Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

Read more …

“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

Read more …

Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

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Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

Read more …

France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

Read more …

And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

Read more …

Mar 192017
 
 March 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 19 2017
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DPC Broadway from Chambers Street, NYC 1910

 

More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)
How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)
Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)
Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)
German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)
Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)
Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)
Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)
Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)
‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

 

 

“..corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street.”

More Proof of Janet Yellen’s Idiocy (David Stockman)

During the last 129 months, the Fed has held 86 meetings. On 83 of those occasions it either cut rates or left them unchanged. So you can perhaps understand why Wednesday’s completely expected (for the last three weeks!) 25 bips left the day traders nonplussed. The Dow rallied over 100 points that day. Traders understandably believe that this monetary farce can continue indefinitely, and that our Keynesian school marm’s post-meeting presser was evidence that the Fed is still their friend. No it isn’t! Janet Yellen’s sing-song gibberish was the equivalent of a monetary DEFCON 1, alerting all except the most addicted Kool-Aid drinkers to get out of the casino.

Our monetary politburo has expanded its balance sheet by a lunatic 22X during the last three decades and in the process has systematically falsified financial asset prices and birthed a mutant debt-fueled of simulacrum of prosperity. But once it begins to withdraw substantial amounts of cash from the canyons of Wall Street as per its newly reaffirmed “normalization” policy, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse. There will be a stock market implosion soon, and that will in turn generate panic in the C-suites as the value of stock options vanish. Like in the fall of 2008 — except on an even more sweeping and long-lasting scale — corporate America will desperately unload inventories, workers and assets to appease the robo-machines of Wall Street. But there is nothing left to brake the casino’s fall.

If the money market rate conforms to the Fed’s latest command and settles at 88 basis points, it is still effectively at the zero bound. Our monetary politburo is thus still out of dry powder — except for the nuclear option of QE4, which Yellen herself made quite clear would never happen until after the next recession is already underway. Yet by then it will be too late — way too late. That’s because the market is priced as if the business cycle has been outlawed and as if the feckless band of Keynesian pretenders who have seized control of financial markets have ushered in the Nirvana of permanent full-employment. World without end. Needless to say, they haven’t because they haven’t repealed the law of supply and demand. That is, if the Fed plans to keep raising until rates until they reach 3.0% by 2019, it will have to suck massive amounts of cash out of the financial markets.

So doing, it will drive long-term yields substantially higher and thereby obliterate the ultra-low cap rate delusion on which the entire regime of Bubble Finance is based. In fact, in a blathering response at her presser about the pace by which the Fed intends to shrink its bloated $4.4 trillion balance sheet, Yellen proved she is clueless about the financial firestorm our rogue central bank is about to unleash. She claimed that the Fed could implement 3-4 money market rate increases a year, while deferring the shrinkage of its balance sheet into the indefinite future. But that it most assuredly cannot do. With a staggering overhang of $2.1 trillion of excess reserves in the financial system, even our vaunted monetary politburo cannot command the tides to recede. If it wants the money rate to rise on its appointed path through 2019, it must drain loads of cash from Wall Street.

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“In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing.”

How The Bosses ‘Game’ Workers (Moore)

When was the last time we heard someone talking about economic sustainability? When was the last time an economist was heard talking about equitable sharing of the economic growth? Australia “averted a recession” with 1.1 per cent growth in the December quarter. Let’s celebrate! Good news. Well, good for some. Not so good for others. Increasing disparity! The good news: company profits are “at record levels”. In the December quarter company profits rose by a whopping 20.1 per cent. One of the big winners is mining. Mining! Those same companies who were crying doom and gloom a few years ago when they defeated the government’s attempt to apply some level of taxation on their “super profits”. The bad news: well, that is for wage earners. While profits grew by 20 per cent, average wages dropped.

Tom Kennedy, of JP Morgan, explained to the ABC: “Some of the support for profits in the non-mining economy seems to be from weaker wage payments, which fell 0.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter (annual run rate slowed further to 1 per cent year-on-year) on the precarious combination of weaker wage growth, fewer hours and elevated underemployment.” In simple language Kennedy could have said: business increased profits by cutting workers’ wages, reducing hours and by employing less people. Any number of economic inquiries or reports suggest good ideas about taxation, employment and economic growth. A much smaller number examines what is equitable sharing of wealth. Even in the current climate, where the government is constantly bombarding the community about living within our means, Turnbull’s government is determined to deliver a $50 billion tax break for the corporate sector.

They have a good return on investment for political party donations. In Australia, the bottom 3.9 million people share the same level of wealth as the top 10 individuals. And the gap is growing. Sensible taxation measures are just one method of reducing the disparity by applying straightforward rules that are not subject to exemptions. In a globalised environment, corporations avoid current tax measures by moving money around the world at a touch of a button. One alternative, to provide a fair way to levy the corporate sector and one that is difficult to “game”, is a tax on gross turnover within a country. Such a tax is simple. It is hard to avoid. Big business would pay their share and contribute to community infrastructure from which they draw significant advantage.

