Vincent van Gogh Café, le soir, Arles 1888
“..a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK..”
Well, it happened. Yesterday the US stock market broke the all-time record for the longest bull market ever. This means that the US stock market has been generally rising for nearly a decade straight… or even more specifically, that the market has gone 3,453 days without a 20% correction. That’s a pretty big milestone. And there’s no end in sight. So it’s possible this market continues marching higher for the foreseeable future. But if you step back and really look at the big picture, there are a lot of things that might make a rational person scratch his/her head. For example– the Russell 2000 index (which is comprised of smaller companies whose shares are listed on various US stock exchanges) is currently right at its all-time high.
Yet simultaneously, according to the Wall Street Journal, a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK. How is that even possible– a junk debt rating coupled with an all-time high? It’s as if investors are saying, “Well, there’s very little chance these companies will be able to pay their debts… but screw it, I’ll pay a record high price to buy the stock anyhow.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Looking at the larger companies in the Land of the Free (which make up the S&P 500 index), the current ‘CAPE ratio’ is now the second highest on record. ‘CAPE’ stands for ‘cyclically-adjusted price/earnings ratio’. Essentially it refers to how much investors are willing to pay for shares of a company, relative to the company’s long-term average earnings.
And right now investors are willing to pay 33x long-term average earnings for the typical company in the S&P 500. The median CAPE ratio based on data that goes back to the 1800s is about 15.6. So at 33, investors are literally paying more than TWICE as much for every dollar of a company’s long-term average earnings than they have throughout all of US market history. And it’s only been higher ONE other time– just before the 2000 stock market crash (when the dot-com bubble burst). 33 is higher than right before the 2008 crisis. It’s even higher than it was before the Great Depression.
Building zombies for the future.
There’s no denying China’s remarkable economic progress over the past thirty years. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty and found useful employment in manufacturing or services in the major cities. Infrastructure gains have been historic, including some of the best trains in the world, state-of-the-art transportation hubs, cutting edge telecommunications systems, and a rapidly improving military. Yet, that’s only half the story. The other half is pure waste, fraud and theft. About 45% of Chinese GDP is in the category of “investment.” A developed economy GDP such as the U.S. is about 70% consumption and 20% investment. There’s nothing wrong with 45% investment in a fast-growing developing economy assuming the investment is highly productive and intelligently allocated.
That’s not the case in China. At least half of the investment there is pure waste. It takes the form of “ghost cities” that are fully-built with skyscrapers, apartments, hotels, clubs, and transportation networks – and are completely empty. This is not just western propaganda; I’ve seen the ghost cities first hand and walked around the empty offices and hotels. Chinese officials try to defend the ghost cities by claiming they are built for the future. That’s nonsense. Modern construction is impressive, but it’s also high maintenance. Those shiny new buildings require occupants, rents and continual maintenance to remain shiny and functional. The ghost cities will be obsolete long before they are ever occupied.
Other examples of investment waste include over-the-top white elephant public structures such as train stations with marble facades, 128 escalators (mostly empty), 100-foot ceilings, digital advertising and few passengers. The list can be extended to include airports, canals, highways, and ports, some of which are needed and many of which are pure waste. Communist party leaders endorse these wasteful projects because they have positive effects in terms of job creation, steel fabrication, glass installation, and construction. However, those effects are purely temporary until the project is completed. The costs are paid with borrowed money that can never be repaid. China might report 6.8% growth in GDP, but when the waste is stripped out the actual growth is closer to 4.5%. Meanwhile, China’s debts grow faster than the economy and its debt-to-GDP ratio is even worse than the U.S.
It’s beginning to hit home that time has run out. Wait till the days shorten for real.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has told drug companies to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by a possible no-deal Brexit. The remarks from Mr Hancock came as Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, released the first tranche of technical notes outlining the government’s preparations and warnings to businesses if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal. Among the 24 detailed papers it was also revealed that credit card users could be hit with a new “Brexit tax” amounting to £166m, UK citizens living in Europe face the prospect of losing access to pension income and new red tape could delay foreign sperm donations arriving in Britain.
In one of the most stark warnings, Mr Hancock told NHS staff and service providers that the move to increase pharmaceutical companies’ stockpiles was necessary “in case imports from the EU through certain routes” are affected if Theresa May fails to strike a deal with negotiators in Brussels. The request, according to the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, Steve Bates, would be a “massive challenge” for the industry to deliver in less than 200 days. But Mr Hancock also warned that hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies should not hoard or stockpile additional drugs “beyond their business” as usual levels.
As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast. Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority — to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.
The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.
That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list. “Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who as Brazoria County judge oversees a swath of Gulf Coast. But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some.
Another rightwing anti-immigrant yokel. That’s all they have down under.
