May 082017
 
 May 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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RCA TV test pattern 1939

 

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)
In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)
Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)
US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)
Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)
UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)
Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)
China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)
Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)
Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)
Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)
How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)
German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)
Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)
1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)
Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

 

 

Anyone would have won against Le Pen.

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)

Unknown just three years ago, and with a party only 12 months old, Emmanuel Macron has seized the presidency against all the odds. His challenge now is to govern. To do that he must build a parliamentary majority that supports his election pledges in June legislative elections, when France’s two established parties will put their huge machines to work. Macron has at least one thing in his favor: the “majority amplifier” effect of an electoral system designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle specifically to maximize presidential independence from parliament. Last week, the first opinion survey for the legislative elections showed Macron’s new movement “En Marche!” could win between 249 and 286 mainland France seats in the lower house. Even a figure at the bottom of that range would be a good outcome for him.

He only needs 289 for an absolute majority, and the poll excluded 42 seats in Corsica and overseas. It foresaw centrist and conservative parties winning around 200-210 mainland seats, the far-right National Front 15-25 and the Socialists 28-43. “In the lowest-case scenario, En Marche would still be the largest political grouping, which would be enough to try to constitute a majority. The question would then be how and with whom,” said OpinionWay’s Bruno Jeanbart, who directed the poll. En Marche is only a year old and has never fielded candidates before. Only 14 have been named so far, and at first glance a majority looks unlikely. But that reckons without de Gaulle’s amplifier – known as the “fait majoritaire” by French political scientists. [..] The last legislative vote in 2012 also showed the “fait majoritaire” in action.

Socialist Francois Hollande garnered less than 30% in the first rounds of both the presidentials and the legislatives, yet came away with over 40% of the second-round legislative vote and, with help from 17 Green party MPs, governed with a comfortable majority. “Macron can totally have an extremely solid majority of at least 350 MPs,” said Xavier Chinaud, an electoral expert. He added that to reach that number, the president would have to employ tactics like poaching popular MPs from other parties. The old parties will put up a fight, especially the conservative Republicans [..] Now led by Francois Baroin, they hope for enough seats to force Macron into France’s fourth “cohabitation” since 1958. Cohabitation does not have to mean paralysis, but rather that the prime minister and his camp in parliament have the upper hand over the president.

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“En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign.”

In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)

Winning the presidency now looks like the easy bit. If Emmanuel Macron makes his way to the Élysée Palace, as expected, in the second round of France’s presidential election Sunday, another bruising political battle is looming. To be able to govern and not be sidelined by a hostile parliament, Macron’s nascent political movement En Marche will have to cobble together a majority in the National Assembly in an election beginning on June 11. And unlike in the second round of the presidential ballot — in which parties from across the political spectrum have urged their supporters to vote for him over his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen — Macron’s rivals will be devoting all their energies to defeating him.

The 39-year-old former economy minister will be counting on his army of 250,000 En Marche volunteers, and a crew made up mostly of political novices. And while Macron hopes that a victory in the presidential election will draw others to his banner, for a movement that was launched a little over a year ago, winning control of parliament looks like a tall order. The stakes are high. If Macron can’t clinch a majority, he won’t be able to appoint a prime minister of his liking. He’ll spend his term largely as a figurehead, his dreams of reforming France all but sunk. Macron needs 289 deputies to be ensured of an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. So far, En Marche, the movement he still refuses to call a party, has endorsed 14.

True to form, Macron exudes a sense of confidence that the momentum of his election will carry over to the parliamentary polls, allowing him to clinch a majority just six weeks later. This may not be out of reach. A survey conducted this week by OpinionWay, although preliminary, indicated that En Marche could well obtain more than half the seats in the National Assembly. By weaving in electoral results from past elections with a recent poll, OpinionWay estimates that the next Parliament would be dominated by En Marche and the conservative Républicains party. The ruling Socialist Party would be decimated, and Le Pen’s National Front would obtain 25 MPs at most – due to France’s electoral system.

Sill, obstacles abound. En Marche will be facing an energized right. Both the mainstream center-right Républicains party and Le Pen’s National Front will emerge from the presidential election feeling that Macron has robbed them of a victory they at some point considered theirs. François Fillon’s failed campaign has left deep wounds in the Républicains, but one way to try to heal them could be to make Macron their common target in June. [..] En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign. Political parties in France are provided with public funding according to their performance in previous elections. En Marche, founded a little over a year ago, has never put up a candidate for office before.

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Not THAT much trust perhaps.

Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)

The euro rose to a six-month high in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s convincing victory in the French election but the upside for the single currency could be short-lived, analysts warned. In Asian trading on Monday, the euro rose as high as $1.1024 , its highest since 9 November, and also jumped to a one-year high of 124.58 yen against its Japanese counterpart. But it had slipped almost 0.3% to $1.096 against the dollar by 5.30am GMT and lost a similar amount to the yen with traders remarking that gains had already been largely priced in thanks to Macron’s strong showing in the first round of voting two weeks ago. “The market already priced in the victory of Macron,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist for Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

“We saw some additional rise of the euro this morning, but considering the difficulty for Macron’s party to get a majority in the national assembly election, he may not bring higher growth.” Looking at positioning in the euro, he said, “the market has squared its short positions, but there are no fresh reasons to take long positions, as there will likely be no new positive developments, and limited scope for upside for the euro”. The muted analysis was partly based on an acknowledgment of the problems facing Macron, a 39-year-old former banker who has never held elected office. He was economy minister under outgoing president François Hollande but failed to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered government. He has pledged to reform the country’s rigid labour laws – long seen by pro-market economists as a hindrance to growth – but such change was beyond the Hollande administration, despite a lengthy struggle.

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Reality check.

US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)

The Washington Post has long pushed the view that a dollar (or euro) that is in the pocket of a middle class person is a dollar that should be in the pockets of the rich. (They are okay with crumbs for the poor.) In keeping with this position, in its lead editorial today the Post complained about the “sclerotic statism” of the French economy. It then called for increasing employment, “through reforms of the labor code, not by protectionism or restriction of immigration.” It is worth bringing a little bit of data to the fact free zone of the Washington Post opinion pages. France actually has consistently had a higher employment rate for its prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) than the United States.

As can be seen, the employment rate for prime age workers in France was roughly 2 percentage points higher in 2003. The gap expanded to almost 7 percentage points following the downturn, but it has in more recent years narrowed again to just under 2 percentage points. France does have much lower employment rates among younger and older workers than the United States, but this is due to policy choices. College is largely free in France and students get stipends from the government. Therefore many fewer young people work. France also makes it much easier for people to retire in their early sixties than in the United States, with largely free health care and earlier pensions. The merits of these policies can be debated, but they are not evidence of a sclerotic economy.

It is also not clear that the Washington Post’s desire to weaken protections for workers (euphemistically described as “reforms of the labor code”) will have a significant effect in reducing unemployment or raising employment. Extensive research has shown there is little relationship between worker protections and employment. It is also worth noting that the Post denounced protectionism in this editorial, but it is fine with protectionism in the form of ever longer and stronger copyright and patent protection, which benefit people it likes.

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Expect losses.

Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)

Enjoy the stock indexes riding at record highs for now, but get ready for much stingier markets in the years to come. That’s the message consistently conveyed these days by investment counselors and finance scholars, who argue that with today’s starting equity valuations and low interest rates, the coming decade should produce dramatically lower returns than the historical average. The leaders of Vanguard Group, overseers of some $4 trillion in client assets, have been advising investors to expect a typical 60% stocks/40% bonds portfolio to deliver two- to- three percentage points less in nominal annual returns than its long-term norm. (Since 1926, such an asset mix has returned better than 8.5% annualized.)

Other forecasts are even less generous. Research Affiliates, a quantitative and “smart beta” fund manager, projects that U.S. stocks might only offer one% a year for the next decade, after inflation. This is based largely on the so-called Shiller P/E, a ratio of the S&P 500 index to its trailing ten-year average earnings, which is now above 29 and higher than any period aside from the run-up to the 1929 and 2000 market peaks. Jeremy Grantham of institutional value manager GMO has, by his admission, been wrong for years in assuming that corporate profit margins and equity valuations would revert to their pre-1990s trend levels. Yet even accounting for some more permanent upward shift in these gauges, he sees real (after inflation) returns of 2-3% a year looking out two decades.

And a simple plot of the market’s forward P/E ratio against subsequent market returns shows that, since 1978, when starting at today’s multiple of around 17.5 forecast earnings, ensuing seven- and 15-year nominal returns (before inflation) have been clustered in the mid- to low-single digits. These forward-return calculations vary in their approach and assumptions, but all are anchored on today’s stock valuations, long-term norms in corporate-profit growth and current interest rates. Stocks, even during the depths of the last bear market, never got dramatically cheap compared to prior cycles and certainly didn’t stay inexpensive for very long. And with risk-free 10-year government debt yielding a skimpy 2.3% in the U.S. and far less elsewhere, all other financial assets have repriced for skimpier future returns as well.

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The consumer is toast.

UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)

U.K. consumer-spending growth slowed in April and is forecast to remain weak in the coming months, according to a report from Visa. Its index showed spending rose an annual 0.5% in April, down from 1% in March and marking one of the slowest rates of growth in the past three years. Weaker household demand is also taking a toll on retailers. A separate report from the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales showed while there was a jump in business confidence this quarter, retailing was the laggard among nine sectors covered. “The trend of relatively modest expenditure growth is likely to extend in to the coming months, as consumers are squeezed by both rising living costs and relatively lackluster wage growth,” said Annabel Fiddes, an economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the consumer index.

Inflation was at 2.3% last month and is forecast to keep accelerating through this year, outpacing wage increases and leaving workers facing a drop in real incomes. The Bank of England may raise its forecast for consumer-price growth this week, which could indicate an even bigger squeeze on households. The overall business sentiment gauge by the ICAEW jumped the highest in almost a year this quarter. Yet despite firms being more confident, the report showed they are still reluctant to make long-term commitments. While Brexit is dominating the agenda in the buildup to the U.K. election on June 8, the institute said all parties must spell out how they will “address the problem of business investment head-on.”

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No wonder consumer spending’s down.

Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)

Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top. There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21. The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil. The Equality Trust said the £83bn increase in wealth among the richest 1,000 people over the past year could pay the energy bills of all UK households for two and a half years and would be enough for the grocery bills for all food bank users for 56 years.

Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust, said that an elite was sitting on mountains of wealth in the fifth largest economy of the world. “The super-rich continue to streak away from the rest of us, while the poorest see their wealth shrink. This is an economy working for the few, not the many,” she said. “Record numbers of people visited food banks last year, millions are locked out of a decent home and two-thirds of children in poverty are in working households. “We know that inequality damages our economy and society, and makes it harder for ordinary people and their children to get on. With the general election fast approaching, our politicians need to decide the sort of country they want to build. One where we can all prosper or one where we’re picking crumbs from the super-rich’s table.”

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China Shadow Banking Assets Estimated at 64.5t Yuan or 87% of GDP: Moody’s.

China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)

When a new hedge fund opened in Mountainside, New Jersey, a leafy suburb that still holds an annual little-league parade, few would have guessed where much of its funding came from: Chinese billionaire Cai Kui. The credit hedge fund, Westfield Investment, was founded by former Goldman Sachs Managing Director Renyuan Gao and managed $139 million as of January. It’s part of a new crop of asset management firms that are expanding China’s reach on Wall Street as money has poured into the U.S. from the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s marquee names are among those setting up shop in the U.S. Chen Feng, who controls the HNA Group airline and hotel conglomerate, has opened a U.S. money management firm. China Vanke, the mainland’s second-largest residential developer, has indirectly taken a major stake in a manager.

All told, about 324 firms with financial ties to the mainland and Hong Kong had registered with regulators by last year, more than double the number in 2012, filings show. They are riding the wave of capital that left China on concerns about bank debt, a real estate bubble and the yuan, which plummeted about 11% against the dollar in the last two years. The currency flight was reflected in balance of payments data where capital outflows tripled to $220 billion last year from $70 billion in 2014, according to Derek Scissors, a China economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “There is so much Chinese money floating around the U.S. now,” Scissors said. “If you’re a Chinese money manager, why wouldn’t you come here?” The migration comes amid a Chinese shopping spree for an array of U.S. companies, including financial firms like New York’s Cowen Group and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Chongqing Casin Enterprise led the purchase of the exchange, which was founded in 1882. The deal was reviewed by a U.S. panel on national security grounds and eventually cleared in December. In another deal with political overtones, a subsidiary of Chen’s HNA Group agreed in January to buy a stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital, a New York fund of hedge funds firm. The announcement came after reports that Scaramucci had been tapped for a top job in the White House, stirring speculation that HNA’s motives were partly political. The registration of the China-linked firms with the SEC hasn’t drawn such scrutiny. The SEC began requiring hedge funds and buyout firms to sign up with the agency in 2012 as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act. About 30% of the Chinese firms that registered by 2016 are full-fledged money managers. The rest filed as exempt advisers that operate in the U.S. on a more limited basis.

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OPEC is fast losing what remained of its credibility.

Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)

Hedge funds jumped out of the oil market just in time. Before West Texas Intermediate crude nosedived on Thursday, wiping out the rally driven by OPEC’s deal, money managers slashed bets on rising prices by 20%, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Now they may soon be well poised to start betting on the next rally. “We are moving toward a positioning where these money managers are no longer over-invested,” Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said. “This opens up the potential for them to start buying again.” Oil collapsed Thursday amid concerns that OPEC has failed to ease a supply glut as U.S. shale drillers ramp up output. Shares of U.S.-based producers got crushed as investors worry they might be repeating the same pattern that led to the market crash in 2014.

Earlier this year, billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm urged colleagues to take a “measured” approach to lifting production, or risk a new glut. In a gamble that things could get worse, about $7 million worth of options changed hands Friday that will pay off if WTI falls beneath $39 a barrel by mid-July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Hedge funds decreased their net-long position, or the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a drop, to 203,104 futures and options in the week ended May 2, the CFTC data show. Longs fell about 7%, while shorts surged 37%, following a 26% jump a week earlier. [..] Oil’s tumble to a five-month low was driven purely by technical trading and supply is still getting tighter, according to Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The current price plunge began when WTI broke through its 200-day moving average. Once that gave way, another key technical indicator called a Fibonacci retracement was breached, paving the way to the low of the year and then $45 a barrel.

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Multigenerational households are the model of the past and the future. Come look in Greece.

Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)

Remove the door knockers. Pull down the shutters. Pretend no one’s home. Your adult children are coming back – for good. One-in-nine baby boomer parents said their adult children returned home within the last year, according to a new report from financial services firm Fidelity Investments and Stanford Center on Longevity, which surveyed 9,000 employees.The adult children save money on rent and household goods, but their parents are the ones who appear to be suffering: 68% said they were more stressed, 53% said they were less happy and another 53% said they had less leisure time after the return of their “boomerang kids.” More than three-quarters (76%) said they took on higher expenses, too. Even people who are now in their 40s and 50s are considering mom and dad an option.

Older millennials are 2.7 times more likely to live in their parents’ home than people under 55 years old than in 1999, while Generation-Xers, who are now in their mid-30s to early 50s, were 2.2 times as likely to live with their parents, according to separate data released last week by real estate site Trulia. “No parent is going to want to say no to a child who needs help, but certainly being realistic about the financial situation is important,” said Katie Taylor at Fidelity. More American adults are living with their parents and grandparents than ever before — 19% of the U.S. population (or nearly 61 million people) lived in a multigenerational household, up from 17% (42 million) in 2009 and 12% (27.5 million) in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

But not all millennials are as “lazy” or “entitled,” as they are often accused of being. About one in four 25- to 34-year-olds who live at home and are not working or going to school do so because of a health-related reason or because they are acting as caregivers to their family members. And more than a third of Americans, including millennials, expect to financially help their parents within the next few years, another survey found. Some are even making efforts to help their parents save for retirement.

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Wow, great timing! We’re coming to you live from the barn, and there’s not a horse in sight.

Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)

Australia will hold an inquiry into competition in the country’s financial system, following a series of scandals in the banking sector and public allegations against the “Big Four” banks of abuse of market power. The latest inquiry is part of a number of government measures since last year aimed at alleviating public concerns about the power of the big banks, after revelations of misconduct in the industry. Australia’s four major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank – have come under fire recently following several scams involving misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging, as well as for refusing to pass on official interest rate cuts in full. The four together control 80% of Australia’s lending market and have posted record profits for years.

Westpac, NAB and ANZ all reported a rise in half-yearly cash profits this month, taking their total to about A$8.5 billion. CBA will report limited third-quarter figures on Tuesday. “The high concentration and degree of vertical integration in some parts of the Australian financial system has the potential to limit the benefits of competition…and should be proactively monitored over time,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday. “The Government is committed to ensuring that Australia’s financial system is competitive and innovative. That is why I have tasked the Productivity Commission to hold an inquiry into competition in Australia’s financial system.” The inquiry will consider the degree of concentration in key segments of the financial system, examine barriers to innovation in the system and look into competition in personal deposits and mortgages for households and small businesses.

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The benefits of ZIRP.

How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)

The global economy is picking up steam, but that’s deceptive. The foundations of expansion are soft, marked by weak productivity growth and inequality. The two are related. The productivity problem confronting the world’s advanced economies predates the financial crisis more than a decade ago. When we look beyond the headline statistics, patterns emerge. Advanced economies have become less dynamic and are at risk of becoming sclerotic unless the ambition for reform is revived. It’s essential that we understand three sources of the current productivity slump in particular, and identify the key reforms necessary to address them. First, the productivity slowdown masks a widening performance gap between more productive and less productive firms, as the chart below shows (the picture for service sector firms is even worse).

This divergence is not just driven by firms at the frontiers of their industry, pushing the technological boundaries, but also by stagnating productivity growth at what can be called laggard companies that have failed to adopt the leaders’ best practices. This is also bad news for inclusiveness, since rising wage inequality can be largely traced to the growing differentials in average wages paid across companies, with high-productivity ones paying high wages and low-productivity businesses paying low wages. Second, in well-functioning markets we would expect strong incentives for productive companies to aggressively expand and drive out less productive ones. The opposite has happened. The propensity for high-productivity companies to expand and low-productivity companies to downsize or exit the market has declined over time.

This pattern is evident in the U. S. and is particularly stark in southern Europe, where scarce capital has been increasingly misallocated to low-productivity firms. Third, across the 35 countries in the OECD, we are seeing a drop in the dynamism of the business sector. Not only has the share of recent entrants into the market declined, but marginal companies, which would typically exit or be restructured in a competitive market, are more likely to remain. At the same time, the average productivity of these marginal businesses has fallen. In other words, it has become easier for weak companies that do not adopt the latest technologies to survive. The survival of weak companies drags down average productivity, but the consequences for growth are even worse. Since such firms take up scarce resources, their prolonged survival (or their delayed restructuring) inflates wages relative to productivity, depresses market prices and undermines investment – all of which deters the expansion of productive companies, particularly startups, and amplifies the mismatch of skills.

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They’ve known about this for decades.

German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)

The head of Germany’s armed forces has called for an inspection of all army barracks after investigators discovered Nazi-era military memorabilia in a garrison, broadening a scandal about right-wing extremism among soldiers. The discovery at a barracks in Donaueschingen, in southwest Germany, was made in an investigation that began after similar Nazi-era items were found in the garrison of an army officer arrested on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack. As a result, General Inspector Volker Wieker ordered a wider search of barracks. “The General Inspector has instructed that all properties be inspected to see whether rules on dealing with heritage with regard to the Wehrmacht and National Socialism are being observed,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the military must root out right-wing extremism.

“We must now investigate with all due rigor and with all candor in the armed forces,” the minister told broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “The process is starting now, and more is sure to come out. We are not through the worst of it yet.” Displaying Nazi items such as swastikas is punishable under German law, although possession of regular Wehrmacht items is not. Von der Leyen said last week, however, she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht in today’s army, the Bundeswehr. Von der Leyen said the arrested officer – who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee – had likely worked with others to squirrel away 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but the chief federal prosecutor was still investigating the matter. The suspect’s goal, she said, had likely been to carry out an attack and then pin the blame on migrants.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)

After rallying his ministers, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must now get coalition MPs behind him for a new multi-bill of austerity measures that is set to go to Parliament this coming week. Although some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the deal, which foresees further cuts to pensions and more tax increases, along with changes to the energy and labor markets, it is widely expected that Tsipras will get the support he needs to push the bill into law. A raft of so-called countermeasures – social welfare interventions that will come into effect in 2019 if the government meets budget targets – will be voted on separately and is sure to get the support of coalition MPs. The government has also appealed to the main political opposition New Democracy to back the offsetting measures but ND has refused to oblige.

