Feb 242018
 
 February 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Rear of interstate truck. Elko, Nevada 1940

 

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)
The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)
Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)
VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)
Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)
Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)
UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)
Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)
Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)
After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

 

 

Going down down down.

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)

Economists report the household debt to be at its highest in decades. Yet, at the same time, we are being told that the economy is doing great. Does anyone see a serious contradiction? In fact, the current economy only favors the wealthy owing to their flourishing financial assets such as stocks and bonds. Owing to the lack of real assets such as property and commodities, the middle and lower classes are becoming overwhelmed due to the serious consequences of the spending/debt cycle. American consumers have a collective outstanding household debt of about $13.15 trillion of which nearly $1 trillion is the credit card debt alone, households are truly on a debt binge. These figures should be a wake-up call to all the Americans. The convulsive household debt has surpassed the bubble of 2008 and is still escalating. The economy may not be doing so great, after all.

Compared to 2008, the automobile credit balances have increased to $367 billion whereas the outstanding student loans are around $671 billion. Moreover, 67% of household debts belong to consumer mortgages. In 2016, 25% of all the Americans purchased a new or used vehicle and two-thirds of them are repaying through high-interest, long-term loans. In fact, the consumer debt has exceeded their income for majority of the Americans. Consumers have become accustomed using easy credit to maintain a lifestyle unaffordable for them otherwise. If this trend continues, and facts indicate that it will, we will be facing a monumental credit crisis in the near future. A huge portion of credit card debt is the interest. Credit cards are a convenience and consumers readily pay for the privilege.

[..] The decline in automobile sales is already an indication of the future consumer debt crisis. If lenders continue to provide easy access to credit regardless of its looming default and delinquent potential, retail purchase will face a sharp decline in 2018. This will have serious consequences on the overall economy. The Federal Reserve and other global lenders are a significant contribution to the problem. They allow printing of trillions of dollars and yens for the lenders to distribute to the borrowing consumers at a high interest, leading to a worldwide inflation. All this printed wealth is merely an illusion yet it is raising the cost of living. Prices are rising at an alamingly faster rate compared to the consumer income. There is no increase in real assets. All this is but a mere mushrooming of debt.

The consequences of federal policy will be inescapable unless reversed and there are no signs of any reversal in near or distant future. At this rate, the consumers will soon face a critical financial bubble. Financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, risk losing substantial value. The wealthy can absorb the losses but the poor and middle class will face financial ruin. Consumers need to seriously consider the need to increase their “real” assets, such as real estate and commodities to prevent a long-term financial nightmare. The chart below shows how the real assets have curved to an all-time low.

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Gee, what a surprise.

The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)

In the last 45 years, there have been seven periods of persistent US dollar and Treasury bond weakness and as BofAML notes, during six of those periods, stocks have been pressured significantly lower.

This could be a problem, as it’s happening again… and stocks are beginning to wake up to it…

There has only been one period in history when falling dollar and bond prices did not lead to slumping stocks…And that was when QE was expanded drastically in March 2009.

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Tightening and then not.

Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)

Ahead of Fed Chair Powell’s first semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress next week (brought forward to 2/27), The Fed has released his prepared remarks warning that “valuations are still elevated across a range of asset classes” and fears “signs of rising non-financial leverage.” To wit: Looking at the key topic of inflation, and the labor market, the Fed found that U.S. labor market is “near or a little beyond” full employment in early 2018, and that while the pace of wage growth has been modest, “serious labor shortages” would probably give it an upward push. Ironically, and paradoxically for an “economy beyond full employment”, the Fed observes that “the pace of wage gains has been moderate; while wage gains have likely been held down by the sluggish pace of productivity growth in recent years.”

Regardless, the Fed clearly is concerned about labor supply-demand imbalances, and has even added a new word: serious, as in “serious labor shortages would probably bring about larger increases than have been observed thus far.” In a separate special section on financial stability, the Fed notes that overall vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial system remain moderate, while noting some spots where things are warming up. These include signs of increased leverage to the nonbank sector, noting greater provision of margin credit to equity investors such as hedge funds. Looking at financial imbalances, the Fed warns that “leverage in the nonfinancial business sector has remained high, and net issuance of risky debt has climbed in recent months. In contrast, leverage in the household sector has remained at a relatively low level, and household debt in recent years has expanded only about in line with nominal income.”

[..] Curiously, before Powell’s remarks were dropped, both Dudley and Rosengren were on the tape this morning talking super dovish about QE as “useful to have in the toolkit for those times when the short-term interest rate tool may not be available,” adding that The Fed is “quite likely” to require large-scale asset purchases again because real rates will remain low due to slow productivity and labor-force growth.

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Horse has left that barn ages ago.

VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)

U.S. regulators are scrutinizing this month’s implosion of investments that track stock-market turmoil, including whether wrongdoing contributed to steep losses for VIX exchange-traded products offered by Credit Suisse and other firms, several people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have been conducting a broad review of trading since Feb. 5, when volatility spiked and investors lost billions of dollars, the people said. Among those looking into what happened are lawyers in the SEC’s enforcement division, which investigates firms for potential misconduct and fines them if it finds violations of securities laws, two of the people said. There is no indication thus far that specific companies, including Credit Suisse, are being probed.

The scrutiny puts a spotlight on a small corner of the $3.4 trillion exchange-traded fund industry that lets everyone from hedge funds to mom-and-pop investors engage in complex trading strategies. With losses now piling up, allegations of market manipulation are getting more attention and government watchdogs face questions about why small-time investors were permitted to buy such products in the first place. “The values of these exchange-traded products are based on a combination of futures, options and three indices. Quite the maze,” Democratic SEC Commissioner Kara Stein said Friday in a speech at a conference in Washington. “What troubles me is that oftentimes complex products fall into the hands of people who don’t fully understand them.”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told reporters at the same event Friday that he wasn’t concerned about how the market functioned during the steep decline in equities on Feb. 5 and in the two weeks since. He said it would be appropriate, however, to review which types of more complex investments are widely available to average investors. “The portfolio of products available to retail investors has changed dramatically and it’s worth taking a look at,” Clayton said.

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Tough job. Xi sets rates all by himself.

Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)

Liu He, a Harvard-trained economist who is a trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front runner to be the next governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), according to three sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu may be in a position to become one of China’s most powerful economic and financial officials ever, as he is already top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the economy. Liu would replace current PBOC chief, 70-year-old Zhou Xiaochuan, who is China’s longest-running head of the central bank, having taken the job in 2002. Zhou is expected to retire around the time of the annual session of parliament in March, sources previously told Reuters.

The change would be part of a wider government reshuffle following the 19th Communist Party Congress in October last year, during which Xi laid out his vision for China’s long-term development, and elevated his key allies. Speculation has been rife for months over the choice of the next central bank governor. Xi will have the final say, and the sources noted that while Liu is clearly the frontrunner he is not yet certain to get the job. Just before last October’s Congress, sources told Reuters that China’s banking regulator head Guo Shuqing and veteran banker Jiang Chaoliang were leading contenders for the PBOC job. But at the congress, the influence of the 66-year-old Liu continued to grow. He was elected into the 25-member Politburo, the second-highest tier in Beijing’s political power structure after the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

Sources previously told Reuters that Liu, a fluent English speaker, is set to become one of China’s four vice premiers and would oversee the economy and financial sector. Two of the sources said that Liu could serve concurrently as vice premier and head of the central bank.

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Brexit is not all bad.

Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)

UK inflation will outstrip gains in house prices this year and next, particularly in the capital, as uncertainty over Brexit and weak consumer spending power hits demand, a Reuters poll found on Friday. According to the latest quarterly Reuters poll of 33 housing market specialists, taken in the past week, property prices will rise 2.0% this year, much slower than the predicted 2.5% rise in general costs in the economy. In London – long the hotbed for foreign investors behind a decade of skyrocketing prices – the difference will be even starker: the average price is expected to fall 0.5% this year. Next year, house prices will rise 0.9% in London and 2.0 nationally, still both below the 2.1% expected inflation rate. In 2020, London prices will increase 2.0% and by 2.3% nationally. “A significant effect of Brexit is subdued investment confidence,” said Rod Lockhart at online mortgage lender LendInvest.

“Would-be sellers are holding onto assets for longer and buyers are being a little more diligent before committing to significant expenditures, all this against a backdrop of inflation-surpassing wage growth.” Most respondents in the poll said the Brexit vote had been negative for both turnover and prices in London but were split over whether it had been negative or had no impact nationally. Sterling is over 6% weaker than before the June 2016 vote to leave the EU, something that should make properties more attractive to foreign investors, who can take advantage of cheaper prices. But uncertainty over how Brexit divorce talks will pan out has deterred overseas buyers. “Foreigners get more pounds in their pockets, but the nation and its capital has lost some of its allure,” said Tony Williams at property consultancy Building Value.

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May the masochist.

UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)

Theresa May’s reported agreement with her cabinet on a future trading relationship with the EU has been criticised as based on “pure illusion” by the European council president, Donald Tusk, as frustration with the UK erupted in Brussels. Reports that May’s inner cabinet had agreed on a policy of “managed divergence” during eight hours of talks at an awayday in Chequers were met with incredulity by EU leaders. Tusk told reporters on Friday: “I am glad the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. “However, if the media reports are correct, I am afraid the UK position today is based on pure illusion. It looks like the cake [and eat it] philosophy is still alive. “From the very start it has been a set principle of the EU27 that there cannot be any cherrypicking of single market à la carte. This will continue to be a key principle, I have no doubt.”

Speaking at a summit of EU27 member states in Brussels, to discuss the EU’s budget and leadership post-Brexit, Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, also insisted that the single market was “not à la carte”. It is believed the British government is seeking to maintain frictionless trade in some sectors by staying in lock-step alignment with EU regulation, while opening up the prospect of diverging in other areas in order to gain a competitive advantage in the international marketplace. “It is not possible for UK to be aligned to EU when it suits and not when it doesn’t,” Varadkar said. “The UK position needs to be backed up with real detail that can be written into a legal treaty with the EU. We are well beyond the point of aspirations and principle. We need detail.”

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Britain should be taken to The Hague for its involvement.

Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)

Talks between the UK and Ecuador over the future of Julian Assange at its London embassy have broken down, the South American country’s foreign minister has said. Maria Fernanda Espinosa suggested British officials had been unwilling to negotiate over the Wikileaks founder’s potential release. Earlier this month, a judge upheld an arrest warrant issued when Assange skipped bail as he fought extradition to Sweden in 2012. The 46-year-old has been at the embassy ever since because he fears extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. Espinosa said of the failed talks: “To mediate you need two parties, Ecuador is willing, but not necessarily the other party.”

Ecuador said it would continue to protect Assange’s rights, however there was a risk to his physical and psychological wellbeing after spending nearly six years in the building as a “refugee”. The country has assessed more than 30 similar cases in a bid to break the deadlock, including that of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison in Iran accused of spying. This included options for granting diplomatic immunity, although Ecuador said it would continue to respect the UK’s laws. In November, Espinosa said Assange had been granted Ecuadorian citizenship. The foreign minister said Ecuador was trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – including special legal immunity and safe passage.

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All because of North Korea?!

Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)

European authorities moved to liquidate Latvia’s ABLV Bank after clients pulled assets from the lender following U.S. accusations that it laundered money. The ECB, which had already placed a freeze on payments by the lender, said that ABLV was failing or likely to fail, handing it over to Europe’s Single Resolution Board. That authority said a resolution of the bank, which generally means a sale or restructuring, isn’t in the public interest because neither ABLV nor its Luxembourg-based subsidiary provide “critical functions” and their failure won’t have a “significant adverse impact” on financial stability. ABLV was plunged into crisis after the U.S. Treasury this month proposed to ban it from the American financial system, saying it helped process illicit transactions, including for entities with alleged ties to North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

The bank responded by saying the allegations are wrong and misleading and that it was working to provide information to the Treasury that would help to overturn the proposal. “The bank is likely unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fall due,” the ECB said in a statement on Saturday in Frankfurt. “The bank did not have sufficient funds which are immediately available to withstand stressed outflows of deposits before the payout procedure of the Latvian deposit-guarantee fund starts.” ABLV took a different view, saying it accumulated more than €1.36 billion over four business days to strengthen its liquidity and ensure 86% of its demand deposits. “The bank considers that it has fulfilled all requirements of the regulator in order to resume operation,” ABLV said. “It was absolutely sufficient for the bank to resume executing payments and meet all obligations toward its clients, yet due to political considerations the bank was not given a chance to do it.”

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Turkey threatens to fire on an Italian ship.

After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

Just a day after it said it won’t allow Cyprus to conduct a “unilateral” gas search off the Eastern Mediterranean island’s coast if Turkish Cypriots don’t also reap the benefits, Ankara ratcheted up tensions with Nicosia Friday when its warships threatened to use force against a drillship contracted to Italian energy giant Eni as it tried, again, to reach an area in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to commence exploratory gas drilling. Turkey has been obstructing the Saipem 12000 drillship from approaching an area in Block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ since February 9, citing naval exercises. This week it announced it is reserving the area until March 10. Earlier in the month a Turkish gunboat rammed a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel near the eastern Aegean islet of Imia. Turkey’s aggression was raised by Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the informal summit of EU leaders in Brussels Friday.

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters after the meeting that the bloc was calling on Turkey to stop activities that have led to recent incidents in Greece and Cyprus, stressing that both countries have the “sovereign right” to explore for resources. He also said the EU will assess during March’s European Council meeting whether the conditions are ripe for a high-level meeting with Turkey in Varna on March 26. The drillship left the area after the incident and headed west for the city of Limassol, where it is expected to remain for a few days before sailing to Morocco. “Unfortunately, the drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence and the threat of a collision, it was compelled to return back,” said Cypriot government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, who stressed, however, that the postponement of the scheduled drilling does not mean that the island’s energy plans will change.

