund will be $116 trillion in the red by 2050, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank. Enter Mr. Meng.

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What I see between the lines is a huge glut building. They simply can’t sell it anymore. Oh, and what was that question? Market economy?

China Slashes First Round Of Oil Products Export Quotas (R.)

China has cut oil product export quotas to the nation’s four oil majors by 40% in the first round of licences for 2017, according to two sources who have seen the documents, even as traders expect allowances for overseas sales to meet or exceed this year’s record levels. The notice did not include quotas for independent refiners, known as “teapots”, in line with a report by Reuters earlier this month that the government has ditched the small refiners from its export program. In a notice dated Dec. 23, the Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs said the four state majors will be allowed to sell 12.4 million tonnes of gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel abroad next year.

That’s down from 20.54 million tonnes in the same round this year. Still, the cut is likely to bring little relief to the stubbornly saturated Asian oil market as China’s majors did not use up the huge quotas issued at the start of last year, and have simply applied for more realistic quotas this year, traders said. “The shrinking quota doesn’t reflect shrinking demand from overseas. Instead, it reflects a shift in company exporting strategy,” said a China-based trader who declined to be named, adding that companies were better matching exports to quotas. “We expect the total quota for 2017 to be on par or a bit higher than 2016,” the trader added. China issued allowances for a record 46.08 million tonnes of oil products in 2016, up 80% from 2015. In the first 11 months of the year, it exported 43 million tonnes of oil products – including products other than gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel – up 35% on a year earlier.

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“The real nightmare for Beijing – and for markets – is a vicious cycle of capital outflows triggering bigger devaluations of the yuan that in turn drive bigger and faster outflows..”

China Fault Lines: Where Economic Turbulence Could Erupt in 2017 (BBG)

China’s balancing act isn’t getting any easier. Policy makers are grappling with how to attack excessive borrowing and rein in soaring property prices while maintaining rapid growth. They’re also battling yuan depreciation and capital outflow pressures as U.S. interest rates rise, while on the horizon looms the risk of confrontation with America’s President-elect Donald Trump on trade and Taiwan. It’s a high-wire act with the potential to produce shocks, like the one erupting in the bond market as tighter liquidity threatens financing for small companies. President Xi Jinping told top officials he’s open to growth below the 6.5% target to 2020 if it carries too much risk, a person familiar with the situation said last week. Leaders have pledged to reduce hazards for 2017.

While forecasters have been raising growth estimates for next year and don’t expect major turbulence, the following are among areas they flag as having the potential to trigger a plunge in growth or systemic risk in the financial system: Outflows will exceed $200 billion in the fourth quarter and rise further in the first quarter, said Pauline Loong, managing director at research firm Asia-Analytica in Hong Kong. Capital is leaving for more fundamental reasons than rising U.S. rates and a stronger dollar, she said. Drivers include rising expectations of yuan weakness, fears of an abrupt policy U-turn trapping funds in the country, and a lack of profitable investment opportunities at home amid rising costs and slowing growth.

“The real nightmare for Beijing – and for markets – is a vicious cycle of capital outflows triggering bigger devaluations of the yuan that in turn drive bigger and faster outflows,” Loong said. “We expect capital outflows to increase in the coming months as Chinese money seeks to maximize exit quotas in case of more stringent restrictions later on.”

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Clueless prognosticators.

Trump Tax Reforms Could Depend On Little-Known ‘Scoring’ Panel (R.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s goal of overhauling the U.S. tax code in 2017 will depend partly on the work of an obscure congressional committee tasked with estimating how much future economic growth will result from tax cuts. Known as the Joint Committee on Taxation, or JCT, the nonpartisan panel assigns “dynamic scores” to major tax bills in Congress, based on economic models, to forecast a bill’s ultimate impact on the federal budget. The higher a tax bill’s dynamic score, the more likely it is seen as spurring growth, raising tax revenues and keeping the federal deficit in check. As Trump and Republicans in Congress plan the biggest tax reform package in a generation, the JCT has come under pressure from corporate lobbyists and other tax cut advocates who worry that too low a dynamic score could show the legislation to add billions, if not trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.

