Nov 172018
 
 November 17, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Youth 1924

 

US Has Spent $6 Trillion On Wars That Killed Half A Million Since 9/11 (NW)
US ‘Might Lose’ War Against China Or Russia – Report To Congress (Ind.)
UK Austerity Has Inflicted ‘Great Misery’ On Citizens – UN (G.)
Growing Number Of Tory MPs Join Attempt To Topple Theresa May (G.)
Ministers Push To Reshape Theresa May’s Deal Ahead Of EU Summit (Ind.)
‘No Question’ Of More Negotiations If Brexit Deal Rejected – Merkel (Ind)
Protesters Plan To Bring France To A Halt (BBC)
CIA Says Saudi Crown Prince MbS Ordered The Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi (CNBC)
Turkey To Use Intercepted Saudi Comms To Demolish Khashoggi Cover-Up (MEE)
Planning Of Khashoggi’s Murder Caught On Audio, Turkish Reporter Claims (RT)
Prosecution of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom (Greenwald)
Policies of China, Russia and Canada Threaten 5ºC Climate Change (G.)

 

 

Not counting the 500,000 killed in Syria. Sidenote: all the omney and all the dea haven’t led to one single US victory.

US Has Spent $6 Trillion On Wars That Killed Half A Million Since 9/11 (NW)

The United States has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars that directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000 people since the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs published its annual “Costs of War” report Wednesday, taking into consideration the Pentagon’s spending and its Overseas Contingency Operations account, as well as “war-related spending by the Department of State, past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security.”

The final count revealed, “The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans.” “In sum, high costs in war and war-related spending pose a national security concern because they are unsustainable,” the report concluded. “The public would be better served by increased transparency and by the development of a comprehensive strategy to end the wars and deal with other urgent national security priorities.”

[..] Wednesday’s report found that the “US military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries, or about 39 percent of the world’s nations, vastly expanding [its mission] across the globe.” In addition, these operations “have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad.” Overall, researchers estimated that “between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” This toll “does not include the more than 500,000 deaths from the war in Syria, raging since 2011”..

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The military-industrial complex asking for more money, though the US already spends ten times more than Moscow, which spends its money far more efficiently.

US ‘Might Lose’ War Against China Or Russia – Report To Congress (Ind.)

The US could lose a future war against Russia or China, a new report to Congress has suggested. America is losing its edge while rivals innovate and blend conventional, cyber and even non-military capabilities to gain the upper hand in key regions, according to a dozen national security experts tasked by politicians with scrutinising Donald Trump’s national defence strategy. The bipartisan group, led by former undersecretary of defence Eric Edelman and Gary Roughead, an ex-chief of naval operations, wrote: “The US military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict.

“It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously. US military superiority is no longer assured and the implications for American interests and American security are severe.” The unquestioned dominance the US enjoyed at the end of the Cold War no longer holds, the expert commission concluded following interviews with key defence officials and reviews of secret documents, and Washington faces serious challenges to its interests in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The experts identified Mr Trump’s tax reform bill – which greatly benefited the most wealthy – as having drained potential defence funding, alongside tax cuts by both his immediate predecessors.

The White House should look to increase taxation and slash entitlements to drastically increase funding available for the military despite the short-term “pain” the move would cause, they suggested. [..] the commission recommended that the base defence budget be increased by between 3 and 5 per cent above inflation over the next several years. According to the authors, Barack Obama’s 2011 Budget Control Act had had “pronounced detrimental effects on the size, modernisation, and readiness of the military”. Mr Trump made building up America’s armed forces a central campaign pledge and the experts said his strategy was on the right track, but did not go far enough.

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In a few years time, 40% of UK children will be living in poverty. The architect of much of this misery has been Theresa May. And she’s the PM?

UK Austerity Has Inflicted ‘Great Misery’ On Citizens – UN (G.)

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found. Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. About 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials, he said, citing figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

He highlighted predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%. “It is patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty,” he said, adding that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies that had been so profound that key elements of the post-war social contract, devised by William Beveridge more than 70 years ago, had been swept away. In a coruscating 24-page report, which will be presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva next year, the eminent human rights lawyer said that in the UK “poverty is a political choice”.

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The chaos is just beginning.

Growing Number Of Tory MPs Join Attempt To Topple Theresa May (G.)

Theresa May is battling to halt a growing revolt from the Tory right after half a dozen more backbenchers came out in favour of a no-confidence vote and the organiser of the rebellion publicly predicted more MPs would follow next week. The prime minister held a conference call with local association chairmen on Friday afternoon as she fought to head off a coup and sell her hard-won Brexit deal to a sceptical and partially hostile party. Her efforts came after the number of backbenchers calling publicly for a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership increased to 23. Rebellious MPs said they were confident of reaching the required threshold of 48 letters to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee. Adam Holloway, one of the MPs demanding a vote, said his letter had been delivered “with regret”.

But, complaining about May’s Brexit plans, he added: “You cannot have someone leading a mission who does not believe in the mission. The country needs leadership.” Others who went public with their demand to hold a vote included the former cabinet minister John Whittingdale, Maria Caulfield, Marcus Fysh, and Chris Green. David Jones was also named as being among those who had written to Brady. The party rules allow for a no-confidence vote if 15% of the party’s MPs – currently 48 – submit letters. Brady would organise a vote within a couple of working days of the threshold being met. Whittingdale said he wanted the government “to pursue a proper free trade agreement” but he believed that May was not willing to do so. “Therefore I felt there is no alternative but to seek a vote of confidence,” he said.

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Useless. But yes, chaos ensured. Confidence vote next week, EU summit a few days later.

Ministers Push To Reshape Theresa May’s Deal Ahead Of EU Summit (Ind.)

Cabinet ministers are planning a final push to remould parts of Theresa May’s Brexit strategy in a bid to find a way through the political crisis engulfing the government. Brexit-backing members of Ms May’s team will meet within days to discuss their approach, with a drive to change the text of the UK’s withdrawal agreement not ruled out. It emerged as Ms May sought to shore up her leadership following a wave of resignations, by appointing staunch ally Amber Rudd back to the cabinet six months after she was forced to resign over the Windrush scandal. Downing Street is on high alert as rebel backbenchers submitted further letters calling on Ms May to quit, ahead of a possible vote of no confidence next week. The Independent understands that House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom is set to convene the meeting of Brexiteer frontbenchers to decide how Ms May’s strategy might evolve ahead of a critical European summit in just over a week.

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The EU won’t start the entire process from scratch.

‘No Question’ Of More Negotiations If Brexit Deal Rejected – Merkel (Ind)

There is “no question” of further Brexit negotiations if the deal struck by Theresa May is rejected, Angela Merkel has said. Speaking in Berlin, the German chancellor welcomed the deal but warned a chaotic exit was still possible as a “worst case” scenario. “We have a document on the table that Britain and the EU 27 have agreed to, so for me there is no question at the moment whether we negotiate further,” the Chancellor said. The warning follows EU officials close to talks saying the controversial document, which has been panned on all sides in Westminster, is “the best we can do” given the prime minister’s red lines and the bloc’s own rules.

Ms May has publicly stood by the plan, but the Huffington Post reported on Thursday night that allies of the prime minister are trying to win over Brexiteer rebels in the Conservative party with the offer of further concessions from Brussels if they fall in line. Speaking at a news conference ostensibly about her government’s digital strategy, Ms Merkel told reporters: “I am very happy that after long negotiations which were not easy, a proposal has been pulled together.

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Macron has won battles vs the unions so far. But his popularity has now reached Arctic levels.

Protesters Plan To Bring France To A Halt (BBC)

Drivers plan to disrupt traffic across France on Saturday by blocking roads, bridges and toll booths in a mass protest at rising fuel prices. Dubbed the “yellow vests” after the high-visibility jackets they use as their symbol, they are expected to muster in at least 700 locations. They accuse President Emmanuel Macron of abandoning “the little people”. Mr Macron admitted this week that he had not “really managed to reconcile the French people with its leaders”. Nonetheless, he accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block his reform programme.

Officials have warned that, while they will not stop the protests, they will not allow them to bring the French road network to a standstill. The price of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, has risen by around 23% over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 ($1.71) per litre, its highest point since the early 2000s, AFP news agency reports. World oil prices did rise before falling back again but the Macron government raised its hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, as part of a campaign for cleaner cars and fuel. The decision to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol on 1 January 2019 was seen as the final straw.

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How much longer do we have to watch this circus? it’s obvious what happened.

CIA Says Saudi Crown Prince MbS Ordered The Killing Of Jamal Khashoggi (CNBC)

The CIA has determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, NBC News reported Friday, citing a person briefed on the CIA’s assessment. The CIA declined NBC News’ request for comment Friday night. The Washington Post, which first reported the CIA findings, said the U.S. intelligence agency has high confidence in its findings. Khashoggi was a resident of the United States from Saudi Arabia, and he was a columnist for the Washington Post. The Saudi Embassy in Washington denied the reports. “The claims in this purported assessment are false,” the embassy said in a statement.

“We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations.” According to the Post’s report, the CIA looked into a phone call between the crown prince’s brother, who also serves as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Khalid bin Salman and Khashoggi. Sources told the Post that during that call, Khashoggi was directed to pick up documents at the consulate. While the Post said it was not clear whether Khalid bin Salman knew that Khashoggi would be killed, sources told the Post that he made the call at his brother’s request.

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Gina Haspel had a team of 35 experts with her last month in Ankara. And Turkey knows just about everything.

Turkey To Use Intercepted Saudi Comms To Demolish Khashoggi Cover-Up (MEE)

Turkey has a complete record of communications in and out of Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in the week of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, a senior Turkish source has told Middle East Eye. The communications will be used to tear apart Riyadh’s latest version of the killing. These recordings, MEE has learned, have given Turkey a detailed picture of the various operatives, teams and missions issued from Saudi Arabia. And the contents of these communications, the source said, will turn the screw on a Saudi leadership that has sought to insulate itself from the scandal. According to the source, Turkey intends to drip feed the information gleaned from the communications to the media, as it has been doing ever since Khashoggi was brutally murdered by a team of 15 Saudis on 2 October.

The Khashoggi-related conversations that Turkish intelligence intercepted began when the Washington Post columnist first came to his country’s consulate on 28 September in an attempt to get papers required to remarry. The plan to kill Khashoggi, who was told to return to the consulate four days later, began to be hatched the moment he left the building, the source said. Key conversations, the source said, were those between Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi and Saudi security attache Ahmed Abdullah al-Muzaini. Muzaini has so far been spared much of the spotlight. It is unknown if he is one of at least 21 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia. But Turkish newspaper Sabah, which is close to the government, has described Muzaini as the brains behind the plot.

On the day of Khashoggi’s murder, the conversations of one man are especially important. MEE understands that Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, the leader of the death squad sent to kill the journalist, made 19 calls to Riyadh on 2 October. [..] Puzzling to the Turkish source, however, is US intelligence’s knowledge of a phone conversation between Mutrib and Riyadh, where the team leader is apparently heard saying “tell your boss” following Khashoggi’s death. [..] When CIA chief Gina Haspel visited Turkey on 23 October for consultations over Khashoggi, she apparently arrived with a team of some 35 people. Amongst them were experts in deciphering recordings, linguists, people familiar with the Saudi accent and people who could enhance audio, the source said.

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The Turkish information drip.

Planning Of Khashoggi’s Murder Caught On Audio, Turkish Reporter Claims (RT)

A Saudi team had planned all along to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi and never tried to talk him into anything, a Turkish daily reports, citing recordings held by police that call Riyadh’s statement on the matter into question. An audio tape, allegedly in the possession of Turkish investigators, features a 15-minute conversation, in which “the Saudi team discusses how to execute Khashoggi,” the Turkish Hurriyet Daily wrote on Friday, citing its columnist Abdulkadir Selvi. In a recording that was allegedly made even before the journalist entered the Saudi consulate, “they are reviewing their plan, which was previously prepared, and reminding themselves of the duties of each member,” he said.

The Hurriyet report contradicts the statement made by the Saudi deputy public prosecutor, Shaalan al-Shaalan, who said that the team was actually sent to Istanbul to retrieve the journalist and bring him back to Saudi Arabia. A decision to murder the reporter –and outspoken critic of Riyadh– was allegedly taken by the head of the team after its ‘persuasion’ failed. Some other audio evidence obtained by the Turkish investigators also allegedly shows that the version of Khashoggi’s killing presented by Riyadh just does not add up, Selvi reports. “Khashoggi’s desperate attempts to survive could be heard in a seven-minute audio recording. There is no hint of anyone trying to persuade him,” he says, referring to another tape, which allegedly proved that “Khashoggi was strangulated in 7-8 minutes.”