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Nov 282017
 
 November 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Stanley Kubrick High Wire Act 1948

 

Millennials Will Have Similar Pensions To Baby Boomers – Thinktank (G.)
The Perfect Storm – Of The Coming Market Crisis (Roberts)
Markets Get Wake-Up Call From China’s Post-Congress Deleveraging Moves (R.)
Chance Of US Stock Market Correction Now At 70% – Vanguard (CNBC0
Exit Sign (Jim Kunstler)
Bitcoin Bubble Makes Dot-Com Look Rational (BBG)
London Homes Are Now Less Affordable Than Ever Before (BBG)
£300 Million A Week: The Output Cost Of The Brexit Vote (VoxEU)
The Irish Question May Yet Save Britain From Brexit (G.)
The Fat Cats Have Got Their Claws Into Britain’s Universities (G.)
Prince Harry Can Bring His Foreign Spouse To UK – 1/3 Of Britons Can’t (Ind.)
Wells Fargo Bankers Overcharged Clients For Higher Bonuses (CNBC)
Sao Paulo’s Homeless Seize The City (G.)

 

 

Think tanks will say anything if you pay them enough. But still this is quite the ‘report’. And it’s about Britain of all places!

Millenials will get NO pensions. They may get a UBI when the time comes, but people will have to wake up for that to happen.

Millennials Will Have Similar Pensions To Baby Boomers – Thinktank (G.)

Young adults will have retirement incomes similar to today’s pensioners, according to analysis which rejects widespread pessimism about the financial prospects for millennials. Men in their 40s will suffer a fall in their retirement incomes compared with today’s pensioners, but the generation behind them will see their incomes recover, analysis by the Resolution Foundation found. It said the average pension for a man will be about £310 a week in 2020, taking into account state and private pensions. This will fall to about £285 in the mid 2040s in real terms “before building again to about £300 a week by the end of the 2050s”.

For women, there will be no dip in pension income but a small improvement over time. The thinktank forecasts that average pensions incomes for women, typically lower than those of men because of lower pay and career breaks, will be about £225 a week in 2020, then rising to about £235 by the mid-2030s and staying at that level going forward. The analysis defies the popular view that today’s pensioners are a “golden generation” who benefited from final-salary pensions. It said that while pensioner incomes have risen sharply this century to match or even surpass those of working people, these levels can be broadly maintained in the future. The upbeat assessment is in sharp contrast to other a stream of reports which paint Britain’s pensions as among the worst in the developed world, with young workers facing penury in retirement.

Resolution said “auto enrolment”, the government scheme in which workers are automatically defaulted into paying into a private pension scheme, will be the chief driver behind a recovery in pension income. But the thinktank acknowledged that today’s younger generation are unlikely to build up the housing wealth acquired by baby boomers – people born between the early 1940s and mid-1960s – from the huge increase in house prices, and will not be entitled to a state pension until they are older than the current generation of retirees.

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Margin calls. Coming soon to a theater near you.

The Perfect Storm – Of The Coming Market Crisis (Roberts)

Of course, as investors begin to get battered by the “volatility and junk bond storms,” the subsequent decline in equity valuations begins to trigger “margin calls.” As the markets decline, there will be a slow realization “this decline” is something more than a “buy the dip” opportunity. As losses mount, the anxiety of those “losses” mounts until individuals seek to “avert further loss” by selling. There are two problems forming. The first is leverage. While investors have been chasing returns in the “can’t lose” market, they have also been piling on leverage in order to increase their return. It is often stated that margin debt is “nothing to worry about” as they are simply a function of market activity and have no bearing on the outcome of the market.

That is a very short-sighted view. By itself, margin debt is inert. Investors can leverage their existing portfolios and increase buying power to participate in rising markets. While “this time could certainly be different,” the reality is that leverage of this magnitude is “gasoline waiting on a match.” When an “event” eventually occurs, it creates a rush to liquidate holdings. The subsequent decline in prices eventually reaches a point which triggers an initial round of margin calls. Since margin debt is a function of the value of the underlying “collateral,” the forced sale of assets will reduce the value of the collateral further triggering further margin calls. Those margin calls will trigger more selling forcing more margin calls, so forth and so on.

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Imposing a 70% loss on creditors sounds like a confidence breaker to me.

Markets Get Wake-Up Call From China’s Post-Congress Deleveraging Moves (R.)

The pace at which Beijing is announcing deleveraging reforms following last month’s Communist Party Congress is a wake-up call for investors in Chinese markets: risk just got real. Sweeping new rules for the asset management industry, a crackdown on micro loans and losses imposed on the creditors of the state-owned Chongqing Iron & Steel are not yet a “Big Bang” of reforms. Some of the measures were well flagged and will only kick in 2019. But they are sending a signal to markets that policymakers are serious about deleveraging, something that has been urged by the INF and ratings agencies for years and flagged as a top priority by President Xi Jinping at the party congress.

Debt markets reacted first, with benchmark 10-year borrowing costs hitting three-year highs above 4% and yield spreads between government and corporate debt widening as policymakers appear more tolerant of defaults. Last week, the debt sell-off spilled over into equities, which saw their worst day in 19 months, and markets have since weakened further. [..] Two weeks ago, the central bank and the top regulators for banking, insurance, securities and foreign exchange announced unified rules covering asset management. The aim was to close loopholes that allow regulatory arbitrage, reduce leverage levels, eliminate the implicit guarantees some financial institutions offer against investment losses and rein in shadow banking.

Last week, a top-level Chinese government body issued an urgent notice to provincial governments urging them to suspend regulatory approval for new internet micro-lenders in a bid to curb household debt, which is currently low but rising rapidly. In the meantime, creditors of Chongqing Iron & Steel took a 70% loss in a debt-to-equity swap restructuring of nearly 40 billion yuan ($6 billion) of debt. [..] Debt-to-equity swaps are complex operations that are harder to undo than a missed bond payment and analysts say the move signals a clear path for tackling high corporate debt levels, which the BIS estimates at 1.6 times the size of the economy. “If you own the wrong stuff you’re in trouble because they are not going to bail you out any more,” said Joshua Crabb at Old Mutual Global Investors.

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Round it off to an even 100%, why don’t you.

Chance Of US Stock Market Correction Now At 70% – Vanguard (CNBC)

Don’t panic, but there is now a 70% chance of a U.S. stock market correction, according to research conducted by fund giant Vanguard Group. There is always the risk of a correction in stocks, but the Vanguard research shows that the current probability is 30% higher than what has been typical over the past six decades. Vanguard, which manages roughly $5 trillion in assets and is a proponent of long-term investing, isn’t sounding the alarm bells to scare investors out of the market. But according to Vanguard’s chief economist Joe Davis, investors do need to be prepared for a significant downturn.

“It’s about having reasonable expectations,” Davis said. “Having a 10% negative return in the U.S. market in a calendar year has happened 40% of the time since 1960. That goes with the territory of being a stock investor.” He added, “It’s unreasonable to expect rates of returns, which exceeded our own bullish forecast from 2010, to continue.” In its annual economic and investing outlook published last week, Vanguard told investors to expect no better than 4% to 6% returns from stocks in the next five years, its least bullish outlook since the post-financial crisis recovery began. Contributing to that outlook are market indicators that suggest “a little froth” in the market, according to the Vanguard chief economist.

“The risk premium, whether corporate bond spreads or the shape of yield curve, or earnings yields for stocks, have continued to compress,” Davis said. “We’re starting to see, for first time … some measures of expected risk premiums compressed below areas where we think it can be associated with fair value.” Many market participants have worried in recent months about the flattening in the yield curve — the spread between 2-year note yields and 10-year yields — at the lowest level since before the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the spread between junk bond yields and Treasurys recently has moved closer to the level before the financial crash than the long-term historical average.

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Bitcoin at the water cooler.

Exit Sign (Jim Kunstler)

I’m not so sanguine about Bitcoin’s supposed impregnability, nor about many of its other appealing claims. The Mt. Gox affair of 2014 must be forgotten now, but back then some sharpie hacked 850,000 Bitcoins (valued over $450,000,000) out of the exchange, which was processing almost two-thirds of all the Bitcoin trades in the world. Mt. Gox went out of business. Bitcoin tanked and then traded sideways for three years until (coincidentally?) the Golden Golem of Greatness was elected Leader of the Free World. Hmmmm….. Not many readers understand the first thing about block-chain math, your correspondent among them. But I am aware that the supposed safety of Bitcoin lies in its feature of being an algorithm distributed among a network of computers world-wide, so that it kind of exists everywhere-and-nowhere at the same time, a highly-valued ghost in the techno-industrial meta-machine.

However, the electric energy required for “mining” each Bitcoin — that is, the computations required for updating the block-chain network — is enough to boil almost 2000 liters of water. This is happening world-wide, and a lot of the Bitcoin “mining” is powered by coal-burning electric plants, making it the first Steampunk currency. If Bitcoin were to keep rising to $1,000,000 per unit, as many investors hope and pray, there wouldn’t be enough electric power in the world to keep it going. Pardon me if I seem skeptical about the whole scheme. Even without Bitcoin bringing extra demand onto the scene, America’s electrical grid is already an aging rig of rags and tatters. There are a lot of ways that the service could be interrupted, perhaps for a long time in the case of an electric magnetic pulse (EMP). I’m not convinced that crypto-currencies are beyond the clutches of government, either.

Around the world, in their campaign to digitize all money, there must be a deep interest in either hijiking existing block-chains, or creating official government Bit-monies to seal the deal of total control over financial transactions they seek. Anyway, there are already over 1300 private cryptos and, apparently, a theoretically endless ability to create ever new ones — though the electricity required does seem to be a limiting factor. Maybe governments will shut them down for being energy-hogs. My personal take on the phenomenon is that it represents the high point of techno-narcissism — the idea that technology is now so magical that it over-rides the laws of physics. That, for me, would be the loudest “sell” signal. I’d just hate to be in that rush to the exits. And who knows what kind of rush to other exits it could inspire.

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No problem is you think bitcoin is not a bubble.

Bitcoin Bubble Makes Dot-Com Look Rational (BBG)

Even compared with some extreme bubbles, bitcoins, which continued its climb toward $10,000 Monday afternoon, look bloated. Take dot-com stocks, which were the biggest bubble of the past few decades, and likely the largest in stock market history. At the height of the dot-com stock bubble, the technology-heavy Nasdaq stock index had a price-to-earnings ratio of 175. In the past year, bitcoins have generated transaction fees of nearly $219 million. And at $9,600 a piece, the total value of all bitcoins – their market cap – now tops $155 billion. That gives bitcoins the equivalent of a trailing P/E ratio of 708. That means based on valuation, bitcoins are four times more expensive than dot-com stocks were at the height of their bubble.

Valuation, though, is not what pops bubbles. Supply does. The dot-com bubble, like all bubbles, was driven by the fact that there were relatively few publicly traded internet stocks in the mid-1990s, just as investors were getting excited about them. So prices of the stocks that were public soared. Companies not actually in the internet business added “.com” to their names, or announced a web strategy, and those stocks rose as well. But from 1997 to 2000, there were $44 billion in initial public offerings of new dot-com stocks. Eventually the supply of dot-com companies became large and dubious enough that the bubble burst and the hot air holding up all the stocks rushed out.

The same will happen with bitcoin. The question is when. The combined market value of all digital currencies is just $300 billion. As my colleague David Fickling pointed out, that relatively tiny market cap of bitcoin compared with other asset classes means that a small amount of money coming out of say U.S. stocks, which have a market cap of more than $20 trillion, could send the price of bitcoin soaring. Just a 5 percentage point shift away from gold and into bitcoin could drive the price of the digital currency up by another 33%. But it’s not clear that the people who want the protection of owning gold would be comfortable with bitcoin instead. The percentage of stock investors interested or able to invest their 401(k) in bitcoin is likely small as well, though surely, as in all bubbles, growing.

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Britain is a class society. Might as well have castes.

London Homes Are Now Less Affordable Than Ever Before (BBG)

London homes are less affordable than ever before, despite slowing price growth and government attempts to cut the cost of housing for first-time buyers. It now costs the average Londoner 14.5 times their annual salary to purchase a home, the highest level on record, according to a report Tuesday by researcher Hometrack. Cambridge, Oxford and the English seaside town of Bournemouth also have price-to-earnings ratios in the double digits, the report shows. “Unaffordability in London has reached a record high, despite a material slowdown in the rate of house-price growth over the last year,” Richard Donnell, research director at Hometrack, said in an interview. “The gap between average earnings and house prices in the capital has never been wider.”

Even with the recent slowdown, the average cost of a first home in the U.K. capital is still up 66% since 2012 as supply fails to meet the demand from domestic buyers and overseas investors. Spiraling values have caused the number of younger buyers in the capital to fall, something that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond sought to address last week when he abolished stamp duty for first-time buyers of homes worth up to 300,000 pounds ($400,290). London house prices rose an average 3% in the year ending October to 496,000 pounds, less than half the 7.7% growth rate of a year earlier, Hometrack said. The researcher defined London as the 46 boroughs in and around the U.K. capital.

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Not sure a comprehensive study is even possible.

£300 Million A Week: The Output Cost Of The Brexit Vote (VoxEU)

There is huge variation in the estimated cost of Brexit. Most studies forecast that a reduction in trade or a fall in foreign direct investment (FDI) – or both – will reduce output. For instance, HM Treasury (2016) uses a gravity model to assess the economic impact in several scenarios, and concludes that losses could be up to 6% of GDP in the long term. Yet the future relationship between the UK and the EU is highly uncertain (Baldwin 2016). As a result, estimating the cost of Brexit is difficult. Different assumptions about the deal that the UK will lead to different cost estimates.

That’s why we take a different approach in a recent paper (Born et al. 2017). Rather than making set of assumptions which are bound to be controversial, and using them to forecast the economic costs of Brexit, we measure the actual output loss from the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Our approach does not depend on having the right model for the British, the European, or even the global economy. We do not assume a particular Brexit deal, or construct specific scenarios for the outcome of the negotiations. Instead we create a transparent, unbiased, and entirely-data driven ‘Brexit cost tracker’ that relies on synthetic control methods (Abadie and Gardeazabal 2003).

[..] We then use the doppelganger of the pre-Brexit UK economy to quantify the cost of the Brexit vote. As the doppelganger is not treated with the Brexit vote, it will continue to evolve in a similar way to how the pre-Brexit economy would have evolved if the referendum had never happened. It shows, in other words, the counterfactual performance of the UK economy, and the divergent output paths between the UK economy and its doppelganger capture the effect of the referendum. This ‘synthetic control method’ has been successfully applied to study similar one-off events, such as German reunification and the introduction of tobacco laws in the US (Abadie et al. 2010, 2015).