Personal income is also “gamed”. American tycoon Warren Buffett noted his secretary paid a higher percentage of income tax than him simply because he could afford better accounting advice. The answer is to apply a “floor level” for high-income earners. It would catch the 77 individuals, identified by the Australian Tax Office in 2015, who earned over $1 million and paid NO tax. With the “Buffett Rule”, this group of selfish leeches would not have been able to avoid their fair contribution to the education, health and infrastructure that they all use. The Australia Institute identifies an injection of $2.5 billion if a 35 per cent “Buffet Rule” level was applied to just the top 1 per cent of salary earners. Surely good government means finding ways to reduce disparity. Inequality is fodder for populist movements around the world. A disparity index is just one way to remind our politicians of their responsibilities.

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Thinking about land tax is not a bad thing. But using it to lure more people into mortgage debt is.

Oz Parliamentary Budget Office Costs Plan To Kill Off Stamp Duty (SMH)

The Parliamentary Budget Office has costed a proposal that would kill stamp duty and replace it with land tax, saving home buyers up to $40,000 in Sydney and $55,000 in Melbourne, while delivering billions of dollars to fund schools and hospitals. The costing will put land tax back up for debate when Parliament returns next week as the government looks to mark its authority on the housing affordability crisis less than two months out from the federal budget. Both the NSW and Victorian governments have thrown their weight behind broader stamp duty tax reform and Treasurer Scott Morrison has indicated his support for a transition to taxing land. “When you talk about tax reform, this is far and away the biggest prize on offer,” said John Daley, the chief executive of independent think tank the Grattan Institute.

Under current regulations, home buyers pay tens of thousands of dollars in stamp duty, creating an additional hurdle for people looking to enter the market amid soaring property prices in Sydney and Melbourne. Removing stamp duty and implementing an annual land tax on all newly purchased homes would help level the playing field and generate billions of dollars in annual returns to the NSW and Victorian budgets, while also relieving federal government spending over a 15-year-period. Under the policy submitted by the Greens and backed by the Grattan Institute and the Council of the Ageing, home buyers would no longer stump up to $40,000 in stamp duty when purchasing a property worth $1 million in Sydney. In Melbourne, a home buyer would save $55,000 stamp duty on a property of the same value.

Research from the Grattan Institute shows an annual tax of $1 per every $1000 of a home’s value would cost the median Sydney household $845 a year in tax and the median Melbourne home $623 a year. To offset the cost of losing lucrative stamp duty payments, the Commonwealth would have to loan money to the states. The loans would peak in 2020 when the hit to the budget bottom line would grow to $800 million. Rising land tax revenues would enable the states to pay back the loan by 2030. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that in the next four years alone the tax would generate $2.3 billion in revenue for the states, but warned the overall costings were of low reliability due to the variations in number of properties sold across Australia each year.

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“..the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning..”

Russian Parliament Backs Investigation Into US Media (R.)

The Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has approved a proposal to launch an investigation into U.S. media organizations that operate in Russia, it said in a statement posted on its web site late on Friday. The investigation, which will be conducted by the Duma’s information policy, technologies and communications committee, will check whether CNN, the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and “other American media” are complying with Russian law. The statement said the Duma backed the move on Friday evening after Konstantin Zatulin, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposed an investigation to retaliate for what he called a “repressive” U.S. move against Russian state-funded broadcaster RT.

He said he was referring to an initiative by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has introduced a bill to empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT. Shaheen, a Democrat, cited a U.S. intelligence agency assessment that suggested RT was part of a Russian influence campaign to help Donald Trump win the White House last year. The Kremlin and RT have strongly rejected that allegation. Foreign media in Russia are overseen by the Russian Foreign Ministry, whose spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week singled out Shaheen’s demarche for criticism, quipping ironically that the senator should have included a clause drawing up a list of books for burning. The U.S. move also solicited the ire of Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, who on Wednesday told the daily Izvestia it had echoes of the activities of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy..

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EU nations would never have accepted a nation of 82 million muslims as a member. Turkey’s as far away as ever, not more, not less.

German Foreign Minister: Turkey Further Away From EU Membership Than Ever (R.)

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel published on Saturday that Turkey has never been less likely to join the European Union than now, as relations between Ankara and Berlin hit a low point. “Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” Gabriel said in the interview. He also said that he always had doubts about whether Turkey should join the EU but found himself in the minority in his Social Democrat (SPD) party. Before taking power in Germany in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s membership and instead called for a “privileged partnership”.

