Oct 172017
 
 October 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Rembrandt An Old Scholar Near a Window in a Vaulted Room 1631

 

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)
Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)
Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)
Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)
China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)
China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)
China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)
Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)
MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)
Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)
The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)
Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)
IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)
2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

 

 

“.. the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced.”

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)

[..] Let’s wind the clock back two decades to December 1996. The Labor Department had just reported a “blowout” jobs report. Then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan had just completed a decade in office. He made a now famous speech at American Enterprise Institute wherein Greenspan asked if “irrational exuberance” had begun to play a role in the increase of certain asset prices. He said:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the FOMC abandoned its focus on the productive sector and essentially substituted exuberant monetary policy for the irrational behavior of investors in the roaring 2000s. In place of banks and other intermediaries pushing up assets prices, we instead have seen almost a decade of “quantitative easing” by the FOMC doing much the same thing. And all of this in the name of boosting the real economy?

The Federal Reserve System, joined by the Bank of Japan and the ECB, artificially increased assets prices in a coordinated effort not to promote growth, but avoid debt deflation. Unfortunately, without an increase in income to match the artificial rise in assets prices, the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced. Stocks, commercial real estate and many other asset classes have been vastly inflated by the actions of global central banks. Assuming that these central bankers actually understand the implications of their actions, which are nicely summarized by Greenspan’s remarks some 20 years ago, then the obvious conclusion is that there is no way to “normalize” monetary policy without seeing a significant, secular decline in asset prices. The image below illustrates the most recent meeting of the FOMC.

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Great piece of history.

Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)

The Bank of Japan’s current path provides an ominous reminder of a similar era 80 years ago. These policies, which are also being followed by the other world central banks, will lead to disaster. “One man – one kill” railed Inoue Nissho, leader of the Ketsumeidan (the Blood Pledge Corps), a Japanese ultranationalist group of the 1930s committed to cleansing the country of ‘traitors’ – the leaders of business and government. The first name on their death list was Inoue Junnosuke, a former Finance Minister, an austerity advocate and former governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ); he was shot as he visited a nursery school. The next name was Dan Takuma, head of the Mitsui Group, the Japanese Goldman Sachs; he was shot in front of his office in the fashionable Nihonbashi district.

Further attacks on the BOJ and Mitsubishi Bank followed but were unsuccessful. The “world of cosmopolitan finance had collided with nationalist resentment.” The liberal elite was stunned, unable to provide answers to the social turmoil of the time; and with the establishment paralysed, the public began to sympathise with the killers’ aims. Enter Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo. He placated the nationalists by championing massive deficit financing, via the BOJ, to pull Japan out of its economic morass. Japan’s economy soon embarked on a period of economic growth with stable prices, full employment and humming factories, an “economic nirvana.” Seven decades later these results were heralded a success by another central banker trying a similar trick – Ben Bernanke. Korekiyo’s plan was to fund government spending by having the BOJ directly purchase all the government-issued bonds.

The hope was that, when conditions and inflation improved, the bonds would be sold back into the market. Four years later, the BOJ’s balance sheet was 90% of GDP, and the economy (and for “economy” read military) was totally dependent on government spending financed by the BOJ. As the first modest hint of inflation arrived Korekiyo attempted to sell government bonds publicly, but the auction failed. With this failure it became clear that the bonds which had been stuffed onto the BOJ’s balance sheet could never be sold. Korekiyo’s struggle to ‘cut up the credit card’ culminated in him suffering a similar fate to Junnosuke and being cut up in an attack of army machetes. As the BOJ’s balance sheet crossed 100% of GDP, there could be no turning back, the road to conflict had been primed by the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet and the money that had flooded into the military.

The current Bank of Japan’s balance sheet has now again crossed that fabled 100% of GDP and it is getting close to owning 45% of outstanding government bonds. There is no end in sight with the BOJ buying $60 billion a month of government debt. At this current pace the modern BOJ will by 2019 be the proud owner of 60% of the local bond market. There is no longer a market price for a Japanese Government Bond, it is an asset whose price is set by the BOJ. The key difference between today and the 1930s is that Japan now has an open capital account, therefore the only untethered market price is the currency. The Yen’s continued devaluation will be deep and comprehensive, while Japanese equities will continue to rise, adjusting to the currency loss.

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Musical chairs. Won’t change a thing.

Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)

The leaders of the world’s top central banks who risked trillions of dollars and their reputations to rescue the global economy are now set to walk off stage at a time when the lingering effects of the crisis, evolving technology and a combustible political landscape will challenge their successors. The Fed, the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China may all have new bosses in early 2018 and there will be a new head of the ECB the following year. The new leaders will have to deal with the hangover from the 2007-2009 crisis and its immediate aftermath as well as newly emerging risks. Some $10 trillion in assets bought by the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ to prop up their economies remains on the books and will have to be pared back. Stubbornly low global inflation and weak growth complicate the return to more conventional policies.

There are unfinished reforms in China and Europe, while the rise of nationalism could erode central bank independence. Further ahead, the spread of cryptocurrencies and other technologies threatens to weaken central bank control over the financial system. “The bad news is that in a crisis people learn by doing,” said Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at investment firm Standish Mellon and a longtime official at the Federal Reserve. “Will the next set of people have the set of experiences that allows them to do that? Will they have a test?” The changing of the guard could veer in unpredictable directions. China’s president is considering a provincial official to succeed Zhou Xiaochuan, a veteran policymaker who has led the central bank since 2002 and whom analysts regard as a champion of reforms that could falter without his leadership.

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Even had a fraud manual. This keeps growing by the day.

Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)

Product quality data was falsified for decades at some Kobe Steel plants in Japan, well beyond the roughly 10-year time frame given by the steelmaker, a source with knowledge of the situation said Monday. Employees involved in the data manipulation used the industry term tokusai to refer to shipping of products that did not meet the standards requested by customers, the source said. Though tokusai usually refers to voluntary acceptance of such products, plants sometimes sent substandard goods without customers’ consent. The word was apparently in use at some plants for 40 to 50 years. The cheating procedures eventually became institutionalized in what was essentially a tacit fraud manual, allowing the practice to continue as managers came and went. Data manipulation may have occurred with the knowledge of plant foremen and quality control managers. Some shipments even came with forged inspection certificates.

Kobe Steel has tapped senior officials in the aluminum and copper business – where most of the misconduct took place – to serve on its board. How far up the chain of command knowledge of the fraud may have extended in the past remains an open question. Systemic data falsification took place at four Japanese production sites. The scandal has spread to the manufacturer’s mainstay steel business, with revelations Friday that steel wire was also shipped without inspection or with faked certificates. The number of affected customers has swelled from around 200 to roughly 500. Kobe Steel has said it will complete safety inspections for already shipped products in two weeks or so. A report on the causes of the fraud and measures to prevent a recurrence will come out in a month or so. The steelmaker is conducting a groupwide probe that includes interviews with former senior officials.

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Yeah, when its Ponzi collapses.

China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)

China’s ascension as an economic superstar over the past three-plus decades is out of sync with its heft in global financial markets. But things are starting to change, and investors around the world will feel the difference. China makes up more than one-seventh of the global economy, yet its footprint in international portfolios is ludicrously small, with overseas investors owning less than 2% of its domestic stocks and bonds. But its insulated markets are slowly becoming more integrated, as President Xi Jinping loosens rules on foreign participation. That push could get further backing at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress this month, where the leadership will set policy priorities for the coming five years.

China’s capacity to influence global financial markets has been growing incrementally, but the pivotal moment came in 2015, when the yuan’s unexpected devaluation rocked assets worldwide, showing investors beyond Asia that China’s markets are a force to be reckoned with. The surprise move saw the yuan slide the most in two decades on Aug. 11, 2015, as Beijing sought to shore up economic growth and make China’s exports more competitive. Following on from a Chinese stock rout in mid-2015 that also had a ripple effect globally, the devaluation rattled risk assets for weeks as it was seen as an admission the economy was struggling. Fast forward to 2017, and China’s clout has only expanded, with its lion’s share of global trade making the managed yuan an anchor for currencies throughout Asia.

The nation’s status as both the world’s biggest exporter and the largest market of consumers means policy tweaks in Beijing can affect prices for everything from beef to bitcoin. Trading on Shanghai’s commodity futures market is taking on increasing influence beyond China’s borders. The country’s pivot away from the smokestack industries that have been its growth engine for decades toward high-tech production is already shifting the global landscape for manufacturing and consumption. At the same time, China is looking to draw in more foreign capital by opening conduits to its equity and bond markets, among the largest in the world. That makes the 19th party congress, where Xi will unveil the party’s vision for China over the next five years, key for even the most peripheral of investors.

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It’s almost funny.

China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)

China’s banks are still bingeing on short-term financing, defying analyst predictions that they would wean themselves off such debt as regulators intensify a crackdown on leverage. Sales of negotiable certificates of deposit — a key funding source for medium and smaller banks — surged 49% from a year ago in the third quarter to a record 5.4 trillion yuan ($819 billion), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While strategists had predicted in June that the NCD market would shrink, it turned out to be one of the few funding channels left as officials drained cash from the interbank market and asked lenders to strengthen risk controls. China’s deleveraging looms large in debt-market dynamics these days, with government bond yields at two-year highs and the one-week Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate not far from the most expensive since 2015.

Still, officials are also trying to keep the economy humming: they’ve tweaked the rules governing NCD issuance, but haven’t shut off the taps as credit growth accelerates. “The short-term debt is an indispensable fundraising channel for smaller banks,” said Shen Bifan, head of research at First Capital Securities Co.’s fixed-income department in Shenzhen. “As other channels get squeezed, and lenders’ books continue to expand, as is the case now amid solid economic growth, it’d be difficult to see the NCD market size shrink.” Net financing – sales minus maturities – through such securities was at 333 billion yuan in the third quarter, versus a total of 1.7 trillion yuan in the first half, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With more than 8 trillion yuan of contracts outstanding, it’s now the fourth-largest type of bond in China, after sovereign, local government and policy bank debt.

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Xi only talks the talk.

China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)

China has taken “baby steps” toward cutting leverage as lending from banks slows, but progress has been uneven as borrowing by households and the government has risen, according to S&P Global Ratings. Authorities are adopting both tight and loose policies to try to reduce the country’s dependency on debt without causing a hard landing, analysts led by Christopher Lee wrote in a note dated Oct. 16. S&P last month cut China’s sovereign rating for the first time since 1999, saying it didn’t believe enough was being done to contain credit growth.

The next big test is whether companies can withstand higher funding costs as financial conditions tighten, according to S&P. “Smaller and less-capitalized banks may feel the liquidity squeeze and pressures on their capital, leading to distress; and default risks could also increase for the local government financing vehicles,” the analysts wrote. “Passing the baton of credit-fueled growth in recent years to households also has many obvious risks,” such as a correction in the property market hurting consumption, they said.

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One system.

Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought Dow Jones & Company in late 2007 after a century of ownership by the Bancroft family. The purchase just happened to come at a time when the Federal Reserve had secretly begun to funnel what would end up totaling $16 trillion in cumulative low-cost loans to bail out the Wall Street mega banks and their foreign counterparts. In 2011, the Pew Research Center released a study on how front page coverage had changed since the News Corp. purchase of the Wall Street Journal. Pew found that “coverage has clearly moved away from what had been the paper’s core mission under previous ownership—covering business and corporate America. In the past three and a half years, front-page coverage of business is down about one-third from what it had been in 2007, the last year of the old ownership regime.”

What is not down but “up” at the Wall Street Journal is its defense of the Wall Street banking giants’ indefensible practices on its editorial and opinion pages. One of the most striking examples of the changing face of corporate media coverage of Wall Street was an October 20, 2013 editorial in the Wall Street Journal headlined:“The Morgan Shakedown.” The unsigned editorial began with this: “The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”

Actually, there was a very good reason for the $13 billion settlement – but the intrepid investigative reporting on that subject would be done by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone – not by the paper still calling itself the “Wall Street” Journal. Taibbi revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had actually settled on the cheap and had failed to reveal to the public that it had the most credible of eyewitnesses to mortgage fraud at JPMorgan Chase – a securities attorney who worked there and had reported the fraud to her supervisors. The attorney, Alayne Fleischmann, told Taibbi that what she witnessed in JPMorgan’s mortgage operations was “massive criminal securities fraud.”

Taibbi’s in-depth report on the matter made the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal appear naïve or captured by Wall Street. It raised the added embarrassing question as to why the Wall Street Journal was out of touch with the details of the Justice Department’s investigation.

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This year’s Fauxbel for human behavior, next year’s for animal behavior?

MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)

Every reigning theory of finance has holes. The efficient-markets hypothesis says markets are rational and self-regulating, but it doesn’t account for crashes and crises; behavioral finance blames market breakdowns on investors’ short-term thinking, but it fails to account for group dynamics or predict future markets. Andrew Lo spent his early career studying these flaws. Lo, 57, is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris professor of finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management, but he’s always been a multidisciplinarian. At the Bronx High School of Science, he excelled in biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics and liked solving broad problems. “I just really enjoyed the dynamics across all these fields,” he says. “I never thought of myself as, I am an economist or I’m a statistician.”

Eighteen years into his research, Lo had a major insight. One day in 1999 his 4-year-old son took off running toward a gorilla cage at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “The mother gorilla jumped right in and growled,” he says. “And as soon as she did that, I did the same thing. I ran to my child and brought him back.” The similarity of their reactions startled Lo and caused him to wonder: Could there be other similarities in the way people and animals react to danger and risk? The insight eventually led to the adaptive-markets hypothesis. “Right now, we tend to collect prices and assume that those are the only things that matter” to predict investor behavior, Lo says, whereas an ecologist would try to understand investors as a population—which means accounting for their animal instincts. Lo’s hypothesis says people act in their own self-interest but frequently make mistakes, figure out where they’ve erred, and change their behaviors.

The broader system also adapts. These complex interactions contribute to our booms and busts. Lo’s book-length exploration of the idea, Adaptive Markets, came out in February. Says Ben Golub, a founding partner at BlackRock Inc. and now co-head of the company’s risk and quantitative analysis group: “It makes you realize that at any time in the market, the people who are there are not there by accident.” Some people survived the last financial crisis and might be more risk-averse, and some people who’ve joined since might be more risk-tolerant. “The cautious guys survive for a while and then get pushed out by the more aggressive risk takers, who then get thrown out when the thing blows up in their faces,” Golub says. He’s made the book required reading for many BlackRock employees.

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“Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)

More than fifty years ago, in 1965, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his ministers from the Council of the EU, de facto vetoing all decisions. According to Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister for Greece, Macron should consider refreshing this tactic – but for the opposite reason. De Gaulle was defending nation states, while Macron wants to push federalism forward. “Macron has got some good ideas, but he already lost, he is done, belittled by Germany” who refuses to create a budget for the Eurozone, according to the economist, who spoke to the French press in Paris. According to him, the success of the far-right party AfD in September’s parliamentary election gives Germany the perfect excuse to retrench on this dossier. And the European Monetary Fund, proposed by Germany as an alternative to a Eurozone budget, is a sham and not a real compromise, according to Varoufakis.

The only way to force Germany into siding with France on relaunching the federalist process is the empty-chair tactic, he says. A form of “constructive disobedience” [..] “Trying to achieve a permanent reduction of the public deficit under 3% of GDP is nonsensical. It is not a problem to run a public deficit: Arizona will always have one, especially if compared to California. In a federation, this happens a lot. But in the case of France, current public spending will condemn the country to permanent stagnation, because the German industry has a monopoly of numerous markets”, he says. The real priority according to him is investment, which should be raised to €500 billion per year. “The Juncker plan is a farce,” he said.

Without a eurozone budget to relaunch the federalist project, the economist proposes that the European Investment Bank (BEI) issue green bonds to finance large infrastructure projects in clean energy and transport – and that the ECB buys them. “We don’t need to change the treaties. It is already feasible – it is just a question of achieving the consensus of the EIB’s board.” On the type of projects that should be financed, Varoufakis echoes Macron who spoke about a way to cross the old continent without polluting: he would like to develop a railway network from the East to the West as well as invest in clean energy. While he sides with Macron’s federalist elements, including a transnational list for the 2019 European elections, Varoufakis is also very critical of his first steps.

“The speech he gave in Greece was pathetic. Coming to tell us that Greece is out of the crisis is an insult, and speaking from [Athens’ Acropolis] where countless dictators spoke to Greeks adds insult to injury,” said the economist. Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

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Excellent and very educational.

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains” — that’s what Mehmet Aksoy used to say. But Mehmet, who was killed Sept. 26 during an attack by the Islamic State in northern Syria, was my friend, and a tireless advocate of the Kurdish freedom movement. He was working on an essay that began with those words when he died. He often used that adage to explain the plight of his people, who have long been used or mistreated by the very powers that claim to spread democracy and freedom through the world. I first met Mehmet at a Kurdish demonstration in London, where he lived. I had come because of my interest in direct democratic movements like the one the Syrian Kurds were building, but ended up feeling as if I was lurking, out of place at the fringe of the gathering, until he walked up and introduced himself.

I came to know him as I’ve now heard many in the community did, as kind and unassuming but somehow larger than life, always juggling a dozen projects, films, essays, events and political actions. Now I think it’s important to tell people about his last project, his writing on the conflict in Kurdistan, so that more of us understand what’s at stake there. He was writing in the shadow of a referendum taking place in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan that everyone knew would end with a strong endorsement of an independent Kurdish state. But the Syrian Kurdish freedom movement that Mehmet represents has pursued an entirely different vision from that of the Kurds in Iraq: It does not wish to change the borders of states but simply to ignore them and to build grass-roots democracy at the community level.

It frustrated Mehmet that the endless sacrifices of Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State in cities across Syria are being mistakenly seen as justification of more borders and more divisions rather than for less. Too often in the Western news media, the Kurds are grouped together as one homogeneous people, with Syrian Kurds often an afterthought of late because of the attention the Iraqi Kurds have received for their referendum. But the Kurds in these two countries have built very different political systems. The Syrian Kurds have built a coalition with Arabs, Syriacs, Christians and others in the northern slice of Syria that they call Rojava (or, more officially, the The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.).

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RIP. May your courage shine on others.

Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)

The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field. A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state.

Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan. No group or individual has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Malta’s president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, called for calm. “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgment and to show solidarity,” she said. After a fraught general election this summer, commentators had been fearing a return to the political violence that scarred Malta during the 1980s.

In a statement, Muscat condemned the “barbaric attack”, saying he had asked police to reach out to other countries’ security services for help identifying the perpetrators. [..] Caruana Galizia, who claimed to have no political affiliations, set her sights on a wide range of targets, from banks facilitating money laundering to links between Malta’s online gaming industry and the Mafia. Over the last two years, her reporting had largely focused on revelations from the Panama Papers, a cache of 11.5m documents leaked from the internal database of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

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This is theater. And it’s empty.

IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)

Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has praised Greece’s progress on reforms while saying that implementation of the adjustment program coupled with an agreement on debt relief are key to leading the debt-wracked country out of the crisis. The IMF chief made the comments after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington Monday to discuss recent developments in Greece and key issues ahead. “I was very pleased to welcome Prime Minister Tsipras to the IMF today. I complimented him and the Greek people on the notable progress Greece has achieved in the implementation of difficult policies, including recent pension and income tax reforms. We had an excellent and productive meeting,” Lagarde said in a statement after the meeting.

“The IMF recently approved in principle a new arrangement to support Greece’s policy program. Resolute implementation of this program, together with an agreement with Greece’s European partners on debt relief, are essential to support Greece’s return to sustainable growth and a successful exit from official financing next year,” Lagarde said. “The prime minister and I are committed to working together towards this goal,” she said. In his comments, Tsipras said that “after several years of economic recession Greece has turned a page.” The Greek prime minister said that it is in everyone’s interest to wrap up the third bailout review as swiftly as possible.

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Numbers rising as we speak.

2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

A total of 1,877 migrants and refugees crossed into the northern Aegean islands from the Turkish coast during the first 15 days of October. According to official figures, 1,148 have arrived in Lesvos; 572 in Chios, and 117 in Samos. In addition to this, on Monday morning, 44 people arrived in Lesvos and 157 in Chios. Between October 1 and 13, the Turkish coast guard announced that it had located 25 incidents involving dinghies with migrants and refugees on board, that had attempted to reach the Greek waters. 907 people have been returned back to Turkey.