“The problem is that the Joint Committee staff has adopted a whole series of assumptions that truly minimize the effects and underestimate the impact that a properly done tax reform could have,” said David Burton at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. A low dynamic score could force Republicans to scale back tax cuts or make the reforms temporary, severely limiting the scope of what was one of Trump’s top campaign pledges. Other analysts warn that pressure for a robust dynamic score raises the danger of a politically expedient number that could help reform pass Congress but lead to higher deficits down the road. Until last year, JCT used a variety of economic models in its arcane calculations, reflecting the uncertainties in such work. But House of Representatives Republicans changed the rules in 2015 to require that a bill’s score reflect only a single estimate of the estimated impact on the wider economy and resulting impact on tax revenues.

Next year’s anticipated tax reform package would be the biggest piece of legislation that JCT has scored using this new, narrower approach, presenting the committee with a daunting challenge. JCT Chief of Staff Thomas Barthold acknowledged the challenge of dynamic scoring in an interview with Reuters. “The U.S. economy is so darn complex, you really can’t have one model that picks up all of the complexity and nuance. So the essence of modeling is to try to slim things down, try to emphasize certain points,” he said. Tax reform is still months away. But the initial legislation expected in 2017 is likely to fall somewhere between two similar but separate plans, one backed by Trump and the other by House Republicans including Speaker Paul Ryan.

[..]The Tax Foundation estimates that the House Republican tax plan would lead to a 9.1% higher GDP over the long term, 7.7% higher wages and 1.7 million new full-time-equivalent jobs. It predicts the plan would reduce government revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade, not counting macroeconomic effects, but by only $191 billion once economic growth is taken into account. By contrast, the centrist Tax Policy Center estimates the House plan would add 1% to GDP over 10 years and erase $2.5 trillion of revenue, even with positive macroeconomic feedback, due to higher federal debt interest.

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Biometric data cards and €400 a month allowances in a country where many pensioners don’t even get that much.

Greek Migration Minister Vows To Improve Conditions At Camps (Kath.)

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas vowed on Wednesday to improve living conditions for migrants stranded on the islands, boost policing and create detention centers. “We are planning to have new, small venues on the islands, either by setting up small, two-story houses, in order to empty the tents, or by finding other places… to improve conditions,” he said, adding that it will take time but “we will do it.” Overcrowded conditions, coupled with the slow processing of asylum requests, have fueled tensions, while outbreaks of violence are not uncommon – especially on the islands, where some 15,000 migrants are crammed into ill-equipped camps. Mouzalas, however, insisted that the situation is better on the mainland and all refugees in the 36 camps there are staying in sheltered, heated areas.

The exception, he said, is the camp at Elliniko, southern Athens, where some migrants are still living outdoors in 70 tents. He also announced that by March, soup kitchens at camps around the country will be abolished. Instead, he said, migrants will be given money – no more than the minimum wage of €400. Mouzalas said Greece will hire more staff to deal with the slow pace of processing asylum requests, which he called an Achilles’ heel. Moreover, he said that migrants living legally in Greece will receive an electronic card that will replace their residence permits. The card, he said, will contain biometric data and other information, and will be given to migrants who want to renew their residence permits or to new arrivals.

The cards will be ready by April, he said, adding that they are part of the effort to modernize the system that processes residence permits, and to help fight forgeries. Roughly 60,000 migrants – mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war and poverty – are scattered throughout the country, many living in overcrowded and poor living conditions.