According to government sources, Tsipras is already looking beyond the vote, expected on May 15 or 16, and beyond a scheduled Eurogroup summit on May 22 where the agreement between Greece and its creditors is expected to be rubber-stumped. Aides to the prime minister said he is considering a cabinet reshuffle to give his government a lift and inspire investors as talks on lightening Greece’s debt and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s QE program are next on the agenda. It remains unclear whether Tsipras is considering a “cosmetic” shake-up or a radical overhaul, or whether key cabinet members such as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos would keep their posts. But it appears that the government is keen to send out a message that it is turning a page following the completion of a tough bailout review that dragged on for months.

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Our times, and our very selves, are defined by refugees and famine more than anything else. But we don’t like to look at what defines us.

1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)

More than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, two United Nations agencies said Monday, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the U.N.’s child and refugee agencies in a statement Monday. “The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62% of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the U.N. statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total. “No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.” For children still living in South Sudan, the situation is still grim. Nearly three quarters of children are out of school, according to the U.N. statement, which is the highest out-of-school population in the world. An official famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan in February, and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation in the absence of food aid, according to the U.N.

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Why Russia’s safety zones make sense.

Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

The co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ehmed, said that the operations to push out the Islamic State (IS) has resulted in refugee flows into the northern parts of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and that the displaced people are in urgent need of aid. “We have gathered the refugees that came recently in two camps,” Ehmed said to ANF. “In one of the camps, 50 thousand refugees are living. A number of aid organisations are present but there are no serious aid efforts. Many of the organisations receive funding from Europe but they still don’t help,” she said. “One can’t help wondering if they want Syrians to die, if there is a plan to kill them first with war and then with hunger. And if that fails from the heat and the cold. That’s the sad conclusion one draws from the situation.”

The SDC co-chair said they had discussed the urgent needs of food, housing and health with the US-led coalition without any results. “This is not acceptable, they should at least provide support for the refugee camps,” she said, stressing that preparations must be made as the operation to evict IS from Raqqa will give rise to many more refugees. “38 refugees coming from Raqqa have already died, some were children. It’s a tragedy. The European countries and the coalition must take their responsability.” Ehmad stressed the need of mediaction, clinics and doctors in the camps. “This is really urgent. Some will be able to return after the area has been liberated but those who lost their homes will stay, so we must make preparations.”

Ehmad also criticized Europe for giving in to what she called Turkey’s “blackmailing.” “There is an approach to the issue which goes something like this: ‘Let’s give them [Turkey] money so that no refugees will come here’. But everyone knows that the refugees are remaining in our region [Syria] at the moment.” Last year, the United Nations estimated that more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and over 4,8 million were refugees outside of the country.

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May 072017
 
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Rembrandt Old Man Sitting 1631

 

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)
Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)
Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)
Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)
Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)
Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)
World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)
Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)
We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)
The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)
Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)
EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)
Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

 

 

One thing nobody seems to be able to figure out. And one more thing that everyone thinks should keep on growing.

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)

Equity markets have hit multiyear highs and consumer sentiment is buoyant. Yet economic productivity remains lackluster. The Labor Department announced Thursday that worker productivity fell 0.6% since January, a much bigger drop than expected. This is neither a statistical illusion nor a hangover from the Great Recession. The productivity slowdown began long before the financial crisis, and it has worsened markedly in the past six years. The drop-off extends to wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, utilities and a host of private and public services. Industries that consume and produce information technology and communications are not immune to the slowdown. From 1950 to 1970, U.S. productivity grew on average by 2.6% annually. From 1970 to 1990 it fell to 1.5%.

The information technology boom of the ’90s interrupted the slide, but since 2010 U.S. productivity growth has been in free fall. It is now roughly 0.6% a year. No wonder Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently called low productivity a “significant problem.” Various estimates suggest that had U.S. productivity growth not slowed, GDP would be about $3 trillion higher than it is today. How is this happening during a technological revolution? Some think the data are wrong. Economist Joel Mokyr explained in 2014 that metrics devised for a “steel-and-wheat economy” fail to capture adequately transformative advances in information technology, communications and the biosciences. Technology has reduced the cost of information, expanded consumer choice, and provided customization and better price comparison.

This progress has been mostly missed in current statistics. GDP also does not fully capture metrics like time saved from shopping online. Nor does it include the value of leisure and the well-being that technology provides its users. Many economists contend that properly counting free digital services from companies like Google and Facebook would substantially boost productivity and GDP growth. One of the highest estimates, calculated by economists Austan Goolsbee and Peter Klenow, stands at $800 billion. That’s a big number, but not big enough to fill a $3 trillion hole.

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Talking about reasons productivity is not growing…

Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)

Here is a riddle. Britain, for now at least, is loved by foreign investors. The stock of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Britain’s assets and shares is larger than anywhere except America and Hong Kong. In the past decade overseas investors have splurged some £600bn ($772bn), equivalent to a third of British GDP, to acquire over 2,000 British firms. The textbooks say that foreign investments make a country more productive. The new arrivals should bring with them cutting-edge capital assets and best-practice management. So why over the past decade has Britain’s productivity barely improved? The question matters for all Britons. If productivity growth is low, then wage growth will be too. Many factors determine Britain’s weak productivity growth, including creaky infrastructure. But new official data suggest that foreign investors are doing a lot less to improve the economy than commonly assumed.

The figures classify FDI flows into around 100 industries. In 2015 financial services accounted for an astonishing 95% of net inflows. This could include, for instance, foreign funding for Britain’s burgeoning financial-technology sector. Finance was unusually dominant in 2015, though even in 2012-14 the industry made up around 60% of the net figure. Remove financial services, and overall in 2015 a tiny amount of net foreign investment flowed into Britain—a few billion pounds at best. Many industries saw “negative inflows”, suggesting that foreigners were actually disinvesting, selling assets they had acquired back to British firms, for instance. In 2015 they pulled around £20bn from the oil-and-gas sector. Perhaps £1.5bn drained from manufacturing. Finance aside, investors seem to see few profitable opportunities in Britain.

What foreign investment does flow into the “real” economy may make surprisingly little difference. Much of it seems to be about one big company horizontally acquiring another, perhaps with the aim of eliminating overlapping marketing costs (such as in the Kraft-Cadbury deal of 2010) or of acquiring a trophy asset (such as the Tata-Corus steelmaker deal of 2007). A chunk of investment in Britain, meanwhile, is a statistical by-product of big firms moving headquarters for tax purposes rather than anything meaningful. As Britain begins the process of leaving the EU, interest from foreign investors is only likely to shrink. If so, the prospects for the kind of foreign investment that lifts productivity will start to look even gloomier.

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Democracy and emergency. Odd pair.

Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)

French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks. French authorities have introduced extra security measures for the poll. This time “more than 50,000 policemen, gendarmes will be deployed [across the country] on Sunday”, French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told AFP on Thursday.Soldiers from Operation Sentinel will also “ensure security around polling stations and [will be able] to intervene immediately in case of any incident,” he added. Operation Sentinel was launched by the French Army in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of 2015 and the subsequent Paris strikes.

Paris police promised that at least 12,000 soldiers and police were to be drafted to Paris and its surrounding suburbs on Sunday, with 5,000 of securing polling stations and guaranteeing public order, as cited by AFP. People on social media have been calling for protests on May 7, regardless of the election result. The hashtags #nimacronnilepen (neither Macron, nor Le Pen) and #SansMoiLe7Mai (May 7 without me) was launched after the first round of the elections on April 23. Macron won the first round by securing 24.01 percent of the votes to le Pen’s 21.3 percent. Demonstrations have rocked France following the 1st round vote with people rallying against both candidates. “Neither fatherland, nor the boss, neither le Pen nor Macron,” banners held by protesters read. The rallies have often resulted in violence with protesters throwing stones and smoke grenades and police and officers responding with tear gas.

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“..since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power.”

Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)

Venerable French investor Charles Gave has been managing money and researching markets for over 40 years; as such France’s elder statesman of asset allocation perhaps best captures the mood ahead of the most crucial Presidential election in a generation. In conversation with Dr. Pippa Malmgren, Charles breaks down national politics to understand why voters have rejected the establishment and the market impact of both outcomes, and what to expect from tomorrow’s election. First, Gave, who says “I’m not so sure that Macron will win”, is asked by Malmgren to walk RealVision viewers through what Macron’s agenda would look like in case of a victory. Gave is unable to do so for several simple reasons:

“Well, first, nobody knows. Because during the whole campaign, all these talks were on one hand, on the other. I’m in favor of apple pie, and motherhood, you see. Basically he has, to my knowledge, very little program. So he’s running. That is what Hollande said. That he was going to make some fundamental changes without hurting people. And so Macron is a big, empty suit. That’s what he is. You did the right curriculum vitae, he went to the right schools. And you have the feeling that the guy never had an original idea in his life. He was always a good student.

And moreover, there is a strong suspicion that he’s a kind of golem created by Hollande and all these guys. So since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power. So to a certain extent, the French political system has been captured by what you can call the Technocratic class. And whether from the left or the right, it didn’t make any difference. And this Technocratic class is presenting Macron as a brand new fellow. He is nothing brand new. These guys have been in power for 50 years for God’s sakes. So this is basically nothing.

If Le Pen wins, it’s pretty simple. The bond market in France, Italy, Spain cannot open on Monday morning. And I suppose the euro is dead in the following week. And then you have to buy Europe like crazy. Southern Europe. Why Southern Europe? Because it is Germany’s markets that would bear the brunt of the selloff, as the dissolution of the euro and European Union would effectively bring about the end of Germany’s economic hegemony (while at the same time benefitting France). The Germans have made a colossal mistake, which is that they have all the production in Germany. So they’re extremely efficient, well-organized, and they have developed massive current account surpluses. Half of that surplus is in cars. The margin on cars is around 4%. Imagine that the euro breaks down.

The deutschmark comes back. The deutschmark goes up 15, 20%. And the whole German industry, all the production base in Germany, becomes bankrupt in no time at all. Compare that to France. France we have magnificent big companies that have been intelligent enough to produce everywhere in the world, to operate from everywhere in the world, and be totally independent from what’s happening in France. What they have in France is their headquarters. And that’s about it. So if Europe breaks, you should be long France on the stock market, and short Germany. Big time.”

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Good cop bad cop. Or should I say: here’s how you can tell who’s the boss in Europe?!

Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)

A rift emerged between Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker last night after she reportedly accused him of ‘inflaming’ Brexit talks by leaking details of his row with Theresa May. The German Chancellor’s relations with the EU Commission president are said to have ‘soured’ after Mr Juncker described Mrs May as living in ‘another galaxy’ following a recent dinner. According to German newspaper Der Spiegel, which has close links with Merkel’s government, she believes the leaking of private conversations – blamed on Juncker – ‘is not helpful in heating up the mood in this way’. The Der Spiegel article, headlined ‘Merkel angered by Juncker at Brexit dinner’, said it had made her mood ‘sour’ towards him. Juncker’s ‘another galaxy’ comment was made in a telephone call with Mrs Merkel after he clashed with Mrs May over dinner in Downing Street 11 days ago.

Juncker reportedly told Mrs Merkel: ‘It went very badly. She is in a different galaxy.’ The leak was blamed on Mr Juncker or his formidable German chief of staff, Martin Selmayr. In remarks clearly aimed at Mr Juncker, a furious Mrs May responded to the leaks last week by accusing ‘the bureaucrats of Brussels’ of trying to influence the General Election. But a defiant Mr Juncker took another swipe at Britain on Friday by claiming at a European Union summit in Italy that the English language was already ‘losing its importance in Europe’. The Der Spiegel article echoed public comments made by Mrs Merkel on Friday in which she struck a markedly more conciliatory tone towards Mrs May than outspoken Mr Juncker. She stressed that she would approach Brexit negotiations ‘fairly and constructively’. Mrs Merkel denied she aimed to cause trouble in the Brexit talks and said she wanted ‘clarity and security as quickly as possible’ for EU residents in Britain, including about 100,000 Germans.

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Germany’s much less serene than it seems.

Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)

The bizarre case of a racist soldier allegedly plotting an attack while posing as a Syrian refugee and several abuse scandals have sparked a war of words between Germany’s defence minister and the military. It is a dangerous political battle for Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman in charge of the armed forces, who is often mentioned as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The mother-of-seven has sternly criticised military “attitude and leadership problems”, highlighted by the case of the soldier and by recent sexual abuse and hazing scandals. This in turn has made her a target of chastened rank-and-file soldiers who charge she is tarring them all while dodging personal responsibility after more than three years on the job.

The escalating conflict started with the arrest a week ago of 28-year-old army lieutenant Franco Albrecht, who was stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg. He came to the notice of the authorities after Austrian police caught him with a loaded handgun at the Vienna airport in February. The subsequent investigation found that, amid Germany’s 2015 mass influx of refugees, he had created a fake identity as a Damascus fruit seller called “David Benjamin”. Incredibly, the German who speaks no Arabic managed to gain political asylum, a spot in a refugee shelter and monthly state benefits for his fictitious alter ego. Prosecutors charge that Albrecht harboured far-right views and, with at least one co-conspirator, plotted an attack with the apparent aim of discrediting foreigners.

Media reports say he kept “death lists” with the names of top politicians, including former president Joachim Gauck, some cabinet ministers and left-leaning, anti-fascist MPs. It has since emerged that the lieutenant had expressed rightwing extremist views in a master’s thesis he submitted in 2014, in which he theorised about the end of Western civilisation through immigration. In the paper seen by AFP, he argued that immigration was causing a “genocide” in western Europe, adding that “this is a mathematical certainty”. However, the paper was buried, without disciplinary action – something the minister attributed to a “misunderstood esprit de corps” and superior officers who “looked the other way”.

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I’ve mentioned the power of Chinese shadow banking a thousand times. That power is still growing.

World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)

The World Bank has warned that Chinese local governments remain addicted to off-budget borrowing, despite Beijing’s efforts to impose fiscal discipline on localities and curb ballooning debt. Runaway growth of local government debt is widely seen as a huge risk for China’s economy and financial system. Provinces, cities and counties borrowed heavily to spend on infrastructure to keep economic growth humming after the 2008 financial crisis. But the practice has continued and economists warn that returns on new investment are falling and white elephants are common. Many projects do not produce enough cash flow to service their debt. In 2014 China moved to eliminate borrowing through special-purpose vehicles, which local officials had used to circumvent a legal ban on direct borrowing.

Under the moniker of “close the back door, open the front door”, China’s parliament ended the legal ban, enabling localities to borrow within clear limits set by Beijing. Meanwhile, local government finance vehicles were ordered to cease disguised fiscal borrowing. To deal with legacy debt, Rmb8tn ($US1.2tn) in outstanding local government funding vehicle (LGFV) borrowing was converted into on-budget provincial debt through a bond swap. But growth of LGFV debt has actually accelerated since 2015, the World Bank warned in a confidential March presentation obtained by the Financial Times. Despite the swap programme, “LGFVs continued to borrow and increase their liabilities at a very rapid pace” in 2015-16, the bank’s lead China economist John Litwack and analyst Luan Zhao said.

Local governments and their LGFVs account for “the vast majority of public expenditures and public investment”, they noted, adding that “government and LGFV finances [are] intertwined in complicated ways, making separation difficult in practice”. Growth of LGFV liabilities accelerated from 22% in 2014 to 25% in 2015 and stayed high at 22% in the first half of 2016, the authors found. The presentation noted that Beijing’s effort to stop the use of LGFVs as quasi-fiscal entities may have unintentionally encouraged them to increase borrowing. Local fiscal authorities are now forbidden from officially monitoring LGFV finances, since to do so would imply that the government stands behind their debt. “Instructions to no longer even monitor finances of LGFVs can give a dangerous impression of ‘free money’,” the presentation warned.

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Especially in euro countries, governments need mortgage loans for money/credit creation. Their governments and central banks lost that ability.

Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)

After spending the last few years groggily getting back onto its feet following the collapse of one of the most spectacular — and destructive — real estate bubbles of this century, Spain’s economy is once again being primed for another property boom. In the last quarter prices registered a year-on-year rise of 4.5%. Rents are also surging, though the country is still home to over half a million vacant properties. The cost of renting in Madrid and Barcelona, which between them account for 16% of those vacant properties, has reached historic highs, according to a new study by the online real estate market place Idealista. In Madrid, rents have risen on average by 27% since 2013; in Barcelona they’ve surged over 50%.

This trend is being driven by two main factors: the recent explosion in tourist rentals, as well as a general shift in consumer behavior as more and more people choose (or have little choice but) to rent rather than buy property. While rents soar, Spain’s mortgage market, the biggest source of profits for the nation’s banks, is also showing signs of life. In 2016 the number of mortgages issued rose by just over 10% to 281,328. But that’s merely a fraction of the 1,324,522 mortgages signed in 2006, just before the bubble burst. The banks would like nothing better than to issue more and bigger mortgages, but even with interest rates at their lowest point in history, most people either can’t afford the current prices or don’t want to take on more debt. Spain’s fragile coalition government is determined to change that.

In its latest budget announcement it revealed plans to set aside billions of euros in 2018 for publicly funded mortgage subsidies. Young people under the age of 35 who are earning gross incomes of less than €1,600 per month will be eligible for payments of up to €10,800 to help them buy their first home. There will also be rental subsidies for people under the age of 35, for up to half the price of the rent. [..] In Spain today there are roughly two million fewer people under the age of 40 in full-time employment than there were in 2006, due to a variety of factors: demographics (i.e. there are now fewer people under the age of 40), rampant job destruction, and the mass exodus of young Spaniards to greener pastures. Even for many of those that chose to stay behind and actually found work, the reality is still alarmingly bleak.

According to the Spanish daily ABC, of the 1.7 million job contracts signed in December last year, over 92% were for temporary jobs. Since the Financial Crisis, precarity has become the ubiquitous reality for most young Spaniards. Many end up earning so little in jobs that offer scant, if any, financial security that they have little choice but to stay at home with their parents, sometimes well into their thirties. According to data released this week by Eurostat, the average Spaniard does not move out of the family residence until they are 29 years old. If Spain’s new, dwindling generation of “workers” cannot afford to leave home, who will buy or rent the properties sitting idle on the balance sheets of the banks, “bad bank” Sareb, and the global private equity firms that piled into the market a few years ago?

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We are designed to ignore distant danger, so we can better prepare for what’s near.

We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)

[..] the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale.

Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy. Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

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China is a major factor in this, as much as growing population is.

The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)

Elephants are in big trouble. Even if we beat poaching and illegal trade, their potential doom has been sealed in projections for population growth, and has already been priced into the commonly accepted solutions to how we humans plan to feed ourselves well into the century – by looking to Africa to be our next big breadbasket. Africa is home to 1.2 billion people, but by 2050 that number is likely to double, and may well double again by the end of the century to reach well over 4 billion. Globally, we may exceed 11 billion souls. This is of course a cause for celebration and a testament to the huge strides we’ve made in public health. We’ve all but beaten polio and yellow fever, mother and child mortality has plummeted, and we’re making headway in the fight against malaria.

Another cause for celebration is the confidence, energy and entrepreneurship in many parts of the African continent – a spirit that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It’s easy to see we’re on the cusp of enormous positive change. The obvious flipside is the environmental disaster waiting to happen. This has been compounded by number crunchers who are leaving the future of our planet’s fragile ecosystems out of the equation as they try to come up with answers about how to fill billions of bellies. Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many of them focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of west Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

Economies are already being structured for the future, and are locking us into an unsustainable path to the tune of Feed the World – but with Africa providing the food. Some models suggest that 29% of the existing elephant range is affected by infrastructure development, human population growth and rapid urban and agricultural expansion; that may rise to 63% by 2050. If we continue like this, elephants will see more of their migration routes become narrow corridors before being eventually severed. Inevitably, as competitors for space, elephants will fight it out with us. But being the dominant species on this planet, we will win. And Africa will become a giant farm.

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ROund 2 of democracy and emergency.

