Oct 212016
 
 October 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 21 2016


Lewis Wickes Hine Game of craps. Cincinnati, Ohio 1908

 

 

NICOLE FOSS is the keynote speaker tonight, October 21, at the

Community Solutions Conference
McGregor Hall, Antioch College
Yellow Springs, Ohio
7.30 pm

 

 

Dollar Near 7-Month High As Euro Slides, Asia Slips (R.)
Another Thing Trump, Hillary Get Wrong In This Election: The National Debt (F.)
Trump’s Candidacy – the Good and the Bad of It (Stockman)
China Property Prices Rise At Fastest Pace On Record In September (CNBC)
Yuan Hits Record Low Against Dollar in Offshore Trading (WSJ)
China’s Property Frenzy Spurs Risky Business (WSJ)
China’s Local Governments Are Getting Into The Venture Capital Business (BBG)
The Sharing Economy is Creating a Dickensian World (Das)
‘Lions Hunting Zebras’: Ex-Wells Fargo Bankers Describe Abuses (NYT)
Washington Foreign Policy Elites Not Sorry To See Obama Go (WaPo)
Hacking Democracy (ZH)
Italy Shields Russia From EU Sanctions Threat (EUO)
Draghi Says Athens Should Focus On Reforms, And The Eurozone On Debt (Kath.)
126,956 Greeks Work In Private Sector For €100 Per Month (KTG)

 

 

“The European Central Bank removed a source of immediate risk for traders by revealing that it did not discuss tapering its QE program at this month’s meeting..”

Dollar Near 7-Month High As Euro Slides, Asia Slips (R.)

Asian stocks were mostly lower on Friday as the dollar climbed to seven-month highs against a basket of currencies and dragged down crude oil prices, cooling investor risk appetite. The greenback was boosted by a fall in the euro after the ECB shot down talk it was contemplating tapering its monetary easing – sending the common currency to its lowest since March. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.3%. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.4% and Australian stocks shed 0.1%, weighed down by a retreat in energy shares. Singapore fell 0.4% while Shanghai added 0.3%. Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.3% , brushing a six-month high, as the yen weakened against the dollar.

U.S. stocks ended a choppy session on Thursday slightly lower as investors digested the latest round of earnings, with a sharp drop in telecoms offset by gains in healthcare. The ECB left its ultra-loose monetary policy unchanged on Thursday but kept the door open to more stimulus in December, with ECB President Mario Draghi dousing recent market speculation that the central bank may begin tapering its €1.7 trillion asset-buying program. “The European Central Bank removed a source of immediate risk for traders by revealing that it did not discuss tapering its QE program at this month’s meeting,” wrote Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets. “Decisions are being deferred until December pending the outcome of research – meaning that meeting will be a key focus for markets.”

Read more …

Debt explained in the vein of Steve Keen.

Another Thing Trump, Hillary Get Wrong In This Election: The National Debt (F.)

As if there aren’t enough things to be upset about as it is, here’s another: neither candidate’s position on the debt and the deficit makes economic sense (something they each reinforced in last night’s Las Vegas debate). If they act on their campaign promises, we will most certainly be facing an economic downturn, if not an outright disaster. 1. Public sector deficits must, by definition, be private sector surpluses. If one entity spends more than it earns (the public sector) then another must earn more than it spends (you and me). This is an inescapable accounting identity. 2. Public sector debt must, by definition, be a private sector asset. If one entity adds liabilities, another adds assets–another inescapable law of accounting. 3. It is impossible for a nation to be forced to default in debt denominated in its own currency. Not unlikely, not improbable, but impossible. This is not my opinion, it’s a fact, albeit a poorly known one.

4. U.S. public debt to foreign countries like China has nothing to do with the budget deficit. It’s a result of the trade deficit. The federal government’s budget could have been in surplus for the past 100 years, but whenever we buy more from China than we sell to them, they have leftover cash which they use to buy our financial assets. These may include but are not limited to Treasury Bills. No amount of budget balancing will affect debt to China. 5. The private sector cannot consistently generate sufficient demand to create jobs for everyone who wants one. As technology and productivity have increased, so it has become more difficult. Entrepreneurs cannot be blamed for adding self-checkout lanes, they have families and stockholders. But it means the store can sell the same volume of output with fewer employees–unemployment therefore rises.

Hence, we need the public sector to spend in deficit so that a.) the private sector can net save and b.) jobs are created to supplement those generated by the market system. And it creates neither a default risk nor inflation–unless we are already at full-employment, which means we don’t need to be spending that much in the first place! It is noteworthy that when, in the midst of the Great Depression, the government decided to try to reduce the deficit, unemployment jumped from 14% (after having fallen from nearly 25%) to 19%. Once WWII hit, however, any worries about government spending went right out the window and unemployment plummeted to 1.9%. There’s no reason we can’t be there right now. Only bad policy can stand in our way.

Read more …

Dave’s new book, Trumped, is out. “God help America if she becomes president.

Trump’s Candidacy – the Good and the Bad of It (Stockman)

America is heading for a devastating financial collapse and prolonged recession that will make the last go-round look tame by comparison. The entire recovery is one giant Potemkin village of phony economics and egregious financial asset inflation. It isn’t even a mixed or debatable story. Beneath the “all is awesome” propaganda of the establishment institutions is a broken system hurtling toward ruin. For example, during the month of July 2016, when the Democrats were convening in Philadelphia to confirm a third Obama term and toast 25-years of Bubble Finance, exactly 98 million Americans in the prime working ages of 25 to 54 years had jobs, including part-time gigs and self-employment. That compares to 98.1 million during July 2000. That’s right. After 16 years of the current regime we have 5 million more prime working age Americans and not a single one of them with a job.

At the same time, the number of persons in households receiving means-tested benefits has risen from 50 million to 110 million. Even as the economic wagon has faltered and become loaded with dependents, however, the financial system has grown by leaps and bounds. For example, during those same 16 years public and private debt outstanding in America has risen from $28 trillion to $64 trillion. The value of publicly traded equity has increased from $25 trillion to $45 trillion. And the net worth of the Forbes 400 has nearly doubled from $1.2 trillion to $2.4 trillion. In a word, the U.S. economy is a ticking time bomb. Main Street economics and Wall Street finance have become radically and dangerously disconnected owing to the reckless falsification of financial markets by the Fed and Washington’s addiction to endless deficits and crony capitalist bailouts and boodle.

There is not a remote chance that this toxic brew can be sustained much longer. Under those circumstances the very last thing America will need in 2017–18 when it hits the fan is a lifetime political careerist and clueless acolyte of the state who knows all the right words and harbors all the wrong ideas. Indeed, during the coming crisis America will need a brash disrupter of the status quo, not a diehard defender. Yet when the Dow index drops by 7,000 points and unemployment erupts back toward double digits, Hillary Clinton’s only impulse will be to double down. That is, to fire-up the printing presses at the Fed from red hot to white heat, plunge the nation’s fiscal equation back into multi-trillion deficits and crank-out Washington’s free stuff like never before.

A combination of a Clinton White House and the devastating day of reckoning just ahead would result in Big Government on steroids. It would also tilt the Imperial City toward war in order to distract the nation’s disgruntled voters in their tens of millions. Indeed, her prospective war cabinet — including Victoria Nuland and Michéle Flournoy — is comprised of the actual architects of Washington’s unprovoked NATO siege on Russia’s own doorsteps. God help America if she becomes president.

Read more …

And Beijing keeps pretending they want to cool it down.

China Property Prices Rise At Fastest Pace On Record In September (CNBC)

China property prices rose at the fastest pace on record in September, fueling fears of a market bubble in the world’s second-largest economy. Property prices climbed 11.2% on-year in September in 70 major cities while prices were up 2.1% from August, according to Reuters calculations using data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In August, prices rose 9.2% from a year ago. Home prices in the second-tier city of Hefei recorded the largest on-year gain at 46.8%, compared with on-year gains of 40.3% in August. Top August performer Xiamen posted an on-year rise of 46.5% against an increase of 43.8% in August. Prices in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing rose 34.1%, 32.7% and 27.8% on an annual basis respectively, according to Reuters.

Underpinning the strong growth was simply “debt” said independent analyst, Fraser Howie, who is also co-author of “Red Capitalism” and “Privatizing China.” “A decade ago you could make a case for strong property in China (with) genuine demand and relatively low leverage in the sector. This is certainly not the case now. You are seeing a lot of leverage in the property sector, both retail and commercial,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box”. The quick gains in property prices in China came after the Chinese government introduced measures aimed at boosting home sales earlier this year to reduce large inventories in an effort to limit an economic slowdown. Recent fears of overheating, however, prompted local governments in China to announce a flurry of property market cooling measures in recent weeks. Any impact from those measures was not reflected in the latest data.

Despite the property cooling measures, Howie said the broad theme of how the Chinese government was responding to the situation was recurrent. “For five to six years or so, you have on-again-off-again cooling measures in the property market, trying to make property more affordable and it’s still nowhere near affordable,” he added. The Chinese government, he said, “has no clear plan”. “It’s just a bubble, they try to pull it back; they rein it in a bit, they let it go again when it impacts the real economy.”

Read more …

It’s gettiing time for the IMF to comment on this.

Yuan Hits Record Low Against Dollar in Offshore Trading (WSJ)

The yuan hit a record low against the U.S. dollar in offshore trading Friday after strong earnings on Wall Street and weakness in the euro boosted the strength of the greenback. The dollar reached a high of 6.75651 against the Chinese currency, which trades freely around the clock in offshore markets such as Hong Kong, its biggest trading center. It was last trading up 0.2% at 6.7582. The yuan has been traded outside China since 2010. Hong Kong’s markets are closed today as a typhoon lashes the city, with the yuan breaching its previous record around 7.41 a.m. local time, typically a time when market liquidity is thin. The People’s Bank of China later set its daily reference rate for the yuan traded in mainland China at 6.7558 against the U.S. dollar.

Onshore, the yuan is allowed to trade 2% either side of this level. The currency last traded at 6.7519 against the greenback, while its offshore counterpart weakened further after the fixing. “Overnight we saw a broadly stronger U.S. dollar,” says Qi Gao, Asia foreign exchange strategist at Scotiabank. He anticipates further strength in the greenback in the weeks running up to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s December meeting, at which the central bank may deliver its first rate increase in a year.

Read more …

“This is actually what we’re told by banks’ client managers to do to meet [regulatory] requirements.”

