Jun 142017
 
 June 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Fred Lyon San Francisco cable car turnaround 1946

 

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)
Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)
UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)
Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)
Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)
Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)
Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)
Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)
OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)
China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)
Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)
Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)
Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)
State Of Emergency Declared On Lesvos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)
‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

 

 

A nation divided.

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)

Despite record high stock prices, 43-year lows in jobless claims, and near record-high optimism among small business owners, Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job President Trump has risen to a record 60% this week. As Gallup details, despite the president’s claim on Monday at a Cabinet meeting that “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions – in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” his administration has been roiled by controversies. Most recently, Trump ran into a buzz saw of criticism with his decision, announced June 1, to withdraw the U.S. from participation in the Paris climate accord.

He has also been under significant political scrutiny over the June 8 testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those events coincided with the lower averages seen in the past two weeks. But, given that his averages were almost as low in the weeks leading up to them, it is difficult to establish direct causality between specific events and the president’s ratings.

The highly polarized nature of Americans’ views of Trump (and Obama before him) have been well-documented, and that pattern continues: Trump’s 8% average approval rating among Democrats last week is right at his 9% average to date; His 83% approval among Republicans is three points lower than his average among that group; Among independents, his approval is 31%, five points lower than his average among that group; Notably the spread between Republican ‘confidence’ and Democrat ‘confidence’ (via Bloomberg) has not been this wide since before Barack Obama was elected…

Trump’s job approval ratings are the worst of his administration so far, and Trump continues to have the lowest ratings for a newly elected president in Gallup’s history of approval ratings. The previous low first-year approval rating in June for an elected president was Bill Clinton, with a 37% approval June 5-6, 1993. The approval ratings of all other presidents since 1953 in June (May in the case of Eisenhower) of their first year after being elected were above 50%.

Read more …

Another nation divided, but not along the same lines. Older people, especially pensioners, vote Conservative, and a much higher percentage of them actually vote.

Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)

Since last week’s election result YouGov has interview over 50,000 British adults to gather more information on how Britain voted. This is part of one of the biggest surveys ever undertaken into British voting behaviour, and is the largest yet that asks people how they actually cast their ballots in the 2017 election. The bigger sample size allows us to break the results down to a much more granular level and see how different groups and demographics voted on Thursday. In electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics. The starkest way to show this is to note that, amongst first time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead. Amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of fifty percentage points.

In fact, for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around nine points and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by nine points. The tipping point, that is the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour, is now 47 – up from 34 at the start of the campaign.

Despite an increase in in youth turnout, young people are still noticeably less likely to vote than older people. While 57% of 18 and 19 year-olds voted last week, for those aged 70+ the figure was 84%.

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Corbyn growth territory.

UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)

Low-income families are going without beds, cookers, meals, new clothes and other essential items as they struggle to cope with huge debts run up to pay domestic bills, according to a survey highlighting the cost-of-living crisis experienced by the UK’s poorest households. Clients of the debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) had run up an average of £4,500 in debts on rent or utility bills, forcing them on to what the charity described as a “relentless financial tightrope” juggling repayments and basic living costs, leaving many acutely stressed and in deteriorating health. The pressure of coping with low income and debt frequently triggered mental illness or exacerbated existing conditions, with more than a third of clients reporting that they had considered suicide and three-quarters visiting a GP for debt-related problems.

More than half were subsequently prescribed medication or therapy. “The crippling reality of living in poverty and debt is still unashamedly evident in every home we visit, and year on year we see financial difficulty taking a tighter grip,” said Matt Barlow, the UK chief executive of CAP. Experts said the survey highlighted the extreme hardship faced by the “new destitute” – people on low incomes who might in the past have been able to rely on a welfare safety net to help them through financial shocks but who now were forced to go into debt to survive, leaving them struggling to afford even the basics. Debt had a crushing effect on living standards, the CAP survey found, with one in 10 clients unable to afford to buy or repair a bed, washing machine, TV, sofa or fridge. Roughly the same proportion could afford to acquire furniture only on punitive rent-to-buy terms, for example paying £6 a week to acquire a bed and mattress over a set three-year period.

The impact on family life was severe, with a quarter of clients saying debt caused relationship breakdowns, and more than two-thirds saying they felt unable to cater for their children’s needs. A sixth said they could not afford to feed their children three meals a day. A third feared eviction. A tiny handful of clients – predominantly single mothers – reported that they had turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of Heriot Watt University, the co-author of groundbreaking research into destitution, told the Guardian: “The new destitute are citizens who would previously have managed to avoid absolute destitution with the help of the welfare safety net. But the level of working age benefits is now so low that people barely managing to get by can easily find themselves in a position where they can’t afford even the basic essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.”

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“If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today..”

Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said the establishment in Washington is trying to undermine President Donald Trump by running out the clock on his administration. “They’re really just trying to wait Trump out, trying to obstruct his agenda as much as possible,” Gundlach, one of the few money managers to predict Trump’s election, said during a webcast Tuesday. “Small change is what they’re looking for.” Gundlach, manager of the $53.9 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund, spoke during televised Senate testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the money manager called “a sideshow or entertainment.” He called the U.S. political conflict “rope-a-dope,” a strategy used by boxer Muhammad Ali to wear out opponents.

Among Gundlach’s other observations:
• There’s a low probability of a recession.
• The days of low volatility markets are probably numbered.
• Expect higher bond yields and lower stock prices this summer.
• Yields on 10-year Treasuries are likely to end 2017 roughly in the 2.7% to 2.8% range, from about 2.2% currently.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index closed at record highs Tuesday prior to Gundlach’s talk. Futures trading implies a 98% probability the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates by 0.25% when it meets Wednesday. “If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today,” Gundlach said. “If you’re an investor, I think you can sit through a seasonally weak period.” The Total Return fund was up 2.7% this year through June 12, beating 84% of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Yves Smith’s piece is too long and comprehensive to do justice here. Click the link.

Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)

After having promised banks to get rid of Dodd Frank, which was never a strong enough bill to have a significant impact on profits or industry structure, Trump didn’t even back the House version of the bill to crimp Dodd Frank. But you’d never know that from the cheerleading from bank lobbyists upon the release of a 147 page document by the Treasury yesterday, the first of a series describing the gimmies that the Administration seeks to lavish on banks. As we’ll touch on below, the document repeatedly asserts that limited bank lending post crisis to noble causes like small businesses was due to oppressive regulations. We wrote extensively at the time that small business surveys showed that small businesses then overwhelmingly weren’t interested in borrowing and hiring. Businessmen don’t expand operations because money is cheap, they expand because they see a commercial opportunity.

But the even bigger lie at the heart of this effort is the idea that the US will benefit from giving more breaks to its financial sector. As we’ve written, over the last few years, more and more economists have engaged in studies with different methodologies that come to the same conclusion: an oversized financial sector is bad for growth, and pretty much all advanced economies suffer from this condition. The IMF found that the optimal level of financial development was roughly that of Poland. The IMF said countries might get away with having a bigger banking sector and pay no growth cost if it was regulated well. Needless to say, with the banking sector already so heavily subsidized that it cannot properly be considered to be a private business, deregulating with an eye to increasing its profits is driving hard in the wrong direction.

[..] So if it wasn’t Dodd Frank, what was led the banks to focus so much on high FICO score borrowers? It was mortgage servicing reforms, which made it hard to foreclose due to stopping abuses, like dual tracking (continuing to foreclose even when supposedly considering a mortgage modification). To look at the bigger picture, it’s hard to take bank complaints about oppressive regulation seriously in light of this:

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But the domestic echo chamber makes that hard to do.

Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)

All of America’s allies and partners have been calling on Washington to improve its relations with Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged after the US Senate reached a bipartisan deal to boost sanctions against Moscow. “I have yet to have a bilateral, one-on-one, a poolside conversation with a single counterpart in any country: in Europe, Middle East, even South-East Asia, that has not said to me: please, address your relationship with Russia, it has to be improved,” Tillerson said on Tuesday during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations. Tillerson added that the countries urging the US to review its Russian policy “believe worsening this relationship will ultimately worsen theirsituation.” He added: “People have been imploring me to engage and try to improve the situation, so, that was our approach anyway.”

Earlier, Tillerson warned that the US Senate’s bipartisan deal on new set of restrictive measures against Moscow might further worsen relations with Russia and hinder existing efforts on joint US-Russia progress to fight terrorism in Syria. “There are efforts under way in Syria specifically, those are, I would say, progressing in a positive way,” America’s top diplomat said on Tuesday during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Despite the relationship between US and Russia being “at an all-time low,” according to Tillerson, the “objective is to stabilize that” rather than deteriorate it further. Washington is “engaged” and working with Moscow “in a couple of areas,” including on such issues of international importance as the Ukrainian and Syrian crises. “We have some channels that are open, where we are starting to talk, and I think what I wouldn’t want to do is close the channels off,” Tillerson told the Senate committee, warning that to establish “something new… will take time.”

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Yes, they are.

Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)

New teachers and state workers will no longer get a traditional pension in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill Monday, making it the ninth state to replace the pension with a “hybrid” retirement plan. It goes into effect in 2019. The new plan combines elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style account. Overall, new workers will contribute more of their salary, work longer, and likely receive a smaller payout in retirement than under the current system, according to a report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. But Pennsylvania’s pension system is currently one of the most underfunded in the country and is in need of reform. The bill had bipartisan support. “It’s a win for Pennsylvania taxpayers and fair to Pennsylvania’s workforce,” Wolf said at a press conference Monday.

The reform will build upon previous legislation to help fully fund the pension system and preserve a path to retirement for public workers, said Greg Mennis, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts. “Our research indicates that this would be one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive and impactful reforms any state has implemented,” he wrote in a letter urging state lawmakers to pass the bill. Over the past 10 years, Rhode Island, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia have created plans similar to Pennsylvania’s. They require workers to contribute some of their salary to a pension-like plan that guarantees a certain payout based on their salary. Workers also contribute to a 401(k)-style plan that they can take with them if they leave public service. The state will make contributions to both plans on their behalf.

In Pennsylvania, workers will be defaulted into a hybrid plan, but there will be two other versions they could opt into. Under the default, workers will have to contribute a total of 8.25% of their salary. (Teachers currently contribute 7.5% and other public workers pay 6.25%.) Most will have to work until 67, instead of 65, in order to get their full payout in retirement. A state employee who works for 35 years and earns a final salary of $60,000, currently receives an estimated $40,000 a year in retirement. Under the reformed system, that same worker would receive $34,1048, according to the Independent Fiscal Office report. [..] Like pension plans in other states, Pennsylvania’s was badly hurt by the Great Recession. It also took a hit because of retroactive benefit increases made before the market took a dive. The pension fund went from a nearly $20 billion surplus in 2000 to a $70 billion deficit in 2015.

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ZIRP machines have taken over.

Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)

Quantitative investing based on computer formulas and trading by machines directly are leaving the traditional stock picker in the dust and now dominating the equity markets, according to a new report from JPMorgan. “While fundamental narratives explaining the price action abound, the majority of equity investors today don’t buy or sell stocks based on stock specific fundamentals,” Marko Kolanovic, global head of quantitative and derivatives research at JPMorgan, said in a Tuesday note to clients. Kolanovic estimates “fundamental discretionary traders” account for only about 10% of trading volume in stocks. Passive and quantitative investing accounts for about 60%, more than double the share a decade ago, he said.

In fact, Kolanovic’s analysis attributes the sudden drop in big technology stocks between Friday and Monday to changing strategies by the quants, or the traders using computer algorithms. In the weeks heading into May 17, Kolanovic said funds bought bonds and bond proxies, sending low volatility stocks and large growth stocks higher. Value, high beta and smaller stocks began falling in a rotation labeled “an unwind of the ‘Trump reflation’ trade,” Kolanovic said. “Upward pressure on Low Vol and Growth, and downward pressure on Value and High Vol peaked in the first days of June (monthly rebalances), and then quickly snapped back, pulling down FANG stocks” — Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, the report said.

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Told you those output cuts wouldn’t go anywhere.

OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)

OPEC’s oil production jumped in May, despite the exporter group agreeing last month to extend its six-month deal to cap output into 2018. Production across OPEC rose by about 336,100 barrels per day to 32.1 million bpd, according to secondary sources, led by increases from Libya and Nigeria, which are exempt from the deal, and Iraq. Output from Libya surged by more than 178,000 bpd to 730,000 bpd as the country’s rival factions moved toward reconciliation, and supplies disrupted throughout years of conflict remained on line. In Nigeria, production was up more than 174,000 bpd to 1.68 million bpd as supplies sidelined by militant attacks on energy infrastructure last year came back into operation. With the gain, Nigeria reclaimed the title of largest African producer in OPEC from Angola, where output fell by 54,000 bpd, the biggest drop among the 13 members in May.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, contributed the third-biggest increase with a more than 44,000 bpd jump. Baghdad has yet to cut deeply enough to hit its quota of 4.35 million bpd under the output cut deal. In May, it produced 4.42 million bpd. Only four countries were producing at or below the levels they agreed to in November: Saudi Arabia, Angola, Kuwait, and Qatar. Last month, OPEC and other exporters extended an agreement to remove 1.8 million barrels a day from the market in order to shrink brimming global stockpiles of crude oil. In May, inventories in the OECD, a group of mostly wealthy countries, remained 251 million barrels above the five-year average.

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More ground for shadow banks to take over.

China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)

China’s leverage crackdown is forcing local companies to confront their addiction to short-term bond sales that they use to roll over debt. The shock therapy is worsening the outlook for corporate defaults in the second half of this year after borrowing costs jumped to a two-year high. With yields surging, Chinese non-banking firms sold 131 billion yuan ($19.3 billion) of bonds with a maturity of one year or less in May, the least since January 2014 and less than half of the same month last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. About 87% of the short note sales last month will be used for refinancing, according to Bloomberg data.

The habit of relying on borrowing short-term money to repay maturing debt has pushed up such liabilities to a total of 5.2 trillion yuan on China’s listed non-financial companies’ balance sheets as of March 31, the highest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With no sign of an end to the government’s campaign against leverage, the average coupon rate for bonds maturing in one year or less rose to 5.5% in June, deterring issuers from raising money to roll over debt. “Small issuance of short-term bonds will be a normal phenomenon in the coming six months because cash supply will probably remain tight,” said Ma Quansheng at Fullgoal Fund Management. “Both default risks and the number of corporate bond defaults may increase.”

The loose funding environment last year helped Chinese companies raise enough money to withstand repayment pressure so far in 2017. There have been 13 onshore defaults in the public bond market in 2017, compared with 16 in the same period of 2016. The yield on one-year AAA rated company bonds averaged 4.19% this year, up from 2.97% in 2016. HFT Investment Management said more note defaults may come as the economy doesn’t look good. In the second half of this year, Chinese non-banking firms must repay 2.36 trillion yuan of bonds. “The current rising borrowing costs may have a big impact on companies’ operations and finance,” said Lu Congfan at HFT Investment Management. “What can you do when you must refinance to repay maturing debt while facing such high borrowing costs? That would be a question challenging many local companies in the second half or next year.”

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Well, well… Let’s see it.

Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday he was confident that Greece and its international lenders will reach a compromise deal this week, a step that would unleash more loans for Athens. “We’ll manage it on Thursday. You’ll see,” Schaeuble said during a panel discussion in Berlin. Officials have said eurozone finance ministers and the IMF are likely to strike a compromise on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. IMF head Christine Lagarde suggested a plan last week under which the Fund would join the Greek bailout now, because Athens is delivering on agreed reforms, but would not disburse any IMF money until the euro zone clarifies what debt relief it can offer Greece.

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Greeks don’t believe you, Wolfie…

Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)

Alexis Tsipras has spent nearly two years telling Greeks that a debt deal and inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative-easing program will unleash an investment boom that salves the pain of austerity. The prime minister’s message hasn’t convinced Panagiotis Kouinis, a 60-year-old civil engineer in Corinth who says business has steadily dwindled through all of Greece’s eight-year crisis and has now ground almost to a halt. “What I know is they tell you pensions will be cut another 20%, wages down, and what is quantitative easing?” Kouinis said in an interview in his office near the city center. “Do we have to be economists so we can understand what they’re saying?” Across the country in places like Corinth, an industrial hub 80 kilometers west of Athens, Greeks have spent years treading water as news bulletins bombard them daily with reports of meetings and decisions in Brussels and Frankfurt that will determine their economic future.

In the meantime, as the ECB’s stimulus measures – including its asset-purchase program – buoy the rest of the euro-area economy, Greece’s output has been stagnant, leaving its people the most pessimistic in the region. Yet the ECB remains unlikely to include Greek bonds in its QE program in the foreseeable future, according to a person familiar with the matter. That’s because a meeting on Thursday of euro-area finance ministers, whose electorates are leery of debt relief, looks like delivering another fudge. There may be agreement to disburse more bailout loans but without easing repayment terms enough to satisfy the ECB and IMF. That would leave Tsipras high and dry.

[..] Despite some signs of an improvement in industrial output, Greece has been heavily reliant on consumers and a booming tourist sector to keep GDP – which shrank by a quarter in the early years of the crisis – from continuing its slide. While the economy hasn’t been in a recession since 2015, and grew 0.4% at the start of the year, it hasn’t strung together more than two quarters of consecutive expansion in more than a decade. Accountancy firm PWC said in March that infrastructure investment plunged during the crisis, leaving a backlog of planned and in-progress projects amounting to more than 21 billion euros. Near Corinth, that includes rail, waste management, road and marina developments. “With taxation what it is, not only will no-one come to invest here, but they’d need to be mad to,” said Kouinis, the civil engineer. “Growth needs to start from public works, because the private sector has been killed.”

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Foreigners buy apartments in Athens to rent out to other foreigners on Airbnb. So wrong in so many ways.

Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)

Property buyers from abroad are this year growing at the fastest pace in a decade, as booming Greek tourism has had a positive impact on the property market too. According to the latest data from the Bank of Greece, in the first quarter of the year the inflow of capital from abroad for real estate acquisitions increased by 61.7% on an annual basis. The March figures have signaled a further improvement, since in the first couple of months the yearly rise had come to 56.7%. If the existing growth rate is sustained throughout 2017, it is likely that by the end of the year more than 430 million euros will have been invested the Greek property market from other countries. The equivalent figure for the whole of 2016 had amounted to 270 million euros, up 45.3% on the 2015 inflow of 186 million euros.

The only time a similar growth rate had been recorded before was in the first quarter of 2007, when foreign investors spent 66.5% more money on property acquisitions than a year earlier. Real estate professionals say this uptick in foreign funds entering the local property market is particularly positive because it came during a period when transactions are usually sparse: Expressions of buying interest this year started in the winter months, not in the summer when demand typically peaks. This has bolstered optimism about an even better summer in terms of transactions, which may reach their high for the entire period since the outbreak of the financial crisis.

The major rise in inflows this year is due to the increase in demand for apartments in Athens, primarily in the city center and the southern suburbs. This mainly concerns flats eligible for short-term leasing through Internet platforms such as HomeAway, Airbnb and FlipKey. It also concerns luxury mansions that would fit the bill for the same type of online platforms as well as for the purpose of getting a Golden Visas (for buys of properties worth 250,000 euros or more by investors from outside the European Union). Besides those buyers aiming for the five-year residence permits, considerable buying interest is also coming from Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

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It’s a miracle there are not many more victims.

State Of Emergency Declared On Lesbos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)

Authorities in Greece have declared a state of emergency on the island of Lesvos after an earthquake left one woman dead and more than 800 people displaced. The 6.1 magnitude undersea quake on Monday occurred south of Lesvos but was felt as far as Istanbul, Turkey. Officials from the island’s regional government on Tuesday said homes in 12 villages in southern Lesvos had been seriously damaged or destroyed. The mostly elderly residents affected were being housed with relatives, in hotels or at an army-run shelter. The earthquake marked the second crisis to hit the island in the last two years, after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, including many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, crossed to Lesvos on boats from Turkey as they headed to Europe.

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Brussels should be forced to take in 100,000. In their new swanky buildings.

‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has asked the Italian Interior Ministry for stricter measures to be taken toward the influx of foreigners into the capital. A letter outlining the need for a “moratorium” on “the continued influx of foreign citizens” was sent by Raggi to Roman prefect Paola Basilone. “I find it impossible, as well as risky, to think up further accommodation structures,” she wrote in the letter, as quoted by La Repubblica on Tuesday. “This administration, given the high flows of unregistered migrants, hopes the assessments of new facilities take into account the evident migrant pressure on Roma Capitale [the City of Rome] and the possible devastating consequences in terms of social costs as well as for the protection of the beneficiaries themselves.”

In May, Raggi told RT that she was working to help accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in Rome, but also that she also has a responsibility to her constituents and other countries in the EU must do their part. “Let’s put it this way – Rome would be better off if European states didn’t build walls along their borders, but rather followed through on their obligations and respected the migrant quotas agreed upon by the EU,” she told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze. “According to the law, the city of Rome must accept migrants, as Mayor – I have to follow the law and do everything in my power to make sure that people are granted a safe place to stay here. But if other European countries decide to finally follow through on their obligations, we will welcome that decision.” “As mayor of Rome, I have to accommodate migrants, but I am also responsible for the security of my city and its residents. We cannot ignore either issue.”