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Glenn Greenwald knows much more than most about the situation. But he doesn’t even mention the lies involved in the Assange persecution by Mueller.

Prosecution of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom (Greenwald)

Recall that the DNC itself is currently suing WikiLeaks and Assange for publishing the DNC and Podesta emails they received: emails deemed newsworthy by literally every major media outlet, which relentlessly reported on them. Until this current Trump DOJ criminal prosecution of Assange, that DNC lawsuit had been the greatest Trump-era threat to press freedoms – because it seeks to make the publication of documents, which is the core of journalism, legally punishable. The Trump DOJ’s attempts to criminalize those actions is merely the next logical step in this descent into a full-scale attack on basic press rights.

The arguments justifying the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange are grounded in a combination of legal ignorance, factual falsehoods, and dangerous authoritarianism. The most common misconception is that unlike the New York Times and the Washington Post, WikiLeaks can be legitimately prosecuted for publishing classified information because it’s not a “legitimate news outlet.” Democrats who make this argument don’t seem to care that this is exactly the view rejected as untenable by the Obama DOJ. To begin with, the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment isn’t confined to “legitimate news outlets” – whatever that might mean.

The First Amendment isn’t available only to a certain class of people licensed as “journalists.” It protects not a privileged group of people called “professional journalists” but rather an activity: namely, using the press (which at the time of the First Amendment’s enactment meant the literal printing press) to inform the public about what the government was doing. Everyone is entitled to that constitutional protection equally: there is no cogent way to justify why the Guardian, ex-DOJ-officials-turned-bloggers, or Marcy Wheeler are free to publish classified information but Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are not.

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The dead end: Always blame the others. The more you do that, the less you have to change yourself.

Policies of China, Russia and Canada Threaten 5ºC Climate Change (G.)

China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries. The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating. The study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, assesses the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed their example.

The aim of the paper is to inform climate negotiators as they begin a two-year process of ratcheting up climate commitments, which currently fall far short of the 1.5-to-2C goal set in France three years ago. [..] India is leading the way with a target that is only slightly off course for 2C. [..] On the opposite side of the spectrum are the industrial powerhouse China and major energy exporters who are doing almost nothing to limit carbon dioxide emissions. These include Saudi Arabia (oil), Russia (gas) and Canada, which is drawing vast quantities of dirty oil from tar sands. Fossil fuel lobbies in these countries are so powerful that government climate pledges are very weak, setting the world on course for more than 5C of heating by the end of the century.

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Oct 242018
 
 October 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Fatata te Miti (By the sea) 1892

 

The Stock Market Faces ‘Unlimited Downside Risk,’ Warns Veteran Trader (MW)
Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker Thinks ‘We’re In A Hell Of A Mess’ (CNBC)
Trump Says Saudi Crown Prince Could Have Been Involved In Khashoggi Killing (G.)
How Congress Can Force Trump’s Hand On Saudi Sanctions (CNBC)
Trump Has “Strongest Negotiating Position Ever” With China – Kyle Bass (ZH)
China Talks Up Stock Market Amid Concerns About Share-Backed Loans (CNBC)
A “Blue Wave” in Midterm Elections? Not So Fast (Rickards)
It’s Too Late To Prepare UK Borders For No-Deal Brexit – Watchdog (Ind.)
UK Could Be Forced To Charter Ships To Bring In Food And Supplies (Ind.)
Ecuador Likely To Turn Assange Over To US – Ex-President Correa (RT)
Ecuador Won’t Help Assange Leave UK Embassy Safely – Foreign Minister (RT)

 

 

In the absence of price discovery you get unlimited.

The Stock Market Faces ‘Unlimited Downside Risk,’ Warns Veteran Trader (MW)

The stock market opened with a resounding thud on Tuesday morning, as the Dow Jones, at one point, had shed more than 500 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite endured even harder hits, down more than 2% each. So, you must positioning yourself for that tasty bounce we’ve grown accustomed to over the course of this stubborn bull market. Well, don’t, warns J.C. Parets, the technical analyst behind the All Star Charts blog. “There is unlimited downside risk in the market right now and I don’t think it’s being respected,” he wrote. “It’s not until afterwards that they ask, ‘what happened?’” When the bottom falls out, that’s when the blaming begins.

“The Fed, the Trump, the ebola, or whatever excuse du jour is being regurgitated on the various media outlets,” Parets wrote. “The only one to blame is ourselves.” He pointed to several divergences that should make clear to investors just how precarious the market situation is at these current levels. The first one is what we’re seeing in this chart of the S&P vs. the rest of the world. “The divergence is telling,” Parets explained in his blog post. “The last time we saw this was at the 2015 market top.”

Another divergence we haven’t seen since the 2015 top, and, before that, the 2007 top, is the relationship between consumer staples and the broader market. “When stocks fall, staples get a sympathy bid and outperform due to that very same lower beta and their defensive qualities,” Parets said. “With new highs in stocks, bulls want to see new lows in relative strength for staples. That’s a normal environment. It’s when they diverge that it is evidence of something changing.”

And finally, Parets took a look at what Dow Theory is telling us. This idea here is that when either industrial or transportation stocks make new highs, it’s important for the other to follow. When that confirmation doesn’t come, there’s cause for concern. “We saw these divergences lead to collapses in 2000, 2007 and more recently a severe selloff in 2015,” Parets wrote. “You can see that with new highs in the Dow this month, transports put in a lower high, typical behavior at market tops.”

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Mostly critical of the Fed, of which he was the chair.

Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker Thinks ‘We’re In A Hell Of A Mess’ (CNBC)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who has reached legend status in the world of central banking, isn’t optimistic about current conditions. When Volcker looks around now, he sees “a hell of a mess in every direction,” including a lack of basic respect for government institutions, a current Fed that seems to be following a completely arbitrary benchmark and a “swamp” in Washington run by plutocrats. “At least the military still has all the respect. But I don’t know, how can you run a democracy when nobody believes in the leadership of the country?” Volcker asks New York Times columnist and CNBC “Squawk Box” co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin in a column for the newspaper’s DealBook section.

“Tall Paul” is most known for willfully taking the country into recession in the early 1980s to finally defeat the inflation that had been strangling the economy. Since then, he’s lent his name to the “Volcker rule” part of banking reform legislation that restricts risk-taking at big Wall Street institutions. In a book set for release Oct. 30, Volcker laments the current state of conditions, particularly the monied interests eating away at the system of governing. “There is no force on earth that can stand up effectively, year after year, against the thousands of individuals and hundreds of millions of dollars in the Washington swamp aimed at influencing the legislative and electoral process,” he writes, according to Sorkin.

Volcker, in ailing health but not short of opinions, also seems unhappy with the Fed itself. Though it’s unusual for former chairmen to comment on Fed matters, Volcker said there appears to be no “theoretical justification” for its 2 percent inflation target. He said the Fed is just one of the institutions in which people have lost confidence. And he also dispels with the myth that presidents historically haven’t tried to influence interest rates. Recounting a 1984 meeting he had with former President Ronald Reagan, then-chief of staff James Baker flatly told Volcker, “The president is ordering you not to raise interest rates before the election.” “I was stunned,” Volcker said.

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Developing as I expected. Adapting as evidence comes in.

Trump Says Saudi Crown Prince Could Have Been Involved In Khashoggi Killing (G.)

Donald Trump has said for the first time that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman could have been involved in the operation to kill dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi noting that “the prince is running things over there” in Riyadh. The comments, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, appeared to mark a shift in the president’s view of Khashoggi’s murder on 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He has hitherto appeared to take Saudi royal denials of involvement at face value. But on a day the state department announced it would sanction Saudi officials implicated in the writer’s death, the president appeared to give the benefit of the doubt to King Salman but not necessarily to his powerful son.

Asked about the crown prince’s possible involvement, Trump said: “Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him.” Trump told the Wall Street Journal he had closely questioned Prince Mohammed about Khashoggi’s murder, posing questions repeatedly and “in a couple of different ways”. “My first question to him was, ‘Did you know anything about it in terms of the initial planning’,” Trump said. Prince Mohammed replied that he didn’t, Trump said. “I said, ‘Where did it start?’ And he said it started at lower levels.” Asked if he believed the denials, the president paused for several seconds. “I want to believe them. I really want to believe them,” he said.

Twenty-one Saudis will have their US visas revoked or be made ineligible for US visas over the journalist’s killing, the state department announced, as the Trump administration struggled to regain the initiative amid the uproar over a murder that has thrown the US-Saudi alliance into question. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said other measures were being considered, including sanctions: “These penalties will not be the last word on the matter from the United States. “We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence,” Pompeo said. “Neither the President nor I am happy with this situation.”

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For now, they’re in no position to force anything. They’re in recess. By the time they come back the situation will have changed a lot.

How Congress Can Force Trump’s Hand On Saudi Sanctions (CNBC)

As the world awaits the truth, or something close to it, about Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, one of the Gulf’s most stalwart security relationships hangs in a precarious position. Congress and the White House have sharply different views on how to approach the diplomatic crisis, now in its third week. Legislators are loudly calling for sanctions on weapons sales on Saudi Arabia and a robust response if the government in Riyadh is proven to have been behind Khashoggi’s death. But while President Donald Trump has expressed his desire to get to the bottom of the case, he’s appeared more reluctant to punish his allies in the kingdom, whose support is vital in carrying out his agenda to isolate Iran and keep oil prices stable ahead of the November midterm elections.

[..] a former U.S. national security official with extensive experience in the Gulf, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation, warned that after the midterm elections, the mood toward the Saudis would be much more aggressive than in the past. Whatever the election’s outcome, “I think either way there will be a more skeptical — if not hostile — relationship with Saudi Arabia in the legislature,” the former official said. “And the relatively free hand that the administration gave is going to be a little more constrained. “The Saudis are very lucky that Congress is in recess for campaigning — if Congress were in session there would be hearings, and they would not be good hearings.”

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“$40 trillion worth of credit, somewhere between 40 and 50, no one knows, in a system with only a couple trillion dollars’ worth of equity..”

Trump Has “Strongest Negotiating Position Ever” With China – Kyle Bass (ZH)

The Trump administration needs to level the playing field on trade, Bass said, and “it looks like they are doing so.” And it certainly helps that Trump’s trade push, while initially reviled by globalists in both parties, has since won the reluctant support of both Democrats and Republicans as the US economy has largely escaped any serious repercussions so far. But ultimately, the arbiter of government money and influence over the domestic economy is the yuan-dollar exchange rate. And as the yuan sinks, foreign ownership of Chinese assets is falling as the PBOC runs “a structural and more permanent” current-account deficit with the rest of the world as the US continues to institute trade barriers.

“So they can change a lot of things domestically, but their – the arbiter of the Chinese plan is their cross rate or their exchange rate with the rest of the world. China Inc.’s working capital account is now going South because they’re running what we believe to be a structural and more permanent deficit on the current account. And so, ie, their working capital, their dollar balance whether it’s dollars, euros, yen or pounds, it’s mostly dollars.” All of this instability risks toppling the mountain of bad debt upon which China’s economic growth in recent years has depended. Already, corporate defaults have surged in 2018 to the highest level on record.

With all of these factors at play, China is running what Bass described as “the largest financial experiment the world has ever seen.” “And they’ve got, you know, $40 trillion worth of credit, somewhere between 40 and 50, no one knows, in a system with only a couple trillion dollars’ worth of equity. And so China is running the largest financial experiment the world has ever seen. And the economic tides have turned negative for them. If you notice the narrative amongst the United States, it’s actually a bipartisan narrative whereby you’re seeing both sides of the aisle pushing back on China taking advantage of the US.”

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Financial innovation.

China Talks Up Stock Market Amid Concerns About Share-Backed Loans (CNBC)

A flurry of comments from Chinese officials over the last few days have been aimed at pledging support for private businesses with financing problems, as Beijing seeks to ease fears of a sell-off in stocks. The worry is that a drop in stock prices would force the selling of shares used as collateral, and lead to further market declines in China. In one of Beijing’s latest interventions, the Securities Association of China announced Monday night that 11 securities firms will form a $100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) asset management plan to take some pressure off “share pledges” for companies with good development prospects.