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)

The European Commission will bring down its 2017 growth estimate for Greece next week, a eurozone official said on Friday, adding that the IMF wants main opposition New Democracy to make a commitment not to reverse the reforms that the government has agreed to in the context of the bailout review should it come to power. “This is important for them,” the official said of the IMF’s demand, while adding that the eurozone has not asked for such a commitment, although it agrees it is always better to have consensus on the reforms applied. The same official said that the Commission will reduce its estimate for the Greek economic recovery this year from 2.7% “to around 2%” on May 11.

Sources say that a downward revision by the Commission of its forecast to 1.9% would not lead to a shift in its general estimate regarding Greece’s fiscal course, so it does not entail the risk of any new measures. The latest IMF forecast regarding the Greek economy was for a 2.2% expansion. If all goes well, the disbursement of the next bailout tranche will take place just before the July repayment deadline, when Greece must pay €7.4 billion to its creditors. As the European official said, if there is a final agreement at the May 22 Eurogroup, which is the optimum scenario, it will take four to five weeks for the tranche payment to clear the parliaments of eurozone member-states where necessary.

If one also takes into account the time needed for the approval by the IMF council, it will take up to six weeks, which means early July. The amount of the tranche will come to about 7 billion euros, plus the funds needed for the state to pay off its expired debts to suppliers and taxpayers until the next review comes up. The disbursement will be paid in a lump sum, but only after all prior actions have been ratified by Greece. The second review had no fewer than 140 prior actions required, of which 40 have been satisfied. Of the remainder there are about 80 that either require new legislation or presidential decrees.

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“..what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.”

Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)

Peace, sweetness and light break out in the Balkans as we’re told that the EU, the eurogroup, the IMF, Greece, the ECB and Uncle Tom Cobley agree over a Greek debt deal. Except, of course, that agreement hasn’t been reached, because the major point at issue is still being glossed over. That major point being that Greece simply isn’t going to repay all of that debt. So we still need to work out who is going to lose money, and when. Debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid. That’s why we have bankruptcy in the first place. Or, when it comes to sovereign nations, we have debt rescheduling and IMF programmes instead of bankruptcy. When the Greek crisis first blew up, what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.

This is similar to the approach taken by Iceland – which has already recovered while Greece languishes – and is what the IMF has been doing for decades in other places. The one thing standing between Greece and this approach was the euro. In order to protect the integrity of the single currency, debts to the private sector banks were refinanced by public money from varying combinations of the EU itself, the ECB, the eurogroup (the group of eurozone finance ministers), the IMF and so on. This is the crucial point. There are no private sector capitalists left. If there were, we could simply say “you lost your money, better luck next time”. Instead there are only official creditors, run by politicians, who have their voters wondering what has happened or will happen to their money. For it is still true that Greece cannot repay those debts, and therefore Greece will not repay them.

All that can change is who will lose money and when. Unsurprisingly, politicians are keen to delay the inevitable until they have retired and are collecting their pensions. That the Greeks have to see theirs cut in the interim is just bad luck. This may sound terribly cynical but allow me explain the thinking. There are the true federalists happy to sacrifice a country on the altar of the euro and ever closer union, as long as the losses – losses of their own voters’ money – come to light later.

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But Merkel will not, and that’s what counts.

EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron will support Greece and be Athens’ ally if he is elected, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency in an exclusive statement, one day before the second round of the elections in France. “I have no doubt that with Emmanuel Macron as President, yes, Greece will continue to have a friend in France, a president friend and a government friend, and this is why these elections are also important for the Greeks,” Moscovici said, adding he has worked with Macron in the past for the Greek program.

“I know Emmanuel Macron very well. We worked together when I was finance minister, when he was deputy secretary-general next to Francois Hollande, to find positive positions concerning Greece, for Greece. France is a country who’s a friend of Greece. It will remain [a friend]” he continued. Moscovici said that being friend of Greece means, on the one hand, to encourage and follow the efforts for reforms until the end but it also means solidarity from its partners.

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Europe must find an actual response to this, or face a lot of struggle. There are too many people living in all these countries.

Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

As the refugee crisis enters its fourth year, the demographics of the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores are undergoing an unprecedented shift. Syrians have so far made up the largest group of migrants attempting treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, followed by Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans and sub-Saharan Africans. But as smugglers in Libya continue to expand their ruthless human trade, their counterparts in Asia are seeing an opportunity. In the first three months of last year just one Bangladeshi arrived in Italy, but the number for 2017 stands at more than 2,800, making the country the largest single origin of migrants currently arriving on European shores.

Those rescued in the Mediterranean Sea have told aid workers they paid more than $10,000 each to be taken from Dhaka to Dubai or Turkey and onwards to Libya, where the violence and chaos engulfing the fractured country is fuelling powerful smuggling networks. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the emerging route had dramatically changed the demographics of asylum seekers arriving in Italy, who until now have largely hailed from sub-Saharan Africa. “The thing that’s really changing is the main nationality of the migrants, and the number coming from Bangladesh,” IOM’s Flavio di Giacomo told The Independent.

“By the end of March last year only one Bangladeshi had arrived in Italy – and this year the number is more than 2,831 for the same period.” Some migrants taken ashore in Sicily and Apulia said their trip to Libya was organised by an “agency” that provided them with a working visa for between $3,000 and $4,000. “From Bangladesh, they first travelled to Dubai and Turkey, and finally reached Libya by plane,” an IOM spokesperson said. “At the airport, an ‘employer’ met them and took their documents.”

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May 062017
 
 May 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Edouard Boubat Paris 1950

 

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)
US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)
China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)
This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)
Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)
France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)
How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)
Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)
Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)
The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)
Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)
The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)
Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

 

 

Disasters as opportunities.

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)

I took up surfing in my early 30s. It didn’t last long. But I learned a tremendous amount from the experience (least of which is that I suck at surfing). Well, it’s time to think like a surfer. Your sole focus is to catch the wave. The best surfers can see the waves building, just like we can in the markets, but they only care about where the biggest, best waves will crash. That’s where you get the ride. And if you catch the biggest wave in the right place, you get the ride of a lifetime. Look at this fourth and largest wave building in the stock market. It’s the wave of a lifetime for investors, and it’s rolling onto our shores right about now… Remember, all the action comes when the wave crashes, not as it’s building. As the swell grows around you, you can go with the flow and harness the energy of the wave with little effort.

That’s when you become one with the universe, sitting there on your board, surrounded by dark water, rolling up and down as the power builds beneath you. That’s why surfers get addicted. Then, at the perfect moment, all the wave’s pent up energy releases in a roaring spray of water and power. That’s where we want YOU to be when the greatest market wave of your lifetime comes crashing to shore! That’s when the greatest profits come. That’s when the greatest innovations spring up. The smartest people (I include surfers in this group) and the greatest innovators understand this. They don’t look at a good economy as the best opportunity for success. Seeds of radical innovation only grow in the most challenging conditions.

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Private debt is far more dangerous than public debt.

US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)

One month after we, and every other financial media, reported that US credit card debt had risen back over $1 trillion for the first time since January 2017, the Fed demonstrated just how meaningless such reports are when in its latest consumer credit report it revised the total stock of revolving debt back under $1 trillion for the month of March, while boosting December’s amount to $1,000.1 billion, meaning that all those “$1 trillion in credit card” debt headlines were about 4 months late. Fed screwing around with the financial reporters aside, the latest monthly report showed that total consumer credit rose by $16.4 billion, more than the $14 billion expected, an increase which was offset by a downward revision to the February consumer credit number from $15.2 billion to $13.8 billion. Revolving credit accounted for $2 billion of the increase with the rest, or $14.4 billion, in the form of auto and student loans.

And speaking of student and auto loans, the Fed also released its latest quarterly estimate for the two series as of March 31, and as one would expect, the numbers rose to new all time highs, and as of the end of the first quarter, US consumers owed $1.44 trillion in student loans, an increase of $32 billion for the quarter and $80 billion for the year, as well as $1.12 trillion in auto loans, an increase of $8 billion Q/Q and $73 billion Q/Q. This means that as of March 31, Americans owed two and a half times as much on their auto and student loans, as on their credit cards, a new all time high.

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“..since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them..”

China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)

A wave of regulations aimed at cutting risk in China’s financial system is rippling through the country’s markets and sending banks and companies scrambling for funds. During the past month, Chinese shares have fallen nearly 5%, draining almost half a trillion dollars out of the country’s markets. Bond yields have shot up to their highest levels in two years, and bond defaults hover at record levels. The uncertainty has also weighed on metals and commodity prices, already hurt by doubts around China’s growth momentum. The price of iron ore plunged 8% on Thursday, the daily trading limit. Investors blame the volatility on a host of measures Chinese authorities have rolled out to curb runaway debt levels, from raising the cost of short-term funds to measures that are prompting banks to unwind hidden loans and securities.

A particular target is high-risk, high-yielding investment products that banks have used to boost returns, but that regulators say may conceal dangerous amounts of risky lending. Regulators are responding to prodding from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who issued a call for financial stability ahead of a major power reshuffle later this year, and just last week warned finance officials not to miss “a single risk” or “hidden danger.” The market turbulence will test Beijing’s resolve in tackling China’s snowballing debt, especially if it looks like regulators’ crackdown is jeopardizing short-term growth. If they can withstand the short-term squeeze and continue to push it through, the effort will help put China’s economy on a sounder footing longer-term. Banks—especially small and midsize lenders—sell the risky investment products to Chinese savers, then lend the funds to outside asset managers who invest them in bonds, stocks and loans.

The lenders make money from the difference between what they pay their investment clients and what they get from the outside managers. But since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them. That leaves banks more exposed to risk and shows their financial position as stronger than it really is. The maneuvering also encourages leveraged purchases of securities by asset managers and enables banks to continue funding troubled customers, such as property developers with excess inventory and bloated steelmakers. Such grey-area investments reached nearly 20 trillion yuan ($2.8 trillion) at the end of last year, says Fitch Ratings, or about 26% of China’s GDP in 2016, up from less than 10% three years earlier. They now represent an average of 19% of small and midsize banks’ total assets, compared with about 1% for big state banks, according to Fitch.

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America’s unsolvable problem has been solved in dozens of countries.

This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)

The way it works now, the so-called “providers” (doctors, hospitals) refuse to post the cost of any service, and then charge whatever they feel they can extract, subject to an abstruse and dishonest ceremonial “negotiation” with the insurance company. The result: hospital and insurance executives get paid multi-million dollar salaries, doctors get to drive fine German cars, and the patient gets financially ass-raped, kicked to the curb, and eventually stuffed into the bankruptcy courts. ObamaCare did nothing to fix this. It just added more victims to the rolls and upped the price of admission for a personal financial ass-raping, so that an insured individual could go to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and end up getting dunned for thousands of dollars — or even more if one of the hosptial’s favorite cute scams is applied, such as calling in an out-of-network anesthesiologist to knock you unconscious (in which state you are unlikely to inquire whether he/she/zhe is in-network or out).

Under the current system, a hospital can bill you $5,999 to stitch up a cut finger, mitigate a bee-sting, or wind an Ace bandage around a sprained ankle, and you’re sure not to learn the cost-of-treatment until the postman drops off the incomprehensible “explanation of benefits” from the insurance company that states in bold print on top “This Is Not a Bill,” but actually is a report of your own incipient financial ass-raping. But judging from the news reports this day, none of these issues is actually on the table in the congressional debate. I don’t believe the editors of The New York Times are necessarily “in bed” with the overpaid hospital CEOs and the insurance company fraudsters. They are simply putting up a defense of their previous psychological investment in Democratic Party ideology — in the shibboleth that ObamaCare was unquestionably a great thing because it was created under the magically empowered 44th president.

I can believe that both Democratic and Republican law-makers are not only in bed with the medical fraudsters of all categories, but are performing a particularly odious form of sadomasochistic bondage-and-discipline sex in exchange for payoffs. Note, too, that none of the aforementioned major media have reported what the medical and insurance lobbyists have paid to their rent-boys and doxies in the US capitol. Wouldn’t you like to know?

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“Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.”

Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)

The preference for high theory and abstruse mathematical modeling meant that mainstream economics had come to rest on a number of gloriously improbable assumptions. In their models, millions of households were reduced to a single “representative agent,” a God-like being, omniscient and immortal. This unreal creature inhabited a world where peace – or equilibrium – ruled. Crises were impossible in such an Eden, unless a mischievous serpent entered from abroad. But such an outcome was naturally impossible to predict. Both Romer and Keen agree that the most serious error of modern macroeconomics is that it ignores finance. Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.

Minsky, by contrast, saw capitalism as a financial system in which millions of balance sheets and cash flows were intertwined in a highly complex fashion. Money and credit are the essence of capitalism: economic transactions can only take place after financing. The trouble is that credit is inherently unstable, prone to expand excessively and to inflate asset price bubbles, which in time collapse, causing a cascade of defaults throughout the economy. In Minsky’s world, the tail of finance wags the real economy dog. Anyone who paid serious attention to credit, as Keen did prior to 2008, could hardly have failed to notice that something was amiss. After all, credit was growing very rapidly in the United States, in Australia and across much of Europe. Keen’s own contribution at the time was to point out that it wouldn’t take a collapse of credit to cause a serious economic downturn – a mere slowdown in the rate of lending would do the job.

This prediction was vindicated in 2008, when credit growth slowed sharply but remained positive, sending the U.S. economy into a tailspin. Keen is now calling for the dominant macroeconomic models to be jettisoned and replaced by ones that take account of credit. In his book, he develops a simple credit-based macro model. The economists at the Bank for International Settlements have constructed a “financial cycle” model along similar lines. In the end, the money-free macro models appear doomed. Yet progress has been painfully slow to date. As Max Planck said, science advances one funeral at a time – failing death, retirement would do the trick.

So what of the next crisis? With his eye on credit growth, Keen sees China as a terminal case. The People’s Republic has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25 per cent for years on end. Private-sector debt exceeds 200 per cent of GDP, making China resemble the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008, but obviously far more significant to the global economy. “This bubble has to burst,” writes Keen unequivocally.

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Untenable, but zero movement towards addressing the issue.

France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)

It is now incontestable that Germany benefits greatly from the Euro. The weaker members of the Euro drag down the external value of the Euro compared with the US Dollar making German exports far more competitive than they would otherwise be. Despite the relative value of the Euro being lower than would be the case if the Euro was the currency of Germany alone, the Euro’s value relative to the Dollar is still significantly higher than would be the case were the Euro the currency of an independent Greece or France.

In Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms the Euro in Germany is some 32% undervalued compared with the Greek Euro, greatly benefiting German exporters, but imposing a burden on Greek exporters that they must find impossible to cope with. Conversely the overvaluation facing French companies is now a clear 20% compared with German companies.

 

Brazil and Argentina suffer from overvalued currencies against the US Dollar, suggesting one reason for the serious recession suffered by South America’s biggest economies over the past year. In contrast Canada, Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey and India all have currencies between 15% and 44% undervalued against the US Dollar, suggesting that at least some of Mr Trump’s rhetoric is justified. Over time these fundamental disparities have not shrunk, they have in fact widened. The charts to the upper right show the trend of German undervaluation against the French and Greek Euro’s in Purchasing power terms.

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“Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but.”

How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)

[..] there is a structural problem in the eurozone, and in the EU. The ECB, the European Commission, and the IMF (which is not an independent entity but generally answers to its European directors for decisions affecting Europe), are the European authorities that have increasingly constrained the economic decision-making of European governments. We can also include the eurogroup of finance ministers, which has tormented poor Greece and helped prolong that country’s interminable economic crisis. These people have shown that they are committed to creating a different kind of Europe. This can be seen in a paper trail of thousands of pages of documents, called Article IV consultations, where the IMF and EU government finance ministries hammer out their views on economic policies. These documents represent an elite consensus which can differ greatly from public opinion within the countries.

A review of 67 of these agreements for the four years 2008 through 2011, for 27 EU countries, showed a clear pattern of policy choices: cutting government spending, including on health care and pensions; increasing labor supply; reducing public sector employment; and changes in labor law that would reduce the scope of collective bargaining. This is the economic program that any politician or political party who does not want to be labeled as “anti-Europe” must adhere to, and it can be seen in the most recent (July 2016) IMF Article IV consultation for France, as well as the Stability Program that France has agreed to with the EU. These documents see France as freezing real spending, and committing to reducing its budget deficit to zero by 2021. These commitments imply that the French government can do nothing to reduce mass unemployment, which has averaged about 10% over the past year.

Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but. With France’s real borrowing costs near zero and inflation well below target, it makes sense for France to implement an economic stimulus, for example by increasing public investment. Fears of increasing the French public debt are unfounded; annual interest payments on that debt are currently at about 1.7% of GDP, a modest burden by any historical or international comparison.

[..] Since the 2008–09 world financial crisis and recession, the project of the eurozone, and to some extent of the EU, has created a destructive feedback loop that leads directly to the kind of dysfunctional politics now unfolding in France. It is one thing to give up some national sovereignty for a common project that can raise common living standards; it is quite another to surrender a country’s most important macroeconomic decision-making (monetary, exchange rate, and increasingly fiscal policy) to unaccountable authorities who have demonstrated their commitment to a regressive agenda. The Center Left’s collaboration with this program, e.g., President Hollande’s in France, has given the Far Right opportunities not seen since the 1930s.

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Good thing everybody already knows it’s Putin again. No reasoning needed.

Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team says it has been the victim of a massive and coordinated hacking operation. A large trove of emails from the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was posted online late on Friday, 1-1/2 days before voters go to the polls to choose the country’s next president in a run-off against far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Some nine gigabytes of data were posted by a user called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a document-sharing site that allows anonymous posting. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for posting the data or whether the emails were genuine. In a statement, Macron’s political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) confirmed that it had been hacked.

“The En Marche! Movement has been the victim of a massive and co-ordinated hack this evening which has given rise to the diffusion on social media of various internal information,” the statement said. An interior ministry official declined to comment, citing French rules which forbid any commentary liable to influence an election, and which took effect at midnight French time on Friday (2200 GMT). Comments about the email dump began to appear on Friday evening just hours before the official ban on campaigning began. The ban is due to stay in place until the last polling stations close on Sunday at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

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Perhaps the failure of the EU is not clear enough yet everywhere.

Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)

The title of a comment piece which appeared in The Guardian, the UK voice of the anti-Assange-pro-Hillary liberal left, says it all: “Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?” Predictably, the text proper begins with: “Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism?” and mockingly dismisses even the conditional leftist support for the second-round Macron vote, the stance of: “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly.” This is liberal blackmail at its worst: one should support Macron unconditionally; it doesn’t matter that he is a neoliberal centrist, just that he is against Le Pen. It’s the old story of Hillary versus Trump: in the face of the fascist threat, we should all gather around her banner (and conveniently forget how her side brutally outmanoeuvred Sanders and thus contributed to losing the election).

Are we not allowed at least to raise the question: yes, Macron is pro-European – but what kind of Europe does he personify? The very Europe whose failure feeds Le Pen populism, the anonymous Europe in the service of neoliberalism. This is the crux of the affair: yes, Le Pen is a threat, but if we throw all our support behind Macron, do we not get caught into a kind of circle and fight the effect by way of supporting its cause? This brings to mind a chocolate laxative available in the US. It is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: “Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!” – in other words, eat the very thing that causes constipation in order to be cured of it. In this sense, Macron is the chocolate-laxative candidate, offering us as a cure for the very thing that caused the illness.

[..] In the hopeless situation we are in, facing a false choice, we should gather the courage and simply abstain from voting. Abstain, and begin to think. The commonplace “enough talking, let’s act” is deeply deceiving – now, we should say precisely the opposite: enough of the pressure to do something, let’s begin to talk seriously, ie, to think! And by this I mean we should also leave behind the radical leftist self-complacency of endlessly repeating how the choices we are offered in the political space are false, and how only a renewed radical left can save us – yes, in a way, but why, then, does this left not emerge? What vision has the left to offer that would be strong enough to mobilise people? We should never forget that the ultimate cause of the act that we are caught into – the vicious cycle of Le Pen and Macron – is the disappearance of the viable leftist alternative.

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Sharp thinking. Make literally everyone incapable of understanding anything that’s said.