China’s Property Frenzy Spurs Risky Business (WSJ)

Xiong Meifang was about $30,000 short two months ago for a 30% down payment on an $895,000 apartment in the southern part of Beijing. To make up the difference, the 31-year-old graphic designer took out a line of credit from a national bank. She said the bank told her she could use the loan however she wanted. China bans borrowing for down payments. A surge in such financing offered by nonbank lenders earlier this year led to a regulatory clampdown. But as banks increasingly turn to mortgage lending, there are new signs of risky practices. In some instances, banks offer credit lines to borrowers buying apartments with few questions asked. In others, banks work with independent loan brokers or property agents to funnel money into down-payment financing.

Data released Tuesday showed medium- and long-term household loans, almost all of which are mortgages, made up 60% of all new loans created in the third quarter, up from 47% in the second quarter and 23% in the first. Easy credit has fanned a property-buying craze in many Chinese cities this year, helping shore up an otherwise weak economy. Government data on Wednesday showed GDP expanded by 6.7% from a year earlier in the third quarter, matching expectations, largely on the strength of the hot property market and loose monetary policies. In the past two weeks, two dozen cities have asked banks to tighten home-lending standards. Financial regulators are seeking to rein in the relatively new practice of banks working with brokers and others, such as developers, to help home buyers come up with down payments.

[..] On paper, the purpose of the loan can’t be for the home purchase itself. But the company could help arrange a contract with, say, a decorator, to show a bank that the loan would be for home decoration, the representative said, adding that ultimately the bank can’t check how the money is used. [The broker] charges a 3% flat fee on the amount of any loans it helps arrange. “It’s all legal, of course,” said the representative. “This is actually what we’re told by banks’ client managers to do to meet [regulatory] requirements.”

Read more …

While they have huge debts with the shadow banks. What could go worng?

China’s Local Governments Are Getting Into The Venture Capital Business (BBG)

China’s next billion-dollar startup could have backing from an investor with more money than Warren Buffett and a knack for promoting spicy duck-neck delicacies. The Hubei provincial government is armed with 547 billion yuan ($81 billion) earmarked for investments that can diversify a job base dependent on steel, mining and cars. And the bureaucrats in the heartland region along the Yangtze River are letting professionals do the work – allocating the money to investment houses Sequoia Capital, TCL Capital and CBC Capital. Local governments across China are getting into the venture-capital business, deploying a combined 3 trillion yuan as the Communist Party resolves to modernize the economy and reduce debt-fueled spending on infrastructure. The money is meant to spur development of biotechnology, internet and high-end manufacturing companies that can replace the stumbling heavy industries sapping economic growth.

“Our focus is more on the sector than the return,” said Wang Hanbing, who oversees $6 billion as chairman of the Yangtze River Industry Fund, one of several using Hubei government money. “We encourage people to bring real jobs back to Hubei.” China is grappling with a profusion of economic difficulties such as declining exports, surging home prices and skyrocketing corporate debt. The State Council signaled last month it had a bigger appetite for venture capital, urging local administrations to play a leading role and promising to level the playing field for foreign VC funds. Policy makers want to curb the proliferation of borrowing by regional authorities to pay for infrastructure projects that prop up growth. Local government financing vehicles borrow on behalf of governments, which often are barred from doing so. Through September, the debt issued by more than 1,600 such vehicles soared 47% from a year ago to 1.5 trillion yuan.

Read more …

The same effect as globalization: bring down wages..

The Sharing Economy is Creating a Dickensian World (Das)

Cheerleaders frame the sharing economy in lofty utopian terms: The sharing economy isn’t business but a social movement, transforming relationships between people in a new form of internet intimacy and humanitarianism. Exchanges are economic. Buyers are primarily concerned about access to services at low costs rather than social objectives. Providers are motivated by money, using their assets and labor to get by in an unforgiving and poor economic environment.

The major financial backers of the sharing economy aren’t philanthropists. They are Wall Street and Silicon Valley’s 1%, related venture-capital firms and a few institutional investors, such as sovereign-wealth funds. The amount of capital provided is substantial. Given the normal five-to-seven-year cycle for such investments, the pressure to deliver results will increase, bringing it into conflict with the social or altruistic objectives espoused. Ultimately, the sharing economy will influence how traditional businesses operate. Traditional automobile makers could offer a car-sharing service, such as BMW’s Drive Now. Users can access a car as needed, paying only for usage. These types of changes may decrease rather than increase revenue as it substitutes hiring arrangements for outright purchases.

But perhaps the real issue is that the sharing economy reverses progress in labor markets. Whatever the gains from increased efficiency, it recreates a Dickensian world for a part of the population. Formal employment protects labor from exploitation and deprivation to varying degrees. The sharing economy transfers the risk of economic uncertainty from the employer to the employee with potentially tragic consequences. Most important, the underlying economic premise is false. Consumption constitutes 60%-70% of activity in advanced economies. In 1914, Henry Ford doubled his workers’ pay from $2.34 to $5 a day, recognizing that paying people more would enable them to afford the cars they were producing. Reduction of income levels and employment security ultimately reduces consumption and economic activity, impoverishing most within societies.

Read more …

They should take the lot of them, everyone involved, and ban them from ever working in banking or finance again.

‘Lions Hunting Zebras’: Ex-Wells Fargo Bankers Describe Abuses (NYT)

Mexican immigrants who speak little English. Older adults with memory problems. College students opening their first bank accounts. Small-business owners with several lines of credit. These were some of the customers whom bankers at Wells Fargo, trying to meet steep sales goals and avoid being fired, targeted for unauthorized or unnecessary accounts, according to legal filings and statements from former bank employees. “The analogy I use was that it was like lions hunting zebras,” said Kevin Pham, a former Wells Fargo employee in San Jose, Calif., who saw it happening at the branch where he worked. “They would look for the weakest, the ones that would put up the least resistance.”

Wells Fargo would like to close the chapter on the sham account scandal, saying it has changed its policies, replaced its chief executive and refunded $2.6 million to customers. But lawmakers and regulators say they will not let it go that quickly, and emerging evidence that some victims were among the bank’s most vulnerable customers has given them fresh ammunition. This week, three members of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, Wells Fargo’s hometown, introduced a resolution calling on the city to cut all financial ties with the bank. They cited both the recent scandal and past cases — particularly the $175 million that Wells Fargo paid in 2012 to settle accusations that its mortgage brokers had discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers.

Read more …

You may not like Trump, but do you like war any better?

Washington Foreign Policy Elites Not Sorry To See Obama Go (WaPo)

There is one corner of Washington where Donald Trump’s scorched-earth presidential campaign is treated as a mere distraction and where bipartisanship reigns. In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House – and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy, via a flurry of reports shaped by officials who are likely to play senior roles in a potential Clinton White House. It is not unusual for Washington’s establishment to launch major studies in the final months of an administration to correct the perceived mistakes of a president or influence his successor.

But the bipartisan nature of the recent recommendations, coming at a time when the country has never been more polarized, reflects a remarkable consensus among the foreign policy elite. This consensus is driven by a broad-based backlash against a president who has repeatedly stressed the dangers of overreach and the need for restraint, especially in the Middle East. “There’s a widespread perception that not being active enough or recognizing the limits of American power has costs,” said Philip Gordon, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama until 2015. “So the normal swing is to be more interventionist.” In other instances, the activity reflects alarm over Trump’s calls for the United States to pull back from its traditional role as a global guarantor of security.

“The American-led international order that has been prevalent since World War II is now under threat,” said Martin Indyk, who oversees a team of top former officials from the administrations of Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton assembled by the Brookings Institution. “The question is how to restore and renovate it.”

Read more …

Very clear video. But then, it was of course always a stupid thing to claim that US elections cannot be rigged.

Hacking Democracy (ZH)

“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” – Joe Stalin.

With the mainstream media lambasting Trump for daring to suggest the election process is rigged – despite hard evidence – this is the hack that proved America’s elections can be stolen using a few lines of computer code. The ‘Hursti Hack’ in this video is an excerpt from the feature length Emmy nominated documentary ‘Hacking Democracy’. The hack of the Diebold voting system in Leon County, Florida, is real. It was verified by computer scientists at UC Berkeley.

Read more …

Brussels is as crazy as the US Democrats.

Italy Shields Russia From EU Sanctions Threat (EUO)

Italy has shielded Russia and Syria from a threat of new sanctions, amid warnings by some leaders that Russia was trying to “weaken” the EU. EU leaders said in a joint statement in Brussels on Thursday (20 October) that: “The EU is considering all available options, should the current atrocities [in Syria] continue.” They also urged “the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia” to “bring the atrocities to an end”, referring to Russian and Syrian airstrikes on the city of Aleppo in Syria that have caused severe civilian casualties. Germany, France, and the UK had wanted to threaten sanctions more explicitly.

“The EU is considering all options, including further restrictive measures targeting individuals and entities supporting the regime, should the current atrocities continue”, they had suggested saying. Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi led opposition, also shared by some other states, to the threat, diplomats said. He said while leaving the summit that “if we want to speak with Russia then we have to leave the door open”. He also said he did not think “that the difficult situation in Syria could be solved by additional sanctions on Russia”.

Read more …

Europe has but one purpose: to humiliate Greece. Britain better watch out.

Draghi Says Athens Should Focus On Reforms, And The Eurozone On Debt (Kath.)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Thursday called on the Greek government to focus its efforts on implementing reforms agreed with the country’s creditors, noting that the ECB will examine the issues of Greece’s debt sustainability and its possible involvement in the Central Bank’s quantitative easing program when the time is right. “Discussions on the sustainability of the Greek debt continued” at an ECB meeting earlier in the day, he said. “We expressed concern, and steps should be taken.” Draghi said the ECB will conduct its own independent assessment of Greece’s debt.

“When the time comes we will examine independently the issue of the debt sustainability,” Draghi said, adding that “until then it is premature to speculate and weave scenarios,” an apparent reference to Greek calls for inclusion in the ECB’s QE program. Draghi appeared to indicate that the ECB would proceed with its assessment of Greece’s debt once there has been action from both sides: work from Athens in implementing reforms and action from Greece’s eurozone partners in lightening its debt burden. The timing of Draghi’s comments was significant. They came a day before Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels for talks that are expected to touch on Greece’s debt problem and the progress of reforms.

Read more …

As supermarket prices are as high as in the rest of Europe.

