Nov 082018
 
 November 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Juan-Les-Pins 1920

 

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)
Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?
Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)
The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)
Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)
China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)
EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)
Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)
The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)
EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

 

 

I could use any report about what happened yesterday, I’ll stick with Tyler Durden. Because everything I read from major news outlets is about freedom of the press being violated by Trump and his staff. I saw the press conference, and that was not my impression. After Jim Acosta has asked multiple questions, in antagonistic fashion, Trump said it was enough. Then Acosta tried to turn it into the Jim Acosta show.

Access to a president’s press-ops does not mean permission to be obnoxious, nor does it mean a journalist gets to set the rules, which the president would then have to abide by. You’ve had multiple questions, there are dozens of other reporters, that’s it for you. Refusing to hand over the mic at that point means denying your peers their own freedom of the press. Also of course, there’s history here: Acosta and CNN have been hounding Trump for over 2 years now. Not objectively, not impartial, but with an agenda. And now they get to play the victims again.

White House Pulls CNN’s Jim Acosta’s Media Credentials (ZH)

Following the disturbing behavior in this morning’s White House press conference, when a journalist from CNN refused to hand his mic back to a White House aide… White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders announced that CNN’s Jim Acosta has had his media credentials pulled: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern… This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history. ”

Sanders continued: “Contrary to CNN’s assertions there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today. Only they would attack the President for not supporting a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters over the course of 1.5 hours including several from the reporter in question. The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it‘s an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this Administration. As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.”

While some have questioned whether he “acosta’d her”, the CNN reporter has just confirmed it via tweet… “I’ve just been denied entrance to the WH. Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit” Shortly after the press briefing debacle, Rawstory reports that CNN President Jeff Zucker attempted to rally the network’s reporters… “I want you to know that we have your backs,” Zucker said a memo to employees that was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “That this organization believes fiercely in the protections granted to us by the First Amendment, and we will defend them, and you, vigorously, every time.” Although not even CNN probably expected this level of escalation. Which is why we wonder, how long before a) the rest of the press corps boycotts the White House briefings, and b) the hashtag #BringBackAcosta starts trending?

Read more …

Funny, I was doing a podcast with Jim Kunstler yesterday, and as soon as we finished there were the Acosta and Sessions events (would have been prominent material in our conversation). The Sessions firing was obvious well before the midterms. Whatever you think of it, Sessions left Trump in a hole when he first accepted the AG job and recused himself in the Mueller files right after. A dependable AG is crucial for any president, and even more for Trump, who’s been under investigation(s) from day one. There’s an assumption that Mueller will now be fired, but everyone understands that can only be done with solid reasoning. That the Mueller investigation should be wrapped up is clear to everyone except those who like it hanging over Trump’s head.

Will Mueller Use “Constructive Discharge” To Challenge Sessions Replacement?

Special Counsel Robert Mueller could use a legal concept known as “constructive discharge” to challenge the appointment of Matt Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, by arguing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out as opposed to voluntarily leaving, reports Bloomberg, citing a former federal prosecutor. “Mueller could argue in court that Trump effectively fired Sessions after months of verbal abuse, a legal concept known as a constructive discharge, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Trump can appoint an acting official without Senate confirmation if he replaces someone who has been incapacitated or resigned. It doesn’t apply if the previous official was fired.”-Bloomberg

Whitaker was appointed to run the DOJ after Sessions submitted his resignation Wednesday at Trump’s request. While Sessions had recused himself from the Trump-Russia probe, Whitaker will now control oversight of the investigation – a duty which has fallen on the shoulders of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – despite the fact that he himself was involved in the FISA warrant process to spy on the Trump campaign. Sessions’ resignation letter begins with “At your request,” making it unambiguous that Trump fired him. “The question is whether he was constructively fired, which means he didn’t resign from his post,” Mariotti said. “I don’t know the answer as to how the courts would view that.”

Challenging Whitaker’s appointment “could be Mueller himself,” said Mariotti, adding “That would be one obvious person.” “Legal experts agree it would be difficult to remove Whitaker from a post he can hold for seven months under the law. He can’t be appointed permanently, and Trump said he would appoint someone at a later date.” -Bloomberg “It’s not clear whether a firing would allow Trump to appoint him as an interim,” said former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, who teaches law at the University of Michigan. If Sessions voluntarily resigned, “it’s permissible for Trump to make this interim appointment.”

“I don’t see any reason why Whitaker would not be the one to supervise the Mueller investigation and take it out of the hands of Rod Rosenstein,” she added. Rosenstein appeared at the White House on Wednesday for a previously unscheduled appointment. Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes that special counsels can be removed under the law for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause.” Whitaker is on record saying that if Mueller investigates the Trump family finances beyond anything to do with Russia, “that goes beyond the scope of the special counsel.”

Read more …

“..allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.”

Big Investors Sue 16 Banks In US Over Currency Market Rigging (R.)

A group of large institutional investors including BlackRock and Allianz’s Pacific Investment Management Co has sued 16 major banks, accusing them of rigging prices in the roughly $5.1 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by plaintiffs that decided to “opt out” of similar nationwide litigation that has resulted in $2.31 billion (£1.76 billion) of settlements with 15 of the banks. Those settlements followed worldwide regulatory probes that have led to more than $10 billion of fines for several banks, and the convictions or indictments of some traders. The banks being sued are: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Japan’s MUFG Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale, Standard Chartered and UBS.

Investors typically opt out of litigation when they hope to recover more by suing on their own. The plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit accused the banks of violating U.S. antitrust law by conspiring from 2003 to 2013 to rig currency benchmarks including the WM/Reuters Closing Rates for their own benefit by sharing confidential orders and trading positions. This manipulation was allegedly done through chat rooms with such names as “The Cartel,” “The Mafia” and “The Bandits’ Club,” through tactics with such names as “front running,” “banging the close,” “painting the screen” and “taking out the filth.” “By colluding to manipulate FX prices, benchmarks, and bid/ask spreads, defendants restrained trade, decreased competition, and artificially increased prices, thereby injuring plaintiffs,” the 221-page complaint said.

Read more …

What can be done with gold.

The United States Is Going Broke (Rickards)

The Fed could actually cause inflation in about 15 minutes if it used it. How? The Fed can call a board meeting, vote on a new policy, walk outside and announce to the world that effective immediately, the price of gold is $5,000 per ounce. They could make that new price stick by using the Treasury’s gold in Fort Knox and the major U.S. bank gold dealers to conduct “open market operations” in gold. They will be a buyer if the price hits $4,950 per ounce or less and a seller if the price hits $5,050 per ounce or higher. They will print money when they buy and reduce the money supply when they sell via the banks. The Fed would target the gold price rather than interest rates.

The point is to cause a generalized increase in the price level. A rise in the price of gold from today’s roughly $1,230 per ounce to $5,000 per ounce is a massive devaluation of the dollar when measured in the quantity of gold that one dollar can buy. There it is — massive inflation in 15 minutes: the time it takes to vote on the new policy.

Don’t think this is possible? It’s happened in the U.S. twice in the past 80 years. The first time was in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered an increase in the gold price from $20.67 per ounce to $35.00 per ounce, nearly a 75% rise in the dollar price of gold. He did this to break the deflation of the Great Depression, and it worked. The economy grew strongly from 1934-36. The second time was in the 1970s when Nixon ended the conversion of dollars into gold by U.S. trading partners. Nixon did not want inflation, but he got it. Gold went from $35 per ounce to $800 per ounce in less than nine years, a 2,200% increase. U.S. dollar inflation was over 50% from 1977-1981. The value of the dollar was cut in half in those five years.

Read more …

Abenomics keeps on giving…

Japan Machinery Orders Hit By Worst-Ever Slump In September (R.)

Japan’s core machinery orders tumbled by the most on record in September after a severe earthquake and typhoons disrupted business activity, with economists now also worried about a fall in overseas orders. The 18.3 percent slump in machinery orders far outpaced the median market estimate for a 10.0 percent decline and follows a 6.8 percent increase in August. September’s 12.5 percent decline in overseas machinery orders, the biggest such fall in more than two years, could signal sustained weakness in export demand. Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and the machinery orders slump suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum.

Manufacturers surveyed by the government expect core machinery orders to rise 3.6 percent in October-December after a 0.9 percent increase in July-September, but some economists worry this forecast is overly optimistic. “I was already expecting capital expenditure to be weak in July-September, but the fall in overseas orders makes me worried about demand from China,” said Hiroaki Muto, economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. “Japan’s economy will resume expansion from the fourth quarter, but I’m worried the pace of growth will wane.”

Read more …

Watch the rest of the year.

China October Exports Surprisingly Strong In Race To Beat US Tariffs (R.)

