Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

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

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

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

Read more …

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

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Another way to push up prices?

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

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

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

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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Democracy in 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The UN should be all over this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 1:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí The oecumenial council 1960

 

Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

 

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip:

 

 

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something.

And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.

 

 

And things are not getting better, Saudi Arabia loses money on every barrel it produces. There are stories about them lowering their break-even price, but let’s take that with a few spoonfuls of salt. A 25% drop in break-even prices in just one year sounds a bit too good. Moreover, main competitors like Iran would still have a much lower break-even price. So even if prices would rise further, the Saudi’s might only break even while Iran gets much richer. Running vs standing still.

 

Saudi Arabia Leads Gulf Nations in Cutting Break-Even Oil Price

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, is also a leader when it comes to slashing the crude price the country needs to balance its budget. The kingdom will need oil to trade at $70 a barrel next year to break even, the IMF said Tuesday in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s down from a break-even of $96.60 a barrel in 2016, the biggest drop of eight crude producers in the Persian Gulf. The break-even is a measure of the crude price needed to meet spending plans and balance the budget.

 

 

Gulf oil producers are cutting spending and eliminating subsidies after crude plunged from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to average just over half that this year. The need to curb spending is more urgent with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting output to reduce a global glut. Oil will trade at $50 to $60 a barrel for the “medium term,” the IMF said.

 

 

So a thorough cleansing job of the royal family is perhaps inevitable, albeit very risky. King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are up against a very large group of rich people. But there’s no way back now.

 

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis…

Much more will have to follow that. Doing a half way job is far too risky once the job has started. Not even $800 billion sounds like all that much. Separate families and factions within the royal family have had decades to accumulate wealth.

 

Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The most visible – and perhaps richest- of all those arrested -in western eyes- is Al-Waleed. The Bloomberg estimate of his wealth that came out this week is $19 billion. But their own article seems to indicate a much higher number. He owns 5% of Apple -says Bloomberg-, and that share alone would be worth $45 billion.

 

Alwaleed, Caught in Saudi Purge, Has Assets Across the World

Apple – Alwaleed bought 6.23 million shares, or 5 percent, of the computer and mobile-device maker for $115.4 million in 1997. He made these purchases between mid-March and April of that year while the company was still struggling to turn itself around. He has since continued to hold the stake while Apple’s valuation has soared to as high as $900 billion.

 

Going through all these numbers, you can imagine why the ruling family, or rather the rulers within that family, are getting nervous. And that’s where we get to an interesting piece by Ryan Grim at the Intercept, who says it’s not even 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, or King Salman, 81, who control the kingdom these days, it’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -and maybe Washington-.

The coup has already been perpetrated.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge – And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it.

MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain.

As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately.

The kingdom’s broke. Not today, or tomorrow morning, but crown prince MBS is able to look at the numbers and go: Oh Shit! And if he doesn’t see it, he has Kushner (re: Israel) and Al-Otaiba to fill him in. All three relative youngsters -MBS is 32, Kushner is 36, Otaiba is 43- are exceedingly nervous by now.

And then you get war, or the threat of war. War in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and now ‘mingling’ in Lebanon with the somewhat mysterious removal of billionaire PM Hariri -allegedly on an Iran/Hezbollah assassination plot-, and outright threats against Iran and Hezbollah:

 

Lebanon’s Hariri Visits UAE As Home Crisis Escalates

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday despite a deepening crisis back home and a rise in regional tensions triggered by his surprise resignation. Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday during a visit to his ally Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Lebanon. He said he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of the regional rivalry that pits a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and allied Gulf monarchies against Shi‘ite Iran and its allies. Hariri’s office said he had flown to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and then returned to Riyadh, but it gave no reason for the trip. It also did not say when he would return home. Hariri’s Future TV channel said he would also visit Bahrain but gave no reason.

In short: billionaire PM Hariri is a puppet. Just perhaps not of Saudi Arabia, but of Abu Dhabi. Whether he’s under house arrest in Riyadh, as has been suggested, is still unclear. But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t fly to Abu Dhabi -and back- alone, or of his own accord. He went to receive instructions.

 

Saudi Arabia Accuses Iran Of ‘Direct Military Aggression’ Over Yemen Missile

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising the stakes in an already tense standoff between the two regional rivals. Mohammed bin Salman linked Tehran to the launch of a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the international airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday. The missile was intercepted and destroyed.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the prince said on Tuesday during a phone conversation with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. He added that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom”. Iran has called Riyadh’s accusations as baseless and provocative.

We have way of knowing what is true or not about this. We do know that Saudi Arabia have been executing a barbaric war in Yemen. With weapons from the US, UK, et al. So someone firing back wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

 

Regardless, Pepe Escobar, a journalist who knows much more than his peers, or at least doesn’t hold back as much as them, doesn’t see this end well for MBS, UAE, Israel, US, and whoever else is in their corner. Another losing war for the US in the Middle East? We’re losing count.

 

The Inside Story Of The Saudi Night Of Long Knives

A top Middle East business/investment source who has been doing deals for decades with the opaque House of Saud offers much-needed perspective: “This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders.” To say the Saudi Arabian Army is in uproar is an understatement. “He’d have to arrest the whole army before he could feel secure.”

[..] The story starts with secret deliberations in 2014 about a possible “removal” of then King Abdullah. But “the dissolution of the royal family would lead to the breaking apart of tribal loyalties and the country splitting into three parts. It would be more difficult to secure the oil, and the broken institutions whatever they were should be maintained to avoid chaos.” Instead, a decision was reached to get rid of Prince Bandar bin Sultan – then actively coddling Salafi-jihadis in Syria – and replace the control of the security apparatus with Mohammed bin Nayef. The succession of Abdullah proceeded smoothly.

Power was shared between three main clans: King Salman (and his beloved son Prince Mohammed); the son of Prince Nayef (the other Prince Mohammed), and finally the son of the dead king (Prince Miteb, commander of the National Guard). In practice, Salman let MBS run the show. And, in practice, blunders also followed. The House of Saud lost its lethal regime-change drive in Syria and is bogged down in an unwinnable war on Yemen, which on top of it prevents MBS from exploiting the Empty Quarter – the desert straddling both nations. The Saudi Treasury was forced to borrow on the international markets. Austerity ruled …

[..] aversion to MBS never ceased to grow; “There are three major royal family groups aligning against the present rulers: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef.” Nayef – who replaced Bandar – is close to Washington and extremely popular in Langley due to his counter-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle. According to the source, “he might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

[..] The source, though, is adamant; “There will be regime change in the near future, and the only reason that it has not happened already is because the old King is liked among his family. It is possible that there may be a struggle emanating from the military as during the days of King Farouk, and we may have a ruler arise that is not friendly to the United States.”

In the end, it all comes down to a familiar theme: follow the money. And we need to seriously question the economic reality of Saudi Arabia. That graph above of their foreign reserves looks downright grim.

With money comes power. Who loses money loses power. Saudi Arabia is bleeding money. The population surge is uncanny, and there are no jobs for all these young people. Perhaps the best they can do is be a US/Israel puppet in an attempt to ‘redo’ the map of the Middle East, but that has not been a very successful project off late -like the past 100 years-.

Then again, when you’re desperate you do desperate things. And when you’re a 32-year-old crown prince with more enemies than you can keep track of, you use what money is left to 1) keep up appearances, 2) steal what others have gathered, 3) buy weapons up the wazoo, and 4) go to war.

It all paints a very dark picture for the world. Russia won’t stand for attacks on Iran. And Iran won’t let attacks on Lebanon/Hezbollah go unanswered. All that is set to push up oil prices further, and all parties involved are just fine with that. Because they can buy more weapons with the additional profits.

I’ll leave you with Nassim Taleb’s comments on the situation. After all, Nassim’s from Lebanon, and knows that part of the world like the back of his hand:

 

 

 

Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Nehru Announces Gandhi’s Death, Birla House, Delhi, India Jan 30, 1948

 

700 Years of Data Forewarn of Rapid Reversal From Low Interest Rates (BBG)
Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge (R.)
Saudi Crackdown to Confiscate Up to $800 Billion in Assets (WSJ)
Leaked Secret Israeli Cable Confirms Israeli-Saudi Coordination In Lebanon (ZH)
Lebanon – The Next Front In The Great Gas War (Golem XIV)
UK Sales Of Bombs And Missiles To Saudi Arabia Increase By Almost 500% (Ind.)
May to Lose Second Top Minister in One Week Over Secret Israel Meetings (BBG)
Those Who Broke The Economy Cannot Fix It (Ann Pettifor)
German ‘Wise Men’ Sound Alarm Over ‘Overheating’ Economy (R.)
Bean Counters: Lost in Paradise (Ren.)
British Mainstream Media Spreading Dangerous MMT Ideas (Bilbo)
Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown Sinks Property Prices (WS)
Catalan Secessionist Parties Fail To Agree On Unity Ticket For Vote (R.)
1 in 200 British, 1 in 60 Londoners Are Homeless (G.)

 

 

Long term is always better.

