Jun 192019
 
 June 19, 2019  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The circus 1933

 

The Fed Just Released a Damning Indictment of Capitalism (NYMag)
Russia to US: Drop Middle East Troop Plan And Stop Provoking Iran (R.)
Iran At The Center Of The Eurasian Riddle (Escobar)
The Sino-Russian Masterplan To End US Dominance In Middle East (Bodansky)
Russia, China, Block US Effort To Halt North Korea Fuel Deliveries (AFP)
US Lawmakers Call For Facebook To Pause Cryptocurrency Project (R.)
Japan Exports Slide For 6th Straight Month (R.)
Japanese Businesses See Economy Peaking Out, Want More Stimulus (R.)
The Truth vs Your Truth (Jim Kunstler)
Canada Approves Contentious Oil Pipeline Expansion (R.)
Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada (CP)
Canadian Permafrost Thaws 70 Years Early (R.)

 

 

“The fundamental challenge in combating inequality is that wealth begets more wealth.”

The Fed Just Released a Damning Indictment of Capitalism (NYMag)

In 2011, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University published a study on Americans’ views of how wealth was distributed in their society, and how they felt it should be distributed. They found that, in the average American’s ideal world, the richest 20 percent would own 32 percent of national wealth. In reality, the top quintile owned 84 percent as of 2011. And that share has grown in the intervening years. Today, the one percent alone commands roughly 40 percent of all America’s wealth. Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly a far-right extremist whose indifference to inequality puts him or her wildly out of step with ordinary people. But is it the case that Warren and Sanders would take things too far in the other direction?

Not remotely. I do not have the relevant data or skills to project precisely how the full implementation of either candidate’s agenda would influence America’s wealth distribution. But neither candidate is calling for a series of reforms that would place the United States far outside the Western European norm. In fact, both Warren and Sanders have cribbed their signature policies from European nations. As the 2018 World Inequality Report demonstrated, policy choices do matter — and income inequality is much lower in Western Europe than it is in the U.S.

But even Scandinavia’s social democracies feature far more inequitable distributions of wealth than Americans think to be fair, according to Ariely and Norton’s survey. What’s more, it will take a lot of redistribution just to prevent America’s current wealth gap from growing even larger. The fundamental challenge in combating inequality is that wealth begets more wealth. Those who can afford to invest in bonds get to collect annual interest payments; those who invest in stocks or real estate typically see their capital assets annually appreciate. Thus, most years, our nation’s collective capital stock directs loads of passive income to America’s wealthiest citizens.

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Things are shifting. And not a little bit.

Russia to US: Drop Middle East Troop Plan And Stop Provoking Iran (R.)

Russia told the United States on Tuesday to drop what it called provocative plans to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke war with Iran. The comments, from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to Russian news agencies, followed an announcement from Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan a day earlier who said Washington planned to send around 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes. President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran would not wage war against any nation and the Kremlin called for restraint from all sides.


Ryabkov told reporters that Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies about what he called the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region.” “Now what we see are unending and sustained U.S. attempts to crank up political, psychological, economic and yes military pressure on Iran in quite a provocative way. They (these actions) cannot be assessed as anything but a conscious course to provoke war,” Ryabkov was cited as saying. If Washington did not want war it had to show it, he said. “If that’s really how it is then the U.S. should step back from reinforcing its military presence,” said Ryabkov.

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“Xi was adamant; Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes”.

Iran At The Center Of The Eurasian Riddle (Escobar)

With the dogs of war on full alert, something extraordinary happened at the 19th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) late last week in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Virtually unknown across the West, the SCO is the foremost Eurasian political, economic and security alliance. It’s not a Eurasian NATO. It’s not planning any humanitarian imperialist adventures. A single picture in Bishkek tells a quite significant story, as we see China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, India’s Modi and Pakistan’s Imran Khan aligned with the leaders of four Central Asian “stans”. These leaders represent the current eight members of the SCO. Then there are four observer states – Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia and, crucially, Iran – plus six dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and, crucially, Turkey.

The SCO is bound to significantly expand by 2020, with possible full membership for both Turkey and Iran. It will then feature all major players of Eurasia integration. Considering the current incandescence in the geopolitical chessboard, it’s hardly an accident a crucial protagonist in Bishkek was the ‘observer’ state Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani played his cards masterfully. Rouhani speaking directly to Putin, Xi, Modi and Imran, at the same table, is something to be taken very seriously. He blasted the US under Trump as “a serious risk to stability in the region and the world”. Then he diplomatically offered preferential treatment for all companies and entrepreneurs from SCO member nations committed to investing in the Iranian market.

[..] Xi was adamant; Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes”. Iran is a key node of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It’s clear for the leadership in Tehran that the way forward is full integration into the vast, Eurasia-wide economic ecosystem. European nations that signed the nuclear deal with Tehran – France, Britain and Germany – can’t save Iran economically.

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“..advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.”

The Sino-Russian Masterplan To End US Dominance In Middle East (Bodansky)

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s early June 2019 summit in Moscow with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Pres. Xi Jinping seems likely to have a disproportionate influence on the next phases of the crises unfolding in the greater Middle East, and therefore on the future of the region. The escalating confrontation between Iran and the US is both influencing and influenced by the mega-trends set by Russia and the PRC. Although the key meetings took place on June 5, 2019, the seeds of the new joint strategy were already planted during the May 13, 2019, summit in Sochi between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They went over all the key topics in preparation for the Putin-Xi summit.

On June 5, 2019, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Moscow and decided to not only markedly upgrade the bilateral relations and alliance of their countries, but to use the new relations in order to shape the long-term posture of the entire Eastern Hemisphere in their favor. Emphasis was to be put on the Eurasian Sphere (the Kremlin’s high priority) and the New Silk Road (the Forbidden City’s high priority), as well as the Korean Peninsula which is most important for both. One of the first major confrontations with the US by Russia and the PRC was to be over the greater Middle East. The main reason was the advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.

Using the currency basket would enable the sellers and buyers to go around the US-imposed sanctions and quotas. Indeed, Beijing and Moscow were now enticing the oil producers with huge, long-term export deals which were both financially lucrative and politically tempting by offering guarantees for the well-being of the participating governments. The crux of the proposal is regional and includes flagrant disregard of the US sanctions on Iran. However, the key to the extent of the commitment of both Beijing and Moscow lies in the growing importance and centrality of the New Silk Road via Central Asia. Persia had a crucial rôle in the ancient Silk Road, and both the PRC and Russia now expect Iran to have a comparable key rôle in the New Silk Road.

The growing dominance of heritage-based dynamics throughout the developing world, including the greater Central Asia and the greater Middle East, makes it imperative for the PRC to rely on historic Persia/Iran as a western pole of the New Silk Road. It is this realization which led both Beijing and Moscow to give Tehran, in mid-May 2019, the original guarantees that Washington would be prevented from conducting a “regime change”.

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Hands off Iran. Hands off Korea.

Russia, China, Block US Effort To Halt North Korea Fuel Deliveries (AFP)

Russia and China on Tuesday blocked an American initiative that aimed to halt fuel deliveries to North Korea, which Washington accuses of exceeding its annual ceiling for 2019, diplomatic sources said. Moscow and Beijing said more time was needed to study the US request, which was backed by 25 UN members including Japan, France and Germany, according to the sources. A week ago, the United States, in a report, accused North Korea of breaching the United Nations-imposed ceiling on fuel imports by carrying out dozens of ship-to-ship transfers this year.


The cap on fuel imports is among a series of tough sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests. The United States insists that “maximum pressure” from the sanctions must remain on North Korea until it agrees to dismantle its weapons program. Washington had asked that a United Nations sanctions committee rule that the annual cap of 500,000 barrels had been exceeded and order all countries to halt fuel deliveries. Countries on the sanctions committee, including Russia and China, had until Tuesday to raise objections to the request to cut off fuel shipments to North Korea.

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They simply don’t understand.

US Lawmakers Call For Facebook To Pause Cryptocurrency Project (R.)

Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said Facebook should halt development of the product, dubbed Libra, until Congress and regulators can review the issue, and called on company executives to testify before Congress. “Facebook has data on billions of people and has repeatedly shown a disregard for the protection and careful use of this data,” she said in a statement. “With the announcement that it plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users.” Her comments came after Representative Patrick McHenry, the senior Republican on her panel, also sought a hearing on Facebook’s new initiative. A Facebook representative said the company looked forward to answering lawmakers’ questions.


Facebook’s announcement was met with immediate backlash from U.S. lawmakers and regulators across the globe, who are concerned that Facebook is already too massive and careless with users’ privacy. “Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy. We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, in a statement. [..] French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for more regulation of tech companies. “This instrument for transactions will allow Facebook to collect millions and millions of data, which strengthens my conviction that there is a need to regulate the digital giants,” he said in an interview on Europe 1 radio.

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Meanwhile, Japan is sinking.

Japan Exports Slide For 6th Straight Month (R.)

Japan’s exports fell for a sixth straight month in May as China-bound shipments of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and car parts weakened, in a sign of a deteriorating outlook for growth as the trade-reliant economy faces persistent pressure from slowing external demand. Sluggish exports have been a source of concern among Japanese policymakers, especially as a bruising U.S.-China tariff war has upended supply chains and hit global growth, trade and investment.


“The business sentiment of Japanese firms, and in particular exporters, is falling depending on the extent of U.S.-China trade tensions, and that will suppress exporters’ capital expenditure,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “I think that will be a negative for Japan’s economy.” Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Wednesday that exports declined 7.8% in May from a year earlier, down for the sixth straight month. The fall in shipments compared with a 7.7% annual decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 2.4% year-on-year fall in April.

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But the BOJ already owns half the country…

Japanese Businesses See Economy Peaking Out, Want More Stimulus (R.)

Japan’s economy is likely to stop expanding this year and into next with the Sino-U.S. trade war and a planned sales tax hike expected to crimp activity, a Reuters poll of Japanese companies found, with most calling for fresh stimulus to prop up growth. The gloomy outlook suggests that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflationary policy mix, known as “Abenomics”, is sputtering. “A combination of the U.S.-China trade friction and the tax hike in October will almost certainly tip Japan into recession,” an electric machinery maker wrote in the monthly survey.The Corporate Survey found 42% of respondents see the economy contracting into next year, while 52% believe growth will remain stagnant.


Just 5% foresee it expanding, the June 4-13 poll showed. China and United States, the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff war for nearly a year, which has curbed global trade and upended supply chains, pressuring Japan’s exports and factory output. Some 55% of Japanese firms said harsher U.S. punitive tariffs against China were affecting their business profits, with much higher proportions of transport machinery firms and chemicals makers taking a hit, the Reuters Corporate Survey showed. [..] To keep the economy from faltering, nearly two-thirds of companies called for fresh stimulus, with a quarter of respondents wanting an individual income tax cut and nearly as many demanding the government postpone the sales tax hike.

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“..America is too far gone intellectually to sort all this out.”

The Truth vs Your Truth (Jim Kunstler)

America’s relationship with authority is in grievous disrepair with Robert Mueller as exhibit-A — a would-be Moses-like figure, only with feet of clay and a head rotting like the proverbial fish of institutional corruption. He announced in his May 29th “news conference” — in which he refused to entertain questions — that he preferred not to testify in any further inquiries about his Special Counsel investigation. What a cheeky fellow! It was, perhaps, a message to Reps. Nadler, Schiff, and comrades on the various congressional committees to (hint hint) not even bother calling him. But Mr. Mueller was, after all, a mere employee of the US Department of Justice, not a herald of God Almighty.

I rather imagine that the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, has a few additional questions he would like to ask his “old friend.” Will Mr. Mueller, this Greta Garbo of jurisprudence, coyly demur? And on what basis, exactly? I don’t think he can get away with it. The complexities of RussiaGate make all previous government scandals look as simple as Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The Internet will prove to be both its doing and its undoing. The much abused and perverted official “truths” of the matter were amplified by the Internet. And, of course, these “truths” were enlisted in service of Mrs. Clinton and the rogue bureaucracy looking to defend her (and themselves) at all costs. The cost turns out to be the dismemberment of thinking itself in America.

It is now taken for granted that anyone who persists in thinking for him/her/zheself will be tossed out of the Internet’s large “social media” arenas in Mark Zuckerberg’s and Jack Dorsey’s quest to purify history. They will not succeed. But they have certainly succeeded in needlessly antagonizing Russia, shoving foreign policy debate into sequestered game rooms that are at once halls-of-mirrors and echo chambers, and making the world a much more dangerous place. There is also a pretty fair percentage chance that America is too far gone intellectually to sort all this out.

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Justin trying to lose the next election.

Canada Approves Contentious Oil Pipeline Expansion (R.)

Canada on Tuesday approved as expected a hotly contested proposal to expand the western Canadian crude oil pipeline it bought last year, providing hope for a depressed energy industry but angering environmental groups. Construction on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is scheduled to resume this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier that Ottawa expected legal challenges to the approval. The project would triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, alleviate congestion on existing pipelines and diversify exports away from the United States.


Trudeau, who faces a tough fight in a national election scheduled for October, has been under pressure both from western Canadian politicians who accuse him of doing too little for the oil industry, and from environmental groups, which see the oil sands as a highly polluting source of crude production. “This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” he said, adding he knew some people would be disappointed.

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Make Canada a colony again.

Koch-Oil Big Lies and Ecocide Writ Large in Canada (CP)

As we know, big lies can run free across borders with few joining the dots. For example, no media reports that China’s growing dispute with Canada is based on Canada’s enforcement of the Trump administration’s unilateral and illegal embargo against oil-competitor Iran. A cynical reply is that this is predictable. Canada attacks any designated US Enemy in junior partnership with global corporate command. But this time there is a new twist. Canada is attacking itself without knowing it. A US Big-Oil backed juggernaut of Conservative provincial governments and the federal Opposition are well advanced in a Canada campaign to reverse longstanding parliamentary decisions, environmental laws, climate action initiatives, Supreme Court directions, first-nations negotiations, and bring down the government of Canada.

Yet no-one in public or media circles has joined the dots. Canada’s vast tar-sands deposits are world famous as surpassing Saudi Arabia oil-field capacities in total barrels of potential yield. Great Canada! Yet few notice that over two-thirds of the entire tar-sands operations are owned by foreign entities sending their profits out of Canada, and almost all its raw product is controlled for refining and sale in the US. What is especially kept out of the daily news is the incendiary fact that the infamous, election-interfering and oft-EPA-convicted Koch brothers have a dominant stake in the toxic crude of the Alberta tar-sands seeking a massive BC-pipeline out to their US refineries.

Koch-owned industries have already extracted countless billions of their near $100-billion fortune from the tar-sands and deployed their well-known voter-manipulations to change the balance of power in Canada as they have done in the US. The objective is the same in both cases – ever more tax-free, publicly subsidized and state-enforced control by US Big Oil of Alberta’s massive oil resources with no government regulations or interferences in the way.

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Methane. Running around my brain.

Canadian Permafrost Thaws 70 Years Early (R.)

Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared. A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia. “What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.” With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.

The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analyzing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement. Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier. The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

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God in his wisdom made the fly.
And then forgot to tell us why.

– Ogden Nash

 

 

 

 

Jun 172019
 
 June 17, 2019  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The sculptor and his statue 1933

 

The Bleak Mood Of Pre-Brexit UK (O.)
Boeing May Never Recover From 737 Debacle (Auerback)
Huawei Prepares For 40%-60% Fall In International Smartphone Shipments (R.)
Huawei Moves To Russia-China Operating System (Escobar)
Deutsche Bank To Set Up €50 Billion Bad Bank (R.)
How Wall Street Got Rich Off The Fresh Market Deal (Cohan)
Japan Demands More Proof From US That Iran Attacked Tankers (JT)
The S-400 Is a Formidable Threat to US Arms Industry (Pieraccini)
While Lam Relents, Hong Kong Calls Massively For Her Ouster (AT)
Chinese Activists Seek UN Investigation Into Tiananmen Crackdown (R.)

 

 

Broken. Completely.

The Bleak Mood Of Pre-Brexit UK (O.)

