Aug 302017
 
 August 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh 1950

 

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)
Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)
The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)
“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)
China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)
Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)
The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)
US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)
England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)
UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)
We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)
As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)
Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

 

 

A huge number of people will not be able to rebuild, because they lack insurance. And in many cases, rebuilding on the same -flood prone- spot wouldn’t be a good idea to begin with. But where will the people go?

Time to stop talking about the damage to the economy, and focus on the people.

The Economy Minus Houston (Slate)

Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has a massive, diversified economy. Sure, New Orleans sits near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River and is an important entrepôt and site for export of raw materials, agricultural commodities chemicals, and petroleum products. But Houston is a larger, busier, and far more important node in the networked economy. Economies derive their power and influence from their connections to other cities, countries, and markets. And Houston is one of the more connected. It is one of the global capitals of the energy and energy services industries. Yes, there’s a degree to which consumption and other economic activity that is forestalled or foregone during a flood is consumption and economic activity deferred. And cleanup efforts tend to be additive to local economies. But in today’s economy, a lot of value can easily be destroyed very quickly.

With only a small portion of the housing stock carrying flood insurance, billions of dollars in property will simply be destroyed and not immediately replaced. People who get paid by the hour, or who work for themselves, won’t be able to make up for the income they’re losing a few weeks from now. Hotel rooms and airplane seats are perishable goods—once canceled, they can’t simply be rescheduled. Refineries won’t be able to make up all the time offline—they can’t run more than 24 hours per day. And given that supply chains rely on a huge number of shipments making their connections with precision, the disruption to the region’s shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure will have far-reaching effects. If you’re a business in Oklahoma or New Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance the goods you are importing or exporting pass through the Port of Houston.

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Sorry, Naomi, but you can’t take individual events and blame them on cllmate change. The system is far too complex for that. We must stick to science, not lose ourselves in assumptions.

Harvey Didn’t Come Out Of The Blue (Naomi Klein)

Now is exactly the time to talk about climate change, and all the other systemic injustices — from racial profiling to economic austerity — that turn disasters like Harvey into human catastrophes. Turn on the coverage of the Hurricane Harvey and the Houston flooding and you’ll hear lots of talk about how unprecedented this kind of rainfall is. How no one saw it coming, so no one could adequately prepare. What you will hear very little about is why these kind of unprecedented, record-breaking weather events are happening with such regularity that “record-breaking” has become a meteorological cliche. In other words, you won’t hear much, if any, talk about climate change.

This, we are told, is out of a desire not to “politicize” a still unfolding human tragedy, which is an understandable impulse. But here’s the thing: every time we act as if an unprecedented weather event is hitting us out of the blue, as some sort of Act of God that no one foresaw, reporters are making a highly political decision. It’s a decision to spare feelings and avoid controversy at the expense of telling the truth, however difficult. Because the truth is that these events have long been predicted by climate scientists. Warmer oceans throw up more powerful storms. Higher sea levels mean those storms surge into places they never reached before. Hotter weather leads to extremes of precipitation: long dry periods interrupted by massive snow or rain dumps, rather than the steadier predictable patterns most of us grew up with.

The records being broken year after year — whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat — are happening because the planet is markedly warmer than it has been since record-keeping began. Covering events like Harvey while ignoring those facts, failing to provide a platform to climate scientists who can make them plain, all while never mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords, fails in the most basic duty of journalism: to provide important facts and relevant context. It leaves the public with the false impression that these are disasters without root causes, which also means that nothing could have been done to prevent them (and that nothing can be done now to prevent them from getting much worse in the future).

It’s also worth noting that the Harvey coverage has been highly political since well before the storm made landfall. There has been endless talk about whether Trump was taking the storm seriously enough, endless speculation about whether this hurricane will be his “Katrina moment” and a great deal of (fair) point-scoring about how many Republicans voted against Sandy relief but have their hands out for Texas now. That’s politics being made out of a disaster — it’s just the kind of partisan politics that is fully inside the comfort zone of conventional media, politics that conveniently skirts the reality that placing the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the need for decisive pollution control has been a deeply bipartisan affair.

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Wolf Richter with a whole series of US cities, all with record new highs. How people can keep saying there is no bubble in the US, I don’t know.

The US Cities with the Biggest Housing Bubbles (WS)

For the good folks who hope fervently that the Fed doesn’t have reasons to raise rates or unwind QE because there isn’t enough inflation, here is an update on one aspect of inflation – asset price inflation, and particularly house price inflation – where the value of your hard-earned dollars has collapsed over a given number of years to where it takes a whole lot more dollars to pay for the same house. So here are some visuals of amazing house price bubbles, city by city. Bubbles really aren’t hard to recognize, if you want to recognize them. What’s hard to predict accurately is when they will burst. Normally the Fed doesn’t want to acknowledge them. But now it has its eyes focused on them.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index for June was released today. It jumped 5.8% year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted, once again outpacing growth in household incomes, as it has done for years. At 192.6, the index has surpassed by 5% the peak in May 2006 of crazy Housing Bubble 1, which everyone called “housing bubble” after it imploded (data via FRED, St. Louis Fed). The Case-Shiller Index is based on a rolling-three month average; today’s release was for April, May, and June data. Instead of median prices, it uses “home price sales pairs,” for example, a house sold in 2011 and then again in 2017. Algorithms adjust this price movement and add other factors. The index was set at 100 for January 2000. An index value of 200 means prices have doubled in the past 17 years, which is what most of the metros in this series have accomplished, or are close to accomplishing.

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There is no easy way out for New Zealand.

“Crazy” House Prices Are Firing Up New Zealand’s Voters (BBG)

As ownership falls to the lowest since 1951, housing affordability is firing up voters ahead of New Zealand’s general election on Sept. 23. The government is under attack for failing to respond to price surges that have forced many to ditch their property dreams. New Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has made housing a key issue, helping restore the main opposition party in opinion polls and leaving the election too close to call. “The government’s response has been too slow and inadequate for many because they’ve seen house prices rising very fast,” said Raymond Miller, professor of politics at Auckland University. “Some voters might well have a feeling of being let down by what they see as indifference to their plight. It’s the government’s Achilles’ heel.” Prices across New Zealand have risen 34% the past three years, fanned by record immigration, historically low interest rates and a supply shortage.

That’s seen the portion of owner-occupied properties slump to 63% of the nation’s 1.8 million homes in the second quarter, down from a peak of 74% in the early 1990s. In response, the ruling National Party has made more land available for development and increased deposit grants to first-home buyers. But it’s done little to curb immigration that’s added 201,000 to the population the past three years, while a policy of taxing profits on investment properties sold within two years of purchase has been criticized as too mild. Labour is pledging a more aggressive solution. It’s promising to ban property sales to non-resident foreigners who it says have fanned price pressures, and will extend the period in which investors will be subject to tax to five years. It wants to curb immigration, and plans to build 100,000 homes over 10 years and sell them at affordable prices.

“We’re going to get the government back into the business of building large numbers of affordable homes for first-home buyers like governments used to in this country,” Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford said in a Television New Zealand interview. “The government has had nine years and they’ve just tinkered around the edges.” Many New Zealanders are motivated to save for a home where they can bring up a family just as their parents and grandparents did. National will be wary that disillusioned home-buyers may turn their back on the party, thwarting its efforts to win a rare fourth term. No party has won an outright majority since the South Pacific nation introduced proportional representation in 1996. National had 44% support in a poll published Aug. 17. Labour had 37% but could get across the line with the additional support of ally the Green Party, which had 4%, and New Zealand First, which got 10%.

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I think the estimates are still low.

China’s $2 Trillion of Shadow Lending Throws Focus on Rust Belt (BBG)

Regional banks in China’s rust-belt provinces are driving the rapid expansion of shadow banking in the country, fueling a web of informal lending that poses wider risks to the financial system, according to a study by UBS. Smaller rust-belt banks like Bank of Tangshan Co. and Baoshang Bank have been using products such as trust beneficiary rights and directional asset-management plans to hide the true state of their bad loans and circumvent lending restrictions, the study by analyst Jason Bedford said. Others have been using the shadow loan instruments to diversify away from lending in their struggling home provinces, exposing themselves to a much wider spectrum of Chinese corporate risk in the event of a default, according to the report. By analyzing 237 Chinese banks, many of them small and unlisted regional lenders, Bedford casts a new spotlight on underground financing and the risks it poses to the nation’s $35 trillion banking industry.

Shadow loans grew almost 15% to 14.1 trillion yuan ($2.3 trillion) by December from a year earlier, equal to about 19% of economic output, he estimates. “This is a sleeper issue,” Bedford wrote. “The remarkable level of concentration in regional banks in rust-belt region banks, combined with evidence that these assets are increasingly being used to roll over loans to existing borrowers as well as being swapped between banks without a clear transfer of risk are alarming.” Accounting for this financing, Chinese banks’ nonperforming loans could be three times higher than the official published level, he said. By recording such lending under “investment receivables” rather than “loans” on their financial statements, banks were able to disguise what is in effect lending, to get around regulatory lending curbs or heavy reliance on wholesale funding.

Such financial engineering also enabled some lenders to overstate their capital adequacy ratios, understate nonperforming loans and reduce provision charges. [..] Bank of Tangshan is an unlisted lender in the struggling northeast city of the same name, which produces more steel than any other city around the world. The firm’s shadow loans grew 86% last year to a size equal to 308% of its formal book, the highest of any bank in China, according to Bedford’s report. Still, the bank reported a bad-loan ratio of just 0.05% last year, the lowest of any bank in UBS’ analysis, exemplifying the “distortion” shadow loan books create in assessing asset quality, Bedford said.

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How is this NOT criminal intent? Where are the indictments?

Homeowner’s Lawsuit Says Wells Fargo Charged Improper Mortgage Fees (R.)

A homeowner has filed a lawsuit accusing Wells Fargo of improperly charging thousands of customers nationwide to lock in interest rates when their mortgage applications were delayed. Filed on Monday in San Francisco federal court, the lawsuit said Wells Fargo managers pressured employees to blame homeowners for the delays, sometimes by falsely stating that paperwork was missing, so homeowners could be stuck with extra fees. Wells Fargo Spokesman Tom Goyda said the bank is reviewing past practices on rate lock extensions and will take steps for customers as appropriate. The lawsuit, which will request the court grant class action status, comes as Wells Fargo is trying to recover from a scandal last year when the bank was fined for opening accounts for customers without their authorization in order to boost sales figures.

Last month, a new lawsuit accused it of charging several hundred thousand borrowers for auto insurance they did not request. Monday’s lawsuit accuses the bank of violating state and federal consumer protection laws, including the U.S. Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and the U.S. Truth in Lending Act. Earlier this month, Wells Fargo disclosed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was investigating the fees the company charged to lock in interest rates for delayed mortgage loans. In a securities filing, the bank said it was working with regulators to see if customers had been harmed by the fees. Interest rate locks are guarantees by a lender to lock in a set interest rate, usually for several weeks, while a loan is processed. If the rate lock expires before a loan closes, lenders often cover the cost of extending the lock if the delay was their fault.

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Modi taking people’s incomes away. Reforms. Here’s thinking India is nowhere near ready for this.

The Battle for India’s $45 Billion Gold Industry Has Begun (BBG)

India’s past and future are colliding in Anand Ghugre’s family jewelry shop in Mumbai. “We still operate the way my father did for 50 years,” said Ghugre, 52, explaining that transactions were typically in cash and were not always recorded. “For small jewelers and the unorganized sector, most of our sales happen through personal connections. Sometimes they don’t want bills, but the jewelers can’t say no to them.” That way of doing business is under threat as the world’s second-largest gold market faces Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to bring India’s informal economy to book. About three quarters of the estimated $45 billion of the precious metal that is traded in the country each year makes its way through thousands of family-run jewelry shops that have catered for centuries to the nation’s love of gold.

Modi’s financial reforms, including demonetization and a new goods and services tax, combined with a younger generation that shops online, may usher in a wave of takeovers and mergers by big state-wide and national chains as small shops are swallowed up or close. “The one story that we hear is that the business is becoming problematic for smaller jewelers,” said Chirag Sheth at London-based precious metals consultancy Metals Focus. “The bigger jewelers have deeper pockets, they have larger shops, better designs and better margins. It is very difficult for a smaller guy to compete.” Modi in November banned higher denomination notes to bring unaccounted cash back into the system and introduced tougher proof of identity for purchases, capped the amount of cash used in transactions and topped it off with the uniform goods and services tax last month.

An overhaul of the fragmented industry is also on the cards with the government said to be planning a new policy on gold that will bolster confidence among consumers, where the gifting of gold at weddings and festivals or its purchase as a store of value are deeply held traditions. Fixing quality standards and allowing supply chains to be easily tracked are ways to enhance trust.

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Well, we can’t have that, can we?

US Defense Boost May Unravel Into a $65 Billion Cut (BBG)

U.S. national security funding may be slashed by about $65 billion in January as lawmakers forge ahead with a spending plan that collides with a budget ceiling under a six-year-old law. A $614 billion bill passed by the U.S. House in H.R. 3219 is caught in a political vise: President Donald Trump and most lawmakers want to see increases in Pentagon spending, yet that intention isn’t backed up by an agreement to undo the 2011 Budget Control Act. Without another budget agreement in place, the Defense Department faces automatic across-the-board cuts of 9% to 10% starting in mid-January, according to Chris Sherwood, a Pentagon spokesman. That’s about $65 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Enforcement of the act’s caps are returning for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 after they were adjusted in fiscal 2016 and 2017 for discretionary domestic and national security spending. That was the third time since the act passed that the limits were adjusted, in those cases for both defense and domestic discretionary spending. Trump wants to cut domestic spending while adding to defense, a proposal opposed by Democrats and many Republicans. If the mandatory cuts go ahead, they would be leveled across thousands of Pentagon programs. The White House would have the option of exempting military personnel funds from the automatic cuts, known as sequestration. Such cuts are likely because all of the pending congressional defense bills so far propose busting the cap of $549 billion in national security spending for fiscal year 2018, or $522 billion for the Pentagon alone.

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Cameron and Osborne and May have gutted the entire country.

England’s Fire Services Suffer 25% Cut To Safety Officers Numbers (G.)

Fire services in England have lost more than a quarter of their specialist fire safety staff since 2011, a Guardian investigation has found. Fire safety officers carry out inspections of high-risk buildings to ensure they comply with safety legislation and take action against landlords where buildings are found to be unsafe. Figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act showed the number of specialist staff in 26 fire services had fallen from 924 to 680, a loss of 244 officers between 2011 and 2017. Between 2011 and 2016, the government reduced its funding for fire services by between 26% and 39%, according to the National Audit Office, which in turn resulted in a 17% average real-terms reduction in spending power.

Warren Spencer, a fire safety lawyer, said the figures showed a “clear culture of complacency” about fire safety. “The government has tended to take the view that fewer people are dying in fires, fires occur less frequently, and therefore there’s no need to invest in fire prevention. So there’s been a total brain drain in fire safety knowledge and many experienced specialist officers have left the force,” he said. “But fire safety officers have been saying to me for years that one day, there would be a big fire in a multiple occupancy building, which would make everyone sit up and take notice of the lack of fire safety provision. Tragically, that’s what happened at Grenfell Tower.”

