Jun 262017
 
 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Etude Pour Mercure 1924

 

The Next Global Crash Could Arrive ‘With A Vengeance’ – BIS (CNBC)
Push On With The ‘Great Unwinding’, BIS Tells Central Banks (R.)
Japanese Banks at Risk as Borrowing in Dollars Doubles – BIS (BBG)
Four Pronged Proposal to End Japanese Deflation (Mish)
Japan’s Bond Market Grinds To A Halt (ZH)
“It’ll Be An Avalanche”: Hedge Fund CIO Sets The Day Of The Next Crash (ZH)
A Stock Market Crash Scenario (CH Smith)
The Fed Is Going to Cause a Recession (James Rickards)
US Dollar Will Strengthen on Fed Hikes – Credit Agricole (CNBC)
The $1.5 Trillion US Business Tax Change Flying Under the Radar (WSJ)
Two Failed Italian Banks Split Into Good And Bad Banks, Taxpayers Pay (G.)
Investors Call For Greece To Accelerate Reforms (K.)
Germans Fearing China’s World Order? Worry About The EU Instead (CNBC)
China’s Hydropower Frenzy Drowns Sacred Mountains (AFP)

 

 

“..the end may come to resemble more closely a financial boom gone wrong..”

The Next Global Crash Could Arrive ‘With A Vengeance’ – BIS (CNBC)

A new financial crisis is brewing in the emerging economies and it could hit “with a vengeance”, an influential group of central bankers has warned. Emerging markets such as China are showing the same signs that their economies are overheating as the US and the UK demonstrated before the financial crisis of 2007-08, according to the annual report of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Claudio Borio, the head of the BIS monetary and economic department, said a new recession could come “with a vengeance” and “the end may come to resemble more closely a financial boom gone wrong”. The BIS, which is sometimes known as the central bank for central banks and counts Bank of England Governor Mark Carney among its members, warned of trouble ahead for the world economy.

It predicted that central banks would be forced to raise interest rates after years of record lows in order to combat inflation which will “smother” growth. The group also warned about the threat poised by rising debt in countries like China and the rise in protectionism such as in the US under Donald Trump, City AM reported. Chinese corporate debt has almost doubled since 2007, now reaching 166% of GDP, while household debt rose to 44% of GDP last year. In May, Moody’s cut China’s credit rating for the first time since 1989 from A1 to Aa3 which could potentially raise the cost of borrowing for the Chinese government. The BIS’s credit-to-GDP gap indicator also showed debt, which is seen as an “early warning indicator” for a country’s banking system, is rising far faster than growth in other Asian economies such as Thailand and Hong Kong.

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“The BIS identified four main risks to the global outlook in the medium-term. A sudden flare-up of inflation which forces up interest rates and hurts growth, financial stress linked to the contraction phase of financial cycles, a rise in protectionism and weaker consumption not offset by stronger investment.”

Push On With The ‘Great Unwinding’, BIS Tells Central Banks (R.)

Major central banks should press ahead with interest rate increases, the Bank for International Settlements said on Sunday, while recognizing that some turbulence in financial markets will have to be negotiated along the way. The BIS, an umbrella body for leading central banks, said in one of its most upbeat annual reports for years that global growth could soon be back at long-term average levels after a sharp improvement in sentiment over the past year. Though pockets of risk remain because of high debt levels, low productivity growth and dwindling policy firepower, the BIS said policymakers should take advantage of the improving economic outlook and its surprisingly negligible effect on inflation to accelerate the “great unwinding” of quantitative easing programs and record low interest rates.

New technologies and working practices are likely to be playing a roll in suppressing inflation, it said, though normal impulses should kick in if unemployment continues to drop. “Since we are now emerging from a very long period of very accommodative monetary policy, whatever we do, we will have to do it in a very careful way,” BIS’s head of research, Hyun Song Shin, told Reuters. “If we leave it too late, it is going to be much more difficult to accomplish that unwinding. Even if there are some short-term bumps in the road it would be much more advisable to stay the course and begin that process of normalization.” Shin added that it will be “very difficult, if not impossible” to remove all those bumps. The BIS identified four main risks to the global outlook in the medium-term. A sudden flare-up of inflation which forces up interest rates and hurts growth, financial stress linked to the contraction phase of financial cycles, a rise in protectionism and weaker consumption not offset by stronger investment.

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The death of the dollar has been greatly exaggerated.

Japanese Banks at Risk as Borrowing in Dollars Doubles – BIS (BBG)

Japanese banks have more than doubled their borrowing and lending in dollars since 2007, leaving them vulnerable to funding shocks such as those that exacerbated the last financial crisis, the Bank for International Settlements warned in a report released Sunday. Assets denominated in dollars on the balance sheets of Japanese banks surged to about $3.5 trillion by the end of 2016, the coordinating body for the world’s central banks said in its annual report about the global economy. Those exceed liabilities in dollars by about $1 trillion, creating a massive so-called long position in the currency. The report also cited Canadian lenders for following a similar trend, almost doubling their dollar exposure since the crisis. Their net long positions reached almost $200 billion, the BIS said.

European firms, by contrast, have reduced exposure to dollars since the crisis, the report said. German banks, which had among the highest net dollar positions in 2007, now have matching assets and liabilities denominated in the currency after cutting dollar assets by about half. During the financial crisis, European banks’ net dollar exposures, which peaked at $2 trillion, ended up causing several firms to collapse when funding sources dried up and their efforts to dump U.S. mortgage-related assets led to huge losses. Even as post-crisis regulation has strengthened banks’ capital resources to cope with such losses and some funding has shifted to more stable sources, risks haven’t been completely eliminated, according to the Basel, Switzerland-based group.

[..] the biggest portion of dollar funding for non-U.S. banks – $4.1 trillion – now comes from deposits outside the U.S., according to BIS data. That shift toward offshore dollar deposits also presents risks because the Federal Reserve’s funding backstop during the 2008 crisis wouldn’t be present in non-U.S. jurisdictions if dollar funds became scant, the BIS said. The Fed provided $538 billion of emergency loans to European banks that lost dollar funding from U.S. sources during the 2008 crisis ..

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Is Mish missing out on confidence as a factor? You can lead a horse to water, but…

Four Pronged Proposal to End Japanese Deflation (Mish)

Negative Sales Taxes People hoard cash, especially the miserly wealthy. We need to unlock that cash and put it to work. To free up this money, I propose negative sales taxes. The more you spend, the more money you get back as a direct tax credit against income taxes. I leave specific details to economists Larry Summers and Paul Krugman. What can possibly go wrong?

One Percent Tax Per Month on Government Bonds Negative interest rates are in vogue. However, all negative interest rates have done is to get those with money to hoard bonds. Bond buyers effectively bet on capital gains of still more negative rates. Phooey! Just yesterday I noted Bank of Japan Corners 33% of Bond Market: All Japanese Bonds, 40 Years and Below, Yield 0.3% or Less. 33% cornering of the bond market is truly inadequate as this sentiment implies: Makoto Yamashita, a strategist for Japanese interest rates at Deutsche Bank’s securities unit in Tokyo said “There are investors who have no choice but to buy.” We need to end this “no choice” hoarding sentiment right here, right now. I have just the solution. Tax government bonds at the rate of 1% per month.

No one will want them. Hedge funds and pension plans will dump sovereign bonds en masse. This will allow governments to buy every bond in existence immediately, if not sooner. As soon as the government corners the bond market (at effectively zero cost), debt and interest on the debt will truly be owed to itself. Once the bond market is 100% cornered, I propose government debt be declared null and void annually. This would effectively wipe out the entirety of Japan’s debt. Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio would immediately plunge from 250% to 0%.

National Tax Free Lottery Japan desperately needs to get people to spend, continually. Once again, I have a logical proposal. For every purchase one makes on a credit card, that person gets a free lottery ticket for a weekly drawing worth $10,000,000 tax free. Each week, a random day of the week is selected and separately a random taxpayer ID is selected. If the person drawn made a credit card purchase exceeding $10 on the day of the week drawn, they win $10,000,000 tax free. If there is no winner, the amount rolls over. This beautiful plan will cost no more than $520 million annually, peanuts these days.

Hav-a-Kid Demographics in Japan are a huge problem. Although various incentives have been tried, none of them have gone far enough. I propose a reduction in income taxes for everyone starting a family. The following scale applies. One new child: 50% reduction in income taxes for a period of ten years. Two new children: 100% reduction in income taxes for a period of twenty years. Three new children: Subsidized housing, free healthcare, free schooling, and no income taxes for thirty years. Those with one new child in the last five years get full credit if they add at least one more child in the next five years.

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Well, Mish does have the answer to that above: One Percent Tax Per Month

Japan’s Bond Market Grinds To A Halt (ZH)

The Bank of Japan may or may not be tapering, but that may soon be moot because by the time Kuroda decides whether he will buy less bonds, the bond market may no longer work. As the Nikkei reports, while the Japanese central bank ponders its next step, the Japanese rates market has been getting “Ice-9ed” and increasingly paralyzed, as yields on newly issued 10-year Japanese government bonds remained flat for seven straight sessions through Friday while the BOJ continued its efforts to keep long-term interest rates around zero. The 10-year JGB yield again closed at 0.055%, where it has been stuck since June 15m and according to data from Nikkei affiliate QUICK, this marks the longest period of stagnation since 1994, Because what comes after record low volatility? Simple: market paralysis.

And that’s what Japan appears to be experiencing right now as private bondholders no longer dare to even breathe without instructions from the central bank. Meanwhile, the implied volatility of JGBs tumbled to the lowest level since January 2008 for the same reason we recently speculated may be the primary driver behind the global collapse in volatility: nobody is trading. This means that trading in newly issued 10-year debt has become so infrequent that broker Japan Bond Trading has seen days when no bonds trade hands. It’s not just cash bonds that find themselves in trading limbo: trading in short-term interest rate futures has also thinned and on Tuesday of last week the Nikkei reports that there were no transactions in three-month Tibor futures – the first time that has happened since such trading began in 1989.

As more market participants throw in the towel on a rigged, centrally planned market, the result will – no could – be a further loss of market function, and a guaranteed crash once the BOJ and other central banks pull out (which is why they can’t). As the Nikkei politely concludes, “if the bond and money markets lose their ability to price credit based on future interest rate expectations and supply and demand, the risk of sudden rate volatility from external shocks like a global financial crisis will rise.” Translation: in a world where only central banks trade, everyone else is destined to forget forget what trading, and certainly selling, means.

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“..when the global credit impulse reverses, it’ll be a cascade, an avalanche. And I pin the tail on that donkey to be Valentine’s Day 2018.”

“It’ll Be An Avalanche”: Hedge Fund CIO Sets The Day Of The Next Crash (ZH)

While most asset managers have been growing increasingly skeptical and gloomy in recent weeks (despite a few ideological contrarian holdouts), joining the rising chorus of bank analysts including those of Citi, JPM, BofA and Goldman all urging clients to “go to cash”, none have dared to commit the cardinal sin of actually predicting when the next crash will take place. On Sunday a prominent hedge fund manager, One River Asset Management’s CIO Eric Peters broke with that tradition and dared to “pin a tail on the donkey” of when the next market crash – one which he agrees with us will be driven by a collapse in the global credit impulse – will take place. His prediction: Valentine’s Day 2018. Here is what Peters believes will happen over the next 8 months, a period which will begin with an increasingly tighter Fed and conclude with a market avalanche:

“The Fed hikes rates to lean against inflation,” said the CIO. “And they’ll reduce the balance sheet to dampen growing financial instability,” he continued. “They’ll signal less about rates and focus on balance sheet reduction in Sep.” Inflation is softening as the gap between the real economy and financial asset prices is widening. “If they break the economy with rate hikes, everyone will blame the Fed.” They can’t afford that political risk. “But no one understands the balance sheet, so if something breaks because they reduce it, they’ll get a free pass.”

“The Fed has convinced itself that forward guidance was far more powerful than QE,” continued the same CIO. “This allows them to argue that reversing QE without reversing forward guidance should be uneventful.” Like watching paint dry. “Balance sheet reduction will start slowly. And proceed for a few months without a noticeable impact,” he said. “The Fed will feel validated.” Like they’ve been right all along. “But when the global credit impulse reverses, it’ll be a cascade, an avalanche. And I pin the tail on that donkey to be Valentine’s Day 2018.”

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One must remember there are no markets left. That makes talking about them dicey.

A Stock Market Crash Scenario (CH Smith)

After 8+ years of phenomenal gains, it’s pretty obvious the global stock market rally is overdue for a credit-cycle downturn, and many research services of Wall Street heavyweights are sounding the alarm about the auto industry’s slump, the slowing of new credit and other fundamental indicators that a recession is becoming more likely. Next February is a good guess, as recessions and market downturns tend to lag the credit market by about 9 months. My own scenario is based not on cycles or technicals or fundamentals, but on the psychology of the topping process, which tends to follow this basic script:

When there are too many bearish reports of gloomy data, and too many calls to go long volatility or go to cash, the market perversely goes up, not down. Why? This negativity creates a classic Wall of Worry that markets can continue climbing. (Central banks buying $300 billion of assets a month helps power this gradual ascent most admirably.) The Bears betting on a decline based on deteriorating fundamentals are crushed by the steady advance. As Bears give up, the window for a Spot of Bother decline creaks open, however grudgingly, as central banks make noises about ending their extraordinary monetary policies by raising interest rates a bit (so they can lower them when the next recession grabs the global economy by the throat). As bearish short interest and bets on higher volatility fade, insiders go short.

A sudden air pocket takes the market down, triggered by some bit of “news.” (Nothing like a well-engineered bout of panic selling to set up a profitable Buy the Dip opportunity.) And since traders have been well-trained to Buy the Dips, the Spot of Bother is quickly retraced. Nonetheless, doubts remain and fundamental data is still weak; this overhang of negativity rebuilds the wall of Worry. Some Bears will reckon the weakened market will double-top, i.e. be unable to break out to new highs given the poor fundamentals, and as a result we can anticipate a nominal new high after the Wall of Worry has been rebuilt, just to destroy all those who reckoned a double-top would mark The Top. Mr. Market (and the central banks) won’t make it that easy to reap a fortune by going short.

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I think the Fed has already done that. By manoeuvering themselves into a position they cannot escape from.

The Fed Is Going to Cause a Recession (James Rickards)

Why did the Federal Reserve (Fed) hike rates last week, and what will its policy look like in the future? They’re trying to prepare for the next recession. They’re not predicting a recession, they never do, but they know a recession will come sooner rather than later. This expansion is 96 months old. It’s one of the longest expansions in U.S. history. It’s also the weakest expansion in U.S. history. A lot of people say, “What expansion? Feels like a depression to me.” I think it is a depression defined as depressed growth, but we’re not in a technical recession and haven’t been since June 2009. So it’s been an eight-year expansion at this point, but it won’t fare well, and the Fed knows that. When the U.S. economy goes into recession, you have to cut interest rates about 3% to get the United States out of that recession. Well, how do you cut interest rates by 3% when you’re only at 1%?

The answer is, you can’t. You’ve got to get them up to 3% to cut them back down, maybe to zero, to get out of the next recession. So that explains why the Fed is raising interest rates. That’s the fourth rate hike getting them up to 1%. They would like to keep going; they would like to get them up to 3, 3.5% by 2019. My estimate is that they’re not going to get there. The recession will come first. In fact, they will probably cause the recession that they’re preparing to cure. So let’s just say we get interest rates to 1% and now you go into recession. We can cut them back down to zero. Well, now what do you do? You do a new round of QE. The problem is that the Fed’s balance sheet is so bloated at $4.5 trillion. How much more can you do—$5 trillion, $5.5 trillion, $6 trillion—before you cause a loss of confidence in the dollar? There are a lot of smart people who think that there’s no limit on how much money you can print. “Just print money. What’s the problem?”

I disagree. I think there’s an invisible boundary. The Fed won’t talk about it. No one knows what it is. But you don’t want to find out the hard way. [..] You probably want to get from $4.5 trillion, down to $2.5 trillion. Well, you can’t sell any treasury bonds. You destroy the market. Rates would go up, putting us in recession, and the housing market would collapse. They’re not going to do that. What they’re going to do is just let them mature. When these securities mature, they won’t buy new ones. They won’t roll it over, and they actually will reduce the balance sheet and make money disappear. They’re going to do it in tiny increments, maybe $10 billion a month or $20 billion a month. They want to run this quantitative tightening in small increments and pretend nothing’s happening. But that’s nonsense. It’s just one more way of tightening money in a weak economy; it will probably cause a recession.

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Views on the dollar are all over the place.

US Dollar Will Strengthen on Fed Hikes – Credit Agricole (CNBC)

While investors seem to have come to a consensus view that the U.S. dollar rally is coming to an end, Credit Agricole has offered a contrarian take: There is room for the greenback to strengthen. David Forrester, the bank’s FX strategist told CNBC Monday that markets have been predominantly focused on U.S. inflation data and pricing in an overly cautious Federal Reserve. But, he thinks the Fed will be more hawkish than what is currently expected, which will support the U.S. dollar. “The Fed seems to have changed its policy response function. Yes it’s going to pay attention to the data, but less so. It now wants to get its rates normalized so that it actually has room to cut rates in the next downturn,” Forrester said.

“Let’s not forget here: The U.S. expansion, while being soft, is actually pretty mature so the Fed is getting lined up here in preparation for the next downturn. That’s why we think they’re going to hike rates and we will see a steepening of the U.S. Treasury curve and that will be supportive of the U.S. going forward.” Credit Agricole expects the Fed to hike rates once more this year, followed by three times in 2018. U.S. inflation — still below its 2% target despite a low unemployment rate — has been a key point in the argument on whether the Fed should continue normalizing rates. Forrester said the divergence between the unemployment rate and inflation is not unique to the U.S. Globally, economies face structural issues such as ageing populations and automation replacing jobs, which could increase the risks of a recession.

But, he said U.S. inflation should pick up on the back of further wage growth and a rebound in oil prices. “We expect the U.S. economy to continue to recover and strengthen, we will believe in the Philips curve in the U.S. We do expect wages growth to accelerate and inflation expectation(s) to pick back up. So all-in-all, we do expect that re-steepening,” he said. The Philips curve relates to a supposed inverse relationship between the level of unemployment and the inflation rate. Forrester’s views are in contrast to that of many analysts, who expect weakness in the U.S. dollar. Ken Peng, Asia investment strategist at Citi Private Bank, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the greenback is headed for a “new cycle” after a six-year rally since 2011. He added that the dollar weakness will be “one of the greatest market trends” for global investors.

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Desperately seeking something.

The $1.5 Trillion US Business Tax Change Flying Under the Radar (WSJ)

Republicans looking to rewrite the U.S. tax code are taking aim at one of the foundations of modern finance—the deduction that companies get for interest they pay on debt. That deduction affects everyone from titans of Wall Street who load up on junk bonds to pay for multibillion-dollar corporate takeovers to wheat farmers in the Midwest looking to make ends meet before harvest. Yet a House Republican proposal to eliminate the deduction has gotten relatively little sustained public attention or lobbying pressure. Thanks in part to the deduction, the U.S. financial system is heavily oriented toward debt, which because of the tax code is often cheaper than equity financing—such as sales of stock. It also is widely accessible. In 2015, U.S. businesses paid in all $1.3 trillion in gross interest, according to Commerce Department data, equal in magnitude to the total economic output of Australia.

Getting rid of the deduction for net interest expense, as House Republicans propose, would alter finance. It also would generate about $1.5 trillion in revenue for the government over a decade, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning think thank. The plan would raise money to help offset Republicans’ corporate tax cuts and reduce a “huge bias” toward debt financing, said Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. That bias, he said, hurts companies built around innovation, which tend to not have the physical assets that banks usually require as collateral. [..] Midsize businesses may also get squeezed. “The people that utilize debt, they utilize it because they don’t have the cash and they don’t have the access to equity,” said Robert Moskovitz, CFO of Leaf Commercial Capital, which finances businesses’ purchases of items like copiers and telephone systems.

“A dry cleaner in Des Moines, Iowa? Where is he going to get equity? He can’t do an IPO.” The idea behind the Republican plan is to pair the elimination of this deduction with immediate deductions for investments in equipment and other long-lived assets. Party leaders expect the capital write-offs would encourage more investment and growth and greater worker productivity, but not the debt often associated with it.

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Dijsselbloem et al made a big circus about how taxpayers would never again foot the bill. It was never worth a thing.

“German conservative MEP Markus Ferber (EPP): “With this decision, the European Commission accompanies the Banking Union to its deathbed. The promise that the tax payer will not stand in to rescue failing banks anymore is broken for good. I am very disappointed that the commission has approved this course of action. By doing so the Commission has massively undermined the credibility of the Banking Union. If the common set of rules governing banking resolution is so blatantly ignored, there is no point in negotiating any further on a common deposit insurance scheme. The precondition for a working Banking Union is a common understanding of its rules. If such a basic common understanding is lacking, there is no point in further deepening the Banking Union and mutualising risk.”

Two Failed Italian Banks Split Into Good And Bad Banks, Taxpayers Pay (G.)

The Italian government is stepping in to wind up two failing lenders and prevent a bank run, at a total cost of up to €17bn. After an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday, ministers agreed to a decree splitting Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks, keeping branches open. The ‘good’ assets are being acquired by Italy’s biggest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, with the Italian government handing about €5bn to Intesa as part of the deal. The lenders will then be liquidated, which leaves the state footing the bill for bad loans on both banks’ books, plus restructuring costs.

The Italian government would provide state guarantees worth up to €12bn to cover potential losses at the ‘bad’ bank, Pier Carlo Padoan, the finance minister, told reporters in Rome. That means the total cost could reach €17bn. Padoan added that both banks would operate normally on Monday. The deal is meant to ward off the threat of a bank run, by reassuring nervous savers and deterring them from withdrawing their funds when branches reopen. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s prime minister, insisted that the decree fully respected EU rules, even though taxpapers are no longer meant to stump the cost to rescue a failing bank. The funds will come from a €20bn fund created last year to help struggling lenders, so will not affect Italy’s public borrowing, according to the government.

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Lower pensions solve everything.

Investors Call For Greece To Accelerate Reforms (K.)

The return of investor confidence in Greece will require time and the acceleration of the government’s reform program, foreign fund managers told Greek officials during two investment conferences that took place in the last couple of weeks in New York and London with the participation of Greek listed firms. In their meetings with hundreds of funds from the US and Europe, the representatives of Greek companies said that while the recent Eurogroup decision may have banished uncertainty about Greece, the government will need to put in some serious effort and work in addressing the issues of speed and efficiency. This was after Greece had failed to secure any debt-easing measures, while the entry of Greek bonds to the ECB’s QE remains pending.

The main subject at the two investment events was the titanic effort being made by Greek banks to reduce the bad loans in their portfolios. As for the Athens stock market, Alpha Finance noted in its presentation at the 6th Greek Investment Forum in New York on June 21-22 that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” The Alpha Bank subsidiary noted that “the Greek market has recorded bigger returns than its European peers and prospects appear very encouraging as Greece has beaten its fiscal targets and restored investor confidence in the timetable of the Greek [bailout] program.”

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“the U.S. will not be indifferent to the mistreatment of the long suffering Greece. That is America’s key strategic base in the Mediterranean, and a location of new military installations on the island of Crete to monitor the Middle East.”