Read more …

Jun 132017
 
 June 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Pablo Picasso Les femmes d’Alger Version 0 1955

 

The Average Stock Is Enormously, Tremendously Overvalued (Katsenelson)
72% Of US Businesses Are Not Profitable (Simon Black)
UBS Has Some Very Bad News For The Global Economy (ZH)
Fed To Raise Interest Rates, Give More Detail On Balance Sheet Winddown (R.)
EU Plans to Force Relocation of Euro Clearing After Brexit (BBG)
Norway Central Bank Explains How Money Is Created (Norges Bank)
Qatar Spends $8 Million To Airlift 4,000 Cows (BBG)
Things To Come (Jim Kunstler)
Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To ‘Failsafe’ Arctic Seed Vault (G.)
EU To Open Case Against Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic Over Refugees (R.)
ECB Unlikely to Include Greece in QE in Coming Months (BBG)
Greek Debt Deal ‘Not Far’ Says New French Finance Minister (AFP)
One Dead As 6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Greek Islands Lesbos, Chios (AFP)

 

 

No markets, no discovery, just smoke.

The Average Stock Is Enormously, Tremendously Overvalued (Katsenelson)

We are constantly looking for new stocks by running stock screens, endlessly reading (blogs, research, magazines, newspapers), looking at holdings of investors we respect, talking to our large network of professional investors, attending conferences, scouring through ideas published on value investor networks, and finally, looking with frustration at our large (and growing) watch list of companies we’d like to buy at a significant margin of safety. The median stock on our watch list has to decline by about 35–40% to be an attractive buy. But maybe we’re too subjective. Instead of just asking you to take our word for it, in this letter, we’ll show you a few charts that not only demonstrate our point, but also show the magnitude of the stock market’s overvaluation and, more importantly, put it into historical context.

Each chart examines stock market valuation from a slightly differently perspective, but each arrives at the same conclusion: the average stock is overvalued somewhere between tremendously and enormously. If you don’t know whether “enormously” is greater than “tremendously” or vice versa, don’t worry, we don’t know either. But this is our point exactly: When an asset class is significantly overvalued and continues to get overvalued, quantifying its overvaluation brings little value. Let’s demonstrate this point by looking at a few charts. The first chart shows price-to-earnings of the S&P 500 in relation to its historical average. The average stock today is trading at 73% above its historical average valuation. There are only two other times in history that stocks were more expensive than they are today: just before the Great Depression hit and in the 1999 run-up to the dot-com bubble burst.

We know how the history played in both cases—consequently stocks declined, a lot. Based on over a century of history, we are fairly sure that, this time too, stock valuations will at some point mean revert and stock markets will decline. After all, price-to-earnings behaves like a pendulum that swings around the mean, and today that pendulum has swung far above the mean. What we don’t know is how this journey will look in the interim. Before the inevitable decline, will price-to-earnings revisit the pre-Great Depression level of 95% above average, or will it maybe say hello to the pre-dot-com crash level of 164% above average? Or will another injection of QE steroids send stocks valuations to new, never-before-seen highs? Nobody knows. One chart is not enough. Let’s take a look at another one called the Buffett Indicator. Think of this chart as a price-to-sales ratio for the whole economy, that is, the market value of all equities divided by GDP. The higher the price-to-sales ratio, the more expensive stocks are.

Read more …

What does this say about where the S&P is?

72% Of US Businesses Are Not Profitable (Simon Black)

Total Household Wealth is exactly what it sounds like– the total net worth of every person in the United States, from Bill Gates down to the youngest newborn baby. So when you add up all the 330+ million folks in the Land of the Free and tally up their combined net worth, the total is $94 trillion. The thing is that the VAST majority of that wealth, especially the incredible growth over the last 8 years, has been from increases in just two asset classes: real estate and the stock market. In fact, stocks and real estate alone account for roughly 2/3 of the wealth increase since 2009. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Now, simultaneously, we see plenty of other interesting data, also published by the Federal Reserve and US federal government. Both the Fed and Census Bureau, for example, tell us that over 80% of businesses in the US are “nonemployer” companies, i.e. businesses which only employ one person (the owner), and often provide his/her primary source of income.

Yet according to the Federal Reserve, only 35% of these small businesses are profitable. Most are operating at a loss. In other words, only 35% of the companies which make up 80% of American businesses are profitable. You’re probably already doing the arithmetic– this means that a whopping 72% of all US businesses are NOT profitable. That hardly sounds like record wealth to me. Shifting gears, there’s the little factoid that an astounding 40% of young Americans are living with their parents– the highest%age in the last 75 years. And who can blame them considering student debt in the Land of the Free also hit a record $1.4 trillion three months ago, more than double the amount since the Great Recession. Speaking of record debt, US credit card debt passed a record $1 trillion, and total US consumer credit hit a record $3.8 trillion last month. Again, all of this hardly seems like ‘wealth’ to me.

Then there’s the issue of wages, which have remained essentially flat since the 2009 Great Recession if you adjust for inflation. According to the US Department of Labor, inflation-adjusted wages, aka “real hourly compensation” in the US fell an annualized 0.9% last quarter, and fell a dismal 5.6% in the previous quarter. Adjusted for inflation, the average American isn’t making any more money. Once again, this is a pitiful excuse for ‘wealth.’ American businesses aren’t more productive either. The same Labor Department report shows that productivity in the Land of the Free was flat in the first quarter of this year. And productivity actually declined in 2016– something that hasn’t happened in at least the last 50 years. Not to mention total economic growth in the Land of the Free has been pretty pitiful, logging a pathetic 1.6% last year. And GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was just 1.2% on an annualized basis. The US economy has exceed hasn’t surpassed 3% growth in more than 10-years.

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Oversaturated with debt.

UBS Has Some Very Bad News For The Global Economy (ZH)

[..] fast forwarding just over three months later, where are we now? To answer that question, overnight UBS released its much anticipated update on the current state of the global credit impulse, and it’s nothing short of a disaster. As Kapteyn writes in what may have been the most eagerly awaited report in recent UBS history, “we have been inundated with questions about the chart below, first published in March. Yes, the global credit impulse is still falling. And yes, it matters because the correlation of this global credit impulse with global domestic demand is 0.61.” But it’s what follows next that should send shivers down the spine of anyone still clutching to the failed “recovery” narrative:

From peak to trough the deceleration in global credit growth is now approaching that during the global financial crisis (-6% of global GDP), even if the dispersion of the decline is much narrower. Currently 55% of the countries in our sample have experienced a -0.3 standard deviation deterioration in their credit impulse (median over 12 months) compared to 77% of countries in Dec ’09 when the median decline was -1.4 stdev.” Here is what the stunning collapse in the credit impulse looks like as of today:

While we urge all readers to get in touch with their friendly UBS sales coverage for the full report, here is a quick primer from UBS on what the current data is telling us, not so much about China where the credit impulse slowdown was discussed previously, but about the world’s biggest economy. From UBS: The credit impulse in the US has also turned down, seemingly on the back of a sharp drop in demand for C&I loans. The slowdown is more visible in the bank loan data than the Flow of Funds data we are using to calculate the credit impulse (the FoF is 3x as broad and includes non-bank credit as well). But the slowdown is nonetheless at odds with confidence being expressed about investment and future borrowing plans.

The US credit impulse was running at 0.7% GDP back in September 2016 and by March had fallen to -0.53% GDP (recovering somewhat in April based on bank loan data). Why does this matter? Because as UBS shows in the chart below, in the US the correlation between activity and the impulse is very strong, and the lack of credit growth could constrain an acceleration in GDP from weak Q1 levels (the credit impulse suggests domestic demand growth should be close to 1% rather than the 2+% which consensus is currently tracking).

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Yawn.

Fed To Raise Interest Rates, Give More Detail On Balance Sheet Winddown (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise its benchmark interest rate this week due to a tightening labor market and may also provide more detail on its plans to shrink the mammoth bond portfolio it amassed to nurse the economic recovery. The central bank is scheduled to release its decision at 2 p.m EDT on Wednesday at the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference at 2:30 pm EDT. “The expectation of a rate hike…is widely held, and has been reinforced by the most recent round of Fed communications,” said Michael Feroli, an economist with J.P. Morgan. Economists polled by Reuters overwhelmingly see the Fed raising its benchmark rate to a target range of 1.00 to 1.25% this week.

The Fed embarked on its first tightening cycle in more than a decade in December 2015. A quarter%age point interest rate rise on Wednesday would be the second nudge upwards this year following a similar move in March. Since then, the unemployment rate has fallen to a 16-year low of 4.3% and economic growth appears to have reaccelerated following a lackluster first quarter. However, other indicators of the economy’s health have been more mixed. The Fed’s preferred measure of underlying inflation has retreated to 1.5% from 1.8% earlier in 2017 and investors are growing increasingly doubtful policymakers will be able to stick to their anticipated pace of tightening of three interest rate rises this year and next.

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There’s money in derivatives yet.

EU Plans to Force Relocation of Euro Clearing After Brexit (BBG)

Firms that clear euro-denominated derivatives may be forced to relocate to the European Union from London after Brexit under EU proposals to be rolled out on Tuesday, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Under the European Commission’s plans for overhauling supervision of clearinghouses that are based outside the bloc, firms deemed systemically important to the EU financial system could be required to accept direct oversight by the bloc’s authorities, the person said, asking not to be named because the proposals aren’t yet public. Firms could also be forced to move their euro clearing operations to a location inside the EU, the person said.

This so-called location requirement has spurred warnings from the industry of skyrocketing costs, and has helped to turn clearing into a political football as the EU and U.K. prepare for divorce negotiations. In a June 8 letter to Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial-services policy chief, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association said a survey of data from 11 banks showed that requiring euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives to be cleared by an EU-based clearinghouse would boost initial margin by as much as 20%. The proposals to be published on Tuesday are largely in line with initial plans floated last month by the commission, the EU’s executive arm.

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Central banks and shunned economists seem to be the only ones who understand this.

Norway Central Bank Explains How Money Is Created (Norges Bank)

Today, there are two forms of central bank money. One of the forms is common knowledge – banknotes and coins. The other, bank reserves at Norges Bank, is less well known. The sum total of banknotes and coins and bank reserves at Norges Bank is about NOK 85 billion.[5] But the total money supply is much larger than this. Customer deposits in banks are also money. These deposits, referred to as deposit money, total more than NOK 2 trillion in Norway. This money is created by banks, not by Norges Bank. Chart 1 shows the money supply and the supply of banknotes and coins in Norway since 1960. In Norway, the money supply mainly comprises deposit money in banks.[6] In the early 1960s, banknotes and coins accounted for a fifth of the money supply. Current accounts and cheques were already becoming commonplace.

Since then, banks’ deposit money has increased dramatically, and today, banknotes and coins make up less than 2.5% of the money supply. In other words, virtually all the money we use has been created by banks. So how do banks create money? The answer to that question comes as quite a surprise to most people. When you borrow from a bank, the bank credits your bank account. The deposit – the money – is created by the bank the moment it issues the loan. The bank does not transfer the money from someone else’s bank account or from a vault full of money. The money lent to you by the bank has been created by the bank itself – out of nothing: fiat – let it become. The money created by the bank does not disappear when it leaves your account. If you use it to make a payment, it is just transferred to the recipient’s account.

The money is only removed from circulation when someone uses their deposits to repay a bank, as when we make a loan repayment.[7] The money supply is therefore only reduced when banks’ claims on the rest of the economy decrease. Banks also fund lending by raising loans themselves instead of creating money in the form of deposits. In order to reduce risk, banks also use other forms of investment in addition to lending.[8] Nevertheless, the money supply is growing at almost at the same pace as total bank credit. To sum up: banks create money out of nothing and withdraw it when loans are repaid. Growth in total bank credit is normally matched by growth in the money supply.[9] This does not sound encouraging. Is money an illusion? Why is today’s privately issued deposit money often perceived to be as safe as money issued by the central bank?

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Flying pigs would have been even nicer.

Qatar Spends $8 Million To Airlift 4,000 Cows (BBG)

Call it the biggest bovine airlift in history. The showdown between Qatar and its neighbors has disrupted trade, split families and threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances. It’s also prompted one Qatari businessman to fly 4,000 cows to the Gulf desert in an act of resistance and opportunity to fill the void left by a collapse in the supply of fresh milk. It will take as many as 60 flights for Qatar Airways to deliver the 590-kilogram beasts that Moutaz Al Khayyat, chairman of Power International Holding, bought in Australia and the U.S. “This is the time to work for Qatar,” he said. Led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar stands accused of supporting Islamic militants, charges the sheikhdom has repeatedly denied.

The isolation that started on June 5 has forced the world’s richest country by capita to open new trade routes to import food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. The central bank said domestic and international transactions were running normally. Turkish dairy goods have been flown in, and Iranian fruit and vegetables are on the way. There’s also a campaign to buy home-grown produce. Signs with colors of the Qatari flag have been placed next to dairy products in stores. One sign dangling from the ceiling said: “Together for the support of local products.” “It’s a message of defiance, that we don’t need others,” said Umm Issa, 40, a government employee perusing the shelves of a supermarket before taking a carton of Turkish milk to try. “Our government has made sure we have no shortages and we are grateful for that. We have no fear. No one will die of hunger.”

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“..they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs. And then, a champion presented himself..”

Things To Come (Jim Kunstler)

As our politicos creep deeper into a legalistic wilderness hunting for phantoms of Russian collusion, nobody pays attention to the most dangerous force in American life: the unraveling financialization of the economy. Financialization is what happens when the people-in-charge “create” colossal sums of “money” out of nothing — by issuing loans, a.k.a. debt — and then cream off stupendous profits from the asset bubbles, interest rate arbitrages, and other opportunities for swindling that the artificial wealth presents. It was a kind of magic trick that produced monuments of concentrated personal wealth for a few and left the rest of the population drowning in obligations from a stolen future. The future is now upon us. Financialization expressed itself in other interesting ways, for instance the amazing renovation of New York City (Brooklyn especially).

It didn’t happen just because Generation X was repulsed by the boring suburbs it grew up in and longed for a life of artisanal cocktails. It happened because financialization concentrated immense wealth geographically in the very few places where its activities took place — not just New York but San Francisco, Washington, and Boston — and could support luxuries like craft food and brews. Quite a bit of that wealth was extracted from asset-stripping the rest of America where financialization was absent, kind of a national distress sale of the fly-over places and the people in them. That dynamic, of course, produced the phenomenon of President Donald Trump, the distilled essence of all the economic distress “out there” and the rage it entailed.

The people of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin were left holding a big bag of nothing and they certainly noticed what had been done to them, though they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs. And then, a champion presented himself, and promised to bring back the dimly remembered wonder years of post-war well-being — even though the world had changed utterly — and the poor suckers fell for it. Not to mention the fact that his opponent — the avaricious Hillary, with her hundreds of millions in ill-gotten wealth — was a very avatar of the financialization that had turned their lives to shit. And then the woman called them “a basket of deplorables” for noticing what had happened to them.

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The permafrost is not all that perma.

Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To ‘Failsafe’ Arctic Seed Vault (G.)

The Global Seed Vault, built in the Arctic as an impregnable deep freeze for the world’s most precious food seeds, is to undergo a multi-million dollar upgrade after water from melting permafrost flooded its access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the incident undermined the original belief that the vault would be a “failsafe” facility, securing the world’s food supply forever. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, has committed $4.4m (NOK37m) to improvements. The vault is buried 130m inside a mountain in the Svalbard archipelago and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. The vault was opened in 2008, sunk deep into the permafrost, and was expected to provide protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters” and “to stand the test of time”.

But the vault’s planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year. “The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned,” said a government statement. “A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard.” One option could be to replace the access tunnel, which slopes down towards the vault’s main door, carrying water towards the seeds. A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault.

A former Svalbard coal miner, Arne Kristoffersen, told the Guardian most coal mines on the islands had upward sloping entrance tunnels: “For me it is obvious to build an entrance tunnel upwards, so the water can run out. I am really surprised they made such a stupid construction.” Hege Njaa Aschim, the Norwegian government’s spokeswoman for the vault, said: “The construction was planned like that because it was practical as a way to go inside and it should not be a problem because of the permafrost keeping it safe. But we see now, when the permafrost is not established, maybe we should do something else with the tunnel, so that is why we have this project now.”

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Hollow threats.

EU To Open Case Against Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic Over Refugees (R.)

The European Union’s executive will decide on Tuesday to open legal cases against three eastern members for failing to take in asylum-seekers to relieve states on the front lines of the bloc’s migration crisis, sources said. The European Commission would agree at a regular meeting to send so-called letters of formal notice to Poland and Hungary, three diplomats and EU officials told Reuters. Two others said the Czech Republic was also on the list. This would mark a sharp escalation of the internal EU disputes over migration. Such letters are the first step in the so-called infringement procedures the Commission can open against EU states for failing to meet their legal obligations. The eastern allies Poland and Hungary have vowed not to budge. Their staunch opposition to accepting asylum-seekers, and criticism of Brussels for trying to enforce the scheme, are popular among their nationalist-minded, eurosceptic voters.

Speaking in Hungary’s parliament earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said: “We will not give in to blackmail from Brussels and we reject the mandatory relocation quota.” A spokeswoman in Brussels did not confirm or deny the executive would go ahead with the legal cases, but referred to an interview that Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker gave to the German weekly Der Spiegel last week. “Those that do not take part have to assume that they will be faced with infringement procedures,” he was quoted as saying. Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single person under a plan agreed in 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, which had been overwhelmed by mass influx of people from the Middle East and Africa. Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was quoted as saying on Monday by the state news agency PAP: “We believe that the relocation methods attract more waves of immigration to Europe, they are ineffective.”

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Not going to happen, it would solve many of Greece’s problems, and Germany is not done with it yet.

ECB Unlikely to Include Greece in QE in Coming Months (BBG)

The ECB is unlikely to include Greek bonds in its asset-purchase program for the foreseeable future, a person familiar with the matter said, as European creditors aren’t prepared to offer substantially easier repayment terms on bailout loans to improve the nation’s debt outlook. Euro-area finance ministers will meet in Luxembourg on June 15 to discuss debt-relief measures that the ECB has said are needed before it will consider purchasing Greek bonds. The so-called Eurogroup is expected to complete a review of Athens’s rescue program that would allow for the disbursement of at least €7.4 billion in aid needed for a similar amount of bond repayments in July. An agreement among the ministers will likely allow the IMF – whose participation in the rescue program is a requirement for many nations – to commit in principle to a conditional loan, said the person.

But the extent and wording of debt-relief commitments probably won’t convince the Governing Council of the ECB to buy Greek bonds. And while the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is relying on quantitative easing to aid Greece’s return to the public debt market, the ECB won’t factor fiscal consequences into its policy-making decisions and excessive emphasis on QE inclusion would be misguided, according to the person. [..] The ECB’s quantitative easing is scheduled to continue until December 2017, with economists saying purchases will be gradually tapered throughout 2018. This would leave little time for purchases of Greek bonds before the program’s end.

Meanwhile, France, which is trying to bridge differences on the debt issue, has proposed automatically reducing loan repayments when Greece misses growth targets, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. European officials see the proposal as a step in the right direction but doubt it will be enough to convince the ECB to include Greece in its bond purchase program if the IMF maintains its position that the country’s debt is unsustainable. Other euro-area member states so far have opposed France’s proposal, the people said.

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Is Macron going to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble? I’m not convinced.

Greek Debt Deal ‘Not Far’ Says New French Finance Minister (AFP)

A deal on debt relief for Greece is “not far,” France’s new finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday ahead of crunch eurozone talks on the issue on Thursday. “I am optimistic that we will have a good solution. We are not far from agreement,” Le Maire said ahead of a meeting with Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. “We are really doing our best to find an agreement,” he had said earlier after seeing his Greek counterpart Euclid Tsakalotos. “It’s difficult. It’s complicated,” he said. At the June 15 meeting, Le Maire said he planned to propose a “mechanism” of “flexibility” to lessen Greek debt repayment based on its economic growth. “It’s a mechanism which should allow us to revise certain (debt) parameters based on Greek growth,” he told reporters.

The issue of debt relief for Greece has sharply divided its international creditors, the EU and the IMF, for months in the latest round of talks. The impasse has held up a tranche of bailout cash which Greece needs to repay loans in July, and Athens says its fragile recovery has also been impaired. Tsipras has said he will ask EU leaders to resolve the issue at the end of June if no solution is forthcoming on Thursday. “Piling drama on the problem helps no one,” he said on Monday. The Europeans expect Greece’s economy to grow strongly and its government to bring in large surpluses in revenue in the coming years, allowing it to pay down its debts. But the IMF is less optimistic, arguing there must be further relief for Athens before it can label its debt sustainable and justify loaning Greece any more cash.

New French President Emmanuel Macron last month called Tsipras after his election, saying he was in favour of “finding a deal soon to alleviate the weight of Greece’s debt over time.” Macron’s position puts him at odds with Germany where Greek debt relief – following three different bailouts with public money for the country since 2010 – is seen as a vote loser ahead of general elections in September. Macron explained his thinking about Greece in an interview to the Mediapart website two days before his election. “I am in principle in favour of a concerted restructuring of Greek debt and in keeping Greece in the eurozone. Why? Because the current system is unsustainable,” he said.

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Wonder what the older, religious people on Lesbos must be thinking by now. It once was a quiet place.

One Dead As 6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Greek Islands Lesbos, Chios (AFP)

A woman died and 10 people were hurt on Monday when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios and the Aegean coast of western Turkey, officials said. The middle-aged victim had been trapped for around seven hours in the ruins of her home in the Lesbos village of Vrisa, the area that bore the brunt of the strong quake and where several homes collapsed. “Our fellow citizen who was trapped in the house that collapsed in Vrisa was pulled out dead,” Lesbos mayor Spyros Galinos said in a tweet. The earthquake also struck the Aegean coast of western Turkey after 1200 GMT.