700 Years of Data Forewarn of Rapid Reversal From Low Interest Rates (BBG)

Forget secular stagnation. One historian says the world is actually in its ninth “real rate depression” and 700 years of data show that – when it comes – the turnaround could be sudden. In research published on the Bank of England’s staff blog, Harvard University’s Paul Schmelzing says most work pointing to a period of permanently lower equilibrium real interest rates is too short term. Instead, he tracked the risk-free rate since 1311 by identifying the dominant asset of each period – starting with sovereign rates in the Italian city states in the 14th and 15th centuries and moving to long-term rates in Spain, then the Province of Holland, the U.K., Germany, and finally the U.S. Real rates, or the benchmark interest rates minus inflation, have averaged 4.78% while the 200-year real-rate average is 2.6%.

That makes the current market environment “severely depressed,” Schmelzing wrote. However, it’s simply following a five-century downward trend, in which there have been nine periods of secular decline followed by reversals. The current period – since the 1980s – is the second-longest recorded and its closest historical analogy is the global “Long Depression” of the 1880s and 1890s which saw low productivity growth, deflationary price dynamics, and the rise of global populism and protectionism. This spell seems to have ended without a push from policy makers. That could be good news for those struggling to find a fix for the current low-rate environment. “There is strong evidence suggesting that the last ‘secular stagnation cycle’ started fading relatively autonomously after just over two decades following the key financial shock, not requiring the aid of decisive fiscal or monetary stimulus.”

Read more …

There’ll be more.

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge (R.)

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, one regional banker said, declining to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

The banker did not name the companies affected but said they included listed and unlisted firms across many sectors. He added that if the freezes stayed in place for long, they could start to hurt day-to-day business activities such as paying staff and creditors or making other transactions. A second banker said, however, that most of the frozen accounts belonged to individuals rather than companies, and that banks were being allowed by the regulator to continue to fund existing commitments. Among top business executives detained in the probe are billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of investment firm Kingdom Holding; Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, founder of Al Tayyar Travel; and Amr al-Dabbagh, chairman of builder Red Sea International.

The stocks of all three companies, which have issued statements saying they continue to operate as normal, plunged between 9 and 10% on Tuesday. One of the bankers speaking to Reuters said the central bank had met with some foreign banks this week to reassure them that the freezing of accounts targeted individuals, and that firms linked to those people would not be damaged.

Read more …

WSJ has gone full paywall.

Saudi Crackdown to Confiscate Up to $800 Billion in Assets (WSJ)

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The purge is the most extensive of the kingdom’s elite in recent history. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman, was named heir to the throne in June and has moved to consolidate power. He has said that tackling corruption at the highest level is necessary to overhaul what has long been an oil-dependent economy. The crackdown could also help replenish state coffers. The government has said that assets accumulated through corruption will become state property, and people familiar with the matter say the government estimates the value of assets it can reclaim at up to 3 trillion Saudi riyal, or $800 billion.

Read more …

Strange bedfellows.

Leaked Secret Israeli Cable Confirms Israeli-Saudi Coordination In Lebanon (ZH)

Early this morning, Israeli Channel 10 news published a leaked diplomatic cable which had been sent to all Israeli ambassadors throughout the world concerning the chaotic events that unfolded over the weekend in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, which began with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s unexpected resignation after he was summoned to Riyadh by his Saudi-backers, and led to the Saudis announcing that Lebanon had “declared war” against the kingdom. The classified embassy cable, written in Hebrew, constitutes the first formal evidence proving that the Saudis and Israelis are deliberately coordinating to escalate the situation in the Middle East. The explosive classified Israeli cable reveals the following:

• On Sunday, just after Lebanese PM Hariri’s shocking resignation, Israel sent a cable to all of its embassies with the request that its diplomats do everything possible to ramp up diplomatic pressure against Hezbollah and Iran.
• The cable urged support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
• The cable stressed that Iran was engaged in “regional subversion”.
• Israeli diplomats were urged to appeal to the “highest officials” within their host countries to attempt to expel Hezbollah from Lebanese government and politics.

As is already well-known, the Saudi and Israeli common cause against perceived Iranian influence and expansion in places like Syria, Lebanon and Iraq of late has led the historic bitter enemies down a pragmatic path of unspoken cooperation as both seem to have placed the break up of the so-called “Shia crescent” as their primary policy goal in the region. For Israel, Hezbollah has long been its greatest foe, which Israeli leaders see as an extension of Iran’s territorial presence right up against the Jewish state’s northern border.

Read more …

“Having failed to liberate the Syrians, Saudi, the West, its Sunni Gulf allies and Israel will now see if they can succeed in blocking any Iranian gas ambitions by liberating the Lebanese from their own government.”

Lebanon – The Next Front In The Great Gas War (Golem XIV)

The Great Gas War has already two distinct fronts: The now relatively quiet Northern Front in Ukraine and the Southern Front in Syria in which the Western empire has been losing. It looks to me that Lebanon is being targeted as the next front, where the West hopes its loses might be recouped. Yesterday, November 6th, Reuters reported, “Saudi Arabia said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah.” This comes after Israel, Saudi’s long time though largely un-offical best friend in the region, has been very publicly preparing to renew its own war with Lebanon – or more accurately with Hezbollah. As the American news journal Newsweek put it recently, “ISRAEL PREPARES FOR ANOTHER WAR WITH HEZBOLLAH AS IDF PRACTICES LEBANON INVASION.”

Why now and why Lebanon? Well the rulers of Saudi, a Sunni dominated country, will tell us that it is because Hezbollah is a Shia terrorist organisation. “Hezbollah” literally means the “Party of Allah” or “Party of God”. Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan yesterday pointedly referred to Hezbollah as, “the Lebanese Party of the Devil”. Saudi is not alone of course, Hezbollah has also been listed as a terrorist organisation by America, Israel, the Arab League, the UK and the EU. It is also, however, part of the popular government of Lebanon having seats in its parliament. I suggest, however, a powerful reason that a new war with Hezbollah may be in the offing is because Lebanon is the next link in any gas pipeline that could potentially bring Iranian Gas to Europe.

That was the reason the West decided to “liberate” the Syrian people and it will be why they decide to enforce the same salvation upon the people of Lebanon. Having failed to liberate the Syrians, Saudi, the West, its Sunni Gulf allies and Israel will now see if they can succeed in blocking any Iranian gas ambitions by liberating the Lebanese from their own government. I would not be surprised to hear quite soon from opposition groups vocally denouncing the government or at least Hezbollah. I expect spokes people from those groups to suddenly get a global platform along-side American and regional supporters such as Saudi.

Read more …

How to spell insanity.

UK Sales Of Bombs And Missiles To Saudi Arabia Increase By Almost 500% (Ind.)

The number of British-made bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia since the start of its bloody campaign in Yemen has risen by almost 500%, The Independent can reveal. More than £4.6bn of arms were sold in the first two years of bombings, with the Government grant increasing numbers of export licences despite mounting evidence of war crimes and massacres at hospitals, schools and weddings. The United Nations says air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are the main cause of almost 5,295 civilian deaths and 8,873 casualties confirmed so far, warning that the real figure is “likely to be far higher”. It has condemned the “entirely man-made catastrophe” leaving millions more on the brink of famine and sparking the world’s worst cholera epidemic, while blacklisting Saudi Arabia for killing and maiming children.

There is also fresh concern over the Kingdom’s attempt to shut all air, land and sea ports into Yemen, which it said was to stop the flow of weapons but will also halt aid imports. British-made bombs have been found at the scene of bombings deemed to violate international law but the UK has continued its political and material support for Riyadh’s campaign. Figures from the Department for International Trade (DIT) show that in the two years leading up to the Yemen war, £33m of ML4 licences covering bombs, missiles and countermeasures were approved. But in the two years since the start of Saudi bombing in March 2015, the figure increased by 457% to £1.9bn, according to calculations by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Licences covering aircraft including Eurofighter jets have also risen by 70% to £2.6bn in the same period.

Read more …

Secret meetings as the Middle East is imploding. And arms sales are exploding.

May to Lose Second Top Minister in One Week Over Secret Israel Meetings (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is weighing whether to fire a member of her cabinet only seven days after her defense secretary quit in a sexual harassment scandal, as the U.K. government faces fresh turmoil in the midst of Brexit talks. May is likely to dismiss her International Development Secretary Priti Patel in a row over a succession of unauthorized meetings she held with Israeli officials behind the prime minister’s back, according to reports from the BBC and The Sun Tuesday, which the U.K. government declined to deny. The premier has not yet had the chance to speak to Patel – who is on an official trip to Africa – about the latest revelations. A conversation would be expected before a decision is made about the minister’s future. If she is forced out, Patel will be the second minister to depart May’s cabinet in one week, after Michael Fallon resigned from the defense ministry amid allegations over his past behavior toward women.

