Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 2:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) German artist, philosopher, composer, mystic Cosmic Tree

 

All of a sudden, politicians in the EU, UK, and USA all want to talk to Mark Zuckerberg. That’s a bad enough sign all by itself. It means they all either have been asleep, complicit, or they’re not very bright. The media tries to convince us the Facebook ‘scandal’ is about Trump, Russia (yawn..) and elections. It’s not. Not even close.

If Zuckerberg ever shows up for any of these meetings with ‘worried’ politicians, he’ll come with a cabal of lawyers in tow, and they’ll put the blame on anyone but Facebook and say the company was tricked by devious parties who didn’t live up to their legal agreements.

After that, the argument won’t be whether Facebook broke any laws for allowing data breaches, but whether their data use policy itself is, and always was, illegal. Now, Facebook has been around for a few years, with their policies, and nobody ever raised their voices. Not really, that is.

And then it’ll all fizzle out, amid some additional grandstanding from all involved, face-saving galore, and more blame for Trump and Russia.

 

The new European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani said yesterday: “We’ve invited Mark Zuckerberg to the European Parliament. Facebook needs to clarify before the representatives of 500 million Europeans that personal data is not being used to manipulate democracy.”

That’s all you need to know, really. Personal data can be used to manipulate anything as long as it’s not democracy. Or at least democracy as the Brussels elite choose to define it.

First: this is not about Cambridge Analytica, it’s about Facebook. Or rather, it’s about the entire social media and search industry, as well as its connections to the intelligence community. Don’t ever again see Google or Facebook as not being part of that.

What Facebook enabled Cambridge Analytica to do, it will do ten times bigger itself. And it sells licences to do it to probably thousands of other ‘developers’. The CIA and NSA may have unlimited powers, but prior to Alphabet and Facebook, they never had the databases. They do now, and they’re using them. ‘Manipulate democracy’? What democracy?

Then: 50 million is nothing. Once the six degrees of separation giant squid gets going, there’s no stopping it. The Cambridge Analytica thing supposedly started with a few hundred thousand people who consented to having their data used for ‘academic’ purposes. From there it’s easy to get to 50 million. It’s harder to stop there than it is to go to hundreds of millions. It’s the six degrees of separation.

Facebook allegedly has over 2 billion user accounts, and their algorithms don’t stop there either. If anything, 50 million is a bit of a failure. What you should understand in this is that Cambridge Analytica are a bunch of loose cannons (yeah, yeah, those dark videos look so incriminating..) and nobody knows what they ever captured.

The real issue lies elsewhere. And we can figure it out. All we need is a few glances into the past. This first article is from June 30 2014. It contains all you read today, and more. Just a bit less Russia and Trump.

 

Facebook Reveals News Feed Experiment To Control Emotions

It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes. It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.

The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

The question is simple, isn’t it? Do you want to provide a bunch of, well, geeks, with the ability to change how you feel, just so their employers can make -more- money off of you? That is 1984. That is thought control. And Facebook is some modern honey trap.

Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”. On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them.

Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee, said the experiment was intrusive. “This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people,” he said. “They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”

Um, so 4 years ago, there was a call for a parliamentary investigation in Britain and a member of the Commons media select committee proclaimed there should be legislation to protect people. Wonder how that panned out? Read the news today. Time stood still.

But there’s of course much more going on. You can claim that people should know about their thoughts being controlled, but that’s nonsense. Nobody in their right mind would, provided the arguments are honestly laid out, permit any such thing.

Moreover, it’s not just their own emotions that are being manipulated, it’s those of their friends and family too. If you are deeply unhappy, they may not see you expressing your distress; it can be easily filtered out so you appear in great spirits. Your friends feel good but someone wants you sad? No problem.

And there’s yet another aspect, one that Facebook may try to use for legal reasons: ever since the days of Edward Bernays, advertisements, and media in a broader sense, are shaped to influence what you think and feel. It sells soda, it sells cars, and it sells wars.

So yeah, people should know about all this, but the role of politicians and parliaments must also be to eradicate it altogether and forever from the societies that vote them in power. Or to tell their voters that they think it’s acceptable, and by the way, they too use deception to get more votes.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the research, published this month in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, was carried out “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”. She said: “A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”

But other commentators voiced fears that the process could be used for political purposes in the runup to elections or to encourage people to stay on the site by feeding them happy thoughts and so boosting advertising revenues. In a series of Twitter posts, Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, said: “The Facebook ‘transmission of anger’ experiment is terrifying.”

He asked: “Could the CIA incite revolution in Sudan by pressuring Facebook to promote discontent? Should that be legal? Could Mark Zuckerberg swing an election by promoting Upworthy [a website aggregating viral content] posts two weeks beforehand? Should that be legal?”

The ‘transmission of anger’ experiment. This is the world you live in.

Well, no, none of it should be legal. And none of it would be if people knew what was going on.

It was claimed that Facebook may have breached ethical and legal guidelines by not informing its users they were being manipulated in the experiment, which was carried out in 2012. The study said altering the news feeds was “consistent with Facebook’s data use policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research”.

But Susan Fiske, the Princeton academic who edited the study, said she was concerned. “People are supposed to be told they are going to be participants in research and then agree to it and have the option not to agree to it without penalty.”

James Grimmelmann, professor of law at Maryland University, said Facebook had failed to gain “informed consent” as defined by the US federal policy for the protection of human subjects, which demands explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject’s participation, a description of any reasonably foreseeable risks and a statement that participation is voluntary. “This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook’s troubling practices into a realm – academia – where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good,” he said on his blog.

Ah, academia, you unblemished child. We never knew you. Incidentally, what appears to be creeping through between the lines here is that Facebook’s data use policy was prepared from the start, 14+ years ago, for exactly these kinds of ‘experiments’. Which gives a whole new dimension to the discussion today.

It is not new for internet firms to use algorithms to select content to show to users and Jacob Silverman, author of Terms of Service: Social Media, Surveillance, and the Price of Constant Connection, told Wire magazine on Sunday the internet was already “a vast collection of market research studies; we’re the subjects”.

“What’s disturbing about how Facebook went about this, though, is that they essentially manipulated the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of users without asking permission,” he said. “Facebook cares most about two things: engagement and advertising.

If Facebook, say, decides that filtering out negative posts helps keep people happy and clicking, there’s little reason to think that they won’t do just that. As long as the platform remains such an important gatekeeper – and their algorithms utterly opaque – we should be wary about the amount of power and trust we delegate to it.”

Robert Blackie, director of digital at Ogilvy One marketing agency, said the way internet companies filtered information they showed users was fundamental to their business models, which made them reluctant to be open about it.

“To guarantee continued public acceptance they will have to discuss this more openly in the future,” he said. “There will have to be either independent reviewers of what they do or government regulation. If they don’t get the value exchange right then people will be reluctant to use their services, which is potentially a big business problem.”

Feel a bit more awake now? Remember, that was a 2012 study. Let’s move on to 2016, when Shoshana Zuboff penned the following for German paper Franfurter Allgemeine. Just in case you thought it was all about Facebook. This is a bit more abstract, but worth it, in all its length (which I don’t have space for).

 

The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

[..] The game is no longer about sending you a mail order catalogue or even about targeting online advertising. The game is selling access to the real-time flow of your daily life –your reality—in order to directly influence and modify your behavior for profit. This is the gateway to a new universe of monetization opportunities: restaurants who want to be your destination. Service vendors who want to fix your brake pads.

Shops who will lure you like the fabled Sirens. The “various people” are anyone, and everyone who wants a piece of your behavior for profit. Small wonder, then, that Google recently announced that its maps will not only provide the route you search but will also suggest a destination.

This is just one peephole, in one corner, of one industry, and the peepholes are multiplying like cockroaches. Among the many interviews I’ve conducted over the past three years, the Chief Data Scientist of a much-admired Silicon Valley company that develops applications to improve students’ learning told me:

“The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.

[..] There was a time when we laid responsibility for the assault on behavioral data at the door of the state and its security agencies. Later, we also blamed the cunning practices of a handful of banks, data brokers, and Internet companies. Some attribute the assault to an inevitable “age of big data,” as if it were possible to conceive of data born pure and blameless, data suspended in some celestial place where facts sublimate into truth.

I’ve come to a different conclusion: The assault we face is driven in large measure by the exceptional appetites of a wholly new genus of capitalism, a systemic coherent new logic of accumulation that I call surveillance capitalism. Capitalism has been hijacked by a lucrative surveillance project that subverts the “normal” evolutionary mechanisms associated with its historical success and corrupts the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its populations and societies, thus enabling the fruitful expansion of market democracy.

[..] the application of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science for continuous algorithmic improvement constitutes an immensely expensive, sophisticated, and exclusive twenty-first century “means of production.” [..] the new manufacturing process converts behavioral surplus into prediction products designed to predict behavior now and soon.

[..] these prediction products are sold into a new kind of meta-market that trades exclusively in future behavior. The better (more predictive) the product, the lower the risks for buyers, and the greater the volume of sales. Surveillance capitalism’s profits derive primarily, if not entirely, from such markets for future behavior.

And then we get to today. For more examples of the same, and for confirmation that even though all of this stuff was known -let alone knowable- years ago, nothing has changed.

 

Ex-Facebook Insider Says Covert Data Harvesting Was Routine

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach. “My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

[..] That feature, called friends permission, was a boon to outside software developers who, from 2007 onwards, were given permission by Facebook to build quizzes and games – like the widely popular FarmVille – that were hosted on the platform. The apps proliferated on Facebook in the years leading up to the company’s 2012 initial public offering, an era when most users were still accessing the platform via laptops and computers rather than smartphones.

Facebook took a 30% cut of payments made through apps, but in return enabled their creators to have access to Facebook user data. Parakilas does not know how many companies sought friends permission data before such access was terminated around mid-2014. However, he said he believes tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers may have done so. Parakilas estimates that “a majority of Facebook users” could have had their data harvested by app developers without their knowledge.

[..] During the time he was at Facebook, Parakilas said the company was keen to encourage more developers to build apps for its platform and “one of the main ways to get developers interested in building apps was through offering them access to this data”. Shortly after arriving at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters he was told that any decision to ban an app required the personal approval of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg…

OK, to summarize: Mark Zuckerberg will be fine, apart from some stock losses. Facebook’s data use policies may not conform to every single piece of legislation in every country Facebook operates in, but they’ve been there since 2004. So lawmakers are as culpable as the company is.

There’ll be big words, lots of them. And there may be people leaving Facebook. But the platform is addictive, and 2 billion addicts is a very large target group. Some other company may develop a competitor and promise ‘better’ policies and conditions, but the big money is in the very thing discussed today: manipulating people’s data, and thereby manipulating their behavior.

Perhaps if news media and advertizers were so inclined, they’d explain to their readers and viewers exactly that, but in the end they A) all do it to some extent, and B) are all connected to Facebook and Google to some extent.

But the main driving force is and will remain the intelligence agencies, who have come to depend on ‘social media’ for the one thing they themselves were incapable of providing, but saw Alphabet and Facebook incite gullible people themselves to provide: an artificial intelligence driven database that knows more about you than you know yourself.

That the intelligence community today is powered by artificial intelligence is pretty out there to start with. That AI would give it the means to predict your future behavior, and manipulate you into that behavior seemingly at will, is something that warrants reflection.

George Orwell could not have foreseen this.

 

 

Apr 302016
 
 April 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 30 2016


Byron Street haberdashery, New York 1900

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)
US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)
UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)
Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)
Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)
China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)
Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)
Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)
Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)
Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)
Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)
Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)
More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)
Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)
The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)
Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Very funny. But the one country that has seen its currency gain global advantage of late is the US itself.

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)

The U.S. put economies including China, Japan and Germany on a new currency watch list, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America. The inaugural list also includes South Korea and Taiwan, the Treasury Department said Friday in a revamped version of its semi-annual report on the foreign-exchange policies of major U.S. trading partners. The five economies met two of the three criteria used to judge unfair practices under a February law that seeks to enforce U.S. trade interests. Meeting all three would trigger action by the president to enter discussions with the country and seek potential penalties.