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Oct 122017
 
 October 12, 2017  Posted by at 2:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fan Ho East meets west 1963

 

For those of you who don’t know Andy Xie, he’s an MIT-educated former IMF economist and was once Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia-Pacific economist. Xie is known for a bearish view of China, and not Beijing’s favorite person. He’s now an ‘independent’ economist based in Shanghai. He gained respect for multiple bubble predictions, including the 1997 Asian crisis and the 2008 US subprime crisis.

Andy Xie posted an article in the South China Morning Post a few days ago that warrants attention. Quite a lot of it, actually. In it, he mentions some pretty stunning numbers and predictions. Perhaps most significant are:

“only China can restore stability in the global economy”

and

“The festering political tension [in the West] could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.”

Here are some highlights.

 

The bubble economy is set to burst, and US elections may well be the trigger

Central banks continue to focus on consumption inflation, not asset inflation, in their decisions. Their attitude has supported one bubble after another. These bubbles have led to rising inequality and made mass consumer inflation less likely. Since the 2008 financial crisis, asset inflation has fully recovered, and then some.

The US household net worth is 34% above the peak in 2007, versus 30% for nominal GDP. China’s property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined. The world is stuck in a vicious cycle of asset bubbles, low consumer inflation, stagnant productivity and low wage growth.

Let that sink in. If Xie is right, and I would put my money on that, despite all the housing bubbles elsewhere in the world, the Chinese, who make a lot less money than westerners, have pushed up the ‘value’ of Chinese residential real estate so massively that their homes are now ‘worth’ more than all other houses on the planet. Xie returns to this point later in the article, and says: “In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. “.

We’ll get back to that. But it suggests that Chinese, if they spend half their income on housing, which is probably not that crazy an assumption, must work 100 to 200 years to pay off their mortgages. Again, let that sink in.

The US Federal Reserve has indicated that it will begin to unwind its QE assets this month and raise the interest rate by another 25 basis points to 1.5%. China has been clipping the debt wings of grey rhinos and pouring cold water on property speculation. They are worried about asset bubbles. But, if recent history is any guide, when asset markets begin to tumble, they will reverse their actions and encourage debt binges again. [..] most powerful people in the world operate on flimsy assumptions.

Despite low unemployment and widespread labour shortages, wage increases and inflation in Japan have been around zero for a quarter of a century. Western central bankers assumed that the same wouldn’t happen to them, without understanding the underlying reasons. The loss of competitiveness changes how macro policy works.

The mistaken stimulus has the unintended consequences of dissipating real wealth and increasing inequality. American household net worth is at an all-time high of 5 times GDP, significantly higher than the bubble peaks of 4.1 times in 2000 and 4.7 in 2007, and far higher than the historical norm of three times GDP. On the other hand, US capital formation has stagnated for decades. The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.

That is the very definition of a bubble: “The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.” American household net ‘worth’ is in a huge bubble, some 66% higher than the historical average. And that’s in a time when for many their net worth is way below that average, a time when more than half live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford medical bills and/or car repair bills without borrowing. And that is the very definition of inequality:

The inflation of paper wealth has a serious impact on inequality. The top 1% in the US owns one-third of the wealth and the top 10% owns three-quarters. Half of the people don’t even own stocks. Asset inflation will increase inequality by definition. Moreover, 90% of the income growth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%, partly due to their ability to cash out in the inflated asset market.

An economy that depends on asset inflation always disproportionately benefits the asset-rich top 1%. [..] Germany and Japan do not have significant asset bubbles. Their inequality is far less than in the Anglo-Saxon economies that have succumbed to the allure of financial speculation.

True, largely, but Japan both has major economic troubles today (deflation), and will have worse ones going forward (demographics). While Germany can unload its losses on the EU periphery (and does). Japan can’t ‘afford’ a housing bubble, its people have refused to raise spending for many years, scared as they are through stagnant wages and falling prices. While Germany doesn’t need a housing bubble to keep its economy growing: it exports whatever’s negative about it to its neighbors. China, however, DOES need bubbles, and blows them with abandon:

While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance.

Note: as we saw before, while the Chinese may not consume as much as Westerners when it comes to consumer products, they DO -on average- put a far higher percentage of their wages into real estate. And that is because Beijing encourages such behavior. The politburo needs the bubbles to keep things moving. And therefore creates them on purpose. Presumably with the idea that incomes will come up so much that all these homes become more affordable compared to wages. That looks like a big gamble.

Property costs of between 50 and 100 years of household income are not manageable, and rising rates and/or an outright crisis will expose that. And then on top of that, the government wants, needs, an ever bigger take of people’s incomes. Because its whole model is based on its investing in the economy, even if a large part of it is not efficient or profitable.

China’s model is to subsidise investment. The resulting overcapacity inevitably devalues whatever its workers produce. That slows down wage rises and prolongs the deflationary pull. [..] Overinvestment means destroying capital. The model can only be sustained through taxing the household sector to fill the gap.

In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises. The most important asset bubble is the property market. It redistributes about 10% of GDP to the government sector from the household sector. The levies for subsidising investment keep consumption down and make the economy more dependent on investment and export.

In order to prevent a huge real estate crash, Beijing will have to make sure wages rise, across the board, and substantially, for hundreds of millions of people. And there we get back to what Xie said above:

The government finds an ever-increasing need to raise levies and, hence, make the property bubble bigger. In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.

The 800 million pound elephant here is that what Beijing pushes its citizens to put in real estate, they can no longer spend on other things. Their consumption will flatline or even fall. Unless the Party manages to raise their wages, but it would have to raise them by a lot, because it needs more and more taxes to be paid by the same wages.

And here’s where Andy Xie gets most interesting:

How is this all going to end? Rising interest rates are usually the trigger. But we know the current bubble economy tends to keep inflation low through suppressing mass consumption and increasing overcapacity. It gives central bankers the excuse to keep the printing press on.

In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius. In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools. In 2000, the dotcom bubble burst because some firms were caught making up numbers. Today, you don’t need to make up numbers. What one needs is stories.

Those are some pretty impressive insights, and they go way beyond China. Today’s fools are not yesterday’s fools. Only, today’s fools have been given the rights, and the tools, to keep blowing ever larger bubbles. The only conclusion can be that when the bubbles burst, it’ll be much much worse than the Great Depression. And this time, China will blow up along with the west. Take cover!

Hot stocks or property are sold like Hollywood stars. Rumour and innuendo will do the job. Nothing real is necessary. In 2007, structured mortgage products exposed cash-short borrowers. The defaults snowballed. But, in China, leverage is always rolled over. Default is usually considered a political act. And it never snowballs: the government makes sure of it.

Can China continue to roll over its leveraged debt when the west is in crisis, is forced to heavily cut its imports, just as Beijing needs more tax revenue to keep its miracle model alive? WIll it be able to export its over-leverage and over-capacity through the new Silk Road project? It looks very doubtful. And we shouldn’t expect the Party Congress this month to address these issues. They know better.

Xie finishes with most original predictions. Class struggle in the US. It sounds like something straight out of Karl Marx, but perhaps we are already seeing the first signs today.

In the US, the leverage is mostly in the government. It won’t default, because it can print money. The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.

Maybe class struggle is something we’ll see first in Europe, both at a national and at a pan-European level. Too many countries keep their systems humming not by being productive, but by encouraging their citizens to sink deeper into debt. Low interest rates may be attractive for signing up to new loans, but the ‘trajectory’ gets shorter all the time, because those same low rates absolutely murder savings and pensions.

The only thing that can keep the whole caboodle from exploding would be absolutely stunning economic growth at least somewhere in the world, but every single somewhere is far too deep in debt for that to happen.

Take cover.

 

 

Sep 192017
 
 September 19, 2017  Posted by at 12:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Wynn Bullock Child on a Forest Road 1958

 

A few days ago, former Reagan Budget Director and -apparently- permabear (aka perennial bear) David Stockman did an interview (see below) with Stuart Varney at Fox -a permabull?!-, who started off with ‘the stock rally goes on’ despite a London terror attack and the North Korea missile situation. His first statement to Stockman was something in the vein of “if I had listened to you at any time after the past 2-3 years, I’d have lost a fortune..” Stockman shot back with (paraphrased): “if you’d have listened to me in 2000, 2004, you’d have dodged a bullet”, and at some point later “get out of bonds, get out of stocks, it’s a dangerous casino.” Familiar territory for most of you.

I happen to think Stockman is right, and if anything, he doesn’t go far enough, strong enough. What that makes me I don’t know, what’s deeper and longer than perennial or perma? But it’s Varney’s assumption that he would have lost a fortune that triggered me this time around. Because it’s an assumption built on an assumption, and pretty soon it’s assumptions all the way down.

First, that fortune is not real, unless and until he sells the stocks and bonds he made it with. If he has, that would indicate that he doesn’t believe in the market anymore, which is not very likely for a permabull to do. So Varney probably still has his paper ‘fortune’. I’m using him as an example, of course, of all the permabulls and others who hold such paper.

Presumably, they often also think they have made a fortune, and presumably they also think that means they are smart. But that begs a question: how can it be smart to put one’s money into paper that is ‘worth’ what it is today ONLY because the world’s central banks have been handed the power to save the ailing banks that own them with many trillions of freshly printed QE? And no, there can be no doubt of that.

And there are plenty other data that tell the story. The world’s central banks have blown giant bubbles all over the place. That’s where the bulls’ “fortunes” come from. They are bubble fortunes. It has nothing to do with being smart. And of course, as I’ve said many times before, there are no investors left to begin with, because you can’t be an investor if there are no functioning markets, and for a market to function you need price discovery.

Which is exactly what central banks have killed. No-one has one iota of a clue what anything is really worth, what the difference between ‘price’ and ‘value’ is. Stockman at one point suggests people should hold on to Microsoft, but does he really believe that Bill Gates will remain standing when everyone around him crashes? That tech stocks are immune to the impending crash for some reason? If true, that would seem to indicate that tech stocks represent real value while -virtually- no others do. Hard to believe.

Please allow me to insert a graph. This one is from Tyler Durden the other day, and it paints a clear picture as much as it raises a big question. It suggests that until December 2016 the S&P and the ‘real economy’ were in lockstep. I think not. But one thing’s for sure: ever since January, i.e. the Trump presidency, the gaping gap between the two has grown so fast it’s almost funny.

 

 

Not that I would for one moment wish to blame Trump for that; he’s merely caught up in a wave much larger than an election or a White House residency. What is happening to the US -and global- economy goes back decades, not months. Which makes the graph puzzling, too, obviously. Just ask the new-fangled platoons of waiters and greeters with multiple jobs in America. And/or the 50-60-70% who can’t afford a $500 emergency bill, the 97 million who live paycheck to paycheck.. America’s already crashing, it’s just a matter of waiting for the markets to catch up with America’s reality. That’s what price discovery is about. Here’s another, similar, graph. Note: I don’t really want to go and find the best graphs, we’ve posted and re-posted so many of them it would feel like an insult to everyone involved.

 

 

But I digress. This was to be about Stuart Varney and the platoons and legions of permabulls out there. As I said, many of them, make that most, will feel they’ve made their fortune because they’re smart. Even if riding a Yellen and Draghi and Abenomics wave has zilch to do with intelligence. But there’s another side to that supposed smartness. And Stockman is on to it.

The large majority of people who think they got rich because they’re smart will also lose their ‘fortunes’ because they think they’re smart. It is inevitable, it’s a mathematical certainty. And not only because the central banks are discussing various forms of tapering. It’s a certainty because those who think they’re smart will hold on to their ‘assets’ too long. Because the markets will become much less liquid. Because the doors through which people will have to pass to escape the fire are too narrow to let them all though at the same time.

Fortunes built on central banks largesses are virtual. You have to sell your assets to make them real. But the same mechanics that blew the bubbles in housing, stocks, bonds et al also keep people from selling them. Until it’s too late. It may seem easier to sell stocks and bonds than homes, and it is, but in a crash it’s harder than one might think. And prices can come down very rapidly in very little time.

So perhaps the right way to look at this is to tell yourself you were not smart at all when you made that fortune, but now you’re going to smarten up. There will be a few people who do that, but only a few. Most will feel confident that they can see the crash coming in time to get out. Because they’re smart enough. After all, they just made a fortune, right?

It’s not just individuals. Pension funds have been accumulating huge portfolios in ever riskier ‘assets’. Which of them will be able to react fast enough if things start unraveling? And for the lucky few that will, what are they going to buy with the money? Bonds, stocks? Gold perhaps? Crypto? Everyone at once?

Don’t let’s forget that one of the main characteristics -and its consequences- of the everything bubble the central banks granted us is far too often overlooked: leverage. Low interest rates have made borrowing stupidly cheap, and so everyone has borrowed. As soon as things start crashing, there will be margin calls, lines of credit will be withdrawn, people and institutions will have to panic sell (everything including crypto) just to try to stay somewhat afloat, it’s all very predictable and we’ve seen it all before.

But yes, you’re right. The rally continues. And we can’t know what will trigger the downfall, nor can we pinpoint the timing. Still, it should be enough to know that it’s coming. Alas, for many it is not. They’re blinded by the light. But even that light is not real. It’s entirely virtual.

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 162017
 
 August 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Hydrant, New York 1947

 

The Greatest Crisis In World History Is About To Be Unleashed (von Greyerz)
After 100 Months of Buying The Dips – Peak Crazy (Stockman)
China Has Got To Fix Its Debt Problem, IMF Says (CNBC)
China Money Supply Growth Slips Again as Leverage Crunch Goes On (BBG)
UK Risks ‘Losing Its Place As Property-Owning Democracy’
The New American Dream: Rent Your Home From A Hedge Fund (Black)
Trump Signs Order to Speed Up Public-Works Permits (BBG)
German Challenge To ECB QE Asset Buys Sent To European Court (R.)
Washington’s Long War on Syria (Ren.)
Fish Confusing Plastic Debris In Ocean For Food (G.)

 

 

Debt leads to war.

The Greatest Crisis In World History Is About To Be Unleashed (von Greyerz)

Totally irresponsible policies by governments and central banks have created the most dangerous crisis that the world has ever experienced. Risk doesn’t arise quickly as the result of a single action or event. No, risk of the magnitude that the world is experiencing today is the result of many years or decades of economic mismanagement. Cycles are normal in nature and in the world economy. And cycles that are the result of the laws of nature normally play out in an orderly fashion without extreme tops or bottoms. “Just take the seasons. They go from summer to autumn, winter and spring, with soft transitions that seldom involve drama or catastrophe. Economic cycles would be the same if they were allowed to happen naturally without the interference of governments.

But power corrupts and throughout history leaders have always hung on to power by interfering with the normal business cycle. This involves anything from reducing the precious metals content of money from 100% to nothing, printing money, leveraging credit, manipulating interest rates, taking total taxes from at least 50% + today from nothing 100 years ago etc, etc. Governments will always fail when they believe that they are gods. But not only governments believe they perform godly tasks but also hubristic investment bankers like the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs who proclaimed that the bank was doing God’s work. It must be remembered that Goldman, like most other banks, would have gone under if they and JP Morgan hadn’t instructed the Fed to save them by printing and guaranteeing $25 trillion. Or maybe that was God’s hand too?

We now have unmanageable risks at many levels – politically, geopolitically, economically and financially. This is a RISK ON situation that is extremely dangerous and will have very grave consequences. There are numerous risks that can all cause the collapse of the world economy and they all have equal relevance. However, the political situation in the USA is very dangerous for the world. This the biggest economy in the world, albeit bankrupt with debt growing exponentially and real deficits every year since 1960. Before the dollar has collapsed, the US will still be seen as a powerful nation, although a massive economic decline will soon weaken the country burdened by debt at all levels, government, state, and private.

Read more …

“There is absolutely no reason for the stock markets to be at current levels, let alone melting-up day after day.”

After 100 Months of Buying The Dips – Peak Crazy (Stockman)

Just call it Peak Crazy and move on. There is absolutely no reason for the stock markets to be at current levels, let alone melting-up day after day. The fact that this is happening is a measure of how impaired capital markets have become as a result of massive central bank intrusion. The robo-machines and day traders keep buying the dips because that has “worked” for the last 100 months. There is nothing more to it than residual momentum. Under a regime of honest money and price discovery, the stock market discounts the future. There is no plausible future from here that’s worth 24 times S&P 500 value or 96 times the Russell 2000. Surely the year-ahead earnings boom that Wall Street’s artists have penciled in is not in the slightest bit plausible. With 84% of the S&P 500 reporting Q2 results, LTM earnings are still 1.3% below where they were in September 2014.

Nothing has happened to corporate earnings in the last three years except deflation in the energy, materials and industrial sectors. After hitting $106 per share in September 2014, the global deflation cycle brought them to a low point of $86.44 per share in March 2016 in response to low $30s oil prices. The latter has since recovered to the $50 dollar zone – bringing S&P 500 earnings back to $104.61 during the current quarter. The question remains: How does an aging business cycle and immense global headwinds justify the expectation of a red hot earnings breakout during the next 18 months? Yet that’s what’s happening on Wall Street. We’ve hit nearly $133 per share of GAAP earnings (and $145 of the ex-items variety) for the LTM period ending in December 2018, meaning a prospective surge of 27%.

[..] In this machine driven market, any of these indices could resume their mad momentum based climb. But negative divergences are breaking out everywhere, and that’s usually a sign that the end is near. Margins on debt has again reached an all-time high of $550 billion. The chart below leaves little doubt as to what comes next. After the 2000 peak, margin debt collapsed by 50% as stocks were violently liquidated to meet margin calls. All this while in 2008 the shrinkage of margin debt was even larger – nearly 60%. This time, however, a similar shrinkage would cause a $325 billion decline in margin balances. That’s a lot of stocks on a fire sale.

Read more …

“..outstanding bank loans and total social financing, both of which rose roughly 13% in July versus the same period last year..”

China Has Got To Fix Its Debt Problem, IMF Says (CNBC)

China’s economy is looking good enough that the IMF is raising its outlook, but the organization is doing so with a strong warning over growing debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The IMF issued its annual review of China on Tuesday, and has revised its growth forecast to 6.7% for 2017, which was up from 6.2%. The organization also said it expects China to average 6.4% growth between now and 2021, versus its previous estimate of 6%. Still, the organization warned that things were far from peachy. “The growth outlook has been revised up reflecting strong momentum, a commitment to growth targets, and a recovering global economy,” the IMF said. “But this comes at the cost of further large and continuous increases in private and public debt, and thus increasing downside risks in the medium term.”

What Beijing needs to do is to seize its current strong growth momentum “to accelerate needed reforms and focus more on the quality and sustainability of growth,” said the report. At the top of that list is working to tackle the debt issue: Going forward, the IMF sees China’s non-financial sector debt to hit nearly 300% of GDP by 2022, up from around 240% last year. Debt-fueled growth, the IMF warned, is a short-term solution that isn’t sustainable in the long run unless China tackles deeper structural issues. Experts have been sounding the alarm bell over this issue for years, urging China to rein in its old model of opening credit lines to fuel investment and spending and to find a better balance between supporting growth and controlling risks to the economy.

Chinese banks extended 825.5 billion yuan (about $123.44 billion) in new loans in July, down from 1.54 trillion yuan in June. Outstanding total social financing — a broad measure of credit and liquidity — came in at 1.22 trillion yuan last month versus 1.78 trillion yuan in June. Part of the drop is seasonal, and it’s “masking an uptick in underlying credit growth,” wrote China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard at Capital Economics. A better way to look at credit creation is to gauge growth in outstanding bank loans and total social financing, both of which rose roughly 13% in July versus the same period last year.

Read more …

As long as things look good for the Party Congress, who cares?

China Money Supply Growth Slips Again as Leverage Crunch Goes On (BBG)

Growth in China’s broad money supply slipped to a fresh record low, signaling authorities aren’t letting up in their drive to curb excess borrowing and safeguard the financial system. Aggregate financing stood at 1.22 trillion yuan ($182.7 billion) in July, the People’s Bank of China said on Tuesday, compared with an estimated 1 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey. New yuan loans stood at 825.5 billion yuan, versus an projected 800 billion yuan. Broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, while economists forecast a 9.5% increase . Authorities pushing to cut excess leverage have squeezed the massive shadow bank sector, which shrank for the first time in nine months. Yet with aggregate financing remaining robust and bond issuance rebounding, the central bank is still providing ample support for businesses to avoid derailing growth ahead of a key Communist Party congress this fall.