In share pledge financing, companies use a percentage of their equities as collateral to obtain loans. If the stock price falls far below a level that was agreed upon, the lender will sell the shares to obtain funds, leading to the destabilization of equity markets. Despite Beijing’s latest move and other recent measures to support local businesses, stocks closed sharply lower Tuesday, giving back some gains from the rally in the previous two sessions. [..] The prevalence of share pledges is partly the result of Beijing’s own actions. Chinese banks prefer to lend to state-owned enterprises, while the government continues to crack down on shadow banking — the primary alternative for private businesses. As a result, many Chinese companies, especially small and mid-sized businesses, have turned to share pledges.

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I don’t see it either. And Rickards is right about media coverage of Trump.

A “Blue Wave” in Midterm Elections? Not So Fast (Rickards)

Tuesday, Nov. 6, is the date of the U.S. midterm elections that will determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. The outcome of those contests will determine whether Trump is allowed to finish his term or not (see below for more on that, and which outcome is most likely). Let’s dive in… Whatever you think of Trump personally, we all know how the mainstream media treat Donald Trump. The coverage from The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC and other outlets is relentlessly and exclusively negative. The media campaign against Trump is not normal bias; it’s more like a political jihad. Trump gets no credit for reducing unemployment, cutting taxes, boosting growth, achieving a breakthrough with North Korea, defeating ISIS and standing up to the dictators in Syria and Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Trump is hammered continually on the bogus Russia collusion story while Robert Mueller is cheered on in his fishing expedition into Trump’s personal finances and unrelated problems of Trump associates. The mainstream pundits are predicting a “blue wave” that will put the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and lead directly to impeachment proceedings early in 2019. That’s been the mainstream narrative for months. Basically, the idea is that Democratic voters are more motivated than Republican voters because their hatred of Trump is more powerful than support for Trump among Republican voters. The Kavanaugh confirmation process only inflamed Democratic passions even further and should help the turnout.

Read more …

It’s too late for many things.

It’s Too Late To Prepare UK Borders For No-Deal Brexit – Watchdog (Ind.)

Britain has left it too late to prepare its borders for a no-deal Brexit, which would be a gift for organised criminals and chaotic for traders, the UK’s spending watchdog warns Theresa May today. Only one of 12 new “critical systems” is likely to be ready after planning was undermined by “political uncertainty and delays in negotiations”, the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded. The failure would open up “weaknesses or gaps in the enforcement regime” which “organised criminals and others are likely to be quick to exploit”, its highly-critical report says. And the problem will be made worse by the UK losing full access to EU security databases after Brexit, which police chiefs have already warned will weaken the fight against crime.

Meanwhile, firms would be hit with delays for goods crossing the border while rogue operators would escape tax and regulatory checks, the report predicts. Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, seized on the findings as “painting a damning picture on the government’s lack of security preparation for Brexit”. She said: “The British people will never forgive this government if its in-fighting and political jockeying led them to neglect border security and the international co-operation needed to tackle serious, organised crime and terrorism.” And the Federation of Small Businesses said ministers were living in “dreamland” if they believed the ability to track and examine goods at the border would be in place for leaving the EU next March.

Read more …

No-deal Brexit will be disastrous, much more than anyone realizes. Everything still looks normal, after all.

UK Could Be Forced To Charter Ships To Bring In Food And Supplies (Ind.)

The UK could be forced to charter ships to bring in supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, ministers have been warned. The cabinet was briefed on plans for alternatives if new customs controls in France block the Dover-Calais route, potentially causing chaos in the English Channel, according to the Financial Times. Transport secretary Chris Grayling reportedly discussed the possibility of hiring entire ships, or securing cargo space in vessels, to bring food, medicines and other supplies in through alternative ports. David Lidington, the cabinet office minister, told his colleagues the Dover-Calais route could only run at a maximum of 25 per cent of its capacity under a no-deal scenario.

A department for transport spokesperson said: “We remain confident of reaching an agreement with the EU, but it is only sensible for government and industry to prepare for a range of scenarios. “We are continuing to work closely with partners on contingency plans to ensure that trade can continue to move as freely as possible between the UK and Europe.” Labour MP David Lammy, who is pushing for Britain to stay in the European Union, said: “Brexit has become like a declaration of war on ourselves. Emergency ships will be chartered for food and medicine if we leave the EU with no deal. “But at least when we’re using ration books and running out of drugs, we’ll have taken back control.”

Read more …

Not the first time Correa says this.

Ecuador Likely To Turn Assange Over To US – Ex-President Correa (RT)

The Ecuadorian government might eventually hand the Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange to Washington even though it is legally obliged to protect him, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa told RT. “I believe they are going to turn over Assange to the US government,” Correa, who was leading the Latin American country at the time when it granted the Wikileaks co-founder asylum, told RT, calling the policy of the current Ecuadorian government “a shame.” “The Ecuadorian state has to protect Assange’s rights, he is not just an asylum [seeker]; he is a citizen,” Correa said. Granted Ecuadorian citizenship back in 2017, Assange is now supposed to be protected by the Ecuadorian constitution. But the current government is too desperate for Washington’s favor, Correa believes.

The Wikileaks co-founder might be a bargaining chip in an agreement between the Ecuadorian authorities and US Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the Latin American country and met with President Lenin Moreno earlier this year. Quito’s behavior shows that it has “absolutely submitted” to Washington without actually earning any favor, Correa said. His comments came a week after two US lawmakers called on Moreno to “hand Assange over to the proper authorities,” calling him “a dangerous criminal and a threat to global security.” In the letter, representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) spoke about the US willingness “to move forward in collaborating” with Moreno’s government, mulling enhanced economic cooperation and development aid from the US. They portrayed Assange as an obstacle on the way to a bright future together for the two nations.

Read more …

Wondering why his lawyers sued Ecuador. Who sues their host? Looks like they know something’s afoot.

Ecuador Won’t Help Assange Leave UK Embassy Safely – Foreign Minister (RT)

Ecuador will not help Julian Assange leave the UK, the country’s foreign minister said, claiming its only duty was to look after the WikiLeaks founder’s “well-being” after Assange sued them for restricting his rights and freedoms. Ecuadorian FM Jose Valencia told Reuters that Ecuador was not responsible for helping Assange leave the London embassy safely, even though the Inter-American Court on Human Rights recently found them responsible for protecting him from US extradition. UK authorities are poised to apprehend Assange should he step outside the building. Assange accused the Ecuadorian government of violating his rights after they drew up a “Special Protocol” barring him from speaking about politics or involving himself in the political affairs of other countries.

The list of restrictions runs to nine pages and permits authorities to confiscate the property of visitors, who must be approved in advance, submit their social media profiles, and turn over the make, model, serial and IMEI numbers of their mobile devices. The conditions added insult to injury with a threat to turn Assange’s cat over to a shelter if he fails to clean up after it adequately. The cat has been Assange’s only companion during nearly seven months in which the Ecuadorian government has kept him cut off from the outside world, jamming his phone lines, scrambling wifi signals, and banning almost all visitors. The “Special Protocol” also states that Ecuador will cease paying for Assange’s food, medical care, laundry, and all but the most basic needs on December 1.

Between this deadline, the limitations on his speech, and the Foreign Minister’s statement, the government appears to be stepping up the pressure to force Assange to leave on his own. In July, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that Ecuador must protect Assange from US extradition. The ruling came just weeks after a meeting between Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno and US VP Mike Pence during which they were rumored to have reached an agreement regarding handing over the WikiLeaks founder.

Read more …

Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Pandora’s box 1951

 

They can’t help themselves even as they hurt themselves. Look guys, chill! I saw someone imply on Twitter that Donald Trump is an accomplice in a murder cover-up. This person knows as well as all the ones who liked the tweet that they all just don’t know. They don’t know exactly what Trump knows about the chilling Khashoggi execution.

Just like they don’t know exactly what happened in the consulate. Information from anonymous Turkish sources is dripping through drop by drop, and it looks terrible -and terribly graphic-, but the conclusion that Trump wants to cover up a murder is multiple tokes over the line.

The Saudi attempt at labeling the execution a kidnapping gone wrong is out the window if only a tenth of the Turkish sources’ claims is true. What emerges is a picture of premeditated torture and murder. And one that was ordered by someone in the royal family. Which can really only be one of two people: the King or his son, MbS, and the latter seems more suspect. But what any of it has to do with Trump remains to be seen,

He’s not liking the whole thing one bit, that’s for sure. If only because whatever America does vis a vis the Saudi’s is now ultimately his call. While the strong link between the two countries was established decades ago, and would be very hard to untangle, if it comes to that. See, I can write Ban Saudi Oil, as I did last week, but I also realize how extensive the consequences for the US economy would be if such a thing were considered.

Not a decision you take lightly. Trump for instance knows full well what would happen to his standing and popularity if gas prices were to double or triple overnight. Is that a reason to let the Saudi’s get away with murder? No, but it is a reason to be circumspect, and to demand solid evidence. Doing that doesn’t make anyone an accomplice to a murder cover-up.

Moreover, the dependence on Saudi oil and the petrodollar arrangement is just one facet of what has driven US Middle East policy since WWII -and arguably before-, shaped by governments from both parties in Washington, and driven by very powerful intelligence agencies -both American and foreign- as well as the military-industrial complex.

You can’t blame that all on one man. Not Khashoggi, nor the ‘war’ in Yemen, or any of the bloodshed that has occurred before he became president. And you can’t expect him to end it all on a rainy afternoon either. If he would be inclined to do so. Since no president before him has been, you’d only be criticizing him for continuing established policy.

Every US president for many years has been an accomplice to murder, not just a cover-up, in Saudi Arabia, where women and gays and everyone else the House of Saud didn’t like end up without their heads attached to their torso. It’s how we get cheap oil, how we have built our societies and communities into what they are at present. Good design? Hell no. But it is what it is.

 

Still, allegations like the murder cover-up one keep coming. The reason is, as I’ve written many times now, that it makes the media money. Being anti-Trump sells. It has given us the Russiagate narrative, the Mueller investigation and tons of other stories that don’t go anywhere. Because it doesn’t matter if they are true, what counts is that they sell newspapers and TV commercials.

And there are some in the media, and certainly many in the anti-Trump echochamber, who still dream of impeaching him. But, as I said before, that doesn’t include the owners of papers and TV channels. They’ve never had a single person bring in sales like this, and it has saved many of their assets. All they need to do is twist everything that happens into something Trump can be blamed for.

That the Democratic Party is the main victim of this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, really. Or maybe only Trump himself. Three weeks before the midterms, his detractors handed him another two main victories, free of charge. And one can’t help thinking: don’t you guys see what you’re doing?

A lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, about a Trump tweet no less, was thrown out by a judge. The Senate a few weeks back refused to even talk to Avenatti’s other client, Julie Swetnick, in the Kavanaugh hearings, who had come up with a story about coordinated gang rape.

Avenatti has proven incredibly toxic to the Democrats, and they don’t appear to realize it. But he’s nothing compared to Elizabeth Warren, who all but folded her political career this week, after media -reluctantly- reported that the DNA test she wanted Trump to pay a million bucks over, showed she’s less Cherokee than 90-odd percent of white Americans. Liz, why, how, what were you thinking?

 

Guys, chill! You have elections coming up. Don’t hand it to the guy on a platter, let him at least exert some effort. The Democrats apparently still think they’re going to win the elections, that their echochamber tactics will turn people against Trump. In reality, they’re only talking, shouting, to themselves, and to people who already see things the same way they do anyway.

How many Democrats have you seen declaring that the US should stop selling weapons to the Saudi’s, should tell them to stop starving millions of Yemeni children, should cut off all communication until the truth about Khashoggi is revealed? Me neither. Their identity is no different from Trump, other than on minor issues, the only identity they have is they’re against him. And that’s the same as having none.

While there are so many issues that people should really go after Trump for, all that we see are fake narratives about Russian collusion, which, as I’ve explained, we now know are false because Mueller hasn’t reported anything, and if he had any proof he would have to reveal it because he couldn’t sit on evidence about a president colluding with a foreign power for even one day.

Which is perhaps why, though the timing is strange with the midterms in less than three weeks, two of the strongest anti-Trump media, the Washington Post and the BBC, came out with pieces in the past 24 hours that hesitantly say a few positive things about Trump, albeit clad in inevitable smears and accusations.

The WaPo:

 

Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern US History

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history. Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet).