Germans Fearing China’s World Order? Worry About The EU Instead (CNBC)

Criticizing what he saw as Washington’s isolationist bent, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble voiced a concern in a speech earlier this month that the West could be threatened as China (and Russia) might fill the void. That, he feared, “would be the end of our liberal world order.” He also said that the U.S. was no longer willing to act as a “guardian of global order,” apparently because Washington withdrew from the agreement on climate change, and it allegedly showed no interest for cooperative migration and security policies. The U.S. Department of State has probably something to say about that, but I wish Schäuble were at least partly right. Arguably, the U.S. could cut back on some foreign engagements and pay more attention to pressing domestic problems.

That said, I wonder how the German minister fails to see that the U.S. is all over the map in active, proxy and hybrid warfare — Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa, Korean Peninsula, Central and Eastern Europe and the South China Sea. What else would he want? A nuclear war with China and Russia? Germany may wish to think about whether it is in its interest to fuel and broaden the points of friction with the United States. In my view, Berlin should leave the big power dealings alone. Washington and Beijing are engaged on a broad range of issues to build a historically unique relationship between an established superpower and a runner-up that needs space to develop and contribute to the world in peace and harmony. In trying to do that, the two countries are blazing totally new trails of modern statecraft.

Ubiquitous analogies of Sparta (an established power) and Athens (a rapidly developing strategic competitor), and their ensuing Peloponnesian War, are worthless in the case of countries with huge nuclear arsenals and ground, sea, air and airspace delivery vehicles. So, yes, Germany should leave that alone and get over its fury at Washington’s decision to stop the hemorrhage of foreign trade accounts that are killing jobs, incomes and whatever is left of American manufacturing industries. China got that message and is doing something about it. In the first four months of this year, American export sales to China soared 16.1%. By contrast, U.S. exports to the EU, which account for one-fifth of the total, barely eked out a 2.7% increase.

Germany has to make up its mind with regard to the European integration. Bullying the Visegrad Group (and Baltic States) — a task that Germany has subcontracted to France due to dark pages of its history — and pillorying Greece (a task Germany was eager to continue) won’t work. These countries will run to the U.S. for cover, as some of them are doing now by demanding large contingents of U.S. armed forces on their soil. Also, the U.S. will not be indifferent to the mistreatment of the long suffering Greece. That is America’s key strategic base in the Mediterranean, and a location of new military installations on the island of Crete to monitor the Middle East.

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Proud supporters of the Paris Agreement.

China’s Hydropower Frenzy Drowns Sacred Mountains (AFP)

Beijing is building hydropower at a breakneck pace in ethnically Tibetan regions as part of an ambitious undertaking to reduce the country’s dependence on coal and cut emissions that have made it the world’s top polluter. China had just two dams in 1949, but now boasts some 22,000 – nearly half the world total – in all but one of the country’s major waterways. Mountains and rivers are revered as sacred in Tibetan Buddhism, and the extensive construction, which began in 2014, has alarmed locals who believe they can only live peacefully if the nature around them is protected. “Last year, people said that a big forest fire happened because they blasted a road into the holy mountain, and it took revenge,” said villager Tashi Yungdrung, who tends a small herd of yaks in the pastures above her stone, square-windowed home.

Most would not dare remove so much as a single stone from the mountain Palshab Drakar, an important pilgrimage site, she said. Villagers are bracing for mass relocations, an experience that has previously caused havoc elsewhere in China. Beginning in the 1990s, more than a million were moved for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest in terms of capacity, with thousands still mired in poverty. Plans posted at the Lianghekou construction site showed that 22 power plants will be built along the Yalong, a Yangtze tributary, collectively capable of generating 30 gigawatts of electricity – a fifth of China’s current total installed hydropower capacity. Li Zhaolong, a Tibetan from Zhaba village, said he received 300,000 yuan ($44,000) in government compensation to build a new home on higher ground, where he will move next year.

But the 28,000 yuan moving fee his family received per person will not last long once their crops are submerged and they have no other sources of income. “Before we were farmers, and now we have no land,” said Li. [..] Some 80% of China’s hydropower potential lies along the high-flow, glacier-fed rivers of the Tibetan plateau, but dams there bring minimal local benefits because most of the power goes to smog-choked cities in the east, according to the non-governmental organisation International Rivers. Construction worker Zeng Qingtao said the state-owned Power Construction Corporation had brought in some 10,000 employees, but none are locals. “We can’t hire Tibetans. They aren’t reasonable,” he said.

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Jun 242017
 
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Fred Lyon San Francisco Cable Car rounding the curve at Jones Street 1946

 

US New Home Sales Jump, Median Price Surges To Record High (R.)
Sydney Prices To Jump ‘Overnight’ As First-Home Incentives Kick In (D.)
The World Has Been Fitted With Two Debt Straightjackets (Steve Keen)
The Future Prospects For Japanese Banks Look Like Hell (Makoto Utsumi)
Europe’s Banking Union Is Dying in Italy (BBG)
Two Italian Zombie Banks Toppled Friday Night (WS)
‘Emmangela’ Show Reasserts EU’s Franco-German Alliance (AFP)
Schaeuble Says British Were ‘Lied To’, ‘Deceived’ In Brexit Campaign (R.)
UK MPs Plan Cross-Party Alliance To Defeat May, Hard Brexit (Ind.)
Corbyn Vows To Force Early British Election (Ind.)
May Blocked Plan To Guarantee Rights Of EU Citizens In UK After Brexit (Ind.)
The Fed Needs to Acknowledge the Slowing Economy (DDMB)
Unfunded Liabilities Have Turned Illinois Into A Banana Republic (Lang)
America’s Health-Care Rain Dance (Jim Kunstler)
US-Led Coalition Kills Almost 500 Syrian Civilians In One Month (NW)
The Unfinished Negotiations For A Greek “Super-Memorandum” (Press Project)

 

 

They are determined to get all the suckers they can get before the implosion. There’s a huge empty bag to be passed on.

US New Home Sales Jump, Median Price Surges To Record High (R.)

New U.S. single-family home sales rose in May and the median sales price surged to an all-time high, suggesting the housing market had regained momentum. The Commerce Department said on Friday new home sales increased 2.9% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 610,000 units last month. April’s sales pace was also revised sharply higher to 593,000 units from 569,000 units. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales, which make up about 10% of all home sales, rising 5.4% to a pace of 597,000 units last month. Sales were up 8.9% on a year-on-year basis in May.

“While the data quality of the new home sales report is notoriously poor, the general picture from this report and the existing home sales report is one of solid housing demand in the important spring selling season,” said Michael Feroli, an economist with J.P. Morgan. The housing market has been bolstered by continued strong job growth. The unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low of 4.3% in May and mortgage rates are still favorable by historical standards. However, an increase in the cost of building materials and shortages of lots and labor have crimped homebuilding. With demand outstripping supply, house prices remain elevated. The median house price rose to a record high of $345,800 in May, from $310,200 in the prior month. The average sales price last month was $406,400, also a record high.

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Ditto in Australia. This is from real estate broker Domain, responsible for ad campaigns like the one in the photo -which I took in Melbourne in 2011.

Sydney Prices To Jump ‘Overnight’ As First-Home Incentives Kick In (D.)

Property prices in affordable areas are expected to jump “overnight” on the back of changes to first-home buyer stamp duty concessions starting in July, experts say. Strategic vendors in these locations are holding off accepting offers until next month to take advantage of the expected surge in demand. First-home buyers in NSW are set to save up to $24,740 with stamp duty concessions for homes up to $800,000 and a full exemption for homes under $650,000. Among those anticipating they will benefit from the changes is Quakers Hill home owner Bhugol Kansakar who bought his house for $611,000 in March 2015 – then a first-home buyer himself. Since May his three-bedroom home at 9 Nyngan Street has been on the market for $730,000 to $760,000. “We’ve had offers around $720,000 to $730,000 … we’re holding out until next month as stamp duty will be off for the first-home buyers,” Mr Kansakar said.

In this price bracket, first-home buyers would get a partial exemption from July. “It is a big block of land, three-bedrooms, perfect for a first home.” He anticipates he will be likely to get $760,000 or more for the home when the new rules come in. And he’s far from the only one anticipating he’ll get a premium, his sales agent Raine & Horne Blacktown business development manager Edwin Almeida said. About 40% of inquiries on homes he had listed across the Blacktown Council area priced under $750,000 were first-home buyers asking if they could formally exchange next month. He expects local prices would jump by $20,000 to $40,000. “Easy money does not make the market more accessible for first-home buyers. It just means vendors and developers will increase the price of property to meet demand,” Mr Almeida said.

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Two pieces from a PDF by “The International Economy” site, entitled: “Has the World Been Fitted With a Debt Straightjacket? Nearly forty distinguished experts offer their wisdom”. Click the link to see all.

First, Steve Keen…

The World Has Been Fitted With Two Debt Straightjackets (Steve Keen)

T he world has been fitted with not just one but two debt straightjackets: one made of public debt and the other of private debt. The situation in the United States is typical. The total U.S. debt level at the end of World War II was equivalent to 130% of GDP, with public debt being three-quarters of the total and private debt one-quarter. Today, it is 250% of GDP, with public debt being two-fifths of the total and private debt three-fifths. But there is a simple trick that could let the United States, like Harry Houdini, magically escape from one of these two straightjackets in a flash. Like any magic act, it’s ruined by the telling: despite all the political hand-wringing over the burden the public debt imposes on future generations, public debt could be eliminated by the stroke of a proverbial pen, for two simple reasons.

First, this debt is exclusively in U.S. dollars; second, the government is the only institution in the nation that “owns its own bank,” the Federal Reserve, which can create U.S. dollars at will. The Fed could buy up—and effectively cancel—this debt overnight. You might not like this trick, but it’s both possible and perfectly legal. That leaves the second straightjacket: private debt. Here Houdini’s escape is not possible, because if any individual tried to do what the U.S. government can do, that person would be gaoled for counterfeiting. All U.S. private debt is, like public debt, owed in U.S. dollars; but only the U.S. government has the privilege of owning its own bank. For the private sector, it’s effectively the banks that own the debtors. But paradoxically, most economists obsess about the public debt trap and ignore the private debt one.

Why? Because they believe that banks do not originate loans, but instead act as “intermediaries” between savers and borrowers. Therefore, they say, private debt doesn’t matter, because if the debtor can’t spend, the lender can, and vice versa. They therefore believe that the level of private debt, and its rate of growth or decline, are economically irrelevant. They can’t see a private straightjacket. Several central banks have recently loudly declared that this model is nonsense—including Germany’s ultraconservative Bundesbank. Banks are not “intermediaries of debt” but originators. They don’t lend pre-existing money, but create money when they make an entry in the borrower’s deposit account, which is matched precisely by an entry in the borrower’s debt account.

Since debtors borrow to spend, rising private debt boosts demand while falling debt reduces it. Demand in the United States was therefore boosted substantially as private debt rose almost fivefold from 1945 until 2008. Now demand from credit is stagnant and as likely to subtract from demand as add to it. So private debt is the real straightjacket constraining the economy. But with mainstream economists ignoring it and fretting about government debt, the U.S. economy is likely to remain in its debt straightjacket indefinitely. As the public has started to realize since the 2008 crisis took them by surprise, mainstream economists are inept magicians.

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…second, Makoto Utsumi, Chairman of the International Advisory Board, Tokai Tokyo F.H., and former Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs, Japan.

The Future Prospects For Japanese Banks Look Like Hell (Makoto Utsumi)

Can Japan withstand the return to conventional monetary policy? The Bank of Japan has been conducting an unconventional monetary policy for almost two decades, drastically strengthening this policy since Governor Kuroda took office in 2013. As public debt accumulated to 250% of GDP and due to the massive holdings of Japanese Government bonds by the Japanese banking sector, some argue that Japan cannot withstand the return to conventional monetary policy. Here are my points of view: First, let us consider the impact of interest rates hikes on public finances. Many analysts argue that this move would be destructive to public finances due to increased interest payments. There is a point, however, almost all analysts neglect. When interest rates on the JGB rise, the rates on savings and deposits also rise.

As 20% of the interest income is withheld at source, the incremental tax revenue would offset to a great deal the increasing cost of the debt service to be paid by the government. Although the damage caused by the shift in monetary policy on the budget balance would be limited, the fiscal situation of Japan would become increasingly serious with a sustained lack of fiscal discipline. Japanese public finances seem to be on a path to breakdown and the Bank of Japan’s policy to purchase Japanese government bonds up to an amount equal to 80% of new issuances looks more and more like the monetization of the budget deficit. Next, let us see the impact on the banking sector. Two decades of unconventional monetary policy have been squeezing the banks’ profit margins through the extreme flattening of the yield curve.

From this view point, the return to conventional monetary policy is good news for the Japanese banking sector in the long run. On the other hand, in the short and medium terms, this would represent the harshest challenge for banks due to massive valuation losses on their bond holdings. According to the Bank of Japan’s survey, a 1 percentage point rise of interest rates on bonds would cause a loss of US$20 billion for mega-banks, US$25 billion for regional banks, and US$19 billion for credit unions. While the U.S. Federal Reserve is firmly committed toward exit and as the European Central Bank seems to be quietly probing a future exit strategy, where is the Bank of Japan going? If it continues to maintain zero or negative interest rates, current profits of the banking sector would be further squeezed.

If it starts to take steps toward conventional monetary policy, the banking sector would face serious valuation losses. Either way, the future prospects for Japanese banks look like hell. We will probably witness a clear distinction between two groups of banks: those who manage their business based on foresight and those who don’t. And we would see a deep reshuffle in the banking sector along with the exit process from the unconventional monetary policy of the Bank of Japan.

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To paraphrase Juncker: “When things get serious in Europe, no rules or laws are immune to lies.”

Europe’s Banking Union Is Dying in Italy (BBG)

The Italian government looks set to put Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, two troubled regional lenders, into liquidation, selling off the good assets to a rival bank for a symbolic price. The toxic assets would be transferred to a bad bank, mostly funded by the government. Shareholders and junior bond-holders would contribute to the rescue, while senior creditors would be spared. The rival bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, would be getting a great deal for little risk. But for the Italian taxpayer, and the credibility of euro zone financial regulation, the plan is a loser and should be stopped. The Italian scheme is radically different from the one put in place two weeks ago, when the Spanish lender Banco Santander bought Banco Popular for one euro. In that case Santander also acquired Popular’s non-performing loans as well as all the future legal risks.

It also immediately went to the markets to raise capital to pay for it. Here, Intesa will only pick the assets it wants and insists that the operation not impact its capital ratio. This plan is a slap in the face of Italian taxpayers, who according to some estimates could end up paying around €10 billion ($11.1) for it. The government could have taken a less expensive route, involving the “bail in” of senior bondholders. It chose not to: Many of these instruments are in the hands of retail investors, who bought them without being fully aware of the risks involved. The government wants to avoid a political backlash and the risk of contagion spreading across the system. However, €10 billion is a whale of a premium to pay as an insurance against a contagion. And Rome may still face a backlash – from taxpayers who will feel defrauded.

Most importantly, this plan is a dagger in the heart of the euro zone banking union. This was one of Europe’s main responses to the sovereign debt crisis, designed to limit the contribution of taxpayers to bank rescues and to ensure all euro zone lenders faced a coherent set of rules. Italy is relying for its plan on its domestic liquidation regime. Rome will effectively by-pass the EU’s “single resolution board” which is supposed to handle bank failures in an orderly way and the “Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive,” which should act as the euro zone’s single rulebook. The advantage will be to spare senior bondholders but the cost will be huge: denting, perhaps irreversibly, the credibility of Europe’s newly formed institutions.

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And there we go. After years of trying to save them. One day we’ll realize just how epic this failure is.

Two Italian Zombie Banks Toppled Friday Night (WS)

When banks fail and regulators decide to liquidate them, it happens on Friday evening so that there is a weekend to clean up the mess. And this is what happened in Italy – with two banks! It’s over for the two banks that have been prominent zombies in the Italian banking crisis: Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, in northeastern Italy. The banks have combined assets of €60 billion, a good part of which are toxic and no one wanted to touch them. They already received a bailout but more would have been required, and given the uncertainty and the messiness of their books, nothing was forthcoming, and the ECB which regulates them lost its patience. In a tersely worded statement, the ECB’s office of Banking Supervision ordered the banks to be wound up because they “were failing or likely to fail as the two banks repeatedly breached supervisory capital requirements.”

“Failing or likely to fail” is the key phrase that banking supervisors use for banks that “should be put in resolution or wound up under normal insolvency proceedings,” the statement said. This is the first Italian bank liquidation under Europe’s new Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation. The ECB explained: “The ECB had given the banks time to present capital plans, but the banks had been unable to offer credible solutions going forward. Consequently, the ECB deemed that both banks were failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which concluded that the conditions for a resolution action in relation to the two banks had not been met. The banks will be wound up under Italian insolvency procedures.”

[..] nothing worked. Private sector money stayed away in droves. JP Morgan, which had been recruited to save the Italian banks, threw in the towel. These banks had been zombies for too long. Everybody knew it. But the government kept denying it. Just weeks ago, Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan insisted that the two banks would not be wound down. Last year, to dispel the mountain of evidence to the contrary, he insisted that that there would be no need of any future bail outs; and that, furthermore, Italy did not even have a banking problem. In early June, the two banks were instructed by the European Commission to raise an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. No one bit. Italy’s government then tried to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, and it urged Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund. All that failed.

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That leaves 25 sovereign countries with nothing to say on issues that are vitally important to them. Who are we kidding?

‘Emmangela’ Show Reasserts EU’s Franco-German Alliance (AFP)

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel used the French president’s first Brussels summit Friday to deliver an unmistakeable message: their countries intend to lead the EU’s post-Brexit revival. The Franco-German power couple held an unusual joint press conference after meeting their 26 European Union counterparts, against a backdrop of their respective flags and the bloc’s blue banner with yellow stars. “When France and Germany speak with one voice, Europe can move forward,” newcomer Macron told a room almost filled to bursting point with reporters as he stood alongside the German chancellor. “There can be no pertinent solution if it is not a pertinent solution for France and Germany,” the 39-year-old centre-right leader.

Despite her more pragmatic tone, the message from 62-year-old Merkel was the same. “This press conference shows that we are resolved to jointly find solutions to problems,” she said. The joint press conference came exactly a year after Britain’s shock referendum vote to become the first country to leave the European Union, which prompted dire predictions of the break-up of the bloc. But Europe has jumped on the bandwagon of Macron’s stunning election victory over French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to trumpet a newfound optimism after years of austerity and crisis despite Brexit. At the heart of that is the idea that Macron may be able to repair the traditional “engine” behind European integration – the post-war alliance of Paris and Berlin after centuries of conflict.

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Can the Greek finance minister please state that Schaeuble lies to Germans? Just to see the reaction?!

Schaeuble Says British Were ‘Lied To’, ‘Deceived’ In Brexit Campaign (R.)

British people were “endlessly lied to and deceived” in last year’s Brexit referendum campaign, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday. Speaking in Berlin on the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, Schaeuble was scathing about the “leave” campaigners who persuaded a majority of voters to opt to quit the EU. “The Britons were endlessly lied to and deceived,” Schaeuble told a conference of family-run companies. When the Brexit campaigners “happened to be successful, the ones who did it ran away because they said they can’t take responsibility”. The two sides in Britain’s referendum campaign swapped bitter accusations they were making misleading or untrue statements, such as the claim that leaving the EU would free up large sums for public health spending.

In the days after the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum, resigned, and several prominent leave campaigners dropped out of the race to succeed him. Schaeuble said the 70 years of growth and prosperity Europe had known since World War Two was not based on pure majoritarianism but on sustainable democratic models. “(We need) not just mechanisms that consist of my promising something to a majority,” he said. “Then you only have to look at the demographics to see that you’ll end up with endless debates about redistribution that lead to jealousy.”

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May has become a very damaging force in Britain.

UK MPs Plan Cross-Party Alliance To Defeat May, Hard Brexit (Ind.)

MPs from all parties are already planning an alliance to defeat Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit, just days into the new Parliament. Strategies to amend future legislation – including a key immigration bill – to force ministers to listen to business groups and to show the EU that Parliament wants a “softer” exit are being drawn up, The Independent has learned. One Conservative MP said the aim was to give confidence to “bullied” ministers who are reluctant to “speak out”, despite sharing the view that the Prime Minister’s plans put Britain on the road to disaster. Another MP outlined the importance of convincing Brussels that Parliament can “coordinate” to present a different, more EU-friendly policy to that of the Government. “It would really show how power has shifted if Parliament can coordinate itself – and that’s not impossible,” the MP said.

Pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry told The Independent: “We are talking to each other and will continue to talk to each other – this is something that transcends normal party political considerations. “It doesn’t have to be about forcing votes, but it may come to that. Certainly, the threat of losing a vote will weigh very heavily on the Government’s mind.” Another MP spoke of giving voice to changing public opinion, amid the first evidence that some people who voted Leave a year ago are changing their minds. Ms Soubry added: “I am up for working with everybody. Hopefully something concrete will come out of it, because this is the most important thing that’s been done in decades.” She said she was in contact with some of the 34 Labour MPs who, this week, challenged Jeremy Corbyn to change course by fighting to stay in the single market.

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Noy much use, perhaps. Don’t say it out loud. Just wait for the Tories to blow up.

Corbyn Vows To Force Early British Election (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will look to “force an early general election” after claiming it was “ludicrous” to suggest Theresa May could stay in power. The Labour leader made the claim before speaking at Unison’s annual conference in Brighton and also added he was pleased with the party’s recent surge in opinion polls. Mr Corbyn’s approval rating has been on the rise since the general election and it appears he will now attempt to pile pressure on the Prime Minister. “Mrs May called the election so not to have a coalition of chaos, but that is exactly what we have got, they don’t seem to have come to an agreement with the DUP two weeks after the election,” Mr Corbyn told the Daily Mirror. “We will challenge this Government at every step and try to force an early general election.”

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George Osborne has some accounts to settle. And a very easy target to blame his own whoppers on.

May Blocked Plan To Guarantee Rights Of EU Citizens In UK After Brexit (Ind.)

Theresa May single-handedly blocked a plan to immediately guarantee the future rights of the 3m EU citizens in the UK last summer, George Osborne has revealed. The then-Home Secretary was the only member of the Cabinet to oppose David Cameron, who “wanted to reassure EU citizens they would be allowed to stay”, after Brexit. “All his Cabinet agreed with that unilateral offer, except his Home Secretary, Mrs May, who insisted on blocking it,” revealed the Evening Standard, now edited by Mr Osborne. The proposal was discussed “in the days immediately after the referendum” exactly one year ago, said the newspaper. Ms May has denied the accusation and said that “was certainly not my recollection” of events. But Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said: “It is a badge of shame that Theresa May blocked attempts to guarantee the rights of EU nationals after the referendum.

“It shows how cold and heartless she is. “Now that mean-spirited decision is coming back to haunt her as we see an exodus of skilled EU workers, from nurses to academics.” The revelation comes after EU citizens in the UK protested that Ms May’s “generous” offer – outlined last night – will leave them with less rights after Brexit than “British jam”. The Prime Minister’s proposals also ran into trouble from other EU leaders who warned of “open questions” and a “long, long way to go” before agreement. Ms May was forced to defend her position and said she wants to give EU citizens in the UK “certainty” but the details of the arrangement would be outlined during the negotiation process. Since reaching No 10, Ms May has faced down pleas to act unilaterally, insisting she would only offer guarantees to EU citizens if British ex-pats in the EU were given the same protection.