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Dec 272016
 
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

 


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens Christmas Day 2016

Recession, Market Crash Next Year, Expect Rate Cuts: Rickards (CNBC)
Did Donald Trump Just Jump The ‘Dow 20,000’ Shark? (ZH)
Yuan Trading Volume Has Been Surging In December (BBG)
ECB: Monte dei Paschi Must Now Raise €8.8 Billion After Recent Withdrawals (R.)
War & The Rejection of Peace (Rossini)
Israel Claims ‘Evidence’ That Obama Orchestrated UN Resolution (G.)
Corbyn Hits Back After Obama Suggests Labour Is ‘Disintegrating’ (G.)
Hard Brexit ‘Could Boost UK Economy By £24 Billion’: Pro-Leave Group (Ind.)
Mervyn King: Britain Should Be More Upbeat About Brexit (G.)
EU Faces Two Major Problems – And Has Answers To Neither: King (Ind.)
Exit, Hope and Change (Jim Kunstler)
Cheetahs Heading Towards Extinction As Population Crashes (BBC)
The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

 

 

“..a “head-on collision” between perception and reality…”

Recession, Market Crash Next Year, Expect Rate Cuts: Rickards (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates just two weeks ago for the second time in a decade, but it will soon be cutting them again, said Jim Rickards on Tuesday. Speaking to CNBC’s Squawk Box, the director of The James Rickards Project said a stock market correction is coming as President-elect Donald Trump’s economic stimulus plans will not pan out, causing a “head-on collision” between perception and reality. “When the reality of no stimulus catches up with the perception of stimulus plus the Fed tightening: that’s the train wreck. Either we’re going to have a recession or a stock market correction,” he said. The markets have been rallying on the back of Trump’s win as investors bet on tax cuts and fiscal spending under the new administration.

However, “the stimulus is not going to come” as Trump’s proposed tax cuts will hit government revenue while the Congress is likely to block his stimulus plans as the U.S. is already $20 trillion in debt, Rickards added. This will lead to a recession or a “very severe correction” in the stock market, prompting rate cuts later next year, he said, prompting the Fed to cut rates. “They will raise (rates) in March and then something will hit the wall, either the economy or the stock market or both. Then the Fed will backpedal from there, starting with a forward guidance then perhaps a rate cut later in the year,” said Rickards, who recommends holding gold and U.S. 10-year Treasurys.

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Ominous.

Did Donald Trump Just Jump The ‘Dow 20,000’ Shark? (ZH)

It appears the sugar-high from holiday celebrations is still running through president-elect Trump's veins as his tweets took an even more narcisistic tone on this oh-so-aptly-named 'Boxing Day' in America. First Trump decided to take credit for the unprecedented short-squeeze in US stock markets – and the Christmas spending numbers…

We just wonder what he will sat if/when Goldman Sachs stops rising and stocks tumble ("never gonna happen", probably The Fed's fault after all), but perhaps even more importantly, how does he feel about the $1.2 trillion of value he has erased from global capital markets since his election?

 

The drop in global debt and equity values in Q4 2016 is very reminiscent of the drop into 2015's Fed rate hike… which did not end well…

 

But, the last time that global stocks and global bonds decoupled so aggressively was following the end of QE3… here's what happened next…

But it's probably different this time, right? China is fine (oh wait, failed auctions and liquidity crisis), Europe is fine (oh wait, Italian banks are collapsing), and the US economy is great (oh wait, automakers are shuttering plants due to credit-created excess inventory).

*  *  *

But Trump was not done there, he took on the arrogance of Obama, as we detailed earlier

Invincible politician and stock market savior…Let's just hope nothing goes wrong to break that narrative in the next 4 years (or 4 weeks).

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Beijing will be forced to take very unpopular decisions. Xi signaled tolerance for a lower growth target, and whoops goes the money. They’re stuck in their own bubbles.

Yuan Trading Volume Has Been Surging In December (BBG)

The onshore yuan’s surging trading volume is another piece of evidence that capital is fleeing China at a faster pace. The daily average value of transactions in Shanghai climbed to $34 billion in December as of Monday, the highest since at least April 2014, according to data from China Foreign Exchange Trade System. That’s up 51% from the first 11 months of the year. The increase suggests quickening outflows, given that data in recent months showed banks were net sellers of the yuan, according to Harrison Hu at RBS This month’s jump in trading volume signals sentiment has kept deteriorating since November, when the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves shrank by the most since January.