The survey by BritainThinks reveals an astonishing lack of faith in the political system among the British people, with less than 6% believing their politicians understand them. Some 75% say that UK politics is not fit for purpose. As the Conservative party focuses on who its new leader should be, and the Brexit impasse continues with no solution in sight, 86% think the UK needs a strong leader more than ever – but only 21% think the next prime minister, whoever it may be, will be up to the job. Some 52% believe the country is heading for a Boris Johnson premiership.

Pollster Deborah Mattinson said she was shocked by the findings. “I have been listening to people in focus groups since the late 1980s and I cannot recall a time when the national mood was more despairing. ‘Broken’, ‘sad’, ‘worried’, ‘angry’– the negatives tumble out, as does the long list of grievances. I’m hearing anxieties voiced in a way that I haven’t heard since the 1990s: a rundown NHS, job insecurity, teacher shortages.” BritainThinks polled more than 2,000 people and hosted several focus groups in London and Leicester to gauge the national mood.

Almost three-quarters of the British public believe the divisions on Brexit between Leavers and Remainers will deepen and get worse within the next year. Two-thirds feel depressed by rising poverty and homelessness. While people say Brexit has made them more politically engaged – 40% are paying more attention since the 2016 referendum, rising to 50% in those aged between 18 and 24 – the polling suggests the bitter political debate over leaving the EU has shattered public trust in the way the nation is governed. Some 83% feel let down by the political establishment and almost three-quarters (73%) believe the country has become an international laughing stock and that British values are in decline.

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Ralph Nader says the 737 MAX should never fly again.

Boeing May Never Recover From 737 Debacle (Auerback)

Many of us are familiar with the acronym “FUBAR.” A recent New York Times article on the Boeing 737 fiasco provides a perfect illustration of the concept. We’re now learning that the company “built deadly assumptions” into its newly designed 737 Max aircraft and, specifically, its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Even worse, the Times account concludes that the recent air crashes that have resulted in a worldwide grounding of the Boeing Max plane “might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS” and if the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) itself was not operating with outdated data on the software changes (which Boeing failed to provide).

The analysis is excellent as far as it goes. But the most damning fact only briefly hinted at in the article is that the problems were evident as early as 2012, some five years before the newest 737 version was marketed and sold across the globe. “At its core, this was a hardware problem, not a software issue. Even when Boeing was using a relatively “safer” version of the early MCAS software (that was later changed to a more dangerous version), the new 737 still had an engine too large to be accommodated in its traditional spot on the plane, which ultimately distorted “the relationship between the engine’s ‘thrust’ and its center of gravity,” as I’ve written before. The resultant aerodynamic problems could not be solved with a software “solution,” no matter how “safe” the original MCAS version (that was ultimately changed to an even more dangerous version) was purported to be.”

Just don’t expect any blowback from Washington. The whole episode provides yet another sick illustration of how the entire system of governance in the US has degenerated into a fully fledged “predator state.” About the only good thing that might emerge from this whole fiasco is that Boeing will provide future Master of Business Administration students with a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis. Likewise, future historians and political scientists will marvel in incredulity at the magnitude of corruption that enveloped the US during this very dark time in the life of the republic. Assuming, of course, that there still anything left worth studying by that point.

[..] Recall that the genesis of this disaster was a problem of hardware, not just MCAS. The extra lift of the far larger-diameter engines of the 737 Max (placed on a different position on the wing) caused the plane to pitch up whenever it approached stall angles of attack at both high and low speeds. This is a problem that should have become glaringly obvious to the greenest of aerodynamics personnel at Boeing the moment the first wind-tunnel model was tested at angles of attack higher than stall (it may have even been obvious on even earlier fluid-dynamics computer-simulation results).

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“.. In order to offset overseas decline, Huawei is aiming to grab up to half of China’s smartphone market in 2019..”

Huawei Prepares For 40%-60% Fall In International Smartphone Shipments (R.)

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is preparing for a 40% to 60% decline in international smartphone shipments, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The Chinese technology company is looking at options that include pulling the latest model of its marquee overseas smartphone, the Honor 20, according to the article, which cited people familiar with the matter. The device will begin selling in parts of Europe, including Britain and France, on June 21, the report said. Executives will be monitoring the launch and may cut off shipments if the sales are poor, it said. Marketing and sales managers at the tech giant are internally expecting a drop in volumes of anywhere between 40 million to 60 million smartphones this year, the report said. In order to offset overseas decline, Huawei is aiming to grab up to half of China’s smartphone market in 2019, Bloomberg said.

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Be careful what you wish for. Sanctions made Russia stronger too.

Huawei Moves To Russia-China Operating System (Escobar)

Google cuts Huawei off Android; so Huawei may migrate to Aurora. Call it mobile Eurasia integration; the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership may be on the verge of spawning its own operating system – and that is not a metaphor. Aurora is a mobile operating system currently developed by Russian Open Mobile Platform, based in Moscow. It is based on the Sailfish operating system, designed by Finnish technology company Jolla, which featured a batch of Russians in the development team. Quite a few top coders at Google and Apple also come from the former USSR – exponents of a brilliant scientific academy tradition.

In 2014, Russian entrepreneur Grigory Berezkin started co-owning Jolla, and from 2016 his Mobile Platform company started developing a Russian version of the operating system. In 2018, Rostelecom, a state company, bought a 75% share in Open Mobile Platform. Ahead of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week, Huawei chairman Guo Ping discussed the possibility of adopting Aurora with Russian minister of digital development and communications, Konstantin Noskov. According to Guo, “China is already testing devices with the Aurora pre-installed.” In Moscow, before moving to St Petersburg, Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping discussed multiple possible deals; and these include Huawei-Aurora, as well as where to locate some of Huawei’s production lines in Russia.

Aurora could be regarded as part of Huawei’s fast-evolving Plan B. Huawei is now turbo-charging the development and implementation of its own operating system, HongMeng, a process that started no less than seven years ago. Most of the work on an operating system is writing drivers and APIs (application programming interfaces). Huawei would be able to integrate their code to the Russian system in no time. HongMeng, for its part, is a key project of Huawei 2012 Laboratories, the innovation, research and technological development arm of the Shenzhen colossus. No Google? Who cares? Tencent, Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo are already testing the HongMeng operating system, as part of a batch of one million devices already distributed.

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Mutti is not happy.

Deutsche Bank To Set Up €50 Billion Bad Bank (R.)

Deutsche Bank is planning to overhaul its trading operations by creating a “bad bank” to hold tens of billions of euros of assets and shrinking or shutting its U.S. equity and trading businesses, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. The bad bank would house or sell assets valued at up to 50 billion euros ($56.06 billion)- after adjusting for risk – and comprise mainly long-dated derivatives, the FT reported, citing four people briefed on the plan. With the creation of the bad bank, Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing is shifting the German lender away from investment banking and focusing on transaction banking and private wealth management, the newspaper said.


As part of the restructuring, the lender’s equity and rates trading units outside continental Europe will be shrunk or closed entirely, the report said. The bank is planning cuts at its U.S. equities business, including prime brokerage and equity derivatives, to win over shareholders unhappy about its performance, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in May. “As we said at the AGM on May 23, Deutsche Bank is working on measures to accelerate its transformation so as to improve its sustainable profitability. We will update all stakeholders if and when required,” Deutsche Bank said in an emailed statement on Sunday in response to the FT report.

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Grand theft auto made legal.

How Wall Street Got Rich Off The Fresh Market Deal (Cohan)

Take the case of the March 2016, $1.36 billion cash buyout of a supermarket chain, Fresh Market, by Apollo Global Management, the firm started by Leon Black nearly 30 years ago that now manages more than $300 billion. In that deal Apollo teamed up with Ray Berry, the company’s founder, and his son, Brett, to buy out the company’s public stockholders. Before the buyout the Berrys owned about 10% of the public Fresh Market. They agreed to roll over that stake into the newly private Fresh Market, giving them about the same ownership in the private company—worth somewhere between $136 million and $930 million, if the alchemy of leveraged buyouts worked out. Apollo would own the remaining 90% of the equity of the private company.

Because the deal was, in effect, a management buyout of the company, Fresh Market set up a special three-member committee of independent directors to evaluate the Apollo proposal, as well as any others that might come in over the transom after the company decided to put itself up for sale shortly after September 1, 2015. As professional referees, the special committee hired JPMorgan Chase as its financial adviser, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore as one of its legal advisers. Their job was to evaluate the various proposals to buy Fresh Market, a collection of 186 stores in 27 states as of March 2016, and to make sure that the one chosen was, in the parlance of Wall Street, “fair” to the public shareholders of the company “from a financial point of view.”

That’s when things got interesting, especially since Apollo was the only final bid the company received. According to a class action shareholder lawsuit that is still wending its way through the Delaware Court of Chancery, Apollo used its long-standing financial ties to JPMorgan Chase and Cravath to co-opt the process for the benefit of itself and the Berrys, allowing them to buy the company on the cheap. In effect, the lawsuit alleges, by teaming up with the Berrys on an exclusive basis, Apollo was able to buy Fresh Market knowing that its competition for the company would be at a severe disadvantage, without being able to count on the Berrys support, and that JPMorgan Chase would likely bless the fairness of the deal.

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Japan, Germany, Corbyn…

Japan Demands More Proof From US That Iran Attacked Tankers (JT)

The Japanese government has been requesting the United States for concrete evidence to back its assertion that Iran is to blame for the attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, government sources said Sunday. The request came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a statement hours after the attacks blaming Iran but without offering proof. The Department of Defense later released a video allegedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the side of the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous. But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.


Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels, including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said. Pompeo said in a press conference Thursday that the United States’ assessment was based on their “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.” A source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “These are not definite proof that it’s Iran.” “Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it,” he said.

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AI at its best.

The S-400 Is a Formidable Threat to US Arms Industry (Pieraccini)

The US finds itself faced with a situation it has not found itself in over the last 50 years, namely, an environment where it does not expect to automatically enjoy air superiority. Whatever semblance of an air defense that may have hitherto been able to pose any conceivable threat to Uncle Sam’s war machine was rudely dismissed by a wave of cruise missiles. To give two prime examples that occurred in Syria in 2018, latest-generation missiles were intercepted and shot down by decades-old Russian and Syrian systems. While the S-400 system has never been employed in Syria, it is noteworthy that the Serbian S-125 systems succeeded in identifying and shooting down an American F-117 stealth aircraft during the war in the Balkans.

There is a more secret aspect of the S-400 that is little disclosed, either within Russia itself or without. It concerns the S-400’s ability to collect data through its radar systems. It is worth noting Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon’s alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400: “We have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35. Those concerns cannot be mitigated. The S-400 is a system built in Russia to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine.

Certainly, in the event of an armed conflict, the S-400’s ability to shoot down fifth-generation aircraft is a huge concern for the United States and her allies who have invested so heavily in such aircraft. Similarly, a NATO country preferring Russian to American systems is cause for alarm. This is leaving aside the fact that the S-400 is spreading around the world, from China to Belarus, with dozens of countries waiting in line for the ability to seal their skies from the benevolent bombs of freedom. It is an excellent stick with which to keep a prowling Washington at bay.

[..] The ability of the S-400 to collect data on both the F-35 and F-22 – the crown jewels of the US military-industrial complex – is a cause for sleepless nights for US military planners. What in particular causes them nightmares is that, for the S-400 to function in Turkey, it will have to be integrated into Turkey’s current “identification friend or foe” (IFF) systems, which in turn are part of NATO’s military tactical data-link network, known as Link 16.

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2 million. Beijing has said it stands behind her.

While Lam Relents, Hong Kong Calls Massively For Her Ouster (AT)

Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China. A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down.


“Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill. Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march.


Protest organizers said almost two million people took part in a mammoth June 16 protest march. Photo: Nile Bowie

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Yeah, that’s going to happen.

Chinese Activists Seek UN Investigation Into Tiananmen Crackdown (R.)

More than 20 Chinese activists who took part in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement called on Monday on the United Nations’ top human rights body to investigate Beijing’s deadly crackdown 30 years ago. Wang Dan and 21 others, backed by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said they had submitted the complaint to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a Geneva forum which opens a three-week session on June 24. “We request the HRC investigate the gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Chinese government during its military assault on peaceful protests,” they said in statement.


They also sought action over “the consistent pattern of human rights violations in persecuting Chinese citizens during the past three decades who broke the silence” about the events of June 3-4, 1989. The anniversary remains taboo in China. Beijing has not held a public inquiry nor permitted an independent investigation, the statement said. Beijing enjoys strong support among developing countries at the Human Rights Council, a 47-member state forum that has never adopted a resolution on China since being set up in 2006.

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Jun 152019
 
 June 15, 2019  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arnold Böcklin Mermaids at play 1886

 

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)
Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)
DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)
System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)
Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)
Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)
All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)
US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)
The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)
Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)
Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

 

 

Trump was merely added years after the Russia-WikiLeaks slander had started.

Freeing Julian Assange: Part Two (Suzie Dawson)

The public has been led to believe that the 2016 election and the resulting Mueller Report is the definitive evidence that WikiLeaks was somehow in cahoots with Russia, reinforcing the premise that they were in a political alliance with, or favoured, Donald Trump and his Presidential election campaign. Prominent Russiagate-skeptics have long pointed out the multitude of gaping holes inherent in those theories, including the advocacy group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have produced credible forensic work analysing the 2016 WikiLeaks releases, that resoundingly debunks officials claims.


In the course of researching this article, I stumbled across a major discovery that augments that: the false notion of WikiLeaks being a front for Russian intelligence isn’t new – it has been pushed by media since 2009. It turns out the circulation of the WikiLeaks-Russia myth was a tried and true diversionary, smear tactic that was simply regurgitated in 2016. Julian Assange believed that UK intelligence agencies were behind the pushing of that narrative, and he was publicly stating so at the end of last decade. He wouldn’t make such claims lightly, and other emerging facts support his suspicion.

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“Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.”

Well Guess What? He Was Right Again! Free Julian Assange (CJ)

“Today’s the day that journalism gets put on trial,” Dimmack said. “And it’s interesting that behind me there are this many cameras. There haven’t been this many cameras for quite a while. It’s interesting that when Julian was dragged out and kidnapped from within that Ecuadorian embassy, all of you guys had actually gone home, and it was a Russian TV station that actually caught it, Ruptly. It’s almost as if you don’t care.”

“For seven years you have smeared and slandered that man who is going to appear on video in that court in about fifteen minutes,” Dimmack told the mainstream press, right to their fucking faces. “You are all responsible for what has happened today! All of you in the media! Every one of you. You have got blood on your hands. When he released those documents that Chelsea Manning gave him, all he did was the job of a publisher. That’s it. Right now Julian Assange is going to court and put on trial for exposing war criminals as war criminals. And all of you for seven years have smeared and slandered him. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“You have all got a chance right now to actually do a U-turn and repair some of the damage that you have done over the last seven years,” Dimmack roared. “The Fourth Estate is extremely important. You know this. This is why journalism is such a noble profession; you are meant to hold power accountable, not to suck up to it sycophantically and just repeat propaganda. Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.” “Stand up for Julian Assange and tell the truth,” he continued. “Ask yourselves why is it for seven years you have printed lie after lie after lie about him? Why is it for seven years you have said that he went to the Ecuadorian embassy to escape a rape charge? No he didn’t! How many times have I said it? He went in there to escape extradition to the United States.” “Well guess what?” Dimmack concluded, gesturing to the courthouse. “He was right again! Free Julian Assange.”

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More Russiagate.

DOJ Bloodhounds on the Scent of John Brennan (Ray McGovern)

The New York Times Thursday morning has bad news for one of its favorite anonymous sources, former CIA Director John Brennan. The Times reports that the Justice Department plans to interview senior CIA officers to focus on the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian intelligence to intervene in the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump. DOJ investigators will be looking for evidence to support that remarkable claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report failed to establish. Despite the collusion conspiracy theory having been put to rest, many Americans, including members of Congress, right and left, continue to accept the evidence-impoverished, media-cum-“former-intelligence-officer” meme that the Kremlin interfered massively in the 2016 presidential election.

