May 152019
 
 May 15, 2019  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Meules 1890 (sold for $110 million yesterday)

 

25 White Men In Alabama Senate Vote To Ban Abortion (AP)
62% Of US Millennials Live Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
More Than Half Of Greeks Aged 25-34 Live With Parents (K.)
One In Three UK Teenagers ‘Ashamed Of Their Body’ (G.)
May Wants Parliament To Have A Fourth Vote On Her Brexit Deal (G.)
Brexit Armageddon (Jamison)
Donald Trump Jr To Testify Before Senate Committee (AP)
Xi Says ‘No Clash’ Of Civilisations Amid US Trade War (AFP)
China Calls For “People’s War” Against The US (ZH)
The Future Of Food: Jellyfish Supper Delivered By Drone (G.)
Tropical Forests ‘Empty’, Poaching Slashes Large Mammal Populations (Ind.)

 

 

Turns out the Flintstones was a series about the future, not the past.

25 White Men In Alabama Senate Vote To Ban Abortion (AP)

Alabama’s Senate passed a near-total ban on abortion Tuesday, sending what would be the nation’s most stringent abortion law to the state’s Republican governor. The GOP-dominated Senate voted 25-6 to make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk. Senators rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest. The amendment was voted down 21-11, with four Republicans joining Democrats.


“You don’t care anything about babies having babies in this state, being raped and incest,” Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton said on the Senate floor after the amendment’s defeat. “You just aborted the state of Alabama with your rhetoric with this bill.” Bill sponsor Rep. Terri Collins said she expects Gov. Kay Ivey to sign the ban into law. Ivey has not publicly commented on what she’ll do. The lopsided vote suggests a veto could be easily overcome. Ivey spokeswoman Lori Jhons said in a statement after the vote that “the governor intends to withhold comment until she has had a chance to thoroughly review the final version of the bill that passed.”

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I’m more impressed by how much of each generation is dirt poor. It’s not just millenials.

62% Of US Millennials Live Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

Almost two-thirds of Millennials are living paycheck to paycheck, and only 38% feel financially secure, according to Charles Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth Index Survey. According to the survey, Millennials (ages 23 to 38) seem troubled when it comes to their financial well being. The study examined the finances of 1,000 Americans from different generations, but for our sake, we’re only concentrating on approximately 380 Millennials surveyed by Schwab. Millennials conveniently blamed social media platforms for their dire financial straits. The need to spend was a symptom of fear of missing out (FOMO) of their friend’s experiences seen on social media posts, stories, and or feeds.

“The burden to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ has been part of our culture for decades, but it appears that social media and the fear of missing out (FOMO) have increased the pressure to spend,” said Terri Kallsen, executive vice president and head of Schwab Investor Services. “Spending is not the enemy, but when we allow social pressure or other forces to lure us into spending beyond our means, it can impact long-term financial stability and become a larger problem.” Logica Research conducted the online study for Schwab during the first two weeks in Feburary.

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And a million Greeks earn €200-€500 a month.

More Than Half Of Greeks Aged 25-34 Live With Parents (K.)

More than half of Greeks in their mid-20s to mid-30s live with their parents, a significantly larger proportion than the average of 28.5 percent in the 28-member European Union, according to the results of a survey by the bloc’s statistics service Eurostat which were made public on Tuesday. Specifically, 56.3 percent of Greeks aged 25 to 34 said they lived with their parents in 2018, the highest rate in the EU after Croatia and Slovakia, where the rates were 59.7 percent and 57 percent respectively.


The repercussions of Greece’s economic crisis appear to have played a role in keeping Greeks at home for longer, with statistics pointing to a slight but steady increase from 50.6 percent in 2010 to 53.4 percent in 2015 and 56.3 percent last year. The rate was the lowest in Northern European countries, such as Sweden with 6 percent, Finland on 4.7 percent, and Denmark, where 3.2 percent of the 25-34 age group live with their parents.

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That’s why we call them “social” media.

One In Three UK Teenagers ‘Ashamed Of Their Body’ (G.)

Almost a third of British teenagers feel ashamed of their body, with imagery of “idealised” bodies on social media driving their insecurity, new research has found. The same number of young people have changed their eating habits in an effort to alter how they look, a survey of teenagers undertaken for the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) shows. Experts said the results were alarming, particularly because body image anxiety can trigger self-harm and suicidal thoughts in teenagers. The findings prompted calls for advertisements for weight loss and cosmetic surgery to be vetted and for social media firms to do more to prevent young people feeling bad about their bodies. “Our survey has shown that millions of young people in Britain are worrying about their body image,” said Jane Caro, the foundation’s programme lead for families, children and young people.


“Worries about body image can lead to mental health problems and, in some instances, are linked to self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings.” Overall, 31% of 13- to 19-year-olds feel ashamed of their body shape, according to the YouGov survey of 1,118 British teenagers, which was weighted to represent everyone at those ages. Slightly more – 35% – had stopped eating or limited what they ate because they were worried about their body. In addition, 35% of respondents worried about their body often or every day , 37% felt upset and ashamed about it and 40% said remarks by friends had made them worry about their appearance. Two in five said pictures they had seen on social media had made them worry about their body.

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She should see a shrink.

May Wants Parliament To Have A Fourth Vote On Her Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May has pledged to give MPs another opportunity to vote on Brexit early next month, with or without Labour’s backing, after Jeremy Corbyn raised concerns about her ability to deliver on a cross-party deal. The prime minister called a meeting with the Labour leader on Tuesday night to take stock of the Brexit negotiations, as the government sought to inject fresh urgency into the process. The pair held an hour-long meeting alongside the two parties’ chief whips. A Labour spokesperson said: “[Corbyn] set out the shadow cabinet’s concerns about the prime minister’s ability to deliver on any compromise agreement. In particular, he raised doubts over the credibility of government commitments, following statements by Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers seeking to replace the prime minister.”


But Downing Street insisted that the government was determined to bring forward the key piece of Brexit legislation – the withdrawal agreement bill – in the week beginning 3 June. “It is imperative we do so then if the UK is to leave the EU before the summer parliamentary recess,” a spokesman said. May’s divided cabinet agreed on Tuesday that the talks with Labour should continue, despite the lack of substantive progress so far, but set a fresh deadline of the summer recess for parliament to pass the bill. The 3 June date for tabling the legislation suggests the government is effectively setting a deadline for achieving progress in the cross-party talks – although neither side is keen to walk away before the European parliament elections on 23 May.

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“..despite the British Prime Minister Theresa May stating over 108 times that the UK would definitely be leaving the EU on March 29th 2019.”

Brexit Armageddon (Jamison)

It has been an appalling period in British politics and government. Unlike any period experienced in living memory. The British State, once high and mighty, lording it over other nations with typical English condescension and patronising arrogance, has well and truly come crashing down to Earth with a very heavy bump thanks to Brexit. It will never be the same again. The defenestration of the British Government and wider British State machine including its intelligence and security services has been a spectacular sight to behold. The credibility of the British State and its democracy has been ripped to shreds. For three years now the British ‘nation’, Parliament, Government, Civil Service, media and economy has been consumed by one issue and one issue alone, whether or not the UK will depart the European Union after the 2016 Referendum.

I say whether or not because after having almost three years to prepare for the UK exit from the EU as voted on by over 17 million British people in the largest and longest democratic exercise in the history of modern British democracy, the ‘fixed’ departure date of March 29th 2019 came and went, despite the British Prime Minister Theresa May stating over 108 times that the UK would definitely be leaving the EU on March 29th 2019. Who will ever be able to take seriously the word of a future British Prime Minister or a future British Government after this utter farce, but deadly serious debacle, on a major national and international scale. The behaviour in its half democratic Parliament has been deeply disturbing and has shown the world that the British are totally irrational and have gone absolutely bonkers.

[..] One matter is very clear throughout this Brexit ordeal. This is a combined collective failure of the United Kingdom as a whole. The British Government and State have failed. British MPs have failed their constituents. British civil servants have failed. The British media have failed. There is no unity, no meaning, no purpose, no discipline and no sense of comradeship in the UK – if there ever truly was. Perhaps it is a society incapable of it and perhaps that is why it deserves to falter and fail with the United Kingdom disintegrating and disappearing for good. Ergo, perhaps it is high time, once and for all for the British State to quit its bad habit of interfering in other nations affairs, far greater nations, while it attempts to put its Brexit house in order.

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They must really not like Mueller, who spent 29 hours questioning Don Jr. What questions did he miss? Don Jr is a piece of crap, but come on.

Donald Trump Jr To Testify Before Senate Committee (AP)

Donald Trump Jr will testify in a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee next month, pulling the two sides back from a confrontation over a subpoena as part of the panel’s Russia investigation. Under the terms of the deal between the president’s son and lawmakers, Trump Jr will talk to the committee in mid-June for up to four hours, according to two people familiar with the agreement. The people spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday to discuss the confidential terms.

The deal comes after the panel subpoenaed Trump Jr to discuss answers he gave the panel’s staff in a 2017 interview. He had backed out of interviews twice, prompting the subpoena, according to people familiar with the Senate intelligence committee chairman’s remarks to a GOP luncheon last week. Those people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Richard Burr’s remarks in the private senators’ meeting. The deadline for Trump Jr to respond was Monday, according to one of the people familiar with the terms, and he expected to be held in contempt for declining to be interviewed. But the committee reached out Monday evening and the deal was struck.

A spokeswoman for Burr declined to comment. The North Carolina Republican has weathered fierce criticism for the subpoena from the president and his GOP colleagues. Trump said on Tuesday said he believed that his son was being treated poorly. “It’s really a tough situation because my son spent, I guess, over 20 hours testifying about something that Mueller said was 100% OK and now they want him to testify again,” Trump told reporters at the White House before traveling to Louisiana. “I don’t know why. I have no idea why. But it seems very unfair to me.”

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“..the first US “great power competitor that is not Caucasian”.

Xi Says ‘No Clash’ Of Civilisations Amid US Trade War (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared Wednesday there was “no clash” of civilisations and denounced racial supremacy as “stupid” amid tensions with the United States and concerns over Beijing’s rising global power. His remarks came after a top-level US official last month described the rivalry between China and the US as “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology”. Kiron Skinner, the director of policy planning at the US State Department, put it in racial terms, telling a security forum that China was the first US “great power competitor that is not Caucasian”.


“Thinking that one’s own race and culture are superior, and insisting on transforming or even replacing other civilisations is stupid in its understanding and disastrous in practice,” Xi said at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations in Beijing. “There is no clash between different civilisations, (we) just need to have the eye to appreciate the beauty in all civilisations,” he added, without mentioning the United States. Xi’s speech comes less than a week after trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing took a turn for the worse, with the US hiking tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese merchandise and targeting duties on $300 billion more. On Monday, China retaliated with an announcement that it would raise tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods from June 1.

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This sounds desperate.