China reported much stronger-than-expected exports for October as shippers rushed goods to the United States, its biggest trading partner, racing to beat higher tariff rates due to kick in at the start of next year. Import growth also defied forecasts for a slowdown, suggesting Beijing’s growth-boosting measures to support the cooling economy may be slowly starting to make themselves felt. The upbeat trade readings from China offer good news for both those worried about global demand and for the country’s policymakers after the economy logged its weakest growth since the global financial crisis in the third quarter. October was the first full month after the latest U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect on Sept. 24, in a significant escalation in the tit-for-tat trade battle.

But analysts continue to warn of the risk of a sharp drop in U.S. demand for Chinese goods early in 2019, with all eyes now on whether presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping can make any breakthroughs on trade when they meet later this month. China’s exports rose 15.6 percent last month from a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, picking up from September’s 14.5 percent and beating analysts’ forecasts for a modest slowdown to 11 percent. “The strong export growth in October was buoyed by front-loading activities by exporters…,” said Iris Pang, Greater China Economist at ING in Hong Kong, noting the month is traditionally quieter due to long holidays. “We expect exports to remain strong towards the end of the year as businesses are afraid of a failure in the Trump-Xi meeting, which could lead to broader tariffs on more Chinese goods from the U.S.” Pang said.

Read more …

The edge of monoply.

EU’s Vestager Says Probe Into Google AdSense Case Nearing End (R.)

EU regulators are close to wrapping up their third case against Alphabet unit Google involving its AdSense advertising service, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday, suggesting the company may soon be hit with another hefty fine. The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager come four months after she levied a record 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) fine against Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. That followed a 2.4 billion euro fine imposed on the company last year after it thwarted rivals of shopping comparison websites. The European Commission in 2016 opened a third case when it accused Google of preventing third parties using its AdSense product from displaying search advertisements from Google’s competitors. Vestager can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules.

Read more …

Europe’s finances in all Italian hands.

Italy’s Enria Wins Race To Head ECB Banking Watchdog (R.)

Italian Andrea Enria was picked on Wednesday to head the European Central Bank’s supervisory arm, overseeing a bloated, 21 trillion euro banking sector still troubled by a legacy of bad debt from the euro zone’s financial crisis. Defeating Ireland’s Sharon Donnery in a hotly-contested run-off, Enria will now head the Single Supervisory Mechanism, covering the euro zone’s 118 top lenders, with many still reeling from the last recession and facing new challenges from hacking to fintech. The ECB’s Governing Council selected Enria in a secret ballot, and his appointment must now be approved by the full European Parliament and relevant ministers.

Enria, who has chaired the London-based European Banking Authority since 2011, has played a major role in shaping the European Union’s new financial rulebook in the aftermath of the crisis. A former supervisor at the Bank of Italy and the ECB, he is viewed as politically neutral and ruffled some feathers at home for what was seen as an overly tough stance on unpaid bank loans and credit to small companies. “If approved by the Parliament and confirmed by the Council of the European Union, Mr Enria will succeed Danièle Nouy as Chair of the Supervisory Board on 1 January 2019,” the ECB said in a statement.

Read more …

Long read. The origins are curious. And extremely misguided. How can you deny that opium is addictive after seeing Britain’s opium trade laying siege to large swaths of China?

“One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic…”

The Making of an Opioid Epidemic (G.)

Jane Ballantyne was, at one time, a true believer. The British-born doctor, who trained as an anaesthetist on the NHS before her appointment to head the pain department at Harvard and its associated hospital, drank up the promise of opioid painkillers – drugs such as morphine and methadone – in the late 1990s. Ballantyne listened to the evangelists among her colleagues who painted the drugs as magic bullets against the scourge of chronic pain blighting millions of American lives. Doctors such as Russell Portenoy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York saw how effective morphine was in easing the pain of dying cancer patients thanks to the hospice movement that came out of the UK in the 1970s.

Why, the new thinking went, could the same opioids not be made to work for people grappling with the physical and mental toll of debilitating pain from arthritis, wrecked knees and bodies worn out by physically demanding jobs? As Portenoy saw it, opiates were effective painkillers through most of recorded history and it was only outdated fears about addiction that prevented the drugs still playing that role. Opioids were languishing from the legacy of an earlier epidemic that prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint the US’s first opium commissioner, Dr Hamilton Wright, in 1908. Portenoy wanted to liberate them from this taint. Wright described Americans as “the greatest drug fiends in the world”, and opium and morphine as a “national curse”. After that the medical profession treated opioid pain relief with what Portenoy and his colleagues regarded as unwarranted fear, stigmatising a valuable medicine.

These new evangelists painted a picture of a nation awash in chronic pain that could be relieved if only the medical profession would overcome its prejudices. They constructed a web of claims they said were rooted in science to back their case, including an assertion that the risk of addiction from narcotic painkillers was “less than 1%” and that dosages could be increased without limit until the pain was overcome. But the evidence was, at best, thin and in time would not stand up to detailed scrutiny. One theory, promoted by Dr David Haddox, was that patients genuinely experiencing pain could not become addicted to opioids because the pain neutralised the euphoria caused by the narcotic. He said that what looked to prescribing doctors like a patient hooked on the drug was “pseudo-addiction”.

Read more …

Guess where most of the world’s ivory is traded? It’s very clear what Europeans want, but Brussels again simply slips them the finger.

EU Backtracks On Total Ivory Ban (Ind.)

Politicians and campaigners have expressed dismay that the European Union (EU) appears to be holding back on further restrictions on the continent’s ivory trade, despite enormous global pressure. Europe is the largest domestic market for ivory products in the world and research has demonstrated that illegally poached ivory often makes its way into the legal market. In 2017, the European Commission banned the export of raw ivory, but many still think the only way to make a dent in demand for products made of the material is to ban the domestic trade entirely. China, the US and the UK have already moved to halt such trade in an effort to make elephants a less lucrative target for poachers and to stamp out the corruption and organised crime the trade supports.

Despite the backing of African leaders and scores of European politicians, a new report outlining efforts to curb wildlife trafficking in Europe has removed a pledge to further restrict the trade. [..] Besides the consultation respondents calling for tougher rules, 32 African nations have joined together in calling for an EU-wide ban, including a complete shutdown of the domestic market. Further support has come from over 100 MEPs who wrote to the environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in July urging a total ban. Responding to the discrepancy between different versions of the report, chair of interest group MEPs for Wildlife, Catherine Bearder said: “The EU is a major transit point for illegal wildlife products being shipped to the Far East and other global destinations. Elephants are being pushed to the brink of extinction and for what? For useless trinkets the world doesn’t need.”

Read more …

Jun 022017
 
 June 2, 2017  Posted by at 4:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Bernard Pascucci Dancers on the Roof of the Opéra Garnier, Paris 1965

 

President Trump Announces US Withdrawal From The Paris Climate Accord (ZH)
Conservatives’ Donors Gave 10 Times As Much As Labour’s Last Week (G.)
The Myths About Money That British Voters Should Reject (Chang)
‘Ghost Collateral’ Haunts China’s Debt-Laden Banking System (R.)
BOJ’s Balance Sheet Almost As Big As Japanese Economy (Nikkei)
25-30% Of US Shopping Malls To Close In The Next Five Years (LATimes)
Westworld (Ben Hunt)
Cities, States And School Systems Lose Millions To Credit Downgrades (IBT)
S&P, Moody’s Downgrade Illinois to Near Junk, Lowest Ever for a US State (BBG)
Uber Burned Through Almost As Much Money As NASA Last Quarter (Simon Black)
The Next Recession May Be A Complete Reset Of All Asset Valuations (Mauldin)
China’s Ivory Ban Sparks Dramatic Drop In Prices Across Asia (G.)
Audi Emissions Scandal Erupts After Germany Says It Detects New Cheating (R.)
Oliver Stone Quizzes Vladimir Putin On Snowden (G.)
Schaeuble Launches A Broadside Against Tsipras (K.)
A New Antibiotic Multitool Could Beat The Toughest Bacteria (F.)

 

 

Yeah, we had a bit of a DDOS thing today. Sorry.

Haven’t seen one voice that makes sense in this Paris CON21 thing. I do remember what they said about everyone being on the same side of the boat.

President Trump Announces US Withdrawal From The Paris Climate Accord (ZH)

It’s done. Bannon 1 – 0 Kushner. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate pact and that he will seek to renegotiate the international agreement in a way that treats American workers better. “So we are getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal, and if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” Trump said Thursday, citing terms that he says benefit China’s economy at the expense of the U.S. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses” and its taxpayers, Trump said.