One cannot escape the analogy with the fraudulent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As in 2002 and 2003, when the mania for the invasion of Iraq mounted, Establishment media have simply regurgitated what intelligence sources like Brennan told them about Russia-gate. No one batted an eye when Brennan told a House committee in May 2017, “I don’t do evidence.” As we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned numerous times over the past two plus years, there is no reliable forensic evidence to support the story that Russia hacked into the DNC. Moreover, in a piece I wrote in May, “Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate,” I again noted that accumulating forensic evidence from metadata clearly points to an inside DNC job — a leak, not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.

So Brennan and his partners, FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were making stuff up and feeding thin but explosive gruel to the hungry stenographers that pass today for Russiagate obsessed journalists. With Justice Department investigators’ noses to the ground, it should be just a matter of time before they identify Brennan conclusively as fabricator-in-chief of the Russiagate story. Evidence, real evidence in this case, abounds, since the Brennan-Comey-Clapper gang of three were sure Hillary Clinton would become president. Consequently, they did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks.

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From Monday. A few days later, the tankers were attacked. And not with mines either.

System To Circumvent US Sanctions On Iran Ready Soon: German FM (AlJ)

A European payment system designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran will be ready soon, Germany announced on Monday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran as part of European efforts to salvage the historic JCPOA nuclear pact and defuse rising US-Iranian tension. Iran and Germany held “frank and serious” talks on saving the 2015 deal with world powers, Zarif told a joint press conference. “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” Zarif said. Maas said earlier the payment system, known as INSTEX, (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) will soon be ready to go after months of work.


“This is an instrument of a new kind so it’s not straightforward to operationalise it,” he said, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payment system. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future,” added Maas about the system for barter-based trade with Iran. A cautious thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington began in 2015 when the deal was struck between six world powers and Iran, limiting its nuclear activity. But tensions with the US have mounted since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iran has criticised the European signatories of the JCPOA for failing to salvage the pact after Trump pulled the US out. “There is a serious situation in the region. An escalation of tension is becoming uncontrollable and military action wouldn’t be in line with the interests of any party,” Maas said.

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From Skripal to Iran.

Jeremy Corbyn Challenges UK Government’s Iran Tanker Accusations (BBC)

Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether the government has “credible evidence” to show Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said responsibility for Thursday’s attack in the Gulf of Oman “almost certainly” lies with the Iranian regime. But the Labour leader tweeted that there was no evidence for this. Mr Hunt responded that Mr Corbyn’s comments were “pathetic” and said he should back British intelligence. It is the second time in the past few weeks that tankers appear to have been attacked in the region and comes amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.


The US military released video footage which it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers – something Iran has categorically denied. The UK Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”. “These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region,” Mr Hunt said. However, in a tweet Mr Corbyn questioned that assessment and said the UK should ease tensions in the region, not fuel a military escalation.

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And it works!

Brexit Britain Wallows In Dangerous Talk Of National Humiliation (O’Toole)

Launching his bid for the Tory leadership this week, Dominic Raab announced, histrionically: “We’ve been humiliated as a country.” For those of us who do not live on planet Brexit, this might have been mistaken for a belated reaction to the genuinely demeaning spectacle of Donald Trump’s state visit a week earlier. But, of course, like almost all of his fellow contenders to be the next prime minister, Raab was playing his part in a strange performance in which the national honour has been so horribly besmirched by the European Union that it can be salved only by taking the pain of a no-deal Brexit.

Perhaps if you keep acting out phoney feelings, you end up not being able to recognise the real thing. Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a hyped-up psychodrama of national humiliation. It is, indeed, one of the very few things that remainers and leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for very different reasons. In relation to the EU, this sense of humiliation is wildly overplayed. But when Trump comes to town and really does degrade Britain, the sense of wounded dignity that ought to be felt seems curiously absent.

[..] how come the idea of national humiliation has loomed so large in Brexit? Shortly before the missed departure date of 29 March, a Sky Data poll asked: “Is the way Britain is dealing with Brexit a national humiliation?” Ninety per cent of respondents said yes. This idea of collective abasement is everywhere in the Brexit narrative. A random sample of headlines from across the spectrum tells the story: “Brexit and the prospect of national humiliation” (Financial Times); “Voice of the Mirror: Theresa May’s Brexit is a national humiliation”; “A national humiliation: Never was so much embarrassment caused to so many by so few” (Telegraph); “‘Humiliating to have to beg’ for EU exit, says Arlene Foster” (Irish Times). And so, endlessly, on.

There is something hysterical in this constant evocation of humiliation. It is a cry of outraged self-regard: how dare they treat us like this? Yes, of course, the Brexit debacle has reduced Britain’s prestige around the world. And the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is indeed a miserable thing when compared with the glorious visions that preceded it. But Britain has not been humiliated by the EU – the deal was shaped by May’s (and Arlene Foster’s) red lines. Britain did not get what the Brexiters fantasised about, but it did get what it actually asked for. That’s not humiliation.

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Markets my ass. The only thing that’s left is the Fed. Markets are dead.

All Eyes On Fed As Stock Market Pines For Rate Cut (R.)

The Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week is shaping up as a pivotal one for Wall Street, with stocks primed for a selloff should the Fed fail to take an even more dovish tilt after policymakers raised expectations for a rate cut in recent weeks. The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied more than 5% this month as softening economic data coupled with comments by Fed officials heightened expectations the Fed will cut rates by the end of the year and, at the very least, telegraph it is leaning toward a later rate cut at its June 18-19 meeting. Those gains came on the heels of a selloff in May of nearly 7% in the S&P, largely fueled by investor concerns that trade wars were escalating, slowing the economy and putting it at risk of falling into a recession.


Bets for a rate cut were amplified by comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 4, who said the central bank will respond “as appropriate” to the risks from a global trade war and other developments, and after a weak May payrolls report on June 7. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Michelle Meyer expects the Fed’s “dot plots” projection of interest rates, which represents the anonymous, individual rate projections of Fed policymakers for the next few years, to shift lower as officials start to factor in cuts. However, “the median dot will signal a Fed on hold,” Meyer said in a note. “The market has somehow convinced themselves that we are in an easing cycle. I am not sure how we got so far ahead of ourselves,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

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Virtual wealth in a virtual reality.

US Commercial Real Estate Is Another Dangerous Bubble In The Making (Colombo)

As a result of the Fed’s ZIRP and QE programs in the past decade, virtually all types of assets soared in value: stocks, bonds, art, classic cars, farmland, residential real estate, and commercial real estate. On average, U.S. commercial real estate prices have surged by 111%, or more than double, since their 2009 low. Interestingly, most people don’t realize that U.S. commercial real estate also experienced a bubble from 2004 to 2008 at the same time as the U.S. housing bubble. This early bubble inflated for many of the same reasons as the housing bubble, which were ultra-low borrowing costs and loose lending standards. From 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate prices rose 66%, but crashed by nearly 40% during the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial real estate prices have increased even more in the current bubble (111% vs. 66%), which means that the coming commercial real estate bust is likely to be even worse than the 2008 bust.

As discussed earlier, low interest rate environments often cause dangerous bubbles to develop by encouraging borrowing booms. Like the U.S. commercial real estate bubble of 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate lending has flourished during the current bubble. Since 2012, total commercial real estate loans at U.S. banks have increased by an alarming $700 billion or 50%.

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“There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The “Deficits Don’t Matter” Folly (Stockman)

Well, that was timely. The US Treasury just posted a record $207 billion deficit for May and record monthly spending of $440 billion. That brought the rolling 12 month deficit to just shy of the trillion dollar mark at $986 billion. The timely part is two-fold. First, it just so happens that May marked month #119 of the current expansion, making it tied for the duration record with the 1990s cycle. But even JM Keynes himself would be rolling in his grave in light of the chart below. To wit, even by the lights of hardcore Keynesians of yore, fiscal deficits were supposed to be falling sharply at the end of a business cycle or even moving into surplus as they did in 1999-2000, not erupting toward 5% of GDP as has now happened.

The second timely note, of sorts, is that the Wall Street Journal was Johnny on the Spot this AM with a front page story entitled, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits”. The story’s quote from the current Dem Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmouth, says it all. There simply has never been such bipartisan complacency about the nation’s public finances in all of modern history – including during the biggest borrow and spend days of FDR, LBJ and every president since Gerald Ford: “Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), House Budget Committee chairman, says he rarely hears from constituents concerned about rising deficits and debt. Many voters’ attitudes, he says: “There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”

The WSJ story is a dog’s breakfast of rationalizations, non sequitirs, political double-talk and Keynesian tommyrot. What is the most telling, however, is that it was co-authored by Jon Hilsenrath, who was the paper’s long-time Fed reporter. Yet it contains not a single word about the role of central banks in fostering the utter collapse of fiscal responsibility described by his lengthy report. So for want of doubt, here is the culprit. The central banks of the world have expanded their balance sheets by upwards of $22 trillion since the turn of the century, thereby massively monetizing the erupting public debt of the US and most of the world via fiat credit snatched from thin air.

So did that massive $22 trillion “buy” order from the central banks weigh heavily on the supply of funds side of the scales in the fixed income market, thereby driving bond prices skyward and yields ever lower? Why, goodness gracious, yes it did!

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Really?

Beijing Yields To Hong Kong’s Financial Clout (R.)

Beijing has yielded to Hong Kong’s unique economic status. Carrie Lam, chief executive of the special administrative region, on Saturday indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland, responding to mass rallies and violent street protests that rocked the city. It’s a defeat for her, and leaves the central government embarrassed. But for the Chinese Communist Party, preserving Hong Kong’s financial role still trumps the desire for more political control. Lam took office in 2017, and is considered a reliable Beijing loyalist. Pushing through the extradition bill, however, came from her, she said. Either way, the central government endorsed it enthusiastically as well. Yet the strength and breadth of the protests caught both Lam and Beijing off guard.


The backlash was not confined to democracy advocates, much less to a radical minority that began calling for independence after the Occupy movement in 2014. It extended to anyone who distrusted the Chinese legal system. In the end, that seemed to be almost everyone. Some tycoons began moving funds out of Hong Kong to Singapore in advance of the bill’s passage, Reuters reported, a hint of the outflows before the 1997 handover from Britain. And not only did the pro-Beijing camp fail to mobilise against the demonstrations in force – as it did in 2014 – the conservative business community began expressing public doubts about the agenda almost immediately. Financial markets wobbled. Worse still, U.S. politicians threatened to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s unique status, which could affect everything from visas to trade.

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We’re all on planet Japan. Pension systems everywhere are imploding.

Meanwhile, over on Planet Japan (Simon Black)

It was only a few days ago that the Japanese government’s Financial Services Agency published its oddly-titled “Annual Report on Ageing Society”. (Like everything in Japan, English translations often hilariously miss the mark…) This is a report that the Ministry of Finance puts out every year. And as the name implies, the report discusses the state of Japan’s pension fund, and its future prospects for taking care of its senior citizens. Bear in mind that Japan has the oldest population in the world; Japan ranks #2 in the world for average age (46.9, just behind Monaco), #1 in the world for the greatest percentage of citizens over the age of 70, and #1 in the world for life expectancy. In a nutshell, this means that Planet Japan has more people collecting pension benefits, for more years, than anywhere else.

Yet at the same time, Japan’s pension fund is completely insolvent. There simply aren’t enough people paying into the system to make good on the promises that have been made. At present there are only 2 workers paying into the pension program for every 1 retiree receiving benefits in Japan. The math simply doesn’t add up, and it’s only getting worse. Planet Japan’s birth rate is infamously low, and the population here is actually DECLINING. So, fast forward another 10-15 years, and there will be even MORE people collecting pension benefits, and even FEWER people paying into the system. This year’s ‘Annual Report on Ageing Society’ plainly stated this reality; it was a brutally honest assessment of Japan’s underfunded pension program.

The report went on to tell people that they needed to save their own money for retirement because the pension fund wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This terrified a lot of Japanese workers and pensioners. So the government stepped in to quickly solve the problem… by making the report disappear. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the report, calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” And Finance Minister Taro Aso– himself a pensioner at age 78 (though in typical Japanese form he looks like he’s 45)– simply un-published the report.

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Jun 142019
 
 June 14, 2019  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Woman with a hat 1905

 

US Consults Allies On How To Protect Shipping In Wake Of Tanker Attacks (R.)
Julian Assange Is Not On Trial, British Justice Is (Wight)
The Hitlerization of Jeremy Corbyn – Among Others (Hopkins)
US Retirement Savings Gap Grows By $3 Trillion Each Year (MW)
The Fed Is Pushing On A String
The State of the Canadian Debt Slaves (WS)
Canada Rejects Idea Of Halting Extradition Of Top Huawei Executive To US (R.)
Elizabeth Warren To Propose Cancelling Up To $50,000 In Student Debt (MW)
UK Government Blew Billions on “Help to Buy” Scheme (DQ)
Varoufakis, Kotzias And The Dwindling ‘Progressive Army’ (K.)
School’s Purpose is Indoctrination (Carbone)
Carnival Cruise Ships Pollute 10 Times More Than All Cars in Europe (D.)

 

 

There are Japanese ships in the Persian Gulf literally every moment of every day. But Iran only decides to attack them when the first Japanese PM ever(?!) visits the country. Bolton is dementing.

US Consults Allies On How To Protect Shipping In Wake Of Tanker Attacks (R.)

The United States is discussing with its allies a variety of options on how to protect international shipping in the Gulf of Oman in the wake of tanker attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, senior Trump administration officials said on Thursday. Two officials, speaking to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz and make sure international commerce is not disrupted. Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman. “We don’t think this is over,” one official said of the possibility of more such attacks. The official said options are being reviewed.


“We’re discussing and will be discussing with our partners and allies suggestions on how we collectively can take steps to ensure, one, that we maintain freedom of navigation and international commerce is not disrupted and, second, that we protect our forces’ interests and our commercial assets and those of our partners and allies,” the official said. The official said the attacks appeared “designed to have a political outcome” and suggested it could have been an attempt to disrupt a visit to Tehran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We are going to obviously evaluate our presence in the region and the growing threat and make subsequent decisions,” the official said. “We have to look at the threat, as we always do, to our personnel and our forces but the threat to a strategic chokepoint. There’s a significant amount of trade that transits the Strait of Hormuz every day.”

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Another hearing today.

Julian Assange Is Not On Trial, British Justice Is (Wight)

The most honest man in Britain today is Julian Assange, while the most dishonest are those who are engaged in his ongoing persecution. The latest instalment in that persecution is a court hearing in London on June 14, where details of the request for his extradition to the US, it is expected, will be revealed for the first time. The formal request for the extradition of the founder of WikiLeaks was made to the UK by US authorities earlier in the week – and with British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signing the relevant papers sanctioning it, the final decision on whether Julian Assange’s extradition to the US goes ahead now rests with the courts.

[..] In revealing to the world the beast of US hegemony that resides behind the velvet curtains of democracy and human rights, Julian Assange exposed the lie upon which this American Empire (and make no mistake, it is an empire) depends. It depends on it in order to persuade its supposed beneficiaries – i.e. people living in the West – to continue to suspend disbelief as to the reality of a system they’ve been conditioned to believe is rooted in values that emanate from the human heart rather than from the heart of the machine. The end result is that in exposing this lie, Assange and WikiLeaks became a bigger threat to the ability of US hegemony to function normally than a million bayonets. As such, it became imperative that he, as the founder and face of WikiLeaks, be destroyed.

Britain’s role in this process couldn’t be any more sordid or shameful. Its legal system and judiciary has effectively been turned into a subsidiary of its US counterpart; its function not to dispense justice but to deliver a man into the arms of injustice. The fate to befall Assange proves that there’s a world of difference between believing that you live in a free society and behaving as if you do. He is the canary down the coalmine of Western democracy, signalling the warning that its foundations are rotten to the core.

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“..American Hitler (i.e., Donald Trump) will “push back” (i.e., intervene) against British Hitler (i.e., Jeremy Corbyn)..”

The Hitlerization of Jeremy Corbyn – Among Others (Hopkins)

Apparently, American Hitler and his cronies are conspiring with some secret group of “Jewish leaders” to stop British Hitler from becoming prime minister and wiping out all the Jews in Great Britain. Weird, right? But that’s not the weird part, because maybe American Hitler wants to wipe out all the Jews in Great Britain himself, rather than leaving it to British Hitler … Hitlers being notoriously jealous regarding their genocidal accomplishments. No, the weird part is that everyone knows that American Hitler does not make a move without the approval of Russian Hitler, who is also obsessed with wiping out the Jews, and with destroying the fabric of Western democracy. So why would Russian Hitler want to let American Hitler and his goons thwart the ascendancy of British Hitler, who, in addition to wanting to wipe out all the Jews, also wants to destroy democracy by fascistically refunding the NHS, renationalizing the rail system, and so on?