For some, May’s latest headache is yet another demonstration of her weakness, which draws repeated questions over how her government can last long enough to see Brexit to the finish line. If more dominoes drop – in the shape of senior ministers – the last one to fall could ultimately be the prime minister herself. “The destabilizing effect on an already weak administration has prompted another burst of speculation that May could soon be forced to resign,” Mujtaba Rahman of Eurasia Group said in a note to clients. He thought one likely scenario is for May to be toppled if she fails to get a grip on the latest crisis and is ousted because her MPs judge that the government cannot go on like this – and is incapable of recovering the authority a prime minister needs.

Read more …

The British economy is being bled dry….

Those Who Broke The Economy Cannot Fix It (Ann Pettifor)

Make no mistake, last week’s increase in interest rates was a big deal. Painful as it might be for a good share of the population, the real point is that the Bank is signalling the end of a particular phase of monetary policy. Since 2010 the counterpart to self-defeating austerity policies has been expansionary monetary policies. These have inflated assets – enriching the already-rich, while failing to stimulate wider economic recovery. Yesterday the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee signalled an end of this dangerous game. But this technocratic realignment makes no difference to the fact that ‘the Guardians of the nation’s finances’ – Bank and Treasury economists – have failed absolutely to revive the economy.

You need look no further than the (ongoing) decline in real wages, to continuing low levels of private investment, and to the dangers of rising household debt. A small interest rate rise is hardly likely to improve these conditions. Bank and Treasury economists (aided and abetted by the OBR) are guilty of defeatism. They argue that despite their powers, THERE IS NOTHING TO BE DONE. It is assumed that somehow ‘the invisible hand’ or ‘the markets’ will, without intervention by the authorities, correct the weakness, insecurity and failures of the British economy. The prolonged and painfully weak recovery is regularly blamed on something defined as “productivity”. By shifting responsibility for economic failure on to productivity, the Bank, Treasury and OBR economists are saying that somehow economic failure is inherent to the economy – to businesses and especially to workers.

“Nothing to do with us, guv” they mutter. They add that the situation has been exacerbated by the vote to leave the EU. This is a handy way of denying that the ongoing economic failure of the British economy (and the Brexit vote) can be explained by austerity policies, and the failures of the financial system. By taking this approach, economists at the Bank have – conveniently – set the scene for endorsing further inaction by the Chancellor later this month. Yesterday the Governor of the Bank was flanked by Ben Broadbent and Dave Ramsden. Ben Broadbent, as a Goldman Sachs economist, was among the earliest to call for austerity policies. Dave Ramsden (who did not vote for the rate rise) implemented these policies as top economist at the Treasury.

But both Broadbent and Ramsden were senior figures in economic policy-making throughout the debt inflation that preceded the crisis, and (we presume) supporters of financial globalisation. It is obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense that austerity policies have hurt the most vulnerable, and damaged Britain’s economic potential, by forcing a brutal adjustment to lower quality and lower paid work. Labour has been forced to bear the brunt of the Global Financial Crisis. The weakness in productivity is just the outcome of these policies, not the cause.

Read more …

… while Germany’s needs diverge ever more from those of southern Europe.

German ‘Wise Men’ Sound Alarm Over ‘Overheating’ Economy (R.)

The German economy is at risk of overheating, according to a leaked advisory council report that follows pressure from the Bundesbank for a swifter end to the ECB’s expansive monetary policy. In their annual report, seen by Handelsblatt newspaper, the five “wise men” who advise the German government on economic policy said the economy, which they expected to expand strongly this year and next, was moving gradually into a “boom phase”. “There are clear signs that economic capacity is over-utilised,” read the report, which is due to be published on Wednesday. Germans have been among the foremost critics of the ECB’s bond-buying program, which was introduced three years ago to depress borrowing costs and reignite growth in the euro zone’s heavily indebted southern periphery.

The wise men expected Germany’s economy to expand by 2% this year and by 2.2% in 2018, Handelsblatt said. With unemployment at its lowest level since the early 1990s, Germany’s circumstances are very different from Italy’s or Spain‘s, straining the ECB’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ monetary policy. ECB President Mario Draghi last month announced a halving n the size of its 2 trillion euro bond-buying program, but this is far from the return to conventional monetary policy many Germans, including Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, demand. Without an intervention to cool the economy, Germany’s hawks fear the buoyant economy could tip over into an inflationary cycle. Last week, a senior official from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives warned that German savers would not tolerate continued low interest rates for much longer.

Read more …

Accountants and auditors are not doing their jobs.

Bean Counters: Lost in Paradise (Ren.)

“The phrase ‘Set a thief to catch a thief’ is common parlance,” says Professor Atul K. Shah. “‘Set a global brand of professional accountants to rob society and pilfer its taxes, bleeding governments’, is not, but it should be.’ Professor Bill Black says internal controls are absolutely critical in reducing fraud by insiders in particular, but not just insiders, as the Paradise Papers have repeatedly demonstrated. Emile Woolf says there is no way to remove control fraud and dodgy accounting practices from the economy without first prosecuting the culprits. “The devils that committed this criminal negligence – with the exception of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) – have never been fined or prosecuted” he said. “What you can then do is create a ring fenced fund inside those institutions, earmarked to save them from going under. But the company has to recognise it has to be paid back.

“RBS is incapable of paying back the billions of fines it still owes for misconduct,” he says. “Where does that money come from and where does it go? Without the fines RBS would have made £100 million profit this year, but because of the reserve for fines in the USA and UK, all those fines are far too great to allow for payment of a dividend.” Of course calculating a true profit figure is difficult when a significant portion of that profit is fraudulent, because it doesn’t take into account the result of the inequities of ten years ago. “The worrying thing for all of us is if it happens again,” he says. “My hope is that three years from now, banks will be forced to recognise their loans that will never be repaid. But my worry is that this is going to be after the next financial crisis, because it’s happening again. There is no redeeming features in the present. The only difference is the next crisis is going to be bigger.”

Joel Benjamin told Renegade Inc that accounting is as much about *what* you count or don’t count as it is *how* you count it. “This is evidenced through the practice of ‘base erosion and profit shifting’ – shifting profits to offshore low or no tax jurisdictions, ” he said. In the space of 50 years, Britain’s economy has transformed from an industrial power house, to that of a finance-led extractive parasite, where the cash starved productive economy receives less than 10% of bank credit. “Until the Big Four accountancy firms are accurately viewed as enablers of corporate offshore dealing, regulatory arbitrage and ardent defenders of the neoliberal order, not the ‘reputable’ objective independent arbiters of the public interest as they claim, society will continue to be taken for a ride, and public services and social cohesion will continue their long decline,” he said.

Read more …

Bill Mitchell in a long talk with his alter ego.

British Mainstream Media Spreading Dangerous MMT Ideas (Bilbo)

Mitchell tried to tell me that governments do not spend by ‘printing money’ but rather just adjust bank accounts with numbers. But I know as anyone in the street knows that they just want to print more and more. That is at the core of MMT – they want the government to go on a spending spree and just ignore the inflationary consequences. They hide that by saying that “public spending cannot be unlimited and must be commensurate to the capacity of the economy” which is just a smokescreen that I can see through. And everybody will see through it. It is code for spend like a drunken’ sailor – throw money at lazy people who cannot be bothered finding a job. Throw money at public schools that teach socialist doctrines – you know about inequality and stuff like that.

Throw money at public hospitals so that people can receive unlimited health care without having to pay for it – that is the quickest way to encourage waste and bad behaviour. People know that they can just get sick and no matter what their income is they will get some care. Where is the incentive to stay healthy in that sort of system. The article also shows how stupid Mitchell is when it says he: “… debunks the idea that governments borrow money from international markets and with it the notion that they are hostage to the market.” Well where the hell else do they get the cash from? Does he really think we are that stupid? How come China has all those US government debt bonds or whatever they are called and the US government is spending the Chinese cash? How does he explain that obvious point?

Well he tried to claim the Chinese doesn’t issue US dollars and that only the US government issues US dollars so that it cannot possibly be funded by the Chinese. I don’t buy that, not that I understood anything he said about this – all this talk about trade surpluses accumulating financial claims in the currency that the deficit country issues, and then allowing the surplus nation to use those claims (say, US dollars in the first instance) to purchase US dollar financial assets etc ad nauseum. As if that tells us anything. How come the Chinese can loan the US government money that is what I want to know? Mitchell told the journalist that Jeremy Corbyn should not worry about international capital markets because Britain could impose capital controls if it wanted to. That gets to the nub of my worries – socialist governments stealing hard-earned cash from investors who actually have some get up and go.

Read more …

Malls don’t look like good investments.

Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown Sinks Property Prices (WS)

Commercial real estate prices soared relentlessly for years after the Financial Crisis, to such a degree that the Fed has been publicly fretting about them. Why? Because US financial institutions hold nearly $4 trillion of commercial real estate loans. But the boom in most CRE sectors is over. The Green Street Property Price Index – which measures values across five major property sectors – had soared 107% from May 2009 to the plateau that began late last year, and 27% from the peak of the totally crazy prior bubble that ended with such spectacular fireworks. But it has now turned around, dragged down by a plunge in prices for retail space. The CPPI by Green Street Advisors dropped 1.1% in October from September. In terms of points, the 1.4-point decline was the largest monthly decline since March 2009. The index is now below where it had been in June 2016:

This phenomenal bubble, as depicted by the chart above, has even worried the Fed because US financial institutions hold nearly $4 trillion of CRE loans, according to Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren earlier this year. Of them, $1.2 trillion are held by smaller banks (less than $50 billion in assets). These smaller banks tends to have a loan book that is heavily concentrated on CRE loans, and these banks are less able to withstand shocks to collateral values. Rosengren found that among the root causes of the Financial Crisis “was a significant decline in collateral values of residential and commercial real estate.” But the CRE bubble isn’t unraveling as gently as the chart suggests. Some sectors are still surging, while others are plunging. According to the report, the index, which captures the prices at which CRE transactions are currently being negotiated and contracted, “was pushed down by falling mall valuations.”

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Puidgemont predicted to get 14-15 out of 135 seats. He won’t be the leader.

Catalan Secessionist Parties Fail To Agree On Unity Ticket For Vote (R.)

Catalan secessionist parties on Tuesday failed to agree on a united ticket to contest a December snap regional election, making it more difficult to rule the region after the vote and press ahead with their collective bid to split from Spain. Catalonia’s secessionist push has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in four decades, triggered a business exodus, forced Madrid to cut its economic forecast and reopened old wounds from Spain’s civil war in the 1930s. Pro-independence groups have called for a general strike in the restive region on Wednesday. Catalan political parties had until midnight on Tuesday to register coalitions ahead of the Dec. 21 vote, but the two main forces which formed an alliance to rule the region for the last two years did not manage to agree on a new pact in time.

While they could still find an agreement after the vote, political analysts say the lack of a deal on a joint campaign may also trigger a leadership fight at the top of the movement. This is because center-right PdeCat (Catalan Democratic Party) of sacked Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is expected to be overtaken by leftist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) of former regional vice president Oriol Junqueras. Puigdemont and Junqueras are the two main leaders behind the current secession bid that last month led to a unilateral declaration of independence which Spain thwarted by imposing direct rule on the region. Junqueras is currently in custody pending a potential trial on charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont, who faces the same charges, is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium and has said he would oppose extradition.

An opinion poll released on Sunday by Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia showed Junqueras’ ERC could garner between 45 and 46 seats in the 135-strong regional assembly while Puigdemont’s PdeCat would win between 14 and 15 seats. In order to reach the 68-seat threshold for a majority, they would then have to form a parliamentary alliance with anti-capitalist CUP, which is expected to get seven or eight seats. Such an alliance previously existed between 2015 and 2017.

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Down the drain.

1 in 200 British, 1 in 60 Londoners Are Homeless (G.)

More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to figures released by the charity Shelter. Using official government data and freedom of information returns from local authorities, it estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels – an increase of 13,000 over the past year. Shelter said the figures were an underestimate as they did not include people trapped in so-called “hidden homelessness”, who have nowhere to live but are not recorded as needing housing assistance, and end up “sofa surfing”. London, where one in every 59 people are homeless, remains Britain’s homelessness centre. Of the top 50 local authority homelessness “hotspots”, 18 were in Greater London, with Newham, where one in 27 residents are homeless, worst hit.

However, while London’s homeless rates have remained largely stable over the past year, the figures show the problem is becoming worse in leafier commuter areas bordering the capital, such as Broxbourne, Luton, and Chelmsford. Big regional cities have also seen substantial year-on-year increases in the rate of homelessness. In Manchester, one in 154 people are homeless (compared with one in 266 in 2016); in Birmingham one in 88 are homeless (119); in Bristol one in 170 are affected (199). Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless. Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy hostel room with their children. And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.

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Nov 072017
 
 November 7, 2017  Posted by at 10:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Zuni Girl with Jar c. 1903

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It (IC)
Saudi Arabia Accuses Lebanon Of ‘Declaring War,’ Egypt Calls For Calm (CNBC)
Oil Prices Surge On Saudi Purge (CNBC)
The Black Swan In Plain Sight – Debt Out The Wazoo (Stockman)
What Could Go Wrong? (Jim Kunstler)
Growing Homeless Camps Contrast With West Coast Tech Wealth (AP)
Profiting from Puerto Rico’s Pain (New Yorker)
Sacked Catalan President Condemns ‘Brutal Judicial Offensive’ (G.)
Bernie Sanders Warns Of ‘International Oligarchy’ – Paradise Papers (G.)
End These Offshore Games Or Our Democracy Will Die (G.)
Four False Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in One Week (GG)
Growing Number of Greeks Unable To Pay Taxes (K.)
Greek Notaries Refuse To Carry Out Foreclosures (K.)
Hawking: AI Could Be ‘Worst Event In The History Of Our Civilization’ (CNBC)
The Charter of the Forest (Standing)

 

 

Reading a lot on Saudi. This is good by Ryan Grim. ” And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries.”

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It (IC)

Whatever the official explanation, it is being read around the world as a power grab by the kingdom’s rising crown prince. “The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman,” as the New York Times put it. “The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests. The men are being held in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. “There is no jail for royals,” a Saudi source noted. The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington.

The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it. MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain. As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries.

“Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately. For the past two years, Otaiba has introduced MBS around Washington and offered assurances of his commitment to modernizing and reforming Saudi Arabia, according to people who’ve spoken with him, confirmed by emails leaked by the group, Global Leaks. When confronted with damning headlines, Otaiba tends to acknowledge the reform project is a work in progress, but insists that it is progress nonetheless, and in MBS resides the best chance of the region.

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“The region cannot support more turmoil..”

Saudi Arabia Accuses Lebanon Of ‘Declaring War,’ Egypt Calls For Calm (CNBC)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Middle Eastern nations to maintain stability just as tensions were suddenly spiking between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. “The stability of the region is very important and we all have to protect it … I am talking to all the parties in the region to preserve it,” Al-Sisi said in an interview with CNBC over the weekend that aired Tuesday morning. On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri shocked the political establishment in Beirut by announcing his resignation. The leader said he was stepping down amid concerns of a potential assassination plot against him. Speaking from Riyadh, Hariri criticized Iran, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, for igniting conflict in the region.

Following the CNBC interview, Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia sharply escalated rhetoric in the region by declaring that Lebanon had — figuratively at least — declared “war” against it because of aggression from Hezbollah. Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said the government of Lebanon “would be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia,” Reuters reported. When asked whether the time had come for Egypt to consider its own measures against Hezbollah, Al-Sisi replied, “The subject is not about taking on or not taking on, the subject is about the status of the fragile stability in the region in light of the unrest facing the region.” “The region cannot support more turmoil,” he said.

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What OPEC couldn’t do.

Oil Prices Surge On Saudi Purge (CNBC)

Oil prices surged to their highest levels since the summer of 2015 on Monday as a major political shakeup in Saudi Arabia underpinned a rally fueled by geopolitical risk, analysts said. Crude futures hit the new highs overnight after the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman coordinated the arrest of several princes and ministers, ostensibly as part of crackdown on corruption. Prices pulled back in morning trade as the market digested a wealth of analysis on the Saudi purge, but futures suddenly shot higher at midday. International benchmark Brent crude oil topped $64 a barrel for the first time since June 2015. Meanwhile U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude broke above $57, a level the market has not seen since July 2015.

WTI finished Monday’s session $1.71 or 3.1 percent, higher at $57.35. Brent was trading up $2.04, or 3.3 percent, at $64.11 by 2:27 p.m. ET. Analysts cautioned against pinning the surge on any one headline, or even the Saudi arrests alone. Instead, they said a growing cloud of geopolitical uncertainty was unleashing animal spirits in an already bullish market. “You can grab all sorts of different headlines when you have a runaway market, and this is a runaway market right now,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service. In this kind of environment, “people throw caution to the wind, and this is like the grand finale of fireworks,” he said.

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More debt, fast.

The Black Swan In Plain Sight – Debt Out The Wazoo (Stockman)

The black swan in plain sight does emit the Donald’s orangish glow, but at the end of the day its true color is actually red. That is, monumental towers of rapidly rising debt loom everywhere on the planet. For the moment, the artificial cash flow from this unsustainable borrowing spree is keeping a simulacrum of growth and prosperity alive. Yet this whole outbreak of debt madness – represented by $225 trillion outstanding on a global basis – is careening toward a financial and economic dead end that will soon crush today’s fiscally profligate politicians and heedless financial punters, alike, in a devastating reset of bond yields. For our first case in point, the always excellent Wolf Richter published a great chart over the weekend on the exploding US public debt.

To say the least, it constitutes a clanging wake-up call amidst the absolute fantasy world that prevails on both ends of the Acela Corridor. That’s because during the mere 8 weeks since the public debt ceiling was suspended by the Donald’s end-run with Nancy and Chuckles in September, the national debt has spiked by $640 billion. That’s about $16 billion per Federal business day, and they are not done yet. The US Treasury will continue to borrow heavily until the current debt ceiling “suspension” expires on December 8 – at which time it will repair to the old game of divesting trusting funds and employing other gimmicks which circumvent the ceiling, while waiting for Congress to blink and raise the ceiling or authorize a new “temporary” suspension.