Video footage shot by a Vrisa resident on a cellphone showed masonry from several single and two-level homes clogging the streets. “It’s a difficult situation, we are facing a disaster,” Christiana Kalogirou, governor of the north Aegean region, told Greek state TV station ERT, adding: “Some 10 people are injured.” “The army is bringing in tents so people can spend the night,” she said, adding that the south of Lesbos had taken the brunt of the quake. The tremor, felt as far as Athens and Izmir in Turkey, damaged at least three churches and shops in south Lesbos, local owners said, while rock slides blocked some roads.

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Jan 292017
 
 January 29, 2017  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Michael Andrews A Shadow 1974

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)
Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)
Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)
Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)
Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)
UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)
Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)
Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)
Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)
How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)
This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)
Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)
Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

 

 

Strong from Fisk: “It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA.”

But do note: none of these things have occurred under Trump. So where were you when Obama became the Drone King? When Hillary said We Came We Saw He Died? Do you feel those things are less important or less cruel than what happened yesterday in US airports? Now is the time to speak.

Donald Trump’s Cruel Ban On Refugees Sets A Chilling Precedent (Robert Fisk)

So Donald Trump is going to f**k them all. No excuses for such filthy words today. I’m only quoting the man whose Pentagon offices he just used to disgrace himself – and America. For it was Secretary of Defence James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis who told Iraqis in 2003 that he came “in peace’ – he even urged his Marines to be compassionate – but said of those who might dare to resist America’s illegal invasion of their country: “If you f**k with me, I’ll kill you all.” There’s no getting round it. Call it Nazi, Fascist, racist, vicious, illiberal, immoral, cruel. More dangerously, what Trump has done is a wicked precedent. If you can stop them coming, you can chuck them out. If you can demand “extreme vetting” of Muslims from seven countries, you can also demand a “values test” for those Muslims who have already made it to the USA.

Those on visas. Those with residency only. Those – if they are American citizens – with dual citizenship. Or full US citizens of Muslim origin. Or just Americans who are Muslims. Or Hispanics. Or Jews? Refugees one day. Citizens the next. Then refugees again. No, of course, Trump would never visit such obscene tests on Jewish immigrants – for they would be obscene, would they not? – and nor will he stop Christians from Muslim countries. America has always condemned sectarian states, but now Trump declares that he approves of sectarianism. Minorities will be welcome – the Alawites of Syria, to whom Bashar al-Assad belongs, will presumably not count, and I guess we can expect all US embassies to have three queues for visa applicants. One for Muslims, one for Christians, and a third marked ‘Other’. That’s where most of us will be standing in line. And by doing so, we will automatically give approval to this iniquitous system – and to Trump.

There’s no point in wasting time over the obvious: that America has bombed, directly or indirectly, five of the seven nations on Trump’s banned list. Sudan just escapes, but the US blew a packed Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky in 1988 and has raised no objections to Israel’s bombing of Iranian personnel in Syria. So that makes six. There’s nothing to be gained by reiterating that the four countries whose citizens participated in the international crimes against humanity of 9/11 – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Lebanon – do not feature on the list. For the Saudis must be loved, cosseted, fawned over, approved, even when they chop off heads and when their citizens funnel cash to the murderers of Isis. Egypt is ruled by Trump’s “fantastic guy” anti-‘terrorist’ president al-Sisi. The glisteningly wealthy Emirates won’t be touched. Nor will Lebanon, although its tens of thousands of dual-national Syrians may have a tough time in the future.

But no, this vile piece of legislation is not aimed at nations. It’s targeting refugees, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The Muslim ones, that is, not the Christians. How can they ever withstand a “values test”? And what are America’s “values” anyway? It’s OK to attack sovereign states. It’s OK to use pilotless planes to assault men and women in other countries. It’s OK if your allies steal land from others for their own people, if you support Arab dictatorships that emasculate and execute and rape their prisoners, as long as they are “allies” of the USA. It’s OK to fast-track Saudi visas – as the Brits have been doing for years – even if they are members of the most inspirational Wahhabi cult in the world: membership includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, you name it.

There’s even no value in touting our own participation in this charade. Having just patted the killer governments of the Gulf on the head – and heading off to do the same to Turkey’s autocrat-in-chief – our poodlet prime minister, fresh out of Washington, hasn’t uttered a word about Trump’s wickedness. Wasn’t it Britain – and America, for heaven’s sake – that was weeping copious tears, buckets of the stuff, for the 250,000 (or 90,000) Muslim refugees of eastern Aleppo a couple of months ago? And now, so much do we care for them, that they are being well and truly f****d.

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More of this please.

Judges Block Parts of Trump’s Order on Muslim Nation Immigration (BBG)

Two judges temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing parts of his order to halt immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the U.S. A nationwide ruling in Brooklyn, New York, barring refugees and visa holders already legally in the U.S. from being turned back came hours after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to halt the Jan 27 order. A separate order in Alexandria, Virginia, forbid the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the U.S. who were being detained at Dulles International Airport.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings. White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday night. There were wrenching scenes – and angry protests – at major airports across the country before the court orders were issued. At Los Angeles International Airport, a lawyer reported that an 80-year-old insulin-dependent visitor was being held by officials and had no contact with her worried family. Shane Moss, a 38-year-old from Missouri, was returning from Thailand with his girlfriend, a dietician and joint Canadian-Iranian citizen with a valid work visa, when they were forced to separate. Hours later, he had not heard from her. “They won’t tell me anything,” Moss said. “I’m worn out. I’ve been up for 20-something hours and we’ve still got to get home to Kansas City.”

[..] The executive order, issued on Friday, bars citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S. for the next three months in an effort to stop terrorists and gain hold of the immigration system. White House officials told reporters, before the court orders were issued, that green card holders from those countries who found themselves abroad and trying to come back would be evaluated case by case. Last year there were nearly 32,000 immigrant visas issued in the U.S. to the seven affected countries. The order also halts refugee resettlement to the U.S. for 120 days, and orders that refugee admissions for 2017 be cut to 50,000 from the planned limit of 110,000.

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This is from what I would call a decidedly right wing lawyer (though he also says he’s ‘pro-refugees’). “I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11.” But who says: “It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.”

Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence (Wittes)

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

[..] I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.

So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction. How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.”

I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people. Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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It started at least a week ago.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, And Resistance (IC)

Following an executive order signed late Friday, President Donald Trump on Saturday launched a sweeping attack on the travel rights of individuals from more than a half dozen Muslim majority countries, turning away travelers at multiple U.S. airports and leaving others stranded without answers — and without hope — across the world. Trump’s order triggered waves of outrage and condemnation at home and abroad, prompting thousands of protesters to flood several American airports and ultimately culminating in a stay issued by a federal district judge in New York City on the deportation of people who were being detained by immigration officials. Similar stays were issued by judges in Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

The administration’s assault on civil liberties explicitly targeted the world’s most vulnerable populations – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing devastating wars – as well as young people with student visas pursuing an education in the United States, green card holders with deep roots in the country, and a number of citizens of countries not included in the ban. It also impacted American children traveling with, or waiting to meet, their non-citizen parents. With an estimated 500,000 people in the crosshairs, Trump’s order was carried out swiftly and sowed confusion among the nation’s immigration and homeland security agencies – which were excluded from the drafting process and were scrambling to understand how to implement it, according to media reports and two government officials who spoke to The Intercept.

Days before the executive order was signed, reports began to emerge that valid visa holders were suddenly being prevented from reentering the country after taking trips abroad. A senior U.S. immigration official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, confirmed to The Intercept that the rash of unusual student visa revocations began roughly a week before the official order was signed. Many of the stories the official heard about were anecdotal. Others, however, the official was able to review via internal Department of Homeland Security monitoring systems. While visas are revoked every day with little explanation afforded to those affected, the backgrounds of the individuals in these cases raised no red flags, the official said.

On the contrary, the impacted individuals whose files the official reviewed included a young mother of a U.S. citizen child, and students at some of the nation’s top universities publicly recognized for their outstanding achievement. These students had already undergone rigorous U.S. government vetting before being admitted to the country, and had only traveled abroad briefly over their winter break. The Intercept has independently verified two of these stories by speaking to those denied entry, who asked that their names not be used because they are attempting to appeal the decisions.

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Interesting notion: “elite overproduction”.

Science Can Decode the Laws of History and Predict US Political Violence (PT)

Consider the “structural-demographic theory” that was first proposed by the sociologist Jack Goldstone and subsequently developed and tested with data by others, including myself. The theory explains major outbreaks of political violence, such as the French Revolution or American Civil War, by focusing on several interrelated processes. One is the falling or stagnating living standards of the general population. But contrary to the widely held view, popular discontent by itself is not a sufficient cause of a civil war or a revolution. A more important factor is what has been called “elite overproduction” – that is, the appearance of too many elite candidates vying for a limited supply of power positions within the government and the economy. As written about in my book War and Peace and War, elite overproduction results in intense intra-elite competition, polarisation, and conflict that ultimately takes violent forms.

[..] The structural-demographic theory has been tested by several investigators on many historical societies. The theory predicts very long-term cycles in which periods when societies are internally at peace are succeeded by waves of unrest. Both of these “integrative” and “disintegrative” phases are about a century long. The theory focuses entirely on the dynamics of political instability within states as external wars have a logic of their own (in fact, it is typically societies which are in their integrative phases that prosecute successful wars of external conquest). Our empirical investigations of a variety of historical societies confirm that they go through structural-demographic cycles. But on top of the long cycles are often superimposed shorter oscillations with periods of roughly 50 years.

It appears that people eventually tire of incessant fighting, so during the disintegrative phases human generations experiencing a lot of fighting tend to alternate with relatively peaceful ones. Recently the Journal of Peace Research published my article in which I tested the predictions of the theory on American data. Constructing and analysing a database on US political violence (between 1780 and 2010), I found that the dynamics of violent incidences were just as predicted by the theory: a long structural-demographic cycle with a 50-year cycle superimposed on it:

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This is really the worst news of all. Money, and the military-industrial complex, still rule supreme. Nothing at all will improve until we root it out.

UK Agrees £100m Fighter Jet Deal With Turkey Despite Human Rights Abuse (Ind.)

The UK has signed a £100m deal to design new fighter jets for Turkey, despite the country’s President undertaking a severe crackdown on his regime’s opponents. Theresa May said it could open the way to billions of pounds worth of business, as she became the first foreign leader to visit Turkey since Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a wave of arrests and sackings in the wake of last summer’s coup. Questioned over human rights concerns, Downing Street officials said the deal to design the TF-X jets was sealed in light of Turkey’s status as a Nato ally and claimed Ms May could approach human rights as a “separate” issue. The PM did warn the President it was “important” for him to uphold human rights, as the stony faced Turkish leader looked on.

The UK is already mired in controversy regarding some £3bn worth of licences granted to export arms to Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom embarked on a deadly bombing campaign in Yemen. The announcement in Ankara yesterday means BAE Systems and Turkish Aerospace Industries have signed a “heads of agreement”, establishing a partnership for the development of the Turkish Fighter Programme or TF-X. Downing Street sources said the £100m contract has the potential to facilitate multibillion pound contracts between the UK and Turkish firms over the project’s 20-year lifetime. Ms May added: “It marks the start of a new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey and will potentially secure British and Turkish jobs and prosperity for decades to come.”

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How will Justin avoid a major battle with Washington? Build a wall?

Canada’s Justin Trudeau Takes A Stand On US Refugee Ban (BBC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a stand on social media against the temporary US ban on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries Mr Trudeau underscored his government’s commitment to bringing in “those fleeing persecution, terror & war”. The US Department of Homeland Security said the entry ban would also apply to dual nationals of the seven countries. However, Mr Trudeau’s office says Canadian dual nationals are exempt. “We have been assured that Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process,” a spokeswoman for Mr Trudeau said in an emailed statement.

US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn “confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban,” the statement said. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is a dual national who arrived as a Somali refugee. Within hours, Mr Trudeau’s tweets had been shared more than 150,000 times. “Welcome to Canada” also became a trending term in the country. Mr Trudeau, who gained global attention for granting entry to nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the past 13 months, also sent a pointed tweet that showed him greeting a young refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

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Growth, centralization and decline. I’ve made the connection many times.

Centralization and the Decline of Europe (IL)

The famous French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand supposedly said that a weakness of the Bourbon monarchs was that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. If so, the genetic descendants of the Bourbons are now in charge of Europe. But before explaining why, let’s first establish that Europe is in trouble [..] because of statism and demographic change. What’s far more noteworthy, though, is that even the Europeans are waking up to the fact that the continent faces a very grim future. For instance, the bureaucrats in Brussels are pessimistic, as reported by the EU Observer. “…the report warns of a longer term risk for the EU economy. “As expectations of low growth ahead affect investment today, there is potential for a vicious circle,” the commission’s director general for economic and financial affairs writes in the report’s foreword. “In short, the projected pace of GDP growth may not be sufficient to prevent the cyclical impact of the crisis from becoming permanent (hysteresis), ” Marco Buti writes.”

The people of Europe share that grim assessment. Pew has some very sobering data on angst across the continent. Support for European economic integration – the 1957 raison d’etre for creating the European Economic Community, the EU’s predecessor – is down over last year in five of the eight EU countries surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Positive views of the European Union are at or near their low point in most EU nations, even among the young, the hope for the EU’s future. The favorability of the EU has fallen from a median of 60% in 2012 to 45% in 2013.

Establishment-oriented voices in the United States also agree that the outlook is rather dismal. Writing in the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby offers a grim assessment of Europe’s future. “…since 2008…, the 28 countries in the European Union managed combined growth of just 4%. And in the subset consisting of the eurozone minus Germany, output actually fell. …most of the Mediterranean periphery has suffered a lost decade. …The unemployment rate in the euro area stands at 9.8%, more than double the U.S. rate. Unemployment among Europe’s youth is even more appalling: In Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, more than 1 in 4 workers under 25 are jobless.” The bottom line is that there’s widespread consensus that Europe is a mess and that things will probably get worse unless there are big changes.

But the key question, as always, is whether the changes are positive or negative. And this is why I started with a reference to the Bourbon kings. European leaders today also are infamous for learning nothing and forgetting nothing. [..] As Nassim Nicholas Taleb has sagely observed, it is centralization and harmonization that creates systemic risk. And all this talk about “common resources” and “public risk sharing” is simply the governmental version of co-signing a loan for the deadbeat family alcoholic. Yet Europe’s ideologues can’t resist their lemming-like march in the wrong direction. What makes this especially odd is that there is so much evidence that Europe originally became rich for the opposite reason.

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Elections in (7?) weeks and everyone turns right. Pragmatism, politicians call it.

Muslims Make A Pitch For Populist Vote As Dutch Politics Turns Sharp Right (G.)

Nourdin el Ouali has grown used to far-right attacks on Dutch Muslims, and to dog-whistle politics. But when the country’s prime minister wrote an open letter last week, in effect demanding that minorities integrate or “go away”, he was still shocked. Mark Rutte’s letter comes less than two months before a national election, and after months of watching populist Geert Wilders rising into the top position in national polls. If the election were held tomorrow his far-right party would probably be the largest in parliament. The letter did not directly mention Muslims, and began instead by attacking people who drop litter or spit on buses. However, in his warning of “something wrong” in Dutch society, the message was clear.

Rutte’s naked bid to woo far-right voters for the 15 March election prompted scathing criticism across mainstream society, and worry among Dutch Muslims, who have already endured a sharp rise in hate crime and say they face regular discrimination in daily life. “It concerns me a lot, because it’s the prime minister who wrote the letter,” says Ouali, a Rotterdam native, founder and city councillor for the progressive Nida party. “You would expect a different role from someone in this position, to rise above it all, bring people together – not writing this kind of letter where he really in a sneaky way talks about Dutch identity, implying there are groups [of Dutch citizens] that are a threat to the Dutch way of life.”

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“..those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

How Great the Fall Can Be (Greer)

What kinds of meltdowns are we going to get when internet service or modern health care get priced out of reach, or become unavailable at any price? How are they going to cope if the accelerating crisis of legitimacy in this country causes the federal government to implode, the way the government of the Soviet Union did, and suddenly they’re living under cobbled-together regional governments that don’t have the money to pay for basic services? What sort of reaction are we going to see if the US blunders into a sustained domestic insurgency—suicide bombs going off in public places, firefights between insurgent forces and government troops, death squads from both sides rounding up potential opponents and leaving them in unmarked mass graves—or, heaven help us, all-out civil war?

This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like. It’s not about sitting in a cozy earth-sheltered home under a roof loaded with solar panels, living some close approximation of a modern industrial lifestyle, while the rest of the world slides meekly down the chute toward history’s compost bin, leaving you and yours untouched. It’s about political chaos—meaning that you won’t get the leaders you want, and you may not be able to count on the rule of law or even the most basic civil liberties. It’s about economic implosion—meaning that your salary will probably go away, your savings almost certainly won’t keep its value, and if you have gold bars hidden in your home, you’d better hope to Hannah that nobody ever finds out, or it’ll be a race between the local government and the local bandits to see which one gets to tie your family up and torture them to death, starting with the children, until somebody breaks and tells them where your stash is located.

It’s about environmental chaos—meaning that you and the people you care about may have many hungry days ahead as crazy weather messes with the harvests, and it’s by no means certain you won’t die early from some tropical microbe that’s been jarred loose from its native habitat to find a new and tasty home in you. It’s about rapid demographic contraction—meaning that you get to have the experience a lot of people in the Rust Belt have already, of walking past one abandoned house after another and remembering the people who used to live there, until they didn’t any more. More than anything else, it’s about loss. Things that you value—things you think of as important, meaningful, even necessary—are going to go away forever in the years immediately ahead of us, and there will be nothing you can do about it.

It really is as simple as that. People who live in an age of decline and fall can’t afford to cultivate a sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, [..] the notion that the universe is somehow obliged to give people what they think they deserve is very deeply engrained in American popular culture these days. That’s a very unwise notion to believe right now, and as we slide further down the slope, it could very readily become fatal—and no, by the way, I don’t mean that last adjective in a metaphorical sense. History recalls how great the fall can be, Roger Hodgson sang. In our case, it’s shaping up to be one for the record books—and those of my readers who have worked themselves up to the screaming point about the comparatively mild events we’ve seen so far may want to save some of their breath for the times ahead when it’s going to get much, much worse.

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Greece can not save itself by agreeing to more cuts; it can only doom itself.

This Could Be Greece’s Last Chance To Save Itself (CNBC)

Despite decisive action proposed by the IMF to ease Greece’s financial burden, more turbulence lies ahead for the debt-ridden European nation, reveals the latest IMF report, which was delivered to the Fund’s board members for consultation. CNBC has received the report through a close source to the IMF. According to IMF deputy spokesman William Murray, the report will be discussed at the IMF’s board meeting on Feb.6. Among the reforms they are pressing are further cuts to pension programs and an increase in income taxes. Without a substantial pace of reforms, Greece will be unable to narrow the gap in its real per-capita income relative to the euro zone and remain prosperous and competitive. This has prompted the euro zone’s finance ministers to demand that Greece proceed with these necessary reforms until Feb. 20 or risk the IMF dissolving support of the Greek financial program.

In the latest report, the IMF claims the Greek banks have a weak capital structure and are exposed to the risk of nonperforming loans. The Greek banks’ current strategies require a reduction in the aggregate nonperforming loans ratio to 48, 42 and 34% by 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively, but these backloaded NPL reductions “do not appear consistent with the Greek authorities’ ambitious investment and growth assumptions.” Among the measures included in the IMF report is the push to rebalance the policy mix toward growth-friendly and equitable policies and to lower the threshold of tax-free income. “Greece’s revenue yields lag behind peers as high marginal tax rates applied on narrow bases encourage tax evasion, discourage labour participation in the formal economy and provide incentives for firms to relocate to low tax neighbouring countries,” the IMF report said.

In addition, the IMF supports a further reduction to Greece’s pensions, which in recent years have fallen by 40%. The report stresses that “while recent pension reforms have helped address expected long-run pressures from population aging, pensions for current retirees remain unaffordably high.” At this point, the IMF is very critical, claiming that “the Greek authorities did not see a need to reduce pension spending or the income tax credit.” The IMF is hardening its stance not only against Greece but also across the euro zone countries seeking greater debt relief for Greece. Yet even with with full implementation of policies agreed to under the ESM program, a debt sustainability analysis included in the report reveals that Greece’s public debt is “highly unsustainable.” It further emphasizes that Greece’s public debt and financing needs will become “explosive” in the long run if Greece is unable to replace highly subsided official sector financing with market financing at rates consistent with sustainability.

The IMF projects Greek debt will reach 170% of GDP by 2020 and 164% of GDP by 2022 but will rise thereafter, reaching around 275% of GDP by 2060. (This is based on the cost of debt rising over time as market financing replaces highly subsidized official sector financing. It should more than offset the debt-reducing effects of growth and the primary balance surplus. ) The country’s gross financing needs (defined as the sum of budget deficits and funds required to roll over debt that matures in the course of the year) will be higher: a 15% of GDP threshold by 2024 and a 20% of GDP threshold by 2031, reaching around 33% by 2040 and about 62% of GDP by 2060.

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It all falls apart.

Greece’s Best-Selling Daily To Cease Publication Due To Debts (AFP)

Two historic Greek newspapers, including the country’s best-selling daily, will cease publication, the debt-ridden Lambrakis Press Group announced on Saturday. “‘To Vima’ weekly and ‘Ta Nea’ daily are forced to cease their publication within days due to financial reasons,” the company said in a statement. Lambrakis Press Group (DOL) “is lacking any available resources and as a result it can’t support the printing of its newspapers and, of course, can’t ensure the unhampered operation of the other media outlets it owns,” it added. Besides the two newspapers DOL owns numerous magazines, news sites and the Vima FM radio. DOL failed to pay its €99 million ($106-million) debt obligations in December, Antonis Karakoussis, director of the Vima newspaper and Vima FM radio said on January 11.