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? In any event, here’s the official story. In “a recording leaked to The Washington Post,” and then flogged by the rest of the corporate media, Reichsminister des Auswärtigen, Mike Pompeo, told a group of unnamed “Jewish leaders” that American Hitler (i.e., Donald Trump) will “push back” (i.e., intervene) against British Hitler (i.e., Jeremy Corbyn) to protect the lives of Jews in Great Britain if British Hitler becomes prime minister (and is possibly already doing so now). The identities of these “Jewish leaders” have not been disclosed by the corporate media, presumably in order to protect them from being murdered by Corbyn’s Nazi hit squad.

Whoever they were, they wanted to know whether American Hitler and his fascist cabinet were “willing to work with [them] to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews” after Jeremy Corbyn seizes power, declares himself Führer of Communist Britannia, and orders the immediate invasion of France. To anyone who has been closely following the corporate media’s relentless coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s Nazi Death Cult (i.e., the UK Labour Party) and the global Anti-Semitism Pandemic, it comes as no real surprise that this group of “Jewish leaders” (whoever they are) would want to stop him from becoming prime minister. I doubt that their motives have much to do with fighting anti-Semitism, or anything else specifically “Jewish,” but … well, I’m kind of old-fashioned that way. I still believe there’s a fundamental difference between “the Jews” and the global capitalist ruling classes.

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Thanks to the Fed.

US Retirement Savings Gap Grows By $3 Trillion Each Year (MW)

Many Americans haven’t saved as much money as they need for retirement — and the gap is expected to widen dramatically in the next 30 years. The retirement savings gap — between what people have and should have — was $28 trillion in the U.S. in 2015, but by 2050, it’s expected to swell to $137 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum, a Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit that researched international financial affairs. The disparity grows $3 trillion every year in the U.S.

The organization calculated this gap assuming most individuals’ retirement income sources would include a combination of government-provided pensions (such as Social Security), employer pensions in the public or private workforce and individual savings. They also analyzed the level of savings across expectations of income needs and life expectancies, assuming individuals would retire between 60 and 70 years old, for countries including China, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The gap is most pronounced in the U.S., followed by China and Japan tied for $11 trillion in 2015. China is also expected to see a significantly wider discrepancy in 2050, at $119 trillion, followed by India, with an $85 trillion gap. Overall, the eight countries the WEF analyzed will see a $400 trillion disparity.

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Velocity of money and inflation.

The Fed Is Pushing On A String (Roberts)

Historically, the reason the Fed cuts rates, and interest are falling, is because the Fed has acted in response to a crisis, recession, or both. [..] Secondly, after a decade of QE and zero interest rates inflation, outside of asset prices, (as measured by CPI), remains muted at best. The reason that QE does not cause “inflationary” pressures is that it is an “asset swap” and doesn’t affect the money supply or the velocity of money. QE remains confined to the financial markets which lifts asset prices, but it does not impact the broader economy.

Unfortunately, the Fed is still misdiagnosing what ails the economy, and monetary policy is unlikely to change the outcome in the U.S., just as it failed in Japan. The reason is simple. You can’t cure a debt problem with more debt. Therefore, monetary interventions, and government spending, don’t create organic, sustainable, economic growth. Simply pulling forward future consumption through monetary policy continues to leave an ever growing void in the future that must be filled. Eventually, the void will be too great to fill.

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Time to start defaulting?

The State of the Canadian Debt Slaves (WS)

Canadian households are known around the world for their uncanny ability to pile on debt. And American debt slaves, who’d gotten trampled during the Great Recession, turn out to be lackadaisical these days in comparison. The share of disposable income (total incomes from all sources minus taxes) that Canadian households spent on making principal and interest payments on their ballooning mortgage debts and non-mortgage debts reached a new record of 14.9% in the first quarter, despite still ultra-low interest rates and despite the highest disposable income ever, according to data released today by Statistics Canada:

[..] So how do Canadian debt slaves stack up against American debt slaves? Statistics Canada released a report on just this topic at the end of March perhaps because authorities in Canada should get a tad nervous. [..] The annualized data it provided included the household debt-to-disposable income ratios for Canada and for the US through 2018. The ratio shows how large debt is relative to disposable income. For Canada, this ratio was 175% annualized in 2018, one of the highest in the world, and rising. For the US, it was 103%, and declining:

Canada’s household debts have continued to surge since the year 2000 except for a brief dip during the Financial Crisis. But US household debts plunged during years of deleveraging after the Financial Crisis, in part by consumers defaulting on their mortgages and credit cards. Household debts didn’t start growing again until 2013. And it took until 2017 before they surpassed the pre-Financial Crisis peak. But over the decade since the Financial Crisis, the US population has grown, and the number of working people has grown, and the national disposable income has increased, and so the ratio of household debt to disposable income has continued to drop.

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“..could make Canadians around the world less safe..”

Canada Rejects Idea Of Halting Extradition Of Top Huawei Executive To US (R.)

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday dismissed a suggestion that Ottawa block the extradition of a top executive from China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to the United States, saying it would set a dangerous precedent. Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested on U.S. fraud charges in Vancouver last December, will challenge Washington’s extradition request at hearings that are set to begin next January. China angrily demanded Canada release Meng and detained two Canadians on spying charges. It has also blocked imports of Canadian canola seed and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he fears further retaliation.


The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday said former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had floated the idea of the government intervening to stop the extradition case and thereby improve ties with Beijing. “When it comes to Ms Meng there has been no political interference … and that is the right way for extradition requests to proceed,” Freeland told a televised news conference in Washington. “It would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behavior when it comes to honoring an extradition treaty in response to external pressure,” she added, saying to do so could make Canadians around the world less safe.

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And what about all the others?

Elizabeth Warren To Propose Cancelling Up To $50,000 In Student Debt (MW)

Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to cancel student debt will soon be one step closer to reality — even if she doesn’t become president. The Democratic Senator of Massachusetts plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that mirrors her presidential campaign proposal to cancel at least a portion of the student debt held by many of the nation’s 44 million borrowers, her Senate office announced Thursday. Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the house majority whip, will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Warren’s office hasn’t yet released a draft of the legislative text, but the bill is slated to propose cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt for the bulk of student loan borrowers, her office said.


Under the proposal Warren released as part of her presidential campaign in April, borrowers with a household income of less than $100,000 would have $50,000 of their student debt cancelled and borrowers with an income between $100,000 and $250,000 would be eligible for some student debt cancellation — though not the full $50,000. Borrowers earning $250,000 or more would receive no debt cancellation. Her campaign estimated the plan would cost $640 billion, which would be paid through a tax on the ultra-wealthy. The idea of student debt cancellation has been popular in some circles for years, but Warren’s campaign proposal nudged it into the mainstream. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, has vowed to cancel “massive amounts of student debt,” though hasn’t offered specifics.

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All governments blow housing bubbles.

UK Government Blew Billions on “Help to Buy” Scheme (DQ)

Here’s how the scheme works: First-time property buyers get to put down a deposit of as little as 5% on a new-build home worth as much as £600,000 ($761,000) and receive an “equity loan” from the government. The size of the loan varies depending on where borrowers live. In London, where the price of property is an order of magnitude higher than in most other places, buyers can receive as much as 40% of the property price. Across the rest of the country the upper limit is 20%. The rest of the financing is covered by a traditional mortgage. While Help to Buy may have had a limited effect in terms of making housing affordable for first time buyers who are genuinely priced out of the market, it has proven to be effective at sustaining the UK’s all-important housing bubble by jacking up the prices of new-build houses, resulting in even less affordable housing.


Since Help to Buy was first launched in 2013, average UK house prices have increased by 35%, from £167,000 to £226,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. Through the scheme, the government has so far issued around 211,000 loans worth £11.7 billion ($14.8 billion) to home buyers. According to the NAO, this has helped increase sales of new-build properties from 61,357 a year in 2013-14 to 104,245 a year in 2017-18. That, in turn, has helped fuel a spike in profits for the UK’s biggest home builders. The nine largest builders dished out £2.3 billion in dividends in their most recent financial year, 39 times greater than the £53 million they paid out in 2012, a year before the scheme was introduced.

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Greeks have had enough of ‘left’; look what it brought them.

Varoufakis, Kotzias And The Dwindling ‘Progressive Army’ (K.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been blindsided and thrown completely off his game plan. His narrative of a “progressive army” and a fresh rally of forces for elections “that will determine the future” is coming under constant attack. The Progressive Alliance was intended to move SYRIZA closer to the center so that it could resonate more strongly with the broader “progressive” section of voters – though what constitutes progressive and conservative in today’s world is a matter of debate – and to more fully acquire the characteristics of one of the two pillars of the two-party system, pushing center-left Movement for Change to the sidelines.

Tsipras’ plan, however, has been scuppered by two developments in the broader area of the Left, which are of significant symbolic importance and may affect the balance of power. What he hopes to achieve in the next few weeks is to convince many of the voters who chose not to vote in the European elections and who are mainly former supporters of SYRIZA to return to the fold and put their weight behind the big battle against the “socially insensitive, neoliberal” Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the opposition New Democracy party. His path in this ambitious plan, however, is littered with obstacles. The first was the surprisingly strong performance of Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 party in the European elections, which shook things up.

There is now a party to the left of SYRIZA that is pro-European and has a leader with what a leftist voter might see as a convincing position. Moreover, he is neither Zoe Constantopoulou nor Panagiotis Lafazanis. He is a TV star who is in a position to boost his popularity thanks to his strong social media presence. It is also quite likely, if not certain, that he will make it into Parliament next month, and not just by scraping by with 3 percent. You can say a lot about Varoufakis, but what is certain is that he represents the thinking of a significant portion of the people who voted for SYRIZA in January 2015. He exercises charm over this portion of voters, and this is something that will be evident at the polls.

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Has been true for a very long time. Still poorly written though.

School’s Purpose is Indoctrination (Carbone)

The near sole purpose of present-day academia is indoctrination. This is a fairly bold thesis, but the evidence is in its favor. The increasingly progressive leftist agenda is sweeping through academia and conservatives are passively watching it happen. The main indoctrination stories you hear are those of radical professors on college campuses, outlandish majors created to forward social justice movements, and, on occasion, a political outburst by a high school teacher. Although these issues need addressing, by far the biggest – and the one that should scare everyone the most – is the silent indoctrination.


Indoctrination is no longer dependent upon the political beliefs of teachers. We are now past that. Course material is blatant political propaganda. Not just the course material for gender studies and similar. The core curricula of grade school through college. Sciences, economics, literature – any core course you can think of is politically influenced. The only course that may still be an exception is mathematics. Unless you account for the left-wing system of common core – which is a complete disaster. If you don’t believe this, sit through a grade school math class or open up your child’s text book. Disaster.

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But who ever measures sulfur oxides?

Carnival Cruise Ships Pollute 10 Times More Than All Cars in Europe (D.)

Commercial cruise lines are some of the world’s worst polluters, and Carnival is near the top of that list according to a study of European cruise line operators. Research found that Carnival alone is responsible for almost 10 times as much sulfur dioxide release as all 260 million of Europe’s cars combined. The study from Transport & Environment says that the 203 cruise ships that operated in European waters in 2017 emitted a combined total of 62 kilotons of sulfur oxides (SOx), which form airborne gases known to cause lung cancer and acid rain. During the same period, Europe’s 260 million known registered vehicles let out just 3.2 kilotons, the study found.

Of these 62 kilotons of SOx, more than half allegedly were the product of the 47 ships operated by Carnival Cruise Lines or its subsidiaries. Of the 20 worst offenders, seven are Carnival properties, which together made up half of the industry’s SOx emissions in Europe. Carnival denied any wrongdoing when asked for comment by Fast Company, pointed the finger at the rest of the maritime transportation industry, and insinuated that the study’s methodology was unscientific. [..] This statement arrived days after Carnival agreed to a $20 million fine and undergo increased scrutiny of its plastic and sewage disposal practices, which included dumping both directly into the ocean in large quantities. Carnival allegedly tried to hide these activities from regulators by falsifying records or pressuring the United States Coast Guard to relax the terms of its environmental compliance agreement.

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Mar 022019
 


Jean-Francois Millet Charity1859

 

Japan ‘Rooting For Donald Trump’ In China Trade War (SCMP)
Donald Trump Asks China To Abolish Tariffs On US Farm Produce (AFP)
China Welcomes Delay On US Tariff Hike (R.)
Canada Approves Huawei Exec’s Extradition, Sparking Ire From China (R.)
China Bans 23m From Buying Plane, Train Tickets In ‘Social Credit’ System (G.)
EU Ready To Give Britain More Guarantees ‘Backstop’ Is Temporary (R.)
Britain’s Witchfinders are Ready to Burn Jeremy Corbyn (Cook)
Greece Has Until March 11 To Implement Prior Actions – EU (K.)
Moody’s Upgrade Of Greek Rating Paves Way For 10-Year Bond Issue (XInhua)
Wikileaks and Russiagate: Trust Us, We’re The CIA (NM)
Why the Mueller Report Might Disappoint Almost Everybody (Time)

 

 

Some sur[prising numbers in those graphs.

Japan ‘Rooting For Donald Trump’ In China Trade War (SCMP)

A Japanese minister has urged the United States not to “monopolise” the concessions it extracts from China as part of any trade war deal, urging US President Donald Trump to share them with the rest of the world. Tamaki Tsukada, deputy director general for economic affairs within Japan’s foreign ministry, said: “We should be vigilant about what kind of agreement is reached between the US and China, and make sure that Trump will not monopolise whatever benefits he extracts out of China.” Tsukada, speaking at an event in Hong Kong on Thursday, said that while most countries are against any form of trade conflict in theory, many will be “rooting for Trump” in his ongoing tariff war with China, hoping that it leads to real structural reform within China, the benefits of which can be enjoyed by other trading nations.

“We need to recognise that all the heavy lifting will have to be done by the US. There’s a kind of alter ego of criticising on the surface, but at the same time rooting for Trump to get more out of China,” Tsukada told the Asia Trade Summit, organised by The Economist magazine. Negotiations between the US and China are continuing, with the US suspending the planned tariff increase from 10% to 25%. The deadline was due to be on Friday, but no further hard deadline will be imposed, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) confirmed this week. POLITICO reported on Thursday that a document detailing the proposed trade deal, stretching to 140 pages, has been written and that it includes a “significant enforcement mechanism”. If China is found to violate any provision of the deal, tariffs would “snap back” into place, or even be expanded.

China, meanwhile, would not be allowed to retaliate with tariffs, under the terms of the deal, POLITICO reported. [..] Many are looking at the US-Japan trade war in the 1980s for historical guidance as to what will happen and indeed, the parallels are great. “It is important that [the deal] is transparent, and the benefits are extended, that’s the lesson we can share with our Chinese colleagues out of our lessons in the 1980s and 1990s,” Tsukada said. [..] At its peak, Japan accounted for nearly 60 per cent of America’s total trade deficit through the late-1980s and early-1990s. But it in the mid-80s, it agreed to punitive trade reform that would scythe the deficit, under pressure from then US president Ronald Reagan and his trade negotiators, among whom was current US trade representative Robert Lighthizer.

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$14 billion worth of soybeans schlepped halfway across the planet to feed pigs.

And you’d like to tell me we have a sunny future?

Donald Trump Asks China To Abolish Tariffs On US Farm Produce (AFP)

Donald Trump has urged China to abolish tariffs on agricultural products imported from the United States – adding that trade talks between the rival powers were going well. “I have asked China to immediately remove all Tariffs on our agricultural products (including beef, pork, etc.),” the US president wrote on Twitter. He said his request was based on the fact that negotiations with China were “moving along nicely” – and his delay last week of a planned tariff increase on Chinese exports. “This is very important for our great farmers – and me!” he added. After months of trade war, the US and China agreed to a 90-day truce to work out their differences.