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It’ll happen only after the round of rate hikes. There’s not enough room to go down right now.

The Fed Needs to Acknowledge the Slowing Economy (DDMB)

As any market veteran can tell you, those on the sell-side are the second-to-last to concede to a slowdown in economic activity. It’s unseemly to make negative calls when a firm’s main objective is keeping its clients fully invested in risky assets; the two aims naturally conflict. Hence the surprise when Bank of America Merrill Lynch said autos are headed for a “decisive downturn” that will trough in 2021 at around a 13-million-unit annualized rate, down from last year’s blistering record 17.6 million. A week earlier, Morgan Stanley, whose numbers are not quite as grim, also reduced its sales forecast, recognizing that the best days of the cycle have come and gone. The U.S. economy is consumption-centric. Growth in the current recovery has centered on three industries that have fed through to consumption in its various forms – autos, energy and financial services.

There’s something almost poetic in finance’s re-emergence, especially for those on Wall Street who’ve profited smartly from unprecedented levels of deal flow. Have a debt problem? Solve it with more debt. And why not? This system has worked for generations; insatiable demand for debt is why interest rates have staged their historic decline. Debt lit the fire that ignited the shale revolution. Debt put a floor under and then helped commercial real estate reach for the skies. Debt kept dying retailers alive. And debt made easier back-to-back years of record car sales. The question so many bullish economists must answer is what debt can do for the economy in the future. Much to the Saudis’ dismay, the energy industry is as lean and mean as it’s ever been; operating efficiency gains have been magnificent in a do-or-die environment. Energy is growth neutral going forward.

[..] It’s all good and well that strained industries want to extract what value remains from their CRE exposure as part of their exit strategies. But this only works in isolation. If motivated sellers move in tandem, you can bet teetering CRE valuations will be among the casualties, taking many over-exposed mid-size and small banks down with them. Call it a confluence of factors that bodes ill for the economic recovery, even as optimists hope the growth streak can stretch into a 10th year. By the way, leading the optimists’ charge is the Federal Reserve itself. Central bank policy makers’ expectations for future growth indicate the current economic recovery will unseat the record holder, the expansion that finally flamed out in 2001 after enjoying a life of exactly 10 years. But then it is the Fed that’s the very last to capitulate, to say nothing of forecast, a slowdown in economic activity.

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“The best thing to do is to break Illinois into pieces right now. Just wipe us off the map.”; “Illinois is merely the canary in the coal mine.”

Unfunded Liabilities Have Turned Illinois Into A Banana Republic (Lang)

Illinois is the perfect example of what happens when your state is run by fiscally irresponsible dunces for decades. The state is buried in debt, and hasn’t passed a budget in over 700 days. 100% of their monthly revenue is being consumed by court ordered payments, and the Illinois Department of Transportation has revealed that they may not be able to pay contractors (who are working on over 700 infrastructure projects) after July 1st if the state doesn’t pass a budget. To top it all off, the state’s credit rating is one step away from junk status, the lowest of any state. Because of these factors, Illinois may become the first state to declare bankruptcy since the Great Depression. Governor Bruce Rauner has gone so far as to call his state a “banana republic.” The state’s comptroller has admitted that “We are in massive crisis mode.”

And a reporter for the Chicago Tribune thinks Illinois has gone so far past the point of no return, that the state should be broken up. He recently wrote what basically sounds like a suicide note for Illinois. “Dissolve Illinois. Decommission the state, tear up the charter, whatever the legal mumbo-jumbo, just end the whole dang thing. We just disappear. With no pain. That’s right. You heard me. The best thing to do is to break Illinois into pieces right now. Just wipe us off the map. Cut us out of America’s heartland and let neighboring states carve us up and take the best chunks for themselves. The group that will scream the loudest is the state’s political class, who did this to us, and the big bond creditors, who are whispering talk of bankruptcy and asset forfeiture to save their own skins. But our beloved Illinois has proved that it just doesn’t deserve to survive.”

So how did it get to this point? The root of the problem is Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities, which amount to $130 billion. The state’s leaders simply promised what could not be delivered. Most of their employees can retire in their 50’s, and many of them will receive 1-2 million dollars over the course of their retirements. As the debts associated with those pensions reached astronomical levels, the government increased taxes so much that many of the wealthiest and most productive citizens and businesses have moved away, leaving an even smaller tax base to draw from. In short, Illinois is in a death spiral, but it’s not alone. Illinois is merely the canary in the coal mine.

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Hopeless.

America’s Health-Care Rain Dance (Jim Kunstler)

The cost of everything medical is worked out in a private rain-dance between the aforementioned manifold concerned parties on the basis of what they think they can get away with in any particular case. In hospitals, this is enabled by the notorious ChargeMaster system which, to put it as simply as possible, allows hospitals to just make shit up. Any bill in congress that affects to reform the gross financial malfeasance in healthcare ought to start with the absolute requirement to publicly post the cost of everything that doctors and hospitals do, and enable the “service providers” to get paid only those publicly posted costs — obviating the lucrative rain-dance for dividing up the ransoms paid by hostage-patients who come to the “providers,” after all, in extremis. Notice that this crucial feature of the crisis is missing not only from the political debate but also from the supposedly public-interest-minded pages of The New York Times and other organs of the news media.

Perhaps this facet of the problem never entered the editors’ minds — in which case you really have to ask: how dumb are they? (The funniest claim about ObamaCare in today’s New York Times is the statement that 20 million citizens got access to health care under the so-called Affordable Care Act. Really? You mean they got health insurance policies with $8000-deductables, when they don’t even have $500 in savings to pay for car repairs? What planet do The New York Times editorial writers live on?) The corollary questions about deconstructing the insurance armature of the health care racket, and assigning its “duties” to a “single-payer” government agency is, of course, a higher level of debate. I’m not saying it would work, even if it was modeled on one of the systems currently working elsewhere, say in France.

But Americans have acquired an allergy to even thinking about that, or at least they’ve been conditioned to imagine they’re allergic by self-interested politicians. So, the current product of debate in the US Senate is just a scheme for pretending to reapportion the colossal flow of grift among the grifters. Spare yourself the angst of even worrying about the outcome of the current healthcare debate. It’s not going to get “fixed.” The medical system as we know it is going to blow up, and soon, just like the pension systems across the country, and the treasuries of the fifty states themselves, and the rest of the Potemkin US economy.

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“The coalition says it takes as many precautions as possible within the laws of warfare..”

US-Led Coalition Kills Almost 500 Syrian Civilians In One Month (NW)

The U.S.-led coalition’s strikes against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in two Syrian provinces killed 472 civilians in the last month, according to a monitor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group that has an extensive network of contacts on the ground in Syria, said the toll was more than double the month prior and the highest for a single month since raids began in September 2014. In Raqqa province, where the city of the same name is located, coalition strikes killed 250 civilians, including 53 children, SOHR said. In Deir ez-Zor, strikes killed 222 civilians, 84 of which were children. Rami Abdul Rahman, director of SOHR, told the AFP news agency that the total deaths caused by coalition strikes in Syria now amounted to 1,953. Of the deceased, 456 were children and 333 were women.

The coalition continues its bombing campaign in and around the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the largest under ISIS’s control in the country. It is supporting an Arab-Kurdish alliance waging a ground offensive against ISIS in the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border. The coalition says it takes as many precautions as possible within the laws of warfare, but top coalition generals have admitted that civilian deaths are inevitable in the campaign to defeat ISIS. Some 100,000 civilians remain under ISIS control in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and thousands remain in Raqqa. Human rights groups have criticized the coalition for not exercising enough caution. One case in particular was a March 17 strike in Mosul that killed more than 100 civilians. The coalition investigated the incident and concluded that ISIS had placed booby traps in the building that maximized the damage on impact.

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Greece must refuse.

The Unfinished Negotiations For A Greek “Super-Memorandum” (Press Project)

They say that history repeats itself first as a tragedy then as a farce. It’s a commonplace expression that is nevertheless clearly true in crisis-ridden Greece. During the SYRIZA-AnEl coalition’s time in power(especially under the second mandate), even the seasons of the year have come to resemble each other. Winter is a time of tension, harsh disagreement and bluster. Spring is the season for gradual capitulation. May (2016 and 2017) is the month for government betrayal; June for further prerequisites and an “agreement.” The rest of the summer then marks a period of government euphoria, followed by an autumn of initial discussions with an eye to the next set of negotiations. By using what happened over the same span of time in 2016—along with the language of the Third (and “fourth”)Memorandum of Understanding—as a kind of textbook, it’s easy to tell where we are and where we’re headed.

The June 15 Eurogroup joint statement condenses all the results of the most recent set of negotiations. These are the most essential and specific points: “The reform measures cover areas such as pensions, income tax, the labour market as well as the financial and energy sectors. These should make Greece’s medium-term fiscal strategy more robust and support the growth-friendly rebalancing of the economy. The Eurogroup invited Greece together with the institutions and relevant third parties to develop and support a holistic, growth enhancing strategy.”

In this paragraph, the Eurozone Finance Ministers are essentially borrowing a page from 1984. In that legendary novel by George Orwell, war is peace; freedom is enslavement; ignorance is power. For the Eurogroup (as per usual), pension cuts, reductions in tax exemptions, an administration well-disposed to mass lay-offs, and the sale of Public Power Corporation shares all count as positive “reform measures.” Greece’s sentence to a “long-term memorandum,” requiring surpluses of 3.5% until 2022 and a little over 2% until 2060, constitutes “support [of] a holistic, growth enhancing strategy.” “The Eurogroup reconfirmed its approach to the sustainability of Greece’s public debt that was agreed in May 2016, while providing some further detail on the medium-term debt measures that could accrue to Greece. These measures would be implemented after successful completion of the programme, if a new debt sustainability analysis were to confirm that such measures are necessary.”

These two brief paragraphs finalize the results of the multi-month Greek debt negotiations. In short and as is plainly evident, the Greek government gained nothing in terms of its debt, while after months of Eurozone attempts to secure further relief the Eurogroup simply determined that everything decided back in May 2016 still holds. Even the government’s recent expectation that the (highly dangerous) phrase “if necessary” would be removed from the relief-program wording was ultimately frustrated. “The Eurogroup welcomed Greece’s commitment to maintain a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP until 2022, and a fiscal path consistent with the European fiscal framework thereafter. According to analysis by the European Commission, such compliance would be achieved with a primary surplus of equal to or above but close to 2.0% of GDP in the period of 2023-2060.”

Read more …

Mar 312017
 
 March 31, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Ray K. Metzker Europe 1961

 

The true face of the EU is presently on display in Greece, not in Germany or Holland or France. Brussels must first fix what’s going wrong in Athens and the Aegean, and there’s a lot going wrong, before it can move on towards the future, indeed towards any future at all. It has a very tough job in Italy as well, which it’s trying hard to ignore.

You can’t say ‘things are fine in Germany’ or ‘Finland is recovering’ and leave it at that. Not when you’re part of a political -and to a large degree also economic- Union, let alone when you’re preaching tightening -and deepening- that Union. Not when parts of that Union are not only doing much worse than others, but are being thoroughly gutted. Then again, they’re being gutted by the very Union itself, so Brussels -and Berlin, The Hague, Paris- can’t very well feign surprise or deny responsibility.

Of course the European continent needs a ‘body’, some form of organization -and it needs it badly- that will allow its nations to cooperate, in 1000 different ways and fields, but the EU is not it. The EU is toxic. It is turning nations against each other as we speak. So much so that it’s crucial for these nations to leave the union and dismantle the entire operation before that happens, because there will be no opportunity left to do it once the toxicity takes over. The UK should count itself lucky for getting out while it did.

 

In its present setting, the EU has no future. And, more importantly, there is no mechanism available to change that setting. It should have been insisted on when the Union was founded, or in one of its various treaties after. This never happened, though, and that’s no coincidence, it was always about power. It’s therefore very hard -if not impossible- to see how the EU could be altered in such a way that it has a chance of survival.

Changing or tweaking a few rules is not going to do it. It’s the very Brussels power structure that is inherently faulty, and those parties that under this structure have the power, are the same ones who would have to change it (against their own interests). There is not a single decision concerning important -for instance economic- EU policies that can be taken against the wishes of Berlin. And Berlin demands what’s good for Germany, even if that is bad for other member states.

In order to save the EU, German representatives would have to vote against their own national interests. But they were elected specifically to protect those interests. There is no better way to illustrate the fatal flaw in the -construction of- the EU. Politicians are elected to protect the interests of their member states, and no member state can possibly prevail but Germany, because it’s the biggest. You can put any label you want on that, but democratic it’s not.

 

Germany and Holland are doing great, according to the most recent economic data. But how is that a reason to celebrate when Greece and Italy, among others, are not doing great at all? Why the difference? It’s not because they spend their money on “Schnaps und Frauen” as Eurogroup president and Dutch demissionary FinMin Dijsselbloem so poetically suggested.

It’s because the Eurogroup has not acted in their best interests. Because when their interests differed from the Dutch and German ones, the latter won out. Easily. And they always will under the present terms. As head of the Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem should represent the best interests of all member nations, not just Holland and Germany.

So should Angela Merkel as the de facto head of the EU. And it’s a very simple fact, easy to explain as well, that these interests can conflict. Obviously, that Merkel can call all the important shots in the EU should be a red, flashing, blinding and deafening alarm sign to start with. Germany should have taken a step back, back in 1960 or so, or even 1999, but for obvious reasons didn’t, and got away with that. It’s about power, it was never about Union other than to increase Power.

European politicians have not been able to make the ‘shift’ from nation to Union. Once they are faced with decisions that may harm their national interests, but benefit those of the EU as a whole, they must revert back, by default, to their own respective nationalistic priorities. Even if they are the ones who complain loudest about rising nationalism and protectionism.

And they’re -kind of- right, or justifiable. German, French, Dutch politicians are not accountable to Slovakian or Slovenian interests. That’s just extra, nice if it happens to coincide with what Berlin or Paris want, but not a priority in any sense of the word. Understandable, but lethal to the idea of a Union.

 

 

There is your fatal EU flaw. The whole common interest idea is just a sales pitch, always was. Which worked fine in times of growth. But take a look now. There’s nothing left. The rich north has used the poorer south to transfer its losses to. It’s not a union, it’s old-fashioned colonialism.

Europe’s political problem can perhaps best be expressed by comparing it to the US. Germany, plus to a lesser extent Holland, and France, have so much power that it would be like California and New York could call all important shots in America. But they can’t. Trump’s election shows that they cannot. Europe doesn’t even have that escape valve.

Delving a bit deeper, Kansas and California may be different cultures, but their people speak the same language, they watch the same TV shows, read the same news. Different cultures, but also part of the same culture. In Europe, most people have no idea who EU head Juncker is, or care, or how he got where he’s at.

Most likely know who Angela Merkel is, but they don’t know that she takes all the important decisions about their lives now. If they did, the pitchforks would be out in minutes. Luckily for Merkel, the EU is as opaque as can be,

90% of Europeans need subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel. Or for some journalist to translate for them. Everyone in Kansas and California understands what Trump says, no matter how confused he may sound or what they may think of him. He’s American, and so are they. He’s one of them.

Needing subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel may work in times of plenty. But in lean years, people don’t take kindly to that kind of thing, that someone you can’t even understand, and that you can’t hold to account, makes important decisions that impact you directly, as you see your jobs and savings and homes vanish and the future of your kids disappear.

That is asking for trouble. The EU has that trouble, and it will have much more of it. The only way out of that trouble is for the Union to dismantle itself. But as we can see in the whole Brexit story, that would involve so many interested parties giving up on so many perks that feed them, politicians, businesses, what have you, that none of it would ever happen voluntarily.

The EU has become a farcically intricate web of policies and laws and regulations, all built on fatally flawed foundations, that no citizen of sound mind feels connected with. The only way out of that is to literally get out. The UK got it right, whether they meant it or not.

The EU cannot be reformed because the only people -and the countries they represent- who could do the reforming, profit hugely from the present state of affairs, from not reforming. Fatal. Flaw.

As any builder can tell you who’s ever seen a structure on the verge of collapse: some can be saved and some of them you just have to let go. Raze ’em and start from scratch. Which in many cases, as builders know, is simply the best choice.

Please don’t get me wrong: of course there are tons of things the EU has done that are great, and right, and all that. But it’s the power structure that will inevitably kill it no matter what else it does that actually works. And that structure is beyond redemption.

 

 

Jan 062017
 
 January 6, 2017  Posted by at 4:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Farm family fleeing OK drought for CA, car broken down, abandoned Aug 1936

 

Since the new year will bring yuuge and bigly changes to us all (I truly hope both the year and the changes will leave you happy), I thought I’d start off by ‘reduxing’ two articles that contain further ‘reduxes’, Russian doll style. I do this because the man the articles are about is set to play a large role in those changes, certainly where Europe is concerned. And since the changes in Europe will be weally weally bigly, they will impact the entire world.

That is to say, we must seriously doubt if the EU -or rather, what’s left of it post-Brexit-, will live to see January 1 2018 in one piece. This is hardly an exaggeration, as you may be inclined to think. As I said recently, in Europe it’s not and-and, it’s if-or: with elections in Germany, France, Holland and probably Italy coming up, they don’t all have to turn out ‘badly’ for the pro-EU camp, if just one of them goes against the EU, it may well be game over.

Therefore Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star movement, is a man to keep an eye on. And not just for that. The first item below, a 1998 video, is an addition to my original article from November 14 2014, and it makes clear, once more, that Beppe is no fool. Nor is he a right wing nut, or anything remotely like that. Beppe actually understands what money is, much much better than any of the politicians and economists that rule the old continent. That makes him a threat to them.

Below that video from 1998, my November 14 2014 article, which in turn cites a 2013 article. I know some things will look dated, but you’ll get it, I’m sure. I hope you also get why I repost it all: 2017 has begun.

 

Beppe Grillo: Whom does the money belong to? Who does its ownership belong to? To the State, fine, so to us, we are the State.

You know that the State doesn’t exist, it is only a legal entity. WE are the state, the money is ours.

Then tell me one thing: if the money belongs to us, why do they lend it to us?

 

 

 

From November 14 2014: That says quite something, that title. And it’s probably not entirely true, it’s just that I can’t think of any others. And also, I’m in Europe myself right now, and I still have a European passport too. So there’s two of us at least. Moreover, I visited Beppe Grillo three years ago, before his 5-Star Movement (M5S) became a solid force in Italian politics. So we have a connection too.

Just now, I noticed via the BBC and Zero Hedge that Beppe not only expects to gather far more signatures than he said he would recently (1 million before vs 4 million today) for his plan to hold a referendum on the euro, he also claims to have a 2/3 majority in the Italian parliament. Well done. But he can’t do it alone.

Martin Armstrong thinks the EU may have him murdered for this before they allow it to take place. Which is a very good reason for everyone, certainly Europeans, to come out in support for the only man in Europe who makes any sense. I know many Italians find Beppe too coarse, but they need to understand he’s their only way out of this mess.

The smear campaigns against him are endless. The easier ones put him at the same level as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, the more insidious ones paint him off as a George Soros patsy. There’ll be a lot more of that. And given the success of this year’s anti-Putin campaign in Europe, and the ongoing pro-Euro one, it’s going to take a lot not to have people believe whatever they are told to.

Just take this to heart: since Italy joined the euro, its industrial production has fallen by 25%. How is that not a disaster? Meanwhile, the eurozone economy is in awful shape, and the longer that lasts, the more countries like Italy will be disproportionally affected and dragged down further. There’s a reason for that numbers such as that: it’s not like Germany and Holland lost 25% of their production.

The eurozone must end before it starts to do irreversible damage, and before it turns Europe into a warzone, a far more real and imminent risk than anyone dares suggest.

The first bit here is from Zero Hedge, and then after that I will repost a lengthy piece about Beppe that I first published on February 12, 2013.

Italy’s Grillo Rages “We Are Not At War With ISIS Or Russia, We Are At War With The ECB”

Next week, Italy’s Beppe Grillo – the leader of the Italian Five Star Movement – will start collecting signatures with the aim of getting a referendum in Italy on leaving the euro “as soon as possible,” just as was done in 1989. As Grillo tells The BBC in this brief but stunning clip, “we will leave the Euro and bring down this system of bankers, of scum.” With two-thirds of Parliament apparently behind the plan, Grillo exclaims “we are dying, we need a Plan B to this Europe that has become a nightmare – and we are implementing it,” raging that “we are not at war with ISIS or Russia! We are at war with the European Central Bank,” that has stripped us of our sovereignty.

Beppe Grillo also said today:

It is high time for me and for the Italian people, to do something that should have been done a long time ago: to put an end to your sitting in this place, you who have dishonoured and substituted the governments and the democracies without any right. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? A crumb of humanity? Is there one vice you do not possess? Gold and the “spread” are your gods. GDP is you golden calf.

We’ll send you packing at the same time as Italy leaves the Euro. It can be done! You well know that the M5S will collect the signatures for the popular initiative law – and then – thanks to our presence in parliament, we will set up an advisory referendum as happened for the entry into the Euro in 1989. It can be done! I know that you are terrified about this. You will collapse like a house of cards. You will smash into tiny fragments like a crystal vase.

Without Italy in the Euro, there’ll be an end to this expropriation of national sovereignty all over Europe. Sovereignty belongs to the people not to the ECB and nor does it belong to the Troika or the Bundesbank. National budgets and currencies have to be returned to State control. They should not be controlled by commercial banks. We will not allow our economy to be strangled and Italian workers to become slaves to pay exorbitant interest rates to European banks.

The Euro is destroying the Italian economy. Since 1997, when Italy adjusted the value of the lira to connect it to the ECU (a condition imposed on us so that we could come into the euro), Italian industrial production has gone down by 25%. Hundreds of Italian companies have been sold abroad. These are the companies that have made our history and the image of “Made in Italy”.

As Martin Armstrong asks rather pointedly…

Since the introduction of the euro, all economic parameters have deteriorated, the founder of the five-star movement in Italy is absolutely correct. The design or the Euro was a disaster. There is no fixing this any more. We have crossed the line of no return. Beppe is now calling for referendum on leaving euro. Will he be assassinated by Brussels? It is unlikely that the EU Commission will allow such a vote.

And then here’s my February 2013 article; it seems silly to try and rewrite it. There is nobody in Europe other than him who understands what is going on, and is willing to fight for it. Grillo is a very smart man, a trained accountant and an avid reader of anything he can get his hands on. The image of him as a populist loud mouthed good for little comedian is just plain false. It was Grillo who exposed the Parmalat scandal, and the Monte Dei Paschi one.

Never forget what political and behind the veil powers he’s up against in his country, and how they seek to define the image the world has of him. What Beppe Grillo does takes a lot of courage. Not a lot of people volunteer to be smeared and insulted this way, let alone run the risk of being murdered. Those who do deserve our support.

 

 

Beppe Grillo Wants To Give Italy Democracy

In the fall of 2011, The Automatic Earth was on another European lecture tour. Nicole Foss had done a series of talks in Italy the previous year, and there was demand for more. This was remarkable, really, since a knowledge of the English language sufficient to understand Nicole’s lectures is not obvious in Italy, so we had to work with translators. Certainly none of this would have happened if not for the limitless drive and energy of Transition Italy’s Ellen Bermann.