The Chinese currency is headed for its steepest annual slump in more than two decades and when the year turns, authorities will be faced with a triple whammy of the renewal of citizens’ $50,000 conversion quota, prospects of further Federal Reserve interest-rate increases, and concern that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may slap punitive tariffs on China’s exports to the world’s largest economy. “Capital outflow pressures will stay, and in near term, we should monitor the impact upon the reset of the annual quota,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale. The pressures will likely ease toward the end of the first quarter as foreign flows into China’s bond market quicken, she said.

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If it quacks like a typical bank run… Don’t you think they could perhaps have done this deal in silence?

ECB: Monte dei Paschi Must Now Raise €8.8 Billion After Recent Withdrawals (R.)

The ECB has told Monte dei Paschi it needs to plug a capital shortfall of €8.8 billion, higher than a previous €5 billion gap estimated by the bank, the lender said on Monday, confirming what sources told Reuters. Last Friday the Italian government approved a decree to bail out Monte dei Paschi after Italy’s No. 3 lender failed to win investor backing for a desperately needed €5 billion capital increase. The bank said on Monday it had officially asked the ECB last Friday for go ahead for a “precautionary recapitalization”. A precautionary recapitalization is a type of state intervention in a struggling bank that is still solvent. It means only a modest bail-in of investors though the government can buy shares or bonds only on market terms endorsed by EU state aid officials in Brussels.

In its reply, the ECB said it had calculated the capital it believed the bank needed on the basis of a shortfall emerging from European stress test of large lenders earlier this year. In those tests Monte dei Paschi was the only Italian bank to come short under an adverse scenario. The ECB said the lender was solvent but signaled the bank’s liquidity position had rapidly deteriorated between the end of November and December 21, Monte dei Paschi said. [..] The European Commission said on Friday it would work with Rome to establish conditions were met for a bailout of Monte dei Paschi. But on Monday ECB policymaker Jens Weidmann said plans for a state bailout of Monte dei Paschi should be weighed carefully as many questions remain to be answered.

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“..He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but ended up invading 7 countries. He also became the very first U.S. President to be at continuous war during his entire 8 years in office…”

War & The Rejection of Peace (Rossini)

Try to think of a time in your life when the U.S. government was not militarily involved somewhere in the world. It’s a sad fact that a vast majority of us can’t recall such a time. [..] When war is all that a population knows to exist, the idea of peace becomes an anomaly. We all know that people are habitual. We cling to our habits (good and bad) and resist the unknown where change can occur. Well, in America the unknown has become peace! How sad to think that the idea of peace actually terrifies so many people both in and out of government. One can at least understand why governments would want to avoid peace. As Randolph Bourne famously pointed: “War is the health of the state.” During times of war, government capitalizes on the fear that it generates and concomitantly seizes unbelievable powers for itself.

We can at least see the benefit to government and those with a lust for power and the ability to dominate others. But what’s in it for the people? Here we can quote Samuel B. Pettengill who said: “War – after all, what is it that the people get? Why – widows, taxes, wooden legs and debt.” Sounds like a raw deal for the people. And yet, Americans have sat idly by, and have turned a blind eye to an incredible list of military interventions over the years. More war, less liberty …. More war, less liberty …. If it happens over an administration or two, it can be spun as government losing its way to a few bad apples. But 100+ years of more war, less liberty? That’s a system!

[..] There is a tremendous amount of upside to war for those who are in power. It provides them with an opportunity to swipe away liberties at an exponential pace. The populace will give up virtually everything. Is it any wonder that those in power run away from even the prospect of peace? We’re soon about to have a new president, and he’s coming into office with a lot of expectations. The outgoing president had high expectations as well. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but ended up invading 7 countries. He also became the very first U.S. President to be at continuous war during his entire 8 years in office. Will this new president keep the boots of war firmly pressed against American throats? Will he continue the asphyxiation of the American Dream?