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As dividends keep being paid out.

UK’s Leading Companies’ Pension Deficit Rises To 70% Of Their Profits (G.)

The combined pension deficit of FTSE 350 companies has risen to £62bn, accounting for 70% of their profits. The deficit as a proportion of profits recorded for 2016 is higher than at any time since the financial crisis, following a £12bn rise since 2015. The 25% increase came in a second year of comparatively low profit for UK publicly listed companies. The deficit is the gap between the expected liabilities of pension commitments and the funds that companies hold to pay for pensions. While many have set aside billions in recent years, a trend towards rising life expectancy, combined with lower expectations for returns on investment, has put more pressure on pension schemes and seen the deficit grow. Actuaries have warned that even a slight fall in bond yields would see the pension deficit of the plcs outstrip their aggregate profits by 2019.

The figures, in a report from the actuarial consultancy Barnett Waddingham, show the deficit has risen sharply as a proportion of profits in the past five years, from 25% of the £214bn pre-tax profits of the FTSE 350 in 2011. Even in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, the deficit was lower at 60%. For 21 plcs, the pensions shortfall is more than 10% of their value, which Barnett Waddingham described as alarming. However, the actuaries said recent data suggesting years of austerity had seen gains in UK life expectancy grind to a halt could provide “welcome respite for companies”. It showed that after a century in which the rate of increase in life expectancy had accelerated, the average age of death was levelling off at 79 for men and 83 for women.

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A discussion that must take place. But the political climate doesn’t lean towards nationalization. Besides, how do you nationalize companies that operate in many dozens of countries?

We Need To Nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon (G.)

At the heart of platform capitalism is a drive to extract more data in order to survive. One way is to get people to stay on your platform longer. Facebook is a master at using all sorts of behavioural techniques to foster addictions to its service: how many of us scroll absentmindedly through Facebook, barely aware of it? Another way is to expand the apparatus of extraction. This helps to explain why Google, ostensibly a search engine company, is moving into the consumer internet of things (Home/Nest), self-driving cars (Waymo), virtual reality (Daydream/Cardboard), and all sorts of other personal services. Each of these is another rich source of data for the company, and another point of leverage over their competitors.

Others have simply bought up smaller companies: Facebook has swallowed Instagram ($1bn), WhatsApp ($19bn), and Oculus ($2bn), while investing in drone-based internet, e-commerce and payment services. It has even developed a tool that warns when a start-up is becoming popular and a possible threat. Google itself is among the most prolific acquirers of new companies, at some stages purchasing a new venture every week. The picture that emerges is of increasingly sprawling empires designed to vacuum up as much data as possible. But here we get to the real endgame: artificial intelligence (or, less glamorously, machine learning). Some enjoy speculating about wild futures involving a Terminator-style Skynet, but the more realistic challenges of AI are far closer.

In the past few years, every major platform company has turned its focus to investing in this field. As the head of corporate development at Google recently said, “We’re definitely AI first.” All the dynamics of platforms are amplified once AI enters the equation: the insatiable appetite for data, and the winner-takes-all momentum of network effects. And there is a virtuous cycle here: more data means better machine learning, which means better services and more users, which means more data. Currently Google is using AI to improve its targeted advertising, and Amazon is using AI to improve its highly profitable cloud computing business. As one AI company takes a significant lead over competitors, these dynamics are likely to propel it to an increasingly powerful position.

What’s the answer? We’ve only begun to grasp the problem, but in the past, natural monopolies like utilities and railways that enjoy huge economies of scale and serve the common good have been prime candidates for public ownership. The solution to our newfangled monopoly problem lies in this sort of age-old fix, updated for our digital age. It would mean taking back control over the internet and our digital infrastructure, instead of allowing them to be run in the pursuit of profit and power. Tinkering with minor regulations while AI firms amass power won’t do. If we don’t take over today’s platform monopolies, we risk letting them own and control the basic infrastructure of 21st-century society.

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Of course the headline said “populists”… Fixed that.

As Poverty Surges in Italy, Five Star Propose a ‘Citizens’ Income’ (BBG)

“Poverty will be center stage in the campaign,” says Giorgio Freddi, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Bologna. The populist Five Star Movement “has imposed the issue on national politics. The mainstream parties are being forced to play catch-up.” Five Star is a fast-growing group fueled by anger at the old political class. Three years ago the movement rode economic concerns to power in Livorno, ending 70 years of rule by the Communists and other left-leaning parties. The new mayor, a former engineer named Filippo Nogarin, introduced a €500 ($590) monthly subsidy to the disadvantaged. That idea is a key plank in Five Star’s national platform, and the group’s leaders have promised to quickly implement such a program if they take power. Beppe Grillo, the former television comedian who co-founded the party, says fighting poverty should be a top priority.

A basic income can “give people back their dignity,” Grillo’s blog declared in April. “The current government is ignoring millions of families in difficulty.” The Five Star program echoes universal basic income schemes being considered around the world. Finland in January started an experiment in which 2,000 unemployed people receive a stipend of €560 per month. And the Canadian province of Ontario this summer began trials in three cities in which individuals can get almost C$17,000 ($13,600) per year. Five Star’s version would give Italians below the poverty line as much as €780 a month. Recipients must perform several hours of community service each week and actively seek work, and they’d be cut off after rejecting three job offers. Five Star says the plan would cost €17 billion a year, funded in part by spending cuts as well as tax hikes on banks, insurance companies, and gambling.

Opinion polls show Five Star neck and neck with the Democratic Party, led by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi, and a center-right bloc including Forza Italia, the party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. To keep Five Star from dominating the debate, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally, has approved a less ambitious plan he calls “the first universal tool against poverty.” The scheme, dubbed “inclusion income,” would give 1.7 million people as much as €485 a month as long as they’re actively seeking work, at a cost of about €2 billion a year. With industrial output down by about 25% from 2008 to 2013 in Italy’s worst postwar recession, either plan could be helpful, says Giuseppe Di Taranto, a professor of economic history at Rome’s Luiss University. “We lost lots of jobs, and poverty has risen so much that we’ve got to experiment.”

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More of the same. But the anti-EU, anti-globalization mood is obvious: “77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union.” While Macron and Merkel are planning a lot more EU. And claiming that the EU is doing fine.

Why Every European Country Has A Trump Or Sanders Candidate (Drake)

As a result of the methods used to promote globalization, the consequences for the West have been tragic. Work is becoming increasingly uncertain and insecure, or it is in the process of disappearing altogether. It would take Veblen’s talents for social satire, which are unsurpassed in all of American literature, to depict with the essential exactitude of artistic synthesis how far the United States has fallen away from democratic grace, the country’s dramatically widening gap between the haves and the have-nots being what it is. Clearly, we are on the wrong course. What the robotics revolution, now at an incipient stage, will do to further diminish opportunities for Western peoples to work can be easily imagined, if the economic imperative of corporate capitalism is the rule to go by.

The same desolating trends can be seen in Europe, where people increasingly regard the European Union as a Trojan horse. The economic elites and their political front-men responsible for this image-challenged contraption lose public support with each new poll. The people by and large blame the European Union and the other accessories of globalization for their worsening standard of living. When informed by the establishment media that thanks to globalization Europe has never been more prosperous and peaceful, Europeans in historic numbers are reacting with disbelief. Their deepening sense of betrayal propels the surge of populism that defines the politics of Europe today. Arguments long-settled in favor of deregulation, liberalization, open borders, and other globalization watchwords have been reopened.

The constituency is growing for a politics that puts the well-being of Europeans first. Political measures calling for the protection of European jobs and cultures have gained a following unforeseen prior to 2008. In Italy, for example, 77% of the people questioned in a recent poll could see no advantage to them at all from the country’s membership in the European Union. 64% of them expressed hostility toward it. Eight Italian businesses out of 10 can find nothing positive to say about the European Union. It is seen to be a creature of the banks and the big financial houses. As public relations disasters go, this one has unfolded on an epic scale as the underlying populations, long left out of consideration by the economic elites, have begun to sense the fate their masters have in store for them.

Leaving underlying populations out of consideration was a special feature of the planning that went into globalization. They have been voiceless. In America, Trump gave them a voice, and they responded to him with their political support. It did not matter that he came before them without a plan for their deliverance. That he came to them at all mattered. He understood the depth of the anger and alienation in America against a status quo personified by his opponent, Hillary Clinton, whose repeated and munificently rewarded speeches before the captains of finance on Wall Street effectively branded her as the safe candidate for all who wanted to leave existing economic arrangements fundamentally undisturbed.

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Jul 162015
 
 July 16, 2015  Posted by at 4:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


John Collier Grandfather Romero, 99 years old. Trampas, New Mexico 1943

China’s Debt-to-GDP Ratio Just Climbed to a Record High (Bloomberg)
China Stock Suspensions Opens Can Of Derivatives Worms (Reuters)
Greek Lawmakers Pass Austerity Bill Despite Strong SYRIZA Dissent (Kathimerini)
EMU Brutality In Greece Has Destroyed The Trust Of Europe’s Left (AEP)
Lexit: The Left Must Now Campaign To Leave The EU (Guardian)
There’s No End In Sight To The Greco-European Drama (Guardian)
Shock Announcement From IMF Reveals Greece Was Duped by Europe (EI)
The EU Shot Its Greek Hostage, Now Spain Is Nervous (Fiscal Times)
Greece’s Lessons for an Indebted World (WSJ)
13 Short Lessons From The Greek Crisis (J.W. Mason)
The Euro-Summit ‘Agreement’ on Greece – Annotated (Yanis Varoufakis)
I Love Germany. And Greece. And Especially Finland. (Waldman)
IMF Chief: Greek Bailout Talks a ‘Colossal’ Challenge Going Forward (WSJ)
Greek Pudding (Jim Kunstler)
What’s Wrong with Our Monetary System and How to Fix It (Kuzminski)
Kiwi Dollar Falls As Dairy Prices Plunge At Latest Auction (NZ Herald)

Private debt: 207%.

China’s Debt-to-GDP Ratio Just Climbed to a Record High (Bloomberg)

While China’s economic expansion beat analysts’ forecasts in the second quarter, the country’s debt levels increased at an even faster pace. Outstanding loans for companies and households stood at a record 207% of GDP at the end of June, up from 125% in 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show. China’s stimulus, including interest rate and reserve-ratio cuts to shore up growth, threatens to delay the country’s efforts to reduce its debt, posing risks to the financial stability of the world’s second-largest economy. Nonperforming loans had already climbed by a record 140 billion yuan ($23 billion) in the first quarter as the expansion in gross domestic product slowed.

“It’s quite an alarming issue,” says Bo Zhuang, a China economist at London research firm Trusted Sources. “The government is trying very hard to slow down the pace of the leveraging up, but they are not deleveraging. The debt-to-GDP ratio will continue to go up.”
China’s economy expanded 7% in the three months through June from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday, unchanged from the first quarter and beating economists’ estimates of 6.8%. Corporate and household borrowing rose 12% in June from a year earlier. China went on an unprecedented borrowing binge following the 2008 global financial crisis and has been struggling to clean it up ever since. Rising debt will keep slowing the country’s growth, according to Ruchir Sharma at Morgan Stanley

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Do we even want to know?

China Stock Suspensions Opens Can Of Derivatives Worms (Reuters)

The suspension of hundreds of mainland China stocks during a market plunge from mid-June could lead to disputes between banks and their clients over the valuation of billions of dollars of equity derivatives. Banks dealing in derivatives are concerned that valuation terms covering market disruptions in other Asian markets, such as trading halts when stocks move up or down by the exchange’s daily range limits, might not apply to the wave of stock suspensions in China. As China’s stocks tumbled by 30 percent in less than a month, around 1,500 listed companies, more than half the market, suspended their own stocks in a bid to sit out the rout.

“It’s not yet clear if the existing disruption event language for other Asian jurisdictions can be applied to China or how the existing disruption definitions for limit-up, limit-down would apply to suspended stocks,” said Keith Noyes, regional director, Asia Pacific, at the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), which represents the world’s largest derivatives dealers. Noyes and an in-house lawyer at a major Asian dealer said banks were reviewing the issue. “There could be wrangling over issues such as whether the Shanghai composite index closing price, which would generally be the easiest to use to value contracts, is a good price or a disrupted price, given that so many stocks are now suspended,” said Noyes.

Dealers have written at least $150 billion of outstanding over-the-counter (OTC) equity derivatives on mainland-listed shares, according to estimates by Shanghai-based investment consultancy Z-Ben Advisors. When drawing-up such instruments, most dealers draw on ISDA standard definitions as a basis for valuing equity derivative positions when the underlying stock market is disrupted. The language was drawn up in 2008 following disruptions in the South Korean and Taiwan markets, when China’s markets were all but closed to outside investors, and applies to a number of Asian markets, including Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, but not mainland China. Noyes said the dealer community may need to reach an agreement on whether it could be extended to China to help more easily resolve disputes.

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Major shuffle coming?!

Greek Lawmakers Pass Austerity Bill Despite Strong SYRIZA Dissent (Kathimerini)

Greek Parliament passed the prior actions demanded by lenders to pave the way for bridge financing and a third bailout in a vote during the early hours of Thursday morning. A total of 229 MPs voted for the measures, 64 voted against, six voted present and one was absent. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw 32 of his MPs vote against the measures, while another six abstained. All of the deputies from coalition partner Independent Greeks backed the legislation. This means that the number of coalition lawmakers supporting the bill remained above the 120-mark, which is the level below which the government is considered not to have a mandate to continue.

Before the vote, Tsipras said the agreement with lenders was the only viable option open to him and challenged rebels within his party to propose a better one. In his speech before Parliament, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos sought to defend Greece’s agreement with creditors as a necessary evil. “It’s a difficult agreement, a deal which only time will show if it is economically viable,” he said. “I don’t know if we did the right thing, but I know we felt we had no choice,” he said. “We never said this was a good agreement,” he added, noting that “a lot will depend on how politicians will handle the many changes included in the agreement.”

Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis, for his part, declared that “these are moments for responsibility,” noting that everyone “must state clearly where they stand on Greece’s dilemma. The government received a half-finished second bailout which was frozen and was confronted by non-viable system,” he said. SYRIZA’s parliamentary spokesman Nikos Filis accused eurozone officials of executing a “coup” at a summit in Brussels on Monday when the agreement was reached. Their aim, he said, was “to topple the Greek government, to give the message that a leftist administration cannot survive in Europe.”

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“The lesson that they will draw from this debacle is: negotiating with Germany is a waste of time; be willing to act unilaterally, be willing to default unilaterally, have a plan for achieving a primary surplus if you haven’t already achieved it, have a hard default and euro exit option in your back pocket, and be willing to use it at the first sign of hassle from the ECB,”

EMU Brutality In Greece Has Destroyed The Trust Of Europe’s Left (AEP)

The EU establishment henceforth faces what it has always feared: a political war on two fronts at once. It is long been fighting an expanding coaltion of free marketeers, parliamentary “souverainistes”, anti-immigrant populists on the Right. Its has now lost its remaining emotional hold on the Left after the scorched-earth treatment of Greece over the past five months – culminating in the vindictive decision to impose yet harsher terms on this crushed nation just days after its cri de coeur in a landslide referendum.
This has been coming for a long time. We Conservatives have watched in disbelief as one Socialist party after another immolates itself on the altar of monetary union, defending a project that favours the elites – a “bankers’ ramp”, as the old Left used to call it.