In the run-up to the tour I had asked if Ellen could perhaps set up a meeting with an Italian I found very intriguing ever since I read he had organized meetings which drew as many as a million people at a time for a new – political – movement. Other than that, I didn’t know much about him. We were to find out, however, that every single Italian did, and was in awe of the man. A few weeks before arriving, we got word that he was gracious enough to agree to a meeting; gracious, because he’d never heard of us either and his agenda was overloaded as it was.

So in late October we drove the crazy 100+ tunnel road from the French border to Genoa to meet with Beppe Grillo in what turned out to be his unbelievable villa in Genoa Nervi, high on the mountain ridge, overlooking – with a stunning view – the Mediterranean, and set in a lovely and comfortable sunny afternoon. I think the first thing we noticed was that Beppe is a wealthy man; it had been a long time since I had been in a home where the maids wear uniforms. The grand piano was stacked with piles of books on all sorts of weighty topics, politics, environment, energy, finance. The house said: I’m a man of wealth and taste.

 


Eugenio Belgeri, Raúl Ilargi Meijer, Beppe Grillo, Nicole Foss and Ellen Bermann in Genoa Nervi, October 2011

 

I don’t speak Italian, and Beppe doesn’t speak much English (or French, German, Dutch), so it was at times a bit difficult to communicate. Not that it mattered much, though; Beppe Grillo has been a super charged Duracell bunny of an entertainer and performer all his life, and he will be the center of any conversation and any gathering he’s a part of no matter what the setting. Moreover, our Italian friends who were with us – and couldn’t believe they were there – could do a bit of translating. And so we spent a wonderful afternoon in Genoa, and managed to find out a lot about our very entertaining host and his ideas and activities.

Beppe had set up his Five Star movement (MoVimento Cinque Stelle, M5S) a few years prior. He had been organizing V-day “happenings” since 2007, and they drew those huge crowds. The V stands for “Vaffanculo”, which can really only be translated as “F**k off” or “Go f**k yourself”: the driving idea was to get rid of the corruption so rampant in Italian politics, and for all sitting politicians to go “Vaffanculo”.

At the time we met, the movement was focusing on local elections – they have since won many seats, have become the biggest party on Sicily (after Beppe swam there across the Straits of Messina from the mainland) and got one of their own installed as mayor of the city of Parma.

Grillo explained that M5S is not a political party, and he himself doesn’t run for office. He wants young people to step forward, and he’s already in his sixties. Anyone can become a candidate for M5S, provided they have no ties to other parties, no criminal record (Beppe does have one through a 1980 traffic accident); they can’t serve more than two terms (no career politicians) and they have to give back 75% of what they get paid for a public function (you can’t get rich off of politics).

I found it surprising that our friends at Transition Italy and the general left were reluctant to endorse Grillo politically; many even wanted nothing to do with him, they seemed to find him too coarse, too loud and too angry. At the same time, they were in absolute awe of him, openly or not, since he had always been such a big star, a hugely popular comedian when they grew up. Grillo offered to appear through a video link at Nicole’s next talk near Milan, but the organizers refused. It was only the first sign of a lot of mistrust among Italians even if they all share the same discontent with corrupt politics. Which have made trust a major issue in Italy.

 

 

This may have to do with the fact that Grillo is a comedian in the vein of perhaps people like George Carlin or Richard Pryor in the US. On steroids, and with a much wider appeal. Rough language, no holds barred comedy turns a lot of people off. Still, I was thinking that they could all use the visibility and popularity of the man to get their ideas across; they preferred anonymity, however.

By the way, the Five Stars, perhaps somewhat loosely translated, stand for energy, information, economy, transport and health. What we found during our conversation is that Beppe Grillo’s views on several topics were a little naive and unrealistic. For instance, like so many others, he saw a transition to alternative energy sources as much easier than it would realistically be. That said, energy and environment issues are important for him and the movement, and in that regard his focus on decentralization could carry real benefits.

Still, I don’t see the present naive ideas as being all that bad. After all, there are limits to what people can do and learn in a given amount of time. And Beppe certainly has a lot to do, he’s leading a revolution, so it’s fine if the learning process takes some time. Ideally, he would take a crash Automatic Earth primer course, but language will be a barrier there. I hope he finds a way, he’s certainly smart and curious enough.

 

 

When his career took off in the late 70’s, early 80’s, Beppe Grillo was just a funny man, who even appeared on Silvio Berlusconi’s TV channels. Only later did he become more political; but then he did it with a vengeance.

Grillo was first banned from Italian TV as early as 1987, when he quipped about then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and his Socialist Party that if all Chinese are indeed socialists, who do they steal from? The ban was later made permanent. In the early 90’s, Operation Clean Hands was supposed to have cleaned up corruption in politics. Just 15 years later, Beppe Grillo started the Five Star movement. That’s how deeply engrained corruption is in Italy, stretching across politics, business and media.

We are- almost – all of us living in non-functioning democracies, but in Italy it’s all far more rampant and obvious. There’s a long history of deep-seated corruption, through the mafia, through lodges like P5 and Opus Dei, through many successive governments, and through the collaboration between all of the above, so much so that many Italians just see it as a fact of life. And that’s what Beppe Grillo wants to fight.

Ironically, he himself gets called a neo-nazi and a fascist these days. To which he replies that perhaps he’s the only thing standing between Italy and a next bout of fascism. I’ve read a whole bunch of articles the past few days, the international press discovers the man in the wake of the general elections scheduled for February 24-25, and a lot of it is quite negative, starting with the all too obvious notion that a clown shouldn’t enter politics. I don’t know, but I think Berlusconi is much more of a clown in that regard than Grillo is. A whole lot more of a clown and a whole lot less funny.

Beppe is called a populist for rejecting both right and left wing parties, a neo-nazi for refusing to block members of a right wing group from M5S, a Jew hater in connection with the fact that his beautiful wife was born in Iran, and a dictator because he’s very strict in demanding potential M5S candidates adhere to the rules he has set. Oh, and there are the inevitable right wing people calling him a communist.

There are of course tons of details that I don’t know, backgrounds, I’m largely an outsider, willing to be informed and corrected. And this would always be much more about the ideas than about the man. Then again, I did talk to the man in his own home and I don’t have the impression that Grillo is a fraud, or part of the same system he purports to fight as some allege, that he is somehow just the existing system’s court jester. He strikes me as being too loud and too embarrassing for that. And too genuinely angry.

Moreover, I think Italy is a perfect place for a nasty smear campaign, and since they can’t very well murder the man – he’s too popular – what better option than to make him look bad?! If anything, it would be strange if nobody did try to paint him off as a demagogue, a nazi or a sad old clown.

 


Photo: AFP: Marcello Paternostro

 

After being banned from TV, Grillo went on the build one of the most visited blogs/websites in the world, and the number one in Europe. Ironically, he is now in some media labeled something of a coward for not appearing in televised election debates. But Beppe doesn’t do TV, or – domestic – newspapers. For more than one reason.

Because he was banned from TV, because of the success of the internet campaign, and because Silvio Berlusconi incessantly used “lewd” talk shows on his own TV channels to conduct politics, Beppe Grillo insists his councilors and candidates stay off TV too, and he has his own unique way of making clear why and how: When a female Five Star member recently ignored this and appeared on a talk show anyway, Grillo said “the lure of television is like the G-spot, which gives you an orgasm in talk-show studios. It is Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. At home, your friends and relations applaud emotionally as they share the excitement of a brief moment of celebrity.”. Of course Beppe was labeled a sexist for saying this.

The internet is central to Grillo’s ideas. Not only as a tool to reach out to people, but even more as a way to conduct direct democracy. Because that is what he seeks to create: a system where people can participate directly. Grillo wants to bring (back) democracy, the real thing, and he’s long since understood that the internet is a brilliant tool with which to achieve that goal. One of his spear points is free internet access for all Italians. Which can then be used to let people vote on any issue that can be voted on. Not elections once every four years or so, but votes on any topic anytime people demand to vote on it. Because we can.

Since we had our chat in that garden in Genua, Beppe Grillo and M5S have moved on to bigger pastures: they are now set to be a major force in the general elections that will establish a new parliament. Polls differ, but they can hope to gain 15-20% of the vote (Grillo thinks it could be even much more). The leader in the polls is the Socialist Party, and then, depending on which poll you choose to believe, M5S comes in either second or third (behind Berlusconi). What seems certain is that the movement will be a formidable force, carrying 100 seats or more, in the new parliament, and that they could have a lot of say in the formation of any new coalition government.

In the run-up the elections, Beppe has now traded his home for a campaign bus, going from town to town and from one jam-packed campaign event to the next on what he has labeled the Tsunami Tour, in which he, in his own words, brings class action to the people.

As was the case in the local elections, Beppe Grillo says he wants “normal” people (“a mother of three, a 23-year-old college graduate, an engineer [..] those are the people I want to see in parliament”) to be elected, not career politicians who enrich themselves off their status and influence, and who he labels “the walking dead”, and though he acknowledges his candidates have no political experience, he says: “I’d rather take a shot in the dark with these guys than commit assisted suicide with those others.” In the same vein, another one of his lines is:“The average age of our politicians is 70. They’re planning a future they’re never going to see”.

On his immensely popular website beppegrillo.it, which has quite a bit of English language content, Grillo has some nice stats and tools. There is a list of Italian parlimentarians and Italian members of the EU Parliament who have been convicted of crimes. At this moment there are 24; their number has come down, but still. There is also a great little thing named “Map of Power of the Italian Stock Exchange” that graphically shows the links various politicians have with various corporations. I remember when Grillo proudly showed it to us, that after clicking just 2-3 politicians and 2-3 businesses, the screen was so full of lines depicting connections it had become an unreadable blur.

In between all the other activities, Beppe was instrumental 10 years ago in exposing the stunning $10 billion accounting fraud at dairy and food giant Parmalat before it went bankrupt, as well as the recent scandal at the world’s oldest bank, Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena, which will cost a reported $23 billion. Corruption is everywhere in Italy, which has a large political class that is all too eager to share in the spoils. Mr. Grillo was trained as an accountant, and he understands what he’s talking about when it comes to dodgy numbers. What he needs is the power to act.

 

 

Apart from the strong stance that Grillo and M5S take against corruption and for direct representation, critics say they have few clear policy objectives, that they don’t even know what they want. Being a movement instead of a party doesn’t help. But then, these critics think inside the very old system that M5S wants to replace with one that is far more transparent and direct. It’s more than obvious that existing powers have no interest in incorporating the possibilities for improvement offered by new technologies, but it should also be obvious that people, wherever they live, could potentially benefit from a better functioning political system.

There will be many who say that no such thing can be achieved, but perhaps it not only can, but is inevitable. All it could take is for an example to show that it can work. One might argue that the only reason our current systems continue to exist in all their opaqueness is that those who stand to profit from them are the ones who get to vote on any changes that could be applied. What Beppe Grillo envisions is a system in which every one can vote directly on all relevant issues, including changes to the system itself. It’s about class action, about taking back power from corrupt existing politics. Italy looks like a good testing ground for that, since its systemic rot is so obvious for all to see. But in other western countries, just like in Italy, it could return the power where it belongs: in the hands of the people.

Radical ideas? Not really, because when you think about it, perhaps it’s the technology itself that’s radical, not the use of it. And maybe it’s the fact that we’re so stuck in our existing systems that keeps us from using our new technologies to their full potential. Just like it keeps us from restructuring our financial systems and our energy systems for that matter. We continue to have systems and institutions guide our lives long after they’ve ceased to be useful for our present day lives, as long as we’re snug and warm and well-fed. And we do so until a real bad crisis of some sort comes along and makes it absolutely untenable, often with a lot of misery and blood thrown into the equation.

Beppe Grillo wants to break that chain. And he’s got a recipe to do it. It may not be perfect or foolproof, but who cares when it’s replacing something that no longer functions at all, that just drags us down and threatens our children’s lives? Who cares? Well, the Monti’s and Berlusconi’s and Merkel’s and Obama’s and Exxon’s and BP’s and Monsanto’s of the world do, because it is the old system that gave them what they have, and they don’t want a new one that might take it away. Our so-called democracies exist to please our leaders and elites, not ourselves. And we’re unlikely to figure that one out until it’s way too late.

Unless the Italians do our work for us and vote for the Cinque Stelle in huge numbers.

 

 

Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Laurits Andersen Ring At Breakfast 1898

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)
This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)
Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)
Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)
Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)
Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)
Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)
Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)
India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)
Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)
Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)
To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)
China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)
Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)
Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

 

 

Income vs prices has never been more expensive. There’s much more in Hanson’s article.

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)

BUILDER HOUSES: The average $361k builder house requires nearly $65k in income assuming a 4.5% rate, 20% down, and A-grade credit. Problem is, 20% + A-credit are hard to come by. For buyers with less down or worse credit, far more than $65k is needed. For the past 30-YEARS income required to buy the average priced house has remained relatively consistent, as mortgage rate credit manipulation made houses cheaper. Bottom line: Reversion to the mean can occur through house price declines, credit easing, a mortgage rate plunge to the high 2%’s, or a combination of all three. However, because rates are still historically low and mortgage guidelines historically easy, the path of least resistance is lower house prices.

The following chart compares Bubble 1.0 (2004 and 2006) to Bubble 2.0 on an apples-to-apples basis using the popular loan programs of each era. Bottom line: Builder prices are up 19% from 2006 but the monthly payment is 43% greater and annual income needed to qualify for a mortgage 83% more.

Read more …

‘T is the season to be plastic.

This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)

For many Americans, the quality of Christmas is determined by the quality of the presents. This is especially true for our children, and some of them literally spend months anticipating their haul on Christmas morning. I know that when I was growing up Christmas was all about the presents. Yes, adults would give lip service to the other elements of Christmas, but all of the other holiday activities could have faded away and it still would have been Christmas as long as presents were under that tree on the morning of December 25th. Perhaps things are different in your family, but it is undeniable that for our society as a whole gifts are the central feature of the holiday season. And that is why so many parents feel such immense pressure to spend a tremendous amount of money on gifts for their children each year.

Of course this pressure that they feel is constantly being reinforced by television ads and big Hollywood movies that continuously hammer home what a “good Christmas” should look like. Once again in 2016, parents will spend far more money than they should because they want to make their children happy. According to a brand new survey from T. Rowe Price, parents in the United States will spend an average of 422 dollars per child this holiday season… “More than half of parents report they aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child, according to a new survey from T. Rowe Price.” To me, that seems like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a single child, but this is apparently what people are doing.

But can most families really afford to be spending so wildly? Of course not. As I have detailed previously, 69% of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That means that about two-thirds of the country is essentially living paycheck to paycheck. So all of this reckless spending brings with it a lot of additional financial pressure. But because we are a “buy now, pay later” society, we do it anyway. We are willing to mortgage a little bit of the future in order to have a nice Christmas now. Another new survey has found that close to half the country feels “pressure to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season”…

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Possible only -beyond short term- with Fed money. Animal spirits sounds cute, but all investors have is money based on ultra cheap rates.

Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)

During the dark days of the financial crisis Ray Dalio, head of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, published papers and YouTube seminars to describe the forces that drive the economy and explain why severe cycles like the credit collapse occur. The effort was intended to guide productive responses to the implosion of Wall Street, which crippled Main Street, and avert policies that could diminish a recovery. With the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearing a record 20,000, unemployment below 5% and the U.S. economy in the seventh year of a recovery, Dalio’s tomes on ‘how the economic machine works’ aren’t as top of mind as they once were. But that’s not to say Dalio, one of Wall Street’s weightiest hedge fund investors, has lost interest in the subject.

On Tuesday morning, Dalio published a monthly update that indicates he believes the U.S. economy is poised for a sudden and dramatic shift under President-elect Donald Trump. If the economic machine is presently churning along in a steady but somewhat muted recovery from the Great Recession, Dalio believes it may kick into overdrive as Trump implements a pro-business agenda that could stimulate the animal spirits of investors and businesses across United States. “[T]he Trump administration could have a much bigger impact on the US economy than one would calculate on the basis of changes in tax and spending policies alone because it could ignite animal spirits and attract productive capital,” Dalio states in a post published to LinkedIn. He adds, “regarding igniting animal spirits, if this administration can spark a virtuous cycle in which people can make money, the move out of cash (that pays them virtually nothing) to risk-on investments could be huge.”

Dalio believes Trump has staffed his administration with business-people who will be inclined to take quick action on perceived drags on the economy, whether that involves taxation, regulation or labor laws. What’s also clear is Dalio believes there are presently major impediments to the economy that need to be lifted. “This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies, and it admires strong, can-do, profit makers,” says Dalio. The Trump administration “wants to, and probably will, shift the environment from one that makes profit makers villains with limited power to one that makes them heroes with significant power,” he adds [..] “A pro-business US with its rule of law, political stability, property rights protections, and (soon to be) favorable corporate taxes offers a uniquely attractive environment for those who make money and/or have money. These policies will also have shocking negative impacts on certain sectors,” Dalio says, without describing in more detail the winners and losers.

Read more …

The ongoing confusions about what inflation is. One key rule: if spending doesn’t rise, and by a lot, there will be no inflation. There may be higher prices for some things, but that’s not the same. And where could higher spending come from when 2/3 of Americans don’t even have $1000 saved for an emergency?

Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)

The Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates last week and seem poised to do so again in the not distant future. The rationale is that the economy is now near or at full employment and that if job growth continues at its recent pace it will lead to a harmful acceleration in the inflation rate. We have numerous pieces raising serious questions about whether the labor market is really at full employment, noting for example the sharp drop in employment rates (for all groups) from pre-recession levels and the high rate of involuntary part-time employment. But the story of accelerating inflation is also not right. This is particularly important, since John Williams, the president of the San Francisco Fed, cited accelerating inflation as a reason to support last week’s rate hike, and possibly future rate hikes, in an interview in the New York Times.

Williams has been a moderate on inflation, so there are many members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee who are more anxious to raise rates than him. A close look at the data does not provide much evidence of accelerating inflation. The core PCE deflator, the Fed’s main measure of inflation, has risen 1.7% over the last year, which is still under the 2.0% target. This target is an average, which means that the Fed should be prepared to allow the inflation rate to rise somewhat above 2.0%, with the idea that inflation will drop in the next recession. Anyhow, the 1.7% rate is slightly higher than a low of 1.3% reached in the third quarter of 2015, but it is exactly the same as the rate we saw in the third quarter of 2014. In other words, there has been zero acceleration in the rate of inflation over the last two years.

Furthermore, even this modest acceleration has been entirely due to the more rapid increase in rent over the last two years. The inflation rate in the core consumer price index, stripped of its shelter component, actually has been falling slightly over the last year. It now stands at 1.1% over the last year. It is reasonable to pull shelter out of the CPI because rents do not follow the same dynamic as most goods and services. In fact, higher interest rates, by reducing construction, are likely to increase the pace of increase in rents rather than reduce them.

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Italy’s banks are about to do the country in.

Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)

Matteo Renzi has joined a long line of Italian prime ministers who failed to “reform” their country. This is another way of saying that he could not wave a magic wand and make Italy competitive with Germany. The grim reality is that no Italian leader stood a chance of changing their country once the fateful decision was made to peg its currency to Germany’s. At the time of the euro’s launch in 1999, I argued that the risk profile of Italy would change from being an economy where there was a high probability of many currency devaluations to the certain probability of eventual bankruptcy. Sadly, that moment is not so far away.

The chart below tells the story of Italy’s recent economic history in two parts, namely, (i) March 1979 to March 1999, and (ii) March 1999 to the present. Italy joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1979 at 443 lira per deutschemark, yet by 1990 frequent devaluations meant that rate had slid to about 750 lira. By the early 1990s, the Bundesbank was overseeing a newly unified German monetary system and in order to fight inflation it had driven real interest rates to 7%. By September 1992 the stresses on the system caused the UK, Sweden and Italy to exit the ERM, which meant another huge currency devaluation, pushing the lira as low as 1250 against the deutschemark, but delivering a huge tourist boom to boot.

Still, from 1979 to 1998 Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%, while Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% (this indicates that Italian firms were earning a higher return on invested capital than those in Germany). Then came the euro. By 2003 it was clear that Italy was uncompetitive and subsequently, Italian equities have underperformed German equities by -65%, reversing the previous half century’s pattern when Italian equities outperformed on a total return basis. Similarly, since 2003 Italian factory output has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

The diagnosis is simply that Italy has become woefully uncompetitive, and as a result, is not solvent. This much is clear from the perilous state of its banking system, which is always the outcome when banks lend to firms that have been rendered uncompetitive by some reckless central banker. Short of imposing Greek-style slavery on Italy, there is not much hope of solving the problem, but I rather doubt that the Italian electorate will be as patient as its neighbours across the Ionian sea.

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Let Beppe Grillo have a go at this. What does Italy have to lose?

Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)

Italian banks need at least €52 billion ($54 billion) to clean up their balance sheets, much more than the rescue package proposed Monday by the government. The shortfall is an estimate of how much lenders would have to increase loan-loss provisions to allow for the sale of bad debt. It includes the 8 billion euros of provisions UniCredit has said it will add before selling €18 billion of its worst loans and uses that ratio as a proxy for the gap at other banks. The total also includes the 5 billion euros Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been struggling to raise in recent months. The Italian government asked parliament this week to increase the public borrowing limit by as much as €20 billion to potentially backstop Monte Paschi and other lenders.

The rescue package needs to be closer to €30 billion to solve Italy’s bad-debt crisis, according to Paola Sabbione at Deutsche Bank. That conclusion assumes UniCredit and some other lenders can raise about €20 billion through capital markets, asset sales and profit retention – leaving the government to fill the rest of the €52 billion hole. “Some of the publicly traded banks can probably raise some of the funds needed for a cleanup, including Monte Paschi,” said Sabbione, who has covered Italian banks for the past decade. “So the government would have to plug in the rest. But still, at this level, it won’t do the full job.” UniCredit, the nation’s largest lender, plans to increase loan-loss provisions to 75% for nonperforming loans with the lowest chances of recovery and 40% for two other categories considered less dire.

The increased writedowns will help the Milan-based lender sell about a third of its bad loans to asset manager Fortress Investment. UniCredit is planning to raise €13 billion of new equity funding to cover the increased provisions as well as other restructuring costs and to improve its capital ratio. The company’s shares have jumped 15% since the Dec. 13 announcement, giving analysts confidence the bank will have little trouble tapping investors for the funds. Italian banks had €356 billion of bad loans at the end of June and €165 billion of provisions against them, according to the latest Bank of Italy data. To get the worst category to 75% provisioning and the rest to 40%, as UniCredit is doing, would take €52 billion.

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French banks in turn are heavily into Italian banks. Just like they were into Greek banks, but they dodged that one when their political clout made the EU shift their burden onto the Greek pople. Will Italy let them do the same?

Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)

France’s top lenders are suing the ECB to get an exemption from holding capital against deposits parked with a state-owned fund, the most high-profile challenge to supervision from Frankfurt to date. As well as providing euro zone banks with funding, the ECB has been their main regulator for the past two years, tasked with ending cozy relationships between the industry and national authorities that contributed to the financial crisis. The Frankfurt-based institution has been sued repeatedly over its bond-buying programs and by smaller banks seeking to escape its supervision. But this is the first case brought by major banks in the euro zone and is a rare confrontation between France’s financial elite and the ECB’s supervisory board, led by the former head of France’s own banking regulator, Daniele Nouy.