Slower M2 growth will become a “new normal,” the PBOC said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. “The relevance of M2 growth to the economy and its predictability has reduced, and its changes should not be over-interpreted.” “The deleveraging campaign is still focused on the financial sector, which leads to the slowdown in M2 growth,” said Yao Shaohua at ABCI Securities in Hong Kong. “Bank support for the real economy remains solid.” “The easing in credit conditions in July was probably part of the concerted stability play ahead of the Party Congress, thus more likely to be temporary,” said Yao Wei, chief China economist at Societe Generale in Paris. “We’re still looking for more deleveraging measures and tougher regulations afterwards.”

“The divergence between M2 growth and aggregate financing reflects that the PBOC is trying to balance cutting leverage while ensuring enough funds to support the real economy,” said Wen Bin at China Minsheng Banking in Beijing. “Single-digit M2 growth is likely to stretch until year-end. And with ample support from the central bank’s credit supply, the drag effect of financial deleveraging on the economic expansion will be limited.” “Banks are still creating credit, and this credit is important to support economic growth,” said Iris Pang, an analyst at ING in Hong Kong. “If liquidity is too tight, or credit growth shrinks, the whole deleveraging reform will run into the risk that there will be too many defaults and the whole banking system will be shaken up.”

Read more …

“..first-time buyer registrations drop by almost 20% on the year..”

UK Risks ‘Losing Its Place As Property-Owning Democracy’

The UK risks losing its place as a property-owning democracy if house prices continue to rise, according to the boss of the UK’s largest independent estate agent. Paul Smith, chief executive of haart, said that “unaffordability is reaching crisis point” and urged the Government to stop “excessive profiteering” at the expense of aspiring home owners. The call comes as official figures showed that the price of the average house in the UK increased by £10,000 last year to £223,000. Property values increased by 0.8% between May and June according to joint figures from the Office for National Statistics, Land Registry and other bodies. In the year to June average prices were up 4.9%, down marginally from 5% growth in the year to May.

The report released on Tuesday said the annual growth rate had slowed since mid-2016 but has remained steady at about 5% this year so far. “House prices continued to rally with unflinching determination once again in June despite the ongoing economic uncertainty,” Mr Smith said. “However this means that the average UK buyer now has to fork out an extra £10,000 more to own a home than the same time last year. “Along with consumer price hikes and falling wage growth, unaffordability is reaching a crisis point. This is creating real impact on the ground as we see first-time buyer registrations drop by almost 20% on the year across our branches.”

Read more …

“..if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.”

The New American Dream: Rent Your Home From A Hedge Fund (Black)

About a month ago I joined the Board of Directors of a publicly-traded company that invests in US real estate. The position brings a lot of insight into what’s happening in the US housing market. And from what I’m seeing, the transformation that’s taking place today is extraordinary. Buying and renting out single-family homes has long been the mainstay investment of small, independent, individual investors. The big banks and hedge funds pretty much monopolize everything else. They own the stock market. They own the bond market. They own all the commercial real estate. They even own the farmland. Single-family homes were one of the last bastions of investment freedom for the little guy. (Real estate is how I got my own start in business and investing so many years ago; I was a 21-year-old Army lieutenant fresh out of the academy when I bought my first rental property.)

But all that’s changing now. Last week a huge merger was announced between Invitation Homes (owned by private equity giant Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by real estate giant Starwood Capital). If the deal goes through, the combined entity would be the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion. And this is only the latest merger in an ongoing trend. Three years ago, for example, American Homes 4 Rent bought Beazer Pre-Owned Rental Homes, creating another enormous player. A few months later, Starwood Waypoint bought Colony American Homes. And of course, Blackstone was one of the first institutional investors to start buying distressed homes, forking over around $10 billion on houses since the Great Financial Crisis.

[..] medium-sized funds are buying up all the little guys. And mega-funds like Blackstone are buying up all the medium-sized funds. This means there’s essentially an ‘arms race’ building among the world’s biggest funds to control the market, squeezing small, individual investors out of the housing market. [..] the average guy isn’t making any more money, or able to save anything… all while home prices soar to record levels as major funds gobble up the supply. This means that the new reality in America, especially for young people, is that if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.

Read more …

Prolonging the emergency with America’s own bridges to nowhere.

Trump Signs Order to Speed Up Public-Works Permits (BBG)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that’s designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure by establishing “one federal decision’’ for major projects and setting an average two-year goal for permitting. “This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York. “It’s disgraceful.” Among other things, the president’s order will rescind a previous decree signed by former President Barack Obama that required federal agencies to account for flood risk and climate change when paying for roads, bridges or other structures.

It also allows the Office of Management and Budget to establish goals for environmental reviews and permitting of infrastructure projects and then track their progress – with automatic elevation to senior agency officials when deadlines are missed or extended, according to the order. The order calls for tracking the time and costs of conducting environmental reviews and making permitting decisions, and it allows the budget office to consider penalties for agencies that fail to meet established milestones. Critics say there’s danger in streamlining the reviews. “This is yet another outrageous example of Trump’s insistence on putting corporate interests ahead of people’s health and safety,” said Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director with the League of Conservation Voters, a political advocacy group.

Read more …

Way too late.

German Challenge To ECB QE Asset Buys Sent To European Court (R.)

The European Central Bank may be violating laws on monetary financing in its €2.3 trillion ($2.7 trillion) asset purchase programme, Germany’s constitutional court said on Tuesday, and it asked Europe’s top court to make a ruling. In the biggest challenge yet to the ECB’s unprecedented effort to revive growth, the court said bond buys under the scheme may go beyond the bank’s mandate and inhibit euro zone members’ activities. “Significant reasons indicate that the ECB decisions governing the asset purchase programme violate the prohibition of monetary financing and exceed the monetary policy mandate of the European Central Bank, thus encroaching upon the competences of the Member States,” the court said. It said it would ask the European Court of Justice to review the programme.

The ECB acted swiftly to defend the scheme. “The extended asset purchase programme is in our opinion fully within our mandate,” it said in a statement. “That is ultimately for the European Court of Justice to assess.” It said the €60 billion per month asset buys would continue as normal. The European court has already backed the ECB’s more contentious emergency bond purchase scheme known as Outright Monetary Transactions or OMT with only relatively minor limitations, suggesting that the challenge – lodged by several academics and politicians – may face an uphill battle. The decision to pass the issue over to the ECJ means any final ruling will come either after the bond purchases end or near the end of the scheme, which has already been running for over two years and is expected to be wound down next year.

Read more …

“The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.”

Washington’s Long War on Syria (Ren.)

From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments. Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise.

Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.”

When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again. The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.” Gadaffi would soon be removed by Islamists, backed by NATO forces after Western oil companies agitated for his removal because he was “driving a hard bargain”. Canadian paramilitary forces even quipped that they were “al-Qaeda’s air-force”.

Read more …

And then we eat it. Carbon will kill us yet.

Fish Confusing Plastic Debris In Ocean For Food (G.)

Fish may be actively seeking out plastic debris in the oceans as the tiny pieces appear to smell similar to their natural prey, new research suggests. The fish confuse plastic for an edible substance because microplastics in the oceans pick up a covering of biological material, such as algae, that mimics the smell of food, according to the study published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists presented schools of wild-caught anchovies with plastic debris taken from the oceans, and with clean pieces of plastic that had never been in the ocean. The anchovies responded to the odours of the ocean debris in the same way as they do to the odours of the food they seek. The scientists said this was the first behavioural evidence that the chemical signature of plastic debris was attractive to a marine organism, and reinforces other work suggesting the odour could be significant.

The finding demonstrates an additional danger of plastic in the oceans, as it suggests that fish are not just ingesting the tiny pieces by accident, but actively seeking them out. Matthew Savoca, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study, told the Guardian: “When plastic floats at sea its surface gets colonised by algae within days or weeks, a process known as biofouling. Previous research has shown that this algae produces and emits DMS, an algal based compound that certain marine animals use to find food. [The research shows] plastic may be more deceptive to fish than previously thought. If plastic both looks and smells like food, it is more difficult for animals like fish to distinguish it as not food.”

Read more …

Jun 082017
 
 June 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Roy Lichtenstein Femme d’Alger 1963

 

UK Press Gang Up On Jeremy Corbyn In Election Day Coverage (G.)
US Market Risk Is Highest Since Pre-2008 Crisis – Bill Gross (BBG)
Global Financial System More Leveraged Than 2008 – Paul Singer (BBG)
UK Housing Weakens Further as Market Emits ‘Ominous’ Signals (BBG)
The Cost of Getting It Wrong (Claire Connelly)
The UAE Needs Qatar’s Gas to Keep Dubai’s Lights On (BBG)
Oil Prices Drop More Than 4% On Surge In Stockpiles (CNBC)
China’s Top Property-Bubble Prophet Says Prices Set to Soar 50% (BBG)
Banco Popular Wipeout Leaves CoCo Bonds On The Drawing Board (BV)
A Reform Beyond Macron’s Grip: The Revolving Door of French Politics (BBG)
OECD Puts Greek Growth At Just 1.1% This Year (K.)
Athens To Seek Growth Package At Eurogroup Meeting (K.)
Greece Says Colombian Gangs Plundering Hospitals Europe-Wide (AP)
Greek Room Owners Threaten To Return Permits in Airbnb Challenge (K.)
Bid For EU States To Stop Migrants, Refugees ‘Asylum Shopping’ (K.)

 

 

The Daily Mail ran 13 pages yesterday on the theme of Corbyn and Labour being terrorist apologists. No shame, no morals. In the same vein, I tried to find an objective piece on the Comey testimony, but couldn’t find one. The UK press has no faith in its voters, the US press has none in its Senate: the press draws the conclusions before anyone else can. The media cares little about credibility, it’s all echo chambers all the way down.

UK Press Gang Up On Jeremy Corbyn In Election Day Coverage (G.)

The Sun has urged its readers not to “chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” on its final front page before the country votes in the general election. The tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, published an editorial on its front page under the headline “Don’t Chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” alongside 10 bullet points that described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a “terrorists’ friend”, “useless on Brexit”, “puppet of unions” and “Marxist extremist”. The article said readers could “rescue Britain from the catastrophe of a takeover by Labour’s hard-left extremists”. The Daily Mail front page roared, “Let’s reignite British spirit” on the back of a Theresa May speech and also promoted a feature inside called “Your tactical voting guide to boost the Tories and Brexit”.

The Daily Mirror reiterated its support for the Labour party with a front page headline of “Lies, damned lies, and Theresa May”, while the Daily Telegraph ran a story headlined “Your Country Needs You” based on an editorial by the prime minister that urged “patriotic” Labour supporters to vote Conservative. The Daily Express front page said: “Vote for May Today”. Meanwhile, the Times reported that the Conservatives had a seven-point in the final opinion poll before the election, and the Guardian covered May and Corbyn’s late attempts to win support from voters. Thursday’s front pages come after the Daily Mail devoted 13 pages to attacking Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell on Wednesday under the headline: “Apologists for terror”. The tabloid urged readers to support the Conservatives in an editorial on its first and second pages, but concentrated its fire on Labour’s leadership, compiling hostile anecdotes dating back to the 1970s.

Read more …

“Instead of buying low and selling high, you’re buying high and crossing your fingers…”

US Market Risk Is Highest Since Pre-2008 Crisis – Bill Gross (BBG)

U.S. markets are at their highest risk levels since before the 2008 financial crisis because investors are paying a high price for the chances they’re taking, according to Bill Gross, manager of the $2 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund. “Instead of buying low and selling high, you’re buying high and crossing your fingers,” Gross, 73, said Wednesday at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit. Central bank policies for low-and negative-interest rates are artificially driving up asset prices while creating little growth in the real economy and punishing individual savers, banks and insurance companies, according to Gross. The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.2% this year and 2.3% in 2018, according to forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Trump administration officials have said their policies will boost annual growth to 3%.

Despite being concerned about high asset prices, Gross said he feels required to stay invested and sees value in some closed-end funds. Examples he gave are the Duff & Phelps Global Utility Income Fund and the Nuveen Preferred Income Opportunities Fund. He also said he has about 2% to 3% in exchange-traded funds to get yield and add diversification. “They’re appetizers, not entrees,” he said in an interview outside the conference. Gross’s fund has returned 3.1% in the year through June 6, outperforming 22% of its Bloomberg peers. It has posted a total return of 5.4% since Gross took over management in October 2014 after he was ousted from PIMCO. ”If there’s a common factor it’s the expansion of credit,” Gross said on Bloomberg TV Wednesday. “And the credit that’s being generated by central banks. Money is being pumped out into the system and money that is yielding less than nothing seeks a haven not only in bonds that are under-yielding but in stocks that are overpriced.”

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We know.

Global Financial System More Leveraged Than 2008 – Paul Singer (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Singer said “distorted” monetary and regulatory policies have increased risks for investors almost a decade after the financial crisis. “I am very concerned about where we are,” Singer said Wednesday at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit. “What we have today is a global financial system that’s just about as leveraged – and in many cases more leveraged – than before 2008, and I don’t think the financial system is more sound.” Years of low rates have eroded the effectiveness of central banks to contend with downturns, Singer said at the event in an interview with Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein. “Suppressive” fiscal, regulatory and tax policies have also exacerbated income inequality and led to the rise of populist and fringe political movements, he added. Confidence “could be lost in a very abrupt fashion causing conceivably a ruckus in bond markets, stock markets and in financial institutions,” said Singer, founder of hedge fund Elliott Management, which is known for being an activist investor.

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Volatility is back.

UK Housing Weakens Further as Market Emits ‘Ominous’ Signals (BBG)

While the general election had an impact on activity in May, damping buyer demand and new sellers coming to the market, RICS used its latest monthly report to highlight broader, and more damaging, risks. That includes the dearth of homes for sale, which has pushed up values in recent years, cutting off many potential first-time buyers. RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn said the report shows the issue of affordability may even worsen further.“Perhaps the most ominous signal is that contributors still expect house prices to increase at a faster pace than wages over the medium term despite the difficulty many first-time buyers are clearly having,” he said. On the shortage, “it’s hard to see this as anything other a major obstacle to the efficient functioning of the housing market.”

In May, RICS’s monthly price index fell to 17 – the lowest since August – from 23 in April, indicating modest price gains. A gauge for London, where prime properties have been under pressure, remained below zero for a 14th month. Nationally, the supply-demand imbalance means it’s a sellers’ market and recent reports show that any uncertainty about the election had little effect on U.K. asking prices, which according to Rightmove jumped 1.2% to a record in May. For some, it’s reminiscent of the overheating seen before the financial crisis.“Prices are too expensive,” Josh Homans at surveyors Valunation said in the RICS report. “Excessive” valuations are increasing and “we are now in a 2007 situation,” he said.

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One of those must reads. Economics is all but dead, but not entirely yet.

The Cost of Getting It Wrong (Claire Connelly)

What most of us have long believed about how the economy works is based on a set of fundamental myths, supported by a series of inappropriate and misleading metaphors, from which it is difficult to escape. The emotional investment we have made in these myths has allowed for levels of unemployment, underemployment, inequality and relative poverty which would have seemed incredible a generation ago. Somehow we have convinced ourselves of the following:
– Governments need taxpayers’ money to pay for things.
– Governments, like households, need to at least balance their budgets.
– Deficits are bad and government surpluses are good.
– Deficits paid for by printing money causes inflation.
– Surpluses set aside savings which can be spent in the future.
– Lower wages promote full employment.

Wrong, wrong, all wrong. The federal government does not need taxpayers’ money. Actually, it is the other way around. The government issues the currency. We use it. Taxes help to control inflation and stop us spending too much. (It can also be used to control behaviour, as witnessed by taxes on cigarettes and alcohol). Professor Steve Keen says the government, and the public, have the most basic fundamentals of macroeconomics backwards. “Expenditure is what causes income,” he said. “Reducing expenditure also reduces income.” “Individuals can save (without a significant effect on national income), but if you extrapolate that to the whole economy, you are going to make a huge error.” Similarly, the economist says the idea that the government can save by paying down the national debt is misleading.

“Believing that government saving will increase employment or growth is like believing the Earth sits at the centre of the universe”, he says. All it does is destroy spending which would otherwise have created private sector incomes. “If you don’t understand where income comes from, then it means you don’t understand economics, or the economy.” “Individuals can save money by spending less than they earn but if everyone decides to do that, income falls by precisely as much as you try to save. If the government does the same thing, by saving money at a national level, you cause a recession.”

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As solid as the Saudi grip on OPEC cuts: “Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Ports Authority removed the ban on Wednesday – just one day after announcing it.”

The UAE Needs Qatar’s Gas to Keep Dubai’s Lights On (BBG)

When it comes to natural gas shipments, the United Arab Emirates needs Qatar more than Qatar needs the U.A.E. The U.A.E. joined Saudi Arabia in cutting off air, sea and land links with Qatar on Monday, accusing the gas-rich sheikhdom of supporting extremist groups. But the U.A.E., which depends on imported gas to generate half its electricity, avoided shutting down the pipeline supplying it from Qatar, which has the world’s third-largest gas deposits. Without this energy artery, Dubai’s glittering skyscrapers would go dark for lack of power unless the emirate could replace Qatari fuel with more expensive liquefied natural gas. Qatari natural gas continues to flow normally to both the U.A.E. and Oman through a pipeline, with no indication that supplies will be cut, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Qatar sends about 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day through a 364-kilometer (226-mile) undersea pipeline. Dolphin Energy, the link’s operator, is a joint-venture between Mubadala Investment, which holds a 51% stake, and Occidental Petroleum and Total, each with a 24.5% share. Since 2007, the venture has been processing gas from Qatar’s North field and transporting it to the Taweelah terminal in Abu Dhabi, according to Mubadala’s website. Dolphin also distributes gas in Oman. Apart from preserving gas shipments from Qatar, the U.A.E. on Wednesday actually eased efforts to isolate its smaller neighbor. The oil-port authority in Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E. capital, lifted restrictions on international tankers that have sailed to Qatar or plan to do so. Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Ports Authority removed the ban on Wednesday – just one day after announcing it.

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The Saudi-Qatar spat is growing and oil plunges? Huh?

Oil Prices Drop More Than 4% On Surge In Stockpiles (CNBC)

U.S. crude prices plunged toward $46 a barrel on Wednesday after weekly government data left the oil market with virtually nothing to cheer. West Texas Intermediate futures dropped more than 4% as stockpiles of oil in the US surged by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2, according to the Energy Information Administration. That confounded analysts’ estimates for a 3.5 million-barrel decline. WTI prices fell as far as $45.92, a four-week low, following the report. The drop below $47 was a “big deal” said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. The next level to watch is the March low just below $44 a barrel, struck after oil prices fell through a number of key technical levels, culminating in a flash crash to $43.76. The bad news kept on coming below the headline figure. Gasoline stocks also jumped by 3.3 million barrels, more than five times the expected increase. Inventories of distillate fuels like diesel and heating oil rose by 4.4 million barrels, 15 times the anticipated rise.

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Author of “China’s Guaranteed Bubble”.

China’s Top Property-Bubble Prophet Says Prices Set to Soar 50% (BBG)

China’s home prices could rise by another 50% in the nation’s biggest cities, as the latest measures to rein them in are likely to be eased by policy makers seeking to support the broader economy. So says Zhu Ning, deputy director of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of “China’s Guaranteed Bubble: How Implicit Government Support Has Propelled China’s Economy While Creating Systemic Risk.” As measures to curb housing prices drag on growth in the second half and early next year, he says, the government will resort to its old playbook of dialing them back again to shore up expansion. “We’re living through a bubble,” Zhu said. “If we don’t engage in more meaningful reform, which we haven’t, we’re very likely to have a financial crisis or a burst of the bubble. It’s a matter of sooner or later.”

Real estate prices in major cities will surge again “by another 50% or so” after measures to rein them in are eased, said Zhu, without specifying a time. Because policy makers have previously imposed curbs only to ease them again, people see them as a bluff, he said. Last year 45% of new loans went to mortgages. Local authorities have boosted down-payment requirements, restricted purchases by non-residents, and capped the number of dwellings that a household can own. Since March, at least 26 cities have imposed resale lock-up periods, with Hebei’s Baoding city slapping a decade-long ban on some homes, according to Shanghai-based Tospur Real Estate Consulting.