We have watched our friends on the Left apologise for 1930s policies. We have seen them defend a regime of pro-cyclical fiscal cuts imposed on the whole eurozone by a handful of “Ordoliberal” reactionaries in the German finance minstry. To the extent that these gentlemen know what they are doing – and most Nobel economists would dispute that – they have certainly not risen to the challenge of pan-EMU leadership. As ex-official Philippe Legrain writes in Foreign Policy, Germany is proving to be a “calamitous hegemon”. By a twist of fate, the Left has let itself become the enforcer of an economic structure that has led to levels of unemployment once unthinkable for a post-war social democratic government with its own currency and sovereign instruments.

It has somehow found ways to justify a youth jobless rate still running at 42pc in Italy, 49pc in Spain and 50pc in Greece, despite mass emigration. It has acquiesced in the Long Slump of the past six years, deeper in aggregate than the span from 1929 to 1935. It meekly endorsed the EU Fiscal Compact, knowing that it imposes a legal requirement on eurozone states to slash their public debt by 1.5pc of GDP in France, 2pc in Spain and 3.5pc in Italy and Portugal, every year for the next two decades – a formula for near permanent depression. It outlaws Keynesian economics, and indeed classical economics. It is a doomsday construct. This is what they agreed to, and what they have reluctantly defended, because until now they dared not question the sanctity of EMU.

And so the once mighty Dutch Labour Party has been reduced to a pitiful relic. Pasok has been obliterated in Greece. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party has lost its left-wing to the rebel Podemos movement, freshly victorious in Barcelona. France’s Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, has been languishing at 24pc in the polls as the French working class defects to the Front National. Yet events in Greece have finally broken the spell. “Progressives should be appalled by EU’s ruination of Greece. It’s time to reclaim the Eurosceptic cause,” writes Owen Jones in a remarkable piece in The Guardian. The new term “Lexit” is gaining currency. The voices of Left are uneasy. Their instincts are to oppose everything that UKIP stands for. “At first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance,” Mr Jones writes.

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Perhaps “Leftit” is a better term. And not just in Britain.

Lexit: The Left Must Now Campaign To Leave The EU (Guardian)

At first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance. As austerity-ravaged Greece was placed under what Yanis Varoufakis terms a “postmodern occupation”, its sovereignty overturned and compelled to implement more of the policies that have achieved nothing but economic ruin, Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast. “Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage,” writes George Monbiot, explaining his about-turn. “All my life I’ve been pro-Europe,” says Caitlin Moran, “but seeing how Germany is treating Greece, I am finding it increasingly distasteful.” Nick Cohen believes the EU is being portrayed “with some truth, as a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution”.

“How can the left support what is being done?” asks Suzanne Moore. “The European ‘Union’. Not in my name.” There are senior Labour figures in Westminster and Holyrood privately moving to an “out” position too. The list goes on, and it is growing. The more leftwing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass. For those of us on the left who have always been critical of the EU, it has felt like a lonely crusade. But left support for withdrawal – “Lexit”, if you like – is not new. If anything, this new wave of left Euroscepticism represents a reawakening. Much of the left campaigned against entering the European Economic Community when Margaret Thatcher and the like campaigned for membership.

It would threaten the ability of leftwing governments to implement policies, people like my parents thought, and would forbid the sort of industrial activism needed to protect domestic industries. But then Thatcherism happened, and an increasingly battered and demoralised left began to believe that the only hope of progressive legislation was via Brussels. The misery of the left was, in the 1980s, matched by the triumphalism of the free marketeers, who had transformed Britain beyond many of their wildest ambitions, and began to balk at the restraints put on their dreams by the European project.

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“The real disaster is if everything stays as it is..”

There’s No End In Sight To The Greco-European Drama (Guardian)

The last act of the classical Greek tragedy ends with two outcomes: disaster and catharsis. In the current Greek debt drama, however, there has been no catharsis. The purification has failed to materialise. It would have meant that both sides had seen the error of their ways and come to their senses. Instead, the madness continues: Greece will take on €86bn of debt in addition to the existing €317bn (not including the emergency loans from the ECB). From Angela Merkel through François Hollande to Alexis Tsipras, all eurozone government leaders assert that Greece will emerge from over-indebtedness more quickly this way and will be economically healed in three years. Europe pretends that the bailout will help. And Greece acts as if everything is fine now.

The Brussels summit was not a disaster, though. Greece does not fall into chaos and the euro remains stable. Maybe Walter Benjamin, who once said: “The real disaster is if everything stays as it is,” was right. When it comes to classical drama, it seems we have not reached the final act after all. The fourth act, the “retardation”, continues. The action is slowing down, with suspensory moments: the troika returns to Athens and monitors the situation, while the Greek authorities delay and tinker about again. Until the action moves into a phase of extreme tension towards the finale. When will that be? Merkel hopes it will be after the next parliamentary elections.

For the Greeks, there is more at stake in this drama than there is for the Germans. The Germans will lose a lot of money at the most. The Greeks, however, have long since come under the tutelage of the donors. What Tsipras signed on Monday is the permanent abandonment of Greek sovereignty. Athens will be told what budget surplus it must achieve and what taxes it should raise. Fiscal sovereignty is broken. The constitution will be interfered with to impose pension cuts. The administration and judiciary must be rebuilt according to the standards of the northerners. It is not about a bailout loan, but it is avowedly about nation building, as if Greece were a failed state. Even the IMF has condemned the deal as unworkable and said the levels of debt are unsustainable.

Greek culture is being encroached upon in every way. The Sunday opening of shops is being enforced, whether the still strongly religious population likes it or not. Consumption is more important than orthodox religion – that is the credo of the north. In international law the internal affairs of a nation are largely taboo; in the euro protectorate there are no taboos.

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And more than once.

Shock Announcement From IMF Reveals Greece Was Duped by Europe (EI)

The IMF has fiercely criticised the bailout deal offered to Greece by the Eurozone, revealing that the Eurogroup of finance ministers had ignored its advice when negotiating with Greece over the weekend. In a communique released last night, the IMF said Greece’s public debt was now “highly unsustainable” before concluding: “Greece’s debt can now only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far.” It now appears that the deal, rather than seeking to help the Greek economy, was designed principally to teach Greece a lesson and remove Syriza from power. Today the Greek parliament votes on whether to accept the austerity deal that it was bullied into over the weekend during negotiations dominated by Germany.

Certainly, the IMF bombshell is likely to stiffen the resolve of the those Syriza MPs such as Papas Lapavitsas, an economics Professor from the School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London, who have long argued that a Greek exit from the euro is the only realistic choice open to revive the Greek economy. He’s previously outlined these ideas in articles he has written for the Guardian and for ThePressProject. Regardless of the immediate outcome of the vote, the whole drama has weakened transparency and democracy in Europe. The euro project is now clearly seen as a failing project and its eventual break-up appears inevitable to many. The only questions remains when and how exactly it will occur.

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“I don’t take hostages I’m not willing to shoot..”

The EU Shot Its Greek Hostage, Now Spain Is Nervous (Fiscal Times)

In a battle over banking regulation at the end of the Clinton administration, former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas remarked on the importance of being willing to inflict pain when negotiations don t go your way. “I don’t take hostages I’m not willing to shoot”, Gramm explained. The point Gramm was making is that once you demonstrate that you don’t make idle threats, future negotiations are easier. The treatment of Greece by its European creditors may have had a similar effect. In Spain, which is even more indebted than Greece, the leftist Podemos Party has been gaining influence, in part by making promises in line with those made by Greece’s Syriza Party. In May, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, demanded that Spain’s debt be restructured and that debt payments be tied to economic growth.

“For Spain to be able to meet its international obligations, we have to link debt payments to economic growth and expansive job creation policies”, he said. A similar argument had been made by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who so aggravated his European counterparts that he was eventually replaced. The reaction of Podemos to the punishing deal to enable another Greek bailout was telling. After battling to the bitter end, Syriza was forced to accept a humiliating offer from its creditors. In a deal primarily driven by Germany and other northern European countries, Greeks face pension cuts, huge tax increases, reduced services, and the forced sale of $50 billion worth of the country s physical assets.

In Madrid on Tuesday, it was as though the Eurogroup, fresh from dealing with Greece, had turned to Spain with smoking gun in hand and asked, “What were you saying”? The answer from Podemos top economic policy officer, Nacho Alvarez, was essentially, “Who, me? Nothing. Nothing at all.” Speaking to reporters, Alvarez said that debt restructuring wasn t really necessary after all. ‘Spain, he said, is not Greece’. Or so he must fervently hope. “Greece and Spain are different economies in very different situations which demand different economic strategies”, Alvarez said at a press conference. He added, “Podemos and Syriza have different economic approaches and said that he is confident the country’s current programs to stimulate economic growth will allow it to manage its debts.

Whether Podemos has detected a significant shift in the country s economic future over the last two months or has had a change of heart more related to the Eurogroup s treatment of Greece is up for debate. However, if part of the aim of Greece’s creditors was to punish Syriza pour encourager les autres, there seems to be little room for debate at all. It worked. In the near term, at least, it worked.

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Defaults come in clusters.

Greece’s Lessons for an Indebted World (WSJ)

Sovereign defaults are like cockroaches: There’s seldom just one. Greece’s debts are so high, its recession so deep and its economy so uncompetitive, it’s easy to play down the lessons it offers to the rest of the world. But while Greece is exceptional, the entire world is suffering from an overhang of debt. Since 2007, public debt in advanced economies (including national, state and local governments) has risen by 35 percentage points of total economic output, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. In many countries it has risen by far more: 47 points in Italy, 50 in Britain, 63 in Japan, 83 in Portugal. A country can shed such steep debt several ways: via austerity, economic growth and low real (that is, inflation-adjusted) interest rates.

More common than appreciated, though, is the more radical step of restructuring debt by reducing interest, lengthening the maturity or slashing the amount owed. “Will Greece be the last sovereign debt restructuring of this cycle? No,” says Susan Lund of McKinsey. “Look around the world and you can see other countries with very toxic combinations of high debt and low growth.” In their 2009 history of financial crises, Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff observe that “country defaults tend to come in clusters.” In the 1930s, the Great Depression triggered defaults throughout Europe and Latin America. In the 1980s, plunging commodity prices triggered a wave of defaults by emerging economies that had borrowed heavily from Western banks.

Noteworthy defaults this time around have been rare: they include Greece, Cyprus and Argentina (the latter linked to its prior-decade restructuring). The quietude is unlikely to last. Ukraine is now seeking to restructure its debts to private investors, as is Puerto Rico (which, to be sure, is not a sovereign country). Opposition politicians in Ireland, Spain and Italy have in the past pressed to restructure some of those countries’ debts, which according to McKinsey stood last year at 115%, 132% and 139% of gross domestic product, respectively.

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“The euro system today is an instrument in the hands of European capital to roll back the gains of social democracy.”

13 Short Lessons From The Greek Crisis (J.W. Mason)

The deal, obviously it looks bad. No sense in spinning: It’s unconditional surrender. It is bad. There’s no shortage of writing about how we got here. I do think that we — in the US and elsewhere — should resist the urge to criticize the Syriza government, even for what may seem, to us, like obvious mistakes. The difficulty of taking a position in opposition to “Europe” should not be underestimated. It’s one of the ironies of history that the prestige of social democracy, earned through genuine victories by and for working people, is now one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of those who would destroy it. Personally I don’t think I can be a useful contributor to the debate about Syriza’s strategy. But we also need to understand the economic logic of the situation. So, 13 theses on the Greek crisis and the crisis next time. These points are meant as starting points for further discussion. I will try to write about each of them in more detail, as I have time.

1. The euro system today is an instrument in the hands of European capital to roll back the gains of social democracy. On twitter, Marshall Steinbaum says, “That is why everyone supports the euro: as a route around their domestic political difficulties, ie, voting.” I think that’s right, I think the overriding goal of the system today is to create a set of apparently objective constraints that allow elected governments to take unpopular measures while saying “we had no choice, the markets require it.” I’ve written about this here and here.

2. A great myth of the euro is that it’s been good for Germans. It’s a puzzle, the kind of story that calls for dialectics, that Germany has both Europe’s strongest working class and most advanced social democracy, and its most rigidly conservative elite. For a while those forces were roughly balanced, but over the past generation German workers have done the worst, absolutely and relatively, of any country in Europe. The north-south divide in Europe perhaps analogizes to the racial divide in the US, so perhaps the same slogans apply: Black and white, unite and fight!

3. The euro is not a new gold standard. This is a tricky one — I feel a clear vision here requires one to first see how the euro is a new gold standard, and only then seeing how it isn’t one after all. Despite the dreams of its supporters (and fears of its opponents) the euro system does not provide an automatic constraint on the choices of elected governments. In the abstract, it looks more like Keynes’ proposals at Bretton Woods. Its actual functioning as the enforcement mechanism of neoliberalism, requires the active intervention of the authorities.

4. The ECB is a political actor. You may think that the ECB has violated the norms of independent central banks, or you may think it has revealed their true content. But either way it is actively intervening in the political process to reshape society in fundamental ways, not just following a set of objective rules to fulfill a narrow technical function. It was already evident several years ago that the ECB was selectively withholding support from financial markets to put pressure on elected officials, and now it is undeniable.

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Brutally honest. Yanis voted NO last night. Can he stay on as MP?

The Euro-Summit ‘Agreement’ on Greece – Annotated (Yanis Varoufakis)

The Euro Summit statement (or Terms of Greece’s Surrender – as it will go down in history) follows, annotated by yours truly. The original text is untouched with my notes confined to square brackets (and in red). Read and weep…

Euro Summit Statement Brussels, 12 July 2015

The Euro Summit stresses the crucial need to rebuild trust with the Greek authorities [i.e. the Greek government must introduce new stringent austerity directed at the weakest Greeks that have already suffered grossly] as a pre- requisite for a possible future agreement on a new ESM programme [i.e. for a new extend-and-pretend loan].

In this context, the ownership by the Greek authorities is key [i.e. the Syriza government must sign a declaration of having defected to the troika’s ‘logic’], and successful implementation should follow policy commitments.

A euro area Member State requesting financial assistance from the ESM is expected to address, wherever possible, a similar request to the IMF This is a precondition for the Eurogroup to agree on a new ESM programme. Therefore Greece will request continued IMF support (monitoring and financing) from March 2016 [i.e. Berlin continues to believe that the Commission cannot be trusted to ‘police’ Europe’s own ‘bailout’ programs].

Given the need to rebuild trust with Greece, the Euro Summit welcomes the commitments of the Greek authorities to legislate without delay a first set of measures [i.e. Greece must subject itself to fiscal waterboarding, even before any financing is offered].

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“Perhaps Hell is full of creditors who failed to fit through the eye of a needle..”