126,956 Greek Workers Earn €100 Per Month, 343,760 Between €100 and €400 (KTG)

When it comes to escape the nightmare of unemployment, one may grab all possible and impossible opportunities and even accept jobs with wages that let you come home with a loaf of bread, two tomatoes and a tiny piece of cheese. The data released by the Labor Ministry are shocking: 126,956 employees in the private sector are paid a gross monthly salary of €100. 343,760 employees are paid monthly salaries between €100 and €400 gross. This category of workers have part-time or rotating work contracts. Working time: 2-3 days per week or even a few hours a week. €100 per month gross could be €55-60(?) net – enough to cover transport cost and make a living at €1 per day. PS a friend recently got a job for €300 gross – net should be around €250-230. Working hours are 4 hours per day, four days per week. She has been jobless for 4 years.

Read more …

Apr 272016
 
 April 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Navy dirigible, Long Island 1915

Apple Just Wiped Out $40 Billion In Value (BI)
Rotten Apple: Stock Plunges 8% On Earnings, Revenue Miss (CNBC)
Apple China Sales Drop 26% (CNBC)
Alarm Over Corporate America’s Debt And Stalled Earnings (Authers)
Weak US Factory, Consumer Confidence Data Cloud Growth Outlook (R.)
Once Bustling Trade Ports in Asia and Europe Lose Steam (WSJ)
Exxon Mobil Downgrade Leaves Just Two AAA-Rated Companies In The US (MW)
China Ratings Downgrade Wave Seen as Next Driver of Bond Slump (BBG)
China’s Commodity Frenzy Spurs New Crackdown From Exchanges (BBG)
Eurogroup Meeting Cancelled, Tsipras To Ask For Special EU Summit (Kath.)
Greece Faces New IMF Curve Ball to Unlock Aid (BBG)
Moody’s Downgrades Canadian Province Of Alberta On Rising Debt (R.)
From Germany To The US, Authorities Want Access To Panama Papers (DW)
‘Largest Ever Airlift’ Flies 33 Circus Lions To Africa Sanctuary (AP)
How Less Stuff Could Make Us Happier – And Fix Stagnation (G.)
Europe’s Failure On Refugees Echoes The Moral Collapse Of The 1930s (G.)

A lot of people and funds are long Apple, and own sizable chunks of it.

Apple Just Wiped Out $40 Billion In Value (BI)

Apple’s disappointing earnings report on Tuesday sent the stock down more than 7% in after-hours trading. That’s a lot for any company, but particularly dramatic for Apple, which is the most valuable in the world. Before the market closed today, Apple’s market cap was $578 billion. That means a 7% drop erases more than $40 billion worth of value. But the bad news doesn’t end there. Shares of some of Apple’s suppliers are also down, with Bloomberg reporting that Cirrus Logic has lost more than 8%. By way of comparison, Alphabet’s market cap is around $485 billion. How long until it passes the leader?

Read more …

Peak Apple is now in the rearview mirror.

Rotten Apple: Stock Plunges 8% On Earnings, Revenue Miss (CNBC)

Apple reported quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts’ estimates on Tuesday, and its guidance for the current quarter also fell shy of expectations. The tech giant said it saw fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.90 per diluted share on $50.56 billion in revenue. Wall Street expected Apple to report earnings of about $2 a share on $51.97 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters. That revenue figure was a roughly 13% decline against $58.01 billion in the comparable year-ago period — representing the first year-over-year quarterly sales drop since 2003. Shares in the company fell more than 8% in after-hours trading, erasing more than $46 billion in market cap.

That after-hours loss is greater than the market cap of 391 of the S&P 500 companies. Importantly, the company announced a 10% dividend increase and a $50 billion increase to its capital return program. Under that new plan, Apple expects to spend a total of $250 billion of cash by the end of March 2018, it said. On the dividend, Apple said its board had declared a dividend of $.57 per share, payable on May 12, 2016 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on May 9. A key reason for the declining revenue was Apple’s year-over-year decrease in iPhone sales. Despite this, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC Tuesday that the company is in “the early innings of the iPhone.”

In fact, Apple beat Wall Street’s estimates on iPhone shipments, reporting 51.19 million for the quarter. Analysts had expected 50.3 million, according to StreetAccount. Still, that iPhone unit count was a 16% decline from the 61.17 million shipped during the same period last year. For his part, however, Cook described the iPhone business as “healthy and strong” on the call. In fact, Cook said the company added more switchers from Android and other platforms in the first half of the year than in any other six month period ever.

Read more …

Tim Cook is spinning. Reality says the next great gadget is long overdue; the iPhone is a Jobs idea, the iWatch a failure, and what has Apple done for you lately?

Apple China Sales Drop 26% (CNBC)

Apple’s sales in China tumbled in the second quarter after currency headwinds hurt Hong Kong sales, the company said in Tuesday’s earnings. “The vast majority of the weakness sits in Hong Kong,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts in an earnings call. “The Hong Kong dollar being pegged to the U.S. dollar, and therefore it carries the burden of strength of U.S. dollar. And that has driven tourism, trade and international shopping down significantly compared to what it was in the year ago.” The company reported quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts’ expectations, with revenue declining year-over-year in every region. But China saw the biggest share of declines: Greater China sales, once the tech giant’s fastest growing market, fell to $12.49 billion in the second quarter, the company said, a 26% year-over-year decline.

Excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan, mainland China saw sales decline 11% on a reported basis, and 7% on a constant currency basis, Cook said. But people need to look under the numbers, Cook said, as LTE adoption increases and more Apple stores open in the region. “When I look at the larger picture, I think China is not weak as is talked about,” Cook said. “I see China as … a lot more stable than what I think is the common view of it. We remain really optimistic about China.” Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said the business in China was “better than the numbers might suggest.” “We had significant inventory channel reductions and currency weakness which affected our reported revenue,” Maestri said in an earnings call.

“Keep in mind that we were up against an extremely difficult year-ago compare when our mainland China revenue grew 81%. We remain very optimistic about the China market over the long-term, and we are committed to investing there for the long run.” But speaking in January, Cook warned that the company had seen “some signs of economic softness” in the Greater China region. That business segment, which includes mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, is a key area of growth for the U.S. tech giant, but Cook acknowledged in January that it had been something of a “turbulent environment.” China has seen its pace of economic expansion slowing in recent quarters, and its stock markets have taken investors on a roller coaster ride during that time.

Read more …

Buybacks are fizzling out. They’re too expensive an option to continue propping up shares.

Alarm Over Corporate America’s Debt And Stalled Earnings (Authers)

Corporate America is swimming in cash. There is no great news about this, and no great mystery about where it came from. Seven years of historically low interest rates will prompt companies to borrow. A new development, however, is that investors are starting to ask in more detail what companies are doing with their cash. And they are starting to revolt against signs of over-leverage. That over-leverage has grown most blatant in the last year, as earnings growth has petered out and, in many cases, turned negative. This has made the sharp increases in corporate debt in the post-crisis era look far harder to sustain. Perhaps the most alarming illustration of the problem compares annual changes in net debt with the annual change in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, which is a decent approximation for the operating cash flow from which they can expect to repay that debt. As the chart shows, debt has grown at almost 30% over the past year; the cash flow to pay it has fallen slightly.

According to Andrew Lapthorne of Société Générale, the reality is that “US corporates appear to be spending way too much (over 35% more than their gross operating cash flow, the biggest deficit in over 20 years of data) and are using debt issuance to make up the difference”. The decline in earnings and cash flows in the past year has accentuated the problem, and brought it to the top of investors’ consciousness. A further issue is the uses to which the debt has been put. As pointed out many times in the post-crisis years, it has generally not gone into capital expenditures, which might arguably be expected to boost the economy. It has instead been deployed to pay dividends, or to buy back stock — or to buy other companies. Shifts in these uses of cash are now affecting markets.

Cash-funded mergers and acquisitions are at a record. In the four quarters to the end of last September, according to Ned Davis Research, S&P 500 companies spent $376bn on acquisitions, 43% above the prior high in 2007, ahead of the credit crisis. Buyback activity remains intense. According to S&P Dow Jones, for each of the seven quarters up to the third quarter of last year, between 20% and 23% of S&P 500 companies bought back enough shares to reduce their total shares outstanding at a rate of 4% per year. In the last quarter of 2015, 25.8% of companies did so.

Read more …

“First-quarter GDP growth estimates are as low as a 0.3% rate.”

Weak US Factory, Consumer Confidence Data Cloud Growth Outlook (R.)

Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rebounded far less than expected in March as demand for automobiles, computers and electrical goods slumped, suggesting the downturn in the factory sector was far from over. Tuesday’s report from the Commerce Department also implied that business spending and economic growth were weak in the first quarter. Prospects for the second quarter darkened after another report showed an ebb in consumer confidence in April. The data came as Federal Reserve officials started a two-day policy meeting. The U.S. central bank is expected to leave its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged on Wednesday. The Fed raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade.

“These disappointing reports will likely add to the caution at the Fed. Given the weak performance in these two key segments of the economy, we expect the rebound in growth momentum in the second quarter to be quite weak,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York. The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft meant to last three years or more, increased 0.8% last month after declining 3.1% in February. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, were unchanged after a downwardly revised 2.7% decrease in the prior month. These so-called core capital goods orders were previously reported to have decreased 2.5% in February.

Economists had forecast durable goods orders advancing 1.8% last month and core capital goods increasing 0.8%. Shipments of core capital goods – used to calculate equipment spending in the gross domestic product report – rose 0.3% after slumping 1.8% in February. Manufacturing, which accounts for 12% of the U.S. economy, is struggling with the lingering effects of the dollar’s past surge and sluggish overseas demand. [..] The durable goods report added to recent reports on retail sales, trade and industrial production in suggesting economic growth slowed further in the first quarter. The economy grew at an anemic 1.4% annualized rate in the fourth quarter. First-quarter GDP growth estimates are as low as a 0.3% rate. The government will publish its advance first-quarter GDP growth estimate on Thursday.

Read more …

It’ll take a long time for people to acknowledge that globalization, centralization, global trade, are declining and are in essence over, since they are shrinking. And shrinkage=death in our system.

Once Bustling Trade Ports in Asia and Europe Lose Steam (WSJ)

At a logistics park bordering Shanghai’s port last month, the only goods stored in a three-story warehouse were high-end jeans, T-shirts and jackets imported from the U.K. and Hong Kong, most of which had sat there for nearly two years. Business at the 108,000-square-foot floor warehouse dwindled at the end of 2015 after several Chinese wine importers pulled out, said Yang Ying, the warehouse keeper, leaving lots of empty space. The final blow came after a merchant turned away a shipment in December at the dock. “The client told the ship hands, just take the wine back to France,” Ms. Yang said. “Nobody wants it.” Pain is increasing among the world’s biggest ports—from Shanghai to Hamburg—amid weaker growth in global trade and a calamitous end to a global commodities boom.