China Calls For “People’s War” Against The US (ZH)

While market mood has shifted diametrically from yesterday, with stocks sharply higher on Tuesday following what has widely been interpreted as conciliatory comments from both president Trump and various members of China’s ruling elite, one would be hard pressed to find any de-escalation amid the Chinese press commentaries written in the aftermath of the latest escalation in trade war between the US and China. In a series of editorials and op-ed articles published Monday and Tuesday, Chinese state media slammed what it labeled the Trump administration’s “greed and arrogance”, called for a “people’s war” targeting the US “with precision” as China begins a “fight for a new world.”

“The most important thing is that in the China-US trade war, the US side fights for greed and arrogance … and morale will break at any point. The Chinese side is fighting back to protect its legitimate interests,” the nationalist, state-owned Global Times tabloid wrote . Urging indirect boycott of US goods and services, the editorial slammed Trump and suggested a nation-wide uprising against the US aggression: “The trade war in the US is the creation of one person and one administration, but it affects that country’s entire population. In China, the entire country and all its people are being threatened. For us, this is a real ‘people’s war.'” Whether this means a renewed collapse in Chinese iPhone sales remains to be seen – for confirmation, watch for a new guidance cut from Apple in the coming days.

The Global Times also accused the Trump administration of misleading Americans about the victims of US tariffs. It singled out Larry Kudlow’s interview on “Fox News Sunday” in which Trump’s top economic advisor said that US consumers would also suffer from the trade war, contradicting Trump’s claim that China would foot the bill. More than just a retaliation to “unprovoked” US aggression, China now sees its response as a crusade against the western style of life. During a prime time broadcast on Monday, CNN reported that the state broadcaster CCTV also aired a statement saying that China would “fight for a new world.”

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Progress defines our civilization.

The Future Of Food: Jellyfish Supper Delivered By Drone (G.)

The food of the future could come in the form of stick-on patches and pills or be delivered by intravenous drip, according to a report that predicts what and how we could be eating as far ahead as 150 years from now. Jellyfish suppers washed down with algae milk and bread made from insect protein may eventually become the norm, while shoppers will be able to pick up “lab-grown” meat kits from dedicated supermarket aisles – or get them delivered by drone. The report, commissioned by Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket, with input from futurologists and plant scientists, explores what we will be eating and how food will be produced in 2025, 2050 and in 2169. It predicts that advances in technology and artificial intelligence will allow diets to be personalised and give consumers the option to consume nutrients and vitamins they need through a patch or pill, or in fortified foods.


More of us – driven by unprecedented awareness of animal welfare, health concerns and eco-anxiety – will put the planet first when writing our shopping list, the report says. It notes that current foods are not sustainable for an expanding global population that is predicted to increase to 9 billion in 30 years, and more than 11 billion in the next 150 years. Sainsbury’s predicts that by 2169 it could be routine for people to hold details of their nutritional and health information in a personal microchip embedded in their skin, which will trigger an alert to the supermarket. It would then deliver by drone suitable food and drink based on their planned activities for the coming days.

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“The biggest declines were seen in Western Africa, with more than 70 per cent population reductions.”

Tropical Forests ‘Empty’, Poaching Slashes Large Mammal Populations (Ind.)

Illegal hunting is causing catastrophic declines in mammal populations living in the world’s remaining tropical forests, a new study has warned. Jaguars, leopards, elephants and rhinos have seen population declines of 40 per cent in just 40 years and the study warned that hunting – half of which is done illegally – has left many tropical forests “empty” of wildlife. Even the world’s most pristine jungles are having their ecosystems damaged as key species are wiped out by hunters looking to collect valuable horns and bones, an international team of researchers lead by the Radboud University in Holland, found. Within the tropics, only 20 per cent of remaining habitats are considered intact. “Without adequate measures wildlife hunting will increase in the future,” lead researcher Dr Benítez-López told The Independent.


“Our calculations show that even in protected areas mammal populations could be under hunting pressure, particularly in Western and Central Africa, and South East Asia. If projections of human population growth for Africa are true, the demand will continue to increase. Plus there are many roads planned that will traverse tropical forests.” Until now there were vast understudied areas in the tropics where hunting impacts on mammal communities were unknown, according to the study which is published in the Plos Biology journal. The biggest declines were seen in Western Africa, with more than 70 per cent population reductions. Researchers found primates and pangolins were most at risk.

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb was asked whether public protests in Athens is a Black Swan Event. He replied: “No. The real Black Swan Event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”

 

 

 

 

Aug 222015
 
 August 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Motorcycle postman, Washington, DC 1912

Dow Plunges 531 Points In Global Selloff, Largest Weekly Drop Since 2008 (WSJ)
Stocks Post Worst Week In Years On China Fears (Reuters)
Record Capital Flight From China As Industrial Slump Drags On (AEP)
Chanos on China: “Whatever You Might Think, It’s Worse” (CNBC)
Chinese Market Mirroring 1929 Crash: Analyst (CNBC)
Fed Suffers Interest-Rate ‘Impotency’ as China Withers Markets (The Street)
Tsipras Hits Back After SYRIZA Rebels Form Own Group (Kathimerini)
Lafazanis Declares New Party’s Goals To Cancel Bailout, Write Down Debt (Kath.)
In a Twist, Europe May Find Itself Relying on Success of Alexis Tsipras (NY Times)
Germans Begin The Looting Of Greece (MarketWatch)
After the Bailout: The Spoils of Greece Are Bound for Germany (Sputnik)
German Wage Repression: Getting to the Roots of the Eurozone Crisis (Miller)
Debt Is Good (Paul Krugman)
The Drought Is Sinking California (Bloomberg)
Macedonia Migrants: Hundreds Rush Border (BBC)
Are Jellyfish Going To Take Over The Oceans? (Guardian)

A big one. But not THE big one.

Dow Plunges 531 Points In Global Selloff, Largest Weekly Drop Since 2008 (WSJ)

Stocks plummeted on global-growth fears for a second straight day Friday in a plunge that dragged the Dow industrials into correction territory. The global market rout pummeled stocks and commodities as fresh evidence emerged that China’s economy is slowing, spooking investors. The Dow industrials lost 530.94 points, or 3.1%, to close at 16459.75, putting it in correction territory, as defined by a 10% decline from a recent high. The S&P 500 dropped 64.84 points, or 3.2%, to close at 1970.89. The Nasdaq Composite fell 3.5%, or 171.45 points, to 4706.04. The Dow’s more than 1,000-point drop this week was the largest weekly drop since the week ended Oct. 10, 2008. U.S. oil prices also briefly dropped below $40 a barrel on Friday, a level not seen since the financial crisis.

Signs of a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy have unnerved investors since Beijing surprised markets last week by devaluing its currency. Shares in the U.S., Asia and Europe have tumbled, along with commodity prices as investors fretted about waning Chinese demand just as supplies are surging. The market turmoil has some traders exercising caution. “You have a situation that’s tough to play,” said Christopher Cady, a New York-based trader. He said he closed out bets toward the end of the week that U.S. stocks would fall. “Nimble…is the new black.” The pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 ended the session 3.3% lower, closing out its biggest week of losses since August 2011. The index has now lost nearly 13% since its April peak, entering correction territory.

Earlier, the Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 4.3%, hitting its lowest level since March, despite Beijing’s efforts to prop up the market in recent weeks. In Japan, the Nikkei fell 3% to a six-week low. An early gauge of China’s factory activity fell to a six-and-a-half year low in August, heaping further pressure on stocks and commodities after Thursday’s global selloff. “Now we’ve had some harder evidence that China is slowing relatively fast, people have chosen to get out,” said Kiran Ganesh at UBS Wealth Management.

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“You have across-the-board competitive currency devaluations that will invoke the deflationary monster here in the U.S.”

Stocks Post Worst Week In Years On China Fears (Reuters)

World stock markets tumbled on Friday and U.S. oil prices dove briefly below $40 a barrel sparked by fresh evidence of slowing growth in China, sending investors scurrying to the safety of bonds and gold. Stocks on Wall Street and in Europe fell more than 3% in a global rout spurred by a more than 4% fall in Shanghai stocks. Thomas Lee at Fundstrat Global Advisors in New York, said it was hard to say what was behind the sell-off in stocks but a market bottom may be close at hand. “There’s no shortage of things people can cite, from the movement in currencies, to the weakness in commodities and fears about China,” Lee said. “But at the end of the day if people are trying to take down risk, then it’s going to make sense for them to sell their exposure in equities as well.”

Crude posted its longest weekly losing streak in nearly 30 years and emerging market stocks, bonds and currencies all fell, with slowing Chinese growth withering demand for commodities from developing countries. China’s manufacturing sector shrank at its fastest rate in more than six years in August, according to a survey from private data vendor Caixin/Markit. World markets had already been on edge after China’s surprise devaluation of the yuan last week and a more than 30% fall in its stock markets since mid-year. The U.S. dollar fell too, dropping to a two-month low against the euro, as the Chinese data and falling commodity prices eroded expectations the Federal Reserve will raise U.S. interest rates next month.

“The Fed is in an extremely awkward situation right now,” said Robbert van Batenburg at Societe Generale. “You have across-the-board competitive currency devaluations that will invoke the deflationary monster here in the U.S.” The Dow industrials, Nasdaq and major European stock indices have now fallen more than 10% from their peak earlier this year. The pan-regional FTSEurofirst fell 3.4% to 1,427.13, its worst day since November 2011, as traders shrugged off upbeat euro zone manufacturing and services data in a third straight day of selling. MSCI’s emerging markets index was at its weakest in four years, off 2.16%, while the firm’s all-country world stock index fell 2.7%. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 530.94 points, or 3.12%, to 16,459.75. The S&P 500 slid 64.84 points, or 3.19%, to 1,970.89 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 171.45 points, or 3.52%, to 4,706.04.

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Well, that’s definitely one I got right, when I said after the first devaluation move that capital flight could well out-do any positive effects Beijing was hoping for. I’m thinking Peking Duck. Meanwhile, Ambrose is jubilant about China one day, and morose the next.

Record Capital Flight From China As Industrial Slump Drags On (AEP)

Capital outflows from China have surged to $190bn over the last seven weeks, forcing the authorities to intervene on an unprecedented scale to defend the Chinese currency. The exodus of funds is draining liquidity from interbank markets and has pushed up overnight Shibor rates by 30 basis points in the last ten trading days, a sign of market stress. Yang Zhao from Nomura said $90bn left the country in July. The pace has accelerated since the central bank (PBOC) shocked the markets by ditching its currency peg to the US dollar. Capital flight for the first three weeks of August is already close to $100bn, despite draconian use of anti-terrorism and money-laundering laws to curb illicit flows. Mr Zhao said the PBOC had intervened “very aggressively” to stabilise the currency and prevent the devaluation getting out of hand, but this automatically tightens monetary policy.

The central bank will almost certainly have to cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks to offset the loss of liquidity, with some analysts expecting action as soon as this weekend. The PBOC’s latest report calls for “monetary easing”, dropping the usual caveat that measures should be targeted. It is a sign that Beijing is preparing blanket stimulus, despite worries that this could lead to a repeat of the credit excesses that have haunted China since the post-Lehman boom. The PBOC has already injected $160bn into the China Development Bank for projects. Hopes that China is at last shaking off a recession in the first half of the year – caused by a combined monetary and fiscal crunch – have once again been dashed by grim manufacturing data.