As Bloomberg reports, Trump’s announcement, delivered to cabinet members, supporters and conservative activists in the White House Rose Garden, spurns pleas from corporate executives, world leaders and even Pope Francis who warned the move imperils a global fight against climate change. As we noted earlier, we should prepare for the establishment to begin its mourning and fearmongering of the disaster about to befall the world. Pulling out means the U.S. joins Russia, Iran, North Korea and a string of Third World countries in not putting the agreement into action. Just two countries are not in the deal at all – one of them war-torn Syria, the other Nicaragua. The Hill notes that many Republicans on Capitol Hill are likely to support pulling out of the Paris deal – 20 leading Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked Trump to do just that last week.

Withdrawing from Paris would greatly please conservative groups, which have orchestrated an all-out push in opposition to the pact. “Without any impact on global temperatures, Paris is the open door for egregious regulation, cronyism, and government spending that would be disastrous for the American economy as it is proving to be for those in Europe,” said Nick Loris, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “It is time for the U.S. to say ‘au revoir’ to the Paris agreement,” he said.

Read more …

And use to NOT have their leader appear on TV. I’m thinking a decision by the new (American?!) campaign team installed after the Snap announcement. “Stay away from the camera, it can only do you harm!” Boris PM by July 1?

Conservatives’ Donors Gave 10 Times As Much As Labour’s Last Week (G.)

The Conservatives raised more than 10 times as much as Labour last week, partly thanks to a donation of over £1m from the theatre producer behind The Book of Mormon and The Phantom of the Opera. John Gore, whose company has produced a string of hit musicals, gave £1.05m as part of the £3.77m received by the Conservatives in the third week of the election campaign. In the same time, Labour received only £331,499. The Electoral Commission only publishes details of donations over £7,500, so the smaller donors who make up most of Labour’s fundraising are not identified. Almost all Labour’s larger donations came from unions, including £159,500 from Unite. The new figures show the Conservatives have received £15.2m since the start of 2017, while Labour has received £8.1m.

The large donations came as the poll lead held by the Conservatives and Theresa May appeared to fall following controversies around her social care policy. In the week starting 17 May, the Liberal Democrats received £310,500, of which £230,000 came from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and £25,000 came from the former BBC director general Greg Dyke. The Women’s Equality party received £71,552, with Edwina Snow, the Duke of Westminster’s sister who is married to the historian Dan Snow, giving £50,000. Ukip’s donations fell dramatically to £16,300 from £35,000 the previous week. Political parties can spend £30,000 for every seat they contest during the regulated period. There are 650 seats around the country, meaning that parties can spend up to £19.5m during the regulated period in the run-up to the election.

Read more …

Money spent at the lower rungs of society tends to stay inside it.

The Myths About Money That British Voters Should Reject (Chang)

Befitting a surprise election, the manifestos from the main parties contained surprises. Labour is shaking off decades of shyness about nationalisation and tax increases for the rich and for the first time in decades has a policy agenda that is not Tory-lite. The Conservatives, meanwhile, say they are rejecting “the cult of selfish individualism” and “belief in untrammelled free markets”, while adopting the quasi-Marxist idea of an energy price cap. Despite these significant shifts, myths about the economy refuse to go away and hamper a more productive debate. They concern how the government manages public finances – “tax and spend”, if you will.

The first is that there is an inherent virtue in balancing the books. Conservatives still cling to the idea of eliminating the budget deficit, even if it is with a 10-year delay (2025, as opposed to George Osborne’s original goal of 2015). The budget-balancing myth is so powerful that Labour feels it has to cost its new spending pledges down to the last penny, lest it be accused of fiscal irresponsibility. However, as Keynes and his followers told us, whether a balanced budget is a good or a bad thing depends on the circumstances. In an overheating economy, deficit spending would be a serious folly. However, in today’s UK economy, whose underlying stagnation has been masked only by the release of excess liquidity on an oceanic scale, some deficit spending may be good – necessary, even.

The second myth is that the UK welfare state is especially large. Conservatives believe that it is bloated out of all proportion and needs to be drastically cut. Even the Labour party partly buys into this idea. Its extra spending pledge on this front is presented as an attempt to reverse the worst of the Tory cuts, rather than as an attempt to expand provision to rebuild the foundation for a decent society. The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.

The third myth is that welfare spending is consumption – that it is a drain on the nation’s productive resources and thus has to be minimised. This myth is what Conservative supporters subscribe to when they say that, despite their negative impact, we have to accept cuts in such things as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, child care and free school meals, because we “can’t afford them”. This myth even tints, although doesn’t define, Labour’s view on the welfare state. For example, Labour argues for an expansion of welfare spending, but promises to finance it with current revenue, thereby implicitly admitting that the money that goes into it is consumption that does not add to future output.

Read more …

We saw this in 2015, I think it was Qingdao port(?!). Now it turns out this is widespread. China is very corrupt.

‘Ghost Collateral’ Haunts China’s Debt-Laden Banking System (R.)

The banker at the other end of the phone line was furious, recalled Shanghai lawyer Wang Chaoyu. A pile of steel pledged as collateral for a loan of almost $3 million from his bank, China CITIC, had vanished from a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Just several months earlier, in mid-2013, Wang and the banker had visited the warehouse and verified that the steel was there. “The first time I went, I saw the steel,” recalled Wang, an attorney at Beijing DHH Law Firm, which represents the Shanghai branch of CITIC. “Afterwards, the banker got in contact with me and said, ‘The pledged assets are no longer there.’” The trouble had begun in 2012, after CITIC loaned the money to Shanghai Hanning Iron and Steel, a privately held steel trader. Hanning failed to meet payments, according to a mediation agreement reviewed by Reuters, and CITIC took ownership of the steel.

It was when CITIC moved to retrieve the collateral that the banker visited the warehouse and discovered that the 291-tonne pile of steel was no longer there, Wang said. The bank is still in court trying to recoup its losses. The missing collateral is a setback for CITIC. But it is indicative of a much wider problem that could endanger the health of China’s financial system – fraudulent or “ghost” collateral. When bank auditors in China go looking, they too often find that collateral recorded on the books simply isn’t there. In some cases, collateral that has been pledged simply doesn’t exist. In others, it disappears as borrowers in financial distress sell the assets. There are also instances in which the same collateral has been pledged to multiple lenders. One lawyer said he discovered that the same pile of steel was used to secure loans from 10 different lenders.

With the mainland facing its slowest growth in over a quarter of a century, defaults are mounting as borrowers struggle to repay their loans. The danger of fraudulent collateral in this situation, say economists, is that it exacerbates the problem of bad debt for China’s banks, increasing the risk of financial turmoil. As growth slows, lenders can expect more nasty surprises, said Xin Qingquan at Chongqing University. More instances of fake collateral will arise, he said. [..] There are no official statistics or estimates of the problem. But fraudulent collateral is “a huge issue,” said Violet Ho, co-head of Greater China Investigations and Disputes Practice at Kroll, which conducts corporate investigations on the mainland. “Often you also see that the paperwork around collateral may be dodgy, and the bank loan officer knows, the intermediary knows, and the goods owner knows – so it’s essentially a Ponzi scheme.”

[..]Bad loans are mounting fast. Officially, just 1.74% of commercial bank loans were classified as non-performing at the end of March. But some analysts say lenders often mask the true level of bad debt and so the figure is likely much higher. Fitch Ratings said in a report last September that it had estimated non-performing loans in China’s financial system could be as high as 15% to 21%. This in a banking sector that has undergone a massive credit expansion. The value of outstanding bank loans ballooned to $17.2 trillion at the end of April from $5.8 trillion at the end of 2009, according to data from China’s central bank. In September last year, the Bank for International Settlements warned that excessive credit growth in China meant there was a growing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.

Read more …

ECB at 28% of Eurozone GDP. Fed at 23% of US.

BOJ’s Balance Sheet Almost As Big As Japanese Economy (Nikkei)

The Bank of Japan’s assets apparently exceeded 500 trillion yen ($4.49 trillion) as of the end of May, growing to rival the country’s economy as the central bank continues its debt purchases under an ultraeasy monetary policy. The bank’s total assets stood at 498.15 trillion yen as of May 20. By the time the month ended Wednesday, its holdings of Japanese government bonds had increased by another 2.24 trillion yen. Assuming that the BOJ had not significantly reduced its non-JGB assets, its balance sheet almost certainly crossed over the 500 trillion yen mark into uncharted territory. The BOJ’s balance sheet began expanding at a rapid clip after Governor Haruhiko Kuroda launched unprecedented quantitative and qualitative easing in April 2013. At around 93%, the scale of the Japanese central bank’s assets in proportion to GDP has no close match. Latest data shows that the U.S. Fed held roughly $4.5 trillion in assets, which is equivalent to 23% of the country’s GDP.