Overall trade rose just 2.8% in 2015, according to the World Trade Organization, the fourth consecutive year below 3% growth and historically weak compared with global economic expansion. The ancient business of ship-borne trade has been whipsawed, first by a boom that demanded more and bigger vessels, and more recently by an abrupt slowing. That turnabout has roiled the container-shipping industry, which transports more than 95% of the world’s goods, from clothes and shoes to car parts, electronic and handbags. It has set off a frenzy of consolidation and costs cutting across the world’s fleets. Ashore, it is also slamming ports and port operators, the linchpin to global commerce. Nowhere is the carnage more painful than along the Europe-Asia trade route, measuring roughly 28,000 miles round trip.

A cooling Chinese economy and a high-profile crackdown by Beijing on corruption has damped demand for everything from commodities like iron ore to designer scarves and shoes. Meanwhile, Europe’s still sputtering recovery from the global economic crisis is hitting the flow of goods in the other direction. On Friday, the Hong Kong Marine Department reported throughput for its port in the first quarter was off 11% from the first three months of last year. Throughput for all of 2015 also dropped 11%. “It is the first time you see people in shipping being really scared,” said Basil Karatzas, of New York-based Karatzas Marine Advisors and Co.

Read more …

Things are not well.

Exxon Mobil Downgrade Leaves Just Two AAA-Rated Companies In The US (MW)

In a sign of deteriorating credit quality, Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday stripped oil giant Exxon Mobil of its pristine AAA rating, leaving just two U.S. non-financial companies with what is the highest possible rating on their debt. Microsoft and consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson are now the only companies to enjoy an AAA rating, the strongest possible vote of confidence in their financial strength and discipline in meeting all of their debt obligations. As recently as 2008, there were six AAA-rated companies, but General Electric, Pfizer and Automatic Data Processing have been downgraded since then. “This shows that the corporate market is not immune from secular industry changes and deep cyclical troughs that materially impact the immediate-term credit outlook,” said Brian Gibbons at research firm CreditSights.

S&P cut Exxon’s rating by two notches to AA-plus, and said the outlook is stable, meaning it does not expect to adjust the rating in the near term. The rating agency had placed the rating on CreditWatch negative on Feb. 2, in the light of the lengthy slump in oil prices. “We believe Exxon Mobil’s credit measures will be weak for our expectations for a ‘AAA’ rating due, in part, to low commodity prices, high reinvestment requirements, and large dividend payments,” the agency wrote in a statement. Exxon has more than doubled its debt load in recent years, as it spends generously on major projects, said S&P. But the oil giant has also been rewarding its shareholders with dividend payments and share buybacks “that substantially exceeded internally generated cash flow.”

Exxon is likely to benefit from near-term production gains as some of those projects are completed, but maintaining production and replacing reserves will require more spending. “We believe the company may return cash to shareholders rather than building cash or reducing debt, limiting improvement in our projected credit measures when commodity prices improve,” said S&P. Gibbons said the two-notch downgrade is harsh, given Exxon’s status as the best-of-breed oil and gas company in the world, the strength of its balance sheet and earnings diversity through upstream and downstream businesses. “Its global reach positions it much better than any other energy peer, but it too is not immune to the depths of the cycle,” he said.

Read more …

Zombie nation.

China Ratings Downgrade Wave Seen as Next Driver of Bond Slump (BBG)

China’s slumping onshore bond market is braced for rating cuts, as companies report weaker earnings and prepare for unprecedented debt maturities. China Securities and HFT Investment Management predict downgrades will surge as a slumping economy makes financial reports due by April 30 a gloomy read. Companies in China must repay 547 billion yuan ($86 billion) of onshore notes in May, the most in any month ever, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Investors are avoiding risky debt, with the yield premium on three-year AA- rated local bonds, considered junk in China, widening 43 basis points in April, the most since 2014. “An explosion of credit risks is spreading,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management. “The risks are spreading from privately held companies to state-owned companies, from overcapacity industries to all other industries.”

At least seven companies missed bond payment this year, up from only two in the same period of 2015 as Premier Li Keqiang tries to rid industries with overcapacity of zombie producers. Onshore agencies have cut 33 issuer ratings, almost double the 17 for the first four months of 2015, according to China Chengxin International Credit Rating Co. There have been 34 upgrades versus 37% a year ago. “We will see a wave of rating downgrades in the middle of this year,” said Wei Zhen at Bosera Asset Management. She oversees the Bosera Anfeng 18-Month Interval Bond Fund, whose 17% return in the past year was the best among fixed-income funds tracked by research firm Howbuy. “The rising credit risks may lead to a further correction in the corporate bond market.” Chinese investors have complained onshore ratings don’t fully reflect issuers’ credit risks.

More than 50% of Chinese locally-rated AAA bonds issued by listed firms may have default risk consistent with what Bloomberg’s quantitative, independent default-risk model deems below-investment-grade companies. Shi Yuxin at HuaAn Fund Management said in a report on April 18 that China’s “inflated” ratings will be under pressure to have “substantial” downgrades in 2016 as local governments cut their support for troubled companies. About 14.9% of listed Chinese companies have forecast losses for 2015, compared with 12.7% in 2014, according to data compiled by China International Capital Corp. Ministry of Finance data released on Tuesday showed that profit at state-owned companies slid 13.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier. Investors are fleeing the bond market. The market value of assets held by 718 onshore bond funds dropped last week, accounting for 95.6% of all the fixed-income funds tracked by Shanghai-based research firm Howbuy.

Read more …

Beijing has lost the narrative.

China’s Commodity Frenzy Spurs New Crackdown From Exchanges (BBG)

China’s commodity exchanges stepped up efforts to curb speculation in trading in everything from steel to iron ore and coking coal after prices soared amid a credit-fueled binge. Futures slumped on Wednesday. Bourses in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou have announced further measures, including higher fees and a reduction in night hours, adding to a raft of moves this month that have made it more expensive for investors to trade. Goldman Sachs said this week it was concerned about the surge in speculative trading in iron ore, adding daily volumes were so large that they sometimes exceed annual imports. Ore prices have surged 34% this year in Dalian, while steel reinforcement bar is up 39% in Shanghai.

Morgan Stanley said the spike in speculative trading had stunned global markets, citing a jump in activity for eggs, garlic and cotton as well as iron ore and steel. The explosive growth in trading has stoked concerns that the frenzy was triggered by a credit-fueled surge in liquidity echoing the stock market bubble in 2015 and is destined for a similar bust, according to Zheng Ge at CEFC Wanda Futures. China’s investors have been honing in on raw materials amid signs of a pickup in demand after policy makers talked up growth, added stimulus and the property market rebounded. Among the latest changes, the Dalian exchange raised trading fees for iron ore, coking coal and coke, while Shanghai said it would increase margin requirements for steel reinforcement bar and hot-rolled coil, and shorten trading hours.

The Zhengzhou exchange raised trading charges and margin requirements for some commodities. Iron ore futures plunged 4.1% on Wednesday, extending their decline in the past four days to 8.9%. Steel reinforcement bar lost 3.2% and coking coal slid 4.6% as prices responded to the exchange moves. “We’re trying to clampdown firmly on the trend of excessive speculation in some commodity trading,” the Dalian bourse said in a statement. “We’ll be highly vigilant and adopt further measures if necessary.”

Read more …

Does SYRIZA have any fight left? If not, Europe is going to walk all over it.

Eurogroup Meeting Cancelled, Tsipras To Ask For Special EU Summit (Kath.)

Greece and its lenders were unable on Tuesday to reach an agreement on how to line up €3.6 billion in contingent austerity measures, leading to plans for an extra meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Thursday being dropped. A spokesman for Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem confirmed on Tuesday night that there would be no meeting this week to rubber-stamp an agreement between Athens and the institutions and conclude the first review of the third Greek bailout program. “More time needed,” tweeted Michel Reijns. “Meeting of first review, contingency package and debt at later stage,” he added, without suggesting when eurozone finance ministers might meet to discuss Greece.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to call European Council President Donald Tusk today to ask for an extraordinary EU leaders’ summit to discuss the Greek program as the SYRIZA leader feels that Athens has met its bailout commitments and that the lenders’ side is standing in the way of an agreement. Greek government sources said earlier that the details of an initial €5.4 billion package of tax hikes and pension cuts had been finalized. However, the standby measures, which total 2% of GDP, proved to be a stumbling block. Athens proposed that the government should commit to adopting corrective measures if fiscal targets are missed but that these interventions should only be specified after Greece’s fiscal data has been ratified by Eurostat.

This proposal is thought to have been rejected by the IMF and some eurozone member-states, which want Greece to legislate specific measures now and have them on standby in case they are needed. Sources said that Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos spoke with some of his eurozone counterparts on Tuesday in order to explain the situation to them. The Greek government believes that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble showed understanding for Greece’s position and appeared to support the Greek proposal for a permanent mechanism to reduce spending when the adjustment program is not on track. Athens is adamant that the IMF’s insistence on specific standby measures being legislated now was the only factor that prevented Greece and the institutions reaching an agreement on Tuesday.

Read more …

This battle is about contingency plans, not even actual ones, but what-ifs.

Greece Faces New IMF Curve Ball to Unlock Aid (BBG)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised voters he’ll reject even one euro cent more of budget austerity than is needed under the country’s bailout. Greece’s international creditors say the program’s requirements may include €3.5 billion in extra fiscal tightening he hadn’t bargained for. The demand by the euro area and the IMF is a potential bombshell for the government, raising the threat of renewed instability in Greece. Tsipras rode to power in January 2015 railing against austerity and nearly steered Greece out of the euro before flip-flopping last summer to secure the nation’s third bailout in six years. Since then the Greek economy has slipped back into recession, unemployment has stayed stubbornly high at around 25% and public support for the euro has weakened.

Just like last year, Tsipras needs financial aid to avoid defaulting on payments to the ECB that come due in three months time. The prime minister’s current dilemma stems from a disagreement between the euro area and the IMF. While the European creditors say the government in Athens has committed to enough austerity to reach the targeted budget surplus before interest payments of 3.5% of gross domestic product in 2018, the IMF projects current Greek measures will produce an excess of just 1.5%. With Germany insisting on continued IMF involvement in the Greek aid program, the conflicting forecasts have led the creditors as a whole to call for “contingency measures” equal to 2% of GDP. These would kick in should the government in Athens stray off its budgetary course as the IMF projects.

So Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos face the delicate task of drawing up measures that can satisfy the creditors without breaking apart their coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks. That balancing act would be a challenge for any Greek government, let alone one with an anti-austerity base, a deep dislike of the Washington-based IMF and a three-seat majority in parliament.

Read more …

The fastest growing economy in North America for years. Gone.

Moody’s Downgrades Canadian Province Of Alberta On Rising Debt (R.)

Moody’s Investors Service stripped Alberta of its Aaa credit rating on Monday, becoming the latest ratings agency to downgrade the Canadian province after the oil price shock pushed its finances deep into the red. Citing its worsening fiscal position and resulting rapid rise in debt, Moody’s downgraded the province’s long-term rating to Aa1 from Aaa and maintained a negative outlook. The downgrade “reflects the province’s growing and unconstrained debt burden, extended timeframe back to balance, weakened liquidity, and risks surrounding the success of the province’s medium-term fiscal plan,” Moody’s Assistant Vice President Adam Hardi said in a statement. Earlier this month, Dominion Bond Rating Service also downgraded the province after the provincial government forecast a budget deficit of C$10.4 billion ($8.21 billion) this fiscal year.

Standard & Poor’s stripped Alberta of its AAA credit rating in December. Alberta’s left-leaning NDP government expects the once-booming province to be C$57.6 billion in debt by 2019, while Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Alberta could run deficits until 2024. Ceci described the latest downgrade as a “disappointment” and reiterated the government’s commitment to maintaining funding for public services and infrastructure spending in a bid to spur growth. The province is home to Canada’s vast oil sands and is the No. 1 exporter of crude to the United States but the government expects oil and gas revenues this year to be almost 90% lower than 2014. Earlier this month the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said capital investment in the industry has dropped C$50 billion in two years and more than 100,000 oil and gas workers have been laid off.

Read more …

In order to pre-empt ‘authorities’, what the journalists should do is reach out to Wikileaks and find a means to release the data after redacting them in a way that prevents people from getting hurt. The ICIJ does not seem to have that ability. They will come to regret that, because pressure will rise.

From Germany To The US, Authorities Want Access To Panama Papers (DW)

Germany’s federal states on Friday called for increased measures against tax havens and for media outlets to allow prosecutors to examine the contents of a cache of 11.5 million documents known as the “Panama Papers,” which had been leaked to the press. “If the data sets from the ‘Panama Papers’ are not made accessible, then we cannot draw any consequences,” said Lower Saxony’s Finance Minister Peter-Jürgen Schneider, Reuters news agency reported. However, the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung’s (SZ) investigative unit on Tuesday said it would not hand over the cache nor would it publish the leak online, despite calls to do so by government officials and representatives of the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks.

“As journalists, we have to protect our source: we can’t guarantee that there is no way for someone to find out who the source is with the data. That’s why we can’t make the data public,” the team said during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, which included journalist Bastian Obermayer, who was first contacted by the anonymous source. “You don’t harm the privacy of people, who are not in the public eye. Blacking out private data is a task that would require a lifetime of work – we have eleven million documents,” the unit added. In a letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained by British newspaper The Guardian this week, US attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara said the Justice Department “has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.”

“The office would greatly appreciate an opportunity to speak as soon as possible with any ICIJ employee or representative involved in the Panama Papers project in order to discuss this matter further,” Bharara said. ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said on Thursday that the organization would not release unpublished data to the Justice Department or other government entities, although it welcomed the “US Attorney’s Office reviewing all of the information from the Panama Papers.” “ICIJ does not intend to play a role in that investigation. Our focus is journalism … ICIJ, and its parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity, are media organizations shielded by the First Amendment and other legal protections from becoming an arm of law enforcement,” Ryle said in a statement.

Read more …

Thank you.

‘Largest Ever Airlift’ Flies 33 Circus Lions To Africa Sanctuary (AP)

Thirty-three lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia are being flown back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa. The largest ever airlift of lions will take place on Friday and has been organised and paid for by Animal Defenders International. The Los Angeles-based group has for years worked with lawmakers in the two South American countries to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, where they often are held in appalling conditions. The lions suffered in captivity: some were declawed, one lost an eye and many were recovered with broken or rotting teeth.

The group said the first group of nine lions would be collected in the capital, Bogota, on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane, which would pick up 24 more in Lima before heading to Johannesburg. From there they would be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, where they would enjoy large natural enclosures. “It will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African bush,” said Tom Phillips, ADI’s vice-president, as he inspected the cages that will be used to transport the lions. “It might be one of the finest rescues I’ve ever seen; it’s never happened before taking lions from circuses in South America all the way to Africa,” he added. “It’s like a fairytale.”

Read more …

Or, more likely, we’ll bash each other’s heads in. Bit too dreamy for me.

How Less Stuff Could Make Us Happier – And Fix Stagnation (G.)

Has western society reached “peak stuff”? If reports that once-insatiable shoppers are starting to cut back are true, what are the consequences for the old economic theory that more consumption equals greater happiness? That is a question a Bank of England blogger has posed, with interesting and upbeat conclusions. Writing on Bank Underground, a blog where Bank of England staff can challenge prevailing orthodoxies, Dan Nixon wondered if rather than shopping our way to satisfaction, a Buddhism-inspired trend of mindfulness has taught us that less is more. Inspired by its message to appreciate the moment, perhaps we can achieve greater happiness by seeking to simplify our desires, rather than satisfy them, wrote Nixon, who works in the Bank’s stakeholder communications and strategy division.

The result of less consumption but greater wellbeing could be “especially important for debates around secular stagnation and ecological sustainability”, he says. In other words, if secular stagnation is nigh and there is a permanent downward shift in the potential growth rates of advanced economies, increased attention will naturally turn to alternative ways to increase wellbeing. “‘Less is more’ ideas could form one part of the solution,” said Nixon. There are also interesting implications in the field of environmental economics, given human wellbeing and ecological sustainability are often assumed to be in conflict. “The neat thing about the less is more critique is that it achieves less consumption without constraining people’s decisions,” said the Bank blogger.

The repeated Black Friday sales frenzies that have spilled across the Atlantic from the US to the UK and the continuing fortunes of big online retailers such as Amazon may feel at odds with all the less is more talk. But the rise of mindfulness, in media coverage, schools and workplaces – including at the Bank of England – has coincided with signs that shopping may be losing its appeal as our national pastime. Ikea, purveyor of flatpacks and tealights, recently claimed the appetite of western consumers for home furnishings had reached its peak. The Swedish furniture giant’s UK crammed car parks and long hotdog queues may suggest otherwise but Ikea’s head of sustainability, Steve Howard, has spoken of “peak curtains”.

His views were followed weeks later by official figures showing the amount of “stuff” used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – had fallen dramatically since 2001. The Office for National Statistics data revealed that on average people used 15 tonnes of material in 2001 compared with just over 10 tonnes in 2013.

Read more …

Fully in line with what I’ve often said. In a situation like this, you have to put people first, not politics, or you will create mayhem. This is a certainty. It’s too late already for Europe. The goodwill and moral high ground wasted over the past 18 months will take 100 years to regain, if ever.

Europe’s Failure On Refugees Echoes The Moral Collapse Of The 1930s (G.)

In 1938, representatives from 32 western states gathered in the pretty resort town of Evian, southern France. Evian is now famous for its water, but back then, the delegates had something else on their minds. They were there to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution in Germany and Austria. After several days of negotiations, most countries, including Britain, decided to do nothing. On Monday, I was reminded of the Evian conference when British MPs voted against welcoming just 600 child refugees a year over the next half-decade. The two moments are not exactly comparable. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. But it does echo, and it does remind us of the consequences of ethical failure. Looking back at their inaction at Evian, delegates could claim they were unaware of what was to come.

In 2016, we no longer have that excuse. Nevertheless, both in Britain and across Europe and America, we currently seem keen to forget the lessons of the past. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism – the EU – that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continent during the first and second world wars. Across Europe, leaders recently ripped up the 1951 refugee convention – a landmark document partly inspired by the failures of people such as the Evian delegates – in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border.

Emboldened by this, the Italian and German governments have since joined David Cameron in calling for refugees to be sent back to Libya, a war zone where – in a startling display of cognitive dissonance – some of the same governments are also mulling a military intervention. Where many migrants work in conditions tantamount to slavery. Where three separate governments are vying for control. And where Isis runs part of the coastline.

Read more …

Oct 272015
 
 October 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina 1941

What’s Happened To International Bank Lending? (WEF)
Greek Creditors Refuse To Make Next Loan Payment (Zero Hedge)
‘Giant Wave of Money’ Headed for Sweden Creates Policy Nightmare (Bloomberg)
Oil Supply Hits 85-Year High in US (Bloomberg)
Bakken Oil Companies Declare Bankruptcy (BT)
Economists Prove That Capitalism Is Unnecessary (Steve Keen)
Keen vs. Keen: Will the Real Steve Keen Please Stand Up? (Mish)
Bernanke’s Bogus Contra-Factual, 1: The Myth Of Great Depression 2.0 (Stockman)
Something Happened (Jim Kunstler)
Rajoy Calls Election for Spain Against Backdrop of Party Unrest (Bloomberg)
Portugal’s Constitutional Crisis Threatens All European Democracies (Telegraph)
Goldman Sachs Banker Likely To Face Jail Amid Rare Criminal Charges (Guardian)
EC Approves Aid As Greece Prepares To Host More Migrants (Kath.)
Slovenia To Hire Private Security Firms To Manage Migrant Flows (Reuters)
Italy Says EU’s Response ‘Inadequate’ as Refugee Numbers Surge (Bloomberg)
Using The Refugee Crisis (Boukalas)
Big-Game Hunters Are Killing African Lions In Record Numbers (Bloomberg)
Indonesia’s Forest Fires Labelled A ‘Crime Against Humanity’

Deflation.