As Wolf pointed out, this pattern played out during the debt showdowns of 2013 and 2015, as well, when the resulting “temporary” suspension resulted in borrowing spikes of $464 billion and $650 billion, respectively. Accordingly, Washington has suspended it way into a $5.7 trillion increase in the public debt in just six years since October 2011. That is, during a period which supposedly constitutes the third longest business expansion in US history.

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“The “narrative” is firmest before its falseness is proved by the turn of events, and there are an awful lot of events out there waiting to present, like debutantes dressing for a winter ball.”

What Could Go Wrong? (Jim Kunstler)

The economy isn’t growing and can’t grow. The economy is a revenant of something that used to exist, an industrial economy that has rolled over and died and come back as a moldy ghoul feeding on the ghostly memories of itself. Stocks go up because the unprecedented low interest rates established by the Fed allow company CEOs to “lever-up” issuing bonds (i.e. borrow “money” from, cough cough, “investors”) and then use the borrowed “money” to buy back their own stock to raise the share value, so they can justify their companies’ boards-of-directors jacking up their salaries and bonuses — based on the ghost of the idea that higher stock prices represent the creation of more actual things of value (front-end-loaders, pepperoni sticks, oil drilling rigs).

The economy is actually contracting because we can’t afford the energy it takes to run the things we do — mostly just driving around — and unemployment is not historically low, it’s simply mis-represented by not including the tens of millions of people who have dropped out of the work force. And an epic wickedness combined with cowardice drives the old legacy news business to look the other way and concoct its good times “narrative.” If any of the reporters at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal really understand the legerdemain at work in these “mysteries” of finance, they’re afraid to say. The companies they work for are dying, like so many other enterprises in the non-financial realm of the used-to-be economy, and they don’t want to be out of paycheck until the lights finally go out.

The “narrative” is firmest before its falseness is proved by the turn of events, and there are an awful lot of events out there waiting to present, like debutantes dressing for a winter ball. The debt ceiling… North Korea… Mueller… Hillarygate….the state pension funds….That so many agree the USA has entered a permanent plateau of exquisite prosperity is a sure sign of its imminent implosion. What could go wrong?

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All bubbles disrupt.

Growing Homeless Camps Contrast With West Coast Tech Wealth (AP)

SEATTLE — Housing prices are soaring here thanks to the tech industry, but the boom comes with a consequence: A surge in homelessness marked by 400 unauthorized tent camps in parks, under bridges, on freeway medians and along busy sidewalks. The liberal city is trying to figure out what to do. “I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to.” That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. A homeless crisis is rocking the entire West Coast, pushing abject poverty into the open like never before. Public health is at risk, several cities have declared states of emergency, and cities and counties are spending millions – in some cases billions – in a search for solutions.

San Diego now scrubs its sidewalks with bleach to counter a deadly hepatitis A outbreak. In Anaheim, 400 people sleep along a bike path in the shadow of Angel Stadium. Organizers in Portland lit incense at an outdoor food festival to cover up the stench of urine in a parking lot where vendors set up shop. Homelessness is not new on the West Coast. But interviews with local officials and those who serve the homeless in California, Oregon and Washington — coupled with an Associated Press review of preliminary homeless data — confirm it’s getting worse. People who were once able to get by, even if they suffered a setback, are now pushed to the streets because housing has become so expensive. All it takes is a prolonged illness, a lost job, a broken limb, a family crisis. What was once a blip in fortunes now seems a life sentence.

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“There is no European Union standing ready to bail out Puerto Rico.”

Profiting from Puerto Rico’s Pain (New Yorker)

In 2012, Cate Long was working at the news service Reuters, where she wrote a daily column on the municipal-bond market. Municipal bonds are typically a sleepy corner of investing. They are forms of debt issued by states, counties, or cities, usually to fund infrastructure projects, such as airports and highways, and they are generally considered a safe investment, paying relatively low levels of interest. Finding a compelling story about the municipal-bond market is not an easy task, so when Long came across a document related to an $800 million bond sale that Puerto Rico would be undertaking that spring, she decided to look at the numbers more closely. What she found was startling. “I sat down and read it for a couple of hours, and I said, ‘These people are going to default,’ ” she told me recently. “It was pretty obvious.”

In the column she wrote about her analysis, titled “Puerto Rico Is America’s Greece,” Long expressed concern about the island’s economic health, calling it “America’s own Third World country.” At the time, Puerto Rico’s per-capita income was just $15,203 (less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest of the fifty states), and 45% of its residents were living below the poverty line. Puerto Rico also had a “massive” amount of debt, and was issuing even more bonds, which mutual funds and individuals were eagerly buying up, in spite of the warning signs. In her article, Long seemed to charge almost everyone involved, borrowers and creditors alike, with disingenuousness, incompetence, or both. “As happened with Greece, bond investors continue to buy the debt assuming at some point the government will be bailed out by somebody, somewhere,” she wrote.

“Caution, bond investors: There is no European Union standing ready to bail out Puerto Rico.” The article sent shock waves through the investment community. Moody’s Investors Service, which provides credit ratings, asked Long to come to its offices and defend her findings. (Her defense was, essentially, “I’m looking at the numbers.”) Nevertheless, the island continued its unsustainable borrowing for years—and Wall Street investors kept lending it money. By 2017, five years after Long’s warning, Puerto Rico’s bond debt had soared to $74 billion, almost a third of which was held by hedge funds. Meanwhile, the government was struggling to provide basic services to residents.

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Guess: he won’t be back in Catalonia in time for the Dec 21 elections.

Sacked Catalan President Condemns ‘Brutal Judicial Offensive’ (G.)

The deposed Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has accused the Spanish authorities of conducting a “brutal judicial offensive” against members of his ousted government and said he was afraid they would not receive an unbiased hearing in Spanish courts. Writing in the Guardian, Puigdemont said it was a “colossal outrage” that he and 13 colleagues were being investigated over possible charges including sedition and rebellion in relation to their roles in last month’s declaration of independence. “Today, the leaders of this democratic project stand accused of rebellion and face the severest punishment possible under the Spanish penal code; the same as for cases of terrorism and murder: 30 years in prison,” he said.

Puigdemont said he doubted that he and his colleagues would get a “fair and independent hearing” and called for “scrutiny from abroad” to help bring the Catalan crisis to a political, rather than judicial, conclusion. He added: “The Spanish state must honour what was said so many times in the years of terrorism: end violence and we can talk about everything. We, the supporters of Catalan independence, have never opted for violence, on the contrary. But now we find it was all a lie that everything is up for discussion.” The former Catalan leader fled to Brussels with a handful of cabinet colleagues last week, hours before Spain’s attorney general announced he would be seeking to bring charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds against them.

On Thursday, a national court judge ordered the jailing of the eight Catalan politicians and, a day later, issued a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his allies. Late on Sunday, a Belgian judge granted the five conditional release. They will make their first appearance in court on 17 November when a judge will decide on whether to execute the arrest warrant. The conditions of release include a ban on them leaving Belgium until their appearance in the court of first instance in Brussels later this month. With the extradition process likely to take months rather than weeks, there is growing scope for Puigdemont’s presence in Belgium to cause the country’s coalition government serious difficulties.

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No kidding.

Bernie Sanders Warns Of ‘International Oligarchy’ – Paradise Papers (G.)

Bernie Sanders has warned that the world is rapidly becoming an “international oligarchy” controlled by a tiny number of billionaires, highlighted by the revelations in the Paradise Papers. In a statement to the Guardian in the wake of the massive leak of documents exposing the secrets of offshore investors, Sanders said that the enrichment of wealthy individuals and companies in tax havens was “the major issue of our time”. He said the Paradise Papers opened the door on a “major problem not just for the US but for governments throughout the world”. “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” the US senator from Vermont said.

Sanders, who came in a close second to Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, pointed the finger of blame for the flourishing of offshore holdings on both Congress and the Trump administration. He told the Guardian that Republicans in Congress were responsible for providing “even more tax breaks to profitable corporations like Apple and Nike”. The same tax breaks, he said, were being seized upon by super-wealthy members of Trump’s cabinet “who avoid billions in US taxes by shifting American jobs and profits to offshore tax havens. We need to close these loopholes and demand a fair and progressive tax system.”

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“We must accept that Big Finance and runaway inequality are incompatible with either a functioning democracy or a sustainable economy.”

End These Offshore Games Or Our Democracy Will Die (G.)

Tax avoidance is now so systemic that the Queen’s own wealth managers apparently see nothing wrong with her receiving £82m a year from taxpayers while shunting £10m into the Caymans and elsewhere. Shuttling between tax havens is so commonplace that economist Gabriel Zucman describes it as an “elite sport” – a sport in which the loser each time is the rest of society, which sees its taxbase shrink. These papers are aptly named: they outline a model that is paradise for the super-rich and purgatory for the rest of us. The second myth of British politics is that austerity was the only correct response to the high-living of the New Labour boom. That was always opposed by some of us – now it is exploded with each new tax investigation.