Figure 2 zooms into the post-Brexit period. We find that the economic costs of the Brexit vote are already visible. By the third quarter of 2017, the economic costs of the Brexit vote are about 1.3% of GDP. The cumulative output loss is £19.3 billion. As 66 weeks have passed between the referendum and the end of the Q3 2017 (our last GDP data point), the average output cost is almost £300 million on a per-week basis.

Read more …

The Tories are not going to win this.

The Irish Question May Yet Save Britain From Brexit (G.)

It was always there for all to see, the great Celtic stone cross barring the way to Brexit. Finally, as crunch day nears, the government and its Brextremists have to confront what was always a roadblock to their fantasies. They pretended it was nothing. Reviving that deep-dyed, centuries-old contempt for the Irish, they have dismissed it with an imperial fly-whisk as a minor irritation. No longer. On 14 December, the time comes when the EU decides whether the UK has made “sufficient progress” on cash, citizens’ rights … and the Irish border. This roadmap was long ago agreed, and yet as the day approaches there is no plan for that 310-mile stretch with its 300 road crossings. The Irish government, which never wanted the UK to leave, demands, as it always did, that no hard border disrupts trade and breaks the Good Friday agreement.

Why would they expect anything else, when Theresa May herself made that one of her “red lines”? But she made three incompatible pledges: no single market, no customs union and no hard border, an impossible conundrum no nearer resolution than the day she uttered it. Labour’s Keir Starmer keeps pointing to the needless trap she jumped into: why not, like Labour, keep those options on the table? The Brexiteers turn abusive: the Irish are holding Britain to “ransom” and “blackmail” by conducting an “ambush”. The Sun leader told the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to “shut your gob and grow up”, and to stop “disrespecting 17.4 million voters of a country whose billions stopped Ireland going bust as recently as 2010”.

Brexit fanatic Labour MP Kate Hoey yesterday adopted a Trump-style demand that Ireland builds a wall and pays for it – for a border they never wanted. The Ukip MEP Gerald Batten tweeted: “UK threatened by Ireland. A tiny country that relies on UK for its existence …” and: “Ireland is like the weakest kid in the playground sucking up to the EU bullies.” Brexiteers, thrashing around, accuse the Irish of using the border crisis as a devious plot to further a united Ireland. But Varadkar rightly says he is not using a veto. There is complete unity among the EU 27: no hard border, loud and clear. He is right not to let this slip to the next stage without a written-in-blood pledge.

Read more …

Class society.

The Fat Cats Have Got Their Claws Into Britain’s Universities (G.)

Scandals aren’t meant to happen in British universities. Parliament, tabloid newsrooms, the City … those we expect to spew out sleaze. Not the gown-wearing, exam-sitting, quiet-in-the-library surrounds of higher education. Yet we should all be scandalised by what is happening in academia. It is a tale of vast greed and of vandalism – and it is being committed right at the top, by the very people who are meant to be custodians of these institutions. If it continues, it will wreck one of the few world-beating industries Britain has left. Big claims, I know, but easily supportable. Let me start with greed. You may have heard of Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell. As vice-chancellor of Bath University, her salary went up this year by £17,500 – which is to say, she got more in just one pay rise than some of her staff earn in a year.

Her annual salary and benefits now total over £468,000, not including an interest-free car loan of £31,000. Then there’s the £20,000 in expenses she claimed last year, with almost £5,000 for the gas bill – and £2 for biscuits. I knew there had to be a reason they call them rich tea. Breakwell is now the lightning rod for Westminster’s fury over vice-chancellor pay. As the best paid in Britain, she’s the vice-chancellor that Tony Blair’s former education minister, Andrew Adonis, tweets angrily about. She’s the focus of a regulator’s report that slams both her and the university. She’s already had to apologise to staff and students for a lack of transparency in the university’s pay processes – and may even be forced out this week.

But she’s not the only one. The sector is peppered with other vice-chancellors on the make. At Bangor University, John Hughes gets £245,000 a year – and lives in a grace-and-favour country house that cost his university almost £750,000, including £700-worth of Laura Ashley cushions. Two years ago, the University of Bolton gave its head, George Holmes, a £960,000 loan to buy a mansion close by. The owner of both a yacht and a Bentley, Holmes enjoys asking such questions as: “Do you want to be successful or a failure?” Yet as the Times Higher Education observed recently, he counts as a failure, having overseen a drop last year in student numbers, even while being awarded an 11.5% pay rise.

Read more …

The marriage meant to make you forget Brexit.

Prince Harry Can Bring His Foreign Spouse To UK – 1/3 Of Britons Can’t (Ind.)

Prince Harry is in a privileged position as he celebrates his engagement to US-born Meghan Markle, not only because he is royalty, but because he is part of a percentage of the population who can afford to marry a spouse from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). Immigration rules introduced in 2012 under then-Home Secretary Theresa May set a minimum earnings threshold of £18,600 for UK citizens to bring a non-EEA spouse or partner to live here with them. The Migration Observatory in Oxford estimates that 40 per cent of Brits in full or part-time employment don’t earn enough to meet this threshold, narrowing the marriage choices of a significant proportion of the population.

The income requirement doesn’t just disadvantage minimum wage earners, but also the young, women and those with caring responsibilities, who are less likely to meet the threshold. Where you live matters too; Londoners earn higher salaries than those living outside the south-east of the country. But even within London, there are disparities – around 41 per cent of non-white UK citizens working in London earn below the income threshold compared to 21 per cent of those who identify as white. Consider that before hailing the dawn of a new post-racial era in the UK with Meghan Markle, who is mixed race, marrying into the Royal family. The £18,600 figure was calculated as the minimum income amount necessary to avoid a migrant becoming a “burden on the state”.

This makes sense in theory, but economics cannot be the only metric in a system that deals with people’s lives. The committee tasked with setting the amount was not asked to take into account other metrics, such as the wellbeing of UK citizens, permanent residents and their families. The question we need to ask ourselves is, should love have a price tag? Is it right or fair that Prince Harry and those who earn above the minimum wage are a select percentage of the population who can marry whoever they choose? The price of bringing your spouse to the UK rises with every child you include on your application, giving rise to “Skype families” who cannot afford or are otherwise unable to reunite and have to stay in touch over Skype. In 2015, the Children’s Commissioner reported that up to 15,000 children are affected by this rule, most of whom are British citizens. Families are put under immense stress and anxiety.

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This is what you call organized crime. There are laws covering that.

Wells Fargo Bankers Overcharged Clients For Higher Bonuses (CNBC)

Evidence that embattled bank Wells Fargo had swindled some of its clients emerged in a June conference call led by its managers, according to two employees who were present during the call, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.The revelation, based on an internal assessment, reportedly came following years of rumors within the bank. Of the approximately 300 fee agreements for foreign exchange trades reviewed internally by Wells Fargo, only about 35 firms were billed the price they had been quoted, the employees told the Journal.

Wells Fargo charged one of the highest trading fees — at least two to eight times higher than industry standards, according to the bank’s employees and others in the sector, the Journal reported. The latest case shares important similarities to Wells Fargo’s ongoing sales scandal: Under a highly unusual policy, employees’ bonuses were tied to how much revenue they brought in, the report said. The practice reportedly led retail employees to open as many as 3.5 million fake accounts, in a controversy first brought to light last year.

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I kid you not: this article is ‘supported by the Rockefeller Foundation”.

Sao Paulo’s Homeless Seize The City (G.)

On the wall of an abandoned and occupied hotel in central Sao Paulo is a mural of a fiercely feral creature – part cat, part rat, part alien – that bears a red revolutionary banner with a single word: Resistencia! The surrounding courtyard is daubed with slogans of defiance – “10 years of struggle!”, “Whoever doesn’t struggle is dead” – and the initials MMLJ (the Movement of Residents Fighting for Justice). Young boys kick a ball against a wall decorated with a giant photograph of masked, armed protesters. In the surrounding blocks, 237 low-income families talk, cook, clean, watch TV, shop, practice capoeira, study literacy, sleep and go about their daily lives in Brazil’s most famous illegal squat.

This is the Maua Occupation, a trailblazer for an increasingly organised fair-housing movement that has reignited debate about whether urban development should aim at gentrification or helping the growing ranks of people forced to live on the street and in the periphery. When the Santos Dumont hotel was first taken over on the 25 March 2007, there were very few organised squats in South America’s biggest city. But recession, inequality and increasing political polarisation have turned the occupation movement into one of the most dynamic forces in the country. There are now about 80 organised squats in the city centre and its environs, including high-rise communities and centres of radical art.

The periphery is home to many more, such as the giant “Povos Sem Medo” (People Without Fear) cluster of 8,000 tents in the Sao Bernardo do Campo district. The burst of energy and activism has been compared to the key transitional periods for other major cities in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. “We are now seeing a boom of squatting in Sao Paulo that is like those once seen in New York, Berlin and Barcelona,” said Raquel Rolnik, a former UN Special Rapporteur and architect who has worked in the housing sector for more than three decades. “What is happening here is not unique but it is happening on a very wide scale.”

Read more …

May 252016
 
 May 25, 2016  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York 1907

There’ve been a bunch of issues and topics on my -temporarily non-writing- mind, and politics, though as I’ve often said it’s not my preferred focus, keeps on slipping in. That’s not because I’ve gotten more interested in ‘the game’, but because the game itself is changing in unrecognizable fashion, and that is intricately linked to subjects I find more appealing.

For instance, in the past few days, I’ve read Matt Taibbi’s epos on the demise of America’s Republican Party in R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party, and Shaun King on a similar demise of the Democrats in Why I’m Leaving the Democratic Party After This Presidential Election and You Should Too, and both make a lot of sense.

But I think both also miss out on the main reason why these ‘demises’ are happening. In my view, it’s not enough, not satisfactory, to talk about disgruntled voters and corrupt politicians and the antics of Donaldo, and leave it at that. There is something bigger, much bigger, going on that drives these events.

But that I will explain in a later article (soon!). Right now, I want to address another piece of the same pie (though it’s perhaps not obvious that it is): the Brexit ‘discussion’ in Europe. A May 11 piece by ex-World Banker Peter Koenig provides as good a starting point as any:

The Collapse of the European Union: Return to National Sovereignty and to Happy Europeans?

Imagine – the EU were to collapse tomorrow – or any day soon for that matter. Europeans would dance in the streets. The EU has become a sheer pothole of fear and terror: Economic sanctions – punishment, mounting militarization, the abolition of civil rights for most Europeans. A group of unelected technocrats, representing 28 countries, many of them unfit to serve in their own countries’ political system, but connected well enough to get a plum job in Brussels – are deciding the future of Europe. In small groups and often in secret chambers they decide the future of Europe.

Koenig makes much work of connecting what’s bad about the EU, to the TTiP and TiSA trade deal negotiations. And though the TTiP deal has lately come under rapidly increasing fire in Europe, that is a relevant point. Koenig also, perhaps more importantly, concludes that the EU has no future.

If the TTIP is ratified despite all logic, and if subsequently the EU fell apart – each country would still be held accountable to the terms of the agreement. Hence, time for an EU collapse before signing of the TTIP and TiSA is of the essence. This radical solution may be too much even for staunch EU / Euro opponents. Many of them still seek, hope and dream of a reformed EU. They still live under the illusion that ‘things’ could be worked out. Believe me – they cannot.

The Machiavellian US-invented venture called EU with the equally US-invented common currency – the Eurozone – has run its course. It is about to ram the proverbial iceberg. The EU-Euro vessel is too heavy to veer away from disaster. Europe is better off taking time to regroup; each nation with the objective of regaining political and economic sovereignty – and perhaps with an eye a couple of generations down the road envisaging a new United Europe of sovereign federal states, independent, totally delinked from the diabolical games of the western Anglo-American empire.

That last bit is- or should be- highly relevant to the Brexit discussion that’s ongoing in Britain, working up to an undoubtedly grotesquely clownesque climax on June 23, the day some 40 million by then supremely confused Britons get to vote. Koenig’s last words also contradict the goals and aspirations of Yanis Varoufakis’ new initiative DiEM25, which seeks to democratize the EU from the inside out.

Now, I appreciate Yanis quite a bit, and certainly much more than most Greeks seem to do these days, but ever since DiEM25 announced itself I haven’t been able to keep from thinking: have you looked at the EU lately, like, really looked? I get the idea, obviously, but why would you, to use a convenient metaphor, want to go through the trouble of renovating a building that’s been structurally condemned for good reasons, instead of tearing it down and build a new one?

The only reason I can think of is that DiEM25 thinks the building is still salvageable. Question then: is it? And that’s a question Britain should ask itself too in the run-up to June 23. If you vote yes, what exactly are you voting to belong to, what -sort of- edifice are you electing to continue living in? A delapidated structure bound and waiting to be torn down? If so, why would you do that, and what would be the consequences?

And what about the alternative, what if you voted to leave the building? It’s not as if the present EU is the only way for European countries to work together. There are a zillion others, and arguably some of those might actually do what the EU portends to do but is failing miserably at: that is, prevent violence from breaking out. The narrative of Brussels as a grand peacemaker sounds less credible by the minute.

It is perhaps open to personal interpretation, but when I look at what the EU has done, and is still doing to Greece, the country I’m visiting again trying to relieve some of the pain inflicted on it by the EU, and I look at how the refugee issue has been handled by ‘Brussels the peacemaker’s actions and inactions, causing thousands of deaths and infinitely more misery, you’d have to be a darn great orator to make me support the what I have come to call Unholy Union.

What Greece shows is that there is no Union, other than in times of plenty. What Aylan Kurdi and the sorrowful litany of other drowned toddlers of the Aegean show is that there are no moral values inside the -leadership of the- Union. One drowned child can be an accident. Hundreds of them constitute criminal moral deficiency.

Of course you can argue that since Britain’s handling of the refugee crisis is just as obscene as the rest of Europe’s, this is not in and of itself a reason to vote Leave, but it’s no ground to vote Remain either. If anything, it’s a reason to indict politicians across the European board. Their behavior contrasts sharply with that of many of their constituents, as countless stories testify and as I’ve seen in such sparkling bright light here in Athens.