What’s Happened To International Bank Lending? (WEF)

The Bank of International Settlements has just released its latest international banking statistics, which run until the end of June 2015, and they make for some pretty horrible reading. Cross-border lending fell by $910 billion (£589 billion), an enormous slump, and the largest since the fourth quarter of 2008, the worst bit of the global financial crisis. BIS is often referred to as the central bank of central banks, collating information on financial flows around the world and trying to make sense of what’s happening on a global scale. According to today’s data, cross-bank lending retreated at the fastest pace in more than six years. The period between Q1 2014 and Q1 2015 was the strongest run since the crash, with a (very small) contraction recorded in only one quarter, and decent growth in the others. Then it fell off a cliff:

There’s a precise definition of cross-border lending from BIS, which the crucial definition being “when the ultimate obligor or guarantor resides in a country that is different from the residency of the reporting institution.” During the worst quarter of the financial crisis, Q4 2008, cross-border lending shrank more than twice as quickly, plunging by more than $2 trillion, and making Q2 2015’s decline look decidedly less dramatic:

The longer timeframe also offers some perspective on the post-crisis period generally, showing how small the increases in cross-border lending have been, when it’s increased at all. That’s in stark contrast to the years leading up to the crisis, when lending across borders exploded: 10 of the 16 quarters from 2004 to the end of 2007 saw stronger growth than any single quarter since. Taking a look even further back, to 1978, three more things become clear — firstly, cross-border lending has exploded in size over the last 40 years. Secondly, the figures show just how strange the period since the crisis is, interrupting decades of growth (with some interruptions in the early 1990s). And finally, it shows that Q2 2015 was the worst quarter ever, other than Q4 2008. Take a look:

Read more …

Not surprised.

Greek Creditors Refuse To Make Next Loan Payment (Zero Hedge)

At first it was cute: when Greece got its first “dramatic” bailout in 2010 sending the global markets and the EUR first plunging then soaring, it was a melodrama of sorts – people still cared. Then, by the time the second and third bailouts rolled around, especially in the aftermath of the most ridiculous referendum in modern history, where a majority of Greeks voted for one thing only to get the other, it became a tragicomedy in what everyone hoped would be its final, “German colonial” season. It wasn’t. Moments ago, Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that just two (or is it three, this past summer is one big blur) months after Greece voted through its third bailout, one which will raise its debt/GDP to over 200% on a fleeting promise that someone, somewhere just may grant Greece a debt extension (which will do absolutely nothing about the nominal amount of debt), its creditors have already grown tired with the game and are refusing to pay the next Greek loan tranche of €2 billion.

Specifically, the payment of the first €2b tranche of €3b is now sait to be delayed because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras failed to implement reforms on schedule, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports, citing unidentified senior EU official. Wait, you mean the Greeks (over)promised and never delivered? Who could have possibly seen this coming? Not the unidentified EU official who blasts Athens as having implemented only a third of the required projects. As a result, the tranfer probably will only take place in November, if then, since only 14 of the 48 “milestones” linked to payments have been decided on. The report goes on to tell us what we already knew: talks between the government in Athens and the Troika + the ESM (or Quadriga, or whatever it’s called) ended last week without success.

SZ goes into the unpleasant details, noting that there are inconsistencies in how the banks deal with bad loans, estimated that 320,000 apartment owners have mortgage payments in arrears, threatened with foreclosures, evictions, and so on. In other words, the Greek holiday from being held accountable for anything which started in July and lasted until October is over. Yet, there is still hope: in a separate report, Germany’s Bild tabloid cites Deutsche Bank analysts as anticipating a debt reduction for Greece of €200 billion by year-end, and amount which Bild conveniently calculates corresponds to €700 per inhabitant of the Eurozone. It adds that, as noted above, Greek debt would total €340b by year-end, or 200% of Greek GDP, some 140% higher than allowed by European treaties. It concludes by citing Lueder Gerken, Chairman of the Centre for European Policy, as saying that a Greek “haircut is economically inevitable, as well as a fourth rescue package.”

Read more …

It’s all in the housing market.

‘Giant Wave of Money’ Headed for Sweden Creates Policy Nightmare (Bloomberg)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said boo last week and the krona jumped. With the ECB signaling a new wave of stimulus to prop up the euro zone, the question is how Sweden’s central bank can fight the monetary expansion coming from the south with its own, much smaller toolbox as it tries to stop the krona appreciating. “The nightmare for the Riksbank board is maybe something like this: they are gathered in the south of Sweden, looking out over the Baltic Sea, when they see a giant wave of money coming in from the euro zone and try to fight it with a hose,” Robert Bergqvist, chief economist at SEB in Stockholm and a former researcher at the Riksbank, said by phone. The Riksbank is due to announce its next rate decision on Oct. 28.

Most economists surveyed by Bloomberg see the bank keeping its repo rate at minus 0.35%, though there’s speculation policy makers will need to expand their quantitative easing program. Failure to do so would lead to the krona strengthening “markedly,” Nordea Bank says. Draghi’s stimulus measures to date have already forced his Swedish counterpart, Stefan Ingves, to resort to unprecedented measures to drive up consumer prices in Scandinavia’s largest economy. He cut Sweden’s main rate below zero for the first time in February and started buying bonds, expanding the QE program several times since. Underlying price growth has stayed below the Riksbank’s 2% target since the beginning of 2011.

The stimulus program marks a departure from the cautious approach Ingves had adopted earlier, as he argued that excessively low rates risked overheating Sweden’s already hot property market. Now, there’s a growing chorus of voices from bank executives to analysts warning of unsustainable housing price developments. But Ingves can’t afford to take his attention away from consumer prices. “The Riksbank is fully focused on the inflation target,” Pierre Carlsson, an analyst at Handelsbanken, said by phone. “They’ve let go of the housing market, at least officially, and it’s not something that should keep them from further action. But they’re hardly happy.”

Read more …

Consumption vs supply.

Oil Supply Hits 85-Year High in US (Bloomberg)

Hedge funds placed the most bets on falling oil prices since July as rising piles of crude dashed hopes of a near-term recovery. Money managers’ short position in West Texas Intermediate crude jumped by 18% in the week ended Oct. 20, the largest surge since July 21, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That pulled their net-long position down by more than 16,000 contracts of futures and options. Crude stockpiles in the U.S. rose 22.6 million barrels in the past four weeks to the highest October level since 1930, even as producers have idled more than half their drilling rigs in the past year. A global surplus of crude could last through 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. “The decline in U.S. drilling and production is not enough to rebalance even the U.S. market, let alone the global market,” said Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective.

“How much do you really want to pay for the next million barrels of inventory you don’t need?” WTI fell 2.4% in the report week to $45.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The front-month contract dropped 1.4% to settle at $43.98 a barrel on Monday. Oil inventories in the U.S. have risen 5% in the past four weeks to 477 million barrels, the highest seasonal in 85 years, when massive production in east Texas caused the state to empower its Railroad Commission to regulate output. Supplies have risen as refineries have slowed processing to perform seasonal maintenance. U.S. plants ran at 86.4% of capacity last week, compared with 96.1% at the end of July. “We’re in the middle of refinery maintenance season. Utilization is low, imports are up, and we’re building crude,” said David Pursell at investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston, said in a phone interview. “The middle of October is an easy time to be bearish on crude.”

Read more …

“..the most recent operator in the state to declare bankruptcy, filing in mid-September in hopes of clearing more than $3.25 billion in debt.”

Bakken Oil Companies Declare Bankruptcy (BT)

As crude oil prices hang low, about $43 per barrel Monday, some North Dakota operators are trying to divest interests in the Bakken. Two debt-heavy operators in the state, Tulsa, Okla.-based Samson Resources and Denver-based American Eagle Energy, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, planning to sell off Bakken assets to pay back what they owe. Samson, with production acres in the Three Forks and Middle Bakken plays, has not yet succeeded in selling off acreage, spokesman Brian Maddox said. “We have not currently entered into agreements to divest other larger packages, including our Bakken, Wamsutter, San Juan and non-core Mid-Con assets, because we perceived the value offered was less than the value of retaining those properties when economic factors and the impact to our credit position were considered,” the company said in first-quarter 2015 filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Even if we are successful at reducing our costs and increasing our liquidity through asset sales, we do not expect to have sufficient liquidity to satisfy our debt service obligations, meet other financial obligations and comply with restrictive covenants contained in our various credit facilities.” The company is the most recent operator in the state to declare bankruptcy, filing in mid-September in hopes of clearing more than $3.25 billion in debt. As part of the company’s restructuring agreement, second lien lenders own all of the equity of the reorganized company in exchange for providing at least $450 million of new capital to increase liquidity.

Read more …

Stevo!!

Economists Prove That Capitalism Is Unnecessary (Steve Keen)

Actually they’ve done no such thing. But they do effectively assume that it’s unnecessary all the time. This transcendental truth became apparent to me in the reactions I have had from mainstream economists to a lecture I gave to my Kingston students this month. In it I explained that, at a very basic level, the original “Neoclassical” mathematical model of a market economy is mathematically unstable: it doesn’t converge to a stable pattern of relative prices and a stable growth path for the economy, as its developer Leon Walras thought it did. Mainstream economists reacted to my lecture by saying that, while the argument, which was first made in the 1960s by Jorgenson (who was applying a mathematical theorem from the early 1900s) was mathematically correct, all one had to do was assume that “economic agents” would then notice the instability and change their behavior. The model would then converge to equilibrium—problem solved.

And how would “economic agents” notice this instability? They would realize that a pattern of relative prices that had occurred once before in the past happened again. Hmmm. O.K.A.Y… I’ve read this sort of nonsense in dozens of mainstream academic papers over the years, and railed against it in an academic sort of way. But maybe because I’d just been reading and teaching Hayek to the same class, the true absurdity of this standard mainstream riposte stood out clearly to me. It’s an assumption that individuals in a market economy are so all-knowing that, in effect, they don’t need markets at all: they can just work it all out in their heads. Yet if anything defines a capitalist economy, it’s the dominance of markets. So effectively the mainstream reaction to anything which disturbs their preferred way of modeling a market economy is to make assumptions that, if they were true, would make a market economy itself unnecessary in the first place.

I know I’m not being original in saying this, by the way: this is the same point that Hayek made, in many different ways, when pointing out that the strength of a market economy was how it let people combine fragmented and incomplete knowledge in a way that no centralized system could do. As he put it:

“The fact that much more knowledge contributes to form the order of a market economy than can be known to any one mind … is the decisive reason why a market economy is more effective than any known type of economic order”.

Hayek’s main target here were socialists who believed that a complex economy could be centrally planned—thus doing away with markets institutionally. But he also criticized his mainstream rivals for assuming the existence of all-seeing, all-knowing “economic agents” to overcome mathematical problems in their equilibrium-obsessed models of the economy. Here he was actually in agreement with his great rival Keynes, since they both said that the only way equilibrium could be achieved would be if people’s expectations about the future were both shared and correct. Quoting Hayek:

“It appears that the concept of equilibrium merely means that the foresight of the different members of the society is in a special sense correct.”