The new scrutiny of some of the world’s biggest economies comes amid a bruising presidential campaign in which candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties have questioned the merits of free trade. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has promised to declare China a currency manipulator, and the latest report may fail to appease critics in Congress who say China’s practices have cost American manufacturing jobs. “We will continue to watch this process closely to ensure that the president squarely addresses currency manipulation and stands up for the American people,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in a statement on the Treasury report. The Treasury had already been monitoring countries for evidence of currency manipulation under a 1988 law.

In the latest report, the department concluded that no major trading partner qualified as a currency manipulator; the last country it labeled as such was China, in 1994. Under the new law, Treasury officials developed three criteria to decide if countries are being unfair: an economy having a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion; having a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3% of its GDP; and one that repeatedly depreciates its currency by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2% of output over the year. China, Japan, Germany and South Korea were flagged as a result of their trade and current-account surpluses, the department said. Taiwan made the list because of its current-account surplus and persistent intervention to weaken the currency, according to the Treasury. If a country meets all three criteria, it could eventually be cut off from some U.S. development financing and excluded from U.S. government contracts.

Read more …

But then again, the idea is probably that attack is the best defense…

US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)

The Obama administration delivered a shot across the bow to Asia’s leading exporters and Germany for their economic policies and warned that a number of major economies around the globe could face intense pressure to engage in currency interventions to counter slow growth. The U.S. Treasury Department, in its semiannual currency report to Congress, called out China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany for relying on policies it says threaten to damage the U.S. and the global economy. The countries are cited in a new name-and-shame list that can trigger sanctions against offending trade partners under fresh powers Congress granted last year to address economic policies that threaten U.S. industries.

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned other countries aren’t doing enough to boost demand at home, relying too heavily on exports to bolster growth. Counting on cheap currencies as a shortcut to boosting exports can create risks across the global economy, as nations fight to stay ahead of their competitors. Over the past two decades, for example, many U.S. officials have accused China of using an undervalued currency to bolster its manufacturing sector. A cheaper currency makes products cheaper overseas. Although China has moved to address some of those worries, tension over currency policy more broadly has heightened in recent years, amid an unprecedented era of easy-money policies, weak global growth and rising exchange-rate volatility.

The failure of many countries to overhaul their economies after the financial crisis has prompted economists to slash global growth forecasts. Amplifying those worries, a 20% surge in the dollar’s value against a basket of major currencies over the past two years has slowed U.S. growth, as American products became more expensive to international buyers. The Obama administration said in its new report that the economic and currency policies of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Germany are adding to the global economy’s problems. Absent stronger efforts by those countries to boost domestic demand, “global growth has suffered and will continue to suffer,” the Treasury Department said.

Read more …

This is not good. This is very bad.

UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)

British mortgage approvals fell for the first time in six months in March shortly before a new tax took effect, but consumers borrowed at the fastest rate in over a decade, Bank of England data showed. Mortgage approvals for house purchases numbered 71,357 in March, down from 73,195 in February. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast 74,500 mortgage approvals were made in March. British finance minister George Osborne announced in November that he would add a surcharge on the purchase of buy-to-let properties and second homes from April 1, in a move aimed to boost home ownership by first-time buyers. The news spurred an increase in buying of such properties in recent months before March’s slowdown as the deadline approached.

Net mortgage lending, which lags approvals, rose by £7.435 billion last month, the biggest increase since October 2007, before the global financial crisis hit and above all forecasts in the Reuters poll. Figures released earlier this week by the British Bankers’ Association, which are less comprehensive than those of the BoE, also showed a fall in mortgage approvals in March accompanied by a rise in mortgage lending as previously approved deals were carried out. The BoE said consumer credit grew by £1.883 billion last month, the strongest increase since March 2005 and a long way above the median forecast for an increase of £1.3 billion in the Reuters poll of economists. The rise was not a one-off: in the first quarter as a whole, consumer credit rose by an annualised 11.6%, the strongest increase since the first three months of 2015.

Read more …

The narrative: “..progress [in China] has been a let-down..”. But a 26% plunge in revenue is not just a ‘let-down’.

Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)

Apple on Friday ended its worst week on the stock market since 2013 as worries festered about a slowdown in iPhone sales and after influential shareholder Carl Icahn revealed he sold his entire stake. Shares of Apple, a mainstay of many Wall Street portfolios and the largest component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, have dropped 11% in the past five sessions. That shrank the technology behemoth’s market capitalization by $65 billion. Confidence in the company has been shaken since posting its first-ever quarterly decline in iPhone sales and first revenue drop in 13 years on Tuesday, although Apple investors pointed to the stock’s relatively low valuation as a key reason to hold onto the stock. “If you’re going to buy Apple, you have to buy it for the long term, because the next year or two are going to be very tough,” said Michael Yoshikami, chief executive of Destination Wealth Management.

Faced with lackluster sales of smartphones in the United States, Apple has bet on China as a major new growth engine, but progress there has been a let-down. Revenue from China slumped 26% during the March quarter and its iBooks Stores and iTunes Movie service in China were shut down last week after the introduction of new regulations on online publishing. Pointing to concerns that Beijing could make it difficult for Apple to conduct business in China, long-time Apple investor Carl Icahn told CNBC on Thursday that he had sold his stake in the company he previously described as a “no brainer” and undervalued. The selloff has left Apple trading at about 11 times its expected 12-month earnings, cheap compared to its average of 17.5 over the past 10 years. S&P 500 stocks on average are trading at 17 times expected earnings.

Read more …

China is fast becoming a one-dimensional nation.

Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)

With a nod from Beijing, China’s local governments have embarked on a massive new round of off-balance sheet debt financing, underpinning a fragile pick up in the economy but raising red flags on financial stability. The increased borrowing for an economy already swimming in debt adds to concerns about growing bubbles in certain major asset classes, such as real estate and commodities, and a bond market seeing a rise in corporate defaults. Economists say increasing public sector investment – most of it financed locally with debt – is behind improvements in China’s economy. First-quarter GDP rose at the weakest pace in seven years, but other data suggested growth was picking up in March. “With new infrastructure projects effectively all funded by debt and more consumer mortgages, the leverage problem and risks on the financial sector are rising,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research report.

Local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), which Chinese cities use to circumvent official spending limits, raised at least 538 billion yuan ($83 billion) in bonds in the first quarter, up 178% from a year earlier and the highest quarterly issuance since June 2014, Everbright Securities said, quoting figures from privately held financial data provider WIND. Issuance in March alone was a monthly record of 287 billion yuan ($44.3 billion). China’s planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, declined to comment on the sharp rise in LGFV issuance. Most of the LGFV debt in the first quarter was made up of so-called enterprise bonds, which the NDRC oversees. Beijing had been trying to move LGFV debt on to municipal balance sheets via the 2014 creation of a municipal bond market. But policymakers retreated from this in the middle of 2015, easing borrowing restrictions as economic growth stumbled.

Consequently, LGFV issuance in the first quarter of 2016 was nearly 60% as large as the municipal bond issuance meant to replace it, up from just 37% in the fourth quarter of 2015, central clearinghouse and brokerage data shows. “In the second half of last year, the government raised the%age of project financing that can be funded with debt,” said Yang Zhao, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, helping spark the flurry of LGFV deals. “If they continue on, the debt-to-GDP ratio could actually go up quite rapidly. I don’t think the policy is sustainable, and you’ll see policymakers slow down the pace of (credit) easing in a quarter or two.”

Read more …

“..Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)

For the first time in two years, China’s stocks, bonds and currency are all a losing proposition. The Shanghai Composite dropped 2.2% in April, the yuan fell 0.6% versus the dollar, while government and corporate bonds tumbled, with the five-year sovereign yield rising 27 basis points. Even a sudden revival in the nation’s commodities markets is looking fragile after frenzied speculation prompted exchanges to take measures to cool trading. The declines mark a reversal from March, when the benchmark equities gauge jumped 12% and the yuan rallied the most since 2010 as new credit surged. Improving data from industrial output to retail sales have led traders to pare back bets for more stimulus, while rising credit defaults are fueling the biggest selloff in junk debt since the data became available in 2014.

Deutsche Bank is one bull looking to reduce holdings of Chinese stocks on bets the economy will fail to reach the government’s growth targets and yuan declines will accelerate. “Clearly there was a turn in China,” said Sean Taylor, CIO for Asia Pacific for Deutsche Bank’s wealth-management unit in Hong Kong. “You’ve seen money in the A-share market going to property and commodities. We’ve been adding risk in the last few months and coming into the summer, we will take it away and wait for opportunities to add again. We are not yet ready for China’s structural story because earnings haven’t come through.” Investor interest in the world’s second-largest equity market is waning, with turnover on the Shanghai Stock Exchange falling to levels last seen regularly in 2014 and a gauge of volatility dropping to a 12-month low. Investments in stock-market funds fell by 89 billion yuan ($13.7 billion) in April.

[..] Government bonds are coming under pressure as inflation increased to the highest since mid-2014, while corporate notes are slumping amid a spate of defaults and a surprise move by state-owned China Railway Materials to halt its bond trading this month because of what the company called “repayment issues.” “We will definitely see more defaults and difficulties for corporates in issuing new bonds,” said David Gaud at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management in Hong Kong. “Credit costs will go up and credit spreads will widen. Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

Read more …

Small potatoes for now, but at the same time there’s nothing in sight that could reverse the trend.

Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)

The number of Hong Kong homeowners with apartments worth less than their mortgages surged 15 times in the first quarter, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The number of negative-equity mortgages rose to 1,432, with a total value of HK$4.9 billion ($634 million), for the three months ended March, from 95 such home loans worth HK$418 million in the previous quarter, the city’s de facto central bank said on its website Friday.

Property prices in Hong Kong, which reached a record last year, have been sliding and sales tumbled to a 25-year low in February amid economic uncertainty. Home prices in the city slumped 13% from September to March, according to data compiled by Centaline Property Agency. The government is determined to tackle the housing problem and maintain a healthy development of the market, the city’s Rating and Valuation Department said in a report on Friday, while maintaining that it has no intention to withdraw demand-side property curbs.

Read more …

The one word that comes to mind: incestuous: “..The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities..”

Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)

Derivatives brokers choosing where to park their margin money will now have the option of the world’s most powerful central bank. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has authorised three of the US’s largest clearing houses, run by CME Group and Intercontinental Exchange, and the Options Clearing Corporation, to open an account at the central bank. ICE’s permit is for its US credit derivatives clearing house. The change at the CME applies only to house cash belonging to brokers, its executives said on a conference call on Thursday. Margin posted by their customers will continue to be walled off and held by commercial banks or in US Treasury bonds, they confirmed.

The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities, which recognised the dangers to the financial system if they failed and gave them access to the Fed’s cash in an emergency. Tougher regulation of markets means they must now handle billions of dollars of futures and swaps trades every day. Traders who use derivatives must safeguard their deals against defaults with margin and collateral. For clearing brokers whose business has been damaged by years of low interest rates, keeping cash at the Fed could yield better returns. New market rules also authorised a regional Fed bank to maintain an account for designated clearing houses and pay earnings on any balance, as it already does for US banks subject to Fed oversight.

“When effective, we expect to pass a higher rate to clearing members for their house positions than we do today,” John Pietrowicz, CME’s chief financial officer, told analysts. Mr Pietrowicz said the accounts would open in the “next month or so”. While the majority of the returns would be passed back to clearing members, CME would also be able to “earn more” as cash balances increased. CME applied for access to a Fed account in 2014, a spokeswoman said, and would direct funds into an omnibus account for collateral and settlement services. The derivatives industry and its regulator have argued in recent years that tougher banking laws have hurt the brokerage business by making clearing uneconomical. “The resulting industry consolidation would increase systemic risk by concentrating derivatives clearing activities in fewer clearing member banks,” Walt Lukken, chief executive of the FIA industry association, testified to a US House agriculture subcommittee on Thursday.

Read more …

It might be best to ignore these numbers. Whatever BBG’s economist panel predicts is always wrong. Growth numbers are always manipulated. One good thing to take away is that consumer prices do not equal inflation.

Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s policy challenge was highlighted once again on Friday, with the fastest economic growth in a year overshadowed by a renewed drop in consumer prices. The euro-area inflation rate fell to minus 0.2% in April, a worse out-turn than the 0.1% decline forecast by economists in a Bloomberg survey. It wasn’t all bad news for the ECB president however, with the economy expanding 0.6% in the first quarter and unemployment declining in March to the lowest since 2011. Draghi has said the situation in the 19-nation region is slowly improving, but that hasn’t assuaged his concerns about the inflation outlook. Policy makers cut interest rates and ramped up other stimulus last month, and the ECB president has signaled he’s willing to do even more to revive price growth. “Draghi has to be on alert – despite the solid growth momentum, inflation is not picking up,” said Michael Schubert at Commerzbank.

“The ECB will have to do more in the future, an extension of QE being most likely, but for the time being we’ll have to be patient.” Eurostat released the euro-area growth data about two weeks earlier than usual as it tries to make figures on output more timely, which could help inform the ECB’s policy-making. The new timing brings the region into line with the U.S. and U.K., which also publish first estimates within about a month of the end of the quarter. Based on the latest data, the euro area grew faster than both countries in the January-March period, with the U.K. expanding 0.4% and the U.S. by 0.5% on an annualized basis. National euro-zone data on Friday also provided some positive news, with both the French and Spanish economies expanding faster than expected. Growth in France accelerated to 0.5% from 0.3%, helped by investment and consumer spending, while Spain shrugged off a political deadlock that’s left it facing new elections to grow 0.8%.

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More economists entirely clueless on the link between debt and deflation. There’s tons of them, and they’re on ‘both sides of the debate’. And it doesn’t matter one iota how many ‘equations’ from their school books they can quote. Suggesting that increasing VAT rates -in incremental steps- will make people spend more ignores the reason why they don’t spend now: debt. In fact, VAT increases will make things more expensive, and that will result in less spending, not more. That’s what Japan has been showing us for 20 years.

Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)

In his Marjolin lecture on 4 February 2016, Mario Draghi asserted that “there are forces in the global economy that are conspiring to hold inflation down” (Draghi 2016). Eurostat confirmed that in February 2016 the annual inflation rate for the Eurozone was -0.2% (Eurostat 2016). On 10 March 2016, the ECB board agreed upon a set of largely unexpected monetary policy measures, with the aim of boosting inflation and growth in the Eurozone. These measures were inspired, among others, by thoughts in Bernanke (2010) and Blanchard et al. (2010).

The conundrum the Eurozone faces is finding a recipe to support inflation and ultimately consumption and economic growth in a setting in which traditional monetary policy measures are not viable, and governments cannot support growth with fiscal spending because of their large debt-to-GDP ratios. In this column, we discuss an alternative to monetary interventions, which we call unconventional fiscal policy. • Unconventional fiscal policy aims to increase growth and inflation in a budget neutral fashion, while keeping constant the tax burden on households.

Feldstein (2002) introduced the notion of unconventional fiscal policy measures at times of liquidity traps. Among several possible interventions Feldstein proposed: “A series of pre-announced increases in the value-added tax (VAT) to generate consumer price inflation, and hence increase private spending via intertemporal substitution.” In his words: “This [VAT] tax-induced inflation would give households an incentive to spend sooner rather than waiting until prices are substantially higher.” The intuition for this proposal is based on a simple logic: announcing higher prices in the future will increase current inflation expectations. Higher inflation expectations at times of fixed nominal interest rates should reduce real interest rates (Fisher equation), and lower real interest rates should increase households’ incentives to consume rather than save (Euler equation).

Because imposing higher VAT reduces households’ wealth – especially poorer households’ wealth – and might affect households’ labour supply, lower income taxes (or transfers for those households that do not pay any income tax) should accompany the increase in VAT. Designed this way, the policy measure would be budget-neutral for the government, as well as for households. It would incentivise households to consume immediately, jump-start the economy, and hence help the economy exit the slump. In his presidential address to the 2011 American Economic Association Annual Meeting, Bob Hall (2011) reiterated Feldstein’s ideas, and encouraged further research to understand the viability and effects of unconventional fiscal policy, both theoretically and empirically.

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Clueless: “..the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline..”

Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)

Oil’s climb above $45 a barrel is reassuring influential figures from BP to the IEA that the industry is finally recovering from the worst slump in a generation. Others say the market is about to fall into the same trap as last year. There’s a sense of deja vu at Commerzbank, BNP Paribas and UBS, who say crude’s gain of about 70% from a 12-year low in January resembles the recovery that took hold this time last year – only to sputter out by May as the supply glut endured. Prices will sink back towards $30 a barrel in the coming weeks, BNP and UBS warn. “There are dangerous parallels to 2015,” said Eugen Weinberg at Commerzbank. “The market already appears overheated and a correction is overdue.”

Last year, Brent crude rose 45% from January to almost $68 in May as traders anticipated a rapid decrease in U.S. output as drilling rigs were idled. The rally reversed when production kept rising, peaking at 9.61 million barrels a day in June 2015, a year after the price slump began. While drilling cutbacks eventually took their toll and the nation’s output slipped to 8.9 million barrels a day last week, the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline.

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At least something’s trickling down…

Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)

When oil and natural gas prices began their swan dive in 2014 and continued their descent in 2015, the casualties seemed obvious. Exploration and production companies would need to file for bankruptcy protection and restructure en masse. Banks that financed these companies would need to write down bad loans and noteholders that invested in their high yield debt would be left holding the bag, or at least, the equity securities of the reorganized producers. The damage would also extend to the so-called “midstream” companies that transport oil and gas from wells to processing facilities and end-users downstream. It was thought that the damage to such midstream companies would be substantial, but manageable.

However, an ongoing legal tussle in the Sabine Oil and Gas bankruptcy proceeding in New York threatens to devastate an important corner of the $500 billion midstream industry and set off a new and entirely unexpected phase of the energy crisis. The dispute started in September 2015, when Sabine filed a motion in its bankruptcy case seeking authority to reject contracts it had entered into with two separate midstream operators that provided gas gathering and other services. Rejecting contracts and walking away from pre-bankruptcy obligations is commonplace for bankrupt debtors, but in the oil and gas industry many midstream companies thought their arrangements were protected from this risk.

That is because such gathering contracts “dedicate” the relevant oil and gas mineral interests and surrounding acreage to the midstream companies, which is intended to create a property interest known as a “real covenant” that “runs with the land.” Under longstanding bankruptcy principles, conveyances of real property—and certain associated rights—are not contracts that can be “rejected.” If the midstream companies prevailed in the argument that contractual dedications could create real covenants, then if a producer filed for bankruptcy protection or if its mineral rights were transferred to a new owner, the midstream company would retain its exclusive property right to gather oil and gas produced from the land and receive a fee for such services.

This argument seemed a strong one. However, after examining the applicable Texas property law at issue, on March 8, 2016, Judge Chapman issued a non-binding bench ruling holding that the legal requirements for treating these arrangements as real property interests were not satisfied and that they could be invalidated in bankruptcy through the contract rejection process. This ruling rocked the midstream world. It also came when similar attempts to reject gathering agreements were underway in the Quicksilver Resources and Magnum Hunter Resources bankruptcy cases in Delaware, leading to a sense that the midstream industry was under assault.

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We’re fast losing the conditions that gave us life. But we lack the intelligence to understand this. Which makes it only fitting. If you’re not smart enough to survive, then you won’t.

More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)

More tigers have been killed in India already this year than in the whole of 2015, a census showed Friday, raising doubts about the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The Wildlife Protection Society of India, a conservation charity, said 28 of the endangered beasts had been poached by April 26, three more than last year. Tiger meat and bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch high prices. “The stats are worrying indeed,” said Tito Joseph, programme manager at the group. “Poaching can only be stopped when we have coordinated, intelligence-led enforcement operations, because citizens of many countries are involved in illegal wildlife trade. It’s a transnational organised crime.”

Poachers use guns, poison and even steel traps and electrocution to kill their prey. India is home to more than half of the world’s tiger population with 2,226 in its reserves according to the last count in 2014. The figures come after a report by the WWF and the Global Tiger Forum said the number of wild tigers in the world had increased for the first time in more than a century to an estimated 3,890. The report cited improved conservation efforts, although its authors cautioned that the rise could be partly attributed to improved data gathering.

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“Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.”

Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)

A small mammal has sabotaged the world’s most powerful scientific instrument. The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable. “We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, the organization that runs the $7 billion particle collider in Switzerland. Although they had not conducted a thorough analysis of the remains, Marsollier says they believe the creature was “a weasel, probably.” (Update: An official briefing document from CERN indicates the creature may have been a marten.)

The shutdown comes as the LHC was preparing to collect new data on the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle it discovered in 2012. The Higgs is believed to endow other particles with mass, and it is considered to be a cornerstone of the modern theory of particle physics. Researchers have seen some hints in recent data that other, yet-undiscovered particles might also be generated inside the LHC. If those other particles exist, they could revolutionize researcher’s understanding of everything from the laws of gravity, to quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, Marsollier says, scientists will have to wait while workers bring the machine back online. Repairs will take a few days, but getting the machine fully ready to smash might take another week or two. “It may be mid-May,” he says.

These sorts of mishaps are not unheard of, says Marsollier. The LHC is located outside of Geneva. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.” There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to have dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems. Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.

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Though they have every right to defend themselves, something makes me wish Tyler Durden had counted to 10 before writing this. They could have limited it to: “Zero Hedge admits to having hired an unstable writer”, and left it at that. That’s all the Bloomberg attempt at smut warrants. As is, Zero Hedge poebably killed the secrecy as much as Bloomberg did.

The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)

Over the years, Zero Hedge has proven to be a magnet for media attention. It started years ago with a NY Magazine article published in September 2009 which first “unmasked” the people behind Zero Hedge with the “The Dow Zero Insurgency: The nothing-can-be-believed chaos of the financial crisis created a golden opportunity for a blog run by a mysterious ex-hedge-funder with a dodgy past and conspiracy theories to burn” in which we were presented as a bunch of “conspiracy theory” tin foil hat paranoid loons. We are ok with being typecast as “conspiracy theorists” as these “theories” tend to become “conspiracy fact” months to years later.

Others, such as “academics who defend Wall Street to reap rewards” had taken on a different approach, accusing the website of being a “Russian information operation”, supporting pro-Russian interests, which allegedly involved KGB and even Putin ties, simply because we refused to follow the pro-US script. We are certainly ok with being the object of other’s conspiracy theories, in this case completely false ones since we have never been in contact with anyone in Russia, or the US, or any government for that matter. We have also never accepted a dollar of outside funding from either public or private organization – we have prided ourselves in our financial independence because we have been profitable since inception. Which brings us to the latest “outing” of Zero Hedge, this time from none other than Bloomberg which this morning leads with “Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street’s Renegade Blog” in which it makes the tacit admission that “Bloomberg LP competes with Zero Hedge in providing financial news and information.”

To an extent we were surprised, because while much of the “information” Bloomberg claims it reveals could have been discovered by anyone with a cursory 30 second google search, this time the accusation lobbed at Zero Hedge by Bloomberg was a new one: that we are capitalists who seek to generate profits and who have expectations from our employees. This comes from a media organization which caters to Wall Street and is run by one of the wealthiest people in the world. Underlying the entire Bloomberg article is disclosure based on a former employee at Zero Hedge. Traditionally we don’t reply to such media stories but in this case we’ll make an exception as there is a substantial amount of information Bloomberg has purposefully failed to add.

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Brussels will never be able to push through visa-free travel for nearly 80 million Turks. It’s simply not going to happen, not in a democratic way. Greece should be very afraid.

Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday evening that there are disappointments and the EU has un-kept promises in recent Turkish-EU relations and that Turkey will stop implementing the recent readmission agreement if the EU does not keep its word and grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. Speaking to a group of journalist who accompanied his visit to Qatar on Thursday, Davutoglu said that Turkey is successfully implementing the EU-Turkey deal from March 18 and that the deal has ended illegal migration to Europe.

“Last October there were 6,800 illegal migrants passing over to Europe from Turkey every day. This figure went down to 3,000 in January after we started to implement the terms of the November deal with EU. We made a game changing move with the March 18 deal and this figure is now about 25 per day. Moreover, in April there have been some days on which no migrant passed to Europe,” Davutoglu said, and asked: “Have you heard about the death of a migrant in the Aegean Sea since April 4?” Asserting that Turkey will fulfill all EU criteria for visa-free travel on Monday, Davutoglu said that Ankara will stop implementing the readmission agreement if the EU does not grant visa-free travel.