The ECB’s balance sheet, at about €4.2 trillion ($4.71 trillion) is larger than the BOJ’s, but it still sits at around 28% of the eurozone GDP. The BOJ in September shifted its policy focus from QE to controlling the yield curve, but the bank is still snapping up JGBs to keep long-term rates at around zero. The central bank has stood firm on its pledge to continue expanding its balance sheet to boost currency supply until Japan’s consumer price inflation is steadily above 2%. This suggests that the BOJ’s balance sheet will continue expanding past the 500 trillion yen mark. This prospect makes some financial experts uneasy. Once the inflation target is finally met, and the BOJ starts raising interest rates, the bank will have to pay more in interest to financial institutions’ reserve deposits than it will earn from its low-yielding JGB holdings.

Read more …

All hail Amazon.

25-30% Of US Shopping Malls To Close In The Next Five Years (LATimes)

Between 20% and 25% of the nation’s shopping malls will close in the next five years, according to a new report from Credit Suisse that predicts e-commerce will continue to pull shoppers away from bricks-and-mortar retailers. For many, the Wall Street firm’s finding may come as no surprise. Long-standing retailers are dying off as shoppers’ habits shift online. Credit Suisse expects apparel sales to represent 35% of all e-commerce by 2030, up from 17% today. Traditional mall anchors, such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Sears, have announced numerous store closings in recent months. Clothiers including American Apparel and BCBG Max Azria have filed for bankruptcy. Bebe has closed all of its stores.

The report estimates that around 8,640 stores will close by the end of the year. Retail industry experts say Credit Suisse may have underestimated the scope of the upheaval. “It’s more in the 30% range,” Ron Friedman, a retail expert at accounting and advisory firm Marcum said of the share of malls that he predicts will close in the next five years. “There are a lot of malls that know they’re in big trouble.” By ignoring new shopping centers being built, the research note took an overly simplistic view of the changing landscape of shopping centers, said analyst David Marcotte, senior vice president with Kantar Retail. “There are still malls being built,” Marcotte said. “Predominantly outlet malls and lifestyle malls.”

Read more …

From May 11. h/t Tyler.

Westworld (Ben Hunt)

Now don’t get me wrong. Do I think Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker whose “ambition was always two steps ahead of his experience”, is the second coming of Charles de Gaulle? Do I think Donald freakin’ Trump is a modern day Andrew Jackson? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha … good one! But here’s what I do think: • Something old and powerful is happening in the real world to crush the status quo political systems of every Western democracy. • Something predictably sad is happening in the political world to replace the old guard candidates with self-absorbed plutocrats like Trump and pretty boy bankers like Macron. • Something new and powerful is happening in the investment world to divorce political risk and volatility from market risk and volatility. The old force repeating itself in the real world is nicely summed up by these two charts, the most important charts I know. They’re specific to the U.S., but applicable everywhere in the West.

First, the Central Banker’s Bubble since March 2009 and the launch of QE1 has inflated U.S. household wealth far beyond what the nominal growth rate of the U.S. economy would otherwise support. This is a classic bubble in every sense of the word, with the primary difference from prior vast bubbles being its concentration and focus in financial assets — stocks and bonds — which are held primarily by the rich. Who wins the Academy Award for creation of wealth inequality in a supporting role? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the U.S. Federal Reserve.

And as the second chart shows, this central bank largesse has sharply accelerated the massive shift in wealth to the Rich from the Rest, a shift which began in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. We are now back to where we were in the 1930s, where the household wealth of the bottom 90% of U.S. wage earners is equal to the household wealth of the top one-tenth of 1% of U.S. wage earners.

So look … I’m not saying that the current level or dynamics of wealth inequality is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just saying that it IS. And I understand that there are insurance programs today, like social security and pension funds, which are not reflected in this chart and didn’t exist in the 1930s, the last time you saw this sort of wealth inequality. I understand that there are a lot more people in the United States today than in the 1930s. I understand that there are all sorts of important differences in the nature of wealth distribution between today and the 1930s. I get all that. What I’m saying, though, is that just like in the 1930s, there is a political price to be paid for this level of wealth inequality. That price is political polarization and electoral rejection of status quo parties.

Read more …

At the local level, the US is in for something historic.

Cities, States And School Systems Lose Millions To Credit Downgrades (IBT)

[..] downgrades of bonds issued by local governments raise the interest rates those governments must pay on holders of its debt, thereby costing those communities up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, according to the report, which was released Wednesday by the non-profit Roosevelt Institute’s ReFund America Project and focused on recent downgrades by Moody’s in relatively impoverished, predominantly-black localities. The more recent report [..] took a granular look at a few communities whose budgets were impacted by downgrades, which drive the prices of bonds down while raising the interest rate at which the government has to pay its bondholders. New Jersey was set to lose $258 million annually as a result of a Moody’s ratings drop, the report calculated, using the spread between interest rates on bonds with different Moody’s credit ratings and the amount of debt affected by the downgrade.

Moody’s announced a downgrade of the New Jersey’s $37 billion in publicly-issued debt to A3, six levels below the agency’s top rating of Aaa, in late March. The agency attributed the downgrade to “significant pension underfunding, including growth in the state’s large long-term liabilities, a persistent structural imbalance and weak fund balances,” as well as a tax cut that would decrease revenues by $1.1 billion over the next four years. New Jersey’s city of Newark — which is 52.4% African American and 33.8% Hispanic, compared to 12.6% and 16.3%, respectively, on the national level, according to U.S. Census data — was slated to lose an estimated $10 million annually as a result of a Moody’s downgrade, the report calculated. Newark’s median household income was just over $33,000, compared to nearly $54,000 nationwide, as of 2015.

That year, Moody’s downgraded Newark’s $374 million in general obligation unlimited tax bonds to Baa3, one level above junk bond status. The rating change, Moody’s said in the press release, reflected “the city’s further weakened financial position since last year,” along with its “reliance on market access for cash flow, history of aggressively structured budgets typically adopted late in the year and uncertainty around continued financial support from the state of New Jersey.” Further west, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) also stood to suffer tremendously from a Moody’s rating drop. The report authors calculated that the school system would lose out on $290 million annually from a September 2016 Moody’s downgrade to B3, five ranks below the highest junk bond rating. Nearly 40% of students are African American, 46.5% are Hispanic and 80.2% are considered “economically disadvantaged,” according to October 2016 CPS data.

Read more …

States falling one by one.

S&P, Moody’s Downgrade Illinois to Near Junk, Lowest Ever for a US State (BBG)

Illinois had its bond rating downgraded to one step above junk by Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings, the lowest ranking on record for a U.S. state, as the long-running political stalemate over the budget shows no signs of ending. S&P warned that Illinois will likely lose its investment-grade status, an unprecedented step for a state, around July 1 if leaders haven’t agreed on a budget that chips away at the government’s chronic deficits. Moody’s followed S&P’s downgrade Thursday, citing Illinois’s underfunded pensions and the record backlog of bills that are equivalent to about 40% of its operating budget. “Legislative gridlock has sidetracked efforts not only to address pension needs but also to achieve fiscal balance,” Ted Hampton, Moody’s analyst, said in a statement.

“During the past year of fruitless negotiations and partisan wrangling, fundamental credit challenges have intensified enough to warrant a downgrade, regardless of whether a fiscal compromise is reached.” Illinois hasn’t had a full year budget in place for the past two years amid a clash between the Democrat-run legislature and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. That’s left the fifth most-populous state with a record $14.5 billion of unpaid bills, ravaged entities like universities and social service providers that rely on state aid and undermined Illinois’s standing in the bond market, where investors have demanded higher premiums for the risk of owning its debt. Moody’s called Illinois “an outlier among states” after suffering eight downgrades in as many years.

“The rating actions largely reflect the severe deterioration of Illinois’ fiscal condition, a byproduct of its stalemated budget negotiations,” S&P analyst Gabriel Petek said in a statement. “The unrelenting political brinkmanship now poses a threat to the timely payment of the state’s core priority payments.” Illinois’s 10-year bonds yield 4.4%, 2.5 percentage points more than those on top-rated debt. That spread – a measure of the perceived risk – is the highest since at least January 2013 and more than any of the other 19 states tracked by Bloomberg.

Read more …

The new economy.

Uber Burned Through Almost As Much Money As NASA Last Quarter (Simon Black)

Uber reported yesterday that its NET LOSS totaled more than $700 million last quarter, despite pulling in a whopping $3.4 billion in revenue. (This means they spent at least $4.1 billion!) That’s the latest in a string of massive, 9-figure quarterly losses for the company. The only question I have is– how much cocaine are these people buying? Seriously, it’s REALLY HARD to spend so many billions of dollars. You could have over 100,000 employees (‘real’ employees, not Uber drivers) and pay them $150,000 EACH and still not blow through that much money in a single quarter. Even if you think about Research & Development, Uber still managed to burn through almost as much cash as NASA’s $4.8 billion budget last quarter. The real irony is that this company is worth $70 BILLION. And Uber is far from alone. Netflix is also worth $70 billion; and like Uber, they can’t make money.