He added that this situation was the result of the economic crisis Greece has faced since 2010 which has already led to the closure of many media outlets. In Saturday’s statement DOL accused the creditor banks of putting the press group in a special management regime without providing for the continuation of its publications. DOL says the creditor banks are withholding all its earnings “whether these come from newspaper sales or from advertisements”. Lambrakis Press Group, one of the shareholders of the Mega Channel TV station that is also heavily indebted, has also faced legal turmoil over the past months, with its president, Stavros Psycharis, being prosecuted for tax evasion and money laundering. With its particularly critical stance against Greece’s leftist Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras since his election in 2015, DOL has been, along with other Greek media moguls, the target of the government’s effort to “reestablish transparency” in what it calls a sector “of oligarchs”.

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Yes, it’s come to this. Lesbos resident Eric Kempson has more in the video.

Second Man Dies At Lesbos Refugee Camp Within Days (Kath.)

A 46-year-old Syrian man was found dead in his tent in the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos on Saturday morning. He was the second person to die at the facility last week, after the death of a 22-year-old Egyptian man a few days earlier. The deaths have highlighted the poor conditions that refugees face at camps on the Greek islands, especially during the current cold weather. The government is making efforts to create new facilities and move some migrants to the mainland but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accused Athens last week of failing to respond to its proposals about improving conditions at the existing camps.

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Nov 252016
 
 November 25, 2016  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Robert Capa Anti-fascist militia women at Barcelona street barricade 1936

America’s Trade Advantage: Large Deficits (Pettis)
All Aboard Post-TPP World (Escobar)
The Bank of Japan Can’t Keep Stores From Cutting Prices (BBG)
China Banking Regulator Wrestles With $2.9 Trillion Off-Balance Sheet WMPs (R.)
China Central Bank Warns Against Outflows Disguised As Investment (R.)
ECB Says It Can Shield Eurozone From Global Finance Instability (BBG)
The Snowball of Debt (HowMuch/VC)
Russia to OPEC: Oil Freeze Is All You Get
Germany, 15 Other Countries Press For Arms Control Deal With Russia (R.)
Fillon Calls Hollande’s Hardline Policy On Russia ‘Absurd’ (EuA)
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz to Step Down, Run Against Merkel (WSJ)
Increasingly Rapid Ice Melt Could Trigger Uncontrollable Climate Change (G.)
Erdogan Threatens To Open Borders To Refugees After EU Vote (AFP)
Refugees Torch Lesbos Camp After Gas Explosion Kills Two (AFP)

 

 

Interesting point of view. What Pettis ignores is that the issuer of a global reserve currency MUST always run a deficit, or the world will be starved of money.

America’s Trade Advantage: Large Deficits (Pettis)

Even China’s official voice, the People’s Daily, pointed out Monday how unlikely it was that China could “overtake the U.S. to lead the world.” This is because China must accommodate high and rising trade surpluses to moderate a stark trade-off between rising debt and rising unemployment. After years of deep imbalances and accelerating credit growth, China this year met its 6.7% GDP-growth target—needed to stabilize employment—only by growing debt in a frightening amount equal to more than 40 percentage points of GDP. Debt limits are a major constraint on China’s difficult adjustment. The country must therefore rely on its trade surplus for crucial breathing space, with each percentage point of surplus substituting for about 10 percentage points of debt.

To see how this affects China’s leadership role, consider how the U.S., only after 50 years as the world’s largest economy and a negligible governance role, finally came to dominate global trade. This occurred over two separate periods. The first ran for roughly five decades beginning with World War I. Two highly destructive world wars left all the world’s major economies acutely short of capital—all except for the U.S., which began the period as the world’s largest surplus nation and its main exporter of savings. This inevitably put America at the center of the emerging economic order. By the 1970s, conditions were very different. The other advanced nations had rebuilt their economies, global savings were abundant and other forms of demand determined the growth rates for most economies.

Rather than receive access to scarce capital, these countries wanted instead to export capital, i.e., to expand demand by increasing exports of tradable goods while constraining imports. With its flexible financial system and the gradual elimination by the 1970s of all capital restrictions, the U.S. quickly adapted and began running large deficits, the costs of which, in the form of unemployment and consumer debt, America was willing to absorb for political advantage. This is the key reason why China cannot replace the U.S. as the leader of global trade.

[..] Opposition to trade, particularly among Americans most vulnerable to unemployment and consumer debt, was therefore inevitable. But rather than other countries reorganizing around the surpluses China requires, it is more likely that over time global trade will become unstable and increasingly contentious. That is in fact closer to the historical norm than the anomalous stability of the four decades before 1914 and the six after 1945. A U.S. retreat from trade would clearly be damaging to global prospects. Many economists argue that it will also damage U.S. prospects. But they are almost certainly wrong. History suggests that intervention usually benefits diversified economies with large, persistent trade deficits, especially when driven at least in part by distortions abroad.

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Escobar should read Pettis.

All Aboard Post-TPP World (Escobar)

A half-hearted near handshake between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin before and after they spoke ‘for about four minutes’, standing up, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Lima, Peru, captured to perfection the melancholic dwindling of the Obama era. A whirlwind flashback of the fractious relationship between Obama and ‘existential threats’ Russia and China would include everything from the Washington-sponsored Maidan in Kiev to Obama’s ‘Assad must go’ in Syria, with special mentions to the oil price war, sanctions, the raid on the ruble, extreme demonization of Putin and all things Russian, provocations in the South China Sea – all down to a finishing flourish; the death of the much vaunted TPP treaty, which was reconfirmed at APEC right after the election of Donald Trump.

It was almost too painful to watch Obama defending his not exactly spectacular legacy at his final international press conference – with, ironically, the backdrop of the South American Pacific coast – just as Chinese President Xi Jinping all but basked in his reiterated geopolitical glow, which he already shares with Putin. As for Trump, though invisible in Lima, he was everywhere. The ritual burial, in Peru’s Pacific waters, of the «NATO on trade» arm of the pivot to Asia (first announced in October 2011 by Hillary Clinton) thus offered Xi the perfect platform to plug the merits of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), amply supported by China. RCEP is an ambitious idea aiming at becoming the world’s biggest free trade agreement; 46% of global population, with a combined GDP of $17 trillion, and 40% of world trade.

RCEP includes the 10 ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The RCEP idea was born four years ago at an ASEAN summit in Cambodia – and has been through nine rounds of negotiations so far. Curiously, the initial idea came from Japan – as a mechanism to combine the plethora of bilateral deals ASEAN has struck with its partners. But now China is in the lead. [..] Meanwhile, Putin and Xi met once again – with Putin revealing he’s going to China next spring to deepen Russian involvement in the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. One Belt, One Road (OBOR). The ultimate objective is to merge the Chinese-led OBOR with the development of the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU).

That’s the spirit behind 25 intergovernmental agreements in economy, investment and nuclear industry signed by Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese PM Li Keqiang in St. Petersburg in early November, as well as the set up of a joint Russia-China Venture Fund. In parallel, almost out of blue, and with a single stroke, Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan, on the way back from a visit to Pakistan and Uzbekistan, confirmed what had been all but evident for the past few months; “Why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai Five? I said this to Mr. Putin, to (Kazakh President) Nazarbayev, to those who are in the Shanghai Five now… I think if Turkey were to join the Shanghai Five, it will enable it to act with much greater ease”.

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How is it possible that this is still allowed to continue?

The Bank of Japan Can’t Keep Stores From Cutting Prices (BBG)

While Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s vow to overshoot the Bank of Japan’s 2% inflation target caused a stir among monetary policy watchers in September, it’s yet to have an impact among retailers. Stores as diverse as supermarket operator Aeon, Mister Donut and Wal-Mart have all announced price cuts since Kuroda’s pledge, underscoring the weakness in Japanese consumer spending and the difficulty of overcoming the “deflationary mindset” that the BOJ set out to eradicate. Consumer prices fell for an eighth straight month in October, a government report showed Friday. “Companies are just being practical,” said Masamichi Adachi at JPMorgan. “No one is buying the BOJ’s new commitment. There is strong doubt that the BOJ can even achieve the 2% target and the name ‘overshooting commitment’ itself is hard to understand for ordinary people.”

Falling prices and expectations for more of the same could also drag on annual wage talks, which start soon. Kuroda said last week that he’s “paying close attention” to these, as weak growth in pay has been hampering efforts to generate inflation. It’s essential for Japanese companies to set salaries based on the premise of 2% inflation, he said. Base salaries, which exclude bonuses and overtime, will rise this year by less than last year, Dai-ichi Life Research Institute forecast in a report this month. This reinforces frugality among shoppers and encourages retailers to compete by discounting.

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Beijing does not control its own economy. It’s hostage to the shadow banks.

China Banking Regulator Wrestles With $2.9 Trillion Off-Balance Sheet WMPs (R.)

China’s banking regulator may be getting serious about how lenders provision for the more than 20 trillion yuan ($2.9 trillion) of wealth management products (WMPs) that have been issued as non-guaranteed off-balance sheet liabilities. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), in new draft rules released on Wednesday, demanded banks apply a more “comprehensive” approach to cover “substantive risks” related to off-balance sheet activities, or shadow banking. The guidelines, which would replace 2011 regulations and are awaiting comment, proposed such measures as adding impairment loss allowances and properly calculating risk-weighted assets for off-balance sheet activity.

It was the latest measure announced by CBRC to curb shadow banking risks and address the rapid growth of WMPs, which amounted to 26.28 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) by end-June, data from the Banking Sector Wealth Management Product Registration and Custodian Centre showed. That amounts to around 39% of China’s GDP in 2015. About 77%, or 20.18 trillion yuan, of the products are non-guaranteed bank WMPs, a major component of shadow banking activity, the data showed. CBRC Chairman Shang Fulin warned banks in September the rampant growth of their off-balance sheet operations must be curtailed, and represented a “hidden credit risk that potentially threatens financial safety”.

[..] China’s mid-tier and small lenders, which have raised a greater proportion of their funding using WMPs, are more vulnerable to off-balance sheet liquidity risks. One important obstacle is capital. A very strict interpretation of the draft regulations, requiring banks to hold reserves against all off-balance sheet issuance, would require banks to raise as much as 1.7 trillion yuan to maintain current capital levels, said Jack Yuan, a banking analyst at Fitch. “The incentives for banks to issue more off-balance sheet WMPs still exists,” said Yuan. “There’s nothing in these rules that disincentivizes banks from continuing on with more off-balance sheet activity.” “It’s like driving a car,” said a risk manager at another mid-size lender. “If you don’t follow the rules, there’s a mess. But if you follow the rules, that doesn’t mean you have to slow down.”

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How do you tell them apart though?

China Central Bank Warns Against Outflows Disguised As Investment (R.)

China’s central bank has urged commercial banks in Shanghai to guard against money outflows via the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ) disguised as foreign investment, two sources with knowledge of the instructions said on Friday. The Shanghai headquarters of the People’s Bank of China asked for particular vigilance against money originating in other provinces or cities in China that flowed into the FTZ en route abroad, the banking industry sources said. The guidance from the PBOC’s was the latest in a string of measures to stem surging capital outflows as the yuan currency plumbs 8-1/2 year lows against the surging U.S. dollar.

“The central bank has urged lenders to strengthen due diligence to prevent capital outflows disguised as outbound investment,” said one source, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. On Wednesday it said it would crack down on capital flight and closely monitor abnormal capital flows through the FTZ. In a report on Tuesday, Capital Economics estimated that capital outflows last month were the largest since January, and posed a threat to China’s exchange rate regime. The Shanghai FTZ was launched in 2013 to promote international trade and cross-border investment, but three years later the city government is trying to balance efforts to accelerate financial reforms in the zone while preventing capital outflows.

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But of course….

ECB Says It Can Shield Eurozone From Global Finance Instability (BBG)

The ECB is confident it will be able to continue shielding the euro area from the risk of a sudden correction in asset prices, after political events such as the election of Donald Trump threaten to increase volatility in coming months. “We are certainly seeing a correction coming from the U.S.,” ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio said on Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Matt Miller. “The ECB will continue to exert its stabilizing role, so I don’t think there will be significant contagion to Europe.” Constancio spoke on the occasion of the publication of the ECB’s twice-yearly Financial Stability Review.

The report warns that the risk of an abrupt global market correction has intensified on the back of widespread political uncertainty, posing a threat to banks, stability and economic growth. While the policies of incoming President Trump may lead to higher spending and faster inflation in the U.S., their effect on the euro area is difficult to gauge given the possibility of protectionist tit-for-tats and higher chances of populist victories in votes across the continent. “More volatility in the near future is likely and the potential for an abrupt reversal remains significant,” according to the bank. “Elevated geopolitical tensions and heightened political uncertainty amid busy electoral calendars in major advanced economies have the potential to reignite global risk aversion and to trigger a major confidence shock.”

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A similar graph of private debt would be more revealing.

The Snowball of Debt (HowMuch/VC)

With the U.S. National Debt closing in on the $20 trillion mark, there has been a lot of conversation in Washington about debt and its role in government. And most of that conversation right now revolves around President-elect Donald Trump. On one hand, the Trump campaign had early rhetoric in the Presidential campaign that the elimination of the deficit and existing government debt would be paramount if elected. The Trump administration has also been highly critical of the Federal Reserve, saying that the Fed’s policies create a “false economy”. As a result, some see Trump embracing the unique opportunity to put his stamp on how the Federal Reserve does business in early 2017.

On the other hand, even many conservative think tanks are concerned about what Trump policies mean for government debt. Rebuilding infrastructure is not cheap, and widely-cited estimates see the national debt increasing by anywhere from $5.3 trillion to $11.5 trillion over the next 10 years. While giant numbers like $20 trillion sound abstract and meaningless, converting them to debt-per-capita can make things more intuitive. The per-capita amount shows the amount of debt that exists per citizen, and makes things plain and simple. Today’s infographic from HowMuch.net, a cost information site, shows government debt-per-capita in every country in the world, including the United States.

Here are the countries where people owe the most debt per person:
Japan: $85,694.87 per person
Ireland: $67,147.59 per person
Singapore: $56,112.75 per person
Belgium: $44,202.75 per person
United States: $42,503.98 per person
Canada: $42,142.61 per person
Italy: $40,461.11 per person
Iceland: $39,731.65 per person
Australia: $38,769.98 per person
United Kingdom: $36,206.11 per person
Of course, debt-per-capita isn’t the only lens to view government debt.

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Manipulating prices with empty words. If they ever sign an agreement, it will be a hollowed out one, and it won’t last more than two weeks.

Russia to OPEC: Oil Freeze Is All You Get

Facing pressure from OPEC to make a significant output reduction, Russia reiterated its readiness to freeze oil production at current levels, arguing that the offer amounted to a cut compared with next year’s plans. A production cap would mean Russia pumping 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day less than planned in 2017, Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters in Moscow on Thursday. That means a freeze would be “quite a difficult and harsh situation for us as our plans envisioned an output growth next year,” he said. OPEC, which is seeking to finalize its own supply cuts of as much as 1.1 million barrels a day next week, asked non-members to contribute by cutting daily production by about 500,000 barrels, Novak said.

OPEC reached a preliminary deal in September to reduce collective output to 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day, compared with the group’s estimate of 33.6 million in October. Talks on individual production quotas continued this week with the aim of securing a final pact by the ministerial meeting in Vienna on Nov. 30. The group will meet lower-level OPEC officials to discuss cooperation on Nov. 28, followed by a Nov. 30 breakfast meeting between ministers and non-members, including Russia, before the ministerial summit, according to people familiar with the matter.

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Merkel’s anti-Putin stance will be used against her. Germany and Russia should always try to talk. They are too close to not talk.

Germany, 15 Other Countries Press For Arms Control Deal With Russia (R.)

Fifteen European countries have joined Germany in its push for a new arms control agreement with Moscow, saying more dialogue is needed to prevent an arms race in Europe after Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, a German newspaper said. “Europe’s security is in danger,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Friday. “As difficult as ties to Russia may currently be, we need more dialogue, not less.” Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who has been nominated to become German president next year, first called for a new arms control deal with Russia in August to avoid an escalation of tensions in Europe.

Fifteen other countries – all belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – have since joined Steinmeier’s initiative: France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Portugal. The group plans to issue a joint statement on Friday and will meet again on the sidelines of a Dec. 8-9 ministerial level OSCE meeting in Hamburg that will be hosted by Germany, which now holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE. Steinmeier condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying such acts undermined delicate bonds of trust built up over decades and threatened to unleashed a new arms race.

U.S. officials are skeptical about the initiative, citing Russia’s failure to abide by existing agreements and treaties. Steinmeier also drew criticism from U.S. and NATO officials in June after warning that Western military maneuvers in eastern Europe amounted to “saber-rattling and shrill war cries” that could worsen tensions with Russia.

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I’ve said it before: it’s never a good feeling when the looses cannons make most sense. But that’s 2016 for you.

Fillon Calls Hollande’s Hardline Policy On Russia ‘Absurd’ (EuA)

In a televised debate last night (24 November) French conservative frontrunner François Fillon said Russia must be anchored to Europe, or else Moscow would couple with China, to the detriment of the continent. The debate was largely seen as the last chance for Alain Juppé, who came second in the first round of the primary elections of the conservatives last Sunday, to impress the conservative electorate and catch up on Fillon ahead of the 27 November run-off. The one-and-a-half hour debate was generally uncontroversial. One of the rare contentious exchanges was when Juppé questioned Fillon’s perceived closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin knew Fillon when they were both prime ministers.

In an unusual televised appearance the Russian president praised him Wednesday as a “great professional” and a “very principled person”. “This must be the first presidential election in which the Russian president chooses his candidate,” Juppé said. Fillon brushed off Putin’s comments but said the West must work more closely with Russia at a time when relations are at their worst since the Cold War. “Russia is a dangerous country if we treat it as we have treated it for the last five years,” Fillon said. He said the real danger to Europe was not Russia but the economic threat of “the Asian continent”. Fillon argued that Russia should be anchored to Europe geopolitically or risk seeing Moscow forge alliances with China instead.

He called “absurd” the hardline policy of French President François Hollande with regard to Russia, saying it only made Moscow harden its positions and exacerbate its nationalist reflexes. The French conservative frontrunner said the EU would not change alliances and would not abandon its transatlantic link, but added that Paris didn’t need the permission from Washington to talk to Moscow. “What I am asking is that we sit down at a table with the Russians without asking for the agreement of the United States and that we re-establish a link, if not a relation based on confidence, which will make it possible to anchor Russia to Europe.”

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His EU pension for life will be stunning. And now he can add a German one.

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz to Step Down, Run Against Merkel (WSJ)

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Thursday that he would stand down in January and run in next year’s elections in Germany, where he is seen as a potential rival to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The 60-year-old, who has been a member of the European Union’s legislature for the past 22 years, said it was “not an easy decision” to quit. Mr. Schulz’s return to German politics after more than 20 years in Brussels is fueling speculation that he could lead his Social Democratic Party’s ticket at next year’s general election, to run against Ms. Merkel’s conservatives. “My commitment to the European project is unwavering. From now on I will be fighting for this project from the national level, but my values don’t change,” Mr. Schulz said.

He noted that as the largest country in the EU, Germany “bears a special responsibility” which he will strive to fulfill, as of next year, from Berlin. Mr. Schulz didn’t comment on the possibility that he could succeed Frank-Walter Steinmeier as Germany’s foreign minister after the latter vacates his post early next year to run for the largely ceremonial office of German president. The SPD has said it would decide in January who would lead it into the general election next fall. SPD officials said Sigmar Gabriel, party chairman and economics minister, had the first shot, and would have to voluntarily yield to Mr. Schulz. The two men are longtime friends.

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We play around, very much at our own peril. with systems far too complex for us to understand. We simply deny we don’t understand. And there’s something ironically stupid in the Trump team taking away funding from NASA to be used in … space exploration. That you don’t make up.

Increasingly Rapid Ice Melt Could Trigger Uncontrollable Climate Change (G.)

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe. The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level. Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year. “The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”

Climate tipping points occur when a natural system, such as the polar ice cap, undergoes sudden or overwhelming change that has a profound effect on surrounding ecosystems, often irreversible. In the Arctic, the tipping points identified in the new report, published on Friday, include: growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.

The research, compiled by 11 organisations including the Arctic Council and six universities, comes at a critical time, not only because of the current Arctic temperature rises but in political terms. Aides to the US president-elect, Donald Trump, this week unveiled plans to remove the budget for climate change science currently used by Nasa and other US federal agencies for projects such as examining Arctic changes, and to spend it instead on space exploration.

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More power away from Merkel.

Erdogan Threatens To Open Borders To Refugees After EU Vote (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday threatened to throw open Turkey’s borders to illegal migrants after the European Parliament voted to back a freeze in membership talks with Ankara. “Listen to me. If you go any further, then the frontiers will be opened, bear that in mind,” Erdogan told the EU in a speech in Istanbul. On March 18, Ankara and Brussels forged a deal for Turkey to halt the flow of migrants to Europe – an accord that has largely been successful in reducing numbers crossing the Aegean Sea.

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It’s a miracle we haven’t seen much moe of this kind of thing happen.