Zhu said he arrived at the 50 percent estimate based on the average price appreciation after past curbs were lifted, an ever-stronger belief among buyers that housing prices will rise, China’s humongous supply of credit, and tighter controls on capital outflows. Over the past year, however, Zhu, who earned his doctorate in finance at Yale, said he’s had more doubts over whether the thinking of western-trained economists applies to a nation that’s proven naysayers wrong “with its might and its determination” for three decades. “Over the past 12 months my confidence has really been shaken,” he said, adding that a crisis remains probable. “Could China be the black swan that we’ve never seen before?”

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Where would the EU be without creative accounting?

Banco Popular Wipeout Leaves CoCo Bonds On The Drawing Board (BV)

Banco Popular’s wipeout has left CoCo bonds on the drawing board. The Spanish lender’s failure and rescue by rival Santander did not provide the expected test for bonds which convert into equity under stress: the securities were wiped out before they could be triggered. It’s still not clear whether the bonds work as intended. The collapse of Spain’s sixth-largest bank by assets marked the first big loss for investors in so-called contingent convertible bonds. The securities were created after the 2008 financial crisis to provide an extra buffer when banks are struggling. They permit lenders to preserve capital by suspending dividends, and convert into ordinary shares when capital ratios run low.

The Popular trauma has eased one fear: that investors would panic when a CoCo bond went down, creating a spiral of contagion to other lenders. Similar securities issued by other Spanish banks actually rose in value on June 7, suggesting that investors see Popular as an isolated case. Yet in another way, Popular’s bonds fell short. The securities are supposed to provide extra capital before a bank fails, allowing it to absorb losses over time without failing or requiring a government bailout. But regulators deemed Popular non-viable before any of the triggers in its bonds could blow. The CoCo bonds suffered the same fate as other, more senior bonds that only suffer losses when a bank goes bust.

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Civil servants and jobs for life. It’s like talking about dinosaurs.

A Reform Beyond Macron’s Grip: The Revolving Door of French Politics (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to change how politics is done in France, starting with the parliament to be elected beginning Sunday. Half of the 500-plus candidates for his young party are women. Half have never held office. They all had to apply online. But he isn’t taking the biggest step: requiring that anyone running for parliament resign from his or her government job. Unlike many other other developed countries, France allows bureaucrats to hold political office—multiple offices, in fact—without having to quit the civil service. And they have a guaranteed right to return. Should the bureaucrat-candidate lose an election, there’s a job for life waiting back at the Agriculture Ministry or the Ministry for Overseas Territories. And a pension at retirement.

Having lawmakers remain part of the civil service creates conflicts of interest, said Dominique Reynie, head of Fondapol, a political research institute. “You have lawmakers making funding decisions about institutions such as universities and hospitals where they are still officially employed,” he said. “We have a parliament that’s inbred.” Among the many beneficiaries of the system: Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, several others in the cabinet and fully 55% of the parliament that just finished its five-year term. Macron himself, though he’s never been in parliament, kept bureaucrat status through several government and private jobs until he resigned last year to start his political party.

[..] “France is one of the rare countries in Europe where a civil servant can serve an elected mandate without resigning, and with the certainty of going back to their job in case of failure,” said Luc Rouban, a professor at Sciences Po in Lille who has compiled a database of all 2,857 French members of parliament back to 1958. “The absence of professional risk encourages employees from the public sector to run for office.”

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And that will make any agreements with the Troika impossible. All growth assumptions are wrong.

OECD Puts Greek Growth At Just 1.1% This Year (K.)

The OECD has further doused hopes regarding Greek growth this year, forecasting an expansion of 1.1%, and stresses the need to implement reforms and for the national debt to be lightened. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development wrote in its annual report on the global economy published on Wednesday that “delays in reform implementation and reaching an agreement on debt relief would weigh on confidence, hampering investment,” while adjusting its Greek GDP forecast. The 1.1% growth it expects contrasts with the 2.7% growth the budget provides for, the recent European Commission estimate for 2.1% and even the 1.8% forecast included in the midterm fiscal plan the government voted for last month.

Still, the OECD says in its Global Economic Outlook that the economy will expand by 2.5%. It anticipates the primary budget surplus to slide from last year’s 3.8% of GDP, but no lower than 2.5% of GDP for the next few years. The report notes that the Greek economy is beginning to recover although uncertainty remains over the country’s growth prospects. Further progress in reforms is necessary for productivity and exports to grow, the OECD argues. It makes special reference to the reforms in the products markets and in the reduction of nonperforming loans, which could lead to more exports and investments. It also warns that “the expansion of exports depends largely on the pace of world trade growth. Geopolitical tensions among Greece’s neighbors and a renewed large influx of refugees would pose additional risks.”

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Who does any of the parties involved think they’re fooling? A serious question.

Athens To Seek Growth Package At Eurogroup Meeting (K.)

Ahead of yet another crucial Eurogroup on June 15, the government has its mind set on seeking a package of growth-inducing measures which it hopes may, finally, pry open the door that will ultimately put Greece on the road to recovery. Athens believes that securing such a package could work to bridge the difference between the country’s EUpartners, and lead to an agreement which could pave the way for Greece to access international markets. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos outlined three basic principles that should govern any proposal that comes Greece’s way at the meeting of the eurozone finance ministers. Firstly, he insisted that the proposal must specify, in the clearest possible way, what midterm debt relief measures Greece should expect.

Secondly, these measures should also allow all the institutions, including the ECB, to proceed with positive sustainability studies of the Greek debt. Finally, he said, a proposal must include specific measures that will boost growth. The government reckons that a growth-oriented agreement will prompt the IMF to positively revise its projections on the Greek economy, reduce its demands with regard to the Greek program, and open the way for an agreement. Athens believes the formula that is being promoted to get the Fund to join the Greek bailout will stipulate that it will not have to provide immediate funding. Instead, the IMF’s contribution will be placed in a fund of sorts, which will be made available at a later date, on the condition that the midterm debt relief measures are implemented.

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Why have none of the other countries involved ever said a word?

Greece Says Colombian Gangs Plundering Hospitals Europe-Wide (AP)

Greek authorities say Colombian organized crime rings were behind a string of heists targeting costly medical diagnostic equipment from hospitals in Greece and another 11 European countries. Police say three Colombian suspects have been identified in connection with last month’s four thefts in Greece. Four out of about a dozen stolen pieces of equipment, worth more than half a million euros, have been recovered in Colombia. There were similar thefts in the past four years in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Croatia and the Czech Republic, Major-General Christos Papazafeiris said. Papazafeiris, head of security police for the greater Athens region, said Wednesday the stolen equipment had been mailed to Colombia, and was seized in cooperation with local authorities.

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Airbnb is huge in Athens. Must cost the government a fortune in taxes. Why then liberalize laws even more?

Greek Room Owners Threaten To Return Permits in Airbnb Challenge (K.)

Owners of rooms for rent are threatening to return their operating licenses to the state unless the government withdraws legal clauses that fully liberalize the short-term urban lease market where accommodation is advertised through platforms such as Airbnb and Homeaway. According to a statement by the Confederation of Greek Tourism Accommodation Entrepreneurs (SETKE), if the room owners do hand in their licenses they will be able to enjoy the special privileges of the short-term rental market, which, it argues, has created unfair competition at the expense of legal accommodation. In its statement it claims this will lead to the elimination of the tourism accommodation sector’s 30,000 small entrepreneurs. “Instead of withdrawing the semi-liberal status of the short-term urban lease market under the 2016 law, the government is fully liberalizing it with a 2017 law abolishing the quantitative and qualitative limitations and permitting the rental for tourism purposes of all properties of all owners year round without any income limits,” SETKE says.

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The EU keeps thinking reality is whatever it wants it to be. The European Parliament President says: “The rules have to be the same for everybody.”. They’re not. They’re obviously different for Greece, and that’s not Greece’s doing.

Bid For EU States To Stop Migrants, Refugees ‘Asylum Shopping’ (K.)

As Greece continues to struggle to host thousands of migrants, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Wednesday called for a common agreement from all European Union member-states on the implementation of asylum procedures aimed at stopping migrants traveling from one country to another “shopping for asylum status.” “At the moment the rules are not properly harmonized,” Tajani told reporters. “The rules have to be the same for everybody. Otherwise we will end up with people shopping for asylum status, which undermines our credibility.” He noted that many refugees who have been accepted in European countries as part of an EU relocation program have continued their journeys to more prosperous nations such as Germany or Sweden.

Latvia welcomed 380 refugees as part of the relocation program but most of those – 313 – have already moved on to Sweden or Germany, according to Agnese Lace from Latvia’s Center for Public Policy. She said low salaries, a lack of jobs and language barriers meant asylum seekers had little incentive to remain in the country. Meanwhile Andras Kovats of the Hungarian Association for Migrants said Hungary’s failure to support integration was pushing new arrivals abroad. In a related development, Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, expressed concern at reports of collective expulsions of asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey. “I urge the Greek authorities to cease immediately the pushback operations and uphold their human rights obligation to ensure that all people reaching Greece can effectively seek and enjoy asylum,” Muiznieks said in a statement.

Read more …

May 022017
 
 May 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Grand Central Station NY WWII

 

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)
Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)
How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)
China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)
UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)
The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)
Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)
Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)
The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)
Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)
How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)
Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)
Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

 

 

Don’t hold your breath for breaking up banks. Gas tax is more interesting: keep oil prices low and off you go. Could be a huge source of revenue, and Trump needs a few of those.

Trump Weighs Breaking Up Wall Street Banks, Raising Gas Tax (BBG)

President Donald Trump said he’s actively considering a breakup of giant Wall Street banks, giving a push to efforts to revive a Depression-era law separating consumer and investment banking. “I’m looking at that right now,” Trump said of breaking up banks in a 30-minute Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that.” Trump also said he’s open to increasing the U.S. gas tax to fund infrastructure development, in a further sign that policies unpopular with the Republican establishment are under consideration in the White House. He described higher gas taxes as acceptable to truckers – “I have one friend who’s a big trucker,” he said – as long as the proceeds are dedicated to improving U.S. highways.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a “21st century” version of the 1933 Glass-Steagall law that required the separation of consumer and investment banking. The 2016 Republican Party platform also backed restoring the legal barrier, which was repealed in 1999 under a financial deregulation signed by then-President Bill Clinton. A handful of lawmakers blame the repeal for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis, an argument that Wall Street flatly rejects. Trump couldn’t unilaterally restore the law; Congress would have to pass a new version. Trump officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, have offered support for bringing back some version of Glass-Steagall, though they’ve offered scant details on an updated approach. Both Mnuchin and Cohn are former bankers who worked for Goldman Sachs.

Read more …

A deeply unstable economy.

Life After Oil Makes Real Estate Canada’s New Economic Crutch (BBG)

Two things happened last week that were a reminder of just how vital real estate has become to Canada’s economy. On Friday, Statistics Canada released GDP data that showed February was a banner month for sectors linked to housing. The real estate industry, residential construction, financial and legal services generated a combined 0.5% increase in output, the biggest one-month gain since 2014. Without those, the overall economy would have contracted slightly in February. A day earlier, the Ontario government released a budget that projects land transfer taxes will surpass C$3 billion ($2 billion) in the current fiscal year, from C$1.8 billion three years ago. For the province, it’s the difference between a balanced budget and a deficit.

Measures of housing’s contribution to the economy are imprecise, but estimates largely put the direct contribution in excess of 20%. It’s much more than that once you add all the indirect effects, with benefits spread widely from lawyer fees to government revenue and increased retail purchases through so-called wealth effects as rising home equity values prompt households to ramp up consumption. The big worry is that Canada has moved from a reliance on oil to a reliance on real estate. The influence of housing on the economy is so pervasive that it won’t take much of a slowdown to act as a major drag on the economy, said Mark Chandler, head of fixed-income research at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

“You don’t need a collapse in house prices, you don’t need housing starts to be cut in half for weaker real estate sector to have a significant effect on GDP and incomes,” Chandler said. RBC’s ballpark estimate is that a 10% decline in national home prices would knock a full percentage point off growth. A Toronto Dominion Bank report from 2015 found the housing wealth effect has been responsible for about one-fifth of all growth in consumption since 2001. “A lot of the strength we have seen in consumption is housing related,” said Brian DePratto, the economist who wrote the 2015 report. If you strip out the direct and indirect impact from housing on the economy, “you are talking about a much lower trend pace of growth.”

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Subprime.

How Did Home Capital Get Into Trouble? (BBG)

The world is suddenly paying attention to Home Capital, the tiny Canadian mortgage lender that’s on the ropes. The stock is plunging, it faces a run on deposits and regulators are probing management’s disclosure of fraudulent mortgages. Its troubles are raising questions: Is this an isolated case of a struggling mortgage company, or early signs of cracks forming in Canada’s red-hot housing market?

1. How did Home Capital get into trouble? It started in 2014 when the company, formed 31 years ago by Gerald Soloway, failed to screen a pile of questionable mortgages brought in by outside brokers. Some 45 brokers falsified income information on borrowers, prompting Home Capital to cut ties with them, leading to a drop in new business. This eventually led to an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, which said on April 19 that Home Capital had misled investors by not disclosing the fraud until five months after they became aware of the problem.

2. Will Home Capital fail? There are plenty of signs of stress. The stock has plunged almost 75% this year, cutting its market value to about C$515 million, from C$3.5 billion in 2014. Most pressing is the run on deposits. Customers pulled C$1.5 billion from high-interest savings accounts in four weeks, cutting the balances to C$500 million. The company has another C$13 billion in GICS. As these 30- and 60-day deposits come due, more withdrawals may follow. Without a deposit base, Home Capital can’t fund new mortgages. Home Capital hired investment bankers for a possible sale, though there is likely as much interest in the loan book as the company itself. Commercial banks may be interested, precluding any need for a government bailout. Financial regulators say they are watching closely.

3. Will this fallout spread to other lenders? Possibly. Home Capital competes with other companies in the so-called alternative mortgage space. They cater to small-business owners, new immigrants and other people who can’t get mortgages from the big commercial banks. It’s a niche segment but growing, accounting for almost 13% of the market. Unlike in the U.S. housing crash when loan defaults soared, there is little evidence of faulty loans so far. Home Capital’s delinquency rate, for example, was just 0.20% as of February. Still, shares of rivals First National and Equitable have been dragged lower by the Home Capital woes as investors fear contagion.

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Beijing sends a lot of signals, but it cannot make good on them without risking the economy, and everybody knows it. It’s all based on the idea that a centralized economy can be forced into a smooth descent, but that’s just a fallacy.

China Leverage Rising At ‘Alarming Pace’: Central Bank Official (R.)

China’s level of leverage is rising at an “alarming pace”, particularly in the finance sector, a senior central bank official said in a commentary, amid growing concern by the country’s senior leaders over financial security. The official Xinhua news agency on Monday cited Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, as saying the country needed to deleverage at a “proper pace” to reduce financial sector debt and avoid systemic financial risk. “China’s overall leverage level is reasonable but is rising at an alarming pace, especially in the financial sector,” Xu said. The original commentary was published in business journal Caijing Magazine. Xu said high levels of stimulus spending from government paired with poor corporate management and financial supervision were key factors causing rising levels of leverage, Xinhua said.

He added the government should stick to “prudent and neutral” monetary policy, reduce emphasis on economic growth targets, and improve corporate governance so authorities did not have to step in so frequently to help companies out. “Financial security is achieved via reforms, not bail-outs,” Xinhua reported Xu as saying. Last week President Xi Jinping called for increased efforts to ward off systemic risks and help maintain financial security. Analysts say financial risk and asset bubbles pose a threat to the world’s second-largest economy if not handed well. Former Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei also said last month that high leverage was the biggest risk facing China’s economy because debt has piled up despite government efforts to deleverage. The Bank for International Settlements warned last year that excessive credit growth in China is signaling an increasing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.

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Well, maybe they’ll get serious because it’s about Treasuries this time, and foreign banks. Then again, these are primary dealers in Treasuries.

UBS, BNP, RBS Get Subpoenas in US Treasuries Probe (BBG)

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed several banks as part of a criminal investigation into possible manipulation of the U.S. Treasuries market, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department issued subpoenas last month to banks including UBS, BNP Paribas and the Royal Bank of Scotland seeking information on the $14 trillion market, said two people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential. U.S. authorities have been examining the U.S. Treasuries market for roughly two years. In November 2015, Goldman Sachs disclosed that U.S. authorities had sought information related to its trading of when-issued securities, which are among the least transparent instruments in the world’s largest debt market. When-issued securities act as placeholders for bills, notes or bonds before they’re auctioned. The instruments change hands over the counter, with lifespans of just days. There’s scant public information on trading volumes or the market’s biggest players.

[..] The Justice Department in late 2015 asked about when-issued securities as part of broader requests for documents it sent to most or all of the roughly two dozen primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News at the time. UBS, BNP Paribas and RBS are primary dealers in U.S. Treasuries. Authorities haven’t accused any of the banks of wrongdoing. Trading of these instruments is also the subject of several lawsuits against primary dealers filed since July 2015. In them investors allege that traders at global banks colluded to artificially inflate the price of the when-issued securities, which allow the banks to sell U.S. debt before they own it. Then they bought the debt at auctions for an artificially suppressed price, unfairly profiting at investors’ expense, the lawsuits contend. The banks are scheduled to file motions to dismiss those lawsuits once the lead counsel for the plaintiffs is chosen.

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Increased health care spending presumably adds to GDP, so why worry?

The US Health Care Industry Is Bound To Collapse Soon (NYP)

As industry spending and debt servicing rage out of control, health care is ranked as the No. 1 US “systemic recession risk” in a new report. The sums at stake are staggering: Spending in the sector accounted for $3.3 trillion in 2015, and is 18% of the US economy today. The industry generates 16% of private sector jobs nationwide, up from 10% in 1990. US health care spending is forecast to grow by an average 5.6% annually in the coming decade, according to a report by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a projection based on no changes out of Washington and in the Affordable Care Care through 2025. Meanwhile, national spending on health care is forecast to outpace US GDP growth by 1.2%. CMS has estimated that spending will comprise 19.9% of GDP by 2025, up from 17.8% in 2015.

“There’s no question that rising health care costs are hurting our overall economy,” said New York-based financial adviser Michael Mondiello. “With consumer spending accounting for some 70% of economic activity, the more we spend on health care, the less we have to purchase other things like a vacation or to save for retirement.” [..] The first murmurs of early trouble may have been detected. “Companies in the health care sector are starting to lay people off,” said John Burns, CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.. [..] “Health care companies borrowed too much money, and have grown their debt faster than their revenue, so you have to have a pullback.”

[..] In a report published by Burns, health care is identified as the largest systemic risk to the economy, of the three sectors Burns examined, which also included technology and automotive. The conventional wisdom points to US demographic trends, and an aging population, as supportive of the long-term strength, but the report shows industry growth has surpassed what is sustainable:
• Health care company debt is up 308% since 2009.
• The number of hospitals in health systems has expanded by 26% since 1999.
• The yearly medical costs for a family of four have jumped 189% since 2002, from $9,000 to $26,000.
“It could be like a Lehman Brothers scenario, where a couple of big health care companies take the economy down,” Burns told The Post.

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As usual, a long essay from John. A few bites:

Exhaustion Gaps and the Fear of Missing Out (John Hussman)

To offer a sense of the market return/risk profile that has typically been associated with exhaustion gaps at overvalued, overbought, overbullish extremes, the chart below shows the maximum gain and maximum loss in the market as measured from each instance to the subsequent bear market low. Multiple exhaustion gaps in the same market cycle are depicted separately. I recognize that my regular comments about the likelihood of the S&P 500 losing half or more of its value over the completion of this cycle may seem preposterous. A review of market history may help to understand these expectations, which are consistent with both the valuation evidence later in this comment, and with the outcomes that have typically completed prior speculative market cycles.

Two caveats are important here. First, given the simplicity of the conditions that define an exhaustion gap above, and their reliance on daily market behavior, it’s not clear that investors should wait for such gaps in future market cycles if other danger signs are already present. The best way to view these exhaustion gaps, I think, is that they represent points, late in a bull market cycle, where investors become overwhelmed by fear of missing out (FOMO), leaving a lopsided equilibrium where the remaining pool of potential buyers evaporates and the pool of potential sellers becomes saturated. Conversely, it seems likely that simple daily signals like the exhaustion gaps above could be misleading in the future, if more robust measures still indicate persistent risk-seeking among investors.