But we can take this back a few steps. I was surprised to see PM David Cameron appear as the big voice for “Remain”, for the UK to stay within the EU. Cameron was never exactly a fan of the Union. And as the Daily Mail observes, just 6 months ago Mr Cameron “declared there was ‘no question’ that Britain could survive and do well outside the EU.”

But then, he’s a man who’ll happily blow along with whatever wind is prevalent. I was even more surprised to see Boris Johnson try to take the lead of the “Leave” side, because Boris, a weather vane as much as Cameron, had always belonged to the same side as the latter on everything, and now suddenly differs on Remain or Leave. A shrewd career gamble?

The British Conservative Party has managed to corner the entire debate, both yes and no, between them. I mean, kudos and well done old boys, but what a farce that is. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn sides with Cameron’s Remain side, without wanting to, but has failed utterly to make sure he has a realistic part in the discussion. Exit Jeremy. Where was their spin team when Corbyn fell into that hole?

Of course, there’s Nigel Farage and UKIP, but Nigel will forever be a fringe character. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way; the British Lower House is not that fine of a place to sit in on a daily basis. Whenever I see footage of it I can’t help thinking AA meeting for masochists.

Farage’s main contribution to the discussion will forever be the countless YouTube clips in which he very succinctly explains how dysfunctional the European Parliament he is (was?) a member of, is, to the very same parliamentarians. Maybe more Brits should watch those and think again about what their vote is about.

An apt comparison would seem to lean towards a Tower of Babel much bigger than the original one, and in which between mountains of paper not a single scrap can be found that pertains to the prevention of poverty, misery and the drowning deaths of 4- and 5-year olds. Or at least such, most basic, principles are nowhere near the top of any lists.

Inside the pretend Union, it is obvious that the people of Germany, Holland, France find their own children’s lives more valuable than those of other children. And their futures too; half of Spanish and Greek youngsters are out of work and out of a future. And Brits are asked to vote to keep that demonic apparatus intact and join the oppressors.

Framing it in those terms also tells you something about the DiEM25 question: is it worth one’s while to try and democratize the EU from within? Given how entrenched the predators vs prey positions have become, and how unlikely the predators are to defend their advantages tooth and nail, and how their ‘chosen’ people have taken over Brussels, does that look like a project to put a lot of energy in?

The Euro is just 15 years old, but the EU goes back many decades. Strategic positions have long been taken in trenches that have long been dug. Is that the fight you want to fight? There’ll always be a Europe, but there’s nothing inevitable or incontrovertible about the EU, or about Brussels being its capital. All it takes is perhaps for one country to say “Thanks, but no, thanks.” The EU for all its bluster is very vulnerable.

So there’s your voting options. But it should be clear that the Brexit vote is headlined by the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons, and with all the wrong arguments. It can’t be exclusively about money, but it is. And if the Unholy Union falls apart sometime further down the line regardless, a vote for Remain on purely financial grounds will take on a whole different light: wasted energy, wasted money, wasted morals.

Besides, nobody knows what the -financial- effects of a Brexit will be, and any claims that are made to the contrary are just guesses based on whatever political -career- preferences the person or institution making them has. ‘Things’ ‘could’ crash on Trump victories and they could crash on Brexit, but any numbers attached to these potential events are 100% made up. It’s hilarious to see Treasurer George Osborne declare with a straight face that a Brexit would cause UK home prices to fall by 18%, but that’s all it is.

First question is: you sure it’s not 18.5%? What genius advisor came up with that number? Or did they have a committee of wise men in a week-long cigar-fueled brainstorming session that split their differences? Second question: do you guys realize that falling home prices are exactly what at least half of Britain is looking for? That distorting your real estate market to the extent that nobody can afford a home anymore is a dead-end street that kills cities and communities and people in the process?

I should stop here right? I can write a book about this, not because Brexit is such a huge subject (just see if anyone in Europe cares), but because the EU is such a yuuge disaster, and there will be many more opportunities to return to the topic. I have tons more little notes scribbled down, and a flood more crazy claims and comments will be made by various parties in the ‘fight’. Just wanted to say that this whole ‘debate’ -if you can call it that- has so far been very different from what it should have been.

Why would you want to belong to a team like the EU? I know that Cameron does, and so does Corbyn, but none of that is reason you should too. Nor should you want to ‘Leave’ because Boris Johnson wants to. You need to look out over the whole landscape. But that’s just me.

Apr 072016
 
 April 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox “The new Hudson” 1948

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)
Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)
How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)
China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)
China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)
Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)
David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)
Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)
How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)
London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)
US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)
US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)
Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)
Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)
Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)
Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)
Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

Ambrose sees inflation?!

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)

Be very careful. The US economic expansion is long in the tooth and starting to hit the time-honoured constraints that mark the last phase of the business cycle. Wall Street equities are more stretched by a host of measures than they were at the peak of sub-prime bubble just before the Lehman crisis. All it will take to bring the S&P 500 index back to earth is a catalyst, and that is exactly what is coming into view on the macro-economic horizon. This does not mean we are on the cusp of recession or racing headlong towards some imminent reckoning, but we are probably in the final innings of this epic asset boom. Didier Saint-Georges, from fund manager Carmignac, says the “massive and indiscriminate equity market rally” since February’s panic-lows is a false dawn driven by short-covering, telling us little about the world’s deformed economic, financial, and political landscape.

Corporate earnings peaked at $1.845 trillion (£1.3 trillion) in the second quarter of 2015, and recessions typically start five to seven quarters after the peak. “We will not be dancing on the volcano like so many others,” said Saint-Georges. If we are lucky it will be a slow denouement with a choppy sideways market going nowhere for another year as the US labour market tightens, and workers at last start to claw back a greater share of the economic pie. The owners of capital have had it their way for much of the post-Lehman era, exorbitant beneficiaries of central bank largesse. Now they may have to give a little back to society. Yet this welcome “rotation” spells financial trouble. Strategists Mislav Matejka and Emmanuel Cau, from JP Morgan, have told clients to prepare for the end of the seven-year bull run, advising them to trim equities gradually and build up a safety buffer in cash.

“This is not the stage of the US cycle when one should be buying stocks with a six to 12-month horizon. We recommend using any strength as a selling opportunity,” they said. Their recent 165-page report on the subject is a sobering read. The price-to-sales ratio (P/S) of US stocks is higher than any time in the sub-prime boom. Share buy-backs are at an historic high in relation to earnings (EBIT). Net debt-to-equity ratios have blown through their historical range. This is happening despite two quarters of tighter lending by US banks. Spreads on high-yield debt have doubled since 2014, jumping by 300 basis points even after stripping out the energy bust. The list goes on; the message is clear. “One should be cutting equity weight before the weakness becomes obvious,” they said.

Read more …

Hillary equals more of the same. The same disaster.

Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)

There aren’t a lot of certainties left in the US presidential race, but here’s one thing about which we can be absolutely sure: The Clinton camp really doesn’t like talking about fossil-fuel money. Last week, when a young Greenpeace campaigner challenged Hillary Clinton about taking money from fossil-fuel companies, the candidate accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of “lying” and declared herself “so sick” of it. As the exchange went viral, a succession of high-powered Clinton supporters pronounced that there was nothing to see here and that everyone should move along. The very suggestion that taking this money could impact Clinton’s actions is “baseless and should stop,” according to California Senator Barbara Boxer. It’s “flat-out false,” “inappropriate,” and doesn’t “hold water,” declared New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to issue “guidelines for good and bad behavior” for the Sanders camp. The first guideline? Cut out the “innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt.” That’s a whole lot of firepower to slap down a non-issue. So is it an issue or not? First, some facts. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including her Super PAC, has received a lot of money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There’s the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists. One of Clinton’s most active financial backers is Warren Buffett, who is up to his eyeballs in coal. But that’s not all. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton’s most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett.

While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. Then there’s all the cash that fossil-fuel companies have directly pumped into the Clinton Foundation. In recent years, Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have all contributed to the foundation. An investigation in the International Business Times just revealed that at least two of these oil companies were part of an effort to lobby Clinton’s State Department about the Alberta tar sands, a massive deposit of extra-dirty oil. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have explained that if we don’t keep the vast majority of that carbon in the ground, we will unleash catastrophic levels of warming.

During this period, the investigation found, Clinton’s State Department approved the Alberta Clipper, a controversial pipeline carrying large amounts of tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin. “According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT,” write David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff, “Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of ‘oil sands’ in the immediate months prior to the department’s approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil.”

Read more …

“All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem.”

How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)

For months now, China’s regulators have been warning about the dangers of rapidly expanding credit and the need to deleverage. With new plans to clean up bad loans at the country’s banks, you might conclude that the government is getting serious about the risks it faces. But there’s reason to doubt the effectiveness of China’s approach. In fact, it’s running a serious risk of making its debt problems worse. After the financial crisis, China embarked on a credit binge of historical proportions. In 2009, new loans grew by 95%. The government offered cheap credit to build apartments for urban migrants, airports for the newly affluent and roads to accommodate a fleet of new cars. Yet as lending grew at twice the rate of GDP, problems started bubbling up. Companies gained billion-dollar valuations, then collapsed when they couldn’t profit.

Enormous surplus capacity drove down prices. Excessive real-estate lending led to the construction of “ghost cities.” Asset bubbles popped and bad loans mounted. China’s policy makers say they recognize these problems. The government’s most recent 5-year plan, released in December, notes the need for deleveraging. The PBOC has talked up the party line about slowing credit growth and making high-quality loans. Yet officials still say that only about 1.6% of commercial-banking loans are nonperforming. Some analysts put the real figure closer to 20%. And Beijing’s primary plan to address the problem – allowing companies to swap their debt with banks in exchange for equity – actually creates new risks. For one thing, while a debt-for-equity swap may help excessively indebted firms, it will wreak havoc with banks.

Directly, a given bank will no longer receive the cash flow from interest and principal payments. Indirectly, it won’t be able to sell equity to the PBOC or to other banks as it could with a loan. Valuing the equity could present a bigger problem. In China, banks must count 100% of loans made to non-financial companies against their reserve requirements. When they invest in equity, however, they must set aside 400% of the value of the investment. If the debt isn’t worth face value to the bank, it seems unlikely that the equity is worth far more – suggesting that large write-downs will be required. The swaps program also creates a number of big-picture problems. Consider the tight relationship between banks and large government-linked companies.

If banks were under pressure to roll over loans when they were creditors hoping to get repaid, what will their incentive be when they own the firm and have essentially unlimited lending capacity? Another problem is that Chinese industry exists in a deflationary debt spiral: Prices have been falling for years, raising the real cost of repaying loans. If companies are relieved of their debt, they’ll have an incentive to reduce prices to gain market share, thus worsening one of the primary causes of the current malaise. All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem. Debt-for-equity swaps and loan rollovers simply aren’t long-term solutions for ailing companies on the scale China faces.

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All that monopoly money behaves like liquid gas.

China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)

Cash is pouring into Hong Kong stocks from across the mainland border. Chinese investors have been net buyers of the city’s shares for 104 consecutive trading days, sinking 43.8 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) into equities from October through Tuesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg tracking investments via the exchange link with Shanghai. Mainland traders have now put more money into Hong Kong than global asset managers have invested in Shanghai, a reversal of flows in the link’s first year, the data show. As concern persists about a further slide in the yuan, Chinese investors are piling into cheaper shares across the border that have lagged behind mainland counterparts for years.

While the flows are small relative to estimates of the record capital flight from China in 2015, they’re another sign of what’s at stake for policy makers seeking to stabilize the currency and stem outflows by providing credible investment options at home. “In China, there is talk of an asset drought – people don’t find domestic assets particularly attractive,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan. “They are investing overseas in any way possible including via the southbound stock connect.” Buying mainland Chinese stocks has been a losing proposition this year, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down 14%. Other investment alternatives such as property are coming under scrutiny as authorities impose fresh curbs after home prices jumped in the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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What’s next? Compete with OPEC?

China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)

China may be about to shock the global copper market by unleashing some of its stockpiles of the metal, which are near record highs, onto the global market. Four traders of copper, including two from state-owned Chinese smelters, said they expect China to raise its copper exports – which are usually tiny – in the next few months. China’s refined copper exports averaged less than 10,000 tonnes a month in the first two months of 2016, and around 17,000 a month in 2015. If higher exports materialize, they will be a major jolt to producers and investors in the metal across the world – in particular because it would come during what is traditionally the strongest period of demand for copper from China, the world’s largest consumer of the metal. It will also be a further sign that the Chinese economy is still struggling against headwinds. Some sectors that buy copper – such as construction and manufacturing – have been hit especially hard in the past couple of years.

Traders and analysts in China say slowing building construction and electronics manufacturing has stifled demand for refined copper from the nation’s massive smelting sector at a time when the country is already swimming in the metal. China’s copper consumption has been a crucial measure of the country’s economic growth as the metal forms the essential network of its infrastructure, carrying water, conducting electricity and comprising the circuits in its machines. “The situation for copper smelters in China is probably the worst it has been in 20 years. But they won’t admit it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least (if they start exporting),” said a source at an Asian copper producer, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Increasing Chinese exports would mark an abrupt turnaround in global copper trade flows as China’s refined copper imports hit a record in 2015.

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Looking at China, it’s hard not to think of 1789, Robespierre, Marie-Antoinette, Bastille. Napoleon next?

Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)

The eight members of China’s Communist party elite whose family members used offshore companies are revealed in the Panama Papers. The documents show the granddaughter of a powerful Chinese leader became the sole shareholder in two British Virgin Islands companies while still a teenager. Jasmine Li had just begun studying at Stanford University in the US when the companies were registered in her name in December 2010. Her grandfather Jia Qinglin was at that time the fourth-ranked politician in China. Other prominent figures who have taken advantage of offshore companies include the brother-in-law of the president, Xi Jinping, and the son-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, another member of China’s top political body, the politburo standing committee.