The lawsuits have been brought by BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, Credit Mutuel, Groupe BPCE and La Banque Postale over the past few weeks, filings with the European Court of Justice show. Sources with direct knowledge of the cases told Reuters the banks are protesting the ECB’s demand that they set aside capital against special deposits they have with state investment institution Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC). The legal action comes amid heightened tension between banks and the ECB, which is inundating the financial sector with excess cash to try to stimulate growth while charging banks for depositing it with the central bank overnight. “You are seeing banks more and more go to court to challenge the supervisor,” a senior legal source said. “Years ago that was unthinkable.”

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So, Italy, France and Spain too, all have severely troubled banks.

Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)

Competition watchdogs won a partial victory at the EU’s top court over their attempt to force Spanish banks to pay back millions of euros in tax breaks for the acquisition of stakes in foreign firms, Bloomberg News reports. Lenders, including Banco Popular Espanol SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, may have to give back billions of euros to mortgage customers after a ruling by the court.

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Over 6 weeks later, “India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed..”

India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)

India’s vast informal economy has been reeling since 8 November, the morning after India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced the sudden voiding of the country’s two most-used bank notes. It is the largest-scale financial experiment in Indian history: gutting 14 trillion rupees – 86% of the currency in circulation – from the most cash-dependent major economy in the world. More than a month on, India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed. The sixth-largest economy in the world is running on 60% less currency than before. Lines outside banks continue to stretch, and India’s small business lobby says its members are facing an “apocalypse”. But Modi insists he isn’t done.

Initially intended to flush out the “black money” said to be hoarded by elites and criminals, the government now frames demonetisation as the first step in a “cashless” revolution to shift the billions of transactions undertaken each day in India online – and onto the radar of tax authorities. This week, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya announced it would soon be mandatory for employers to pay their staff into bank accounts, a hugely ambitious step in a country where as many as 90% of workers are paid in cash. Already struggling, businessmen such as Sharma are dreading the prospect of more enforced digital migration. “How do you think I can pay the workers with a cheque if they don’t have a bank account?” he asks, in a tiny office thick with incense smoke. “And it takes three days to clear a cheque. What will they eat during those days?”

His reasons are not just altruistic. Apart from potentially raising his tax bill – in a country where just 1% pay income tax – paying salaries electronically would mean giving staff Delhi’s mandated minimum wage, currently 9,724 rupees (£114) per month for unskilled workers. “Right now no one pays the minimum wage that the government decides,” Sharma says. “It will only make things expensive: we will charge the customer.” Outside his workers’ earshot, he adds: “If someone is doing the work of Rs.2000, why should we pay them Rs.15,000?” But workers too are wary of the big push online. Tens of millions of Indians have been given zero-deposit bank accounts in the past two years under a government scheme to boost financial inclusion. But even after demonetisation prompted a rush of new deposits, 23% of the accounts still lie empty.

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Stuck. A large depreciation would be too costly, but keeping it high would eat up foreign reserves.

Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)

As the Chinese yuan keeps weakening against the dollar, a question is becoming acute for Beijing: should China let the market take its course and permit a deep currency fall or should it keep burning its foreign exchange reserves to support the currency’s value? The debate over what Beijing should do about its currency is heating up as regulators’ ambiguity over the question is becoming costly and unsustainable, particularly since the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Against Beijing’s desire for a “controllable” depreciation, the government is losing control over capital flight, depleting foreign exchange reserve stockpile at an alarming speed, and failing to convince investors that there is “no fundamental basis for the continuous depreciation”.

Yu Yongding, a renowned Chinese economist who sat on the central bank’s monetary policy committee when the yuan was revalued in July 2005, said it was time for Beijing to reconsider the matter. “The fear of the yuan’s depreciation has become a burden for us,” Yu told a forum over the weekend. Yu, who for years has called for liberalizing the yuan’s exchange rate over years, said China should give up foreign exchange interventions and safeguard its foreign exchange reserves so that China will “have sufficient ammunition” for future rainy days. While Yu’s view is not in line with Beijing’s current policy, it is winning academic support. Xu Sitao, the China chief economist at Deloitte, an auditing firm, said “the best strategy is to let the yuan fall in full, and the worst strategy is slowly depleting foreign exchange reserves”.

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“The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets..”

Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)

China’s renewed efforts to curb declines in its currency are doing little to dissuade yuan bears. Traders have turned increasingly negative amid tighter liquidity, sending bets for further losses soaring. The gap between forward contracts wagering on the offshore yuan a year from now versus its current level is heading for a record monthly jump, just as the extra cost for options to sell the currency against the dollar hit a six-month high relative to prices for contracts to buy. The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets as liquidity tightens.

Strategists say its weakening, set to be the biggest this year in more than two decades, may accelerate as the government restores the annual quota for citizens to convert yuan holdings into foreign exchange. President-elect Donald Trump has also threatened to slap 45% tariffs on China’s imports to the U.S. “Bears are adding positions because expectations for the yuan to depreciate are getting stronger and stronger,” said Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “The pressures will likely continue and could get even worse, considering capital outflows and concerns on the reset of individuals’ conversion quota.”

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..in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. Shadow banks.

To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)

Chinese officials cheered on the country’s stock market when it reached heady new highs, offering hope that it could become a new source of money to fix China’s economic problems. Then, last year, the market crashed. Now another fast-growing part of China’s vast and increasingly complicated financial market is showing signs of distress: its $9 trillion bond market. Prices for government and corporate bonds have tumbled over the past week, a sell-off that continued on Tuesday. The situation has spooked investors, prompting the government to temporarily restrain some trading and to make emergency loans to struggling financial institutions. The price drops have resulted in higher borrowing costs at a time when more Chinese companies need the money to cope with slowing economic growth. Yields reached new highs again on Tuesday.

In part, China is reacting to financial shifts across the globe. With the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates and many expecting the presidency of Donald J. Trump to lead to heavier government spending, investors worldwide are selling bonds. But China is struggling with its own balancing act. The Chinese bond slump also stems from Beijing’s efforts to wring excess money from its financial system and to stop potential bubbles that may lurk in shadowy, hard-to-track corners of its economy. Should it continue with those efforts, bonds could fall further. “The adjustment has not yet finished,” said Miao Zuoxing, a partner at the FXM Brothers Fund. “It will continue and normalize until money is put where the government can see it.”

[..] China has particular reason to worry. As the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States, it relies on a rickety financial system that is mired in debt and susceptible to hidden stresses. Higher overseas interest rates could also prompt more Chinese investors to move their money out of the country, either to chase higher returns elsewhere or to avoid what some see as China’s growing problems. In the mature financial system of the United States, businesses have plenty of ways to get money. They can borrow from a bank, raise money selling stocks or bonds, or seek funds directly from any number of investors.

But in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. That helped power the country’s economic rise, but it also led to loans going to politically connected borrowers rather than to where the economy needed it most. That is one reason the Chinese economy is now stuck with more steel, glass, cement and auto factories than it needs. Particularly in the past two years, China has taken steps to encourage the development of robust stock and bond markets as well as private lenders, needing a way to ensure the flow of money was being directed by profit-minded investors rather than politicians and their allies at state-owned banks.

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Heavy fisted. It’s all history has taught.

China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)

When Liu Chongfu returned home to his pig farm in December 2014 after months in detention, he was haunted by what he had done. Under interrogation, he later told his family, he falsely admitted to bribing government officials. Back home, released without being charged, Mr. Liu had nightmares and splitting headaches. His conscience weighed on him, his family said. So he publicly recanted in March 2015. In a written statement sent to the court, he said interrogators had deprived him of sleep and threatened his family to extract a phony confession that helped send four other men to prison. In his statement, also posted online, he said he lied “because they forced me to where there was no other way than death. I didn’t want to die.”

President Xi Jinping has called his anticorruption campaign, one of the leader’s defining initiatives, a “life or death” matter. It is among the most popular elements of his administration, given how corruption has been endemic in China and how it threatens to undermine confidence in Communist Party control. Since the campaign began in 2013, its reach has allowed Mr. Xi to root out resistance to his rule and secure party control over a society that is more prosperous and demanding. Mr. Liu’s confession and retraction suggest a dark side to Mr. Xi’s efforts. Families around China say overzealous authorities have forced confessions, tortured suspects and made improper convictions.

The farmer tried to retract his confession before, while still in detention. “I cannot violate my conscience to do this,” he told his interrogators, according to his statement, a transcript of a video he made with his lawyer. He knew it would send innocent officials to jail, he said, and that “the real tragedy is still to follow.” The four were convicted anyway.

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“I finally saw the blue sky. It was wonderful!”

Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)

Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” have reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north after the country was hit by its latest “airpocalyse” forcing almost half a billion people to live under a blanket of toxic fumes. Huge swaths of north and central China have been living under a pollution “red alert” since last Friday when a dangerous cocktail of pollutants transformed the skies into a yellow and charcoal-tinted haze. Greenpeace claimed the calamity had affected a population equivalent to those of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined with some 460m people having to breathe either hazardous pollution or heavy levels of smog in recent days.

Lauri Myllyvirta, a Beijing-based Greenpeace activist who has been chronicling the red alert on Twitter, said that in an attempt to shield his lungs he was avoiding going outside and using two air purifiers and an industrial grade dust mask “that makes me look like Darth Vader”. “You just try to insulate yourself from the air as much as possible,” said Myllyvirta, a coal and air pollution expert. Others have simply opted to flee. According to reports in the Chinese media, flights to some pollution-free regions have been packed as a result of the smog. Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agent, said it expected 150,000 travellers to head abroad this month in a bid to outrun the smog. Top destinations include Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the Maldives.

Jiang Aoshuang, one of Beijing’s “smog refugees”, told the state-run Global Times she had skipped town with her husband and 10-year-old son in order to spare their lungs. Jiang’s family made for Chongli, a smog-free ski resort about three hours north-west of the capital, only to find it packed with other fugitives seeking sanctuary from the pollution. “It really felt like a refugee camp,” she was quoted as saying. Yang Xinglin, who also fled to Chongli, said she had requested time off from her job at a state-owned real estate firm so she did not have to inhale the smog. “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live,” Yang, 27, told the Guardian.

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But why in the last few days of an 8-year term?

Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters. The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases, as CNBC previously reported. The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales. There is no provision in the law that allows the executive’s successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action. Trump has vowed to open more federal land to oil and natural gas production in a bid to boost U.S. output. Obama on Tuesday said he would designate “the bulk of our Arctic water and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, though the prospects for drilling in the affected areas in the near future were already questionable.

The lands covered include the bulk of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic. The United States and Canada also announced they will identify sustainable shipping lanes through their connected Arctic waters. Canada on Tuesday also imposed a five-year ban on all oil and gas drilling licensing in the Canadian Arctic. The moratorium will be reviewed every five years. “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

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

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)
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Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)
Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)
India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)
Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)
The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A real American Christmas comedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s quite the shift.

The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t believe a word of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, it’s unfair!!

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

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

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

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Everybody appeals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 072016
 
 December 7, 2016  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Washington snow scenes 1924

Trump: US Must End ‘Destructive Cycle of Intervention and Chaos’ (VoA)
‘Chances Of Italy Staying In Euro For Next 5 Years Below 30%’ (Ind.)
Italian Interior Minister Sees New Elections In February (R.)
‘A Landscape of Exhaustion and Moral Decay’ (G.)
Is Janet Yellen Trying To Screw Donald Trump? (Miller)
Trump’s Air Force One Tweet Was A Brilliant Move (CNBC)
The Equation That Explains It All (Mark St.Cyr)
China Admits “Economic Downturn Just Beginning” (ZH)
China’s Big Savers Are Racking Up More Debt (BBG)
Australia’s Economy Shrinks 0.5%, Most in Eight Years (BBG)
John Key Was Known As The Smiling Assassin. And People Still Liked Him (G.)
Europe’s Still Dithering Over Greece (BBG)
Christmas Spirit Lacking In Greek Bailout Wrangles (R.)
Polar Bear Numbers To Plunge A Third As Sea Ice Melts (AFP)

 

 

If he pulls this off, it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in the US for many decades.

Trump: US Must End ‘Destructive Cycle of Intervention and Chaos’ (VoA)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump returned Tuesday to his vision of a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States, saying as he did during his campaign, that he does not want to have American forces fighting “in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in.” Speaking during a “thank you” rally for his supporters in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Trump said instead his focus will be on defeating terrorists, including the Islamic State group. “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” Trump said. He said the U.S. must end what he called a “destructive cycle of intervention and chaos.” Trump pledged to build up the military, but said the purpose would be to project strength, not aggression. After questioning frequently during his campaign whether NATO and other allies were pulling their weight Trump said Tuesday he wants to strengthen “old friendships” and seek new ones.

At the same rally, Trump formally announced he has chosen retired Marine General James Mattis as his nominee for secretary of defense. “Under his leadership, such an important position, we will rebuild our military and alliances, destroy terrorists, face our enemies head on and make America safe again,” Trump said. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior defense expert at the Brookings Institution, called Mattis “one of the best read, best informed and most experienced generals of his generation.” Mattis has served as the head of U.S. Central Command, which carries out U.S. operations in the Middle East, and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces. The retired general will need a congressional waiver in order to be confirmed as secretary of defense. Mattis would otherwise be ineligible to serve because of a law that requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve in the post. He has been retired for less than four years.

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Bold.

‘Chances Of Italy Staying In Euro For Next 5 Years Below 30%’ (Ind.)

The political turmoil set off by the Italian referendum result could endanger the euro, a German business group has warned. Ulrich Grillo, the head of the Federation of German Industries, said that the German industry is worried about the consequences of the referendum, which prompted Premier Minister Matteo Renzi to announce his resignation on Monday. “The risks of a new political instability for economic development, the financial markets and the currency union are increasing further,” he said. Douglas McWilliams from the Centre for Economics and Business Researcg (CEBR), a leading economics consultancy, said it estimated the chances of Italy staying in the Euro for the next five years had fallen below 30% following the vote.

“There is no doubt that Italy could stay in the euro if it were prepared to pay the price of virtually zero growth and depressed consumer spending for another five years or so. But that is asking a lot of an increasingly impatient electorate. We think the chances of their sustaining this policy are below 30%,” he said. German’s foreign minister also expressed concerns about the result, which prompted Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign. Speaking during a visit to Greece, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that while the result of the Italian referendum on constitutional reform was “not the end of the world,” it was also “not a positive development in the case of the general crisis in Europe.”

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After the laws are changed?

Italian Interior Minister Sees New Elections In February (R.)

Italy could have an election as early as February, a minister in Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s outgoing government said on Tuesday, speaking after talking to Renzi. The comments will add to growing support for a quick vote as the only way to avoid protracted political limbo in Italy following Sunday’s “No” vote on Renzi’s constitutional reforms. Renzi announced he would step down after his heavy defeat. President Sergio Mattarella told him to stay on until parliament had approved the 2017 budget, expected later this week. Then, the president said, Renzi could tender his resignation. Before the referendum, most commentators, and financial markets, assumed that even if Renzi lost and resigned, a temporary unelected government would be installed to tide Italy over until the end of parliament’s term in 2018.

But a chorus of comments from party chiefs suggests consensus may be growing for an early vote in spring. “I forecast there will be the will to go to elections in February,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the head of a small centre-right party that is a crucial part of Renzi’s ruling coalition, told Corriere della Sera daily on Tuesday. Significantly, Alfano said he made his forecast after discussing the issue with Renzi. Renzi is still leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has the largest number of parliamentarians, so it is unlikely any new government could be formed without his backing.

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The 1860s that Mark Carney referred to. Well, or today.

‘A Landscape of Exhaustion and Moral Decay’ (G.)

When Mark Carney insisted in a speech at Liverpool John Moores University that the conditions through which we are now living are “exactly the same” as those that British citizens endured during the “lost decade” of the 1860s, he was taking a bit of rhetorical licence. The past is never simply the present dressed up in funny clothes, and the analogy between today’s painful realities and those of 150 years ago doesn’t quite hold. And yet, the governor of the Bank of England had a point. When Overend Gurney collapsed in 1866, it undid once and for all the sense that, give or take a few individual misfortunes, capitalism was a moral force that rewarded skill and hard work. Toppling under a mountain of unsecured debt, the joint stock bank dragged down 200 businesses and a broad tranche of private investors with it, from courtiers to grocers.

As with the Northern Rock crisis in 2007, there were queues of panicky investors lining the streets. More profoundly, now came a dawning realisation that bad things could happen to good people. Thanks to the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the universe increasingly seemed not only godless but, what was perhaps even worse, indifferent to the sufferings of ordinary folk. The shock of 1866 was doubly hard because, for the previous 15 years, Britain had been sailing on a sea of prosperity and confidence. In 1851, the Great Exhibition had showcased the nation’s position as “the workshop of the world”, the great exporter of industrial goods and technological know-how to the four corners of the globe. Business was thriving, the social discontent of the “hungry” 1840s had receded, and this was, to use the coinage of the historian WL Burn, the “age of equipoise”, a serene and sunny upland of prosperity and social cohesion.

Increasingly, though, there were worrying signs that Britain could not hold on to its trading pre-eminence for much longer. Germany and the United States were playing industrial catch-up, and would soon be making everything from saucepans to spanners more cheaply and better than we ever could. What’s more, with global transport systems stretching further as each year passed, Britain’s grain, and even its dairy and meat produce, would soon be supplied from as far away as Australia and Canada. Domestic farming was about to go into a decline from which, some historians suggest, it has never recovered.

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Stockman at the head of the Fed would be diffferent…

Is Janet Yellen Trying To Screw Donald Trump? (Miller)

[..] But will Yellen’s gambit plunge us into a recession is the question. Just because Wall Street is gorging on high returns doesn’t mean the economy is sound. For eight years and running, the Fed has kept interest rates near zero% in an attempt to spark investment and borrowing. Unemployment has gradually shrunk during the Obama years, yet the workforce participation rate remains low by modern standards. Prior to Election Day, two-thirds of Americans were anxious about their economic future. Stock traders are popping the bubbly while middle America drinks the warm beer of worry. If you’re still in the dark as to why Trump stole the Rust Belt from Hillary, you need not look further than that. Fear aside, Trump’s election has been an Advil to the ongoing economic headache felt by most Americans.

Eight years of Obama’s big spending combined with ultra low interest rates has done precious little to shore up their optimism. Retirees on fixed income can’t get a yield on their savings. Millennials earning a salary for the first time in their life have little incentive to put money away. So you might think: Hey, maybe Yellen’s hinting about raising interest rates is a good thing! Sure, it might cause the S&P 500 to dip. But it’s about time Grandma got a return on her CDs. I’m very skeptical. Interest rates most definitely need to rise, but Yellen’s timing is suspicious. Trump, despite his admiration for low borrowing rates (and debt refinancing), has accused Yellen of keeping the lid on interest rates in order to boost Obama’s legacy. He told CNBC in September that rates were “staying at zero because [Yellen’s] obviously political and she’s doing what Obama wants her to do.” In another interview with Reuters, Trump explained with perfect Trumpian simplicity, “They’re keeping rates down because they don’t want everything else to go down.”

Yellen wasn’t happy about the charges. She fired back at a press conference, saying, “We do not discuss politics at our meetings, and we do not take politics into account in our decisions.” Uh huh. And I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury. [..] What the Fed, serving as America’s central bank, does is balance the money supply to reflect market conditions. When the market is roaring, it’s time to cut off the money spigot so as to rein in inflation. When things are sluggish, pouring cash into the economy is supposed to gin up activity. There are all kinds of ins and outs and what-have-yous involved in the process, including convoluted accounting techniques. But long mythologized story short, the tinkers at the Fed are supposed to act on behalf of the economy, and not the elected shysters in Washington. Every macro-econ student learns that faux civics lesson the first week of class.

[..] A few choices off the top of my head: finance writer and all-around mensch Jim Grant, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget David Stockman, commodity guru Jim Rogers, or former congressional representative and arch-Fed-critic Ron Paul.

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Brilliant is a big word, but the use of Twitter is interesting.

Trump’s Air Force One Tweet Was A Brilliant Move (CNBC)

Another day, another provocative tweet from President-elect Donald Trump. This time, he went after Boeing and the cost of the new Air Force One replacement program. But while the target was different, the goal of Trump’s twitter use remains the same: It’s his negotiating tool and, just as importantly, an instant link to public support that no president has ever been able to use before. But why this tweet and comments and why now? As few people knew before now, the Air Force is actually currently in negotiations with Boeing on the final costs of the two new Air Force One jets it hopes to buy and have in service by 2024. The source of Trump’s $4 billion cost figure in his tweet is not so clear, but the last publicly reported estimate was at $3 billion with costs still rising.

Sure, there are a lot of spending programs that cost more that Trump could target. But are there many more that are as easy for all the voters to understand? Air Force One is an iconic jet that we all know exists and almost everyone can picture quickly in their minds. Our social media/short attention span media culture makes this issue absolutely perfect for Trump to single out on Twitter. And it looks like it may have already worked. About two hours after the tweet, Boeing delivered the following statement: “We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serves the unique requirements of the President of the United States. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Yes, that “at the best value” phrase at the end of the statement says it all. Who knows exactly how much the Trump tweet just saved the American taxpayers? But considering that it cost him and us nothing for him to send it, even a few hundred grand looks like a big net windfall. And that’s not the only reason why the use of Twitter remains crucial to Trump. Every President of the United States has had the option to use public opinion to promote his agenda, but none before Trump has had an established and instantaneous link with his supporters like he has with Twitter. In the past, the best a president could do was go on national TV and make a long speech. That’s tortuous compared to the quick bang Trump gets by tweeting directly to his 16 million-plus followers and the tens of millions more who instantly hear about his tweets from the news media.

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“..we need more financial chaos (A) To make even more all time “market” highs (C)..”

The Equation That Explains It All (Mark St.Cyr)

If you were just woken from some form of suspended animation from let’s say 2010 (ancient economic history in today’s terms) then informed of the current state of global political affairs and upheavals, U.S. employment (95+million not,) global currency gyrations, interest rates at not only 0% but some -0%, threats of escalating wars, threats of major confrontational war, GDP of the major global economies not only contracting, but below statistical stagnant, governments, as well as central banks with balance sheets of debt calculated in $TRILLIONS, some in the 10’s of, all financed at near or below 0%, and the Fed is only about a week away from raising rates into the teeth of what can only be called “uncertainty,” and much, much more. (There isn’t enough time, or digital ink to list them all.)

Nobody would be surprised if your first reaction based on your prior acumen (the ancient history of 7 years ago whether it be in stocks, business, or both) would to become immediately concerned that whatever portfolio, or wealth you may have had in the markets, may be worth far less today than when you were first put to sleep. And probably becoming ever smaller as you thought about what you might need to do next in order to preserve any that may be left. That is, till someone explained to you the markets you went to sleep knowing of – are no longer – and the reality of the markets today you could never have dreamed up. Even if they let you sleep another decade or longer. Today, the markets you once knew of are better described as the “markets.”

To clear up any confusion as to how, or why, the “markets” can now be at “never before seen in the history of mankind highs” once again after the resounding “NO” vote in Italy, where the entire E.U. experiment is now seriously undermined, and falling apart in real-time (Brexit first, Italy will surely now vote next, etc., etc,) [here] is the calculation that explains it all. For under the rules of: If A = B and B = C, then A = C, you now have the magical formula to understand with Einstein like surety today’s ‘markets.” If you have any doubt to the soundness of this expression, consider the following: If a financial crisis appears (A) The central banks will intervene (B) If the central banks intervene (B) The “markets” go up (C) Thus, we need more financial chaos (A) To make even more all time “market” highs (C)

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“..the decrease reflects Chinese economic downturn, which is just now beginning and will last a long time since China has passed its economic boom period in which many problems were hidden..”