So far, when it comes to the insane idea of confronting a nuclear Russia, he has shown admirable qualities of restraint and cordial behavior. Will that continue through his presidential term? Or will he keep the century old American tradition of military adventurism overseas? The world is much bigger than Russia. There are plenty of other places that America can mire itself. There are other nuclear powers (like China) where trouble can be fomented. The president-elect has already shown that he has a bone to pick with the Chinese. Are we merely exchanging trouble with one nuclear power for another? Let’s hope that Donald Trump doesn’t repeat the mistakes of history. Let’s hope that he doesn’t become just another bad example for future generations to study.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Americans to someday be born into a life of liberty and peace? That was the original idea in the ‘land of the free’. A return to a foreign policy of non-interventionism and peace is desperately needed.

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Quite the allegation.

Israel Claims ‘Evidence’ That Obama Orchestrated UN Resolution (G.)

Israel has escalated its already furious war with the outgoing US administration, claiming that it has “rather hard” evidence that Barack Obama was behind a critical UN security council resolution criticising Israeli settlement building, and threatening to hand over the material to Donald Trump. The latest comments come a day after the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was summoned by Netanyahu to explain why the US did not veto the vote and instead abstained. The claims have emerged in interviews given by close Netanyahu allies to US media outlets on Monday after the Obama administration denied in categorical terms the claims originally made by Netanyahu himself.

However, speaking to Fox News on Sunday, David Keyes – a Netanyahu spokesman – said Arab sources, among others, had informed Jerusalem of Obama’s alleged involvement in advancing the resolution. “We have rather iron-clad information from sources in both the Arab world and internationally that this was a deliberate push by the United States and in fact they helped create the resolution in the first place,” Keyes said. Doubling down on the claim a few hours later the controversial Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, went even further suggesting it had gathered evidence that it would present to the incoming Trump administration. “We will present this evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels. If they want to share it with the American people, they are welcome to do it,” Dermer told CNN.

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Curious things for Obama to say. It’s not obvious enough yet that his own party has fallen apart?

Corbyn Hits Back After Obama Suggests Labour Is ‘Disintegrating’ (G.)

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn has hit back after Barack Obama appeared to suggest that the Labour party has moved away from “fact and reality” and is disintegrating. The spokesman said the Labour leader “stands for what most people want” and suggested that the outgoing president’s Democratic party needed to “challenge power if they are going to speak for working people”. Obama had earlier said he was not worried when asked if the US Democrats could undergo “Corbynisation” and “disintegrate” like Labour in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s election defeat by Donald Trump. The departing US president was giving an in-depth interview, in which he also said he would have won the 8 November contest if he ran for a third term, to David Axelrod, formerly an adviser to Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

The 55-year-old compared the way the Labour party and the US Republicans had chosen to swing away from the middle ground and claimed even left-wing senator Bernie Sanders was a centrist compared to Corbyn. Asked about a potential “Corbynisation” of his party, he said: “I don’t worry about that partly because I think that the Democratic party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality.” He added: “[The Republican party] started filling up with all kinds of conspiracy-theorising that became kind of common wisdom or conventional wisdom within the Republican party base. That hasn’t happened in the Democratic party. I think people like the passion that Bernie brought, but Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to … Corbyn or relative to some of the Republicans.” In response Corbyn’s spokesman said: “Both Labour and US Democrats will have to challenge power if they are going to speak for working people and change a broken system that isn’t delivering for the majority.

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They’re going to continue to fight over this for much longer.

Hard Brexit ‘Could Boost UK Economy By £24 Billion’: Pro-Leave Group (Ind.)

The UK economy could benefit by £24bn a year – more than £450m a week – by leaving the European single market and customs union, a pro-Brexit pressure group has claimed. The Change Britain group said that the option – which it describes as “clean Brexit” – is likely to deliver annual savings of almost £10.4bn from contributions to the EU budget and £1.2bn from scrapping “burdensome” regulations, while allowing the UK to forge new trade deals worth £12.3bn. The group said its estimate was “very conservative” and that the benefits of withdrawal from the single market and customs union could be as much as £38.6bn a year. Even the lowest forecast within its range of likely outcomes was a boost of £20bn.