They are part of the “red nobility”, whose influence extends well beyond politics. Others include the daughter of Li Peng, who oversaw the brutal retaliation against Tiananmen Square protestors; and Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, the ex-politburo member jailed for life for corruption and power abuses. The relatives had companies that were clients of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. There is nothing in the documents to suggest that the politicians in question had any beneficial interest in the companies connected to their family members. Since Monday, China’s censors have been blocking access to the unfolding revelations about its most senior political families. There are now reports of censors deleting hundreds of posts on the social networks Sina Weibo and Wechat, and some media organisations including CNN say parts of their websites have been blocked.

The disclosures come amid Xi Jinping’s crackdown on behaviour that could embarrass the Communist party. Two more well-connected figures – the brother of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong and the son of former politburo member Tian Jiyun – are directors of a single offshore company. They have previously been linked in a court case that highlighted how some Chinese “princelings” have used political connections for financial gain. They have emerged from the internal data of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. [..] China and Hong Kong were Mossack Fonseca’s biggest sources of business, with clients from these jurisdictions linked to a total of 40,000 companies past and present. About a quarter of these are thought to be live: in 2015, records show the firm was collecting fees for nearly 10,000 companies linked to Hong Kong and China. The Mossack Fonseca franchise now has offices in eight Chinese cities, according to its website

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How much pressure will he get?

David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)

David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to weaken an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts, creating a possible loophole that other European nations warned could be exploited by tax evaders. The disclosure of the prime minister’s resistance to opening up trusts to full scrutiny comes as he faces intense pressure to make clear whether his family stands to benefit from offshore assets linked to his late father. Although Mr Cameron championed corporate tax transparency, he wrote in November 2013 to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council at the time, to argue that trusts widely used for inheritance planning in Britain should win special treatment in an EU law to tackle money laundering.

In the letter, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Cameron said: “It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts. This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies, such as central public registries, may well not be appropriate generally.” Britain has emerged as the strongest European rival to Switzerland for private banking and wealth management, administering £1.2tn of assets, according to Deloitte. The sector contributed £3.2bn to the economy, according to 2014 estimates from the British Bankers’ Association. A senior government source said that Mr Cameron’s letter reflected official advice that creating a central registry for trusts would have been complex and would have distracted from the main objective of shining a light on the ownership of shell companies.

“It would have slowed down the process because of the different types of trust involved,” the official said. “They are sometimes used to protect vulnerable people, so that would have been an extra complication. “As the directive went through we reached a position where trusts which generate tax consequences had to demonstrate their ownership to HM Revenue & Customs.” According to officials, the UK stance in 2013 prompted clashes with France and Austria as well as with members of the European Parliament, who accused Britain of double standards in the fight against tax avoidance. Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister at the time, had attacked Britain earlier that year as “the island of the blessed for tax evasion and money laundering”. She cited trusts as a specific problem.

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“London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world..”

Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)

As-well as shining a spotlight on the secret financial arrangements of the rich and powerful, the so-called Panama Papers have laid bare London’s role as a vital organ of the world’s tax-haven network. The files leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca exposed Britain’s link to thousands of firms based in tax havens and how secret money is invested in British assets, particularly London property. Critics accuse British authorities of turning a blind eye to the inflow of suspect money and of being too close to the financial sector to clamp down on the use of its overseas territories as havens, with the British Virgin Islands alone hosting 110,000 of the Mossack Fonseca’s clients. “London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world,” Nicholas Shaxson, author of the book “Treasure Islands”, which examines the role of offshore banks and tax havens, told AFP.

The political analyst said that Britain itself was relatively transparent and clean, but that companies used the country’s territories abroad – relics of the days of empire – to “farm out the seedier stuff”, often under the guise of shell companies with anonymous owners. “Tax evasion and stuff like that will be done in the external parts of the network. Usually there will be links to the City of London, UK law firms, UK accountancy firms and to UK banks,” he said, calling London the centre of a “spider’s web”. “They’re all agents of the City of London – that is where the whole exercise is controlled from,” Richard Murphy, professor at London’s City University, said of the offshore havens. The files showed that Britain had the third highest number of Mossack Fonseca’s middlemen operating within its borders, with 32,682 advisers.

Although not illegal in themselves, shell companies can be used for illegal activities such as laundering the proceeds of criminal activities or to conceal misappropriated or politically-inconvenient wealth. Around 310,000 tax haven companies own an estimated £170 billion (210 billion euros, $240 billion) of British real estate, 10% of which were linked to Mossack Fonseca. The files appeared to show that the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan owned London properties worth more than £1.2 billion and that Mariam Safdar, daughter of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was the beneficial owner of two offshore companies that owned flats on the exclusive Park Lane.

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“..the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”

How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)

For three-quarters of Londoners under 35, owning a home in the capital remains out of reach. But according to the leaked Panama Papers, buying property in London presented little problem for associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president; for a convicted embezzler who is also the son of a former Egyptian president; or for a Nigerian senator facing corruption charges. The leaks from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have brought back into focus the ownership of London property via offshore companies by people suspected of corruption overseas — a phenomenon that has helped to shape the capital’s housing market, where prices are up 50% since 2007. “We think it very likely that the influx of corrupt money into the housing market has pushed up prices,” said Rachel Davies, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International.

Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has gone further, saying last year that “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”. Since 2004 £180m of UK property has been subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption, according to Transparency International data from 2015. Yet this probably represented “only a small proportion of the total”, added the campaign group. Most of these properties were bought using anonymous shell companies based in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. Overseas companies own 100,000 properties in England and Wales, Land Registry data show. Owning property through a company can present tax advantages but, depending where that company is based, it can also offer anonymity.

According to Transparency International figures, almost one in 10 properties in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea is owned through a “secrecy jurisdiction” such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man. “UK property can be acquired anonymously, anti-money-laundering checks can be bypassed with relative ease, and if you invest in luxury property in London you know your investment is safe. All that comes from the flaws in the UK anti-money-laundering system,” said Ms Davies. According to the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Soulieman Marouf, an al-Assad associate whose assets in Europe were frozen for two years from 2012, holds luxury flats in London worth almost £6m through British Virgin Islands companies.

The family of a deceased former Syrian intelligence chief owns a £1.2m Battersea home, the Guardian reported. The documents also link Alaa Mubarak — a son of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president — who was jailed and released last year for corruption, to an £8m Knightsbridge property. Bukola Saraki, the president of the Nigerian senate who faces charges in his home country of failing to declare assets, owns a Belgravia property, while a second is held by companies in which his wife and former special assistant are shareholders. Mr Saraki denies any wrongdoing and says he declared his assets in accordance with the law.

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This bubble too will burst.

London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)

Developers in central London are offering institutional investors discounts of as much as 20% on bulk purchases of luxury apartments as demand from international buyers slumps amid higher taxes and low commodity prices. Concessions of about that magnitude are being offered to investors willing to take 100 homes or more, according to Killian Hurley, chief executive officer of London developer Mount Anvil. Broker CBRE is negotiating discounts of as much as 15% for bulk purchases on the fringes of the capital’s best districts, said Chris Lacey, head of U.K. residential investment. A record number of high-end homes are planned in London districts such as Nine Elms and Earls Court even as demand wanes.

Sales of properties under construction in the U.K. capital slumped 19% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to researcher Molior, while the percentage of overseas buyers fell to 20% from about 33% a year earlier, broker Hamptons International data show. “We will see distress in prime central London and in Nine Elms, where there has been a lot of international investment,” Andrew Stanford at LaSalle Investment said in an interview. “There have been a number of house builders who have approached us directly with schemes as a direct result of off-plan sales falling, particularly in central London.” Bulk buyers may be hard to find because the apartments being built aren’t designed for the rental market, lacking features such as equal-size bedrooms, said Stanford, whose company has invested more than $457 million in U.K. multifamily housing on behalf of clients.

Many developers traveled to Asia to sell homes in advance of construction and secure cheaper development loans because the down payments made projects less risky. The imposition of higher purchase taxes has now reduced the appeal of the costliest properties, leaving developers wondering how they will secure funding, said Dominic Grace, head of London residential development at broker Savills. “It is a question everyone is asking, and the truth is no one really knows,” Grace said.

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Sure..

US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury Department intends to soon issue a long-delayed rule forcing banks to seek the identities of people behind shell-company account holders, after the “Panama Papers” leak provoked a global uproar over the hiding of wealth via offshore banking devices. A department spokesman said on Wednesday the rule would “soon” be turned over to the White House for review and issuance, but did not confirm any timetable for the initiative, which has taken years. Governments around the globe have launched probes into possible financial wrongdoing after 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, nicknamed the “Panama Papers,” were leaked to the media and reports emerged Sunday. Mossack Fonseca has said it was the victim of a computer hack, and that it has consistently acted appropriately.

The papers offer “validation for those who have been screaming for a decade” about the need for financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere to address risks of money laundering, terror finance and other crime by identifying people who clandestinely control legal entities, former Treasury official Chip Poncy told Reuters. The leaked documents may give banks a glimpse into the kind of information on true, or “beneficial” owners, that they regularly should be obtaining to better understand the cross-border money flows they facilitate, said Poncy, one of the architects of the Treasury rule, which has been in the works since 2012.

But simply having a client who is linked to the offshore shell companies highlighted in the Panama papers “doesn’t necessarily mean much,” said a former FinCEN official who asked not to be named due to his role in the private sector. What would be significant is “inconsistent information or payment flows that now connect” in ways that suggest possible illicit activity, he said.

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“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media..”

US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)

Washington is behind the recently released offshore revelations known as the Panama Papers, WikiLeaks has claimed, saying that the attack was “produced” to target Russia and President Putin. On Wednesday, the international whistleblowing organization said on Twitter that the Panama Papers data leak was produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “which targets Russia and [the] former USSR.” The “Putin attack” was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and American hedge fund billionaire George Soros, WikiLeaks added, saying that the US government’s funding of such an attack is a serious blow to its integrity. Organizations belonging to Soros have been proclaimed to be “undesirable” in Russia.

Last year, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recognized Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation as undesirable groups, banning Russian citizens and organizations from participation in any of their projects. Prosecutors then said the activities of the institute and its assistance foundation were a threat to the basis of Russia’s constitutional order and national security. Earlier this year, the billionaire US investor alleged that Putin is “no ally” to US and EU leaders, and that he aims “to gain considerable economic benefits from dividing Europe.” “The American government is pursuing a policy of destabilization all over the world, and this [leak] also serves this purpose of destabilization. They are causing a lot of people all over the world and also a lot of money to find its way into the [new] tax havens in America. The US is preparing for a super big financial crisis, and they want all that money in their own vaults and not in the vaults of other countries,” German journalist and author Ernst Wolff told RT.

Earlier this week, the head of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked on the Panama Papers, said that Putin is not the target of the leak, but rather that the revelations aimed to shed light on murky offshore practices internationally. “It wasn’t a story about Russia. It was a story about the offshore world,” ICIJ head Gerard Ryle told TASS. His statement came in stark contrast to international media coverage of the “largest leak in offshore history.” Although neither Vladimir Putin nor any members of his family are directly mentioned in the papers, many mainstream media outlets chose the Russian president’s photo when breaking the story.

“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media,” former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT. “This would be humorous if it weren’t so serious,” he added. “The degree of Putinophobia has reached a point where to speak well about Russia, or about some of its actions and successes, is impossible. One needs to speak [about Russia] in negative terms, the more the better, and when there’s nothing to say, you need to make things up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, commenting on anti-Russian sentiment triggered by the publications. WikiLeaks spokesman and Icelandic investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the leaked data to be put online so that everybody could search through the papers. He said withholding of the documents could hardly be viewed as “responsible journalism.”

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Almost funny.

Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)

Whose scalp will the Panama Papers scandal claim next? Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has opened betting lines on which head of state could be the next to go. “Who needs the Grand National when you’ve got the Panama Papers to punt on?” the betting line boasted in a press release on Wednesday. Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, announced yesterday he was stepping down after Panama Papers revelations that he and his wife sought to hide their claims on Icelandic banks that were bailed out by his administration during the financial crisis. Paddy Power puts the odds of British Prime Minister David Cameron resigning next at 20-1. The leaked documents outed Cameron’s father Ian Cameron as a client of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, at the center of the scandal.

Cameron’s father used a secret but legal offshore structure to set up a fund for investors. After saying all day Monday that his tax affairs were a “private matter”, media questions about his family’s remaining interest in the fund forced Cameron’s office, according to BBC reports, to issue a statement affirming that his family “[does] not benefit from any offshore trusts.” A surer bet according to the bookmaker is Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at 8-1 odds. Macri won last year’s general election campaigning on a platform promising to fight corruption but the leaked documents say he was a director of Fleg Trading Ltd, founded in 1998 by his father Franco Macri, one of the richest men in Argentina. The company was dissolved in January 2009. “It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn’t completed, and where I was director,” he said in a television interview with a local program.

A Paddy Power spokesman told MarketWatch that to pay off, the leader has to leave “after being implicated specifically in the Panama Papers.” There have already been a few bets made that Macri and Cameron are next, he said. Paddy Power also has laid odds that the President of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif will leave at 10-to-1 and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko almost as good at 12-1. Sharif is mentioned in the leak as the result of a £7 million loan from Deutsche Bank backed up by four London apartments owned by offshore companies established by Mossack Fonseca. Poroshenko – nicknamed the ‘chocolate king’ – hid his ongoing interest in his candy company, Roshen, in a blind trust offshore when he became president in 2014. He had promised to sell it after being elected. Longshots to leave include President Xi Jinping of China, Russia’s Putin and France’s Francois Hollande, all set at 33-1.

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Coming closer.

Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)

If Britain decides to leave the EU, a corner of the credit market may depart with it and European banks could be left having to replace as much as €108 billion ($123 billion) of securities. Lenders from the EU that bought bonds backed by U.K. mortgages, bank loans and credit-card debt may find themselves caught up in the fallout of a “Brexit” because the debt might no longer count toward their emergency cash reserves. While a settlement with the bloc would take years to reach, lawyers and analysts are beginning to flag concerns about holdings of the asset-backed securities, a market that’s already been hammered since the financial crisis.