I Love Germany. And Greece. And Especially Finland. (Waldman)

If you are sympathetic to Greece and therefore mad at Germany, you are a sucker. If you think the Greeks are lazier and more dishonest than is usual in the human species, you are also a sucker, and have let a political framing cajole you into bigotry. If you think Germans are unusually cruel, you have also let politics make a bigot of you. If you are taking sides in a conflict framed as nation versus nation, you have already taken the wrong side. You’ve made a basic error, like picking a day when a tricky prosecutor asks whether you committed the murder yesterday or last Thursday. (I presume your innocence.)

You can usually find evidence in support of lots of different narratives. Hypotheses of human affairs are not in general mutually exclusive. Many different stories can in some sense be true. Among those in-some-sense-true narratives, we should choose to emphasize those whose application will lead to better social outcomes over other potentially defensible narratives. That’s why I frequently argue that we should emphasize the role of creditors rather than debtors when lending arrangements go bad. I am not making a claim about God’s view of the subject. Perhaps Hell is a debtors’ prison, and there is truly no greater evil than failing to repay a loan. Perhaps Hell is full of creditors who failed to fit through the eye of a needle. These questions are, I think, beyond the sort of knowledge that should inform policy.

What is clear is that unserviceable debt arrangements, when they accumulate, are enormously costly in human and economic terms, and so we need norms and institutions to regulate credit extension. My view, which I think almost anyone with a passing familiarity with the human species would have to concede, is that people under financial stress make decisions with a view to a shorter-term time horizon and with less capacity to be fastidious than people who have already financed their own immediate term. That is why I argue that we should emphasize norms that hold creditors accountable more than norms that hold debtors accountable. Creditors as a class are capable of regulating the initiation of debt arrangements at lower cost and with greater effectiveness that debtors are.

If we want societies that yield good outcomes, then, we should impose a heavy regulatory burden on creditors, and we must choose moral narratives consistent with that. Perhaps the very worst moral narratives in all of human history are those that allocate blame on the basis of tribal, ethnic, or national groups. There is just never, ever, any sufficient reason to go there in my view. It is perfectly reasonable to hold leaders and governments accountable, as well as the institutional embodiments of interest groups. This is not because leaders individually are worse people than members of the public who may agree with their decisions. I carry no water for fairy tales about the inherent virtue of ordinary folk.

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Shouldn’t be so hard, you know what to do.

IMF Chief: Greek Bailout Talks a ‘Colossal’ Challenge Going Forward (WSJ)

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said she still had hope the eurozone would provide Greece with a substantial restructuring of the country’s debt, but warned of difficult negotiations as officials seek to complete a bailout deal in the weeks ahead. Ms. Lagarde’s comments come a day after the fund warned in a report that Greece needed much more debt relief than European officials have so far considered—an apparent effort to pressure Germany into concrete commitments on debt restructuring. Normally, the fund reserves its most honest assessments for secret, high-level meetings.

But by taking the highly unusual step of making public its bleak appraisals of Greece’s economy, Ms. Lagarde and her lieutenants are drawing a red line for the eurozone: Agree to substantial debt relief or lose the fund’s support and risk a Greek exit from the eurozone. “What I very much hope is that we can all keep to a very tight timetable and we can respond to a challenge that is colossal,” Ms. Lagarde said in an interview on CNN on Wednesday. The debt-restructuring commitments will be key as Athens tries to sell a bailout program that Greece’s voters have already rejected in a recent referendum.

The IMF and its largest shareholder, the U.S., worry that without such a commitment the government won’t be able to persuade the public or parliament to support the major budget cuts and economic overhauls creditors say are vital for the country’s financial salvation. “Up until a few months ago, our partners didn’t discuss the issue of debt restructuring,” said Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Still, he said it was “too early to judge this deal.” “We will be able to see when talks wind up in 30 to 40 days when we have the final agreement. Then we can all judge it with seriousness for the good of the country,” Mr. Tsakalotos said.

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“The eventual implosion of the European Union, and the banking system hugging its face vampire squid style, will be the financial equivalent of the Black Death..”

Greek Pudding (Jim Kunstler)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, the old saw goes. This one, alas, is a mélange of several old shit sandwiches bound in a liaison of subterfuge and seasoned with political absurdities. Having been fooled in this bistro before, citizen-patrons leave the table resigned to yet another bout of food poisoning as the music of universal upchuck rings across the European Union from Helsinki to Lisbon What is on display more brightly and clearly than ever, though, is the utter fakery of international banking. The players have lost faith in their own shenanigans. They simply go through the motions now awaiting the political fallout, which is to say the revolt of the people who can still do arithmetic. So, now Greece can supposedly expect another $90Billion-equivalent in new loans on top of the $350Billion-equivalent already racked up.

That’s rich. The loan repayment schedule must look like a map of Middle Earth. Most perplexing — especially for those on summer hiatus in which time seems to be suspended — is the fact that the rescue package will take weeks, perhaps months, to gin up while Greece is right now so utterly paralyzed in bankruptcy that no goods can move, no bills can be paid, and the economy cannot deliver the necessities of daily life. The old refrain, “your check is in the mail” may not be so reassuring to folks who haven’t eaten for three days. Personally, I would expect the gasoline bombs to be flying around Syntagma Square before the middle of the week.

Has anyone noticed the eerie paucity of news emanating from the other hard-luck nations of the EU, namely Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland? The money hole that these deadbeats are in makes Greece look like a dimple in the sand. What, I wonder, is the message to them from the Greek negotiation melodrama? (Lend more money to real estate developers to build more houses and condos that will never be sold? That’ll work!) No, the entire EU debt fiasco harks back to the original meaning of “ring around the rosie” — a theme song of the Black Death. The eventual implosion of the European Union, and the banking system hugging its face vampire squid style, will be the financial equivalent of the Black Death. Kingdoms will fall and social systems will be turned upside down.

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“The idea of giving private banks a monopoly over money creation goes back to seventeenth century England.”

What’s Wrong with Our Monetary System and How to Fix It (Kuzminski)

Something’s profoundly wrong with our global financial system. Pope Francis is only the latest to raise the alarm: “Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.” What the Pope calls “an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules” is widely evident. What is not so clear is how we got into this situation, and what to do about it. Most people take our monetary system for granted, and are shocked to learn that the government doesn’t issue our money. Almost all of it is created by loans made “out of thin air” as bookkeeping entries by private banks.

For this sleight-of-hand, they charge interest, making a tidy profit for doing essentially nothing. The currency printed by the government – coins and bills – is a negligible amount by comparison. The idea of giving private banks a monopoly over money creation goes back to seventeenth century England. The British government, in a Faustian bargain, agreed to allow a group of private bankers to assume the national debt as collateral for the issuance of loans, confident that the state would be able to service the debt on the backs of taxpayers. And so it has been ever since. Alexander Hamilton much admired this scheme, which he called “the English system,” and he and his successors were finally able to establish it in the United States, and subsequently most of the world.

But money is too important to be left to the bankers. There is no good reason to give any private group a lucrative monopoly over the creation of money; money creation should be the public service most people mistakenly believe it to be. Further, privatized money creation allows a few large banks and financial institutions not only to profit by simply making bookkeeping entries, but to direct overall investment in the economy to their corporate cronies, not the public at large. Ordinary people can get the financing they need only on burdensome if not ruinous terms, leaving them as debt peons weighed down by mortgages, student loans, auto loans, credit card balances, etc. The interest payments extracted from these loans feed the private investment machine of Wall Street finance, represented by the ultimate creditor class: the notorious “one percenters.”

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Not looking good down under.

Kiwi Dollar Falls As Dairy Prices Plunge At Latest Auction (NZ Herald)

The latest GlobalDairyTrade auction was another shocker, the GDT price index dropping by 10.7% from the last sale a fortnight ago and with wholemilk powder prices registering their biggest fall in 12 months Whole milk powder – which is responsible for about 75% of Fonterra’s farmgate milk price – fell in price by 13.1% to US$1,848 a tonne to its lowest level in six years. Fonterra’s current milk price forecast of $5.25 per kg of milksolids for 2015/16 is based on GDT prices reaching about US$3500 a tonne towards the end of this season. Dairy NZ estimates $5.70 a kg to be the breakeven point for most farmers. AgriHQ dairy analyst Susan Kilsby said the auction result was “disastrous”.

“Farmers now face two consecutive seasons of extremely low milk prices,” she said in a commentary. “The majority of farmers can’t breakeven at such a low milk price.” Economists estimate a $1/kg drop in the milk price equates to about $2 billion less income for dairy farmers. “Farm debt levels will rise. Rural communities will suffer as farmers reduce spending to the bare essentials,” Kilsby said. AgriHQ’s theoretical 2015-16 farmgate milk price has decreased to $4.22 per kg milksolids – down 83c on a fortnight ago and $1.27 lower than a month ago. The dairy auction result was responsible for taking around 40 pips off the Kiwi dollar, and the NZ/Australian dollar cross rate dropped to below A89.50c.

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Jun 112015
 
 June 11, 2015  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle June 11 2015


Russell Lee Store, La Forge, Missouri 1938

Bond Crash Across The World As Deflation Trade Goes Horribly Wrong (AEP)
Janet Yellen Gives Asia the Jitters (William Pesek)
MSCI Backs Itself Into Corner On China Share Inclusion (Reuters)
China Approves Another 1 Trillion Yuan Local Debt Swap (WSJ)
Greece is Playing an Ultimatum Game (Bloomberg)
Markets Surge On Rumours Of German Compromise On Greece (Guardian)
Germany Against 3rd Greek Bailout Under Any Circumstances: BILD (Reuters)
IMF’s ‘Never Again’ Experience In Greece May Get Worse (Reuters)
Ruling On Pension Cuts Will Cost Greek State €1.5 Billion (Kathimerini)
Growth, What Growth? Thatcherism Fails To Produce The Goods (Guardian)
Iceland’s Economy Recovered After It Jailed Bankers And Let Banks Go Bust (Ind.)
Iceland: The Economy That Came In From The Cold? (Independent)
The New Currency Trade: Short The Kiwi (CNBC)
Trends Show Crowdfunding To Surpass Venture Capital in 2016 (Forbes)
The Microfinance Delusion: Who Really Wins? (Hickel)
US Shifts Stance on Big Pharma in TPP Talks (NY Times)
TTIP Vote Postponed As European Parliament Descends Into Panic (Independent)
Maybe WWIII Won’t Occur, But The Damages Are Already Horrible (Zuesse)
US Draws EU Into Russia Crusade, Against Our Interests – Ex-French PM (RT)
Poll Highlights Divisions Among Public On Tackling Ukraine Crisis (RT)
Why Our Brains Don’t Process The Gravest Threats To Humanity (Brian Merchant)

Long term, the threat of inflation is non-existent. Money supply can be artificially lifted, but spending can not.

Bond Crash Across The World As Deflation Trade Goes Horribly Wrong (AEP)

The global deflation trade is unwinding with a vengeance. Yields on 10-year Bunds blew through 1pc today, spearheading a violent repricing of credit across the world. The scale is starting to match the ‘taper tantrum’ of mid-2013 when the US Federal Reserve issued its first gentle warning that quantitative easing would not last forever, and that the long-feared inflexion point was nearing in the international monetary cycle. Paper losses over the last three months have reached $1.2 trillion. Yields have jumped by 175 basis points in Indonesia, 160 in South Africa, 150 in Turkey, 130 in Mexico, and 80 in Australia. The epicentre is in the eurozone as the “QE” bet goes horribly wrong. Bund yields hit 1.05pc this morning before falling back in wild trading, up 100 basis points since March. French, Italian, and Spanish yields have moved in lockstep.

A parallel drama is unfolding in America where the Pimco Total Return Fund has just revealed that it slashed its holdings of US debt to 8.5pc of total assets in May, from 23.4pc a month earlier. This sort of move in the staid fixed income markets is exceedingly rare. The 10-year US Treasury yield – still the global benchmark price of money – has jumped 48 points to 2.47pc in eight trading sessions. “It is capitulation out there, and a lot of pain,” said Marc Ostwald from ADM. The bond crash has been an accident waiting to happen for months. Money supply aggregates have been surging all this year in Europe and the US, setting a trap for a small army of hedge funds and ‘prop desks’ trying to squeeze a few last drops out of a spent deflation trade. “We we’re too dogmatic,” confessed one bond trader at RBS.

Data collected by Gabriel Stein at Oxford Economics shows that ‘narrow’ M1 money in the eurozone has been growing at a rate of 16.2pc (annualized) over the last six months. You do not have to be monetarist expert to see the glaring anomaly. Broader M3 money has been rising at an 8.4pc rate on the same measure, a pace not seen since 2008. Economic historians will one day ask how it was possible for €2 trillion of eurozone bonds – a third of the government bond market – to have been trading at negative yields in the early spring of 2015 even as the reflation hammer was already coming down with crushing force. “It was the greater fool theory. They always thought there would be some other sucker to buy at an even higher price. Now we are returning to sanity,” said Mr Stein.

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But setting up emerging markers for huge losses is something Wall Street can reap huge profits from.

Janet Yellen Gives Asia the Jitters (William Pesek)

Janet Yellen probably doesn’t think about Bangkok, Jakarta or Manila very often – the Federal Reserve chair has enough to worry about in Washington. But as she continues to ponder hiking interest rates, the frenetic selloffs in stock markets on the other side of the world should give her pause. Stock exchanges in emerging markets are on their longest losing streak since 1990; since a late-April high, the MSCI Southeast Asia Index has lost almost 9%. If Yellen is wondering whether the developing world is ready for a tightening of U.S. monetary policy, the answer from Asia has been a resounding no. Late last year, a tightening of 25 basis-points would probably not have posed any problems.

But, in the interim, China’s slowdown has darkened the global economic outlook (even as its own equity bourses continue to skyrocket). Selloffs in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere speak to the growing anxiety about the two biggest actors in the global economy. The most immediate worry is the trade shock emanating from China. Massive share rallies in Shanghai and Shenzhen are papering over a growing number of economic cracks in China, including deflation and weak household spending. Despite government pledges to achieve 7% growth, sliding commodity prices suggests Chinese growth is decelerating.

And MSCI’s decision not to include China in its indices is a reminder that Asia has been hitching its future on an economy that isn’t yet ready for prime time. Asia also worries that China’s problems will be exacerbated by the Fed. Monetary purists will be tempted to dismiss the argument out of hand – the Fed should focus on keeping the U.S. economy stable and healthy, because that’s ultimately in the best interests of everyone from Seoul to Sao Paulo. What this line of thinking misses, though, are the feedback effects created by Fed policy. As the dollar rises, it draws money away from the developing world – often violently so. Consider how a strong dollar helped precipitate Asia’s 1997-1998 crisis and Latin America’s a decade earlier.

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Well, it protects China’s grandmas from even bigger losses.

MSCI Backs Itself Into Corner On China Share Inclusion (Reuters)

MSCI’s decision to defer including Chinese shares in its emerging market benchmark share indexes for a second time may have trapped the index provider into making promises it can’t keep, both to Beijing and to its investor constituents. While both MSCI and Chinese state media spun the decision as a speed bump on the way to inevitable inclusion, which will allow and in some cases require foreign funds to buy into Chinese stocks, the agendas of Chinese bureaucrats and foreign institutional investors are much further apart than they seem. “With this announcement (MSCI has) further hemmed themselves in, as they’ve outlined exactly what China needs to do. And if China satisfies them, they’ll be within their rights to ask why MSCI hasn’t lived up to its side of the bargain,” said one source familiar with MSCI’s strategy.

