Feb 022018
 
 February 2, 2018  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Pink peach trees (Souvenir de mauve) 1888

 

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)
Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)
Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)
Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)
Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)
UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)
Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)
Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)
Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)
Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)
Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)
Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)
Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

 

 

Finally we get to see how ugly it can get.

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)

According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”

The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.

Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.

Read more …

Artificial ‘market’. How can anyone see it as a good thing?

Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)

Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.

Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.

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Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”

Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)

Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.

Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.

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Liquidity.

Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)

Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.

The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.

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There is no lck of homes. There’s a huge surplus in ultra low interest rate loans.

Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)

UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”

But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.

Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.

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Greater Fool hour.

Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)

The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.

Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.

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Only, so-called value is highly inflated, profiting from government actions.

UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)

Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.

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Stock lending links to shorting.

Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)

A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.

Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.

In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.

The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.

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Squid squared.

Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)

The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

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Crude still rules.

Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)

As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.

Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.

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Why Greece needs debt relief across the board “It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.”

Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)

Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.

The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.

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Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.

Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)

Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.

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Much higher metabolism than anyone had ever noticed.

Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.

Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.

They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”

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The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.

Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.

The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.

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Jan 122018
 
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Do these people ever consider this perhaps helps Trump? The Man’s on Fire!

 

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)
Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)
South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)
China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)
China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)
Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)
Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)
We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)
Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)
Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)
Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)
Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)
Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

 

 

It’s a slide! It’s a surge! Depends who you ask, and what time of day. Ask again every half hour, or you may miss the big moves. Translation: bitcoin is far from ready for the big leagues. It’s about stability.

Bitcoin Steadies But Set For Worst Weekly Slide Since 2015 (BBG)

Bitcoin steadied Friday after four days of losses for the largest cryptocurrency amid increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world with concerns ranging from investor losses to strains on power systems. Bitcoin was little changed on the day, at $13,467 as of 1:27 p.m. Hong Kong time, reversing an earlier decline. It was down as much as 23% for the week at one point, on track for the deepest decrease since January 2015, according to Bloomberg composite pricing, and is now down about 20%. The token peaked in mid-December soon after the introduction of futures trading on regulated exchanges in Chicago. Among the blows to cryptocurrencies this week was the South Korean justice minister’s reiteration of a proposal to ban local cryptocurrency exchanges, though the comments were later downplayed by a spokesman for the president.

Meanwhile, bitcoin mining is set to become more expensive as China’s government cracks down on the industry, in part out of concerns about power use. In the U.S., scrutiny is set to increase amid concerns about the potential use of cryptocurrencies for fraudulent purposes such as money laundering. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo are set to testify to the Senate Banking Committee on risks tied to bitcoin and its counterparts, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The committee intends to hold a hearing in early February, the person said.

Read more …

The reaction scared the sh*t out of Seoul. But they still have to act, because bitcoin’s wide acceptance in the country means it’s a real danger to the whole economy.

Cryptos Surge As South Korea Backs Away From Trading Ban (ZH)

After what has seemed like a non-stop barrage of bad news for crypto bulls from South Korea, we noted some cracks in the foundation of the anti-cryptocurrency push as the ministry of finance refused to support the ministry of justice’s exchange shutdown bill. Tonight we get further clarification that the end of South Korean crypto trading is not nigh as Yonhap reports the various government ministries need more time and more consultations over the mininstry of justice’s plan to ban crypto-exchanges. “The issue of shutting down (cryptocurrency) exchanges, told by the justice minister yesterday, is a proposal by the justice ministry and it needs consultations among ministries,” Kim said.

Ministers reportedly seek a “soft-landing” considering the shock the measures may have on the market is an issue that can result in huge social, economic damage. Additionally Yonhap notes that even if pursued, shutdown of exchanges would take some time as it needs discussion at parliament (it would take months or even years for a bill to become a law). All of which can be roughly translated as – we have no idea of the impact of banning this stuff and just how much damage to the nation’s wealth could occur if we do… The result is a broad-based rally across the major cryptocurrencies… Tens of thousands of people filed an online petition, asking the presidential office to stop the clampdown against cryptocurrency trading. South Korea is home to one of the world’s biggest private bitcoin exchanges, with more than 2 million people estimated to own some of the best-known digital currency.

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Stand up comedian minister: “..a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.”

South Korea Is Talking Down The Idea Of A Cryptocurrency Trading Ban (CNBC)

South Korea’s finance minister on Friday said that relevant officials need to hold more consultations over the justice ministry’s plan to ban cryptocurrency exchanges in the country. “All government ministries agree on the need for a government response to an overheating in cryptocurrency speculation and for a degree of regulation,” Minister Kim Dong-yeon told reporters, according to news agency Yonhap. “The issue of banning exchanges that the justice minister talked about yesterday is a proposal by the Justice Ministry and it needs more coordination among ministries,” Kim added. He also said that discussion was under way on how the government could reasonably regulate cryptocurrency trading that’s overheating with irrational and speculative behavior, Yonhap reported.

Kim said “a balanced perspective is necessary because blockchain technology has high relevance with many industries such as security and logistics.” Kim’s comments followed news that the country’s justice ministry appeared to have softened its stance after remarks from its chief on Thursday saw billions wiped off the global cryptocurrency market. The justice ministry explained, according to Yonhap, that the ban was not a done deal in a text message to reporters on Thursday. “The ministry has been preparing a special law to shut down all cryptocurrency exchanges, but we will push for it after careful consideration with related government agencies,” the justice ministry said.

[..] “Justice Minister Park Sang-ki’s remarks regarding the shutdown of cryptocurrency exchanges is one of the measures that have been prepared by the Justice Ministry, but it is not a finalized decision and will be finalized through discussion and a coordination process with each government ministry,” the chief press secretary to President Moon Jae-in said in a statement reported by Yonhap. Even if a bill aiming to ban all cryptocurrency trading is drafted, it will require a majority vote in the country’s National Assembly before it can be enacted into law. That process could take months — or even years.

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This must worry Xi. China sets itself up for a strong reaction. And then? Withdraw back into its own cocoon? Not an option for an export-dependent economy. The shift to domestic consumption has so far failed miserably.

China’s Trade Surplus With The US Hit A Record High In 2017 (CNBC)

China’s 2017 trade surplus with the U.S. was $275.81 billion, the country’s customs data showed Friday, according to Reuters. By that data, last year’s surplus is a record high, the wire service reported. For comparison, the previous record was a surplus of $260.8 billion in 2015. The world’s second-largest economy had a surplus of $25.55 billion in December, data showed, compared to $27.87 billion in November. Trade with China is politically sensitive as the world’s second-largest economy runs surpluses against many of its trading partners. President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled tougher action on what he calls unfair practices that have lead to a massive trade deficit with China. Overall, China’s trade balance for 2017 was a surplus of $422.5 billion

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Stocking up on oil and gas instead of Treasuries, just in case Trump launches a trade war.

China Sets New Records for Gobbling Up the World’s Commodities (BBG)

China continues to gobble up the world’s commodities, setting new records for consumption of everything from crude oil to soybeans. In a year of flux marked by industrial capacity cuts, environmental curbs and financial deleveraging, demand for raw materials has continued to grow in the world’s biggest consumer, helping drive a second annual gain in global commodity returns. As President Xi Jinping consolidates power behind an economy that may have posted its first full-year acceleration since 2010, there are few signs of the Chinese commodity juggernaut slowing as it rolls into 2018. “China’s economic expansion has been beating expectations since the second half of last year, boosting demand for all kinds of commodities,” Guo Chaohui at China International Capital, said by phone. “We are expecting continued strength in economic growth in 2018 which will keep up the nation’s import appetite.”

Inbound shipments from across the globe – Russia to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – jumped about 10% to average 8.43 million barrels a day in 2017, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Friday. The unprecedented purchases may be bettered in 2018, if import quotas granted by the government to China’s independent refiners are a signal. The first batch of allocations was 75% higher than for 2017. The world’s second-biggest economy is also realizing that the key to winning its war on smog may lie overseas. Record amounts of less-polluting grades of iron ore – typically not available within China – are being pulled in to feed the nation’s mammoth steel industry, with imports rising 5% to 1.07 billion metric tons in 2017.

Purchases of less-polluting ore is only one tactic in China’s war against pollution. Another is curbing coal use and encouraging the use of cleaner natural gas instead. Imports of the fuel via both sea and pipeline surged almost 27% to 68.57 million tons in 2017.

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Coherent.

Household Debt Boom Sows The Seeds For A Bust (CBR)

What causes the ebbs and flows of the business cycle? In the first of two videos, Chicago Booth’s Amir Sufi argues that one key factor is the financial sector and its willingness to lend. As credit becomes more and more available, the economy booms—but when household debt becomes unsustainable, it sows the seeds for a bust.

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Financial stress at a record low. There’s no stronger stress indicator.

Markets Still Blow Off the Fed, Dudley Gets Nervous, Fires Warning Shot (WS)

“So, what am I worried about?” New York Fed President William Dudley, who is considered a dove, asked rhetorically during a speech on Thursday at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in New York City. “Two macroeconomic concerns warrant mention,” he continued. And they are: One: “The risk of economic overheating.” He went through some of the mixed data points, including “low” inflation, “an economy that is growing at an above-trend pace,” a labor market that is “already quite tight,” and the “extra boost in 2018 and 2019 from the recently enacted tax legislation.” Two: The markets are blowing off the Fed. He didn’t use those words. He used Fed-speak: “Even though the FOMC has raised its target range for the federal funds rate by 125 basis points over the past two years, financial conditions today are easier than when we started to remove monetary policy accommodation.”

When the Fed raises rates, its explicit intention is to tighten “financial conditions,” meaning that borrowing gets a little harder and more costly at all levels, that investors and banks become more risk-averse and circumspect, and that borrowers become more prudent or at least less reckless – in other words, that the credit bonanza cools off and gets back to some sort of normal. To get there, the Fed wants to see declining bond prices and therefor rising yields, cooling equities, rising risk premiums, widening yield spreads, and the like. These together make up the “financial conditions.” There are various methods to measure whether “financial conditions” are getting “easier” or tighter. Among them is the weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index, whose latest results were published on Thursday.

The Financial Stress Index had dropped to a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, meaning that financial stress in the markets had never been this low in the data series going back to 1994. Things were really loosey-goosey. On Thursday, the index came in at -1.57, barely above the record low, despite another rate hike and the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization. And this rock-bottom financial stress in the markets is occurring even as short-term interest rates have rocketed higher in response to the Fed’s rate hikes, with the two-year Treasury yield on Thursday closing at 1.96% for the third day in a row, the highest since September 2008.

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Nomi doesn’t really clarify what is radical about events.

We’re Going To See A Radically Changing World In 2018 – (Nomi Prins)

In last year’s roadmap, I forecast that 2017 would end with gold prices up and the dollar index down, both of which happened. I underestimated the number of Fed hikes by one hike, but globally, average short term rates have remained around zero. That will be a core pattern throughout 2018. Central banks may tweak a few rates here and there, announce some tapering due to “economic growth”, or deflect attention to fiscal policy, but the entire financial and capital markets system rests on the strategies, co-dependencies and cheap money policies of central banks. The bond markets will feel the heat of any tightening shift or fears of one, while the stock market will continue to rush ahead on the reality of cheap money supply until debt problems tug at the equity markets and take them down.

Central bankers are well aware of this. They have no exit plan for their decade of collusion. But a weak hope that it’ll all work out. They have no dedicated agenda to remove themselves from their money supplier role, nor any desire to do so. Truth be told, they couldn’t map out an exit route from cheap money even if they wanted to. The total books of global central banks (that hold the spoils of QE) have ballooned by $2 Trillion in assets (read: debt) over 2017. That brings the amount of global central banks holdings to more than $21.7 trillion in assets. And growing. Teasers about tapering have been released into the atmosphere, but numbers don’t lie.

That’s a hefty cushion for international speculation. Every bond a central bank buys or holds, gets a price-lift. Trillions of dollars of such buys have artificially lifted all bond prices, and stocks because of the secondary-lift effect and rapacious search for self-perpetuating returns. Financial bubbles pervade the world. Central bank leaders may wax hawkish –manifested in strong words but tepid actions. Yet, overall, policies will remain consistent with those of the past decade to combat this looming crisis. US nationalistic trade policies will push other nations to embrace agreements with each other that exclude the US and shun the US dollar.

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Jean-Michel Paul, founder and Chief Executive of Acheron Capital in London, says: “..one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash.. “. Well, not in my circles, which talk ONLY about that.

Why We Have to Talk About a Bubble (BBG)

Back in November, former Fed chief Janet Yellen described the current low level of inflation as a “mystery.” Despite a small pickup in prices, Europe has the same mystery to solve: Economic confidence in the euro area is at its highest point for a decade, according to the European Commission’s measure, released this week. But there’s no sign of the inflation that you’d normally expect with that kind of economic upsurge. The ECB minutes from December, released Thursday, show some in the ECB are similarly baffled by what they call a “disconnect” between the real economy and prices. With QE having multiplied the amount of fiat money issued by central banks in just a few years, it’s fair to wonder: How come it didn’t trigger much higher levels of inflation than what we now see?

The technical answer is that the money created has ended up full circle – on the books of the central banks. The more fundamental answer is that QE resulted in a wealth increase for the richest, who consume relatively little of their revenue, while the middle class and the neediest largely failed to reap any benefit. Having not gained from QE, their consumption has not risen, leaving prices pretty much flat. There are many problems with this, from growing inequality to pressures on social cohesion. But one that has received too little attention up to now is the prospect that we are heading toward a growing asset bubble that will result in a pronounced crash, as Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of the investment firm GMO, argued in a note last week. He predicts a “melt-up” – where investors pile into assets as prices rise – followed by a significant decline “of some 50%.”

[..] central bankers are still using inflation as a measure to gauge how much more QE they should proceed with. The ECB has repeatedly justified QE expansion because its goal of 2 percent consumer inflation remains unmet. [..] British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, commenting on the Grantham thesis recently in the Daily Telegraph, put the challenge now in the starkest possible terms, as a threat not simply to the recovery but to democracy: “The central banks themselves entered into a Faustian Pact from the mid-Nineties onwards, falsely thinking it safe to drive real interest rates ever lower with each cycle, until they became ensnared in what the Bank for International Settlements calls a policy “debt trap”. This has gone on so long, and pushed debt ratios so high, that the system is now inherently fragile. The incentive to let bubbles run their course has become ever greater.”

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Can’t decide if this is hard to believe, or entirely normal by now.

Uber’s Secret Tool for Keeping the Cops in the Dark (BBG)

In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc.’s office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event. Like managers at Uber’s hundreds of offices abroad, they’d been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they’d obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don’t expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn’t most companies. The ride-hailing startup’s reputation for flouting local labor laws and taxi rules has made it a favorite target for law enforcement agencies around the world. That’s where this remote system, called Ripley, comes in. From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven’t been previously reported. The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices.

This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol. Employees aware of its existence eventually took to calling it Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies. The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” [..] Uber deployed Ripley routinely as recently as late 2016, including during government raids in Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Paris, say the people with knowledge of the matter. The tool was developed in coordination with Uber’s security and legal departments, the people say. The heads of both departments, Joe Sullivan and Salle Yoo, left the company last year.

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Monsanto wants a monopoly on all the world’s food. If you don’t stop them now, it’ll soon be too late.

Monsanto Seeks To Cash In On The Organic Food Market (CP)

At the recent Codex meeting in Berlin, there was an attempt to define genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients as ‘biofortified’ and therefore mislead consumers. This contravened the original Codex mandate for defining biofortification. That definition is based on improving the nutritional quality of food crops through conventional plant breeding (not genetic engineering) with the aim of making the nutrients bioavailable after digestion. The attempt was thwarted thanks to various interventions, not least by the National Health Federation (NHF), a prominent health-freedom international non-governmental organization and the only health-freedom INGO represented at Codex. But the battle is far from over.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) convened in Berlin during early December and drafts provisions on nutritional aspects for all foods. It also develops international guidelines and standards for foods for special dietary uses that will be used to facilitate standardized world trade. Based upon previous meetings, the initial intention of the Committee was to craft a definition for biofortification that could then be used uniformly around the World. Biofortification originally referred to increasing certain vitamin and mineral content of basic food crops by way of cross-breeding, not genetic engineering, for example by increasing the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes so that malnourished populations would receive better nutrition.

However, according to president of the NHF, Scott Tips, Monsanto wants to redefine the definition to include GE ‘biofortified’ foods and it has seemingly influenced Codex delegates in that direction. Tips says, “I am sure that Monsanto would be thrilled to be able to market its synthetic products under a name that began with the word ‘bio’.” [..] Including GE foods within any definition of biofortification risks consumer confusion as to whether they are purchasing organic products or something else entirely. “Monsanto seeks to cash in on the organic market with the loaded word ‘bio’,” argues Scott Tips. At the Codex meeting in Berlin, Tips addressed the 300 delegates in the room. “Although NHF was an early supporter of biofortification, we have since come to see that the concept is in the process of being hijacked and converted from something good into something bad,” explained Tips.

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Luckily the CIA is still dividing the people in the Congo. And making money selling all sides weapons.

Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch (BBG)

When BMW revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600. Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day. For carmakers vying to fill their fleets with electric vehicles, the spike has been a rude awakening as to how much their success is riding on the scarce silvery-blue mineral found predominantly in one of the world’s most corrupt and underdeveloped countries. “It’s gotten more hectic over the past year,” said Markus Duesmann, BMW’s head of procurement, who’s responsible for securing raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, manganese and nickel. “We need to keep a close eye, especially on lithium and cobalt, because of the danger of supply scarcity.”

[..] Complicating the process is the fact that the cobalt trail inevitably leads to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where corruption is entrenched in everyday business practices. The U.S. last month slapped sanctions on Glencore’s long-time partner in Congo, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, saying he used his close ties to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to secure mining deals. There’s also another ethical obstacle to negotiate. The African nation produces more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt, a fifth of which is drawn out by artisanal miners who work with their hands — some of whom are children. The country is also planning to double its tax on the metal.

“There just isn’t enough cobalt to go around,” said George Heppel, a consultant at CRU. “The auto companies that’ll be the most successful in maintaining long-term stability in terms of raw materials will be the ones that purchase the cobalt and then supply that to their battery manufacturer.” To adjust to the new reality, some carmakers are recruiting geologists to learn more about the minerals that may someday be as important to transport as oil is now. Tesla Inc. just hired an engineer who supervised a nickel-cobalt refinery in New Caledonia for Vale to help with procurement. But after decades of dictating terms with suppliers of traditional engine parts, the industry is proving ill-prepared to confront what billionaire mining investor Robert Friedland dubbed “the revenge of the miner.”

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Never use Greece and Recovery in one sentence together. Because you’d be spouting nonsense.

Greece Is Now Worse Off Than When It Defaulted For The First Time (ZH)

According to the market, the situation in Greece has staged a tremendous recovery. So much so, in fact, that Greek 2Y bonds are now trading inside US 2Y Treasurys. Yes, according to the market, Greece is now a safer credit than the US. And yet, a quick peek inside the actual Greek economy, reveals that nothing has been fixed. In fact, one can argue that things are now worse than they were when Greece defaulted (for the first time), According to statistics from IAPR, unpaid taxes in Greece currently make up more than 55% of the country’s GDP due to – well – the inability of people to pay the rising taxes. Overdue debt to the state has reached nearly €100 billion with only €15 billion possible to be returned to the government’s coffers, as most are due to bankrupt businesses and deceased individuals.

The Greek tax authorities seized pensions, salaries, and assets of more than 180,000 taxpayers in 2017, meanwhile bad debt to the state treasury continue to grow. The Independent Authority for Public Revenue confiscated nearly €4 billion in the first 10 months of this year with forced measures to be reportedly taken against 1.7 million defaulters in 2018. Bad debt owed to the state in Greece has been growing at €1 billion a month since 2014, and nearly 4.17 million taxpayers currently owe money to the country, which means that every second Greek is directly indebted. Demonstrating the full extent of the economic mess, a recent report from Kathimerini revealed that Greek lenders are proposing huge haircuts, as high as 90%, for borrowers with debts from consumer loans, credit cards or small business loans without collateral.