Drawing in part on data from last year’s Panama Papers and the HSBC files leaked in 2015, Zucman recently co-published a study that found wealthy Britons have stashed about £300bn – equivalent to 15% of our GDP – in offshore tax havens. Three hundred billion quid would more than cover our entire education budget for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s. Or, if you prefer, it is the equivalent of £350m being paid into the NHS every week for the next 16 years. Instead, it is funnelled offshore and used to buy yachts and mansions and other baubles – tax efficiently, of course. The economics of David Cameron and George Osborne can be summed up simply: punish the poor, but reward the rich for fear they will flee offshore. To that end, they scrapped the 50p tax rate for millionaires, they drove down corporation tax to a record low, and cut sweetheart deals with companies such as Google who couldn’t be bothered to pay even that much.

The result is that London has more super-rich residents than any other city – yet however soft the kid gloves with which they are treated, our wealthiest 0.01% stick 30-40% of their wealth offshore. In high-tax Sweden, by contrast, the rich do not use havens half as much. The logic that has underpinned our tax system over this entire decade is rubbish. [..] Add the City of London to Britain’s crown dependencies such as Jersey and the Isle of Man, and overseas territories such as the Caymans, and Britain’s tax havens account for nearly a quarter of the entire offshore financial industry. According to Deutsche Bank, London itself receives about £1bn a month in what it calls “hidden capital flows”, much of it Russian. It ends up in Stucco-fronted houses and fine art.

Much of this could be changed, and quickly. Britain has previously ordered the Caymans and other overseas territories to decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. It could do the same with tax transparency, in an Order of Council that, a Mayfair tax lawyer recently told me, need be no longer than two sides of A4. We could change the rules on Lords and Commons’ members’ interests so that all offshore holdings would have to be registered. These are the fixes, but a real solution is ultimately political. We must accept that Big Finance and runaway inequality are incompatible with either a functioning democracy or a sustainable economy. Britain either shrinks the City of London, or the City of London will swallow Britain.

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Lots of talk about this, with widely differing views.

Four False Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in One Week (GG)

There is ample talk, particularly of late, about the threats posed by social media to democracy and political discourse. Yet one of the primary ways that democracy is degraded by platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is, for obvious reasons, typically ignored in such discussions: the way they are used by American journalists to endorse factually false claims that quickly spread and become viral, entrenched into narratives, and thus can never be adequately corrected. The design of Twitter, where many political journalists spend their time, is in large part responsible for this damage. Its space constraints mean that tweeted headlines or tiny summaries of reporting are often assumed to be true with no critical analysis of their accuracy, and are easily spread.

Claims from journalists that people want to believe are shared like wildfire, while less popular, subsequent corrections or nuanced debunking are easily ignored. Whatever one’s views are on the actual impact of Twitter Russian bots, surely the propensity of journalistic falsehoods to spread far and wide is at least as significant. Just in the last week alone, there have been four major factually false claims that have gone viral because journalists on Twitter endorsed and spread them: three about the controversy involving Donna Brazile and the DNC, and one about documents and emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It’s well worth examining them, both to document what the actual truth is as well as to understand how often and easily this online journalistic misleading occurs:

Viral Falsehood #1: The Clinton/DNC agreement cited by Brazile only applied to the General Election, not the primary.

Viral Falsehood #2: Sanders signed the same agreement with the DNC that Clinton did.

Viral Falsehood #3: Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

Viral Falsehood #4: Evidence has emerged proving that the content of WikiLeaks documents and emails was doctored.

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Deep deep deeper and down.

Growing Number of Greeks Unable To Pay Taxes (K.)

Almost half a million taxpayers were added to the long list of debtors to the state in the month of September, according to the latest data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. The authority’s figures are a reflection of citizens’ increasing inability to pay their taxes, with 410,000 not paying their second income tax installment and the ENFIA property tax in September. More specifically, 4,267,408 taxpayers owed money to the Greek state in September, up from 3,857,086 in August. Moreover, by the end of September, the amount of unpaid taxes since the beginning of the year came to 9.25 billion euros. What concerns the government is whether the 410,000 that couldn’t pay their taxes in September will join the Finance Ministry’s 12-month installment program, as the hole in tax revenues will only grow if they don’t.

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What good will kicking people out do?

Greek Notaries Refuse To Carry Out Foreclosures (K.)

The outlook for property foreclosures in Greece is unclear after notaries announced a boycott on auctions until the end of the year, citing abuse by protesters, though foreign creditors expect the first online auctions to take place this month. According to sources, Greece’s lenders have suggested that the responsibility for foreclosures be shifted from notaries to Greek courts or possibly to Justice Ministry officials. The latter model, which has been tried and tested in Germany and Spain, was first mooted last month during a visit to Athens by bailout monitors. The auditors made it clear that the resumption of foreclosures on the homes of overindebted Greeks, which have dragged during the crisis years due to strikes by lawyers and notaries and more recently due to anti-austerity protesters, is a prerequisite for the successful conclusion of Greece’s current bailout review.

In comments at Monday’s summit of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, ECB President Mario Draghi indicated that the resumption of property auctions would help banks by reducing the large proportion of bad loans that they hold. Commenting, Greek Finance Ministry sources said Athens was committed to “not taking our foot off the gas in the implementation of reforms for the review.” One of the many conditions of the latest review is that Greece launch electronic foreclosures. The first is supposed to take place on November 29. However, it is unclear how that procedure will be carried out in view of the protracted walkout by Greek notaries.

In a joint statement on Monday, the associations representing notaries in Athens, Piraeus and the islands of the Aegean and the Dodecanese said they will not be conducting any property auctions through December 31. The decision was reached during a meeting on Saturday with a vote of 134 in favor and 132 against. The associations said the decision was aimed at initiating talks with the Justice Ministry in order to provide protection to notaries who have come under attack – often violent – by anti-establishment groups and protesters opposed to foreclosures. Notaries also want the Justice Ministry to be made responsible for electronic auctions, as well as to address any disputes that may arise from them.

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I don’t share his optimism.

Hawking: AI Could Be ‘Worst Event In The History Of Our Civilization’ (CNBC)

The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) could be the “worst event in the history of our civilization” unless society finds a way to control its development, high-profile physicist Stephen Hawking said Monday. He made the comments during a talk at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in which he said, “computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it.” Hawking talked up the potential of AI to help undo damage done to the natural world, or eradicate poverty and disease, with every aspect of society being “transformed.” But he admitted the future was uncertain. “Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” Hawking said during the speech.

“Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy.” Hawking explained that to avoid this potential reality, creators of AI need to “employ best practice and effective management.” The scientist highlighted some of the legislative work being carried out in Europe, particularly proposals put forward by lawmakers earlier this year to establish new rules around AI and robotics. Members of the European Parliament said European Union-wide rules were needed on the matter. Such developments are giving Hawking hope.

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance,” Hawking said.

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We want one!

The Charter of the Forest (Standing)

Eight hundred years ago this month, after the death of a detested king and the defeat of a French invasion in the Battle of Lincoln, one of the foundation stones of the British constitution was laid down. It was the Charter of the Forest, sealed in St Paul’s on November 6, 1217, alongside a shortened Charter of Liberties from 2 years earlier (which became the Magna Carta). The Charter of the Forest was the first environmental charter forced on any government. It was the first to assert the rights of the property-less, of the commoners, and of the commons. It also made a modest advance for feminism, as it coincided with recognition of the rights of widows to have access to means of subsistence and to refuse to be remarried. The Charter has the distinction of having been on the statute books for longer than any other piece of legislation.

It was repealed 754 years later, in 1971, by a Tory government. In 2015, while spending lavishly on celebrating the Magna Carta anniversary, the government was asked in a written question in the House of Lords whether it would be celebrating the Charter this year. A Minister of Justice, Lord Faulks, airily dismissed the idea, stating that it was unimportant, without international significance. Yet earlier this year the American Bar Association suggested the Charter of the Forest had been a foundation of the American Constitution and that it was more important now than ever before. They were right. It is scarcely surprising that the political Right want to ignore the Charter. It is about the economic rights of the property-less, limiting private property rights and rolling back the enclosure of land, returning vast expanses to the commons.

It was remarkably subversive Sadly, whereas every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, few hear of the Charter. Yet for hundreds of years the Charter led the Magna Carta. It had to be read out in every church in England four times a year. It inspired struggles against enclosure and the plunder of the commons by the monarchy, aristocracy and emerging capitalist class, famously influencing the Diggers and Levellers in the 17th century, and protests against enclosure in the 18th and 19th. At the heart of the Charter, which is hard to understand unless words that have faded from use are interpreted, is the concept of the commons and the need to protect them and to compensate commoners for their loss. It is scarcely surprising that a government that is privatising and commercialising the remaining commons should wish to ignore it.