Refugees Torch Lesbos Camp After Gas Explosion Kills Two (AFP)

Angry migrants set fire to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos after a woman and a six-year-old child died following a gas cylinder explosion, local police said. The explosion occurred while the 66-year-old woman was cooking, police said, adding that the child’s mother and four-year-old sibling were hospitalised with serious injuries. In an apparent act of rage, migrants then set fire to the Moria camp on Lesbos, causing significant damage, police said. Firefighters arrived at the scene to try to put out the flames. Ensuing clashes between migrants and police left six refugees slightly injured. Some migrants fled the camp after the blast but had since returned and calm was being restored, a police source said.

Several fires have erupted in refugee camps on the Greek islands, where some 16,000 people became stranded after the European Union signed a deal that was aimed at stemming the influx of migrants. Moria has a capacity for 3,500 people but currently houses more than 5,000. Part of the camp was badly damaged in a fire on September 19 during clashes between migrants and police, and thousands had to be moved out before returning two days later. Nearly 66,000 refugees and migrants are currently stranded in Greece, according to official figures.

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Apr 162016
 
 April 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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NPC Pennsylvania Avenue storefront view, Washington DC 1921

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)
China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)
Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)
Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)
Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)
Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)
Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)
Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)
Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)
March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)
Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)
Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)
Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

Apparently not at all worried about credibility, then.

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)

The ECB will continue to do what is necessary to boost inflation and has not seen evidence so far that exceptionally loose monetary policies are creating asset bubbles, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Friday. Draghi added that the economic outlook for the euro zone faces uncertainty due to risks to growth prospects in emerging market economies, a clouded outlook for oil prices and geopolitical risks. “While accommodative monetary policies over an extended horizon may have unintended consequences for certain sectors in the form of excessive risk-taking and misaligned asset prices, we do not currently see any broad-based evidence of excesses in the behavior of banks and other financial institutions and valuations of euro area asset prices,” Draghi said in a statement. Draghi also repeated the ECB’s forward guidance that the key policy rates will remain at the current or lower levels for an extended period of time, well past the horizon of the net asset purchases.

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Over $1 trillion in just one quarter. My comment yesterday: “This is such a contradiction in terms it’s crazy the WSJ prints it: “China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt..”

China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)

When China reported its economic data dump last night which was modestly better than expected (one has to marvel at China’s phenomenal ability to calculate its GDP just two weeks after the quarter ended – not even the Bureau of Economic Analysis is that fast), the investing community could finally exhale: after all, the biggest source of “global” instability for the Fed appears to have been neutralized. But what was the reason for this seeming halt to China’s incipient hard landing? The answer was in the secondary data that was reported alongside the primary economic numbers: the March new loan and Total Social Financing report.

As the PBOC reported last night, Chinese banks made 1.37 trillion yuan ($211.23 billion) in new local-currency loans in March, well above analyst expectations, as the central bank scrambled to keep the economy engorged with new loans “to keep policy accomodative to underpin the slowing economy” as Reuters put it. This was up from February’s 726.6 billion yuan but off a record of 2.51 trillion yuan extended in January. Outstanding yuan loans grew 14.7% by month-end on an annual basis, versus expectations of 14.5%. But it wasn’t the total loan tally that is the key figure tracking China’s credit largesse: for that one has to look at the total social financing, which in just the month of March rose to 2.34 trillion yuan, the equivalent of more than a third of a trillion in dollars!

And there is your answer, because if one adds up the Total Social Financing injected in the first quarter, one gets a stunning $1 trillion dollars in new credit, or $1,001,000,000,000 to be precise, shoved down China’s economic throat. As shown on the chart below, this was an all time high in dollar terms, and puts to rest any naive suggestion that China may be pursuing “debt reform.” Quite the contrary, China has once again resorted to the old “growth” model where GDP is to be saved at any cost, even if it means flooding the economy with record amount of debt.

And to put it all together, the PBOC also reported that the broad M2 money supply measure grew 13.4% in March from a year earlier, or precisely double the rate of growth of GDP. This means that it took two dollars in new loans to create one dollar of GDP growth. With China’s debt/GDP already estimate at 350%, how much longer can China sustain this stunning debt (and by definition, deposit) growth continue?

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China has too much steel, too much cotton, and too much of lots of other things.

Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)

China is about to open the floodgates on its huge supplies of cotton, sparking a rout in prices. The country plans to auction about 2 million metric tons from May through August, a government statement showed Friday. That’s almost equal to total shipments expected this season from American growers, the world’s top exporters. The auction sales would represent about 14% of the 13.9-million tons that the U.S Department of Agriculture estimates that China has in its stockpiles. Cotton futures fell the most in six weeks. The price slid more than 7% in the past year in part because the large Chinese inventories curbed overseas purchases from the Asian nation, the biggest consumer of the fiber.

“We knew this was coming, but it’s probably a bit more than what people were expecting” and reduces the country’s import outlook in the near term, Keith Brown, president of brokerage Keith Brown & Co. in Moultrie, Georgia, said in a telephone interview. Adding to the outlook for bigger supplies is favorable growing weather in U.S. cotton areas. Rains in the next few days will boost soil moisture in Texas, the country’s top producer, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Drier conditions will aid planting in the U.S. Southeast, the forecaster said. American farmers are expected to increase plantings in the season that starts in August as low prices for competing crops leave farmers with few options, the USDA projects.

“Any increase in production, as well as any volume pushed out of Chinese reserves, will be added to globally available supply in the coming crop year,” industry researcher Cotton Inc. said in a report this week. “High levels of available supply can be expected to keep downward pressure on prices.” Still, the auction sales come as China’s crop is set to shrink this year to the lowest in more than a decade, USDA data show. That’s reducing global output by more than 16%, the biggest annual slide since at least 1961. As the Asian country depletes inventories, in the “long-run it’s positive,” for prices because it means that there will be less supply further down the road, boosting the outlook for eventual imports, Brown said.

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Draghi buys anything now.

Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)

The ECB has included European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) notes in its list of eligible securities for purchasing under its so-called quantitative easing program, an ECB spokesperson said on Friday. “Up to 50% of the outstanding amount can be purchased as this is the limit applicable to securities issued by eligible international organizations,” the spokesperson told Reuters. With holdings of more than €30 billion of such notes after rounds of recapitalization, Greek banks stand to make gains on the securities.

Bank shares were rebounding 16.2% on Friday after losses in the previous sessions. “The market jumped on this one-off positive piece of news after days of negativity,” said Eurobank analyst Nick Koskoletos. Banks had not been not allowed to sell the EFSF notes in the market but they repoed them with the ECB to obtain cheap funding. Apart from capital gains, selling a portion of their EFSF notes to the ECB could reduce the amount Greek banks borrow from it.

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The focus on startups and unicorns smells of despair, a last ditch attempt to deny the demise of the economy.

Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)

Venture-capital investors hit the brakes on investing in the first quarter, following a funding bonanza the past two years that pushed valuations of once-hot technology startups to soaring heights. Funding for U.S. startups fell 25% from the fourth quarter to $13.9 billion, the largest quarterly decline on record since the dot-com bust, according to data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The numbers of deals also hit a four-year low of 884. The drop threatens to hasten a slump rippling through Silicon Valley that is pushing startups to slash marketing budgets, lay off staff and dial back lofty ambitions. Investors such as mutual funds and big banks that pumped money into startups on the promise of big returns have since retrenched, as a punishing market for initial public offerings has spoiled the runaway optimism.

The sky-high valuations of last year have retreated as a result. In the first quarter, the median value of U.S. startups plummeted to $18.5 million after hitting a peak of $61.5 million in last year’s third quarter. “I think investors are nervous, sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens,” said Brian Mulvey at PeakSpan Capital, which recently raised a venture fund of $150 million. Investors caution the first-quarter data spans a relatively small period and that capital tends to fluctuate widely throughout the year. VentureSource counts funding rounds for U.S.-based companies with at least one venture-capital firm as an investor. It doesn’t include startups only backed by individuals or majority-owned by corporations or private-equity firms. Several other data providers with varying methodologies show less of a decline.

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Commodities break on plunging demand.

Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)

Goodrich Petroleum filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday with investment firms slated to pick up the pieces, as yet another company sought court protection amid the shakeout in the oil and gas industry. Houston-based Goodrich, an oil and gas producer which struggled to cut its debt as crude prices tumbled, has a deal in place that would erase $400 million in debt from its books through a swap with a group of investors that own bonds the company issued last year. The Goodrich bondholders, who include Franklin Advisors, Penn Capital Management and Jefferies, have agreed to forgive $175 million in debt in exchange for ownership of the company. The deal is part of a larger bankruptcy-exit plan that would pay off or carry over $40 million of higher-ranking senior bank debt and wipe out $224 million in unsecured bonds.

Goodrich’s bankruptcy deal mirrors those proposed recently by other struggling oil producers as the energy slump transforms a U.S. industry once dominated by Texas oil men into one controlled by financial firms from across the nation. Falling oil prices have roiled the industry since the summer of 2014. Since that time, about 60 North American oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy, involving nearly $20 billion in debt, according to the law firm Haynes & Boone. On Thursday, Houston’s Energy XXI filed for bankruptcy to complete a debt-for-equity swap with a group of bondholders that includes Oaktree Capital Management.

Denver-based Venoco filed for bankruptcy last month after striking a deal with Apollo Global Management and MAST Capital Management that will erase nearly $1 billion in debt. Energy & Exploration Partners, Magnum Hunter Resources and New Gulf Resourcesare among other energy companies that have brokered similar deals. The rising number of debt-for-equity swaps is due to lenders’ unwillingness to accept the fire-sale prices that potential buyers are offering for oil assets, according to Ian Peck, head of Haynes & Boone’s bankruptcy practice.

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Orchestrated theater. Too many producers can’t afford a freeze.

Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)

Saudi Arabia won’t restrain its oil production unless other producers, including Iran, agree to freeze output at a meeting this weekend in Doha, the kingdom’s deputy crown prince said. The world’s biggest crude exporter would cap its market share at about 10.3 million to 10.4 million barrels a day, if producers agree to the freeze, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during an interview on Thursday at King Salman’s private farm in Diriyah, the original home of the Al Saud royal family. “If all major producers don’t freeze production, we will not freeze production,” said Prince Mohammed, 30, who has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s leading economic force. “If we don’t freeze, then we will sell at any opportunity we get.”

At least 15 nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two largest crude oil producers, will gather in Doha on April 17 to discuss freezing output to stabilize an oversupplied market. Prince Mohammed has said Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a production cap would depend on Iran’s participation. Iran’s oil minister has dismissed the prospect of joining the deal as “ridiculous” for now. A Russian official said it was possible to reach a deal in Doha to freeze oil output, regardless of Iran whose crude shipments have risen by more than 600,000 barrels a day this month. That increase has added to the pressure on producer nations to reach an agreement to prop up prices as economies from Venezuela to Nigeria reel from the market rout. The meeting in Doha is only relevant if no deal is reached, prompting a sharp selloff in the markets, according to Ed Morse at Citigroup.

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Promising, but incomplete.

Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)

[..] It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows. Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments.

Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty. As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans. Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one. Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

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Lots of criticism of Merkel for this, not sure that’s justified. She must be careful when it comes to trumping the law. Let the courts decide. It’s not as if they’ll lock the guy up. Many EU nations have similar antiquated ‘insult to foreign leaders’ laws, by the way.

Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)

Jan Böhmermann has disappeared. He’s not giving interviews; he’s not answering his phone. Since Monday, he has also gone silent on Twitter, where he is normally extremely active. He has hardly left his home in Cologne in the last few days and he is also now under police protection. He had his Thursday show on the German public broadcaster ZDF cancelled and his Sunday radio show on RBB will likewise not be broadcast this week. It was cancelled last Sunday as well. Böhmermann was already in his home studio ready to record when he realized that he was in no mood to be funny. So he called it off. Friends and acquaintances who have had contact with him in the last few days are worried that he won’t be able to withstand the pressure.

The ZDF satirist is a sensitive person, even if that hasn’t always been part of his public persona. The scandal surrounding the disparaging poem he wrote about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has affected him more deeply than many have realized. Perhaps one has to be vulnerable to emotional pain in order to know how to inflict such pain on others. Two weeks ago, when he was still active on social media, he tweeted out the Beatles hit “The Fool on the Hill.” The song is about a simpleton sitting alone on a hill with a silly grin on his face – and everyone can see that he is a half-wit. It is essentially how people see Böhmermann, and it is how he wanted to be seen: The misunderstood fool. The tweet went out two days after his insulting Erdogan poem was broadcast on his ZDF show “Neo Magazin Royale” and one day after the broadcaster deleted the show from its video hub and distanced itself from Böhmermann’s verses.

And that was just the beginning. Prior to the scandal, Böhmermann had led a niche existence in Germany’s media landscape, but now everybody in the country knows who he is. The 35-year-old has triggered an affair of state, one which has served to demonstrate just how limited Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power really is. And how absurd German law can be. If Böhmermann intended to show just how powerful satire can be, he has been incredibly successful. The Böhmermann scandal is now entering its third week, and only now is it becoming clear just what the five-minute clip has set in motion. It didn’t just shine the spotlight on the Turkish president’s sensitivity and the limits of chancellor’s steadfastness, it has also unsettled all of Germany – a country which normally doesn’t spend much time thinking about satire and art and the freedoms associated with them.

On Friday, the need for doing so became even more apparent. Chancellor Merkel announced that the federal government had granted permission for criminal proceedings to go ahead against Jan Böhmermann under the controversial Paragraph 103 of the German Criminal Code. The law makes it illegal to insult the representatives of foreign countries. The federal government must approve the initiation of Paragraph 103 proceedings.

Read more …

These things take much longer to sink in then they do to happen.

March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)

The global temperature in March has shattered a century-long record and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month. February was far above the long-term average globally, driven largely by climate change, and was described by scientists as a “shocker” and signalling “a kind of climate emergency”. But data released by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that March was even hotter. Compared with the 20th-century average, March was 1.07C hotter across the globe, according to the JMA figures, while February was 1.04C higher. The JMA measurements go back to 1891 and show that every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.

Data released released later on Friday by Nasa confirmed last month was the hottest March on record, but the US agency’s data indicated February had seen the biggest margin. The Nasa data recorded March as 1.65C above the average from 1951-1980, while February was 1.71C higher. The World Meteorological Organisation, the UN body for climate and weather, said the March data had “smashed” previous records.

Read more …

Let’s see if this is more than just a show.

Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)

Pope Francis, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest defender of refugees, flies into Lesbos on Saturday to highlight the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe. The Roman Catholic leader will spend five hours on the island with the Ecumenical head of world Orthodoxy, Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II. Imbued with added urgency on the frontline of the EU’s migrant emergency, the meeting is also being seen as a further warming of ties between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, almost 10 centuries after their bitter split in 1054. The pontiff, who has publicly criticised Europe’s “anaesthetised conscience” on refugees, will go straight to the menacing detention centre above the hilltop village of Moria where more than 3,000 men, women and children are held.

On Friday, just hours before Francis’ scheduled visit, detainees chanted “freedom, freedom” as demonstrators denounced their incarceration. Standing under the razor wire-topped fence, Sham Jutt, a young Pakistani, spoke of the refugees’ plight, saying he hoped the pope could intervene. “We expected a life of hope and now he is our only hope,” said the 21-year-old, adding that he had seen the camp change from being a registration centre to a prison following the controversial pact the EU signed with Turkey to stem the flows. “Now, with this agreement, we are very afraid they will deport us.” Greece’s leftist-led government described Saturday’s visit of religious leaders as “extremely significant”. Lesbos has borne the brunt of the refugee influx with over 850,000 of the 1.1 million Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who streamed into Europe last year, coming through the island.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras, also due to fly in, was expected to underline Greece’s increasingly fragile situation in talks with Francis. More than 50,000 migrants and refugees have been trapped in the country since Macedonia and other Balkan states cut off the migrant trail by closing borders. Greece has been struggling to house refugees in makeshift facilities even if arrivals have dropped dramatically since the deal came into effect on 20 March. For detainees who have arrived since then, conditions have deteriorated dramatically. Human rights organisations have withdrawn from Moria and other detention centres for fear of being associated with mass expulsions.

Before the church leaders’ visit, authorities had gone out of their way to clean up the camp, whitewashing graffiti-splattered walls, replacing tents with containers, installing air conditioning and taking families out of the overcrowded facility to an open-air holding centre nearby. “In every sense of the word, they have given it a whitewash,” said Jakob Mamzzak, a volunteer from California. “Today we even heard they had given [inmates] clean clothes, let them have their first shower in 25 days and brought them good food when the truth is conditions are inhumane.”

Read more …

Taking 10 refugees with him on his way back.

Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)

Pope Francis arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, turning the world’s attention to the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past year. Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was scheduled to spend about six hours on the small Aegean island. Based on his schedule, he was to meet 250 refugees and have lunch with eight of them. Hundreds of people have died making the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to the Lesbos shores in inflatable dinghies in the past year, and the island is full of unmarked graves. “This is a trip that is a bit different than the others … this is a trip marked by sadness,” Francis told reporters on the airplane taking him to Lesbos.

“We are going to encounter the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War Two. We will see many people who are suffering, who don’t know where to go, who had to flee. We are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people died there … this is what is in my heart as I make this trip.” With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Francis will visit Moria, a sprawling, fenced complex holding more than 3,000 refugees. “This is an island which has lifted all the weight of Europe upon its shoulders,” Tsipras told Francis at Lesbos airport, where a red carpet was rolled out for the pontiff’s arrival. Greek state TV reported Francis was planning to take ten refugees back with him to the Vatican, eight of them Syrians.

Aid organizations have described conditions at Moria, a disused army camp, as appalling. Journalists have no access to the facility on a hillside just outside Lesbos’s main town of Mytiline, but aid workers said walls were whitewashed, a sewer system fixed and several dozen migrants at the overcrowded facility were transferred to another camp, which the pope will not visit. . Aid organizations say queues for food are long, and people often wait for an hour or more. Saturday’s encounter with refugees would be ‘no frills’ and the religious leaders would eat the same food as everyone else at the camp, an official at the camp told Reuters.

Read more …

The Pope should speak out a lot louder and clearer. Meeting a few preselected refugees won’t cut it.

Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

A detention centre for asylum seekers in Greece is being urgently spruced up ahead of a visit by the Pope as thousands of people remain trapped inside, waiting to find out if they will be sent back to Turkey. Workers were dispatched to whitewash the wall surrounding Moria, a former refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, while others painted fences, cleared litter and moved stray tents. The last-minute efforts on Friday came ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival tomorrow with a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox leaders. Sacha Myers, who is working inside Moria with Save the Children, told The Independent that the now “very white” wall was not a priority for the families living inside Moria. “We hope the improvements continue but they don’t change the fact that we have still got thousands of people locked inside this detention centre with no idea how long they will be here,” she said.

“The camp was built to hold 2,000 people and now there are 2,900. Families are living on top of each other, there is absolutely no privacy. “We’re seeing a real deterioration in conditions.” Ms Myers, a communications and media manager for the charity, said she had met Iraqi and Syrian mothers whose babies were ill with diarrhoea and fever amid declining hygiene. “Some people are aware of the Pope’s visit,” she added. “They really want him to help them and understand their issues.” Save the Children is warning that child refugees are being held in appalling conditions at the centre, where they report illness, fights and theft. Charity workers described dirty rooms without enough beds, where children are denied legal services and basic support despite concerns for their mental and physical wellbeing.

High-profile visits by Angelina Jolie, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Labour MP Yvette Cooper, among others, have done little to improve the situation in Moris. It was set up last year as one of two refugee camps in Lesbos, but on 20 March the gates were locked as it was turned into a detention centre as part of the controversial EU-Turkey deal. The Pope will be joined by leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as he tours Lesbos, which has seen the highest number of refugees arrive out of any island in Europe. After visiting Moria, they will have lunch with refugee representatives and make a joint declaration, before heading to the island’s capital for a prayer service in memory of the many asylum seekers who have drowned attempting to reach Europe.

The Vatican said the five-hour visit to Lesbos was purely humanitarian and religious in nature, not political, and wasn’t meant as a criticism of the deportation programme seeing some asylum seekers sent back to Turkey. Pope Francis said he intended “to express closeness and solidarity both to the refugees and to the Lesbos citizens and all the Greek people who are so generous in welcoming (refugees)”. The pontiff has been outspoken in calls for greater compassion and international co-operation in the refugee crisis, denouncing the “globalisation of indifference” during a trip to Lampedusa – another migrant hotspot.

Read more …

Mar 022016
 
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Konstantinos Polychronopoulos On Lesbos (Mytilini) 2016

Monday morning I started to write a -long overdue, I know, and I apologize- article on what’s going on with the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund and with me, still here in Athens. But I was ‘cut short in my tracks’.

I found I just couldn’t go on in the vein I was in when I read that on one side of the European continent, refugees and their children were being bulldozed and sprayed with tear gas in the Calais ‘Jungle’, while at the very same moment, 2500 kilometers (1500 miles) away, tear gas was also being sprayed on refugee children, by Macedonia police, across their border with Greece. Rumors are there were Austrian and Czech troops on the scene as well.

It just seemed too crazy. Because what do you say to that? The obvious and inevitable questions, when seeing that, are: What are we, what have we become, what kind of civilization is this? Is it even a civilization at all? How does one define ‘civilization’? Shouldn’t perhaps a civilization be characterized and defined by the fact that acts and policies executed within it can be deemed ‘civilized’?!

And if that is so, what does this make us? Could we perhaps agree that a civilized society would never engage in -to name but a few examples- any of the following? That a civilized society does not bomb children, it does not let them drown without trying all it can to help, and it does not spray tear gas on them. Is it really such a stretch to accept that as minimum requirements to be labeled ‘civilized’?

Europe, have you completely lost it? How on earth can you tear gas infants? What is that? What’s that you said? They just got in the way? But that means you knew they were there, right?