Gabriel disliked that idea because he thought it would make Turks feel like second-class Europeans but he said his opinion had changed since Britain’s decision to leave the EU. “Today the situation is totally different due to Brexit. We’d be well advised to bring about a ‘special relationship’ with Great Britain after its exit from the EU,” Gabriel said. “That will be an important learning process for the EU and perhaps some of it can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the long term,” Gabriel said. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is courting Turks abroad for support in an April 16 referendum that would grant him sweeping new powers. He infuriated Germany and the Netherlands by describing bans on planned rallies by Turkish ministers as “fascist”. The arrest of a Turkish-German journalist in Ankara has also caused upset.

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EU and US still define PKK as a terrorist organization. That should be reconsidered.

Turkey Furious As Kurds Rally In Frankfurt With PKK Insignia (AFP)

Some 30,000 pro-Kurdish demonstrators rallied in the German city of Frankfurt on Saturday calling for “democracy in Turkey” and urging a “no” vote in an upcoming referendum on expanding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. Turkey angrily denounced the demonstration as “unacceptable”. Many demonstrators carried symbols of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has battled the Turkish state for over three decades in a continuing insurgency. Tensions are already running high between Berlin and Ankara after German authorities refused to allow some Turkish ministers to campaign in the country for a “yes” vote in the April 16 referendum that would hand Erdogan an executive presidency. Significantly more people turned up than organisers had been expecting for the rally, which took place ahead of the annual Newroz festival when Kurds mark the traditional New Year.

Saturday’s protest march in Frankfurt went off peacefully, a police spokesman said. Some of the participants carried flags and banners of the outlawed PKK, as well as portraits of the group’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey, calling for his release. Police said no banners or flags were confiscated so as to not provoke the crowd, but added that photos had been taken which could lead to future prosecutions. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a statement that the presidency “condemned in the strongest terms” the fact that the rally had been allowed to go ahead. “It is unacceptable to see PKK symbols and slogans… when Turkish ministers and lawmakers are being prevented from meeting their own citizens,” he said. He said the “scandal” of the Frankfurt demonstration showed that some EU countries were actively working in favour of a “no” vote in the critical referendum.

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For those hailing Merkel for her dealings with Trump, and calling her the leader of the western world: this is what she produced in Europe, where she really is the leader.

Fear Stalks Refugees Huddled Along Hungary’s Border (G.)

Behind a high metal fence topped with loose curls of barbed wire, the newly positioned blue shipping containers lined neatly along Hungary’s southern border at Röszke provide a glimpse of the new plans of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to detain thousands of asylum seekers, including children. Construction on Hungary’s new detention camps and a second electrified fence, which stretches 108 miles along its border with Serbia, are now under way despite virulent opposition from the UN, human rights groups and a European court ruling which it was hoped might halt the country’s determination to imprison refugees. President János Áder signed the bill, which will allow all asylum seekers to be locked up in detention camps, and will also permit police to return asylum seekers from anywhere in the country back to Serbia.

Orbán, leader of the rightwing populist Fidesz party, has described migration as the “Trojan horse for terrorism” and considers Muslim migrants a threat to European identity and culture. More than 7,000 asylum seekers trying to reach western Europe are stuck in Serbia, outside the EU, following Hungary’s decision last summer to introduce strict limits on the number of refugees allowed to enter and began patrolling the borders with a controversial new wing of its police force known as Határvadász, or border hunters. At an open transit camp in Subotica, Serbia, 15 miles from the border crossing, where families and unaccompanied children wait to have their asylum claims processed in Hungary, officials say the new law will cause trouble for Serbia and more hardship for people here.

“We are like storage for the Hungarians,” said Nikola Ljubomirovic, coordinator at the camp, run by Serbia’s commissariat for refugees and migrants. [..] The majority of families at this camp are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have made arduous journeys but are out of funds which would enable them to try other routes to Europe. Their only option is to claim asylum in Hungary. They face a long wait. Hungary has reduced the number of asylum seekers it accepts per day from Serbia from 200 in 2015 to 10 in January this year. The decision as to which 10 people can enter the country every weekday via two transit zones, Horgos and Kelebija, is arbitrary, far from transparent, and appears to be managed in part by refugee community leaders, leading to uncertainty and confusion among already desperate families.

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“..a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum..”

Dirty Deals Done Dirt Cheap (ECRE)

The impact of the EU Turkey – Deal is widely debated and often misrepresented. The triumphant progress reports of the Commission hail the drop in numbers of refugees arriving in Greece and people drowning in the Aegean, but ignore the wider devastating impact of Europe’s containment policy on the international protection regime and beyond. If anything, one-year into its existence the deal has “succeeded” in contributing to problematic developments in four inter-linked ways: It is a key factor in the transformation of the political debate at EU level, which moves towards a consensus that a legitimate objective for the EU Member States to pursue is undermining rather than ensuring the right to asylum (enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) is.