“Banks could find themselves having a liquidity issue if these assets no longer count,” said Vincent Keaveny at law firm DLA Piper, who specializes in structured credit. “There are big risks out there, but there aren’t any easy fixes.” Under the Basel Accords, a set of agreements by global regulators, banks must meet minimum standards meant to make them more resilient to shocks after the financial crisis highlighted their weaknesses. One standard, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, requires banks maintain an adequate amount of high-quality assets that can be quickly converted to cash to meet liquidity needs for 30 days.

Certain securitized notes are counted, but their underlying assets must originate from a member state, according to the European Commission’s Delegated Act for the standard. That means some bonds backed by collateral from a newly go-it-alone Britain may be excluded. “‘Brexit’ could result in certain U.K. ABS no longer qualifying as eligible assets for current LCR purposes,” Angela Clist and Nicole Rhodes, London-based lawyers specializing in securitization at Allen & Overy LLP, wrote in a note to clients in February.

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“When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty proudly declares: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” To which Alice replies: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty could have been an economist. The modern economics profession made a collective decision, long ago, to develop a system of jargon in which words have multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. Unfortunately, the general public’s reaction tends to be similar to that of poor Alice. Want some examples? There’s no shortage. Let’s take the word “investment.” Most people think this means buying some financial assets, such as stocks or bonds. That’s basically a form of lending – you give someone money today, and you hope they’ll give you back more money tomorrow.

Economists call that “financial investment,” but the kind of investment they usually talk about is business investment, meaning a company’s purchase of capital goods. Since companies use debt to buy capital goods (or use their own cash, which is essentially the same thing), this kind of “investment” is actually a type of borrowing. So economists use the same word to mean both borrowing and lending! That couldn’t possibly result in any confusion, right? Two similar examples are “capital” and “equity.” “Equity” can mean stock – partial ownership of a company – or it can refer to “shareholders’ equity,” which is a measure of the value of a business. “Capital” in econ can mean financial capital, i.e. money in the bank. More commonly, it refers to capital goods – productive stuff such as buildings or machines that help you create more stuff.

Though economists usually use the term in the second way, many people outside the profession refer to financial capital as “economic capital.” Confused yet? We’re just getting started. Everyone knows that economists love models where rational agents interact in an efficient market that reaches equilibrium, right? Except that almost every word in that sentence is complete nonsense, thanks to econ’s Humpty Dumpty-like tendency to redefine words without telling anyone. So how about “equilibrium”? The word used to refer to a situation where prices adjust in order to clear markets, so that supply matches demand. Later, game theorists came up with “Nash equilibrium,” named after mathematician John Nash, which refers to a situation where everyone is responding optimally to everyone else in a strategic situation. Other concepts proliferated, and so by now the word has lost all meaning entirely. When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

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Will the EU survive?

Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it could not ignore the resounding “No” in a non-binding referendum on the EU’s association treaty with Ukraine, but that it may take weeks to decide how to respond. Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels – signalling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership. There could also be far-reaching consequences for the fragile Dutch coalition government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which has lost popularity amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Exit polls indicated roughly 64% of Dutch voters voted “No” and 36% said “Yes”. Although turnout was too close to call, early tallies indicated it was just ahead of a turnout minimum of 30% required for the vote to be valid.

“It’s clear that ‘No’ have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised reaction. “If the turnout is above 30% with such a large margin of victory for the ‘No’ camp, then my sense is that ratification can’t simply go ahead,” Rutte added. That sentiment was shared by Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party, the junior partner the governing coalition. “We can’t ratify the treaty in this fashion,” he said. A person familiar with internal EU discussions on how leaders in Brussels would respond said EU officials had been hoping for very low turnout that would disqualify or diminish the impact of a “No” vote. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, will play for time, waiting for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward, the official said. The political, trade and defence treaty is already provisionally in place, but has to be ratified by all 28 EU member countries for every part of it to have full legal force. The Netherlands is the only country that has not done so.

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Monday there was a lot of media and brouhaha, and then they have a 17-day hiatus? EU-Assclowns.

Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

A last-minute flurry of asylum applications by migrants desperate to avoid expulsion from Greece to Turkey will likely cause a two-week “lag” in an EU deportation plan slammed by rights groups, a Greek official said Wednesday. Nikos Xydakis, junior foreign minister for European affairs, indicated there would likely be few migrants sent back to Turkey over the next two weeks, following the first deportation of around 200 people on Monday. “We knew there would be a lag, an intermediate period before the program takes off, of at least two weeks to get through the first batch of (asylum) applications,” Xydakis told reporters. He nevertheless said the next set of expulsions would likely take place “from Friday onwards”, without going into further detail.

Athens stressed that the people shipped back to Turkey on Monday were migrants who had not claimed asylum. But the UN’s refugee agency has expressed concern that 13 of them, mostly Afghans, had expressed a wish to claim asylum but were not registered in time. Xydakis said some two dozen EU legal experts had arrived so far to assist the asylum process, compared to hundreds of security agents from EU border agency Frontex. “This is the weakness of the whole procedure. It is easier to deploy police officers than experts in refugee law, interpreters, debriefers,” he said. But he added: “They are coming.” Once the system is fully up and running, Greece has said it can process asylum claims in two weeks. “In two weeks (authorities) can get through 400 to 500 applications,” Xydakis said.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back, although the accord calls for each case to be examined individually. And for every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with numbers capped at 72,000. “It was overestimated that in five days everything would begin, it was crazy. We told them many times in Brussels, we knew,” Xydakis said. “Things must be done by the book, we cannot bundle people together, they have to be certified and checked,” the minister said. Out of around 6,000 migrants who have arrived on the islands of Chios and Lesvos after the March 20 deadline, more than 2,300 have now applied for asylum. And many others had previously complained of not having had access to the asylum procedure.

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Apr 132015
 
 April 13, 2015  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


George N. Barnard Nashville, Tennessee. Rail yard and depot. 1864

China’s March Exports Shrink 15% Year-on-Year In Shock Fall (Reuters)
China’s March Exports Come In Far Worse Than Expected (WSJ)
China’s Trade Collapse Raises Fears Of Growth Slowdown (Telegraph)
World Bank Warns Of Hit To Australia As Chinese Growth Falters (AAP)
China’s Stock Surge May Very Well End In Tears (MarketWatch)
The $9 Trillion Short That’s Seen Sending the Dollar Even Higher (Bloomberg)
Saudi Arabia’s Plan to Extend the Age of Oil (Bloomberg)
Greece May Have Blown Best Hope Of Debt Deal (Reuters)
Greece Defends Bailout Tactics As Latest Deadline Looms (Guardian)
UK Economy Poised To Welcome ‘Deflation’ For First Time Since 1960 (Guardian)
Sales Of London Luxury Homes Drop 80% In One Year (FT)
Quarter Of World’s Copper Mines Operating At A Loss (Reuters)
Bundesbank Tells German Heta Creditors To Expect 50% Loss (Bloomberg)
Sweden Confirms Mystery ‘Russian Sub’…Was In Fact A Workboat (RT)
Default In Ukraine ‘Virtual Certainty’: S&P Cuts Rating To ‘CC’ (RT)
Protests Across Brazil Seek Ouster Of President (AP)
Auckland Housing Bubble ‘Floats Off Into Its Own Orbit’ (Hickey)
40% Of Houses In Auckland Are Bought By Investors (Interest.co.nz)
New Zealand PM Denies There Is A Housing Bubble (NZ Herald)
The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World (LeBor)

15% is a devastating number. But they’re just going to announce 7% GDP growth no matter what.

China’s March Exports Shrink 15% Year-on-Year In Shock Fall (Reuters)

China’s export sales contracted 15% in March while import shipments fell at their sharpest rate since the 2009 global financial crisis, a shock outcome that deepens concern about sputtering Chinese economic growth. The tumble in exports – the worst in about a year – compared with expectations for a 12% rise and could heighten worries about how a rising yuan CNY=CFXS has hurt demand for Chinese goods and services abroad, analysts said. In a sign that domestic demand was also tepid, imports into the world’s second-biggest economy shrunk 12.7% last month from a year ago, the General Administration of Customs said on Monday. That was the biggest slump in imports since May 2009, and compared with a Reuters poll forecast for a 11.7% drop.

“It’s a very bad number that was much worse than expectations,” Louis Kuijs, an economist at RBS in Hong Kong, said in reference to the export data. “It leads to warning flags both on global demand and China’s competitiveness.” Buffeted by lukewarm foreign and domestic demand, China’s trade sector has wobbled in the past year on the back of the country’s cooling economy, unsettling policymakers. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang was quoted by Xinhua state news agency as saying earlier this month that authorities must act to arrest China’s export slowdown lest it further dampens economic growth.

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“The fall defied the expectations of economists who said exports usually rebound after the Lunar New Year..”

China’s March Exports Come In Far Worse Than Expected (WSJ)

China’s exports fell sharply in March while imports slumped once again, suggesting to economists that the world’s second largest economy is being hit with sluggish demand at home and abroad. The nation’s exports slid 15% from a year earlier in March while imports dropped 12.7%, according to data released Monday by the General Administration of Customs. “Domestic demand is still sluggish,” said Kevin Lai, economist at Daiwa Capital. “Other than the U.S., the export situation isn’t looking very strong.” The fall defied the expectations of economists who said exports usually rebound after the Lunar New Year, which fell in February this year. In February, customs data showed exports up 48.3% from a year earlier while imports were down 20.5%.

Exports are no longer the big engine for the Chinese economy that they once were but the absence of growth in that once-critical area is a further drag on already weak growth. China’s economy posted growth of 7.4% last year, its slowest pace in 24 years, and the government has set an even lower target of about 7% growth for this year. Beijing has used a host of targeted measures to boost the economy, ranging from increased infrastructure spending and reductions in electricity tariffs to two cuts in interest rates to lower the cost of borrowing for domestic companies.

Data for the first quarter are due to be released Wednesday, and many economists project growth at less than 7% from a year earlier. Economists expected an increase of about 10% for exports in March and a drop of 12% for imports, according to a poll of analysts by The Wall Street Journal. China posted a trade surplus of 18.16 billion yuan in March, or about $2.93 billion, well below the $60.6 billion surplus in February.

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“..concerns about the state of the global recovery..” No kidding.

China’s Trade Collapse Raises Fears Of Growth Slowdown (Telegraph)

China’s exports fell by a spectacular 15pc in March reviving fears of a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy. Trade data showed imports also fell by 12pc year-on-year, resulting in a sharp drop in the country’s trade surplus and leading to concerns economic growth will register a significant slowdown when figures are released on Wednesday. China’s economy has been in the throes of a managed slowdown in the last few years. Beijing has set a target of 7pc GDP growth in 2015 as the country seeks to move towards a more sustainble rate of growth. GDP expanded by 7.4pc in 2014, its slowest rate of output growth in nearly a quarter of a century.

The Australian dollar, which is closely linked to the trade fortunes of the Chinese economy, fell to a six-year low on the back of the news. A significant brake on Chinese growth could now “ripple out across the globe,” said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets. “These data misses raise concerns that not only is the Chinese economy failing to rebalance with demand remaining low, but also the global economy’s demand for Chinese exports is also falling back raising concerns about the state of the global recovery as well,” said Mr Hewson. The sluggish numbers come despite stimulative action from China’s central bank to cut interest rates, and ease bank reserve targets.

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Australia already knows.

World Bank Warns Of Hit To Australia As Chinese Growth Falters (AAP)

A Chinese economic slowdown will hit Australia as iron ore prices tumble, the World Bank has said. The bank said Australia’s growth pace had deteriorated sharply since the first quarter of 2014 as declining prices for export commodities depressed mining investment and weakened the Australian dollar. The warning came as poor Chinese trade figures underlined the continued slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Exports were down 14.6% in March from a year ago while imports fell 12.3% on the same measure. The Australian dollar fell more than half a US cent to hover around the US76c mark. The World Bank predicted that a further slowdown in China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, would affect Australia and its neighbours.

The bank’s east Asia and Pacific economic update said: “The significant negative impact on Australia and New Zealand, among the world’s largest commodity suppliers, would lead to indirect spillovers on the Pacific Island countries, given their tight links through trade, investment and aid.”. China’s growth pace in 2014 was the weakest since 1990 but the World Bank said things were set to get worse – just a month after the Chinese government cut its growth target to 7%. Chinese growth would ease from 7.4% in 2014, to 7.1% in 2015, 7% in 2016 and 6.9% in 2017.

China is a major buyer of Australian iron ore, which is used to make steel. The World Bank said: “In China, as it shifts to a consumption-led, rather than an investment-led, growth model, the main challenge is to implement reforms that will ensure sustainable growth in the long run.” Sudhir Shetty, the World Bank’s chief economist for east Asia and the Pacific region, said many risks remained for east Asia Pacific region “both in the short and long run”. The gloomy prediction comes as the treasurer, Joe Hockey, forecast the iron ore price dropping to $35 a tonne, which could see commonwealth revenue fall $25bn over four years.

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Again: they’re just going to say 7% growth no matter what.

China Growth Last Quarter Seen Worst Since Global Recession

While the central bank has cut interest rates twice in the last six months to cushion a slowdown, rising bad debts and a crackdown on shadow lending are making banks reluctant to lend to smaller firms. “It’s a structural problem that can’t be quickly addressed,” said Zhao Yang, the Hong Kong-based chief China economist at Nomura. “China’s financial system is not friendly to private businesses, and for the central bank, it has few short-term options but to cut required reserve ratios or benchmark interest rates further.” The benchmark one-year lending rate in China is now 5.35%, versus near-zero levels in the U.S., euro zone and Japan. The Wenzhou Private Finance Index, a measure of non-bank lending rates among private companies, is around 20%. State-owned enterprises, traditionally with easier access to credit, have seen output weighed by a restructuring drive and crackdown on corruption and pollution.

That leaves People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan juggling financial reforms to try to steer toward a more market-driven economy with the need to ensure growth doesn’t slow too fast. GDP data scheduled for Wednesday will probably show the economy expanded 7% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the median estimate of 38 economists in a Bloomberg survey as of April 10. That would be the slowest pace since the first quarter of 2009, when China was hit by the global financial crisis, prompting then Premier Wen Jiabao to unleash a massive stimulus package that featured a record credit boom. To achieve this year’s growth target of about 7%, current Premier Li Keqiang may need to add policy support, something he flagged last month he stood ready to do. The consumer-prices index held steady at a 1.4% increase in March from a year earlier, giving room to act.