China Admits “Economic Downturn Just Beginning” (ZH)

In what may be the most direct admission that China’s economy is about to grind to a deflationary halt, today China’s Global Times, a newspaper which is seen as a propaganda companion to the official People’s Daily, revealed data showing this year’s proposed salary guidelines according to which there is a broad wage growth declines in virtually every single province on the mainland, which according to the Chinese publication “confirms the country is experiencing an economic slowdown.” Salary guidelines are issued by local governments as a reference to help firms decide how much they should increase their employees’ salaries. They are based on labor market conditions and economic growth, among other factors.

Global Times notes that compared to 2015 salary guidelines, wages in 2016 have grown at a slower rate in virtually all 19 provinces and regions that have so far published their annual guidelines for firms. Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province has not released salary guidelines for years as the region has been experiencing a recession and therefore wages are not generally increasing. Seventeen provinces have seen a decrease in salary standards, including North China’s Hebei Province, South China’s Hainan Province, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and East China’s Jiangxi Province. The only increases were seen in Southwest China’s Guizhou Province and Beijing Municipality.

“2016’s guidelines have seen a slowing of salary growth after years of increases, which means that the speed of wage growth has surpassed economic growth since China’s labor contract law was adopted in 2007,” Wang Jiangsong, a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday. Confirming that the only way for Chinese wage growth is down, Wang Jiangsong, a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations, told the Global Times that “since China’s labor contract law was adopted in 2007, wage increases have surpassed economic growth.” He said the slowdown reflects China’s economic downturn. It also means that local workers will not be happy.

But more troubling was Wang’s next admission: “the decrease reflects Chinese economic downturn, which is just now beginning and will last a long time since China has passed its economic boom period in which many problems were hidden but now those problems will gradually surface.” In short, declining wage growth, with aggregate 2016 demand driven by the biggest credit impulse and expansion in Chinese history. To all those who truly believe in the global reflation these, we wish you the best of luck.

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The shadow banking system gets bigger, not smaller. That should worry Xi to no end.

China’s Big Savers Are Racking Up More Debt (BBG)

China’s savers, who sock away cash like almost no one else in the world, are racking up more debt as borrowing options proliferate. 94% of consumers used a credit or loan in the past year, up from 85% two years ago, according to a survey by market researcher Mintel Group. Peer-to-peer lending via online lenders jumped, while car loans and mortgages nearly doubled, the poll showed. “Huo zai dang xia”, or living in the moment, is the new buzzword. It’s especially prevalent among consumers in their 20s, according to Aaron Guo, a senior analyst for Mintel in Shanghai. “Compared with their parents’ generation, who tend to save more and are sometimes thrifty, youngsters are willing to spend more on products with special features or tailored services,” he said.

That’s a profound shift in attitudes for a nation where saving has long been the bedrock principle of personal financial management and a prerequisite for big milestones like cars, homes and kids. Deposits stand at 59.6 trillion yuan ($8.67 trillion), People’s Bank of China data show. The newfound willingness to borrow from the future to enjoy the present could help support consumption in coming years and nudge the nation’s rebalancing away from old traditional drivers. China’s GDP rose 6.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier on the back of resilient retail sales, which expanded 10.3% in the year to date. The borrowing could be just getting started. China’s household outstanding loans will continue to rise at a rate of 14% for the following five years and exceed 60 trillion yuan by 2021, the Mintel report said.

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Presented as a one-off.

Australia’s Economy Shrinks 0.5%, Most in Eight Years (BBG)

While Australia’s economy shrunk last quarter, it’s probably more of a red flag than a precursor to recession. One of only four quarterly contractions in the past 25 years, the so-called ‘lucky country’ is unlikely to suffer a second consecutive slump — just as in those prior periods. But it’s a wake-up call for lawmakers that recent political timidity and gridlock is unsustainable, as is reliance on monetary policy to support growth with a 1.5% interest rate that may not even fall further. A growing chorus of high-profile economists and international institutions are calling on Australia to follow U.K. and U.S. plans to use infrastructure stimulus, particularly with global borrowing costs so low. But the government has made clear its priority is returning the budget to balance as it seeks to protect a prized AAA credit rating.

Wednesday’s report showed:
• GDP fell 0.5% from previous quarter, when it gained a revised 0.6%
• Decline was driven by slump in construction and government spending
• Result was worst since depths of global financial crisis at the end of 2008 and well below economists’ estimates of a 0.1% drop
• The economy grew 1.8% from a year earlier, compared with a forecast 2.2% gain
• Australian dollar fell almost half a U.S. cent on the data

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Nice put-down of a wanker of a man.“He pulled ponytails instead of grabbing pussies.” Does New Zealand have any competent people in politics?

John Key Was Known As The Smiling Assassin. And People Still Liked Him (G.)

John Key’s legacy will not be defined by great policy achievements; it’s his success as the model of a neoliberal leader – a poster boy for trickle-down economics – that he will be remembered for. Key presided over increasing and gross social inequality with all the glibness of the banker who was known as the “smiling assassin” in his Merrill Lynch days. And people still liked him. In this regard, Key was like a Tony Blair of the South Seas: a certain level of personal charisma and a socially inclusive façade allowed both Key and Blair to sell the nasty side of neoliberalism. Compared with the likes of Donald Trump in the United States and Tony Abbott in Australia, Key was socially moderate in ways that many thought – and hoped – Malcolm Turnbull would have been before he capitulated to the far right of his party on refugees, marriage equality and climate change.

Key was more inclusive, and less divisive. He pulled ponytails instead of grabbing pussies. Key supported marriage equality in New Zealand and, as far as race is concerned, Key’s National party entered into a coalition government with the Maori party not once, but twice. Like Blair, Key had the Teflon gene. Despite ignoring public preferences not to privatise state-owned enterprises (2-1 against in a referendum), increasing the GST during the global financial crisis, and more or less ignoring New Zealand’s chronic child poverty because he blames the victims, none of it stuck. What did stick with Key was his reputation as a smart-money guy who was also likeable, self-effacing and wouldn’t look out of place having a beer with regular folks. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of children living under the poverty line in New Zealand – a country of 4 million – and him brushing off the recommendations of the government panel charged with improving their lot; Key was seen as a good guy and a safe pair of hands.

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It’s time for the international press, including Bloomberg, to stop dithering around the topic and tell Brussels to stop this disgrace.

Europe’s Still Dithering Over Greece (BBG)

This week, the European Union’s finance ministers granted some new debt relief to Greece. The new “short-term” measures are better than nothing – but they’re less than a convincing solution to a problem that has dragged on far too long. The deal, sketched out and agreed to in principle earlier this year, should help the Greek government convince voters to keep accepting much-needed domestic reform. That’s good. It isn’t enough, though, to put the country’s debts and budget plans on a sustainable footing. That’s why the International Monetary Fund, whose support will be necessary to achieve that larger goal, isn’t yet on board. After years of muddling through, the issue still isn’t resolved. In the approach to the latest talks, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin acknowledged that “Greece has made huge efforts. This is the first Greek government in a long time that has implemented its commitments.”

He said it was vital that Europe respond by recognizing its obligation to help ease the country’s debt burden, both as a reward and to encourage further improvements in the business climate. All true. Greece can’t be accused of doing nothing to help itself. The banking system has stabilized after three bouts of recapitalization, and deposits are returning, albeit slowly. The economy is growing modestly. The country posted a primary budget surplus for the first 10 months of this year. State asset sales are proceeding slowly but surely. These efforts justify extending the repayment schedule and swapping some floating-rate debt to fixed payments at the current low rates, as announced. But the expected reduction in Greece’s debts relative to its economic output by 20 percentage points through 2060 is far too timid – while the idea that Greece can achieve an annual primary budget surplus of 3.5% of output throughout the coming decade is a fantasy.

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This is why we are raising funds for Greece (see top of this page). So the poor can have a little bit better Christmas. And a little better prospect for the new year. To counter the devastation unleashed by the EU.

Christmas Spirit Lacking In Greek Bailout Wrangles (R.)

Greece thanked creditors for modest debt relief on St. Nicholas Day in Brussels but did not hide disappointment it won’t get the Christmas gift it wants – a pass on the latest phase of its bailout programme. Athens has been hoping fellow euro zone governments will approve a second review of its third bailout, granted in August last year, before year’s end. A government spokesman said on Tuesday it did not yet rule that out. But others, not least German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, made clear that is highly unlikely after a Eurogroup meeting on Monday that revealed differences over how well Greece has done in meeting reform commitments. That left Greece and its allies among its EU partners annoyed at stalemate.

Athens wants to clear the review in order to be able to take advantage of selling bonds to the ECB’s quantitative easing scheme. “We could have got this done by the end of the year but the Germans are not moving,” one EU source said. “Greece has done a lot … We haven’t been so strict in other programmes.” A senior EU official involved in Monday’s talks described them as “useless” in terms of furthering agreement, according to another EU source. Ministers were at odds too on budget targets to set Greece after the bailout regime ends in 2018 – conditions important in persuading the IMF to join in lending. [..] The Eurogroup did agree to a series of short-term adjustments to the structure of Greek debt that will smooth out humps in repayments and should reduce its costs in the long run.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos called that a “significant success”. But he said Athens still wanted Schaeuble and the IMF to scale back demands for more belt-tightening. “They must stop insisting on continuing a policy of extreme austerity which has been proven destructive for society and also economically ineffective,” he said. Schaeuble made clear he will not be swayed by pleas to forgo economic reforms which, he insisted, were for Greece’s own good.

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Note the effects of chemicals on populations.

Polar Bear Numbers To Plunge A Third As Sea Ice Melts (AFP)

Polar bear numbers could drop a third by mid-century, according to the first systematic assessment, released on Wednesday, of how dwindling Arctic sea ice affects the world’s largest bear. There is a 70% chance that the global polar bear population – estimated at 26,000 – will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 years, a period corresponding to three generations, the study found. Other assessments have reached similar conclusions, notably a recent review by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks endangered species on its Red List. The IUCN classified the sea-faring polar bear – a.k.a. Ursus maritimus – as “vulnerable”, or at high risk of extinction in the wild.

But the new study, published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, is the most comprehensive to date, combining 35 years of satellite data on Arctic sea ice with all known shifts in 19 distinct polar bears groupings scattered across four ecological zones in the Arctic. [..] Researchers led by Eric Regehr of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska projected three population scenarios out to mid-century, and all of them were bad news for the snow-white carnivores. The first assumed a proportional decline in sea ice and polar bears. Despite year-to-year fluctuations, long-term trends are unmistakable: the ten lowest Arctic ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred since 2007.

The record low of 3.41 million square kilometres (1.32 million square miles) in 2012 was 44% below the 1981-2010 average. This week, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice extent in October and November was the lowest ever registered for both months. [..] Unfortunately, polar bears face other threats besides a habitat radically altered by the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. In the 1980s and 1990s, females and pups were found to have accumulated high levels of toxic PCPs in their tissue and organs. The manmade chemicals – used for decades and banned in many countries in the late 1970s – worked their way up through the food chain, becoming more concentrated along the way.

But a new study, published last week in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B, suggested that declines in some polar bear populations stemmed from contaminated males rendered sterile by the chemicals. “PCB concentrations in the Arctic have levelled off,” said lead author Viola Pavlova, a scientist at the Institute of Hydrobiology in the Czech Republic. “Unfortunately, many other manmade chemicals that are also endocrine disruptors occur in the Arctic and could act similarly,” she told AFP.

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Dec 042016
 
 December 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Wyland Stanley “J.A. Herzog Pontiac, 17th & Valencia Sts., San Francisco.” 1936

Trump’s Unhappy Fate: A Financial Crisis Far Worse Than The Last (Rickards)
Trump’s Appointments (Paul Craig Roberts)
Petition To Reverse US Election Result Becomes Most Popular In History (Ind.)
Jill Stein Supporters Drop Pennsylvania Recount Suit (WSJ)
Jill Stein To Pursue Pennsylvania Recount Petition In Federal Court (R.)
Brent Caps Biggest Weekly Advance Since 2009 on OPEC Agreement (BBG)
Steve Keen, Michael Hudson Unpick Historical Path to Global Recovery (MH)
The Italian Trouble for Greek Debt (BBG)
Will 2017 See End Of US Neocons’ Promotion Of Chaos Theory? (RT)
Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman’s New Book (Matt Taibbi)

 

 

As I said on election day in America is The Poisoned Chalice.

Trump’s Unhappy Fate: A Financial Crisis Far Worse Than The Last (Rickards)

As earthquake doesn’t care if you’re progressive or populist. It destroys your house all the same. Likewise a financial crisis is indifferent to a politician’s policy mix. Systemic crises proceed according to their own dynamic based on the array of agents in a system, and systemic scale. The tempo of recent crises in 1994, 1998, and 2008 says a crisis is likely soon. A new global financial panic will be one legacy of the Trump administration. It won’t be Trump’s fault, merely his misfortune. The equilibrium and value-at-risk models used by banks will not foresee the new panic. Those models are junk science relying as they do on notions of efficient markets, normally distributed risk, continuous liquidity, and a future that resembles the past. None of those hypotheses match reality.

Advances in behavioural psychology have demolished the idea of efficient markets. Data shows the degree distribution of risk is a power curve not a normal bell curve. Liquidity evaporates when most needed. Prices gap down; they do not move continuously. Each of the 1994, 1998, and 2008 crises was worse than the one before, and required more drastic intervention. The future does not resemble the past; it keeps getting worse. The standard models are in ruins. Recent model improvements that take into account so-called tail risk still fail to come to grips with systemic scale. The most catastrophic event possible in a complex system is an exponential function of scale. In plain language, if you double system size, you do not double risk; you increase it by a factor of five or more.

Since 2008, the largest banks in the world are larger in terms of gross assets, share of total deposits, and notional value of derivatives. Everything that was too-big-to-fail in 2008 is bigger and exponentially more dangerous today. The living wills and resolution authority of Dodd-Frank are entrances to gated communities. They seem imposing, but are a façade. They will do nothing to stop an angry mob. Increases in regulatory capital will not suffice. When a leveraged financial institution faces a liquidity panic, no amount of capital is enough. As boxing legend Mike Tyson mused, no plan survives the first punch in the face.

[..] What snowflake could precipitate the next financial panic? Deutsche Bank is an obvious candidate. Less obvious is a failure to deliver physical gold by a London bullion bank. That would expose the hyper-leveraged “paper gold” market for what it is. A natural disaster on the scale of Fukushima would do as well. Looming over these catalysts is a global dollar shortage, which has been limned by economists Claudio Borio and Hyun Song Shin at the Bank for International Settlements. The strong dollar could precipitate a wave of defaults on $9 trillion of dollar-denominated emerging markets corporate debt. Those defaults would make the 1994 Tequila Crisis look tame.

The 2008 crisis was truncated with tens of trillions of dollars of currency swaps, money printing, and rate cuts coordinated by central banks around the world. The next crisis will be beyond the scope of central banks to contain because they have failed to normalise either interest rates or their balance sheets since 2008. Central banks will be unable to pull another rabbit out of the hat; they are out of rabbits.

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Trump vs special interests. Why jump to conclusions?

Trump’s Appointments (Paul Craig Roberts)

We do not know what the appointments mean except, as Trump discovered once he confronted the task of forming a government, that there is no one but insiders to appoint. For the most part that is correct. Outsiders are a poor match for insiders who tend to eat them alive. Ronald Reagan’s California crew were a poor match for George H.W. Bush’s insiders. The Reagan part of the government had a hell of a time delivering results that Reagan wanted. Another limit on a president’s ability to form a government is Senate confirmation of presidential appointees. Whereas Congress is in Republican hands, Congress remains in the hands of special interests who will protect their agendas from hostile potential appointees. Therefore, although Trump does not face partisan opposition from Congress, he faces the power of special interests that fund congressional political campaigns.

[..] With Trump under heavy attack prior to his inauguration, he cannot afford drawn out confirmation fights and defeats. Does Trump’s choice of Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary mean that Goldman Sachs will again be in charge of US economic policy? Possibly, but we do not know. We will have to wait and see. Mnuchin left Goldman Sachs 14 years ago. He has been making movies in Hollywood and started his own investment firm. Many people have worked for Goldman Sachs and the New York Banks who have become devastating critics of the banks. Read Nomi Prins’ books and visit Pam Martens website, Wall Street on Parade. My sometimes coauthor Dave Kranzler is a former Wall Streeter. Commentators are jumping to conclusions based on appointees past associations. Mnuchin was an early Trump supporter and chairman of Trump’s finance campaign.

He has Wall Street and investment experience. He should be an easy confirmation. For a president-elect under attack this is important. Will Mnuchin suppport Trump’s goal of bringing middle class jobs back to America? Is Trump himself sincere? We do not know. What we do know is that Trump attacked the fake “free trade” agreements that have stripped America of middle class jobs just as did Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. We know that the Clintons made their fortune as agents of the 1%, the only ones who have profited from the offshoring of American jobs. Trump’s fortune is not based on jobs offshoring. Not every billionaire is an oligarch. Trump’s relation to the financial sector is one as a debtor. No doubt Trump and the banks have had unsatisfactory relationships. And Trump says he is a person who enjoys revenge.

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Not the Jill Stein petition. More the Soros one.

Petition To Reverse US Election Result Becomes Most Popular In History (Ind.)

A petition asking for the result of the US election to be reversed is now the most popular in the history of Change.org. The signatories – who total 4.6 million people – call on the Electoral College to stop Donald Trump from being President, which is a theoretically possible but never-before-attempted way of altering the result of the US election. Hillary Clinton won millions more votes than Donald Trump, but Mr Trump became President-elect because of the voting system. The petition is titled “Make Hillary Clinton President” and argues that because Ms Clinton won the popular vote she should be made President. It also argues that the President-elect is “unfit to serve”. With 4.6 million signatures, the petition has over two million more votes than the second largest campaign on the website. That was a campaign asking for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival to be shut down, which was begun three years ago.

The petition against Mr Trump was begun just after the election on 10 November. It was started by social worker Daniel Brezenoff. Signatures to the petition are based on the idea that it is still possible for the result of the election to be reversed. The Electoral College system requires that representatives of each state cast ballots to decide who will actually become the new President – those members of the college are supposed to vote for whoever won their state, but could theoretically change their mind. “On December 19, the Electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots,” the petition writes. “If they all vote the way their states voted, Donald Trump will win. However, in 14 of the states in Trump’s column, they can vote for Hillary Clinton without any legal penalty if they choose.”

Since the petition has started, some legal proceedings have been launched to test the legal penalty in those other states. There has never really been any need to enforce them, since faithless electors make up only a tiny number of people, but activists are looking to encourage more people not to vote this year. The petition itself argues that the Electoral College should change its mind because of the results of the popular vote. “Hillary won the popular vote,” the description reads. “The only reason Trump “won” is because of the Electoral College.

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But wait, there’s more…

Jill Stein Supporters Drop Pennsylvania Recount Suit (WSJ)

Supporters of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on Saturday withdrew a last-ditch lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court aimed at forcing a statewide ballot recount, another major setback in the effort to verify the votes in three states that provided President-elect Donald Trump his margin of victory. Ms. Stein’s campaign announced in a statement Saturday that the Pennsylvania lawsuit had been dropped after the court demanded that a $1 million bond be posted by the 100 Pennsylvania residents who brought the suit, which was backed by the campaign. Recounts will still proceed in a handful of Pennsylvania precincts, but it is far from the statewide recount that Ms. Stein initially was hoping for.

She is also pushing recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan after a prominent computer scientist laid out a case that the election results may have been hacked. Legal challenges have also been filed in state and federal court to halt those recount efforts as well. The decision also dashes the aspirations of some Democrats, who had hoped that enough irregularities or missing votes would be found across all three states to overturn the election results that saw Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate, prevail over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton would need to declared the winner in all three states to reverse the election results.

“The judge’s outrageous demand that voters pay such an exorbitant figure is a shameful, unacceptable barrier to democratic participation,” said Ms. Stein in the statement. “This is yet another sign that Pennsylvania’s antiquated election law is stacked against voters. By demanding a $1 million bond from voters yesterday, the court made clear it has no interest in giving a fair hearing to these voters’ legitimate concerns over the accuracy, security and fairness of an election tainted by suspicion.”

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…. straight to federal court.

Jill Stein To Pursue Pennsylvania Recount Petition In Federal Court (R.)

Green Party candidate Jill Stein late Saturday vowed to bring her fight for a recount of votes cast in Pennsylvania in the U.S. presidential election to federal court, after a state judge ordered her campaign to post a $1 million bond. “The Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania,” Jonathan Abady, lead counsel to Stein’s recount efforts, said in a statement. Saying it has become clear that “the state court system is so ill-equipped to address this problem,” the statement said “we must seek federal court intervention.” The Stein campaign said it will file for emergency relief in the Pennsylvania effort in federal court on Monday, “demanding a statewide recount on constitutional grounds.”

The bond was set by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania a day after representatives of President-elect Donald Trump requested a $10 million bond, according to court papers. The court gave the petitioners until 5 p.m. local time on Monday to post the bond, but said it could modify the amount if shown good cause. Instead, Stein’s campaign withdrew. “Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means. They cannot afford to post the $1,000,000 bond required by the court,” wrote attorney Lawrence Otter, informing the court of the decision to withdraw.

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“The last time OPEC set a quota, members exceeded it for 20 of the 24 months before the cap was scrapped..”

Brent Caps Biggest Weekly Advance Since 2009 on OPEC Agreement (BBG)

Brent oil capped its biggest weekly gain since 2009 after OPEC approved its first supply cut in eight years, with attention now shifting to compliance with the deal and how other producers will react to a price rally. Futures closed at the highest in more than a year in London and New York. OPEC’s three largest producers – Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran – overcame discord to reach Wednesday’s pact to reduce the group’s output by 1.2 million barrels a day, while Russia pledged a cut of as much as 300,000. The accord ended the group’s pump-at-will policy started in 2014 aimed at protecting market share and driving out high-cost competitors such as shale. “Everyone wins, but U.S. shale producers are the big winners from the OPEC deal,” Francisco Blanch at Bank of America said.

“The agreement made sense purely on economic logic. OPEC wanted to end the price war.” OPEC set a collective output target at the lower end of the range outlined two months ago in Algiers, boosting prices and prompting predictions of a possible advance to $60 a barrel from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Some analysts warned that the rally may encourage higher output from producers outside the group, including in the U.S. The last time OPEC set a quota, members exceeded it for 20 of the 24 months before the cap was scrapped at the end of 2015.

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Two of the finest in a long conversation. Here’s a tiny snippet of Hudson talking.

Steve Keen, Michael Hudson Unpick Historical Path to Global Recovery (MH)

Killing the Host will be published in German at the end of the month of November, and, basically, it’s a more popular version of The Bubble and Beyond. And it shows that when the financial sector takes over, it’s very much like a parasite in nature. And people think of parasites simply as taking the life blood of the host and draining the energy. But in order to do that, the parasite has to have an enzyme to take over the host’s brain. And the key thing in nature is they take over the brain, and they convince the host that the free luncher is actually part of the host’s own body, and even its baby to be protected. And that’s what the financial sector has done.