By endorsing this deal, the EU has jeopardized not only its own credibility as a global human rights actor but also the values of democracy, respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law upon which it is based. It has become the blueprint for outsourcing Europe’s protection responsibility to third countries often characterized by instability and with problematic human rights records in exchange for development aid or political favours as if refugees were tradable commodities. Finally, it has transferred substantial political capital from the EU to the regimes in question, leaving the EU beholden –with Turkey itself as the most obvious example of the increasing ability of these third countries to influence Europe rather than the other way around. No, for Europeans who believe in universal human rights there is nothing to celebrate but lots to regret at the one-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey Deal!

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There needs to be an EU summit on this, and a UN summit on the whole refugee issue. But I’ve been saying that for a long time, and it still has not happened. It will be done only when chaos rules and it’s too late.

Desperate Conditions In Greece’s Migration Jails (AlA)

Greece has struggled to implement the controversial EU-Turkey deal agreed last March, and many who arrived on the islands after March 19, 2016, ended up being held in closed detention facilities for months on end. This treatment of new arrivals is likely to only become even more strict. Greek authorities are building new detention facilities for irregular migrants on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces in the islands of Leros and Chios. Maarten Verwey, coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement, said that new detention facilities in Greece would be temporary. But a year ago, the UN’s refugee agency decided not to back Greek authorities. “We will not provide support to mandatory ‘detention centers’ for refugees in Greece,” said an official announcement from the UNHCR.

Greece is using ex-military camps, police stations and specially built detention centres to house those seeking refuge in the medium term. These are different from the reception and identification centres at the hotspots where newly arrived refugees and migrants are initially held. There are currently six detention centres with a total of 5,215 places in Amygdaleza, Petrou Ralli, Corinth, Paranesti, Xanthi and Orestiada. A new report, titled Forgotten, by Aitima, an Athens-based NGO, says there are some 2,000 “irregular migrants” now detained in Greece – but this number might increase fast in the next few months as pre-departure facilities on the islands are completed. Officials believe that the creation of “closed-structure facilities”, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, will be the key to easing pressure on islands where more than 10,000 new arrivals are stranded.

Conditions inside existing detention facilities in Greece continue to be alarming. Most are without hot water, reports Aitima. They have no heating, there are no interpreters, no social workers and no psychologists. Detained migrants complain about inedible food. No provisions of clothes and shoes from the authorities are given. Doctors visit detention areas only in very urgent cases.

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History repeating.

‘Exiles in the Aegean’: A Year After The EU–Turkey Deal (Christopoulos)

Bert Birtles, an Australian journalist and poet, arrived in Athens in the fall of 1935 to meet Dora “at sunset under the Parthenon”. Very soon, the interest of the young devoted admirers of classical Greece shifted from the archaeological ruins to contemporary politics. In 1936, following a fascist coup, Bert and Dora started visiting islands of the Aegean that were used as destinations for exiles. In 1938, Birtles published Exiles in the Aegean, his “personal narrative of Greek politics and travel”. The book offers an exciting first-hand chronicle of the experiences and lives of the exiled leftists on the islands of Anafi and Gavdos, but also Leros, Karpathos and Lesvos. These islands continued to operate as spaces of “administrative displacement” throughout the twentieth century, and it was only in 1974, after the end of the colonels’ dictatorship, that this practice came to an end.

Even for my generation, born in the late 1960s, the phrase “to the dry islands” was the synonym of isolation, just as the phrase “to the mountains” was the synonym of resistance against the Axis forces in the 1940s. And then, in the 1980s, the “dry islands” became the ideal tourist resort, one of the must-see destinations of the world: a synonym of pleasure and relaxation. At the dawn of the 21st century, the islands of the eastern Aegean, close to the Turkish coast, became the first entry point to the EU for the thousands fleeing their countries, either for fear of being persecuted, or just in search of a decent life in Europe. Islands became the stepping stone to Athens, and, in turn, Athens a stepping stone to northern Europe. Islands offer a prototype for an exercise in control and biopolitics, as Foucault would put it.

The pre-1974 Greek state, which was not exactly famous for its democratic culture, knew this well. The European Union, on the other hand, only really realised this a year ago, with the infamous EU-Turkey statement addressing what the Europeans labelled a “migration crisis”, i.e. the arrival of a million refugees in a continent of half a billion inhabitants… Islands, both now and then, are regarded as the ideal quarantine zone: first it was for communists so they wouldn’t intoxicate their environment with their ideas, now for migrants and refugees, with a twofold objective. First, to send the message that this is what lies ahead for those who intend to make their way across the Aegean. Second, to send a message to European citizens and to address their primary fear: the buffer zone at the periphery of the EU ensures that no more refugees and immigrants can enter the ‘promised land’.

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