In part, it’s a New York thing – everything is the biggest and the best. But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness – keeping his promises – Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

 

And the BBC:

 

Is This The Most Successful Month Of The Trump Presidency?

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One. Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge. The president seems more willing to answer reporters’ questions, partly because there is a better story to tell.

Last week he also sat for the first 60 Minutes interview of his presidency, which aired on Sunday night. The veteran CBS presenter Lesley Stahl, who conducted this cross-examination, was struck by his self-assurance. “Right now,” she said afterwards, “he’s so much more confident. He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.”

 

If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’re trying to boost the guy ahead of the elections. Me, I’m wondering why such media don’t harp every single day on the ongoing issue of family separation. And keep at it till every American -and Brit- talks about it. Instead, their biggest story this week has been that Pocahontas was of 1/1024th Native American descent. Or something in that vein.

As for Khashoggi, that story appears to have taken on a life of its own, drip-fed by Erdogan at first, but it seems to have reached a point where even if Erdogan gets what he wanted and cuts the drip, it won’t stop. It’s been a weird dynamic, how one man’s fate is more important than that of millions of others.

Where did that come from? Someone powerful seeing an opportunity to get rid of MbS? Still find it hard to gauge. It doesn’t look as if MbS can be maintained in his position by his father. Too much bad publicity, too much at risk financially. And it would be convenient if Trump and King Salman would agree to push him aside, put all the blame on him, and see if that satisfies the media and public.

But the King may still try and go for broke. And his son may also have usurped too much power for the dad to order him gone. But that would mean a major headache for Trump. How about if either the king or the prince decide to gamble and threaten to end the petrodollar? What would the echochamber suggest Trump does then?

 

 

Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Eisenstaedt Egyptian Fishing Boats. Suez Canal near Port Said 1935

 

According to Middle East Eye, Richard Branson, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Economist editor-In-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, New York Times, Financial Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and AOL founder Steve Case have all withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held this month in Riyadh. Branson also put a $1 billion investment plan on hold.

Also, on Wednesday, former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz said that he had suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM, to which he was named on Tuesday. The Harbour Group, a Washington firm that has been advising Saudi Arabia since April 2017, ended its $80,000 a month contract on Thursday. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is still scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, but they won’t risk the damage to their reputations.

All this is due, obviously, to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a former close aquaintance of the Saud family, who moved to the US and wrote for the Washington Post (how’s Amazon’s Saudi business, Jeff Bezos?) after falling out with the House of Saud.

As the what someone actually labeled “unfolding diplomatic crisis” takes shape, there is really only one thing to say about these people and organizations: they the worst group of hypocrites ever. And their reasons to boycott the conference must be questioned.

Because before Khashoggi vanished they all apparently though it was quite okay to go feed at the Saud trough, despite the still ongoing slaughter of millions of people in the ‘war’ in Yemen. Which makes one suspect it’s not so much about their principles but about their public image.

Donald Trump said he won’t stop weapons sales to the Saudi’s because they would just buy their arms from someone else, like Russia (it would be interesting to get Putin’s view on Khashoggi). And while Trump is completely wrong here, at least he’s not hypocritical about it.

Not selling guns and tanks is by no means the most forceful action vs MBS and his dad, and not just because they can buy them elsewhere. What’s much stronger as a protest against what apparently happened to Khashoggi is to hit the Sauds where it hurts: in their wallet. That wallet is being filled by the sale of oil.

Simply stop buying their oil. Tell Shell and Exxon and BP and Total to get the hell out of the country. It’s just that to top off the hypocrisy, the best -only?- replacement for Saudi oil is Russian oil, and the US and Europe are engaged in a long drawn out smear campaign to isolate Russia from their world order.

But as long as Richard Branson flies his planes on Saudi oil, what’s the use of him boycotting a conference? Well, other than he hopes it makes him look good in the eyes of the world and feel good about himself? The carnage in Yemen has been going on for years, and all that time Branson has been silent. And was planning to get into a $1 billion investment as emaciated Yemeni babies are fed leaves.

And the idea is not to single him out, those major media organizations and the World Bank are just as bad. They all just hope that no-one will notice or speak out when they grab the Saudi money, and that when they are caught in the middle they will collect applause for making their ‘heroic’ decision not to attend a conference.

That said, it’s interesting to see the story move through the media. Is it the power of Jeff Bezos that gets it so much -and sustained- attention? Did the Saudi’s know that Turkey had their consulate bugged? Isn’t that against international law? How much Saudi oil does Turkey use? Did US intelligence know what was going to happen? Did Turkey?

Why so much more interest in this case than all the other disappearing journalists? Khashoggi is/was no Christ; he was close to the royal family for years while women and gay people and dissidents were under severe threat.

Just more hypocrisy. And if we want to end that, let’s boycott Saudi oil. Let’s use different oil, or none. And until then let’s not fall for the stage performances of all those who all of a sudden want to be seen as principled actors. That’s just about as bad as sawing a guy into pieces.

 

 

May 172018
 
 May 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Daubigny’s garden 1890

 

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)
Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)
Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)
Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)
Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)
Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)
New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)
Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)
Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)
31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)
DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)
Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)
Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

 

 

“People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.”

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)

With mortgage rates rising, one would expect refi activity to slow. And it has: Refi Applications are at an 8-Year Low. But why is there any refi activity all at all? In September 2017 the MND mortgage rate rate was 3.85%. In June 2016, the MND rate was 3.43%.

It makes little sense to refi at 4.70% when one could have done it less than two years ago a point and a quarter lower. At these rates, refi activity should be in the low single digits. Yet, 36% of mortgage applications are refis.

Are people pulling money out of their houses to pay bills? That’s how it appears as Cash-Out Mortgage Refis are Back. What’s Going On?
• People feel wealthy again and are willing to blow it on consumption
• People pulling money out to invest in stocks or Bitcoin
• People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.

I suspect point number three is the primary reason. Regardless, releveraging is as wrong now as it was in 2007. Totally wrong.

Read more …

Dump and dump.

Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)

Like Powell, Clarida said he “absolutely” supports the Fed’s normalization of interest rates and the balance sheet. Like Powell, he said that the normalized balance sheet should be “a lot smaller,” and that Powell’s suggestion of a range of $2.4 trillion to $2.9 trillion, down from its peak-level of $4.5 trillion, “makes sense.” Like Powell, he said stock market volatility itself – that’s downward volatility, the only volatility that matters on Wall Street – shouldn’t determine the Fed’s policy decisions. On banking regulation too he mirrored Powell. So in this sense, what he said about mortgage-backed securities on the Fed’s balance sheet is fascinating: The Fed should shed them entirely, down to zero.

Clarida explained that there are “benefits and costs” of QE, and that as more layers of QE were piled on, “the benefits of QE diminished and the costs went up.” And as vice chairman, he’d “have to take a serious look at the costs of QE.” Then he was asked about “non-Treasury instruments, like mortgage-backed securities,” for QE – that the Fed, when selecting non-Treasury securities, would be getting into something that it shouldn’t, namely “allocating credit.” “Yes, absolutely,” Clarida replied: “My preference would be for the Fed to end up with a Treasury-only portfolio.” He then added that, “as a general proposition, my preference would be to have the balance sheet as much as possible in Treasury securities.”

Shedding MBS from the balance sheet entirely and keeping them off could have a big impact. Currently, the Fed holds $1.74 trillion of MBS. That’s about 26% of all residential mortgage-backed securities outstanding. The Fed is the elephant in the MBS room.

Read more …

“..the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world..”

Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)

In less than a month, Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), faces three lawsuits that may end up taking all of the oil giant’s international assets, leaving it bankrupt. According to the economist and opposition congressman, Ángel Alvarado, the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world, is about to disappear. Alvarado says that the state has no way to pay all its outstanding debts or the legal judgments that are looming. In an ominous sign, creditors today attempted to collect USD $2.9 billion that the oil company has failed to pay in debt obligations. The bankrupt company not only must face ConocoPhillips, after having lost a lawsuit where it was ordered to pay the US oil company USD $2 billion.

PDVSA now must also respond to a wave of similar claims, as it looks for a way to pay bondholders after default, and tries to restart refineries that are about to close because of diminished production caused by abandonment and embezzlement. In short, PDVSA faces the perfect storm for falling into bankruptcy, with no credible path for solvency. According to OPEC, Venezuela is the country with the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world with 296 billion barrels. However, paradoxically, the export of crude oil is not a profitable business for the South American country after years of neglect by the socialist government. Recently the US company ConocoPhillips decided to seize the PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, a dangerous precedent that could influence other plaintiffs to take similar measures.

Read more …

Joining the rest of the world.

Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)

Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy, experts said Thursday. The overall fertility rate, which essentially shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3% from the rate of 1.82 in 2016. That marks “the lowest total fertility rate since 1978,” said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births in 2017 were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing. About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2% drop year-on-year. The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved. “To me the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. “About 10 years since the Great Recession we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years.”

Read more …

“The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone..”

Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)

Letter to CEO John Ridding and editors of the Financial Times. Dear Sirs, I have read your article “Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians” and, with all due respect to an important newspaper like yours, honestly I think you need to better understand what is taking place in Italy. And I suggest you get to know the 5 Star MoVement a little more closely. The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone, marking every possible negative record in our history. Nowadays, Italy has about 6 million people under the absolute poverty threshold and about 100,000 young people every year expatriating to try their luck elsewhere, often in your country.

All this is the result of barbarians, old barbarians about whom I have never read as many negative things in your editorials as I am reading these days against us. The 5 Star Movement was born in 2009 with a specific aim: to bring the popular will back to the centre of the political debate and the decisions of the central government. In just 9 years we have grown so much that we can now see what we have accomplished, with over 11 million people who trusted us in the last elections. We succeeded by working hard, with our heads down, studying, always struggling to defend Italian citizens. We succeeded with the youngest, most educated and most gender-balanced parliamentary group that the history of Italy has ever seen. Italians have always believed us based on the awareness that everything we have promised or written in a program, has become a reality on the first occasion we have had to make it happen.

In your article you are talking about a contract of government that is difficult to implement and economically unsustainable: what a pity you have not read this contract yet! And this is an offence to professional journalism, also. But there is one thing you are right about. The contract we are writing is challenging and it will not be easy to remedy the damage caused by political barbarians governing our country for the past 30 years. But we are doing our best to restore hope and to give Italians a brighter future. If you want to better understand how we will acccomplish this, I suggest you do not waste time publishing false news created ad-hoc by the Italian media system, get to know the 5 Star Movement and report the truth instead. Good luck!

Read more …

On the Guardian’s hit pieces yesterday.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.” Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.”

The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual. On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Read more …

Hopeful.

New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people. Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them. Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing. “We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson.

“These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives … the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work. The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives. “Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.” “In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

Read more …

A sad comedy.

Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)

Peers have inflicted a 15th defeat on the government’s key Brexit bill, underlining the acute political challenge Theresa May faces in seeking a deal that both parliament and her warring ministers can live with. The latest amendment, aimed at bolstering environmental protection after Brexit, was carried by 294 to 244 votes on Wednesday. Peers argued that enforcement measures proposed in a consultation document published last week were inadequate and that the environment had been subordinated to housing and economic growth. With her cabinet still deadlocked over customs arrangements, the prime minister must now decide when to bring the legislation back to the House of Commons and seek to undo the changes made by peers.

Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: “During the bill’s journey through the House of Lords, some changes have been made that conflict with its purpose or are designed to frustrate the entire exit process, and so we are considering the implications of those decisions.” The backbench pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, wants to see the votes brought forward as soon as possible to scotch the idea that there is a majority against hard Brexit among MPs. They point to a pair of recent Commons victories, over the release of Windrush documents and a , as evidence that the government’s majority is more secure than moderate backbenchers claim.

Read more …

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities..”

Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)

A sample of Novichok, the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals, was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s, local media report. The substance has since been studied and produced by NATO countries. Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.

Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s. A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.

A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany. By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.

Read more …

Let’s make sure they are protected.

31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)

Some 2,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Greece last year, around 8% of the total 31,400 child refugees who sought asylum in European Union countries in 2017. Italy received a relatively large chunk of applications for asylum – more than 10,000, or 32% of the total – followed by Germany, with 9,100 applications (29%). The United Kingdom received 2,200 applications (7%), while Austria received 1,400 (4%), Sweden 1,300 and the Netherlands 1,200. The number of child refugees seeking asylum in EU countries in 2017 almost halved compared to the previous year. In 2016 there were 63,200 applications, while there were 95,200 in 2015. However, the total number of applications in the EU last year was still double the annual average of 12,000 between 2008 and 2013.