The Caixin PMI survey slumped to 47.1, far below the boom-bust line of 50 and the lowest since March 2009. New export orders slid further to 46.0 while inventories are rising, a nasty cocktail. Caixin Insight said the bad figures reflect the tail-end of a downturn that has largely run its course as stimulus kicks in. “The economy could be in the process of bottoming out and may start to rebound within the next few months,” it said. The ructions in China come at a moment when markets are already bracing for the first interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve in eight years, a move that threatens to tighten the noose further on over-stretched emerging markets (EM) and the commodity nexus. Danske Bank said the latest rout is worse than the “taper tantrum” in 2013 when the Fed first hinted at tightening, and is quickly turning into a “perfect storm” as the Turkish lira, Brazilian real, Malaysian ringgit, and Russian rouble all go into free-fall.

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“In fact, like many of us, sometimes they don’t have a clue.”

Chanos on China: “Whatever You Might Think, It’s Worse” (CNBC)

Lingering concerns about China have helped drive stock selling, but investors may still underestimate how much the world’s second-largest economy has slowed, short seller Jim Chanos said Friday. “It’s worse than you think. Whatever you might think, it’s worse,” he said. Chanos appeared on CNBC’s “Fast Money: Halftime Report” on Friday amid the fourth straight day of losses for major U.S. averages. The Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq were setting up for their worst weeks since 2011. He did not classify the drop as a correction or a bear market. But he noted that the yearslong runup in U.S. stocks shows “we’ve gotten a little complacent.” China’s slowdown, among other macroeconomic concerns, has spooked global investors.

Beijing’s handling of a stock market spike, “panic responses” from investors and recent currency devaluation has “given investors pause,” Chanos added. “People are beginning to realize the Chinese government is not omnipotent and omniscient,” he said. “In fact, like many of us, sometimes they don’t have a clue.” He added that investors should forget about the performance of the Shanghai composite, but instead focus on how declining GDP growth and the Chinese consumer could affect American companies with exposure to the country. Concerns about demand in China, one of the world’s largest energy consumers, has added pressure to already sagging commodities. Crude oil fell again on Friday, with West Texas Intermediate breaking below $40 per barrel for the first time since 2009.

A slowdown in consumption has fueled additional concern about what many observers have already called an oversupplied market. “Now that demand is flagging a little bit, the oversupply situation has just swamped the real demand,” he noted. Chanos is “betting against a number of the big guys” in the energy sector, he added. He dislikes Shell and Chevron, in particular.

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“In 1929, the market declined 50.6%. So that was a warning that there was something more serious in the market breakdown.”

Chinese Market Mirroring 1929 Crash: Analyst (CNBC)

Chinese stocks are set to fall another 9% in the next four or five days and are in danger of replicating the hefty losses seen in the U.S. exchanges in the Wall Street crash of 1929, an analyst has told CNBC. Thomas DeMark, founder and CEO of DeMark Analytics, told CNBC Friday that the current turmoil on the Shanghai Composite index is already on course to echo the crash of 1987 and 2001, but could still fall even lower. “That’s what could happen,” DeMark said, detailing the technical analysis that his company use to predict stock market declines. “In 1929, the market declined 50.6%. So that was a warning that there was something more serious in the market breakdown.”

DeMark added that his company turned bearish on China on June 12, just as the market reached a top and has – more or less – correctly predicted the downturn of 38% that has occurred since. He now sees the blue-chip index – which closed 4.3% lower Friday at 3,509.98 points – dropping to 3,282 points, or even 3,200 points. At this juncture, his technical models state there could be a 40% rally, which would mirror similar moves in 1987 and 2001. However, he added that a further fall was still possible which would echo world stock markets in the time of the Great Depression. “We can’t determine that right now. We think there’s going to be great rally, meaningful rally off the 3200 (points), or even worse case 3282, and we’ll see a retracement of 40% of the decline. And at that time we can reassess what the outlook is,” he said.

DeMark spoke of a “preordained” move in the Chinese stock markets. Authorities in Beijing have curbed short selling and several publicly listed firms have been able to suspend the trading of their shares over the last few weeks. Economists have highlighted that the Chinese officials might be trying to force a bottom in the Chinese markets or “shake out” foreign investors from speculating on its indexes. This sort of “interference” creates a vacuum in the market, according to DeMark, who said it adds to a growing sense of pessimism. DeMark is no stranger of making bold market predictions. In early 2014, he told CNBC that U.S. stocks had reached an “inflection point” that resembled the period prior to the 1929 stock-market crash. He did stress that certain caveats and preconditions would need to be met before “turning all-out bearish” but the market turmoil in U.S. stocks failed to materialize.

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“The “end of excess liquidity and the end of excess profits has caused an end of excess returns in 2015..”

Fed Suffers Interest-Rate ‘Impotency’ as China Withers Markets (The Street)

Years of holding interest rates near zero have left the Federal Reserve suffering from “central bank policy impotence,” a Bank of America report says, and there’s no pill to provide a quick fix. Pushing interest rates up now, even though the benefits of low rates are fizzling, risks spooking the markets just when they’re getting hammered by China’s slump. The S&P 500 plummeted 3.2% for the day and has fallen 7.5% since its May high, near the 10% decline which would constitute a correction. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 3.1% or 539 points. The “end of excess liquidity and the end of excess profits has caused an end of excess returns in 2015,” Michael Hartnett of the bank’s Merrill Lynch Global Research unit wrote in the report this week.

“The summer mood of investors appears to have darkened considerably as the declines in commodities and emerging markets have induced widespread losses in equities in recent weeks.” Worldwide, stocks have dropped 2.6% in the past month, he noted. The excess returns Hartnett’s team acknowledged were largely due to the Fed’s policy of keeping interest rates near zero for the past seven years. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of that policy has waned in what Bank of America characterized as “central bank policy impotence.” Year-to-date returns across asset classes have been underwhelming compared with those in the market run-up from 2009 to 2014, Hartnett’s team noted. By his measure, the total return on stocks so far this year has been 2.3%, while bonds decreased 2.5%.

Still, Bank of America advises that tactical traders – those who take short to medium-term positions in their trades – may want to add some riskier, potentially higher-yielding, assets to their portfolio. The recommendation comes with two big caveats, however: China devaluation and, of course, Fed policy. Last week, China devalued its currency by 2%. While the amount is small, it can pose significant consequences to U.S. manufacturing and export businesses. Bank of America already sees U.S. inventories outpacing sales, which could lead to a supply glut. If the demand for U.S. goods overseas is further decreased by the comparably higher cost relative to Chinese goods, profits could take a hit.

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It’ll be interesting elections. If Greec, in its predicament, did not have these heated discussions, it wouldn’t be a functioning democracy.

Tsipras Hits Back After SYRIZA Rebels Form Own Group (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chaired a meeting of SYRIZA’s political secretariat on Friday to discuss strategy ahead of snap elections as former Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis announced his new breakaway party, Popular Unity, which is to campaign on an anti-austerity platform. The party, comprising Lafazanis and another 24 SYRIZA hardliners, will aim to cancel Greece’s bailouts and write down the country’s debt, Lafazanis told a press conference in Parliament. The goals are virtually the same as those championed by Tsipras ahead of the January elections that brought SYRIZA to power. But Lafazanis, who has lobbied for Greece to return to the drachma, also indicated that his party would “follow the course of exiting the euro” if necessary, insisting that any exit would be “orderly.”

Lafazanis, whose party is now the third largest in Parliament and as such has the right to seek to form a government, said Popular Unity would seek alliances with all “progressive” parties except those that have backed austerity. Lafazanis is to take over the exploratory mandate on Monday from New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis, who assumed it yesterday. Tsipras meanwhile convened his political secretariat. Before discussing pre-election strategy, the three members of the secretariat who are now aligned with Lafazanis resigned. They blamed Tsipras and SYRIZA’s leadership for the breakup of the party. Tsipras also took a jab at the SYRIZA rebels. “It is not revolutionary to choose to escape from reality or create a virtual reality,” he was quoted as saying. “It is revolutionary to open roads where there aren’t any.”

As for SYRIZA, he said it “has a chance to develop a new relationship with the society that supports it and to acquire a clear ideological and political identity of a contemporary, radical left, purged of reactionary remnants and self-delusion.” The party’s central committee is expected to meet in the week. It remains unclear when the elections will take place. The proposal was for September 20 but if the procedures involving the exploratory mandates are delayed, that date could be put back to September 27. Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou, another SYRIZA rebel who has used her power to delay and obstruct proceedings in the House, raised objections yesterday to the procedure followed by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos in handing a mandate to Meimarakis.

She accused Pavlopoulos of an “institutional faux pas,” saying that she had not been informed in advance as, she said, the Constitution dictates. Sources in the president’s office retorted that he had “honored the Constitution to the letter.” The intervention was not expected to delay the process though the outlook for Constantopoulou’s relationship with SYRIZA remained unclear. The response from Greece’s creditors to looming elections appeared relatively upbeat, with several officials indicating that they had been expecting the move and saying the polls could help Tsipras broaden his majority and boost implementation of the new bailout program.

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“The ‘no’ of the referendum will not be an ‘orphan’ in these elections..”

Lafazanis Declares New Party’s Goals To Cancel Bailout, Write Down Debt (Kath.)

Addressing his new breakaway party Popular Unity, Panayiotis Lafazanis on Friday declared that the new movement would offer a “realistic, alternative to the memorandum,” and said its key goals would be to cancel the memorandums and write down Greece’s debt, adding that any euro exit would be “orderly.” “We will become a major and decisive political force,” he said, adding that the grouping of 25 MPs “will try to express the spirit and substance of the 62% who voted no to austerity,” referring to last month’s referendum on austerity measures proposed by Greece’s creditors.

“The ‘no’ of the referendum will not be an ‘orphan’ in these elections,” Lafazanis told MPs and reporters in Parliament. He said the decision by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call snap elections in the summer “does not portend good things” and suggested that the premier had tried to catch Greeks off guard. “If it is necessary for us to cancel the memorandum, we will follow the course of exiting the euro,” Lafazanis said, adding that any exit would be “orderly.”

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Not sure they would get what they want. Don’t think Tsipras is done yet.

In a Twist, Europe May Find Itself Relying on Success of Alexis Tsipras (NY Times)

Europe spent months trying to crush Alexis Tsipras. But now that Greece’s leftist prime minister has called a snap election and is seeking a mandate for the tough new bailout program he negotiated with his country’s creditors, Europe, oddly enough, may find itself invested in his success. Greece never fails to surprise, and Mr. Tsipras’s turbulent eight-month tenure has proved he is rarely predictable. But the man many European leaders once regarded as a populist wrecking ball is now presenting himself as a figure who can deliver pragmatism and stability — and carry out the sort of austerity program he once inveighed angrily against.