The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)

The English language is losing importance in Europe, the president of the European commission has said amid simmering tensions over the Brexit negotiations. Speaking to an audience of European diplomats and experts in Florence, Jean-Claude Juncker also described the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a tragedy. “Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Juncker said, to applause from his audience. “The French will have elections on Sunday and I would like them to understand what I am saying.” After these opening remarks in English, he switched to French for the rest of the speech. Making a stout defence of the EU, Juncker said the UK had voted to leave the project despite historic successes and a recent uptick in economic growth. “Our British friends decided to leave the EU, which is a tragedy,” he said.

[..] It is not the first time the English language has been caught in the crossfire of the Brexit negotiations. At a recent EU summit May slapped down reports that Brexit negotiations would be conducted in French, and after the June referendum EU officials made it known they planned to downgrade the use of English in the corridors of Brussels. In reality, the Brexit talks are most likely to be conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpretation. Barnier, a former French EU commissioner who clashed with the City of London, speaks English but wants the right to negotiate in his native tongue. English is also highly unlikely to disappear as a dominant language in the EU any time soon. Not only is it an official language for the Irish and Maltese governments, but many diplomats prefer to use English as a common second language rather than French.”

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2018 at the earliest. Then again, debt relief would make Greece less of a slave, so maybe much longer or not at all.

Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)

No debt relief measures are being readied for Greece, Germany’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday after the Handelsblatt business daily reported measures were under consideration. The implementation of reforms that Greece agreed to in return for aid would help ensure the sustainability of the country’s debt, the ministry said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “No debt relief is being prepared,” it added. Regarding possible debt measures, a clear agreement was reached in a statement by the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers last May. “According to that, after the full implementation of the adjustment program, there will be an assessment of whether debt measures are necessary. That still applies,” it said. Earlier, Handelsblatt reported that Greece’s international lenders were preparing possible debt relief for Athens for discussion by the finance ministers.

The European Commission, the ESM eurozone rescue fund, the ECB and the IMF had prepared various debt measures in a document to be sent to the Eurogroup for further discussion, it said, citing people familiar with the document. One option was for the ESM to take over loans paid out by the IMF. The advantage would be lower interest rates charged by the ESM. Others included extending debt maturities and having the ECB and national central banks send profits made on Greek bonds to Athens through national governments, Handelsblatt reported. An EU source told Reuters the document was originally a paper by the ESM, not all four institutions, and had been modified on the way to the version Handelsblatt saw.

“It lays down several options for the restructuring of Greek debt and specifies possibilities which were given by the Eurogroup last May. One of the options still is that ESM would take debt from IMF,” the source said. “It is not clear yet if the IMF would agree on that.” Separately, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Durban, South Africa that the EU needed to “exert pressure on national governments to implement … much-needed reforms.” “Those countries which received help under European assistance programmes, and therefore had to actually implement unpleasant reforms, and those countries which have kept to the agreed rules are among the most successful countries in the EU today,” he said. “The problem is therefore not with the rules, but with the lack of implementation of them.

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Warfare, financial or otherwise.

The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of Mexican troops over the invading French army at the Battle of Puebla southeast of Mexico City on May 5, 1862. Because the Mexican soldiers were badly outnumbered and outgunned, the unexpected triumph was a watershed in forging the country’s national identity. (Militarily it wasn’t that significant — the next year France captured the Mexican capital and installed a member of the Austrian nobility as Maximillian I, “Emperor of Mexico.”) But here’s important part for everyone else to remember today: France was invading Mexico essentially because Mexico owed France money. Mexico had borrowed enormous amounts from Europe during the Mexican-American War from 1846-8 and in a civil war from 1858-61.

By 1862 it was impossible for the government to make timely payments on the loans without starving the country, and Mexican president Benito Juárez declared that all payments on foreign debt would be suspended for two years. Getting into unsustainable debt is not something unique to Mexico; countries have done so over and over throughout history, particularly during wars. The U.S. borrowed more than we could ever repay from France and the Netherlands during the Revolutionary War, and the U.K. borrowed far beyond its means from the U.S. during World War I. When this happens, it’s far better for both the debtors and creditors to organize some kind of default rather than forcing the debtors to pay all the money back on the original terms. The advantage for debtors is obvious.

More intelligent creditors understand it’s also good for them, because they generally don’t have a choice between getting all or just some of their money back. Instead, it’s a choice between getting some of it back or much less. To understand why, imagine loaning too much money to a software engineer. If you demand that the engineer sell all their computers to make interest payments, you’re unlikely to get much more money after that. And indeed both the U.S. and U.K. defaulted to varying degrees after their wars. Likewise, in 1862 the U.K. and Spain agreed to accept less than they were formally owed by Mexico. France, however, invaded Mexico in an attempt to get all its money back, which is why French troops were there for the Battle of Puebla on May 5.

In a sense, the invasion was admirably honest. International relations are often like organized crime on a gigantic scale, but people pretend otherwise. Here there was no pretense: The loanshark’s enforcers beat the crap out of an entire country. By contrast, creditors today have institutions like the IMF, which has often functioned as a creditors’ cartel — squeezing countries until they pay back their debts. This often involves lots of people dying … but in quiet ways, without armies involved.

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The EU isn’t only giving us Le Pen, it’s presenting us with this too.

Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

Rescuers picked up 560 migrants from unsafe boats off the coast of Libya on Thursday, Italy’s Coast Guard said, including the body of a young man who the migrants said had been shot by smugglers on the beach for his baseball cap. Italian Navy and Coast Guard boats participated in the rescues together with two humanitarian vessels, a spokesman said. The migrants were traveling on board two large rubber boats and five small wooden ones, he added. The Phoenix, a rescue ship operated by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), took 422 on board, plus the body of the allegedly murdered young Gambian. “According to eyewitnesses, the deceased teenager was killed by human traffickers because they wanted his baseball hat. What cruelty,” MOAS co-founder Chris Catrambone said.

“The medical team onboard the Phoenix have confirmed that the deceased teenager died from gunshot wound,” he added. MOAS doctors are also caring for another teenage boy who has a gunshot wound to the stomach, but is stable. German NGO Jugend Rettet also helped with the rescues. Separately, Doctors Without Borders said its rescue ship Prudence would arrive in the Sicilian port of Catania early on Friday with the corpses of six migrants, including five women, who it had picked up in the Mediterranean in recent days. There had been a pause of boat departures from Libya, where smugglers operate with impunity, since Easter, because of bad weather and sea conditions. But boat migrant arrivals in Italy are still up 30 percent so far this year from 2016, when a record 181,000 arrived.

Humanitarian rescue ships have come in for criticism in Italy in recent months, with Catania chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro opening a fact-finding investigation into possible ties between NGOs and people-smugglers. The NGOs have strongly denied the accusations, including representatives from MOAS who testified in Italy’s parliament earlier on Thursday. They say their only mission is to save lives. Zuccaro has yet to present any evidence of illicit activities and has not opened a criminal investigation.

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May 032017
 
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Leonardo da Vinci A Copse of Trees 1508

 

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)
Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)
Hot Air Hisses Out of US Auto Bubble (WS)
May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)
Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)
Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)
Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)
Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)
In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)
‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)
Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)
Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)
Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

 

 

September’s a long way away.

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)

With Congress poised this week to approve a deal to fund the government through September, the first major bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency, after lengthy negotiations (which have appeared to signal numerous ‘folds’ by President Trump), apparently frustrated by the lack of tryannical powers that a simple majority grants him, President Trump has lashed out this morning at disagreeable Democrats, and in particular Senate Democrats. As a reminder, the proposed government funding deal does not include funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or include language stripping federal money from so-called sanctuary cities, both of which the White House demanded at the outset of negotiations. In fact, as we reported yesterday, the bill has been seen widely as a victory for Democrats, something which has been panned by the conservative press.

While the White House also backed off a threat to withhold ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies, Trump did secure increased military spending in the 2017 budget deal. According to the Hill, the comments are likely irk top Republican lawmakers, who have been frustrated by Trump’s repeated attempts to intervene in the legislative process. The businessman-turned-president, in turn, has vented frustration with the slow pace of work on Capitol Hill. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker,” Trump told Fox News last week when asked about the Republican effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Commenting on Trump’s tweets, Citi asks rhetorically whether “this could be a case of cutting one’s nose to spit one’s face? – Potentially problematic when the nose in question is attached to the current administration… It seems counterintuitive that a sitting president would want a shutdown, unless he was to blame it on the opposition in order to force through reform/encourage a voter backlash.”

Bloomberg reports that “The message appeared to encourage the Republican-controlled Senate to change rules that now require 60 votes to end a filibuster of legislation. Republicans reduced the threshold to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees this year and could do the same for legislation with a simple majority vote.” USD does not seem to have reacted to the President’s tweet (it can’t every time, after all), which may just be more political manoeuvring rather than a signal of intent. In any case, we’re not so sure there is such a thing as a “good” shutdown of the US government – and with what will be over $20 trillion in debt and a declining GDP by that time, one wonders which ratings agency will have the balls to downgrade the world’s reserve currency this time?

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“Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book [..] it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)

Canadian banks and financial firms are so far showing little interest in buying Home Capital, vindicating short-sellers who say the embattled mortgage lender could be sold off piecemeal, driving the stock down further. “People in the industry would rather see these guys go out of business because the loans aren’t worth the risk, and they’re so leveraged,” said Marc Cohodes, a private investor and part-time chicken farmer in California who has been shorting the stock, or betting on declines, for more than two years. Home Capital’s rival Equitable joined a list of companies that have said they aren’t interested in taking over the struggling mortgage lender, which hired investment banks last week for a possible sale after the stock plunged by two-thirds amid a regulatory probe.

“The bottom line is no,” Equitable Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moor said on Monday. “We have some concerns based on what we’ve read about how they underwrote their loans and their internal controls.” Other banks have indicated that they aren’t interested. Canadian Western Bank CEO Chris Fowler said his Edmonton, Alberta-based lender, which has an alternative mortgage business, would not be a buyer for all of Home Capital. He added the bank will consider “selectively” acquiring loan portfolios. A Laurentian Bank of Canada spokeswoman said that for the lender to be interested in an acquisition it needs to be financially sound and a good strategic fit. Laurentian is active in the alternative lending space.

Canada’s biggest commercial banks, meanwhile, are unlikely to be interested because Home Capital’s mortgages are with customers who wouldn’t qualify for a loan with them, said Sumit Malhotra, an analyst at Bank of Nova Scotia, in a research note. They might be interested in the loan book, he added. [,,] Other short sellers agree with Cohodes. Jerome Hass at Lightwater in Toronto, said he wonders why anybody would buy Home Capital when they could just pick up the mortgages. “It’s got all this litigation against it, it’s going to have all these liabilities against it, so why not just take their loan book off their hands?” Hass said in an interview. “Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book, but I don’t see it going for much, and it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

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No purchasing power.

Hot Air Hisses out of US Auto Bubble (WS)

A 4.7% drop in sales, bad as it is, wouldn’t qualify for #carmageddon. These things happen. But here’s the thing: Automakers had shelled out $3,465 in incentives per new vehicle sold, on average, according to TrueCar estimates. A record for the month of April. It beat the prior record of $3,393, set in April 2009. It amounts to about 10% of suggested retail price, similar to March. The last period when incentive spending was at this level of MSRP was in 2009 as the industry and sales were collapsing. The #carmageddon point to watch: despite the 13.4% year-over-year surge in incentive spending to nearly $5 billion, total vehicle sales fell 4.7%! When these massive incentives fail to even slow the sales decline, serious problems lurk beneath the surface. This table shows the largest automakers, their year-over-year sales performance – the sea of red ink – along with average per-unit incentive spending and total incentive spending:

GM shelled out the most incentives on average per vehicle, in total $1.23 billion. In March, it had spent about $1.3 billion. At this rate, GM is spending just under $4 billion per quarter in incentives. By comparison, in its Q1 earnings, GM reported “North America” revenue of $29.3 billion. At this rate, it is spending about 13% of its North American revenues on US incentives. But it’s just not working out. Total sales dropped nearly 5.9%, to 244,200 units, with car sales plunging 12.5% and even truck sales falling 3.2%. A gruesome detail: Silverado-C/K pickup sales plunged 20% to 40,154 units. Total retail sales (not including fleet sales) fell 4% to 191,911 vehicles. GM ended the month with 100 days’ supply, up from the nail-biter level of 98 days at the end of March.

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The UK is so divided along multiple fault lines that May has nothing, unless she’s prepared to walk away.

May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed she won’t be pushed around in Brexit talks with the European Union as her war of words with Brussels escalates before negotiations even begin. The premier said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is learning she can be “bloody difficult” after leaked details of a dinner meeting between the leaders alleged he was shocked by her approach to negotiating Brexit. May won a measure of support from several European government officials, who distanced themselves from Juncker’s apparent skepticism about the chances of a Brexit deal. The row blew up after details of the allegedly disastrous meal Juncker attended at May’s London residence last week were reported by a German newspaper.

“What we’ve seen recently is that at times these negotiations are going to be tough,” May told BBC television in an interview Tuesday. “During the Conservative Party leadership campaign, I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.” The clash between London and the European Commission comes as May seeks re-election on June 8 in a campaign defined by Brexit, and the argument won’t necessarily hurt her chances. While EU officials are concerned about such a public dispute ahead of negotiations, it could help May’s Tories convince voters the U.K. needs what she calls her “strong and stable leadership” for the Brexit talks.

May claims her main rival for power, opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be too “weak” to succeed at the negotiating table. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said on Sunday that Juncker left a dinner on April 26 “10 times more skeptical” of reaching a Brexit deal. In her interview on the campaign trail, May told the BBC she hopes to agree an accord that works for the U.K. and the EU, saying there’s “a lot of similarity” between her proposals and the bloc’s negotiating guidelines.

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Can a national currency exist alongside a European one?

Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)

Far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen said capital controls could be used if she won the election and there was a run on banks as she negotiated France’s exit from the European Union, but stressed they were unlikely to be needed. In an interview with Reuters ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round, Le Pen reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years. Le Pen said she wanted to replace the EU single currency with another, looser type of cooperation in the form of the ECU basket of currencies that preceded the euro. That would exist alongside a national currency.

“The objective is to transform the euro ‘single currency’ into a euro ‘common currency’, going back to the ancestor of the euro, the ECU, which was an accounting unit that did not stop each country from having each its own currency,” Le Pen said. Calling the euro a deadweight on the French economy, the National Front candidate said a new national currency would better protect French people’s savings. She accused the “establishment” of wanting to “frighten” voters into thinking otherwise. “I am convinced there won’t be any banking crisis,” Le Pen said when asked if French negotiations to quit the EU could trigger a run on French banks.

Asked if she would impose capital controls if savers nevertheless did rush to take their money out of banks, she said: “If there’s a run on banks, we could very well imagine such a solution for a few days, but I’m telling you it won’t happen.” Le Pen said she would launch negotiations over reforms of the EU immediately after winning, saying this would allow France to regain national sovereignty. The talks would include ditching the euro as well as regaining control of France’s borders and being able to decide French legislation alone, she said. Those negotiations could last six to eight months, she said, after which France would hold a referendum on its EU membership.

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Whatever happens in Sunday’s 2nd round, a mess is certain.

Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)

France’s political course is likely to remain far from certain even with a win for presumed victor Emmanuel Macron, as his inability to form a parliamentary majority threatens to undermine his authority both domestically and across Europe, political analysts have suggested. Sunday’s second round runoff will mark the start of a period of tension for the country as the successful candidate waits to see if they can garner a large enough parliamentary majority in June’s legislative election to enact change, Dominique Reynié, professor of political science at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, told CNBC Tuesday. “I’m not worried about Macron’s ability to win, but the question surrounds what kind of turnout he will achieve and what his ability to gain a majority in the June election will be,” explained Reynié.

Polls are currently pitching centrist Macron to gain anywhere from a 59% to a 64% lead on his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. However, this lead will do little to boost Macron’s authority in government, Reynié suggests. The independent will have to gain significant support from other parties if he is to form a majority when France once again heads to the polls on June 11 and June 18 to elect the 577 members of its National Assembly. “It will all depend on his margin of victory. A 55 to 45% win for Macron would be a disaster. Even 60 to 40 is not at all a triumph; a 20% margin would be very difficult. “It would be a crisis. It is not normal and would be a problem both on the streets of France and for Europe,” said Reynié.

In the first round of voting, Macron’s En Marche!, or Onwards! party, achieved a majority in 240 constituencies versus Le Pen’s 216. However, Reynié says this is simply not enough. “The smaller Macron’s majority the harder it will be for him to win the general election in June. He needs support; it is not possible to have power as President without support. “This could cause parliament to be largely fragmented like in the first round, with discussions taking place in fractured groups. Macron will have to negotiate with MPs and will be fragile and unpopular.”

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Has been for years.

Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)

Emmanuel Macron looks on course to become France’s new president, ending the threat of a euroskeptic at the Elysee. Even if Macron wins, though, it’ll be too soon to celebrate a new phase of stability in the euro zone. Across the Alps, an economic and political storm is brewing – and there’s no sign anyone can stop it. Italy’s economic problems are in many ways worse than France’s. Public debt stands at nearly 133% of gross domestic product; in France, it’s 96%. The last time Italy grew faster than France was in 1995. Both countries have struggled to stay competitive internationally – but French productivity has risen by roughly 15% since 2001, whereas Italy’s has stagnated.

Meanwhile Italian politics goes from bad to worse. The Five Star Movement, a populist force that wants to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro system, is riding high in the polls and currently neck and neck with the center-left Democratic Party. The general election, scheduled for next spring, is unlikely to produce a clear winner – and there’s even a small chance it may result in a Eurosceptic government, if the Five Stars were to win enough votes and form an alliance with the fiercely anti-euro Northern League. Europhiles in Italy are busily looking for an Italian Macron – someone who could offer a liberal remedy for Italy’s economic woes while fighting off the threat of “It-exit.” Investors would like that. In the autumn, the European Central Bank looks set to slow its purchases of government debt. The prospect of political instability in Rome could spook investors, raising doubts over the sustainability of Italy’s debt.

In many ways, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, who resigned after a heavy defeat in December’s constitutional referendum, would be the obvious choice. At 42, he is only three years older than Macron. He too has sought to modernize the left, even though he preferred to climb through the ranks of his party, rather than set up a new one as Macron did. The trouble is that Renzi looks increasingly like a spent force. He has just obtained a fresh mandate as party leader, but many Italians doubt his promises because he reneged on a pledge to quit politics if he lost the referendum. His message has also become muddled. He claims to be pro-EU, but never misses a chance to bash Brussels – for imposing fiscal austerity, especially. Why should voters opt for Renzi’s half-hearted euroskepticism when they can have the real thing?

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“Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.”

Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, I attended your March 1999 conference in Tokyo when I worked for ___ bank. I remember you called out Soros and crew and said they were trying to manipulate the yen for fiscal year end. You warned the Japanese how to defeat the Club. If I remember, he and his crew lost $1 billion when everyone in Tokyo followed your advice. Many assumed what they did to you 6 months later was retribution. Now he is at it in Poland funneling money he made from such trading in through Norway to create political unrest. What is it with this guy? Why does he play God?

ANSWER: Oh yes. I remember that event very clearly. That’s why they started calling me Mr. Yen because it was me and our clients against the Club and the Club lost. They were trying to push the yen down for the fiscal year-end roll of March 31st and then run it up into April 1st. They had our clients lock it in and that forced the manipulators out. That was a wild day – 3 big figures in a single day in an outside-reversal was a big move back then. I know the rumor was that Soros was in on that and the Club lost $1 billion. Not sure how much they lost on that one. It was the good-old fun days of confrontations. The Polish government wants to stop the distribution of Norwegian money flowing into Poland coming from Soros’ funded Batory Foundation, which manages over 800 million euros with a target of overthrowing the Polish government by 2020.

Since 2014, the Batory Foundation has distributed some 130 million zlotys (around 31.7 million euros) to various associations and organizations within Poland to change the government. According to Bloomberg, this includes organizations for the promotion of parliamentary democracy , but only if it agrees with Soros agenda. Effectively, Soros is trying to defeat ‘Catholic values’ in Poland which are supported by the population and government. [..] Soros has publicly stated he does not believe in God. Many who worked for him said they think he believes he is a god with the right to reshape the world in his image. So have many throughout history and they are responsible for the murder of countless millions. Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.

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Merkel knows Putin can’t give in on Ukraine. Useless rhetoric.