And again, what does that make us? We do all of these things, and with impunity. None are forced upon us. We do them of our own free will. Or, rather, we elect people who then do them for us, in our name. But we know they do them, and we don’t protest, nor do we un-elect them. Once more, what does that make us? One thing’s for sure: it certainly does not make us civilized. Barbaric is more like it. Medieval, at best.

Now, while I think this is a global issue, if only because the entire world seems to be bombing Syria -just waiting for China to join in-, the immediate culpability and responsibility lies with Europe. But Europe has nothing. Yeah, promises to provide funds at some time in the future, to solve problems that are playing out today. That they can do.

And when those funds finally might arrive, you can bet they’ll largely be handed out to the wrong parties. I don’t want to rehash the complaints in Greece about NGOs, UN etc., but neither have I seen or heard much that will make those complaints go away.

The first and most pressing response needs to come from Angela Merkel, because she is the de facto leader of Europe. That this kind of power structure is very unfortunate since Merkel is more beholden to Germany than Europe is something I explained before. But even then. Merkel has mostly been AWOL. While the leader on paper, Jean-Claude Juncker, is even less visible.

The only thing Europe seems to have done, and do correct me if I’m wrong, is send armed forces to stop people who have come to Europe across perilous seas, losing thousands of their children, friends and neighbors in the process, because they were fleeing .. armed forces. That is bizarre from pretty much any angle.

One of the first things I wrote about the refugee crisis, it must have been about a year ago, was that the only proper response and approach to a situation like this is to put the people first. To make sure they don’t go hungry, they don’t get sick and die, and they don’t drown for no reason. But Europe, both as a whole and in its ‘separate units’, instead has put political issues ahead of the people. So 4000 drowned in 2015, and 400 already this year. And those are just the registered ‘cases’. How about we double those numbers?

And how about we let those numbers sink in? All those promising lives lost for no reason at all? How many potential Einsteins drowned in the Aegean? How many Florence Nightingales? How many loving and delicate mothers and fathers? You can take this from a humanitarian or a religious point of view, and you can pick your religion too while you’re at it, but there’s no philosophy or faith that justifies letting children drown while you’re sitting poolside with a Margarita or at home picking out your next best biggest TV screen.

This is not about opening one’s borders as widely as possible, or about allowing one’s own culture to be entirely submerged or overtaken, it’s about being civilized, about being recognized in history books as an actual civilization deserving of the label. About treating people like human beings, treating them the way you would want your children and your friends to be treated. The way you yourself want to be treated. And then take it from there, with your dignity and your humanity intact.

This is something I will never understand, I’m afraid. And that’s my angle back to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, and to my friend Konstantinos (Kostas) and his Social Kitchen (O Allos Anthropos) project. Because Kostas proves, and all the volunteers who cooperate with him do, that there are still humans in this world. I guess one might say that Kostas is what in Yiddish tradition would be called a ‘Mensch’, a term strongly associated with integrity, honor, valor.

I‘ve been going through some of the earlier pieces in which I talked about him, and I noticed the numbers I presented, on meals served per day etc., were sometimes a little off due to communication difficulties. Since I worked hard to get more accurate numbers now, let’s see if we can correct that. Do note that they are really in a constant state of flux these days.

At the moment, as per my latest meeting with Kostas and our -dear- mutual friend and translator Tassos on Friday, there are 10 different ‘chapters’ of the Social Kitchen active, most in the Athens (Attica) area, but also in Thessaloniki and on the islands. That’s up from 2 or 3 ‘kitchens’ 8 months ago. The total list: Athens, Mytilini Island, Egaleo, Haidari, Salamina Island, Ilion, Megara, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Drapetsona. Yeah, it’s growing fast. They’re not all active 7 days a week, often – or partly- due to a lack of resources. Some cook once a week, some 2-3 times.

But the biggest change by a mile, since the beginning of February, is the 7 days a week Social Kitchen in Mytilini (the capital of what we know as Lesbos, which Greeks often just call Mytilini, Mitilene, Mitilini) in the government facility -don’t want to say ‘camp’- of Moria. The lady who runs the facility has asked Kostas to come cook every day because there were no other provisions. Which is pretty crazy given all the NGOs operating on the island.

A few months ago, he had to tell her he couldn’t afford to do it, but in the perhaps best part of this story, all the food now gets donated by the local population (I’ve said it before, Greeks do solidarity well). And this is no small feat. It means 2500-3000 meals every day, and since the Greek government has been forced to slow the transfer of refugees from Mytilini to Piraeus, the number is set to grow, perhaps fast. This comes on top of the perhaps 1000 meals provided every day in Athens and other places.

And it could be much more, if resources were available. There are 12(!) more locations on a ‘waiting list’ who have asked to join Kostas’ project but who have neither equipment nor funding: Patra, Pyrgos, Sparta, Kalamata, Korinthos, Ioannina, Larissa, Preveza, Nafpaktos, Zakynthos island, Heraklio Crete, Ierapetra Crete (time to go to Google Maps, I know).

When we were talking a few days ago, Kostas said he’s not so much pre-occupied with providing the food itself. That he can manage. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but if he’s anything, that’s it. And in his position, you would have to be. He carries a lot of weight and a lot of people, those who work with them and those they feed, on his shoulders.

What worries him at times are the fixed costs.

I walked over 24 hours ago to Monastiraki square, where a Social Kitchen team always cooks on Tuesday, in memory of a famous Greek musician, Antonis Vardis, who was a very early supporter of the Social Kitchen, but tragically died of cancer in 2014.

Only, this time, the team couldn’t start at 2pm -to serve food at 5pm-, because their equipment was not there. Kostas had decided, from a distance, he just got back from Thessaloniki, that using it to prepare 4000 (!) meals in ‘The House’ to be sent to the port of Piraeus had bigger priority (emergency, starving refugees), and the 300 or so homeless in the square would have to wait. 3 hours or so. Hungry and homeless. That’s where the need stands. That’s reality in Athens.

But to get back to the practical side of things, or let’s call it the fixed costs, here’s an overview.

There’s ‘The House’ as they call it, and so will I, a pretty simple apartment-sized location that has been the nerve center of the operation for a while now. Problem is, the rent used to be paid by supporters until January 1, but they couldn’t afford it any longer -there’s a million stories like that in Greece, of people who can no longer afford things. So now that’s what Kostas worries about. Losing the nerve center is like the worst thing that could happen.

It allowed for those 4000 meals to be cooked yesterday. It offers laundry, service, homework facilities to homeless and their children. The Social Kitchen couldn’t operate without it.

Anyway, on Friday, I paid that rent, with your donations, to the tune of €2054 for 3 months. And told him I’d guarantee the next 3-month payment, due May 15, as well. Because that takes worries away. From someone who must worry, whether he shows it or not, all the time. Here’s the receipt – we went to the bank together-:

Not that the rent for the nerve center is the only fixed cost. By a mile. In fact, the cost for gas for transport for all the kitchens is easily €2000 a month. The propane tanks they need for cooking come to at least €1000 a month. Breakfast, laundry and shower for the homeless in ‘The House’ comes to another €2500 a month (no kidding).

And if that doesn’t scare you away enough, the by far largest expense, as I found out this week, and I would never have thought of this -guess I’m not all that bright-, is in the containers the food is served in. It seems such an obvious thing, but it’s absolutely not. Kostas gets these things already at a steep discount from what even supermarket chains are paying, but even then, it’s -close to- killing the Social Kitchen. Here’s what we’re talking about, these simple thingies:

This may seem like nothing, but it’s something alright. The discount price he pays is €5 per 100 units. Now start multiplying. That urgent 4000 meals he had to do yesterday, just that one ‘shipment’, cost €200 just for the containers. Multiply that by 30 days a month and you get €6000. Times 12 is $72,000 a year. Yup, that is crazy. But the Social Kitchen can’t serve its food without containers either. And -flat- paper plates won’t work because most of the food has too much liquid in it.

Ergo, Kostas has come up with an -about 50% cheaper- alternative, one that if we could make it happen might save the Social Kitchen some $20,000 a year. But there are a few hooks. His alternative, made of ‘hard paper’, is not available in Greece. They would have to be imported from Romania. But you need import permissions for that. And that requires having a company. Something the Social Kitchen refuses to become.

And what’s more, these containers would have to be paid in advance. Something for which there is no money. Everything necessarily operates on a day-to-day shoestring basis. If there is some money, they go buy a few thousand of the aluminum containers down the road. The kind of advance planning that would be required for the -much cheaper- alternative is simply not possible, and therefore not an option.

I think I should just press ‘Publish’ now, because there is no end to what I could write about this. I’m here where it happens, finger on the pulse, and I’m afraid of what this might become. 70,000 or 100,000 or half a million stranded in Greece, all those numbers look possible right now. It’s impossible to say.

But at least there are people here doing what they humanly can to alleviate the misery, even as Europe is clearly not. But the fear of course is that there’ll be a breaking point in Greece, where the already severely strained government will simply run out of resources. And the citizens will, too.

EU promises don’t count for a thing, until they become a tangible reality. But things still happen, and move forward; thousand of refugees arrive here every day. And drowning them all in the Aegean is not an option. Merkel’s best hope is Turkey PM Erdogan, and that’s a terrible best hope to have.

It could all be simple. Just make the people your first priority, and everything else will fall into place. We’re human, and we’re a social animal. That’s what Greece, and the Greeks, prove on a daily basis. But not the rest of the continent.

So, much as I’m hesitant to ask you for support again, I must. ‘My people’ here provide the most basic of necessities: they feed the refugees and homeless. There was a report coming out of Idomeni, on the Macedonia/Greek border, yesterday, that mothers couldn’t breastfeed anymore because they themselves hadn’t eaten in days.

That’s what we, and you, can help prevent from happening.

The way to do it is the same as it has been for a while now: donate through our Paypal unit, top left corner at The Automatic Earth, an amount ending in either $0.99 or $0.37. That all goes straight towards the Social Kitchen. Other donations go to The Automatic Earth itself, which also runs on -and really needs- donations.

There is still some money left from the two donation ‘drives’ I’ve done, which totalled over $20,000 (!) -you guys are so fantastic-. In the past few weeks, I’ve given Kostas €7,550, and earlier I donated €5,000 to volunteer clinics, to Kostas and to Myrto Lemos’ Support Center for street children. That means there’s about $8,000, or €7000 left, and as I said, I promised to pay the rent for the nerve center on May 15.

That leaves about $5000. I have to say ‘about’ all the time, because between what they skim off donations, plus the conversion from USD into EUR, Paypal takes quite a bit, 7-8% in total, which I really don’t like, but it has a (quasi-) monopoly. Thing is, I’m hesitant to spend it all today because of might be coming to this country, and the people fleeing to it. It might be wise to have a war chest for when for instance Kostas really needs it.

Let’s finish for now with a personal thank you note from Kostas, as translated by Tassos:

I want to thank you deeply for the donations, all the people, the readers of the Automatic Earth, who have put their trust in me, without knowing me personally. Ilargi wrote about what we are doing after he met me and saw what we do. I thank all of you that you sent your money to support the fellow humans who are in need. But the most important as I see it, is that you heard and trusted your heart. For me this is solidarity, to hear and trust your heart, because your heart deeply knows and can’t be wrong.
 
I am Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, the man who has dedicated his life to the Social Kitchen -O Allos Anthropos- and I kindly invite you whenever you are in Greece to meet us, to eat with us and to have a coffee together at our Social Kitchen house in Athens, which is open for all Humans and that means you too!


Social Kitchen on Mytilini Island (Lesbos) 2016

Dec 252015
 
 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 5:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Elena Angelopoulos Refugee mother feeds child at ‘The Other Human’ social kitchen on Lesbos 2015

No, I’m not planning to let this rest. And I’m not planning to write the whole article again either. Our readers have once again been crazy generous (thank you so much!), but in the spirit of Christmas I ask more of you to do more.

We can be a veritable force for good, and that’s not something we get a lot of shots at, not together. And that’s what this is all about, it’s about community. ‘Together’ is the key word that drives Kostas in all he does. ‘We eat together’.

This is a call-out to the entire -financial- blogosphere to help the Automatic Earth help the poorest Greeks, and the refugees in Greece.

Please repost, rewrite, retweet, donate. Let’s grab our humanity by the horns and not allow this situation to deteriorate even further than it already has. It doesn’t have to.

This -late- spring I went to Athens. Because it seemed a place where things were happening, with Syriza, with Varoufakis in place. It turned out that during my stay, things did happen politically and economically, but not for the good. The EU and IMF crushed the Greek spirit. It was exciting, but then it was not.

Before I left for Greece, I asked our Automatic Earth readers if they would like to add something to the -financial- help I wanted to bring with me; at that time it was already clear that austerity was hitting the Greeks very hard (it’s gotten much worse since). I thought I’d get perhaps a few hundred dollars for the ‘AE for Athens’ fund. As of today, the counter stands at almost $12,000, a humbling number. Now it has become a responsibility.

Because I want to be careful with other people’s money, I’ve donated ‘only’ €5000 so far. And that includes a recent -second- trip I just got back from on Sunday (and no, I don’t pay for the trips from the money donated for Athens). €2000 of this money, I donated to a man I was fortunate to meet and become friends with, Kostas, full name Konstantinos Polychronopoulos. I first wrote about him here: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

Kostas started -literally- cooking in the street some 4 years ago, something that soon became Social Kitchen ‘O Allos Anthropos’ (the other person, human, human being, the fellow man). As he describes quite eloquently in this little video, Kostas has very lucid ideas about what he aims for. He wants to not just give food to the hungry and homeless of Greece, whose numbers have started to swell rapidly since his effort took off, but also sympathy, and dignity, and simply conversation. ‘We eat together’ is not an empty slogan.

Because of his ideas of how he wants things to be, Kostas refuses to be beholden to governments, NGOs or corporations. Kostas insists he wants his project to be by people, for people, coming from one human being’s empathy for the other. Food for the soul is essential too.

We had an meeting on Saturday night with a group of people he’s gathered around him (there are dozens of volunteers by now, many -formerly- homeless). I donated another €1000 from our fund, but I was primarily interested in how he had been doing since we last met in July. Turns out, ‘The Other Human’ has grown at least 5-fold.


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

Because of media attention (I was not the only one who contacted him), Kostas gained some fame this year. And ‘offers’. The European Union awarded him a prize, which he -naturally- refused to accept. Coca Cola offered him a six-figure number to put their advertizing all over his operation, but that for him is his soul vs the devil. He also doesn’t want to become an NGO and spend half his time doing paperwork. It must be about people.

Existing NGOs are a story all by themselves in the Greek situation. I have no personal experience with what they do in the country, but I keep on hearing bad stories. Kostas’ people showed me a photo of bowls of food that they say refugees refuse to eat (and dogs too…), but that NGOs want to force on refugees because they get €7 per bowl handed out, from whoever it is that pays them. To compare: Kostas and his crew feed people for €1, max.

A good example of how the ‘locals’ look at the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs is this video by a native Brit who lives on Lesbos, Eric Kempson: Major Aid Agencies Are Deceiving The General Public on Refugees. Warning: there’s a few select F-words sprinkled in. Eric does angry well.

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are 5 now different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well.

Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food.

Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.


And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

What we have here is a man who’s devoted his entire life to helping other people, no holds barred. And he’s by no means alone in that. The ‘social kitchens’ run 7 days a week. And if there’s anything I can do to make it possible for Kostas, and his crews, to keep on doing this, the way he sees fit, and they do, I will. I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

There is the food that needs to be provided, there are transport costs, they need to pay the rent for the building where donated food and blankets etc. come in, and that doubles as a school for homeless kids, as well as a laundry and shower facility for the -longtime and newly- homeless (the troika just forced through a new provision to make it easier for banks to throw people out of their homes in 2016).

Since this has grown beyond the scope of the Automatic Earth alone, I want to appeal to all of you, my friends and ‘competitors’ in the -finance and broader- blogosphere, for your help in what I think is about the worthiest cause there is. People are dying out there, and hurting, not just the babies that drown before they reach Greek shores, but also the ones that make it.

Medical care is crucial, so is schooling, and of course food, and shelter. With Kostas and his large team of volunteers, we have the people in place to provide all of this. What’s missing is the money. Not for them, they ask for nothing for themselves, but for the people they try to help.

There are hundreds of thousands of you who read the Automatic Earth, and our friends at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Aaron Krowne, Steve Keen, John Rubino, Mish, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, BI, Wolf Richter, Jesse’s Café, Davis Stockman, Bruno at Stealthflation, the Transition people, my dear friend Dave Holmgren, and those are just the ones that come to mind in the first few seconds, and that I’ve had personal contact with, and even then I’m still forgetting many (sorry!).

Between us, we should be able to help Kostas do what he thinks must be done. If only simply by drawing our readers’ and friends’ and families’ attention to this. If everyone donates just $5, we can feed and clothe all kids and their moms and donate some humanity for Christmas to those who need it badly. And perhaps for next Christmas too. It’s about the power of numbers, which y’all know about.

What Kostas and I discussed on Saturday is to run this -if there are any donations to begin with, that is- through the Automatic Earth for now, so he doesn’t get bothered up the wazoo by his government. We may have to change that at some point, but we’ll tackle that one when we get there. For now, this is about saving people’s lives and dignity, today.

The Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

If someone would like to start a crowdfunding campaign for the cause, please contact me at: contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com.

Jesus was a refugee. Who got help. Tiny Tim got it too. I think I’ll rest my case.


Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

Dec 222015
 
 December 22, 2015  Posted by at 2:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Elena Angelopoulos Kostas comforts on Lesbos 2015

This is a call-out to the entire -financial- blogosphere to help the Automatic Earth help the poorest Greeks, and the refugees in Greece.

Please repost, rewrite, retweet, donate. Let’s grab our humanity by the horns and not allow this situation to deteriorate even further than it already has. It doesn’t have to.

This -late- spring I went to Athens. Because it seemed a place where things were happening, with Syriza, with Varoufakis in place. It turned out that during my stay, things did happen politically and economically, but not for the good. The EU and IMF crushed the Greek spirit. It was exciting, but then it was not.

Before I left for Greece, I asked our Automatic Earth readers if they would like to add something to the -financial- help I wanted to bring with me; at that time it was already clear that austerity was hitting the Greeks very hard (it’s gotten much worse since). I thought I’d get perhaps a few hundred dollars for the ‘AE for Athens’ fund. As of today, the counter stands at almost $12,000, a humbling number. Now it has become a responsibility.

Because I want to be careful with other people’s money, I’ve donated ‘only’ €5000 so far. And that includes a recent -second- trip I just got back from on Sunday (and no, I don’t pay for the trips from the money donated for Athens). €2000 of this money, I donated to a man I was fortunate to meet and become friends with, Kostas, full name Konstantinos Polychronopoulos. I first wrote about him here: The Man Who Cooks In The Street.

Kostas started -literally- cooking in the street some 4 years ago, something that soon became Social Kitchen ‘O Allos Anthropos’ (the other person, human, human being, the fellow man). As he describes quite eloquently in this little video, Kostas has very lucid ideas about what he aims for. He wants to not just give food to the hungry and homeless of Greece, whose numbers have started to swell rapidly since his effort took off, but also sympathy, and dignity, and simply conversation. ‘We eat together’ is not an empty slogan.

Because of his ideas of how he wants things to be, Kostas refuses to be beholden to governments, NGOs or corporations. Kostas insists he wants his project to be by people, for people, coming from one human being’s empathy for the other. Food for the soul is essential too.

We had an meeting on Saturday night with a group of people he’s gathered around him (there are dozens of volunteers by now, many -formerly- homeless). I donated another €1000 from our fund, but I was primarily interested in how he had been doing since we last met in July. Turns out, ‘The Other Human’ has grown at least 5-fold.


Kostas Tzioumakas Konstantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

Because of media attention (I was not the only one who contacted him), Kostas gained some fame this year. And ‘offers’. The European Union awarded him a prize, which he -naturally- refused to accept. Coca Cola offered him a six-figure number to put their advertizing all over his operation, but that for him is his soul vs the devil. He also doesn’t want to become an NGO and spend half his time doing paperwork. It must be about people.

Existing NGOs are a story all by themselves in the Greek situation. I have no personal experience with what they do in the country, but I keep on hearing bad stories. Kostas’ people showed me a photo of bowls of food that they say refugees refuse to eat (and dogs too…), but that NGOs want to force on refugees because they get €7 per bowl handed out, from whoever it is that pays them. To compare: Kostas and his crew feed people for €1, max.

A good example of how the ‘locals’ look at the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs is this video by a native Brit who lives on Lesbos, Eric Kempson: Major Aid Agencies Are Deceiving The General Public on Refugees. Warning: there’s a few select F-words sprinkled in. Eric does angry well.

I was saying before how ‘The Other Human’ had grown at least 5-fold. That is a bit of an understatement. There are 5 now different ‘kitchen teams’ running (vs 1-2 before), and they hand out over 3000 meals a day today instead of the 300 earlier in the year. There simply is that much need. The Greeks themselves are getting poorer, fast, and refugees have become a major ‘target’ group as well.

Kostas began running operations on Lesbos over the summer, and has a team in place there now as well as on Salimani island and 3 different locations in the Athens area. And there’s no doubt he would like to do more.

Before, costs would be covered by food donations and sympathizers giving €5 or €10 a month from what little they have. Between pensions cuts, pay cuts and capital controls, the number of Greeks who have next to nothing rises fast. It’s no exception for former supporters to now come to rely on Kostas for their own food.

Nor is it exceptional for grandmothers to still insist on giving $5 from the €400 that’s all that’s left of their pension. Greeks do solidarity well.