Classical economics was all about separating the rent-extracting sectors – landlords, monopolies, and finance – from the rest of the economy. And that was unearned income. It wasn’t necessary. And the whole idea of classical economics from Quesnay’s Tableau Economique to all the way through Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill was to look at the finance sector and the landlord sector and monopolies as unnecessary. You’re going to get rid of them. You’re going to tax away all the land’s rent or else nationalize the land. And you are going to have public enterprises as basic infrastructure so that they couldn’t be monopolized. Well, you had a revolution against classical economics in the 1890s and 1900s, and the national income now – accounts make it appear as if the financial sector and the real estate sector and the monopolies – oil and gas – are all contributing to GDP.

So a few months ago, you had the head of Goldman Sachs – Lloyd Blankfein – say, the Goldman Sachs managers are the most productive workers in the United States, because we make $22 million a year in salary, and we get bonuses. And that’s all considered as contributing to GDP. That’s the financial services that we’re providing $22 million per manager of financial services. Now what they don’t realize is that this $22 million per manager in that Goldman Sachs extracts money from the rest of the economy. It’s a zero-sum game. And instead of adding to the GDP, you should have – A subtraction. Yes, you should have – all of this is overhead – unnecessary. And since 2008, the 99% of the population in America, and I think in most of Europe, too, have seen their incomes go down. But the 1% have had their financial and real estate incomes go up so much more that there is an illusion of growth. And what’s been growing is the tumor, not the actual economic body.

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Italian debt is a threat to the entire eurozone, not just Greece.

The Italian Trouble for Greek Debt (BBG)

If the fallout for Sunday’s Italian referendum is bad for Italian bonds, it could well be worse for one of Europe’s star performers this year: Greece.Greek debt has tightened massively to German bonds in the past three months, while all other main European government securities have been widening. Growing confidence in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s willingness to conform to the Troika requirements on the latest bailout package, is behind this.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would be inclusion into the ECB’s bond purchase program – Greece has long been excluded since it’s not rated investment grade. A shift in the rules would be a reward for budget discipline.This has looked until recently like a long shot, but a tectonic shift in attitude is underway. A recent piece of evidence for this is a remark from ECB policy maker Benoit Couere on Tuesday. He said that Greece can maintain a 3.5% primary budget surplus to GDP for years after the current bailout ends in 2018 – that is a major vote of confidence. Such recent Greek outperformance could easily unwind on a “no” vote on Italian constitutional reform. As Gadfly has argued, that could create serious problems not just for Italy, the world’s third-largest debtor, but also for other borrowers in the region.

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It’s all the US have done for decades.

Will 2017 See End Of US Neocons’ Promotion Of Chaos Theory? (RT)

Trump will hopefully be an assertive defender of US interests rather than an assertive meddler, says Oxford Crisis Research Institute Director Mark Almond.

RT: What obstacles remain preventing the UN from sending aid to Aleppo? Mark Almond: Obviously, there is still an area controlled by the rebels where there is fighting, and the rebels have not always been terribly concerned about discriminating between their enemies and aid workers. But it is quite bizarre that now, as you actually have people, tens of thousands of people, who are finally accessible, that the UN agencies are not actually rushing to help. Because, after all, these are people who are in need, and the weather is very bad in addition to all the suffering caused by the violence.

But I think we have to, I’m afraid, accept the fact that the UN is not composed of people from outside the normal world of politics – after all, the head of its aid agency is a former British conservative MP, [UN Special Envoy for Syria’s Senior Adviser] Jan Egeland is a Norwegian political activist who has been for a long time very critical of Russia. So, we are talking of people who do have a political past, even if they are now presented as being somehow the representatives of global charity or global concern. But I am afraid they are politicians.

RT: Do you think the standoff in Aleppo will continue for much longer? Despite major gains by the Syrian Army, the rebels are reportedly refusing to surrender. Mark Almond: I think the remaining rebel forces are in a very difficult position, so unless something changes through some external intervention which would widen the wall and would be a very dangerous development. And I don’t see the US, either doing it itself or, for that matter, encouraging any of its friends to do it, like Turkey or Saudi Arabia, neither of which, I think, really has the stomach for such a fight. So, the likelihood is that the horrible conflict in Aleppo itself is grinding towards a conclusion. And that may also mean that in 2017 we can look towards trying to repair the international situation around Syria.

The new president of the US has said that he is much more prepared to offer realpolitik rather than an ideologically driven agenda to produce regime change [that], if necessary, [says]… “if we can’t have regime change, at least we can have chaos and, perhaps, out of that chaos, something good will come.” I think we’ve seen, really, over the last 25 years, from the chaos we helped produce in Afghanistan through to Syria today, that the chaos theory that the neocons in Washington have promoted has actually bitten back. We’ve seen terrorist attacks in Western Europe, we’ve seen [them] in the US. I think Trump recognizes that even though he is going to be a very assertive defender of American interests, he is not going to be an assertive meddler. And that does offer some hope.

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Friedman’s easy fodder.

Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman’s New Book (Matt Taibbi)

“The folksiness will irk some critics … But criticizing Friedman for humanizing and boiling down big topics is like complaining that Mick Jagger used sex to sell songs: It is what he does well.” –John Micklethwait, review of Thank You for Being Late, in The New York Times With apologies to Mr. Micklethwait, the hands that typed these lines implying Thomas Friedman is a Mick Jagger of letters should be chopped off and mailed to the singer’s doorstep in penance. Mick Jagger could excite the world in one note, while Thomas Friedman needs 461 pages to say, “Shit happens.” Joan of Arc and Charles Manson had more in common. Thomas Friedman was once a man of great influence. His columns were must-reads for every senator and congressperson.

He helped spread the globalization gospel and push us into war in Iraq. But he’s destined now to be more famous as a literary figure. No modern writer has been lampooned more. Hundreds if not thousands of man-hours have been spent teaching robots to produce automated Friedman-prose, in what collectively is a half-vicious, half-loving tribute to a man who raised bad writing to the level of an art form. We will remember Friedman for interviewing 76% of the world’s taxi drivers, for predicting “the next six months will be critical” on 14 occasions over two and a half years (birthing the neologism, “the Friedman unit”), and for his unmatched, God-given ability to write nonsensical metaphors, like his classic “rule of holes”: “When you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

Friedman’s great anti-gift is his ability to use many words when only a few are necessary. He became famous as a newspaper columnist for taking simple one-sentence observations like, “Wow, everyone has a cell phone these days,” and blowing them out into furious 850-word trash-fires of mismatched imagery and circular argument. The double-axel version of this feat was to then rewrite that same column over and over again, in the same newspaper, only piling on more incongruous imagery and skewing rhetoric to further stoke that one thought into an even higher and angrier fire.

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Dec 032016
 
 December 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC “Car ferry Michigan Central turning in ice, Detroit River” 1900

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)
Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)
Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)
China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)
China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)
China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)
Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)
Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)
Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)
UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)
The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)
California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)
Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)
Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)
US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

 

 

By Monday morning, Europe could be shaking on its brittle foundations.

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)

Big international investors are holding huge short positions on Italian assets, the CEO of the Italian exchange said on Tuesday, days before the country holds a referendum on constitutional reform that could unseat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “There are colossal short positions on Italy from the U.S. and other countries where big investors are based,” said Raffaele Jerusalmi during a conference in Milan. Opinion polls conducted until a blackout period began last week showed the “no” vote comfortably in the lead, raising concerns of a political crisis and fueling market volatility. Renzi has said he would resign if Italians reject the reform.

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Spread with Bunds.

Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)

The Italian referendum is the current hot concern for investors, who are worrying and waiting to see if voters will reject government attempts to reform the country’s political system. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his reputation and job on the outcome, arguing a change in the legislature will usher in a nimbler, more productive Italy. However some see the predicted rejection of Renzi’s wishes as a potential opportunity for anti-European populist to gain momentum. Jan Randolph, Director of Sovereign Risk at IHS Markit said in an email Friday that worries over a potential European break-up can be measured by Europe’s “fear gauge”: The difference in yield between Italian and German debt.

“The markets are certainly focusing on this ‘spread’ – what we used to call in the old British banking days the ‘country risk spread’ as viewed by the financial markets,” Randolph said. In recent weeks, the yield spread between Italian and German 10-year government bonds has risen by more than 60 points in 60 days. Last week the spread hit a two-and-a-half year high of 188 basis points, however Reuters reported Friday that investors may be short covering as the gap between Italian and German bond yields has narrowed to 167 basis points. Jan Randolph said any blow-out of Italian yields may well be prevented by the poker hand being played by ECB President Mario Draghi’s massive bond-buying program, which many analysts expect to be extended next year.

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Entertaining ideas.

Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)

Is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? Ever since the $USD began its bull market run in mid-2014, the Fed, lead by Janet Yellen, has intervened whenever the $USD cleared 98. The reason for this was the following… Over 47% of US corporate sales come from abroad. With the $USD spiking, pushing all other major currencies generally lower, US corporate profits began to implode. As we write this today, profits have fallen to 2012 levels. Note when this whole profit massacre began. Because of this, the Fed has “talked down” the $USD anytime it began to push higher. Until today…

Since it was announced that Trump won the Presidency, the Fed has allowed the $USD to ramp straight up. It is currently over 101…and the Fed hasn’t said a word. So we ask again… is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? We all know the Yellen Fed is one of the most political in history with Fed officials openly donating money to the Clinton campaign. Now Trump has won… the $USD soars to 101… and suddenly the Fed is silent? Not one Fed official has appeared to talk about putting off a rate hike or some other statement that might push the $USD lower…

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Entire books have been written about this in the past 12 hours or so. That, too, is fake news.

China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, the first such contact between the two sides in nearly four decades, but China dismissed the call as a “petty action” by the self-ruled island it claims as its own. The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”. Hours after Friday’s call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwan for the exchange, avoiding what could have been a major rift with Washington just before Trump assumes the presidency. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, state media reported.

“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding ‘one China’ policy of the United States government.” In comments at the same forum, Wang noted how quickly President Xi Jinping and Trump had spoken by telephone after Trump’s victory, and that Trump had praised China as a great country. Wang said the exchange “sends a very positive signal about the future development of Sino-U.S. relations”, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website. Taiwan was not mentioned in that call, according to an official Chinese transcript. Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call he had with the Taiwan president. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said. Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

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“When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede.”

China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)

When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede. Chinese bond investors are getting a taste of just how that feels as they scramble to offload their holdings in what could turn out to be a nasty correction. Some investors have already been dumping their government bonds as yields started to rebound from record lows, while others, who only got in recently when yields were around 2.8-2.9%, been holding on in the hope that bond yields will fall back soon. In the secondary market, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Chinese Government Bond (CGB) broke above 3% on Thursday for the first time since early June and was at 2.995% in Friday morning trade, up nearly 15 basis points for the week, the biggest weekly rise since May 2015.

For November as a whole, the yield jumped 8.88%, the biggest monthly gain since October 2010. Treasury futures also plunged this week with March contracts for 10-year CGB and five-year CGB both having their biggest weekly loss since the contracts started trading in June. A Shanghai-based trader with a joint stock bank said he believes the yield on the 10-year CGB could rise as high as 3.2% before falling back. The brutal sell-off has been triggered by a triple whammy – expectations of tighter liquidity conditions and higher inflation on the domestic front, and externally, rising bond yields in the U.S.

A surge in redemptions from worried investors has hit the market hard. One major state-owned bank is said to have redeemed around CNY200 billion from money market funds while the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s largest commercial bank, is also said to have told fund managers managing some of its money to cut bonds holdings and stockpile cash in line with ICBC’s own liquidity management. Domestic investors have swarmed over China’s bond market like bees around a honey pot over the last couple of years amid a dearth of more attractive investment opportunities as economic growth slowed. The stock market rout in the summer of 2015 only encouraged investors to move more funds to fixed income products.

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Sounds about right.

China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)

China, euro zone sovereign debt and the potential fallout from Brexit top the escalating list of concerns for the Bank of England (BOE), according to a report published on Wednesday which warns that risks to global stability have spiked in the past six months. The U.K.’s central bank’s semi-annual Financial Stability Report states, “Vulnerabilities stemming from the global environment and financial markets, which were already elevated, have increased further since July.” China’s burgeoning debt levels and rapid rate of credit expansion are singled out as significant red flags, with the report noting a 100 percentage point spike in the country’s non-financial sector debt relative to GDP since the 2008 financial crisis. The ratio currently stands at around 260% of GDP.

“This is extraordinary leverage for an advanced, let alone, an emerging economy,” the BOE Governor Mark Carney said at a press conference to launch the report. The “near-record” pace of net capital outflows from China during the third quarter and a 3% depreciation in the Chinese renminbi against the U.S. dollar since the publication of the BOE’s July report were also highlighted as reasons for concern. Turning to nearer neighbors, the governor broke down the key risks emanating from some euro area economies into, firstly, existing sovereign debt dynamics and, secondly, threats to the resilience of parts of the trading bloc’s banking system.

Carney noted the vulnerability of elevated sovereign debt levels to a leap in borrowing costs or diminished growth prospects on the back of either trade or political headwinds. Moving even closer to home, the governor raised the looming specter of the U.K.’s impending departure from the EU, noting banks located domestically currently supply over half of the debt and equity issuance from continental firms and account for over 75% of foreign exchange and derivatives activity in the U.K.

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“We” can’t make up our minds about this one. Because our minds are stuck in a bubble.

Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)

Just as market forces were about to push the price of housing down in Australia, the Treasurer stepped in with some new regulation. Phew. Some first home buyer’s nearly snatched a good deal, but luckily the Treasurer was there to protect the property developers from the oversupply their building bonanza created. No issue creates a bigger flood of nonsensical econobabble in Australia than “housing affordability”. It’s a meaningless term engineered for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to pretend they are simultaneously on the side of home buyers and home sellers. What’s remarkable is the willingness of the media and others to play along. Most politicians are adamant that they want petrol, fresh food and health insurance to be less expensive.

We talk about the price of petrol and the price of milk. We don’t talk about “petrol affordability” or “bread affordability” let alone create an index of the price of bread divided by median household income. Talking endlessly about “housing affordability” allows politicians to duck the simple question of whether house prices are “too high”, “too low” or “just right”. The absurdity of this situation was revealed during the federal election campaign when the Coalition attacked the ALP’s plans to reform negative gearing on the basis that such changes would, wait for it, put downward pressure on house prices. Oh, the humanity! The Coalition’s rhetorical solution to the imaginary issue of housing affordability is to reject changes to the tax treatment of investment houses and instead blame environmentalists and state governments for “restricting the supply of housing”.

Of course this week’s redefinition of “second-hand property” by Treasurer Morrison makes a mockery of such a position. Having spent years pretending that increasing the housing supply would make housing “more affordable” the Treasurer has now acted to prevent an increase in apartment supply from pushing apartment prices down. The Coalition playbook makes clear that when it’s not the environmentalists’ fault, it must be the unions’ fault. On cue Malcolm Turnbull recently empathised with the terrible plight of “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery”. A quick look at the data suggests no such link, but if Donald Trump taught conservatives anything it’s that data is for losers.

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And it should be.

Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)

While cash is facing several challenges in the euro area with an increasing number of people moving towards cashless payments and digital banking, the reports of the demise of cash are greatly exaggerated, Deutsche Bank has said in its latest research note. “Cash is facing many challenges in the euro area. The ECB has decided to cease production of the €500 ($532) note due to concerns over its facilitation of illicit activities,” the bank said while adding that the cash in circulation is three times more than what it was in 2003.

While many would attribute this to the never-ending stream of money that the central banks have been pumping into the economy through QE and ultra-low interest rates, Deutsche Bank’s Heike Mai believes that most of the increase in cash since 2008 comes from abroad and hoarders. Cash held outside the euro area was worth €80 billion and cash hoarded domestically by the real economy is estimated to be valued at €120 billion. “There are good reasons to believe that cash won’t disappear anytime soon from the euro area. First, it is debatable that a cashless society would mean less crime,” Mai said, adding, that the ratio of damage caused by card fraud to the value of counterfeit notes in circulation is more than 10 to 1.

“Second, the political value of cash should not be underestimated. Some economies like using cash, for example, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria. The most robust data protection is provided by cash,” Mai, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said in the note. The research note that focuses on Europe argued that by the end of third-quarter of 2016, euro currency in circulation amounted to €1.1 trillion, three times as much as in the first quarter of 2003. While small-value notes such as €5, €10 and €20 are used to a great extent for day-to-day payments, bigger-value notes such as €50 and €100 are used for both payments and cash hoarding.

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Beware of frozen quicksand. Everyone wants the Pirates to fail.

Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)

Iceland’s anti-establishment Pirate Party has been asked by the president to try to form a new government, following October’s snap elections. President Gudni Johannesson made the announcement after talks with Pirates head Birgitta Jonsdottir. The Pirates, who vowed radical reforms, came third in the elections in which no party won an outright majority. Two earlier rounds of coalition talks involving first the Independence Party and then the Left-Greens failed. “Earlier today, I met the leaders of all parties and asked their opinion on who should lead those talks. After that I summoned Birgitta Jonsdottir and handed her the mandate,” President Johannesson said on Friday.

Ms Jonsdottir said afterwards she was “optimistic that we will find a way to work together”. In the elections, the Pirate Party – which was founded in 2012 – more than tripled its seats to 10 in the 63-member parliament. The election was called after Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson quit in April in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers, which revealed the offshore assets of high-profile figures. The Pirates want more political transparency and accountability, free health care, closing tax loopholes and more protection of citizens’ data.

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Color me stunned.

UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)

Politicians have exempted themselves from Britain’s new wide-ranging spying laws. The Investigatory Powers Act, which has just passed into law, brings some of the most extreme and invasive surveillance powers ever given to spies in a democratic state. But protections against those spying powers have been given to MPs. Most of the strongest powers in the new law require that those using them must be given a warrant. That applies to people wanting to see someone’s full internet browsing history, for instance, which is one of the things that will be collected under the new law. For most people, that warrant can be issued by a secretary of state. Applications are sent to senior ministers who can then approve either a targeted interception warrant or a targeted examination warrant, depending on what information the agency applying for the warrant – which could be anyone from a huge range of organisations – wants to see.

But for members of parliament and other politicians, extra rules have been introduced. Those warrants must also be approved by the prime minister. That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but alos politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament. The protections afforded to politicians are actually less than they had hoped to be given. Earlier in the process, the only amendment that MPs had submitted was one that would allow extra safeguards for politicians – forcing any request to monitor MP’s communications to go through the speaker of the House of Commons as well as the prime minister.

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Eric Peters sells cars. And he’s right that cheap credit drives car sales and gadgetry. But not about the need for cars in the first place.

The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)

We live in a society driven by debt. Cars, for example, have become hugely expensive (even on the low end) relative to what people can afford – because of the easy availability of credit. Which is the nice word used to speak about debt, intended to encourage us to get into it. It takes at least $15,000 or so to drive home in a “cheap” new car, once all is said and done. And the “cheap” car will have to be registered, plated and insured. It runs into money. And most new cars cost a lot more money. Which most people haven’t got. So they get debt. A loan. Which, when it becomes commonly resorted to as a way to live beyond one’s means as a lifestyle, drives up the cost of life for everyone. Including those who try to live within their means – or better yet, below them.

When most people (when enough people) are willing – are eager – to go into hock for the next six years in order to have a car with an LCD touchscreen, leather (and heated) seats, six air bags, a six-speaker stereo, electronic climate control AC and power everything – which pretty much every new car now comes standard with – the car companies build cars to satisfy that artificial demand. Artificial because based on economic unreality. That is a good way to think about debt. It is nonexistent wealth. You are promising to pay with money you haven’t earned yet. And maybe won’t. The car market has become like the housing market – which has also been distorted by debt to a cartoonish degree. The typical new construction home is a mansion by 1960s standards.

Not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mansion. Or driving a car with heated leather seats and climate control AC and a six-speaker surround-sound stereo and six air bags and all the rest of it. Provided you can afford it. Most people can’t. Normally, that fact would keep things in check. There would be mansions, of course – and high-end cars, too. But only for those with the high-end incomes necessary to afford them. Everyone else would live within their means. We wouldn’t be living in this economic Potemkin village that appears prosperous but is in fact an economic Jenga Castle that could collapse at any moment. There would be a lot less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”… as they head toward bankruptcy and foreclosure.

As society heads that way. Like the housing industry, the car industry has ceased building basic and much less expensive cars because of easy and grotesque debt-financing. Which is tragic. There ought to be (and would be) a huge selection of brand-new cars priced under $10,000 were it not for the ready availability of nonexistent wealth (.e., debt and credit). Cars many people could pay cash for.

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Still waiting for a politican or government to come clean about the Pension Ponzi.

California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)

Earlier today the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy highlighted an updated pension study, released by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which revealed some fairly startling realities about California’s public pension underfunding levels. After averaging $77,700 per household in 2014, the amount of public pension underfunding for the state of California jumped to a staggering $92,748 per household in 2015. But don’t worry, we’re sure pension managers can grow their way out of the problem…hedge fund returns have been stellar recently, right?

Stanford University’s pension tracker database pegs the market value of California’s total pension debt at $1 trillion or $93,000 per California household in 2015. In 2014, California’s total pension debt was calculated at $77,700 per household, but has increased dramatically in response to abysmal investment returns at California’s public pension funds that hover at or below 0% annual returns.

Looking back to 2008, the underfunding levels of California’s public pension have skyrocketed 157% on abysmal asset returns and growing liabilities resulting from lower discount rates. Perhaps this helps shed some light on why CalPERS is having such a difficult time with what should have been an easy decision to lower their long-term return expectations to 6% from 7.5% (see “CalPERS Weighs Pros/Cons Of Setting Reasonable Return Targets Vs. Maintaining Ponzi Scheme”)…$93k per household just seems so much more “manageable” than $150k.

Oddly enough, California isn’t even the worst off when it comes to pension debt as Alaska leads the pack with just over $110,000 per household. Of course, at this point the question isn’t “if” these ponzi schemes will blow up but rather which one will go first? We have our money on Dallas Police and Fire…

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Oh, there are thousands of reasons.

Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb headlined on November 22nd a devastating takedown of U.S. ‘news’ media and academia, «Syria and the Statistics of War», and he began there by exposing the highly honored Harvard fraud, Dr. Steven Pinker, but then went pretty much through the entire U.S. ‘intellectual’ Establishment, including all of its major ‘news’ media, as being untrustworthy on the part of any intelligent person. (Regarding Professor Pinker specifically, Taleb linked to a scientific paper that Taleb had co-authored, which shredded one of Pinker’s highly honored and biggest-selling books. Taleb and his colleague mentioned there an article that had appeared in Britain’s Guardian raising serious questions about Pinker’s work, and they were here offering statistical proof of the fraudulence of that work.)

The scenario of exposing intellectual fraud is so common: the only reason why it’s not better known among the public is that usually the disproofs of highly honored work have no impact, and fail to dislodge the prejudices that the given established fraud has ‘confirmed’. Another good example of that occurred when the University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon issued his proof of the fraudulence of the extremely influential economics paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmine Rinehart, «Growth in a Time of Debt», which had been widely cited by congressional Republicans and other conservatives as a main ‘justification’ for imposing draconian economic austerity on the U.S. and other nations during the recovery from the 2008 economic crash.