It was scheduled to end on Friday, but Trump lifted the ultimatum to increase tariffs after he was satisfied by progress made in several rounds of talks in Beijing and Washington. A White House economic official, Larry Kudlow, said on Thursday the two countries were on the brink of a “historic” trade agreement. A meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, was also expected this month. After the latest round of talks in February, US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted that China had committed to buying “an additional” 10m tonnes of soybeans as a “show of good faith”. US farmers rely greatly on such trade with China: in 2017, around a third of US soybean production – worth $14bn -– was exported there, where it is used to feed pigs.

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He might actually pull it off.

China Welcomes Delay On US Tariff Hike (R.)

China said on Saturday that it welcomed the release of language from the United State Trade Representative’s office (USTR) delaying a scheduled hike in U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. In a statement posted on the website of the Ministry of Commerce, citing an unidentified official at China’s State Council Tariff Commission, China said that it was aware of the USTR’s announcement to maintain tariffs at 10 percent until further notice, and welcomed the step. The USTR released language to delay a scheduled hike in tariffs on Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday, ahead of the publication of a notice next Tuesday. President Donald Trump had announced the delay on Sunday as trade talks between the two sides had made progress.

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It’ll take years. But the Huawei issue will be resolved way before that.

Canada Approves Huawei Exec’s Extradition, Sparking Ire From China (R.)

Canada has approved extradition proceedings against the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, prompting a furious reaction from China. Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was detained in Vancouver last December and is under house arrest. In late January, the US justice department charged Meng and Huawei with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran. Meng will appear in a Vancouver court on 6 March, when a date will be set for her extradition hearing. “Today, department of Justice Canada officials issued an authority to proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Ms Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.

China, whose relations with Canada have deteriorated badly over the affair, denounced the decision and repeated previous demands for Meng’s release. Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement on Saturday that Beijing “deplores and firmly opposes the Canadian side’s obstinately moving forward the so-called judicial process”. He said: “This is a severe political incident. We once again urge the US side to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant and extradition request for Ms Meng Wanzhou and urge the Canadian side to immediately release Ms Meng Wanzhou and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound.”

Legal experts had predicted the government of prime minister Justin Trudeau would give the go-ahead for extradition proceedings, given the close judicial relationship between Canada and the United States. It could be years, though, before Meng is sent to the United States, since Canada’s slow-moving justice system allows many decisions to be appealed. A final decision will probably come down to the federal justice minister, who will face the choice of angering the United States by rejecting the extradition bid, or China by accepting it.

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2017: 6.15 million flight bans. 2018: 17.5 million. Progress.

China Bans 23m From Buying Plane, Train Tickets In ‘Social Credit’ System (G.)

China has blocked millions of “discredited” travellers from buying plane or train tickets as part of the country’s controversial “social credit” system aimed at improving the behaviour of citizens. According to the National Public Credit Information Centre, Chinese courts banned would-be travellers from buying flights 17.5 million times by the end of 2018. Citizens placed on black lists for social credit offences were prevented from buying train tickets 5.5 million times. The report released last week said: “Once discredited, limited everywhere”. The social credit system aims to incentivise “trustworthy” behaviour through penalties as well as rewards. According to a government document about the system dating from 2014, the aim is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Social credit offences range from not paying individual taxes or fines to spreading false information and taking drugs. More minor violations include using expired tickets, smoking on a train or not walking a dog on a leash. Local governments and agencies have been piloting aspects of the system, which will eventually give every Chinese citizen a personalised score. Critics saidauthorities in China were using technology and big data to create an Orwellian state of mass surveillance and control. Authorities have previously used blacklists to limit the travel of some citizens, but the social credit system appears to have expanded the practice. China’s supreme court said in 2017 that 6.15 million citizens had been barred from taking flights because of social credit offences.

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Provided Britain guarantees 1,2,3 etc. Nothing changes.

EU Ready To Give Britain More Guarantees ‘Backstop’ Is Temporary (R.)

The European Union is ready to give Britain more guarantees that the Irish “backstop” is only intended to be temporary, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator said on Friday. “We know that there are misgivings in Britain that the backstop could keep Britain forever connected to the EU,” Michel Barnier said in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper to be published on Saturday. “This is not the case. And we are ready to give further guarantees, assurances and clarifications that the backstop should only be temporary.” The backstop, an arrangement designed to prevent the return of “hard” border infrastructure between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland if there is no trade deal after Brexit that makes it unnecessary, has become the main point of contention in the proposed Brexit deal.

“We will not reverse the backstop,” Barnier added. “It’s an insurance. We don’t want to make use of it. And this is also the case when you insure your house. It’s only intended for the worst-case scenario.” [..] Prime Minister Theresa May has said that, if British lawmakers once more reject her withdrawal agreement in a vote due to take place by March 12, they will get to vote on asking her to request that the EU delay Brexit. Barnier said EU guarantees that the backstop is temporary could come as part of the political agreement setting out expectations for Britain’s relationship with the bloc after it leaves.

He told Die Welt that any extension must be intended specifically to solve the impasse. He added that he saw little risk of the remaining 27 EU leaders opposing a delay to Britain’s exit, currently set down as March 29, as long as Britain was serious about finding a solution. “The question that the EU27 will ask is: What (is it) for? The answer cannot be that Britain wants to postpone a problem. One would want to solve it.” [..] any decision to allow an extension would have to be unanimously approved by EU leaders at a summit on March 21.

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Didn’t Trump patent “witchhunt”?

Britain’s Witchfinders are Ready to Burn Jeremy Corbyn (Cook)

In an earlier era, the guilt of women accused of witchcraft was tested through the ducking stool. If a woman drowned, she was innocent; if she survived, she was guilty and burnt at the stake. A foolproof system that created an endless supply of the wicked, justifying the status and salaries of the men charged with hunting down ever more of these diabolical women. And that is the Medieval equivalent of where the British Labour party has arrived, with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson for anti-semitism. Williamson, it should be noted, is widely seen as a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who was propelled unexpectedly into the Labour leadership nearly four years ago by its members.

His elevation infuriated most of the party’s MPs, who hanker for the return of the New Labour era under Tony Blair, when the party firmly occupied the political centre. Corbyn’s success has also outraged vocal supporters of Israel both in the Labour party – some 80 MPs are stalwart members of Labour Friends of Israel – and in the UK media. Corbyn is the first British party leader in sight of power to prefer the Palestinians’ right to justice over Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinians. For these reasons, the Blairite MPs have been trying to oust Corbyn any way they can. First through a failed re-run of the leadership contest and then by assisting the corporate media – which is equally opposed to Corbyn – in smearing him variously as a shambles, a misogynist, a sympathiser with terrorists, a Russian asset, and finally as an “enabler” of anti-semitism.

This last accusation has proved the most fruitful after the Israel lobby began to expand the definition of anti-semitism to include not just hatred of Jews but also criticism of Israel. Labour was eventually forced to accept a redefinition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, that conflates anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s violent creation on the Palestinians’ homeland – with anti-semitism. Once the mud stuck through repetition, a vocal group of Labour MPs began denouncing the party for being “institutionally anti-semitic”, “endemically anti-semitic” and a “cesspit of anti-semitism”. The slurs continued relentlessly, even as statistics proved the accusation to be groundless. The figures show that anti-semitism exists only in the margins of the party, as racism does in all walks of life.

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Because what use are thumbscrews if you don’t tighten them enough from time to time to inflict more pain?

Greece Has Until March 11 To Implement Prior Actions – EU (K.)

Greece has until the Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers on March 11 to complete all of the pending prior actions it needs to secure the disbursement of 1-billion-euro from creditors, the Euro Working Group decided in Brussels on Friday. If Greece fails to implement the measures demanded by then, the decision on the next tranche will be deferred to April, the EWG said after hearing representatives of the lenders on Greece’s second post-bailout review, which was presented on Friday morning.

Lenders have yet to agree with the government’s plans for protecting the primary residence of debtors from foreclosure and are also seeking a new tender for the sale of the state-owned Public Power Corporation’s lignite mines, among other measures that are still pending. The German and Dutch representatives, moreover, suggested that the disbursement should be put off even longer in order to ensure that Greece is sticking to its commitments.

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And here’s today’s news from China. Don’t think the EU is happy with Moody’s.

Moody’s Upgrade Of Greek Rating Paves Way For 10-Year Bond Issue (XInhua)

Rating agency Moody’s announced on Friday it has upgraded Greece’s sovereign credit rating by two notches to “B1” with a stable outlook, from the “B3” rating with a positive outlook it had granted Greece just over a year earlier. Economists expected this upgrade to assist Greece in its next foray in the markets, probably with a 10-year bond. In a statement, Moody’s explained that its upgrade reflected the strengthening of Greece’s economy thanks to the implementation of reforms, the likelihood of a sustained strong fiscal performance, and the enhancement of public debt sustainability. Greek bond yields in the secondary market have already dropped to a decade-low, with the 10-year note’s rate standing at 3.65 percent on Friday.

“Greece benefits from the fact it has no open fronts at this stage and the international juncture is favorable, with the Italian crisis out of the way,” University of Athens Associate Professor of Economics Dimitris Kenourgios told Xinhua. He added that the upgrade by Moody’s is set to benefit the Greek government’s plans for a full return to the markets, even if the country’s sovereign rating remains well below investment grade by all rating agencies. In this context economists expect Greece to tap the markets with a benchmark 10-year bond soon, the first since March 2010, albeit for only a small amount of money. “Tapping the markets with a 10-year note for just 2.5 billion to 3 billion euros does not really make much of a difference for the economy. It is all to be done for appearances,” commented Giorgos Stratopoulos, a financial analyst at think tank E-Kyklos in Athens.

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And people tell me I can’t say Mueller’s a coward for his handling of Assange.

Wikileaks and Russiagate: Trust Us, We’re The CIA (NM)

Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence (GRU) officers last year looked like a proper, formal, legal 29-page document with lots of details alleging that Russian officers had “hacked into the computer networks of the… Democratic National Committee (DNC)” and released the hacked documents to “Organisation 1”, now recognised as Wikileaks. The mainstream media certainly treated the indictments (a fancy word for ‘accusations’) as convictions in a court of law. They didn’t even feel the need to report the assessment of former NSA technical director William Binney, who says that if the DNC emails had been hacked, as per Muller’s indictments, the NSA would know about it. The NSA would possess records of the hack, including where the hack came from, says Binney, stressing “if it were the Russians, NSA would have a trace route to them and not equivocate on who did it.”

[..] the US national security establishment, with its long history of misleading the public, has been successfully misleading the public about Julian Assange since 2010. Successfully enough, as I explored in Part 2, for populations to tolerate Assange’s political imprisonment for journalism, in the form of arbitrary detention, for over eight years. “Trust us” they said in 2010. Wikileaks is harming innocents. In reality, however, there is “not a single shred of evidence that any of [Wikileaks’] disclosures caused anyone harm” writes journalist and author Nozomi Hayase. Vice President Joe Biden even admitted as much in 2010, saying that Wikileaks’ releases had done “no substantive damage” other than to be “embarrassing”. The Western War on Terror, in contrast, has killed somewhere between 500,000 and 1.3 to 2 million people since 9/11.

“Trust us” Wikileaks is a terrorist organisation. In truth, it is a media organisation. So ruled a UK tribunal in 2017. “Trust us,” Assange has been charged with rape. The fact is that no charge has ever been brought against Julian Assange, and the women involved in the Swedish investigation did not accuse Assange of rape. In text messages, one of the women said that police had “made up” the accusations. According to an official statement by Stockholm’s former Chief District Prosecutor and Director of the Stockholm Regional Prosecution Authority, the investigation was irregular from start to finish. Sweden itself sought to close the investigation, which was only ever a preliminary one, in 2013, by interviewing Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. The UK, however, did not agree.

“Trust us, though”, Assange is evading ‘British Justice.’ Not extradition to the US. He is free to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy at any time. And yet, in 2017 the US DoJ accidentally revealed that a sealed indictment containing secret charges does indeed await Julian Assange in the United States, confirming what Wikileaks has been saying for years. “But trust us. THIS time. We’re telling the truth now. Honest. He’s a Russian agent. And a Putin apologist. And Donald Trump’s stooge. And a Kremlin puppet. Donald Trump is all Julian Assange’s fault. It’s true.

Read more …

Time’s Renato Mariotti has been banging on about collusion for two years, and now that there appears to be none, simply says it was never about that. Not his fault, but yours for believing him.

Why the Mueller Report Might Disappoint Almost Everybody (Time)

After endless hype, special counsel Robert Mueller may be about to submit his report. It is impossible to know what his conclusions will be. But after so much speculation, one outcome seems likely: Mueller will disappoint just about everyone — especially President Trump’s critics. And it won’t be his fault. This is due in part to Trump’s successful disinformation crusade, which has worked to raise a nearly impossible and definitely illogical bar for Mueller to clear: proving “collusion” and charging a grand criminal conspiracy involving the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But it is also due to Trump’s critics, who have responded to Trump’s “No collusion!” mantra by shouting back, “Yes, collusion!”

The word collusion appears nowhere in the order authorizing Mueller’s investigation. There is not even a relevant crime called “collusion.” What Mueller is tasked with is investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with” the Trump campaign. If “links and/or coordination” also don’t sound like crimes, that’s because they aren’t. While Mueller is directed to charge and prosecute crimes he discovers, his is primarily a counterintelligence investigation — not a criminal one — the purpose of which is to identify threats to our national security, potentially including the President of the United States and his associates.

[..] Mueller’s report in fact could change very little. If Senate Republicans stand firm behind Trump, he will remain in office and the public will be left to speculate about the result of the many ongoing investigations of Trump’s campaign, his businesses and his Inaugural committee for years to come, as federal prosecutors investigate. Current Attorney General William Barr may be required by law not to release certain portions of the report or may try to hide the bulk of it from the public, though the latter seems just about politically impossible now. We do not know what Mueller will do. But especially given these indicators and constraints, any outsize expectations seem misguided. And despite being fueled by Trump’s critics, they will make it easier for Trump to declare a win even if there is compelling evidence he committed crimes.

Trump has obstructed justice before our very eyes, from the firing of then FBI Director James Comey to the public pressure he put on now former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after recusing himself, among many other examples. The public’s obsession with crimes that may never be charged has taken the focus away from that serious offense (which, for what it’s worth, is arguably a form of “collusion”). As the Mueller investigation ends and, ideally, becomes public, it is an opportunity to refocus on what has actually happened: Trump campaign officials have committed crimes, the President has obstructed justice in plain sight, and Trump has been implicated in breaking campaign-finance law. At last, we can address reality instead of what may be fantasy.

https://twitter.com/mtracey/status/1101587979578023936

Read more …

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” 1910

 

Dec 132018
 
 December 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte After the water, the clouds 1926

 

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)
Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)
Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)
Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)
US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)
ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)
ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)
French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)
Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)
Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)
Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)
Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)
Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

 

 

Might as well do it this way. May survives confidence vote and can now prepare to defend the deal whose certain defeat made her delay Tuesday’s Parliament vote, a delay which led to the confidence vote in the first place. She still can’t win that one. It’s not so much May who is cooked, it’s the country.

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)

No 10 will not be happy with today’s front pages, which are all about Theresa May’s survival in the no-confidence vote, but paint the win as less of a triumph for May than a pyrrhic victory. Let’s start with the good news for the prime minister. Two papers have come out in support of the her, with the Express featuring a picture of a smiling May and the headline: “Now just let her get on with it”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

EXPRESS: Now just let her get on with it #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/jBhPRSqbAc

The Mail is similarly supportive: “Now let her get on with the job!”, saying that “despite two months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two-thirds of Tory MPs backed her”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

DAILY MAIL: Now let her get on with the job! #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/oaEihTtsOv

Others were less sympathetic. “Time to call it a May”, says the Sun, never one to miss the chance of putting a pun in a headline. The Sun says the prime minister was “left wounded last night after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels”.

The Sun
(@TheSun)

Tomorrow’s front page: Theresa May was left wounded after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels in a make-or-break confidence vote https://t.co/SZTSNZoCZq pic.twitter.com/3OO11Qrm85

The Mirror has: “It’s lame duck for Christmas”, saying May’s “goose is cooked”. The paper describes her as “wounded” and “battered” and says she only managed to survive the no-confidence vote “by promising not to fight the next election”.