MSCI’s says the process requires time. “It wouldn’t be a negative, it would simply be the recognition that this process needs to take its own pace,” said Remy Briand, MSCI managing director and global head of research, when asked whether there could be fallout for the company if it finds itself delaying inclusion again next year. The changes foreign fund managers want are not minor tweaks. MSCI’s clients want Beijing to open its capital accounts so they can reliably move their money in and out of China’s markets, but the economy is facing its slowest growth in decades, which has led to capital flowing out of the country.

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Is it QE? It’s swapping shadow bank debt for central bank debt, with a large difference in duration and interest rates.

China Approves Another 1 Trillion Yuan Local Debt Swap (WSJ)

China will let its cities and provinces issue another 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) of bonds as it continues an effort to rev up the economy and help local governments refinance their hefty debt burdens. The move, which doubles the amount Beijing initially authorized, will help local governments refinance 1.86 trillion yuan in debt due this year, according to Xinhua. It said swapping 1 trillion yuan will save local governments about 50 billion yuan in annual interest payments. Like the previous issue, local governments can effectively swap the debt for loans from China’s central bank. But Chinese officials continued to contend that such swaps aren’t the equivalent of a common central-bank tool known as quantitative easing, in which central banks buy bonds as a way to inject money into the financial system.

The move, which was expected, underscores Beijing’s continued worries about slowing economic growth and mounting debt. China’s 7% first-quarter year-over-year growth rate was the slowest in six years, and recent trade and inflation data continue to point to soft domestic demand. China’s local governments had run up 17.9 trillion yuan of debt as of mid-2013, or $2.89 trillion at current exchange rates, according to the most recent official data. That was up sharply from negligible levels six years earlier. Much of the debt was from a massive stimulus push in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. In recent years, China’s local governments circumvented rules that bar them from borrowing to fund the infrastructure and housing projects that have been essential in maintaining fast economic growth.

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A power game. Not that they want to. They were forced into it.

Greece is Playing an Ultimatum Game (Bloomberg)

Hence, another classic game – the ultimatum game – might provide a better analogy. In the game, a player receives some money — say, $100 — but can keep it only by convincing a second player to accept part of the sum. If both parties are interested solely in maximizing their financial well-being, the first player should be able to offer as little as $1. After all, for the second player, $1 is better than nothing. When real people play the game, though, that’s not how it works out. The second player tends to reject any offer less than $30, seeing it as insulting. As a result, neither player gets any money. The game reaches inside people and stirs up deep emotions, demonstrating that humans are not dispassionate economic calculators.

You can’t understand it without thinking about human perceptions of fairness, justice and honor. This seems to fit the current situation in Europe. The creditors think Greece, in a position of weakness, should be grateful for the relief they’ve offered and get on with economic reforms. After all, it’s better than nothing. Yet Greece, while recognizing the need for reform, sees that the creditors can afford to do more and feels insulted by the suffering it must endure. If necessary, the Greeks are ready to risk blowing up the euro to preserve their independence and dignity. From this perspective, it’s not really an economic confrontation at all.

The technicalities of funding mechanisms and repayment schedules are merely the instruments through which power is being exerted from one side and resisted from the other. So when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the creditors’ latest proposal “absurd,” it might have been because, from the broad perspective of human decency, it was absurd. And when Jean-Claude Juncker, the chief executive of the EU, reportedly refused to answer a subsequent phone call from Tsipras, he might have done so because he was completely flummoxed by Greece’s irrationality. The ultimatum game teaches us that the Greek standoff can’t be understood through the lens of economic rationality alone. Those who attempt to do so risk making a costly miscalculation.

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A staggered reform program and loan program may yet be a decisive move.

Markets Surge On Rumours Of German Compromise On Greece (Guardian)

Stock markets surged on Wednesday after reports of a German proposal to allow Greece to receive a drip-feed of loans in return for a staggered reform programme. The softening of the German stance towards Athens cheered investors keen to see a sustainable rescue of the debt-stricken country after more than four months of wrangling. According to the reports, the chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to accept a much-reduced reform programme, slimmed down to just one or two areas as part of an initial package, to salvage a deal with Greece and prevent it exiting the eurozone. Shares on the FTSE 100 moved ahead 76 points or 1.1%, while the German Dax and French CAC jumped 2.4% and 1.75%, respectively.

The EC, the IMF and the ECB, which have lent Greece €240bn (£175bn) between them, had until recently demanded all-encompassing reforms in return for the last tranche of bailout funds worth €7.6bn. Bloomberg said it spoke to at least two German officials close to the bailout talks who described the compromise deal as a possible way to end the impasse between the radical leftist Greek government and its creditors. The report, later denied by the German government as official policy, followed statements by Merkel and the French president, François Hollande, that they were ready to meet Greece’s embattled prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, at a summit in Brussels. Merkel said a solution was possible as she arrived for a summit of EU and Latin American leaders, just hours after the EC dismissed the latest Athens plan, saying it failed to address the need for deep changes.

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Right wing Germany rears its ugly head once more.

Germany Against 3rd Greek Bailout Under Any Circumstances: BILD (Reuters)

The German government is against a third aid programme for Greece under any circumstances, even if there was an agreement between Athens and its international lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal, the German mass daily Bild reported on Thursday. Instead, the current second aid programme could be extended and be broadened with funds from other programmes such as the €10.9 billion that were originally designed to rescue Greek banks, but were not needed, the report said. However, this could only happen if Athens was willing to implement substantial reforms, it added. “We don’t want to make our people bleed just because the ones in charge in Greece are not doing their job,” the mass daily quoted a member of the government as saying.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing growing opposition among her ruling conservatives to granting Greece any further bailout funds. Athens’ unwillingness to accept further economic reforms is turning a growing minority of Merkel’s own conservatives against the prospect of unlocking a final tranche of Greece’s second bailout or agreeing to a third aid programme. Greece’s EU/IMF lenders have asked Athens to commit to sell off state assets, enforce pension cuts and press on with labour reforms, two sources familiar with the plan told Reuters last week, demands that would cross the Greek government’s “red lines”. If Greece were to accept the plan, lenders would aim to unlock €10.9 billion in unused bank bailout funds that were returned to the European Financial Stability Fund. This would enable Greece to cover its financial needs through July and August, the sources have said.

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“A 2010 IMF staff position note described default on any debt in advanced economies as “unnecessary, undesirable and unlikely”, yet 18 months later the IMF advocated a 70% “haircut”..”

IMF’s ‘Never Again’ Experience In Greece May Get Worse (Reuters)

For the IMF, five years of playing junior partner in European bailouts for Greece has been a “never again” experience, and the worst may be yet to come. The global lender has lent far more to Athens than to any other borrower, contributing nearly one-third of the total €240 billion, with the rest coming from euro zone governments and the bloc’s rescue fund. But it has sat uncomfortably in the side-car of the Greek rescue. Called in by EU paymaster Germany to try to keep the European institutions and the Greeks honest, the Washington-based IMF has never had control of the program. Now Greece may be about to become the first European nation to default on the IMF, putting it in exclusive company with Zimbabwe and Argentina.

Athens postponed a €300 million installment due last week and bundled it with others due this month into a single €1.6 billion payment due to the IMF at the end of June. Greece has said it can only pay if it gets new funds from creditors or is allowed to sell more short-term debt to Greek banks, which in turn hinges on a stalled cash-for-reform deal. Critics say the IMF has damaged its credibility by going along with political fudges to keep Greece in the euro zone rather than insisting on write-offs, first by private creditors and now by European governments, to make its debt sustainable. “One of the most important lessons for the IMF from the Greek program should be that a multilateral institution should not institutionalize special interests of a subset of its membership,” said Ousmene Mandeng, a former IMF official who is now an economics adviser.

“The interest of the IMF is not necessarily aligned with the EU/ECB,” he said. In 2013, the IMF published a critical evaluation of its own role in the first Greek bailout in 2010, arguing that it should have insisted on a “haircut” on Greece’s debt to private creditors from the outset. Instead it went along with European governments frightened of a Lehman-style market meltdown and keen to shield their banks from losses. The report, compiled by Fund staff, said IMF officials had doubts about Greece’s ability to repay its loan at the time but agreed to the plan because of fears of contagion from Greece’s predicament affecting other European states.

A 2010 IMF staff position note described default on any debt in advanced economies as “unnecessary, undesirable and unlikely”, yet 18 months later the IMF advocated a 70% “haircut” on Greek government debt as a condition for continued involvement in lending to Athens. Now IMF chief Christine Lagarde is hinting that European governments need to give Greece debt relief to make the numbers add up, but since this is politically unacceptable in Germany, she has had to talk in code in public. “Clearly, if there were to be slippages from those (fiscal) targets, for the whole program to add up, then financing has to be considered,” Lagarde told a news conference last week.

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Tsipras can take this to the troika.

Ruling On Pension Cuts Will Cost Greek State €1.5 Billion (Kathimerini)

The government will have to find €1 to 1.5 billion to cover the cost of a Council of State decision published on Wednesday, which calls for pensioners in the private sector and at state-owned corporations (DEKOs) to have their retirement pay restored to 2012 levels. In a majority decision (14 vs 11), Greece’s highest administrative court judged the reduction to main and supplementary pensions legislated in late 2012 as being unconstitutional. The ruling affects some 800,000 pensioners who earned more than 1,000 euros a month. It is estimated the decision will lead to pensions between €1,000 and €1,500 rising by 5%, those between 1,500 and 2,000 increasing by 10% and those over 2,000 seeing a rise of 15%.

The court said the government should have carried out a study on the impact these cuts would have had on the pensioners affected. The Council of State, however, decided that pensions should not be restored retroactively apart from some 2,000 individual cases where pensioners appealed the reductions on their own. This means that, apart from the latter cases, the government will have to find a way to increase the pensions in question from this point on rather than find the funds to cover the income the pensioners lost as a results of the cuts over the last 2.5 years.

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And you find this out only now?

Growth, What Growth? Thatcherism Fails To Produce The Goods (Guardian)

Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation, light-touch regulation and low income tax failed to boost growth, according to a new study that casts doubt on the merits of free market economies. In a wide-ranging analysis of Britain’s performance in the decades before and after 1979, economists at the University of Cambridge say the liberal economic policies pioneered by Thatcher have been accompanied by higher unemployment and inequality. At the same time, contrary to widespread belief, GDP and productivity have grown more slowly since 1979 compared with the previous three decades. Liberal market policies such as lower tariffs and income taxes, free movement of labour, limited legal immunity for trade unions, privatisation and light-touch business regulation “did not produce the goods” in terms of higher growth in GDP and productivity, according to Ken Coutts and Graham Gudgin at the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Those who believe in the free market economy must be able to show that economic performance after 1979 was better than it would have been under the ‘corporatist’ economic policies of earlier decades. The starting point in doing this should be to show that the actual performance was better than had been the case during the decades prior to 1979,” said Coutts and Gudgin. “The report shows that the most important economic indicators, including growth in GDP per head, were in fact no better in the post-1979 decades.” On the analysis, only one aspect of post-1979 policies actually boosted growth, but that came with grave consequences a few decades on in the shape of the financial crisis. “Financial liberalisation was the sole aspect of the liberal market reforms introduced into the UK, initially in 1971-73 and more consistently from 1979, which materially increased the rate of economic growth,” the paper said.

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High time for others to do the same.

Iceland’s Economy Recovered After It Jailed Bankers And Let Banks Go Bust (Ind.)

Iceland’s finance minister has announced a 39% tax on investors looking to take their money overseas. The country has imposed the tax to prevent it hemorrhaging money as it loosens bank laws imposed six years ago, when Iceland made the shocking decision to let its banks go bust. Iceland also allowed bankers to be prosecuted as criminals – in contrast to the US and Europe, where banks were fined, but chief executives escaped punishment. The chief executive, chairman, Luxembourg ceo and second largest shareholder of Kaupthing, an Icelandic bank that collapsed, were sentenced in February to between four and five years in prison for market manipulation. “Why should we have a part of our society that is not being policed or without responsibility?” said special prosecutor Olafur Hauksson at the time. “It is dangerous that someone is too big to investigate – it gives a sense there is a safe haven.”

While the UK government nationalised Lloyds and RBS with tax-payers’ money and the US government bought stakes in its key banks, Iceland adopted a different approach. It said it would shore up domestic bank accounts. Everyone else was left to fight over the remaining cash. It also imposed capital controls restricting what ordinary people could do with their money– a measure some saw as a violation of free market economics. The plan worked. Iceland took a huge financial hit, just like every other country caught in the crisis. This year the IMF declared that Iceland had achieved economic recovery ‘without compromising its welfare model’ of universal healthcare and education. Other measures of progress like the country’s unemployment rate, compare just as well with countries like the US.

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Sensible policies.

Iceland: The Economy That Came In From The Cold? (Independent)

There are dangers in opening up. The country’s central bank says the book value of the assets of the failed banks that are denominated in Icelandic krona is about 500 billion krona (£2.47bn), roughly equal to a quarter of the country’s GDP. “The danger is capital flight and a consequent fall of the value of the krona,” said Thorolfur Matthiasson, economics professor at the University of Iceland. “That would be tantamount to October 2008, bringing back bad memories for ordinary people and possibly making most businesses unsustainable due to balance-sheet problems.” New legislation will impose a one-off 39% financial levy on the total assets of failed banks, raising $5.1bn, in order to help the country weather the blow of withdrawals. As an alternative, the foreign creditors can do a deal with the failed banks’ boards by the end of the year to surrender an equivalent portion of their claims.

Yet it is impossible to be sure whether this will be enough. Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, sounded nervous yesterday as he advised foreign hedge funds that had snapped up distressed Icelandic banking assets after the bust not to sue over the tax. The unspoken fear is that aggressive foreign hedge funds will drag Iceland through the courts, as they did with Argentina, inflicting further economic damage in the process. Yet there are also reasons to believe things could turn out better than this for Iceland. Along with the creditors, the country itself suffered grievously in the crisis. The economy was sent spinning into depression and living standards collapsed. Many Icelanders – who had borrowed from their banks in foreign currencies such as Swiss francs to take advantage of lower interest rates – were forced into bankruptcy.

GDP contracted by 12% and Reykjavik was forced to call in the IMF for assistance. But the Icelandic economy has recovered surprisingly strongly since 2010. The massive devaluation of the krona against the dollar and the euro helped. There has been a big boost from tourism. Fishing has also boomed. An estimated one in 84 fish caught worldwide is now scooped out of the water by Icelandic trawlers. Unemployment, which spiked to 9% at the worst of the crisis, is now back down to 5%. In domestic currency terms the economy has recovered roughly to its pre-crisis peak. GDP is projected by the IMF to grow by a reasonable 3.5% this year. The current account, which was in deficit to the tune of a whopping 25% of GDP in 2009, is now in surplus.

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The glimmer is gone.