In the context of the sale of a 2.5-billion-euro bad-loan portfolio named Venus, Alpha Bank is using the incentive of major haircuts in letters it has sent to some 156,000 debtors. The fact that this concerns some 240,000 bad loans means that some debtors may have two or three overdue loans. Another major local lender, Eurobank, is employing the same strategy for a set of loans adding up to 350 million euros. Most of them range between 5,000 and 7,000 euros each and have been overdue for over a decade. Yes, most Greek are unable to repay a few thousands euros and would rather default. This means that the banks are expecting to collect a small amount of those debts, coming to 250 million euros for Alpha and 35 million for Eurobank – whopping 90% haircuts – accepting that the rest of the debt is uncollectible.

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Jan 102018
 
 January 10, 2018  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Ansel Adams The Tetons and the Snake River 1942

 

Is Bank of Japan The Latest To Take The Punch Bowl Away? (CNBC)
Fed Officials Are Scrambling To Figure Out How To Fight Next Recession (BI)
Market Could Be Headed For A ‘Melt-Up’ Of 30% – Bill Miller (CNBC)
People Have A Hard Time Even Imagining How The Market Could Decline (ZH)
World Bank Issues Warnings On Interest Rates And Inflation (G.)
South Korea’s Moon Says Trump Deserves ‘Big’ Credit For North Korea Talks (R.)
Apple’s Privacy Feature Costs Ad Companies Millions (G.)
Antivirus Tools Caught With Their Hands In The Windows Cookie Jar (Reg.)
Julian Assange’s Stay In London Embassy Untenable, Says Ecuador (G.)
Australia Must Rescue Assange From The Establishment That Tortured Manning (CJ)
The Fog of War: Global Airstrike Deaths Up At Least 82% In 2017 (RT)
Scores Feared Dead And Up To 100 Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya Coast (G.)

 

 

The Last of the Mohicans. But does Japan really want to, and can it, carry the global financial system on its shoulders now the Fed and ECB no longer want to do their share?

Is Bank of Japan The Latest To Take The Punch Bowl Away? (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan is seen as the last grown-up in the room actively filling the global liquidity punch bowl with both hands. That’s why a slight tweak to its bond-buying program caused a flurry across financial markets Tuesday, sparking speculation it was joining the Fed and ECB in cutting back on asset purchases, a move that could ultimately help drive up global interest rates. On Tuesday, the BOJ modestly trimmed its purchases of Japanese government bonds by about $10 billion in the 10- to 25-year maturities and another $10 billion in maturities of more than 25 years. The yen jumped about 0.5% to about 112.60 to the dollar, and bond yields rose. The U.S. 10-year yield also moved higher, breaking above the key 2.50% to as high as 2.55%. Meanwhile, the 10-year JGB yield moved in a range of about 0.16 and saw a high of 0.074%.

But some strategists say while the BOJ may have sent a powerful signal, it is just acting on a technicality that comes with changes it made to its bond purchase program back in 2016. Unlike the U.S. and Europe, where central banks have targeted the balance sheet size, the Japanese central bank is targeting interest rates and its purchases are based on prices. “I think it’s too early to proclaim the easy conditions in Japan are over. That said, I do think it’s constructive and it shows how sensitive the markets are to any potential change,” said Greg Peters, senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income. The Bank of Japan has been a poster child for central bank easing, taking its rates to negative levels and buying all types of assets, including stocks.

“They’re still buying ETFs, J-REITs, corporate paper. They changed how they’re easing, but they’re still easing,” said Marc Chandler, head of fixed-income strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. “I think the market is overinterpreting this, partly because of their positions. They’re short yen. They’re long euros. They’re being squeezed on both legs today.” [..] While it’s last to leave the party, a change in BOJ policies would be the most symbolic move yet that the extreme policies adopted in the global financial crisis are finally coming to an end, and the juice that helped push risk assets higher is being slowly withdrawn. Chandler said the BOJ has made a point of saying it will continue to ease. “The BOJ says, ‘We’re going to be patient. We’re going to be the last one out.’ … [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe told the Bank of Japan..

“If long rates continue to move higher, and the BOJ follows this with a continued reduction in the pace of the purchases, then we know we’re on to something. We’re on to a potential change in monetary policy in Japan,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Financial Group. “I think that is likely in 2018,” Boockvar said. “Whether this is the beginning of it, we’ll have to see. They have some cover too. They know what the Fed is going to do, and they know what the ECB is doing. Does the BOJ want to be the outlier of temporary insanity when every other central bank is pulling back? They are the epitome of extremity in terms of monetary policy.”

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Fed interference will go down in history as the uttermost of stupidities. Not yet though, the narrative of saving the economy can still be kept alive. But wait till things go south.

Fed Officials Are Scrambling To Figure Out How To Fight Next Recession (BI)

Federal Reserve officials puzzled by chronically-low US inflation seem to agree on at least one thing: They worry, almost universally, that they will lack the tools to fight the next recession, whenever it comes. Yet instead of focusing on tried and true policy measures like low interest rates and possibly bond buys, Fed officials current and former appear focused instead on broad shifts in the policy framework, including moving away from the current inflation targeting regime toward a potentially more aggressive approach. More importantly, the string of discordant ideas being offered up at a Brookings Institution conference by such high profile figures as former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, former White House economic advisor Lawrence Summers, and two current Fed members, does more to confuse the already muddled outlook for monetary policy than clarify it.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren suggested the Fed follow the model of the Bank of Canada, which periodically reviews its approach to maintaining price stability. He also called for the Fed to move toward an inflation target range, which he hinted might be from 1.5% to 3%, rather than the current 2% goal. John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, called for a system where the Fed would target the price level, meaning that it would compensate periods of undershooting the 2% inflation goal with periods of overshooting. US inflation has remained stubbornly below the Fed’s 2% target for much of the economic recovery, suggesting the labor market is not as healthy as the 17-year low unemployment rate of 4.1% suggests.

Shifting to a price-level target is “not nearly as scary as you might think” Williams told the audience of monetary economists, academics, and market participants. He worried about the “issue of credibility” that has resulted from persistently below-target inflation, which makes it look ” like the central bank is not committed to its goals.” Prolonged low inflation, which also reflects soft wage growth, can make monetary policy less effective because “it gets into inflation expectations and makes it harder to achieve 2% objective in good times.”

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Possible in theory, but with CB tightening not in practice.

Market Could Be Headed For A ‘Melt-Up’ Of 30% – Bill Miller (CNBC)

Worried about higher interest rates putting a dent on the stock market’s rip-roaring rally? Fear not, a rise in rates will actually help stocks, according to legendary investor Bill Miller. “Those 10-year yields go through 2.6% and head towards 3%, I think we could have the kind of melt-up we had in 2013, where we had the market go up 30%,” Miller, the founder of Miller Value Partners, told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Tuesday. “If we can get the 10-year towards that 3% level, you’ll see the same thing.” “In 2013, people finally began to lose money in bonds. They took money out of bond funds and put it into equity funds,” Miller said. Miller is considered one of the best investors ever, after beating the market for 15 years in a row while working at Legg Mason. Stocks have been on a rip-roaring rally for more than a year, as economic data and corporate earnings have improved.

On Tuesday, they closed at fresh record highs. But some experts fear the improvements in the economy could force the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy faster than they forecast, thus pushing interest rates higher. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose to 2.55% on Tuesday and hit its highest level since March.The yield has not traded above 3% since early 2014. It last traded above 2.6% last March. But Miller thinks the stock market could get another boost from lower corporate tax rates. President Donald Trump signed a bill in December that slashed the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. “The tax cuts are probably partly in the market, but maybe not wholly in the market because we’re seeing things like companies raising the minimum wage, giving bonuses,” he said. “The people that are getting those $1,000 bonuses probably have a marginal propensity to consume of 99%.”

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It’s high time for that decline then.

People Have A Hard Time Even Imagining How The Market Could Decline (ZH)

A calm complacency never before seen has fallen blanket-like over US equity markets. “The behavior of volatility has entirely changed since 2014,” noted BAML in a a recent note thanks to major central banks keeping interest rates near historic lows (and printed more money than ever before). As The Wall Street Journal points out, One sign of that: VIX closed below 10 more times last year than any others year in its history, and until today, closed below 10 for the first 5 days of 2018… And while correlation is not causation, there is a clear causal link between the conditioning now deeply embedded within investors’ minds and the endless expansion of central bank balance sheets…

As JPMorgan’s infamous quant guru Marko Kolanovic wrote, “the first four Fed hikes in a decade have failed to generate the revival of volatilities that many had expected at the end of last year,” and a wave of political uncertainty linked to U.S. tensions with North Korea and the new presidential administration also raised the prospect that market tumults could occur with greater frequency… but no… In fact worse still for The Fed, financial conditions eased as they tightened and vol collapsed to levels never seen before…

All of which has led, as The Wall Street Journal reports, to a number of investors abandoning defensive positions taken to protect against a market downturn, in the latest sign that many doubters are shedding caution as the long rally rolls on. “I haven’t seen hedging activity this light since the end of the financial crisis,” said Peter Cecchini, a New York-based chief market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald. “It started in late 2016 and accelerated in the second half of the year.” But as Morgan Stanley warns in a recent note, what goes up (this fast) typically comes down… “Our team has observed a dramatic shift in sentiment since we initiated coverage in April. In April, it felt as if people were looking for a reason for the market to fail. Now, we have seen a total reversal with people having a hard time even imagining how the market could decline.”

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Recovery is just a story. Unless it has become viable to fight debt with more debt.

World Bank Issues Warnings On Interest Rates And Inflation (G.)

Financial markets are complacent about the risks of sharply higher interest rates that could be triggered by better than expected growth in the global economy this year, the World Bank has warned. The Washington-based organisation said that much of the rich west was running at full capacity as a result of a broad-based upswing in activity, but were now vulnerable to a period of rising inflation that would prompt action from central banks. Launching the Bank’s global economic prospects, the lead author Franziska Ohnsorge said: “There could be faster than expected inflation that would mean faster than expected interest rate hikes.” Ohnsorge added that stock markets were at levels similar to those seen before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, while bond markets were assuming that low inflation would keep official borrowing costs down.

“Financial markets are vulnerable to unforeseen negative news. They appear to be complacent,” she said, while announcing that the Bank has revised up its 2018 forecast for the global economy following a better than expected performance in the US, China, the eurozone and Japan in 2017. In its half-yearly assessment, the Bank said a recovery in manufacturing, investment and trade would mean global growth of 3.1% this year, up from the 2.9% pencilled in last June. But it warned the acceleration in growth would be temporary unless governments implemented structural reforms to raise long-term growth potential. “The broad-based recovery in global growth is encouraging, but this is no time for complacency,” said Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s president.

“This is a great opportunity to invest in human and physical capital. If policy makers around the world focus on these key investments, they can increase their countries’ productivity, boost workforce participation, and move closer to the goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.”

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They’re even planning to march in the Olympics opening ceremony together.

South Korea’s Moon Says Trump Deserves ‘Big’ Credit For North Korea Talks (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued. The talks were held on Tuesday on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone, which has divided the two Koreas since 1953, after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs. North Korea ramped up its missile launches last year and also conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, resulting in some of the strongest international sanctions yet. The latest sanctions sought to drastically cut the North’s access to refined petroleum imports and earnings from workers abroad. Pyongyang called the steps an “act of war”.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted. “I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.” Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and insults over the past year, raising fears of a new war on the peninsula. South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

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Ads are killing the experience. Most people by now have ad blockers. That whole industry needs drastic change.

Apple’s Privacy Feature Costs Ad Companies Millions (G.)

Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web. Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced. With annual revenue in 2016 topping $730m, the overall cost of the privacy feature on just one company is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dennis Buchheim, general manager of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab, said that the feature would impact the industry widely.

“We expect a range of companies are facing similar negative impacts from Apple’s Safari tracking changes. Moreover, we anticipate that Apple will retain ITP and evolve it over time as they see fit,” Buchheim told the Guardian. “There will surely be some continued efforts to ‘outwit’ ITP, but we recommend more sustainable, responsible approaches in the short-term,” Buchheim added. “We also want to work across the industry (ideally including Apple) longer-term to address more robust, cross-device advertising targeting and measurement capabilities that are also consumer friendly.” ITP was announced in June 2017 and released for iPhones, iPads and Macs in September. The feature prevents Apple users from being tracked around the internet through careful management of “cookies”, small pieces of code that allow an advertising technology company to continually identify users as they browse.

Its launch sparked complaints from the advertising industry, which called ITP “sabotage”. An open letter signed by six advertising trade bodies called on Apple “to rethink its plan … [that risks] disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.” It also accused the company of ignoring internet standards, which say that a cookie should remain on a computer until it expires naturally or is manually removed by a user. Instead, the industry said, Apple is replacing those standards “with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet”.

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We haven’t heard the last of this flaw which is actually a feature.

Antivirus Tools Caught With Their Hands In The Windows Cookie Jar (Reg.)

Microsoft’s workaround to protect Windows computers from the Intel processor security flaw dubbed Meltdown has revealed the rootkit-like nature of modern security tools. Some anti-malware packages are incompatible with Redmond’s Meltdown patch, released last week, because the tools make, according to Microsoft, “unsupported calls into Windows kernel memory,” crashing the system with a blue screen of death. In extreme cases, systems fail to boot up when antivirus packages clash with the patch. The problem arises because the Meltdown patch involves moving the kernel into its own private virtual memory address space. Usually, operating systems such as Windows and Linux map the kernel into the top region of every user process’s virtual memory space.

The kernel is marked invisible to the running programs, although due to the Meltdown design oversight in Intel’s modern chips, its memory can still be read by applications. This is bad because it means programs can siphon off passwords and other secrets held in protected kernel memory. Certain antivirus products drill deep into the kernel’s internals in order to keep tabs on the system and detect the presence of malware. These tools turn out to trash the computer if the kernel is moved out the way into a separate context. In other words, Microsoft went to shift its cookies out of its jar, and caught antivirus makers with their hands stuck in the pot. Thus, Microsoft asked anti-malware vendors to test whether or not their software is compatible with the security update, and set a specific Windows registry key to confirm all is well.

Only when the key is set will the operating system allow the Meltdown workaround to be installed and activated. Therefore, if an antivirus tool does not set the key, or the user does not set the key manually for some reason, the security fix is not applied. In fact, until this registry key is set, the user won’t be able to apply any Windows security updates – not just this month’s patches, but any of them in the future.

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UK and US will not give in any time soon.

Julian Assange’s Stay In London Embassy Untenable, Says Ecuador (G.)

Ecuador’s foreign minister has said Julian Assange’s five-and-a-half-year stay in her country’s London embassy is “untenable” and should be ended through international mediation. The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in Knightsbridge since the summer of 2012, when he faced the prospect of extradition to Sweden over claims that he sexually assaulted two women. He denies the accusations. Swedish prosecutors last year unexpectedly dropped their investigation into the allegations, which included a claim of rape. But Assange still faces arrest for breaching bail conditions if he steps outside the embassy and WikiLeaks has voiced fears that the US will seek his extradition and that there is a sealed indictment ordering his arrest. [..] Jeff Sessions, said last May that Assange’s arrest was now a “priority”.

Ecuador’s foreign minister, María Fernanda Espinosa, said her country was now seeking a “third country or a personality” to mediate a final settlement with the UK to resolve the impasse and said it was “considering and exploring the possibility of mediation”. “No solution will be achieved without international cooperation and the cooperation of the United Kingdom, which has also shown interest in seeking a way out,” she told foreign correspondents in Quito, according to Agence France-Presse. Assange, who has received numerous visitors to his modest quarters in the embassy, ranging from Nigel Farage to Lady Gaga, has described the period since his initial arrest as a “terrible injustice”. Not being able to see his children grow up was “not something I can forgive”, he said.

[..] On Tuesday evening, a lawyer for Assange appeared to welcome Ecuador’s proposal. He said his client had a right to asylum and argued that the risk of him being persecuted in the US had “escalated further in recent months under the Trump administration’s war on WikiLeaks” and that the investigation in Sweden had twice been discontinued. “If the UK wishes to show that it is a nation that respects its human rights obligations and commitments to the United Nations, it is time for Mr Assange to be allowed to enjoy his right to liberty, and fundamental right to protection against persecution in the United States,” he said. A spokesperson for the UK government said: “The government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

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“Julian Assange isn’t hiding from justice, he’s hiding from injustice.”

Australia Must Rescue Assange From The Establishment That Tortured Manning (CJ)

Private Manning was tortured. As sure as if they’d strapped her down and set upon her flesh with fire and steel, she was tortured. United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez stated unequivocally in 2012 that Manning’s treatment at the hands of the US government during her imprisonment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” after 295 legal scholars had already signed a letter in 2011 declaring that she was being “detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.” Humans, like all primates, are evolutionarily programmed to be social animals, which is why solitary confinement causes our systems to become saturated in distress signals as real as pain or fear. Studies have shown that fifteen days of this draconian practice causes permanent psychological damage. Manning was in solitary confinement for nearly a year.

Manning attempted suicide in July of 2016. To punish her for her attempt to end her misery, they tortured her some more. She attempted suicide again three months later. The same sadistic regime which inflicted these horrors upon Manning has during the current administration prioritized the arrest of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, and the international arms of the US power establishment have been working to facilitate that aim. The Guardian reports that Ecuador’s foreign minister is now saying Assange’s continued stay in the nation’s London embassy has become “untenable” and is seeking international mediation, to which a spokesman for the UK government has responded that “The government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

Justice. A government whose international operations are uniformly indistinct from America’s wants Assange to leave political asylum and trust his life to an international power establishment that tortures whistleblowers in the name of “justice”. Julian Assange isn’t hiding from justice, he’s hiding from injustice. What sane human being wouldn’t? Time after time after time we are shown that whistleblowers, leakers, and those who facilitate them are not shown anything remotely resembling justice by this depraved Orwellian establishment. Which is why Australia must intervene and protect him.

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The value of your life plunges along with that of others.

The Fog of War: Global Airstrike Deaths Up At Least 82% In 2017 (RT)

More than 15,000 civilians were killed by explosive weapons in 2017, a 42 percent increase on last year, while deaths by airstrikes increased by 82 percent, a new study by Action on Armed Violence has found. The research shows that, while official stats on civilian casualties are on the rise, they’re still modest in comparison to the “true figures.” “The US has a habit of assuming all fighting-aged men are, in fact, fighters…This is the hammer that the US uses to establish the truth in war,” the organization’s Executive Director Iain Overton told RT. Much of the increase is due to the battles to retake Islamic State strongholds in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria. The Syrian conflict and the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen also accounted for a large proportion of civilian deaths.

The survey, found 8,932 civilians were killed by air-launched explosives in the first 11 months of 2017, compared to 4,902 during the same period in 2016. “At least 60 countries around the world saw explosive weapons being used last year,” Action on Armed Violence’s Executive Director Iain Overton told RT. “We have always acknowledged that our data would likely represent a lower figure of total civilians killed or injured than might actually be the case,” Overton said. “This is particularly true when there is a single fatality or wounding, and particularly in under-reporting of those injured by a bomb blast.” “When the fog of war descends casualty figures often fall short – both because they become highly politicized and because accurate reporting is often a casualty of war itself,” he added.

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Europe has no morals left.

Scores Feared Dead And Up To 100 Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya Coast (G.)

Survivors from a boat that foundered off Libya’s coast on Tuesday said about 50 people who had embarked with them were feared dead, while the coastguard said the number of missing might be as high as 100. Libyan coastguard vessels picked up nearly 300 migrants from three boats off the coast of the North African country on Tuesday, but one rubber boat was punctured and the coastguard only found 16 survivors clinging to its wreckage. “We found the migrant boat at about 10 o’clock this morning. It had sunk and we found 16 migrants. The rest were all missing and, unfortunately, we didn’t find any bodies or [other] survivors,” said Nasr al-Qamoudi, a coastguard commander.