Read more …

On the river.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)

The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died. Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases. “This is a major development in the outbreak”. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. “This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

[..] On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon. The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm Merck is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

Read more …

Curious.

Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)

A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

The rise in CFC-11 was revealed by Stephen Montzka, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, and colleagues who monitor chemicals in the atmosphere. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was just shocked by it.” “We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why,” Montzka said. “When things go awry, we raise a flag.” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer. It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.”

Read more …

Profound.

Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

A haunting cover image on the June issue of National Geographic is circulating online, suggesting the plastic pollution we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Such is the extent of Earth’s mind-boggling plastic problem that scientists recently found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench — the deepest point in the ocean, sitting nearly 11 kilometres below the surface. The Nat Geo cover image was shared by the magazine’s senior photo editor Vaughn Wallace on Twitter this morning who called it “one for the ages”.

[..] The latest edition of the magazine is dedicated to Earth’s plastic consumption and is filled with striking images and infographs that show the immense scale of plastic pollution plaguing our planet. As a small part of addressing the problem, the magazine has committed to delivering its issues in paper wrappers rather than plastic wrappers moving forward. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe and most of them end up in landfill where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean where they kill marine life.

Read more …

Nov 252017
 
 November 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Zao Wu-Ki The red sun 1950

 

Once again, to my delight, we’re back with former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum organization. We posted a few of his articles this year and last. This time, Alastair writes a reaction to one of his own articles posted at Consortium News, which I included in the November 18 Debt Rattle at the Automatic Earth. My short comment then: “Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.” This morning, the Conflicts Forum reached out again:

Dear Raul, We took the hint on a recent posting your site that referred to one of Alastair’s articles! …. and below is a comment piece he has done. It is an attempt to be strategic at where we’re going.

Anytime, guys! My first reaction to that piece was that Alastair makes Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s role in the Saudi crackdown seem very large, which makes the role played by deep state America look small in comparison. And I’m not so sure about that. The riddle of ‘who’s playing who?’ is not a straightforward one. But that’s by no means a criticism (I ain’t criticizing no MI6!). It’s a question.

First, here are two paragraphs of that article to ‘get in the mood’:

 

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the crackdown seems to have had limited success so far on an international level, this is certainly an interesting issue to delve deeper into. MbS has reportedly, assisted by US mercenaries, hung members of his own family upside down from ceilings in posh hotels and palaces to break them into submission and steal their fortunes, but if the international part of his plan falls short, this becomes a very unpredictable story.

But this new article has a much broader scope. I’ve often said that the falling apart of the American, European and global political systems is caused one-on-one by deteriorating economies (even if 90% of media and politicians stick the recovery narrative). Alastair agrees, and even quotes me again.

 

 

Alastair Crooke: Robert Kagan first called attention to the fact that America would need to awake from its ‘dream’ a decade ago in End of Dreams: The Return of History, and would have to manage the rise of ‘other’ powers, (some greater than others), with adroitness, if it were to avoid a bad road-crash as emerging competitors clashed with the waning dominant power.  

This meant that the US no longer would be able to assert its will everywhere, and on everything – and would have to give ground – especially to China and Russia.  “There’s going to have to be some very painful horse trading”, historian Sir Max Hastings suggests, adding that its pain will be none the less traumatic, since – like Germany after WW1 – America, does not feel itself defeated: Quite the converse, it sees itself having emerged from the Cold War wholly vindicated: in terms of its societal, governmental and capitalist models.

The American-shaped globalist order, in which three American generations have been steeped, had seemed so naturally to flow out from the Cold War, that the onset of world ‘order’ dissolution seems – shockingly, for many – to have struck out of the blue – as it were – with Brexit, and the election of Mr Trump. 

Commentators speak of America needing to be wary of the Thucydides’ Trap (when the then aspiring power, Athens, threatened the primacy of the established hegemon, Sparta, leading to war). But ‘the trap’ today is not simply just about who’s rising ‘up’, and who’s heading ‘down’, in the great-power stakes – for, as Josh Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, last year  warned, the problem is not just great power competition. But rather: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.”  In short, the two world wars were not just about Germany challenging British hegemony, but were also about globalization ‘backlash’ too – something that is often overlooked. 

In other words, in the wake of WW2, America has been backing itself into the corner of an ‘American-shaped’ (imposed), second wave ‘globalisation’, and that is the major risk posed today (as much as rising China), with ‘populism’ again markedly on the up. And ‘second wave globalisation’ is again yielding predictable political volatility (i.e. in ‘unexpected’ election results).  However, as Max Hastings  suggests, (quoting former UK politician Michael Howard), “we must recognize that the élites, of which he [Howard] himself freely admits to having been a part, have failed to sustain the consent of electorates for this [Euro-centralisation and for globalisation]. This ignoring the need to sustain the consent of the electorate, bears a considerable responsibility for getting us into this mess”.

Further, as Andrew Bracevich underlines globalism has its distinct social ‘flipside’: “[A] war [has been waged] on (genuine) culture: Under whatever guise, liberal-market globalism is hostile to tradition, community, established norms, and the very idea of a common culture – all of which impinge [adversely] upon the operation of the market, or claims of radical individual autonomy”.

 

 
The Thucydides’ Trap for America, rather, as Professor Lears of Rutgers writes, then, is not just the rising of Russia and China, but that of Americans being backed into the corner of not recognizing “that ‘they’ [the liberal globalists] are no longer defending either liberalism or democracy; [these] forms of élite rule – that provoke [such] popular anger – are merely the husk of liberal democracy: The once-vital discourse of liberal democracy has been hollowed out, and transformed into a language of managerial technique … Within this discourse, freedom has been reduced to market behaviour; citizenship to voting; and, efficiency for the public good to efficiency for profit. The rich civic culture that gave rise to popular American politics in the past—unions, churches, local party organizations—has been largely replaced, in both parties, by élites who have benefited from the ‘technocratic turn’”.

“As long as prosperity continued to increase as it has since 1945, western electorates were willing to give élites a very considerable measure of discretion about what they did, [whether in creating the EU], or whatever it might be. They were willing to acquiesce. Now, prosperity is being squeezed, wages are stagnant, and for many people unlikely to rise much in real terms.   It is going to be much more difficult to sustain the consent of Western electorates for purposes which the élites might consider as [somehow] ‘enlightened and unselfish’”. (Hastings again – with emphasis added).

And here lies the real ‘trap’: it is not that “prosperity is being squeezed” as per Hastings, but that the economy has rather, been divaricated into the ‘squeezed 60%’ and the asset-holding, and enriched 40% (as Ray Dalio describes it). Last month Dalio, the billionaire founder of top hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, posted a new article, “The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%”.  He believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions. Dalio explains with this chart:

 

 

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same, but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. But it would be a mistake to understand this phenomenon – ‘populism’ as it is labelled in Dalio’s chart – or, the push to recover national culture and sovereignty – as simply a gripe about inequity. It has become since 2009 much more than that: it has become a matter of survival for a major segment of the American and European population (especially, as it coincides with a pensions crisis, which will leave many impoverished in their old age): 

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living…”, Raúl Ilargi Meijer says, “but less than a decade later, [personal debt], can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.” (Alastair: Or, even, a precursor to civil violence?)

“To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline. 

“Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point, and the crisis never looked back”.

 

 

And Max Hastings’ point is that with austerity gone, early popular acquiescence has turned to anger against the élites – for having so taken them for granted in their utopian globalist projects.

Now the wider point: what we have here is the intersection of geo-politics with geo-finance. Both are now wholly contingent on the ‘saving of appearances’.  One co-constitutes the other.  One is the saving of appearance that America is not losing ‘respect’, or being disdained in the international arena, as it attenuates its global commitments (that is the Thucydides ‘syndrome’), and two, saving the appearance that ‘recovery’ and ‘prosperity for all’, are continuing to unfold nicely in the economy (the world converging globally to western values ‘syndrome’). 

Both these aspects to the dissolution of today’s western ‘modernity’ are intertwined, and co-constituting, and therefore likely to march in tandem – at least for now:  western ‘prosperity’ underwrites the global order, and the global order underwrites American ‘prosperity’.  The American and European élites therefore find themselves painted into a globalised ‘rules-based order’ corner, geo-politically, just as the Central Bankers have been backed into their QE, low or negative interest rate corner – from which there is no easy escape, either. 

The term ‘globalisation’ has been used to paint a landscape that is both inevitable, and beneficent: “free trade floats all boats; everywhere” is the meme. Devotees of globalisation however, never examine rigorously whether David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory still holds good in the contemporary world (Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, however, being a notable exception). There just has been no point in asking the fundamentally political (as opposed to technical) question: Has the resulting off-shoring of supply lines, truly been in our interest – politically, as well as financially?  And has the concomitant – globalist disembedding of humans from national culture, community and sovereignty, and the rise of the apolitical, neo-liberal, chameleon-identity ‘Self’, been in the general political and societal interest, too?

It may be objected that Trump is not a globalist.  Whilst it is true that he does not favour America shouldering the claims of a world order; he – himself – protests loudly that he is a globalist – but it is just that he is a hard-nosed, New York businessman, type of globalist: that’s all.  Globalisation (in the neo-liberal mode), remains as a western totem, rightly, or not, according to political taste.

 

Where now? In the domestic field, the Central Banks’ easy ‘group think’ on QE, low or negative interest-rates, and ballooning public and private debt, has been pursued now for so long and so extensively, that it has both given us Dalio’s Two Economies, and no way back.   It has become a vicious circle: as high debt, to GDP ratios, low-interest zombification of entities and shrinking personal disposable income in the 60%, have depressed growth. Yet, paradoxically, never has the need for more of the same – QE, low or negative interest rates, or even ‘helicopter’ income – been so widely extolled — and, at the very moment when their drawbacks have become so widely identified, even by central bankers, themselves.

So here we are: there is a messy, and bitter, divorce taking place in our societies between the 60% and the 40% ‘tribes’. Asset valuations indeed have never been higher. Yet growth by contrast, has, on average, been ratcheting down, decade by decade – and for some, the situation has become truly existential (those for whom even additional debt cannot sustain their non-discretionary outgoings).

Where do we go from here?  A continuation of the existing financial paradigm is what everyone believes; what everyone expects (wants) – and is what we likely will get.  It might even be deepened a little, in the wake of a market hiccough (S&P down by more than 2%).  And in the case of a financial black swan, we may witness the system literally ‘hosed down’ with newly created ‘money’.  But essentially, the business and trade cycle will continue to be heavily repressed – volatility slammed down – and the S&P be the metric of national well-being.

Not only do the markets ‘believe it’, President Trump needs it: geo-politically he likes to do his style of negotiating from a position of strength (and not from one of economic crisis); and internally, he is at ‘war’ with the Establishment.  With the S&P touching records daily, he is immune from taunts of incompetence (regardless of whether not the highs have anything to do with the President).  His base likes it too: their meagre retirement portfolios at least are rising in value. And in any event, it is not surprising if Trump is a low interest, plentiful liquidity, expanding balance sheet, man globally:  It is how he made his billions, personally.

 

Of course, the flip side to continuing the ‘easing’ paradigm is the ongoing hidden transfer of wealth from general taxpayers (the 60%) to the 40%: more populism; more unexpected election outcomes in Europe; more fake-ness; quicker dissolution of the glue holding society together; more political process, less outcome; less ability to address the needs of collective purpose, etcetera — rising rancour and push-back, in a word. This is the implication.

In parallel, the saving of appearance in geo-politics seems to require its slamming down of volatility too (and in the EU, not least – i.e. Catalonia).  People want to believe it (in American power); important sectors of the economy want it, (need it): the appearance of America’s global standing must be preserved.  Repressing North Korea, ‘slamming down’ Iran can save appearances (America is strong), but the flip-side is the increased danger of war – whether inadvertently triggered, or by the US cornering itself into it.  Actually, ebbing power is something that you smell: false bravura only heightens the odour of weakness.

So, continuance of the paradigms (financial and geopolitical), and the continuance of ‘populist push-back’ (i.e. volatility) seem set. Is Josh Feinman of Deutsche Bank then right when he says: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, [it] sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.” Is a financial crisis inevitable – ultimately?  Is war – a confrontation with either Russia, China or N. Korea – unavoidable?