But the figure does not factor in the possibility of large-scale loss of exports to the remaining 27 EU nations, which advocates of a “soft Brexit” argue could happen if the UK faces tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade as a result of leaving the single market. Britain exported around £220bn of goods and services to the EU in 2015, while imports from the EU totalled around £290bn. Change Britain said that the biggest prize on offer was in potential trade agreements outside the EU which Britain could strike if it left the customs union, which requires it to take part only in deals negotiated by the European Commission. Depending on how many deals the UK secures, GDP could be boosted by between £8.5bn and £19.8bn, said Change Britain.

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Might as well. It’s just that King has been ‘unlucky’ in his predictions for years.

Mervyn King: Britain Should Be More Upbeat About Brexit (G.)

Britain may be better off going for a hard Brexit that would mean leaving the single market and customs union, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has suggested. Lord King, who has been more optimistic about leaving the EU than many economic commentators, acknowledged that Brexit would bring great political difficulties and would not be a “bed of roses”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he also said there would be many opportunities economically for the UK striking out on its own. The crossbench peer, who led the bank for a decade until 2013, said the UK should leave the European single market and warned there were “real question marks” over whether it should seek to remain in the customs union, which would limit its ability to forge trade deals on its own.

Theresa May’s cabinet is split on the issue of the single market and customs union, with the most pro-Brexit ministers seeking a clean break and others warning of the economic dangers of being cut adrift from the UK’s closest trading partners. King said before the referendum that warnings of economic doom about leaving the EU were overstated. Since then, he has welcomed the fall in the pound and said he believes Britain can be better off out than in the EU. He told the BBC on Boxing Day: “I think the challenges we face mean it’s not a bed of roses – no one should pretend that – but equally it is not the end of the world and there are some real opportunities that arise from the fact of Brexit we might take. “There are many opportunities and I think we should look at it in a much more self-confident way than either side is approaching it at present. Being out of what is a pretty unsuccessful European Union – particularly in the economic sense – gives us opportunities as well as obviously great political difficulties.”

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At least he’s right on this.

EU Faces Two Major Problems – And Has Answers To Neither: King (Ind.)

The European Union is facing “existential problems” over migration and the single currency for which it does not yet have the answers, former Bank of England governor Lord King has warned. Lord King said the scale of the crises was such that Brexit amounted to little more than “minor irritant” by comparison. And he suggested that the factor which could bring the problems to a head was German voters asking whether they want to remain part of a project which involves them propping up less competitive eurozone economies like Italy, Portugal and France. Lord King said that the single currency project was flawed from the start, and that it would probably have been better to create two monetary unions for “premier league” and “second division” economies. But he said it was too late to move to this model now.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former governor said: “I think the EU is facing two existential problems and it has answers to neither of them. “The first is the fate of the monetary union, which even the ECB is saying is in a critical position and needs major reform. “Secondly, migration from outside the EU into the EU and the knock-on consequences of that for the free movement of people. “I don’t think they have answers for either of those issues and it is a real crisis for the EU. “British membership is irrelevant to these two questions and from that perspective I think they regard our decision to leave the EU as a minor irritant.” Lord King said it was impossible to put any timescale on when the problems of the eurozone might come to a head. But he said: “They simply haven’t put in place the framework to make it a success, desperately trying to struggle from one month to the next.

“For a long period they were relying on the confidence that financial markets had in the words of (ECB) president Mario Draghi that they would do ‘whatever it takes’. But I think words in the end run out and you need to back them up by actions. “The problem now is that people in Germany and other countries in the northern part of the EU are deeply reluctant – understandably – to pay for countries in the south. That wasn’t the prospectus they were offered when they joined the monetary union. “In the long run, it would make some sense to recognise that it was a mistake to go to monetary union as early as 1999. I think they might have been able to divide it into two divisions – a premier league and a second division – but I think it may be too late to do. If you look at economies like Italy, Portugal and even France, they are really struggling.