Several of the survivors, who were brought back to a naval base in Tripoli, said there were originally about 70 people on board the boat when it set off near the town of Khoms, east of the capital. A coastguard statement later said that “at least 90-100” migrants were missing. The two other migrant boats were found off Zawiya, west of Tripoli. [..] Libya is the most common departure point for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa by sea. More than 600,000 have crossed the central Mediterranean in the past four years, generally travelling in flimsy inflatable craft provided by smugglers that often break down or puncture. Under heavy pressure from Italy, some Libyan armed factions have blocked smuggling since last summer. Libya’s Italian-backed coastguard has also stepped up interceptions, returning migrants to Libya, where they are detained and often re-enter smuggling networks.

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Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Gloucester Beach, Bass Rocks 1924

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)
Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)
States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)
UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)
China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)
Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)
11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills
Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

 

 

So Why Are They Investing In The Exact Same Fashion?

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)

The average pension fund assumes it can achieve a 7.6% rate of return on its assets in the future. As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the majority of these assets are invested in the stock market. The rest are invested in bonds, real estate and alternatives. An aggregate bond index fund yields 2.5% today. Real estate investment trusts, as a group, yield nearly 4%. Alternatives are a mixed bag but the point is that, in order for pensions to meet this 7.6% rate of return they require that stocks (and, to a much lesser degree, alternatives) do far better than even that optimistic assumption because the balance of the portfolio is nearly guaranteed to fall short of that mark. The trouble is that for stocks to return anywhere near 8% they would need to fall more than 50% first.

Warren Buffett famously said, “the price you pay determines your rate of return.” John Hussman puts an even finer point on it this week showing that if you want an 8% rate of return over the coming 12 years you should not be willing to pay more than 1,281 for the S&P 500 today. Currently, the index trades at roughly 2,690 thus it would take a major stock market crash for investors to have the opportunity to invest at a level that would enable them to achieve anything close to what pensions now require. But if stocks were to crash again, as they did after the last two times valuations reached current extremes, that would obviously create other problems for pensions that are now fully invested in risk assets and already underfunded to the tune of several trillion dollars.

Even if they don’t crash, however, it is now almost inevitable that pensions will face a massive crisis sometime over the next decade or so. Still, it’s fascinating to note that even though this issue is common knowledge today, investors as a group have decided to ensure they will come to the very same fate. Passive investing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, is essentially a way for individual investors to model pension investing, typically with an even greater exposure to equities.

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Of course they could. But Jeremy Grantham’s ‘Melt-Up’ is being criticized by quite a few voices. The question is not ‘could they rise’, but ‘how long until they will plunge’?

Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)

Shares are expensive – keep buying them. That appears to be investors’ consensus view. The storming run for stock markets in 2017 seemed almost too good to be trusted, but 2018 has started in similar style. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average soared past 25,000 last week, almost exactly 12 months after 20,000 was achieved. In the UK, the FTSE 100 index stands at a record high. Even the Japanese market, for years an international laggard, is back at a 26-year high. Last year the MSCI World index – a proxy for a global stock market – delivered a return of 20.1%. Optimists expect more of the same. The other camp warns that a dangerous bubble is about to burst. Both sides could probably agree that the recent run in stock markets has been astonishing.

Or, rather, the truly remarkable feature has been the steady and unbroken pace of the march upwards. Stock markets, we used to think, offered thrills, spills and rollercoaster rides. Individual shares still provide such excitement, of course, but the overall market seems bizarrely free of stress. Andrew Lapthorne, who crunches the market numbers for French bank Société Générale, called 2017 “the year volatility died” in his end-of-year round-up. He wrote: “Those of us expecting greater market turbulence in 2017 could not have been more wrong. Not only did global equity markets perform well, but they did so with such low volatility and consistency that, if this were a fund, it would perhaps merit a visit from the authorities to check exactly what you were up to.”

What happened? First, investors seem to have decided that rising interest rates in the US, a big worry a year ago, are not the bogeyman they seemed. The US Federal Reserve has been a protective nurse. Rate rises have been gradual, and ultra-cheap money has been followed by very cheap. A US rate of 1.5% ain’t so bad. Second, President Donald Trump’s administration, amid its chaos and crises, has delivered the policy investors in companies cared about most: corporate tax cuts. Maybe a growth-generating splurge on infrastructure, the second part of his economic agenda, will follow.

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More of a partisan thing.

States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)

The new year has only just begun, but already Democratic politicians in the country’s largest high-tax states are threatening lawsuits and publicly touting proposed workarounds to help compensate tax payers for the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which were dramatically rolled back, along with deductions for mortgage interest, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. During his state of the state address earlier this week, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the federal government over the tax bill, claiming that the plan is unconstitutional and overly burdensome to New Yorkers. Cuomo said that the new law could raise some families’ taxes by as much as 25% and said the plan amounted to “double taxation.”

He later accused President Donald Trump of waging “economic civil war” on states that didn’t back him during the election, and promised to consider workarounds that would help lower residents’ federal tax bills, according to Bloomberg. Then, on Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon introduced a bill that the Washington Post said could become a model for how blue states push back against the Trump tax plan. According to the Trump tax plan, which took effect in January, taxpayers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes when they file their federal return.

“De Leon’s bill, if it became law, would essentially allow Americans to deduct much more than the $10,000 limit by redirecting state tax payments into a type of charitable contribution that would be later redirected to the state. The new federal tax law, which was supported only by Republicans, went into effect in January and does not include any caps on charitable deductions. “The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in a statement. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” Several states have said they are looking for ways to challenge or work around the law, particularly states such as California and New York where residents pay a higher level of local taxes that they have traditionally been able to deduct without any limits. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he is looking at a way of challenging the new law in court.”

Then on Friday, incoming New Jersey Gov. Democrat Phil Murphy said he’s working on a plan similar to California’s that would allow taxpayers to pay a percentage of their state income taxes as if they were a charitable donation. The money will eventually be redirected to the state. And there’s nothing in the Republican tax plan that limits charitable deductions. Predictably, the White House has threatened to push back against these strategies. During a televised interview this week, Gary Cohn said the administration would be looking into ways to stop states from implementing these work-arounds.

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Seems easy to avoid.

UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday. The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy. Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area. On Sunday night the Tory chair of the all-party Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, said the committee would launch an urgent investigation.

She also said she would be writing to the head of HM Revenue and Customs to see what contingency plans were being made to avoid hitting UK firms. The bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, spells out clearly how VAT would have to be paid upfront by companies. The government’s own explanatory notes on the bill say the existing regime will end “so that import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”. The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer. Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

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“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold..”

China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes. Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities. A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

[..] Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar who studies Beijing’s use of resettlements to fight poverty, attributed Xi’s focus on the issue partly to the seven years he spent in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was born into China’s “red aristocracy” – the son of the revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun – but was exiled to the parched village of Liangjiahe in the 1960s after his father strayed to the wrong side of Mao. Wang claimed those years of rural hardship continued to shape Xi’s political priorities: “From the bottom of his heart he knows the Chinese farmers … He understands what they want … He even knows the dirty language the people use in the fields when they are farming.”

But hard-nosed political calculations also explained Xi’s bid to paint himself as a champion of the poor – an effort undermined by a recent crackdown on migrants in Beijing which has reportedly seen tens of thousands of poor workers forced from the capital. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you and say: ‘This is our strong leader?’” asked Wang, who argued one answer was waging war on poverty.

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Dunk.

Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he was open to talking to Kim Jong-un and hoped good could come from negotiations between North and South Korea over this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The US president also took credit for those talks, saying: “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games as well as other issues in rare meetings set to begin on Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Amid international concern over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, the talks will be the first staged since December 2015. The discussions will be held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

[..] Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job, the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone. “Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.” Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.” Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that. “At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we’re working on it with [secretary of state] Rex [Tillerson], we’re working on it with a lot of people. “If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

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Prines have been arrested, tortured, forced to sign away their fortunes. But now they protest over water bills? And think they’ll win that one?

11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills

Saudi authorities made a fresh round of arrests of royal-family members as a group of princes staged a palace protest in the capital over the non-payment of their electricity and water bills. Security services on Thursday arrested the 11 princes after they refused to leave Qasr Al-Hokm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said in an emailed statement. The princes, who objected to a decree that ordered the state to stop paying their utility bills, will be held at al-Ha’er prison pending their trial, Al Mojeb said. “No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia, everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” Al Mojeb said. “Any person, regardless of their status or position, will be held accountable should they decide not to follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

In November, authorities swept up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people, including princes and government ministers, and detained them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrests were ordered by a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prince’s anti-graft drive appeared designed to tap into a popular vein among young Saudis who are bearing the brunt of low oil prices and complaining, privately and on social media, that the kingdom’s elite were above the rule of law. King Salman on Saturday ordered extra pay for Saudi government workers and soldiers this year after the implementation of value-added taxation and a surge in fuel prices stirred grumbling among citizens, highlighting the kingdom’s struggle to overhaul its economy without risking a public backlash.

The handouts will cost the state more than 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion), Saud Al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter account. The princes arrested at the palace were also seeking compensation for a death sentence that was issued against one of their cousins, who had been convicted of killing another man and executed in 2016, according to Al Mojeb’s statement. Earlier Saturday, the Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz reported the princes had been arrested. The Al-Ha’er facility south of Riyadh is one of Saudi Arabia’s maximum-security prisons. Many of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic militants who have fought abroad are held there.

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That’s where the life is.

Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year. The new study finds that 94% of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared. The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90% of the world’s reefs. For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.” “I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies.

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Dec 282017
 
 December 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Ansel Adams Church, Taos, Pueblo 1942

 

The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.

Therefore, even if the generosity of our readership has been nothing short of miraculous, we must continue to humbly ask you for more support. Because our work is not done. Our latest essay on this is here: The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018 . It contains links to all 14 previous articles on the situation.

Here’s how you can help:

 

 

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S&P 500 Hits Most Overbought Level In 22 Years (MW)
Peak Good Times? Stock Market Risk Spikes to New High (WS)
Russia’s Finance Minister Confirms Upcoming Bitcoin Regulations (CCN)
Bitcoin Tumbles Over Exchange-Closure Fears (BBG)
Bitcoin’s Surging Price Drives Private Investor Demand For Derivatives (BBG)
Trump Tax Reform Blew Up The Treasury Market (ZH)
The Tax Plan Could Change How Wall Street Works (BBG)
“We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg” (HN)
The Petro-yuan Bombshell (Escobar)
John McDonnell Warns Over ‘Alarming Increase’ In UK Household Debt (G.)
Another Fukushima? Tepco Plans To Restart World’s Biggest Nuclear Plant (G.)
Children Increasingly Used As Weapons Of War – Unicef (G.)

 

 

All the lovely things that debt buys.

S&P 500 Hits Most Overbought Level In 22 Years (MW)

Following a year in which the U.S. stock market hit a record number of records and seen basically nothing in the way of pullbacks or volatility, investors have gone all-in on stocks. Exchange-traded funds, perhaps the most popular way to get exposure to broad parts of the market, have seen record-breaking inflows over the year, with both domestic and foreign-based stock funds seeing heavy interest and no major category seeing outflows. Both retail and institutional investors have gotten in on the action and are positioning in a way that suggests both see further gains ahead. The S&P 500 has rallied about 20% over 2017, on track for its best year since 2013.

According to Torsten Sløk, Deutsche Bank’s chief international economist, “U.S. retail investors say that today is the best time ever to invest in the market,” based on data from the University of Michigan consumer sentiment report, which asks about the probability of an increase in stock prices over the coming year. Younger investors in particular are warming up to equities, according to E*Trade. The latest AAII investor sentiment survey indicates that 50.5% of polled investors are bullish on the market, meaning they expect prices will be higher in six months. That’s the highest level in nearly two years, and significantly above the 38.5% historical average. The number of bullish investors has gone up by 5.5 percentage points in the last week alone, while the percentage of bearish investors has dropped to 25.6%, down 2.5 percentage points over the last week.

Optimism has gotten so high that cash balances for Charles Schwab clients reached their lowest level on record in the third quarter, according to Morgan Stanley, which wrote that retail investors “can’t stay away.” The investment bank noted a similar trend in institutional investors, who it wrote were “loading the boat on risk,” with “long/short net and gross leverage as high as we have ever seen it.”

There have been fundamental reasons for this optimism, including a strong labor market and improving economic data. Furthermore, the recently passed tax bill will cut corporate taxes, which should boost corporate profits — which have already been enjoying their fastest year of growth since 2011. However, the incessant buying has pushed valuations to levels that are not only stretched, but stretched to a historic extent. As was recently noted by LPL Financial, the relative strength index, an indicator of technical momentum, is at its highest level since 1995, which indicates the S&P 500 is at its most overbought level in 22 years.

Read more …

Thank your central banker.

Peak Good Times? Stock Market Risk Spikes to New High (WS)

Margin debt is the embodiment of stock market risk. As reported by the New York Stock Exchange today, it jumped 3.5%, or $19.5 billion, in November from October, to a new record of $580.9 billion. After having jumped from one record to the next, it is now up 16% from a year ago. Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, the surge in margin debt has been breath-taking: The chart by Advisor Perspectives compares margin debt (red line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line), both adjusted for inflation (in today’s dollars). Note how margin debt spiked into March 2000, the month when the dotcom crash began, how it spiked into July 2007, three months before the Financial-Crisis crash began, and how it bottomed out in February 2009, a month before the great stock market rally began:

Margin debt, which forms part of overall stock market leverage, is the great accelerator for stocks, on the way up and on the way down. Rising margin debt – when investors borrow against their portfolios – creates liquidity out of nothing, and much of this new liquidity is used to buy more stocks. But falling margin debt returns this liquidity to where it came from. Leverage supplies liquidity. But it isn’t liquidity that moves from one asset to another. It is liquidity that is being created to be plowed into stocks, and that can evaporate just as quickly: When stocks are dumped to pay down margin debt, the money from those stock sales doesn’t go into other stocks or another asset class, doesn’t become cash “sitting on the sidelines,” as the industry likes to say, and isn’t used to buy gold or cryptocurrencies or whatever. It just evaporates without a trace.

After stirring markets into an eight-year risk-taking frenzy, the Fed is now worried that markets have gone too far. Among the Fed governors fretting out loud over this was Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan who recently warned about the “record-high levels” of margin debt, along with the US stock market capitalization, which, at 135% of GDP, is “the highest since 1999/2000.” “In the event of a sell-off, high levels of margin debt can encourage additional selling, which could, in turn, lead to a more rapid tightening of financial conditions,” he mused. The growth in margin debt has far outpaced the growth of the S&P 500 index in recent years. The chart below (by Advisor Perspectives) shows the percentage growth of margin debt and the S&P 500 index, both adjusted for inflation:

Read more …

Will Russia set the model for the rest of the world? Don’t be surprised if others follow.

Russia’s Finance Minister Confirms Upcoming Bitcoin Regulations (CCN)

The Russian Ministry of Finance has prepared a sweeping regulatory law that will cover many facets of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin in Russia. In an interview with state-owned television broadcaster Rossiya 24 over Christmas, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov confirmed the ministry’s draft law on a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies. The regulation, as expected, will cover bitcoin mining rules, taxation laws for adopters and guidelines for exchanges selling cryptocurrencies. As reported by Russian news source TASS, Siluanov stated: The Ministry of Finance has prepared a draft law, currently under consideration, which will determine the procedure for issuing, taxing, buying and circulation of cryptocurrency. In conjunction, the Ministry of Finance is also reportedly preparing amendments to Russian legislation toward the broader regulation of new financial technologies and digital payments.

The developments are a remarkable contrast to legislation proposed by Russia’s Finance Ministry as recently as March 2016. At the time, the ministry proposed a 7-year prison sentence for bitcoin adopters and users. Earlier in September, Siluanov called for the Russian government to accept and understand “that cryptocurrencies are real.” “There is no sense in banning them,” Siluanov said at the time, “there is a need to regulate them.” The new laws, in its draft, is expected to be submitted to the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian Parliament) tomorrow before its anticipated adoption sometime in March 2018. The new laws were fast-tracked by authorities following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mandate to develop regulations for cryptocurrencies, mining and initial coin offerings (ICOs). The amendments to existing Russian laws to recognize cryptocurrencies will also aid in the prepping for the launch of Russia’s own national cryptocurrency – the CryptoRuble.

Read more …

Korea may be the first to copy Moscow. This is not action, it’s reaction.

Bitcoin Tumbles Over Exchange-Closure Fears (BBG)

Bitcoin resumed its tumble on Thursday after South Korea said it was eyeing options including a potential shutdown of at least some cryptocurrency exchanges to stamp out a frenzy of speculation. South Korea has been ground zero for a global surge in interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as prices surged this year, prompting the nation’s prime minister to worry over the impact on Korean youth. While there’s no immediate indication Asia’s No. 4 economy will shutter exchanges that have accounted by some measures for more than fifth of global trading, the news poses a warning as regulators the world over express concerns about private digital currencies. Bitcoin fell as much as 9% to as low as $13,828 in Asia trading, erasing modest gains after the South Korean release, composite Bloomberg pricing shows.

It’s now down about 28% from its record high reached last week. South Korea will require real-name cryptocurrency transactions and impose a ban on the offering of virtual accounts by banks to crypto-exchanges, according to a statement from the Office for Government Policy Coordination. Policy makers will review measures including the closure of crypto-exchanges suggested by the Ministry of Justice and take proper measures swiftly and firmly while monitoring the trend of the speculation. Bitcoin was trading at about a 30% premium over prevailing international rates on Thursday in Seoul – a continuing sign of the country’s obsession, and the difficulty in arbitraging between markets. “Cryptocurrency speculation has been irrationally overheated in Korea,” the government said in the statement, which comes little more than a week after the bankruptcy filing of one South Korean exchange. “The government can’t leave the abnormal situation of speculation any longer.”

Read more …

The combination of crypto and derivatives sends shivers.

Bitcoin’s Surging Price Drives Private Investor Demand For Derivatives (BBG)

Bitcoin’s surging price has driven private-investor demand for derivatives tracking the virtual currency. Trading in so-called participation notes has skyrocketed this year on Boerse Stuttgart, Europe’s largest exchange for retail derivatives. The number of executed orders jumped 22-fold from 436 in January to almost 10,000 in December.

Read more …

Beware when stirring up a complex system.

Trump Tax Reform Blew Up The Treasury Market (ZH)

Over the past week we have shown on several occasions that there once again appears to be a sharp, sudden dollar-funding liquidity strain in global markets, manifesting itself in a dramatic widening in FX basis swaps, which – in this particular case – has flowed through in the forward discount for USDJPY spiking from around 0.04 yen to around 0.23 yen overnight. As Bloomberg speculated, this discount for buying yen at future dates widened sharply as non-U.S. banks, which typically buy dollars now with sell-back contracts at a future date, scrambled to procure greenbacks for the year-end. However, as Deutsche Bank’s Masao Muraki explains, this particular dollar funding shortage is more than just the traditional year-end window dressing or some secret bank funding panic.

Instead, the DB strategist observes that the USD funding costs for Japanese insurers and banks to invest in US Treasuries – which have surged reaching a post-financial-crisis high of 2.35% on 15 Dec – are determined by three things, namely (1) the difference in US and Japanese risk-free rates (OIS), (2) the difference in US and Japanese interbank risk premiums (Libor-OIS), and (3) basis swaps, which illustrate the imbalance in currency-hedged US and Japanese investments. In this particular case, widening of (1) as a result of Fed rate hikes and tightening of dollar funding conditions inside the US (2) and outside the US (3) have occurred simultaneously. This is shown in the chart below.

What is causing this? Unlike on previous occasions when dollar funding costs blew out due to concerns over the credit and viability of the Japanese and European banks, this time the Fed’s rate hikes could be spurring outflows from the US, European, and Japanese banks’ deposits inside the US. Absent indicators to the contrary, this appears to be the correct explanation since it’s not just Yen funding costs that are soaring. In fact, at present EUR/USD basis swaps are widening more than USD/JPY basis swaps. [..] According to Deutsche, it is possible that an increase in hedged US investments by Europeans could be indirectly affecting Japan, and that market participants could also be conscious of the risk that the repatriation tax system could spur a massive flow-back into the US, of funds held overseas by US companies In fact, one can draw one particularly troubling conclusion: the sharp basis swap moves appear to have been catalyzed by the recently passed Trump tax reform.

Read more …

More ‘unintended’ consequences?!