The New Currency Trade: Short The Kiwi (CNBC)

Currency analysts are betting on continued declines for the New Zealand dollar as officials fight to boost growth in a country that was heralded 2014’s rockstar economy. The Kiwi sank over 2% to a near five-year low of 70 U.S. cents Thursday after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) lowered the benchmark cash rate by 25 basis points for the first time in four years. “Today’s announcement is significant for NZD because it marks the beginning of what could turn into a more prolonged easing cycle. Desynchronization of monetary policy should not only drive NZD/USD below 70 cents but take it lower against many other major currencies,” said Kathy Lien at BK Asset Management. Indeed, chances for parity with the Australian dollar, a popular call this year, are now over, noted Evan Lucas at IG.

RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler also left the door open to future cuts should economic data weaken further, adding that the currency remains overvalued despite a 17% fall against the greenback over the past year. The move surprised many economists who expected the bank to hold fire following consecutive hikes throughout 2014; the RBNZ was the first central bank in the developed world to increase rates after the global financial crisis. It’s likely to hit 68 U.S. cents over the next one to two months, warned Jonathan Cavenagh, senior FX strategist for Asia at Westpac Institutional Bank. “Given the RBNZ signaled it wasn’t done with one cut, the market will get quite aggressive with its rate outlook, leaving the Kiwi vulnerable to more downside.”

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Big shift. But conventional players will seek to invade.

Trends Show Crowdfunding To Surpass Venture Capital in 2016 (Forbes)

By 2016 the crowdfunding industry is on track to account for more funding than venture capital, according to a recent report by Massolution*. Just 5 years ago there was a relatively small market of early adopters crowdfunding online to the tune of a reported $880M in 2010. Fast forward to today and we saw $16 Billion crowdfunded in 2014, with 2015 estimated to grow to over $34 Billion. In comparison, the VC industry invests an average of $30 Billion each year. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding industry is doubling or more, every year, and is spread across several types of funding models including rewards, donation, equity, and debt/lending.

And now under new laws enacted in 2013, equity crowdfunding has sprung forth as the newest category of crowdfunding and is further accelerating this growth and disruption. If we look at what is driving this growth and change… we see that the collaborative economy has brought new disruptive models to giant existing industries like real estate and transportation, leveraging automation and the internet to create massively scalable businesses. he World Bank estimated that crowdfunding would reach $90 Billion by 2020. If the trend of doubling year over year continues, we’ll see $90 Billion by 2017. To put that in perspective, venture capital averages roughly $30 Billion per year and in 2014 accounted for roughly $45 Billion in investment, whereas angel capital averages roughly $20 Billion per year invested.

Equity crowdfunding, the newest category of crowdfunding, opened up publicly in September of 2013 under Title II of the JOBS Act and, while restricted to accredited investors only, has grown to an estimated $1 Billion invested online. In 2015 the estimate is for over $2.5 Billion to be invested through equity crowdfunding. If equity crowdfunding doubles every year like the rest of crowdfunding has, then it could reach $36 Billion by 2020 and surpass venture capital as the leading source of startup funding.

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“Microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.”

The Microfinance Delusion: Who Really Wins? (Hickel)

What’s so fascinating about the microfinance craze is that it persists in the face of one unfortunate fact: microfinance doesn’t work. Of course, there are some lovely anecdotes out there about the transformative power of micro-loans, but as David Roodman from the Center for Global Development put it in his recent book, “The best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero.” This is not a fringe opinion. A comprehensive DFID-funded review of extant data comes to the same conclusion: the microfinance craze has been built on “foundations of sand” because “no clear evidence yet exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts.” In fact, it turns out that microfinance usually ends up making poverty worse.

The reasons for this are fairly simple. Most microfinance loans are used to fund consumption – to help people buy the basic necessities they need to survive. In South Africa, for example, consumption accounts for 94% of microfinance use. As a result, borrowers don’t generate any new income that they can use to repay their loans so they end up taking out new loans to repay the old ones, wrapping themselves in layers of debt. When micro-loans are used to fund new businesses, budding entrepreneurs tend to encounter a lack of consumer demand. After all, their potential customers are poor and low on cash, and what little money they do have gets spent on basic goods that tend already to be available. In this context, new businesses end up displacing already-existing ones, yielding no net increase in employment and incomes.

And that’s the best of the likely outcomes. The worst – and much more likely – is that the new businesses fail, which then leads, once again, to vicious cycles of over-indebtedness that drive borrowers even further into poverty. This demand-side problem can be stated quite simply: poor people don’t have enough money. Apparently we need expensive research studies to point this out. The only consistent winners in the microfinance game are the lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates that sometimes reach up to 200% per annum. In the past we would have called such people loan sharks, but today they’re called microfinance providers, and they crown themselves with the moral halo that this term carries. Microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.

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The New York Times works with Wikileaks?!

US Shifts Stance on Big Pharma in TPP Talks (NY Times)

Facing resistance from Pacific trading partners, the Obama administration is no longer demanding protection for pharmaceutical prices under the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to a newly leaked section of the proposed trade accord. But American negotiators are still pressing participating governments to open the process that sets reimbursement rates for drugs and medical devices. Public health professionals, generic-drug makers and activists opposed to the trade deal, which is still being negotiated, contend that it will empower big pharmaceutical firms to command higher reimbursement rates in the United States and abroad, at the expense of consumers.

“It was very clear to everyone except the U.S. that the initial proposal wasn’t about transparency. It was about getting market access for the pharmaceutical industry by giving them greater access to and influence over decision-making processes around pricing and reimbursement,” said Deborah Gleeson, a lecturer at the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University in Australia. And even though the section, known as the transparency annex, has been toned down, she said, “I think it’s a shame that the annex is still being considered at all for the TPP”.

The annex, which covers pharmaceutical and medical devices, is the latest document obtained by The New York Times in collaboration with the watchdog group WikiLeaks, and it was released before the House vote on whether to give President Obama expanded powers to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Senate has already approved legislation giving the president trade promotion authority, or fast-track power that would allow him to complete trade deals without the threat of amendments or a filibuster in Congress. A House vote on final passage of the bill, now expected on Friday, appears extremely close. [..]

Jay Taylor, vice president for international affairs for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said penetrating the opaque process for getting a drug considered for a national health system, then listed as available and properly priced, is central to free trade for drug makers. “It is market access,” he said. That is particularly true for the Pacific accord, he said, because one of the countries, New Zealand, has a powerful system for holding down drug costs — and keeping drug makers in the dark. New Zealand’s health system has been held up as a model for the Pacific region, a prospect the pharmaceutical industry does not relish.

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“..the vote had to be delayed because there were too many proposed amendments.”

TTIP Vote Postponed As European Parliament Descends Into Panic (Independent)

An historic vote on the biggest trade deal ever negotiated between the EU and the US has had to be postponed after the European Parliament descended into chaos. European MPs were due to vote on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership on Wednesday. But the vote had to be delayed because there were too many proposed amendments. “It’s panic in parliament,” Yannick Jadot, a Green MEP from France, told AFP. Ministers have disagreed over a controversial dispute mechanism that some fear would allow big companies to bypass national courts to resolve disputes with investors. Socialist groups in the European Parliament reportedly blocked the dispute mechanism on Tuesday, which resulted in the vote being postponed.

Brussels had suggested a separate investment court to resolve disputes but lawmakers in the US have insisted that this is unnecessary. David Cameron has claimed that signing the deal would add £2 billion to the UK economy every year. But the plan has been violently opposed by campaign groups across Europe that fear it would be at the expense of national services and social and environmental welfare. On Wednesday Ukip MEPs led a protest against TTIP in the European Parliament, but their efforts were ignored because the session had already closed. TTIP negotiations were initiated by Europe to speed economic recovery. Commentators have said the US is growing tired of constant delays to an agreement. “It’s now very much up to EU to decide if they want this agreement. The patience of the US is running out,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of European Centre for International Political Economy, told The Independent.

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” It would be worse than anything ever known — and it could happen in and to our generation.”

Maybe WWIII Won’t Occur, But The Damages Are Already Horrible (Zuesse)

Why is there not, in Europe, a huge movement to abandon NATO, and to kick out the U.S. military? Whom is the U.S. ‘defending’ Europeans from, after the Warsaw Pact ended in 1991? Why did not Gorbachev demand that NATO disband when the Warsaw Pact did — simultaneous (instead of one-sided) disbanding of the Cold War, so that there would not become the foundation for international fascism to arise to conquer Russia (first, to surround it by an expanding NATO — and ultimately via TPP & TTIP), in the aftermath? Why is there not considerable public debate about these crucial historical, cultural, and economic, matters? Why is there such deceit, which requires these massive questions to be ignored so long by ‘historians’?

How is it even possible for the world to move constructively forward, in this environment, of severe censorship, in the media, in academia, and throughout ‘the free world’? Why is there no outrage that the Saudi and other Arabic royals fund islamic jihad (so long as it’s not in their own countries) but America instead demonizes Russia’s leaders, who consistently oppose jihadists and jihadism? Why are America’s rulers allied with the top financiers of jihad? Why is that being kept so secret? Why are these injustices tolerated by the public? Who will change this, and how? When will that desperately needed change even start? Will it start soon enough? Maybe WW III won’t occur, but the damages are already horrible, and they’re getting worse. This can go on until the end; and, if it does, that end will make horrible look like heaven, by comparison. It would be worse than anything ever known — and it could happen in and to our generation.

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How true.

US Draws EU Into Russia Crusade, Against Our Interests – Ex-French PM (RT)

The US is drawing European states into a “crusade” against Russia, which goes against Europe’s interests, former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said. Speaking to French media, he stressed that Europe now is dependent on Washington. “Today, Europe is not independent… The US is drawing us [the EU] into a crusade against Russia, which contradicts the interests of Europe,” Fillon told the BFMTV channel. The ex-French prime minister, who served in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government from 2007 till 2012, lashed out at Washington and its policies. Washington, Fillon said, pursues “extremely dangerous” policies in the Middle East that the EU and European states have to agree with. He accused German intelligence of spying on France “not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the United States.”

Fillon pointed out that Washington is pressurizing Germany to concede to Greece and find a compromise. He noted the “American justice system” often interferes with the work of “European justice systems.” “Europe is not independent,” the ex-PM said, calling for “a broad debate on how Europe can regain its independence.” This, however, would not be possible if Europe goes ahead and signs the TTIP, a proposed EU-US treaty, which has drawn much criticism for its secretiveness and lack of accountability. “I am definitely against signing this agreement [TTIP] in the form in which it is now,” he added.

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In the next step of its campaign to look ridiculous (after yesterday’s ignorant Francesco Giavazzi rant on Greece), the FT has a poll on something it simply made up.

Poll Highlights Divisions Among Public On Tackling Ukraine Crisis (RT)

Barely half of voters in Nato states would support a military response to an attack on an alliance member, according to a 10-country survey that highlights divisions on how to respond to Russia and the Ukraine crisis. The outbreak of war in Ukraine last year has brought mistrust between Russia and the west to cold-war levels, with the public in Nato countries blaming Moscow for the violence and the Russian public rallying behind Vladimir Putin, their president. Yet the poll, based on more than 11,000 interviews in 10 countries and conducted by the Pew Research Centre, showed the limits of European public tolerance for an escalation in military support for Ukraine, or indeed for standing by the Nato commitment to mutual defence.

Fewer than half of respondents in the UK, Poland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany would back using force to help defend a Nato ally that was under military threat from Russia. But in most countries more than two-thirds thought the US would use military force in such an event, although in Poland just 49% thought Washington would intervene. The findings highlight political vulnerabilities that Nato officials fear Russia seeks to exploit, aiming to aggravate divisions on European measures against Russia such as sanctions while instilling doubts about the Nato alliance. Some of the starkest differences of opinion within the alliance are between the US and Germany. Almost two-thirds of Americans support Ukrainian membership of Nato compared with about a third of Germans. While 46% of Americans back sending arms to Ukraine, just 19% of Germans do.

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Short term.

Why Our Brains Don’t Process The Gravest Threats To Humanity (Brian Merchant)

Our brains are incredible little mushboxes; they are unfathomably complex, powerful organs that grant us motor skills, logic, and abstract thought. Brains have bequeathed unto we humans just about every cognitive advantage, it seems, except for one little omission: the ability to adequately process the concept of long-term, civilization-threatening phenomena. They’ve proven miracle workers for the short-term survival of individuals, but the human brain sort of malfunctions when it comes to navigating wide-lens, slowly-unfurling crises like climate change. Humans have, historically, proven absolutely awful, even incapable, of comprehending the large, looming—dare I say apocalyptic?—slowburn threats facing their societies.

“Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,” Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard says in his university’s (decidedly less flashy) version of a TED talk. “That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.” That is, our brain seems to be programmed to react best to hard, certain information—threats that unfold over generations fail to trigger our reactionary instincts. “Many environmentalists say climate change is happening too fast,” Gilbert says. “No, it’s happening too slowly. It’s not happening nearly quickly enough to get our attention.” It’s an unfortunate quirk of human psychology; it’s allowed us to outwit and outplay most other species around the globe—we’re smarter, more resourceful, more conniving—but it might also come to mean we won’t outlast them.

There are currently a host of very real, very pressing, and very long-simmering crises on our plates; climate change, sure, but also biggies like mass extinction and biodiversity loss and ocean acidification, which will take up to many decades before they become full-blown, civilization-threatening calamities. That’s why I’ve always bristled a bit at the post-colon header of Jared Diamond’s great book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. What society, comprised of humans capable of abstract thought, with fully developed brains, would actively choose to fail? “It’s been a good run, but seeing as how I am exhausted from all this rapaciousness and decadence, I hereby opt to Fall” -the Roman Empire. .

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Oct 292014
 
 October 29, 2014  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Photo booth at fiesta, Taos, New Mexico Jul 1940

Fed Set To End One Crisis Chapter Even As Global Risks Rise (Reuters)
How American QE Has Changed The World (Telegraph)
The Biggest Risk For US Investors Is A China Crash (MarketWatch)
Is China’s Export Boom Fake? (CNBC)
Another Reason Not to Trust China’s Economic Data (BW)
China Shadow Banking Shifted to Insurers Alarms Moody’s (Bloomberg)
US Homeownership Rate Drops To 1983 Levels (Zero Hedge)
Why British Interest Rates Will Never Go Up Again (MarketWatch)
EU Financial Transaction Tax Bid Falters on Revenue Disagreement (Bloomberg)
UK Faces ‘Debt Timebomb’ From Ageing Population (Telegraph)
Payday Loan Brokers Regularly Raid Bank Accounts Of Poor Customers (Guardian)
Dubai Insists the Boom is Not a Bubble This Time Around (Bloomberg)
Chinese Oil Trader Buys Record Number of Mideast Cargoes (Bloomberg)
Rajoy Apologizes as New Wave of Corruption Allegations Hits Spain (Bloomberg)
How The Consumer Dream Went Wrong (BBC)
Gross National Happiness – Can We Measure A Feelgood Factor? (Guardian)
Australia Protection Plan ‘Will Not Save Great Barrier Reef’ (BBC)
Blame The Cows: Kiwi Dollar May Stumble (CNBC)
Russia to Send 3,000 Tons of Aid to Eastern Ukraine Within Week (RIA)
Pope Francis: Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Real (NBC)
Population Controls ‘Will Not Solve Environment Issues’ (BBC)

Mission accomplished.