As a reminder of where market valuations stand, based on what actually works across market cycles, the chart below presents several of the most historically reliable equity valuation measures we track. We can form expectations about the likely range of market losses over the completion of this cycle by asking what amount of retreat would be required to bring these measures to either: a) the highest level of valuation reached at any previous bear market low, or b) the historical norm of each measure. Emphatically, these estimates do not assume that valuations will move below their historical norms at the next bear market low (as they did, in fact, as recently as the 2009 low). The smallest expected loss estimate comes in at -45.6%, while the largest loss estimate (taking each measure to its respective historical norm) is -62.1%. The average range of estimated market losses is -47.7% to -60.1%, while the median range is -45.6% to -62.0%.

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I think I already know which way Trump will lean.

Barack Obama Cashes In, But Harry Truman And Jimmy Carter Refused (IC)

It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House — just ask Harry Truman. When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, he was approached by many employers. The Los Angeles Times noted that if he was “unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he] has accepted none of them.” One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000” — the sort of position that is commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would have been a good deal for both parties: the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company.

Truman declined. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,” he wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle. Although he had access to a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence, Mo., and insisted on being treated like anyone else. He would tell people not to call him “Mr. President,” and settled on a fairly ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He would take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office — not only people who wrote him big checks, or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands.

“Many people,” he once said, “feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs — they are right to some extent — and that they have a right to call upon him.” Indeed, his office number was even listed in a nearby telephone directory. He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project that provided far from luxurious stipends. Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension system that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff. Gerald Ford nevertheless shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and was made an honorary director by Citigroup.

But his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains, Georgia, did not follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains, and was welcomed home by a crowd of neighbors and supporters. He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency — but by serving ordinary people, not elites. He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world — the post-presidency equivalent of small donors. Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them that his “favorite president, and the one I admired most, was Harry Truman. When Truman left office he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.”

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“Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.”

The Sound of One Wing Flapping (Jim Kunstler)

And suddenly the storms of early Trumptopia subside, or seem to. The surface of things turns eerily placid as the sweets of May sweep away the toils of an elongated mud season. Somebody stuffed Kim Jong Un back in his bunker with a carton of Kools and the Vin Diesel video library. France appears resigned to Hollandaise Lite in the refreshing form of boy wonder Macron. It’s been weeks since The New York Times complained about the Russians stealing Hillary’s turn as leader of the free world. We’re given to understand that Congress managed overnight to cook up a spending bill that will avert a Government shut-down until September. Rest easy America… oh, and buy every dip.

A calm surface is exactly what Black Swans like to land on, though by definition we will not know they’re out there until our reveries are broken by the sound of wings flapping. Some kind of dirty bird showed up on Canada’s thawing pond last week when that country’s biggest home loan lender suffered a 60 percent pukage of shareholder equity and had to be bailed out — not by the Canadian government directly, but by the Ontario Province’s Health Care Workers Pension Fund, a neat bit of hocus pocus that amounts to a one-year emergency loan at ten percent interest. If that’s a way for insolvent public employee pension plans to find enough “yield” to meet their obligations, then maybe that could be the magic bullet for the USA’s foundering pension funds.

The next time Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and friends get a case of the Vapors, let them be bailed out by the Detroit School Bus Drivers’ Pension Fund at ten percent interest. That ought to work. And let Calpers take care of Wells Fargo. The situation across Western Civilization is as follows: virtually every major financial institution has become a check-kiting operation or a Ponzi scheme, and we’ve reached the point where they can only pretend to be rescued. Bailout or not, the Toronto-based Home Capital Group is still stuck with shit-loads of non-performing sub-prime mortgage loans — its specialty — and Canada’s spectacular real estate bubble has hardly begun to pop. The collateral is starting to turn, like dead meat in the May sunshine, and the odium will waft across the border.

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“It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new.”

Emmanuel Macron Has Taken French Voters For Granted. Now He Risks Defeat (G.)

The rise of Macron is characteristic of the age of spin doctors: it illustrates both their power and their limits. It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new. To achieve this feat, spin doctors resorted to celebrity-building in ways previously unknown in French political life. Macron was new because he was young and handsome, and because he had never been elected before. He appeared repeatedly on the front pages of Paris Match with his wife, whose name is chanted by his supporters at his rallies. In the final weeks of the campaign Macron was so careful not to expose the true nature of his programme (which amounts to little more than the unpopular liberalism-cum-austerity implemented by Hollande) that his speeches degenerated into vacuous exercises in cliche and tautology.

The strategy worked up to a point: he qualified for the second round. Yet its limits are also clear. Last spring, France saw nationwide protests against the labour laws that Macron had largely designed. The opposition was not only to their content, but also to the manner in which they were passed: the government bypassed a parliamentary vote. During these demonstrations police used high levels of violence, yet Macron never uttered a word to calm things down. He has already announced that he would resort to governing by decree if needed, and it is easy to anticipate increased social tensions by the autumn. To those who would oppose him, Macron would answer that he is implementing the programme on which he was elected. Theoretically, Macron should defeat Le Pen hands down. The problem is that the meaning of such a result would be unclear: how many would have voted for him, and how many against her?

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The EU can do what it wants with the UK, because whatever it is, the Brits will blame each other for anything that goes wrong. No need for divide and conquer, there’s a hopeless divide already; Brussels can focus on conquer.

How Juncker’s Downing Street Dinner Turned Sour (G.)

The meeting last Wednesday started with a kiss on the cheek, gratefully immortalised by the photographers on Downing Street’s pavement. It ended with a withering putdown: “I’m leaving Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before,” Juncker told his host. It is said that the talks started pleasantly enough. During half of an hour of chit-chat in an anteroom, before taking their place at the dinner table, May told Juncker that she didn’t want just to talk Brexit during the evening but there were other matters of world affairs to discuss. “Like what?”, Juncker asked. In fact, little else seemed to be on the prime minister’s mind. Juncker did have a topic to raise though, and the issue at hand may just explain some of the current iciness between the two leaders.

That very morning the EU should have been shuffling around its money to deal with issues such as the migration crisis, which could not have been expected a few years ago when the bloc’s budget had been set. But on Monday morning Juncker had been made aware of an email from the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels explaining that because a general election had been announced, the British government couldn’t give its support to any changes in how the EU was going to spend its cash. Juncker smelled mischief – maybe it was a way to show the EU what trouble Britain could cause if it didn’t get its way? “What on earth is all this supposed to mean?” he is said to have asked May. Perhaps you won’t be able to talk about Brexit then, he queried, when May explained the rules of purdah, under which governments in an election are to avoid binding the hands of the next administration.

[..] it was the substance of the talks that were to cause Juncker the most unease. And it was Juncker’s despair that got to his colleagues. This was the man who through the trickiest of negotiations had always seen a path through. But when presented with May’s insistence that EU citizens in the UK would be treated in the future like any other foreign national, that trade talks needed to start before the issue of Britain’s divorce bill was settled or her claim that technically the UK owed nothing at all to the union, his lack of optimism for the future became clear. “Theresa May started by stating that the UK wanted to discuss first future arrangements, then article 50 stuff,” one source with knowledge of the dinner said.

“It felt to the EU side like she does not live on planet Mars but rather in a galaxy very far away.” She was “deluded” and appeared to be “living in a parallel universe”, Juncker told the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in a phone call said to have taken place just moments after the delegation left Downing Street.

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Absolute insanity: “..pensions are to be cut by 9% on average..”

Greece Reaches Deal With Creditors To Pave Way For Bailout Talks (G.)

Greece has reached a preliminary deal with its creditors that should pave the way for long-awaited debt relief talks, the Greek finance minister said on Tuesday. “The negotiations are concluded,” Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters, according to state agency ANA. After overnight talks, Tsakalotos said a “preliminary technical agreement” had been achieved ahead of a 22 May meeting of eurozone finance ministers, which is required to approve the deal. Tsakalotos added he was “certain” that the agreement would enable Greece to secure debt relief measures from its creditors, which he has said is vital to spearhead recovery in the country’s struggling economy. A compromise is required to unblock a tranche of loans Greece needs for debt repayments of €7bn ($7.6bn) in July.

Under pressure from its creditors – the EU, ECB and the IMF – the government agreed earlier this month to adopt another €3.6bn in cuts in 2019 and 2020. Athens conceded fresh pension and tax break cuts in return for permission to spend an equivalent sum on poverty relief measures. A government source on Tuesday said pensions are to be cut by 9% on average, ANA said. The measures are to be approved by parliament by mid-May. However, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will not apply these cuts without a clear pledge later this month on debt-easing measures for Greece. Athens also hopes to be finally allowed access to the ECB’s QE asset purchase programme, to help its return to bond markets.

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So many numbers it’s easy to forget this is about people.

Greece: Any Better Times Or More Pitfalls Ahead? (LSE)

In 2015, Greece, an EU state member since 1981 with a population of 10,846,979 people, recorded the highest level of GGD (General Government Gross Debt to GDP ratio) in the EU-28, at 176.9%. Concerning the volume index of GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Parity Standards) we find Greece’s GDP per capita dropped from 4% lower than the EU-28 average in 2004 to 29% lower in 2015. However, GDP is a measure of a country’s economic activity, and therefore it should not be considered a measure of a country’s well-being. If we take the AIC (Actual Individual Consumption) per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standard) as a better indicator to describe the material welfare of households, Greece showed an AIC index per capitalower by some 19% than the EU-28 average in 2015. Labour productivity per hour worked expressed in US $ (which means GDP per hour worked expressed in US $) was estimated among the lowest in the EU-28, at $32 in 2015.

Curiously, Greece has the highest average hours worked per year in the EU-28, at 2,042 hours, its average hourly labour cost is among the lowest in the EU-28, at €14.5, its average annual wages at US $25,211 and unemployment rate of 24.90%. 43% of pensioners live on €660/month on average, and many Greek pensioners are also supporting unemployed children and grandchildren. [..] Unemployment is a tragedy for Greece. The highest jobless rate was recorded in 2014, at 27.8%. The current level of unemployment, the highest in the EU, is about 24%. Unemployed workers between 45 and 64 years of age (currently almost one in three unemployed, around 347,400 people, whereof 280,000 are long-term unemployed, in 2009 they were one in five, or 99,000 people)- , and young unemployed people aged 15-24 (close to 50% of the total) are the most adversely affected demographics.

According to ELSTAT (Hellenic Statistical Authority) – GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Workers), nine out of ten Greeks without job do not receive unemployment benefits and 71.8-73.8% (around 807,000 people) of all unemployed (1,124,000 people) have been out of work for more than twelve months, while only 1.5% of them receive the 700 euro/month applicable to the long-term registered unemployed. In the last quarter report for 2016, ELSTAT shows that the amount of Greeks facing long-term unemployment has risen some 146% (from 327,700 to 807,000 people) over the 6-year period. Additionally, there are 350,000 Greek families without a single member working, and unemployment has led some 300,000 highly skilled professionals and workers to leave the country.

[..] According to a study carry out by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research, poverty rate in Greece increased by 40% from 2008 to 2015, the largest increase among EU countries. A new multidimensional poverty index was used to calculate poverty, which is not based on income alone but on other factors such as the deprivation of material goods, quality of education, underemployment and, access to healthcare. In 2015, according to Eurostat, more than one in three residents of Greece experienced conditions of poverty and/or social exclusion. The percentage of those within this group had risen from 29.1% in 2008 to 35.7% in 2015, or 3.8 million people. 21.4% of the Greek population are living below the national poverty line (with an income less than 60 % of the national average), 22.2 % are severely materially deprived,

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Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fra Filippo Lippi 1406-1469 The Virgin Mary

 

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)
Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)
IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)
Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)
Telling the Truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)
You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)
Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)
The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)
Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)
40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)
Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)
Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)
So It Goes (Oliver Stone)
A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

 

 

Yeah, sure, just come look in Greece. Where the IMF itself demands ever more austerity. While claiming austerity is over.

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor. “Their aggregate fiscal stance is expected to remain broadly neutral in 2017 as well as in the following years.” The British Government is still trying to reduce the deficit but at a slower pace, as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, wanted to ease spending cuts following the vote for Brexit last year.

Although extra spending may be welcomed by those who want funds for specific projects or public services, the IMF is worried that governments are still heavily indebted and need to be careful with their budgets. The US government, for instance, should use the current economic growth spurt as a chance to get its finances under control. “In the United States, where the economy is close to full employment, fiscal consolidation could start next year to put debt firmly on a downward path,” the IMF said. That contrasts heavily with President Donald Trump’s plans to spend more on infrastructure and defence while cutting taxes, a combination that risks ramping up the budget deficit. “These policies are expected to generate rising deficits over the medium term.

As a result, the US debt ratio is projected to increase continuously over the five-year forecast horizon,” the IMF warned. Overall the IMF believes government debts “should stabilise in the medium term, averaging more than 100pc of GDP, rather than decline as previously expected.” With debts that high, governments have to walk a fine line to use fiscal policy to support sustainable economic growth, but avoid dangerous over-indebtedness. “Fiscal policy is generally seen as a powerful tool for promoting inclusive growth and can contribute to stabilising the economy, particularly during deep recessions and when monetary policy has become less effective,” said the IMF.

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How can anyone get this right if they can’t even properly define inflation?

Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)

Stocks, bond yields and the dollar are all falling, yield curves are flattening and sterling is marching higher. The “reflation” trades of 2016 that were supposed to mark a turning point in global markets are fading. Fast. The question for investors is whether this is the play book for the rest of the year, or whether the trends of 2016 will resume in the second half of the year. What is clear is that much of the conviction with which investors went into 2017 has been lost. This week, Goldman Sachs ditched its long-standing bullish call on the U.S. dollar, and Deutsche Bank did likewise with their gloomy sterling outlook. Following the developed world’s two most seismic events last year – the U.S. presidential election and Brexit – investors around the world had positioned for a broad-based reflation trade.

Trump’s surprise election victory was supposed to unleash a wave of tax cuts, banking deregulation and fiscal largesse that would lift U.S. – and global – growth. Meanwhile, sterling’s 20% plunge after the Brexit vote was supposed to pave the way for a surge in UK equities and inflation. This, indeed, is how it played out as 2017 got underway. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice, the dollar reached a 14-year peak, Wall Street hit record highs, and government bond yield curves around the world steepened to the benefit of banks and financial stocks. But it is now unraveling, in large part due to a clear slowdown in U.S. growth and signs that global inflation is leveling off. Flatter yield curves where short- and long-term bond yields are close to each other suggest economic uncertainty.

[..] Citi’s economic surprises indexes for most of the world’s major economies have been heading south for the past month. The U.S. index has suddenly tumbled to lows not seen since November, and is below all its peers apart from Japan’s. And inflation expectations are showing signs of peaking too. The dollar is now down 2.5% year-to-date (but still up 2% since the U.S. election; U.S. bank stocks are down 10% from their February peak (but still up 20% from the election); and sterling is down 13% against the dollar since the Brexit vote last June (but it has been down as much as 20%). Estimates of first quarter U.S. growth have been slashed in recent weeks, with the Atlanta Fed’s closely-watched GDPNow model pointing to just 0.5% compared with around 2.5% less than two months ago.

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All it takes is a few rate hikes.

IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)

U.S. corporate debt has ballooned on cheap credit to levels exceeding those prevailing just before the 2008 financial crisis, a potential threat to financial stability, the IMF warned in its latest review of the top threats to markets and banks. High corporate leverage could become problematic as the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates, the IMF warned, since higher borrowing costs could hinder the ability of firms to service debts. While borrowing costs remain low, debt servicing as a proportion of income has risen to its highest level since 2010, raising questions over firms’ ability to service their debts, according to the IMF’s study of nearly 4,000 U.S. firms accounting for about half of the economywide corporate sector balance sheet.

Companies have added $7.8 trillion of debt and other liabilities since 2010, while issuing $3 trillion of equity, net of buybacks, according to the IMF. The IMF’s message stands in contrast to the one being sent by the corporate bond market, which has been rallying for more than a year now. In early March, the average spread between junk-rated corporate bond yields and U.S. Treasury yields reached 3.44 percentage points, its lowest point since July 2014, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. It was most recently at 3.92 percentage points, still a very low level by historical standards, indicating that investors don’t see the debt as very risky.

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So you buy mortgage backed securities, and then use them as collateral for a loan that lets you buy more securities. The serpent and the tail.

Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)

Forget subprime mortgages – one of Wall Street’s biggest risks doesn’t even show up on most banks’ balance sheets. Financial insiders are getting increasingly worried over the popularity of securities-based loans, or SBLs – a risky form of debt marketed to wealthy investors who typically use it to buy big assets like houses. The loans, which are taken against pools of stocks and bonds, offer borrowers cheap money fast without having to sell their underlying securities – an attractive option when the Dow is rising. But if markets crash, brokers can unload their clients’ holdings at fire-sale prices – and go after the house to cover the the vig. Fears of such ugly scenarios are growing as the Fed hikes interest rates, stocks are hitting all-time highs, and high-net-worth individuals are using this form of “shadow margin” to borrow more against stocks and bonds in their portfolios than ever before.

It’s not clear how much debt has been taken out in the form of SBLs, and a lack of regulatory oversight is partly to blame. Finra, the brokerage regulator, doesn’t track it, nor does the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though both have warned investors about the risks. However, several advisers surveyed by The Post estimated there is between $100 billion and $250 billion in outstanding SBLs among all brokerages. At least one concerned financial executive is in talks with lawyers to file a whistleblower case over the issue against a major bank with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post has learned. “When the market does turn, and it will at some point, it will be a major disaster,” said the exec, who requested confidentiality in exchange for speaking on the issue with The Post.

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Here’s what I think will lead to UBI: poor old people. I skipped all the examples and links provided here. Do read them. “Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency.”

Telling the truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)

Telling the truth has never been popular with politicians. They believe that it would prevent them from getting elected. Making new promises that will never be kept, and covering up the unaffordability of old promises…is how politicians get elected. The pattern is well worn and predictable: they use promises to ‘bribe’ people to vote for them, then they fail to deliver, then they blame someone else, then they change the subject…rinse and repeat…meanwhile the really important stuff get’s brushed under the carpet or kicked down the road…choose your own metaphor. There are few greater examples of this than the approaching crisis in pensions: A tale that has been decades in the telling, the climax will be a calamity that the corporate media doesn’t want to look at, and politicians never mention or acknowledge. Short of being strapped to a metal chair and entertained with an electrical massage they never will…which is a nice thought but regrettably still illegal, at least on the mainland.

[..] Despite the dark pleasure it would give me to label our political and economic elites: ‘as thick as two short planks’…the truth is that many of them are not. It’s far worse than that I’m afraid. They are ‘liars’. The politicians, central bankers, economists and journalists who understand the situation we face, but do nothing to address it, are discrediting the positions of responsibility that they hold…by lying through omission, by obfuscation, through denial, by issuing false and/or misleading information, and via the good old fashioned ‘art’ of bull$hitting straight to camera. Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, for anyone reading this who has been brainwashed with the idea that any theory or observation that can’t be reduced to an equation, is not real ‘economics’…here is an equation for you (but don’t expect your professor to like it):

(P + G) – M = I

Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency. Throughout recorded history, this equation has never failed to balance eventually…ask any legionnaire.

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Another -more palatable?!- way of phrasing UBI.

You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)

Democrats have begun the presidency of Donald Trump exiled to the political wilderness. They’ve lost the White House, both houses of Congress, a shocking number of state governments, while the “blue state” vote has turned out to be really just the “blue city” vote. The party has cast about for solutions, battling it out over identity politics, the proper opposition strategy, and more. But Democrats might consider taking a cue from Trump himself. Namely, his relentless promises to bring back good-paying American jobs. “It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses,” observed Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, after reviewing Trump’s speeches. The President understands, as The New York Times’s Josh Barro noted, that most Americans think the purpose of private business is to provide good jobs, not merely turn a profit.

Even Trump’s xenophobia and white nationalism are not totally separate from this: Kicking out all the immigrants and rolling foreign competitors are critical components of how he would restore jobs. Democrats tend to treat jobs as the happy by-product of other goals like infrastructure revitalization or green energy projects. Or they treat deindustrialization and job dislocation as regrettable inevitabilities, offering training, unemployment insurance, health care, and so on to ameliorate their effects. All these policies are worthy. But a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another. There’s pretty clear evidence that losing this social identity matters as much as the loss of financial security.