“I’m sure that he has talked to European leaders, and they are O.K. with what he is doing now,” said Harry Papasotiriou, a professor at Panteion University in Athens, adding that Mr. Tsipras was staking his political life on a bailout deal that includes the kind of taxes and pension cuts he once opposed. “He’s taking ownership of it.” The latest twist by Mr. Tsipras was met with cautious optimism on Friday by some European commentators even as his surprise move again tossed Greece into political turmoil. On Friday, a faction of hard-line leftists split from Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party and formed a new party, vowing to resist austerity and possibly even lead Greece out of the eurozone.

At the same time, analysts cautioned that the new election, and the continuing political maneuverings in Athens, could further complicate and slow implementation of the 86 billion euro bailout program, worth about $98 billion at Friday’s exchange rate, signed by Mr. Tsipras in July. An initial progress review by creditors, scheduled for October, may be delayed, which would delay discussions between Greece and its lenders over possible restructuring of the country’s crippling sovereign debt. Some economists also warned that the uncertainty surrounding the elections, including the possibility that the proposed Sept. 20 election could be pushed back, could revive the sort of public anxiety that earlier this year destabilized the broader economy and spurred a run on Greek banks. “That element I find to be much more risky,” said Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute of Economic Research in Berlin. “It creates much more uncertainty.”

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“..the plundering that has now begun unmasks the whole euro charade for what it really is — a war of conquest by money rather than by arms.”

Germans Begin The Looting Of Greece (MarketWatch)

To the victor goes the spoils. The ink was not yet dry on the new European bailout accord for Greece before German companies started their plundering of Greek assets. Per provisions of the “agreement” imposed on Greece, the Athens government awarded the German company that runs the Frankfurt Airport, Fraport, a concession to operate 14 regional airports, mostly on the islands like Mykonos and Santorini favored by tourists, for up to 50 years in the first privatization of government-owned assets demanded by the creditors. The airport deal had been agreed upon last year by the previous Greek government and then suspended by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s newly elected government this year as part of his pledge to prevent the fire sale of valuable public assets at bargain-basement prices.

The airport deal gives Fraport the right to run the facilities as its own for €1.2 billion over the 50 years and an annual rent of €23 million. The German company is also pledging to invest significantly in upgrades for the airports. Under the terms of the new bailout accord, which provides 86 billion euros of new debt to a government already vastly overindebted, the country must sequester €50 billion worth of public assets to sell off at distressed prices to mostly foreign bidders — with German companies first in line. In the end, Tsipras had no choice but to buckle under to the creditors’ demands if he wanted to fulfill his other pledge of keeping the country in the euro. But the plundering that has now begun unmasks the whole euro charade for what it really is — a war of conquest by money rather than by arms.

Privatization is a standard feature of the neoliberal policy mix seeking smaller government, less state intervention and more free-market competition. (Privatization, of course, leads just as often to crony capitalism, while some services, such as electricity and trains, are arguably more efficient as government-owned monopolies.) But privatization in the context of the bailout accord is tantamount to expropriation, like forcing a bankrupt to sell the family silver in order to pay off debts. After piling more and more unsustainable debt onto the Greek government in two previous bailouts — most of which went back to banks in France and Germany — the victorious Northern European governments are now inviting their companies to partake in the spoils.

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“..workers will be sacked and their conditions made worse, while the elite of Europe profits.”

After the Bailout: The Spoils of Greece Are Bound for Germany (Sputnik)

The ‘Asset Development Plan’ for Greece is out and it’s all go for the privatization of the country. Hellenic sea ports, air ports, motorways, petroleum companies, water and gas supply, real estate, holiday resorts – it’s all for sale. Debt laden Greece has been forced to sell the family silver in an all too familiar tale with ancient history repeating itself. The Hellenic Public Asset Development Fund has been published by German Green MEP Sven Giegold who said the Greek people “hardly know” what will be sold off and that they have “the right” to know. The selling of Greek assets to raise €50 billion was demanded by Greece’s creditors, the Troika. The document reveals that 66% of a gas distribution and processing firm will be sold to Azerbaijan; 35% of Greece’s first oil refinery firm will be sold off along with 17% of its electricity distributor and 65% of gas distributor Depa.

All rail and bus services will go under the hammer — along with the Greek telephone and postal service. Even before the bailout deal was completed and the money arrived safely in the Greek banks, the Germans had won their bid to take over 14 Greek airports for the next 40 years, paying $1.36 billion (€1.23bn) for the privilege. Of the $56 billion (€50bn) needed in asset stripping and bank shares, only $8.69 billion (€7.7bn) has been agreed so far. Nick Dearden, economic expert and campaigner, says it makes “no sense to sell off valuable assets in the middle of Europe’s worst depression in 70 years.” Writing in Global Justice Now, Dearden says: “The vast majority of the funds raised will go back to the creditors in debt repayments, and to the recapitalization of Greek banks.

“From German airport operators and phone companies to French railways — who are getting their hands on Greece’s economy. Not to mention the European investment banks and legal firms who are making a fast buck along the way. “The self-interest of European governments in forcing these policies on Greece leaves a particularly unpleasant flavour…workers will be sacked and their conditions made worse, while the elite of Europe profits.” Dearden continues to offer a scathing attack on the asset stripping of Greece. “Privatization in the context of the bailout accord is tantamount to expropriation, like forcing a bankrupt to sell the family silver in order to pay off debts…the victorious Northern European governments are now inviting their companies to partake in the spoils.”

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Interesting take.

German Wage Repression: Getting to the Roots of the Eurozone Crisis (Miller)

Beggar Thy Neighborhood

Germany’s transformation into an export powerhouse came at the expense of the southern eurozone economies. Despite posting productivity gains that were equal or almost equal to Germany’s, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy saw their labor costs per unit of output—and in turn prices rise— considerably faster than Germany’s. Wage growth in these countries exceeded productivity growth, and the resulting higher unit labor costs pushed prices up by more than the eurozone’s low 2% annual inflation target (though by only a small margin). The widening gap in unit labor costs gave Germany a tremendous competitive advantage and left the southern eurozone economies at a tremendous disadvantage.

Germany amassed its ever-larger current account surplus, while the southern eurozone economies were saddled with worsening deficits. Later in the decade, the Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish current account deficits approached or even reached alarming double-digit levels, relative to the sizes of their economies. In this way, German wage repression is an essential component of the euro crisis. Heiner Flassbeck, the German economist and longtime critic of wage repression, and Costas Lapavistas, the Greek economist best known for his work on financialization, put it best in their recent book Against the Troika: Crisis and Austerity in the Eurozone: “Germany has operated a policy of ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ but only after ‘beggaring its own people’ by essentially freezing wages. This is the secret of German success during the last fifteen years.”

While Germany’s huge exports across Europe and elsewhere created German jobs and lowered the country’s unemployment rate, the German economy never grew robustly. Wage repression subsidized exports, but it sapped domestic spending. And, held back by this chronic lack of domestic demand, Germany’s economic growth was far from impressive, before or after the Great Recession. From 2002 to 2008, the German economy grew more slowly than the eurozone average, and over the last five years has failed to match even the sluggish growth rates posted by the U.S. economic recovery.

With low wage growth, consumption stagnated. German corporations hoarded their profits and private investment relative to GDP fell almost continuously from 2000 on. The same was true for German public investment, held back by the eurozone budgetary constraints. At the same time, Germany spread instability. Germany’s reliance on foreign demand for its exports drained spending from elsewhere in the eurozone and slowed growth in those countries. That, in turn, made it less likely that German banks and elites would recover their loans and investments in southern Europe.

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Infrastructure.

Debt Is Good (Paul Krugman)

Rand Paul said something funny the other day. No, really — although of course it wasn’t intentional. On his Twitter account he decried the irresponsibility of American fiscal policy, declaring, “The last time the United States was debt free was 1835.” Wags quickly noted that the U.S. economy has, on the whole, done pretty well these past 180 years, suggesting that having the government owe the private sector money might not be all that bad a thing. The British government, by the way, has been in debt for more than three centuries, an era spanning the Industrial Revolution, victory over Napoleon, and more. But is the point simply that public debt isn’t as bad as legend has it? Or can government debt actually be a good thing?

Believe it or not, many economists argue that the economy needs a sufficient amount of public debt out there to function well. And how much is sufficient? Maybe more than we currently have. That is, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that part of what ails the world economy right now is that governments aren’t deep enough in debt. I know that may sound crazy. After all, we’ve spent much of the past five or six years in a state of fiscal panic, with all the Very Serious People declaring that we must slash deficits and reduce debt now now now or we’ll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you.

But the power of the deficit scolds was always a triumph of ideology over evidence, and a growing number of genuinely serious people — most recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the departing president of the Minneapolis Fed — are making the case that we need more, not less, government debt. Why? One answer is that issuing debt is a way to pay for useful things, and we should do more of that when the price is right. The United States suffers from obvious deficiencies in roads, rails, water systems and more; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at historically low interest rates. So this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future, and a very bad time for what has actually happened: an unprecedented decline in public construction spending adjusted for population growth and inflation.

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“..more than a foot in just eight months..”

The Drought Is Sinking California (Bloomberg)

Land in California’s central valley agricultural region sank more than a foot in just eight months in some places as residents and farmers pump more and more groundwater amid a record drought. The ground near Corcoran, 173 miles (278 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, dropped about 1.6 inches every 30 days. One area in the Sacramento Valley was descending about half-an-inch per month, faster than previous measurements, according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Water Resources. NASA completed the study by comparing satellite images of Earth’s surface over time.

“Groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” Mark Cowin, the department’s director, said in a statement. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.” Areas along the California Aqueduct — a system of canals and tunnels that ships water from the north to the south — sank as much as 12.5 inches, with eight inches of that occurring in just four months of 2014, researchers found.

The warnings come as a four-year, record-setting drought squeezed California’s $43 billion agriculture industry and led to mandatory, statewide water restrictions for the first time. The sinking could damage aqueducts, bridges, roads and dams, NASA said. As it occurs over time, sinking land has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in central California, the agency found. A state law enacted in September requires local governments to form agencies to regulate pumping to better manage groundwater supplies.

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Countries must leave EU to deal with this.

Macedonia Migrants: Hundreds Rush Border (BBC)

Hundreds of migrants have rushed at Macedonian border forces in an attempt to enter the country from Greece. The security forces beat back the migrants with truncheons and riot shields. A number of people were injured. On Thursday, Macedonia declared a state of emergency to cope with migrants – many from the Middle East – who are trying to reach northern EU states. The UN urged both Greece and Macedonia to tackle a “deteriorating situation”. Some 44,000 people have reportedly travelled through Macedonia in the past two months, meeting little border resistance, but razor wire has now been rolled across the frontier to prevent people from entering. Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had treated 10 people with wounds from stun grenades fired by Macedonian troops, near the Greek border village of Edomeni.

Amnesty International deputy Europe director Gauri van Gulik said: “Macedonian authorities are responding as if they were dealing with rioters rather than refugees who have fled conflict and persecution.” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki told the BBC that his government had been forced to act because the numbers trying to enter Macedonia had recently soared to more than 3,000 a day. He said a small country such as his could not cope with such an influx. Police have issued temporary transit documents to 181 migrants in the past 24 hours. Spokesman Ivo Kotevski told Reuters: “We are allowing entry to a number that matches our capacity to transport them or to give them appropriate medical care and treatment.”