In 1066, William the Conqueror not only distributed parts of the commons to his bandits but also turned large tracts of them into ‘royal forests’ – ie, his own hunting grounds. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 25 such forests. William’s successors expanded and turned them into revenue-raising zones to help pay for their wars. By 1217, there were 143 royal forests. The Charter achieved a reversal, and forced the monarchy to recognise the right of free men and women to pursue their livelihoods in forests. The notion of forest was much broader than it is today, and included villages and areas with few trees, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor. The forest was where commoners lived and worked collaboratively.

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Nov 052017
 
 November 5, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Navajo weaver c. 1907

 

Senior Princes, One Of World’s Richest Men Arrested In Saudi Crackdown (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Detains Princes, Ex-Ministers After Cabinet Reshuffle (MEE)
Shakeup Stuns Analysts Who Say It Shows Saudis Mean Business (BBG)
Lebanon PM Resigns, Bringing Saudi-Iran Proxy Conflict to the Fore (BBG)
Trump Urges Saudi Aramco to List on New York Stock Exchange (BBG)
China’s Zhou Warns on Rising Financial Risk in Blunt Article (BBG)
China To Expand Corruption Supervision Pilot Scheme Nationwide (R.)
Donna Brazile Considered Replacing Hillary Clinton With Joe Biden (G.)
The Great College Loan Swindle (Taibbi)
Santa Claus May Be Coming To Town, But Will The Shoppers Go Too? (G.)
In the World’s Most Livable Cities, Hardly Anyone Can Afford a Home (BBG)
Australia -Again- Snubs New Zealand Offer To Take Refugees (AFP)

 

 

Was there a coup? If so, who against who? Jared Kushner just came back from one of his secretive trips to Saudi a few days ago. He’s allegedly close with MBS. Osama Bin Laden’s older brother also arrested. Too much money floating around. And too many princes.

Senior Princes, One Of World’s Richest Men Arrested In Saudi Crackdown (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman removed one of the royal family’s most prominent princes from his ministerial role and arrested other royals and top officials in an anti-corruption drive that clears any remaining obstacles to his son’s potential ascension to the throne. Acting on orders from a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, police arrested 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said. Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, was removed from his post as head of the powerful National Guards. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a shareholder of Citigroup and Twitter, was among those detained, according to a senior Saudi official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Laws will be applied firmly on everyone who touched public money and didn’t protect it or embezzled it, or abused their power and influence,” King Salman said in comments shown on state TV. “This will be applied on those big and small, and we will fear no one.” Prince Miteb was replaced by Prince Khaled Ayyaf, according to a royal decree. Before his ouster, Prince Miteb was one of the few remaining senior royals to have survived a series of cabinet shuffles that promoted allies of the crown prince, who is the direct heir to the throne. King Salman had already sidelined other senior members of the royal family to prevent any opposition to the crown prince, 32-year-old Prince Mohammed, known as MBS among diplomats and journalists, who replaced his elder cousin, Muhammed bin Nayef, in June.

That maneuver removed any doubt of how succession plans will unfold following the reign of King Salman, now 81. “The hardline approach is risky because it will solidify the dislike many powerful Saudis have for the crown prince, but it is likely that MBS succeeds, and emerges from this episode more empowered,” Hani Sabra, founder of Alef Advisory, a Middle East political risk practice, wrote in a note. “We can’t confidently project when a leadership transition will take place, but today’s developments are a signpost that MBS is moving toward the role of king.”

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From Middle East Eye.

Saudi Arabia Detains Princes, Ex-Ministers After Cabinet Reshuffle (MEE)

Saudi Arabia has detained 11 princes and dozens of former ministers through its newly formed anti-corruption committee, including erstwhile national guard minister Mutaib bin Abdullah. According to an MEE source in Riyadh, Mutaib was arrested along with his brother Turki. Famous multi-billionaire prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz and a number of former ministers and businessmen were also arrested. Both Mutaib bin Abdullah and Al-Waleed bin Talal are senior members of Saudi’s royal family. Also among the arrested were Waleed al-Ibrahim, founder of the MBC broadcasting group, and billionaire businessman Saleh Kamel. The arrests came hours after Saudi appointed new ministers. Economy minister Adel Fakieh was replaced by Mohammed al-Tuwaijri while Khaled bin Ayyaf replaced Mutaib, son of the late King Abdullah, as national guard minister.

The new anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was formed by royal decree earlier on Saturday. The arrests and dismissals came just two months after King Salman replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed as the country’s crown prince. The move consolidates Mohammed’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions, which had long been headed by separate powerful branches of the ruling family. “Since Mohammed bin Salman became the crown prince in June, we’ve seen a lot of upheaval,” Ian Black, of the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera. “We’ve seen the announcement of this very ambitious Saudi plan to transform the Saudi economy, Vision 2030.” “The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen at Rice University.

In September the authorities arrested about two dozen people, including influential clerics, in what activists denounced as a coordinated crackdown. Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatising state assets and cutting subsidies.

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“Everybody will be worried now. Some of these names have been there for 30 years.”

Shakeup Stuns Analysts Who Say It Shows Saudis Mean Business (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented decision to arrest senior princes and billionaires shocked analysts across the region, but to some it’s a sign the kingdom is serious about change. The nation’s stocks declined. A newly formed anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, instructed police to arrest 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television said. The decision comes about two weeks after the kingdom announced a series of projects, including a $500 billion city, as part of a plan to overhaul an economy that has been almost entirely dependent on oil revenue for decades. The Tadawul All Share Index fell 1.8% as of 10:04 a.m. in Riyadh.

Purges haven’t “been done at this scale or in this public manner before,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, CEO of Abu Dhabi-based NBAD Securities. “Accountability has been introduced, no one is immune. Everybody will be worried now. Some of these names have been there for 30 years. This affects Kingdom Holding, Saudi Airlines and the Finance Ministry.” A plunge in crude prices has forced Saudi Arabia to face the shortcomings of its $650 billion economy. Part of its plan to prepare for life after oil is to sell shares in oil giant Aramco in 2018 and transform its stock market to a gateway into Saudi Arabia. “There should be some initial speculation in general as people are just concerned about what happened, this will be priced in,” said Mazen Al-Sudairi, the head of research at Al Rajhi Capital in Riyadh. “But if you look on the long term, this should be seen as a positive measure that is good for the country and the market.”

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More Saudi.

Lebanon PM Resigns, Bringing Saudi-Iran Proxy Conflict to the Fore (BBG)

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Saturday in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, saying he feared for his life and accusing Iran and its proxies of destabilizing his country and the region. Hariri, a pro-Saudi Sunni politician, said Lebanon has suffered enough because of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its grip on domestic politics. “I want to say to Iran and its followers that they are losing in their interference in the affairs of Arab nations, and our nation will rise as it did before – and the hands that are extended to it with evil will be cut off,” he said. The resignation raises the prospect of a renewed political confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon at a time when the Islamic Republic and its allies are widely seen to have won the proxy war against Sunni powers in neighboring Syria.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite ends of other regional conflicts such as Yemen and Iraq. The Lebanese government includes Hezbollah members, and Hariri’s decision aims to weaken the group’s legitimate representation, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “It’s part of an all-out Saudi confrontation with Iran,” he said. As the war against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq winds down, analysts are warning against a surge in other conflicts as regional and global powers seek to divide spheres of influence. And while Saudi Arabia failed in its pursuit to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, from power, the kingdom has found a backer in U.S. President Donald Trump in his focus on containing Iran’s clout in the Middle East.

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And yet more Saudi.

Trump Urges Saudi Aramco to List on New York Stock Exchange (BBG)

President Donald Trump, raising the political stakes in what would be the largest initial public offering, said the U.S. would “very much appreciate” if Saudi Arabia’s government lists the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. on the New York Stock Exchange. “Important to the United States!” Trump said in a Twitter post from Honolulu early Saturday. Trump’s tweet, sent hours before he was set to depart for an 11-day tour of Asia, came out of the blue for Aramco, according to a person familiar with the company, who asked not to be named. But the move is consistent with a growing push by American regulators to lure companies to U.S. stock exchanges. Trump told reporters later Saturday aboard Air Force One that he was motivated to send the tweet because the Aramco IPO “will be just about the biggest ever” and the U.S. wants “to have all the big listings.”

The Saudis were not currently looking at listing on a U.S. exchange “because of litigation risk, and other risk, which is sad,” he said. “I want them to very strongly consider the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ or frankly anybody else located in this country,” Trump said. He added that he had recently spoken to King Salman. The tweet was “energy geopolitics in action,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former senior oil official in the Obama administration. “At a time when the Saudis are looking for the U.S. to get tougher on Iran, the Saudi-Russian relationship is warming, the Saudis are trying to attract international private capital, and the Chinese are rumored to be considering taking a piece of Aramco, Trump’s personal plea to list in N.Y. raises the diplomatic stakes of Aramco’s decision.”

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“Latent risks are accumulating, including some that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous..”

China’s Zhou Warns on Rising Financial Risk in Blunt Article (BBG)

China’s financial system is getting significantly more vulnerable due to high leverage, according to central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who also flagged the need for deeper reforms in the world’s second-biggest economy. Latent risks are accumulating, including some that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous,” even as the overall health of the financial system remains good, Zhou wrote in a lengthy article published on the People’s Bank of China’s website late Saturday. The nation should toughen regulation and let markets serve the real economy better, according to Zhou. The government should also open up financial markets by relaxing capital controls and reducing restrictions on non-Chinese financial institutions that want to operate on the mainland, he wrote.