But the numbers are getting out of hand, so many people need help, and it promises to get much worse in 2016, looking at the new austerity measures the troika is forcing upon the country, and the expected numbers of refugees arriving. The donations that used to run ‘The Other Human’ are simply not enough to cover operations any longer, let alone expand them where most needed.


And while the €1000 I donated earlier this year went a -relatively- long way, the second €1000, though at least as much appreciated, won’t go nearly as far. When I was told ‘The Other Human’ have been forced to cancel some cooking events now -for the cold and hungry homeless, for crying out loud, who are increasingly people that used to have jobs and homes and all until recently-, simply because they can’t afford to feed the poor, that actually hurt, and stung. That felt personal.

What we have here is a man who’s devoted his entire life to helping other people, no holds barred. And he’s by no means alone in that. The ‘social kitchens’ run 7 days a week. And if there’s anything I can do to make it possible for Kostas, and his crews, to keep on doing this, the way he sees fit, and they do, I will. I may fail, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

There is the food that needs to be provided, there are transport costs, they need to pay the rent for the building where donated food and blankets etc. come in, and that doubles as a school for homeless kids, as well as a laundry and shower facility for the -longtime and newly- homeless (the troika just forced through a new provision to make it easier for banks to throw people out of their homes in 2016).

Since this has grown beyond the scope of the Automatic Earth alone, I want to appeal to all of you, my friends and ‘competitors’ in the -finance and broader- blogosphere, for your help in what I think is about the worthiest cause there is. People are dying out there, and hurting, not just the babies that drown before they reach Greek shores, but also the ones that make it.

Medical care is crucial, so is schooling, and of course food, and shelter. With Kostas and his large team of volunteers, we have the people in place to provide all of this. What’s missing is the money. Not for them, they ask for nothing for themselves, but for the people they try to help.

There are hundreds of thousands of you who read the Automatic Earth, and our friends at Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Aaron Krowne, Steve Keen, John Rubino, Mish, Jim Kunstler, Max Keiser, BI, Wolf Richter, Jesse’s Café, Davis Stockman, Bruno at Stealthflation, the Transition people, my dear friend Dave Holmgren, and those are just the ones that come to mind in the first few seconds, and that I’ve had personal contact with, and even then I’m still forgetting many (sorry!).

Between us, we should be able to help Kostas do what he thinks must be done. If only simply by drawing our readers’ and friends’ and families’ attention to this. If everyone donates just $5, we can feed and clothe all kids and their moms and donate some humanity for Christmas to those who need it badly. And perhaps for next Christmas too. It’s about the power of numbers, which y’all know about.

What Kostas and I discussed on Saturday is to run this -if there are any donations to begin with, that is- through the Automatic Earth for now, so he doesn’t get bothered up the wazoo by his government. We may have to change that at some point, but we’ll tackle that one when we get there. For now, this is about saving people’s lives and dignity, today.

The Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

To tell donations for Kostas apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37 (don’t ask), will go to ‘The Other Human’. And no, I don’t cheat either on my friends or the poor -nor anyone else-, you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

If someone would like to start a crowdfunding campaign for the cause, please contact me at: contact •at• TheAutomaticEarth •dot• com.

Jesus was a refugee. Who got help. Tiny Tim got it too. I think I’ll rest my case.


Elena Angelopoulos Refugee mother feeds her child at ‘The Other Human’ on Lesbos 2015

Nov 052015
 
 November 5, 2015  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Martha McMillan Roberts Three sisters at Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC” 1941

This Is the Worst U.S. Earnings Season Since 2009 (Bloomberg)
U.S. Posts Record Deficit in Manufacturing Trade (Bloomberg)
German Factory Orders Unexpectedly Drop for Third Straight Month (Bloomberg)
America’s Labour Market Is Not Working (Martin Wolf)
Yellen Signals Solid Economy Would Spur December Rate Hike (Bloomberg)
David Stockman Explains How To Fix The World -In 7 Words- (Zero Hedge)
The Bear Case for China Sees PBOC Following Fed to Zero Rates (Bloomberg)
I’ll Eat My Hat If We Are Anywhere Near A Global Recession (AEP)
VW Could Face Billions In Car Tax Repayments Over Latest CO2 Scandal (Guardian)
VW Scandal Widens Again as India Says Vehicles Exceeded Emission Rules (BBG)
Germany Ups Pressure On VW As Scandal Takes On New Dimension (Reuters)
VW Emissions Scandal Still Obscured By A Cloud (Guardian)
Germany To Retest VW Cars As Scandal Pushes Berlin To Act (Reuters)
Basque Secessionists Follow Catalans In Push For Independence (Guardian)
US Presses Europe To Take Steps To Reduce Greece’s Debt Burden (Bloomberg)
Fannie, Freddie May Need To Tap Treasury, FHFA Director Says (MarketWatch)
Maersk Line to Cut 4,000 Jobs as Shipping Market Deteriorates (WSJ)
2015 Million Mask March: Anonymous Calls For Day Of Action In 671 Cities (RT)
Merkel Overwhelmed: Chancellor Plunges Germany Into Chaos (Sputnik)
Merkel Reasserts Control as Rebellion Over Refugees Fades (Bloomberg)
Rough Seas and Falling Temperatures Fail to Stop Flow of Refugees (NY Times)
800,000 ‘Illegal Entries’ To EU In 2015, Frontex Chief Says (AFP)

Not a freak incident, but a trend.

This Is the Worst U.S. Earnings Season Since 2009 (Bloomberg)

This U.S. earnings season is on track to be the worst since 2009 as profits from oil & gas and commodity-related companies plummet. So far, about three-quarters of the S&P 500 have reported results, with profits down 3.1% on a share-weighted basis, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. This would be the biggest quarterly drop in earnings since the third quarter 2009, and the second straight quarter of profit declines. Earnings growth turned negative for the first time in six years in the second quarter this year. The damage is the biggest in commodity-related industries, with the energy sector showing a 54% drop in quarterly earnings per share so far in the quarter, with profits in the materials sector falling 15%. The picture is brighter for the telecom services and consumer discretionary sectors, with EPS growth of 23% and 19% respectively so far this quarter.

When compared with analyst expectations, about 72% of companies have beaten profit forecasts. That’s only because the consensus has been sharply cut in the past few months, Jeanne Asseraf-Bitton, head of global cross-asset research at Lyxor Asset Management says in a telephone interview. For the year as a whole, S&P 500 earnings are expected to fall 0.5%, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. For 2016, earnings growth is now seen at 7.9%, down from 10.9% in late July. Next year’s consensus is “still very optimistic,” Asseraf-Bitton says, citing the lack of positive catalyst seen for U.S. stocks in 2016 as well as the negative impact from the sharp slowdown in the U.S. energy sector. By contrast, the euro-zone is the only region worldwide where earnings are expected to “grow significantly” in 2015, according to a note from Societe Generale Head of European Equity Strategy Roland Kaloyan.

Read more …

Lower oil prices hurt where they were ‘supposed’ to heal.

U.S. Posts Record Deficit in Manufacturing Trade (Bloomberg)

The U.S. trade deficit in manufacturing hit a record $74.7 billion in September, according to an analysis of new Census Bureau data by RealityChek, a reliable blog on manufacturing and trade. That could become fodder for debate in the presidential election, where candidates have been arguing over the plight of American factory workers. The record was spotted by Alan Tonelson, founder of RealityChek. Spotting records involves searching through historical trade data, since the Census Bureau doesn’t make comparisons in its news releases. The swelling of the manufacturing trade deficit is more evidence that while the overall U.S. economy has recovered from the 2007-09 recession, the manufacturing sector continues to lag. While overall employment is up 3% since the start of the recession, in December 2007, manufacturing employment is down 10%.

According to Tonelson, the previous high for the manufacturing trade deficit was $73 billion in August. He says the U.S. appears headed for an annual record deficit in manufacturing. The Alliance for American Manufacturing noted that U.S. imports from China hit a record of $45.7 billion in September, and President Scott Paul said the inflow is “killing America’s manufacturing recovery.” Thanks to the lowest oil imports in a decade, the overall U.S. trade deficit shrank in September to $40.8 billion from $48 billion in August, according to the Census Bureau. But the one-month dip masks a rising trend. “A weakening global economy, soaring dollar, and global petro-recession with an associated inventory overhang are hurting exports and widening the deficit despite the improvement once expected with the big drop in oil prices,” Action Economics said in a statement.

Read more …

It’s a global trend.

German Factory Orders Unexpectedly Drop for Third Straight Month (Bloomberg)

German factory orders unexpectedly extended a series of declines in September amid a slump in demand for investment goods in the euro area, highlighting increasing risks for Europe’s largest economy. Orders, adjusted for seasonal swings and inflation, fell 1.7% from August, when they dropped 1.8%, data from the Economy Ministry in Berlin showed on Thursday. That’s the third consecutive decrease and compares with a median estimate of a 1% gain in a Bloomberg survey. Orders declined 1% from a year earlier. The Bundesbank said last month that an upward trend in economic activity in Germany continued in the third quarter, albeit less dynamically. While business confidence as measured by the Ifo institute fell in October for the first time in four months in response to weakening global trade, the slowdown in China in itself should only have a modest impact on the euro-area economy, according to the European Central Bank.

“Manufacturing orders are experiencing a hard time at the moment, which relates primarily to weak demand from outside the euro area,” the ministry said in the statement. “Domestic demand and from within the euro area continue to point moderately upward and supports manufacturing. Sentiment in the industry remains good.” Factory orders dropped 2.8% in the third quarter from the previous one, according to the report. Demand from within the country increased 0.3% and was up 0.9% for the euro area. Non-euro-area orders fell 8.6% in the July-to-September period. In September, orders for investment goods from the euro area fell 12.8%, reflecting a drop in demand for big-ticket items. Excluding bulk orders, demand fell 0.4%.

Read more …

There are over 93 million Americans not in the labor force. How can you write about this issue and leave out that number? Wolf says ‘just’ 12% of US men “were neither in work nor looking for it.”

America’s Labour Market Is Not Working (Martin Wolf)

In 2014, 12% — close to one in eight — of US men between the ages of 25 and 54 were neither in work nor looking for it. This was very close to the Italian ratio and far higher than in other members of the group of seven leading high-income countries: in the UK, it was 8%; in Germany and France 7%; and in Japan a mere 4%. In the same year, the proportion of US prime-age women neither in work nor looking for it was 26%, much the same as in Japan and less only than Italy’s. US labour market performance was strikingly poor for the men and women whose responsibilities should make earning a good income vital. So what is going on? The debate in the US has focused on the post-crisis decline in participation rates for those over 16. These fell from 65.7% at the start of 2009 to 62.8% in July 2015.

According to the Council of Economic Advisers, 1.6 percentage points of this decline was due to ageing and 0.3 percentage points due to (diminishing) cyclical effects. This leaves about a percentage point unexplained. Princeton’s Alan Krueger, former chairman of the council, argues that many of the long-term unemployed have given up looking for work. In this way, prolonged cyclical unemployment causes permanent shrinkage of the labour force. Thus unemployment rates might fall for two opposite reasons: the welcome one would be that people find jobs; the unwelcome one would be that they abandon the search for them. Happily, in the US, the former has outweighed the latter since the crisis. The overall unemployment rate (on an internationally comparable basis) has fallen by 5 percentage points since its 2009 peak of 10%.

In all, the proportion of the fall in the unemployment rate because of lower participation cannot be more than a quarter. Relative US unemployment performance has also been quite good: in September 2015 the rate was much the same as the UK’s, and a little above Germany’s and Japan’s, but far below the eurozone’s 10.8%. US cyclical unemployment performance has at least been decent by the standards of its peers, then. Yet as the 2015 Economic Report of the President notes, the UK experienced no decline in labour-force participation after the Great Recession, despite similar ageing trends to those in the US. Even on a cyclical basis, the decline in participation in the US is a concern. It is, however, the longer-term trends that must be most worrying. This is particularly true for the prime-aged adults.

Back in 1991, the proportion of US prime-age men who were neither in work nor looking for it was just 7%. Thus the proportion of vanished would-be workers has risen by 5 percentage points since then. In the UK, the proportion of prime-aged men out of the labour force has risen only from 6% to 8% over this period. In France, it has gone from 5 to 7%. So supposedly sclerotic French labour markets have done a better job of keeping prime-aged males in the labour force than flexible US ones. Moreover, male participation rates have been declining in the US since shortly after the second world war.

Read more …

This nonsense keeps on going. Whoever follows it deserves what they get.

Yellen Signals Solid Economy Would Spur December Rate Hike (Bloomberg)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said an improving economy has set the stage for a December interest-rate increase if economic reports continue to assure policy makers that inflation will accelerate over time. “At this point, I see the U.S. economy as performing well,” Yellen said on Wednesday in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington. “Domestic spending has been growing at a solid pace” and if the data continue to point to growth and firmer prices, a December rate hike would be a “live possibility,” she said in response to a question from Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat. The Federal Open Market Committee in its October statement said it will consider raising interest rates at its “next meeting,” citing “solid” rates of household spending and business investment.

“There are pretty good odds that the Fed will hike rates in December as long as employment perks back up and the unemployment rate slips further, which is what we are looking for,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. “She is trying to keep the Fed’s options open in December.” No decision has yet been made on the timing of a rate increase, Yellen cautioned. Yellen appeared before the House Financial Services Committee to testify primarily on the Fed’s supervision and regulation of financial institutions. “What the committee has been expecting is that the economy will continue to grow at a pace that’s sufficient to generate further improvements to the labor market and to return inflation to our 2% target over the medium term,” she said.

Read more …

But that wouldn’t make the 1% nearly as much money…

David Stockman Explains How To Fix The World -In 7 Words- (Zero Hedge)

While we are used to David Stockman’s detailed and lengthy “nailing” of the real state of the world, the following brief clip of an interview with Fox Business, in which David explains how to ‘fix’ so many of our problems, can be summarized perfectly in just seven short words: “Replace The Fed with the free market.” Enjoy 4 minutes of refeshing honesty… as the Fox anchor just cannot fathom who or what would “control” rates if there was no Fed…

Read more …

“He and colleagues at Fathom reckon its growth rate has slowed to about 3% a year..”

The Bear Case for China Sees PBOC Following Fed to Zero Rates (Bloomberg)

Danny Gabay “bows to nobody” in his pessimism about China’s economy. Gabay, a former Bank of England economist, says the world’s second-biggest economy is barreling toward a hard landing. He and colleagues at Fathom reckon its growth rate has slowed to about 3% a year – less than half the official estimate of 6.9% for the year to the third quarter and the 6.5% the government is aiming for over the next five years. That means desperate measures are in store, he says. The People’s Bank of China will eventually follow its western counterparts by cutting its benchmark interest rate to zero from the current 4.35% and begin buying assets. Politicians will ease fiscal policy and step in to support banks. By cutting so deeply, the PBOC’s main rate will next year fall below that of the Fed for the first time since 2001.

It has already lowered its benchmark six times in a year and devalued the yuan by 3% against the dollar in August. “They will try to do it stone by stone, step by step,” says Gabay, a director and co-founder of Fathom. The authorities also will need to let the yuan slide further, probably by between 2% and 3% a quarter for the next two years and ultimately by about 25% overall to stop it from choking the economy even more. “The rope the Chinese have is currently around their neck and they need to let it go,” said Gabay. “It’s going to hurt.” Fathom’s case conflicts with that of Ma Jun, the PBOC’s chief economist. He said on Tuesday that some market participants are “too bearish” on the economy, where a recovery in property sales alongside recent stimulus should support expansion. The PBOC has repeatedly said it won’t need to do quantitative easing.

Underpinning Gabay’s pessimistic view is his argument that China is no special case and that its policy makers are no better equipped that those elsewhere to prop up a faltering economy. Like the U.S. and U.K. before it, China needs to face life with excess debt.
China’s total government, corporate and household debt load as of mid-2014 was equal to 282% of the country’s total annual economic output, according to McKinsey. “They will be no more adept at stopping an asset price bubble from bursting than the rest of us,” said Gabay. Its banks are now on perilous ground with non-performing loans totaling more than 20% of gross domestic product, more than the level witnessed in Japan in the 1990s before its economy entered deflation, according to Gabay. “We haven’t yet had the final shoe drop,” he said. “There could be a larger further fall in Chinese activity if we’re right and the banking system implodes.”

Read more …

Ambrose notes the rise in money supply, but fully ignores that means nothing is it is not spent. A curious oversight.

I’ll Eat My Hat If We Are Anywhere Near A Global Recession (AEP)

The damp kindling wood of global economic recovery is poised to catch fire. For the first time in half a decade of stagnation, government policy has turned expansionary in the US, China and the eurozone at the same time. Fiscal austerity is largely over. The combined money supply is surging. Such optimistic claims are perhaps hazardous, given record debt ratios in most areas of the world and given that we are six-and-a-half years into an aging economic cycle that might normally be rolling over at this stage. It certainly feels lonely. Citigroup’s Willem Buiter has issued a global recession alert. Professor Nouriel Roubini from New York University joined him this week, warning that the odds of a fresh slump have doubled to 30pc. Mr Roubini’s gloom is unsettling for me.

We saw the world in almost exactly the same way in the lead-up to the Lehman crisis, when it seemed obvious to both of us that sharply rising interest rates would prick the US housing bubble and the EMU credit bubble. This time I dissent. Years of fiscal retrenchment and balance sheet deleveraging have prevented the current global economic recovery from gathering speed, and have therefore stretched the potential lifespan of the cycle. The torrid pace of worldwide money growth over recent months is simply not compatible with an imminent crisis. A combined gauge of the global money supply put together by Gabriel Stein at Oxford Economics shows that the “broad” M3 measure grew by 8.1pc in August, and by almost as much in real terms. This is the fastest rate in 25 years, excluding the final blow-off phase of the Lehman boom.

The index has since fallen back slightly as the US settles down but the pattern is clear. It bears no relation to the monetary implosion in early to mid-2008 before the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the twin mortgage giants that in turn brought down the banking system. It is, of course, possible that money signals have lost their meaning in our brave new world of zero rates and secular stagnation, but the current pace of growth would typically imply a flurry of economic activity over the following year or so. “It is a very benign picture for the world. We should see above trend growth over the next year,” said Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. Mr Congdon said the expansion of broad money in China has accelerated to an annual pace of 18.9pc over the past three months, thanks in part to equity purchases by the central bank (PBOC), a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart – otherwise known as quantitative easing with Chinese characteristics.

The eurozone is no longer hurtling into a 1930s deflationary vortex. A trifecta of cheap money, cheap oil and a cheap euro have entirely changed the landscape, and now the European Central Bank seems curiously determined to push stimulus yet further by doubling down on QE. Central banks are strange animals, pro-cyclical by nature.

Read more …

“VW has now lost €32.4bn, or 40% of its value,..”

VW Could Face Billions In Car Tax Repayments Over Latest CO2 Scandal (Guardian)

Volkswagen could have to repay billions of pounds of tax credits to European governments after finding irregularities in the levels of carbon dioxide emitted by its cars. Shares in the embattled carmaker slumped by 10% on Wednesday, wiping €5bn off the value of the company, as analysts warned that the consequences of rigging CO2 and fuel consumption tests could be worse than the initial scandal around diesel emissions tests. VW has now lost €32.4bn, or 40% of its value, since admitting in September that it installed defeat devices into 11m diesel vehicles. The scandal is dragging down sales of new VW cars, according to industry figures due to be released in Britain on Thursday. Sales data for October from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is expected to show that VW sales fell by more than 8% year-on-year, with Seat and Skoda also down.

The latest admission about CO2 tests dramatically widens the scandal that VW is facing. Germany, Britain and other countries set vehicle tax rates based on their CO2 emissions. This means that if VW artificially lowered CO2 emissions during testing then its vehicles will have contributed far less in tax than they should have. VW has said that at least 800,000 cars are affected by the CO2 discovery and estimated the economic risks at €2bn. This works out at €2,500 per car, far more than the €609 per car put aside for the cost of the 11m cars involved in the diesel emissions scandal, which was €6.7bn in total. Analysts said these costs were likely to relate to repaying tax credits in Europe rather than customer compensation. [..]

VW could also face compensation claims from motorists over the misstatement of their vehicle’s fuel economy. According to BNP Paribas, the cost of compensation to governments and customers could reach €4bn, on top of the estimated €12bn cost of rigging nitrogen oxide tests. UBS said the total costs of the scandal, including legal claims, could reach €35bn. The discovery about the irregularities in CO2 data emerged from VW’s investigation into the diesel emissions scandal. This found that figures for CO2 and fuel consumption were set too low during CO2 tests. VW is yet to confirm which models are involved or how the misstatement occurred. The majority of the cars have a diesel engine, but petrol vehicles have been dragged into the scandal for the first time.

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The whole world.

VW Scandal Widens Again as India Says Vehicles Exceeded Emission Rules (BBG)

India sought a response from Volkswagen after probes into four car models showed diesel-fuel emissions exceeding permissible limits, and variations in results between on-road tests and those done in laboratories. Investigations into the Jetta, Vento, Polo and Audi A4 marques showed significant variations and about 314,000 vehicles are potentially affected, Ambuj Sharma, an additional secretary in India’s Heavy Industries Ministry, said in an interview in Mumbai. If cars have defeat devices that cheat tests, the matter would become criminal, he said.

Emissions exceeding India’s Bharat Stage IV standards were detected, and VW has 30 days to reply to the findings, Sharma said. The notice adds to Volkswagen’s woes after the automaker admitted in September to cheating U.S. pollution tests for years with illegal software, prompting a plunge in its shares and a leadership change. India’s standards for controlling pollution from exhaust fumes lag behind those in Europe by several years. The company said yesterday it will present its results on the diesel-engine emissions issue by the end of November, and that it’s co-operating fully with the Indian government.