The Tax Plan Could Change How Wall Street Works (BBG)

Leon Black recently posed a question whose answer will determine how profitable the new U.S. tax regime could make Wall Street firms like his Apollo Global Management. Publicly traded partnerships, including private equity firms Apollo, Blackstone and Carlyle Group, are taxed differently than corporations. So should they take advantage of the overhauled tax rules to pay less in taxes? Or should they use this chance to change to an Inc. from an LLC or LP, which would increase tax bills but allow them to attract investments from mutual funds that have previously been out of reach? “We’re still analyzing,’’ Black told the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference Dec. 6. “It’s an uncertain outcome.’’

Either way, it’s most likely a money-making outcome. The tax changes are a boon for firms such as Apollo, where Black is chief executive officer. The new lower corporate rate has made it possible for bigger publicly traded partnerships to consider the change. As it is, management fees, which typically account for 30 percent or more of their earnings, are already taxed at the corporate rate. That will drop. The legislation scarcely touched the 23.8 percent rate paid on incentive fees, also called carried interest, which incur no additional levy when paid out to shareholders. If the partnerships converted to corporations, the incentive fees would be hit with a second layer of tax when they’re paid out. That would push the combined tax rate on incentive income paid out as dividends to nearly 40 percent, according to Peter Furci, co-chair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s global tax practice.

Read more …

I’m sure this guy is smart, but he misses the point here by a mile. What has happened is the data have been centralized to the NSA and CIA and their peers. Zuckerberg is just a conduit.

“We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg” (HN)

At its inception, the internet was a beautifully idealistic and equal place. But the world sucks and we’ve continuously made it more and more centralized, taking power away from users and handing it over to big companies. And the worst thing is that we can’t fix it – we can only make it slightly less awful. That was pretty much the core of Pirate Bay’s co-founder, Peter Sunde‘s talk at tech festival Brain Bar Budapest. TNW sat down with the pessimistic activist and controversial figure to discuss how screwed we actually are when it comes to decentralizing the internet. In Sunde’s opinion, people focus too much on what might happen, instead of what is happening. He often gets questions about how a digitally bleak future could look like, but the truth is that we’re living it.

“Everything has gone wrong. That’s the thing, it’s not about what will happen in the future it’s about what’s going on right now. We’ve centralized all of our data to a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, who’s basically the biggest dictator in the world as he wasn’t elected by anyone. Trump is basically in control over this data that Zuckerberg has, so I think we’re already there. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and I don’t think there’s a way for us to stop it.” One of the most important things to realize is that the problem isn’t a technological one. “The internet was made to be decentralized,” says Sunde, “but we keep centralizing everything on top of the internet.”

To support this, Sunde points out that in the last 10 years, almost every up-and-coming tech company or website has been bought by the big five: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. The ones that manage to escape the reach of the giants, often end up adding to the centralization. We don’t create things anymore, instead we just have virtual things. Uber, Alibaba and Airbnb, for example, do they have products? No. We went from this product-based model, to virtual product, to virtually no product what so ever. This is the centralization process going on. Although we should be aware that the current effects of centralization, we shouldn’t overlook that it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of upcoming tech-based services that are at risk of becoming centralized, which could have a huge impact on our daily lives.

[..] Feeling a bit optimistic, I asked Sunde whether we could still fight for decentralization and bring the power back to the people. His answer was simple. “No. We lost this fight a long time ago. The only way we can do any difference is by limiting the powers of these companies – by governments stepping in – but unfortunately the EU or the US don’t seem to have any interest in doing this.”

Read more …

Right in theory, but…

The Petro-yuan Bombshell (Escobar)

The website of the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) recently announced the establishment of a yuan-ruble payment system, hinting that similar systems regarding other currencies participating in the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will also be in place in the near future. Crucially, this is not about reducing currency risk; after all Russia and China have increasingly traded bilaterally in their own currencies since the 2014 US-imposed sanctions on Russia. This is about the implementation of a huge, new alternative reserve currency zone, bypassing the US dollar. The decision follows the establishment by Beijing, in October 2015, of the China International Payments System (CIPS). CIPS has a cooperation agreement with the private, Belgium-based SWIFT international bank clearing system, through which virtually every global transaction must transit.

What matters in this case is that Beijing – as well as Moscow – clearly read the writing on the wall when, in 2012, Washington applied pressure on SWIFT; blocked international clearing for every Iranian bank; and froze $100 billion in Iranian assets overseas as well as Tehran’s potential to export oil. In the event Washington might decide to slap sanctions on China, bank clearing though CIPS works as a de facto sanctions-evading mechanism. Last March, Russia’s central bank opened its first office in Beijing. Moscow is launching its first $1 billion yuan-denominated government bond sale. Moscow has made it very clear it is committed to a long term strategy to stop using the US dollar as their primary currency in global trade, moving alongside Beijing towards what could be dubbed a post-Bretton Woods exchange system.

Gold is essential in this strategy. Russia, China, India, Brazil & South Africa are all either large producers or consumers of gold – or both. Following what has been extensively discussed in their summits since the early 2010s, the BRICS are bound to focus on trading physical gold. Markets such as COMEX actually trade derivatives on gold, and are backed by an insignificant amount of physical gold. Major BRICS gold producers – especially the Russia-China partnership – plan to be able to exercise extra influence in setting up global gold prices. [..] The current state of play is still all about the petrodollar system; since last year what used to be a key, “secret” informal deal between the US and the House of Saud is firmly in the public domain.

Even warriors in the Hindu Kush may now be aware of how oil and virtually all commodities must be traded in US dollars, and how these petrodollars are recycled into US Treasuries. Through this mechanism Washington has accumulated an astonishing $20 trillion in debt – and counting. Vast populations all across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) also learned what happened when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil in euros, or when Muammar Gaddafi planned to issue a pan-African gold dinar. But now it’s China who’s entering the fray, following on plans set up way back in 2012. And the name of the game is oil-futures trading priced in yuan, with the yuan fully convertible into gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign exchange markets.

Read more …

The UK Labour party need to cash in now on the government’s mishandling of Brexit and the country’s economy, or risk being seen as part of that government. Corbyn et al know thay could jump in the polls by denouncing Brexit itself, but they don’t have the courage to do that. So on the no. 1 problem, they’re the same as the Tories.

John McDonnell Warns Over ‘Alarming Increase’ In UK Household Debt (G.)

John McDonnell has said the UK is in the grip of a personal debt crisis with levels of unsecured borrowing predicted to hit a record of £19,000 per household by the end of this parliament. The shadow chancellor said the increase in debt, to more than £14,000 per household this year, was alarming. Analysis from Labour shows unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year and could go on to exceed £19,000 per household by 2022 if it follows the current trajectory. It is understood Labour plans to focus on the issue in the new year, warning that the continuing squeeze on wages and the high level of inflation are contributing to high levels of personal debt.

On Wednesday the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank, predicted that the stagnation in real wages was set to continue throughout 2018 and may only begin to lift towards the end of the year. McDonnell said: “The alarming increase in average household debt already means many families in our country are struggling over the Christmas period. The Tories have no real answers to tackle the debt crisis gripping our country and have no solutions to offer those struggling to get by as prices run ahead of wages. “The next Labour government will introduce a £10 per hour real living wage, scrap student fees, end the public sector pay cap and cap interest on consumer credit to build an economy for the many, not the few.”

Read more …

Why go this crazy route? Well, money of course.

Another Fukushima? Tepco Plans To Restart World’s Biggest Nuclear Plant (G.)

If a single structure can define a community, for the 90,000 residents of Kashiwazaki town and the neighbouring village of Kariwa, it is the sprawling nuclear power plant that has dominated the coastal landscape for more than 40 years. When all seven of its reactors are in operation, Kashiwazaki-kariwa generates 8.2m kilowatts of electricity – enough to power 16m households. Occupying 4.2 sq km of land along the Japan Sea coast, it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world. But today, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa are idle. The plant in Niigata prefecture, about 140 miles (225km) north-west of the capital, is the nuclear industry’s highest-profile casualty of the nationwide atomic shutdown that followed the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.

The company at the centre of the disaster has encountered anger over its failure to prevent the catastrophe, its treatment of tens of thousands of evacuated residents and its haphazard attempts to clean up its atomic mess. Now, the same utility, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], is attempting to banish its Fukushima demons with a push to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, one of its three nuclear plants. Only then, it says, can it generate the profits it needs to fund the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi and win back the public trust it lost in the wake of the meltdown. This week, Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave its formal approval for Tepco to restart the Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s No. 6 and 7 reactors – the same type of boiling-water reactors that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.

After a month of public hearings, the nuclear regulation authority concluded that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and said the two reactors met the stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 disaster.

Read more …

What hope is there for us, if there’s none for our children? And yes, all children are our children, not just the ones that live in our homes and communities.

Children Increasingly Used As Weapons Of War – Unicef (G.)

Children caught in war zones are increasingly being used as weapons of war – recruited to fight, forced to act as suicide bombers, and used as human shields – the United Nations children’s agency has warned. In a statement summarising 2017 as a brutal year for children caught in conflict, Unicef said parties to conflicts were blatantly disregarding international humanitarian law and children were routinely coming under attack. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement had become standard tactics in conflicts across Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as in Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar. Some children, abducted by extremist groups, are abused again by security forces when they are released.

Others are indirectly harmed by fighting, through malnutrition and disease, as access to food, water and sanitation are denied or restricted. Some 27 million children in conflict zones have been forced out of school. “Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, Unicef’s director of emergency programmes. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.” Much of the fighting affecting children occurred in long-running conflicts in Africa.

Read more …

Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 5:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Self Portrait 1982

 

A Guardian headline today shouts: “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War. Can He Be Stopped?”. And I’m thinking that is such obvious nonsense, how dare you print it? The North Korea nuke build up has been going on for decades, and neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush nor Obama ever took any decisive actions against it. And now it all falls into Trump’s lap. But that doesn’t mean he’s ‘taken us’ anywhere at all. The last thing Trump wants is this.

It’s not the last thing people like John McCain want, however. Who said about Trump’s “fire and fury” threat to Kim Jong-un that you shouldn’t make that threat unless you’re willing to execute it. Yeah, that’s exactly what McCain and Lindsey Graham and their entire entourage of friends and servants on Capitol Hill have been looking for for ages: war. And they see this in the same way that their peers saw Grenada in the Reagan era.

Small country, no challenge, good publicity. But Kim, crazy as he may or may not be, has learned a few lessons on the way. Cheney, W. and Rumsfeld ‘regime-changed’ Saddam Hussein, and Obama/Hillary ‘came saw and he died’ Gaddafi. They got offed before they could develop nukes. Kim knows that’s the dividing line. Sure, as I said, he may be crazy, but then everybody in this movie is.

That “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War” line is based on da Donald’s “fire and fury” comment. But that is just him trying to talk to Kim in his own language. It was my first thought as soon as I heard it. Every other approach has failed, try this. My second thought was it was directed as much against Beijing as it was against Kim: Xi Jinping, once again, you have to stop this.

Xi has taken notice. He has a crucial Communist Party convention looming this fall, and he can’t afford to have a war in his backyard. He just didn’t have a reason to prevent it before. A few hours after Trump’s “fire and fury”, North Korea released a Canadian prisoner sentenced to hard labor for life. Coincidence? That’s not likely.

What Trump, what America, would need right now is open conversation with Putin, who can make or break things in the area. But given the recent sanctions etc., he doesn’t have much incentive. And the White House has few channels left to communicate with the Kremlin, because every single phone line is under investigation from one grand jury or another, and no line can be trusted to be secret anymore.

That hampers Trump and his people, but it even more hampers Putin in expressing his opinions. At the very moment, when there are nuclear threats being openly, publicly, bandied around, and the US Congress has tied its president’s hands in a very questionable fashion, which makes it impossible for him to talk to the one nuclear power in the world that matters.

The strange, and worrisome, thing about the ‘Orwellian’ 99% vote to take Trump’s powers away from him when it comes to communicating with Putin is that Capitol Hill decided to take it away, only to endorse itself with it. While you can discuss into the wee hours and then some what a US president’s powers should be, and what not, for any political ‘entity’ to vote another’s entity only to have it fall upon itself is legally dangerous.

And that’s not just because John McCain has seemed hellbent on ending his life with a big bang, forever. It’s even more because Capitol Hill has proven that it can effectively strangulate any president it doesn’t like, even if the American people have voted him/her in.

The very ironic consequence, at some point we wish will never come, would be that if Da Donald wants to strike Kim with anything at all, he’ll have to ask McCain and Graham for permission. And they will say: of course: when can we do it, can we do a little bit more just to be sure?

But if Trump wants to prevent that war, be it conventional or nuclear, who does he have to turn to? Not McCain and Graham, McDonnell, that set. They’re lost in the pockets of the military-industrial complex. As are Hillary and Obama and whatever is left after the Democrats go through a court-induced DNC fall-cleaning. They are paid by the exact same sources.

So who? The generals he’s surrounded himself with in the West Wing? Come to think of it, they may be the only sane voices left in Washington. But at the same time, does that feel like a real confidence booster?

Look, America, there are a 100,000 things wrong with Trump. But he is your president. And even if the whole Robert Mueller dig ever gets anywhere, it may first of all be too late, second of all lead to absolute mayhem if any impeachment process gets anywhere, and third of all have you end up with something far worse, president Pence, president Hillary, whatever.

What little-big-boy Kim should be telling you is that it’s time to support your president, no matter how flawed and despicable you think he may be. Because, and this is not the first time I’ve said this, he may well be the only thing standing between you and war. And don’t listen to the voices who claim he’s eager to start it. Or at least don’t listen only to them.

There’s a real chance that Trump will start a war somewhere, but it won’t be because he wants one. Other people in Washington do though. Just about all of them, given that 99% vote on Russia sanctions.

It is time to support your president, America. Not because you like him, or because you agree with him. But because your country elected him and because if you don’t, god help you.

 

 

Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Police car, New York 1942

 

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)
Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)
Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)
China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)
Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)
Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)
The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)
Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)
New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)
Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)
Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)
EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

 

 

As Trump sinks into opioids and nuke threats (talking to Kim in his own language, and no, Trump does not like the Korea thing), and Google sinks into its self-dug moral morass, let’s not forget this one thing: we would not have what poses as an economy if not for central banks buying anything not bolted down. And they cannot keep doing that. And what then?

“At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019”

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)

New statistical data from the investment bank Jefferies LLC has revealed a startling new trend that could have major implications for Europe’s economic future: Italian banks have begun dumping unprecedented volumes of Italian sovereign debt. Holdings of government debt by Italian financial institutions slumped by a record €20 billion in June – almost 10% of the total – after €9.4 billion of sales in May. As the FT reports, the selling by Italian banks is the most emphatic example yet of a broader trend: banks sold €46 billion of government paper in June across Europe, taking the total reduction since the start of this year to €257 billion. The banks’ mass sell-off is probably being driven by two main factors: first, as an attempt to preempt a pending Basel III reform package that could eliminate the equity capital privilege for EU government bonds and second, to position themselves for an anticipated autumn announcement from the ECB that it will begin tightening monetary policy.

“Maybe we are seeing an indication of Italian banks catching up with what their counterparts in Spain have known for a long time – that sovereign debt is not the place to be in a world of rising interest rates, said Jefferies’ senior European economist, Marchel Alexandrovich. But then: who’s buying it? The answer, in the case of Italy, is the ECB and its Italian branch office, the Bank of Italy, where Italian bank deposits rose by €22 billion in June and €50 billion since the start of 2017. The ECB “overbought” Italian government debt in July with purchases of €9.6 billion — its highest monthly quota since quantitative easing began. As Italian banks offload their holdings, the ECB, with Italian native and former Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi at the helm, is picking up the slack.

In doing so, the central bank surpassed its own capital key rules by which member state debt is bought in proportion to the size of each country’s economy. By contrast, the ECB’s German Bund purchases slipped below its capital key rules for the fourth month in a row, which further depressed the spread between Italian and German 10-year debt to 152 basis points, its lowest level of the year. This spread is artificial, derived from the ECB’s binge buying of European sovereign bonds, particularly those belonging to countries on the periphery. A report published in May by Astellon Capital revealed that since 2008, 88% of Italy’s government debt net issuance was acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. That was before taking into account the current sell-down of Italian bonds by Italian banks.

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As central banks buy 100% of a country’s new debt, US banks pay out more than 100% of earnings, and “share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies”. What better way to characterize a non-functioning economy?

Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)

Last Monday, Thomas Hoenig, the Vice Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), sent a stunning letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. The letter contained information that should have become front page news at every business wire service and the leading business newspapers. But with the exception of Reuters, major corporate media like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Business section of the New York Times and Washington Post ignored the bombshell story, according to our search at Google News. What the fearless Hoenig told the Senate Banking Committee was effectively this: the biggest Wall Street banks have been lying to the American people that overly stringent capital rules by their regulators are constraining their ability to lend to consumers and businesses.

What’s really behind their inability to make more loans is the documented fact that the 10 largest banks in the country “will distribute, in aggregate, 99% of their net income on an annualized basis,” by paying out dividends to shareholders and buying back excessive amounts of their own stock. Hoenig writes that the banks are starving the U.S. economy through these practices and if “the 10 largest U.S. Bank Holding Companies were to retain a greater share of their earnings earmarked for dividends and share buybacks in 2017 they would be able to increase loans by more than $1 trillion, which is greater than 5% of annual U.S. GDP.” Backing up his assertions, Hoenig provided a chart showing payouts on a bank-by-bank basis. Highlighted in yellow on Hoenig’s chart is the fact that four of the big Wall Street banks are set to pay out more than 100% of earnings: Citigroup 127%; Bank of New York Mellon 108%; JPMorgan Chase 107% and Morgan Stanley 103%.

What’s motivating this payout binge at the banks? Hoenig doesn’t offer an opinion in his letter but he does state that share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies. What share buybacks do for top management at these banks is to make the share price of their bank’s stock look far better than it otherwise would while making themselves rich on their stock options. If just the share buybacks (forgetting about the dividend payouts) were retained by the banks instead of being paid out, the banks could “increase small business loans by three quarters of a trillion dollars or mortgage loans by almost one and a half trillion dollars.” Hoenig also urged in his letter that there be a “substantive public debate” on what the biggest banks are doing with their capital rather than allowing this “critical” issue to be “discussed in sound bites.” Most corporate media responded to this appeal by ignoring Hoenig’s letter altogether.

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They all want to show nice numbers at the Congress. Shadow banks lend them the money to do it. In exchange for power.

Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)

In the run up to China’s blockbuster Communist Party congress later this year, officials have spent big to ensure the economy is humming along nicely when the conclave begins. It’s after that that things get interesting. With the central government’s deficit limit capped at 3%, officials usually turn on the taps around November and December, once they know they’ll have raised enough to fund a late-year splurge. Not this time. A push to smooth out spending means the fiscal pump is unlikely to go into high gear at year end, which is when economists see growth moderating toward the government’s baseline of 6.5%. While policy makers have quasi-fiscal options up their sleeve – like accelerating infrastructure project approvals or ratcheting up lending via policy banks – efforts to curb profligate local governments and limit debt may restrain those channels too.

“It’s China’s political-business cycle: this year is very important for the political transition, so they front-loaded fiscal spending to ensure a stable economic backdrop,” Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “China’s economy has a fiscal system and a shadow fiscal system. If growth really slows to threaten the target, then we’re going to see spending.” The question is, how much. China ran a fiscal deficit of 918 billion yuan ($137 billion) in the first half, or more than 2% of economic output during the period, Bloomberg calculations show. That’s a record both by value and share. The spending fueled better-than-expected economic growth of 6.9% in the first six months, and infrastructure investment surging at over 20%.

China International Capital Corp. analysts led by Liu Liu say the budgeted deficit will be 1.46 trillion yuan in the second half, versus 2.46 trillion yuan in the same period last year. The world’s second-largest economy still depends on government spending at all levels, as construction of things like roads and railways can be a key buffer when private investors start pulling back or, as now, political sensitivities make robust growth especially important. But those priorities are now clashing with the need to clamp down on indebtedness at lower levels of government, and the desire to avoid a year-end spending glut. In the past, officials have been able to use off-balance sheet spending, such as policy bank loans and funds raised through local government financing vehicles, to keep their deep pockets open.