The BBC’s James Reynolds, who was at the scene, says that later on Friday he saw some families being allowed to cross – they smiled with relief as they walked to a train station so they could head north to Serbia, Hungary and the rest of Europe. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, on Friday expressed concern for “thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants, especially women and children, now massed on the Greek side of the border amid deteriorating conditions”. It urged Macedonia to “establish an orderly and protection-sensitive management of its borders” while appealing to Greece to “enhance registration and reception arrangements” on its side of the border. The UNHCR also said it had been assured by Macedonia the border “will not be closed in the future”, but did not elaborate.

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Back to the future.

Are Jellyfish Going To Take Over The Oceans? (Guardian)

Another British summer, another set of fear-mongering headlines about swarms of “deadly” jellyfish set to ruin your holiday. But news that jellyfish numbers may be rising carries implications far beyond the interrupted pastimes of the sunburnt masses. Like a karmic device come to punish our planetary transgressions, jellyfish thrive on the chaos humans create. Overfishing wipes out their competitors and predators; warmer water from climate change encourages the spread of some jellies; pollution from fertilisers causes the ocean to lose its oxygen, a deprivation to which jellyfish are uniquely tolerant; coastal developments provide convenient, safe habitat for their polyps to hide. In addition, the great mixing of species transported across the world in the ballasts of ships opens up new, vulnerable ecosystems to these super-adaptors.

“They’ve got this unique life cycle where they can tolerate harsh conditions and then rapidly thrive when conditions are favourable. So when a stressor like climate change or overfishing opens up a niche for them they can really take advantage of that and rapidly proliferate,” said Lucas Brotz, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. Not all species of jelly benefit, rather there tends to be a reduction in the diversity of species and vast, homogenous masses emerge. “They can make millions and millions of copies of themselves and clone asexually. That’s when you get these massive blooms. I think that’s the secret to the success of jellyfish, the reason they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years.”[..]

The links between human activity and local jellyfish blooms are strong. In the Black Sea, invasive comb jellies dumped from the ballast of tankers have spawned deliriously and destroyed the region’s fishing industry. In the Sea of Japan, fertiliser run-off has left an oxygen-depleted sea where little other than jellies can thrive. But aside from these regional observations, Mark Gibbons, a zoologist at the University of the Western Cape, said the evidence to support a global trend was still patchy. “Whether there is strong evidence of a global increase in jellyfish populations [now] is difficult to answer. Certainly in some coastal systems there have been increases but in others there have not – or at least the background data with which to measure change are absent or scant, so it is hard to say,” he said.

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Mar 042015
 
 March 4, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “.. the hearty cereal beverage with flavor and tang, Altemus-Hibble truck” 1920

Only Mass Default Will End The World’s Addiction To Debt (Telegraph)
Eurozone Faces First Regional Bankruptcy In Austria’s Carinthia (AEP)
Shelby Says Fed Should Be Held Accountable for Its Actions (Bloomberg)
Yellen Says Fed Seeks to Avert ‘Capture’ by Banks It Oversees (Bloomberg)
Draghi’s Rescue Plan Has Created a $103 Billion Problem (Bloomberg)
ECB Glimpse of Cyprus Debt Mountain Shows Limits of Bank Cleanup (Bloomberg)
$2 Trillion Euro Government Bonds Trading At Negative Yield (David Stockman)
Greece Taps Public Sector Cash To Help Cover March Needs (Reuters)
Can Greece Really Thrive Inside the Euro? (George Magnus)
ECB Will Need More Creative Accounting To Deal With Greece (MarketWatch)
Greece vs Europe: Who Blinked First In The Bail-out Battle? (Telegraph)
Athens Preparing Reform Proposals For Eurogroup (Kathimerini)
Oil at $95 a Barrel Discovered in SEC Rules on Reserves (Bloomberg)
The Latest Sign the Oil-Price Plunge Is Hitting the Job Market (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials’ $30 Trillion Inheritance (Bloomberg)
Japan Public Debt Keeps BNP Chief Credit Analyst Awake at Night (Bloomberg)
Ukraine Looks Ready To Default (MarketWatch)
Ukraine Raises Interest Rates To 30% (BBC)
Financial Collapse Leads To War (Dmitry Orlov)
NATO Rolls Out ‘Russian Threat’ In Budget Battle (RT)
Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Wreak Havoc on Fish Farms, Power Plants (Bloomberg)

“Finally, creditors are being made to pay for the consequences of their own folly.”

Only Mass Default Will End The World’s Addiction To Debt (Telegraph)

In a valedictory speech at the weekend of characteristically Latin American duration – a mind-numbing three hours – the Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, claimed that her country was the only one in the world to have reduced its national debt over recent years. I doubt she is right about being alone in this “achievement” – there must surely be others – but even if she is, I’m not sure that reduction in the national debt via the mechanism of default is anything to boast of. Only Kirchner could think this a matter of national pride. Nonetheless, where Argentina treads, others will surely soon be following. The world is sinking under a sea of debt, private as well as public, and it is increasingly hard to see how this might end, except in some form of mass default. Greece we already know about, but the coming much wider outbreak of debt repudiation will not be confined to sovereign nations.

Last week, there was another foretaste of what’s to come in developments at Austria’s failed Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International. Taxpayers have had enough of paying for the country’s increasingly crisis-ridden banking sector, and have determined to bail in private creditors to the remnants of this financial road crash instead – to the tune of $8.5bn in the specific case of Hypo Alpe-Adria. Finally, creditors are being made to pay for the consequences of their own folly. You might have thought that a financial crisis as serious as that of the past seven years would have ended the world economy’s addiction to debt once and for all. It has not. If anything, the position has grown even worse since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. According to recent analysis by McKinsey, global debt has increased to the tune of $57 trillion, or 17pc, since 2007, with little sign of a slowdown in sight.

Much of this growth has been in emerging markets, which were comparatively unaffected by the financial crisis. Yet even in the developed West, private sector deleveraging has been limited and, in any case, more than outweighed by growing public indebtedness. The combined public sector debt of the G7 economies has grown by 40pc to around 120pc of GDP since the crisis began. There has been no overall deleveraging to speak of. Where the West left off, Asia has taken up the pace, with a credit-induced real estate bubble that makes its pre-crisis Western counterpart look tame by comparison, much of it fuelled, as in Western economies, by growth in the shadow banking sector. China’s total indebtedness has quadrupled since 2007 to $28 trillion, according to estimates by McKinsey. At 282pc of GDP, the debt burden is now bigger, relative to output, that the US.

Attempts to rein in this growth have so far proved problematic. The Chinese property market has slowed markedly, which in turn has knocked the stuffing out of the all-important construction sector and its feeder industries. Starved of its regular fix of debt, the Chinese economy seems as incapable of generating decent levels of growth as the mature economies of the West. The addiction to credit has gone global.

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“While Austria remains a rich and successful country, it is slithering towards the bottom of the reform league. France looks less sluggish by comparison, and Greece looks almost Thatcherite.”

Eurozone Faces First Regional Bankruptcy In Austria’s Carinthia (AEP)

The Alpine region of Carinthia faces probable bankruptcy after Austria’s central government refused to vouch for debts left by a disastrous banking expansion in eastern Europe and the Balkans. It would be the first sub-sovereign default in Europe since the Lehman Brothers crisis, comparable in some respects to the bankruptcy of California’s Orange County in 1994 or the city of Detroit in 2013. Austria’s finance minister, Jörg Schelling, said Vienna would not cover €10.2bn (£7.4bn) in bond guarantees issued by the Carinthian authorities for the failed lender Hypo Alpe Adria, or for the “Heta” resolution fund that succeeded it. This leaves the 550,000-strong province on the Slovene border to fend for itself as losses spin out of control. “The government won’t waste another euro of taxpayer money on Heta,” he said, insisting that there must be an end to moral hazard.

The Hypo affair has alredy cost taxpayers €5.5bn. The Austrian state has said it will cover €1bn of its own guarantees “on the nail” but nothing more. Sources in Vienna suggested that even senior bondholders are likely to face a 50pc writedown, becoming the first victims of the eurozone’s tough new “bail-in” rules for creditors. These rules are already in force in Germany and Austria, and will be mandatory everywhere next year. “We are at a very delicate phase when Europe’s banking system switches from a bail-out regime into a much tougher bail-in regime, and Austria has just thrown this into sharp relief,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. The biggest bondholders are Deutsche Bank’s DWS Investment, Pimco, Kepler-Fonds and BlackRock. The World Bank also owns €150bn of Hypo debt.

Austria’s banking regulators surprised markets by intervening over the weekend to wind down Heta and suspend debt payments until 2016 after discovering a further shortfall in capital of €7.6bn. The surge in the Swiss franc in January after the collapse of Switzerland’s currency floor against the euro appears to have been the last straw, setting off another wave of likely losses from eastern European mortgages denominated in francs. “This is getting bigger and bigger,” said Marc Ostwald from Monument. “They kept kicking the can down the road but it is finally catching up with them, and Heta won’t be the last. There is a whiff of the Irish situation in this story. Carinthia stood as guarantor for debts that it could not possibly cover,” he said. There are many regions that could slide into difficulties, including Belgium’s Wallonia, or the Italian region of Sicily.

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Of course it should. Everyone should.

Shelby Says Fed Should Be Held Accountable for Its Actions (Bloomberg)

Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who heads the Senate Banking Committee, said lawmakers should consider ways to overhaul the Federal Reserve’s structure and tighten oversight by Congress. “We will further explore options to improve the oversight and structure of the Fed,” Shelby said Tuesday in prepared remarks at a hearing. Arguing the Fed has failed to explain the impact of its extraordinary monetary policies, he said it should “be held accountable for its actions.” Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s senior Democrat, said the group should focus on the Fed’s governance, not monetary policy. “Rather than attempting to interfere in, or even dictate, monetary policy, Congress should focus on whether the Federal Reserve is protecting consumers, ensuring safety and soundness, and strengthening the financial stability of our economy,” he said.

The Fed is under pressure from both parties in Congress to be more transparent and accountable. Republicans are unhappy with its aggressive monetary policy and some of the regulatory powers it has gained since the financial crisis. Democrats have criticized the New York Fed for being too close to the big Wall Street banks that it oversees. “Federal Reserve officials have stressed the importance of the Fed’s independence,” Shelby said in prepared remarks. “But, such independence does not mean that it is immune from congressional oversight.” Shelby said last week at Bloomberg TV that he’s looking “very strongly” at a proposal from Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher to strip the New York Fed of its permanent vote on the Federal Open Market Committee in favor of an equal vote rotation among all 12 regional reserve banks.

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Sure.