“These two issues are linked to each other and are part of the deal with the EU. This is a test for everyone. We think that we have passed our test,” Davutoglu said, and added that it is now time for the EU to fulfill its obligations. “[The EU] promised to invest €1 billion for refuges until end of July. We will see whether they keep their promise or not. We have experienced disappointment in the past. We will react negatively if these experiences reoccur,” Davutoglu said, adding that in 2004 the EU had promised to lift restrictions on Turkish Cypriots if they vote for the Annan Plan, but it did not keep its promise afterward.

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Apr 152016
 
 April 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gottscho-Schleisner Plaza buildings from Central Park, NY 1933

A Year After European Stocks Hit Record, Crash Angst Hits Traders (BBG)
The One Chart That Shows ECB Money Printing Is Failing (Ind.)
Oil Demand Falls Much Faster Than Supply (Berman)
Oil Producers Head For Doha Counting $315 Billion Cost Of Slump (BBG)
Soured Corporate Loans Surge at Biggest US Banks on Oil (BBG)
China’s Economy Faces Recovery Without Legs (WSJ)
China’s Giant Bonfire Of Debt Needs One Spark To Become An Inferno (MW)
Funny Numbers Show Money Leaving China (Balding)
China Is Set to Allow Banks to Swap Bad Loans for Equity in Borrowers (WSJ)
China’s Giant Steel Industry Just Churned Out Record Supply (BBG)
What Negative Interest Rates Mean for the World (WSJ)
Negative Rates: Danish Couple Gets Paid Interest on Their Mortgage (WSJ)
Deutsche Bank Settles Silver, Gold Price-Manipulation Suits (BBG)
IMF Says Greek Debt Numbers Don’t Add Up as EU Defends Its Plan (BBG)
UK and European Allies Plan To Deal ‘Hammer Blow’ To Tax Evasion (G.)
Spanish Industry Minister Resigns After Panama Papers Revelations (AFP)
Ten European Nations Want Military Planes For Refugee Deportations (AP)

Let that graph sink in.

A Year After European Stocks Hit Record, Crash Angst Hits Traders (BBG)

A year ago today, European equities hit their highest levels ever. But the euphoria about Mario Draghi’s stimulus program didn’t last, and trader skepticism is now rampant. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index has lost 17% since its record, and investors who piled in last year are now unwinding bets at the fastest rate since 2013 as analysts predict an earnings contraction. The trading pattern looks familiar: a fast run to just over 400 on the gauge, then disaster. Optimism has turned to doubt with ECB President Draghi’s bond-buying program doing little to bolster the economy while sowing concerns about bank profitability. To Benedict Goette of Crossbow Partners, the odds of another crisis are higher than a rally to fresh records.

“The 2009-2015 rally originated from two main drivers: a massive stimulus, and credit expansion in China,” said Goette. “European earnings have not followed suit so far. Skepticism regarding central-bank operations has started to emerge.” Even with a recent rebound, the Stoxx 600 remains 6% lower for the year, and strategists are predicting the gauge will end 2016 at about the same level where it started. Analysts, who in January called for earnings growth, are now expecting declines of 2.8%. Investors have withdrawn money from funds tracking the region’s equities for nine straight weeks, the longest streak since May 2013, according to a Bank of America note dated April 7 that cited EPFR Global data.

Since last year’s peak, all industry groups in the Stoxx 600 have fallen, with lenders, miners and automakers down more than 25%. Traders have had to contend with a rebound in the euro despite additional ECB stimulus, persistently low inflation and slowing growth from China. Fewer than one in five fund managers are confident Draghi’s easing will be a major source of growth for Europe, a Bank of America survey showed April 12.

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In case that wasn’t clear yet.

The One Chart That Shows ECB Money Printing Is Failing (Ind.)

Good news: prices are no longer falling in the eurozone. But don’t break out the champagne. According to the European number crunchers Eurostat consumer prices across the 19 nation bloc were flat on a year earlier in March. The inflation rate was zero. This means the eurozone remains very much within the deflationary danger zone. The ECB has been trying to break the grip of deflation – which can be lethal for economic growth – on the bloc for more than a year now. To this end the ECB’s president Mario Draghi announced a major programme to buy up eurozone government bonds and company debt in January 2015.

The central bank has been buying €60bn of these assets a month in the hope that that flood of money entering the continent’s financial system would lift inflation into positive territory. The trouble is, as the chart below shows, is that all that money printing doesn’t seem to be working in pushing up prices. But the ECB is not giving up. In December it announced that it would continue its programme until March 2017 “or beyond”. The programme was originally supposed to end in September 2016. And in March it upped the size of the monthly bond purchases to €80bn. In other words, the ECB will continue printing money until inflation rises to the central bank’s target of (just below) 2% a year.

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“Supply increased only 20,000 barrels per day in March. Consumption, however, decreased by 250,000 barrels per day.”

Oil Demand Falls Much Faster Than Supply (Berman)

Oil prices have increased 60% since late January. Is this an oil-price recovery? Two previous price rallies ended badly because they had little basis in market-balance fundamentals. The current rally will probably fail for the same reason. Although oil prices reached the highest levels so far in 2016 during the past few days, the global over-supply of oil worsened in March. EIA data released this week shows that the net surplus (supply minus consumption) increased to 1.45 million barrels per day (Figure 1). Compared to February, the surplus increased 270,000 barrels per day. That’s a bad sign for the durable price recovery that some believe is already underway.

The production freeze that OPEC plus Russia will discuss this weekend has already arrived. Supply increased only 20,000 barrels per day in March. Consumption, however, decreased by 250,000 barrels per day. That’s not good news for the world economy although first quarter consumption is commonly lower than levels during the second half of the year. Meanwhile on Wednesday, April 12, Brent futures closed at almost $45 and WTI futures at more than $42 per barrel, the highest oil prices since early December 2015.


Figure 1. EIA world liquids market balance (supply minus consumption). Source: EIA STEO April 2016 Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

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Any agreement willl exist on paper only.

Oil Producers Head For Doha Counting $315 Billion Cost Of Slump (BBG)

The world’s top oil exporters are burning through their petrodollar assets at an accelerating pace, increasing the pressure to reach a deal to freeze production to bolster prices. The 18 nations set to gather in Doha on Sunday to discuss a production freeze have spent $315 billion of their foreign-exchange reserves – about a fifth of their total – since the oil slump started in November 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the last three months of 2015, reserves fell nearly $54 billion, the largest quarterly drop since the crisis started. The petrodollar burn has consequences beyond the oil nations, affecting international fund managers like Aberdeen Asset Management and global currencies markets.

Oil nations have traditionally held their reserves in U.S. Treasuries and other liquid securities. Nonetheless, the impact in credit markets has been muted as central banks continue to buy debt. “We expect 2016 to be yet another painful year for most of the oil states,” said Abhishek Deshpande, oil analyst at Natixis in London. The gathering in Doha will comprise both OPEC and non-OPEC states, though any deal to boost prices will probably be largely cosmetic as countries are already pumping nearly at record levels. In a letter inviting countries to the Doha meeting, Qatar Energy Minister Mohammed Al Sada said oil countries need to stabilize the market in “the interest of a healthier world economy as the present low price is seen to be benefiting no one.”

Saudi Arabia accounts for nearly half of the decline in foreign-exchange reserves among oil producers, with $138 billion – or 23% of its total – followed by Russia, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria. In the final three months of last year, Saudi Arabia burned through $38.1 billion, the biggest quarterly reduction in data going back to 1962.

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“Soured loans to companies jumped 67% at the three biggest U.S. banks in the first quarter..”

Soured Corporate Loans Surge at Biggest US Banks on Oil (BBG)

Soured loans to companies jumped 67% at the three biggest U.S. banks in the first quarter, the latest sign that corporate credit quality is eroding after energy prices plunged. At Bank of America, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, bad loans to companies reached their highest levels since at least 2013. For now, weakness is mainly confined to oil and gas and related industries, executives said. U.S. crude has tumbled more than 60% since June 2014, although they have rallied since February. Troubled loans have broadly been declining at big banks for years, and at JPMorgan and Bank of America, are less than 1% of total assets.

But there are signs that default risk is rising in sectors outside of energy, including health care, James Elder, a director in corporate and financial institutions at Standard & Poor’s, said in a presentation this week. Charles Peabody, a banking analyst at Portales Partners, downgraded JPMorgan to “underperform” from “market perform” in February in part because of concerns about the potential for mounting credit losses. “We’re at the very early stages of an inflection point in corporate credit quality, and it’s getting worse from here,” Peabody said. Pri de Silva, an analyst at CreditSights, is among those who see current credit problems as limited to oil and gas and related industries. “At this point, I don’t see much contagion,” he said.

Banks have been getting ready for loans to deteriorate – the industry added $1.43 billion in the fourth quarter to the total money it has set aside to cover bad loans, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data compiled by Bloomberg, the first time banks in aggregate added to reserves since 2009. Banks usually classify loans to companies as “nonperforming” after the borrower is delinquent for 90 days. Loans that are unlikely to be repaid are also typically designated as “nonperforming.” Now loans are actually souring. At JPMorgan, bad loans to companies more than doubled to $2.21 billion from $1.02 billion in the fourth quarter, according to company filings. Bank of America said they rose 32% to $1.6 billion. And at Wells Fargo, they rose 64% to $3.97 billion, which includes $343 million from loans it acquired from GE Capital.

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This is such a contradiction in terms it’s crazy the WSJ prints it: “China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt..”

China’s Economy Faces Recovery Without Legs (WSJ)

China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt and a reflating property bubble. Dipping into that old bag of tricks, however, seems likely to dredge up the same old problems. Official data showed China’s GDP slowed to 6.7% in the first quarter from a year earlier. As expected, that is the slowest in years, but underlying data showed activity picked up toward the end of the quarter. Home buyers, for instance, continued to splash out for new property, with residential sales rising 54% in the first quarter from a year earlier. That has emboldened developers to start to build again, with housing starts rising 16% in the first quarter, after falling 15% last year. That augurs well for employment and demand for raw materials. But it is hard to see China’s property market—which in past years generated directly and indirectly up to a third of all economic activity—returning to its past glory.

Much of the recovery in prices and activity has been in China’s so-called tier one cities—the four largest cities—and regulators there are already clamping down to prevent things from getting out of hand. In the rest of China, the property recovery is far more subdued, and inventories of unsold apartments remain substantial. Around 95% of real estate sales occur outside of those top four cities, notes Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics, so unless the boom spreads, the impact on the broader economy will remain muted. China’s old economy sectors also seem to have awoken somewhat from their slumber. Industrial production grew 6.8% in March, the fastest in nine months. Fixed asset investment, spending on things like factories and infrastructure, grew 11.2%, much faster than the 6.8% low it hit in December.

Driving all this activity: easy money. Real interest rates have fallen. And nominal GDP grew faster than real GDP for the first time in five quarters, which in theory makes servicing debt easier. What should trouble investors is that while China’s economic activity is ticking up, debt is piling up faster. The stock of total financing in the economy, including bond issuance as part of a local government bailout program, rose 15.8% in March from a year ago, the fastest rate since mid-2014. With nominal GDP growing 7.2%, Beijing’s plans to deleverage the economy continue to be overwhelmed by the need to support growth. China bulls will be pleased by the data, hoping that a proper recovery is at hand. Those hopes may prove short lived. The more the recovery is fueled by debt and property, the more concerned Beijing will be that it is pushing the gas too hard and will have to ease off sooner than people think.

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“In a developed economy, Ponzi lending of such an enormous scale would lead to widespread bankruptcies, unemployment and massive losses for investors and lenders. This hasn’t happened yet because Chinese debt has been expanding at an ever-faster rate.”

China’s Giant Bonfire Of Debt Needs One Spark To Become An Inferno (MW)

China’s debt bonfire has been building for decades, but recent news and data points to it growing faster than ever with a greater risk of becoming an economy-scorching inferno. There are three key components to this analogy: the wood, the accelerant and the matches. First the wood, which is an ever-growing stockpile of debt that cannot be serviced from profits. Macquarie Research found that 23% of bonds issued were by companies that don’t generate enough operating profit to cover their interest. This aligns with a Bloomberg report that the median Chinese listed company generates enough operating profit to cover their interest two times, down from a ratio of six times in 2010. Another report found that 45% of new company debt is raised to pay interest on existing debt.