The damage done by long-term joblessness to mental and physical health is rivaled only by the death of a spouse. It wreaks havoc on marriages, families, mortality rates, alcoholism rates, and more. The 2008 crisis drove long-term unemployment into the stratosphere, and today it remains near a historic high. Trump went right at this problem, telling Michigan in October of 2016: “I am going to bring back your jobs.” Period. Democrats should consider making the same moon shot promise. But unlike Trump, they should back it up with a policy plan. And there’s an idea that could do the trick. It emerges naturally from progressive values. It’s big, bold, and could fit on a bumper sticker. It’s generally called the “job guarantee” or the “employer of last resort.” In a nutshell: Have the federal government guarantee employment, with benefits and a living wage, to every American willing and able to work.

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More pension troubles. Today Japan, tomorrow your neck of the woods.

Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)

Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of “parasite singles” face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away. Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomena that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives. Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth. “I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,” Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door. Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings. “My father died last year so pension income was halved,” she said. “If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.” Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of “life-time singles,” whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women were unmarried.

“During the ‘bubble economy’ until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term “parasite singles” in 1997. “But one-third never married and are now around age 50,” Yamada said. The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birthrate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending. And since about 20% of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets. “Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,” Yamada said.

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Casey gets lots of things spectacularly wrong. The EU did need trade pacts etc., to enhance, guarantee quality control. The EU did a lot of good things. But it got taken over by the shit that floats to the top: “The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway.”

The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)

A free trade pact between different governments is unnecessary for free trade. An individual country interested in prosperity and freedom only needs to eliminate all import and export duties, and all import and export quotas. When a country has duties or quotas, it’s essentially putting itself under embargo, shooting its economy in the foot. Businesses should trade with whomever they want for their own advantage. But that wasn’t the way the Europeans did it. The Eurocrats, instead, created a treaty the size of a New York telephone book, regulating everything. This is the problem with the EU. They say it is about free trade, but really it’s about somebody’s arbitrary idea of “fair trade,” which amounts to regulating everything. In addition to its disastrous economic consequences, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the mind of the average person.

Brussels has become another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the national layers and local layers for the average European to deal with. The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway. The EU was built upon a foundation of sand, doomed to failure from the very start. The idea was ill-fated because the Swedes and the Sicilians are as different from each other as the Poles and the Irish. There are linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, and big differences in the standard of living. Artificial political constructs never last. The EU is great for the “elites” in Brussels; not so much for the average citizen.

Meanwhile, there’s a centrifugal force even within these European countries. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans want to split off, and in the UK, the Scots want to make the United Kingdom quite a bit less united. You’ve got to remember that before Garibaldi, Italy was scores of little dukedoms and principalities that all spoke their own variations of the Italian language. And the same was true in what’s now Germany before Bismarck in 1871. In Italy 89% of the Venetians voted to separate a couple of years ago. The Italian South Tyrol region, where 70% of the people speak German, has a strong independence movement. There are movements in Corsica and a half dozen other departments in France. Even in Belgium, the home of the EU, the chances are excellent that Flanders will separate at some point.

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Another feature brought to you by the Troika.

Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)

People in Greece can’t afford to have more than one child, and many are opting to have none at all. Fertility doctor Minas Mastrominas tells the New York Times that some women have decided not to conceive, and single-child parents have been asking him to destroy their remaining embryos. He said: “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” It isn’t just Greece suffering low birth rates. In fact the trend spreads to most of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy also reporting dangerously low rates. Unemployment continues to be a serious issue in Greece. Rates are slightly lower than in 2016 when they were 23.9%, but are still very high at 23.5%. The slump has affected women more, with unemployment rates at 27% compared to 20% of men.

Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families have decreased, and the country stands at having to lowest budget in the EU for family and child benefits. During the height of the crisis, women postponed childbirth in favour of working. As the years dragged on, the rate of fertility decreased, making it biologically more difficult to conceive. Additionally, gender equality came to a standstill, and many women of ‘childbearing age’ were denied employment, or had their contract changed to part time involuntarily, as soon as they got pregnant. One of the most prominent areas that will be detrimentally affected is pensions and the welfare system. Additionally, according to Eurostat, such low birth rates – under 2.1 – could create a demographic disaster. This will have a knock-on effect on pensions, with fewer young people working.

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And the children we do have, we treat like this. No wonder there are fewer of them.

40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)

Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece. EURACTIV Spain reports. After the economic crisis and years of austerity, child poverty is on the rise in wealthy countries, according to Unicef. In Spain, the proportion of children living below the poverty line increased by 9 percentage points between 2008 and 2014, to reach almost 40%. While child poverty in general rose significantly, the sharpest increase (56%) was among households of four people (two adults and two children) living on less than €700 per month, or €8,400 per year. Spain has the third widest gap in the EU, behind Latvia and Cyprus, between the levels of social protection offered to children and people over 65. During the crisis, Spain’s oldest citizens were much better protected than its youngest.

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, cited by Unicef, investment in the social protection of families fell by €11.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. Unicef also highlighted that families with children, large families, single-parent families and teenagers suffered the most from the effects of poverty. As for Madrid’s response to the crisis, the UN’s agency for children criticised its failure to contain child poverty. “Social protection policies are very fragmented and very unequal, with little focus on children,” Unicef said. For the organisation, this is due, among other causes, to the strong link between social security and workers’ contributions, and the fact that many of the state’s family aid programmes take the form of tax credits, which have little impact on low earners.

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They’ll get it awfully wrong. It’s too late in the game.

Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)

Ontario is expected to impose a tax on “non-resident speculators” when it announces new measures Thursday to cool the red-hot housing market in Toronto, according to people familiar with the plans. The measures are intended to improve housing affordability, and address both supply and demand, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The measures are also said to include a new tax aimed at curbing purchases from non-resident speculators. [..] Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 6.2% last month, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and are up almost 30% in the past 12 months. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week the price gains are “divorced” from the typical measures of demand, such as income growth and demographics, and said they are unsustainable.

“The focus has to be on runaway prices, more so than affordability per se,” Robert Hogue, a senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said in a phone interview. “The risk now is about expectations in the market, or market psychology, as you have both sellers and buyers expecting much higher prices.” The Toronto Star reported earlier, without saying where it got the information, that Sousa will announce some 10 measures ranging from rent controls to a new tax on speculators. The move comes a week before the province tables its budget on April 27, and two days after Sousa said the government recognizes that “now” is the time to address runaway home prices. Sousa on Tuesday met Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said that possible steps include taxing homes left empty for speculative purposes. Rent increases on newer buildings may be limited to about 1.5% above the inflation rate, which was at 2% in February, the Star reported.

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Daddy, please tell the story again of why we have regulators!

Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)

America’s chief federal banking regulator admits it failed to act on numerous “red flags” at Wells Fargo that could have stopped the fake account scandal years earlier. One particularly alarming red flag that went unheeded: In January 2010, the regulator was aware of “700 cases of whistleblower complaints” about Wells Fargo’s sales tactics. An internal review published on Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that the regulator didn’t live up to its responsibilities. The report found that oversight of Wells Fargo was “untimely and ineffective” and federal examiners overseeing the bank “missed” several opportunities to uncover the problems that led to the creation of millions of fake accounts. The review painted a damning picture of the OCC’s ability to spot what in retrospect should have been obvious problems at one of the nation’s biggest banks.

The OCC did confront Carrie Tolstedt, then head of Wells Fargo’s community bank, about the stunning number of whistleblower claims. However, there are no records that show that federal inspectors “investigated the root cause,” or force Wells Fargo to probe it. It’s now clear that root cause of Wells Fargo’s problems – both the creation of fake accounts and the related 5,300 firings – was the notoriously aggressive sales goals targets set by senior management. At one point, rank and file bankers were asked to open as many as eight accounts per customer. That’s why the bank has eliminated them. From top management to Wells Fargo’s board of directors, everyone turned a blind eye to these issues. There’s evidence now that some of this was flagged as early as 2004 to management.

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Stone states the obvious.

So It Goes (Oliver Stone)

I confess I really had hopes for some conscience from Trump about America’s wars, but I was wrong – fooled again! – as I had been by the early Reagan, and less so by Bush 43. Reagan found his mantra with the “evil empire” rhetoric against Russia, which almost kicked off a nuclear war in 1983 – and Bush found his ‘us against the world’ crusade at 9/11, in which of course we’re still mired. It seems that Trump really has no ‘there’ there, far less a conscience, as he’s taken off the handcuffs on our war machine and turned it over to his glorified Generals – and he’s being praised for it by our ‘liberal’ media who continue to play at war so recklessly. What a tortured bind we’re in. There are intelligent people in Washington/New York, but they’ve lost their minds as they’ve been stampeded into a Syrian-Russian groupthink, a consensus without asking – ‘Who benefits from this latest gas attack?’

Certainly neither Assad nor Putin. The only benefits go to the terrorists who initiated the action to stave off their military defeat. It was a desperate gamble, but it worked because the Western media immediately got behind it with crude propagandizing about murdered babies, etc. No real investigation or time for a UN chemical unit to establish what happened, much less find a motive. Why would Assad do something so stupid when he’s clearly winning the civil war? No, I believe America has decided somewhere, in the crises of the Trump administration, that we will get into this war at any cost, under any circumstances – to, once again, change the secular regime in Syria, which has been, from the Bush era on, one of the top goals – next to Iran – of the neoconservatives. At the very least, we will cut out a chunk of northeastern Syria and call it a State.

Abetted by the Clintonites, they’ve done a wonderful job throwing America into chaos with probes into Russia’s alleged hacking of our election and Trump being their proxy candidate (now clearly disproved by his bombing attack) – and sadly, worst of all in some ways, admitting no memory of the same false flag incident in 2013, for which again Assad was blamed (see Seymour Hersh’s fascinating deconstruction of this US propaganda, ‘London Review of Books’ December 19, 2013, “Whose sarin?”). No memory, no history, no rules – or rather ‘American rules.’ No, this isn’t an accident or a one-off affair. This is the State deliberately misinforming the public through its corporate media and leads us to believe, as Mike Whitney points out in his brilliant analyses, “Will Washington Risk WW3” and “Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” that something far more sinister waits in the background.

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BBG can’t even run a story on climate anymore without adding “..the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire..”, and more of such useful hints.

A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

The story of the Arctic begins with temperature but it’s so much more—this is a tale about oil and economics, about humanity and science, about politics and borders and the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire. The world as a whole has warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. Arctic temperatures have risen twice that amount during the same time period. The most recent year analyzed, October 2015 to September 2016, was 3.5C warmer than the early 1900s, according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. Northern Canada, Svalbard, Norway and Russia’s Kara Sea reached an astounding 14C (25F) higher than normal last fall. Scientists refer to these dramatic physical changes as “Arctic amplification,” or positive feedback loops. It’s a little bit like compound interest.

A small change snowballs, and Arctic conditions become much less Arctic, much more quickly. “After studying the Arctic and its climate for three-and-a-half decades,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, wrote recently. “I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme.” The heat is making quick work of its natural prey: ice. Scientists track the number of “freezing-degree days,” a running seasonal tally of the amount of time it’s been cold enough for water to freeze. The 2016-2017 winter season has seen a dramatic shortfall in coldness—more than 20% below the average, a record. Sea ice has diminished much faster than scientists and climate models anticipated. Last month set a new low for March, out-melting 2015 by 23,000 square miles.

Compared with the 1981-2010 baseline, the average September sea-ice minimum has been dropping by more than 13% per decade. A recent study in Nature Climate Change estimated that from 30-50% of sea ice loss is due to climate variability, while the rest occurs because of human activity. Receding ice decreases the Earth’s overall reflectivity, making the Arctic darker and therefore absorbing even more heat. The ice is not all the same age or thickness, although it has become somewhat more uniform. In 1985, about 45% of Arctic sea ice was made up of older and thicker multi-year ice. By 2016, that number shrank to 22%.

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Dec 122016
 
 December 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina July 1941

CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)
Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)
Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)
Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)
China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)
Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)
Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)
Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)
India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)
Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)
Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)
Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)
Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)
Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)
Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)
Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

 

 

A merciless put-down by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, and former Rector of the University of Dundee. Close associate of Assange.

CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also. A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition.

We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt. As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two.

And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened. The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

[..] both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.

Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake. In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.

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He’s not trying to trade the policy.

Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)

Donald Trump attracted stinging criticism from China’s state media after the President-elect stated that the U.S. did not necessarily have to stick to the “One China” policy. Communist Party-owned paper, Global Times, published in an opinion piece with the headline: “Trump, please listen clearly, the One China policy cannot be traded” as it warned Trump that China cannot “cannot be easily bullied”. “If Trump abandons the one-China principle, why should China need to be U.S.’ partner in most international affairs?” said the paper, which is known for its extreme nationalistic views. Most would think Trump is “ignorant like a child” in handling diplomacy, the paper added.

Its English language editor was less strident, with the paper citing a foreign affairs analyst chalking up Trump comments to “inexperience” in a piece entitled “Prevent ‘immature’ Trump being manipulated by conservative forces: analyst”. “As a businessman, he thinks it’s quite normal to do business, but he hasn’t realized that the Taiwan question is not a business to China. The Taiwan question is not negotiable,” China Foreign Affairs University professor Li Haidong was quoted as saying. Li also said Trump didn’t have a plan to challenge the “One China” policy. China and Taiwan parted ways in 1949, when the Nationalist Party (KMT) was forced to retreat to Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party and China views the territory as a renegade province that can be re-taken by force if necessary. Washington embraced the “One China” policy in 1979 under which Beijing views Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as part of China.

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And at the end of the day central banks are going to buy up all the devalued paper again?

Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)

The amount of dollar-denominated debt issued by financial institutions stepped up to reach a record high during the third quarter as the influence of central banks receded, according to the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), released on Sunday. “Developments during this quarter stand out for one reason: For once, central banks took a back seat,” Claudio Borio, head of the BIS’ monetary and economic department was quoted as saying in the review. “It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” he continued. Total issuance of international debt securities during the third quarter slipped 10% to hit $1.4 trillion.

Within advanced economies, a below-average pace of repayments meant quarterly net issuance jumped 40% with the year-to-date net figure at its highest level since 2009. Turning to emerging markets, quarterly net issuance dropped 35% from its abnormally large amount the previous quarter but the year-to-date figure still showed a 73% jump over 2015’s equivalent number. The lower EM net issuance figure this quarter particularly reflected a sharp slowdown in sovereign borrowing by oil-producing governments. However, looking ahead, fourth-quarter figures should be bolstered once again by Saudi Arabia’s $17.5 billion bond issue placed in October and it is worth remembering the heady pace of issuance during the second quarter, driven by oil exporters such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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Who needs central banks?

Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)

Financial markets have been remarkably resilient to rising bond yields and sudden shift in outlook following last month’s shock U.S. election result, but the sheer scale of uncertainties ahead means the adjustment will be “bumpy”, the BIS said on Sunday. While the resilience to recent market swings following the U.S. election and Brexit vote have been welcome, investors should be braced for further bouts of extreme volatilty and “flash crash” episodes like the one that hit sterling in October, the Bank for International Settlements said. “We do not quite fully understand the cause of such unusual price moves … but as long as such moves remain self-contained and do not threaten market functioning or the soundness of financial institutions, they are not a source of much concern: we may need to get used to them,” said Claudio Borio, Head of the Monetary and Economic Department at the BIS.

“It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” Borio said. This suggests investors may finally be learning to stand on their own two feet after years of relying on central bank stimulus, signaling a potential “paradigm shift” for markets, he said. “But the jury is still out, and caution is in order. And make no mistake: bond yields are still unusually low from a long-term perspective,” Borio said. [..] Bond yields have risen sharply since the middle of the year. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has jumped 100 basis points since July’s multi-decade low, with a growing number of investors saying the 35-year bull run in bonds is now over.

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I say it almost every day: shadow banks.

China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)

For China’s highly leveraged real estate developers, 2017 could be the year that the borrowing binge finally catches up with them. Regulators have choked off a key source of funding, with the Shanghai Stock Exchange raising the threshold for property firms to sell bonds on their platform in October. Since then, builders haven’t sold any notes in a market that played host to about 40% of their onshore debentures over the past two years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The curbs couldn’t have come at a worse time, with a record $17.3 billion of developer bonds due next year, and another $27.9 billion in 2018. China’s government is treading a fine line with the curbs on debt issuance as it tries to gently deflate the real-estate bubble while avoiding wider fallout in an industry that accounts for as much as 20% of Asia’s largest economy.

The sector is also threatened by a broader increase in funding costs, with the yield premium on AAA-rated domestic corporate notes reaching the widest since July 2015, amid a global pullback in bonds and targeted central bank steps to stem leverage. Smaller developers will be the hardest hit, with bigger players still able to sell exchange-regulated bonds, according to NN Investment Partners. “Overall, funding conditions will become more challenging in 2017,” said Clement Chong, senior credit analyst in Singapore at NN Investment. “Only stronger developers can issue onshore bonds, subject to a number of conditions. But smaller builders will be forced to come to the offshore market to issue bonds, which will be subject to regulatory approval.”

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Most of them were strong Hillary supporters.

Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)

Top executives from Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Facebook Inc are among a small group of tech leaders invited to a summit to be held on Wednesday by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Recode reported, citing sources. Executives from Microsoft Corp, Intel Corp and Oracle Corp will also be among “a very heady group of less than a dozen, comprising most of the key players in the sector” to attend the summit, Recode said. Billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk will also be in attendance, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

“I plan to tell the president-elect that we are with him and are here to help in any way we can,” Oracle CEO Safra Catz told Reuters in an emailed statement. “If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation, and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology community will be stronger and more competitive than ever.” Amazon.com Inc CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was also invited and is likely to attend, Recode said citing sources with knowledge of the situation.

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What’s in it for Qatar?

Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)

Italy’s troubled Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) bank on Sunday announced it would go ahead with plans to seek a private sector-led rescue, narrowly avoiding the need to seek a government bailout. The world’s oldest bank’s woes have raised concerns over the eurozone’s third-largest economy, particularly in the aftermath of prime minister Matteo Renzi’s resignation after a crushing referendum defeat. The bank’s prospects appeared somewhat less alarming Sunday however, after Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Renzi’s ally Paolo Gentiloni to form a new government. BMPS’s stock tumbled Friday over reports that the ECB had denied it more time to raise the cash it needed to avoid being wound down, triggering speculation it would be forced to seek a government bailout.

The bank – seen as the weak link in Italy’s economy – had asked to be given until January 20 to avoid collapse. The request was reportedly refused, with the ECB’s board believed to have ruled that two weeks of extra time would be of little use in turning around the historic bank. In a statement published late Sunday after a board meeting in Milan, BMPS said it had “decided to go ahead” with plans to seek a market-led rescue by December 31. The bank had initially announced its plan to seek a private sector-led rescue in July. The bank, whose stock has fallen more than 80% this year, plans the sale of €27.6 billion in non-performing loans. It also aims for a capital injection of up to €5 billion. Italian media reports say the Qatar Investment Authority – the Gulf nation’s state-owned holding company – may be willing to contribute €1 billion.

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Everyone’s willing to cut outputs, but not if it costs money or market share. Not going to work.

Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)

Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready to cut oil production more than expected, a surprise announcement made minutes after Russia and several non-other OPEC countries pledged to curb output next year. Taken together, OPEC’s first deal with its rivals since 2001 and the Saudi comments represent a forceful effort by producers to wrest back control of the global oil market, depressed by persistent oversupply and record inventories. “This is shock and awe by Saudi Arabia,” said Amrita Sen at Energy Aspects in London. “It shows the commitment of Riyadh to rebalance the market and should end concerns about OPEC delivering the deal.” Oil prices have surged more than 15% since OPEC announced Nov. 30 it will cut production for the first time in eight years, rising this week briefly above $55. The price rise has propelled the shares of energy groups from Exxon Mobil to shale firms such as Continental Resources.

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Everyone needs a bank account, but the banks have no yime for that since they’re exchanging old for new money. Sounds like a plan.

India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)

Hundreds of thousands of construction workers have returned home since Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished high-denomination banknotes, leaving some building sites across the country facing costly delays. A month after Modi’s shock move to take away 86% of cash in circulation to crush the shadow economy, the growing labour shortage threatens to slow a recovery in India’s construction industry, which accounts for 8% of gross GDP and employs 40 million people. Work at SARE Homes’ residential projects, spanning six cities, has slowed dramatically as migrant workers, who are out of cash and have no bank accounts to draw from, have little choice but to return to their villages. “Construction work at all projects has slowed down in a big way,” managing director Vineet Relia told Reuters.