And quoting Keynes:

“I accuse the classical economic theory of being itself one of these pretty, polite techniques which tries to deal with the present by abstracting from the fact that we know very little about the future.”

If the mainstream fantasies about the knowledge levels of individual agents were to be taken seriously, they’d need a convincing model to explain how such a state of mutual wisdom might come about. But as Hayek noted, rather than doing so, mainstream economists simply assumed that everyone was Nostradamus:

“instead of showing what bits of information the different persons must possess in order to bring about that result, we fall in effect back on the assumption that everybody knows everything and so evade any real solution of the problem.”

Read more …

Mish’s reaction to Steve’s piece above.

Keen vs. Keen: Will the Real Steve Keen Please Stand Up? (Mish)

In his Debtwatch Manifesto Keen proposes three mechanisms for dealing with the debt crisis. The first is a debt jubilee. The second is a mechanism that would act to restrict share prices. In his third proposal, Keen states “Lenders would only be able to lend up to a fixed multiple of the income-earning capacity of the property being purchased—regardless of the income of the borrower. A useful multiple would be 10, so that if a property rented for $30,000 p.a., the maximum amount of money that could be borrowed to purchase it would be $300,000.”

Hmm. How can Keen, me, or anyone else discern the correct “useful multiple”? Shouldn’t this be left to the free market? Keen also discusses full reserve proposals, one by Irving Fisher, the other HR2990 a bill Proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich in 2011.

Keen: Technically, both these [full reserve] proposals would work. I won’t go into great detail on them here, other than to note my reservation about them, which is that I don’t see the banking system’s capacity to create money as the causa causans of crises, so much as the uses to which that money is put. The problem comes when that money is created instead for Ponzi Finance reasons, and inflates asset prices rather than enabling the creation of new assets.

Mish: I propose, the system’s capacity to create money at will is the very problem. The fact of the matter is central banks can create money but not dictate where it goes. Curiously, Keen is willing to let bureaucrats decide what constitutes Ponzi financing, even though history shows government bodies and central banks have a 100% failure rate at identifying bubbles. Keen is concerned about “where the money goes”, yet is willing to trust bureaucrats more than the free market. To quote Keen directly … “And how would economic agents notice this instability? They would realize that a pattern of relative prices that had occurred once before in the past happened again. Hmmm. O.K.A.Y.”

Read more …

“..what better excuse to override every principle of free market economics, financial discipline and public policy fairness than stopping a reenactment of the 1930s – putative soup-lines and all?”

Bernanke’s Bogus Contra-Factual, 1: The Myth Of Great Depression 2.0 (Stockman)

It took no “courage” whatsoever to inflate the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $2.3 trillion during just 17 weeks in September-December 2008. What it actually took was an epochal con job by a naïve Keynesian academic whose single idea about economics was primitive, self-serving, borrowed and wrong. The claim that the Great Depression was caused by the Fed’s failure to go on a bond buying spree in 1930-1933 was Milton Friedman’s monumental error. Professor Bernanke’s scholarship amounted to little more than xeroxing Friedman’s flawed work, and then shouting loudly in the Eccles Building boardroom at the time of the Lehman bankruptcy that Great Depression 2.0 was lurking just around the corner. That was just plain hysterical malarkey.

But at the time, it served the interests of the Wall Street/Washington Corridor perfectly. As Wall Street’s decade long spree of leveraged speculation was being liquidated in September 2008, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and their posse of hedge fund speculators desperately needed rescue from their own reckless gambles – especially their funding of giant balance sheets swollen by long-dated, illiquid, risky assets with cheap hot funds in the wholesale money market. So what better excuse to override every principle of free market economics, financial discipline and public policy fairness than stopping a reenactment of the 1930s – putative soup-lines and all? At the same time, beltway politicians and fiscal authorities were tickled pink.

They would be able to unleash a monumental $800 billion potpourri of K-street pork and tax and entitlement giveaways to “fight” the recession, knowing that Bernanke & Co would finance it with an eruption of public debt monetization that was theretofore unimaginable. In short, no public official has ever committed an economic folly greater than the horrific misdeed of Ben S. Bernanke when he provided the Great Depression 2.0 cover story for the lunatic outbreak of central bank money printing shown below. It destroyed the last vestige of Wall Street discipline in a financialized economy that had already been bloated and deformed by two decades of Greenspan era Bubble Finance.

Read more …

Bernanke on tour.

Something Happened (Jim Kunstler)

Ben Bernanke’s memoir is out and the chatter about it inevitably turns to the sickening moments in September 2008 when “the world economy came very close to collapse.” Easy to say, but how many people know what that means? It’s every bit as opaque as the operations of the Federal Reserve itself. There were many ugly facets to the problem but they all boiled down to global insolvency — too many promises to pay that could not be met. The promises, of course, were quite hollow. They accumulated over the decades-long process, largely self-organized and emergent, of the so-called global economy arranging itself. All the financial arrangements depended on trust and good faith, especially of the authorities who managed the world’s “reserve currency,” the US dollar.

By the fall of 2008, it was clear that these authorities, in particular the US Federal Reserve, had failed spectacularly in regulating the operations of capital markets. With events such as the collapse of Lehman and the rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it also became clear that much of the collateral ostensibly backing up the US banking system was worthless, especially instruments based on mortgages. Hence, the trust and good faith vested in the issuer of the world’s reserve currency was revealed as worthless. The great triumph of Ben Bernanke was to engineer a fix that rendered trust and good faith irrelevant.

That was largely accomplished, in concert with the executive branch of the government, by failing to prosecute banking crime, in particular the issuance of fraudulent securities built out of worthless mortgages. In effect, Mr. Bernanke (and Barack Obama’s Department of Justice), decided that the rule of law was no longer needed for the system to operate. In fact, the rule of law only hampered it. Mr. Bernanke now says he “regrets” that nobody went to jail. That’s interesting. More to the point perhaps he might explain why the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission did not make any criminal referrals to the US Attorney General in such cases as, for instance, Goldman Sachs (and others) peddling bonds deliberately constructed to fail, on which they had placed bets favoring that very failure.

Read more …

“Rajoy’s party has the support of about 27% of voters compared with almost 45% in the previous general election..”

Rajoy Calls Election for Spain Against Backdrop of Party Unrest (Bloomberg)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a general election for Dec. 20, insisting he is the best candidate to win the ballot despite unrest within his party. Speaking in Madrid, the 60-year-old premier said his government has turned the economy around and honored its pledge to bring down unemployment after it reached a record high on his watch. Rajoy urged Spaniards to vote for continuity and stability, arguing that he’s best placed to safeguard the recovery and create more jobs. “If I didn’t think I was the best candidate I wouldn’t be running,” he said at a televised press conference Monday. Asked about potential coalitions, Rajoy avoided going into detail about what his preferred options would be, but insisted that he wouldn’t try to form a government if his party didn’t win the most votes.

He batted away speculation that he would be prepared to step down to facilitate a coalition government if a junior partner “called for his head.” “My head is well placed and I’m not letting anyone change that place,” he said. Rajoy’s party has the support of about 27% of voters compared with almost 45% in the previous general election, when it secured its best result ever. With the prime minister’s party dogged by corruption allegations, many of its traditional voters have been drawn to pro-market party Ciudadanos, led by 35-year-old former lawyer Albert Rivera. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing. For a party that prides itself on internal discipline, Rajoy has had to suffer a raft of dissent in recent weeks. His predecessor Jose Maria Aznar criticized the party’s performance, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro launched an attack on his cabinet colleagues and lawmaker Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo announced in a newspaper column that she wouldn’t run again on a list led by the prime minister.

Spaniards will go to the polls with the economy growing at the fastest pace since 2007 and unemployment at the lowest in almost four years. Still, opinion polls suggest about 40% of PP voters are considering other options. “The economic recovery is helping Rajoy recover moderate voters,” said Narciso Michavila, chairman of pollster GAD3. “The question is whether that’s enough.” The PP is outpacing Socialists, the other Spanish incumbent party, by about four%age points, according to the average of 10 polls publicly released since Oct. 5. Ciudadanos is running third with an average support of 18.2%, while Syriza’s ally Podemos is on 13.6%.

Read more …

Lots of different views on this, coup or no coup. Wonder how it’ll play out. President plays strange role, but he’s out in January.

Portugal’s Constitutional Crisis Threatens All European Democracies (Telegraph)

On October 4, the ruling conservative coalition that has governed Portugal for four years lost its parliamentary majority. The centre-right alliance, led by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, had overseen the implementation of one of the toughest austerity packages in the euro following a €78bn bail-out in 2011. The incumbents still emerged as the biggest party with 36.8pc of the vote share, but lost 17 seats and their parliamentary majority in the process. In second place was the main opposition Socialists (PS) led by Antonio Costa. Mr Costa – a moderate who supports Portugal’s euro membership – gained 32.4pc of the vote share. The result was disappointing but not catastrophic for the former mayor of Lisbon, who had been narrowly leading the polls in the electoral run up. But Portugal’s more stridently anti-austerity, eurosceptic parties on the Left – the radical Left Bloc and the anti-euro Communists, saw a surprising surge in support.

Combined, they gained 18.5pc of the vote. Despite the inconclusive result, the election indicated an overall dissatisfaction with Portugal’s dominant pro-austerity, pro-bail-out forces (including the Socialists). The electoral result pointed to the likely continuation of a minority centre-right government led by Mr Passos Coelho. However, for any new government to carry out painful economic reforms demanded by the EU, the PM would require opposition support in parliament. Mr Costa, however, vowed never to back the conservatives. Instead, after a few weeks of political horsetrading, he brokered a historic coalition deal with the radical Left Bloc and Communists in order to clump together a workable political majority of just under 51pc.

Hailed as a “Berlin Wall moment” for the country, the three main parties on the Left managed to put aside internecine squabbles to present themselves as the only government that could secure political stability for Portugal. Despite getting into bed with hardened eurosceptic Communists, Mr Costa promised not to jettison his pro-European principles and to notionally abide by the stringent fiscal targets imposed by Portugal’s former creditors in Brussels. However, the Leftist alliance is of a decidedly anti-austerity bent. Its policies would likely jeopardise the fiscal consolidation of the centre-right, and poison Portugal’s relationship with Brussels, say analysts. “The minimum wage would probably be raised, further tweaks to the social security system would probably be off the table, as would a further liberalisation of the labour market, or a reduction in the tax-burden,” notes Federico Santi at Eurasia Group.

Read more …

Goat.