Fed Set To End One Crisis Chapter Even As Global Risks Rise (Reuters)

– The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to shutter its bond-buying program, closing one controversial chapter in its crisis response even as it struggles to manage a full return to normal monetary policy. The Fed is likely to announce at the end of a two-day meeting that it will no longer add to its holdings of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, halting the final $15 billion in monthly purchases under a program that at its peak pumped $85 billion a month into the financial system. An important symbolic step, the end of the purchases still leaves the Fed far from a normal posture.

Its balance sheet has swollen to more than $4 trillion, interest rates remain at zero, and, if anything, recent events have increased the risk the U.S. central bank may need to keep propping up the economy for longer than had been expected just a few weeks ago. The statement the Fed will issue at 2 p.m. will be read carefully for signs of how weak inflation, ebbing global growth and recent financial market volatility have influenced U.S. policymakers. There is no news conference scheduled after the meeting and no fresh economic forecasts from Fed officials. “They are worried about the economy, the global one,” and are likely to leave much of their language intact rather than signal progress towards a rate hike, Morgan Stanley analyst Vincent Reinhart wrote in a preview of the meeting.

Attention will focus on whether the Fed’s statement continues to refer to “significant” slack in the U.S. labor market, and whether it retains language indicating rates will remain low for a “considerable time,” as most economists expect. Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight, said the Fed may also need to acknowledge the inflation outlook is weakening. “They have been kind of wrong about inflation lately,” Edelstein said. “It would behoove them to do something – signal to markets they are not going to tolerate inflation and inflation expectations persistently below 2%.” Fed officials have largely stuck to forecasts that the U.S. economy will grow around 3% this year, with inflation poised to move gradually back to their 2% goal.

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It has perverted just about all global economies for the benefit of banks and elites. As I said yesterday, perhaps that’s a touch of genius.

How American QE Has Changed The World (Telegraph)

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to end its asset purchasing programme today. If so, it will be a quiet end to one of the most radical monetary policy experiments in modern times. Since the financial crisis, the world’s biggest central bank has embarked on an unprecedented programme of asset purchases that has resulted in its balance sheet growing to more than $4.45 trillion. Under the most recent incarnation of monetary easing – dubbed “QE3” – the central bank has purchased around $1.6 trillion in government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. With QE3 now expected wind down, November could be the first time in more than 37 months that the Fed will not be dipping its toe in the securities market.

Here’s how QE has changed the global economy. In September 2012, the Fed announced it would be buying $40bn in mortgage-backed debt in addition to goverment bonds each month. At the time, the US economy was still in the midst of a fledgling recovery, while the eurozone crisis had begun to ease after Mario Draghi did his best to soothe markets. Then Fed chief Ben Bernanke announced the programme would be open-ended and contingent on improving conditions in the US labour market. In December last year, the central bank said that it would start to “taper” its purchases and buy fewer assets in each successive month. It has now decided the US economy is strong enough to and the stimulus altogether. Here’s why: Stubbornly high unemployment was one of the key reasons the Fed decided to embark on additional stimulative measures in 2012. Arguably, one the best indicators of the success of QE3 has been the fall in unemployment from more than 8pc, when the purchases began, to less than 6pc last month.

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“…if China’s economy slows, domestic consumption will start feeling the pain, leading to even less job creation and slower growth. That’s a feedback loop that will not end well for China.”

The Biggest Risk For US Investors Is A China Crash (MarketWatch)

There’s a lot of talk about how the U.S. stock market and the American economy will fare now that the Federal Reserve plans to end its bond-buying program. But the bigger risks are from overseas, namely a European slowdown and the threat of terrorism from ISIS in the Middle East. And the biggest risk for the next year is from China. Here’s why: China growth is falling fast: Last week, we learned that China’s gross domestic product growth rate for the third quarter was 7.3%, the slowest in five years. That’s down sharply from a peak of 11.9% in 2010 and below the 7.5% pace Beijing has been targeting. In fact, China has posted growth of 7.6% or higher dating back to 2000.

Domestic demand under pressure: Remember that China’s own policy makers estimate that 7.2% growth is running at about break-even. That’s because a growth rate that large is needed simply to create enough jobs — about 10 million annually — to support China’s massive (and still growing) population. Think of it this way: After the Great Recession, the U.S. returned to GDP expansion and even posted a respectable 2.5% growth rate in 2010 but, unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily mean much for American consumers or job-seekers that year. Or put another way, economists estimate about 2.2 million jobs must be created every year in the U.S. simply to ensure there’s work for a growing population of job-seekers. And China needs over four times that kind of growth. So if China’s economy slows, domestic consumption will start feeling the pain, leading to even less job creation and slower growth. That’s a feedback loop that will not end well for China, or investors in China stocks.

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Government created loopholes all over the place.

Is China’s Export Boom Fake? (CNBC)

Exports are regarded as the bright spot in China’s slowing economy, but growing evidence suggests mainland firms are “over-invoicing” outbound shipments, inflating the trade data, say economists. “When China’s external trade data for September came out two weeks ago, we were surprised by the apparent strength of exports. The Hong Kong trade data released [on Monday] suggests that renewed over-invoicing may be part of the reason for China’s strong September export data,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at RBS. China’s exports rose 15.3% on year in September, beating a median forecast in a Reuters poll for a rise of 11.8%, following a 9.4% rise in August. In the same month, China reported that it exported $37.6 billion worth of goods to Hong Kong, while Hong Kong data revealed imports of just $24.1 billion, yielding an unusually large $13.5 billion gap.

“While there have always been discrepancies between the two sources on this trade flow, the discrepancy in September was equivalent to 4.3 percentage points of total export growth, the largest positive discrepancy since April 2013 during the previous round of over-invoicing,” said Kuijs. Widely seen in early 2013, over-invoicing is a technique by which companies inflate the value of exports, allowing them to evade capital controls and bring more funds into the country. Why is this happening? Last year, expectations of yuan appreciation seemed to be the key driving force. This year, the motivations appear to have shifted, said Kuijs. “One possible motivation could be that money was channeled to the Shanghai A-share market on expectations the A share market would rise after the launch of the Shanghai – Hong Kong Connect scheme,” he said. “Such flows may help to explain the rise in the A-share market index in September in the absence of obvious good economic or financial news,” he added.

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“…companies have “faked, forged, and illegally re-used” documents for exports and imports”

Another Reason Not to Trust China’s Economic Data (BW)

The numbers don’t match. In September, China exported $37.6 billion to Hong Kong, according to government data compiled by Bloomberg. For the same month, Hong Kong’s government says imports from the mainland amounted to only $24.1 billion. That’s this year’s biggest gap between Chinese and Hong Kong figures. Where did all those billions of dollars go? Julian Evans-Pritchard, Capital Economics’ China economist, called the results “very suspicious,” especially since the discrepancies are largely related to the trade of precious metals and stones. “It seems the Chinese customs are basically overvaluing these gems [and] these precious metals,” he told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. Meanwhile, “Hong Kong customs are valuing them more accurately.” The China-Hong Kong discrepancy is just one example. Evans-Pritchard points to similar discrepancies regarding Chinese imports from South Korea. “

What appears to be happening [is] we have some round-tripping,” he said. Companies may be claiming to import the stones from Korea at a certain price and then export them to Hong Kong at a higher price, pocketing the difference. That helps companies evade Chinese government currency controls at a time when there’s renewed pressure to strengthen the yuan. With such conditions, “it makes a lot of sense” for Chinese companies to borrow money cheaply abroad and find ways to get that money into the country. The Chinese government is not blind to the problem. China has found almost $10 billion in fraudulent trades nationwide since April of last year, and companies have “faked, forged, and illegally re-used” documents for exports and imports, Wu Ruilin, a deputy head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange’s inspection department, told reporters in Beijing in September.

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Dangerous development.

China Shadow Banking Shifted to Insurers Alarms Moody’s (Bloomberg)

A doubling in the trust holdings of China’s insurers has prompted ratings companies to warn the industry may be taking on too much shadow banking default-risk. Insurers held 281 billion yuan ($46 billion) of trust products on June 30, surging from 144 billion yuan at the end of last year, China Insurance Regulatory Commission data show. The companies’ shadow bank assets, including wealth management products and other financing kept off commercial lenders’ balance sheets, reached 1.14 trillion yuan, or 13% of their investments, Standard & Poor’s estimated, adding that this made them “vulnerable in times of stress.” China Pacific Life Insurance, Taiping Life Insurance and Du-Bang Property & Casualty Insurance all expanded trust investment fivefold or more in the first half, a “credit negative” for companies traditionally focused on fixed-income securities, according to Moody’s Investors Service. 51% of the trust investment was directed to real estate and infrastructure, making insurers vulnerable to a cooling property market, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If the insurers experience any liquidity problems, they won’t be able to easily turn these trust investments into cash,” said Sally Yim, a Moody’s analyst in Hong Kong. “These assets also tend to be more volatile. The yield may be higher, but there may also be defaults.” Chinese insurers’ assets doubled in the past five years to 9.6 trillion yuan last month, as premium income climbed an average of 14% annually. Squeezed by competition from wealth management products sold by banks and online funds, insurers started offering policies with investment characteristics to compete for money. “Over the last two or three years, banking product rates have been quite competitive compared with some of the rates offered by the insurers,” said Terrence Wong, a director at Fitch in Hong Kong. “So to enhance the yield, they have to seek investment instruments with higher returns.”

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More recovery.

US Homeownership Rate Drops To 1983 Levels (Zero Hedge)

The last time US homeownership declined down to 64.4% (which the Census Bureau just reported is what US homeownership declined to from 64.7% in Q2), was back in the fourth quarter of 1983. It goes without saying that this is about the bearishest news possible for those few who still believe in the American homewonership dream. Of course, those who have been following real-time rental market trends would be all too aware there is no rebound coming to the homeownership rate. The reason is simple: increasingly fewer can afford to buy, instead having no choice but to rent, which in turn has pushed the median asking rent to record highs.

In fact in the past two quarters, the asking rent was just $10 shy of its time highs at $756 per month. But capital allocation preferences aside, while explaining the disparity between rental and homeownership in a world where Renting is the new American Dream, what [this doesn’t explain] is why there is no incremental demand from all those millions of young Americans who enter the population and, eventually, the workforce. At least on paper. Earlier today, Bank of America was confused by precisely this:

Population growth of 25-34 year olds outpacing growth in the housing stock: The primary driver of household formation is population growth among 25 to 34 year olds. There is notable divergence with the growth in this age group and the growth in the housing stock. This suggests greater doubling up of households as a result of the recession and weak recovery. Unless doubling up turns into tripling up, household formation should recover over time, creating a need for greater building. Given tight credit conditions, this will tend to drive apartment construction more than single family construction. Either way, the housing stock is lagging well behind demographic fundamentals.

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Only, they will.

Why British Interest Rates Will Never Go Up Again (MarketWatch)

The autumn of 2014? Er, scratch that. The spring of 2015? Put that on the back burner. How about the autumn of 2015? For the moment, that seems to be the consensus. The markets have had plenty of dates that they penciled in for the first rate rise from the Bank of England. But each time one of them actually comes close, something comes along to blow it off course. It happened again this month. Analysts and economists in the City of London were confidently expecting the first rise sometime in the spring of next year. Then the plunge in the global markets of early October, combined with some disappointing economic data, meant that timetable was hurriedly reset. Here’s what is actually going to happen. Interest rates in the U.K. may not ever go up from the near-zero level of the last few years.

Japan cut its rates to those levels more than two decades ago and it is no closer to a rate rise now than it was in the mid-1990s. Sooner or later the penny is going to drop that rates are not going to go up, at least not in the working lives of most people in the market today. The timetable for the Bank of England to start moving interest rates back to normal levels is about as reliable as an Italian train. When Gov. Mark Carney moved from Canada to the U.K., he bought with him a policy of forward guidance, which was meant to give companies and consumers a clearer idea of where interest rates were heading. He set out criteria such as falling unemployment, and rising real wages, that would need to be met. But once those targets were hit, rates would start going up again.

There was certainly a lot to be said for that. It was on March 5, 2009, that the bank cut interest rates all the way down to 0.5%. At the time, it was presented as an emergency measure, designed to cope with deep recession bought on by the near collapse of the financial system a few months earlier. It was not presented as a normal rate, nor, at the time, is it likely that many of the members of the Monetary Policy Committee saw it that way either. They thought rates would stay at that level for a year or two, and then start to edge their way back towards normal. The trouble is, the right moment never seems to arrive. Despite heavy signaling through last spring that a rate rise was likely before the end of 2014, it hasn’t happened.

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It’s now become a joke.

EU Financial Transaction Tax Bid Falters on Revenue Disagreement (Bloomberg)

The European Union must figure out how to handle revenues from a proposed financial-transaction tax to meet a year-end deadline for moving ahead with the levy in participating nations. Ten nations pledged in May to seek agreement on a “progressive” tax on equities and “some derivatives” by the end of 2014, with implementation planned for a year later. As that deadline approaches, nations have found broad agreement on how to handle equities, according to an Oct. 27 planning document obtained by Bloomberg News. Derivatives and revenues are the biggest obstacles to moving forward with a proposed tax by year end, according to Italy, one of the participating nations and also current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency. National officials are due to discuss the tax plan this week, ahead of a Nov. 7 finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels. Italy proposed three possible models for shifting revenue from countries where transactions take place to nations where the trading firms are based, so that countries with smaller financial sectors wouldn’t be at a disadvantage.

This would allow the tax to be collected in the country of issuance, then allocated to take account of other parameters like residence. “Delegations could not agree on the solution of revenue distribution that would be acceptable to all of them,” according to the planning document. Willing nations are considering how to build the first phase of a trading tax, with an eye toward expanding it in future years. EU policy makers have considered a transactions tax to raise money and discourage speculative trading, goals that have gained urgency since the financial crisis and the euro-area budget rules adopted in its wake. Efforts to build a common tax for all 28 member nations fell apart, followed by a scaled back proposal for a joint tax among 11 willing nations. The plans have been criticized by banks and trading firms, which have warned that could curtail investment at a time when the EU is seeking to boost anemic economic growth.

“The FTT is about the worst idea of the last three centuries,” Wim Mijs, chief executive of the European Banking Federation, a Brussels-based industry group, told reporters yesterday. In some countries, the “cost of implementing it is higher than the possible gain,” he said. [..] Most participating nations are in favor of including equity derivatives, so that trading in equities doesn’t immediately jump to a non-taxed transaction. Still, some nations want to exclude equity derivatives, the document showed. Some nations want to tax credit default swaps. Other nations have concerns about interest-rate derivatives because these trades have ties to monetary policy and government bonds.

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Many nations do.

UK Faces ‘Debt Timebomb’ From Ageing Population (Telegraph)

Britain’s ageing population has created a “debt timebomb” that can only be defused through a combination of significant spending cuts, faster increases in the state pension age and ending universal free healthcare, according to a respected think-tank. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) warned that the Government would need to slash public spending by a quarter in order to get Britain’s debt mountain down to sustainable levels. In a set of radical proposals, the IEA called on the Government to end “unhelpful” policies such as the “triple lock guarantee” that ensures the state pension increases by the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5pc every year. It also said charging for some NHS services would help to reduce demand.