Property enquiries, meanwhile, have slumped by 80% around the Indian capital since the cash crackdown, according to property portal 99acres. Getamber Anand, president of Indian builders’ association CREDAI, said projects nationwide had been hit, and estimated that roughly half of the migrant workforce, numbering in the low millions, had left for home. Road developers have also reported a slowdown as they struggle to find sufficient labour. The exodus shows little sign of reversing, risking damage to construction activity and the wider economy into 2017, despite Modi’s assurances that hardships from his radical “demonetisation” should be over by the end of the year. [..] for now, millions of workers who depend on daily wages for food and shelter are struggling. Many have never held a bank account, and even if they wanted one, some do not have the necessary documents to do so.

CREDAI’s Anand predicts activity on construction sites will not return to normal until April, and only once labourers are able to open accounts at banks still struggling to serve long queues of people desperate for cash. “Right now the banks say they don’t have time to open accounts. It’s the biggest challenge,” Anand said.

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Modi said it would all be fine by the end of the year. Not going to happen.

Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and poster boy of the government’s Make in India project, has asked nearly a fourth of its 8,000 factory workers to go on paid leave for two weeks after last month’s demonetisation of high value notes sparked a severe cash crunch that saw sales slump almost 50%, forcing the company to slash production by half. The government’s move to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from November 9 has had a domino effect on the mobile phone industry, where a large majority of mobile phones are bought for less than Rs 5,000 and most of the transactions happen through cash.

Consumer purchase power has been reduced dramatically – mobile phone monthly sales halved to Rs 175-200 crore post demonetisation – and sales revival is not looking up, as was perceived earlier, industry insiders said. Leading local players including Intex, Lava and Karbonn are planning to lay off or bench 10-40% of their workforce, as they cut production to control inventory pile-ups in retail channels with consumers delaying cash purchases after Nov 8 demonetisation sucked out cash from the market. Lava is shutting down its plant – which employs around 5000 people -for a week starting December 12, while others could soon follow, industry insiders said.

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Failure of Maduro or intervention from abroad? Venezuela still has a lot of oil.

Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)

Venezuela, mired in an economic crisis and facing the world’s highest inflation, will pull its largest bill, worth two US cents on the black market, from circulation this week ahead of introducing new higher-value notes, President Nicolás Maduro said on Sunday. The surprise move, announced by Maduro during an hours-long speech, is likely to worsen a cash crunch in Venezuela. Maduro said the 100-bolivar bill will be taken out of circulation on Wednesday and Venezuelans will have 10 days after that to exchange those notes at the central bank. Critics slammed the move, which Maduro said was needed to combat contraband of the bills at the volatile Colombia-Venezuela border, as economically nonsensical, adding there would be no way to swap all the 100-bolivar bills in circulation in the time the president has allotted.

Central bank data showed that in November, there were more than six billion 100-bolivar bills in circulation, 48% of all bills and coins. Authorities on Thursday are due to start releasing six new notes and three new coins, the largest of which will be worth 20,000 bolivars, less than $5 on the streets. No official inflation data is available for 2016 though many economists see it in triple digits. Economic consultancy Ecoanalitica estimates annual inflation this year at more than 500%. The oil-producing nation’s bolivar currency has fallen 55% against the US dollar on the black market in the last month.

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Putin won’t like this.

Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)

On Sunday, the “Islamic State” (IS) retook the desert city of Palmyra in Syria after being driven out of the city hours earlier by heavy Russian aerial attacks, a group monitoring the country’s conflict reported. “Despite the ongoing air raids, IS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. The Amaq news agency, which has links to the IS militants, also reported that the group had retaken “full control” of the city after first taking Palmyra’s citadel (above photo), which overlooks the historic site.

After launching an offensive in the region a few days before, IS pushed into the city on Saturday, only to be forced to withdraw by a fierce Russian bombing campaign that killed scores of its fighters. The Observatory reported that the militants regrouped on the outskirts of the city and made a successful attempt to retake control. IS has had possession of the city once before, in May last year, destroying many of its ancient treasures, and Palmyra’s recapture could put the remaining artifacts and monuments in extreme danger. The group considers certain artifacts and monuments to be “idolatrous,” and has severely damaged important historic sites and objects across areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

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Nothing else makes sense.

Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)

Any further negotiations with Ankara over its future European Union membership will be blocked by Vienna, the Austrian Foreign Minister said, slamming Ankara’s alleged human rights violations in the post-coup crackdown on any opposition. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on November 24 to freeze Turkey’s EU accession process, citing Ankara’s crackdown after July’s failed coup. The final verdict on Turkey’s immediate EU future will be decided following the European Council meeting that is scheduled to take place on December 15-16. Granting visa liberalization to Turkish citizens will also be on the table during the discussions. Before the crucial meeting, the EU’s General Affairs Council of foreign ministers, which meets once a month, will convene to discuss the potential role of Ankara in the EU.

At the meeting, Austria intends to block the continuation of EU accession talks with Turkey, the country’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, told Spiegel online. “The European Parliament has adopted a courageous and correct resolution demanding that the accession negotiations with Turkey be frozen. In the conclusions of the Foreign Ministers, there must also be a reaction to developments in Turkey. We must also propose that the accession talks be frozen,” Kurz said. The minister added that the Netherlands and Bulgaria seem to share Vienna’s position on Turkey. The 30-year-old politician said that his country believes that Turkey does not share EU values. He called for a clear response from the European Union to the events which followed the July 15 failed coup.

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Over 300 arrivals a day. Numbers are rising again.

Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)

The numbers of migrants crossing from Turkey to the eastern Aegean islands are on the rise, but the%age of those who merit international protection is on the wane, say authorities, who are looking for ways to speed up asylum procedures. Speaking to Kathimerini on condition of anonymity, local officials told the newspaper that refugee families currently stranded on the islands are reluctant to share a roof with economic migrants, mostly young men from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) who allegedly often display delinquent behavior and are on the front lines of riots at reception centers. Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas recently admitted that between 70 and 80% of arrivals were now migrants while before it was refugees escaping conflict and war.

Whereas the latter appear aware that the Balkan route to Western Europe is officially closed, the groups of young male economic migrants appear more willing to take the risks of reaching Europe. A total 324 undocumented migrants crossed from Turkey on Friday, most of them from Africa and Pakistan. Another 330 reached Greece on Saturday. Rising numbers are putting a big strain on Greece’s asylum system as virtually all newcomers make a claim for asylum despite knowing that they do not fulfill the necessary criteria for international protection. “Even so, we are still obliged to follow the formal procedure and fulfill the European directives,” Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, told Kathimerini.

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Firdt you put them down, then you write a report on it.

Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)

Greece came out worst among the bloc’s 28 member-states in the EU’s annual report on social justice for 2015, reflecting the impact of the financial crisis on society, social cohesion and the competitiveness of the Greek economy. The “Social Justice in the EU” report shows that not only is Greece the bloc’s laggard, but the situation in the country is deteriorating, with the gap between Greece and Romania – the second to last in the rankings – growing. Furthermore, the report indicates that the gap between the European North and South is also widening. The social and economic inequality that has emerged in Greece during the crisis is now taking on a permanent structural character, while the local economy appears to be losing its most important comparative advantage – human capital.

The report examines six social justice sectors: poverty prevention, equal rights in education, labor market access, social cohesion, and the absence of discrimination in healthcare and justice. It argues that those sectors have seen a downturn across the EU in the last seven years, reaching their lowest point in the period from 2012 to 2014. On the poverty and social exclusion front, the situation in Greece is particularly worrying, as 35.7% of the population faces the risk of poverty, with the figure for children even higher, at 37.8%, from 36.7% in 2014. The %age of children living in conditions of serious material deprivation has grown to 25.7% from 23.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2008. The situation is also disturbing in the labor market: In 2015 just 50.8% of Greeks of working age actually worked – the lowest rate in the EU.

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What happened to the warm gun?

Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

Most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty, according to a landmark study by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE). Eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty, the report found. Lord Richard Layard, who led the report, said on average people have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite average incomes more than doubling. The economist and former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said the study, called Origins of Happiness, showed that measuring people’s satisfaction with their lives should be a priority for every government. T

he researchers analysed data from four countries including the US and Germany. Extra spending on reducing mental illness would be self-financing, the researchers added, because it would be recovered by the government through higher employment and increased tax receipts together with a reduction in NHS costs from fewer GP visits and hospital A&E admissions. “Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty. It would also pay for itself,” he said. The report supports the arguments put forward by Layard over several decades that social and psychological factors are more important to the wellbeing of individuals than income levels. “Having a partner is as good for you as being made unemployed is bad for you,” he said.

The report claims that state-run organisations, including schools, must become more focused on tackling anxiety and mental health issues. “This evidence demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’,” Layard said. “In the past, the state has successively taken on poverty, unemployment, education and physical health. But equally important now are domestic violence, alcoholism, depression and anxiety conditions, alienated youth, exam mania and much else. These should become centre stage.”

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Dec 032016
 
 December 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC “Car ferry Michigan Central turning in ice, Detroit River” 1900

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)
Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)
Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)
China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)
China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)
China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)
Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)
Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)
Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)
UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)
The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)
California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)
Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)
Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)
US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

 

 

By Monday morning, Europe could be shaking on its brittle foundations.

Italian Stock Exchange CEO: There Are ‘Colossal’ Short Positions On Italy (R.)

Big international investors are holding huge short positions on Italian assets, the CEO of the Italian exchange said on Tuesday, days before the country holds a referendum on constitutional reform that could unseat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “There are colossal short positions on Italy from the U.S. and other countries where big investors are based,” said Raffaele Jerusalmi during a conference in Milan. Opinion polls conducted until a blackout period began last week showed the “no” vote comfortably in the lead, raising concerns of a political crisis and fueling market volatility. Renzi has said he would resign if Italians reject the reform.

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Spread with Bunds.

Markets Eye Europe’s ‘Fear Gauge’ As Italian Referendum Approaches (CNBC)

The Italian referendum is the current hot concern for investors, who are worrying and waiting to see if voters will reject government attempts to reform the country’s political system. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his reputation and job on the outcome, arguing a change in the legislature will usher in a nimbler, more productive Italy. However some see the predicted rejection of Renzi’s wishes as a potential opportunity for anti-European populist to gain momentum. Jan Randolph, Director of Sovereign Risk at IHS Markit said in an email Friday that worries over a potential European break-up can be measured by Europe’s “fear gauge”: The difference in yield between Italian and German debt.

“The markets are certainly focusing on this ‘spread’ – what we used to call in the old British banking days the ‘country risk spread’ as viewed by the financial markets,” Randolph said. In recent weeks, the yield spread between Italian and German 10-year government bonds has risen by more than 60 points in 60 days. Last week the spread hit a two-and-a-half year high of 188 basis points, however Reuters reported Friday that investors may be short covering as the gap between Italian and German bond yields has narrowed to 167 basis points. Jan Randolph said any blow-out of Italian yields may well be prevented by the poker hand being played by ECB President Mario Draghi’s massive bond-buying program, which many analysts expect to be extended next year.

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Entertaining ideas.

Is the Yellen Fed TRYING to Crash Stocks To Hurt Trump? (Summers)

Is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? Ever since the $USD began its bull market run in mid-2014, the Fed, lead by Janet Yellen, has intervened whenever the $USD cleared 98. The reason for this was the following… Over 47% of US corporate sales come from abroad. With the $USD spiking, pushing all other major currencies generally lower, US corporate profits began to implode. As we write this today, profits have fallen to 2012 levels. Note when this whole profit massacre began. Because of this, the Fed has “talked down” the $USD anytime it began to push higher. Until today…

Since it was announced that Trump won the Presidency, the Fed has allowed the $USD to ramp straight up. It is currently over 101…and the Fed hasn’t said a word. So we ask again… is Janet Yellen trying to crash stocks to screw Trump? We all know the Yellen Fed is one of the most political in history with Fed officials openly donating money to the Clinton campaign. Now Trump has won… the $USD soars to 101… and suddenly the Fed is silent? Not one Fed official has appeared to talk about putting off a rate hike or some other statement that might push the $USD lower…

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Entire books have been written about this in the past 12 hours or so. That, too, is fake news.

China Blames Taiwan For President’s ‘Petty’ Phone Call With Trump (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, the first such contact between the two sides in nearly four decades, but China dismissed the call as a “petty action” by the self-ruled island it claims as its own. The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”. Hours after Friday’s call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwan for the exchange, avoiding what could have been a major rift with Washington just before Trump assumes the presidency. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, state media reported.

“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding ‘one China’ policy of the United States government.” In comments at the same forum, Wang noted how quickly President Xi Jinping and Trump had spoken by telephone after Trump’s victory, and that Trump had praised China as a great country. Wang said the exchange “sends a very positive signal about the future development of Sino-U.S. relations”, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website. Taiwan was not mentioned in that call, according to an official Chinese transcript. Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call he had with the Taiwan president. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said. Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

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“When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede.”

China Bond Yields Jump As Investors Head For Exit (MNI)

When everyone heads for the exit at the same time, there’s a risk of injury in the stampede. Chinese bond investors are getting a taste of just how that feels as they scramble to offload their holdings in what could turn out to be a nasty correction. Some investors have already been dumping their government bonds as yields started to rebound from record lows, while others, who only got in recently when yields were around 2.8-2.9%, been holding on in the hope that bond yields will fall back soon. In the secondary market, the yield on the benchmark 10-year Chinese Government Bond (CGB) broke above 3% on Thursday for the first time since early June and was at 2.995% in Friday morning trade, up nearly 15 basis points for the week, the biggest weekly rise since May 2015.

For November as a whole, the yield jumped 8.88%, the biggest monthly gain since October 2010. Treasury futures also plunged this week with March contracts for 10-year CGB and five-year CGB both having their biggest weekly loss since the contracts started trading in June. A Shanghai-based trader with a joint stock bank said he believes the yield on the 10-year CGB could rise as high as 3.2% before falling back. The brutal sell-off has been triggered by a triple whammy – expectations of tighter liquidity conditions and higher inflation on the domestic front, and externally, rising bond yields in the U.S.

A surge in redemptions from worried investors has hit the market hard. One major state-owned bank is said to have redeemed around CNY200 billion from money market funds while the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s largest commercial bank, is also said to have told fund managers managing some of its money to cut bonds holdings and stockpile cash in line with ICBC’s own liquidity management. Domestic investors have swarmed over China’s bond market like bees around a honey pot over the last couple of years amid a dearth of more attractive investment opportunities as economic growth slowed. The stock market rout in the summer of 2015 only encouraged investors to move more funds to fixed income products.

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Sounds about right.

China’s ‘Extraordinary Leverage’ Tops BOE List Of Concerns (CNBC)

China, euro zone sovereign debt and the potential fallout from Brexit top the escalating list of concerns for the Bank of England (BOE), according to a report published on Wednesday which warns that risks to global stability have spiked in the past six months. The U.K.’s central bank’s semi-annual Financial Stability Report states, “Vulnerabilities stemming from the global environment and financial markets, which were already elevated, have increased further since July.” China’s burgeoning debt levels and rapid rate of credit expansion are singled out as significant red flags, with the report noting a 100 percentage point spike in the country’s non-financial sector debt relative to GDP since the 2008 financial crisis. The ratio currently stands at around 260% of GDP.

“This is extraordinary leverage for an advanced, let alone, an emerging economy,” the BOE Governor Mark Carney said at a press conference to launch the report. The “near-record” pace of net capital outflows from China during the third quarter and a 3% depreciation in the Chinese renminbi against the U.S. dollar since the publication of the BOE’s July report were also highlighted as reasons for concern. Turning to nearer neighbors, the governor broke down the key risks emanating from some euro area economies into, firstly, existing sovereign debt dynamics and, secondly, threats to the resilience of parts of the trading bloc’s banking system.

Carney noted the vulnerability of elevated sovereign debt levels to a leap in borrowing costs or diminished growth prospects on the back of either trade or political headwinds. Moving even closer to home, the governor raised the looming specter of the U.K.’s impending departure from the EU, noting banks located domestically currently supply over half of the debt and equity issuance from continental firms and account for over 75% of foreign exchange and derivatives activity in the U.K.

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“We” can’t make up our minds about this one. Because our minds are stuck in a bubble.

Do We Want House Prices Up Or Down? (AFR)

Just as market forces were about to push the price of housing down in Australia, the Treasurer stepped in with some new regulation. Phew. Some first home buyer’s nearly snatched a good deal, but luckily the Treasurer was there to protect the property developers from the oversupply their building bonanza created. No issue creates a bigger flood of nonsensical econobabble in Australia than “housing affordability”. It’s a meaningless term engineered for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to pretend they are simultaneously on the side of home buyers and home sellers. What’s remarkable is the willingness of the media and others to play along. Most politicians are adamant that they want petrol, fresh food and health insurance to be less expensive.

We talk about the price of petrol and the price of milk. We don’t talk about “petrol affordability” or “bread affordability” let alone create an index of the price of bread divided by median household income. Talking endlessly about “housing affordability” allows politicians to duck the simple question of whether house prices are “too high”, “too low” or “just right”. The absurdity of this situation was revealed during the federal election campaign when the Coalition attacked the ALP’s plans to reform negative gearing on the basis that such changes would, wait for it, put downward pressure on house prices. Oh, the humanity! The Coalition’s rhetorical solution to the imaginary issue of housing affordability is to reject changes to the tax treatment of investment houses and instead blame environmentalists and state governments for “restricting the supply of housing”.

Of course this week’s redefinition of “second-hand property” by Treasurer Morrison makes a mockery of such a position. Having spent years pretending that increasing the housing supply would make housing “more affordable” the Treasurer has now acted to prevent an increase in apartment supply from pushing apartment prices down. The Coalition playbook makes clear that when it’s not the environmentalists’ fault, it must be the unions’ fault. On cue Malcolm Turnbull recently empathised with the terrible plight of “young Australian couples that can’t afford to buy a house because their costs are being pushed up by union thuggery”. A quick look at the data suggests no such link, but if Donald Trump taught conservatives anything it’s that data is for losers.

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And it should be.

Cash Is Still King In Eurozone – Deutsche (CNBC)

While cash is facing several challenges in the euro area with an increasing number of people moving towards cashless payments and digital banking, the reports of the demise of cash are greatly exaggerated, Deutsche Bank has said in its latest research note. “Cash is facing many challenges in the euro area. The ECB has decided to cease production of the €500 ($532) note due to concerns over its facilitation of illicit activities,” the bank said while adding that the cash in circulation is three times more than what it was in 2003.

While many would attribute this to the never-ending stream of money that the central banks have been pumping into the economy through QE and ultra-low interest rates, Deutsche Bank’s Heike Mai believes that most of the increase in cash since 2008 comes from abroad and hoarders. Cash held outside the euro area was worth €80 billion and cash hoarded domestically by the real economy is estimated to be valued at €120 billion. “There are good reasons to believe that cash won’t disappear anytime soon from the euro area. First, it is debatable that a cashless society would mean less crime,” Mai said, adding, that the ratio of damage caused by card fraud to the value of counterfeit notes in circulation is more than 10 to 1.

“Second, the political value of cash should not be underestimated. Some economies like using cash, for example, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria. The most robust data protection is provided by cash,” Mai, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said in the note. The research note that focuses on Europe argued that by the end of third-quarter of 2016, euro currency in circulation amounted to €1.1 trillion, three times as much as in the first quarter of 2003. While small-value notes such as €5, €10 and €20 are used to a great extent for day-to-day payments, bigger-value notes such as €50 and €100 are used for both payments and cash hoarding.

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Beware of frozen quicksand. Everyone wants the Pirates to fail.

Iceland Pirate Party To Try To Form Government (BBC)

Iceland’s anti-establishment Pirate Party has been asked by the president to try to form a new government, following October’s snap elections. President Gudni Johannesson made the announcement after talks with Pirates head Birgitta Jonsdottir. The Pirates, who vowed radical reforms, came third in the elections in which no party won an outright majority. Two earlier rounds of coalition talks involving first the Independence Party and then the Left-Greens failed. “Earlier today, I met the leaders of all parties and asked their opinion on who should lead those talks. After that I summoned Birgitta Jonsdottir and handed her the mandate,” President Johannesson said on Friday.

Ms Jonsdottir said afterwards she was “optimistic that we will find a way to work together”. In the elections, the Pirate Party – which was founded in 2012 – more than tripled its seats to 10 in the 63-member parliament. The election was called after Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson quit in April in the wake of the leaked Panama Papers, which revealed the offshore assets of high-profile figures. The Pirates want more political transparency and accountability, free health care, closing tax loopholes and more protection of citizens’ data.

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Color me stunned.

UK Politicians Exempt Themselves From New Wide-Ranging Spying Laws (Ind.)