Over the last twelve months Netflix burned through over $1.7 billion in cash, and they made up for it by going deeper into debt. The list goes on and on– Snapchat debuted with a $30 billion valuation after its IPO, only to subsequently report that they had lost $2.2 billion in the previous quarter. Telecom company Sprint is still somehow worth more than $30 billion despite having over $40 billion in debt and burning through more than $6 billion over the last three years. And then there’s Twitter, a rudderless, profitless company that is still worth over $13 billion. This is pure insanity. If companies that burn through obscene piles of cash and have no clear path to profitability are worth tens of billions of dollars, it seems like any business that’s cashflow positive should be worth TRILLIONS. None of this makes any sense, and investing in this environment is nothing more than gambling. Sure, it’s always possible these companies’ stock prices increase even more. Maybe Netflix and Twitter quadruple despite continuing losses and debt accumulation. Maybe Bitcoin surges to $50,000 next month. And maybe the Dallas Cowboys finally offer me the starting quarterback position next season.

Read more …

“One of those bubbles is global debt, especially government debt. The other is the even larger bubble of government promises.”

Hmm. Private debt is the biggie.

The Next Recession May Be A Complete Reset Of All Asset Valuations (Mauldin)

Sometime this year, world public and private plus unfunded pensions will surpass $300 trillion. That is not even counting the $100 trillion in US government unfunded liabilities. Oops. These obligations cannot be paid. A time is coming when the market and voters will realize this. Will voters decide to tax “the rich” more? Will they increase their VAT rates and further slow growth? Will they reduce benefits? No matter what they decide, hard choices will bring political turmoil. And that, of course, will mean market turmoil. We are coming to a period I call “the Great Reset.” As it hits, we will have to deal, one way or another, with the largest twin bubbles in the history of the world. One of those bubbles is global debt, especially government debt. The other is the even larger bubble of government promises.

The other is the even larger bubble of government promises. History shows it is more than likely that the US will have a recession in the next few years. When it does come, it will likely blow the US government deficit up to $2 trillion a year. Obama took eight years to run up a $10 trillion debt after the 2008 recession. It might take just five years after the next recession to run up the next $10 trillion. Here is a chart my staff at Mauldin Economics created in late 2016 using Congressional Budget Office data. It shows what will happen in the next recession if revenues drop by the same percentage as they did in the last recession (without even counting likely higher expenditures this time).

And you can add the $1.3 trillion deficit in this chart to the more than $500 billion in off-budget debt—and add a higher interest rate expense as interest rates rise. The catalyst could be a European recession that spills over into the US. Or it might be one triggered by US monetary and fiscal mistakes. Or a funding crisis in China, or an emerging-market meltdown. Whatever the cause, the next recession will be just as global as the last one. And there will be more buildup of debt and more political and economic chaos.

Read more …

The trade will move elsewehere until it’s simply entirely banned.

China’s Ivory Ban Sparks Dramatic Drop In Prices Across Asia (G.)

The price of raw ivory in Asia has fallen dramatically since the Chinese government announced plans to ban its domestic legal ivory trade, according to new research seen by the Guardian. Poaching, however, is not dropping in parallel. Undercover investigators from the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) have been visiting traders in Hanoi over the last three years. In 2015 they were being offered raw ivory for an average of US$1322/kg in 2015, but by October 2016 that price had dropped to $750/kg, and by February this year prices were as much as 50% lower overall, at $660/kg. Traders complain that the ivory business has become very “difficult and unprofitable”, and are saying they want to get rid of their stock, according to the unpublished report seen by the Guardian. Worryingly, however, others are stockpiling waiting for prices to go up again.

Of all the ivory industries across Asia, it is Vietnam that has increased its production of illegal ivory items the fastest in the last decade, according to Save the Elephants. Vietnam now has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, with the majority of tusks being brought in from Africa. Although historically ivory carving is not considered a prestigious art form in Vietnam, as it is in China, the number of carvers has increased greatly. The demand for the worked pieces comes mostly from mainland China. Until recently, the chances of being arrested at the border slim due to inefficient law enforcement. But the prices for raw ivory are now declining as the Chinese market slows; this is partly due to China’s economic slowdown, and also to the announcement that the country will close down its domestic ivory trade.

China’s ivory factories were officially shut down by 31 March 2017, and all the retail outlets will be closed by the end of the year. Other countries have been taking similarly positive action on ivory, although the UK lags behind. Theresa May quietly dropped the conservative commitment to ban ivory from her manifesto, but voters have picked it up and there has been fury across social media. “All the traders we are speaking to are talking about what’s going on in China. It’s definitely having a significant impact on the trade,” said Sarah Stoner, senior intel analyst at the WJC. “A trader in one of the neighbouring countries who talked to our undercover investigators said he didn’t want to go to China anymore – it was so difficult in China now, and friends of his were arrested and sitting in jail. He seemed quite concerned about the situation,” said Pauline Verheji, WJC’S senior legal investigator.

Read more …

Lip service.

Audi Emissions Scandal Erupts After Germany Says It Detects New Cheating (R.)

Audi’s emissions scandal flared up again on Thursday after the German government accused the carmaker of cheating emissions tests with its top-end models, the first time Audi has been accused of such wrongdoing in its home country. The German Transport Ministry said it has asked Volkswagen’s luxury division to recall around 24,000 A7 and A8 models built between 2009 and 2013, about half of which were sold in Germany. VW Chief Executive Matthias Mueller was summoned to the Berlin-based ministry on Thursday, a ministry spokesman said, without elaborating. The affected Audi models with so-called Euro-5 emission standards emit about twice the legal limit of nitrogen oxides when the steering wheel is turned more than 15 degrees, the ministry said.

It is also the first time that Audi’s top-of-the-line A8 saloon has been implicated in emissions cheating. VW has said to date that the emissions-control software found in its rigged EA 189 diesel engine does not violate European law. The 80,000 3.0-liter vehicles affected by VW’s emissions cheating scandal in the United States included Audi A6, A7 and Q7 models as well as Porsche and VW brand cars. The ministry said it has issued a June 12 deadline for Audi to come up with a comprehensive plan to refit the cars. Ingolstadt-based Audi issued a recall for the 24,000 affected models late on Thursday, some 14,000 of which are registered in Germany, and said software updates will start in July. It will continue to cooperate with Germany’s KBA motor vehicle authority, Audi said.

Read more …

This is supposed to be our biggest enemy? He makes far too much sense for that.

Oliver Stone Quizzes Vladimir Putin On Snowden (G.)

Just a few hours after Megyn Kelly announced on NBC’s Today show that she would be interviewing Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg tomorrow at the International Economic Forum, Showtime released the first trailer and extended clip for The Putin Interviews, a sit-down with the Russian president conducted by the film-maker Oliver Stone for a four-part special that premieres on 12 June. Promoted as “the most detailed portrait of Putin ever granted to a Western interviewer”, The Putin Interviews spawned from several encounters over two years between Stone, director of politically oriented films including JFK and Nixon, and Putin. The interviews are to air as four one-hour installments, landing just a week after Kelly’s discussion with Putin, the centerpiece of her news magazine show on NBC, which premieres on Sunday night.

In the extended clip released on Thursday, Stone and Putin can be seen driving in a car with an English translator in the backseat, discussing topics such as Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and Russian intelligence. “As an ex-KGB agent, you must have hated what Snowden did with every fiber of your being,” Stone asks in the clip. “Snowden is not a traitor,” Putin replies. “He did not betray the interests of his country. Nor did he transfer any information to any other country which would have been pernicious to his own country or to his own people. The only thing Snowden does, he does publicly.”

Read more …

Oh well.

Schaeuble Launches A Broadside Against Tsipras (K.)

Two weeks before a critical Eurogroup summit, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble launched a broadside at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, claiming that the leftist premier has not shifted the burden of austerity away from poorer Greeks as he had pledged. In his comments, Schaeuble also maintained that party influence on the Greek public administration has increased rather than decreased during Tsipras’s time in power, noting that ruling party officials have been appointed to the country’s privatization fund. Greek government sources responded tersely to Schaeuble’s criticism. “The responsibility of Schaeuble in managing the Greek crisis has been recorded historically,” one source said. “There is no point in his ascribing it to others.”

Meanwhike Germany’s Die Welt reported that the ECB had similar views on the need for Greek debt relief to the IMF, and indicated that Schaeuble might be facing pressure to make unpopular decisions ahead of elections scheduled to take place in Germany in September. Tsipras, for his part, apparently sought to lower expectations in comments on Thursday. During a visit to the Interior Ministry, he said the government’s goal was “fulfilling the country’s commitments” linked to Greece’s third international bailout. He dodged reporters’ questions about whether he expected to leave a European Union leaders’ summit on June 22 wearing a tie – something he has pledged to do only when Greece secures debt relief. “The important thing is that I don’t leave with further burdens,” Tsipras said.