Daily Mirror
(@DailyMirror)

Tomorrow’s front page: It’s lame duck for Christmas#tomorrowspaperstoday https://t.co/fFIeHwiekz pic.twitter.com/xL0ijW0Qzv

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Britain’s -Tory- elites still see Ireland as some backward place way beneath them. “The Irish really should know their place.”

Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)

A Tory grandee recently sidled up to me to express grave reservations about the Brexit process. “We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this,” the former minister said about the negotiating tactics of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. The Conservative MP was exasperated that the Republic of Ireland (population: 4.8m) has been able to shape the EU negotiating stance that has put such pressure on the UK (population: 66m). “This simply cannot stand,” the one-time moderniser told me. “The Irish really should know their place.” The remarks explained why Conservatives from both sides of the Brexit divide are so troubled by the negotiations. They also explain why Theresa May might find that any concessions from the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop may fall short of the demands of Tory MPs.

Over the last few months Tory MPs have asked in private how the Irish Republic can believe its relationship with the EU trumps its relationship with the UK. They cite economic reasons (the Irish Republic’s strong trading links with the UK) and the historical relationship. The MPs do of course acknowledge that left a troubled legacy. One minister familiar with Anglo-Irish relations points out that these Tories should bear in mind one date and one word to explain both the Irish and the EU’s approach. The date is 1973: when the Irish Republic joined the EEC at the same time as the UK and Denmark. That was the moment when Ireland took a giant political leap at the same time as the UK.

But it turned out to be arguably the biggest unilateral strategic move since Partition in the 1920s – a move that defined the modern Irish Republic as an independent state within Europe, with a wholly different approach to its larger neighbour.

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I’m afraid I missed something along the way. If you run for office in the US and someone tries to blackmail you, you can’t get rid of them, you need to have lawsuits, court cases etc., interfere with your campaign. Not doing so is illegal. But, as Candace Owens said today,

“Congress has a slush fund, made up of tax dollars, that is used to pay off & silence their alleged sexual assaults and affairs. To date, over 200 million dollars in 200 settlements have been paid since 1998. But tell us more about Trump’s possible campaign finance violations…”

Moreover, a US judge just sentenced Stormy Daniels to paying Trump’s legal costs. But he was still in the wrong? How is that possible?

Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)

Michael Cohen has warned that he has more to say about what he called the ”dirty deeds” of Donald Trump as the president’s former lawyer and fixer was sentenced to three years in prison for facilitating payments to two women who have had alleged affairs with Mr Trump. Cohen was sentenced to 36 months for tax fraud and for his role in the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had affairs with Mr Trump before the 2016 presidential election. The judge in a district court in New York also handed Cohen an extra two months for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

The payments have implicated Mr Trump directly in criminal conduct according to a court filing from prosecutors last week, which said that Cohen was working in coordination with the president. Cohen’s adviser Lanny Davis, who was his attorney for the case, said after the sentencing that Cohen will disclose more information concerning Mr Trump, once Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials. “At the appropriate time, after Mr Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Mr Davis said in a statement.

Read more …

Why is anyone still listening to Yellen?

Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)

The corporate debt scaring policy experts like former Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn’t throwing too much of a fright into market participants. In fact, some of them are continuing to load up on lower-grade corporate debt because it’s managed to be a better performer than some of the investments considered to be safer. “Offense is the best defense,” Hans Mikkelsen, credit strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told clients in a note pointing out that BBB-rated companies are outperforming their A-rated counterparts. BBB is the last rung before junk, and the increasing level of company bonds going to that level is causing concern.

Some investors worry that the companies whose debt is in danger of slipping into high-yield territory will have trouble meeting their obligations during the next economic downturn. But Mikkelsen thinks those concerns are misplaced. The S&P 500 Triple-B investment-grade corporate bond index is down 2.9 percent year to date, which is not good. However, the group is outperforming the broader S&P 500/MarketAxess Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index, which is off 3.5 percent in 2018. The outperformance grows when isolating for risk-adjusted excess returns and runs counter to history when credit spreads are widening. Higher-quality bonds usually outperform in those cases, Mikkelsen noted.

“This outperformance of BBBs is noteworthy as one of [the] key investor concerns this year remains the possibility that large BBB-rated capital structures get downgraded to high yield during the next downturn,” Mikkelsen wrote. “We think this outperformance reflects in part a low recession probability being priced into credit spreads, as well as the fact that most large BBBs are unlikely to get downgraded to [high-yield] anytime soon as they tend to have stable cash flows and significant financial flexibility.”

Read more …

When do we start talking bailouts?

US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)

On Tuesday, the US KBW Bank index, which tracks the largest 24 US banks and serves as a benchmark for the banking sector, dropped 1.2%, the fifth day in a row of declines, to the lowest close since September 7, 2017. The index is now back where it had been on December 1, 2016. Two years of big gains gone up in smoke. [..] But no, the index doesn’t include Goldman Sachs – which is big in other ways but not as a bank, and which has skidded 35% from its all-time peak in February. The index has now dropped 22.5% since the post-financial crisis peak on January 26:

So far in Q4, the index has dropped 14%. Unless a miraculous banking-Santa-Claus rally pulls banks out of their dive by the end of the quarter, a 14% decline would make it the worst quarterly decline since Q3 2011. If tax selling kicks in, given the losses bank-stock investors have taken so far this year, it could get worse in the coming days. Not even in Q3 2015, during the oil bust, when investors were fearing that banks would take steep losses on their loans to the oil industry, did shares drop this much.

The index is now back where it had first been a couple of years before its crazy peak in February 2007. Said peak occurred about a year before Bear Stearns toppled. During the subsequent collapse of banks stocks, it looked like the index would hit zero. After the bottom in March 2009, the Fed’s strategies to benefit the banks and those that owned them took hold, at the expense of depositors and other classes of US stake holders, such as renters or future home buyers. And it worked. But that era is now over. And the tax cut too has been baked in, and banks are left to fend for themselves:

Read more …

Those negative rates will come back to haunt Draghi. But when their damage becomes obvious, he’ll be living quietly in some splendid villa on Lake Como.

ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)

The European Central Bank is all but certain to formally end its lavish bond purchase scheme on Thursday but will take an increasingly dim view on growth, raising the odds that its next step in removing stimulus will be delayed. The long-flagged end of bond buys must be irreversible for the sake of credibility, but with France and Italy in political turmoil, a global trade war still looming large and growth slowing, ECB chief Mario Draghi will be keen to emphasize that other forms of support will remain. This leaves Draghi with yet another delicate balancing act: appear confident enough to justify the end of the 2.6 trillion euro ($2.95 trillion), four-year-long bond buying program, but also sound sufficiently concerned to keep investors expectations about further policy tightening relatively cool.

“Ending quantitative easing now looks more like the ammunition is running out rather than (being) based on a convincing economic outlook,” Societe Generale economist Anatoli Annenkov said. The ECB’s problem is that growth is weaker than policymakers thought even just weeks ago while the predicted rise in underlying inflation has failed to materialize, putting in doubt some of the bank’s assumptions about the broader economy. Overall inflation, the ECB’s primary objective, may be near the target now but falling oil prices suggest a dip in the months ahead and a solid rise in wages is not feeding through to prices, leaving the bank with an unexplained disconnect.

Highlighting this complication, the ECB is likely to cut growth and underlying inflation projections and may take a dimmer view on risks, all while Draghi argues that growth is merely falling back to normal after a recent run.

Read more …

What a failure Draghi has been. Same goes for all central bank heads in the past decades. They make sure banks are fine at the expense of citizens.

ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)

ECB President Mario Draghi has to tread a fine line once again as he gives his latest update on euro area monetary policy on Thursday. While steering the bank out of its QE program and stressing interest rates and reinvestments going forward, Draghi is faced with an economy that may be slowing and a dreary inflation outlook. “We expect the ECB to announce at its meeting next Thursday an end to net-purchases under the APP programme,” said Natixis’ Dirk Schumacher in a note. “While there has been a clear weakening in the economic environment, the ECB will argue that the reinvestment of the stock of bond holdings will ensure a continuing accommodative policy stance justifying an end of the program,” he added.

On Thursday, the ECB also will publish its newest staff projections for economic growth and inflation for the next three years. While it is expected that the central bank will lower its outlook for growth for the next two years, the numbers are also expected to remain just punchy enough to underline the case to exit their purchase program. Another big topic for Thursday will be the design of the ECB’s reinvestments. “The ECB will likely maintain its guidance that it will fully reinvest the proceeds and thus keep its bond holdings constant ‘for an extended period of time’ and ‘for as long as necessary’ to put inflation on track towards its target,” said Florian Hense, Economist with Berenberg.

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Might work if Le Pen joins the left.

French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)

Left-of-center lawmakers in France have tabled a motion of no confidence in the French government following repeated protests and scenes of violence. The “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) crisis started as a demonstration against a carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases, but have morphed into wider discontent at the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron. Now representatives from the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the far-left populist movement France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) have come together to table the motion against Macron’s government.

The government of Georges Pompidou in 1962 was successfully toppled by such a motion but few believe this one will pass as Macron’s centrist La République En Marche! party enjoys a strong majority in the 577-seat house. “The French political system makes it extremely difficult to remove a President from office,” said the Deputy Director of Research at Teneo Intelligence in a note Wednesday. “The only political tool available to the opposition to expel Macron is the constitution’s impeachment procedure, which no one is currently considering,” he added.

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Seems appropriate, but what symbols are left for the much worse years to come?

Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)

Japan has chosen the character for ‘disaster’ to symbolise 2018. The public chose the symbol following a series of natural disasters. In July, 200 people died in floods and millions were evacuated from their homes, and mere days later 65 people died in a heatwave that hospitalised more than 20,000 people. The country was also hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 and was rocked by its strongest typhoon for 25 years. These numerous natural disasters have had an adverse effect on the Japanese economy, and the country’s GDP has gradually shrunk over the last three months, by 1.2 per cent.

The country also experienced societal problems this year, as stories of sexual harassment in the workplace and suicide rates came to light. The master of the ancient temple in Kyoto, Seihan Mori, wrote the symbol for ‘disaster’ in dark ink on traditional white washi paper to mark the vote. The competition has been run by the Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation since 1995. In the annual poll, 21,000 of the 190,000 people who voted picked the character to summarise the years events, but the symbol for peace was a close runner-up.

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What kind of headline is this, Reuters? The UK has refused Assange medical care for years, and now you make it look like Ecuador, not Assange himself. makes it happen?

Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received a series of medical exams, Ecuador’s top attorney said on Wednesday, in line with a new set of rules for his asylum at the Andean country’s London embassy that prompted him to sue the government. Assange first took asylum in the embassy in 2012, but his relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly tense, with President Lenin Moreno saying he does not like his presence in the embassy. The government in October imposed new rules requiring him to receive routine medical exams, following concerns he was not getting the medical attention he needed. The rules also ordered Assange to pay his medical and phone bills and clean up after his pet cat.

Inigo Salvador told reporters Ecuador did not have access to results of the tests, which were conducted by doctors Assange trusted, out of respect for his privacy. But he said Assange, who has sued Ecuador arguing that the new rules violate his rights, appeared coherent and lucid to him. On Wednesday, Assange appeared via videoconference in an Ecuadorean court to appeal a previous ruling that had upheld the new rules. Assange is concerned that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and extradite him to the United States, but Ecuador has said the United Kingdom told it he would not be extradited.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation. A lawyer for Assange said he did not know the results of the medical tests, and called on Ecuador to produce documentation proving that the UK would not extradite him to any country where his life was at risk.

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“..accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities..”

Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)

Julian Assange has accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities, and slammed attempts to block his journalistic work as a more subtle way of silencing than the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Suggesting there were “facts of espionage” inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks co-founder expressed concern during a hearing in Quito on Wednesday that Ecuadorean intelligence is not only spying on him, but sharing the data it has harvested with the FBI. Ecuadorean intelligence clearly spent a sizable amount of money equipping the embassy for surveillance, Assange added.

He accused Ecuadorean authorities of “comments of a threatening nature” relating to his journalistic work and compared attempts to silence him to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured and cut up in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, but “more subtle.” The comparison elicited a harsh reaction from Ecuadorean Prosecutor General Inigo Salvador, who accused Assange of biting the hand that feeds him. Assange told the Ecuadorean court that the living conditions in the embassy were so detrimental to his health that they may put him in the hospital – and suggested that may be the point, because once he leaves the building, he’s fair game for UK and US authorities.

[..] Assange was in court appealing a strict set of rules handed down in October governing his conduct, which he has called a violation of human rights. He submitted 15 “facts of evidence” along with letters from individuals and groups barred from visiting him at the embassy. An earlier attempt to sue his hosts over the restrictive measures was ultimately dismissed by a judge last month, while Assange rejected E

Read more …

That stuff is very bad news.

Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)

The synthetic drug, fentanyl, has surpassed heroin as the deadliest drug in the United States, taking more than 18,000 lives in 2016, federal health officials said Wednesday. In 2016, the latest year for which full data is available, “29 percent of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of fentanyl,” said the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic narcotic that has been blamed for the deaths of rock stars including Prince and Tom Petty. It works on the brain like morphine or heroin, but is 50 to 100 times more potent, and can easily lead to overdose.

The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has tripled from 1999 through 2016, as the nation grapples with a persistent opioid epidemic. Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths have doubled each year from 2013 through 2016, “from 0.6 per 100,000 in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014, 2.6 in 2015, and 5.9 in 2016,” said the report. Meanwhile, deaths from heroin and methamphetamine more than tripled from 2011 to 2016. Heroin was the top cause of drug overdose death from 2012 to 2015, said the report. The prescription painkiller Oxycodone ranked highest in 2011.

Read more …

Every word of this is broken. Time defends the MSM against Trump, but he didn’t create fake news. I like the term ‘abuse of truth’, that verges on doublespeak, as does ‘..the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news”. And c’mon, free and fair press? Who believes that?

Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

Despite the White House ramping up its rhetoric, the United States remains a free and fair press, Ben Goldberger the assistant managing editor of Time magazine told CNBC on Wednesday. The year 2018 has been marked by manipulation, abuse of truth, along with efforts by governments to instigate mistrust of the facts, the magazine said in an essay when it named killed and imprisoned journalists as Person of the Year for 2018 on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt that the rhetoric from the White House about the demonization of the media as ‘the enemy of the people,’ or the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news, is incredibly worrisome and chilling,” Goldberger said. “But that said, I return to what I said about the United States — this remains a free and fair press.” “Journalists here enjoy legal protections that are the envy of those in virtually every other country,” he added.

Read more …

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.”

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“..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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.”

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Jul 032018
 


Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909

 

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

 

 

And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

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“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

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Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

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“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

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Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

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I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

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Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

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Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.


Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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Dec 262017
 
 December 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Christmas card 1928

 

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)
Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)
Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)
Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)
Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)
Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)
Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)
Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)
UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)
‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)
UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

 

 

It’s up to you to refuse plastics. Nothing else will work.

Shale Gas Fuels 40% Increase In Funding For Plastics Production (G.)

The global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitats and food chains, is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years after multibillion dollar investments in a new generation of plastics plants in the US. Fossil fuel companies are among those who have plooughed more than $180bn since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons. The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to experts, exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientist warn already risks “near permanent pollution of the earth.”

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realising we should use far less of it,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the US Center for International Environmental Law, which has analysed the plastic industry. “Around 99% of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies, like Exxon and Shell, that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.” Greenpeace UK’s senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said any increase in the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans would have a disastrous impact. “We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans.”

The huge investment in plastic production has been driven by the shale gas boom in the US. This has resulted in one of the raw materials used to produce plastic resin – natural gas liquids – dropping dramatically in price. The American Chemistry Council says that since 2010 this has led to $186bn dollars being invested in 318 new projects. Almost half of them are already under construction or have been completed. The rest are at the planning stage. “I can summarise [the boom in plastics facilities] in two words,” Kevin Swift, chief economist at the ACC, told the Guardian. “Shale gas.”