Goldman Sachs Banker Likely To Face Jail Amid Rare Criminal Charges (Guardian)

A Goldman Sachs banker is expected to be jailed over the leaking of confidential information from the New York Fed, the investment banker’s former employer. Federal prosecutors are preparing to this week announce criminal charges against the banker, Rohit Bansal, and an employee of the regulator, according to the New York Times. Lawyers for the men, who were both fired in the wake of the leak, are said to be hammering out a deal with prosecutors. Even if they agree on the plea deal, they are likely to face up to a year in jail. It is rare for criminal charges to be brought directly against bankers in the US, but the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has set out new guidelines designed to ensure that more executives, bankers and other businesspeople are held personally accountable for their actions.

Under the planned deal, Goldman would not face criminal charges but would pay a fine of as much as $50m and would be forced to admit that it failed to properly supervise Bansal. A spokesman for Goldman said: “Upon discovering that a new junior employee had obtained confidential supervisory information from his former employer, the New York Fed, we immediately began an investigation and notified the appropriate regulators, including the Fed. “That employee and a more senior employee who failed to escalate the issue, were terminated shortly thereafter. We have zero tolerance for improper handling of confidential information. We have reviewed our policies regarding hiring from governmental institutions and have implemented changes to make them appropriately robust.” The case highlights the dangers of a revolving door between banks and regulators. Bansal had spent seven years at the New York Fed before joining Goldman, where he advised one of the same banks he had previously regulated.

Read more …

It’s completely unclear to me what, if any, funds the EU has sent to date to Athens to deal with the refugee crisis. Can’t find a single report on the topic. This, too, has been approved, but not paid yet.

EC Approves Aid As Greece Prepares To Host More Migrants (Kath.)

A day after a crisis summit on the refugee problem, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to increase Greece’s reception capacity for migrants to 50,000 by the end of the year, the European Commission approved the release of emergency aid to Athens. Confirming the approval of €5.9 million to help Greece cope with the large numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in the country daily from Turkey, European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Monday that the aid was aimed at enabling authorities to “cover the transportation costs for a significant number of these persons from the eastern Aegean islands to reception centers in mainland Greece once they have been properly registered, identified and fingerprinted.” A statement issued by the EC indicated that the sum was aimed at paying for the transport of 60,000 people. It remained unclear, however, where those people would stay as Greek authorities are still seeking venues.

Sources in Brussels indicated that Tsipras came under huge pressure at the Sunday summit to set up a large facility for migrants in Athens. In comments after the meeting, Tsipras said the creation of such a facility, “the size of a small city,” was among a series of “unacceptable demands” that he rejected. On Monday, government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili also presented the outcome of the summit as a minor victory for Greece. “What was asked of us, to place 20,000 people in a giant camp, was rejected,” she said, adding that “there will be no concentration camps in our country.” She added that authorities were preparing a housing program to help up to 20,000 migrants, indicating that this too would require European funding.

Read more …

Blackwater looms.

Slovenia To Hire Private Security Firms To Manage Migrant Flows (Reuters)

Slovenia is planning to employ private security firms to help manage the flow of thousands of migrants and refugees travelling through the country toward northern Europe, a senior official has said. Bostjan Sefic, state secretary at the interior ministry, said 50-60 private security guards would assist the police where necessary. More than 76,000 people have arrived in Slovenia from Croatia in the past 10 days. More than 9,000 were in Slovenia on Monday, hoping to reach Austria by the end of the day, while many more were on their way to Slovenia from Croatia and Serbia. The emergency measure was announced by the prime minister, who described the migrant crisis as the biggest challenge yet to the EU.

If a joint solution is not found, [the trade bloc] will start breaking up, Miro Cerar warned. About 2,000 migrants waited in a field in Rigonce on the Croatian border on Monday for buses to take them to a nearby camp to be registered before they are allowed to proceed north. [..] Slovenia, the smallest country on the Balkan migration route, has brought in the army to help police. Other EU states have pledged to send a total of 400 police officers this week to help manage the flow of people. Over the past 24 hours, 8,000 people arrived in Serbia en route to northern Europe, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said.

Read more …

“The idea that EU border countries should solve 80% of the problem is completely out of touch with reality.”

Italy Says EU’s Response ‘Inadequate’ as Refugee Numbers Surge (Bloomberg)

European Union agreements on the free movement of people may be at risk of collapse unless the bloc eases the burden for border countries forced to handle asylum-seekers, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said. Gentiloni, whose country has borne the brunt of the influx from Africa and the Middle East, said that common policies to share the burden would leave the EU much better placed to help people fleeing conflict. He also called for clear criteria to define so-called safe countries that migrants could be sent back to. “Europe – with hundreds of millions of people – can accept hundreds of thousands of migrants” so long as there is a common policy, Gentiloni said. “The idea that EU border countries should solve 80% of the problem is completely out of touch with reality.”

Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II intensified at the end of summer after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there could be no limit on granting asylum to those who legitimately met the criteria. Migrants also began shifting from a route that once led mainly through Libya to southern Europe to one winding from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, and then further north. With winter approaching and more than a million migrants set to reach the EU this year, the bloc’s leaders are struggling to present a united front as national authorities have tightened their borders and waved asylum seekers through to neighboring countries. Slovenia said at a Sunday meeting in Brussels that Croatia is causing chaos by sending migrants across its frontier with little warning.

In yet another sign of the divisions, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Monday said it was a concern that Poland wasn’t accepting more refugees. “Poland is taking only a limited number of people and I find that disturbing,” he said at an event in The Hague. “Poland gets a lot of subsidies. We help to build Poland – they should take up asylum seekers in return.” Gentiloni’s warning came as the United Nations said the influx on the region’s southeastern fringe is growing. As many as 49,000 migrants entered the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which isn’t an EU member, last week, Mirjana Milenkovski of the UNHCR, said on Monday. The daily average number of people entering Serbia increased to 7,000 from 5,000 a week earlier, she said. “Nothing has been done really adequately,” Gentiloni said. “We are still perhaps not adequate to the dimension and the perspective of these flows.”

Read more …

“They are using the refugee crisis as another way to apply pressure on Athens, to demand even more asphyxiating measures. Is this opportunism? Cynicism? Crudeness? Whatever term we choose, none is a synonym for solidarity.”

Using The Refugee Crisis (Boukalas)

Splitting the refugee crisis into three or more parts does not make any political sense nor is it morally acceptable. You can’t say that it’s a Balkan problem or an Italian problem or a French problem. The alliance of 28 states is still called the European Union even though it is blatantly dominated by Germany and even though we see countries expecting to better serve their own interests by gravitating toward Berlin. Therefore, a summit on the refugee crisis organized by the EU is from the onset incomplete when it does not include Italy and France, if, of course, the objective is to find a way to help the refugees and not to solve the refugee “problem” challenging individual states and leaders.

Yet even if we were to accept that the priority is to meet the challenges faced by the so-called Balkan corridor, then it is incomprehensible why Turkey was not invited to attend, given its key role in this avenue of arrival into the European Union. Of course, it is also very understandable given that Angela Merkel’s recent visit to Turkey was as the head of the EU rather than the chancellor of Germany. She’s already taken care of business so discussions with and the participation of the other parties involved, even those which are at the vanguard, is unnecessary. Greece’s position is particularly delicate. There have been many times in history when being at the crossroads of three continents was a problem rather than advantage.

The reality of the refugee crisis in this country is symbolized by a recent photograph showing a girl on the island of Lesvos giving a doll to another little girl, a refugee in her father’s arms, and in the father’s smile, which is full of gratitude and trust. Because of the crisis, which has thrown the welfare state and all of its institutions into complete disarray, what Greece can offer these people is about as much as that offered by the Lesvos girl: a gesture of kindness and whatever has been scraped together. So far, Greece has managed to do this, mainly thanks to the excellent work and dedication of volunteers, both Greek and foreign. Of course there is no shortage of scumbags who charge refugees €20 for access to a plug to charge their cell phones or €5 for a piece of plastic to keep the rain off.

The contribution of the European Union to Greece’s refugee management is extremely small and in many respects restricted to promises. It is also becoming clearer that the problems Greece faces in dealing with the influx does not constitute an important reason for foreign creditors to relax their control of finances but an opportunity to become even stricter. They are using the refugee crisis as another way to apply pressure on Athens, to demand even more asphyxiating measures. Is this opportunism? Cynicism? Crudeness? Whatever term we choose, none is a synonym for solidarity.

Read more …

Death penalty.

Big-Game Hunters Are Killing African Lions In Record Numbers (Bloomberg)

Big-game hunters are killing African lions in record numbers as U.S. regulators threaten to curtail one of world’s most exclusive, expensive and controversial pursuits. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an Oct. 29 deadline to make a final determination on the status of the African lion, which it has proposed to list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has also recommended requiring a special permit to import lion trophies. Those findings could curtail the number of slain lions entering the U.S., while also driving up safari costs that are often more than $100,000.

That’s leading to a rush of Americans taking their guns to Africa in pursuit of the king of the jungle. Last year, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies, up 70% since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000, according to data from the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Guys fearing that I’ll never get my opportunity to get a lion, they’re getting it while the getting’s good,” said Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado whose exploits, including lion hunts, are featured on a Sportsman Channel television show. “The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, ‘Man, get it now.”’

Read more …

Palm oil.

Indonesia’s Forest Fires Labelled A ‘Crime Against Humanity’

Raging forest fires across Indonesia are thought to be responsible for up to half a million cases of respiratory infections, with the resultant haze covering parts of Malaysia and Singapore now being described as a “crime against humanity”. Tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been alight for more than two months as a result of slash and burn – the fastest and quickest way to clear land for new plantations. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil and fires are frequently intentionally lit to clear the land with the resulting haze an annual headache. But this year a prolonged dry season and the impact of El Niño have made the situation far worse, with one estimate that daily emissions from the fires have surpassed the average daily emissions of the entire US economy.

The fires have caused the air to turn a toxic sepia colour in the worst hit areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where levels of the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) have pushed toward 2,000. Anything above 300 is considered hazardous. Endangered wildlife such as orangutans have also been forced to flee the forests because of the fires. Six Indonesian provinces have declared a state of emergency. Across the region Indonesia’s haze crisis has been causing havoc – schools in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia have been shut down, flights have been grounded, events cancelled and Indonesian products boycotted, as millions try to avoid the intense smoke. In the worst affected parts, on Sumatra and Kalimantan, ten people have died from haze-related illnesses and more than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported since July 1.

Read more …