Aides close to Tsipras will be closely following a Euro Working Group meeting scheduled for June 8 for indications about what kind of deal creditors are likely to put on the table at the Eurogroup summit planned for June 15. If the solution that is in the works is deemed to be too politically toxic, it is likely that Tsipras will undertake another round of telephone diplomacy with key EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He spoke to several prominent EU leaders earlier this week to underline the Greek government’s conviction that it has honored its promises to creditors and it is their turn to reciprocate with debt relief.

Read more …

Promising. But.

A New Antibiotic Multitool Could Beat The Toughest Bacteria (F.)

Doctors may soon have a new weapon in the long-running war between antibiotics and bacteria. It’s a Swiss Army knife of a drug that’s tens of thousands of times more effective in lab tests against dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Starting with the discovery of penicillin in 1928, scientists and doctors have been finding and making molecules that weaken or kill bacteria in a range of different ways to help humans survive infections. And as soon as humans started employing these antibiotics, bacteria began evolving to beat those attacks. That has started to become a huge problem. So-called superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can ward off some of our most potent antibiotics, making infections by these bacteria extremely hard to treat.

Not only that, but their existence poses a strategic challenge as well, forcing doctors to think hard about when and where they use certain antibiotics, lest bacteria develop resistance to them and render them less effective. Vancomycin is one antibiotic that has stayed effective even as others have been been brought down by resistant bacteria. That’s because of the way vancomycin works: by latching onto one of the building blocks bacteria use to build their cell walls, like the microscopic equivalent of a bully stealing your shovel in the sandbox and not giving it back. (In this analogy, we’re on the bully’s side.) By interfering with such a critical cellular process in such a fundamental way, vancomycin makes it hard for bacteria to develop a simple mutation to defeat the antibiotic. That makes vancomycin one of our last lines of defense for treating infections like MRSA that others can’t.

It’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) added the drug to its list of essential medicines. Naturally, some bacteria have found ways to fight vancomycin, the most common being to substitute a different cell wall building block that the antibiotic can’t latch onto. Taking vancomycin out of doctors’ quivers would be a big blow. Which is why the WHO also lists vancomycin-resistant bacteria at number four and five on its list of the most threatening antibiotic-resistant microbes. So. To try to make sure vancomycin can beat those resistant bacteria, and stay effective for the next few decades—a reasonable lifetime for an antibiotic—chemists Dale Boger, Nicholas Isley and Akinori Okano at the Scripps Research Institute in California opened up the hood to make a few adjustments to the molecule.

After swapping out one part and bolting on a couple others, the group’s souped-up vancomycin was about 25,000 times more potent against resistant bacteria, and it had better endurance. They describe their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The major change was to the region of the molecule that grabs those cell wall building blocks, which are called D-alanyl-D-alanine. Resistant bacteria have learned to substitute the very similar D-alanyl-D-lactate, which your standard vancomycin can’t bind to very well, limiting its effectiveness. The researchers changed an oxygen atom for two atoms of hydrogen, making a new version of vancomycin that could hang onto either building block.

Read more …

Jun 032016
 
 June 3, 2016  Posted by at 8:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Happy News Cafe, “restaurant for the unemployed”, Washington, DC 1937

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)
Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)
Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)
Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)
US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)
One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)
OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)
Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)
Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)
Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)
Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)
President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)
Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)
The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)
Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)
Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)
US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

Central bankers seem to think it does, though.

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)

Bill Gross has some bad news for investors. In his June investment outlook released Thursday, the widely followed bond fund manager contended that bond and stock returns realized in the last 40 years are “a grey if not black swan event that cannot be repeated.” Investors should not expect 7% returns on bonds or returns in the high single digits or double digits on stocks, Gross told CNBC on Thursday. “The markets are entirely different and it would pay to travel to Mars as opposed to stay on Earth, because the returns here are very, very low,” the manager of the Janus Capital Unconstrained Bond Fund, said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch”. Gross said easy central bank policy could hold down bond returns. Central banks in Europe and Japan have adopted negative interest rates, while the Federal Reserve’s target rate is at 0.25 to 0.50%.

German and Japanese 10-year bonds currently have negative yields, while their 30-year bonds yield less than 1%. The U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield sat around 1.8% Thursday. Gross contended those rate trends can hurt not only savers but also the broader economy. He said Fed policymakers, who have signaled they could hike rates at least once this year, realize they need to normalize policy. “Ultimately, they have to move back up and I think a certain number of Fed governors realize that the normalization process is necessary in order to save business models and to save capitalism basically because capitalism doesn’t work at 0% and it doesn’t work at negative interest rates,” he said.

Read more …

Negative bonanza.

Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)

The amount of global sovereign debt with negative yields surpassed $10 trillion for the first time in May, according to Fitch Ratings. The measure stood at $10.4 trillion on May 31, up 5% from $9.9 trillion on April 25, when the rating agency last measured the amount, according to a Thursday report. It is spread across 14 countries, with Japan by far the largest source of negative-yielding bonds. Of the total, $7.3 trillion was long-term debt and $3.1 trillion was short-term debt.

The amount of debt with yields below zero has increased sharply this year as global central banks have instituted unconventional policy measures, such as negative interest rates. The Bank of Japan in January surprised markets by driving its rates below zero, pushing Japanese government-bond yields sharply lower. Banks in the euro currency bloc have also increased demand for government debt to meet regulatory requirements, another factor weighing on yields, Fitch said. “Higher amounts of Japanese and Italian sovereign securities with sub-zero yields were the biggest contributors to the monthly changes,” said Fitch analysts, led by Robert Grossman.

Read more …

Because it’s shifting into private hands. The BOJ buys it all. Which allows the government to keep on borrowing with abandon.

Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)

Japan for years has been renowned for having the world’s largest government debt load. No longer. That’s if you consider how the effective public borrowing burden is plunging – by one estimate as much as the equivalent of 15 percentage points of GDP a year, putting it on track toward a more manageable level. Accounting for the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented government bond buying from private investors, which some economists call “monetization” of the debt, alters the picture. Though the bond liabilities remain on the government’s balance sheet, because they aren’t held by the private sector any more they’re effectively irrelevant, according to a number of analysts looking at the shift. “Japan is the country where public debt in private hands is falling the fastest anywhere,” said Martin Schulz at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

While Japan’s estimated gross government debt is now over twice the size of the economy, according to Schulz’s calculations using BOJ data, the shuffle of holdings from private actors like banks and households to the central bank is having a big impact. It means debt in private hands will fall to about 100% of GDP in two to three years, from 177% just before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in late 2012, he estimates. It’s not like Japan is slowing down on borrowing. Abe’s administration is now laying the groundwork for another burst of fiscal stimulus, which could be funded by selling bonds. He also announced Wednesday a delay to a sales tax hike planned for April 2017, rebuffing fiscal hawks who argued it was vital to raise revenue.

Finance Minister Taro Aso explained Tuesday that “the biggest problem is that private consumption hasn’t risen,” making now not a good time to raise the levy. Helping improve household sentiment could be one reason for making it explicit that at least some of the government bonds in the BOJ’s holdings will be written off. If Japanese consumers understand they’re not on the hook for all the gross debt outstanding, their mood could potentially perk up.

Read more …

What can we say but: Anything Goes!

Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)

Which fixed-income asset class is growing fast, outperforms similar debt issues, and rarely defaults? Emerging market ‘quasi-sovereign’ bonds, of course! At some $600 billion, debt sold by state-supported companies in emerging markets ranging from China to Oman has surpassed the amount of emerging market government debt outstanding, according to a new note from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Such quasi-sovereign debt issuance has helped propel the stunning growth of the overall bond market, with EM issuance accounting for 47% of the growth in global debt between 2007-14, compared to 22% in the previous seven years, according to S&P Global Ratings.

But the surge in ‘quasi’ bonds is making some feel, well, queasy. “Quasi-sovereigns are effectively a ‘contingent liability’ for a country,” write the BofAML analysts, led by Kay Hope. They note that quasi-sovereign issuance now makes up half of the $1.6 – 1.8 trillion euro- and dollar-denominated corporate bond market for emerging markets, which could put added pressure on strained emerging market coffers.

China, with its lumbering state-owned enterprises, accounts for a full quarter of this kind of debt — despite the Chinese sovereign itself lacking virtually any foreign-denominated bonds. Meanwhile, the amount of debt from Brazilian quasi-sovereigns has nearly quadrupled, according to BofAML, while that sold by Mexico’s state-owned companies has just about doubled. Much of the growth has been driven by companies in the energy and commodities sectors, with giants of industry including Pemex, Petrobras, China National Offshore Oil and Gazprom all tapping the market in recent years.

Read more …

There’s going to be trouble.