Yellen Says Fed Seeks to Avert ‘Capture’ by Banks It Oversees (Bloomberg)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen, countering criticism from members of Congress, said the central bank is trying to avoid being too cozy with the Wall Street firms it supervises and wants to ensure that regulators aren’t afraid to confront the financial industry. “The risk of regulatory capture is something the Federal Reserve takes very seriously and works very hard to prevent,” Yellen said in remarks prepared for a speech in New York on Tuesday night. “It is important that anyone serving the Fed feel safe speaking up when they have concerns about bias toward industry, and that those concerns be addressed.” The Fed has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who say it’s deferential to large banks. The issue was the subject of a Senate hearing in November following allegations by Carmen Segarra, a former examiner at the Fed of New York, who said her colleagues had been too soft on Goldman Sachs.

At the hearing, Warren told New York Fed President William C. Dudley that he needs to fix a “cultural problem” or “we need to get someone who will.” The Fed has also come under fire from Republicans, including Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, who called for more Fed transparency and greater congressional oversight at a hearing Tuesday. Yellen, in her speech to the Citizens Budget Commission, also took aim at ethical lapses at large banks supervised by the Fed. “We expect the firms we oversee to follow the law and to operate in an ethical manner,” she said. “Too often in recent years, bankers at large institutions have not done so, sometimes brazenly.” Such incidents “raise legitimate questions of whether there may be pervasive shortcomings in the values of large financial firms that might undermine their safety and soundness,” she said.

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Pensions and low rates. A poisonous combination.

Draghi’s Rescue Plan Has Created a $103 Billion Problem (Bloomberg)

There’s a corner of the pension world that needs to brace itself for Mario Draghi. His ECB’s €1.1 trillion bond-buying plan might have already blown a €92 billion hole in defined-benefit pension plans by depressing bond yields, Standard & Poor’s said Feb. 26. And if the actual start of QE pushes yields further, for longer, companies may have to take drastic measures to make ends meet, and could face a hit to their credit ratings. The ECB is expected to announce further details of its asset-purchase program after it meets in Cyprus Thursday. S&P estimates that the anticipation of quantitative easing in Europe squashed bond yields so much that the liabilities of defined-benefit pension plans rose by up to 18% last year.

Its analysis looked at the top 50 European companies it rates that have defined-benefit pension plans and are “materially underfunded,” meaning, the plans have deficits of more than 10% of adjusted debt, and that debt is more than 1 billion euros. In 2013, liabilities outstripped obligations for that group by more than 30% on average. “The challenge for companies in coming years will be how to rein in plan deficits in the new post-QE low interest-rate environment in Europe,” Paul Watters, credit analyst at S&P, said in a statement. “This will become a more material credit consideration where defined-benefit plan deficits are significant.”

Among the measures S&P says companies may have to take to adjust to this new low-yield world are freezes on pensionable salaries, raising the retirement age, and closing plans to new or even to existing members.vAnd that’s not the end of it. A potential cocktail of low bond yields, sluggish growth and faster inflation, which could result if QE fails to kickstart activity, could push those deficits out a further 10-15%. “The risk remains that QE achieves nothing more than promoting stagflation in the euro area,” Watters said. “A combination of weak growth, inducing the ECB to continue with its aggressive monetary-policy stance, and rising inflation would be a treacherous combination for DB-pension schemes already struggling to contain their plan deficits.”

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” I realized I could afford to pay my children’s university expenses or my loan. I chose my kids and no one can blame me.”

ECB Glimpse of Cyprus Debt Mountain Shows Limits of Bank Cleanup (Bloomberg)

There was a time when a Cypriot on a moderate income could take a gamble on foreign real-estate worth more than his life savings. One banking crash, three and a half years of recession and an international bailout later, 58-year-old Stelios Charalambous is among the Mediterranean island nation’s many debtors who realize that time has passed. “I took a €70,000 loan six years ago from a cooperative bank in the days when no one asked you many questions, and I bought six plots of land in Romania,” the Nicosia-based chiropractor said in an interview. “Now I’m earning half what I was and no one wants to buy my Romanian land. I realized I could afford to pay my children’s university expenses or my loan. I chose my kids and no one can blame me.”

The ECB, which holds a policy meeting in the euro area’s easternmost capital on Thursday, cares about such cases as they add up to almost €900 billion of soured credit in the region and hobble lenders’ ability to serve the economy. Yet Cyprus, where non-performing exposures account for more than half the country’s loan-book, also shows how politics can get in the way of a cleanup. The nation made euro-era history in March 2013 when it imposed capital controls for the first, and so far only, time in the single currency’s existence. The measures came alongside a €10 billion rescue led by the euro area, the merger of the country’s two largest lenders, and the seizure of almost half the savings of some 21,000 customers.

The crisis gave birth to a new class of individuals and small businesses that could not, or would not, service their debt, turning Cyprus into the country with the highest bad-debt ratio in the currency bloc. That meant banks had to tie up large chunks of their capital in loss provisions instead of making fresh loans to companies and households. To relieve the blockage, a new foreclosure law enabling banks to seize property from defaulters was introduced in 2014, only to be held up repeatedly by opposition politicians nervous of the impact on businesses and families. Implementation – and the disbursement of further bailout funding which is contingent on the law – is still pending. The economic slump and legal uncertainty created a “perfect storm” for the banks, Euan Hamilton at Bank of Cyprus said.

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“Never before have speculators been gifted with such stupendous, easily harvested windfalls. And these adjectives are not excessive.”

$2 Trillion Euro Government Bonds Trading At Negative Yield (David Stockman)

That investors anywhere in this age of fiscal profligacy would pay to own the notes and bonds of sovereign states is a testament to the financial deformations of modern central banking. But the fact that nearly $2 trillion of debt issued by European governments is currently trading at negative yields——now that’s a flat-out derangement. After all, the aging, sclerotic economies of the EU have been making a bee line toward fiscal insolvency for most of the last decade. So it goes without saying that this giant agglomeration of pay-to-own government debt is not reflective of an outbreak of fiscal rectitude or any other rational economic development.

It’s purely an artificial trading result stemming from central bank destruction of every semblance of honest price discovery. In this case, the impending ECB purchase of $70 billion of government debt and other securities per month for the next two years has transformed the financial casinos of Europe and elsewhere into a front runner’s paradise. As today’s Bloomberg piece tracking Europe’s $2 trillion of exuberant irrationality makes clear, sovereign bond prices are soaring because traders are accumulating, not selling, in anticipation of the ECB’s big fat bid hitting the market in the weeks ahead:

“It is something that many would not have pictured a year ago,” said Jan von Gerich at Nordea Bank in Helsinki. “It sounds very awkward in a sense, but if you look at it more, the central bank has a deposit rate in negative territory, and there’s a huge bond-buying program coming. People are holding on to these bonds and so you don’t have many willing sellers.”

Needless to say, this is the opposite of at-risk price discovery; it amounts to shooting fish in a barrel. Never before have speculators been gifted with such stupendous, easily harvested windfalls. And these adjectives are not excessive. The hedge fund buyers who came to the game early after Draghi’s “anything it takes”ukase have enjoyed massive price appreciation, but have needed to post only tiny slivers of their own capital, financing the balance at essentially zero cost in the repo and other wholesale funding venues. Indeed, the more risk, the bigger the windfall. German yields have now been driven below the zero bound on all maturities through seven years, emboldening speculators to move out on the risk curve. So doing, they have gorged on peripheral nation debt and have been generously rewarded. In the case of the 10-year bond of Ireland – a state which was on the edge of bankruptcy only a few years ago – leveraged speculator gains are now deep into three figures.

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“March is sorted.”

Greece Taps Public Sector Cash To Help Cover March Needs (Reuters)

Greece is tapping into the cash reserves of pension funds and public sector entities through repo transactions as it scrambles to cover its funding needs this month, debt officials told Reuters on Tuesday. Shut out of debt markets and with aid from lenders frozen, Athens is in danger of running out of cash in the coming weeks as it faces a €1.5 billion loan repayment to the IMF this month. The government has sought to calm fears and says it will be able to make the IMF payment and others, but not said how. At least part of the state’s cash needs for the month will be met by repo transactions in which pension funds and other state entities sitting on cash lend the money to the country’s debt agency through a short-term repurchase agreement for up to 15 days, debt agency officials told Reuters. However, one government official said they could not be used to repay the IMF unless Athens was able to repay the state entities the cash it borrowed from them.

Debt officials sought to play the repos as advantageous for both sides, arguing that the funds get a better return on their cash than what is available in the interbank market. “It is not something new, it’s a tactic that started more than a year ago and is a win-win solution. It’s a proposal, we are not twisting anyone’s arm,” one official said. In such repo transactions, a pension fund or government entity parks cash it does not immediately need at an account at the Bank of Greece, which becomes the counterparty in the deal with the debt agency. The money is lent to the debt agency for one to 15 days against collateral – mostly Greek treasury paper held in its portfolio – and is paid back with interest at expiry. The lender can always opt to roll over the repurchase agreement and continue to earn a higher return than what is available in the interbank market.

One source familiar with the matter has previously said Athens could raise up to €3 billion through such repos, but that it was not clear how much of that had already been used up by the government. “There is a sum that has already been raised this way,” the debt official said without disclosing specific numbers. Athens – which has monthly needs of about €4.5 billion including a wage and pension bill of €1.5 billion – is running out of options to fund itself despite striking a deal with the euro zone to extend its bailout by four months. Faced with a steep fall in revenues, it is expected to run out of cash by the end of March, possibly sooner, though the government is trying to assure creditors it will not default. “We are confident that the repayments will be made in full, particularly to the IMF, and there will be liquidity to get us through the end of the four-month period,” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Greek TV on Monday. “March is sorted.”

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Of course not. Only the north can, at the cost of the south.

Can Greece Really Thrive Inside the Euro? (George Magnus)

After a lot of hubbub, in the end the Greek government submitted a list of policy proposals that elicited a positive response from Brussels, judging them to be “sufficiently comprehensive” to permit the four-month extension of the existing loan arrangements until June. The responses from the IMF and the ECB were rather more circumspect, indicating strongly that the next four months of negotiations to determine Greece’s relationship with the Eurosystem will be tough and most probably tense. The IMF noted that the Greek government’s “policy parameters” didn’t go far or weren’t detailed enough, especially about VAT and pension reforms, privatizations and policies to open up closed sectors, including the labor market. The ECB urged the Greek authorities to act swiftly to “stabilize the payments culture and refrain from any unilateral action to the contrary.”

This is believed to refer to matters such as Greek regulations on mortgage foreclosures and to tax and payments arrears in public policy. The “deal” between Greece and its Eurogroup partners has been widely welcomed, and spun according to what people thought would or should happen. I think that the current “deal” is just Act I in a play with an unpredictable, but very likely bad, ending — where “bad” equals Euro system fragmentation, or Grexit, if you prefer. (Or the even tonier “Grexident.”) I think it’s fair to say that however people judge the deal and what they think is good or positive about it from Greece’s point of view is really about one thing only: relief that the integrity of the Eurosystem has been preserved. That is some achievement, given that it looked as though it might not happen. Now, the hope (rather than conviction) prevails that the upcoming negotiations will see a realignment of interests and trust between Greece and its creditors.