Who can say, for sure?  But the repeating of history is not inevitable.  Financial re-set at some point, has become inevitable, it would appear. It has taken time for the old meme to fade, and weaken its hold sufficiently. Hemingway famously said about bankruptcy (his), that it starts only very slowly, but ends lightningly fast.  The political impulse for a change in the social and cultural paradigm however does seem to be unfolding at an accelerating pace. ‘Populism’ and ‘unexpected’ election results are acting as its accelerant. And the intellectual context for a seismic economic policy shift, is in place too:  monetary policy is seen to be bust, and the economic ‘models’ have been seen to be plain wrong. TINA (there is no alternative) is wobbling on her pedestal, and seems poised to topple over.

Of course there are alternatives.  But will they arrive in time?  Perhaps the existing paradigms are destined to endure a while yet … ’til Hemingway’s observation about bankruptcy sliding unstoppably fast towards the end is further proven as a truism?  In the meantime: we wait; shackled by inertia, and backed into a corner.
 

 

 

Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 1:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí The oecumenial council 1960

 

Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

 

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip:

 

 

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something.

And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.

 

 

And things are not getting better, Saudi Arabia loses money on every barrel it produces. There are stories about them lowering their break-even price, but let’s take that with a few spoonfuls of salt. A 25% drop in break-even prices in just one year sounds a bit too good. Moreover, main competitors like Iran would still have a much lower break-even price. So even if prices would rise further, the Saudi’s might only break even while Iran gets much richer. Running vs standing still.

 

Saudi Arabia Leads Gulf Nations in Cutting Break-Even Oil Price

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, is also a leader when it comes to slashing the crude price the country needs to balance its budget. The kingdom will need oil to trade at $70 a barrel next year to break even, the IMF said Tuesday in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s down from a break-even of $96.60 a barrel in 2016, the biggest drop of eight crude producers in the Persian Gulf. The break-even is a measure of the crude price needed to meet spending plans and balance the budget.

 

 

Gulf oil producers are cutting spending and eliminating subsidies after crude plunged from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to average just over half that this year. The need to curb spending is more urgent with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting output to reduce a global glut. Oil will trade at $50 to $60 a barrel for the “medium term,” the IMF said.

 

 

So a thorough cleansing job of the royal family is perhaps inevitable, albeit very risky. King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are up against a very large group of rich people. But there’s no way back now.

 

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis…

Much more will have to follow that. Doing a half way job is far too risky once the job has started. Not even $800 billion sounds like all that much. Separate families and factions within the royal family have had decades to accumulate wealth.

 

Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The most visible – and perhaps richest- of all those arrested -in western eyes- is Al-Waleed. The Bloomberg estimate of his wealth that came out this week is $19 billion. But their own article seems to indicate a much higher number. He owns 5% of Apple -says Bloomberg-, and that share alone would be worth $45 billion.

 

Alwaleed, Caught in Saudi Purge, Has Assets Across the World

Apple – Alwaleed bought 6.23 million shares, or 5 percent, of the computer and mobile-device maker for $115.4 million in 1997. He made these purchases between mid-March and April of that year while the company was still struggling to turn itself around. He has since continued to hold the stake while Apple’s valuation has soared to as high as $900 billion.

 

Going through all these numbers, you can imagine why the ruling family, or rather the rulers within that family, are getting nervous. And that’s where we get to an interesting piece by Ryan Grim at the Intercept, who says it’s not even 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, or King Salman, 81, who control the kingdom these days, it’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -and maybe Washington-.

The coup has already been perpetrated.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge – And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it.

MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain.

As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately.

The kingdom’s broke. Not today, or tomorrow morning, but crown prince MBS is able to look at the numbers and go: Oh Shit! And if he doesn’t see it, he has Kushner (re: Israel) and Al-Otaiba to fill him in. All three relative youngsters -MBS is 32, Kushner is 36, Otaiba is 43- are exceedingly nervous by now.

And then you get war, or the threat of war. War in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and now ‘mingling’ in Lebanon with the somewhat mysterious removal of billionaire PM Hariri -allegedly on an Iran/Hezbollah assassination plot-, and outright threats against Iran and Hezbollah:

 

Lebanon’s Hariri Visits UAE As Home Crisis Escalates

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday despite a deepening crisis back home and a rise in regional tensions triggered by his surprise resignation. Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday during a visit to his ally Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Lebanon. He said he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of the regional rivalry that pits a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and allied Gulf monarchies against Shi‘ite Iran and its allies. Hariri’s office said he had flown to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and then returned to Riyadh, but it gave no reason for the trip. It also did not say when he would return home. Hariri’s Future TV channel said he would also visit Bahrain but gave no reason.

In short: billionaire PM Hariri is a puppet. Just perhaps not of Saudi Arabia, but of Abu Dhabi. Whether he’s under house arrest in Riyadh, as has been suggested, is still unclear. But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t fly to Abu Dhabi -and back- alone, or of his own accord. He went to receive instructions.

 

Saudi Arabia Accuses Iran Of ‘Direct Military Aggression’ Over Yemen Missile

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising the stakes in an already tense standoff between the two regional rivals. Mohammed bin Salman linked Tehran to the launch of a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the international airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday. The missile was intercepted and destroyed.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the prince said on Tuesday during a phone conversation with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. He added that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom”. Iran has called Riyadh’s accusations as baseless and provocative.

We have way of knowing what is true or not about this. We do know that Saudi Arabia have been executing a barbaric war in Yemen. With weapons from the US, UK, et al. So someone firing back wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

 

Regardless, Pepe Escobar, a journalist who knows much more than his peers, or at least doesn’t hold back as much as them, doesn’t see this end well for MBS, UAE, Israel, US, and whoever else is in their corner. Another losing war for the US in the Middle East? We’re losing count.

 

The Inside Story Of The Saudi Night Of Long Knives

A top Middle East business/investment source who has been doing deals for decades with the opaque House of Saud offers much-needed perspective: “This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders.” To say the Saudi Arabian Army is in uproar is an understatement. “He’d have to arrest the whole army before he could feel secure.”

[..] The story starts with secret deliberations in 2014 about a possible “removal” of then King Abdullah. But “the dissolution of the royal family would lead to the breaking apart of tribal loyalties and the country splitting into three parts. It would be more difficult to secure the oil, and the broken institutions whatever they were should be maintained to avoid chaos.” Instead, a decision was reached to get rid of Prince Bandar bin Sultan – then actively coddling Salafi-jihadis in Syria – and replace the control of the security apparatus with Mohammed bin Nayef. The succession of Abdullah proceeded smoothly.

Power was shared between three main clans: King Salman (and his beloved son Prince Mohammed); the son of Prince Nayef (the other Prince Mohammed), and finally the son of the dead king (Prince Miteb, commander of the National Guard). In practice, Salman let MBS run the show. And, in practice, blunders also followed. The House of Saud lost its lethal regime-change drive in Syria and is bogged down in an unwinnable war on Yemen, which on top of it prevents MBS from exploiting the Empty Quarter – the desert straddling both nations. The Saudi Treasury was forced to borrow on the international markets. Austerity ruled …

[..] aversion to MBS never ceased to grow; “There are three major royal family groups aligning against the present rulers: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef.” Nayef – who replaced Bandar – is close to Washington and extremely popular in Langley due to his counter-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle. According to the source, “he might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

[..] The source, though, is adamant; “There will be regime change in the near future, and the only reason that it has not happened already is because the old King is liked among his family. It is possible that there may be a struggle emanating from the military as during the days of King Farouk, and we may have a ruler arise that is not friendly to the United States.”

In the end, it all comes down to a familiar theme: follow the money. And we need to seriously question the economic reality of Saudi Arabia. That graph above of their foreign reserves looks downright grim.

With money comes power. Who loses money loses power. Saudi Arabia is bleeding money. The population surge is uncanny, and there are no jobs for all these young people. Perhaps the best they can do is be a US/Israel puppet in an attempt to ‘redo’ the map of the Middle East, but that has not been a very successful project off late -like the past 100 years-.

Then again, when you’re desperate you do desperate things. And when you’re a 32-year-old crown prince with more enemies than you can keep track of, you use what money is left to 1) keep up appearances, 2) steal what others have gathered, 3) buy weapons up the wazoo, and 4) go to war.

It all paints a very dark picture for the world. Russia won’t stand for attacks on Iran. And Iran won’t let attacks on Lebanon/Hezbollah go unanswered. All that is set to push up oil prices further, and all parties involved are just fine with that. Because they can buy more weapons with the additional profits.

I’ll leave you with Nassim Taleb’s comments on the situation. After all, Nassim’s from Lebanon, and knows that part of the world like the back of his hand:

 

 

 

Mar 162016
 
 March 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 16 2016


William Henry Jackson Camp wagon on a Texas roundup 1901

Chinese PM Li Keqiang Says It Is ‘Impossible’ to Miss Economic Targets (WSJ)
Chinese Buying In US Rekindles Memories Of Japan’s 1980s Merger Mania (Forbes)
China Mixes Cash, Coercion to Ease Labor Unrest (WSJ)
China To Target Shadow Lending For Housing Down-Payments (BBG)
Asia Hedge Funds Had Worst-Ever Start to Year (BBG)
Retirement Is Impossible With Negative Rates (Mauldin)
JP Morgan Brings Back Mortgage-Backed Securities (WSJ)
Despair Fatigue (Graeber)
Disaster Capitalists Fan Flames Of War In Syria (II)
EU Approves Refugee Support Mechanism For Greece (Kath.)
FYROM Accuses Greece Over the “Exodus” of Refugees (PP)
FYROM Dumps Refugees Back In Greece As EU-Turkey Deal Falters (Reuters)
Refugees On Lesbos Offered Sanctuary Thanks To Brit Couple (Mirror)
UNHCR To Ask World To Take In 400,000 Syrian Refugees (A.)

Not a smart thing to say.

Chinese PM Li Keqiang Says It Is ‘Impossible’ to Miss Economic Targets (WSJ)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said it would be “impossible” for China to fall short in meeting its relatively high economic-growth targets even as it pushes ahead with structural reforms. Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of China’s annual legislative session, Mr. Li said China won’t suffer a “hard landing,” or sharp downturn, and can achieve growth and reform simultaneously. “Reform and development aren’t contradictory,” he said. “We should be able to stimulate market vitality and support economic development via structural reforms.” At the opening of the National People’s Congress earlier this month, China set growth targets of 6.5% to 7% for this year and an average benchmark of at least 6.5% from now until 2020.

Economists say this relatively high growth target at a time when the economy is losing momentum suggests China is favoring growth over structural reform, which could prevent massive job losses and social instability but set back the shift of China’s economy from investment and manufacturing to consumption and services. The real test will be in whether tough restructuring steps are implemented, Commerzbank economist Zhou Hao said in a report following Mr. Li’s comments. “China needs to proceed with the deleveraging more decisively, and should prevent the leverage ratio from soaring again,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, policy execution is crucial to restore the market confidence.”

Mr. Li said capital-adequacy ratios at China’s financial institutions are sound, bad loans are well covered by reserves and the nation is making progress in cutting corporate debt using debt-for-equity swaps. Mr. Li signaled that China will do what it takes to maintain its growth targets and that it has a “good reserve” of policy instruments in the event that growth falls outside an acceptable range, He said China will employ “innovative measures” to ensure steady economic progress.

Read more …

What could go wrong?

Chinese Buying In US Rekindles Memories Of Japan’s 1980s Merger Mania (Forbes)

Nearly three decades ago, Japanese corporations flooded the United States with a boom of takeover deals, much of it focused on prime U.S. real estate. They snapped up properties like Rockefeller Center and The Plaza Hotel, in addition to Columbia Pictures, causing consternation among those in the U.S. who wondered when, or if, the buying boom would ever end. “If you don’t want Japan to buy it.. don’t sell it,” Akio Morita, founder of Sony , famously said when bidding for Columbia. The buying stopped when a 1980s stock market bubble in Japan popped, depleting the dealmaking currency and animal spirits of overseas acquirers. Within years, targets like Rock Center and The Plaza were in the hands of new ownership and a quarter century later, Japanese corporations are still trying to dig out from under the bubble.

Now, it appears there’s a new foreign buyer rushing into U.S. markets and exhibiting similarities to the heady, 1980s Japanese M&A binge. Chinese corporations have opened 2016 with an unprecedented surge in overseas dealmaking and this frenzy of activity is no coincidence. It comes as China’s currency is in the process of readjusting to account for it slowing economic growth, causing hundreds of billions of dollars in capital outflows. Roughly half a trillion dollars poured out of China in 2015 according to the Institute for International Finance and that pace continues this year. Capital leaving China has found its way into single and multifamily real estate properties in North America – in addition to financial assets like stocks, bonds and currencies.