In a developed economy, Ponzi lending of such an enormous scale would lead to widespread bankruptcies, unemployment and massive losses for investors and lenders. This hasn’t happened yet because Chinese debt has been expanding at an ever-faster rate. China’s total debt levels grew to about 300% of GDP last year from about 250% of GDP in 2014 and set a new record for a single month in January, growing at roughly 5% of the size of the economy. Problems have been covered over as the Chinese banking regulator is forcing banks to lend to companies that can’t pay their interest and would otherwise default. We know the bonfire is big and the wood is dry. The next step is to figure how quickly a fire could spread once it begins.

The second key component is the accelerant, which is the relatively high proportion of debt borrowed for short periods. Chinese wealth management products are typically sold by banks as an alternative to term deposits that pay much higher interest rates. Borrowers are almost always promised their money back within six months. The underlying investments are typically loans to companies that banks are unwilling to lend to. These borrowers have little prospect of repaying the debt at maturity unless someone else is willing to provide more debt. Another source of short-term funding is peer-to-peer platforms. However, 28% of these are thought to be fraudulent. In the institutional funding market, there’s commercial paper, which is composed of corporate debts of 270 days or less. Outstanding Chinese commercial paper was $1.61 trillion at the end of 2015, far larger than the U.S. equivalent at $1.05 trillion.

As shown by the financial crisis in 2008, short-term debt is an accelerant to fires in credit systems. Within a week of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 26% of U.S. commercial paper disappeared. Investors were no longer willing to lend without asking questions and borrowers were sent scurrying for other sources of capital. A run on short-term funding sources quickly spreads the fire from one bankrupt borrower to many other borrowers.

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“Chinese customs officials reported $1.68 trillion in imports last year. Banks, on the other hand, claimed to have paid $2.2 trillion for those same imports. While the official balance-of-payments records a current account surplus of $331 billion in 2015, banks’ payments and receipts show a $122 billion deficit.”

Funny Numbers Show Money Leaving China (Balding)

News that China’s foreign-exchange reserves rose by $10 billion in March rather than declining has quieted doomsayers. Worries that the reserves could dip to dangerous levels as soon as this summer – after shrinking by an estimated $1 trillion last year – appear to have been premature. Still, questions linger over exactly how much money is leaving China and why. The true picture may not be as rosy as the headline numbers suggest. Before the March upturn, capital had been flooding out of China at a rapid clip – an average of $48 billion per month over the previous six months, according to official bank data. The reasons were several. Fearing further declines in the value of the yuan, several companies paid off their dollar loans; others pursued big acquisitions abroad. Individual investors sought out higher returns as the Fed prepared to raise rates.

The government spent billions to prop up the value of the currency. Some individuals and companies reduced their offshore yuan deposits. Still others looked to spirit money out of the country to safer havens. The question is how much money has been leaving for which reasons. Some analysts, including economists at the Bank for International Settlements, have argued that the bulk of these outflows are healthy, mostly involving companies paying down their foreign debt. However, the BIS study, which estimates that such repayments accounted for nearly a quarter of the $163 billion of non-reserve outflows in the third quarter of 2015, focuses on a very narrow slice of time. Foreign debt obligations grew rapidly in late 2014 and the first half of 2015, then shrunk dramatically in the third quarter.

Moreover, what those official figures miss are hidden outflows, disguised primarily as payments for imports, which appear to have created a $71 billion current account deficit in the same quarter, according to bank payments data. In effect, enterprising Chinese are overpaying massively for the products they’re importing. Chinese customs officials reported $1.68 trillion in imports last year. Banks, on the other hand, claimed to have paid $2.2 trillion for those same imports. While the official balance-of-payments records a current account surplus of $331 billion in 2015, banks’ payments and receipts show a $122 billion deficit. Overpaying for imported goods and services is a clever way for Chinese companies and citizens to move money out of the country surreptitiously.

Let’s say a foreign country exports $1 million worth of goods to China. Chinese customs officials will faithfully record $1 million in imports. But when the importer goes to the bank, he’ll either use fraudulent documentation or bribe a bank official to record a $2 million payment to the foreign counterparty. Presumably, the excess $1 million ends up in a private bank account. While some discrepancies are to be expected in data like this, the size and steady increase in the gap since 2012 implies that something shadier is going on. When Chinese companies pay down debt, or make big acquisitions abroad, they do so openly. These other outflows – which topped half a trillion dollars last year – seem far more likely to be driven by individuals and companies simply seeking to get their money out of the country.

The timing is also telling. The discrepancy began to grow rapidly in 2012, just as growth peaked and concerns began to rise among affluent Chinese about the economy and a political transition. Since then, fake import payments have grown from $140 billion to $524 billion in 2015. During that period, growth in China has slowed, rates of return on investment have declined and surplus capacity has exploded. Investment opportunities have shrunk, while state-owned enterprises have crowded out private investors. Certainly the latter have good reason to seek better returns elsewhere.

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“Corporate debt now amounts to 160% of China’s GDP… That is up from 98% in 2008 and compares with a current U.S. level of 70%.”

China Is Set to Allow Banks to Swap Bad Loans for Equity in Borrowers (WSJ)

China is planning a debt-for-equity swap program that could provide large companies mired in overcapacity a way to reduce their debt burdens, the country’s top central banker said on Thursday. The deepening slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy has heightened the need for Chinese authorities to come up with ways to help the country’s heavily-indebted corporate sector deleverage. A plan in the works involves enabling banks to exchange bad loans for equity in companies they lend to. Speaking at a small-business financing event hosted by the OECD on Thursday, Zhou Xiaochuan, Gov. of the People’s Bank of China, said the planned debt-for-equity swap program would mainly help large companies plagued with excessive industrial capacity cut bank debt.

The event was held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 finance-chief meeting this week. Small Chinese companies, Mr. Zhou said, aren’t expected to benefit significantly from this program as they’re less indebted than their bigger brethren. He pointed to a persistent challenge faced by China’s policy makers: Despite a relative high leverage ratio in China’s economy, small businesses “still have difficulty in accessing bank loans.” In the past couple of years, the central bank has taken a number of steps—such as targeted credit-easing measures—to encourage banks to lend to small and private companies. But so far progress has been slow as large state banks, which dominate corporate lending in China, still prefer to lend to large state-owned corporate clients.

“We don’t have enough community banks to lend to small- and medium-sized enterprises,” Mr. Zhou said. The planned debt-for-equity swap program is a potentially controversial step that many Chinese bankers say could saddle banks with near-worthless stock and squeeze their liquidity. Analysts also say the move could risk keeping “zombie” companies afloat while making lenders even more strapped for capital. [..] Corporate debt now amounts to 160% of China’s GDP, according to Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. That is up from 98% in 2008 and compares with a current U.S. level of 70%.

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Steel exports are Beijing’s only window to avert widespread job losses and hence unrest.

China’s Giant Steel Industry Just Churned Out Record Supply (BBG)

The world’s biggest steel producer pushed output to a record in March as mills in China fired up plants to take advantage of a price surge since the start of the year that’s rescued profit margins. Output rose 2.9% to 70.65 million metric tons from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday. That’s the highest ever, according to data from state-owned researcher Beijing Antaike Information. Still, for the first quarter, supply fell 3.2% to 192 million tons. The country’s steelmakers are ramping up output after cuts at the end of 2015 fueled a major price surge that has rippled out to world markets. The mills’ busiest-ever month came as figures showed that China’s economy stabilized, aided by a rebound in the property market.

Last year, the country’s steel output shrank for the first time since 1981 as demand contracted and mills battled surging losses and too much capacity, and forecasters including Australia’s government expect a further decline in 2016. “It’s normal to see higher output in March but this is a significant increase,” said Kevin Bai, a Beijing-based researcher at consultancy CRU Group. “Right now, the mills are making money. The market is still relatively tight and this has encouraged some producers to return.”

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They mean price discovery is dead for the moment. But it will be back. And what will central banks do then?

What Negative Interest Rates Mean for the World (WSJ)

Central bankers around the world are pushing deeper into the once-unthinkable world of negative interest rates — essentially charging customers to hold their cash. Denmark set negative interest rates as early as 2012, followed by the ECB in 2014. Since then, they’ve been joined by Switzerland and Sweden. In Asia, the Bank of Japan announced a negative interest rate policy in January this year. Hungary became the first emerging market to experiment with negative rates, taking the plunge in March. With more of the world’s central banks joining in, and rates pushing further below zero, The Wall Street Journal this week explores how negative rates appear to be working in various settings and what they mean for policymakers and markets.

In Denmark: Some mortgage holders are the envy of home owners around the world. With negative interest rates, they’re actually receiving interest payments from the banks they initially borrowed from.

In Switzerland: Few banks are dealing with negative interest rates by passing them on to their customers, but Alternative Bank Schweiz in Switzerland is bucking the trend, and charging clients to hold their deposits.

In Germany: Life insurance companies with long term liabilities are feeling the squeeze of negative interest rates. Some groups require an annual yield of more than 5% to sustain their businesses, driving a typically low risk industry into increasingly risky assets.

In Japan: The announcement of negative interest rates spurred a massive rise in prices on the government’s 40 year bond, gains only usually seen on bonds in emerging markets like Venezuela. But even in Japanese government bonds, investors are taking on a new risk: duration. Money market trading is also withering in Japan, as the new interest rates set into place. The trading confirmation system used by domestic banks wasn’t fully updated until a month after the Bank of Japan’s rate cut.

In the U.S: policymakers are weighing up whether the policy could work for them. The U.S. economy is preparing for higher rather than lower rates, but even the Federal Reserve is investigating whether going negative might work in the event of another downturn.

And for monetary policy: What comes after negative rates? Helicopter money is one answer, according to James Mackintosh, as perverse effects of negative rate policies begin to crop up. Around the world, it looks like negative interest rates are here to stay. And like it or not, so are their effects.

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“The ECB and the Bank of Japan, grappling with stagnant economies, are using subzero rates to stimulate growth.” Which clearly doesn’t work.

Negative Rates: Danish Couple Gets Paid Interest on Their Mortgage (WSJ)

Hans Peter Christensen got some unusual news when he opened his most recent mortgage statement. His quarterly interest payment was negative 249 Danish kroner. Instead of paying interest on the loan he got a decade ago to buy a house in [Aalborg] , his bank paid him the equivalent of $38 in interest for the quarter. As of Dec. 31, his mortgage rate, excluding fees, stood at negative 0.0562%. It has been nearly four years since Denmark entered the world of negative monetary policy, and borrowers and lenders alike are still trying to make sense of the upside-down world it has brought. “My parents said I should frame it, to prove to coming generations that this ever happened,” said Mr. Christensen, a 35-year-old financial consultant, about his bank statement.

Denmark isn’t the only place where central bankers are experimenting with negative rates. The ECB and the Bank of Japan, grappling with stagnant economies, are using subzero rates to stimulate growth. Switzerland and Sweden, like Denmark, are trying negative rates to keep their currencies in line with the struggling euro. Denmark, where the central bank’s benchmark rate stands at minus 0.65%, has lived in negative territory longer than any other country. Neighboring Sweden has been below zero for 14 months, and its central bank has said it would go lower than the current benchmark of negative 0.5% if it needs to. In Norway, the central bank still has positive rates, but it is considering resorting to negative ones to prop up an economy hit hard by the prolonged spell of low oil prices.

Scandinavia’s experience has given economists a chance to study what happens when rates drop below zero—long considered an inviolable floor on rates. Already, there are concerns about undesirable side effects. Consumer savings accounts pay no interest, and there is pressure on bank profitability. A boom in real-estate borrowing has kindled fears that problems will arise if rates bounce back up. “If you had said this would happen a few years ago, you would have been considered out of your mind,” said Torben Andersen, a professor at Denmark’s Aarhus University who serves on the government’s economic-advisory council.

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Watch derivatives.