Well, who wouldn’t wish for such an outcome? The problem though, as I see it, is that the economic and social policy agenda on which Syriza scored such a stunning electoral victory is entirely appropriate for Greece, but wholly incompatible with a Eurosystem that I call colloquially, Teutonia. While Teutonia normally refers to the geography of Germany or parts of Northern Europe, I use it to connote a German culture in economics and finance. In Teutonia, Germany doesn’t always win all the arguments, nor does it or can it impose a policy agenda by diktat. But in the absence of political and fiscal union – of which none of the major countries is in favor – the terms of the (narrow) monetary union will always reflect largely the interests of Germany and a relatively orthodox financial establishment viscerally opposed to the establishment of a genuine transfer, joint liability union.

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“Given the overriding political resolve to keep Greece in the eurozone, above all because the precarious geopolitics of southeast Europe, some form of compromise is likely here, too.”

ECB Will Need More Creative Accounting To Deal With Greece (MarketWatch)

The ECB faces pressure to carry out a new feat of creative accounting to meet Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s request for renegotiation of €6.7 billion in ECB bonds due to mature in July and August. In a round of interviews, Varoufakis has pledged that his country will make repaying its debts to the IMF its main priority. About €2 billion needs to be repaid to the Fund this month. But the Greek minister has drawn a strong distinction with the ECB, making it likely that the central bank may have to bring in further conditionality into its traditional insistence that it should always be treated as a preferred creditor on a par with the IMF.

Leading European politicians have long claimed that the ECB will have to show flexibility in rolling over some of the total of €30 billion in Greek bonds it still holds in its portfolio, resulting from its efforts started in 2010 to prop up weaker members of the euro. Further bruising tussles between Greece and its creditor look inevitable in view of the deliberate ambiguity the Greek government built into the provisional agreement with creditors clinched last month after several finance minister sessions in Brussels. Speaking in Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Greece would have to make its reform proposals more specific and agree to the program with the “three institutions” (formerly called “the troika”) of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF.

Similarly, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the euro finance ministers’ group, says Greece must immediately start adopting the creditors’ list of reforms, as a condition for gaining access to emergency funds needed to meet March cash deadlines. There is little doubt that, provided Europe’s main capitals give political backing to the still-ambivalent Greek reform approach, the ECB will bend to the politicians’ will — even though it will face further charges of a watering down of its constitutional independence. The Greek government is calling for concessions such as the lifting of a €15 billion ceiling on the issue of short-term treasury bills. Given the overriding political resolve to keep Greece in the eurozone, above all because the precarious geopolitics of southeast Europe, some form of compromise is likely here, too.

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“Greece’s economy minister vowed to cancel the Piraeus deal and pursue sweeping changes to the terms of already completed sales. Defending his government’s stance, Yanis Varoufakis claims there is enough “creative ambiguity” in the text submitted to Brussels to provide enough wiggle room for Syriza to re-open the question of the sale of Piraeus and Greece’s airports..”

Greece vs Europe: Who Blinked First In The Bail-out Battle? (Telegraph)

The Greek parliament will not be voting on the country’s bail-out extension. Following internal turmoil among the ruling Syriza party over the terms of the reprieve, the Greek legislature will only be given the chance to “debate”, rather than officially ratify, the four-month extension. In an ironic twist of the EU’s democratic procedures, Greece’s 18 fellow eurozone parliaments will still need to rubber-stamp the deal. The move has prompted some to ask whether this represents Syriza’s “worst capitulation” in an already protracted and strained series of negotiations with its international creditors. Last week, Athens drew up a series of reforms in return for the remaining €7.2bn it needs to complete its bail-out programme.

At the time, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis insisted the country had become the “co-author of its own destiny” rather than the subject of EU diktats. But dissent among Syriza’s more Leftist elements started bubbling from the onset. Syriza MP and London-based academic Costas Lapavitsas has dismissed the deal as one agreed under “economic duress”. The nascent anti-austerity government now faces a four-week race to draft legislation and pass the laws that will see it come good on its promises. Only then will Greece’s creditors decide whether or not to disburse the vital cash the country needs to say afloat until June. But what exactly has Athens signed up for and could domestic political wranglings now put a brake on the country’s bid to avert bankruptcy?

One of the cornerstones of Syriza’s plans to end Greece’s “ritual humiliation” has been an increase in the country’s minimum wage. In a vociferous speech to his parliament last month, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras repeated his promise to raise the minimum wage by around 10pc to €750-a-month. Of the 22 EU member states with a national minimum wage, Greece is the only country that has seen its fall since the financial crisis. The country’s nominal gross wage is now 14pc lower compared to 2008, as Greece has undergone a progressive reduction in its labour costs in a bid to restore competitiveness in the stricken economy. The current €684-a-month puts Greece between its Iberian counterparts, both of whom have seen a steady rise in their mandated wage floors over the last seven years: Spain’s minimum wage has risen 8pc, while Portugal’s has gone up by 19pc.

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If they refuse the proposals, Syriza may throw the towel.

Athens Preparing Reform Proposals For Eurogroup (Kathimerini)

A collection of reform proposals are being put together by the government so Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis can present them at Monday’s Eurogroup, with Athens hoping that this will help it secure part of the remaining €7.2 billion in bailout installments. Government sources said on Tuesday night that the six proposals Varoufakis is due to present will be measures to tackle the humanitarian crisis, administrative reform, a new scheme to settle overdue debts to the state, changes to tax collection, the creation of a fiscal council (a nonpartisan body to monitor and advise on fiscal policy) and the setting up of a new body for targeted tax inspections. The measures are due to be put forward at the Euro Working Group on Wednesday or Thursday but the Greek government is hoping that eurozone finance ministers will deem the proposals enough to pave the way for the release of some funding to Athens within March.

Varoufakis is also likely to be prepared to discuss with his counterparts what privatizations the government is willing to carry out. The finance minister said in an interview on Star TV on Monday night that he is in favor of further private investment at Piraeus port and in the Greek railway network. State Minister Alekos Flambouraris said on Tuesday that the coalition would not consider selling the country’s water or electricity firms. The preparation for Monday’s Eurogroup has led to the government making changes to some of the legislation it had planned. For instance, the provision for giving debtors a haircut on the principal they owe to the state has been removed from the legislation introducing a new payment plan for overdue taxes and social security contributions.

There is even a possibility that the dreaded ENFIA property tax will remain for another year, albeit reduced by 15 to 20%. The government wants to replace it with a levy on large property but will need to ensure it can raise revenues of €2.6 billion to do so. A new formula has not been found yet. The coalition has, however, finalized the legislation aimed at tackling the social impact of the crisis. The bill foresees households in “extreme poverty” receiving free electricity for a year. This is estimated to affect 150,000 families. The draft law also provides a rent subsidy of between €70 and €220 per month for up to 30,000 households. Furthermore, food coupons will be provided to up to 170,000 families. The total cost of these interventions is estimated at €200 million.

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This is going to hurt. A lot.

Oil at $95 a Barrel Discovered in SEC Rules on Reserves (Bloomberg)

There’s one place in the world where oil is still $95 a barrel. On paper. The US Securities and Exchange Commission requires drillers to calculate the value of their oil reserves every year using average prices from the first trading days in each of the previous 12 months. Because oil didn’t start its freefall to about $45 till after the OPEC meeting in late November, companies in their latest regulatory filings used $95 a barrel to figure out how much oil they could profitably produce and what it’s worth. Of the 12 days that went into the fourth-quarter average, crude was above $90 a barrel on 10 of them. So Continental Resources reported last month that the present value of its oil and gas operations increased 13% last year to $22.8 billion. For Devon, a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing, it jumped 31% to $27.9 billion.

This year tells a different story. The average price on the first trading days of January, February and March was $51.28 a barrel. That means a lot of pain – and writedowns – are in store when drillers’ first-quarter numbers are announced in April and May. “It has postponed the reckoning,” said Julie Hilt Hannink at New York-based CFRA, an accounting adviser. Companies use the first-trading-day-of-every-month calculation to estimate future cash flow and to tally how much crude can be profitably pumped out of the ground. The SEC introduced the formula in 2009 as part of wider changes in how the regulator required drillers to report reserves. Prior to the shift, the value of the reserves was measured based on the oil price on the last day of the year, which also caused distortions. There are no current plans to revisit or modify SEC reporting rules, Erin Stattel, an SEC spokeswoman, said.

Most shale drillers are reporting increases in what’s known as proved reserves. The SEC requires oil producers to submit an annual tally, along with an estimate of the present value of the future cash flow from those properties. The estimates are limited to what the firm is reasonably certain it can extract from existing wells and prospects scheduled to be drilled within five years. The reports are based on factors such as geology, engineering, historical production – and price. To count as proved, the resources must be economic to develop given existing market conditions. “What the SEC requires isn’t thorough enough to get to the numbers investors really want,” said Mike Kelly with Global Hunter Securities. “What is the true cost of producing a barrel of oil? And what is the real value of the assets?” A similar pricing formula helps determine whether some companies need to write off their oil and gas properties.

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Keep going.

The Latest Sign the Oil-Price Plunge Is Hitting the Job Market (Bloomberg)

As investors prepare for the release of the February U.S. employment data on Friday, we’re getting more inklings of how the shakeout in the oil industry will impact the jobs market, and it doesn’t look great: Demand for workers in energy-related occupations is plunging. Online help-wanted ads for jobs involved in the extraction of oil and gas – derrick operators, wellhead pumpers, roustabouts and the like – declined 42% in the two months through January as oil prices cratered, according to data compiled by the Conference Board and Wanted Technologies.

Occupations in the industry that have higher education requirements, such as petroleum engineers, geoscientists and technicians, also saw demand for their services collapse, with ads dropping 38%, Gad Levanon and his fellow researchers at the Conference Board wrote on their blog this week. The downbeat message from the online ad postings echoes that of a report last month by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which showed that 38% of announced job cuts in January were in the energy industry. As we noted last month, employment in oil and gas extraction and related supply industries doubled over the last decade, reaching some 523,500 workers. If the Conference Board and Challenger data are anything to go by, that trend is likely to reverse big-time this year.

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Nice graphics.

Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials’ $30 Trillion Inheritance (Bloomberg)

There have been any number of pieces written about how the millennial generation is consciously refusing to do things that preceding generations thought were perfectly reasonable, such as playing golf or investing in the stock market or even doing a SINGLE NICE THING for someone else! This seems to have caused some consternation on Wall Street, where the powers-that-be would obviously like to see millennials do at least one nice thing for them: hand over all their money. But have no fear, because Wall Street is ON IT! Financial firms are working hard to solve the Rubik’s Cube (err, sorry the 2048) that is the Gen Y zeitgeist, if recent reports from Federated Investors and Goldman Sachs are any indication. Based on the research, here are the highlights of what you need to know about this enigmatic generation: They like skinny ties and skinny jeans and, based on the way these firms are presenting these findings, they seem to only be reachable through cartoon-like graphics and animation.

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“If Japan can’t get its finances under control, people are going to start questioning what exactly the difference between Japan and Greece is.”