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It’s starting to feel increasingly like a big fat Ponzi.

China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)

China’s much-vaunted campaign to tackle its leverage problem has captured headlines this year. But to understand why they’re taking on the challenge – and the threat it could pose to the world’s second-largest economy – you need to dig into the mountain. Characterized in state media as the “original sin” of China’s financial system, leverage has swelled over the past decade – partly because policy makers were trying to cushion a slowdown in growth from the old normal of 10% plus. What’s fueled the leverage has been a rapid expansion in household and corporate wealth looking for higher returns in a system where bank interest rates have been held down. The unprecedented stimulus unleashed since 2008 effectively brought to life the “monster” China’s leadership is now trying to tackle, says Andrew Collier at Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong and author of “Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China.”

Implicit backing from the central government meant borrowers had free license to take on debt. “You basically have anybody selling anything they want as they think they can’t lose,” Collier said. Deleveraging – championed by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party Politburo in April – hasn’t truly begun, as “they’re trying to forestall the pain as long as possible,” he said. The equivalent of trillions of dollars are now held in all manner of assets in China, from high-yielding wealth management products to so-called entrusted investments. Taking the heftiest piece of the leverage mountain first, wealth management products had a precipitous rise over the past several years.

A way for borrowers who have trouble getting traditional bank loans to win funding, WMPs have grown in popularity as they typically offer savers much higher yields than banks offer on deposits. WMPs are also a hit because they give lenders a way to keep loans off of their balance sheets, and to skirt regulatory requirements when channeling funds to borrowers, according to Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. The regulatory crackdown this year — mostly in the form of more stringent guidelines on use of financial products — has seen the amount of WMPs outstanding taper off from a peak in April, while yields on them have surged as providers competed for funds. In July, the bank watchdog is said to have told some lenders to cut the rates they offered on the products.

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“It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility..”

Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)

DoubleLine CEO Jeffery Gundlach expects his bet for a decline in the S&P 500 will return 400%. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make 400% on the puts, and we don’t even need a big market decline for that to happen,” Gundlach said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Halftime Report.” He said that in his firm’s analysis, volatility is so low that it can make a big return by buying put options — bets for a decline — on the S&P 500 for December. “It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility,” he said. In its slow grind higher, the S&P 500 has only closed more than 1% higher or lower on four trading days this year.

As a result of the muted market performance, the CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, has persistently held near historical lows around 10 or below this year and hit an all-time low of 8.84 on July 26. The VIX was near 10.1 midday Tuesday as the S&P 500 edged up to a record high. “I think going long the VIX is really sort of free money at a 9.80 VIX level today,” Gundlach said. “I believe the market will drop 3% at a minimum sometime between now and December. And when it does I don’t think the VIX will be at 10.” Gundlach reiterated his expectations for a snap higher in the VIX once volatility picks up, since hedge funds have piled heavily into bets that volatility will remain low.

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OK, got it. Now what?

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)

Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable. But it’s not. A well-known team of inequality researchers — Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman — has been getting some attention recently for a chart it produced. It shows the change in income between 1980 and 2014 for every point on the distribution, and it neatly summarizes the recent soaring of inequality.= The line on the chart (which we have recreated as the red line above) resembles a classic hockey-stick graph. It’s mostly flat and close to zero, before spiking upward at the end. That spike shows that the very affluent, and only the very affluent, have received significant raises in recent decades.

This line captures the rise in inequality better than any other chart or simple summary that I’ve seen. So I went to the economists with a request: Could they produce versions of their chart for years before 1980, to capture the income trends following World War II. You are looking at the result here. The message is straightforward. Only a few decades ago, the middle class and the poor weren’t just receiving healthy raises. Their take-home pay was rising even more rapidly, in%age terms, than the pay of the rich. The post-inflation, after-tax raises that were typical for the middle class during the pre-1980 period — about 2% a year — translate into rapid gains in living standards. At that rate, a household’s income almost doubles every 34 years. (The economists used 34-year windows to stay consistent with their original chart, which covered 1980 through 2014.)

In recent decades, by contrast, only very affluent families — those in roughly the top 1/40th of the income distribution — have received such large raises. Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else. The basic problem is that most families used to receive something approaching their fair share of economic growth, and they don’t anymore.

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Nice try, Ann. But people have no political power left. Just look at the mess that all parties are in, in both the UK and US. So are you going to break the power of finance?

The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)

Challenging and dismantling gargantuan financial markets that operate beyond democratic regulatory oversight will not be easy, but it is long overdue. Some believe that the management of financial markets by governments will never be restored. I do not agree. Because of global imbalances, economic and financial tensions could lead to the onset of wars. These could dismantle global financial markets just as the two world wars did. There is a more peaceful way of restoring finance to the role of servant to, and not master of, economies and regions. For that to happen the public must realise that citizens can exercise economic power over global financial markets. The global ‘House of Finance’ is almost entirely dependent, and indeed largely parasitic, on the public sector. In other words, private finance is largely dependent for its capital gains on taxpayers like you and me.

Commercial banks do not need savings or tax revenues to lend. All they need is to provide finance to viable projects that will generate employment and income in the future – which will repay the loans. The most viable projects today are those needed to protect Britain from climate change. Any government with political spine would have insisted that the banks lend, at low affordable rates, to transformative projects in the real, productive economy where jobs are created, income generated, and society protected. And if shareholders and executives object to such conditions, then politicians should withdraw access to the Bank of England’s QE and low interest rates, and to government guarantees for deposits.

Quantitative easing – the creation of liquidity currently directed only at the financial sector – is only possible because central banks, if not directly publicly owned, are dependent for their legitimacy and money-creation powers, on taxpayers. The Federal Reserve is ultimately backed by US taxpayers. The Bank of England is a nationalised bank, whose authority is derived from Britain’s 31 million-plus taxpayers.

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” ..in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)

The first nine months of 2016 saw a sharp increase in opioid drug overdoses in the US compared to the prior year, according to new data by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The government is struggling to respond to the crisis. Deaths due to drug overdose peaked in the third quarter of last year – 19.7 cases for every 100,000 people, compared to 16.7 in the same period the year before, according to newly released numbers from the NCHS, which is part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Centers attributed 33,000 deaths in 2015 to opioid drugs, including legal prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. “Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic. Today, nearly half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” according to the CDC.

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says actual opioid mortality rate changes are on average 22% higher than federal statistics indicate, due to information missing from CDC records. “Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona,” said the study’s author, Dr. Christopher Ruhm, a health economist at the University of Virginia. Top US officials have consistently raised the alarm about the addiction crisis in the US, but a solution is yet to be found. [..] Last week, the Trump-appointed commission on combating the drug addiction crisis in America called on the president to declare “a national emergency.”

After the meeting with Trump on Tuesday, Price said the administration will act without such a declaration. “Here is the grim reality,” the commission wrote in their letter to Trump. “Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

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And this is how the opioid disaster started, and still rolls on. Easy fix (pun intended), but who’s going to do it?

New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)

New Hampshire sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP on Tuesday, joining several state and local governments in accusing the drugmaker of engaging in deceptive marketing practices that have helped fuel a national opioid addiction epidemic. The lawsuit filed in Merrimack County Superior Court claimed that Purdue Pharma significantly downplayed the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and engaged in marketing practices that “opened the floodgates” to opioid use and abuse. The lawsuit came after the state’s top court in June overturned a ruling that barred the enforcement of subpoenas against Purdue and four other drugmakers because of the use of a private law firm by the office of the attorney general.

The complaint said the Stamford, Connecticut-based company had spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the 1990s on misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain. Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe. That year, the privately held company reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky. The lawsuit by New Hampshire, which was not among those settled, said Purdue has continued to benefit from its earlier misconduct and has since 2011 expanded the market for opioids in the state.

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No wonder with the opioid cases.

Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)

Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. In 2015, the American death rate—the age-adjusted share of Americans dying—rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings.

“Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity,” for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report. Mortality trends are only a small piece of the calculation companies make when estimating what they’ll owe retirees, and indeed, other factors actually led Lockheed’s pension obligations to rise last year. Variables such as asset returns, salary levels, and health care costs can cause big swings in what companies expect to pay retirees. The fact that people are dying slightly younger won’t cure corporate America’s pension woes—but the fact that companies are taking it into account shows just how serious the shift in America’s mortality trends is.

It’s not just corporate pensions, either; the shift also affects Social Security, the government’s program for retirees. The most recent data available “show continued mortality reductions that are generally smaller than those projected,” according to a July report from the program’s chief actuary. Longevity gains fell short of what was projected in last year’s report, leading to a slight improvement in the program’s financial outlook. [..] Absent a war or an epidemic, it’s unusual and alarming for life expectancies in developed countries to stop improving, let alone to worsen. “Mortality is sort of the tip of the iceberg,” says Laudan Aron, a demographer and senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It really is a reflection of a lot of underlying conditions of life.” The falling trajectory of American life expectancies, especially when compared to those in some other wealthy countries, should be “as urgent a national issue as any other that’s on our national agenda,” she says.

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Not sure where this article aims to go, but Americans entering another dimension is a nice starting point.

Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)

I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours’ drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin’ Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory. Most of my friends’ parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in “the City”, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us. We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus – I was 13 – wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV. “And I’m proud to be an American; Where at least I know I’m free”. That “at least” is funny. We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

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Because Greece has the absolutely worst accomodations for them.

EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

European Union countries have begun the process of sending migrants who arrived in Europe via Greece over the last five months back to have their asylum applications assessed there. EU rules oblige migrants to apply for asylum in the country they first enter. But the rules were suspended as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Syrian refugees, entered Greece in 2015. The European Commission recommended in December that EU countries gradually resume transfers to Greece of unauthorized migrants arriving from March 15 onwards. “Some member states have made requests but transfers have not begun. Greece has to give assurances that they have adequate reception conditions,” European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said Tuesday.

“Reception conditions in Greece have significantly improved since last year, which is why the Commission recommended a gradual resumption of transfers,” she said. The recommendation is not binding on EU countries. Greece’s asylum service says requests have been made to return more than 400 migrants. Seven requests have been accepted so far. In Athens, Greece’s migration minister said the returns would involve “tiny numbers.” “We will accept a few dozen people in coming months,” Yiannis Mouzalas told private Skai TV Tuesday. “This will be done provided we have the proper conditions to receive them.” Mouzalas said it was a “symbolic move” dictated by Greece’s EU obligations.

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Aug 062017
 
 August 6, 2017  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Giorgio de Chirico Piazza d’Italia 1913

 

The Bursting of the China Credit Bubble (Crescat)
The Swamp Is So Undrainable It Will End Up Making Mincemeat Of Trump (Stockman)
How The Trump Administration Broke The State Department (FP)
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (Atl.)
Amazon Isn’t The No. 1 Villain In Retail Sector’s Demise (Katsenelson)
On The Beach (John Pilger)
Merkel Is Kowtowing To The German Car Industry (Spiegel)
North Korea Sanctions Bring Nuclear Issue To ‘Critical Phase’, Says China (G.)
What If Every Government Paid Off Its National Debt? (Connelly)
Are Greek Capital Controls Easing? (K.)
More People Live Inside This Circle Than Outside It (WEF)
Is Global Ocean Circulation Collapsing? (Forbes)

 

 

A tour de force PDF by private firm Crescat on China and its potential influence on the world of finance. It echoes a longtime theme of mine: China’s shadow banking sector could bring it all down.

The Bursting of the China Credit Bubble (Crescat)

History has proven that credit bubbles always burst. China by far is the biggest credit bubble in the world today. We layout the proof herein. There are many indicators signaling that the bursting of the China credit bubble is imminent, which we also enumerate. The bursting of the China credit bubble poses tremendous risk of global contagion because it coincides with record valuations for equities, real estate, and risky credit around the world. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has identified an important warning signal to identify credit bubbles that are poised to trigger a banking crisis across different countries: Unsustainable credit growth relative to GDP in the household and (non-financial) corporate sector. Three large (G-20) countries are flashing warning signals today for impending banking crises based on such imbalances: China, Canada, and Australia.

The three credit bubbles shown in the chart above are connected. Canada and Australia export raw materials to China and have been part of China’s excessive housing and infrastructure expansion over the last two decades. In turn, these countries have been significant recipients of capital inflows from Chinese real estate speculators that have contributed to Canadian and Australian housing bubbles. In all three countries, domestic credit-to-GDP expansion financed by banks has created asset bubbles in self-reinforcing but unsustainable fashion. Post the 2008 global financial crisis, the world’s central bankers have kept interest rates low and delivered just the right amount of quantitative easing in aggregate to levitate global debt, equity, and real estate valuations to the highest they have ever been relative to income.

Across all sectors of the world economy: household, corporate, government, and financial, the world’s aggregate debt relative to its collective GDP (gross world product) is the highest it has ever been. Central banks have pumped up the valuation of equities too. The S&P 500 has a cyclically adjusted P/E of almost 30 versus a median of 16, exceeded only in 1929 and the 2000 tech bubble. The US markets are also in a valuation bubble because US-owned financial assets have never been more richly valued relative to income as we show below. The picture is equally frothy if we include real estate, also at record valuations to income. China’s capital outflow spillover from its credit bubble has driven up real estate valuations around the world.

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“And then the Donald will be gone, and well before August 2018, too…”

The Swamp Is So Undrainable It Will End Up Making Mincemeat Of Trump (Stockman)

What will be the trigger that finally sends the establishment after Trump? Ultimately, the hammer of fiscal crisis and a crashing stock market will break any remaining loyalty of the GOP elders as they smell the 2018 elections turning into a replay of the rout of 1974. And then the Donald will be gone, and well before August 2018, too. I told an audience in Vancouver last Friday that it could happen by February. The bottom line is that the Swamp is so undrainable that it will end up making mincemeat of Donald Trump. Needless to say, the ultimate causes of his demise are anchored deep in the failing status quo. America is so addicted to war, debt and central bank driven false prosperity that even the most resourceful and focused challenger would be taken down by its sheer inertia.

But the Donald is so undisciplined, naïve, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, unfocused and megalomaniacal that he is making it far easier for the Swamp critters than they deserve. To a very considerable extent, in fact, he is filling out his own bill of indictment. Moreover, he is totally clueless about how to manage his presidency or cope with the circling long knives of the Deep State which are hell bent on removing him from office. Accordingly, the single most important thing to know about the present risk environment is that it is extreme and unprecedented. In essence, the Donald is the ultimate bull in an exceedingly fragile China shop — and an already badly wounded one at that. So it is no understatement to suggest that the S&P 500 at 2470 and the Dow at 22,000 is about as fragile as the “market” has ever been.

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Is Trump trying the drain the swamp anyway? Or Tillerson? Foreign Policy can’t quite decide on the latter. But these lines, intended as positives, sort of say it all:

“..the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk..”, or this one: “I used to wake up every morning with a vision about how to do the work to make the world a better place..”

How The Trump Administration Broke The State Department (FP)

Employees at the State Department couldn’t help but notice the stacks of cubicles lined up in the corridor of the seventh floor. For diplomats at the department, it was the latest sign of the “empire” being built by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s top aides. The cubicles are needed to accommodate dozens of outsiders being hired to work in a dramatically expanded front office that is supposed to advise Tillerson on policy. Foreign service officers see this expansion as a “parallel department” that could effectively shut off the secretary and his advisors from the career employees in the rest of the building. The new hires, several State officials told Foreign Policy, will be working for the policy planning staff, a small office set up in 1947 to provide strategic advice to the secretary that typically has about 20-25 people on its payroll.

One senior State Department official and one recently retired diplomat told FP that Tillerson has plans to double or perhaps triple its size, even as he proposes a sweeping reorganization and drastic cuts to the State Department workforce. Veterans of the U.S. diplomatic corps say the expanding front office is part of an unprecedented assault on the State Department: A hostile White House is slashing its budget, the rank and file are cut off from a detached leader, and morale has plunged to historic lows. They say President Donald Trump and his administration dismiss, undermine, or don’t bother to understand the work they perform and that the legacy of decades of American diplomacy is at risk.

By failing to fill numerous senior positions across the State Department, promulgating often incoherent policies, and systematically shutting out career foreign service officers from decision-making, the Trump administration is undercutting U.S. diplomacy and jeopardizing America’s leadership role in the world, according to more than three dozen current and former diplomats interviewed by FP. “I used to wake up every morning with a vision about how to do the work to make the world a better place,” said one State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “It’s pretty demoralizing if you are committed to making progress. I now spend most of my days thinking about the morass. There is no vision.”

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Interesting, but it can’t be just one generation.

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (Atl.)

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone. To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling.

The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills. Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

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More on the iPhone.

Amazon Isn’t The No. 1 Villain In Retail Sector’s Demise (Katsenelson)

Retail stocks have been annihilated recently, despite the economy eking out growth. The fundamentals of the retail business look horrible: Sales are stagnating and profitability is getting worse with every passing quarter. Jeff Bezos and Amazon get most of the credit, but this credit is misplaced. Today, online sales represent only 8.5% of total retail sales. Amazon, at $80 billion in sales, accounts only for 1.5% of total U.S. retail sales, which at the end of 2016 were around $5.5 trillion. Though it is human nature to look for the simplest explanation, in truth, the confluence of a half-dozen unrelated developments is responsible for weak retail sales. Our consumption needs and preferences have changed significantly. Ten years ago we spent a pittance on cellphones.

Today Apple sells roughly $100 billion worth of i-goods in the U.S., and about two-thirds of those sales are iPhones. Apple’s U.S. market share is about 44%, thus the total smart mobile phone market in the U.S. is $150 billion a year. Add spending on smartphone accessories (cases, cables, glass protectors, etc.) and we are probably looking at $200 billion total spending a year on smartphones and accessories. Ten years ago (before the introduction of the iPhone) smartphone sales were close to zero. Nokia was the king of dumb phones, with sales in the U.S. in 2006 of $4 billion. The total dumb cellphone handset market in the U.S. in 2006 was probably closer to $10 billion. Consumer income has not changed much since 2006, thus over the last 10 years $190 billion in consumer spending was diverted toward mobile phones.

It gets more interesting. In 2006 a cellphone was a luxury only affordable by adults, but today 7-year-olds have iPhones. Our phone bill per household more than doubled over the last decade. Not to bore you with too many data points, but Verizon’s wireless’s revenue in 2006 was $38 billion. Fast-forward 10 years and it is $89 billion – a $51 billion increase. Verizon’s market share is about 30%, thus the total spending increase on wireless services is close to $150 billion. Between phones and their services, this is $340 billion that will not be spent on T-shirts and shoes. But we are not done. The combination of mid-single-digit health-care inflation and the proliferation of high-deductible plans has increased consumer direct health-care costs and further chipped away at our discretionary dollars. Health-care spending in the U.S. is $3.3 trillion, and just 3% of that figure is almost $100 billion.

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“A lobotomy is performed on each generation. Facts are removed. History is excised and replaced by what Time magazine calls “an eternal present”.”

On The Beach (John Pilger)

“This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper”. These lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men appear at the beginning of Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, which left me close to tears. The endorsements on the cover said the same. Published in 1957 at the height of the Cold War when too many writers were silent or cowed, it is a masterpiece. At first the language suggests a genteel relic; yet nothing I have read on nuclear war is as unyielding in its warning. No book is more urgent. Some readers will remember the black and white Hollywood film starring Gregory Peck as the US Navy commander who takes his submarine to Australia to await the silent, formless spectre descending on the last of the living world.

I read On the Beach for the first time the other day, finishing it as the US Congress passed a law to wage economic war on Russia, the world’s second most lethal nuclear power. There was no justification for this insane vote, except the promise of plunder. The “sanctions” are aimed at Europe, too, mainly Germany, which depends on Russian natural gas and on European companies that do legitimate business with Russia. In what passed for debate on Capitol Hill, the more garrulous senators left no doubt that the embargo was designed to force Europe to import expensive American gas. Their main aim seems to be war – real war. No provocation as extreme can suggest anything else. They seem to crave it, even though Americans have little idea what war is. The Civil War of 1861-5 was the last on their mainland. War is what the United States does to others.