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Fighting in the streets more likely.

China’s Stock Surge May Very Well End In Tears (MarketWatch)

Once dismissed as a “ghost train,” the trading scheme — known variously as the “new China through train” or Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect — roared to life last week, helping send the Hang Seng Index HSI, +2.22% to a seven-year high. But this awakening brings not just welcome stock gains, but also fear of a rerun of the euphoric boom and bust of 2007, when a previous through-train plan was announced, only to be later shelved. This time, a possible bust may also challenge the Hong Kong dollar’s currency peg. Unlike the failed 2007 scheme, the new Stock Connect was designed to limit exuberant cross-border money flows, as it operates under a closed loop.

That may be easier said than done. Hong Kong holds a unique position as the first and only stop for mainland Chinese who want to buy foreign equities. This will not be lost on global funds which may want to hitch a ride on this through train, even if it is a roller coaster. All signs suggest the trading scheme will be extended. Hong Kong’s political leader, Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, has been quick to laud the “win-win” of deepening cooperation with Shanghai. Already, it is expected daily trading limits — 10.5 billion yuan ($1.69 billion) going south, and 13 billion yuan going north — will be expanded. Many were caught unaware by the by speed of the post-Easter-holiday surge in southbound investment. As these quotas were filled for the first time, the benchmark Hang Seng Index finished the week up 7.9%.

One explanation for the rush south was a new insurance-investment policy, which allows Chinese mutual funds to participate in the Stock Connect. Another is an inevitable catch-up, with the A-share (Shanghai) rally spilling into H-shares (Hong Kong) as mainland investors come south to pick up bargains. (See previous column on the divergence between the two markets.) Yet turnover figures suggest the Hang Seng Index’s surge past the 27,000 mark cannot be a result of the Stock Connect alone. On Thursday, for instance, volume reached a record 293.9 billion Hong Kong dollars ($37.9 billion), three times normal levels. Analysts are offering different explanations for the surge. Bank of America writes that we are witnessing a “Keynes beauty contest,” in which the jump in money flows is likely driven by some investors anticipating other investors’ reaction to government policy.

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“Sovereign and corporate borrowers outside America owe a record $9 trillion in the U.S. currency, much of which will need repaying in coming years..”

The $9 Trillion Short That’s Seen Sending the Dollar Even Higher (Bloomberg)

Investors speculating the dollar rally is fizzling out may be overlooking trillions of reasons why it will keep on going. There’s pent-up demand for the U.S. currency that will underpin years of appreciation because the world is “structurally short” the dollar, according to investor and former International Monetary Fund economist Stephen Jen. Sovereign and corporate borrowers outside America owe a record $9 trillion in the U.S. currency, much of which will need repaying in coming years, data from the Bank for International Settlements show. In addition, central banks that had reduced their holdings of the greenback are starting to reverse course, creating more demand. The dollar’s share of global foreign reserves shrank to a record 60% in 2011 from 73% a decade earlier, though it has since climbed back to 63%.

So, the short-term ebbs and flows caused by changes in Federal Reserve policy or economic data releases may be overwhelmed by these larger forces combining to fuel more appreciation, according to Jen, the London-based co-founder of SLJ Macro Partners LLP and the former head of currency research at Morgan Stanley. “Short-covering will continue to power the dollar higher,” said Jen, who predicts a 10% advance in the next three months to 96 cents per euro. “The dollar’s strength is not just about cyclical factors such as growth. The recent consolidation will likely prove to be temporary.” The U.S. currency was at $1.0593 per euro at 12:09 p.m. in Tokyo. The last time it traded at 96 cents was June 2002.

Most strategists and investors agree on the reasons for the dollar’s advance versus each of its major counterparts during the past year: the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates while other nations are loosening policy. Bloomberg’s Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the U.S. currency against 10 major peers including the euro and yen, has surged 20% since the middle of 2014. The gains stalled recently, sending the index down more than 3% in the three weeks through April 3, as Fed officials tempered investors’ expectations about the pace of rate increases.

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“Demand will peak way ahead of supply..”

Saudi Arabia’s Plan to Extend the Age of Oil (Bloomberg)

Last fall, as oil prices crashed, Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister and the world’s de facto energy czar, went mum. He still popped up, as is his habit, at industry conferences on three continents. Yet from mid-September to the middle of November, while benchmark crude prices plunged 21% to a four-year low, Naimi didn’t utter a word in public. For 20 years, Bloomberg Markets reports in its May 2015 issue, the world’s $2 trillion oil market has parsed Naimi’s every syllable for signs of where supply and prices are heading. Twice during previous routs—amid the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and again when the global economy melted down 10 years later—Naimi reversed oil’s free fall by orchestrating production cutbacks among members of OPEC. This time, he went to ground.

At the cartel’s semiannual meeting on Nov. 27 in Vienna, Naimi shot down proposed output reductions supported by a majority of the 12 members in favor of a more daring strategy: keep pumping and wait for lower prices to force high-cost suppliers out of the market. Oil prices fell a further 10% by the end of the next day and kept going. Having averaged $110 a barrel from 2011 through the middle of 2014, Brent crude, the global benchmark, dipped below $50 in January. “What they did was historic,” Daniel Yergin, the pre-eminent historian of the oil industry, told Bloomberg in February. “They said: ‘We resign. We quit. We’re no longer going to be the manager of the market. Let the market manage the market.’ That’s when you got this sort of shocked reaction that took prices down to those levels we saw.”

Naimi, 79, dominated the debate at the November meeting, according to officials briefed on the closed-door proceedings. He told his OPEC counterparts they should maintain output to protect market share from rising supplies of U.S. shale oil, which costs more to get out of the ground and thus becomes less viable as prices fall. In December, he said much the same thing in a press interview, arguing that it was “crooked logic” for low-cost producers such as Saudi Arabia to pump less to balance the market. Supply was only half the calculus, though. While the new Saudi stance was being trumpeted as a war on shale, Naimi’s not-so-invisible hand pushing prices lower also addressed an even deeper Saudi fear: flagging long-term demand.

Naimi and other Saudi leaders have worried for years that climate change and high crude prices will boost energy efficiency, encourage renewables, and accelerate a switch to alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially in the emerging markets that they count on for growth. They see how demand for the commodity that’s created the kingdom’s enormous wealth—and is still abundant beneath the desert sands—may be nearing its peak. This isn’t something the petroleum minister discusses in depth in public, given global concern about carbon emissions and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But Naimi acknowledges the trend. “Demand will peak way ahead of supply,” he told reporters in Qatar three years ago. If growth in oil consumption flattens out too soon, the transition could be wrenching for Saudi Arabia, which gets almost half its gross domestic product from oil exports.

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“There’s just no appetite in the euro zone for a grand bargain to take over Greece’s debt to the IMF and the ECB.”

Greece May Have Blown Best Hope Of Debt Deal (Reuters)

Even if it survives the next three months teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Greece may have blown its best chance of a long-term debt deal by alienating its euro zone partners when it most needed their support. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist-led government has so thoroughly shattered creditors’ trust that solutions which might have been on offer a few weeks ago now seem out of reach. With a public debt equivalent to 175% of economic output and an economy struggling to pull out of a six-year depression, Athens needs all the goodwill it can summon to ease the burden. It owes 80% of that debt to official lenders after private bondholders took a hefty writedown in 2012.

Since outright debt forgiveness is politically impossible, the next best solution would be for Greece to pay off its expensive IMF loans early, redeem bonds held by the ECB and extend the maturity of loans from euro zone governments to secure lower interest rates for years to come. “This step would save Greece’s budget billions of euros, while reforming the Troika arrangement, eliminating the IMF’s and the ECB’s financial exposure to Greece,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who advocates such an arrangement. It would lower the effective interest rate on Greek debt to less than 2%, far less than Athens was paying before the euro zone debt crisis began in 2009, and radically reduce the principal amount to be repaid over the next decade, giving Greece fiscal breathing space to revive its economy.

And unlike ideas floated by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to swap euro zone loans for GDP-linked bonds and ECB holdings with perpetual bonds, paying out the IMF and the ECB early would be legal and supported by precedent. But if the economics make sense for Greece, the politics no longer add up for its partners. A euro zone official said there had been exploratory talks with the previous conservative-led Greek government about such a plan last year, before then Prime Minister Antonis Samaras chose to bring forward an election he lost rather than complete a bitterly unpopular bailout program. “Now it’s a political non-starter,” said a euro zone official. “There’s just no appetite in the euro zone for a grand bargain to take over Greece’s debt to the IMF and the ECB.”

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“..the newspaper will have difficulty justifying its headline and the content of its article.”

Greece Defends Bailout Tactics As Latest Deadline Looms (Guardian)

Greece has denied being intransigent in its dealings with eurozone officials, ahead of another crucial week for the cash-strapped country. Greece’s finance ministry dismissed on Sunday a report by a German newspaper which reported that eurozone officials were “disappointed” by Greece’s failure to come up with plans for economic reforms at last week’s talks in Brussels. The mood between Greece’s leftist government and its eurozone partners has remained tense during negotiations to determine whether or not the country qualifies for further financial aid from international lenders. Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) cited officials at last week’s meeting as saying they were shocked by the lack of progress, and that the new Greek representative just asked where the money was – “like a taxi driver” – and insisted his country would soon be bankrupt.

Eurozone officials disagreed with this assessment, saying Athens was still able to meet its international obligations, and regarded its ability to pay public sector wages and pensions as a domestic problem, according to the report. They deplored Greece’s unwillingness to discuss cuts to public sector pensions. The finance ministry in Athens hit back on Sunday, saying: “When the readers of FAS read the minutes … the newspaper will have difficulty justifying its headline and the content of its article. Such reports undermine the negotiation and Europe.” Greece made a €450m loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund last week. A further €747m payment is due on 12 May. There are fears that Athens could run out of cash in coming weeks. It needs to pay out more than €1.5bn of social security payments for April this week.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said last week that talks between Greece and its creditors had been “difficult on almost a daily basis”. She added: “What really matters now is for Greece and the three institutions to get on with the work so we can identify together the measures that will take Greece out of the very bad economic situation it could be in if those measures are not taken.” A meeting of deputy finance ministers – called the Euro Working Group – last Thursday gave Athens six working days to come up with a convincing economic reform plan before eurozone finance ministers meet on 24 April to decide whether to unlock €7.2bn of bailout funds. Greece has been on the verge of bankruptcy since 2009 and has depended on rescue loans totalling €240bn from the EU and IMF to stay afloat.

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“..describing the falling oil price as “unambiguously good” for the economy…”

UK Economy Poised To Welcome ‘Deflation’ For First Time Since 1960 (Guardian)

Britain could fall into deflation this week for the first time in more than half a century, the result of an escalating supermarket price war and falling energy prices. Inflation, as measured by the consumer prices index, fell to zero in February for the first time since comparable records began in 1989. Estimates from the Office for National Statistics suggested that it was the lowest reading since 1960. The statistics office will release the latest inflation figures, for March, on Tuesday morning. City economists say it is going to be a close call between a zero reading and a 0.1% dip. Petrol prices rose 3.6% last month, reflecting a rebound in global oil prices, which is expected to push up the inflation rate by 0.1 %age points.

This will be offset, however, by the 5% cut in gas prices by British Gas, Britain’s largest energy supplier, and low food price inflation. Fierce competition from discount chains has forced the major supermarket groups to slash prices on basic items such as bread, with the discounter Aldi overtaking Waitrose to become the UK’s sixth-largest grocer recently. Alan Clarke, an economist at Scotiabank, said: “While food price deflation of close to 4% year on year may sound extreme, this represents something of a relief after years of rapid price increases. More specifically, over the seven years between 2007 and 2013, the average annual pace of increase in food price inflation was 5% per year. Enjoy the cheap food and fuel while it lasts!”

Even if the UK avoids deflation in March, it will probably enter a period of falling prices at some point soon – following in the footsteps of other countries. Eurozone inflation has been negative since December, and the US rate turned negative in January before recovering to zero in February. There is no reason to panic, according to the Bank of England and City analysts. They claim any period of UK deflation is likely to prove temporary, unlike the deflationary spiral in Japan, where people have lived with falling prices for two decades. Bank of England governor Mark Carne, has sought to allay fears that Britain faces a 1930s-style deflationary spiral, describing the falling oil price as “unambiguously good” for the economy. An oil glut pushed the price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, down by more than 50% from last summer to a six-year low earlier this year.

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“It is like the 1970s again, when waves of wealthy people left Britain and it was a disaster..”

Sales Of London Luxury Homes Drop 80% In One Year (FT)

Wealthy foreigners are shunning London’s luxury housing market following Labour’s announcement that it will end their “non-dom” status if it wins the UK’s general election, according to estate agents. Property deals have begun to fall through in the days since Ed Miliband laid out his plans, they revealed, with some foreign residents also putting their homes up for sale and fleeing the UK. The announcement, combined with Labour’s plan to introduce a mansion tax on high-value homes, has led many foreigners to conclude that the UK is no longer an attractive and reliable home for the rich, agents said. During the past two years Conservative chancellor George Osborne has also made tax changes that have increased the burden on the affluent.

The introduction of capital gains tax on the proceeds of property sales came into force on April 6 and is believed by agents to have contributed to owners’ jitters. Ed Mead, a director of Douglas & Gordon estate agents, said his company had carried out 37 valuations in the past month for owners of high-end homes who were thinking of selling up, when the normal level is about six. “It is like the 1970s again, when waves of wealthy people left Britain and it was a disaster,” Mr Mead said. Sales of homes worth more than £2m have dropped by 80% in the past year, according to Douglas & Gordon.

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Commodities are a disaster across the board.

Quarter Of World’s Copper Mines Operating At A Loss (Reuters)

Nearly a quarter of the world’s major copper mines are running in the red, even after producers including Codelco and BHP Billiton engage in their deepest cost-cutting in years, according to a Reuters analysis. A 17% slump since last July has pushed copper futures on the London Metals Exchange to under $6,000 a ton, the lowest since 2009, is the first major test of producers’ margins since the global economic crisis, forcing a new reckoning after five years of relatively consistent profitability. Codelco, the Chilean state miner that produces about 8% of the world’s copper, will review the cost reduction plan at its Salvador mine as it prepares to restart operations there after torrential rains shuttered the complex in March, said a source close to the state-run miner.