The IEA calculated that Government spending cuts equivalent to 9.6pc of GDP – or £168bn per year in today’s money – were needed to reduce Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 20pc by 2063. This is equivalent to cutting the health, welfare and pensions budgets in half, or overall spending by a quarter. “Politicians must wake up to the size of the debt time bomb in the UK. Older generations have voted themselves benefits that will indebt future generations, meaning crippling tax hikes for our children and grandchildren,” said Philip Booth, editorial director at the IEA. “Very significant spending restraint and reform of entitlements will be required in the next parliament and beyond to get our debt levels back under control.” While the think-tank welcomed the measures introduced by the Government to link the state pension age to life expectancy and commit to a further £67bn worth of austerity by 2018-19, it said that without further reforms, debt would continue to rise in the long-term.

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How is this possible? Why do we condone preying on the poor?

Payday Loan Brokers Regularly Raid Bank Accounts Of Poor Customers (Guardian)

A new breed of payday loan brokers are making as many as 1m attempts per month to raid the bank accounts of some of the poorest members of society. The behaviour is provoking alarm at one of Britain’s biggest high street banks, Natwest, which says it is being inundated with complaints from its most vulnerable customers. NatWest said it is seeing as many as 640 complaints a day from customers who say that sums, usually in the range of £50 to £75, have been taken from their accounts by companies they do not recognise but are in fact payday loan brokers. The brokers are websites that promise to find loans, but are not lenders themselves. Often buried in the small print is a clause allowing the payday broker to charge £50 to £75 to find the person a loan – on top of an annual interest charge as high as 3,000%. In the worst cases, the site shares the person’s bank details with as many as 200 other companies, which then also attempt to levy charges against the individual.

The City regulator has received a dossier of information about the escalating problem, and the Financial Ombudsman Service also confirmed that it is facing a wave of complaints about the issue. NatWest, which is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, gave as an example a 41-year-old shop assistant who took a payday loan of £100 at 2,216% interest. A month later she complained to NatWest after seeing a separate fee of £67.88 paid to My Loan Now and £67.95 to Loans Direct on her account, companies she said she had never dealt with. The broker sites tell customers they need their bank account details to search for a loan, but then pass them on to as many as 200 other brokers and lenders, which then seek to extract fees, even if they have not supplied a loan. The small print allowing the site to pass on the details and demand payments can be hidden in the site’s ‘privacy policy’ or in small print at the bottom of the page.

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Sure.

Dubai Insists the Boom is Not a Bubble This Time Around (Bloomberg)

Alongside the Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping centers, sits an ersatz version of what would be an authentic retail experience in most Persian Gulf cities: an Arab souk. If, in the evening, you stroll through this air-conditioned, hassle- and haggle-free caricature of a market, staffed mostly by smiling South Asians, you can amble out onto the shores of man-made Burj Khalifa Lake, named after the world’s tallest building, which looms over it. Here – bumping elbows with a veritable United Nations General Assembly of residents and tourists decked out in everything from dishdashas to Dior – you can gawk at the Dubai Fountain, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its December issue. Every half-hour, an array of computer-choreographed nozzles sends jets of water erupting from the lake’s surface 500 feet into the air, gyrating to Middle Eastern pop one minute and Andrea Bocelli singing “Con Te Partiro” the next.

Awash in fantasia, this metropolis of glass and steel sprouting from the barren sands of the Arabian Peninsula often seems nothing more than an illusion born of desert heat. Never was Dubai more miragelike than five years ago, after the global financial crisis crushed what had been a bastion of wealth and growth. House prices plunged as much as 60%. Half of the city’s $582 billion in construction projects were either placed on hold or abandoned, their incomplete steel skeletons left poking from the sand, a 21st-century Ozymandias. Now, Dubai is booming again. To understand why, journey 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Dubai Mall to a part of the city few tourists ever see. Here, if you pass through the security gates at Jebel Ali port, you’re treated to another mesmerizing mechanical ballet – one less ephemeral and arguably more important to the city-state’s fate than the Dubai Fountain’s dancing waters. Towering gantry cranes sidle up to 1,200-foot-long (365-meter-long) container ships bound for Mumbai or Singapore or Rotterdam.

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“The big question is what China will do with all of these cargoes…”

Chinese Oil Trader Buys Record Number of Mideast Cargoes (Bloomberg)

China National United Oil Co., a unit of the country’s biggest energy company, bought the most ever cargoes of Middle East crude through a pricing platform in Singapore amid oil’s slump into a bear market. The company, known as Chinaoil, purchased about 21 million barrels this month through the system used to determine benchmark prices by Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc. It bought more than 40 cargoes of the Dubai, Oman and Upper Zakum grades in the so-called window, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A Beijing-based press officer for CNPC, the parent company, wasn’t immediately able to comment and asked not to be identified because of internal policy. “It’s very difficult for the market to know Chinaoil’s strategy,” Ehsan Ul-Haq, a senior market consultant at KBC Energy Economics in Walton-on-Thames, England, said by phone.

“Prices have gone down and China is always interested in buying more crude whenever the price is right, but they could also have some other different trading strategy.” Benchmark oil prices tumbled to the lowest in almost four years this month amid signs of an expanding global supply glut, led by the highest U.S. production in about three decades. China consumed the second-largest amount of crude ever last month and its stockpiles increased to a record. Some of Chinaoil’s cargoes may be used to fill the country’s strategic crude reserves, according to JBC Energy GmbH, a Vienna-based consultant. “The big question is what China will do with all of these cargoes,” JBC said in an e-mailed report Oct. 21. “If the Middle Kingdom puts the barrels into strategic storage, something that would be logical given low outright prices, they will disappear entirely from the market and China will still have to buy more crude for its day-to-day needs.”

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How corrupt is the government that’s supposed to fight corruption?

Rajoy Apologizes as New Wave of Corruption Allegations Hits Spain (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy apologized to the Spanish people yesterday amid mounting public outrage at a new wave of corruption allegations against officials from his party. All members of the governing People’s Party among the 51 arrested this week on bribery allegations have had their party membership suspended and will be expelled if the charges are proved, Rajoy told the Senate in Madrid. “I understand and share fully the indignation of so many Spaniards at the accumulation of scandals,” Rajoy said. “In the name of the People’s Party I want to apologize to all Spaniards for having appointed to positions for which they were not worthy those who would seem to have abused them.”

Rajoy is battling to retain his moral authority amid evidence that local officials took bribes to hand out public contracts while he was administering the harshest budget cuts in Spain’s democratic history. This week’s arrests follow allegations from the former PP treasurer, Luis Barcenas, that Rajoy and other senior party officials including Rodrigo Rato, a former deputy prime minister, accepted cash from a party slush fund. Rajoy has denied the allegations against him. Barcenas produced handwritten ledgers to back up his claims that he handed out envelopes of cash to party officials and received text messages of support from Rajoy during the early part of the investigation. He’s in jail while the National Court probes his financial affairs.

A survey by the state pollster in July showed political corruption is the second-biggest concern for Spaniards after the country’s 24% unemployment rate, the second highest in the European Union. “Explain about the envelopes, explain about the messages you sent to Barcenas, explain about the secret financing of your party,” the opposition Socialist leader in the Senate, Maria Chivite, told Rajoy in response. “Explain to all Spaniards how many senior official from your party will appear before the courts because of their accounts in Switzerland.”

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It’s not like we we born as consumers.

How The Consumer Dream Went Wrong (BBC)

We could, it seemed, have it all. So what went wrong? The truth is this: despite all its promise, the idea of the Consumer is killing us. And before it does, we must kill it. I can perhaps best explain why the golden dream went so wrong by describing one of a series of recent experiments that have explored the effect of this word on our behaviour. The simplest was a survey of environmental and social attitudes and values. The group taking the survey was split in half. For half, the front cover said Consumer Reaction Study, for the rest, Citizen Reaction Study. No specific attention was drawn to this and there was no other significant difference between the two groups; just this one word. Yet those who answered the Consumer Reaction Study were far less motivated to care about society or the environment.

That pattern has been seen elsewhere, and the only possible explanation for the difference is the unconscious effect of merely being exposed to the language of the Consumer as a prime, a kind of mental framing of the task at hand. How can this be? Can a word, just a word, really make us less likely to care about one another and about the world, and less likely to trust and work with one another to fix it? Here’s the thing – nothing is “just a word”. Language is the scaffolding on which we build our thoughts, attitudes, values and behaviours. And as we do so, we would do well to recognise that the Consumer is a deeply dangerous place to start. Because what looks at surface level like a word is in fact a moral idea, an idea of what the right thing is for us to do in our daily lives. This word Consumer represents the idea that all we can do is consume, choosing between the options offered us, and that the morally right thing for us to do is to pick the best of these for ourselves, measured in material standards of living, as narrowly defined individuals, and in the short term.

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But we can be happy only as consumers these days.

Gross National Happiness – Can We Measure A Feelgood Factor? (Guardian)

The UK economy continues to recover, albeit at a slower pace, the latest official figures show. But how well does this reflect how people are feeling? GDP measurements only provide part of the picture and so the Office for National Statistics will soon reveal details of a new set of supplementary indicators on economic well-being. It follows a pledge by the prime minister, David Cameron, in 2010 to make the UK one of the first countries to officially monitor happiness. The inaugural release including how households are doing, how well-off people feel and other insights into well-being will be published just in time for Christmas on 23 December.

Bhutan is the real trailblazer in this area. The tiny nation to the east of the Himalayas has long been renowned for its focus not on GDP – gross domestic product – but GNH (gross national happiness). In other words, what matters to Bhutan more than upping production and improving productivity is whether its citizens are happy. It’s a measure the remote south Asian nation has been using since the early 1970s, well before the rest of the world began to realise that wealthier does not necessarily translate into happier. The ONS says its new regular well-being release will help businesses, households and policymakers in the UK make better-informed decisions by providing a whole “dashboard” of indicators on the state of the economy.

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They’re not trying.

Australia Protection Plan ‘Will Not Save Great Barrier Reef’ (BBC)

Australia’s Academy of Science says an Australian government draft plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef will not prevent its decline. The group said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan failed to address key pressures on the reef including climate change and coastal development. Much bolder action was needed, said Academy Fellow Professor Terry Hughes. “The science is clear, the reef is degraded and its condition is worsening,” said Prof Hughes. “This is a plan that won’t restore the reef, it won’t even maintain it in its already diminished state,” he said in a statement released on Tuesday. “It is also more than disappointing to see that the biggest threat to the reef – climate change – is virtually ignored in this plan.”

Public submissions on the draft plan – an overarching framework for protecting and managing the reef from 2015 to 2050 – closed on Monday. The plan will eventually be submitted to the World Heritage Centre in late January, for consideration by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee mid-next year. Unesco has threatened to place the reef on its List of World Heritage in Danger. According to scientists, another major threat to the reef’s health is continual expansion of coal ports along the Queensland coast. In a controversial move earlier this year, the Australian government approved a plan to dredge a port at Abbot Point in Queensland, and dump thousands of tonnes of sediment in the sea.

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New Zealand needs to diversify away from export-driven monoculture, and towards its own domestic market.

Blame The Cows: Kiwi Dollar May Stumble (CNBC)

Once billed as the hottest currency trade this year, New Zealand’s dollar is set to stumble, tripped up by spilled milk. “Since peaking in February this year, international dairy prices per Fonterra Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction have fallen by almost 50%,” Morgan Stanley said in a note Tuesday, noting that dairy products are New Zealand’s largest export, accounting for 26.4% of the total. “Due to New Zealand’s specialization in whole milk powder (WMP) exports to China, we expect the fall in price and import demand to weigh on the New Zealand dollar,” the note said. It’s a turnaround from the beginning of the year, when analysts had expected strong gains in the kiwi. BK Asset Management in January called the New Zealand dollar, also known as the kiwi, one of its favorite trades for the year, citing expectations the central bank would hike interest rates and increased demand for “soft commodities.”

After starting the year around $0.8221, the kiwi climbed to highs of over $0.88 in July, but it has since stumbled, fetching around $0.79 in early Asia trade Wednesday. Dairy prices face a lot of headwinds, likely keeping milk prices depressed for a while. “We expect the recent peak in dairy prices, the lift of EU dairy quota and lower feed costs to increase global milk production,” Morgan Stanley said, noting the USDA forecasts global dairy export volume to rise 10% in 2014. The EU dairy quota system, which fined countries for surplus production over a delivery quota, is set to be scrapped after the first quarter of next year, and Morgan Stanley noted that farmers there have already begun increasing their cow counts. While New Zealand will likely continue to dominate WMP exports to China, media reports indicate the mainland’s inventories are stocked up and lower prices aren’t likely to spur additional demand, the note said.

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By plane as well…

Russia to Send 3,000 Tons of Aid to Eastern Ukraine Within Week (RIA)

Russia will send up to 3,000 metric tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s southeastern regions within a week, Russian Deputy Emergencies Minister Vladimir Stepanov told RIA Novosti Tuesday. “Within a week the total weight of humanitarian aid will amount to 3,000 metric tons,” Stepanov said, adding that it will be delivered both by aircraft and land vehicles. According to Stepanov, on Tuesday three aircraft will deliver part of the aid to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where it will be loaded onto trucks. The aid includes food, medicine and construction materials that will help residents of southeastern Ukraine to prepare for the winter.

The deliveries of aid to Ukraine are being carried out in coordination with the Red Cross and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Earlier today, Russia’s Emergency Ministry confirmed that on October 28 a convoy of up to 50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the people of Donetsk and Luhansk regions will depart from the city of Noginsk. Since August, Russia has sent three humanitarian convoys of trucks carrying food, water, power generators, medication and warm clothes to eastern Ukrainian regions, which went through a severe humanitarian crisis due to the military operation initiated by Kiev’s authorities in April.

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Is he talking about TV series?

Pope Francis: Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Real (NBC)

Big Bang theory and evolution in nature “do not contradict” the idea of creation, Pope Francis has told an audience at the Vatican, saying God was not “a magician with a magic wand.” The Pope’s remarks on Monday to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences appeared to be a theological break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism. “The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love,” Pope Francis said.

“The Big Bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary, it requires it. Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of [divine] creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve.” The Pontiff said God created beings “and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that he has given to each one.” He said: “When we read in Genesis the account of creation [we are] in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand that can do all things. But he is not.”

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Not a problem for us to solve.

Population Controls ‘Will Not Solve Environment Issues’ (BBC)

Restricting population growth will not solve global issues of sustainability in the short term, new research says. A worldwide one-child policy would mean the number of people in 2100 remained around current levels, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Even a catastrophic event that killed billions of people would have little effect on the overall impact, it said. There may be 12 billion humans on Earth by 2100, latest projections suggest. Concerns about the impact of people on the planet’s resources have been growing, especially if the population continues to increase. The authors of this new study said roughly 14% of all the people who ever existed were alive today.

These growing numbers mean a greater impact on the environment than ever, with worries about the conversion of forests for agriculture, the rise of urbanisation, the pressure on species, pollution, and climate change. The picture is complicated by the fact that while the overall figures have been growing, the world’s per-capita fertility has been declining for several decades. The impact on the environment has increased substantially, however, because of rising affluence and consumption rates. Many experts have argued the best way of tackling this impact is to facilitate a rapid transition to much lower fertility rates.

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