US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)

The U.S. and China, facing mounting political pressures at home, are seeing economic tensions flare to their worst point in years over currency and trade practices. China has pushed the yuan to a five-year low against the dollar, reviving charges from American firms of currency manipulation to gain a competitive advantage for Chinese goods. The Obama administration has fired off a series of trade complaints and levied duties on several Chinese industries, from chicken feet to cold-rolled steel used in appliances and auto parts. The friction between the world’s two largest economies could worsen as domestic politics collide with already weak growth.

The U.S., seeing heightened anti-China rhetoric in the presidential election, wants China to press ahead with promised policies to open up its markets and allow greater international investment. Chinese leaders, worried about a deeper economic slowdown, are trying to keep factories humming and prevent the kind of market unrest that gripped global investors over the past year. [..] Some analysts think President Xi Jinping, wanting to consolidate power in the Communist Party ahead of a leadership transition next year, has paused reform efforts and instead is revving up the old playbook of credit-fueled growth and infrastructure spending. His aim: Ensure economic stability and mollify rivals, they say.

An attempt last year by Beijing to allow markets to play a role in setting its exchange rate was mismanaged, adding to a summertime of woe for China’s financial markets and sparking global jitters. The reaction surprised Chinese officials and created a headache for reformers. The Chinese government is keeping steel mills, coal plants and a host of manufacturing industries afloat despite dwindling demand and a tumble in commodity prices that should have closed many. [..] By supporting excess production capacity, the Chinese government is “engaged in economic warfare against the U.S.,” said John Ferriola, chief executive of North Carolina steel giant Nucor Corp. “Thousands of hardworking Americans have lost their jobs because of these illegal, unfair trade practices.”

Read more …

“..nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400..”

One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)

In the United States, nearly one-third of adults, about 76 million people, are either “struggling to get by” or “just getting by,” according to the third annual survey of households by the Federal Reserve Board. That finding, dismal though it is, represents a mild improvement in general well-being last year, compared with the two years before. The improvement, however, was clearly too little to raise Americans’ spirits: The new survey, which was conducted in late 2015 and released last week, also shows that optimism about the future has tempered. The Fed policy committee should take the survey to heart when it meets this month to decide whether to raise interest rates.

Higher rates are a way to slow an economy that is at risk of overheating – a far-fetched proposition when tens of millions of Americans are barely hanging in there. Congress and other economic policy makers, as well as the presidential candidates, could also use the survey to get some insight into Americans’ real economic problems. Among them is deep insecurity. Nearly 70% of adults said they were “living comfortably” or “doing O.K.” — up a bit from previous years — but nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400, or could do so only by selling something or borrowing money. Americans seeking a path upward through education are staggering under a load of debt. The median debt load for someone with a bachelor’s degree was $19,162.

For a master’s, it was $36,000, and for a professional degree, $100,000. Many students with debt use deferments or other plans to delay or extend repayments, but in most cases that increases the balance they owe. For those making payments, the average monthly bill was $533. By all indications, however, they are the relatively lucky ones. Americans who had attended college accounted for most of the improvement reported in the survey. Financial stress was more prevalent among less-educated people who responded to the survey, as well as racial and ethnic minorities and adults making less than $40,000 a year.

Read more …

Please remember and compare to yesterday’s (also OECD): “We’re a little concerned about housing prices in the greater Vancouver area and Toronto..”

OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)

Australia may be on the cusp of a “dramatic and destabilising” end to the housing boom rather than a hoped-for soft landing because of the apartments building boom, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said. In its latest assessment of the threats to the economy, the Paris-based think tank said jitters over the federal election are adding to risks, and called for an increase in the goods and services tax. Somewhat paradoxically, the OECD appears particularly worried about how to interpret changes in the housing market – even as it notes simultaneously that risks of a boom appear to be receding which, it argues, provides leeway for even more official interest rate cuts.

“Domestically, the unwinding of housing market tensions to date may presage dramatic and destabilising developments, rather than herald a soft landing,” it said. Parts of the real estate industry have already warned about failed settlements as record numbers of new apartments come due for completion in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane this year and next. The warning, which is accompanied by graphs showing dwelling approvals retreating from a peak and house prices levelling out, appears to have been prepared ahead of more recent evidence of a rebound in both measures.

Read more …

First things first.

Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve may be forced to delay a rate hike at its June meeting because of mounting concern over the economic fallout from Britain’s vote on whether to leave the European Union. The geopolitical risk likely will push any rate increase until at least July, despite apparent consensus among Fed officials that a hike is warranted by stronger U.S. growth and tight labor markets. The Fed’s June 14-15 rate-setting meeting comes just a week before the British vote on June 23. A “leave” vote is expected to roil financial markets, cause credit spreads to widen, trigger a rush into safe assets and bolster the dollar. The dollar’s recent stability is one reason the Fed has become more comfortable with raising rates, and officials may want to let the threat of Brexit pass before moving to tighten financial conditions.

Fed Board Governor Daniel Tarullo on Thursday joined the chorus of those warning of his concerns over the British vote, telling Bloomberg that Brexit would be a “factor” he would consider at the Fed’s June policy meeting and said that the British vote’s impact on markets would be key. [..] If the Fed does indeed take a pass at its June meeting, officials have signaled they’ll be ready to move in July. Minutes of the Fed’s March policy meeting showed officials preparing the ground for higher rates sometime in the summer months. After July, the next option would be September, in the middle of a U.S. election campaign, in which the Fed and Yellen could well become targets of debate.

Read more …

The illusion gets expensive, as returns diminish.

Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s insistence that his stimulus program is only half done brings with it a worrying thought. What if its best effects are already spent anyway? At least four times at Thursday’s press conference in Vienna, the European Central Bank president emphasized how policy makers need to see the “full impact” and must “focus on implementation” of their measures. That augurs a busy month ahead as officials keep hoovering up government debt, start buying corporate bonds and enact the first of four long-term loan offerings to banks. While Draghi’s remarks suggest the next major calendar point for the ECB’s assessment of its stimulus will be September – after the release of economic-growth data and coinciding with its fresh forecasts – the omens so far are weak.

Yet another report of negative consumer prices this week underscored the challenge of revitalizing an economy fatigued by years of debt crises and delayed reforms, and battered by global forces beyond the ECB’s control. “We’re getting to the point of radically diminishing effectiveness of these interventions,” Andrew Balls, Pimco’s global fixed income chief investment officer, said on Bloomberg Television. “If we get a recession, which is perfectly plausible over the next three to five years, there’s a real question in terms of how policy makers can respond.”

Read more …

France blames emerging economies.

Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)

The Bank of France cut its inflation forecasts and trimmed its 2017 economic growth forecast in a semi-annual economic outlook Friday. The Bank of France pared back its GDP forecast for 2017 to 1.5% from 1.6% in December as it expects weaker trade to drag on the French economy. Despite a stronger-than-expected first quarter, it kept its GDP forecast for the whole of 2016 at 1.4%. The softer forecasts indicate how weak oil prices and uncertainty over the outlook for the global economy are cooling eurozone economies just as they emerge from a long period of weak growth. “While global demand is dynamic, it will accelerate only slightly in 2016, due to a less favorable growth outlook than previously forecast in emerging economies,” the Bank of France said.

Read more …

Germany blames exports in general. Stingy Greeks?!

Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)

The Bundesbank cut its German inflation and growth forecasts on Friday citing weaker demand for exports, even as it predicted that robust consumer demand and a tightening labor market would keep the domestic economy buoyant. The euro zone’s biggest economy has been an outperformer in recent years, posting healthy growth and driving the currency bloc’s best run since the start of the global financial crisis almost a decade ago. Exporters have been forced to “surrender” some of their market share gained in recent years, however, and this trend may continue this year and offset strong domestic factors, the central bank said in a biannual economic outlook.

“This should probably be interpreted mainly as a correction of previous market share gains not explained by price competitiveness,” the Bundesbank said. “This process could continue further into 2016 according to Ifo and DIHK surveys, in which industrial firms reported subdued export expectations and only a comparatively moderate increase in exports this year,” it said. The bank now sees GDP growing at 1.7% this year, below a December projection for 1.8%, and 1.4% in 2017, down from 1.7% seen earlier. The growth rate would then rebound to 1.6% in 2018.

Read more …

Not going to happen.

President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)

As he wraps up his presidency, it’s time for Barack Obama to seriously consider pardoning whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Last week, Manning marked her six-year anniversary of being behind bars. She’s now served more time than anyone who has leaked information to a reporter in history – and still has almost three decades to go on her sentence. It should be beyond question at this point that the archive that Manning gave to WikiLeaks – and that was later published in part by the Guardian and New York Times – is one of the richest and most comprehensive databases on world affairs that has ever existed; its contribution to the public record at this point is almost incalculable. To give you an idea: in just the past month, the New York Times has cited Manning’s state department cables in at least five different stories.