Deutsche Bank Settles Silver, Gold Price-Manipulation Suits (BBG)

Deutsche Bank has reached settlements in lawsuits over allegations it manipulated gold and silver prices, lawyers for traders of the commodities said in court filings. Attorneys for futures contract traders in two private lawsuits said in letters filed Wednesday and Thursday in Manhattan federal court that the bank has executed term sheets and is negotiating final details for the accords. The German financial firm also agreed to help the plaintiffs pursue similar claims against other banks as part of the settlements, according to the letters. Vincent Briganti and Robert Eisler, attorneys for traders in the silver-fixing lawsuit, said Deutsche Bank will turn over instant messages and other communications to help further their case. Financial terms of the settlements weren’t disclosed.

“In addition to valuable monetary consideration to be paid into a settlement fund, the term sheet also provides for other valuable consideration such as provisions requiring Deutsche Bank’s cooperation in pursuing claims against the remaining defendants,” attorneys Daniel Brockett and Merrill Davidoff said in their letter Thursday in the gold-fixing lawsuit. Silver and gold futures traders sued groups of banks in 2014 alleging they rigged prices for the precious metals and their derivatives. Silver traders brought claims against Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of Nova Scotia and UBS. Gold traders additionally sued Barclays and Societe Generale.

The traders alleged the banks abused their positions of controlling daily silver and gold fixes to reap illegitimate profits from trading and hurting other investors in those markets who use the benchmark in billions of dollars of transactions, according to versions of the complaints filed in 2015. Of those banks, only Deutsche Bank has reached a settlement.

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This discussion is sinking to Forrest Gump levels.

IMF Says Greek Debt Numbers Don’t Add Up as EU Defends Its Plan (BBG)

The IMF raised doubts about Greece’s ability to keep up repayments under a plan being negotiated with its European creditors, who insisted they’ve already provided plenty of debt relief. “Currently, as envisaged, the debt is not sustainable and what is required is a debt operation,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Thursday in Washington, where finance ministers and central bankers are attending the fund’s spring meetings. Lagarde said she’s skeptical about Greece’s ability to meet the budget surplus target set under an €86 billion bailout by euro-area governments, who are reviewing whether to release the loan’s second installment. Under the EU program, Greece is committed to posting a fiscal surplus before interest payments of 3.5% of gross domestic product within two years.

The IMF has said it might be willing to pitch in a new loan itself, but Lagarde said the fund wants the country’s recovery plan to be based on “realism and sustainability.” “We cannot have far-fetched fantasy hypotheticals concerning the future of the Greek economy,” said the IMF chief, who was reappointed in February for a second five-year term. She said debt relief by euro-area countries doesn’t necessarily have to involve a “haircut” on principal, and could take the form of maturity extensions, interest reductions or a “debt holiday.” The more Greece cuts spending through reforms, the less debt restructuring will be required, Lagarde said. “Bottom line, it needs to all add up,” she said. The EU line has been that the numbers already add up.

On Thursday, a spokesman for euro-area finance ministers rejected the notion that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. “We did already a lot to make it more sustainable – lowering the interest rates, lengthening the maturities,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands, president of the Eurogroup, made up of the currency zone’s finance ministers. “So for the coming five to 10 years, I don’t think there is a big debt-service issue. I think the Greeks can pay on an annual basis.”

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What you find in the dictionary under both ‘Useless’ and ‘Lip service’. Nothing happened for years and years, and one leak later they’re all knights of justice?!

UK and European Allies Plan To Deal ‘Hammer Blow’ To Tax Evasion (G.)

Britain and its European allies have announced new “hammer blow” rules against tax evasion in direct response to the Panama Papers leak that exposed how the world’s richest and most powerful people hide their wealth from the taxman. George Osborne announced on Thursday, in partnership with his counterparts from France, Germany, Spain and Italy, new rules that will lead to the automatic sharing of information about the true owners of complex shell companies and overseas trusts. The chancellor said the new rules, agreed this week in direct response to the Panama Papers leak, were “a hammer blow against those that would illegally evade taxes and hide their wealth in the dark corners of the financial system.

“Britain will work with our major European partners to find out who really owns the secretive shell companies and trusts that have been used as conduits for evading tax, laundering money and benefiting from corruption. “Strong words of condemnation are not enough, populist outrage doesn’t by itself collect a single extra pound or dollar in tax or put a single criminal in jail,” Osborne said at the spring meetings of the IMF in Washington. “What we need is international action now, and that’s precisely what we are doing today with real concrete action in the war against tax evasion.” He said the transparency rules on beneficial ownership showed that Britain and other governments are working to shine a spotlight on “those hiding spaces, those dark corners of the global financial system”.

He said he hoped the rules, which will come into effect in January 2017, would be followed up by other countries. Ángel Gurría, the secretary general of the OECD, said the release of the Panama Papers showed that there was no room for complacency in the international effort to crack down on tax evasion. He said it was no surprise that the rich and the powerful were using Panama to evade tax as “it is one of the few jurisdictions that has pushed against” international measures to improve tax and ownership transparency. “We have to crack down on the professional enablers – lawyers, accountants, financial institutions – that play a key role in maintaining the veil of secrecy,” he said.

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Whackamole.

Spanish Industry Minister Resigns After Panama Papers Revelations (AFP)

Spain’s industry minister resigned Friday after he was named in the Panama Papers and other media revelations that claimed he had links to offshore firms, the latest political victim from the global scandal. Jose Manuel Soria said in a statement that he had tendered his resignation “in light of the succession of mistakes committed along the past few days, relating to my explanations over my business activities… and considering the obvious harm that this situation is doing to the Spanish government.” Soria’s troubles began on Monday when Spanish online daily El Confidencial, which has had access to the Panama Papers – files leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca – said he had was an administrator of an offshore firm for two months in 1992.

Soria called a news conference to deny any link to any Panamanian company, but as the week went by, more allegations emerged from other media outlets, revealing further alleged connections to offshore havens. It is unclear as yet whether any of his alleged actions were illegal. Soria is the latest political victim of the Panama Papers, which resulted from what the law firm blamed on a computer hack launched from abroad, and revealed how the world’s wealthy stashed assets in offshore companies. Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was also forced to resign over the leaks.

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We keep thinking it’s not possible, but Europe keeps finding ways to sink deeper in its moral morass. It’s almost an achievement.

Ten European Nations Want Military Planes For Refugee Deportations (AP)

Austria and nine East European and Balkan states are calling for an EU declaration endorsing the use of military aircraft for the deportation of migrants who have no chance for asylum, or whose request for that status have been rejected. The Austria Press Agency says the request is being made in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, signed by Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil on behalf of Austria and the other countries. APA on Thursday quoted the letter as saying the use of military aircraft should be “seen as an integral and decisive element of a full repatriation program.” The agency said the letter asked for the issue to be on the agenda of the next EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on April 19.

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Oct 182015
 
 October 18, 2015  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Launch of battleship Georgia, Bath, Maine, Oct 1904

At Least 10 More Children And 6 Adult Refugees Drown Off Greek Islands (Kath.)
Germany Shows Signs of Strain from Mass of Refugees (Spiegel)
Why The Euro Divides Europe (Wolfgang Streeck)
The Truth Behind China’s Manipulated Economic Numbers (Telegraph)
China’s Premier Li Says Achieving Growth Of Around 7% ‘Not Easy’ (Reuters)
China ‘Officially’ Sold A Quarter Trillion Treasurys In The Past Year (ZH)
The Only Thing In China’s Trade Data That’s Growing -But Shouldn’t Be (Quartz)
Emerging Nations Trimming $5 Trillion Debt Stokes Currency Risk (Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve Inaction Could Start Currency War (The Street)
How Global Debt Has Changed Since The Financial Crisis (WEF)
Volkswagen Faces €40 Billion Lawsuit From Investors (Telegraph)
VW Made Several Defeat Devices To Cheat Emissions Tests (Reuters)
ETFs’ Rapid Growth Sparks Concern at SEC (WSJ)
JPMorgan Says Bad Corporate Loans Pose Main Risk For Brazil Banks (Reuters)
Revealed: How UK Targets Saudis For Top Contracts (Observer)
Britain Has Made ‘Visionary’ Choice To Become China’s Best Friend, Says Xi (Guardian)

No conscience. No humanity. No God.

At Least 10 More Children And 6 Adult Refugees Drown Off Greek Islands (Kath.)

As EU leaders seek to boost cooperation in tackling a major refugee crisis, there has been more tragedy in the Aegean with at least 16 migrants drowning in their attempt to get to Greece from Turkey. In one incident late on Friday, the bodies of four children – three girls, aged 5, 9 and 16, and a 2-year-old boy – were discovered by the Greek coast guard off Kalymnos. According to the accounts of 11 adult survivors, another boy was missing. On Saturday, the Turkish coast guard recovered the bodies of another 12 migrants whose boat sank off Turkey’s coast. According to sources, they were heading to the Greek island of Lesvos. Lesvos has borne the brunt of an influx of migrants. Last week alone, at least 10 people, including six children, drowned in an attempt to get the island. On a visit to Lesvos on Friday, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos inaugurated Greece’s first refugee screening center, or “hotspot.”

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“The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15..”

Germany Shows Signs of Strain from Mass of Refugees (Spiegel)

The road to the reception camp in Hesepe has become something of a refugees’ avenue. Small groups of young men wander along the sidewalk. A family from Syria schleps a clutch of shopping bags towards the gate. A Sudanese man snakes along the road on his bicycle. Most people don’t speak a word of German, just a little fragmentary English, but when they see locals, they offer a friendly wave and call out, “Hello!” The main road “is like a pedestrian shopping zone,” says one resident, “except without the stores.” Red-brick houses with pretty gardens line both sides of the street, and Kathrin and Ralf Meyer are standing outside theirs. “It’s gotten a bit too much for us,” says the 31-year-old mother of three. “Too much noise, too many refugees, too much garbage.” Now the Meyers are planning to move out in November.

They’re sick of seeing asylum-seekers sit on their garden wall or rummage through their garbage cans for anything they can use. Though “you do feel sorry for them,” says Ralf, who’s handed out some clothes that his children have grown out of. “But there are just too many of them here now.” Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylum-seekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 – more than ever before in a comparable time period – though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents. But what Germany lacks more than anything is a plan to make Merkel’s two most-pronounced statements on the crisis – “We can do it” and “We cannot close our borders” – fit together. In the second month of what has been dubbed the country’s brand new “Welcoming Culture,” it has become clear to many that Germany will only be able to cope if the number of refugees drops.

But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Tens of thousands of people are making their way to Germany along the so-called Balkan route; at the same time, Merkel’s efforts to reduce the influx through diplomacy and tougher regulations remain just that.

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Impressive take-down of the many failures of Brussels.

Why The Euro Divides Europe (Wolfgang Streeck)

The ‘European idea’—or better: ideology—notwithstanding, the euro has split Europe in two. As the engine of an ever-closer union the currency’s balance sheet has been disastrous. Norway and Switzerland will not be joining the EU any time soon; Britain is actively considering leaving it altogether. Sweden and Denmark were supposed to adopt the euro at some point; that is now off the table. The Eurozone itself is split between surplus and deficit countries, North and South, Germany and the rest. At no point since the end of World War Two have its nation-states confronted each other with so much hostility; the historic achievements of European unification have never been so threatened.

No ruler today would dare to call a referendum in France, the Netherlands or Denmark on even the smallest steps towards further integration. Thanks to the single currency, hopes for a European Germany—for integration as a solution to the problems of both German identity and European hegemony—have been superseded by fears of a German Europe, not least in the FRG itself. In consequence, election campaigns in Southern Europe are being fought and won against Germany and its Chancellor; pictures of Merkel and Schäuble wearing swastikas have begun appearing, not just in Greece and Italy but even in France. That Germany finds itself increasingly faced by demands for reparations—not only from Greece but also Italy—shows how far its post-war policy of Europeanizing itself has foundered since its transition to the single currency.

Anyone wishing to understand how an institution such as the single currency can wreak such havoc needs a concept of money that goes beyond that of the liberal economic tradition and the sociological theory informed by it. The conflicts in the Eurozone can only be decoded with the aid of an economic theory that can conceive of money not merely as a system of signs that symbolize claims and contractual obligations, but also, in tune with Weber’s view, as the product of a ruling organization, and hence as a contentious and contested institution with distributive consequences full of potential for conflict.

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3% growth?! Or worse? “..His work finds that growth collapsed to a mere 0.2pc during the Asian Financial Crisis, rather than the official figure of 7.8pc.”

