Feb 042018
 
 February 4, 2018  Posted by at 11:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John William Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs 1896

 

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)
Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)
The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)
Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)
Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)
The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)
Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)
Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)
Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)
‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)
Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)
Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

 

 

As I said yesterday: the divisions it causes are much bigger than the memo itself. It’s what happens in echo chambers.

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was literally laughing. Over on Fox News, Sean Hannity put up his dukes. At 9 last night, Axios points out that you could just flip between the two and see an encapsulation of our two Americas – total dismissal of the memo’s import, versus the assertion that it’s “only about 15 percent of what’s coming.”

So, Rachel, how was your day? “This thing?! This was two weeks of: This memo is going to end everything. This memo, have you heard about the memo? Hashtag: Release the memo! This memo will make Donald Trump innocent. This memo will put Robert Mueller in jail. It will abolish the FBI. The Justice Department will have to rename itself the Donald J. Trump & Family Private Security Task Force.” “I mean, I can’t believe this is it.” “I don’t really believe in the whole Cable News Wars idea. I know people who work across the street at the Fox News Channel. I’ve got friends that work there. I think we’re all doing our own thing in our own way best we can.”

“But, oh my God, right? … [T]his … hyping and huffing and puffing and working their audience up into a frenzy for two solid weeks.” “And apparently, despite all of that, … they either didn’t know or they didn’t notice that this thing they have been clamoring for and hyping for two solid weeks, … it actually disproves their whole point.” “They release this memo to prove that the dossier started everything. The memo says the dossier didn’t actually start anything.”

What’s up, Sean? “[W]hen you put all this information together, here’s what it all means. The FBI misled and purposely deceived a federal court while using an unverified, completely phony opposition research bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.” “We have never, ever in history seen anything like this, and it was spearheaded not by rank-and-file members of the FBI intelligence community and Department of Justice. No. High-ranking officials: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, likely Loretta Lynch.”

“But here’s the bottom line: Crimes have been committed. There is no way that they did not know that the FBI was lying to a FISA court in order to spy on an opposition campaign during an election year. They have aided and abetted what is a massive constitutional violation.” “Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein and others all need to be investigated and, in many cases, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” “Now, of course, Comey is running scared. He’s out of his mind right now, now that he is exposed with this memo.” “[T]he special counsel must be disbanded immediately.” “And, by the way — nobody else will say this — all charges against Paul Manafort and General Michael Flynn need to be dropped. It’s that simple.” “This scandal is only in Phase 1. … Stay tuned! Tick tock! “

Read more …

“..when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.”

Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)

On Planet Earth, we can find our direction by reference to the Magnetic North. For investing, we use the most reliable force in finance – the relentless return to “normal” – to get our bearings. And searching for normal, we may have stumbled upon what could be the Trade of the Century. More on that later… As economists describe it, reversion to the mean is merely a recognition of the tendency for things to stay in a range that we recognize as “normal.” Trees do not grow 1,000 feet high. People don’t run 100 mph. You don’t get something for nothing. Normal exists because things tend to follow certain familiar patterns, shapes, and routines. When people go out in the morning, they know, generally, whether to wear a winter coat or a pair of shorts.

The temperature is not 100 degrees one day and zero the next. Occasionally, of course, odd things happen. And sometimes, things change in a fundamental way. But usually, when people say “this time is different”… it’s time to bet on normal. This phenomenon – reversion to the mean – has been thoroughly tested and studied in the investment world. It seems to apply to just about everything – stocks, bonds, strategies, markets, sectors… you name it. But let’s push on. What is unusual in the chart below? What is so abnormal that the mean is likely to revert against it? You will note that global debt was only $30 trillion in 1994. Now it is $230 trillion. That $200 trillion in extra credit is probably the whirlwind that sent equities spinning up to the top right.