In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin that EU sanctions will have to remain on Russia as the two leaders clashed over Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Addressing a joint press conference with Putin after about two hours of talks on Tuesday, Merkel raised concerns about the rights of homosexuals in Chechnya and Russia’s role in the war in Syria. She devoted much of her time to the lack of progress in resolving the three-year-old conflict in Ukraine. While Putin sought to lay the blame on the Ukrainian government, the chancellor said that a cease-fire is required as part of the “arduous” so-called Minsk process for restoring peace in eastern Ukraine and appealed to him to make it happen.

“My goal remains to get to the point where we can lift EU sanctions, but there’s a link here,” Merkel told reporters on her first visit to Russia since May 2015. The peace process is “moving very slowly, we only make progress in small steps and constantly have setbacks.” Merkel, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House in March, is visiting Putin in her capacity as holder of the presidency of the Group of 20 nations. As well as Ukraine, Merkel and Putin discussed the civil war in Syria and the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July, when the Russian and U.S. presidents are scheduled to meet for the first time. Ukraine was the main flashpoint, with Putin reiterating his stance that the Russian-backed breakaway regions in southeastern Ukraine split off because of a “coup d’etat, an unconstitutional change of power in Kiev.”

Merkel noted the two leaders’ “different opinions” about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine, which spiraled after protests over a scrapped accord with the EU triggered the downfall of the Russian-backed government in 2014. “We don’t share this view,” Merkel said in the briefing, which dispensed with the usual pleasantries or leaders’ banter. “We think that the Ukrainian government came to power through democratic means.” Although she’s among Putin’s sternest critics, Merkel has sought to keep a channel open to the Russian leader even as she holds the line on EU sanctions, which are a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing for Ukrainian separatists. Hours before Putin was scheduled to speak by phone with Trump on Tuesday, he responded again to allegations of electoral interference, saying “we never interfere in the political life of other countries.”

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There are people with less bias on Putin. Just not in US or EU politics.

‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)

The man behind three films about American presidents, Oliver Stone, says his upcoming feature about Russian President Vladimir Putin “opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” and could help prevent “a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” Academy Award-winning director and revered documentary filmmaker Stone said in interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that his new film about Putin will be released soon. “It’s not a documentary as much as a question and answer session,” he said. “Mr. Putin is one of the most important leaders in the world and in so far as the United States has declared him an enemy – a great enemy – I think it’s very important we hear what he has to say.” The film will present Putin’s viewpoint of political events since he was first elected president of Russia in March 2000.

“It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” Stone told the newspaper, adding that his crew went to see the indefatigable Russian leader four times over the course of two years. “I talked to him originally about the Snowden affair, which is in the film. And out of that grew, I think, a trust that he knew that I would not edit it so much,” he said, adding that Putin “talks pretty straight.” “I think we did him the justice of putting [his comments] into a Western narrative that could explain their viewpoint in the hopes that it will prevent continued misunderstanding and a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” The 70-year-old director also commented the accusations of Russian influence on the US presidential elections.

“That’s a path that leads nowhere to my mind. That’s an internal war of politics in the US in which the Democratic Party has taken a suicide pact or something to blow him up; in other words, to completely de-legitimize him and in so doing blow up the US essentially. “What they’re doing is destroying the trust that exists between people and government. It’s a very dangerous position to make accusations you cannot prove,” he added. Stone also said he does not believe claims circulating in the mainstream media that Moscow allegedly passed some classified documents to WikiLeaks in a bid to influence the November US elections. “I hold Assange [WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange] in high regard in many issues of state. I take very seriously his statement that he received no information from Russia or any state actors,” Stone said.

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“.. it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.”

I should get the book later this week.

Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)

Varoufakis began on the outside – both of elite politics and the Greek far left – swerved to the inside, and then abruptly abandoned it, after he was sacked by his former ally, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in July 2015. He dramatises his intent throughout the crisis with a telling anecdote. He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns. Elected politicians have little power; Wall Street and a network of hedge funds, billionaires and media owners have the real power, and the art of being in politics is to recognise this as a fact of life and achieve what you can without disrupting the system.

That was the offer. Varoufakis not only rejected it – by describing it in frank detail now, he is arming us against the stupidity of the left’s occasional fantasies that the system built by neoliberalism can somehow bend or compromise to our desire for social justice. In this book, then, Varoufakis gives one of the most accurate and detailed descriptions of modern power ever written – an achievement that outweighs his desire for self-justification during the Greek crisis. He explains, with a weariness born of nights in soulless hotels and harsh-lit briefing rooms, how the modern power network is built. Aris gets a loan from Zorba’s bank; Zorba writes off the loan but Zorba’s construction company gets a contract from Aris’s ministry. Aris’s son gets a job at Zorba’s TV station, which for some reason is always bankrupt and so can never pay tax – and so on.

“The key to such power networks is exclusion and opacity,” Varoufakis writes. As sensitive information is bartered, “two-person alliances forge links with other such alliances … involving conspirators who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators”. In the process of telling this story, Varoufakis not only spills the beans but beans of the kind the Greeks call gigantes – fat ones, full of juice. The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time. Even now, two years after the last Greek election, this is of more than academic interest. Greece remains burdened by billions of euros of debt it cannot pay. Because of the actions taken in 2010-11 – saving private banks by saddling north European states with massive debts – it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.

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Not going to happen until after the German fall election.

Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to restructure the country’s debt ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on May 22, a European official told CNBC on Tuesday. Athens agreed on Tuesday to introduce new laws on labor, energy reforms, pension cuts, and tax rises. This paves the way for a fresh disbursement of money from creditors in mid-June, but above all it allows Greece, its European creditors, and the IMF to consider how they will restructure the country’s debt. A European official who follows the bailout talks told CNBC that there isn’t a specific date for a solution to Greece’s debt but the first discussions on this issue will start soon. “From now until the Eurogroup meeting of May 22 there will be discussions to consider options for debt relief,” the official said.

Greece has to legislate the new reforms within two weeks. However, these new laws won’t take effect until 2019 and 2020 and will be dependent on the country’s economic performance. For example, among the new measures is the promise to cut pensions in 2019 and cut the tax-free threshold in 2020 to produce savings worth 2% of GDP. But if Athens exceeds its targets, it is allowed to offset the austerity measures and reduce taxes. During the first stages of talks on debt restructuring, the European Stability Mechanism, which is the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, will produce a new debt sustainability analysis. Current economic forecasts indicate that Greece’s public debt stood at about 180% of GDP in 2016. The IMF will also be doing its debt sustainability analysis to include the recently-agreed measures.

The Fund wants an agreement on measures to make Greece’s debt more sustainable before deciding whether it is participating with its own money in the Greek bailout program. Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesperson to the Greek government told reporters last month, that the IMF will make a “small” funding contribution that will not last for more than one year, so it ends at the same time as the current European program, which runs out in August of 2018. The IMF’s participation in the third bailout program to Greece is key for many euro countries, which perceive the fund’s involvement as giving credibility to the reform process in Greece. One of these countries is Germany, but the upcoming federal election might reduce Berlin’s room to restructure Greece’s debt.

“We will get some IMF participation, but no significant number,” Johannes Mayr, head of economic research at Bayern LB ,told CNBC via email. On the debt issue, “we need a compromise between the IMF and the EU/ESM (European Stability Mechanism), he said, “and this is realistic only after the German elections.” Neil Dwane, global strategist at Allianz Global Investors, added: “National governments, like Germany, would lose popularity if they wrote off Greek debt.” “I would expect more extend and pretend from the EU and the IMF,” he said via email.

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No Greek default, but nothing else either: again, until after the German fall election. And even then.

Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)

The long road to Greece emerging from its worst financial crisis in modern times reached another milestone on Tuesday as the country concluded a crucial compliance review that will allow it to avert default in July. At the cost of yet more painful austerity – in the form of extra pension cuts and tax increases – international creditors agreed to disburse €7.5bn (£6.3bn) in emergency loans to enable Athens to honour maturing debt repayments. More importantly, lenders accepted to set talks in motion on making Greece’s debt mountain more manageable – vital if the country is to gain access to the capital markets from which it has been almost completely exiled since 2009. [..] The deal ends more than six months of intense wrangling over the fiscal and structural reforms that Athens must implement in exchange for loans from its third, €86bn bailout programme.

Although the programme was outlined in 2015 when Greece came closest to crashing out of the eurozone and reverting to the drachma, the conditions attached to the lifeline remained open to negotiation. Discord most recently had focused on labour reforms and pensions – two issues that Tsakalotos, a British-trained Marxist economics professor, had felt especially strongly about. Under the agreement, the leftist-led government undertook to further slash pensions by 18% as of 2019. Pension payments have now been reduced 12 times since the start of the crisis, and cut by 40% in the past six years. With poorer out-of-work families often depending on them, news of a further drop was met with fury by union leaders, who immediately announced industrial action.

The two-party coalition led by the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, also agreed to broaden the tax-free threshold by effectively dispensing with tax breaks as of 2020. Both measures are expected to produce savings worth €3.6bn or 2% of GDP. “It will be a very hot spring,” Odysseus Trivalas, acting president of the union of public sector employees, told the Guardian. “We have yet to see the details of this agreement but what we know is that it will mean further cuts. There will be a lot of strikes and a general 24-hour lockdown when the measures are brought to parliament for vote.”

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“On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them.”

Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

Over the past seven years, austerity has left visible scars in Greece’s capital. A walk around Athens reveals more homeless people than ever despite some signs of a rosier economic outlook. Thousands of shops, mostly small businesses, are shuttered here and across the country. In what used to be a busy shopping arcade, closed stores are padlocked against a backdrop of hanging Greek flags. Whole families can be seen lining up for free meals at a growing number of soup kitchens. “Every day we feed 400 to 500 people, and this number has increased even more in the past two years,” says Evangelia Konsta, organizer and sponsor of the meals offered by the Church of Greece in a run-down neighborhood in central Athens.

Yesterday, IMF and European negotiators bailout negotiators reached an agreement with Greece’s government to continue rescue funding in return for a painful new round of cuts and higher taxes over the next three years. High unemployment and a steady decline of living standards for most Greeks for seven consecutive years have had lasting effects. Greece has survived on international rescue loans since 2010, granted by the IMF and other countries using the euro currency in exchange for drastic cuts in public spending and benefits. Greece is now in its third bailout. A few steps away from the Church-run soup kitchen is a homeless shelter also run by the Church. Guests in its tiny rooms include one family with their young children and a retired nurse suffering from cancer who is still waiting to get her pension application approved.

Another shelter, the “Shelter of Love and Solidarity,” has a great view of the ancient Acropolis that’s barely noticed by the hundreds of homeless and poor who come twice a week to wash their clothes and take a hot bath. “The shelter is the best option for us because the government doesn’t really do anything for us,” says Ilias Kosmidis, 38, who has been sleeping on the street for the past two years. While waiting to wash their clothes, people at the shelter have developed friendships, and catch up on the news, including the French presidential election. Sofia Vitalaki and her husband Costas, both retired civil servants, have run the shelter since 1991. “It’s not just the food,” she says. “Most people want their dignity back and here we try to support them.”

On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them. At the end of every month, it’s become a familiar sight outside banks: pensioners waiting in huge lines to collect their monthly checks. Few know how to use ATMs. While in line, they fret over how to make ends meet after years of cuts to their earnings, worrying about more austerity being planned. They won’t have long to wait till the next round of cuts. The government on Tuesday finalized its agreement with bailout lenders to ax pensions further, starting on January 1, 2019.

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Apr 292017
 
 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)
Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)
Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)
Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)
EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)
These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)
Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)
US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)
Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)
California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)
Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)
US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)
Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)
‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

 

 

Consumption growth lowest since 2009.

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.

That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.

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Anti-Trump rally?!

Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)

It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…

 

As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…

 

How will that translate into Making America Great Again?

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Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.

Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)

On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.

Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”

“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”

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New book, series in the Telegraph.

Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)

Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.

In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.

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Almost funny.

EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)

This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.

It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.

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Giving the news to you bite size.

These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)

Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.

What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.

In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.

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Vault7 the largest ever publication?

Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)

Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.

Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:

 

Full interview below… 

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US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.

US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)

The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.

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Unintended consequences.

Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)

Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.

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There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.

California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.

The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.

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Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.

Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.

Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.

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Looks like a positive development.

US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)

US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.

The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.

“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”

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Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.

Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.

The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.

The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.

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This will not go quiet for much longer.

‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”

Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.

Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.

Read more …

Apr 262017
 
 April 26, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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EdgarDegas A la mer 1863

 

Something hit me this week. The maps which came out on Monday and detailed the outcome of the French elections, were telling a story, and a familiar one by now. A story of deep division. There are a number of such maps now depicting the Brexit vote in the UK, the US presidential elections, and its French counterpart.

In all three cases they leave me wondering something along the lines of: ‘Are you guys sure you want to remain in the same country with each other?’ Because to me that is not all that obvious, and I think it’ll get less so as time passes. For instance in the case of France, the ‘ideological’ differences between Macron and Le Pen are substantial to say the least, they’re worlds apart.

And if you’re worlds apart, why live in the same country? Here’s that French map:

 

 

As you see, the country is sharply divided between west (Macron) and east (Le Pen). So much so that you wonder what these people still have in common, other than their language. There’s no doubt it’s also a dividing line between the richer part of the country, and the poorer.

Thing is, that same dividing line is visible in a similar map of the November 8, 2016 US election results, in a slightly different way.

 

 

In the US it’s not east versus west, it’s coast versus interior (flyover land). But the difference is equally clear and sharp. In fact, probably what we’re looking at is that France has only one coastline, while the US has two, and in both countries people living close to the ocean are on average richer than those who live more inland.

And in both cases there is no doubt that wealth is a deciding factor in dividing the nations to the extent that they are. We see that in an ‘urban versus rural area’ comparison as well. Cities like New York, LA and Paris are strongholds for the incumbent and establishment, the parties that represent the rich.

There can be no doubt that we’ll see more of that going forward. It won’t be there in smaller countries, Holland for instance is not nearly large enough for such dynamics. But Italy very well might. It’s always had a strong north-south-divide, and its present crisis has undoubtedly deepened that chasm.

Looking at things that way, it’s also glaringly obvious that Macron is Obama (and is Renzi is Cameron etc.). A well-trained good looking mediagenic puppet with a gift of teleprompter gab, fabricated and cultivated by the ruling financial and industrial world to do their bidding. Macron, to me, looks the most artificial of the crop so far, the Obama, Rutte, Cameron, Renzi crop. There will be more, and they will get more artificial. Edward Bernays is just getting started.

Of course there is also a strong move away from established parties. It is more pronounced in France -where they were eradicated at least in the presidential elections- than in the US or UK, but that may be more of a superficial thing. Trump and Bernie Sanders are simply America’s version of France’s ‘ultra’ right wing Le Pen and ‘ultra’ left wing Melenchon. And Trump is running into problems with the remnants of the established parties as much as Macron will if he’s elected president.

Anglo countries seem to take longer diversifying away from tradition than others, but they too will get there. The various deteriorating economies will make sure of that.

 

A third map is of the UK Brexit vote. Once again, a sharp division, and once again with a ‘character’ of its own. If you ignore Scotland for a moment, what you see is blue=poor and yellow=rich. Broad strokes, I know, but I’ve been doing that with the first two maps too. There are only a few pockets of yellow=rich=remain. But yeah, fewer people live there. Same thing as in the US and France.

That the whole Brexit thing should now be negotiated by the Tories is a cynical irony the country owes to its adherence to tradition. That is how that backfires, too little flexibility. How the UK will solve its many ignored issues is anyone’s guess. Will Scotland leave the no-longer-very United Kingdom? Will voters wake up in time to not present the Tories with a free hand to make the rich-poor divide even worse?

 

 

There’s one more, and more detailed, map of France, which shows even better to what extent ‘Le Pen country’ is eerily similar to America’s flyover land. It’s almost poetic, a poem about how countries fall apart, about centers that cannot hold. It also makes me think of a locust invasion, by the way.

 

 

Every French and European body and their pet hamster is presently telling voters in France to please please not vote for Le Pen, in a move that resembles similar calls against Trump and Brexit. And who knows, it might work this time around. The anti-Le Pen frenzy is even stronger than the others, and it has Marine’s crazy father to use as a warning sign.

But as these maps show, it’s not about Le Pen, or Trump, or Nigel Farage. It’s about people being left behind in ever larger numbers, susceptible to voices other than the ones they’ve known for a long time and who never listened to them. And nothing is being done to address these people’s claims; on the contrary, things are only getting worse for them.

I saw a headline today that said ECB president Mario Draghi’s “Stimulus Could Blunt Populism as Unemployment Declines”. There’s only one possible reaction to that: what happens when he stops his stimulus?

The growing divides that all these maps bear witness to will keep growing, unless someone decides that neo-liberalism has gone too far. But the only person who could make such a decision would have to be one who neo-liberalism itself has made rich and powerful. So don’t count on that happening.

Count instead on more Trumps and Le Pens and Sanders’s. And also on more Obama’s and Macrons for the rich to deploy to protect their power and hold on to their riches. Increasingly it would seem they have to limit democracy -even further- to remain in power. So count on that happening too.

But don’t count on all these countries surviving as sovereign nations. The chasms are widening too fast and too much.

Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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How we got here

 

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)
ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)
It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)
China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)
The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)
UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)
BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)
German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)
Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

 

 

This is a global issue, the left has moved so far right it has no identity left. Nice detail: The Parti Socialiste of the current president could be bankrupted by its dismal campaign.

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)

Do they vote for or against? Do they choose a candidate who represents their politics or one who, opinion polls suggest, is most likely to defeat the woman whose presence as one of two candidates in the second-round runoff in a fortnight seems a given, but whose name still provokes a frisson of fear for many: the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with her anti-Europe, anti-immigration, “French-first” programme? As election day has approached, and with the added complication of the terrorist threat following the shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the dilemma has caused particular anguish for France’s mainstream leftwing voters, whose candidate is trailing in fifth place.

There are no certainties, but barring all other candidates “dropping from a nasty virus”, as one political analyst put it, Benoît Hamon is facing a crushing defeat in the first round, ending his leadership dreams and putting the future of the country’s Socialist party (PS) in question. In a decline that mirrors that of Britain’s Labour party, the PS is facing years in a political desert, if it survives. If Hamon finishes last among the leading candidates, as polls predict, the party’s only hope of salvaging a thread of power will lie in winning enough parliamentary seats in the legislative elections that follow to form an influential group in the national assembly. Even then it will most likely be part of a coalition rather than a fully functioning opposition.

Even worse, and even more unthinkable, if leftwing voters turn en masse to Jean-Luc Mélenchon as their best hope of a place in the second round against the frontrunners – independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen or the conservative François Fillon – and Hamon polls less than 5%, none of Hamon’s campaign expenses will be reimbursed, bankrupting the PS. “Under 5% and the situation is really catastrophic,” Marc-Olivier Padis, of the Paris-based thinktank Terra Nova, told the Observer. “And it’s possible. We are hearing many socialists wondering if they should vote Mélenchon or Macron. The only thing that can save the party in this election is if enough socialists vote for Hamon out of loyalty.”

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It’s about the economy, guys. Too many people are left with too little. That’s when they choose to be their own boss -again-.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)

The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty. Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around. On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left. Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles.

The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.

The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.

The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back. That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.

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French government debt could become ineligible as collateral if Le Pen and/or Melenchon do too well.

ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)

ECB officials signaled that their liquidity facilities remain available to counter any market tension that may arise in the aftermath of France’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place Sunday. “The central bank should be ready for any shocks that should materialize,” Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said at a press conference during the IMF spring meetings in Washington on Saturday. “And if there were to be such a shock, the instruments are the instruments that a central bank should use, which are liquidity provision, refinancing when needed. And intervening very quickly is really very easy now given the instruments we have.” Like the U.K.’s vote on whether to continue its membership of the EU in June, central bank readiness to support the banking system has been sought given the potential for such political events to create market turmoil.

In this case, a strong showing in the first round by anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen could cast doubt over the future of the single currency. Visco argued that the presence of central bank facilities makes it less likely they’ll actually be needed. [..] The euro area has years of experience with banking freeze-ups and has multiple instruments to address liquidity shortages that strike otherwise solvent banks. In particular, in the event a sudden credit-rating downgrade made French government debt ineligible as collateral for normal ECB refinancing operations, so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be available from the Bank of France. “If there should be problems for specific French banks, liquidity-wise, then the ECB has instruments to help solvent banks with liquidity problems,” Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Saturday. “This is ELA, emergency liquidity assistance. That could be given of course. But we don’t expect any special movements.”