Japan Public Debt Keeps BNP Chief Credit Analyst Awake at Night (Bloomberg)

For most of her career, Mana Nakazora has taken a pre-dawn train to work regardless of whether she arrived home just hours earlier. Her colleagues describe BNP Paribas’s Tokyo head of investment research as a powerhouse, and she was Japan’s No. 1 bond picker from 2010 to 2012 and No. 2 for the last two years in Nikkei Veritas newspaper polls. Making it to the top in an industry whose corporate bond sales exceeded $70 billion last year can be tough. “I usually get home on average at about midnight, sometimes it can be 2 a.m.,” Nakazora said in an interview at BNP’s Tokyo offices on the 42nd floor overlooking the nation’s parliament and Imperial Palace. “I get up at 5 a.m., so I don’t sleep much. It has been like that forever.”

One thing keeping her up – analysis of Japan’s public debt, which is expected to climb to 1.06 quadrillion yen ($8.85 trillion) at the end of March. With a population that’s been shrinking for the past six years and annual debt servicing costs that are bigger than New Zealand’s gross domestic product, the world’s third-largest economy is quite simply running out of people who can pick up the tab. “Maybe there’s no point in throwing stones at this huge rock, but if you keep hurling just maybe you can open up a crack,” said Nakazora, who also sits on two government panels including the finance ministry’s fiscal system council that advises on budgetary rectitude. “If Japan can’t get its finances under control, people are going to start questioning what exactly the difference between Japan and Greece is.”

With unprecedented central bank stimulus compressing debt yields, Nakazora said she likes SoftBank’s bonds, which offer investors more than five times the average spread Japanese notes pay. She also recommends the debt of TEPCO, operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima power plant, but is no longer a fan of Sony debentures because the jury’s still out on whether the electronics maker can revive its fortunes. Nakazora also doesn’t favor the delay in Japan’s sales tax increase. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November postponed raising the levy to 10% by 18 months after an increase to 8% from 5% in April plunged the economy into a recession. Japan’s debt will rise to the equivalent of 246% of GDP this year, one of the highest ratios in the world, the IMF forecasts.

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That’s what the US is waiting for.

Ukraine Looks Ready To Default (MarketWatch)

The conflict in the Ukraine is relevant to global investors as it directly affects security in Europe, which is the home of an economy the size of the U.S. The trade bans due to conflict-driven sanctions involve many countries and add to the European deflation at present. Those trade bans might get wider should the conflict intensify based on the realization that a political solution would not give the rebels and their Russian backers what they want — enough autonomy to keep Ukraine out of the EU and NATO. I do not follow this conflict to determine who is right or wrong but to gauge how it affects financial markets.

Most of my conclusions may seem relevant only to institutional investors that deal in currencies, sovereign bonds, credit-default swaps (CDSs), and the energy markets, but I do believe those geopolitical developments affect quite a few individual investors, even those in the U.S. Last week the Ukrainian truce barely took hold when fighting over the strategic Ukrainian town of Debaltseve, which controls rail lines linking Luhansk and Donetsk, threatened to unravel the ceasefire agreement. The rebels decided to take the town “no matter what,” as a prolonged truce made it necessary for them to control logistics in their territory. It has been clear for a long time that Ukraine is a divided country where half the population supports the rebels and the other half supports the government in Kiev — as demonstrated by this map of the 2010 election, which brought Yanukovych to power.

This map also suggests this conflict can quickly carry all the way to Odessa, which Russian ruler Catherine the Great (1729-1796) turned into a key trading hub for the Russian Empire. There is also an unhappy minority of Russians in a strip of Moldova adjacent to Ukraine, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed for years. It is entirely possible they see this conflict as the opportunity to resolve their situation once and for all. Perhaps because of all of the above considerations, Ukrainian government bonds are at all-time lows. When such a bear market in credit gets to prices like 44 cents on the dollar, this is the bond market saying that Ukraine will likely default.

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Done deal.

Ukraine Raises Interest Rates To 30% (BBC)

Ukraine’s central bank has sharply raised interest rates from 19.5% to 30% in an effort to curb inflation and prop up its beleaguered currency. The new benchmark refinancing rate takes effect on Wednesday. It comes as the government in Kiev is seeking a $17.5bn assistance programme from the IMF. Inflation is expected to hit at least 26% this year and the hryvnia has tumbled against the dollar. The currency has lost 80% of its value since last April, when pro-Russian separatists took up arms in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula. Last week, the hryvnia hit a record low of 33.75 to the dollar before recovering some ground.

The conflict has taken its toll on Ukraine’s economy, which is forecast to shrink by 5.5% in 2015. The interest rate increase is the second in two months, after the central bank raised the rate from 14% in February. On Monday night, Ukraine’s parliament approved a package of reforms that could determine whether it will avoid economic meltdown in the coming weeks. They include changes to the tax and energy laws and the government’s budget. The passing of the reform package was a condition for the IMF rescue package. The IMF’s executive board will meet on 11 March, when it will make its decision. If it says yes, the first tranche of some $5bn will become available within days.

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Not a single doubt.

Financial Collapse Leads To War (Dmitry Orlov)

Scanning the headlines in the western mainstream press, and then peering behind the one-way mirror to compare that to the actual goings-on, one can’t but get the impression that America’s propagandists, and all those who follow in their wake, are struggling with all their might to concoct rationales for military action of one sort or another, be it supplying weapons to the largely defunct Ukrainian military, or staging parades of US military hardware and troops in the almost completely Russian town of Narva, in Estonia, a few hundred meters away from the Russian border, or putting US “advisers” in harm’s way in parts of Iraq mostly controlled by Islamic militants. The strenuous efforts to whip up Cold War-like hysteria in the face of an otherwise preoccupied and essentially passive Russia seems out of all proportion to the actual military threat Russia poses. (Yes, volunteers and ammo do filter into Ukraine across the Russian border, but that’s about it.)

Further south, the efforts to topple the government of Syria by aiding and arming Islamist radicals seem to be backfiring nicely. But that’s the pattern, isn’t it? What US military involvement in recent memory hasn’t resulted in a fiasco? Maybe failure is not just an option, but more of a requirement? Let’s review. Afghanistan, after the longest military campaign in US history, is being handed back to the Taliban. Iraq no longer exists as a sovereign nation, but has fractured into three pieces, one of them controlled by radical Islamists. Egypt has been democratically reformed into a military dictatorship. Libya is a defunct state in the middle of a civil war. The Ukraine will soon be in a similar state; it has been reduced to pauper status in record time—less than a year. A recent government overthrow has caused Yemen to stop being US-friendly.

Closer to home, things are going so well in the US-dominated Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they have produced a flood of refugees, all trying to get into the US in the hopes of finding any sort of sanctuary. Looking at this broad landscape of failure, there are two ways to interpret it. One is that the US officialdom is the most incompetent one imaginable, and can’t ever get anything right. But another is that they do not succeed for a distinctly different reason: they don’t succeed because results don’t matter. You see, if failure were a problem, then there would be some sort of pressure coming from somewhere or other within the establishment, and that pressure to succeed might sporadically give rise to improved performance, leading to at least a few instances of success.

But if in fact failure is no problem at all, and if instead there was some sort of pressure to fail, then we would see exactly what we do see. In fact, a point can be made that it is the limited scope of failure that is the problem. This would explain the recent saber-rattling in the direction of Russia, accusing it of imperial ambitions (Russia is not interested in territorial gains), demonizing Vladimir Putin (who is effective and popular) and behaving provocatively along Russia’s various borders (leaving Russia vaguely insulted but generally unconcerned).

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The level of absurdity is stunning.

NATO Rolls Out ‘Russian Threat’ In Budget Battle (RT)

NATO member-states unwilling or unable to help boost the military spending are being accused of ignoring the “Russian threat,” that has re-emerged as the core of the alliance’s agenda to boost arms sales. A report saying one of major NATO funding contributors, the UK, could fail to fulfil the commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on the alliance in 2015 came as a bombshell for some of the West’s military elite. The head of the US army, General Raymond Odierno, told the Telegraph he was “very concerned” about Britain’s possible defense cuts. “[Odierno] warned that, while the US was willing to provide leadership in tackling future threats, such as Russia and ISIL [the Islamic State, aka IS or ISIS], it was essential that allies such as Britain played their part,” the British daily wrote.

Former MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers, called for a rise in defense spending, also mentioning the “threat” coming out of Russia “not necessarily directly to the UK, but to countries around its periphery.” “The level of threat posed by Moscow has increased and we have to be prepared to take the defensive measures necessary to defend ourselves, defend our allies – which now extend as far as the Baltic States and Central Europe,” Sawers said, according to the Guardian. In turn, Moscow said it will take all “necessary measures” including military, technical and political to neutralize a possible threat from NATO presence in Eastern Europe, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, told the Rossiya 24 TV channel on Monday. He added NATO’s actions “significantly impair regional and European security, and pose risks to our security.”

Grushko said NATO has intensified its military drills in Eastern Europe, with about 200 exercises in its eastern member states, mostly in the Baltic and Black seas, Poland and Baltic states. Russia’s Defense Ministry has consistently denied all reports of its personnel or hardware being involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, calling NATO’s allegations “groundless.” Among “proof” of the “Russian aggression” there have been fake photos of the Russian tanks, which eventually turned out to have been taken in a different place at a different time, a supposed Russian airplane in British airspace, that turned out to be Latvian, and mysterious “Russian submarines” in Swedish waters – which never were found. “Demonizing” Russia plays well into the hands of the military, believes former NATO intelligence analyst, Lt Cdr Martin Packard.

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On their way to your dinner plate.

Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Wreak Havoc on Fish Farms, Power Plants (Bloomberg)

As the oceans get warmer, jellyfish are causing pain beyond their sting. The marine animals have shut power plants from Sweden to the U.S. while killing thousands of farmed fish in pens held off the U.K. coast. GPS devices normally used to track the behavior of house cats were attached to 18 barrel-jellyfish off the coast of northern France. The study upended previous assumptions about their movement. Climate change may be one reason more jellyfish are congregating in large numbers known as blooms, which can encompass millions of the creatures over tens of kilometers.

Researchers are seeking to develop a system, akin to weather forecasting, to help predict their movement and prevent fish deaths, such as the loss of 300,000 salmon off Scotland last year, or power outages that shut a Swedish nuclear plant in 2013. “Jellyfish blooms may be increasing as a result of climate change and overfishing,” Graeme Hays, the leader of the group from Deakin University in Australia and Swansea University in the U.K. that did the research, said by phone Jan. 28. “They have a lot of negative impacts – clogging power station intakes, stinging people and killing fish in farms.” The study was conducted in 2011 with results published online in January by the journal Current Biology.

Hays plans to replicate the work in Tasmania, Australia, where salmon farming is an industry valued at about A$550 million ($430 million) a year. Combined land and ocean surface temperatures have warmed 0.85 of a degree Celsius since 1880, according to the IPCC. Global warming is “unequivocal” and many observed changes since the 1950s are “unprecedented over decades to millennia,” it said in a 2014 report. “Warmer water is a dream come true for jellyfish,” Lisa-ann Gershwin, a marine scientist who has studied the creatures for about 25 years and author of Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, said by phone Feb. 4. “It amps up their metabolism so they grow faster, eat more, breed more and live longer.”

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