The Truth Behind China’s Manipulated Economic Numbers (Telegraph)

\Beijing’s massaged growth statistics have long over-estimated growth. So what do we really know about what’s going on in the world’s second largest economy? The true state of China’s economic fortunes remain a mystery to the world. Monday will see the latest round of official quarterly GDP statistics from Beijing’s National Statistics Bureau. Economists expect they will reveal another moderate slowdown in growth to around 6.8pc – the lowest rate of expansion since the depths of the financial crisis six years ago. Yet the government’s estimates have long been dismissed as an accurate barometer of what’s really going on in the Chinese economy. [..] Questions over China’s “actual” rate of growth have been thrown into sharp relief after a summer of turmoil in financial markets. Sudden anxiety over a Chinese “hard-landing” left investors dumbstruck.

Billions were wiped off global stock indices and authorities were forced to suspend trading to prop up equity prices. China data-watching has now become the main driver for global economic sentiment. In July, Chinese market ructions were sparked by weak industrial profits numbers. By August, a six-year slump in monthly manufacturing triggered the ugliest day of global trading since the depths of the financial crisis eight years ago. “China’s new export this year is fear” says Paul Gruenwald, chief Asia economist at Standard & Poor’s rating agency. “The joke with Asian analysts on China is that we don’t need to forecast the actual rate of Chinese growth, we have to forecast what the Chinese authorities will say the rate will be.” But China’s GDP figure remains totemic. This stems in large part from the Politburo’s own fixation on annualised growth.

Authorities now say they are targeting yearly expansion of “around 7pc”. Harry Wu, an economics professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, has calculated the states’ GDP numbers have long played down the effects of external shocks to the economy. His work finds that growth collapsed to a mere 0.2pc during the Asian Financial Crisis, rather than the official figure of 7.8pc. For the period from 2008-14, his readings show an average expansion of 6.1pc, rather than 8.7pc. “Would I bet the actual growth rate is 7pc? No”, says Gruenwald. “Do we have enough indicators to work out what’s going on in the economy? Yes.” “The statistics are still catching up – that’s part of the fun of being an Asia [analyst]…we get to put on our detective hats and do a little investigative economics.” This investigative turn has led to a proliferation in “proxy” indicators for Chinese growth.

The calculations range from anything from 3pc-7pc real GDP growth in 2015. This diversity means there is plenty to support the case for China bulls and China bears. One gauge that has grown in popularity in recent years is the “Li Keqiang index”, named after China’s current premier, and revealed as his preferred measure of economic activity while serving as a senior Communist party secretary in the province of Liaoning a decade ago. GDP numbers were merely a “man-made” and “unreliable” construct, Mr Li was quoted as saying in diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2010. Instead, he chose to focus on a trio of real economic indicators – bank lending, rail freight volumes and electricity production. Taking their cue from the premier, economics consultancy Fathom compile the Li Index as the “true” reflection of what the Communist party’s senior officials are most worried about. It suggests the economy has come to a standstill. Growth will reach just 3pc this year, according to Fathom.

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Look: “A Reuters poll of 50 economists put expected growth at 6.8% year on year..” vs “Industrial profits fell 8.8% year on year in August..” That means that A) Reuters polls idiot economists because B) that 6.8% growth is utter nonsense.

China’s Premier Li Says Achieving Growth Of Around 7% ‘Not Easy’ (Reuters)

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said that with the global economic recovery losing steam, achieving domestic growth of around 7% is “not easy”, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on the website of the State Council, China’s cabinet. Nonetheless in his comments, made at a recent meeting with senior provincial officials, the premier said that continued strength in the labour market and services were reasons for optimism, despite the headwinds facing the manufacturing sector. “As long as employment remains adequate, the people’s income grows, and the environment continuously improves, GDP a little higher or lower than 7% is acceptable,” the premier said in the comments posted on Saturday. China is due to release its third-quarter GDP growth figures on Monday.

A Reuters poll of 50 economists put expected growth at 6.8% year on year, which would be the slowest since the financial crisis in 2009. China’s growth in the first half of 2015, at 7%, was already the slowest since that time. Policymakers had previously forecast growth of “around 7%” for 2015. Most official and private estimates show that the Chinese labour market as a whole is outperforming the steep slowdown in industry, largely due to continuing strength in the service sector. But some analysts have expressed concern that the sharp drop in industrial profits over the past year indicates deeper weakness in income growth and wages next year, which could weaken overall growth further.

Industrial profits fell 8.8% year on year in August, the steepest drop since China’s statistics agency began publishing such data in 2011. The premier cited the emergence of new industries including the Internet sector, the continued need for high infrastructure investment in western regions, and ongoing urbanization as additional reasons for optimism on China’s future growth trajectory. Nonetheless, Li also highlighted the need for further market-oriented reforms and a reduced government role in the economy in order to fully grasp new economic opportunities and maintain growth.

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And unofficially much more.

China Officially Sold A Quarter Trillion Treasurys In The Past Year (ZH)

Back in May, this website was the first to explain the “mystery” behind Belgium’s ravenous Treasury buying which in early 2015 had turned into sudden selling, and which we demonstrated was merely China transacting using offshore Euroclear-based accounts to preserve anonymity. Since then theme of Belgium as a Chinese proxy has become so popular, even CNBC gets it. Consequently, we were also the first to correctly warn that China had begun liquidating its Treasury holdings (a finding which left none other than Goldman “speechless”), which also helped us predict that China is about to announce its currency devaluation three days before it happened as the conversion of Chinese reserves from inert paper to active dollars hinted at a massive effort to stabilize the currency, and thus unprecedented capital outflows.

As a result, the only data point which mattered in yesterday’s Treasury International Capital data release was not China’s holdings, which actually “rose” $1.7 billion in the month when China actively devalued its currency and then spent hundreds of billions to prevent the devaluation from becoming an all out FX rout, but the ongoing decline in Belgium holdings. As the chart below shows, Belgium, pardon Euroclear – which is a clearing house not only for China but many other EM nations who park their reserves in Belgium – sold another $45 billion in Treasurys last month, bringing the total to a dangerously low $111 billion, down from $355 billion at the start of the year.

Lumping Belgium and China holdings into one, as we have done since May, shows that as expected, Chinese selling continued in August, and the result was another drop of $43 billion in TSY holdings in the month of August, which incidentally mirrors perfectly the previously announced decline in September Chinese FX reserves, which according to official data declined from $3.557 trillion to $3.514 trillion.

According to the chart above, while to many Quantitative Tightening is a novel concept, the reality is that China (+ Euroclear) have been dumping Treasurys and liquidating reserves since January when total holdings peaked at $1.6 trillion last summer, and have since declined to $1.38 trillion. It means that China has sold a quarter trillion dollars worth of Treasurys in the past year, in the process offsetting what would have been about 25% of the Fed’s QE3. However, the real number is likely far greater.

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China’s killing the world steel industry by dumping its surplus stock. Britain knows all about it.

The Only Thing In China’s Trade Data That’s Growing -But Shouldn’t Be (Quartz)

China’s trade data have been a reliable monthly horror show over the last year, and September was no exception. Exports fell nearly 4% from year-earlier levels, while imports dove an astonishing 20%. One thing, however, is growing quite quickly. The trade gap shown here—illustrating the value of goods China exports minus the value of goods that it imports—leapt more than 90% versus September 2014. In fact, if you discount distortions during Chinese New Year, China’s trade gap was the highest it’s ever been. Some of that gap might be due to slumping commodity prices weighing more heavily on China’s import values. Still, the boom in extra exports reflects the fact that China continues to benefit from the global economy much more than the global economy benefits from China.

This is because the People’s Republic hogs more than its due share of global demand. To get why, let’s first look at how China has engineered its yawning trade surplus. As economist Michael Pettis explained in his book The Great Rebalancing, when one country rigs its economy to produce more than it consumes, it amasses extra savings that it then foists onto its trade partners. For more than a decade, this is exactly what the Chinese government has done. By keeping interest rates and the yuan artificially cheap, it suppressed its people’s purchasing power and moved money out of the hands of Chinese consumers, shifting it instead to Chinese manufacturers at artificially low rates. Thanks to these subsidies, Chinese manufacturers cut export prices, driving global competitors out of business.

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That’s not the only risk it stokes.

Emerging Nations Trimming $5 Trillion Debt Stokes Currency Risk (Bloomberg)

Borrowers in emerging markets have started to address a $5 trillion mountain of dollar-denominated bonds and loans, reducing their obligations for the first time in seven years in a move that threatens to cut short a budding rally in currencies from Brazil to Malaysia. Companies in developing nations paid back $38 billion of dollar debt last quarter, $3 billion more than they borrowed in the period and marking the first reduction in net issuance since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Demand for greenbacks among borrowers needing the currency to repay debt is contributing to the largest capital outflows in almost three decades.

The borrowing binge, which took off in the wake of the global financial crisis as interest rates tumbled, may now be reversing as economic growth slows, commodity prices fall and lenders demand higher yields. While developing-nation currencies are rebounding from their record lows, analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the depreciation trend to resume as dollar debt repayments accelerate. “This is a massive event,” said Stephen Jen, the co-founder of London-based hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners LLP and a former economist at the IMF whose bearish call on emerging markets since 2012 has proven prescient. “They want to pay down their dollar loans. We are early in the game, there’s pretty intense pressure on emerging markets.”

[..] In the $1.4 trillion corporate debt market, new bond sales dropped to a four-year low of $35 billion last quarter, from a peak of $121 billion in June 2014, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “When growth deteriorates, investment opportunities are naturally lower, therefore money leaves, either to repay debt or buy alternative investments elsewhere,” said Koon Chow, a strategist at Union Bancaire Privee in London and former head of emerging-market strategy at Barclays Capital. “There’s a good chance that the deleveraging does continue because on the commodity side, the reduction in capex is going to be long term.”

The Institute of International Finance forecast on Oct. 1 that about $540 billion will leave emerging markets this year, the first net capital outflow since 1988. The unwinding of dollar borrowings is more than a fleeting phenomenon, which will contribute to the weakening of emerging-market currencies against the U.S. currency, according to Pierre Lapointe at Pavilion Global Markets. The Fed’s broad measure of the dollar against major U.S. trading partners has rallied 16% since the middle of 2014 and reached a 12-year high last month. “We expect the theme of EM external deleveraging to remain with us for a long time,” Lapointe said in a note on Oct. 9. “Historically, this process tends to last many years. In this context, we are probably halfway throughout the current structural dollar uptrend.”

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It’s the loss of Fed credibility more than anything.

Federal Reserve Inaction Could Start Currency War (The Street)

Sometimes doing nothing is the same as doing something – at least, that’s how it is when it comes to the Federal Reserve not raising interest rates. The stock market stays high because the Fed is not going to raise short-term interest rates. The Fed is not going to raise short-term interest rates because the U.S. inflation rate remains low. The inflation rate remains low because the value of the U.S. dollar is high. The dollar is strong because world commodity prices have fallen and have “driven up the dollar and held down U.S. import prices.” According to the Financial Times, the last three items mentioned are interrelated. Furthermore, it now seems as if momentum is picking up within the Federal Reserve to postpone any increases in it policy rate for an extended period of time. That inaction may not be the best decision in terms of the relative strength of currencies.

At least the doves – those reluctant to raise interest rates – are making their voices heard on the issues. Yesterday, Daniel Tarullo, one of the Fed’s Governors, joined another Fed Governor, Lael Brainard, who argued on Monday that the Fed should not raise its target short-term interest rate any time soon. The value of the dollar fell. By early afternoon Wednesday, it cost around $1.145 to buy a Euro, the same rate as on Sept. 17, the day the Federal Open Market Committee decided that the Fed would keep its target short-term interest rate unchanged. The Governors believe that inflation is not going to return that quickly and that without data supporting the return of inflation toward a level closer to the Fed’s target rate of 2%, there should be no upward movement in the policy rate.