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“Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria.”

It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)

Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, policymakers rushed out the Dodd-Frank Act. This Act increased the Fed’s responsibilities. However, policymakers did this without examining the Fed’s performance in the run-up to the financial crisis. Had they done so, they would have seen the Fed failed as a bank supervisor and regulator. This failure alone mandates breaking up the Fed. After all, why should the Fed be given a second chance given how much its failure hurt the global real economy and taxpayers? Furthermore, this failure strongly suggests policymakers shouldn’t have rewarded the Fed with additional responsibilities. After all, there is no reason to believe the Fed’s failure as a bank supervisor and regulator won’t be repeated with any new responsibilities.

To the extent these new responsibilities exist in the Dodd-Frank Act, they too should be stripped away. What the Fed should be left with is responsibility for monetary policy and the payment system. All of the Fed’s bank supervision and regulatory responsibility should be transferred to the FDIC. There are many significant benefits from doing this including it reinforces market discipline on the banks. Unlike the Fed, the FDIC is responsible for protecting the taxpayers and has the authority to close a bank. The FDIC’s primary responsibility is minimizing the risk of loss by the taxpayer backed deposit insurance fund. It achieves this initially through regulation and supervision, but more importantly by a willingness to step in and close a bank that threatens to cause a loss to the fund.

Shareholders and unsecured bank creditors are keenly aware they are likely to lose their entire investment should the FDIC step up and close the bank they are invested in. As a result, they have an incentive to exert discipline on bank management to limit its risk taking so the bank is never taken over by the FDIC. For those who would argue that it is important to keep bank supervision and regulation together with monetary policy, I would point out there is no evidence showing this produces a better outcome. In the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, the Bank of England and the ECB did not have supervision and regulation responsibility. The Fed did. Talk about a perfect controlled experiment.

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China needs more than $13 to create $1 of growth.

China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)

From a global macroeconomic perspective, we encourage readers to consider that the world is experiencing an extended, rolling process of deflating its credit excesses. It is now simply China’s turn. For context, Japan started deflating their credit bubble in the early 1990s, and has now experienced more than 20 years of deflation and very little growth since. The US began its process in 2008, and after eight years has only recently been showing signs of sustainable recovery. The euro zone entered this process in 2011 and is still struggling six years onward. We believe China is now entering the early stages of this process. Having said that, we believe that Chinese authorities have a viable plan for deflating their credit excess in an orderly fashion.

Please stay posted as we will review this multi-pronged, market-based approach in our next column. For now, let’s turn our attention to the size of the credit excess that China created and why we estimate it to be the largest in the world. A credit excess is created by the speed and magnitude of credit that is created – if too much is created in too short a time period, excesses inevitably occur and non-performing loans (NPLs) emerge. To illustrate the credit excess that has been created in China, let’s review several key indicators, including the: 1) flow of new credit; 2) stock of outstanding credit; 3) credit deviation ratio (i.e., excess credit); 4) incremental capital output ratio (efficiency of credit allocation).

The US created 58% of GDP between 2002-07, and the global financial crisis followed. Japan created credit equivalent to the entire size of its economy between 1985-90 and subsequently experienced more than 20 years of deflation (admittedly reflecting the lack of restructuring). Thailand created a significant real estate bubble between 1992-97 and ended up with about 45% NPL ratios. Spain created credit equivalent to 116% of GDP between 2002-07 and still is trying to address a 20% unemployment rate. China created 139% of GDP in new credit between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2014 (when GDP growth peaked), far greater than what was created in other major credit bubbles globally.

[..] Another important measure to assess the amount of credit in the economy which is “excessive” is the credit-to-GDP gap, as reported by the Bank of International Settlements. This ratio measures the difference between the current credit-to-GDP ratio in an economy against its long-term trend of what is necessary to optimally support long-term GDP growth. It is akin to measuring the amount of credit that is productively deployed into an economy. This metric is used by the Basel III framework in determining countercyclical capital buffers for a country’s banking system when credit creation becomes too fast (i.e., high credit growth requires higher capital ratios for banks).

Finally, to show that the pace of credit creation will necessarily slow, thereby exposing misallocated credit and driving the emergence of new NPL formation, we turn to the deterioration in China’s incremental capital output ratio. This ratio is the measure of the number of units of input required to produce one unit of GDP. For the 15 years prior to the credit impulse in 2009-14, China’s incremental capital output ratio has been consistently between two and four. Meaning that two to four yuan in fixed asset investment created one yuan in GDP. But as a result of the credit-driven economic growth model, and the excessive credit that has been created (and the subsequent excess capacity in the industrial economy), China’s investment efficiency has deteriorated to the point that its incremental capital output ratio is now over 13. Said another way, every 1 yuan in new fixed asset investment is now creating only 7 fen in GDP.

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Full employment, anyone?

The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)

The devastation in the US retail sector is accelerating in 2017, and in addition to the surging number of brick and mortar retail bankruptcies, it is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the soaring number of store closures. While the shuttering of retail stores has been a frequent topic on this website, most recently in the context of the next “big short”, namely the ongoing deterioration in the mall REITs and associated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities and CDS, here is a stunning fact from Credit Suisse:”Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008.”

According to the Swiss bank’s calculations, on a unit basis, approximately 2,880 store closings were announced YTD, more than twice as many closings as the 1,153 announced during the same period last year. Historically, roughly 60% of store closure announcements occur in the first five months of the year. By extrapolating the year-to-date announcements, CS estimates that there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year, which will be higher than the historical 2008 peak of approximately 6,200 store closings, which suggests that for brick-and-mortar stores stores the current transition period is far worse than the depth of the credit crisis depression.

As the WSJ calculates, at least 10 retailers, including Limited Stores, electronics chain hhgregg and sporting-goods chain Gander Mountain have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. That compares with nine retailers that declared bankruptcy, with at least $50 million liabilities, for all of 2016. On Friday, women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores said it would close its remaining 170 shops and sell only online, while teen retailer Rue21 Inc. announced plans to close about 400 of its 1,100 locations. Another striking fact: on a square footage basis, approximately 49 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. Should this pace persist by the end of the year, total square footage reductions could reach 147M square feet, another all time high, and surpassing the historical peak of 115M in 2001.

There are several key drivers behind the avalanche of “liquidation” signs on store fronts. The first is the glut of residual excess retail space. As the WSJ writes, the seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers, in the throes of a consumer-buying spree and flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time. “Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.”

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No matter how you try to explain it away, in the end it’s just people having less to spend.

UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)

Retail sale volumes slumped in March, seeming to confirm doubts about the robustness of the consumer-led economy in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales were down 1.8% in the month, against City expectations of a 0.2% decline. The monthly data can be volatile and March’s decline follows a 1.7% spike in February, but the ONS itself highlighted the weakening trend this year and noted that over the three months to March there was the first quarterly decline in volumes since 2013. In the first quarter of 2017 sales were down 1.4%, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2010 when they fell 2%.

Retail sales performed much better than expected in the immediate wake of last June’s Brexit vote, helping to boost overall GDP growth and confounding widespread expectations that the economy would fall into recession. But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak. “We should see these retail sales figures as the start of a period of much weaker consumer spending growth – which will act as a drag on the overall progress of the UK economy over this year and next,” said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC.

“This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the UK economy has begun, and we should expect to see this confirmed in other economic data over the next few months.” James Knightley, an economist at ING described the figures as “dreadful”. “The story for the household sector isn’t great right now. Inflation is eating into household spending power with wages once again failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. There is also a growing sense of job insecurity highlighted in some surveys, which may also be making households a little nervous,” he said. The household saving ratio, the gap between the sector’s aggregate income and spending, fell to just 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, the weakest on record, prompting questions about the sustainability of the rate of consumer spending. Retail sales account for around 30% of household consumption, which in turn accounts for 60% of UK GDP.

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“..1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs..” They can’t afford the products they sell. Henry Ford had a solution to that.

BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)

The fact that Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its joint lowest level since 1975 belies the experience of thousands of BHS staff, who have struggled to find an equivalent job with a contract and regular hours. The jobless rate may be just 4.7% but official records show the number of people on zero-hours contracts hit a record high of 905,000 in the final three months of 2016. That was an increase of 101,000, or 13%, compared with the same period a year earlier. Last year, research by industry trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) identified a “lost generation” of predominantly female shop workers who – as thousands of BHS staff would find out – risk losing their jobs as structural change chews up the high street. It estimated there were nearly 500,000 retail workers, aged between 26 and 45, many of whom have children and need to work close to their family home, who would find it hard to find alternative jobs.

Using the benchmark of those earning less than £8.05 an hour, the BRC says 1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs. About 70% are female and one in five receive means-tested working age tax credits. Norman Pickavance, chair of the Fabian Society taskforce on the future of retail, says the majority of companies in the sector are trying to save money by moving towards less secure employment models. “There are more and more zero-hours-type contracts and self employment,” he says. “A year on from the demise of BHS, most retailers are continuing down that route of flexibility but there is a risk to them from Brexit. They have only been able to use these methods because of the abundance of labour and might have to rethink.”

[..] This trend is writ larger in the US, where analysts are talking about a “retail apocalypse”, as main street veterans like Macy’s and Sears line up to announce major store closure programmes. With American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and JCPenney also axing stores, hundreds of American shopping mall outlets are closing for good. The cost in job terms has been stark, with more than 89,000 retail positions eliminated over the last six months. New York-based Global Data analyst Neil Saunders says the US and UK retail markets are not mirror images, with the American woes resulting from the fallout from a belated move by store chiefs to address the threat posed by the internet.

With more than five times more retail square footage per person than the UK, American store chiefs have also got a bigger problem on their hands than their British counterparts. “In terms of online penetration, the US is where the UK was five or so years ago,” continues Saunders. “What we are seeing is large US retailers scrabbling to adjust.” He adds: “Generally, UK retail is at a much later evolutionary stage than the US. There has already been quite a lot of adjustment in terms of the closure and adaptation of physical space.

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Everyone spies on everyone. Growth industry.

German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency spied on the Interpol international police agency for years and on the group’s country liaison offices in dozens of countries such as Austria, Greece and the United States, a German magazine said. Der Spiegel magazine, citing documents it had seen, said the BND had added the email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of the police investigators to its sector surveillance list. In addition, the German spy agency also monitored the Europol police agency Europol which is based in The Hague, the magazine said. Der Spiegel reported in February that the BND also spied on the phones, faxes and emails of several news organizations, including the New York Times and Reuters.

The BND’s activities have come under intense scrutiny during a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that the US National Security Agency conducted mass surveillance outside of the United States, including a cellphone used by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Konstantin von Notz, a Greens party member who serves on the investigative committee, described the latest report about the BND’s spying activities as “scandalous and unfathomable.” “We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries,” von Notz said in a statement. He said the latest reports showed how ineffective parliamentary controls had been thus far, despite new legislation aimed at reforming the BND. “It represents a danger to our rule of law,” he said.

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So what as the Pope done to alleviate the issue? How has he used the Vatican’s opulent riches to make life better for refugees?

Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become “concentration camps”. During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how “terrorists came to our country”. Islamists had slit the throat of the man’s Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix the ground. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.

Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”. He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders. In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a U.N. report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.

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Apr 152017
 
 April 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Copenhagen 1965

 

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)
US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)
China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)
Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)
Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)
Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)
Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)
The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)
US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)
Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)
Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)
French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)
More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

 

 

Step away from the confrontation and still get what you want. Maybe not that stupid.

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)

The U.S. stopped short of branding China a currency manipulator, but urged the world’s second-largest economy to let the yuan rise with market forces and embrace more trade. No major trading partner is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage, according to the first foreign-currency report released by the Treasury Department under President Donald Trump on Friday. It kept China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland on its foreign-exchange monitoring list. “China currently has an extremely large and persistent bilateral trade surplus with the United States, which underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services,” as well as quicker reforms to boost household consumption, according to the Treasury report.

Trump declared on Wednesday that he’ll back away from a campaign promise to name China a currency manipulator, a move that would have created friction between the world’s largest economies as they try to boost trade cooperation and address North Korea’s nuclear threat. Trump, in a Wall Street Journal interview, said China hasn’t manipulated the yuan for months, while accusing nations that he didn’t identify of devaluing their currencies and saying the dollar is getting too strong.

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Germany must increase domestic demand? How? Housing bubble?

US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)

Even though China has not moved to keep its currency weak in the past three years, the country “has a long track record of engaging in persistent, large-scale, one-way foreign exchange intervention, doing so for roughly a decade,” the Treasury Department said. That “distortion in the global trading system… imposed significant and long-lasting hardship on American workers and companies.” With a trade surplus in goods with the United States of $347 billion last year, and continued policies that restrict free trade and foreign investment, “Treasury will be scrutinizing China’s trade and currency practices very closely.” The large goods surplus “underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services, as well as faster reform to rebalance the Chinese economy toward greater household consumption.” Beijing also will need to prove that the recent stance of not trying to weaken the currency is “a durable policy shift,” even if the renminbi begins to appreciate again.

The Treasury Department said Germany should take steps, notably spending policies, “to encourage stronger domestic demand growth,” something the country’s trading partners and the IMF have been urging for some time. Increased demand “would place upward pressure on the euro… and help reduce its large external imbalances,” increasing domestic consumption, including of imported goods. Those imbalances include its $65 billion goods trade surplus with the United States last year, and what the department calls “the world?s largest current account surplus at close to $300 billion.” The report also called on Japan to do more “to revive domestic demand and combat low inflation while avoiding a return to export-led growth.” This would include more “flexible” government spending policies, and continued reforms to boost the labor market and increase productivity of the Japanese economy.

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“Social financing”. Sure. Sounds good, right? But it‘s all shadows.

China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)

China’s banks unexpectedly extended less credit in March than in the previous month as the government tries to contain the risks from an explosive build-up in debt and an overheating housing market. But aggregate financing, which includes bank loans as well as off-balance sheet lending, surged in March and was a record in the first quarter, raising doubts about the effectiveness of official efforts so far to clamp down on risks in the financial system. A surge in household lending in March also added to worries about whether authorities will be able to get the frenzied property market under control, even as cities roll out increasingly stringent curbs on home buying.

The central bank has raised interest rates on money market instruments and special short- and mid-term loans several times in recent months, most recently in mid-March, to contain debt risks and discourage speculation, though it is treading cautiously to avoid hurting economic growth. Outstanding bank loans grew at the slowest pace since July 2002 in March at 12.4%, while M2 money supply growth hit a more than 6-month low, reflecting the moderately tighter policy stance by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC). On the surface, the level of March new loans fell, also suggesting authorities are making some headway in weaning borrowers off endless cheap credit and coaxing debt-laden companies to deleverage.

China’s banks made 1.02 trillion yuan ($148.15 billion) in new loans in March, data showed on Friday, down from 1.17 trillion yuan in February and well below the 1.25 trillion yuan that analysts had predicted in a Reuters poll. However, banks still extended the third highest loans on record for a single quarter, totaling 4.22 trillion yuan in January-March. The first quarter is usually the busiest of the year for Chinese banks, when they have a fresh annual quota and look to lock up key clients. Loans to households surged to 797.7 billion yuan in March, according to Reuters calculations using PBOC data, accounting for 78% of all new loans in the month. That was much higher than either January or February and even the 50% of new loans in 2016.

[..] China’s total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, rocketed to 2.12 trillion yuan in March from 1.15 trillion yuan in February. For the first quarter, TSF reached a record 6.93 trillion yuan – roughly equivalent to the size of Mexico’s economy – and well above last year’s first quarter total. For analysts, that suggests a surge in off-balance sheet lending, likely in the less regulated shadow banking system, despite repeated attempts by authorities to target riskier lending in past years. Loans to companies totaled 368.6 billion yuan in March, less than half the amount of household lending, PBOC data showed. That could be an ominous signal for the economy, unless firms were finding other sources of funding.

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Bubble dynamics.

Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)

Softening apartment rents, particularly in the massively over-priced, millennial safe-spaces of New York City and San Francisco, have been a frequent topic of conversation for us over the past several quarters…Now, a new report from Goldman’s Credit Strategy Team, led by Marty Young, helps to highlight some of the key data points that suggest that sinking rent will likely not be just an ephemeral problem. To start, an just like almost any bubble, sinking rents are the symptom of a massive, multi-year supply bubble in multi-family housing units sparked by, among other things, cheap borrowing costs for commercial builders. Per the chart below, multi-family units under construction is now at record highs and have eclipsed the previous bubble peak by nearly 40%.

Rents have already started to rollover but we suspect the correction has only just begun.

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Consumer spending falls = money velocity goes down = deflation.

Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)

Falling retail sales and lower inflation in the US have added to signs that the world’s biggest economy has lost momentum in recent months, casting doubt over how many more times the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. Stronger takings at clothing and electronics stores in March were not enough to offset a continued drop in demand for cars, according to figures from the US government (pdf). As a result, retail sales fell for the second month running. The 0.2% drop was deeper than forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists and followed a bigger than previously reported decline of 0.3% in February. Sales were also hurt by lower demand for building materials in March, chiming with a sharp slowdown in construction hiring as parts of the US were hit by severe snowstorms. Petrol station takings also dipped in March as fuel prices fell.

The few bright spots were a 2.6% rise in takings at electronics and appliance stores and a 1% rise in clothing sales. The drop in fuel prices in March echoed a pattern seen in the UK following a fall in global oil prices last month. Cheaper pump prices were also a key factor in softer US inflation. A measure of prices in the US fell for the first time in more than a year, dipping 0.3% in March, according to figures from the Labor Department. It said falling fuel prices and mobile phone charges drove the decline in the consumer price index (CPI) and were only partially offset by rising food prices. As a result, inflation – or the pace of price changes over a year – eased to 2.4% in March from 2.7% in February. Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, eased to 2% from 2.2% in February and was the weakest since November 2015.

The retail sales and inflation data follow news of a sharp slowdown in job creation in the US in March as the poor weather, a government hiring freeze and a faltering retail sector all appeared to put a chill on President Donald Trump’s promise to boost hiring. But the unemployment rate declined to 4.5%, the lowest rate in a decade. The latest indications that the economy slowed in the opening months of the year will give policymakers at the US central bank more to debate as they decide when to next raise interest rates.

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“Hacker Fantastic @hackerfantastic: This is really bad, in about an hour or so any attacker can download simple toolkit to hack into Microsoft based computers around the globe.”

Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users. The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10.

The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65% of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share. The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk. According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated:

“I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches. “This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

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Russia and China are close to launching their own competitor to SWIFT. Good timing. This is nuts.

Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)

Hackers released documents and files on Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks. The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems. The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity. Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen. “Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers,” the company said. The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama’s staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws. Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released on Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank. “The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said. The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day.

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“..if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward.”

The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)

After detailed decimation of President Trump’s ‘intelligence’ ‘justifying’ his invasion of Syria, the MIT specialist on such intelligence-analysis, Dr. Theodore Postol, concludes:

“I have worked with the intelligence community in the past, and I have grave concerns about the politicization of intelligence that seems to be occurring with more frequency in recent times – but I know that the intelligence community has highly capable analysts in it. And if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward. I am available to expand on these comments substantially. I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report.

But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct, and it also appears that this report was not properly vetted by the intelligence community. This is a very serious matter. President Obama was initially misinformed about supposed intelligence evidence that Syria was the perpetrator of the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus. This is a matter of public record. President Obama stated that his initially false understanding was that the intelligence clearly showed that Syria was the source of the nerve agent attack.

This false information was corrected when the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, interrupted the President while he was in an intelligence briefing. According to President Obama, Mr. Clapper told the President that the intelligence that Syria was the perpetrator of the attack was “not a slamdunk.” The question that needs to be answered by our nation is how was the president initially misled about such a profoundly important intelligence finding?

The U.S. ‘news’media hid from the public Dr. Postol’s disproof of the Obama regime’s still-continuing assertions that the 21 August 2013 sarin attack was from Syria’s government instead of from the ‘moderate rebels’ (jihadists) whom the U.S. supported. Will they hide from the U.S. public his disproof of the U.S. regime’s latest such scam backing the actual perpetrators of a war-crime — will they do now as they did then?