Politicians have exempted themselves from Britain’s new wide-ranging spying laws. The Investigatory Powers Act, which has just passed into law, brings some of the most extreme and invasive surveillance powers ever given to spies in a democratic state. But protections against those spying powers have been given to MPs. Most of the strongest powers in the new law require that those using them must be given a warrant. That applies to people wanting to see someone’s full internet browsing history, for instance, which is one of the things that will be collected under the new law. For most people, that warrant can be issued by a secretary of state. Applications are sent to senior ministers who can then approve either a targeted interception warrant or a targeted examination warrant, depending on what information the agency applying for the warrant – which could be anyone from a huge range of organisations – wants to see.

But for members of parliament and other politicians, extra rules have been introduced. Those warrants must also be approved by the prime minister. That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but alos politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament. The protections afforded to politicians are actually less than they had hoped to be given. Earlier in the process, the only amendment that MPs had submitted was one that would allow extra safeguards for politicians – forcing any request to monitor MP’s communications to go through the speaker of the House of Commons as well as the prime minister.

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Eric Peters sells cars. And he’s right that cheap credit drives car sales and gadgetry. But not about the need for cars in the first place.

The New American Dream – A Life In Hock (Peters)

We live in a society driven by debt. Cars, for example, have become hugely expensive (even on the low end) relative to what people can afford – because of the easy availability of credit. Which is the nice word used to speak about debt, intended to encourage us to get into it. It takes at least $15,000 or so to drive home in a “cheap” new car, once all is said and done. And the “cheap” car will have to be registered, plated and insured. It runs into money. And most new cars cost a lot more money. Which most people haven’t got. So they get debt. A loan. Which, when it becomes commonly resorted to as a way to live beyond one’s means as a lifestyle, drives up the cost of life for everyone. Including those who try to live within their means – or better yet, below them.

When most people (when enough people) are willing – are eager – to go into hock for the next six years in order to have a car with an LCD touchscreen, leather (and heated) seats, six air bags, a six-speaker stereo, electronic climate control AC and power everything – which pretty much every new car now comes standard with – the car companies build cars to satisfy that artificial demand. Artificial because based on economic unreality. That is a good way to think about debt. It is nonexistent wealth. You are promising to pay with money you haven’t earned yet. And maybe won’t. The car market has become like the housing market – which has also been distorted by debt to a cartoonish degree. The typical new construction home is a mansion by 1960s standards.

Not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mansion. Or driving a car with heated leather seats and climate control AC and a six-speaker surround-sound stereo and six air bags and all the rest of it. Provided you can afford it. Most people can’t. Normally, that fact would keep things in check. There would be mansions, of course – and high-end cars, too. But only for those with the high-end incomes necessary to afford them. Everyone else would live within their means. We wouldn’t be living in this economic Potemkin village that appears prosperous but is in fact an economic Jenga Castle that could collapse at any moment. There would be a lot less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”… as they head toward bankruptcy and foreclosure.

As society heads that way. Like the housing industry, the car industry has ceased building basic and much less expensive cars because of easy and grotesque debt-financing. Which is tragic. There ought to be (and would be) a huge selection of brand-new cars priced under $10,000 were it not for the ready availability of nonexistent wealth (.e., debt and credit). Cars many people could pay cash for.

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Still waiting for a politican or government to come clean about the Pension Ponzi.

California Pensions Underfunded By $1 Trillion Or $93k Per Household (ZH)

Earlier today the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy highlighted an updated pension study, released by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, which revealed some fairly startling realities about California’s public pension underfunding levels. After averaging $77,700 per household in 2014, the amount of public pension underfunding for the state of California jumped to a staggering $92,748 per household in 2015. But don’t worry, we’re sure pension managers can grow their way out of the problem…hedge fund returns have been stellar recently, right?

Stanford University’s pension tracker database pegs the market value of California’s total pension debt at $1 trillion or $93,000 per California household in 2015. In 2014, California’s total pension debt was calculated at $77,700 per household, but has increased dramatically in response to abysmal investment returns at California’s public pension funds that hover at or below 0% annual returns.

Looking back to 2008, the underfunding levels of California’s public pension have skyrocketed 157% on abysmal asset returns and growing liabilities resulting from lower discount rates. Perhaps this helps shed some light on why CalPERS is having such a difficult time with what should have been an easy decision to lower their long-term return expectations to 6% from 7.5% (see “CalPERS Weighs Pros/Cons Of Setting Reasonable Return Targets Vs. Maintaining Ponzi Scheme”)…$93k per household just seems so much more “manageable” than $150k.

Oddly enough, California isn’t even the worst off when it comes to pension debt as Alaska leads the pack with just over $110,000 per household. Of course, at this point the question isn’t “if” these ponzi schemes will blow up but rather which one will go first? We have our money on Dallas Police and Fire…

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Oh, there are thousands of reasons.

Why US ‘News’ Media Shouldn’t Be Trusted (Zuesse)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb headlined on November 22nd a devastating takedown of U.S. ‘news’ media and academia, «Syria and the Statistics of War», and he began there by exposing the highly honored Harvard fraud, Dr. Steven Pinker, but then went pretty much through the entire U.S. ‘intellectual’ Establishment, including all of its major ‘news’ media, as being untrustworthy on the part of any intelligent person. (Regarding Professor Pinker specifically, Taleb linked to a scientific paper that Taleb had co-authored, which shredded one of Pinker’s highly honored and biggest-selling books. Taleb and his colleague mentioned there an article that had appeared in Britain’s Guardian raising serious questions about Pinker’s work, and they were here offering statistical proof of the fraudulence of that work.)

The scenario of exposing intellectual fraud is so common: the only reason why it’s not better known among the public is that usually the disproofs of highly honored work have no impact, and fail to dislodge the prejudices that the given established fraud has ‘confirmed’. Another good example of that occurred when the University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon issued his proof of the fraudulence of the extremely influential economics paper by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmine Rinehart, «Growth in a Time of Debt», which had been widely cited by congressional Republicans and other conservatives as a main ‘justification’ for imposing draconian economic austerity on the U.S. and other nations during the recovery from the 2008 economic crash.

Years later, that graduate student is still a graduate student (i.e., unemployed), while Kenneth Rogoff remains, as he was prior to his having been exposed: one of Harvard’s most prominent professors of economics, and a member of the Group of 30 — the world’s 30 most influential and powerful economists. Carmen Rinehart likewise retains her position also as a Harvard Professor. Previously, the Harvard Economics Department had guided communist Russia into a crony-capitalist (or fascist) ‘democracy’, but then Vladimir Putin took over Russia and got rid of the worst excesses of Harvard’s «capitalism» and so became hated by the U.S. aristocracy and its ‘news’ media — hated for having tried to establish Russia’s national independence, Russia’s independence from the U.S. aristocracy (which expected, and still craves, to control Russia).

And now after Donald Trump’s victory against the super-neoconservative hater of Russia, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Establishment, through its voices such as the Washington Post, is trying to smear — like Joseph R. McCarthy smeared America’s non-fascists back in the 1950s — the tiny independent newsmedia that had been reporting truthfully about U.S.-Russian relations and America’s coups and invasions trying to weaken and ultimately to conquer Russia even if that means nuclear war.

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Fake news as far as the eye can see. Next up: Putin eats babies.

Everything You Read About The Wars In Syria And Iraq Could Be Wrong (Ind.)

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month. Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different. In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage. One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance. Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

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Could get tricky for Trump. Luckily for him, there’s still 7 weeks to go until January 20.

US Veterans Build Barracks For Pipeline Protesters In Cold (R.)

U.S. military veterans were building barracks on Friday at a protest camp in North Dakota to support thousands of activists who have squared off against authorities in frigid conditions to oppose a multibillion-dollar pipeline project near a Native American reservation. Veterans volunteering to be human shields have been arriving at the Oceti Sakowin camp near the small town of Cannon Ball, where they will work with protesters who have spent months demonstrating against plans to route the Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, organizers said. The Native Americans and protesters say the $3.8 billion pipeline threatens water resources and sacred sites.

Some of the more than 2,100 veterans who signed up on the Veterans Stand for Standing Rock group’s Facebook page are at the camp, with hundreds more expected during the weekend. Tribal leaders asked the veterans, who aim to form a wall in front of police to protect the protesters, to avoid confrontation with authorities and not get arrested. Wesley Clark Jr, a writer whose father is retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, met with law enforcement on Friday to tell them that potentially 3,500 veterans would join the protest and the demonstrations would be carried out peacefully, protest leaders said. The plan is for veterans to gather in Eagle Butte, a few hours away, and then travel by bus to the main protest camp, organizers said, adding that a big procession is planned for Monday.

[..] The protesters’ voices have also been heard by companies linked to the pipeline, including banks that protesters have targeted for their financing of the pipeline. Wells Fargo said in a Thursday letter it would meet with Standing Rock elders before Jan. 1 “to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” in the project. There have been violent confrontations near the route of the pipeline with state and local law enforcement, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses on the protesters, even in freezing weather. The number of protesters in recent weeks has topped 1,000. State officials on Monday ordered them to leave the snowy camp, which is on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, citing harsh weather, but on Wednesday they said they would not enforce the order. “There is an element there of people protesting who are frightening,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said on Thursday. “It’s time for them to go home.”

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Oct 182016
 
 October 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)
US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)
China’s Bad Credit (Balding)
Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)
Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)
Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)
State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)
RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)
The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)
Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)
We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

 

 

As Gilts sell off… Very reassuring.

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)

First they came for the yield, then they came for the duration. A Goldman Sachs analysis says investors could be mired in a world of pain if yields on long-dated assets snap higher. Just a modest backup in rates could inflict outsized losses on bond portfolios — a sobering prospect in light of the recent jump in longer-dated bond yields that’s already eating into bondholders’ capital returns. A 1% increase in interest rates could inflict a $1.1 trillion loss to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, analysts at Goldman calculate, representing a larger loss for bondholders than at any other point in history. With the bank predicting the selloff in bonds has further to run, that remains “far from a tail scenario,” its analysts write.

Bets on longer-maturity obligations had paid off handsomely for most of the year amid a global bond rally triggered by expectations that weak economic activity will persuade central banks in advanced economies to postpone tightening monetary policy. Asset purchases by the BOJ, BOE and the ECB helped the average maturity of new U.S. corporate bonds climb to a peak of 11.3 years in August. With average bond maturities worldwide now more than double the inflation-adjusted level of 2009, and three times that of 1994, Goldman says there’s an elevated risk of losses if rates spike higher. “We see potential for the rates market to continue to sell off, and the notional amount of duration dollars at risk is unprecedentedly large,” Goldman fixed-income analysts, led by Marty Young, wrote in the report on Monday.

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“..lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball..”

US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)

Ever since the shock of the financial crisis ebbed and buyers began to return to the housing market, one truth has dominated: mortgage lending is tight. But is it? It’s true that only the borrowers with the highest credit scores get home loans now. So much lending to people with higher credit scores and so little to those on the lower end of the spectrum has shifted the average FICO score up about 40 points since before the bubble burst. But measured in another way, lending is shockingly loose. And, according to one economist, that tells us a lot not just about the housing market, but about the economy as a whole. The 20% down payment may linger in Americans’ imagination, but it’s even less real today than Jimmy Stewart’s small-town banker from 1946.

American homeowners, particularly those at the lower end of the market, are increasingly leveraged to pay for their houses, says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at data provider CoreLogic. In fact, owners of entry-level homes, those in the $150,000 to $300,000 range — have more debt and less equity now than they did in 2005, at the height of mortgage mania. For Khater, that says less about credit markets and more about another defining feature of the post-recession housing market — its lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball,” he told MarketWatch. “What I worry about is the leverage not from a default perspective but from an affordability perspective. Demand for credit has been weak. But the much bigger issue is the supply of housing, not supply of credit.”

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Swaps won’t rescue China’s bad debt. It’s just multiple state-owned firms selling each other the things.

China’s Bad Credit (Balding)

There is good news when it comes to China’s scary and still-growing pile of debt: At least the government recognizes the problem. Its attempts to mitigate those risks, however, seem doomed to fall short. The government’s recent decision to create a market for credit default swaps is a case in point. The idea, as elsewhere, is to give banks and investors a means of pricing and trading the risk of Chinese companies defaulting on their debts. The need is obvious: Official measures of non-performing loans are worsening, while unofficial estimates say their share may have reached anywhere from 8% to 20%. Anything that spreads that risk should improve financial stability. Yet, as envisioned, this new CDS market is unlikely to do much to improve the situation.

For one thing, all but the largest companies already have to purchase credit insurance when taking out loans from giant state banks. There’s no pricing differential on this insurance, of course. But for the new system to function effectively, the government would have to let markets freely set the price of credit risk. China doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of allowing markets to set prices in any field, whether in stocks, real estate or currencies. If credit default swaps started to indicate a rising risk of default at a major state-owned company, it’s hard to imagine officials wouldn’t intervene to reverse that impression. This is dangerous on multiple levels. Already, several Chinese credit insurance firms have collapsed because they underestimated credit risk, forcing government bailouts. Continuing to underprice risk will only encourage the over-allocation of credit that’s gotten China into trouble thus far.

There’s also little reason to think that creating a CDS market would shift risk away from the most vulnerable banks. In a heavily concentrated banking and lending market such as China, where major financial institutions all trade with each other, swaps are likely to produce no net change to risk levels. Think of a simple example. Assume that Bank A has loans totaling 100 billion yuan but wants to protect itself against the risk of default by buying a CDS from Bank B that covers these companies. Now assume that Bank B does the same to cover its 100 billion yuan of loans, with A as the counter-party. If we assume these are similar baskets of loans – a reasonable assumption for major banks within a single country – then there’s been no net change in credit risk for either bank.

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It doesn’t get much more serious than this: “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis..”

Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)

The bond vigilantes are sharpening their knives. The last five trading sessions have seen a sudden and potentially ominous shift in the reflexes of the Gilts market, a sign that ‘hard Brexit’ rhetoric has rattled global debt managers. “For the first time, foreign investors are beginning to question the credit-worthiness of the United Kingdom,“ said Vatsala Datta, UK rates strategist at RBC. We will find out how serious it is on October 31 – Hallowe’en day – when the UK Debt Management Office publishes its monthly data on foreign holdings of Gilts. Central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the like, currently hold £503bn of British public debt or 27pc of the total, a bigger share than UK pension funds and insurance companies.

Yields on 10-year Gilts have spiked by 62 basis points to 1.14pc from their trough in August. Until last week this was pure a ‘reflation trade’, a turbo-charged variant of what has been happening in the US and other parts of the world as markets price in accelerating global growth and a commodity rebound. Britain got a double-dose because the sharp fall in sterling automatically pushed up the likelihood of future inflation, and that is what bondholders hate most. It is easy to measure the inflation component of moves by tracking how the ‘break-even inflation rate’ rises in tandem with the headline bond yield. “The correlation was exact. It has now broken down,” said Ms Datta. Break-even rates stopped rising last week, yet this time Gilt yields spiked higher, a divergence of 18 basis points.

RBC said the pattern in the interlocking currency and debt markets is clear: sterling is no longer trading like a bona fide reserve currency. “The parallel sell-off in gilts and sterling is potentially a worrying development, consistent with the UK’s having growing difficulty funding its internal and external deficits,” it said. What typically happens when a blue chip currency like the US dollar or the Swiss franc falls is that central banks and fund managers buy more of that country’s bonds to keep a constant weighting. This is a mechanical practice. It happens unless managers take a conscious decision to override their model. It is why foreign holdings of UK Gilts have risen by 20pc over the last year, and why they surged at an even faster rate after the referendum.

This foreign rush into Gilts happened not in spite of the falling pound, but because of it. All of a sudden this has stopped. Loose proxies such as ‘swap spreads’ suggest an outright exodus from Gilts even as the pound weakens. It is symptomatic that the Japanese bank Nomura has issued a string of tough reports about what could happen if the British government opts to leave the EU single market, warning that an erratic UK can no longer count on the “kindness of strangers” to fund its current account deficit. “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis,” it says, menacingly.

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“..if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.”

The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)

It’s fun to imagine a world without cash. Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device. Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster. Such is the utopia recently described by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker and by a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, in a new book, “The Curse of Cash.”

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without cash is a world without money. Money belongs to its current holder. It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money. This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion. We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access. Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage. The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds. Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

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Extrapolating trends is a pretty much useless exercise.

Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)

By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33% compared to the present 21% and 7% in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8% from 15% today and 28% in 1951. This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization. The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951.

By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns. The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs. The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.

There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.

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It helps when politicians actually know the law.

Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press. After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail. On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.” The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage. Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

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I picked the Reuters take on this. There are many others, some much more negative. The crux: This is getting way out of hand. Trying to interfere with classified material is crazy and desperate. And very illegal.

State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)

A senior State Department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton last year by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with FBI officials released on Monday. The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.

Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the Nov. 8 election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation. Clinton has said her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was a mistake and has apologized. One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails.

The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified. The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials were busy reviewing the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016. The official said the State Department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified, but the FBI stood by its decision. Soon after that call, one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo.'”

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From the Times (behind paywall): “The state-owned bank withdrew its planned punitive action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to international watchdogs for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.”

RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) appears to have backtracked from its earlier statement that the looming closure of RT accounts is not up for discussion. In a letter to RT, the bank said the situation is being reviewed and the bank is contacting the customer. The e-mailed response began with apologies for the delay in the reply. These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” Sarah Hinton-Smith, Head of Corporate & Institutional, Commercial & Private Media at RBS Communications, wrote. However, the response by Hinton-Smith contradicted an earlier statement by RBS, which said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion.

The broadcaster addressed the Royal Bank of Scotland representative over the contradiction, pointing out that “your statement seems to suggest that the bank will contact RT and that there will be a review and further discussion.” “There’s not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement,” Hinton-Smith replied via email. Earlier Monday, the National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of RBS Group, informed RT UK’s office in London that it will no longer have the broadcaster among its customers, without providing any explanation for the decision.

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“..the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.”

The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)

It must be obvious even to nine-year-old casual observers of the scene that the US national election is hacking itself. It doesn’t require hacking assistance from any other entity. The two major parties could not have found worse candidates for president, and the struggle between them has turned into the most sordid public spectacle in US electoral history. Of course, the Russian hacking blame-game story emanates from the security apparatus controlled by a Democratic Party executive establishment desperate to preserve its perks and privileges . (I write as a still-registered-but-disaffected Democrat).

The reams of released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and other figures in HRC’s employ, depict a record of tactical mendacity, a gleeful eagerness to lie to the public, and a disregard for the world’s opinion that are plenty bad enough on their own. And Trump’s own fantastic gift for blunder could hardly be improved on by a meddling foreign power. The US political system is blowing itself to pieces. I say this with the understanding that political systems are emergent phenomena with the primary goal of maintaining their control on the agencies of power at all costs. That is, it’s natural for a polity to fight for its own survival. But the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.

It wouldn’t take much to shove it off a precipice into a new kind of civil war much more confusing and irresolvable than the one we went through in the 1860s. Events and circumstances are driving the US insane literally. We can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and therefore we can’t form a set of coherent plans for doing anything about it. The main event is that our debt has far exceeded our ability to produce enough new wealth to service the debt, and our attempts to work around it with Federal Reserve accounting fraud only make the problem worse day by day and hour by hour. All of it tends to undermine both national morale and living standards, while it shoves us into the crisis I call the long emergency.

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If anything ever smelled like a flase flag, it was this. Mere days after the world turned on the US and its Saudi friends for bombing a funeral procession, the Houthis supposedly shot at a US destroyer, missed by a mile and a half, and next thing you knew all of a sudden the US was itself involved in the so-called war, which is really just slaughter.

Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)

The Pentagon declined to say on Monday whether the USS Mason destroyer was targeted by multiple inbound missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday, as initially thought, saying a review was under way to determine what happened. Any determination that the USS Mason guided-missile destroyer was targeted on Saturday could have military repercussions, since the United States has threatened to retaliate again should its ships come under fire from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. The United States carried out cruise missile strikes against radar sites in Yemen on Thursday after two confirmed attempts last week to hit the USS Mason with coastal cruise missiles. “We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat – the potential threat – to our people,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.

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Unfortunately, Curtis’ film Hypernormalization is for now still only available in Britain. Far as I know.

We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

Power is all around us. It’s just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can’t see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do. The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7% of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in their weight and in their feelings and moods.

What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power. What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change.

But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it. But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe. The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in.

So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail. It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…

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