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Merkel is way late on this issue too.

Germany Ups Pressure On VW As Scandal Takes On New Dimension (Reuters)

German officials stepped up the pressure on Volkswagen to clean up its act on Wednesday after it revealed it had understated the fuel consumption of some vehicles, opening a new front in the crisis at Europe’s biggest carmaker. The company said late on Tuesday it had understated the level of carbon dioxide emissions in up to 800,000 cars sold in Europe, and consequently their fuel usage. This means affected vehicles are more expensive to drive than their buyers had been led to believe. The revelations add a new dimension to a crisis that had previously focused on VW cheating tests for smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions. They are the first to threaten to make a serious dent in the firm’s car sales since the scandal erupted as they could deter cost-conscious consumers, analysts said.

The latest admission provoked some of the strongest criticism yet from the German government of Volkswagen, which is part of an auto industry that employs over 750,000 people in the country, has been a symbol of German engineering prowess and dwarfs other sectors of the economy. Transport minister Alexander Dobrindt said the latest irregularities had caused “irritation in my ministry and with me”. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the carmaker had to take steps to prevent this happening again. “VW has a duty to clear this up transparently and comprehensively,” he added. “It’s important (for VW) to create structures to avoid such cases.” The latest revelations, which led to Volkswagen adding €2 billion to its expected costs from the scandal, are also the first time gasoline cars have been drawn into the scandal.

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It’s becoming a valid question: can VW survive this?

VW Emissions Scandal Still Obscured By A Cloud (Guardian)

The surprise is that Volkswagen’s shares fell only 10% as the cheating affair deepened in several ways. First, the scandal now covers emissions of carbon dioxide, or CO2, not only nitrogen oxide. Second, some petrol engines are now involved. Third – perhaps most importantly for shareholders who hope VW can recover quickly – the company still seems incapable of giving a straightforward account of what its own investigation has uncovered. Tuesday evening’s statement contained the obligatory expressions of regret and commitment to transparency. Indeed, Matthias Müller, the executive shoved into the hot seat in the first week of the crisis, opted for pomposity overdrive. “From the very start I have pushed hard for the relentless and comprehensive clarification of events,” he declared.

“We will stop at nothing and nobody. This is a painful process, but it is our only alternative. For us, the only thing that counts is the truth.” What, though, did VW actually say beyond the confession that “based on present knowledge” 800,000 vehicles have been affected? Almost nothing. Were cheat devices attached to the vehicles, or were real CO2 emissions disguised by other means? How many petrol cars are affected? Does the phrase “present knowledge” mean most cars in VW’s fleet are in the clear, or that they haven’t yet been examined for CO2? And, since the word “irregularities” is so vague, how severely wrong is the published CO2 data? None of these issues were addressed. A little reticence is understandable while investigations continue but it is not unreasonable to expect VW to explain why it can’t answer questions that would occur to most readers of its statement.

More disgracefully from the point of view of shareholders, the company failed to explain how it derived its estimate that the latest revelations will cost “approximately €2bn”. Does that figure merely cover tax credits that now would appear to have been unfairly earned? Analysts assume so, in which case there could also be a wave of claims from consumers who were encouraged to buy VW vehicles on the basis of bogus claims about fuel efficiency. Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas, for example, added €4bn for recall and compensation costs for customers. That assumption sounds fair. The point, though, is that VW ought to be able to say what its €2bn covers and what it doesn’t.

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They should have done this two months ago, when the scandal broke.

Germany To Retest VW Cars As Scandal Pushes Berlin To Act (Reuters)

Germany is to retest all Volkswagen car models to gauge their genuine emissions levels after new revelations from the carmaker six weeks into its biggest-ever corporate scandal pushed the government to act. Expressing his “irritation” with one of Germany’s biggest employers, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said on Wednesday that all current models sold under the VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat brands – with both diesel and petrol engines – would be tested for carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions. As the crisis deepened, VW said it had told U.S. and Canadian dealers to stop selling recent models equipped with its 3.0 V6 TDI diesel engine, while the Moody’s agency downgraded the firm’s credit rating.

The German government’s announcement followed a VW statement on Tuesday that it had understated the level of carbon dioxide emissions in around 800,000 cars sold mainly in Europe, and consequently their fuel usage. This means affected vehicles are more expensive to drive than their buyers had been led to believe. The revelations added a new dimension to a crisis that had previously focused on how Europe’s biggest carmaker cheated in U.S. tests on diesel cars for emissions of nitrogen oxide, which cause smog. Previously the government had said it would review only nitrogen dioxide emissions from VW diesel cars.

“We all have an interest that everything at VW is turned over and reviewed,” Dobrindt said, adding that the government wanted to force the company to pay the extra car taxes which would be incurred by the higher CO2 emissions levels. VW is Europe’s biggest motor manufacturer, employing over 750,000 people in Germany, and has been a symbol of the nation’s engineering prowess.

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Basque independence is not that strong now, but Catalunya may change that.

Basque Secessionists Follow Catalans In Push For Independence (Guardian)

As the central government in Madrid squares off against secessionists in Catalonia, separatists in another Spanish region have begun formally laying the groundwork for their own push for independence. EH Bildu, a leftwing pro-independence party in the Basque country, has submitted a bill to the regional parliament that it hopes will pave the way for consultations to be held in the region. “The aim is to put the political, economic and social future of the Basque country in the hands of its citizens,” EH Bildu’s spokesman, Hasier Arraiz, said as he presented the legislation. The bill mirrors that passed by the Catalan parliament last year, which aimed to create legal cover for a consultation on independence in the region. Spain’s constitutional court suspended the regional law, but Catalonia pressed ahead with the consultation, rebranding it as a symbolic referendum.

The Catalan leader, Artur Mas, and two associates are under investigation for disobedience, abuse of power and obstruction of justice over their actions. Basque separatists have shied away from specifically mentioning independence, but they referred several times to Catalonia as they presented their bill. “It’s time to confront the state democratically. They are doing it in Catalonia and we want to do it in the Basque country,” Arraiz said. The Basque bill has little chance of being passed, because EH Bildu holds only 21 of the 75 seats in the Basque parliament. Its actions, however, confirmed worries in Madrid that any concessions made to secessionists in Catalonia may have to be extended to separatist movements across the country.

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Regurgitated ‘news’.

US Presses Europe To Take Steps To Reduce Greece’s Debt Burden (Bloomberg)

The US is pressing euro-area countries to agree to an overhaul of Greece’s debt to give private-sector investors confidence that the nation’s borrowing burden is sustainable, a US Treasury official said. Europe needs to take action to lower Greece’s overall debt levels, said the official, who asked not to be identified because discussions are in progress. Participation by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development would also be helpful to restore financial stability in Greece, the official said. The EBRD, which was created to help central and eastern European countries after the Cold War, could lend staff and contribute technical expertise to help the Greek banking system get on firmer footing, according to the official.

Lowering interest rates and extending maturities can ease Greece’s debt burden, and the US and IMF have stopped short of calling for writing down the principal of the loans. Many euro-area nations have indicated that would be a “red line,” while indicating they might agree to better servicing terms. The US call to reduce Greece’s debt burden echoes the position taken by the IMF, which has said it won’t offer new money to Greece unless the euro area commits to a formal debt operation. The US is the largest shareholder in the Washington-based IMF, which lends to countries that run into balance-of-payments troubles. Germany and other creditor nations say bringing the IMF on board is an essential element of the €86 billion bailout that the currency bloc approved in August.

The bailout loans Greece has amassed over its three rescues are the focus in the debt-relief talks, since Greece’s private- sector debt was already restructured in early 2012. Greece’s borrowing outlook gained a boost over the weekend, when the European Central Bank found that capital shortfalls at the four biggest banks won’t require all of the money set aside for financial-sector assistance within the aid program. The banks need €14.4 billion, of which €10 billion is expected to come from the rescue coffers. The European Stability Mechanism said on Saturday that this means Greece won’t draw down the full bailout amount, since it doesn’t appear to need another 15 billion euros that had been earmarked for bank aid if needed. The banks are expected to raise 4.4 billion euros from private-sector sources.

Greek government officials say the EBRD, which took bank stakes in Cyprus, has indicated its willingness to take part in the Greek banks’ search for fresh capital. The EBRD is actively looking at the recapitalization plans of the Greek banks with a view to determining whether we can play a role in the process over the next few weeks, said Axel Reiserer, a spokesman for the London-based development bank. The EBRD has recently established a presence in Greece and is now building relationships and exploring options for investments, Reiserer said. The EBRD handles project finance and does not provide budget support or financial aid.

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Time warp.

Fannie, Freddie May Need To Tap Treasury, FHFA Director Says (MarketWatch)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are at risk of needing an injection of Treasury capital after the latter reported its first quarterly loss in four years, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday. FHFA Director Mel Watt issued a statement following mortgage-finance company Freddie Mac’s $475 million third-quarter loss, its first quarterly loss in four years. “Volatility in interest rates coupled with a capital buffer that will decline to zero in 2018 under the terms of the senior preferred stock purchase agreements with Treasury will likely make both Enterprises increasingly susceptible to the possibility of quarterly losses that could result in draws going forward,” Watt said. Freddie Mac said its loss was driven by interest rate changes that soured the value of derivatives it holds.

Watt, in his statement, pointed out that Freddie Mac didn’t report a decline in the credit quality of credit-related losses. The status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has been left in limbo since the government took them under conservatorship in 2008. Efforts to reform the companies have stalled in Congress. But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and his deputies have pushed back against the idea of privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So-called recap and release could raise the possibility of another bailout, the Treasury says. Freddie Mac has paid $96.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury in dividends. It won’t make any payments to the Treasury for the third quarter, but it won’t have to draw, either, due to the $1.8 billion in reserves.

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This is big. When the supply chain of the global economy starts sputtering, look out below.

Maersk Line to Cut 4,000 Jobs as Shipping Market Deteriorates (WSJ)

The world’s biggest container-ship operator is altering course, slashing jobs and canceling or delaying orders for new vessels after years weathering a sharp downturn in the container-shipping market. Danish conglomerate A.P. Møller-Maersk A/S said Wednesday its Maersk Line container-shipping unit would cut 4,000 jobs from its land-based staff of 23,000. It is also canceling options to buy six Triple-E vessels, the world’s largest container ships, to cope with the deepest market slump in the industry since the 2009 global financial crisis. Maersk said it would also push back plans to purchase eight slightly smaller vessels. The decision to halt its fleet expansion represents a significant U-turn for the company, which had been investing heavily amid the downturn.

Counting on its market-share dominance and deep pockets, it aimed to expand as smaller competitors retrenched. But after issuing a surprise profit warning last month, Maersk signaled it, too, was no longer immune to a combination of slowing global growth and massive container ship overcapacity on many routes. The conglomerate said it would cut its annual administration costs by $250 million over the next two years and would cancel 35 scheduled voyages in the fourth quarter. That is on top of four regularly scheduled sailings it canceled earlier in the year. Maersk has already ordered 27 vessels this year, including 11 Triple-E behemoths, which can carry in excess of 19,000 containers. “Given weaker-than-expected demand, this will be enough for us to grow in line with our ambitions over the next three years or so,” said Maersk Line Chief Executive Søren Skou.

The Triple-E orders were placed at South Korean yard Daewoo Shipbuilding and included a nonbinding option to order six more ships. Maersk officials said that under the terms of the deal, the Danish company isn’t subject to any damages for canceling the option. DSME wasn’t immediately available for comment. Although such options aren’t included in the order books of shipbuilders until they become solid orders, a move like Maersk’s represents a psychological blow for the global shipbuilding industry as well. Ships like the Triple-E go for more than $150 million each, and orders for them have helped cushion the blow for dwindling orders for other ship types.

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Remember remember the 5th of November. Today Anonymous promised to ‘unveil’ 1000 American KKK members.

2015 Million Mask March: Anonymous Calls For Day Of Action In 671 Cities (RT)

Tens of thousands of activists disguised as Guy Fawkes are expected to the flood streets of over 671 cities as the Anonymous-led Million Mask March sweeps the globe. The hacktivist group and its followers will protest censorship, corruption, war and poverty. For the fourth year in a row the “Anonymous army,” as the group likes to call its activists, will rise up and take part in rallies and protests from Sydney to Los Angeles and Johannesburg to London. Hiding their faces behind stylized ‘Anonymous’ masks popularized by the “V for Vendetta” movie, they will come forward to make their voices heard. The Million Mask March is also about letting “various governments” know that “the free flow of information” will never be stopped.

“We now face a dilemma unfamiliar to any previous human civilization, we face this dilemma not simply as a community, nor a nation; rather collectively as a planet. We have something no previous generation has ever had, the internet,” Anonymous said in its 2015 promo video for the Million Mask March. Social media has been their major megaphone calling on people to unite in a global move. Just like last year, London expects one of the most massive marches on its streets. According to the demonstration’s page on Facebook, 18,000 people are going to join the Anonymous-inspired march. “The government and the 1% have played their hand, now it is time to play ours,” a Facebook statement reads. This year’s dress code for the London’s Million Mask March calls for “white judicial wigs, black robes & Anonymous masks for Order of Public Court.”

Activists will start gathering by the Ecuadorian Embassy “to free Robin Hood [Julian Assange]” at 9 am. The Metropolitan Police is bracing for 2015’s Million Mask March with thousands of extra police. Law enforcement will be on stand-by in case activists attack businesses or cause damage to property. Potential targets have been warned. The 2014 Million Mask March in London was marked by scuffles between activists and police. Meanwhile in Washington, the Million Mask March is expected to be attended by 25,000 people, according to Facebook’s number of “going” at the time of publication. Activists plan to meet by the Washington monument not far from the Capitol building and march towards the White House.

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Note how this piece is 180º different from the next one.

Merkel Overwhelmed: Chancellor Plunges Germany Into Chaos (Sputnik)

Merkel’s recent statements about the need to keep German borders open in order to prevent military conflicts in Europe is causing panic and anxiety among the German population, DWN wrote. According to the newspaper, Merkel’s actions have surprised political observers as well, some of whom say that the German Chancellor is “overwhelmed” and that her era will soon come to an end. The author argued that Merkel’s statements about the possibility of a military conflict are causing fear and panic among Germans. “A warning of a war in Europe expressed by the German Chancellor in public is irresponsible,” the article said, adding that in this context Merkel’s statements about the need to keep the borders open sound confusing and ridiculous.

“The reaction of all ordinary people to such a threatening statement would be that they would want the borders to be closed quickly,” the author wrote. The situation in the country is extremely critical. There is aggression and a tense atmosphere between various groups in refugee camps that may lead to an explosion anytime. Some refugees do not view the German authorities as an obstacle and do not take into account the local legislation when initiating violent clashes. “Will Merkel send the Bundeswehr to the camps? The police have already called the Bundeswehr during violent clashes because otherwise they would lose control,” the newspaper wrote.

According to the newspaper, the catastrophic situation has its roots in Merkel’s irresponsible policy of open doors towards all refugees and migrants. Now at a time when the influx of newcomers is still increasing and the country’s authorities are completely overwhelmed, the situation may come out of control any time. Germany and other European countries have been struggling to resolve the refugee crisis for many months, but without much success. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants continue to flee their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa to escape violence and poverty.

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Her power is more important than refugees’ lives.

Merkel Reasserts Control as Rebellion Over Refugees Fades (Bloomberg)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have defused one of the biggest bust-ups of her third-term coalition after quelling a political revolt from her Bavarian allies over her handling of the refugee crisis. A nascent deal reached this week indicates Merkel is reasserting her control over the domestic political drift Germany has witnessed recently amid coalition sniping that put her chancellorship in question. While she has said many external factors will determine whether the flow of refugees can be stemmed – from government action in Turkey to a diplomatic solution to end the war in Syria – Merkel can also take heart from the latest polling that suggests her party’s sliding support has halted.

“There were some threats, but Merkel treated it quite calmly,” said Manfred Guellner, head of Berlin-based pollster Forsa, adding that her party’s poll numbers have probably reached the bottom. “As far as power brokers in Berlin are concerned, nobody at the moment wants to risk the coalition in any serious way.” The chancellor struck the agreement with her chief internal critic, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, removing his threat of unilateral action to halt the influx of refugees. Merkel and Seehofer will meet Thursday with Sigmar Gabriel – head of junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats – to hammer out a final deal. All three have signaled in the last two days that they’re aiming to put the dispute behind them. “We will see if we can find common ground,” Merkel told reporters Wednesday in Berlin.

“If we don’t find an agreement, we have to continue negotiating. That wouldn’t be the first time, but everybody wants us to find a logical solution.” [..] Seehofer, the chairman of the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union, was assuaged by the chancellor’s commitment to reduce the number of refugees. Merkel said that would involve a series of measures including a political agreement with Turkey to protect that country’s border and a resolution of the civil war in Syria, rather than shutting Germany’s frontier or setting upper limits on those who can come in. “No country in the world can accommodate a limitless flow of refugees,” Seehofer said earlier this week, responding to the numbers of refugees arriving in Bavaria from Austria, issuing the biggest challenge yet to Merkel’s open-door policy.

Speaking to business leaders in Dusseldorf Wednesday evening, Merkel reiterated the need to cut the number of asylum-seekers and tackle the refugee crisis at its source in Syria, warning that a restoration of border controls within the European Union would hit the free movement of goods and people. “We probably need a European border guard, agreements with our neighbors and a fair distribution” of refugees in Europe, the chancellor said. “That means we need a change to the existing asylum system, but a change that strengthens Europe and not a change that weakens Europe.”

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“..people will keep coming as long as the smugglers tell them to come, and the smugglers will keep attempting trips as long as the people are coming..”

Rough Seas and Falling Temperatures Fail to Stop Flow of Refugees (NY Times)

The rubber dinghy rolled perilously on the waves and twisted sideways, nearly flipping, as more than three dozen passengers wrapped in orange life vests screamed, wept and cried frantically to God and the volunteers waiting on the rocky beach. Khalid Ahmed, 35, slipped over the side into the numbing waist-high water, struggled to shore and fell to his knees, bowing toward the eastern horizon and praying while tears poured into his salt-stiff beard. “I know it is almost winter,” he said. “We knew the seas would be rough. But please, you must believe me, whatever will happen to us, it will be better than what we left behind.” The great flood of humanity pouring out of Turkey from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other roiling nations shows little sign of stopping, despite the plummeting temperatures, the increasingly turbulent seas and the rising number of drownings along the coast.

If anything, there has been a greater gush of people in recent weeks, driven by increased fighting in their homelands – including the arrival of Russian airstrikes in Syria — and the gnawing fear that the path into the heart of Europe will snap shut as bickering governments tighten their borders. “Coming in the winter like this is unprecedented,” said Alessandra Morelli, the director of emergency operations in Greece for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “But it makes sense if you understand the logic of ‘now or never.’ That is the logic that has taken hold among these people. They believe this opportunity will not come again, so they must risk it, despite the dangers.”

The surge means that countries throughout the Balkans and Central Europe already under intense logistical and political strain will not find relief — especially Germany, the destination of choice for many of the refugees. Hopes that weather and diplomacy would ease the emergency are unfounded so far, putting more pressure on financially strapped and emotionally overwhelmed governments to quickly find more winterized shelter. The influx also underscores the European Union’s failure to reach a unified solution to the crisis, leaving places like Lesbos struggling to deal with huge numbers of desperate people and raising questions about what will happen not just this winter, but in the spring and beyond.

Early this week, the number of people who had crossed into Greece from Turkey hit 600,000, after having passed 500,000 only a few weeks earlier. Both migrants and relief workers shrug when asked how far into the winter people will try to make the treacherous crossing. “Some of the smugglers, they tell the people who call them, ‘Yes, there will be more trips, you should come,’ and so the people keep coming,” said Abu Jawad, a 28-year-old Palestinian Syrian who works as a broker for Turkish smugglers, recruiting passengers from the crowds in Izmir, Turkey, and other coastal cities. “So what I think is that people will keep coming as long as the smugglers tell them to come, and the smugglers will keep attempting trips as long as the people are coming,” he said.

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Leggeri should be fired from framing the issue this way. But he won’t, because this is Europe’s new normal, this is how politics wants is framed. Still, under international law people fleeing war zones cannot be labeled ‘illegal’.

800,000 ‘Illegal Entries’ To EU In 2015, Frontex Chief Says (AFP)

Migrants have made some 800,000 “illegal entries” to the European Union so far this year, the head of the bloc’s border agency Frontex said in an interview with German newspaper Bild published Wednesday. Warning that the influx of migrants has probably not yet “reached its peak,” Fabrice Leggeri called for European states to detain unsuccessful asylum seekers so they can be “rapidly” sent back to their countries of origin. “EU states must prepare for the fact that we still have a very difficult situation ahead of us in the coming months,” added Leggeri. Last month, Frontex said that 710,000 migrants had entered the EU in the first nine months of the year but cautioned that many people had been counted twice. The agency said on October 13 that “irregular border crossings may be attempted by the same person several times.”

“This means that a large number of the people who were counted when they arrived in Greece were again counted when entering the EU for the second time through Hungary or Croatia,” explained the agency. According to the most recent figures from the UN refugee agency, more than 744,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean this year, the majority to Greece. On Wednesday, the first set of 30 migrants was due to leave Athens for Luxembourg under an EU plan to redistribute people throughout the 28-member bloc in order to ease pressure on countries like Greece and Italy. The bloc hopes to transfer some 160,000 people under the plan.

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