And that’s almost six years after they first started making headlines. We know now that, despite being embarrassing for the United States, the leaks caused none of the great harm that US government officials said would come to pass. Even the government admitted during Manning’s trial that no one died because of her revelations, despite the hyperbolic government comments at the time, including that WikiLeaks had “blood on its hands”. (By the way, the US officials knew they were exaggerating in the media at the time.) Even if you think that she deserves some punishment for breaking the law, six years behind bars (and being tortured during her pretrial confinement) should be more than enough.

Read more …

Creepy.

Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)

Nearly 250 million video surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the world, and chances are you’ve been seen by several of them today. Most people barely notice their presence anymore – on the streets, inside stores, and even within our homes. We accept the fact that we are constantly being recorded because we expect this to have virtually no impact on our lives. But this balance may soon be upended by advancements in facial recognition technology. Soon anybody with a high-resolution camera and the right software will be able to determine your identity. That’s because several technologies are converging to make this accessible. Recognition algorithms have become far more accurate, the devices we carry can process huge amounts of data, and there’s massive databases of faces now available on social media that are tied to our real names.

As facial recognition enters the mainstream, it will have serious implications for your privacy. A new app called FindFace, recently released in Russia, gives us a glimpse into what this future might look like. Made by two 20-something entrepreneurs, FindFace allows anybody to snap a photo of a passerby and discover their real name — already with 70% reliability. The app allows people to upload photos and compare faces to user profiles from the popular social network Vkontakte, returning a result in a matter of seconds. According to an interview in the Guardian, the founders claim to already have 500,000 users and have processed over 3 million searches in the two months since they’ve launched.

What’s particularly unsettling are the use cases they advocate: identifying strangers to send them dating requests, helping government security agencies to determine the identities of dissenters, and allowing retailers to bombard you with advertisements based on what you look at in stores. While there are reasons to be skeptical of their claims, FindFace is already being deployed in questionable ways. Some users have tried to identify fellow riders on the subway, while others are using the app to reveal the real names of porn actresses against their will. Powerful facial recognition technology is now in the hands of consumers to use how they please.

Read more …

American history 101.

The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)

That was the week Hillary began to look like the candidate who fell off a truck wearing a Nixon mask. Email-gate is taking on the odor of Watergate — the main ingredient of which was not the dopey crime itself but the stonewalling around it. The State Department Inspector General’s report saying definitively, no, she was not “allowed” to use a private, unsecured email server validated Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling of “Crooked Hillary.” We may never hear the end of that now (if Trump is actually nominated). And, of course, there lurks the Godzilla-sized skeleton in her closet of the still-unreleased Goldman Sachs speech transcripts, the clamor over which is sure to grow. Meanwhile the specter of the California primary looms, a not inconceivable loss to Bernie Sanders.

And onto the convention in Philly which I contend will be even more fractious and violent than the 1968 fiasco in Chicago. I’ll say it again: Hillary is a horse that ain’t gonna finish. The Democrats better be prepared to haul Uncle Joe out of the closet, fluff up his transplanted hair, wax his dentures, give him a few Vitamin B-12 shots, and stick a harpoon in his fist for the autumn run against the White Whale (if Trump is actually nominated). The Republican convention in Cleveland is apt to be as bloody and violent a spectacle too (if Trump is actually nominated), with Black Lives Matters cadres having already promised to put on a show for global television and their Latino counterparts marching with Mexican Flags and cute signs saying: Trump: Chingate tu madre, perhaps garnished with the sobriquet pendejo.

In such a situation, Trump has enormous potential to make things worse with his childish snap-backs. Hubert Humphrey in 1968 at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about the moiling multitudes out on Michigan Avenue inveighing against him. The Vietnam War was a grave debacle, and it especially pissed off the young men subject to being drafted to fight in it, but the woof and warp of American life was otherwise intact. Blue collar workers still pulled in high wages in the Big Three auto plants, and women had not yet declared war on men, and the airwaves weren’t pornified, and there were still people in government with moral authority who loudly opposed official policy. The sobering martyrdoms of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy sanctified the opposition to the status quo.

Even Hubert Humphrey himself, a thoughtful man underneath his Rotarian clown mask, began to turn away from Lyndon Johnson’s war hawks. Nixon won. He surely benefited most not so much from the war issue and the riots in the streets as from the mass defection of Southern states from the long-entrenched domination of the Democratic Party — directly due to Johnson’s dismantling of the old Jim Crow laws. As a personality, Nixon was as much a pendejo as Donald Trump, but no one doubted his ability to run the machinery of government, if not the way they wanted to run it.

Read more …

” The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners.”

Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)

Sweden’s state-funded broadcaster has revealed that of 163,000 migrants who came to Sweden, less than 500 have found jobs. Sweden saw a record 163,000 applications for asylum last year as a result of the migrant crisis and many Swedes were assured that the new arrivals would contribute to the economy; but new research from Sweden’s state-owned SVT reveals that fewer than 500 migrants have found work. Using data from the Swedish employment agency and the Swedish migration authority, Migrationsverket, the network claims that only 494 asylum seekers are contributing to the economy, The Local reports. While in many countries asylum seekers are banned from formally working while their application is being processed, in Sweden there are exceptions.

The “at-und” is an exemption granted by Migrationsverket which allows asylums seekers access to the labour market. In an effort to explain the incredibly low number of migrants working, Lisa Bergstrand of Migrationsverket told SVT: “There was an incredible number of people applying for asylum in Sweden and so that we should be able to register them, we had to de-prioritise certain tasks, and that was the matter of jobs”. Of the migrants who claimed asylum in 2015 approximately one third of the men and women aged 20-64 were given the exemption to allow them to work, which is around 53,790 migrants. The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners. The unemployment for those born in Sweden is at the lowest point since the 2008 financial crisis at around 4.8%, while foreign born unemployment is at 14.9%.

Read more …

Question to Italian readers: what effect has the death of Casaleggio had on Beppe?

Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)

Alessandro Aquilini had her by the hand. And he wasn’t letting go. Virginia Raggi, the woman tipped to be the next mayor of Rome, was hunting for votes in the street market in Boccea, a lower middle-class district of the Italian capital. Raggi’s trademark is exquisite courtesy – she proffers a slender hand even to reporters who approach her with hostile questions. At the butcher’s stall, though, she got more of a handshake than she bargained for. “We need help,” the 50-year-old Aquilini began. “Left. Right. Centre. We can’t take any more [of party politicians]. This country needs a bit more honesty.” Still gripping Raggi’s hand as he stretched across the slabs of veal, the burly butcher added: “We’re up to here with taxes and corruption.”

His monologue captured many of the reasons why Raggi, the candidate of the Five Star Movement (M5S), is leading the polls ahead of local elections in Rome and other Italian cities on Sunday. Unlike other non-traditional movements that have prospered in Europe, such as Syriza in Greece, the M5S’s protest is not so much against austerity as the corruption and cronyism of Italy’s mainstream parties. Nowhere has this been highlighted more vividly than Rome, where establishment politicians and officials are on trial alongside alleged mobsters, charged with conspiring to pocket millions of euros from rigged public contracts. All three of the final polls released before a ban took effect on 21 May put Raggi ahead by 3-6%age points in the mayoral race.

Run-offs between the two leading candidates in each town are slated for 19 June. Only then will it be known if the 37-year-old lawyer – almost unknown to the public until a few months ago – has won. A victory for Raggi would be a stinging reverse for Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who leads the centre-left Democratic party, and a dramatic breakthrough for the internet-based M5S. Founded less than seven years ago by the comedian Beppe Grillo and his digital guru, the late Gianroberto Casaleggio, the M5S is today Italy’s leading opposition party. Grillo has said he will set fire to himself in public if Raggi fails to win. But he may yet regret that pledge.

Read more …

Is there hope?

US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

US authorities announced a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory Thursday, finalizing a years-long push to protect the endangered animals. “Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said. The new rule “substantially limits” imports, exports and sales of such ivory across state lines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said. However, it does make exceptions for some “pre-existing manufactured” items, such as musical instruments, furniture and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria, according to the FWS.

Antiques, as defined under the Endangered Species Act, are also exempt. The new measures fulfill restrictions in an executive order on combating wildlife trafficking issued by President Barack Obama in 2013, the FWS said in its statement announcing the ban. It said that once illegal ivory enters the market it becomes virtually impossible to tell apart from legal ivory, adding that demand for elephant ivory, particularly in Asia, “is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill.”

“We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species,” Jewell said. The Wildlife Conservation Society welcomed the ban, calling it historic and groundbreaking. “The USA is shutting down the bloody ivory market that is wiping out Africa’s elephants,” WCS president and chief executive Cristian Samper said in a statement. “The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business.” Some 450,000 elephants can be found on the African continent and it is estimated that more than 35,000 of these animals are killed each year.

Read more …