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For now, crypto is too small to sink anything at all, but a potential future issue is: If derivatives and leverage play such a big role in crypto, how exactly is it different from all other ‘investments’?

Bitcoin Could Crash Financial Markets Because Of Massive Borrowing (MW)

Bitcoin mania is starting to look like a religion. I say that because both bitcoin and religion involve faith in the unknowable. Some bitcoin investors believe the cryptocurrency, along with the underlying blockchain technology, will be a vital part of a new, decentralized, post-government society. I can’t prove that won’t happen — nor can bitcoin evangelists prove it will. Like life after death, they can only say it’s out there beyond the horizon. If you believe in bitcoin paradise, fine. It’s your business … until your faith puts everyone else at risk. As of this month, bitcoin is doing it. Is bitcoin in a price bubble? I think so. Asset bubbles usually only hurt the buyers who overpay, but that changes when you add leverage to the equation.

Leverage means “buying with borrowed money.” So when you buy something with borrowed money and can’t repay it, the lender loses too. The problem spreads further when lenders themselves are leveraged. For bitcoin mania to infect the entire financial system, like securitized mortgages did in 2008, buyers would have to use leverage. The bad news is that a growing number do just that. In the U.S., we have a Financial Stability Oversight Council to watch for system-wide vulnerabilities. The FSOC issued its 164-page annual report this month. Here’s its plan on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: It is desirable for financial regulators to monitor and analyze their effects on financial stability. Sounds like FSOC is on the case — or at least will be on it, someday. Meanwhile, this month commodity regulators allowed two different U.S. exchanges to launch bitcoin futures contracts.

Oddly, instead of griping about slow regulatory approval, futures industry leaders think the government moved too fast. To get why, you need to understand how futures exchanges work. One key difference between a regulated futures exchange and a private bet between two parties is that the exchange absorbs counterparty risk. When you buy, say, gold futures, you don’t have to worry that whoever sold you the contract will disappear and not pay up. If you close your trade at a profit, the exchange clearinghouse guarantees payment. The clearinghouse consists of the exchange’s member brokerage firms. They all pledge their own capital as a backstop to keep the exchange running. So when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) gave exchanges the green light to launch bitcoin futures, member firms collectively said (I’ll paraphrase here): “WTF?”

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No matter if crypto surges or collapses in 2018, controversies will be much much bigger than this year. Just getting started.

Was Coinbase’s Bitcoin Cash Rollout A Designed Hit? (Luongo)

[..] if there is a path to harming Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market available to the money center banks, then they will always opt for it. I’ve been pretty vocal about the need for having a slow, annoying reserve asset in the cryptocurrency space. I’ve talked about it multiple times (here and here). This doesn’t jibe with Bitcoin Cash proponent and Bitcoin.com CEO Roger Ver’s image of Bitcoin. And that is to Roger’s credit, actually. It’s pretty obvious from a cursory glance at Roger’s Twitter feed that he approaches Bitcoin as a radical libertarian/Austrian Economist would — a purely decentralized, trustless money that can wrest control of the world’s monetary system from rentiers in Government and Banking. Music to my ears. On the other hand is the very shady attitude of Blockstream and the Bitcoin Core group who prevailed in the Segwit 2x fight, which, from Roger Ver’s perspective is actually a mop-up operation, not the decisive battle in the war.

“The reason there is so much hostility from Bitcoin Core towards Bitcoin Cash is because Core knows they have stolen the name but are advocating a completely different system than what was originally described by Satoshi. Bitcoin Cash is Bitcoin” — Roger Ver (@rogerkver) December 19, 2017

The real battle for the soul of Bitcoin happened back in August with the fork that created Bitcoin Cash. Complaining about all of these other forks, to Roger, is like closing the barn door after the horses are gone. By keeping Bitcoin slow and expensive they create the need for new solutions to improve it. Why solve a problem when you can artificially create one and then sell everyone the solution? So, I’m ambivalent about this fight for the soul of Bitcoin, because I want a real digital analogue to Gold which only moves the most important transactions. I don’t want all coins to be all things to all people. But, I also know that with this much money at stake there will be pushback from the ‘powers-that-be.’ The Banks and central banks are staring at an existential threat to their future and are doing what they can to stop it from happening. And that, to them, means gaining control over the Bitcoin blockchain. It also means cutting off the means of entry and exit from the cryptocurrency market for average people.

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Unemployment in Japan is almost non-existent, but apparently markets don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Tight labor doesn’t lead to higher wages.

Japan PM Abe Urges Firms To Raise Wages By 3% Or More (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday urged companies to raise wages by 3% or more next year, keeping up pressure on firms to spend their huge cash pile on wages to broaden the benefits of his “Abenomics” stimulus policies.“We must sustain and strengthen Japan’s positive economic cycle next year to achieve our long-standing goal of beating deflation,” Abe said in a speech at a meeting of Japan’s biggest business lobby Keidanren. “For that, I’d like to ask companies to raise wages by 3% or higher next spring,” he said. Wages at big companies have been rising slightly more than 2% each year since 2014, government data shows, and an increase of 3% or more next year would help the Bank of Japan to reach its elusive 2% inflation target.

BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told the same meeting that companies remain hesitant to raise wages because they had become accustomed to prioritising job security over wage hikes during 15 years of deflation. “With consumers remaining reluctant to accept price rises, many firms are concerned about losing customers if they raise prices,” he said. “It seems so difficult for many firms to take the first step to raise their prices, that they wait and see what other firms are doing.” Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Keidanren, made no reference to wages at his speech at the meeting, focusing instead on the need for Japan to get its fiscal house in order. “We’d like to strongly call on the need to restore fiscal health,” as worries over the sustainability of Japan’s social welfare system could discourage consumers to spend, he said.

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“..due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018..”

Japan’s Household Spending Jumps But BOJ Seen Keeping Stimulus (R.)

Japan’s households spent more than expected in November while consumer inflation ticked up and the jobless rate hit a fresh 24-year low, offering the central bank some hope an economic recovery will drive up inflation to its 2% target. But the increase in prices was due mostly to a boost from rising fuel costs that is seen fading in 2018, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to maintain its huge monetary support even as other central banks seek an end to crisis-mode policies. Minutes of the BOJ’s October rate review showed that while most central bank policymakers saw no need to ramp up stimulus, they agreed on the need to sustain “powerful” monetary easing for the time being. “There’s a chance inflation may gradually accelerate toward the fiscal year beginning in April,” as a tightening job market pressures companies to raise wages, said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

“But inflation remains distant from the BOJ’s 2% target, so the central bank will probably maintain its current policy framework.” Spending was driven by broadbased gains, with households loosening the purse strings for items such as refrigerators, washing machines, and sporting goods and services such as eating-out and travel. Data also showed wage earners’ disposable income rose 1.8% in November from a year earlier, suggesting that higher incomes have encouraged consumers to open their wallets. The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil goods but excludes volatile fresh food prices, rose 0.9% in November from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday, marking the 11th straight month of gains. The pace of price growth was just ahead of October’s 0.8% and a median market forecast of the same rate.

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Illusions of control. China’s no. 1 threat.

Shanghai Sets Population At 25 Million To Avoid ‘Big City Disease’ (G./R.)

China’s financial hub of Shanghai will limit its population to 25 million people by 2035 as part of a quest to manage “big city disease”, authorities have said. The State Council said on its website late on Monday the goal to control the size of the city was part of Shanghai’s masterplan for 2017-2035, which the government body had approved. “By 2035, the resident population in Shanghai will be controlled at around 25 million and the total amount of land made available for construction will not exceed 3,200 square kilometres,” it said. State media has defined “big city disease” as arising when a megacity becomes plagued with environmental pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of public services, including education and medical care.

But some experts doubt the feasibility of the plans, with one researcher at a Chinese government thinktank describing the scheme as “unpractical and against the social development trend”. Migrant workers and the city’s poor would suffer the most, predicted Liang Zhongtang last year in an interview with state media, when Shanghai’s target was being drafted. The government set a similar limit for Beijing in September, declaring the city’s population should not exceed 23 million by 2020. Beijing had a population of 21.5 million in 2014. Officials also want to reduce the population of six core districts by 15% compared with 2014 levels. To help achieve this goal authorities said in April some government agencies, state-owned companies and other “non-core” functions of the Chinese capital would be moved to a newly created city about 100 kilometres south of Beijing.

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Well, actually, your data, that is.

Europe Banks Brace For Huge Overhaul That Opens The Doors To Their Data (CNBC)

From current accounts to credit cards, established lenders have access to vast amounts of information that financial technology (fintech) competitors could only dream of. In Europe, that could all be about to change. On January 8, banks operating in the European Union will be forced to open up their customer data to third party firms — that is, when customers give consent. EU lawmakers hope that the introduction of the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) will give non-banking firms the chance to compete with banks in the payments business and give consumers more choice over financial products and services. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has set out similar plans to let customers share their data with other banks and third parties.

With customer consent, U.K. banks will be required to give authorized third-party firms access to current account data. Those regulations form part of a conceptual transition known as “open banking.” Under an open banking framework, proponents say, non-banking firms — from corporations as big as Amazon and IBM to start-ups — would be able create new financial products by utilizing the data of banks. Banks will be required to build application programming interfaces (APIs) — sets of code that give third parties secure access to their back-end data. Those APIs serve as channels for developers to get to the data and build their own products and services around it.

Such information could serve as a tool to understand things such as customers’ spending habits or credit history, and could lead to the creation of new services. “In a world of open banking, the customer can choose a provider in each part of the value chain. And each bank has to participate in the value chain as an earners’ right to be there,” Anne Boden, co-founder and chief executive of U.K. mobile-only bank Starling, told CNBC in an interview earlier this year. [..] Some European lenders are giving early signals as to what a post-PSD2 world will look like. Spain’s BBVA, Denmark’s Saxo Bank, Nordic lender Nordea and Ireland’s Ulster Bank have already published open developer portals ahead of the EU legislation.

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UBI experiments that are poorly designed are real threats to the principle.

Scotland United In Curiosity As Councils Trial Universal Basic Income (G.)

In Scotland, a country wearily familiar with divisions of a constitutional nature, the concept of a basic income is almost unique in enjoying multi-party favour. Across the four areas currently designing basic income pilots – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire – the projects have variously been championed by Labour, SNP, Green and, in one case, Conservative councillors. Matt Kerr, who has tirelessly lobbied for the idea through Glasgow city council, said: “Reactions to basic income have not split along the usual left/right party lines. Some people to the left of the Labour party think that it undermines the role of trade unions and others take the opposite view. But there should be room for scepticism; you need that to get the right policy.” Advocates are aware such unity of purpose is precious and worth preserving.

“The danger is that this falls into party blocks,” said Kerr. “If people can unite around having a curiosity about [it] then I’m happy with that. But having the first minister on board has done us no harm at all.” Inevitably, Sturgeon’s declared interest has invited criticism from her opponents. A civil service briefing paper on basic income, which expressed concerns that the “conflicting and confusing” policy could be a disincentive to work and costed its national roll-out at £12.3bn a year, was obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through a freedom of information request in October. The party accused her of “pandering to the extreme left of the [independence] movement”. But advocates argue the figures fail to take into account savings the scheme would bring.

The independent thinktank Reform Scotland, which published a briefing earlier this month setting out a suggested basic income of £5,200 for every adult, has calculated that much of the cost could be met through a combination of making work-related benefits obsolete and changes to the tax system, including scrapping the personal allowance and merging national insurance and income tax. [..] Joe Cullinane, the Labour leader of North Ayrshire council, said: “We have high levels of deprivation and high unemployment, so we take the view that the current system is failing us and we need to look at something new to lift people out of poverty. “Basic income has critics and supporters on the left and right, which tells you there are very different ways of shaping it and we need to state at the outset that this is a progressive change, to remove that fear and allow people to have greater control over their lives, to enter the labour market on their own terms.”

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“Two whistleblowers claim Home Office departments delay asylum applications for profit..

UK Asylum Offices ‘In A Constant State Of Crisis’, Say Whistleblowers (G.)

Staff in the Home Office’s asylum directorate are undertrained, overworked and operating in a “constant state of crisis”, two whistleblowers have claimed, as applicants endure long waits to have their case dealt with due to internal pressures. The Home Office staff have also told the Guardian that asylum case workers are making poor decisions about applications because they are under pressure to focus on more profitable visa applications. Despite a “shocking increase in complaints (from applicants) and MP enquiries questioning delays”, they say caseworkers have been told to brush off all enquires and “just give standard lines” of response when called to account.

A source from the UK Visa and Immigration Unit (UKVI) has alleged that caseworkers have been ordered to kick applications for spousal visas “into the long grass” because they can make more money for the directorate by processing student visas. Spousal visas, also known as settlement visas, cost more than student visas but take much longer to process. The source also claims visa applications are routinely labelled “complex” or ”non-straightforward” by staff – a term which excuses the UKVI from adhering to their standard processing times – it is, the source claimed, “just a euphemism for ‘there’s more profitable stuff we could be doing’”. Paying hundreds of pounds for priority services to try to avoid delays on decisions is a “waste of time”, they warned applicants.

The allegations reflect concerns expressed in a report earlier this year by David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, who said the Home Office is not “in effective control” of its asylum process. [..] Some of the more shocking findings from Bolt’s report included pregnant women being made to wait more than two years for decisions on their immigration applications; an increasing numbers of applicants having their immigration applications registered as “not straightforward” and endlessly delayed; and Home Office employees being “pushed to the limit” by individual targets and threatened with disciplinary action as deadlines approach.

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At least one more month of utter despair, with little reason to assume any improvement by then. Mouzalas cannot escape his part of the blame.. That said, he’s not lying when he says “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so..”

‘Normality’ To Be Restored At Moria By End of January – Greek Minister (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Monday authorities were making huge efforts to improve conditions at the Moria camp on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, while accusing European officials of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their share of the burden. Speaking after an unannounced visit at the infamous migrant and refugee processing center, Mouzalas said Greek authorities were hoping to restore “normality” at the facility by the end of January. “It all depends on arrivals,” Mouzalas said. “Today it was good weather and a total of 175 arrivals have been recorded on Lesvos as of this morning,” he said.

Responding to criticism over the scenes of misery and squalor documented by foreign media at Moria last week, the leftist minister said: “Europe must put an end to its hypocrisy.” “Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied minor refugees. We have asked Europe to take a share of these children. It refuses to do so,” Mouzalas said. “It’s very easy to act like a prosecutor. Dealing with the situation in a way that helps refugees and migrants is the hard part. And this is what we are expected to do,” he said. “There is no point in wagging your finger. What you need to do is mobilize the procedures and mechanisms in order to improve conditions and solve problems,” he said.

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And the UNHCR is not beyond blame, either. Pointing fingers at others is always easy, but hard to keep up after two whole years.

UNHCR Calls For Migrant Transfers, Blames Greece For Grim Conditions (K.)

As temperatures drop, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) once more urged Greek authorities to swiftly transfer thousands of refugees and migrants living in cramped and unsafe island camps to the mainland where better conditions and services are available. “Tension in the reception centers and on the islands has been mounting since the summer when the number of arrivals began rising,” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told Voice of America. “In some cases, local authorities have opposed efforts to introduce improvements inside the reception centers,” Pouilly was quoted as saying. More than 15,000 people have been transferred to the mainland over the past year.

Meanwhile, speaking to the New Europe news website, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, suggested that Greek authorities were to blame for the grim living conditions inside island migrant camps, as recently documented by American news outlet BuzzFeed and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “The Commission has made the funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity, against the opposition of the competent authorities,” Verwey said, according to New Europe.

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Dec 182017
 
 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Sign Along the Road Near Capulin New Mexico 1939

 

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)
Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)
Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)
China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)
Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)
UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)
Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)
Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)
Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)
Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)
Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)
If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

 

 

Shaky, but give it time before deciding.

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)

Update: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Futures have collapsed since the futures opened…

Dropping over $2200 to converge with spot…

Both CME and CBOE Bitcoin Futures contracts opened above $20,000 this evening (with Bitcoin spot hovering around $19,000). However, as soon as trading started, Bitcoin futures got hammered lower.

Those expecting a surge in futs volumes on the CME vs the CBOE will be disappointed: In fact, spoting actual trades in the first few minutes of trading is not heavy to say the least. Obviously Jan is seeing all the volume… And March not so much… (let alone the $1200 bid-offer spread).