“High leverage is the ultimate origin of macro financial vulnerability,” wrote Zhou, 69, who is widely expected to retire soon after a record 15-year tenure. “In sectors of the real economy, this is reflected as excessive debt, and in the financial system, this is reflected as credit that has been expanding too quickly.” Zhou’s comments signal that policy makers remain committed to a campaign to reduce borrowing levels across the economy. Concern that regulators may intensify the deleveraging drive after the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress has helped push yields on 10-year government bonds to a three-year high. Still, measures of credit continue to show expansion, with aggregate financing surging to a six-month high of 1.82 trillion yuan ($274 billion) in September. China’s corporate debt surged to 159% of the economy in 2016, compared with 104% 10 years ago, while overall borrowing climbed to 260%.

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Hard not to see Saudi and China doing the same thing.

China To Expand Corruption Supervision Pilot Scheme Nationwide (R.)

China will expand a pilot project for anti-graft supervision reforms nationwide next year that will consolidate existing corruption agencies, state-run news agency Xinhua reported, as President Xi Jinping expands his signature policy drive. Xinhua said in a report published late on Saturday China’s top legislature adopted a decision calling for new supervisory commissions to be set up by the People’s Congresses at provincial, city and county-levels to “supervise those exercising public power”. Xi’s signature anti-graft drive has jailed or otherwise punished nearly 1.4 million Communist Party members since 2012. The leader, who began his second five-year term in October, has vowed to maintain the “irreversible” momentum of the campaign to root out corruption.

China aims to pass a national supervision law and set up a new commission at the annual parliament meetings early next year. The new National Supervision Commission will work with the Communist Party’s anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, expanding the purview of Xi’s anti-graft campaign to include employees at state-backed institutions. Xinhua said the commissions to be set up nationwide under the China legislature’s new directive will have the power to investigate illegal activities such as graft, misuse of authority, neglect of duty, and wasting public funds.

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if you didn’t get yet what a catastrophe the Democratic party has become.

Donna Brazile Considered Replacing Hillary Clinton With Joe Biden (G.)

The former head of the Democratic National Committee says she considered initiating effort to replace Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee with then vice-president Joe Biden. Donna Brazile makes the revelation in a memoir being released on Tuesday entitled Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. Brazile writes that she considered initiating Clinton’s removal after she collapsed while leaving a 9/11 memorial service in New York City. Clinton later acknowledged she was suffering from pneumonia. But Brazile says the larger issue was that her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure”.

After considering a dozen combinations to replace Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine from Virginia, Brazile writes that she settled on Biden and Cory Booker of New Jersey as those with the best chance of defeating Trump. Ultimately, the former DNC head says, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”

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“In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.”

The Great College Loan Swindle (Taibbi)

Horror stories about student debt are nothing new. But this school year marks a considerable worsening of a tale that ought to have been a national emergency years ago. The government in charge of regulating this mess is now filled with predatory monsters who have extensive ties to the exploitative for-profit education industry – from Donald Trump himself to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who sets much of the federal loan policy, to Julian Schmoke, onetime dean of the infamous DeVry University, whom Trump appointed to police fraud in education. Americans don’t understand the student-loan crisis because they’ve been trained to view the issue in terms of a series of separate, unrelated problems. They will read in one place that as of the summer of 2017, a record 8.5 million Americans are in default on their student debt, with about $1.3 trillion in loans still outstanding.

In another place, voters will read that the cost of higher education is skyrocketing, soaring in a seemingly market-defying arc that for nearly a decade now has run almost double the rate of inflation. Tuition for a halfway decent school now frequently surpasses $50,000 a year. How, the average newsreader wonders, can any child not born in a yacht afford to go to school these days? In a third place, that same reader will see some heartless monster, usually a Republican, threatening to cut federal student lending. The current bogeyman is Trump, who is threatening to slash the Pell Grant program by $3.9 billion, which would seem to put higher education even further out of reach for poor and middle-income families. This too seems appalling, and triggers a different kind of response, encouraging progressive voters to lobby for increased availability for educational lending.

But the separateness of these stories clouds the unifying issue underneath: The education industry as a whole is a con. In fact, since the mortgage business blew up in 2008, education and student debt is probably our reigning unexposed nation-wide scam. It’s a multiparty affair, what shakedown artists call a “big store scheme,” like in the movie The Sting: a complex deception requiring a big cast to string the mark along every step of the way. In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.

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Fear of Christmas.

Santa Claus May Be Coming To Town, But Will The Shoppers Go Too? (G.)

Christmas is still seven weeks away, but, unsurprisingly, that does not stop retailers getting into the festive spirit early in the hope to attract crowds to the tills. On Tuesday, singer Rita Ora will turn on the Christmas lights on Oxford Street to mark the beginning of the festivities, close to Marks & Spencer’s Marble Arch branch. But will it be a merry Christmas for retailers? This week both M&S and Sainsbury’s will announce half-year results at an uncertain time for the high street. A recent survey from the CBI showed high street sales falling at their fastest rate since the height of the recession in 2009 as inflation causes households to put the brakes on spending. The cost of groceries, clothes and electronics has been rising since the Brexit vote last year, piling pressure on shoppers.

Recently, Asda’s income tracker found that there has been a slump on the spending power of the average household, while research from Lloyds Bank found that families are feeling the strain of the rising costs of living compared with a year ago. All of which could add up to a grim Christmas for retailers as shoppers struggle to deal with the post-Brexit economy. A further warning was sounded last week when Next reported a fall in October high street sales. Retailers will be hoping that Rita Ora will be able to instil some festive cheer to start off the shopping season.

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Same story all over the world.

In the World’s Most Livable Cities, Hardly Anyone Can Afford a Home (BBG)

Home ownership among young Australians has fallen to the lowest level on record, as an explosive property boom squeezes out all but the wealthiest. Supercharged by record low interest rates, a lack of supply and a tax system that favors property investors, home prices have surged more than 140% in the past 15 years, propelling Sydney past London and New York to rank as the world’s second-most expensive housing market. Melbourne, ranked the world’s most livable city the past seven years by the Economist Intelligence Unit, is now the planet’s sixth-most expensive place to buy a house. In response, home ownership among the young has plunged: only 45% of 25-to-34 year-olds own their own home, down 16%age points from the 1980s, with almost half the decline coming in the past decade.

At the same time, hefty mortgages have pushed household debt to a record, acting as a drag on the economy’s 26 years of unbroken growth. As more people retire still owing a mortgage, or renting, they are more likely to qualify for government welfare, undermining the A$2.3 trillion ($1.8 trillion) pension savings system. “The great Australian dream of home ownership is becoming a nightmare,’’ said Brendan Coates, a housing policy expert at the Grattan Institute. “It’s down to a collective failure of government policy that will take at least two decades to fix.” Voter angst over housing affordability is mounting: almost 90% of Australians fear future generations won’t be able to buy a home, according to an Australian National University survey.

Failure to address the issue is heaping pressure on a government already under fire for the botched rollout of a A$49 billion national high-speed internet network, and energy-policy bungling that’s sent power bills soaring and triggered fears of blackouts this summer. One of the biggest flashpoints are tax incentives that have turned housing into a speculative financial asset. First-home buyers complain they can’t compete against investors, who through a perk known as negative gearing can claim the costs of owning a property-for-rent – including mortgage interest – as a tax deduction against other income. The allure of property investment was turbocharged in 1999, when capital gains tax was halved. With housing prices seen as a one-way bet, investors piled in.

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People deserve to go to jail for what Australia has done to these people.

Australia -Again- Snubs New Zealand Offer To Take Refugees (AFP)

Australia Sunday snubbed New Zealand’s renewed offer to resettle 150 refugees held at remote Pacific camps, despite the closure of one detention centre in Papua New Guinea which has triggered a stand-off between detainees and the authorities. Canberra has been forced on the defensive by the move from Wellington’s new government, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying Australia would instead prioritise a similar deal with the US to resettle refugees in America, despite slow progress. The issue re-emerged when the conservative Australian prime minister met his centre-left New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern for the first time Sunday in Sydney. Pressure to resettle refugees increased after the Australian centre on PNG’s Manus Island was shut Tuesday after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

About 600 detainees are refusing to leave citing safety fears if they move to transition centres where locals are reportedly hostile. But conditions in the camp are deteriorating with limited food and water and electricity cut off, with the United Nations warning of a humanitarian emergency. Under its tough immigration policy, Canberra sends asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to two camps, in Manus and Nauru, and they are barred from resettling in Australia. Australia has struggled to move the refugees to third countries such as Cambodia or PNG. “The offer is very genuine and remains on the table,” Ardern told reporters after meeting Turnbull. But the Australian leader replied that while he appreciated the offer – first made by Wellington in 2013 – “we are not taking it up at this time”.

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