Certainly, the predictions of Fed officials don’t indicate any quick return of the economy to the Fed’s target. In these forecasts the expectation is for the inflation rate to pick up in 2016 and 2017, but a 2% inflation rate is not expected until 2018. That’s a long time. According to the Financial Times article, if the Fed doesn’t move interest rates for a long time, the value of the dollar will continue to fall. This should connect to a faster rise in inflation than is forecast by the Fed. With interest rates constant, the stock market should continue to rise. But if inflation begins to rise, the Fed will have a justification for raising short-term interest rates, which will cause the value of the dollar to increase. This will result in slowing down the inflation rate once again. According to this argument, the stock market should begin to fall because the Fed is raising interest rates.

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Since 2007/8: “The total stock of global debt, even excluding debts held by the financial sector, is up by more than $50 trillion. That’s an increase of more than 50%.”

How Global Debt Has Changed Since The Financial Crisis (WEF)

Debt levels have been a subject of constant news in the years since the financial crisis — from the sub-prime housing crisis in the United States, to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, to the dramatic increases in debt evident in emerging markets now. Graphs produced by analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch show an astonishing acceleration in global debt levels, and demonstrate just how little de-leveraging there’s been since the 2008 financial crisis (none). They say its evidence that “the world is still in love with debt.” After 30 years of relative stability from the early 1950s to the early 1980s, something changed, and debt started ramping up:

Debt then took a rapid step up in the mid-1980s, and another in the late 1990s. Over the last 30 years or so, global debt has risen by around 100% of GDP — so it hasn’t just grown in total terms, but has massively outstripped the economic expansion over that period. In some developed economies, like the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, there’s been some deleveraging since the financial crisis, particularly by households. But that’s been more than offset by increases in emerging markets. The total stock of global debt, even excluding debts held by the financial sector, is up by more than $50 trillion. That’s an increase of more than 50%.

Household debt has ticked up a little, and government debt has expanded as states attempted to stimulate their economies in the aftermath of the financial crisis. But the main increase has been down to non-financial corporate debt, which has risen by 63% over the period, largely in emerging markets.

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One of many.

Volkswagen Faces €40 Billion Lawsuit From Investors (Telegraph)

Volkswagen is set to be pushed deeper into crisis after it emerged that the carmaker is facing a record-breaking €40bn (£30bn) legal attack spearheaded by one of the world’s top law firms. Quinn Emanuel, which has won almost $50bn (£32bn) for clients and represented Google, Sony and Fifa, has been retained by claim funding group Bentham to prepare a case for VW shareholders over the diesel emissions scandal, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal. Bentham has recently backed an action by Tesco shareholders over the retailer’s overstating of profits. The pair are attempting to assemble a huge class action following what they call “fundamental dishonesty” at the German auto giant, which plunged the carmaker into crisis after it admitted using “defeat devices” to cheat pollution tests.

The admission has been hugely costly for shareholders after it wiped more than €25bn off VW’s stock market value. Recalls and fines worth tens of billions of euros more are also expected. Now Quinn Emanuel and Bentham are contacting VW’s biggest investors – which include sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and Norway – to ask them to join the claim. VW has admitted that it fitted “defeat devices” to 11m cars that allowed them to fraudulently pass pollution controls, though the company’s senior management has insisted it was unaware of the practices. Richard East, co-managing partner of Quinn Emanuel in London, said: “We estimate shareholders’ losses could be €40bn as a result of VW’s failure to provide relevant disclosure [about defeat devices] to the market and gives rise to questions about fundamental dishonesty.”

Legal action would be pursued in Germany under its Securities Trading Act, according to Quinn Emanuel, which hopes to file the first wave of actions by February. The law firm will argue that VW’s failure to reveal its use of defeat devices to shareholders constituted gross negligence by management. Mr East added that damages could be calculated from 2009 – when VW started fitting the devices to its engines – and that if investors had known about them they would not have held or traded in VW shares. “We don’t think it will be very hard to find shareholders who have suffered because of it,” he said.

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Deeply embedded. There needs to be an independent investigation.

VW Made Several Defeat Devices To Cheat Emissions Tests (Reuters)

Volkswagen made several versions of its “defeat device” software to rig diesel emissions tests, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters, potentially suggesting a complex deception by the German carmaker. During seven years of self-confessed cheating, Volkswagen altered its illegal software for four engine types, said the sources, who include a VW manager with knowledge of the matter and a U.S. official close to an investigation into the company. Spokespersons for VW in Europe and the United States declined to comment on whether it developed multiple defeat devices, citing ongoing investigations by the company and authorities in both regions. Asked about the number of people who might have known about the cheating, a spokesman at company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, said: “We are working intensely to investigate who knew what and when, but it’s far too early to tell.”

Some industry experts and analysts said several versions of the defeat device raised the possibility that a range of employees were involved. Software technicians would have needed regular funding and knowledge of engine programs, they said. The number of people involved is a key issue for investors because it could affect the size of potential fines and the extent of management change at the company, said Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at banking advisory firm Evercore ISI. Brandon Garrett, a corporate crime expert at the University of Virginia School of Law, said federal prosecution guidelines would call for the U.S. Justice Department to seek tougher penalties if numerous senior executives were found to have been involved in the cheating. “The more higher-ups that are involved, the more the company is considered blameworthy and deserving of more serious punishment,” said Garrett.

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Paper fake wealth.

ETFs’ Rapid Growth Sparks Concern at SEC (WSJ)

The proliferation of exchange-traded funds is causing concern at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the latest sign of increased scrutiny of the popular products. Investors have piled into the funds over the past decade, attracted to the products’ low fees and issuers’ pitch that they provide exposure to a variety of asset classes while offering the chance to get in and out of positions easily. But they have been drawing scrutiny from the SEC, even before wild trading on Aug. 24 exposed problems with how the funds are set up to trade. “It seems fairly certain that the explosive growth of ETFs in recent years poses a challenge that isn’t going away—and may well become even more acute as new ETFs enter the market,” said SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar.

The number of exchange-traded products in the U.S. has swelled by more than 60% over the past five years to 1,787 as of the end of September, according to ETFGI, a London consulting firm. And a record number of new providers launched products this year, the firm has said. Competition to list new products is ramping up. Last month, BATS Global Markets Inc. said it would start a new plan to pay ETF providers as much as $400,000 a year to list on its exchange. On Aug. 24, some funds, including ones run by the largest ETF providers, priced at steep discounts to their underlying holdings during that session. Circuit breakers halted trading more than 1,000 times of stocks and ETFs, interfering with pricing of some the funds.

“Why ETFs proved so fragile that morning raises many questions, and suggests that it may be time to re-examine the entire ETF ecosystem,” Mr. Aguilar said in his remarks. Some large ETF providers have said the tumultuous trading on Aug. 24 was partly because of market-structure issues, not the products themselves. “The events of Aug. 24 were a result of the convergence of various market structure issues, including market volatility, price uncertainty, and the use of market and stop orders,” said Vanguard Group in a statement on Friday. (Market orders are instructions to buy or sell a stock at the market price, as opposed to a specific price.) “These issues exacerbated trading difficulties with respect to some ETFs.”

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“..if 10% of the loan balances of the top 100 borrowers were lowered from non-risk to risky categories, annual bank earnings would fall between 11% and 25%.”

JPMorgan Says Bad Corporate Loans Pose Main Risk For Brazil Banks (Reuters)

A deterioration in the quality of corporate loan books poses the most obvious risk to Brazil’s largest listed banks, which are wrestling with the nation’s steepest recession in a quarter century, JPMorgan Securities said on Friday. In a report, analysts led by Saúl Martínez said the nation’s top banks are working actively with debt-laden borrowers to ease terms of their credit in order to improve loan affordability, while simultaneously asking for more guarantees. Their assessment was based on talks with industry players. Such a move comes as banks seek to mitigate the earnings impact of worsening corporate balance sheets, with the country sinking into a recession, a corruption probe at state firms and plunging confidence magnifying the current crisis. At this point, Martínez said, “a small number of loans can have a big impact” on loan-related losses at banks.

“Unexpected losses can be greater for corporate loans given that average exposures to specific borrowers are much larger,” the report said. “This is relevant as signs of financial strain in the Brazilian corporate sector are appearing.” His remarks underscore the uncertain outlook facing Brazilian banks. Brazil’s economy shrank in recent quarters and is slated to contract this year and next, the first back-to-back annual declines since the 1930s. Industrial output, retail sales and capital spending indicators have all tumbled over the past two years, with no sign of relief in the near term. According to the analysts’ estimates, if 10% of the loan balances of the top 100 borrowers were lowered from non-risk to risky categories, annual bank earnings would fall between 11% and 25%.

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Human right? Who needs them?

Revealed: How UK Targets Saudis For Top Contracts (Observer)

Government departments are intensifying efforts to win lucrative public contracts in Saudi Arabia, despite a growing human rights row that led the ministry of justice to pull out of a £6m prison contract in the kingdom last week. Documents seen by the Observer show the government identifying Saudi Arabia as a “priority market” and encouraging UK businesses to bid for contracts in health, security, defence and justice. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that ministers are bent on ever-closer ties with the world’s most notorious human rights abusers,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team. “Ministers must urgently come clean about the true extent of our agreements with Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes.”

The UK’s increasingly close relationship with Saudi Arabia – which observes sharia law, under which capital and corporal punishment are common – is under scrutiny because of the imminent beheading of two young Saudis. Ali al-Nimr and Dawoud al-Marhoon were both 17 when they were arrested at protests in 2012 and tortured into confessions, their lawyers say. France, Germany, the US and the UK have raised concerns about the sentences but this has not stopped Whitehall officials from quietly promoting UK interests in the kingdom – while refusing to make public the human rights concerns they have to consider before approving more controversial business deals there.

Several of the most important Saudi contracts were concluded under the obscurely named Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) policy, which is meant to ensure that the UK’s security and justice activities are “consistent with a foreign policy based on British values, including human rights”. Foreign Office lawyers have gone to court to prevent the policy being made public. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has written to David Cameron asking him to commit to an independent review of the use of the OSJA process. “By operating under a veil of secrecy, we risk making the OSJA process appear to be little more than a rubber-stamping exercise, enabling the UK to be complicit in gross human rights abuses,” Corbyn writes.

The UK has licensed £4bn of arms sales to the Saudis since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, according to research by Campaign Against Arms Trade. Around 240 ministry of defence civil servants and military personnel work in the UK and Saudi Arabia to support the contracts, which will next year include delivery of 22 Hawk jets in a deal worth £1.6bn. And research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that the UK is now the kingdom’s largest arms supplier, responsible for 36% of all Saudi arms imports.

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“They will be looking for horses and people in funny hats and meeting the Queen..”

Britain Has Made ‘Visionary’ Choice To Become China’s Best Friend, Says Xi (Guardian)

Chinese president Xi Jinping praised Britain’s “visionary and strategic choice” to become Beijing’s best friend in the west as he prepared to jet off on his first state visit to the UK, taking with him billions of pounds of planned investment. The trip, Xi’s first to Britain in more than two decades, has been hailed by British and Chinese officials as the start of a “golden era” of relations which the Treasury hopes will make China Britain’s second biggest trade partner within 10 years. “The UK has stated that it will be the western country that is most open to China,” Xi told Reuters in a rare written interview published on the eve of his departure. “This is a visionary and strategic choice that fully meets Britain’s own long-term interest.”

During the four-day trip, which officially begins on Tuesday, Xi will be feted by sports and film stars, Nobel-winning scientists, members of the royal family and politicians. David Cameron and George Osborne will both accompany Xi, who Beijing describes as a football fan, to Manchester where he will visit Manchester City football club and dine at Town Hall. The Communist party leader will also address parliament. Chinese state media has predicted Britain will afford an “ultra-royal welcome” to Xi, who last set foot in the UK in 1994 when he was an official in the south-eastern city of Fuzhou. A frontpage story in the China Daily boasted that Xi’s arrival would be celebrated with a 103-gun salute – 41 in Green Park and 62 at the Tower of London.

Fraser Howie, the co-author of Red Capitalism, said Beijing would revel in the pomp and circumstance. “They will be looking for horses and people in funny hats and meeting the Queen. That plays fantastically well back in China and they make big use of that to show how important the Chinese leadership is,” he said. “It also plays to the pitch that China is now being recognised on the world stage as a great power. This is especially true in Britain’s case because it was those nasty Brits who beat them in the opium war. Now the table has turned and it is China in the ascendancy and it is Britain who is pandering to the Chinese.”

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