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Excellent from Jim, and that’s before his predictions for 2017.

Exit, Hope and Change (Jim Kunstler)

From the get-go, he made himself hostage to some of the most sinister puppeteers of the Deep State: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner on the money side, and the Beltway Neocon war party infestation on the foreign affairs side. I’m convinced that the top dogs of both these gangs worked Obama over woodshed-style sometime after the 2008 election and told him to stick with the program, or else. What was the program? On the money side, it was to float the banks and the whole groaning daisy chain of their dependents in shadow finance, real estate, and insurance, at all costs. Hence, the extension of Bush Two’s bailout policy with the trillion-dollar “shovel-ready” stimulus, the rescue of the car-makers, and a much greater and surreptitious multi-trillion dollar hand-off from the Federal Reserve to backstop the European banks with counter-party obligations to US banks.

In April of 2009, Obama’s new SEC appointees, strong-armed by bank lobbyists, pushed the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) into suspending their crucial Rule 157, which had required publically-held companies to report their asset holdings based on standard market-based valuation procedures — called “mark-to-market.” After that, companies like Too-Big-Too-Fail banks could just make shit up. This opened the door to the pervasive accounting fraud that allowed the financial sector to pretend it was healthy for the eight years that followed. The net effect of their criminal fakery was to only make the financial sector artificially larger, more dangerously fragile, and more prone to cataclysmic collapse.

[..]in foreign affairs, there is Obama’s mystifying campaign against the Russian Federation. The US had an agreement with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that we would not expand NATO if they gave us a quantity of nuclear material that was in danger of falling into questionable hands in the disorder that followed the collapse. Russia complied. What did we do? We expanded NATO to include most of the former eastern European countries (except the remnants of Yugoslavia), and then under Obama, NATO began holding war games on Russia’s border. For what reason? The fictitious notion that Russia wanted to “take back” these nations — as if they needed to adopt a host of dependents that had only recently bankrupted the Soviet state. Any reasonable analysis would call these war games naked aggression by the West.

Then there was the 2014 US State Department-sponsored coup against Ukraine’s elected government and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Why? Because his government wanted to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union instead of an association with European Union. We didn’t like that and we decided to oppose it by subverting the Ukrainian government. In the violence and disorder that ensued, Russia took back the Crimea — which had been gifted to the former Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic (a province of Soviet Russia) one drunken night by the Ukraine-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. What did we expect after turning Ukraine into another failed state? The Crimean peninsula had been part of Russia for longer than the US had been a country. Its only warm water naval ports were located there.

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One by one they leave us.

Cheetahs Heading Towards Extinction As Population Crashes (BBC)

The sleek, speedy cheetah is rapidly heading towards extinction according to a new study into declining numbers. The report estimates that there are just 7,100 of the world’s fastest mammals now left in the wild. Cheetahs are in trouble because they range far beyond protected areas and are coming increasingly into conflict with humans. The authors are calling for an urgent re-categorisation of the species from vulnerable to endangered. According to the study, more than half the world’s surviving cheetahs live in one population that ranges across six countries in southern Africa. Cheetahs in Asia have been essentially wiped out. A group estimated to number fewer than 50 individuals clings on in Iran.


ZSL

Because the cheetah is one of the widest-ranging carnivores, it roams across lands far outside protected areas. Some 77% of their habitat falls outside these parks and reserves. As a result, the animal struggles because these lands are increasingly being developed by farmers and the cheetah’s prey is declining because of bushmeat hunting. In Zimbabwe, the cheetah population has fallen from around 1,200 to just 170 animals in 16 years, with the main cause being major changes in land tenure. [..] “The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough,” said Dr Kim Young-Overton from Panthera, another author on the report. “We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-reaching cats inhabit, if we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever.”

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We had a great Christmas Day live cooking event in Monastiraki square in Athens (see photos). I’ll get back to you on that. Donations through Paypal -top left hand corner of this page- of course remain welcome.

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens Christmas Day 2016

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