This issue presents a challenge to the U.S. ‘news’ media, to finally show some integrity, some honor, and expose the operations of the gang at the U.S. government’s top, instead of simply continuing to pump that gang’s propaganda. Without the continuing cooperation of America’s ‘news’media, we would not now be heading toward World War III — global nuclear war. What would be the time when these ‘news’media will do their job, instead of do what they’re being paid to do, if that time is not now.

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Even more lobbyists needed?!

US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)

Last year’s Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill which allowed Americans to sue Saudi Arabia in US court over their involvement in 9/11, has yielded another major lawsuit yesterday, a $4.2 billion suit filed by over two dozen US insurers related to losses sustained because of the 2001 attack. The lawsuit is targeting a pair of Saudi banks, and a number of Saudi companies with ties to the bin Laden family, accusing them of various activities in support of al-Qaeda in the years ahead of 9/11, and subsequently having “aided and abetted” the attack. The biggest target is the Saudi National Commercial Bank, which is majority state-owned.

The Saudi government heavily pressured the Obama Administration to block the JASTA last year, threatening to crash the US treasury market if it led to lawsuits, but overwhelming Congressional support still got it passed into law. While there were more than a few lawsuits already filed in the past several weeks related to JASTA, this is by far the biggest, and most previous lawsuits are still in limbo as the court and lawyers try to combine them into various class action groups. Historically, US sovereign immunity laws have prevented suits against the Saudi government related to overseas terrorism. With the release of the Saudi-related portions of the 9/11 Report last year, however, such suits were inevitable, and the federal government could no longer protect the Saudis from litigation.

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Everybody should know this.

Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, economists took a dim view of landowners. Influential theorists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill saw them as a drag on economic activity, primarily because they reduced the value of other people’s economic activity (through rent) without any incentive to make an economic contribution themselves. In the late 1800s, American social theorist and economist Henry George started a movement arguing for a single land value tax (LVT) – on the unimproved value of land – to replace other forms of taxation. It was rooted in the idea that if economic activity (labour, trade etc.) is the source of tax revenues, tax inevitably becomes a drag on the very thing that creates it. And while productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity.

Rent and taxes are a ‘double whammy’ on productive people. While productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity. That means rent – like taxes – is a drag on the economy. But unlike taxes, which can be used to stimulate economic activity through public spending, rent disappears into landlords’ pockets. So apart from the relatively small economic impact from landlords’ spending, their rent takes value out of the economy and delivers little value back to it. Understandably, the Georgists (Henry George’s LVT supporters) are still going strong today.

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The Vichy comment looks odd; why go there? But do remember: French polls are meaningless by now.

Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen pulled all the stops to stem her slide in the polls, saying she’s willing to be “crucified” for her stance on absolving France for the wartime deportation of Jews, and pledging to protect the country from Islamic fundamentalists. In a wide-ranging interview Friday on France Info radio nine days before the first round of the presidential vote, the 48-year-old anti-immigration candidate expressed disappointment at what she said was U.S. President Donald Trump going back on campaign promises, while focusing mainly on well-worn themes that most strike a chord with her electorate: Islam, immigration, national identity and terrorism.

“I don’t want France to be damaged, to be humiliated, that it be held responsible when it is not responsible,” Le Pen said. “People can crucify me, I will not change my mind, I will always defend France.” The National Front candidate’s lead in the polls has been whittled away over the last few weeks, leaving her struggling to regain momentum. First-round support for both Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron slipped 0.5 points to respectively 23.5% and 22.5%, according to a daily rolling poll by Ifop on Thursday. Le Pen was at 26.5% in mid-March. [..] In the radio interview, Le Pen maintained her contention that France had no responsibility for the 1942 roundup of Jews in and around Paris by French police at the request of the German occupying forces to be sent to concentration camps.

The candidate, who first made that comment on April 9, was reverting to the long-established party line that shuns any hint of repentance. Le Pen said she is “extremely sensitive to the martyrdom of the Jews,” adding that the only issue was “juridical,” whether the Vichy regime was France or not. “I consider that Vichy was not France. French people can commit crimes without France being criminal.” In the interview, Le Pen criticized Trump for changing his mind on the U.S.’s global role after he said on Wednesday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was “no longer obsolete” in fighting terrorism. “Undeniably he is in contradiction with the commitments he had made,” Le Pen said. Trump had said in January that NATO was “obsolete.” Among her key proposals is for France to quit the alliance.

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9 days before an election. They’re trying to make her win?!

French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election. The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round. The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates. The prosecutors also made a similar request regarding another MEP from Le Pen’s party, Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who also avoided questioning.

Le Pen, who has denied misusing parliamentary funds, shrugged off the move. “It’s totally normal procedure, I’m not surprised,” she told France Info radio. The case was triggered by a complaint from the European parliament, which accuses the FN of defrauding it to the tune of about €340,000 (£290,000). The parliament believes the party used funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work in France. In February, it said it would start docking Le Pen’s pay unless she paid the money back. The allegations appear to have had little impact on Le Pen’s campaign, dwarfed by the bigger scandal engulfing her conservative rival François Fillon.

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A day like so many others.

More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean on Friday in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead, officials and witnesses said. An Italian coast guard spokesman said 19 rescue operations by the coast guard or ships operated by non-governmental organizations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a tweet that one teenager was found dead in a rubber boat whose passengers were rescued by its ship Aquarius. “The sea continues to be a graveyard,” MSF said in a Tweet. The coast guard spokesman confirmed that one person had died but gave no details. MSF said two of their ships, Aquarius and Prudence, had rescued about 1,000 people in nine boats.

Desperate refugees struggled to stay afloat after they slid off their rubber boat during a rescue operation by the Phoenix, a ship of the rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Video footage showed rescuers jumping into the water off the coast of Libya to help them. “In 19 years of covering the migration story, I have never experienced anything like today,” said Reuters photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi, who was aboard the Phoenix. In one operation, the Phoenix rescued 134 people, all from sub-Saharan counties, he said. Those rescued by the MOAS and MSF ships were transferred to Italian coast guard ships, which had rescued other migrants, to be taken to Italian ports. According to the International Organisation for Migration, nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.

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Apr 032017
 
 April 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Paul Wolff Frankfurt Opera House 1934

 

‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)
Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)
Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)
A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)
Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)
Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)
ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)
Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)
Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)
Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

 

 

“Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.”

‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)

How far can a desperate government go to keep the whole overleveraged edifice of a housing bubble from tumbling down and doing God-knows-what to the economy and the banks? Australia is trying to find out. The housing bubble in Sydney and Melbourne, by now among the top in the world, is taking on grotesque proportions, not only in price increases, but also in political pronouncements. So much of the economy depends on this bubble that no politician can imagine bringing it down to earth. Prices for all types of homes in Sydney jumped 19% in March year-over-year, according to CoreLogic, with houses up nearly 20% and “units” (we’d call them condos) up 15%. Sydney’s home prices have nearly doubled since 2008. In Melbourne, overall home prices jumped 16%, with houses up 17%, and condos up 5%. The index for all dwellings in Canberra and Hobart also rose in the double-digits.

In Adelaide and Brisbane, prices rose in the mid-single digits. Perth and Darwin showed declines in the 4.5% range. The CoreLogic index is not based on sales pairs, such as the Case-Shiller index in the US, or on median prices, but on its own “hedonic methodology,” which, like the other two methods, has plenty of critics. The government has its own Residential Property Price Indexes. The latest edition, released on March 21, was for Q4 2016, so a little slow. Based on the median price, the index for Sydney jumped 10.3% and for Melbourne 10.8%. Real estate is highly leveraged, and household debt is at an all-time high. Wages even in Sydney haven’t risen at the same pace. So the inevitable is beginning to happen. Affordability becomes a political issue, and delinquencies become a financial issue.

[..] On February 24, Anthony Roberts, New South Wales Minister for Planning and Housing, was speaking at the launch of a 690-unit apartment development at Olympic Park, a suburb of Sydney, heaping praise on the developer for having committed to offer 60 units first to first-time buyers. A new policy on housing affordability would be announced in the “very near future,” Roberts said. But as a first step, he threw in an incentive for first-time buyers. Instead of the normal 10% down payment, they’d only need to make 5%. “This is the beginning, this is the start,” he said. And in hyping the Sydney housing market and the importance of getting in now or be priced out forever, he also said this: “This is about fairness, and this is about enabling people to get into the Sydney housing market. Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.

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Get out while you can.

Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)

Sydney property prices have increased by almost 20% in just 12 months, putting the city at the front of a nationwide trend that has seen dwelling values increase by 12.9% on average. Sydney house values soared by 19.65% in the past year, and unit values increased by 15.27%. New data from CoreLogic, released on Monday, shows house values in Melbourne (up 17.15%), Canberra (13.64%), and Hobart (11.05%) have followed Sydney’s rapid rise. Only homes in Perth (-4.68%) and Darwin (-4.41%) have bucked the trend, slipping backwards over the past year. CoreLogic’s five capital city aggregate – which includes Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth – shows prices for houses and units rose 12.9% on average last year.

But the news comes as the ratings agency Moody’s warned an increasing number of borrowers have fallen behind on their mortgage and car repayments, saying more borrowers are set to join them amid rising underemployment, record-low wages growth and a more difficult housing market. On Monday, Moody’s said delinquencies for prime residential mortgage-backed securities increased to 1.61% in January, from 1.57% in December, while 30-day delinquencies for car loan asset-backed securities rose to 1.80%, from 1.54% over the same period. “Weaker economic conditions in states reliant on the mining industry, rising underemployment, weak wages growth and less favourable housing market conditions will drive delinquencies higher,” vice president and senior analyst Alena Chen said on Monday.

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More like no instruments at all: “..limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending..”

Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)

In their struggle to cool red-hot property prices in Australia’s big cities, authorities are ratcheting up measures that could dent the whole market but avoiding more targeted steps that have had some success in New Zealand and China. Australian regulators first focused on reining in investment loans nationally in 2015, by imposing an annual limit of 10% on how much banks could expand their investor loan book. Those steps worked for a while, but the heat is on again in Sydney, where prices are rising almost 20% a year, having more than doubled since 2008, and Melbourne, where the pace is over 15%, according to property consultant Core Logic.

That and all-time high household debt prompted the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) to move again on Friday, asking banks to limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending, from 40% now, and promising a lot of “monitoring”, “scrutinizing” and “observing”. Industry players doubt that will do the trick. “I personally don’t think this will have a material impact,” said Simon Orbell at mortgage broker Smartmove, as prices kept rising even though it was already a tough lending market. “Maybe more needs to be done,” he added. [..] There has been market speculation that the Reserve Bank of Australia will be forced to hike interest rates, a yet blunter instrument, though record low inflation and weak wages growth make that an unattractive option. There is also political resistance to measures that could make prices actually fall, with two thirds of households owning their homes.

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Too much uncertainty to unleash it.

A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)

The bond market has been quiet. Too quiet in fact. That’s about to change, says Societe Generale’s fixed income team led by Vincent Chaigneau. “Spring is likely to be more threatening for bond investors as US data improves, political risk in Europe ebbs and investors refocus on a slow central bank exits,” the team wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. The note is titled “The Sleeping Beast.” In the wake of the U.S. Presidential election, traders priced in the prospect that Donald Trump’s agenda of a protectionist trade policy, cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, and massive infrastructure would bring back inflation to the United States. Reflecting this, the yield on 10-year Treasurys rallied more than 80 basis points, reaching a high of 2.64%, in the weeks following the election.

But for the last few months, the yield has been trapped in a tight 35 basis point range as traders take a wait-and-see approach in regards to Trump’s ability to execute his proposed agenda. “We expect that to reverse in spring, especially if Trump proves a little more effective in pushing his agenda through Congress,” Societe Generale wrote. “Treasuries too present some seasonal patterns: the average of the past five years shows the 10yT reaching a low around mid-April before bearish forces start to take over.”

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America turns on the mall.

Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)

A small but growing group of hedge funds are positioning themselves to profit from the collapse of the real estate market. Sounds like 2007, right? It’s actually happening right now. But this time, hedge funds (along with Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley) aren’t targeting subprime mortgages—they’re going after commercial real estate. It’s no secret retailers and malls have been struggling for years, but it looks like the perfect storm is set to hit them in 2017. Bearish bets against commercial loans jumped 50% year-over-year in February—and with problems piling up for malls, it’s no wonder. Around $3.5 billion in retail loans were liquidated in 2016. Investment firm Gapstow Capital said losses on mall loans have been “meaningfully higher than in other areas.” This is because malls are reliant on retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penny and Sears. Unfortunately for these landlords, their tenants’ businesses are failing, which brings us to…

As a result of falling sales, retailers are shutting up shop at a rate that has not been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

…and they plan to close hundreds more over the coming years, which is very bad news for malls. Most malls are dependent on one or more of these big retailers. When anchor stores close, it reduces foot traffic, and that hurts other retailers. This begins a cycle of blight, leading other tenants to leave. Alder Hill (a hedge fund started by associates of billionaire David Tepper) is bearish on commercial loans and expects 2017 to be a “tipping point.” Morningstar Credit Ratings estimates roughly 40% of the loans due this year won’t be paid. This comes at a bad time for the industry. Commercial real estate prices have been on a tear since 2009, but with vacancies rising, prices have stagnated.

This, coupled with new rules that came into effect in December (which force banks to hold at least 5% of the loans they make on their books), has caused loan growth to stall. As a result, leading retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen expects around one-third of American malls to close in the coming years. So, what are the implications of this commercial collapse?

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But the French love the euro. Hard sell.

Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a political rally on Sunday that the euro currency which she wants France to ditch was like a knife in the ribs of the French people. The leader of the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) also told the rally in the city of Bordeaux that the forthcoming election for president could herald a “change in civilization”. Encouraged by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Le Pen hopes to profit from a similar populist momentum in France, though opinion polls suggest she will lose the May 7 run-off. “We are at the mercy of a currency adapted to Germany and not to our economy. The euro is mostly a knife stuck in our ribs to make us go where others want us to go,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause.

Reiterating her anti-globalization and anti-immigration views, she declared: “We do not want France to be open to all commercial and human flows, without protection and borders.” A government under Le Pen’s presidency would take France out of the euro zone and bring back a national currency, hold a referendum on its EU membership and slap taxes on imports and on companies hiring foreigners. Le Pen says she would curb migration, expel all illegal migrants and restrict certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens. She hit out at her two main opponents in the French election, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative candidate Francois Fillon, saying they belonged to “the same system” “The system is panicking because it sees people are waking up,” she said.

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Draghi slays austerity?

ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)

The euro-sclerosis and the euro-pessimism are only a few of the old neologisms that got a new lease on life thanks to “reformers” and “crisis managers” who devastated the euro area economy with their – take a deep breath – “austerity growth model,” consisting of deep public spending cuts, tax hikes, jobs-destroying structural reforms and a monetary policy that should look the other way. Predictably, the area’s economy took it on the chin and went down for the count, with millions of lives destroyed by soaring poverty and destitution – until the ECB stepped in to provide the antidote to that cruel nostrum and to begin a long process of healing and recovery.

The ECB’s intervention eventually stiffened the spines, and gave some oxygen, to scared and disoriented political leaders in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – exactly one-half of the euro area’s GDP – who abandoned the fiscal madness and structural destruction to latch on to the life jacket thrown at them by their lender of last resort. The economic recovery we see now is a result of that policy mix. At 1.7%, the euro area growth last year matched the pace of the U.S. economy and seems poised for further gains in the months ahead. The ECB-driven recovery was also reflected in steadily rising asset values. As of last Friday, the euro area equity prices (Euro Stoxx 50 in dollar terms) were 17.3% above their year-earlier level, with nearly half of that increase (7.6%) recorded since the beginning of this year.

[..] France is the next political test with the first round of elections on April 23. Again, anybody betting against the euro and the EU will lose big. According to the French media, voters are largely indifferent toward the presidential candidates, but the economy is improving and low credit costs have unleashed a real estate boom that’s triggering solid consumer spending. The French are also great fans of the euro: An opinion poll published last Tuesday (March 25) shows that 75% of the French like the European currency, and half of them are pleased with the EU, although they believe that some of their neighbors were greater beneficiaries of the whole project. The French, of course, have Germany in mind. They are looking at Germany’s huge trade surpluses and the industrial takeover by the world-beating manufacturing companies across the Rhine.

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It should be investigating British war crimes.

Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)

Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state. The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen. The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week. The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor.

Speaking in advance of the trip, in which she will also visit Jordan, the prime minister said she wanted to “herald a further intensification in relations between our countries and deepen true strategic partnerships”. She argued that the intelligence relationship with Saudi Arabia had been critical, potentially saving hundreds of lives in the UK, and claimed there were huge possibilities for closer trade links as the UK moves towards leaving the European Union. May plans to stress the need for collaboration in the wake of the Westminster terror attack, while also pledging humanitarian support to Jordan to help it handle the huge volumes of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict.

But the trip comes under the shadow of a war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of killing thousands of civilians and triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the region’s poorest countries. The UK, which along with the US supports the Saudis against the Houthis, has been urged to reconsider its arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the bloody air campaign.

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Austerity kills people and economies.

Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)

A significant decrease of 13% has been recorded in the amount Greek households spend for daily purchases at the country’s supermarkets. This is the logical consequence caused by low wages, high unemployment rates and increased direct and indirect taxes. Factors that have lead to impoverishment of large groups of the Greek society. Worth mentioning are the extra charges (special consumption fees) imposed as of 1.1.2017 in a variety of supermarket products like coffee. Greek households spend monthly forty euros less for their shopping at the supermarket than in the previous year. The average monthly expenditure of households at the supermarket amounts to 274 euros from 310 last year.

According to research conducted by the Economic University of Athens, the expenditure decrease has been confirmed also by the turnover of the supermarkets. The decrease in sales was 10% in January 2017. The was a slight increase of 2.9% in February, but a serious decline of 15% in March. 63% of respondents said they buy fewer products. 45.8% said they restricted to what is necessary. At the same time, 54.4% said that buy cheaper products especially following a market investigation and that they chase discount offers and products of private label. 81.5% said that they compare prices before they decide which product they will pick up from the supermarket shelf.

99.2% of consumers stated that they do research before going to the supermarket, they know in advance what to buy and they avoid impulse purchases. 38% of respondents said that they would make fewer purchases in 2017, 5% that they will increase their purchases. 57% estimate that their purchases will remain unchanged. The average expenditure per supermarket visit remains almost unchanged. Expenditure in 2017 is at an average of €50.4 euros. It was at 49.5 euros in 2016. However, the frequency of visits has declined down to 6.8 visits per month from 8.5 visits last year.

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Yes, it can still get worse.

Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

As the inflow of undocumented migrants to the islands of the eastern Aegean rises with the improving weather, the government is planning action to ease the pressure on increasingly overcrowded reception centers. In the coming days, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is expected to issue a circular, banning migrants who appeal against a rejection of their application for political asylum from a voluntary repatriation scheme being run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Meanwhile police on the islands are boosting efforts to locate and detain migrants who face deportation to Turkey in line with an agreement signed last year between Ankara and Brussels.

Last week, a new detention center opened on Kos, the function of which will be to detain migrants facing deportation. Others awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or inclusion in the IOM’s repatriation scheme are to remain in the island’s main reception center. A similar “closed” center for migrants awaiting deportation is operating on Lesvos. However, police face a problem on Chios, which has seen arrivals from Turkey intensify in recent days, and where local residents vehemently oppose the creation of such a center. A police official told Kathimerini that the main police precinct on the island is already full of migrants and there are no other facilities to accommodate new arrivals. “We don’t know what to do,” he said.

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Mar 292017
 
 March 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dismantling clock outside Daily Telegraph building, Fleet Street, London, 1930

 

Jim Rogers Says Fed Has No Clue, Will ‘Ruin Us All’ (BBG)
Article 50: British PM May Signs Letter That Will Trigger Brexit (BBC)
Scottish Parliament Votes For Second Independence Referendum (G.)
Why Brexit Is Best for Britain: The Left-Wing Case (NYT)
ECB Needs Democratic Oversight If The Euro Is To Survive (TI)
12 People, Things That Ruined The EU (Pol.)
Le Pen Victory Five Times As Dangerous As Greek Meltdown – UBS (CNBC)
China Is Desperately Trying To Save A Too Big To Fail Dairy Company (Qz)
Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk (BBG)
Hong Kong Underground Banks Cash In On Flood Of Money Out Of China (BBG)
A World Without Retirement (G.)
Germany Questions Erdogan’s Turkey ‘Coup’ Narrative (BBC)
Central Europe’s Leaders Reject EU’s Relocation Of Refugees (AP)

 

 

Just so you know. Motorcycle Boy.