The only nation to have used nuclear weapons against human beings, they have since destroyed scores of governments, many of them democracies, and laid to waste whole societies – the million deaths in Iraq were a fraction of the carnage in Indo-China, which President Reagan called “a noble cause” and President Obama revised as the tragedy of an “exceptional people”. He was not referring to the Vietnamese. Filming last year at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, I overheard a National Parks Service guide lecturing a school party of young teenagers. “Listen up,” he said. “We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom.” At a stroke, the truth was inverted. No freedom was defended. Freedom was destroyed. A peasant country was invaded and millions of its people were killed, maimed, dispossessed, poisoned; 60,000 of the invaders took their own lives. Listen up, indeed.

A lobotomy is performed on each generation. Facts are removed. History is excised and replaced by what Time magazine calls “an eternal present”. Harold Pinter described this as “manipulation of power worldwide, while masquerading as a force for universal good, a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis [which meant] that it never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

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Original tile: “‘Made in Germany’ Label Badly Damaged By Car Scandal”. But the power politics behind it are far more revealing.

Merkel Is Kowtowing To The German Car Industry (Spiegel)

Since the days of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who served from 1998 to 2005, Germany’s leaders have been nicknamed the “Auto Chancellor” for their close ties to the industry. Schröder felt he was a patron of the industry. And Merkel, his successor, was quick to see the connection between maintaining close ties to the key industry and staying in power. On Sept. 23, 2008, she spoke to workers at a Volkswagen factory. “The German government stands behind VW. VW is a great piece of Germany.” The sheer mass of 18,000 workers seemed to awe her. She had likely never spoken in front of that many people at one time. She said she would travel home with the feeling that many workers at Volkswagen wanted “Germany to be doing well.” Observers of the chancellor say that visit to Wolfsburg had a deep impact on Merkel.

A short time later, as the world faced a major economic crisis, she gave employees and executives at Germany’s car companies a gift worth billions of euros in the form of government subsidies that saved jobs and kept the floor from falling out on the industry. The unsavory symbiosis between the government, the industry and the lobbying groups – and the revolving door of personnel moving between them – seems to be the root of the evil. This ensures that the industry has influence and access, and assures employees money and access to the career ladder. It can also cause a bit of head-scratching. A public servant who is supposed to one day passionately fight for the good of the people, is suddenly ready to contribute to their systematic poisoning only a moment later.

Former German Transportation Minister Matthias Wissmann, who served as a member of Merkel’s cabinet and is also a friend, sticks out. Today he’s the president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). All he has to do to get the chancellor’s attention is send her a text message on his mobile phone. Merkel’s former chief of staff at the national headquarters of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Michael Jansen, now works at Volkswagen as the head of the VW’s Berlin office, which conducts the company’s lobbying. A few months ago, carmaker Opel’s chief lobbyist, Joachim Koschnicke, left his job to join the CDU’s election campaign team. All have showered the federal government with emails and letters in recent years to ensure that their companies’ interests are fulfilled.

In May 2013, VDA head Wissmann wrote to “Dear Angela” that she should try to hinder the European Commission’s “excessive” proposals on CO2 targets. VW lobbyist Jansen also wrote to the Chancellery in July 2015 that, on the issue of “air quality/diesel,” the industry’s proposals should be given the “greatest possible consideration.” When he was still an Opel lobbyist, Joachim Koschnicke warned the head of the KBA when approval was delayed for a new Opel model that without it, there would be “potential effects on our business operations.” He said it jeopardized production at five plants and that the “negative effects would be dramatic in every aspect.” And then there’s Eckart von Klaeden, who served as minister of state in the Chancellery from 2009 to 2013 and has since served as head of global external affairs at Daimler.

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How far will China go?

North Korea Sanctions Bring Nuclear Issue To ‘Critical Phase’, Says China (G.)

The situation on the Korean peninsula is entering “a very critical phase”, China has warned after new United Nations sanctions targeting Pyongyang were announced following its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test. Speaking in Manila before a regional security summit, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said the sanctions had been designed “to efficiently, or more efficiently, block North Korea’s nuclear missile development”. “Sanctions are needed but not the ultimate goal,” Wang added. “The purpose is to pull the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table, and to seek a final solution to realise the peninsula denuclearisation and long-term stability through negotiations.” “After the resolution is passed, the situation on the peninsula will enter a very critical phase,” Wang warned, according to China’s state broadcaster CGTN.

“We urge all parties to judge and act with responsibility in order to prevent tensions from escalating.” Wang met his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, on Sunday who reportedly smiled continuously as he shook the Chinese official’s hand. According to Reuters, journalists were not given access to a meeting between the two men. On Saturday Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said “further action is required” against North Korea. Earlier, National Security Adviser HR McMaster said Donald Trump had been “deeply briefed” on recent missile tests carried out by Pyongyang, and said the US would do “everything we can to to pressure this regime” while seeking to avoid “a very costly war”. Haley spoke to the UN security council after the 15-member body imposed the new sanctions against North Korea, in response to its two long-range missiles tests in July.

“We should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem,” Haley said. “Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous. Further action is required. The United States is taking and will continue to take prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies.” Washington would continue annual military exercises with South Korea, Haley said. The UN-approved sanctions include a ban on exports worth more than $1bn, a huge bite out of North Korea’s total exports, valued at $3bn last year. Countries are also banned from giving any additional permits to North Korean laborers – another source of money for the regime of Kim Jong-un – and all new joint ventures with North Korean companies and foreign investment in existing ones are banned.

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“The national debt is actually the government’s savings account..”

What If Every Government Paid Off Its National Debt? (Connelly)

There were six times in US history in which budget surpluses were achieved for long enough to retire a significant amount of debt. Five of those were followed by depressions, the last of which culminated in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The last time America ran a significant budget surplus (about 2.5 years) was under President Clinton. The 2002 recession is a direct result of Clinton’s 1999 surplus which forced the domestic private sector into deficit. Consumer spending fell, unemployment rose and a recession occurred. The economy crashed first in 2000 and then onwards into the Great Recession that began in 2007. “But reducing or retiring the debt isn’t what caused the economic downturns,” says economist, Ellis Winningham. “It was the surpluses that caused it. Simply put, you cannot operate an economy with no money in it.”

So why have we convinced ourselves that government debt is the mother of all evil? That somehow, if the government is in surplus, our bank accounts will automatically improve? In fact, as we shall see, the precise opposite is what would probably happen. Anyone who has ever been chased by a debt collector has come to associate the word ‘debt’ as necessarily scary, bad and to be avoided. If you are a household, this is likely to be true. But debt has an entirely different meaning for governments. To whom is the national debt owed? That would be us: the people. But this truth has been avoided in favour of eliciting a pavlovian response based entirely on the principle that a government budget is the same as that of a household.

“People think that public debt is like a household debt, hence, they buy into the neoliberal nonsense about the government going ‘bankrupt’ and then it’s financial armageddon and we will all die,” says Winningham. “It’s total nonsense. The public debt is just a bunch of savings accounts that pay interest. “People think it will improve their lives because they believe that the government’s debt is their debt. In reality, the government’s debt is the private sector’s asset.” In truth, there is no such thing as the national debt beyond a rhetorical device used to scare the public into submission. In the US, the National Debt is the sum-total of all US dollars ever issued by the Federal Government, from the nation’s founding up until this very moment, that have never been taxed away by the Federal Government.

“From around the 1790’s until today, 2017, the US government has issued, after taxes, $18 trillion dollars for everyone in the non-government sector to use,” says Winningham. “In fact, the national debt has been around for over 170 years now, so at some point, you’re going to have to start understanding that it is not an actual problem. “Further, you need to start understanding that when you accuse Obama, or Bush, or Trump of adding to the national debt, you’re actually accusing them of adding US dollars to the US economy. Or, more precisely, you’re accusing them of adding US dollars to our national savings.” Put simply, The National Debt is the country’s total exports minus the country’s total imports, and isn’t an actual debt at all, but a “balance of trade”.

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A giant sleight of hand: ..new measures that are billed as easing the capital controls but which will in fact reduce the annual amount of cash bank clients can withdraw

Are Greek Capital Controls Easing? (K.)

The government is gearing up to launch new measures that are billed as easing the capital controls but which will in fact reduce the annual amount of cash bank clients can withdraw. As of September 1, when the new measures come into force, citizens will be able to withdraw a total of 1,800 euros per month. When the controls were first introduced in July 2015, Greeks could only withdraw €60 a day, 365 days a year, but since then they have been allowed to carry that amount forward up to a period of two weeks, giving them a €840 limit every 14 days (fixed, from midnight Friday to midnight two weeks later). That will remain the case until the end of August.

The extension of the cumulative withdrawal period may facilitate transactions, but on an annual basis the total amount a bank customer can withdraw will fall from €21,840 (€840 x 26 two-week periods) to €21,600 (€1,800 x 12 months). Greeks could in fact withdraw more money per year on the original limit of €60 per day, totaling €21,900 a year, as that avoided the fixed-two-week-period problem. In other words the “easing” of restrictions has resulted in curtailing people’s withdrawal limit by €300 per annum, for the right to transfer a withdrawal to another day or week. Bank sources tell Kathimerini it is a positive move that will strengthen confidence, make transactions easier and boost the economy.

The new measures will also affect withdrawals in foreign currency in Greece and the use of Greek debit cards for withdrawals abroad. As of September 1 any recipients of money forwarded from abroad will be able to withdraw 50% of the amount without any restrictions. Companies will also be able to open an account at a credit institution by creating a new customer ID regardless of whether they already have another account there. Farmers, who have not been allowed to open bank accounts since the controls started, will finally be allowed to (provided they do not have one already). Employees will be further able to open a new salary account at a different bank to the one at which they are already a client or if their new employer pays their salary at another lender.

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Perspective.

More People Live Inside This Circle Than Outside It (WEF)


Circle centred on 106.6° East, 26.6° North, projected using GMT, created by BCMM – Brilliant Maps

While the map looks surprising at first glance, it shouldn’t really once you consider it contains all or most of the world’s most populous countries: China, India, Indonesia (fourth), Pakistan (sixth), Bangladesh (seventh) and Japan (tenth). And according to the World Population Prospects 2017, a recently updated UN report, the world population will hit a staggering 9.8 billion by 2050. China (with currently 1.4 billion inhabitants) and India (with currently 1.3 billion inhabitants) will remain the two most populous countries, and Nigeria will overtake the United States to become the third-most populous country in the world.

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Not a new theme at all, the Gulfstream, so why present it as somehow new without any new evidence? Nice map though.

Is Global Ocean Circulation Collapsing? (Forbes)

Scientists have long known about the anomalous “warming hole” in the North Atlantic Ocean, an area immune to warming of Earth’s oceans. This cool zone in the North Atlantic Ocean appears to be associated with a slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), one of the key drivers in global ocean circulation. A recent study published in Nature outlines research by a team of Yale University and University of Southhampton scientists. The team found evidence that Arctic ice loss is potentially negatively impacting the planet’s largest ocean circulation system. While scientists do have some analogs as to how this may impact the world, we will be largely in uncharted territory. AMOC is one of the largest current systems in the Atlantic Ocean and the world. Generally speaking, it transports warm and salty water northward from the tropics to South and East of Greenland.

This warm water cools to ambient water temperature then sinks as it is saltier and thus denser than the relatively more fresh surrounding water. The dense mass of water sinks to the base of the North Atlantic Ocean and is pushed south along the abyss of the Atlantic Ocean. This process whereby water is transported into the Northern Atlantic Ocean acts to distribute ocean water globally. What’s more important, and the basis for concern of many scientists is this mechanism is one of the most efficient ways Earth transports heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes. The warm water transported from the tropics to the North Atlantic releases heat to the atmosphere, playing a key role in warming of western Europe. You likely have heard of one of the more popular components of the AMOC, the Gulf Stream which brings warm tropical water to the western coasts of Europe.

Evidence is growing that the comparatively cold zone within the Northern Atlantic could be due to a slowdown of this global ocean water circulation. Hence, a slowdown in the planet’s ability to transfer heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes. The cold zone could be due to melting of ice in the Arctic and Greenland. This would cause a cold fresh water cap over the North Atlantic, inhibiting sinking of salty tropical waters. This would in effect slow down the global circulation and hinder the transport of warm tropical waters north. Melting of the Arctic sea ice has rapidly increased in the recent decades. Satellite image records indicate that September Arctic sea ice is 30% less today than it was in 1979. This trend of increased sea ice melting during summer months does not appear to be slowing. Hence, indications are that we will see a continued weakening of the global ocean circulation system.

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Apr 302017
 
 April 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1965

 

Are Canada’s Homes and Mortgages Worth Just 50 Cents on the Dollar? (WS)
US Congress Does Bare Minimum to Keep Government Open Next Week (BBG)
All the Plenary’s Men (BestEvidence)
The National Blues (Jim Kunstler)
‘Taxation Is Theft’ Meme Goes Mainstream (TAM)
Erdogan: Turkey and US Can Wipe Out ISIL in Raqqa (AlJ)
ISIS Suffers Heavy Casualties In Kurdish Fighters’ Advances In Raqqa (FNA)
Russia Backs China Call To Stop N. Korea Nuke Tests, US-S. Korea Drills (RT)
Brazil Paralyzed by Nationwide Strike, Driven by Corruption and Impunity (GG)
Mélenchon: France To Choose Between Extreme Right And Extreme Finance (IC)
Matteo Renzi Tries The Macron Approach (Pol.)
EU Throws Down Brexit Gauntlet to Britain as Talks Edge Closer (BBG)
Merkel Talks Tough on Migrants in Election Campaign Warm-Up (BBG)
PwC: Greece Must Reform Or Forget Recovery (K.)

 

 

“On April 28, HOOPP CEO Jim Keohane told BNN in an interview that “for every $1 we lend Home Capital, they’re going to provide us with $2 of mortgages as collateral. That’s where we get our protection from.” So the C$2 billion loan would be backed by C$4 billion in mortgages. In other words, in the eyes of Keohane, these mortgages might be actually worth, when push comes to shove, 50 cents on the dollar.”

Are Canada’s Homes and Mortgages Worth Just 50 Cents on the Dollar? (WS)

Home Capital is Canada’s biggest “alternative” mortgage lender. It’s not a bank – which today is part of its problem because it cannot create money to lend out; it has to obtain it first by attracting deposits and borrowing money through other channels. Through its subsidiary, Home Trust, it specializes in high-profit mortgages to risky borrowers, with dented credit or unreliable incomes who don’t qualify for mortgage insurance and were turned down by the banks. This includes subprime borrowers. Since revelations of liar loans surfaced in 2015, things have gone to heck. Now it’s experiencing a run on its deposits. Teetering at the abyss, it obtained a $2 billion bailout loan on Thursday. The terms are onerous. And on Friday, the crux of the deal emerged – the amount of mortgages it has to post as collateral. It’s a doozie.

It sheds some light on what insiders think mortgages and the homes that back them are worth when push comes to shove. A bone-chilling wake-up call for the Canadian housing and mortgage market. This is when the whole construct started falling apart: On July 15, 2015, Home Capital announced that originations of high-margin uninsured mortgages had plunged 16% and originations of lower-margin insured mortgages had plummeted 55%, and that it had axed an unspecified number of brokers. Shares plunged 25% in two days. On July 30, 2015, it disclosed, upon the urging of the Ontario Securities Commission, the results of an investigation that had been going on secretly since September 2014 into “falsification of income information.” Liar loans. It suspended 45 mortgage brokers who’d together originated in 2014 nearly C$1 billion in residential mortgages, or 12.5% of its total.

The scandal festered. Short sellers circled in formation. On April 26, 2017, Home Capital announced that it’s experiencing a run on its deposits. As of the end of March, its subsidiary Home Trust sat on about C$2 billion in high-interest savings accounts (HISA) it is offering to regular savers. But these folks were pulling their money out, it said, and the pace of the run was accelerating. It also disclosed that it was finalizing a $2 billion bailout loan from the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) which has about $70 billion in assets. The loan would “have a material impact on earnings….” So an expensive loan.

Home Trust would pay a non-refundable commitment fee of $100 million; would be required to make an initial draw of $1 billion at an interest rate of 10%; and would pay a 2.5% standby fee on undrawn funds. So the initial $1 billion for the first 12 months would cost it $225 million in fees and interest, a juicy 22.5%! Once the credit line is fully utilized, the cost of the loan would drop to 15%. Its shares collapsed by 65%. On Friday, April 28, it announced that another C$290 million in deposits were yanked out on Thursday, after C$472 had been yanked out on Wednesday. Its HISA deposits were down to C$521 million, having plunged 75% since late March.y

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Kept the lights on for 100 days.

US Congress Does Bare Minimum to Keep Government Open Next Week (BBG)

Congress gave itself one more week to agree on a spending bill to fund the U.S. government through September, leading into President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office Saturday by keeping the lights on. The 382-30 House vote Friday was followed quickly by unanimous Senate passage of the stopgap spending bill hours before the shutdown deadline. Trump signed the bill Friday evening, according to a White House official. “We feel very good” that lawmakers will be able to pass a full spending bill next week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters earlier in the day. Leaders of both parties say they’re close to agreement on a broader spending plan after Republicans signaled they would accept Democratic demands that the Trump administration promise to continue paying Obamacare subsidies and to drop its bid for immediate funds for a wall on the Mexican border.

“You shouldn’t create artificial deadlines,” Alabama Republican Representative Gary Palmer said in support of the short-term measure. “If there are things we need to work through, we need to take the time to work through them.” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said both sides have made progress on issues including more funds for the National Institutes of Health, opioid funding for states, Pell college grants and money for transit. But he said the talks remain snagged over Republican demands for policy “riders.” “Let’s not govern by partisan manufactured crisis,” he said on the Senate floor. “Stop posturing,” he added as he called for a speedy resolution on the bill sometime next week. “This is no way to govern,” Leahy said before the Senate vote.

Sixteen House Republicans voted against Friday’s stopgap measure. The short-term fix to ward off a government shutdown – on a deadline set months ago – shows the stubborn dysfunction of Congress even with a unified Republican government. House GOP leaders on Thursday abandoned efforts to vote this week on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare for lack of support in their party. A vote is still possible next week.

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Eye-opening to say the least. Make the coffee extra strong before viewing. Lots of ground gets covered, quickly. And don’t mothball those pitchforks and torches just yet.

All the Plenary’s Men (BestEvidence)

“The King can do no wrong.”
—William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England

“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
—Ex-President Richard Nixon, interview with David Frost

The question at bar is why the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to prosecute any too-big-to-fail banks or—more importantly—their bankers, even for admitted crimes. It’s a crucial question, because after eight straight years of unremitting prosecutorial failure, it looks very much as if a select group of top banks can, in fact, do no wrong. If that’s the case, then our constitutional republic isn’t merely in trouble. It’s dead. A person or group of people who satisfy Blackstone’s criterion for ultimate sovereign power—the power to commit crimes with impunity—can’t exist in a nation where the law reigns supreme. And yet here we are a decade after the financial crisis began in earnest, and not one TBTF bank executive has gone to jail.

Legally, the TBTF banks are indistinguishable from the King, since the power to commit crimes with impunity swallows all other sovereign powers; such a power isn’t even supposed to exist in the U.S., and yet it does. Moreover, since there can’t be two kings in a kingdom, the entire U.S. government, from the president on down, is just one of the King’s men under this formulation of power. The real job of the U.S. government, then, isn’t to represent the will of the people at all, it’s to do the King’s bidding. A nation that isn’t governed by law is governed by instead by a king—it’s one or the other—and the president’s inferiority to such an above-the-law sovereign was confirmed over 40 years ago with Nixon’s ouster. The president, unlike the King, answers to the law (despite Nixon’s opinion).

Now, you may say that while the TBTF banks might arguably have the de facto power of the King, that’s a far cry from wielding such power formally (i.e., having de jure criminal immunity). The reply to that objection is set forth in this film, “All the Plenary’s Men,” which is a sequel to “The Veneer of Justice in a Kingdom of Crime.” Another objection, raised by the DOJ itself, is that it HAS prosecuted TBTF bankers, citing cases like that of Raj Rajaratnam. These cases, however, in fact reveal the DOJ acting on behalf of the criminal global banking cartel. On that score, the DOJ’s abysmal track record is by now so extensive and so thorough that it’s possible to spot legal patterns in the DOJ’s protracted miscarriage of justice, and, as you’re about to see, those patterns are very deeply disturbing indeed.