Now, the money is rushing directly towards large domestic corporations through takeover deals. Just two and a half months into the year, Chinese overseas corporate M&A activity is roughly in line with the $108 billion in outbound M&A conducted all of last year, according to Dealogic. If Chinese corporates are beginning to exhibit similar symptoms to the Japanese merger mania, a set of deals in the works this weekend cements the comparison. Anbang Insurance Group, which is run by Deng Xiaoping’s grandson-in-law, is trying to negotiate what looks to be an unprecedented bonanza of real estate acquisitions, targeted at famous U.S. properties. Anbang ponied up $2 billion to buy the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel from Blackstone-controlled Hilton Hotels in late 2014, and the group is back at it with two deals that would increase its buying by many multiples.

The insurer is reportedly offering to buy Strategic Hotels and Resorts (SH&R) — the owner of properties including Essex House and Hotel del Coronado — from Blackstone. That offer comes just months after the ink dried on the PE giant’s $4 billion takeover of SH&R in September. And Anbang is leading a consortium of investors who are challenging Marriott International’s $12 billion takeover of Starwood Hotels, operator of upscale hotel brands including Westin, W Hotels and Le Meridien.

Read more …

How China keeps its zombies alive.

China Mixes Cash, Coercion to Ease Labor Unrest (WSJ)

A protest by Chinese coal workers over unpaid wages drew a swift, expected response: payoffs to get them off the streets and threats of police action if they don’t. The effort underscores the government’s long-standing worries about labor strife and its newly cautious approach to restructuring unprofitable state firms. Unrest in the northeastern city of Shuangyashan appeared to ease as Longmay Mining Holding, a huge employer, started disbursing some back pay on Monday, workers said. Hundreds took to the streets there last week, drawing a large police presence, after the provincial governor said Longmay didn’t owe its miners wages.

The response by Longmay and Heilongjiang province Gov. Lu Hao, who later said he had misspoken about the wage arrears, mirrored past efforts by Chinese officials to ease labor unrest with a mix of cash, coercion and pledges of redress. Chinese call the strategy “buying stability,” part of the government’s well-worn playbook for defusing public anger. Beyond being a troubled coal company, Longmay is a test case for government resolve in carrying out a key economic initiative—the restructuring of uncompetitive state industries whose drain on resources is impeding a transition to an economy driven more by services and consumers. Many Longmay workers in Shuangyashan are among the 1.8 million steel and coal workers Beijing plans to lay off over the next five years.

The retrenchment, and the allocation of 100 billion yuan ($15.4 billion) in restructuring funds to pay for workers’ severance, retraining and relocation, are part of a five-year economic program Chinese lawmakers are set to adopt at the end of their annual session in Beijing on Wednesday. Economists have said China needs deeper cuts to shed excess industrial capacity and divert labor and capital to more productive industries. Instead, the government is encouraging businesses to keep workers on the payrolls, often at reduced hours and pay, avoiding fueling a continuing surge in labor unrest but at the cost of dragging out an economic transition. Some ailing enterprises can expect official support to stay in business, including in Longmay’s case tax cuts and cash incentives that Fitch Ratings says allowed the mining company to avoid defaulting on bonds.

Read more …

“His property agent offered him a zero-interest loan, funded entirely online by peer-to-peer lenders, that covered almost half his deposit..”

China To Target Shadow Lending For Housing Down-Payments (BBG)

When Fu Songtao found his ideal home in the suburbs of Shanghai, he faced the typical problem of would-be homebuyers: Coming up with enough cash for a down payment. So Fu turned to an online solution. His property agent offered him a zero-interest loan, funded entirely online by peer-to-peer lenders, that covered almost half his deposit. “Everybody I know took out these loans,” said Fu, a 29-year-old employee of a state-owned enterprise, who borrowed 380,000 yuan ($58,000) a year ago, with interest payments to lenders subsidized by the property agent, for his 3 million yuan apartment, and has seen its value increase to 3.3 million yuan since. “If you can borrow like that, why not?” The lending platform of his real estate agency, E-House China, is one of China’s hundreds of P2P lenders allowing home buyers to seek down-payment loans online.

Total P2P borrowing for home deposits reached 924 million yuan in January, more than three times the level of last July, according to data provider Yingcan. Lending for property down payments, a phenomenon all but unheard of a year ago, has now prompted plans by the government to halt such borrowing. The response underscores the stakes as shadow-banking leverage creeps into China’s housing market – a development similar to the margin financing that fueled last year’s stock market bubble, but with potentially more damaging consequences. “Down-payment financing would definitely cause risks to the financial system, similar to the subprime crisis in the U.S.,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

“China has learned a lesson from the U.S. subprime crisis. The Chinese government understands that they have to solve problems like housing and overcapacity. At the same time, they can’t bring further risks to the financial system, as the banks already have a lot of bad debt.” People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Pan Gongsheng said at a press conference on Saturday that down-payment loans offered by developers, real estate agents, and P2P lenders not only raised leverage of home buyers, they also undermined effectiveness of macroeconomic policies and increased risks to the financial system and property markets. The central bank together with other government departments will soon start a campaign to clean up such activities, he said. New rules being drafted by the central bank, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and other bodies would bar developers, peer-to-peer networks and other non-banks from offering down-payment loans

Read more …

Casino’s on steroids.

Asia Hedge Funds Had Worst-Ever Start to Year (BBG)

Hedge funds in Asia, which beat counterparts in the U.S. and Europe in 2015, are off to their worst annual start on record this year, as the region’s stock markets have plunged amid a dimming outlook for growth. Asia hedge funds, excluding those that invest in Japan, fell 1.5% in February, bringing their loss for the first two months of 2016 to 6.6%, according to Singapore-based data provider Eurekahedge. Apart from being the biggest drop ever for the first two months of the year, that’s also the worst start among the world’s major regions, Eurekahedge said. Hedge funds including those from Greenwoods Asset Management and Zeal Asset Management extended declines they suffered in January.

After successfully navigating turbulent markets in 2015, hedge funds in Asia are seeing a reversal this year as worries about a global slowdown have deepened. The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled 19% this year to rank among the worst-performing equity markets in the world, and most of the region’s benchmarks have been whipsawed by volatility amid scant signs of global growth. “Hedge fund managers in the region, especially those focusing on long-short strategies, had been stung by volatility in underlying markets,” said Mohammad Hassan at Eurekahedge. As it becomes more difficult to post consistent returns, investors are increasingly shifting their money to the largest or most promising managers, prompting many smaller-scale firms to exit the business or return money to investors.

That’s creating a bifurcation in Asia’s hedge fund industry. The losses for hedge funds investing in Asia ex-Japan compares with a decline of 3.2% in Europe through the end of February and a decrease of 1.7% in North America, according to the Eurekahedge website. Last year, Asia ex-Japan hedge funds rose 7.5%, beating rivals in other parts of the world. Greenwoods Asset’s Golden China Fund fell 3.7% in February, bringing its losses to 14.4% so far this year, according to Joseph Zeng, a Hong Kong-based partner at the hedge fund firm. The fund, which managed $1.7 billion as of January, was one of the top performers last year, posting gains of almost 22%.

Read more …

“This situation would wreak havoc on every pension fund—but that’s not even the worst part.”

Retirement Is Impossible With Negative Rates (Mauldin)

Since 2008, the Fed has relied on near-zero interest rates to stimulate economic growth, and they still sincerely believe that low interest rates will do the job they’re supposed to. However, the hard evidence of the past few years is that ultra-low rates, combined with quantitative easing, haven’t stimulated much growth. Unemployment has fallen, which is good—but probably not as good as the numbers suggest because people have gone back to work for lower pay and are now even deeper in debt. Personal income growth has stagnated, too. Are we better off now than we were five years ago? The answer is a qualified yes. But it is not entirely clear, at least to your humble analyst, that the halting economic recovery is the result of low interest rates and not other less manipulable factors such as entrepreneurial initiative and good old muddling through.

In fact, an ultra-easy monetary policy may be part of the reason we’ve been stuck with low growth. Witness Japan and Europe. Just saying… Seriously, no one fully understands how all the moving parts influence each other. Years of ZIRP did help businesses and consumers reduce their debt burdens. ZIRP and multiple rounds of QE have also done wonders for stock prices… but not much for the kind of business expansion that creates jobs and GDP growth. If year upon year of ultra-low rates were enough to create an economic boom, Japan would be the world’s strongest economy right now. It obviously isn’t—which says something about ZIRP’s efficacy as a stimulus tool. What isn’t a mystery, however, is that ZIRP has created a massive problem for retirement savers and pension fund managers.

If ZIRP is bad, NIRP will be far worse for retirement planning. Bond-return assumptions will have to be even lower and potentially below zero. This situation would wreak havoc on every pension fund—but that’s not even the worst part. Most asset allocations are generally in the ballpark of 60% equities and 40% bonds, so that is the standard portfolio we will be discussing. Other allocations will make some differences, but not change the general direction. In other words, “your mileage may vary,” but probably not by much. In an ideal world—which is the world that pension consultants live in—equities will return 10% nominal and bonds will return 5%. A 60/40 portfolio blend will then yield an 8% overall return after fees, expenses, and management costs.

Read more …

“J.P. Morgan is using the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s safe harbor, which isolates them from the assets and protects investors if the mortgages go bad.”

JP Morgan Brings Back Mortgage-Backed Securities (WSJ)

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is trying to sell new securities that would pass along most of the credit risk on $1.9 billion in mortgages, in an attempt to revive a debt market that has been largely left to the government since the financial crisis. The largest U.S. bank by assets is expected to price the residential mortgage-backed deal over the next two weeks. J.P. Morgan would hold 90% of the deal by keeping the safest parts, or the most senior tranches, and plans to sell off the riskier pieces to investors. Government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have dominated the market in their absence. The two companies have recently been selling new securities that use derivatives to unload the risk of default on the mortgages they guarantee.

The new deal is J.P. Morgan’s first “house transaction” since the financial crisis, meaning it is entirely backed by mortgages the bank owns. The pool includes a mix of more than 6,000 mortgages, both newer and refinancings, around 75% of them conforming with the underwriting standards set by Fannie and Freddie. J.P. Morgan could have sold those loans directly to Fannie and Freddie, so the deal indicates it thinks it can get a better deal with private investors or holding parts on its balance sheet.

The New York bank hopes this new method could offer more competitive pricing and help broaden the market for such deals, people familiar with the matter said. J.P. Morgan is using the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s safe harbor, which isolates them from the assets and protects investors if the mortgages go bad. The deal is the first of its kind to be issued by a major bank, according to Fitch Ratings, which gave the securities mostly investment-grade credit ratings. “This is an important step to bring private capital back into the mortgage market,” J.P. Morgan Chief Operating Officer Matt Zames said.

Read more …

“.. the historical defeat and humiliation of the British working classes is now the island’s primary export product.”

Despair Fatigue (Graeber)

In the United Kingdom, “finance” is based above all in real estate, and the real estate bubble that sustains the City is itself sustained by the fact that pretty much every billionaire in the world feels they have to maintain at least a flat, and more often a townhouse, in a fashionable part of London. Why? There are plenty of other well-appointed modern cities in the world, most of which have a decidedly more appealing climate. Yet even more than, say, New York or San Francisco, London real estate has become something like U.S. treasury bonds, a basic currency of the international rich. It’s when one asks questions like these that economics and politics become indistinguishable. Those who have investigated the situation find that London’s appeal—and by extension, Britain’s—rests on two factors.

First of all, Russian oligarchs or Saudi princesses know they can get pretty much anything they want in London, from antique candelabras and high-tech spy devices, to Mary Poppins–style nannies for their children, fresh lobsters delivered by bicycle in the wee hours, and every conceivable variety of exotic sexual service, music, and food. What’s more, the boodles will be delivered by a cheerful, creative, and subservient working-class population who, drawing on centuries of tradition, know exactly how to be butlers. The second factor is security. If one is a nouveau riche construction magnate or diamond trader from Hong Kong, Delhi, or Bahrain, one is keenly aware that at home, something could still go terribly wrong: revolution, a sudden U-turn of government policy, expropriation, violent unrest. None of this could possibly happen in Notting Hill or Chelsea.