Australia will have a new prime minister in Scott Morrison – the socially conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies – after he mounted a late challenge during a drawn-out struggle for power in the governing Liberal party. On Friday, incumbent Malcolm Turnbull failed in his attempt to stare down a challenge from hard right MP Peter Dutton, with insurgents in his party gathering enough signatures to call for a “spill” of the leadership. It led to a three-way challenge that included Morrison, Turnbull’s treasurer, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister. Turnbull himself stood aside from the contest.
In a party room ballot, Bishop was eliminated in the first round, and Morrison won against former home affairs minister Dutton in a subsequent run-off, 45 votes to 40, suggesting the party is still deeply divided. There appears no end in sight to the civil war consuming the ruling Liberal-led coalition government. The country may be headed to an election, with Turnbull saying he will not stay in parliament. His resignation in between general elections would erase the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Australia has now had five prime ministers in just over five years. Since 2010 four prime ministers have lost office not at the ballot box, but torn down by their own parties, earning Canberra the unhappy appellation “the coup capital of the Pacific”.
Selling 5% of Aramco was supposed to finance ‘diversification’.
For the Saudis, the implications of the Paris agreement were obvious: the drive to decarbonise the world economy would mean that a considerable part of their oil reserves would have to stay in the ground. This made a warning at the turn of the millennium by the former Saudi energy minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, seem suddenly urgent. “Thirty years from now, there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers”, Yamani said. “Oil will be left in the ground. The stone age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”
It was not long before Saudi’s rulers responded to this twin challenge. In the short term, they sought to persuade fellow oil producing nations to agree production curbs that would limit supply, drive up crude prices and so ease the pressures on the public finances. At the current oil price of around $70 a barrel, the Saudis can make their budget arithmetic stack up. In the longer term, there was a plan to diversify the economy away from oil. Saudi Vision 2030 was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April 2016, shortly after the oil price reached its trough. The idea was to make Saudi Arabia a global investment giant, to turn the country into a hub linking the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and to be the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
The proposed sale of part of the state-owned oil company – Saudi Aramco – was a key part of this attempt to transform and modernise the economy. Proceeds were earmarked for the country’s sovereign wealth fund so it could continue investing in companies such as the electric car company Tesla and the ride-hailing app Uber.
Thank you Barack and Hillary.
Libya has refused to take in a group of 177 migrants stranded on an Italian coastguard boat off a Sicilian port after Rome insisted they would not be allowed to disembark. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini threatened earlier this week to return the migrants to the North African country unless other European governments offered to take some of them in. But Mohamed Siala, foreign minister of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, said that “Libya does not accept this unjust and illegal measure because it already has more than 700,000 migrants” on its territory.
In a statement late Wednesday, he called on the international community “to put pressure on the countries of departure to repatriate their nationals”, adding that Libya had only served as a transit point. The Italian boat “Diciotti” arrived on Monday night off the Sicilian port of Catania. Plunged into chaos following the fall and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has become a prime transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants making dangerous clandestine bids to reach Europe. The country takes in migrants whose boats are intercepted in its waters by the Libyan coastguard, but it has repeatedly rejected those rescued by foreign navies or by humanitarian organisations off its coast.
Who’s going to blame them?
On Thursday, out of the blue, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened to stop financial contributions to the European Union next year unless other states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily. The Italian’s ultimatum comes less two months after Europe triumphantly announced a “vaguely worded” deal on how to resolve the continent’s migrant influx. “If tomorrow at the meeting of the European Commission nothing is decided on the redistribution of migrants and the Diciotti ship, I and the entire Five Star Movement are not willing to give 20 billion to the European Union,” Di Maio said in a video posted on his Facebook page.
He echoed statements by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has refused to allow 177 migrants to leave the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti, which is docked in the Sicilian port of Catania. While Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into the detention of the migrants and 29 children were allowed to disembark, Salvini still won’t allow the rest of the people to come ashore and has attacked the EU for its “cowardly silence.” Salvini described those aboard as “illegal immigrants,” and said they won’t be allowed to step foot on Italian soil. Instead, he insisted fellow European Union nations take in some of the asylum-seekers. “Italy’s no longer Europe’s refugee camp,” he tweeted. “Upon my authorization, no one is disembarking from the Diciotti.”
Salvini, who is also interior minister, was defiant in the face of a criminal probe into possible kidnapping charges for forcing the migrants to remain on the vessel. The chief prosecutor from the Agrigento court, Luigi Patronaggio, on Wednesday boarded the Diciotti and said afterwards he had opened a probe against “unknown” persons for holding the migrants against their will. “There’s a court that is investigating whether those illegally on board the ship have been kidnapped,” Salvini said in a radio interview. “I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini… I’m the Interior Minister and I think it is my duty to defend the security of this country’s borders.”