What’s been going on cuts right past a garden variety constitutional crisis like Watergate straight to a crisis of sovereignty. The backdrop for all of this is HSBC’s exoneration in December of 2012 for laundering money for drug dealers and terrorists, about which the House Financial Services Committee issued a report in July of 2016. Whether it was due to the political circus in town at the time, or to the Republican authorship of that report (albeit without dissent), it didn’t get nearly the scrutiny it deserved. You see, prosecutors working on the HSBC case were actually going to indict the bank, but they got overruled, and HSBC and its team of criminals skated. The story of how exactly that reversal came about reveals, if not the King himself, then certainly many of the King’s top men.

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“It concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, like waiting to be hanged.”

The National Blues (Jim Kunstler)

You can read it in the bodies of the people in the new town square, i.e. the supermarket: people prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sunk in despair, a deadly consolation for lives otherwise filled by empty hours, trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort. These are people who have suffered their economic and social roles in life to be stolen from them. They do not work at things that matter. They have no prospects for a better life — and, anyway, the sheer notion of that has been reduced to absurd fantasies of Kardashian luxury, i.e. maximum comfort with no purpose other than to enable self-dramatization. And nothing dramatizes a desperate life like a drug habit. It concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, like waiting to be hanged.

[..] The eerie thing about reading the landscape of despair is that you can see the ghosts of purpose and meaning in it. Before 1970, there were at least five factories in my little town, all designed originally to run on the water power (or hydro-electric) of the Battenkill River, a tributary of the nearby Hudson. The ruins of these enterprises are still there, the red brick walls with the roofs caved in, the twisted chain-link fence that no longer has anything to protect, the broken masonry mill-races. The ghosts of commerce are also plainly visible in the bones of Main Street. These were businesses owned by people who lived in town, who employed other people who lived in town, who often bought and sold things grown or made in and around town.

Every level of this activity occupied people and gave purpose and meaning to their lives, even if the work associated with it was sometimes hard. Altogether, it formed a rich network of interdependence, of networked human lives and family histories. What galls me is how casually the country accepts the forces that it has enabled to wreck these relationships. None of the news reports or “studies” done about opioid addiction will challenge or even mention the deadly logic of Wal Mart and operations like it that systematically destroyed local retail economies (and the lives entailed in them.) The news media would have you believe that we still value “bargain shopping” above all other social dynamics. In the end, we don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’ve maintained for many years that it will probably require the collapse of the current arrangements for the nation to reacquire a reality-based sense of purpose and meaning. I’m kind of glad to see national chain retail failing, one less major bad thing in American life. Trump was just a crude symptom of the sore-beset public’s longing for a new disposition of things. He’ll be swept away in the collapse of the rackets, including the real estate racket that he built his career on. Once the collapse gets underway in earnest, starting with the most toxic racket of all, contemporary finance, there will be a lot to do. The day may dawn in America when people are too busy to resort to opioids, and actually derive some satisfaction from the busy-ness that occupies them.

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Funny but true.

‘Taxation Is Theft’ Meme Goes Mainstream (TAM)

The month of April is a nightmare for anyone with a conscience, as we only have until “tax day” — which usually falls on April 15 — to give the taxman what he says he deserves. So if you pay taxes to Uncle Sam and you’re also aware you’re paying for mass murder in the Middle East and in U.S. streets due to the drug war, you should also feel sick to your stomach as you write that check. To a restaurant customer, this may have served as enough incentive to remind his server that taxation is always immoral — but he didn’t stop there. Last week, a customer at a Missouri restaurant gave the waitress a “personal gift” instead of a tip, writing the now popular line “Taxation is theft” in the tip section of the receipt. In a second note, the fiscally conscious customer added: “This is not a tip. This is a personal gift and not subject to federal or state income taxes.”

With major progressive news outlets like ATTN: reporting on this story, left-leaning reporters started to debate wages in the food and service industries, discussing the fact that tips end up being factored as wages, meaning they are always taxable. But as that discussion developed, reporters were quick to realize that when personal gifts are in the mix, the taxman can’t take part of those earnings away. After all, a gift would have to exceed $13,000 to be subject to taxation, meaning that even if the customer had spent hundreds, the “personal gift” would not amount to anything close to the requirements stipulated by the IRS.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, it becomes easier to not only tip with class, but also with substance, giving your waiter a lesson on what’s moral and how to legally go around the rules to make sure they enjoy their full tip — not just the percentage deemed to be fit by the federal government. As this story becomes part of the popular movement ignited by libertarians, expect to see more progressive news outlets becoming familiarized with the actual concept of taxation. What’s left for us to find out is if they are going to change their tune and start attacking people like this customer when the two-party pendulum swings once again and a fully Democratic slate takes over Washington. Are they going to remain consistent in discussing taxation from the point of view of the worker, or are they going to side with the leech? Only time will tell.

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From separate map picked up on Twitter: “When ISIS was winning Turkey was just watching. Now when ISIS is getting defeated by Kurds, Turkey starts attacking Kurds. Turkey = ISIS.”

Erdogan: Turkey and US Can Wipe Out ISIL in Raqqa (AlJ)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday if Ankara and Washington were to join forces they could turn the Syrian city of Raqqa into a “graveyard” for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Erdogan also suggested he could launch cross-border operations against Kurdish rebels at any time, just days after the military carried out air strikes in Syria and Iraq, drawing concern from the United States. “America, the coalition, and Turkey can join hands and turn Raqqa into a graveyard for [ISIL],” Erdogan told a business summit in Istanbul. “They [ISIL] will look for a place to hide.” Erdogan’s comments come ahead of a meeting with US President Donald Trump on May 16 – their first face-to-face summit since the real estate mogul and reality TV star took office in January.

Ankara is hopeful about a relationship with Washington under Trump after ties frayed in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration, which limited cooperation between the NATO allies. The two countries have bitterly disagreed over the role of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK group, which has waged a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. But the US is concerned that Turkey’s military operations in Syria are more focused on preventing Syrian Kurds from forming an autonomous region in northern Syria, along Turkey’s border, that could embolden Turkey’s own Kurdish minority.


@Furiouskurd: When ISIS was winning Turkey was just watching. Now when ISIS is getting defeated by Kurds, Turkey starts attacking Kurds. Turkey = ISIS.

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As the only party involved, the Kurds fight for their own land. And they have liberated lots of prisoners, women, children.

ISIS Suffers Heavy Casualties In Kurdish Fighters’ Advances In Raqqa (FNA)

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued the anti-ISIL Euphrates Rage Operation in Western Raqqa and managed to drive the terrorists out of more neighborhoods in al-Tabaqa city, killing over 40 of them. The SDF engaged in heavy fighting with ISIL in al-Tabaqa city and managed to take control of the neighborhoods of al-Nababeleh, al-Zahra and al-Wahab, killing 23 militants. In the meantime, the Kurdish fighters managed to push ISIL back from al-Wahabah and Radio Station in al-Tabaqa, killing 20 militants and capturing 10 others. In relevant developments in the province on Tuesday, the SDF stormed ISIL’s defense lines and took full control over the villages and settlements of Kabash al-Sharqi, Um al-Tonok, Rayan, Tishrin farm, Mosheirehe al-Shamaliyeh, Mosheirefeh al-Janoubiyeh, al-Rahiyat, Beir Jarbou, Jarwa, al-Hattash, Hazimeh, Khalwa Abideh, Holo Abd, Abareh, al-Kaleteh, Sukriyeh and Zohra, inflicting major losses on ISIL.

The Kurdish forces also won back a key neighborhood in the Southern sector of Tabaqa city following a large advance on its Western urban. In the meantime, the SDF managed to seize control over the Alexandria suburb, and now the Kurds have swept through the adjacent Wahab neighborhood. Kurdish forces also secured the island of Jazirat al-Ayd, a few kilometers North of Lake Assad. According to latest reports, around 40% of Tabaqa city has been brought under Kurdish control with just a few hundred ISIL militants left in its Northern sector and around the city center.

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‘..double suspension..’

Russia Backs China Call To Stop N. Korea Nuke Tests, US-S. Korea Drills (RT)

Russia has supported a Chinese initiative in the UNSC intended to stabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula. It calls on the North to refrain from missile and nuclear testing, while the US and South Korea should halt military drills in the area.
“Members of the [UN] Security Council have unanimously called upon DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to stop missile and nuclear tests and to fulfil UNSC resolutions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday following a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session held in New York earlier on Friday. The UNSC called for a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the ministry added.

“In this context, the Russian Federation supported a Chinese proposal for a ‘double suspension’ (Pyongyang is to stop missile and nuclear tests and the US and South Korean militaries are to halt drills near North Korea) as a starting point for political negotiations.” However, the council was not able to agree on a common solution, the ministry added. The UNSC session was joined by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who urged Washington and Seoul to reconsider their decision to station a THAAD anti-missile system on the Korean Peninsula, warning that it will serve as a “destabilizing factor” in the region.

Gatilov said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) had been deployed “in line with the vicious logic of creating a global missile shield,” while warning that it is also undermining the security and deterrent capacities of adjacent states, such as China, thus threatening “the existing military balance in the region.” “It is not only we who perceived this step very negatively. We are once again urging both the United States and the Republic of Korea to reconsider its expediency, and other regional states not to yield to the temptation of joining such destabilizing efforts,” the deputy foreign minister said. Ahead of the UNSC session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that a peaceful solution to the Korean crisis is the “only right choice.” “Peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations represents the only right choice that is practical and viable,” Wang said.

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Very few Brazil politicians are not involved in one scam or another.

Brazil Paralyzed by Nationwide Strike, Driven by Corruption and Impunity (GG)

Just over one year ago, Brazil’s elected President, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached – ostensibly due to budgetary lawbreaking – and replaced with her centrist Vice President, Michel Temer. Since then, virtually every aspect of the nation’s political and economic crisis – especially corruption – has worsened. Temer’s approval ratings have collapsed to single digits. His closest political allies – the same officials who engineered Dilma’s impeachment and installed him in the presidency – recently became the official targets of a sprawling criminal investigation. The President himself has been implicated by new revelations, saved only by the legal immunity he enjoys. It’s almost impossible to imagine a presidency imploding more completely and rapidly than the unelected one imposed by elites on the Brazilian population in the wake of Dilma’s impeachment.

The disgust validly generated by all of these failures finally exploded this week. A nationwide strike, and tumultuous protests in numerous cities, today has paralyzed much of the country, shutting roads, airports and schools. It is the largest strike to hit Brazil in at least two decades. The protests were largely peaceful, but some random violence emerged. The proximate cause of the anger is a set of “reforms” that the Temer government is ushering in that will limit the rights of workers, raise their retirement age by several years, and cut various pension and social security benefits. These austerity measures are being imposed at a time of great suffering, with the unemployment rate rising dramatically and social improvements of the last decade, which raised millions of people out of poverty, unravelling.

[..] During the past three years, Brazilians have been subjected to one revelation after the next of extreme corruption pervading the country’s political and economic class. Scores of corporate executives and long-time party leaders are imprisoned. They include the head of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, the House Speaker who presided over Dilma’s impeachment, and the former governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. The current House Speaker, and Senate President, and nine of Temer’s ministers are now targets of criminal investigations for bribery and money laundering, as are numerous governors.

In sum, the vast bulk of the top-shelf political and economic elite have proven to be radically corrupt. Billions upon billions of dollars have been stolen from the Brazilian public. Recently released recordings from the judicial confessions of Marcelo Odebrecht, scion of one of Brazil’s richest families, depict a country ruled almost entirely through bribes and criminality, regardless of the ideology or party of political leaders. And yet, even in the wake of this oozing and incomparable elite corruption, the price that is being paid falls overwhelmingly on the victims – ordinary Brazilians – while the culprits prosper.

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Melenchon seeks to hold on to his voters for the June parliamentary elections.

Mélenchon: France To Choose Between Extreme Right And Extreme Finance (IC)

The leader of a far-left movement who won nearly 20% of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, told his seven million voters in a YouTube address on Friday that he would not tell them how to vote in the final-round run-off next weekend. As for himself, Mélenchon said that he would cast a ballot, and that it would not be for Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front, who courted his voters in a video of her own on Friday. But Mélenchon also refused to say, like the leaders of other parties across the political spectrum – and celebrities including the French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane – that he would vote for Le Pen’s centrist rival, the former banker Emmanuel Macron, to stop the far-right from gaining power.

Instead, Mélenchon predicted that forcing France to choose between a candidate of “the extreme right” and one of “extreme finance” would led to a political crisis, and left open the possibility that he would submit a blank ballot, a form of protest vote permitted under French electoral law. (Mélenchon’s platform included provisions for voting to be made mandatory, and for blank ballots to be recognized under law.) The appeal for unity, to construct a barrage, or dam, against the rising tide of the far-right, Mélenchon said, was, in fact, a disguised attempt to force voters like him, who profoundly disagree with Macron’s economic policies, to endorse his project. Amid fears that widespread abstention and protest votes for neither candidate could lower the threshold for Le Pen to win with 50% of the valid votes cast, Mélenchon’s refusal to join the sort of united front against Le Pen that led to her father’s defeat in 2002 caused anxiety to spike.

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Chameleons and parrots are us.

Matteo Renzi Tries The Macron Approach (Pol.)

Matteo Renzi toned down the EU-critical rhetoric of his final months as Italian prime minister during his visit to Brussels on Friday to drum up support for his bid to be restored as head of the Democratic Party (PD) in its primaries this weekend. With aides suggesting on social media that French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron’s pro-EU stance, which helped him beat Euroskeptic Marine Le Pen in the election’s first round, could be a boost for Renzi, he talked about “Angela, François and I” when referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Renzi even stood in front of a display showing the EU flag, and felt the need to explain why, in the run-up to his failed constitutional referendum that cost him the prime ministership last December, he had removed the EU flag from behind his desk.

“It wasn’t anger, it was calculated gesture,” Renzi told PD followers at a hotel near the European Parliament, adding that it was in response to the European Commission demanding Italian action on its budget deficit when it had been hit by an earthquake. The Italian and international media have speculated about the similarities between Renzi and Macron, with Renzi’s slogan for the PD primary this Sunday — In Cammino (“on the way”) — almost a direct translation of the name of Macron’s centrist political movement, En Marche. One close Renzi aide, Giuliano Da Empoli, wrote on Facebook the day after Macron’s first-round victory on April 23 that the French result “shows that one can be at the same time a convinced pro-European and a harsh critic of the status quo.”

That was the tone Renzi tried to strike in Brussels on Friday, repeating his line that the EU “needs radical change” and taking a dig at Germany for its trade surplus, while warning about the dangers of populism. “With the radicals you win the primary elections but then you lose the elections,” he told the audience. In the French campaign, which comes to a head with the second-round vote on May 7, the candidate closest to Renzi’s Democratic Party was Benoît Hamon, who won the ruling Socialist Party’s primaries but took only 6% of the vote on election night. That must resonate for Renzi, who wants to regain control of the PD to prepare a bid for a new term as prime minister in elections due early next year.

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“Nobody has united here against the U.K.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters..” She’s right, all everyone’s done is side WITH Germany. Without a word.

EU Throws Down Brexit Gauntlet to Britain as Talks Edge Closer (BBG)

European Union governments threw down the gauntlet to the U.K. ahead of Brexit talks, listing demands Prime Minister Theresa May must satisfy before they will discuss the trade deal she wants and urging her to be more realistic in her expectations. Any doubts about the scale of the task facing Britain in withdrawing from the EU after four decades were laid to rest at a Brussels summit of the region’s leaders on Saturday. A tough negotiating stance was endorsed unanimously, within minutes and to applause. The U.K. responded by saying it’s bracing for a confrontation. The complexity comes down to the fact that a departure from the world’s biggest trading bloc has never been done and was never supposed to happen. The EU is striving to ensure the U.K. is worse off outside it than inside, not least to avoid setting a precedent.

After agreeing to the terms of separation, then it’s a matter of getting down to the business of what a future relationship might look like. “Nobody has united here against the U.K.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters as she left the meeting. “The British people have made a decision, which we will have to respect. But we remaining 27 now get together in order to speak with one voice.” The Brexit discussions will begin soon after the U.K.’s June election, which May called in part to strengthen her mandate going into talks. The first orders of business will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the Britain and calculating a financial settlement one leader said would be at least €40 billion euros ($44 billion). Only once “sufficient progress’’ is made on those thorny topics and reinforcing the border between the two Irelands will the EU’s attention turn to trade. That looks unlikely to happen before December.

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Merkel tries to deflect the blame for what’s gone wrong, blames local officials for sweeping things under the carpet. Yeah, she would never have had any reason to do just that herself. Plus, she blames ‘Europe’s haphazard policing of its outer borders’, something for which no-one carries more responsibility than … Merkel, the de facto boss of the EU. Mutti Merkel’s just another politician going wherever the wind blows.

Merkel Talks Tough on Migrants in Election Campaign Warm-Up (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is talking tough on migrants and crime as she hits the campaign trail for two state elections next month, giving a foretaste of her bid for a fourth term in September. Merkel’s hardened rhetoric was on display in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, where her Christian Democratic Union is seeking to end seven years of Social Democratic rule on May 14. On Friday, she’s campaigning east of Hamburg in Schleswig-Holstein, where two polls this week suggest her party has a slim lead over the SPD ahead of a regional vote on May 7. At a CDU rally in the rural Westphalian town of Beverungen, Merkel reaffirmed her push to return migrants who don’t qualify for asylum and attacked the state’s Social Democrat-led government as soft on crime.

She said local officials “tried to sweep under the carpet” lapses in policing around mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015, an incident that stoked an anti-immigration backlash. “The opportunity for improvement was there,” Merkel told the crowd on Thursday. “Things didn’t get better, so it’s time for a change.” As polls suggest that both Germany’s anti-immigration AfD party and her Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz are in retreat for now, Merkel is using the opening to rally her CDU behind traditional themes of public safety. At a security conference this week, she said Europe’s haphazard policing of its outer borders compares unfavorably to U.S. immigration checks and must be strengthened.

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PricewaterhouseCoopers gets the first half right: as I’ve said numerous times, Greece cannot recover under present conditions imposed by the Troika. But then PwC loses the thread. Pity but predictable.

PwC: Greece Must Reform Or Forget Recovery (K.)

The extent of the destruction the Greek economy has suffered in the last few years, also undermining the effort to restructure it, becomes clear when comparing specific data, not on a quarterly or annual basis, but over the longer term. The country remains in a vicious cycle of recession, the economy will not grow by more than 1% this year, and any positive signs have proved temporary or insufficient to alter the overall picture. According to “Economic Outlook for Greece 2017-2018,” a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), investment in the country’s economy dropped from €60 billion in 2010 to €20 billion last year. Investments are showing no signs of sustainable recovery as savings remain in the red and banks continue to deleverage their financial reports.

Consumption has been in constant decline, with a small recovery last year followed by a fresh drop in recent months. The average disposable income has gone down primarily due to the increased taxation and hikes in social security contributions, while the capital controls remain and banks are dependent on emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) for their financing. PwC notes that disposable incomes are unlikely to grow significantly anytime soon. There are just a few domestic investments that could fuel a recovery and no significant funding for investments is expected from abroad. At the same time it will be hard for fiscal performance to post a significant improvement without any deep structural reforms, including in the social security system.

The banks’ lack of liquidity, the delayed repayment of the state’s dues to its suppliers and the capital controls are likely to persist. PwC further argues that despite the delays in the second bailout review, Greece could avoid any unforeseeable tension and political events and achieve some growth, but not any greater than 1%, and the same challenges will remain next year too. An exit from the vicious cycle, says PwC, will require not only a change in the Greek debt’s sustainability terms, but also a drastic acceleration of structural reforms and the boosting of competitiveness and growth.