Years later, that graduate student is still a graduate student (i.e., unemployed), while Kenneth Rogoff remains, as he was prior to his having been exposed: one of Harvard’s most prominent professors of economics, and a member of the Group of 30 — the world’s 30 most influential and powerful economists. Carmen Rinehart likewise retains her position also as a Harvard Professor. Previously, the Harvard Economics Department had guided communist Russia into a crony-capitalist (or fascist) ‘democracy’, but then Vladimir Putin took over Russia and got rid of the worst excesses of Harvard’s «capitalism» and so became hated by the U.S. aristocracy and its ‘news’ media — hated for having tried to establish Russia’s national independence, Russia’s independence from the U.S. aristocracy (which expected, and still craves, to control Russia).

And now after Donald Trump’s victory against the super-neoconservative hater of Russia, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Establishment, through its voices such as the Washington Post, is trying to smear — like Joseph R. McCarthy smeared America’s non-fascists back in the 1950s — the tiny independent newsmedia that had been reporting truthfully about U.S.-Russian relations and America’s coups and invasions trying to weaken and ultimately to conquer Russia even if that means nuclear war.

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Fake news as far as the eye can see. Next up: Putin eats babies.

Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month. Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different. In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage. One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance. Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

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Could get tricky for Trump. Luckily for him, there’s still 7 weeks to go until January 20.

US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation. Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said. The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.

Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group’s Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested. Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said. The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.

[..] The protesters’ voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline. Wells Fargo said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 “to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” in the project. There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather. The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order. “There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. “It’s time for them to go home.”

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Nov 202016
 
 November 20, 2016  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Wynand Stanley Cadillac touring car at Yosemite in snow 1919

Peak & Decline of International Reserves: Massive Asset Deflation Ahead (SRSR)
“Developed Countries’ Currencies Solely Driven By Politics” (CNBC)
How A Universal Basic Income Would Transform Society (Agnos)
End London’s Role as a Clearing-House for Dirty Money (G.)
Europe’s Leaders To Force Britain Into Hard Brexit (O.)
Italy’s Crisis Turns into a Multi-Headed Hydra (DQ)
Italian Banks ‘Not Necessarily Bankrupt’ But Awfully Close (NYT)
‘Political Amateurs Are Conquering The World’ – Beppe Grillo (EN)
Bruegel Institute Chief: 4th Bailout Seems Inevitable for Greece (GR)
Slovenia Adds Water To Constitution As Fundamental Right For All (AFP)
EU Ministers At Odds Over Immigration, No Compromise In Sight (R.)
Pentagon and Intelligence Chiefs Urge Obama To Remove NSA Chief (WaPo)
Obama Claims He Cannot Pardon Snowden but He Knows That’s Not True (TD)

 

 

Causation and correlation of energy and economics are not nearly as clear as implied here, but the trends are interesting.

Peak & Decline of International Reserves: Massive Asset Deflation Ahead (SRSR)

The world is sitting at the edge of a massive deflationary cliff. Even though Central Banks are desperately trying to keep the world’s financial assets from plunging down into the great depression below, signs suggest they are losing the battle. One critical sign is the peak and decline of International Reserves. Hugo Salinas Price has been keeping an eye on International Reserves for quite some time. In his recent article, A Reversal In The Trend Of International Reserves, he stated the following:

International Reserves peaked on August 1, 2014, at $12.032 Trillion dollars, and as of October 28, 2016 they stood at $11.066 Trillion dollars. International Reserves stood at about $10 Trillion in 2011, but the rate of growth slacked off; the weekly increases in Reserves (which Bloomberg used to publish every Friday) stalled and became smaller, week by week. As mid-2014 came around, the increases were quite small. It was clear that the trend was for ever-smaller increases, and that could only mean that finally there would be no increase, which would be immediately followed by decreases in the total of International Reserves held by Central Banks. That is exactly what took place.

Hugo Salinas Price explains in the article, “that the increases of International Reserves take place when the Reserve Currency issuing countries effect payments to the rest of the world.” Basically, countries such as the United States that run trade deficits, exchange fiat money or Treasuries for goods from other countries. This shows up as an increase in International Reserves. Now, what is important to understand about the chart above is the timing of the PEAK & DECLINE of International Reserves. I had an email exchange with Mr. Salinas on what I believe was the leading factor in why the International Reserves peaked and declined. When I went back and looked at a five-year price chart of a barrel of oil (West Texas), I found a very interesting coincidence:

The price of a barrel of West Texas Crude fell below $100 starting at the beginning of August, 2014…. TO THE DATE. Even though the oil price had traded between $85-$100 over the past three years, it averaged over $95. However, by the end of 2014, it had fallen by more than half. This had a profound impact on International Reserves as the low oil price gutted the energy-commodity-goods producing countries. These are the countries that hold the majority of International Reserves. So, as the price of oil continued to stay below $50 a barrel, these countries had to sell Bonds and acquire cash to fund their own domestic account deficits. Thus, the peak and decline of International Reserves occurred right at the same time, the peak and decline of high oil prices. THIS IS NO COINCIDENCE.

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Free markets still exist in name though…

“Developed Countries’ Currencies Solely Driven By Politics” (CNBC)

The G10 currency market is driven solely by political events, one strategist told CNBC Friday. Dominic Bunning, FX Strategist at HSBC said that whereas a range of events had impacted the performance of G10 currency pairs, now it is only politics. “In G10, everything is driven by politics. We used to think about economics and cyclical stories and structural stories and balance of payments etc but now all we care about is politics,” Bunning said. He explained that if you have a strong political view then you make trading decisions on the basis of that. “If you think the euro zone is going to break up then by all means sell the euro,” Bunning said, while warning that he doesn’t have a strong view on euro.

On sterling however, Bunning said the weakness is likely to continue. “We still think there is a strong weakness in sterling even though it is relatively lower because the political outlook in the UK is very challenging.” The G10 currencies are the U.S. dollar, the euro, the pound, the yen, the Swedish krona, the Norwegian krone, the Australian dollar, the New Zealand dollar, the Swiss franc and the Canadian dollar. A number of these currencies have seen a lot of volatility since the start of the year owing to political uncertainties in their respective countries or on a global level. The biggest events this year have been the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. presidential elections.

While sterling is down more than 16% since the Brexit vote on June 23, the euro has been on its worst losing streak since the currency arrived in 1999. The dollar, meanwhile, has been seeing some strength, rising to a 14-year high against a basket of currencies on the growing perception that the economic policies of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will push up consumer prices. While traders are growing more bullish on the dollar, HSBC’s Bunning warned that it is not great for emerging market currencies. “You need to be selective in terms of your currency choices. I don’t think it’s a dollar bull run against everything but I do think if you look at the outlook for emerging market currencies, particularly the high-yield currencies at the moment, it is very hard to have a positive currency view.”

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Plenty of lofty ideals and ideas out there, but UBI, if it does at all, will happen only out of necessity.

How A Universal Basic Income Would Transform Society (Agnos)

No child’s dream is to make lots of money. We certainly aren’t born with any innate need for money itself. But at some point in our lives, we are introduced to money and the need to earn it. For many, it comes at a time when we are just beginning to learn about the world and what excites us. We start to open the doors to all of life’s possibilities, when the adult in the room says, “It’s really nice that you want to feed people in need, but what are you going to do to earn a living?” “You mean I can’t actually do what I really want to do?” we wonder. With a universal basic income (UBI) – where the government replaces all other forms of monetary assistance with a yearly stipend given to every adult of say, $20,000 per year – this would all change.

For the first time in human history, people would be able to make their childhood wishes a reality, instead of being forced to work in jobs they are aren’t passionate about just to survive. Today, humanity has the ability to create a world of sustainable abundance where everyone has access to everything they need and much of what they desire. But this requires a shift in long held societal views. Changing the view that money is a reward for hard work and private property is an extension of the self will be difficult. A shift in mindset is needed to see everyone as inherently worthy, rather than in terms of their ability to produce. For this reason, it is important to understand the philosophical justification for a UBI, as it reveals some of the deep underlying flaws of our capitalistic economy and the way it views human nature. Given these flaws, how we fund a UBI will go a long way toward the effectiveness of the shift in mindset from an age of ownership to an age of access.

Let us stop and imagine what we might do if we no longer had to work in order to meet our basic needs. Presently, we are all burdened with the stress that comes with knowing that failure to earn a living could result in social isolation. Imagine the psychological shift in knowing that no matter what happened, you would always have a roof over your head and food to eat without having to give away your precious time and energy. How would not having to work to survive change your day to day life? What would you do instead? A UBI has the potential to unleash unimaginable amounts of human time, energy, creativity, and passion that has the potential to radically transform society. Instead of everyone working to survive, people would have the means to pursue their own dreams, and to spend more quality time with their family, friends, and community.

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The Heart of Darkness.

End London’s Role as a Clearing-House for Dirty Money (G.)

The National Crime Agency says up to £90bn is laundered through the UK each year, while an estimated £120bn worth of UK property is owned by offshore shell companies. Some 75% of properties whose owners are under investigation for corruption made use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide their identities. And according to the director of the National Crime Agency, “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.” Those assets are far too often being extracted from developing nations desperately in need of tax revenues. A century on from Heart of Darkness, the Democratic Republic of the Congo still ranks near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, with one in seven children dead before the age of five.

And, as in Conrad’s time, London’s imperial connections are helping to facilitate the exploitation of this asset-rich nation. Diamond and mineral wealth is being extracted by political elites, funnelled via London to old remnants of empire in the overseas territories, then repatriated via Kensington townhouses back to the UK. Our financial, accountancy and property agents are the beneficiaries, the people of the DRC and househunters of London the losers. [..] We are told that much of London’s success is because of its unimpeachable legal system and absence of corruption. But that is no good if, under the banner of the rule of law, we are also aiding and abetting exploitation. In Surrey mansions and Mayfair sit the lost wealth, the never-built hospitals and unopened schools of too many developing nations.

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“.. the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.”

Europe’s Leaders To Force Britain Into Hard Brexit (O.)

European leaders have come to a 27-nation consensus that a “hard Brexit” is likely to be the only way to see off future populist insurgencies, which could lead to the break-up of the European Union. The hardening line in EU capitals comes as Nigel Farage warns European leaders that Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, could deliver a political sensation bigger than Brexit and win France’s presidential election next spring – a result that would mean it was “game over” for 60 years of EU integration. According to senior officials at the highest levels of European governments, allowing Britain favourable terms of exit could represent an existential danger to the EU, since it would encourage similar demands from other countries with significant Eurosceptic movements.

One top EU diplomat told the Observer: “If you British are not prepared to compromise on free movement, the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.” The latest intervention by Farage will only serve to fuel fears in Europe that anti-EU movements have acquired a dangerous momentum in countries such as France and the Netherlands, following the precedent set by the Brexit vote. Ukip’s interim leader, who predicted both the vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s US victory, said that while Le Pen was still more likely to be runner-up to an establishment candidate next May, she now had to be taken seriously as a potential head of state. “She will clearly win through to the second round. And after what has happened elsewhere, only a fool would say she would have no chance of winning overall. France is a deeply, deeply unhappy country. If she were to win, it would be game over for the EU.”

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“It’s a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one..”

Italy’s Crisis Turns into a Multi-Headed Hydra (DQ)

Bank stocks have surged just about everywhere since Trump’s election, with one exception: Italy. In the last month only one large Italian bank has seen its shares rise, and that’s the 500-year old bank at the center of Italy’s banking crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, whose nearly worthless shares jumped to €0.24. Shares of Italy’s other large banks have suffered heavy losses. Over the past week alone, shares of Italy’s largest bank, Unicredit, plunged 15%, as did the shares of Banca Popular and UBI Banca. Shares of Italy’s second largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, fell just under 10%. The recent losses compound what’s been a miserable year for Italy’s banking stocks. The best performing stock is the investment bank Mediobanca, which is down a mere 24% for 2016. During the same period, Unicredit has shed over 60%, UBI Banca 65%, Banco Popolare 80%, and Monte dei Paschi 85%.

It’s not just banks’ shares that are flashing all the wrong signals. UniCredit’s five-year credit default swap surged to 221.2 basis points on Friday, meaning it now costs €221,200 to insure €10 million of UniCredit’s debt against default over five years. As with all major crises, Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra. It’s a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. Italy’s economy has been in reverse ever since it joined the euro 17 years ago. Since 2007, its GDP has shrunk by a staggering 10%. In the meantime its public debt has continued to grow, reaching 135% of GDP today, the highest level of any Eurozone country with the exception of Greece. And now the yield on Italy’s 10-year bond is on the rise, hitting 2.09% on Friday in a NIRP world, its highest point in over 13 months.

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If Renzi loses the referendum next month, how much longer can this can be kicked?

Italian Banks ‘Not Necessarily Bankrupt’ But Awfully Close (NYT)

Victor Massiah has grown weary of talk that the Italian banking system is so threadbare and stuffed with terrible loans that it threatens Europe with another financial crisis. The mansion that serves as local headquarters for the bank he runs, UBI Banca, one of Italy’s largest lenders, does not feel like a place on the verge of running out of money. An inlaid marble fireplace sits in a conference room beneath wooden beams worthy of a castle. A statue of the Greek goddess Athena stands triumphantly over a staircase. “As you can see,” he says, sweeping a hand across the scene, “we’re not necessarily bankrupt.” Among policy makers alert for signs of the next financial disaster, Italy’s mountain of uncollectable bank debt is a subject discussed in tones ordinarily reserved for piles of plutonium.

Its banks seem at once too big to fail and eminently capable of doing so, menacing the global economy. For years, Italian lenders have muddled through, hoping time would cure their afflictions. But Italy’s economy has been terminally weak, not growing at all over a recent 13-year stretch. Bad loans have festered. Good loans have deteriorated. Italy’s problems are Europe’s problems. Nearly one-fifth of all loans in the Italian banking system are classified as troubled, a toll worth €360 billion, at the end of last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. That represents roughly 40% of all the bad loans within the countries sharing the euro. In recent weeks, the world’s focus has shifted to Germany’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank, on fears that it could be forced to seek a rescue.

But if Deutsche has become the crisis of the moment, Italy is the perpetual threat that could, at any moment, present the world with an unpleasant surprise potent enough to send legions of officials descending on Rome to try to contain the damage. The Italian government has sought to spend more money to spur the economy. But European leaders, led by Germany, have enforced rules limiting budget deficits. And Italian banks have held tight to cash and are reluctant to lend, starving an already anemic economy of capital. All of which leaves Italy and Europe, and to some extent the global economy, with a formidable conundrum. Europe may never regain economic vigor so long as Italy’s banks are a slow-motion emergency. But Italy’s banks cannot get healthy without growth. And Italy’s economy can’t grow without healthy banks.

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One of the few thinking men left in Europe.

> ‘Political Amateurs Are Conquering The World’ – Beppe Grillo (EN)

euronews “Beppe Grillo, our meeting takes place at a time that, without undue exaggeration, can be labelled ‘historic’. That’s to say, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. What’s your take on that?” Beppe Grillo, Leader of the Five Star Movement “It’s an extraordinary turning point. This corn cob – we can also call Trump that in a nice way – doesn’t have particularly outstanding qualities. He was such a target for the media, with such terrifying accusations of sexism and racism, as well as being harassed by the establishment – such as the New York Times – but, in the end, he won. “That is a symbol of the tragedy and the apocalypse of traditional information. The television and newspapers are always late and they relay old information.

They no longer anticipate anything and they’re only just understanding that idiots, the disadvantaged, those who are marginalised – and there are millions of them – use alternative media, such as the Internet, which passes under the radar of television, a medium people no longer use. “With Trump, exactly the same thing has happened as with my Five Star Movement, which was born of the Internet: the media were taken aback and asked us where we were before. We gathered millions of people in public squares and they marvelled. We became the biggest movement in Italy and journalists and philosophers continued to say that we were benefitting from people’s dissatisfaction. We’ll get into government and they’ll ask themselves how we did it.”

euronews “There is a gap between giving populist speeches and governing a nation.” Beppe Grillo “We want to govern, but we don’t want to simply change the power by replacing it with our own. We want a change within civilisation, a change of world vision. “We’re talking about dematerialised industry, an end to working for money, the start of working for other payment, a universal citizens revenue. If our society is founded on work, what will happen if work disappears? What will we do with millions of people in flux? We have to organise and manage all that.”

euronews “Do you think appealing to people’s emotions is enough to get elected? Is that a political project?” Beppe Grillo “This information never ceases to make the rounds: you don’t have a political project, you’re not capable, you’re imbeciles, amateurs… “And yet, the amateurs are the ones conquering the world and I’m rejoicing in it because the professionals are the ones who have reduced the world to this state. Hillary Clinton, Obama and all the rest have destroyed democracy and their international policies. “If that’s the case, it signifies that the experts, economists and intellectuals have completely misunderstood everything, especially if the situation is the way it is. If the EU is what we have today, it means the European dream has evaporated. Brexit and Trump are signs of a huge change. If we manage to understand that, we’ll also get to face it.”

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Europe’s MO. Keep squeezing.

Bruegel Institute Chief: 4th Bailout Seems Inevitable for Greece (GR)

Bruegel Institute Chief Zsolt Darvas said that there are two possible solutions for Greece’s debt problems following 2018. One is huge debt restructuring or a fourth bailout program for the country. Speaking with Greek daily Ta Nea, the Hungarian economist said that even if Greece has the expected development for 2017-2018, debt will still be at a high rate. He does not believe that Greece will be able to borrow from the markets at a reasonable rate under the current circumstances. Darvas expects to see some form of debt restructuring within a time framework to bond maturation, along with a lowering or freezing of interest rates. He said that this per se may still not be enough for Greece to avoid a fourth bailout program.

Regarding investments, Darvas said that the height of Greece’s debt is not helping draw investors. Another problem is the excessive bureaucracy. The OECD indexes also show Greece’s weaknesses. When asked about U.S. President Barack Obama’s support for debt relief for Greece, Darvas said that he fears that Obama cannot influence European decisions regarding Greece. In the past, there were no results when he or other members of the government called for debt relief. He considers this unlikely to change. He does not believe that there will be any decision regarding debt relief until after the German elections.

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Every country, every society, should make protection of basic needs their number one priority. They are indeed ‘not a market commodity’.

Slovenia Adds Water To Constitution As Fundamental Right For All (AFP)

Slovenia has amended its constitution to make access to drinkable water a fundamental right for all citizens and stop it being commercialised. With 64 votes in favour and none against, the 90-seat parliament added an article to the EU country’s constitution saying “everyone has the right to drinkable water”. The centre-right opposition Slovenian Democratic party (SDS) abstained from the vote saying the amendment was not necessary and only aimed at increasing public support. Slovenia is a mountainous, water-rich country with more than half its territory covered by forest.

“Water resources represent a public good that is managed by the state. Water resources are primary and durably used to supply citizens with potable water and households with water and, in this sense, are not a market commodity,” the article reads. The centre-left prime minister, Miro Cerar, had urged lawmakers to pass the bill saying the country of two million people should “protect water – the 21st century’s liquid gold – at the highest legal level”. “Slovenian water has very good quality and, because of its value, in the future it will certainly be the target of foreign countries and international corporations’ appetites. “As it will gradually become a more valuable commodity in the future, pressure over it will increase and we must not give in,” Cerar said.

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Only Greece and Italy need worry about this now. The rest can sit pretty. It’ll cost them the EU though.

EU Ministers At Odds Over Immigration, No Compromise In Sight (R.)

European Union interior ministers were at odds on Friday over how to handle immigration, with heated discussions between states who want more burden sharing and those who oppose any kind of obligatory relocation. “We are looking for compromises but at the moment they are not there,” said Thomas De Maiziere of Germany, which last year took in about 900,000 migrants and refugees. The ministers disagreed over a proposal by the EU’s current chair Slovakia on reforming the bloc’s asylum system, which collapsed last year as 1.3 million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa reached Europe and member states quarrelled over how to handle the influx.

Overall, the arrivals have decreased from last year but they continue unabated in Italy and tens of thousands of people are still stuck in Greece and Italy, sometimes in dire conditions. Despite agreeing last year to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece, eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, have refused to take any in. “We cannot pretend that the quotas as we know them now are working,” said Robert Kalinak of Slovakia. “The 160,000 is only a very small part of the million that came to Europe last year and we only relocated less than 10,000 people. Even those who were for this system were not successful. We want to come up with a system that would be effective.”

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The mess below the surface.

Pentagon and Intelligence Chiefs Urge Obama To Remove NSA Chief (WaPo)

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed. The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. [..] Carter has concerns with Rogers’s performance, officials said. The driving force for Clapper, meanwhile, was the separation of leadership roles at the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and his stance that the NSA should be headed by a civilian.

[..] Rogers, 57, took the helm of the NSA and Cyber Command in April 2014 in the wake of revelations by a former intelligence contractor of broad surveillance activities that shook public confidence in the agency. The contractor, Edward Snowden, had secretly downloaded vast amounts of digital documents that he shared with a handful of journalists. His disclosures prompted debate over the proper scale of surveillance and led to some reforms. But they also were a black eye for an agency that prides itself on having the most skilled hackers and cybersecurity professionals in government. Rogers was charged with making sure another insider breach never happened again. Instead, in the past year and a half, officials have discovered two major compromises of sensitive hacking tools by personnel working at the NSA’s premier hacking unit: the Tailored Access Operations. One involved a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, Harold T. Martin III, who is accused of carrying out the largest theft of classified government material.

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Even if he would pardon Snowden, Manning, Assange, what would their lives look like?

Obama Claims He Cannot Pardon Snowden but He Knows That’s Not True (TD)

In a big interview with the German media outlet Der Spiegel, President Obama was asked about his interest in pardoning Ed Snowden in response to the big campaign to get him pardoned. Obama’s response was that he could not, since Snowden has not been convicted yet: ARD/SPIEGEL : Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden? Obama:” I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point. I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system.

At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I’ve tried to suggest – both to the American people, but also to the world – is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security. Those who pretend that there’s no balance that has to be struck and think we can take a 100-percent absolutist approach to protecting privacy don’t recognize that governments are going to be under an enormous burden to prevent the kinds of terrorist acts that not only harm individuals, but also can distort our society and our politics in very dangerous ways. And those who think that security is the only thing and don’t care about privacy also have it wrong.”

This is simply incorrect – as is known to anyone who remembers the fact that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he had been indicted. And it appears that the President knows this. Because, as the Pardon Snowden campaign points out, Obama pardoned three Iranian Americans who had not yet stood trial. That happened this year. So for him to say it’s impossible to pardon someone who hasn’t gone before the court is simply, factually, historically wrong. And there’s a Supreme Court ruling that makes this abundantly clear. 150 years ago, in the ruling on Ex Parte Garland, the Supreme Court stated: “The power of pardon conferred by the Constitution upon the President is unlimited except in cases of impeachment. It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment. The power is not subject to legislative control.”

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‘Old’ media write their own death warrant.

The Real Fake News List (Liberty Report)

We’ve seen the make-shift “fake news” list created by a leftist feminist professor. Well, another fake news list has been revealed and this one holds a lot more water. This list contains the culprits who told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and lied us into multiple bogus wars. These are the news sources that told us “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” They told us that Hillary Clinton had a 98% chance of winning the election. They tell us in a never-ending loop that “The economy is in great shape!” This is the real Fake News List (and it’s sourced):

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