The company has an ambitious target to slash total costs by as much as $1 billion this year. Salvador produced copper at a cost of some $11,439 per tonne in the fourth quarter last year, the highest out of 91 mines analyzed by Thomson Reuters unit GFMS as part of its Copper Mine Economics database. The mines account for more than two-thirds of global output, and almost a quarter of them had production costs late last year above current prices. The GFMS analysis, which is based on quarterly and semi-annual filings by 26 mining companies, gives the deepest insight yet into the voracious pace of cost-cutting by miners late last year as the sell-off in copper quickened, a hot topic at CRU Copper’s conference in Santiago this week.

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Austria’s pulling off quite a feat. In almost total silence.

Bundesbank Tells German Heta Creditors To Expect 50% Loss (Bloomberg)

German banks should expect to lose at least half of their investments in bonds of Austrian bad bank Heta Asset Resolution and make the appropriate provisions, the Bundesbank director responsible for bank supervision said. “I think this situation has to be taken seriously by the German banks,” Andreas Dombret, also a member of the board of the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism, said in an interview in Johannesburg on Friday. “It’s advisable and recommendable to take provisions on this, and if I were to put a number on this I would say it should be a minimum of a 50% provision for potential losses.” German lenders and insurers have emerged as the biggest creditors of the bad bank set up after the collapse of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank, with about €7.1 billion at risk.

Heta was taken over last month by Austrian regulators, who ordered a debt moratorium and said they will impose losses on creditors to fund the bank’s wind-down. Bayerische Landesbank, a former owner of Hypo Alpe, has the biggest exposure among German banks, as around €2.4 billion of loans to the former subsidiary weren’t repaid. Commerzbank, Deutsche Pfandbriefbank, NordLB, and a German unit of Dexia all own Heta debt. While BayernLB has said it will set aside provisions equal to about half of what Heta owes it, Dombret’s recommendation goes further than some of the disclosed provisions other banks have made. Deutsche Pfandbriefbank said it wrote down its €395 million investment by €120 million, or 30%. Austria’s Hypo NOE Gruppe Bank said it provisioned its €225 million holding by “about a quarter.”

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“The massive hunt was used by the Swedish Defense Ministry to justify a six billion kronor ($696 million) hike in defense spending..”

Sweden Confirms Mystery ‘Russian Sub’…Was In Fact A Workboat (RT)

The unknown foreign vessel the Swedish Navy searched for near Stockholm last autumn was actually a “workboat,” a senior navy official says. Local media had alleged a hunt was on to try and find a Russian submarine, which was believed to be in the area. Swedish Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad told the Swedish TT news agency on Saturday that what was thought to be a vessel or a foreign submarine was actually just a “workboat.” The Swedish Navy changed the wording from “probable submarine” to “non-submarine” when referring to the reconnaissance mission connected to the unidentified vessel spotted in the Stockholm archipelago. The massive hunt was used by the Swedish Defense Ministry to justify a six billion kronor ($696 million) hike in defense spending between 2016 and 2020.

The drama started after an amateur photograph of an alleged underwater vessel of unidentified origin was sent to the ministry. The man who took the photo raised the alarm because he thought he saw the object surface and disappear again. Sweden undertook an intense one-week search in late October, looking for possible “foreign underwater activity” near Stockholm. During the operation, the Swedish Navy reportedly used over 200 troops, helicopters, stealth ships and minesweepers to search the waters of the Baltic Sea. During the search, the Swedish media exaggerated the story, claiming country’s navy was looking for a submarine in the Baltic Sea, which allegedly belonged to Russia.

Meanwhile, naval officials from Sweden and Russia maintained there was no substance to the reports, which was confirmed by Grenstad. “From the information we have, we cannot draw the same conclusion as the media that there is a damaged U-boat. We have no information about an emergency signal or the use of an emergency channel,” the navy official said. A full report of the search operations will be published later this spring, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported.

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“Ukraine’s total debt is estimated at $50 billion, and it has to service about $10 billion of that debt this year..”

Default In Ukraine ‘Virtual Certainty’: S&P Cuts Rating To ‘CC’ (RT)

Standard & Poor’s has downgraded Ukraine’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating to CC, a notch lower than the previous CCC- level. A default on Ukraine’s foreign-currency debt is a “a virtual certainty,” according to the agency. The ratings agency has said that the outlook remains negative. Ukraine’s foreign currency rating is the world’s second worst, behind Argentina which has a rating of ‘SD’. It is still ahead of Venezuela, which S&P has assigned a ‘CCC’ rating. “The negative outlook reflects the deteriorating macroeconomic environment and growing pressure on the financial sector, as well as our view that default on Ukraine’s foreign currency debt is virtually inevitable,” the ratings agency said in a statement.

Ukraine’s total debt is estimated at $50 billion, and it has to service about $10 billion of that debt this year, including corporate and sovereign loans and bonds. It will receive about $40 billion in IMF loans in the next four years, as well as separate loan guarantees from the US, Europe, and other allies. Public sector debt rose to 71% of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, and is due to rise to 94% of GDP in 2015, according to the National Bank of Ukraine.

Paying back debt is becoming more difficult for Ukraine as the national currency, the hryvnia, continues to plummet in value. It was the worst performing currency in 2014, and lost more than 34% on February 5, when the Central bank said it could no longer support the beleaguered currency. On February 5 the currency hit a historic low of 24.5 per 1 USD, and at the time of publication has only recovered slightly, to 23.4 versus the US dollar. Officially, foreign currency reserves stood at $5.6 billion at the end of March, compared to the $36 billion level in 2011.

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Rousseff had better wisen up and leave. But that would open her up to prosecution.

Protests Across Brazil Seek Ouster Of President (AP)

Nationwide demonstrations calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff swept Brazil for the second day in less than a month, though turnout at Sunday’s protests appeared down, prompting questions about the future of the movement. A poll published over the weekend suggested the majority of Brazilians support opening impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, whose second term in office has been buffeted by a corruption scandal at Brazil’s largest company, oil giant Petrobras, as well as a stalled economy, a sliding currency and political infighting. Only 13% of survey respondents evaluated Rousseff’s administration positively.

Sunday’s protests, which took place in cities from Belem, in the northern Amazonian rainforest region, to Curitiba in the south, were organized mostly via social media by an assortment of groups. Most were calling for Rousseff’s impeachment, but others’ demands ranged for urging looser gun control laws to a military coup. While last month’s protests drew substantial crowds in several large cities, Sunday’s turnout was lackluster. In Rio, several thousand people marched along the golden sands of Copacabana beach, many dressed in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag. The March 15 protest, by contrast, drew tens of thousands. In the opposition stronghold of Sao Paulo, about 100,000 people marched on the city’s main thoroughfare, according to an estimate by the respected Datafolha polling agency.

The crowd was less than half the size of last month’s demonstration here, when more than 200,000 people turned out, making it the biggest demonstration in Sao Paulo since 1984 rallies demanding the end of the military dictatorship. “I was on the avenue on March 15 and without a doubt, today’s demonstration was much smaller,” said Antonio Guglielmi, a 61-year-old sales representative for construction materials company, vowing, “I will keep coming back to demonstrations like this one — big or small — because it is the best way for us to make our voices heard and demand an end to the Dilma government and the PT and end to corruption. The country cannot go on like this.”

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New Zealand’s set to land very hard.

Auckland Housing Bubble ‘Floats Off Into Its Own Orbit’ (Hickey)

If you are reading this and you don’t own Auckland property, then it would be a good idea not to read any further because it will probably ruin your Sunday. Figures released this week by Barfoot & Thompson, Auckland’s biggest real estate agency group, confirmed everyone’s worst fears (or biggest hopes if they owned property in the city). Auckland’s housing market has officially floated off its New Zealand moorings into its own orbit. The Reserve Bank can now have no doubts or caveats around the seasonality or size of the trend — the housing market in New Zealand’s biggest city is booming. The average three bedroom house price on the isthmus of Auckland that used to be the old Auckland Council rose over NZ$1 million for the first time in March.

The average house price in West Auckland rose 20.5% over the last year to NZ$632,032. Barfoot sold 420 homes worth more than NZ$1 million each in the 31 days of March, while selling just 300 homes for less than NZ$500,000. Barfoot’s agents would have collected almost NZ$1 million of commissions each day in March as they sold over NZ$1.2 billion worth of houses over the month. Auckland house prices are now rising at double digit rates on an annual basis, while the rest of the country is growing at less than 5%, or not at all. Even in Christchurch, house price inflation is subdued as a wall of new houses hits the market to soak up demand and replace quake-damaged buildings. Prices are still falling in some regional cities where populations and work are drying up.

Unfortunately for the Reserve Bank, taxpayers outside of Auckland and Auckland’s renters, there is no relief in sight. Net migration is rollicking along at record highs and at least half of new migrants end up in Auckland, or just as importantly, aren’t leaving Auckland. Longer term fixed mortgage rates are low and falling. Employment growth is strong and rental property investors are stocked up with plenty of fresh equity to gear up with much bigger and often interest-only mortgages. New mortgage lending is growing at over 20% per year.

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Bubbles have their own dynamics. Politicians won’t touch them.

40% Of Houses In Auckland Are Bought By Investors (Interest.co.nz)

All we are hearing is about supply and what’s being done there, through such strategies as the Auckland Housing Accord. In his Radio NZ interview the PM banged on and on about what the Government is doing to help supply. There’s two issues here: One, it will take years not months to ramp up the supply of Auckland housing. Two, the Government and other politicians can happily talk and talk and talk about supply because it’s essentially a positive thing to talk about. We’ll build houses, and we’ll create jobs and people will have places to live. Marvellous. But, dear politicians, there’s another side to this and it’s the side you don’t want a bar of because if you are seen to be doing anything about this, well, then it would be negative. Yes, I’m talking about demand.

Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler recently suggested that about 40% of houses in Auckland were being bought by investors. Now, whatever you want to say about Auckland’s perceived housing supply shortage, if 40% of the available houses are being bought as investments then clearly there’s a hell of a demand issue as well. But what’s the Government doing about that? They could immediately do something about about the high levels of immigration that have seen a net 55,000 people arrive in New Zealand – about 25,000 of them in Auckland – in the past 12 months. They could do something to limit the numbers of offshore-based investors buying properties by introducing a rule that any overseas buyer of a house has to come and actually live in the house, or alternatively that offshore investors must build new houses.

They could introduce capital gains tax on investment properties. They won’t. Why not? Because these things would be unpopular. It’s much easier to talk about building new houses than any measures that might discourage investors from pumping more and more money into the inflated Auckland market. So, we’ll keep talking and talking and talking about supply. And who knows, if enough people believe the mantra then maybe there really will be a whole lot more houses built in Auckland eventually – possibly just in time to coincide with a global event that sees our 40% of investor-buyers take fright of the housing market and disappear overnight.

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But of course. With exports plunging, the housing bubble is what keeps up appearances.

New Zealand PM Denies There Is A Housing Bubble (NZ Herald)

Prime Minister John Key has again denied there is a housing crisis or bubble developing in Auckland, despite figures from Barfoot and Thompson last week showing average prices hitting record highs of over NZ$1 million in the old Auckland Council area of the isthmus and the Government itself seeing a supply shortage in Auckland of more than 20,000 dwellings. Key told Morning Report the current double-digit price rises were not sustainable, but the Government had already taken action to free up land supply in Auckland and that restricting migration would frustrate employers looking for skilled staff. “In the end, it’s not sustainable for house prices to rise 10-12-13% per year. The only answer to that is to do what what we’re doing, which is allocate new land and build more houses,” he said, adding continued inflation “forever” at that level would lead to a “bubble”, although he denied it was currently a bubble.

He said the Government’s moves to introduce Special Housing Areas to circumvent the Metropolitan Urban Limit would add new housing supply to the market and slow that double-digit house price inflation, although this would take time while the necessary infrastructure and housing was built. He would not give a time-frame for the supply-driven slowdown in Auckland house price inflation, but “sooner as opposed to later is my guess.” Key referred to the recent supply-driven slowdown in Christchurch house price inflation and downplayed suggestions of tightening migration rules, saying the Government would have to reduce the numbers coming in for skilled occupations and for construction if it was to use the migration lever.

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Must read.

The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World (LeBor)

The world’s most exclusive club has eighteen members. They gather every other month on a Sunday evening at 7 p.m. in conference room E in a circular tower block whose tinted windows overlook the central Basel railway station. Their discussion lasts for one hour, perhaps an hour and a half. Some of those present bring a colleague with them, but the aides rarely speak during this most confidential of conclaves. The meeting closes, the aides leave, and those remaining retire for dinner in the dining room on the eighteenth floor, rightly confident that the food and the wine will be superb. The meal, which continues until 11 p.m. or midnight, is where the real work is done. The protocol and hospitality, honed for more than eight decades, are faultless. Anything said at the dining table, it is understood, is not to be repeated elsewhere.

Few, if any, of those enjoying their haute cuisine and grand cru wines— some of the best Switzerland can offer—would be recognized by passers-by, but they include a good number of the most powerful people in the world. These men—they are almost all men—are central bankers. They have come to Basel to attend the Economic Consultative Committee (ECC) of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is the bank for central banks. Its current members [ZH: as of 2013] include Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve; Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England; Mario Draghi, of the ECB; Zhou Xiaochuan of the Bank of China; and the central bank governors of Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Canada, India, and Brazil. Jaime Caruana, a former governor of the Bank of Spain, the BIS’s general manager, joins them.

In early 2013, when this book went to press, King, who is due to step down as governor of the Bank of England in June 2013, chaired the ECC. The ECC, which used to be known as the G-10 governors’ meeting, is the most influential of the BIS’s numerous gatherings, open only to a small, select group of central bankers from advanced economies. The ECC makes recommendations on the membership and organization of the three BIS committees that deal with the global financial system, payments systems, and international markets. The committee also prepares proposals for the Global Economy Meeting and guides its agenda.

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