The lack of trading will likely be a surprise to those who were expecting a more “vigorous” futures launch on the CME, such as Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in New York at ED&F Man Capital Markets who told Bloomberg that “CME’s bitcoin contract may not be first, but they are a larger futures clearinghouse and we are looking forward to our clients trading their product on Sunday evening. Not all market participants have been able to short the Cboe bitcoin futures. We have allowed our clients to go long or short to take advantage of dislocations between the futures and the underlying spot market.” For now, nobody appears to be taking advantage of anything.

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This seems to be a reasonable fear.

Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)

This chart shows a seven-day average of the total number of minutes it takes to confirm a bitcoin transaction, since May 2016. Like the price of bitcoin itself, transaction time has been rising as the months go by. At the time of writing, it took four-and-a-half hours to confirm a bitcoin trade, on average:

If you are holding bitcoin, and you’re worried that the price is a bubble – it cleared $17,000 last week – then bitcoin transaction times should really start to scare you. The price of bitcoin is shifting up and down by hundreds or thousands of dollars each day. No one knows what the price will be one hour from now, except that we know it will be very, very different. The schedule for the world’s largest ICO, the $500 million Dragon casino offering, has been pushed back two weeks, the company says, “due to the extreme congestion on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks, [in which] ICO investors or contributors have faced significant challenges when transferring their Bitcoin and Ethereum to participate in the Dragon Pre-ICO.”

The transaction time is built into the system. Each transaction must be confirmed by six bitcoin miners, and that takes time. There is a finite number of miners, and the more transactions they have to confirm, the longer it takes as their network bandwidth gets filled. Worse, they charge for transactions and prioritise transactions based on price. Those who pay more get processed first. Imagine how bad this is going to get on the day some negative news hits the wires and the really significant holders of bitcoin decide, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ve made my money. I am bailing.” The majority of bitcoins are held by a tiny percentage of the market. 40% are held by 1,000 people. Those few major holders can crash the market whenever they want.

As anyone who remembers the market crashes of 2000 and 2008 knows, these things happen fast. Billions get wiped off the market in minutes. People who need to cash out now, but who are an hour or so behind the news, can lose their shirts. It is brutal. And blockchain just isn’t equipped to deal with it. Part of the increase in transaction time has, no doubt, been caused by the recent arrival of new, less knowledgeable investors who are coming into the market only because they have seen the headlines about the price of bitcoin going up, up, up. That gives us an idea of just how congested it will be on the way down. It will also be expensive. By some counts, transaction fees are doubling every three months. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $26 per trade recently.

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Abe’s going to have to force his people to spend at gunpoint. And then find out they can’t.

Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)

Japanese exports accelerated sharply in November, yet again pointing to growing momentum in the world’s third-biggest economy. There was just one catch: inflation remained stubbornly low and well off the central bank’s 2% target. The combination of steady growth and benign consumer prices mean the Bank of Japan will lag other major central banks in exiting crisis-era monetary stimulus, with analysts widely expecting BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep the liquidity tap wide open at a meeting later this week. “Inflation expectation is in a gradual recovery trend, but a gap between firm economic indicators and weak price indexes remains wide open,” said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

Indeed, a BOJ survey on Monday showed companies’ inflation expectations heightened only a touch in December from three months ago, despite a tight labor market and business confidence at over a decade high. The persistently low inflation – with core prices running at an annual pace of 0.8% – was also hard to square off with the robust performance of Japan Inc., which has benefited from booming exports thanks to upbeat global demand. Separate data from the Ministry of Finance showed exports grew 16.2% in the year to November, beating a 14.6% gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and accelerating from the prior month’s 14.0% increase, led by a stellar sales to China and Asia.

[..] “The BOJ will likely be forced into cutting its price projections once again in its quarterly outlook report in January. That will highlight a distance to an exit from the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” said Barclays’ Nagai. The BOJ quarterly “tankan” survey on corporate inflation expectations survey showed companies expect consumer prices to rise 0.8% a year from now, slightly ahead of their projection for a 0.7% increase three months ago. The marginal nudge up in expectations underscored why inflation is still well off the BOJ’s target, with firms expecting consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1% three years from now and 1.1% five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the survey showed.

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They’ll all go to the same places though.

China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” – the government’s attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What’s not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government’s other main priorities: managing debt. In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou. Previously, this didn’t really matter.

For the past three decades, during the period of China’s furious economic growth, the country’s fastest-growing regions were desperate for cheap labor to fill factories and build infrastructure. With local government officials graded in large part on their ability to generate rapid growth, they largely ignored hukou restrictions and made migration into their cities easy. Hundreds of millions of workers traveled from their hukou areas to wherever there were jobs, in particular big cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The attitudes of local authorities may be changing now as the economy slows and officials become more concerned about unemployment and tensions over access to schools and other social services. One of the easiest tools the authorities have to manage both problems is to enforce the hukou rules that are already on the books.

In Beijing, the campaign is broadly popular among legal residents, who complain about overcrowding and rising rents. If it spreads, however, the crackdown could carry a significant macroeconomic cost. Enforcing the residency system nationally could severely limit labor mobility in China. This would in turn constrain monetary policy, which is critical to minimizing the cost to China of what’s likely to be a very difficult adjustment after decades of deeply unbalanced growth. How exactly would this happen? It’s important to remember that while China is a huge economy with a great deal of variety across different regions, it can nonetheless operate effectively with a single currency because it has most of the characteristics of an optimum currency area. In the 1960s, Columbia University’s Robert Mundell argued that four conditions were required to establish such an area.

They include high levels of labor mobility, high levels of capital mobility, a system of transfers that shares risks across the region, and coordinated business cycles. If labor mobility in China slows dramatically, growth rates in different parts of the country would diverge even more than they have already, rather than converge. As a result, monetary policies aimed at restraining credit growth overall might end up being too tight for some regions, leading to accelerating bankruptcies, and too loose for others, fueling out-of-control credit growth.

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Inevitable.

Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)

Price cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property in a slowing market has reached the highest levels in six years, according to an analysis by website Zoopla. Just over 35% of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale, with the biggest discounts in the London property market. The 35% figure compares with 29% just before the EU referendum in 2016, although it is below the levels recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Sellers in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames in south-west London, both relatively prosperous areas, are among those to have made the deepest reductions in sale prices. Zoopla put the average mark-down by sellers in Kingston at £84,244.

It added that around half of all the properties for sale in Kingston and other nearby locations such as Mitcham and Camberley in Surrey have been reduced since their first listing, indicating that sellers are having to significantly readjust their hopes in the light of the Brexit vote. Lawrence Hall, at Zoopla, said it was good news for first-time buyers trying to get on the property ladder. “A slight rise in levels of discounting is to be expected at this time of year when house-hunters are likely to be delaying their property search until activity picks up in January,” Hall said. “Those on the look-out for a bargain should consider looking in Camberley or Kingston upon Thames in the south, or areas of the north-east – home to some of Britain’s biggest discounts.”

The average asking price reduction across the country currently stands at £25,562, according to Zoopla. The property website said towns in Scotland and northern England have proved more resilient to discounts. About 16% of homes in Edinburgh have been reduced in price, followed by 19% in Salford, 22% in Glasgow, and 25% in Manchester – all below the national average. In London, 39% of property listings have recorded a price reduction, up from 37% in July.

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Banks want to be no. 1 consideration.

UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)

Britain’s banks have written to Theresa May and Philip Hammond warning that a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit is not ambitious enough and that alignment with EU rules on finance is crucial. The open letter from UK Finance, which represents major banks and other financial institutions, said the government must place the City at the centre of Brexit trade talks or risk dealing a major blow to the economy. “Ceta [the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada] is an interesting template, but given the UK and the EU 27 start from a position of regulatory convergence that the UK and Canada didn’t have, we should seek to be far more ambitious,” said the letter.

The banks congratulated May on successfully negotiating a move to the second phase of withdrawal negotiations with the EU, which it called the first substantive evidence that a final deal could be agreed. But the trade body called on the government to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit and broker a smooth transition by focusing on alignment with Europe. “Pragmatic decisions to align the two regimes from a regulatory perspective … should be seen not as concessions, but as mechanisms to maximise benefits and choice within a deep regional capital market for the benefit of citizens and our economies,” it said. The alternative is “an unnecessary loss” of GDP, it added.

“A high degree of mutual cross-border market access is fundamental to the continued success of our financial services sector – and to the success of the economies and citizens which our sector serves in the UK and the EU 27,” UK Finance wrote.

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Stimulus instead of austerity.

Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)

[..] polling shows that the British people are disillusioned with the privatisation of key sectors, and favour nationalisation. They seek protection from the impact of deregulated market forces on their lives and livelihoods and on their children’s prospects. Business leaders have been made aware – by the IMF, the OECD and the Bank for International Settlements – that the Conservatives’ dependence on what David Cameron called his government’s “monetary radicalism and fiscal conservatism” has gone too far. There is now real concern about the long-term impact of quantitative easing which, coupled with austerity, has led to rocketing asset prices, falling wages and rising inequality. Those with access to central bank largesse have been enriched as the prices of assets have risen; while those without assets and dependent on earnings have suffered as incomes have fallen in real terms.

Falling incomes and spare capacity have not been good for business. While the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent watchdog, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a thinktank, have obsessed over supply-side issues, politicians have been persuaded by economists to sit on their hands, as Britain’s economy falters under huge, unused capacity. Howard Bogod, who runs a business with a turnover of under £20m, wrote recently: “Economic models have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth – indeed these two failures are linked. My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists would again be left scratching their heads.”

There is, nevertheless, anxiety over the scale of Labour’s public investment plans and their impact on the UK’s credit rating. But Labour has a record, in key respects, of being more fiscally conservative than Conservatives. For example, a review by economists at Policy Research in Macroeconomics of current budget deficits or surpluses (that is, excluding public investment) for the whole period before the global financial crisis, from 1956 to 2008, reveals that Conservative governments had an average annual surplus of 0.3% of GDP, while Labour governments had an average annual surplus of 1.1%.

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“Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week. ..”

Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there. The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didn’t surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and that’s why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the mediaeval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neo-classical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics. Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored.

The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening. Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neo-classical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

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“.. invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body.”

Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)

As she fights for her political life Soon-to-be-ex-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will go down swinging against her stiffest political opponents in the European Union, the Poles. Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron publicly agreed to back Article 7 proceedings against Poland for refusing to comply with EU immigration quotas and changes to its judicial system. Immigration quotas, I might add, that are becoming harder to defend as the war in Syria is mostly over and the flow of refugees from there has slowed to a trickle. But, those brought in and stranded in camps in Italy and Greece apparently need to go somewhere else. But, no one wants them. And the rest of the EU is trying to bully Poland and the rest of the Visigrad countries – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – into taking on their ‘fair share.’

The problem with this is that Merkel made this decision unilaterally and foisted it on the rest of the EU. And she is determined not to lose this fight to Poland, not because this is any kind of humanitarian issue at this point. No, this is about the primacy of EU diktats being enforced at the expense of logic and political cohesion. And, as I’ve been warning about all year, Merkel will put the EU before any practical consideration and bring Article 7 proceedings against Poland. Because she has to. Immigration and the destruction of individual European cultures is the guiding principle behind the EU’s biggest benefactors. This policy is part of the long-term strategic goals of the EU. It has created an army which will be used to quell secessionist movements in the name of ‘continental security.’ Because despite the fevered dreams of a few hundred Latvians, the Russians are not invading Europe anytime soon.

And I have to wonder who will staff this Grand Army of the Oligarchy? After impoverishing an entire generation of people thanks to a decade-long banking system bailout, you shouldn’t be expecting the crème de la crème of the vanishing European middle class. You can expect a number of these newly-integrated immigrants that Merkel invited at everyone else’s expense will be in their ranks. And only the most politically-acceptable members of the current armies of each country will be invited to positions of authority in this new EU army. Their loyalty will be to the EU first and their homes second. The very definition of a Vichy gendarme for the 21st century. Poland and the rest of the Visigrad Four – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – are headed for a collision course with the rest of Western Europe over this issue and many others.

And invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body. While at that same time not allowing Poland free access to international trade because it will not be an independent nation at that point. Any move to extricate itself from the EU politically or practically will be met with the most strident opposition. Look no further than Brexit talks and the brutal put-down of Catalonia’s independence movement to see Poland’s future.

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They have that in common with Germans.

Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)

Greeks love cash: Not only do they make most of their payments in cash – more than in any other eurozone country – but they also use it to pay their regular monthly obligations, such as utility bills, rent and even their taxes. The main reason for this proclivity for paper money is not an inherent aversion towards electronic payments, but that the vast majority of Greeks, far more than in other eurozone member states, still get paid in cash. This is evident in the recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in eurozone households, which showed that 57% of Greeks are paid in paper. Cyprus and Slovenia come a distant second, with a rate of 28%, while in the other eurozone countries the share of people getting paid “cash in hand” ranges between 5 and 20%.

Behind this particularly high rate of people paid in cash in Greece lies the large number of small or family owned enterprises and freelancers who work for cash. This also serves to illustrate the extensive tax evasion in this country, which tends to be focused on a series of professional categories, mainly among freelancers. The above figures concern 2016, while banks estimate that this picture has started changing considerably after the compulsory payment of salaried workers via a bank account from early 2017. The ECB figures show that the cash culture is not a strictly Greek phenomenon, as 79% of transactions in the eurozone – with great variations from country to country – are conducted with coins and banknotes.

Yet contrary to European habits, Greeks use cash for a series of transactions that are regular every month: 40% of Greeks pay their taxes in cash against just 9% in the eurozone, 50% use paper to pay for their insurance against 10% in the eurozone, and 70% pay for their medicines in cash against 31% in the eurozone. Similarly, electricity and phone bills are paid by 60% of Greeks in cash, compared to 16% in the eurozone, and 30% of rents are covered by cash against just 6% in the eurozone. ECB data also revealed that Greeks hold an average of 80 euros in cash on them, against the Spaniards’ 50 euros and the Italians’ 69 euros, while the Portuguese like to keep just 29 euros at hand.

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In a system as overwhelmed as it is, this does not spell a lot of good.

Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)

In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA. “The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.

Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey. Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims. At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said. Meanwhile, there are concerns that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.

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“There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever.”

If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

Ask a woman right now how her Christmas is going and she will almost certainly unfurl her to-do list before your eyes, from the turkey to the costumes for the kids’ concerts. They should call it the Season of To-dos. For women, anyway. Christmas is the one time of the year when the gender pay gap is an open festering wound. Most of women’s work goes unvalued, unpaid, unseen by the patriarchal valuing system we call money. It’s invisible to money but it’s also pretty invisible even to ourselves. For a woman, it’s just what you do. For men, it’s stuff that just… happens. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up being Santa. I love it, I’m good at it, and I still do it for my kids even though they’re way past believing. That doesn’t mean it’s not work and it’s not worth something. People love their work and still get money for it.

(A little aside: isn’t it interesting that the man behind Santa is almost never a man? It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to take the credit for all of women’s work at Christmas time.) But whoever coined the term “holiday season” was clearly a bloke. It ain’t no holiday. For women, it’s the busiest time of the year. There’s something really broken about a valuing system that doesn’t recognize how much important work goes into bringing up children, socially integrating the tribe, bonding with each other and appreciating the beauty of each individual in the family and all the gifts they bring. A valuing system that doesn’t recognize the gains of having good-natured humans brought up in solid, loving environments that are closely networked in the goodwill economy. A family that will look after each other.

There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever. There’s something deeply sick about a valuing system that only knows how to pay people to make more problems, more sickness, more work for themselves. Invent a problem, and then sell your “solution” to it. That’s pretty much every business model ever. Libertarians will tell you earnestly that all our valuing decisions should be left up to “the markets.” If left to its own devices, the intelligence of money is meant to somehow create a handsome retirement savings package for a hardworking single mom of six. It’s somehow going to pay people to reuse and redistribute goods that they don’t need and fill all the unused houses with house-less people. It’s going to reward leaving minerals in the ground and pay for people to be healthy and live simply and for the environment to flourish and sustain life.

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