Just liked the graph, don’t want to tell anyone to buy anything.
Gold at $1,220, adjusted for real inflation, is almost as cheap as it was in 1999 at the $250 low. More importantly, inflation adjusted gold is now very near the 300 year low of 1999. So right now gold is again unloved and undervalued and therefore a bargain. On an inflation adjusted basis, the 1980 high of $850 would today be $16,650. Long before we get hyperinflationary gold prices, that $16,600 level should be easily reached. Owning physical gold for wealth protection purposes is the best preserved secret in the West. In this part of the world, virtually nobody holds gold. At the same time, the wise people in the East continue to buy all the gold that is produced annually. China, India, Iran, Turkey, Russia and many more Eastern nations understand history and economics. That is why they are accumulating major gold reserves at these levels.
Bayer really didn’t see this coming.
American agro-chemicals company Monsanto is facing a surge in lawsuits that may cost its new owners, Bayer, billions in damages. Monsanto manufactures glyphosate-based weedkillers which some believe are carcinogenic. Last month it lost a $289m (£225m) court case that alleged its products Roundup and RangerPro had led to a Californian man’s terminal cancer. Bayer said the number of outstanding cases had risen from 5,200 to 8,000. The German firm’s shares have lost 11% of their value since it lost the case in a California court to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who claimed Monsanto herbicides containing glyphosate, had caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Bayer shares fell another 1.7% on Thursday. Chief executive Werner Baumann said that when it bought Monsanto, Bayer “could not foresee the scope of the current lawsuits.” The $63bn deal was completed earlier this month. “In the course of the acquisition, we carried out due diligence as is standard practice when taking over a listed company. In doing so, we of course also considered the legal risks,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. In a conference call on Thursday, Mr Baumann added: “Our view is that the number is not indicative of the merits of the plaintiffs’ cases”.
“..Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything.”
On Aug. 10, lawyer Brent Wisner, 34, scored a landmark verdict on behalf of his client, cancer patient Dewayne Johnson. A court in San Francisco ruled that Monsanto was guilty of concealing the potential health risks associated with its weed killer glyphosate, which is sold in the United States under the brand name Round Up. The jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, who had used Round Up at his job as a janitor for a school district. The court said Monsanto should have labeled the product’s possible dangers for consumers. Monsanto, which was recently acquired by German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has denied any link between the product and the disease. Wisner spoke to DER SPIEGEL about the case in an interview.
[..] DER SPIEGEL: How much does Monsanto have to do with the fact that a verdict was reached only now? Wisner: A lot! Monsanto has an internal program called “Let Nothing Go.” The aim of this program is to attack scientists who are critical of Monsanto products. They go after people directly and discredit them. They also pay others to do so. DER SPIEGEL: Are there other such PR strategies? Wisner: Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything. As part of that effort, they also engage lobbyists – scientists who Monsanto pays for their opportunism. Such programs reflect a corporate culture that shows no interest whatsoever in public health, only in profits.
DER SPIEGEL: Monsanto continues to dispute that it tried to influence scientific research. What was the critical factor for jurors in reaching the verdict? Wisner: I believe it was the scientific findings themselves. The 12 jurors were not lightweights after all. There was a molecular biologist, an environmental engineer, a lawyer. Some colleagues told me: “Be careful Brent, so much intelligence can be an impediment.” But I was certain that the arguments in the critical studies, parts of which were suppressed, were the strongest evidence we had.
Sad and joyful. Why Korea’s really want peace.
As soon as 91-year-old Lee Gi-sun got up on the morning of Aug. 22, he pulled out one of the bottles of soju, a potent distilled liquor, that he’d stashed in the bottom of his suitcase. He’d brought this precious liquor to accompany a ceremony for which he’d waited his entire life – a daytime drink with his son! At 10 am on Aug. 22, the final day of the three-day reunion for families divided by the Korean War, family members met in the banquet hall on the second floor of the Mt. Kumgang Hotel to say their goodbyes. A few hours hence, they would return to their respective homes in South and North Korea, with no guarantee of seeing each other again. The father filled a cup with the soju he’d brought.
After taking a sip himself, he silently passed the cup to his son. Gi-sun’s North Korean son, Gang-son (69 years old himself), was also silent as he took the cup and brought it to his lips. This was the first drink shared by the white-haired father and son, and it very well might be their last. It was a heartrending moment when the father’s lifelong dream came true. “We were separated when he was two years old. Two years old,” the father said, letting the last phrase linger in the air. In Jan. 1951, he and his older brother had left their families behind in their home of Yonbaek County, Hwanghae Province, fleeing south with UN troops beaten back by the Chinese onslaught. Gi-sun had assumed he would soon be able to return.