Jim Rogers Says Fed Has No Clue, Will ‘Ruin Us All’ (BBG)

Jim Rogers, chairman at Rogers Holdings, explains what the Federal Reserve did wrong in response to the financial crisis and how their mistakes spread to global central banks. Jane Foley, senior FX strategist at Rabobank, joins the conversation with Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

Read more …

Nothing to fear but…

Article 50: British PM May Signs Letter That Will Trigger Brexit (BBC)

Theresa May has signed the letter that will formally begin the UK’s departure from the European Union. Giving official notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it will be delivered to European Council president Donald Tusk later. In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister will then tell MPs this marks “the moment for the country to come together”. It follows June’s referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU. Mrs May’s letter will be delivered at 12:30 BST on Wednesday by the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow. The prime minister, who will chair a cabinet meeting in the morning, will then make a statement to MPs confirming the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU is under way.

She will promise to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotiations – including EU nationals, whose status after Brexit has yet to be settled. “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country,” she will say. “For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.” Attempting to move on from the divisions of June’s referendum, Mrs May will add: “We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. “And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.”


Guardian front page today. Got to wonder why they left off Greece.

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How many referendums will it take in the end?

Scottish Parliament Votes For Second Independence Referendum (G.)

Nicola Sturgeon has won a key Holyrood vote on her plans for a second independence referendum, triggering accusations from UK ministers that her demands are premature. Sturgeon won by a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed her proposals to formally request from the UK government the powers to stage a fresh independence vote at around the time Britain leaves the EU, in spring 2019. She is due to write to Theresa May later this week, asking for Westminster to hand Holyrood the temporary powers to stage the referendum under a section 30 order. She said she would avoid writing until the prime minister had invoked article 50 to trigger the Brexit process, which she is expected to do on Wednesday. “It is not my intention to do so confrontationally, instead I only seek sensible discussion,” Sturgeon told MSPs.

The vote, which split the Scottish parliament cleanly between pro- and anti-independence parties, deepened the dispute between the two governments over both the need for and the timing of the vote. David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, told the BBC the answer to Sturgeon’s request would be no. “We won’t be entering any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete,” he said. “Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that means Scotland, as we leave the EU.” Mundell rejected Sturgeon’s claims that May had told her the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU and its new trade deal would be clear in about 18 months. Sturgeon said that timeframe matched her preference for a referendum just as the UK quits the EU in March 2019. He said it was too early to say how quickly a Brexit deal could be concluded or whether transitional arrangements were needed.

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“We don’t change our position according to elections..”

Why Brexit Is Best for Britain: The Left-Wing Case (NYT)

Ms. Watkins is a “Lexiteer,” as left-wing supporters of ‘Brexit’ like me are known. We were hardly a significant force among the 52% of Britons who voted to leave in the referendum of June 23. But we were an influence. A counterweight to the anti-immigrant fear mongering of the former leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, Lexiteers argued a left-wing, democratic and internationalist case for Brexit. The position was expressed crisply by Perry Anderson, the former longtime editor of New Left Review: “The E.U. is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”

Although Lexiteers have little patience for the national nihilism of “Davos Man,” the globalist elite, we are no xenophobes. We voted Leave because we believe it is essential to preserve the two things we value most: a democratic political system and a social-democratic society. We fear that the European Union’s authoritarian project of neoliberal integration is a breeding ground for the far right. By sealing off so much policy, including the imposition of long-term austerity measures and mass immigration, from the democratic process, the union has broken the contract between mainstream national politicians and their voters. This has opened the door to right-wing populists who claim to represent “the people,” already angry at austerity, against the immigrant.

It was the free-market economist Friedrich Hayek, the intellectual architect of neoliberalism, who called in 1939 for “interstate federalism” in Europe to prevent voters from using democracy to interfere with the operation of the free market. Simply put, as Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (the union’s executive body), did: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” The union’s structures and treaties are designed accordingly. The European Commission is appointed, not elected, and it is proudly unaccountable to any electorate. “We don’t change our position according to elections” was how the commission’s vice president Jyrki Katainen greeted the victory of the anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece in 2015.

The European Parliament is not a real parliament. It is not a legislature; its deputies neither offer manifestoes nor carry out the ideas they propose to voters. Elections in improbably large constituencies, with pitifully low turnouts, change nothing. As a Parliament staff member said at the European Research Seminar at the London School of Economics, “The only people who listen to M.E.P.s are the interpreters,” referring to the members of the Parliament. The European Council, an intergovernmental body where decisive legislative power actually lies, especially for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, comprises member countries’ heads of state, who generally meet just four times a year. They are not directly elected by the inhabitants of the nations whose fate they decide. As for the union principle of “subsidiarity,” a supposed preference for decentralized governance, it is ignored in all practical matters.


Oh, those days of innocence …

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Fine, but who’s going to do it? The ECB is independent?!

ECB Needs Democratic Oversight If The Euro Is To Survive (TI)

The ECB urgently needs to increase democratic oversight and accountability if the euro is to survive the next crisis, according to a new report on the Bank’s governance by Transparency International EU entitled “Two sides of the same coin? Independence and accountability at the ECB”. The report finds that a lack of political leadership and decisive reform has led the ECB to stray into the area of political decision-making, without appropriate democratic scrutiny. This has been accompanied by a marked decline in public trust at a time when the ECB has been granted extensive new powers to supervise major European banks.

“While the ECB has saved the single currency more than once, the absence of a Eurozone finance ministry as counterpart to the ECB means that the Bank has had to stretch its mandate to breaking point,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at Transparency International EU. “If the euro is to survive the next crisis, then EU Member States need to stop hiding behind the technocrats at the ECB, overcome political inertia and get serious about reforming the Eurozone”, continued Hoffmann-Axthelm. The report finds that preserving the ECB’s independence limits its accountability to citizens, and recommends that the Bank should compensate this by increasing its transparency. The ECB should take immediate steps, such as automatically publishing its decisions and opinions and being more open about the political choices it faces, rather than insisting its decisions are purely technical.

For example, at the height of the Greece crisis in 2015 the ECB repeatedly limited the ceiling on Emergency Liquidity Assistance for the country’s banks without publicly announcing it. The ECB’s discretionary powers allowed it to put pressure on Greek banks while negotiating bailout reforms with the Greek government as part of the Troika of international creditors. Similar dynamics could play out in the upcoming negotiations with Greece, and with the current recapitalisation of Italian lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which threaten the Eurozone’s current fragile stability, according to the group. “Clearly decisions which affect the fate of whole economies should have some kind of democratic oversight. The ECB should not be in a position to pull the plug on a country’s euro membership, a decision ultimately down to democratically elected politicians”, said Hoffmann-Axthelm.

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An entertaining and educational list.

12 People, Things That Ruined The EU (Pol.)

Last weekend, European leaders gathered in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. They discussed, not for the first time, how to get the EU back on track. And they told each other they are still committed to the Union and believe in its future. (We’ve heard that one before, too.) But let’s just suppose that, when the European leaders sat down for lunch at the Quirinal Palace, some of them had a little too much of the pinot grigio and waxed nostalgic about the days when the idea of a united Europe was still young and promising and beautiful. And then they talked about this week and how British Prime Minister Theresa May would send her goodbye letter and they started slurring their words, saying Grexit, Brexit, Frexit, and they finally admitted to each other that something has gone horribly wrong. When they stood up and got ready to leave, they were devastated, saying to each other: “Good God, how did it come this and, more importantly, who is to blame?” We’ve gathered a dozen suggestions.

1. Zeus Whenever Europe is in trouble, its advocates claim the EU lacks a proper narrative. The whole idea of an “ever-closer union” is still a fine one, they argue, and the only thing that’s needed for people to understand it is a memorable story. The most memorable story about Europe, of course, is the one about Zeus. The Greek God disguised himself as a white bull in order to approach a beautiful girl called Europa. When Europa, perhaps naively, climbed on his back, the God-turned-bull abducted and ravished her. No need to take the story too literally when analyzing the EU’s current malaise (no white bulls there). But it is good to keep in mind that Europe’s founding myth doesn’t exactly bode well for its future. If negative narratives about the EU seem to resonate far more than positive ones, maybe it’s because the Greek gods loaded the dice.

2. Edith Cresson Going straight from Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, to good old Edith Cresson may seem a bit of a stretch. But as a strong contender for the title of worst European commissioner ever, the Frenchwoman does have a claim to fame, too. In the early 1990s, Cresson was a French prime minister who quickly fell out of favor and was forced to resign after less than a year in office. That apparently qualified her for a high-powered job in Brussels. As commissioner for science, research and development, Cresson famously paid her dentist to be a scientific adviser. In 1999, allegations of fraud intended to target Cresson ended up bringing down the entire Commission. To put it crudely: Cresson did to the EU what Zeus did to Europa.

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Le Pen won’t ruin the EU. That’s already been done.

Le Pen Victory Five Times As Dangerous As Greek Meltdown – UBS (CNBC)

Europe could be on track to encounter a shock wave up to five times as turbulent as the start of the euro zone debt crisis if French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was able to secure victory in May, according to a team of UBS analysts. Strategists at the Swiss banking giant stressed the prominence of the anti-immigration and anti-European Union National Front leader meant France’s fast approaching general election would be the most serious political risk event in the region this year. Le Pen, who leads in the latest opinion polls, has vowed to renegotiate the terms of France’s membership of the EU and ditch the single currency if elected as the country’s new premier in just over two months’ time.

“The systemic importance of France for the European project is such that the margin for damage limitation may well be a lot thinner than has been the case in Greece in the past or could be the case for Spain or Italy even,” UBS analysts said in a note. The bank predicted the shock of a Le Pen victory on sovereign spreads could be as dramatic as when Spain and Italy appeared to be on the brink of financial collapse in 2012. UBS forecast a move of up to 500 basis points in sovereign spreads if Le Pen entered the Élysée Palace in early May. In comparison to a peripheral economy such as Greece, when Athens was on the brink of financial collapse in 2010, sovereign spreads widened by around 100 basis points. “It is certainly arguable that risks to the euro zone’s cohesion emanating from the core are by definition more severe and harder to diffuse than those emanating from the periphery,” UBS analysts added.

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A curious case. Shares fell 85% (indefinite trading halt) and nobody seems to know why.

China Is Desperately Trying To Save A Too Big To Fail Dairy Company (Qz)

A mysterious collapse in a Chinese dairy maker’s shares last week has renewed fears that China’s financial system is so shaky that authorities can do nothing but to muddle through a credit crunch. Shares of China Huishan Dairy Holdings plunged 85% in an hour on March 24, wiping more than $4 billion from its market value. The crash, the biggest-ever intraday fall in Hong Kong, prompted an indefinite trading halt. It also caused collateral damage to firms linked to the Liaoning-based company, which has more than 11,600 employees and operates the largest number of dairy farms in China. Market observers are still trying to figure out what exactly triggered the sudden sell-off. A company statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange March 28 unearthed at least part of the mystery.

In its first public comments since the stock crash, Huishan confirmed media reports that it had missed interest payments to its creditors, and that on March 23 the Liaoning provincial government held a meeting with the company and its 20-plus creditor banks to discuss remedies. According to the statement, the Liaoning government proposed an “action plan” to solve any overdue interest payments within two weeks and to help improve Huishan’s liquidity position within a month. Some creditors—including Bank of China and Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank—pledged in the meeting that they “would continue to have confidence in the Group [Huishan] which has over 60 years of operating history,” said the statement. The company also dismissed previous reports that it had issued fake invoices, and that chairman and controlling shareholder Yang Kai had misappropriated funds to invest in real estate in Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital.

The statement confirmed that Yang’s wife Ge Kun, who is also an executive director in charge of relationships with the company’s principal bankers, has been out of contact since March 21, the same day that Yang learned of the late payments. Financial news outlet Caixin revealed more details (link in Chinese) about the bailout package, based on an interview with creditor Hongling Capital head Zhou Shiping, who was at the March 23 meeting. The Liaoning government will pay over 90 million yuan ($13 million) for land owned by Huishan to inject cash into the company. It also ordered financial institutions involved not to downgrade the company’s credit rating or file lawsuits against it.

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Huishan is a bunch of highly leveraged shadow cows.

Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk (BBG)

Turmoil at a small Chinese dairy company is shedding rare light on the final destination for some of the country’s estimated $8 trillion of shadow banking loans. Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank, a major creditor to embattled China Huishan Dairy., said late Tuesday it has extended a total of 1.35 billion yuan ($196 million) in credit to the dairy producer, including 750 million yuan through the purchase of investment receivables from a finance lease company. Investment receivables – a category that can include using wealth-management products, asset-management plans and trust-beneficiary rights to disguise what are in effect loans – allow banks to reduce the amount of cash they need to set aside for capital and provisions for loan losses.

The practice of recording loan-type exposures on balance sheets under categories including investment receivables has allowed hundreds of smaller Chinese banks to boost assets and profits. At the same time, it has created opaque risks that could lead to failures, bailouts or liquidity shocks with the potential to jolt national and global markets. The external public relations agency for Jiutai didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. The bank doesn’t appear to have broken any disclosure rules on its receivables. China’s shadow banking system could lead to losses of $375 billion, CLSA estimated in September. The brokerage said such financing expanded at an annual 30% pace from 2011 through 2015 to reach 54 trillion yuan, or 79% of the nation’s GDP. But details have rarely surfaced on the specifics of individual shadow banking arrangements.

“Chinese banks are lending more and more money to companies in recent years through investment receivables, partly to circumvent regulatory or internal rules,” said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Lenders don’t disclose enough information about where the money goes, according to Wan. In addition, the banks usually don’t provision enough for such exposures, and they fund the transactions through short-term borrowing from other financial institutions, Wan said. “This practice poses risks to both investors and banks themselves.”

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People will find a way. And then so will the money.

Hong Kong Underground Banks Cash In On Flood Of Money Out Of China (BBG)

Business is good, but Dickson Chan is worried. The Hong Kong money changer saw remittances from mainland China increase by 10% to 20% last month from the end of 2016, yet he is not sure how long the operation can last. The company he works for, Professional Foreign Currency Exchange, helps clients move cash between China and Hong Kong with a bank account in each place by squaring opposing transactions. “Now people feel that the Chinese government may tighten capital controls further and it wants more yuan depreciation, so many clients want to transfer money to Hong Kong more quickly,” Chan said from his store, located in the basement of a drab mall in Causeway Bay, the world’s second-priciest retail district. “We’re worried the Chinese government will introduce some regulations to ban this business, so now although we’re still doing it, we’re trying to raise revenues from other currencies.”

The fate of Hong Kong’s money changers shows both the reach of Chinese authorities, and the limits to their power. While a determined crackdown could kill the industry, such a response would risk spooking China’s citizens and exacerbating outflow pressures. The exodus of funds from Asia’s largest economy has spurred three years of yuan depreciation that at times roiled global markets and influenced monetary policies worldwide, and pushed up asset prices in cities from Hong Kong to Vancouver. An estimated $1.8 trillion has left Asia’s largest economy from the start of 2015 through January 2017, as the yuan lost almost 10% and returns on onshore assets dropped amid slowing economic growth. To stem the flows, the authorities have tightened capital curbs, stepping up scrutiny of residents’ foreign-currency purchases and limiting insurance buying in Hong Kong.Money changers in Hong Kong provide ways to sidestep such restrictions.

Once the cash reaches the semi-autonomous Chinese city, which has no capital controls, it can go almost anywhere. Hong Kong’s shopping districts are dotted with money changers advertising their remittance services and yuan conversion rates in simplified Chinese characters typically used on the mainland. There are 1,891 licensed money operators in the city, Hong Kong customs data show. Money changers or remittance firms need to obtain a license from the government, which requires the companies to conduct customer due diligence and keep records. As part of a sweeping effort to contain outflows, just before the new year, Chinese regulators boosted disclosure requirements for citizens converting yuan into foreign exchange — while retaining the $50,000 annual quota. Authorities busted at least 380 cases of major underground banking involving more than 900 billion yuan ($131 billion) of funds last year.

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A bit shaky in predictions etc., but this is very much is where we’re going. Retirement was an anomaly.

A World Without Retirement (G.)

We are entering the age of no retirement. The journey into that chilling reality is not a long one: the first generation who will experience it are now in their 40s and 50s. They grew up assuming they could expect the kind of retirement their parents enjoyed – stopping work in their mid-60s on a generous income, with time and good health enough to fulfil long-held dreams. For them, it may already be too late to make the changes necessary to retire at all. In 2010, British women got their state pension at 60 and men got theirs at 65. By October 2020, both sexes will have to wait until they are 66. By 2028, the age will rise again, to 67. And the creep will continue. By the early 2060s, people will still be working in their 70s, but according to research, we will all need to keep working into our 80s if we want to enjoy the same standard of retirement as our parents.

This is what a world without retirement looks like. Workers will be unable to down tools, even when they can barely hold them with hands gnarled by age-related arthritis. The raising of the state retirement age will create a new social inequality. Those living in areas in which the average life expectancy is lower than the state retirement age (south-east England has the highest average life expectancy, Scotland the lowest) will subsidise those better off by dying before they can claim the pension they have contributed to throughout their lives. In other words, wealthier people become beneficiaries of what remains of the welfare state. Retirement is likely to be sustained in recognisable form in the short and medium term. Looming on the horizon, however, is a complete dismantling of this safety net.

For those of pensionable age who cannot afford to retire, but cannot continue working – because of poor health, or ageing parents who need care, or because potential employers would rather hire younger workers – the great progress Britain has made in tackling poverty among the elderly over the last two decades will be reversed. This group is liable to suffer the sort of widespread poverty not seen in Britain for 30 to 40 years. Many now in their 20s will be unable to save throughout their youth and middle age because of increasingly casualised employment, student debt and rising property prices. By the time they are old, members of this new generation of poor pensioners are liable to be, on average, far worse off than the average poor pensioner today.

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The strongest wording I’ve seen to date.

Germany Questions Erdogan’s Turkey ‘Coup’ Narrative (BBC)

German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere has said Turkey will not be allowed to spy on Turks living in Germany. Reports say the head of Turkey’s intelligence service handed a list of people suspected of opposition sympathies to his German counterpart. The list is said to include surveillance photos and personal data. Germany and other EU states have banned local rallies in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish ministers have been seeking to campaign among ethnic Turks in a referendum on 16 April on increasing his powers. Some 41,000 people have been arrested in Turkey since a coup was defeated in July of last year.

According to Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and several public broadcasters, the head of Turkey’s intelligence service MIT, Hakan Fidan, handed Bruno Kahl a list of 300 individuals and 200 organisations thought to be linked to the Gulen movement at a security conference in Munich in February The apparent aim was to persuade Germany’s authorities to help their Turkish counterparts but the result was that the individuals were warned not to travel to Turkey or visit Turkish diplomatic addresses within Germany, home to 1.4 million voters eligible to vote in the referendum. Mr De Maiziere said the reports were unsurprising.

“We have repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable,” he said. “No matter what position someone may have on the Gulen movement, here German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries.” [..] “Outside Turkey I don’t think anyone believes that the Gulen movement was behind the attempted putsch,” said German spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen. “At any rate I don’t know anyone outside Turkey who has been convinced by the Turkish government.” And Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius went further, saying, “We have to say very clearly that it involves a fear of conspiracy you can class as paranoid.”

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And Brussels is toothless. But it will all come down on Greece anyway, so why bother?

Central Europe’s Leaders Reject EU’s Relocation Of Refugees (AP)

Leaders from Central Europe said Tuesday they reject a European Union policy that calls for all member states to receive migrants, protesting suggestions that the level of their compliance could be linked to the availability of EU funds to them. A meeting in Warsaw of the so-called Visegrad Group brought together Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and her counterparts from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic for talks including EUs migrant policies and a plan of sharing some 160,000 migrants among member states to ease the migrant wave pressure on Greece and Italy.

The EU recently warned of financial consequences to those who do not comply. Central European leaders said they reject the relocation plan and will not yield under the financial pressure, which they called an attempt at blackmail. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country was further sealing its borders and tightening regulations to block access to any more migrants. The Visegrad Group aspires to have a greater role in EU policies while at the same time makes a point of criticizing the bloc’s decisions. [AP]

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