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Apr 252017
 
 April 25, 2017  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)
Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)
Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)
The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)
Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)
Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)
Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)
Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)
China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)
Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)
Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)
Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)
Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)
At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

 

 

They’ve been doing this forever: “..the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump intensified a trade dispute with Canada, slapping tariffs of up to 24% on imported softwood lumber in a move that drew swift criticism from the Canadian government, which vowed to sue if needed. Trump announced the new tariff at a White House gathering of conservative journalists, shortly before the Commerce Department said it would impose countervailing duties ranging from 3% to 24.1% on Canadian lumber producers including West Fraser Timber. “We’re going to be putting a 20% tax on softwood lumber coming in – tariff on softwood coming into the United States from Canada,” Trump said Monday, according to a tweet by Charlie Spiering at Breitbart News. A White House official confirmed the comment.

The step escalates an economic battle among neighboring countries that normally have one of the friendliest international relationships in the world. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross amplified Trump’s remarks in a statement afterward that also referenced a fight over a new Canadian milk policy that U.S. producers say violates Nafta. “It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” Ross said, adding “it became apparent that Canada intends to effectively cut off the last dairy products being exported from the United States.” He said the Commerce Department “determined a need” because of unfair Canadian subsidies to the lumber industry to impose “countervailing duties of roughly one billion dollars.” In a dig at NAFTA, which Trump has said he wants to renegotiate, Ross added, “This is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement.”

[..] The so-called countervailing duties, which counter what the U.S. considers Canadian subsidies, came in below some analyst expectations. CIBC analyst Hamir Patel forecast the initial combined countervailing and anti-dumping duties could reach 45 to 55%, he said in an April 23 note. The U.S. may also apply anti-dumping duties if it determines Canadian firms are selling for below costs. That decision is expected in June. “It definitely could’ve been a heck of a lot worse,” Kevin Mason at ERA Forest Products Research said by phone. “I think a lot of people were bracing for a higher duty.”

[..] Most of the softwood in Canada is owned by provincial governments, which set prices to cut trees on their land, while in the U.S. it’s generally harvested from private property. The fees charged by Canadian governments are below market rates, creating an unfair advantage, U.S. producers say. Canada disputes that. Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, said at his confirmation hearing last month that he views the lumber dispute as the top trade issue between the U.S. and Canada. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Lighthizer the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

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Huffin’-and-a-puffin’.

Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)

The entire US Senate will go to the White House on Wednesday to be briefed by senior administration officials about the brewing confrontation with North Korea. The unusual briefing underlines the urgency with which the Trump administration is treating the threat posed by Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and missile technology. It follows a lunch meeting Trump held with ambassadors from UN member states on the security council on Monday where he emphasised US resolve to stop North Korea’s progress. “The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Trump said at the meeting. “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve.”

On Friday the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is due to chair a security council foreign ministers’ meeting on the issue in New York, at which the state department said he would call once more for the full implementation of existing UN sanctions or new measures in the event of further nuclear or missile tests. “This meeting will give the security council the opportunity to discuss ways to maximise the impact of existing security council measures and to show their resolve to response further provocations with appropriate new measures,” said Mark Toner, state department spokesman. Senators are to be briefed by the defence secretary, James Mattis, and Tillerson on Wednesday. Such briefings for the entire senate are not unprecedented but it is very rare for them to take place in the White House, which does not have large secure facilities for such classified sessions as Congress.

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Not going to be easy. Trump’s too desperate to get a deal done.

Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)

President Donald Trump will call for cutting taxes for individuals and lowering the corporate rate to 15% to fulfill a promise he made during his campaign, according to a White House official. The president on Wednesday plans to make public the broad outlines of what he wants to change in the tax code, though the details likely will be left until later negotiations among congressional leaders and officials from Treasury. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leaders of congressional tax-writing committees – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

While Trump and Ryan broadly agree on sharply cutting individual income and corporate taxes, there are areas of disagreement between the two. On the campaign, Trump called for a corporate tax rate of 15%; Ryan wants 20%, and he has warned that cutting it an additional 5 percentage points could prevent the ultimate tax plan from being revenue neutral. Without Democratic support, a plan would have to be revenue neutral to meet the criteria set by lawmakers to make tax changes permanent. “I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get away with that,” Hatch told reporters Monday. “You can’t very well balance the budget that way.”

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Demand goes down because people have less money to spend. All the rest is humbug.

The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)

Lackluster gasoline demand is once again raising concerns that the oil market won’t be able to escape the doldrums. Demand for U.S. gasoline has recovered since January, but remained below 2016 levels throughout much of this year. Now, analysts are worried weak consumption will cause gasoline stockpiles to keep building and eventually result in weaker crude oil demand and pricing. U.S. gasoline futures were down more than 1% on Monday, reflecting demand concerns as refiners emerge from the winter maintenance season and prepare to turn out more fuel. Meanwhile, U.S. crude settled 39 cents lower at $49.23, extending last week’s deep losses. “As gas prices drop, that creates an undertow for the entire crude oil market,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

Part of the problem is a tough comparison with extraordinarily low gasoline prices last year. The national average gasoline price on Monday was nearly 28 cents above last year’s level, according to GasBuddy.com. “I’m in the camp that says last year was a little bit of the anomaly,” Kloza said. “Gas was so cheap that we drove a little bit more almost capriciously. This year, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.” In a troubling sign, the nation’s gasoline station operators have reported at industry conferences that their sales are down 1.5 to 2% this year, according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “When you hear retailers telling you that their demand is down you’ve got to be a believer,” he told CNBC. Lipow said he fears that trend will carry through for the balance of 2017. Demand is certain to rise as the summer driving season ramps up, but Lipow sees stockpiles remaining relatively high.

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Stark raving madness. A housing market that is rising at ‘only’ 9.5% per year is labeled ‘rational’.

Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)

The experts are getting louder in their warnings that a housing bubble has formed in some parts of Canada, but Canadians don’t seem worried. In fact, confidence in the housing market hit a record high in the latest weekly Bloomberg-Nanos index — even as respondents turned negative on their own personal finances. The survey found 48.5% of Canadians expect house prices to rise in the next six months, the highest level recorded in the survey since 2008. Fewer than 11% expect to see house prices decrease. “Bullish sentiment on real estate in Canada continues to drive consumer confidence,” pollster Nik Nanos said in a statement. “Household expectations have improved by roughly 10% since the start of the year as the effects of the oil price shock have stabilized and the focus has moved toward rising property values,” Bloomberg economist Robert Lawrie said.

“In recent weeks, however, consumer sentiment regarding personal finances began drifting lower, with extended household balance sheets perhaps the next focus of concern for policymakers.” High debt levels are precisely why many market observers are growing concerned about Canada’s priciest housing markets, namely the Toronto and Vancouver regions. House prices in Toronto jumped 33% in March from a year earlier, to an average of $916,567. While Vancouver’s house prices have moderated over the past six months, they remain elevated, with the benchmark price at $919,300 in March.

National Bank of Canada, which co-publishes the Teranet house price index, warned recently that “irrational exuberance” may be setting into some Canadian housing markets, noting that more than half of Canada’s regional markets are seeing price growth above 10% annually. With mortgages ballooning, Canadian household debt has repeatedly hit record highs in recent years, and now stands at $1.67 of debt for every dollar of disposable income. Those elevated debt levels are the main reason one why the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a Geneva-based “central bank of central banks,” warned recently that Canada has the second-highest risk of a financial crisis, behind only China.

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Essential and repeated here a 1000 times: “Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst.”

Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)

A funny thing often occurs after a mania-fueled asset bubble pops: an echo-bubble inflates a few years later, as monetary authorities and all the institutions that depend on rising asset valuations go all-in to reflate the crushed asset class. Take a quick look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index charts for San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR. Each now exceeds its previous Housing Bubble #1 peak:

It seems housing bubbles take about 5 to 6 years to reach their bubble peaks, and about half that time to retrace much or all of the gains. Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst. The Federal Reserve acted quickly in 2009-10 to re-inflate the housing bubble by lowering interest rates to near-zero and buying over $1 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. When bubbles are followed by echo-bubbles, the bursting of the second bubble tends to signal the end of the speculative cycle in that asset class. There is no fundamental reason why housing could not round-trip to levels below the 2011 post-bubble #1 trough.

Consider the fundamentals of China’s remarkable housing bubble. The consensus view is: sure, China’s housing prices could fall modestly, but since Chinese households buy homes with cash or large down payments, this decline won’t trigger a banking crisis like America’s housing bubble did in 2008. The problem isn’t a banking crisis; it’s a loss of household wealth, the reversal of the wealth effect and the decimation of local government budgets and the construction sector. China is uniquely dependent on housing and real estate development. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to any slowdown in construction and sales of new housing. About 15% of China’s GDP is housing-related. This is extraordinarily high. In the 2003-08 housing bubble, housing’s share of U.S. GDP barely cracked 5%. Of even greater concern, local governments in China depend on land development sales for roughly 2/3 of their revenues.

If you need some evidence that the echo-bubble in housing is global, take a look at this chart of Sweden’s housing bubble. Oops, did I say bubble? I meant “normal market in action.”

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“..we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops.”

Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)

Between autumn 1977 and Christmas 1979, interest rates rose from 5% to 17%. If you were a young boomer whose biggest cost was a variable rate mortgage, that would have hurt. In 2009, by contrast, interest rates were cut to a record low of 0.5%, and stayed there for the better part of a decade. When eventually they did move again, it was down. You don’t know you’re born. Except, of course, you do – because, if you’re reading this and you’re under 40, there’s a pretty good chance you’re still stuck paying rent. Yes, interest rates are low; no, this is not particularly helpful. Even if you do have a mortgage, it’s probably a fixed rate one because, let’s be honest, those rates are going up again one day. But not, it seems, today. The Yorkshire Building Society has just launched a new mortgage that charges an interest rate of just 0.89%. “We are very pleased to offer borrowers the lowest mortgage rate ever available,” said a spokesman.

“The cost of funding has fallen in recent weeks and, as a financially strong building society with no external shareholders to satisfy, we have the ability to pass this on to borrowers.” (“We used to dream of mortgages at under 1%,” say the boomers.) So does that means that owning a home is now cheaper than it’s ever been? Well, no, of course not. For one thing, this isn’t a fixed rate deal. It’s actually a (bear with me on this) two-year-long discount of 3.85% to the standard variable rate (SVR) of 4.74%. That means it’s very, very unfixed indeed: a normal tracker mortgage moves in response to Bank of England rates; an SVR one moves in response to the lender’s whims. Accepting this mortgage means placing a bet that the Yorkshire Building Society will be nice to you. It also comes with an unusually high arrangement fee of £1,495, but this shouldn’t bother you, because you probably can’t get that rate anyway. To even be considered, you need a deposit worth 35% of the value of your home.

[..] But there’s another, more sinister, reading of the recent rash of ultra-low mortgage rates: it suggests we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops. But bubbles tend to burst. Prices can’t rise forever: one day, interest rates must surely rise. When the inevitable happens, there is a danger that those who took advantage of this deal may find their equity wiped out – and the rate they’re paying will shoot through the roof.

That would obviously be very sad for those who are affected; for those shut out of home ownership, though, it may be no bad thing. That’s because nine years of record-low interest rates have probably contributed to the fact that house prices have soared out of reach; and higher prices have meant increasingly unattainable deposits. A rise in interest rates could, paradoxically, make housing more affordable.

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Companies guaranteeing each other’s crappy debt. What could go wrong? Problem is, Beijing had let them do it for years.

Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)

Rising defaults in China are unearthing hidden debt at companies across the country. Small firms that can’t get loans by themselves have been winning banks over by getting other companies to guarantee their borrowings. The companies making those pledges exclude them from their balance sheets, leaving creditors in the dark. Borrowers often extend the guarantees for each other, raising the risk that failures could ricochet, at a time when increasing borrowing costs have already added to strains. China’s banking regulator has ordered checks of such cross-guaranteed loans, Caixin reported Friday. Scrutiny is mounting after a corn oil producer in the eastern province of Shandong said last month it had guaranteed debt of a neighboring aluminum product manufacturer which is now stuck in a cash crunch.

Just days before that, a local government financing vehicle in China’s southwest had to repay an auto parts maker’s loans it had guaranteed after the latter defaulted. “Disclosure of such guarantees isn’t timely,” said Qiu Xinhong at Shenzhen-based First State Cinda. “Sometimes, it’s like a buried mine and you don’t know when the risks will explode.” This debt minefield could be big. The amount of loan guarantees at privately held firms in China is equivalent to 11% of their equity, and at LGFVs is 18%, according to Citic Securities. The load is even heavier at weaker borrowers. About 44% of issuers rated lower than AA- have a ratio of more than 30%, according to Everbright Securities. The phenomenon is less common in the U.S. because banks don’t require such guarantees to offer loans, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If companies in the same region offer a huge amount of guarantees for each other’s debt, it would form a guarantee web and deepen interconnections among the companies,” said Gang Meng, director of rating at Golden Credit Rating International Co. in Beijing. “If one company has to repay debt for its guaranteed company, risks would quickly ripple to other companies in the web, which will result in a butterfly effect.” [..] Guarantors don’t mark the pledges on their balance sheets and often disclose them only on an annual basis. Such shadow debts pose rising risks after central bank tightening pushed up onshore corporate bond yields to two-year highs and defaults on local notes surged to a record.

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The distinction between state banks and shadows has become very murky.

China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)

A $1.7 trillion source of inflows into Chinese markets has suddenly switched into reverse, roiling the nation’s money management industry and sending local bonds and stocks to their biggest losses of the year. The turbulence has centered on so-called entrusted investments – funds that Chinese banks farm out to external asset managers. After years of funneling money into such investments, banks are now pulling back in response to a series of regulatory guidelines over the past three weeks that put a spotlight on the risks. Critics have blamed entrusted managers for adding leverage to China’s financial system and reducing transparency.

The banks’ withdrawals helped erase $315 billion of stock market value over the past six days and sent bond yields to the highest level in nearly two years, highlighting the challenge for Chinese authorities as they try to rein in shadow banking activity without destabilizing financial markets. While the government has plenty of firepower to prop up asset prices if it wants to, forecasters at Australia & New Zealand Banking predict the selloff will deepen this year. “We are seeing an exodus of funds,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management, which oversaw about 189 billion yuan ($27.5 billion) as of last year. He was one of about half-a-dozen asset managers and analysts who said banks have started scaling back their entrusted investments.

The arrangements have become an important part of China’s shadow finance system. When banks sell wealth-management products – the ubiquitous savings vehicles that offer higher yields than deposits – the firms sometimes farm out client money to entrusted managers such as hedge funds and mutual funds. The managers invest the cash in bonds, stocks and other securities, hoping to generate enough income to cover the banks’ promised returns to WMP clients – plus some extra for themselves.

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You better look good than feel good.

Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)

Hundreds of photos and videos of naked women used as collateral for loans on a Chinese online lending service have leaked onto the web, highlighting regulatory problems in the fast-growing peer-to-peer marketplace. A 10-gigabyte file posted on the internet exposed the personal details of more than 160 young women who were asked to provide the explicit material to secure money through online lending platform Jiedaibao. Launched by JD Capital in 2015, Jiedaibao allows lenders to operate anonymously but requires borrowers to reveal their real names when making transactions. Loan amounts and interest rates can be customised to meet the needs of users – often people who have a hard time accessing loans through more traditional financial institutions, like banks.

Interest on the “nude loans” reached an astonishing 30% a week, according to the Global Times newspaper. Lenders told female borrowers that if they failed to repay the loans, their nude photos would be sent to their families and friends, whose information was also required for some transactions, the article said. Material in the file put on the web last Wednesday showed some borrowers also promised to repay loans with sexual favours, according to screen captures posted on social media websites. In a statement on its official Twitter-like Weibo account, Jiedaibao said it had tracked down the accounts of several borrowers through photos and ID information circulated online and had frozen the suspected lenders’ accounts. “The ‘nude loans’ deals were mainly initiated and completed offline, and Jiedaibao only played the role of a money transfer platform in the deals,” the statement said.

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Derivatives used this way are instruments of massive wealth destruction. Why use different rates for each side of the deal? “..the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate..”

Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)

Derivatives burdened Italy’s public debt again last year for a record amount of €8.3 billion ($9 billion), making the country the biggest swaps loser in the euro region. Losses related to swaps held by the nation added €4.25 billion to the country’s debt while net liabilities’ burden totaled €4.07 billion, based on data released Monday by EU statistics office Eurostat. In the 2012-2016 period, the burden totaled €29.6 billion, also a euro-area record. Italy’s derivative-related losses and net liabilities were higher than those for the whole euro region combined both in 2016 and in the five-year period as some countries actually saw the swaps helping to alleviate their debts. Governments across the euro region have used derivatives to manage their debt-financing costs and to hedge against sudden changes in rates and excessive exchange-rate volatility.

Those deals have sometimes backfired with the effect of pushing nations’ debts even higher. In the existing interest-rate swaps the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate,” the government said earlier this month in an annex to its annual Economic and Financial Document. Since starting from November 2015, the Euribor stayed negative and the impact on the flow indexed to that rate was that the Treasury had to pay money to its counterparts, instead of being paid by them, the document also said. Italy’s public debt rose last year to €2.2 trillion, or 132.6% of the country’s GDP, Eurostat said in a separate report on Monday.

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it’s important to get it right.

Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)

Ontario has launched a pilot program to provide a guaranteed basic income to a few thousand people to test its effects on recipients and public finances, the Canadian province announced on Monday. Provincial premier Kathleen Wynne said the program would provide a “basic income” for three years to 4,000 people living under the poverty line. “We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” Ms Wynne said, adding that “everyone should benefit from Ontario’s economic growth.” Income support payments will be as high as Can$16,989 (£9,800) a year for an individual, or Can$24,027 for a couple, plus an additional Can$6,000 for the disabled.

The figures will be reduced for those holding part-time jobs – they will receive 50 cents less for each dollar earned. As a concrete example, a single person with a yearly salary of Can$10,000 will receive an additional payment of Can$11,989. The 4,000 participants, aged 18 to 65, have been chosen at random in three cities: Hamilton and Lindsay in the Toronto suburbs and Thunder Bay in the province’s west. The province estimates the cost of the program at Can$50 million a year. Ontario is the most heavily populated Canadian province, with 38% of the country’s 36.5 million inhabitants. 13% of Ontario residents live below the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.

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What the FBI did has already been declared illegal in New Zealand courts.

Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)

FBI Director James Comey is currently in New Zealand and if Kim Dotcom has his way, Comey could find himself being questioned by the New Zealand police. The internet entrepreneur, who is wanted by the United States on multiple charges including fraud and copyright infringement, filed a complaint with the police Tuesday against the FBI director for what Dotcom called theft of his data by the agency. The alleged theft happened when the police raided Dotcom’s home Jan. 20, 2012, as part of investigations instigated by the U.S. The charges against him are based on the now-defunct website Megaupload that he operated, where users could share content with each other.

Some of that content was illegal to share, but according to New Zealand laws, internet service providers are not held responsible for the actions of their users. In his complaint Tuesday, Dotcom’s lawyer urged the police to urgently question Comey, who is in New Zealand for a conference. The grounds for the complaint are that the FBI received copies of data that was taken from Dotcom’s home during the 2012 raid, an act which courts in the country have held to be illegal, according to the complaint.

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The value you put on someone else’s life inevitably becomes the value of your own life.

At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

At least 16 people, including two children, drowned after an inflatable boat carrying refugees and migrants sank off Greece’s Lesbos island, authorities said on Monday. They are believed to be the first confirmed deaths in Greek waters this year of migrants or refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey on overcrowded rubber dinghies. Nine bodies were recovered in Greek territory and another seven in Turkish waters, Greek and Turkish coastguard officials said. Two survivors have been rescued. The two women, one of whom is pregnant, told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 20 to 25 people were on board when the dinghy capsized around 1900 GMT on Sunday. The women are from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though fewer than 10 nautical miles separate Lesbos from Turkish shores, hundreds of people have drowned trying to make the crossing since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015. In that year, Lesbos was the main gateway into the European Union for nearly a million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. But a deal in March 2016 between the EU and Ankara has largely closed that route. Just over 4,800 people have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, according to UNHCR data. An average of 20 arrive on Greek islands each day. “The number of people crossing the Aegean to Greece has dropped drastically over the past year, but this tragic incident shows that the dangers and the risk of losing one’s life remains very real,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Greece representative.

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