Any political change that would significantly affect the most wealthy was effectively taken off the table with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In other words, the historical defeat and humiliation of the British working classes is now the island’s primary export product. By organizing the entire economy around the resultant housing bubble, the Tories have ensured that the bulk of the British population is aware, at least on some tacit level, that it is precisely the global appeal of the English class system, up to and including the contemptuous sneer of the Oxbridge graduates in Parliament chuckling over the impending removal of housing benefits, that is also keeping affordable track shoes, beer, and consumer electronics flowing into the country. It’s an impossible dilemma.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that so many turn to cynical right-wing populists like UKIP, who manipulate the resulting indignation by fomenting rage against Polish construction workers instead of Russian oligarchs, Bangladeshi drivers instead of Qatari princes, and West Indian porters instead of Brazilian steel tycoons. This marketing of class subservience is the essence of Tory economic strategy. Industry may be trounced and the university system turned (back) into a playground for the rich, but even if this leads to a collapse of technology and the knowledge economy, the end result will only seal in more firmly the class system that produces Tory politicians: England will literally have nothing else to sell.

Read more …

Lest we forget. Good read, lots of details.

Disaster Capitalists Fan Flames Of War In Syria (II)

If Naomi Klein were to rewrite The Shock Doctrine now, I hope she d agree that the situation in Syria is playing out as a textbook example of her terrifying concept because I believe that’s what we are witnessing. To understand the actions of each nation involved in Syria, you first have to recognise their motivation. It is, as always, fossil fuels and the dollar with human life at a lowly position down the pecking order. The crux of the matter is that Bashar al-Assad put paid to the construction of an oil and gas pipeline, which would have ended Europe s reliance on Russia for its natural gas, by refusing to sign an agreement with Qatar. Instead, he opted for a partnership with Iran (after which the civil war in Syria intensified). While the construction of the pipeline had previously been put on hold, it was quietly announced last July that Iran was forging ahead with a trunkline (IGAT6) to supply Iraq with natural gas; in theory, this could be the beginning of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline or one that goes direct to Turkey.

The Iranian pipeline would be unacceptable to both Washington and Brussels, as it would mean energy co-ordination from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia (putting pressure on their Sunni-led cohorts in the region), and also because the product from such would be traded in a basket of currencies not exclusively the petrodollar. Moreover, with Iran now emerging from sanctions (and forecast to produce 3.1mbpd), its gas fields, the second largest reserves on the planet, are up for grabs to exporters. There is, in Syria and across the spectrum of corporate interests of the countries involved, everything to play for and the disaster capitalists are piling into the game, full throttle.

The refugee crisis ostensibly splintering the governments of the EU is set to balloon. Already this year, 133,549 people have reached Europe by sea up more than 10 fold from 2015. The demographic has altered drastically as well: whereas last year, the breakdown of migrants/refugees by gender was 62% male, 16% women and 22% children, so far this year it has been 47%, 20% and 34% respectively. The chaotic propaganda surrounding the refugee crisis continues unabated, each country pointing fingers at the other, for instance, when a NATO general accused Russia and Syria of weaponising the refugee crisis (while simultaneously characterising the people fleeing war as a hotbed of ISIS recruits).

Meanwhile, Greece, in the midst of its own economic turmoil, is left to accommodate 122,000 souls under the UNHCR’s warning of an ‘imminent humanitarian disaster’ unless other EU countries begin to take in these refugees. In effect, the intentional bottleneck in Greece functions as yet another form of shock inflicted by the EU and Troika on an already flailing Syriza administration and its embattled leader Tsipras. With its third bailout looking unsteady amidst mutterings of the IMF pulling out of the deal, the Greek administration has no chips to bargain with, and holds minimal leverage within the EU.

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More disgrace. Greece spends €600 million alone, EU ‘approves’ €300 million in support of the entire ‘refugee effort’.

EU Approves Refugee Support Mechanism For Greece (Kath.)

The presidency of the European Council on Tuesday announced that it has approved a new support mechanism for Greece and other European countries struggling with the bloc’s biggest immigration crisis since World War II. “This Council decision shows that the EU stands by Greece at this difficult time. The Netherlands presidency will do all it can to ensure that the necessary EU funds are mobilized as quickly as possible,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU. The European Commission estimates that the refugee effort will require €300 million this year and an additional €200 million each in 2017 and 2018.

The help that will be provided under the new mechanism includes food, shelter, water, medicine and other basic necessities. It will be delivered by the Commission itself or by partner organizations selected in cooperation with Greek authorities. Tuesday’s statement put the number of migrants and refugees currently trapped in Greece due to border closures at 35,000. Government sources estimate that number to be closer to 44,000. The Bank of Greece, meanwhile, on Monday said the cost of the handling the refugee crisis for Greece alone will likely exceed a previous estimate of €600 million.

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Sour and bitter relations. The Greeks say ‘Skopje’. Rumors say accidentally calling the country Macedonia forced the Greek migration minister to resign today.

FYROM Accuses Greece Over the “Exodus” of Refugees (PP)

The Minister of foreign affairs of FYROM, Nikola Poposki, stated that Greece is responsible for the “organised push” of several hundreds of migrants who attempted to cross over yesterday In a series of tweets, Poposki claimed that the growing numbers of migrants at the borders between Greece and FYROM intensifies smuggling while it worsens the human treatment of those living in the refugee camps. He claims that only a united and humane EU reaction will be able to provide a solution for both migrants as well as the involved countries. Those statements came after the effort, on Monday, of almost a thousand refugees to cross the river of Axios and attempt to get into FYROM via an opening in the fence separating the two countries.

While three people were drowned, the rest managed to enter FYROM where they were intercepted by FYROM army and were captured. The refugees decided to make that desperate “exodus” towards FYROM after a flyer was distributed between them, describing in English and Arabic where, and how they could pass over to FYROM. The incident creates further confusion and difficulties in what is already a complex situation between the countries involved. In any case it is not a development which aids Greece, or in fact the efforts of the refugees as it allows those countries which have decided to seal their borders to claim that Greece is not able to control the waves of migrants.

The Greek chief of the Administration for the migrant problem stated that, should FYROM make a petition for the re-entrance of the refugees back to Greece, the Greek side will evaluate and decide on it. It should be noted that there is no formal agreement between FYROM and Greece for the re-acceptance of migrants. At the same time, the Greek government is beckoning to NGOs as well as volunteering organizations to be in close contact with the authorities in order to avoid cases of misinformation. On Monday afternoon the Prime Minister presided over a meeting with all concerned authorities regarding those latest developments.

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That is illegal.

FYROM Dumps Refugees Back In Greece As EU-Turkey Deal Falters (Reuters)

Macedonia dumped about 1,500 migrants and refugees back into Greece overnight after they forced their way across the border, as European nations continued to pass the buck in a migration crisis that risks tearing the European Union apart. The police action was part of a drive by Western Balkans states to shut down a migration route from Greece to Germany used by nearly a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia over the last year in Europe’s biggest refugee influx since World War Two. EU efforts to conclude a deal with Turkey to halt the human tide in return for political and economic rewards hit a setback on Tuesday when EU member Cyprus vowed to block efforts to speed up Ankara’s EU accession talks unless Turkey meets its obligations to recognize its nationhood.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair an EU summit with Turkey on Thursday and Friday, was flying on to Ankara to discuss the fraying pact with Turkish leaders after tough talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. Tusk acknowledged to reporters that the tentative deal put together last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised legal problems and needed to be “rebalanced” to win acceptance from all 28 EU members. The European Commission meanwhile postponed proposals to reform the bloc’s flawed asylum system, which puts the onus on the state where migrants first arrive, in an attempt to avoid further controversy before the Turkey deal is finalised. Some 43,000 migrants are bottled up in Greece, overstraining the economically shattered euro zone country’s capacity to cope, and more continue to cross the Aegean daily from Turkey despite new NATO sea patrols.

An estimated 1,500 people marched out of a squalid transit camp near the northern Greek town of Idomeni on Monday, hiked for hours along muddy paths and forded a rain-swollen river to get around the border fence. Most were picked up by Macedonian security forces, put into trucks and driven back over the border into Greece late Monday or overnight, a Macedonian police official said. Greek authorities said they could not confirm the return as there had been no official contact from the Macedonian side. Ties between the two neighbors are fraught because of Greece’s long-standing refusal to recognize Macedonia’s name, which is the same as that of a northern Greek province. A second group of about 600 migrants was prevented from crossing into Macedonia and many of them spent the night camping in the Greek mountains.

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The Kempsons are fabulous. But where’s the rest of Britain?

Refugees On Lesbos Offered Sanctuary Thanks To Brit Couple (Mirror)

Many British couples dream of leaving Blighty behind and opening a hotel on an island in the sun. It was no different for Eric and Philippa Kempson when they thought about their future together. But it was the global refugee crisis which pushed them to buy their seafront guest house on the Greek island of Lesbos. And rather than welcoming British tourists, they have opened their doors to the hundreds of fleeing refugees who land on its shores each month. Now, as Turkey and the EU agree their “one in, one out” policy in response to the migrant crisis, Philippa says: “I’m absolutely speechless about these latest measures -they’re farcical. Labels like “irregular migration” are meaningless.” “We need to remember these are human beings fleeing horrific circumstances.

Hotel Elpis, on tranquil Eftalou Beach, gives desperate refugees shelter, somewhere to wash and a meal when they land on Lesbos. The 20-room hotel welcomed its first 110 residents two weeks ago. “In Greek Elpis is the goddess of hope, so it seemed fitting that we called the hotel the Hope Centre“ says Philippa, 43. First and foremost that’s what we provide these people with: hope. We are trying to give the families a few hours of dignity and somewhere where they are treated as people, not as refugees. We hadn’t planned to open our doors so early, as we are still waiting for our health and safety licenses. But last week one of the aid agencies begged us to help 110 people who had just arrived on boats. Every facility on the island was full. Philippa and Eric, 60, got involved in the crisis last summer, when they started handing out water to refugees.

Philippa explains: “We thought bigger agencies would come to help, but when none did, we thought, we have to help these people ourselves”. It was then that they decided to open the hotel. “We ve used our own savings and are working on the project 24/7”, she says. Tourists have been kind enough to leave money at supermarkets so we can buy supplies to hand out. The couple have also been given help with the hotel’s rent by Glasgow housing charity PAIH. Philippa adds: “Eric is an artist and makes oak products we sell. But last summer he didn’t have the time to do that because of our work with refugees. So I don t know how we are going to survive ourselves financially this year, but we will deal with those issues when they come.”

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Good luck.

UNHCR To Ask World To Take In 400,000 Syrian Refugees (A.)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Tuesday he will ask countries to step forward and agree to take in another 400,000 Syrian refugees. On his first visit to Washington since being appointed to head the UN refugee effort, Filippo Grandi said the world must do more to end the crisis. “On March 30, I’m going to chair a meeting in Geneva at which I ask the international community to take 10% of all the Syrian refugees,” he said. “10% is a lot of people. It’s more than 400,000 people,” he told reporters on the fifth anniversary of Syria’s bloody civil war. More than four million Syrians have fled their war-torn country since the conflict erupted, and more than six million are displaced within its borders. Neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are struggling to cope with the exodus and the onward flow has created a political and humanitarian crisis in Europe.

Canada and Germany have been praised for stepping up to welcome tens of thousands as refugees, but others, including the United States have been criticized. Historically the United States has been by far the world’s leading host of refugees and it still is for those fleeing many other conflicts around the world. But amid a bitter atmosphere in the run up to November’s presidential election, Washington has struggled to offer new homes to desperate Syrians. US President Barack Obama ordered that 10,000 be admitted during the 2016 fiscal year, but half-way through the period only 1,115 have been processed. Grandi was careful not to criticize his hosts in Washington, praising the leading US role in hosting refugees of other nationalities.

But he lamented the tone of the debate in both the US and Europe, where anti-immigration politicians have claimed that terrorists hide among Muslim refugees. Grandi complained that on a visit to the European parliament he had heard “language we haven’t heard since the 30s” from opponents of resettlement. But he added that the new 400,000 target figure could be met in part by means short of the full resettlement package that the United States offers. Rather than providing Syrian refugees with new lives and permanent residence, some countries may offer temporary jobs, scholarships or humanitarian visas. For this, he said, his office would work with private firms and universities in partnership with states, to try to reduce the pressure on Syria’s neighbors.

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