Those gusts blew stock and other asset prices up to heights never seen before. The Dow reached over 26,000. Houses went on the market for more than $100 million. Gold rose above $1,900. But while stocks and bonds may have the wind at their backs, it seems to blow in the economy’s face… making forward progress almost impossible. The real economy – as depicted by GDP at the bottom of the chart – has grown in a rather normal way, but at a slower and slower rate. Its steady, plodding increase gives no hint of the chaos going on above it. The real economy and the financial world are as different as the eye of a hurricane and the swirling clouds and storms around it. Another thing you notice is that until the mid-’90s… and again between 2008 and 2012… the average investor got essentially no benefit in exchange for the added risk of putting his money into equities (the chart above includes dividends). He might just as well have left his money in U.S. Treasury bonds.

[..] there is a time to be in stocks… and a time to be out of them. Without knowing the future, you can still know when something is not normal. And when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.

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Who or what can restore flexibility when everything’s maxed out to the point of bursting?

The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)

The Four Pillars Holding Markets Up Are Strained, All At The Same Time. Viewed as a combination of intertwined components, each component is showing growing signs of pressure and seem to be running out of road for further advancing. The synchronicity of them, more than any single component taken independently, is what should draw attention, as it compounds systemic risk. Here are the four components, characterizing the basin of chaotic attraction for markets nowadays:

What happens when the system is tight in its key possible directions of expansion? That it expands no more. Stochastically, on one of the components a tipping point is reached, which jumpstarts the autolytic effect, spreading back through the vectors of the complex system, and snapping the unstable equilibrium into an alternative stable state. That is our thesis. In [a] recent interview, we discuss the impending tipping points for markets due to a synchronicity of excess valuations, excess indebtedness, excessively low cash balances and a drawback in excessive public flows. Let’s give a cursory look across the four components. Again, the list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a work-in-progress (seemingly endless) collecting of data points, following on to our previous work of ‘a long list of anomalies’

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In a country so divided it doesn’t take much to let things get out of hand.

Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)

In the $2 trillion Treasury-bill market, where the U.S. government turns for short-term funding, investors are showing they’re plenty nervous about the approaching deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. With Treasury expected to exhaust its borrowing authority as early as the first half of March, a four-week bill sale on Tuesday will serve as the latest gauge of investor anxiety. There’s growing concern that the impasse over the debt limit will become entangled with efforts to keep the government open. Current federal funding expires Feb. 8, and the Republican-led Congress has been working on a stopgap measure to extend that into late March.

Treasury has deployed extraordinary measures to stay under the debt cap since it was reinstated in early December, but investors are wary. The new securities mature March 8, around when the Congressional Budget Office expects Treasury to run out of room. Traders are asking for higher yields to own previously issued bills maturing March 8. What’s more, an auction last week of bills due March 1 drew the weakest demand since May. “People are kind of getting skeptical of March 8 bills,” said Joseph Abate at Barclays Capital in New York. “You might argue that the March 1 bill isn’t necessarily vulnerable to payment delay because the Treasury probably has sufficient resources to meet outflows and thus might be able to last until” March 5.

Treasury has placed the drop-dead date around the end of February. But investors are leaning toward the projection from the nonpartisan CBO, which said last week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt-ceiling increase in the first half of March. After the Jan. 30 auction of bills maturing March 1, the rate on those securities was higher than debt due a week later. Since then, the rate on debt expiring March 8 has climbed to 1.40%, exceeding that on bills due a week later.

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In a country where 70% of people live paycheck to paycheck, the best the central bank president can muster is “they should diversify their investments..” And people are praising her for doing such a good job.

Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)

While her term ended – for all practical purposes – with the conclusion of this week’s January FOMC meeting, former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s last official day at the helm of the world’s most important central bank was marked by an explosion of volatility in the Dow, with the blue chips recording their worst single-day selloff since the collapse of Lehman brothers. And even though it’s tempting to suspect Friday’s selloff might foreshadow what’s to come during the Powell era, Yellen admitted during an interview with PBS Newshour that she was disappointed to not be reappointed for a second term by President Trump – and that, if she had her druthers, she would’ve opted to stay. “I would have liked to serve an additional term and I did make that clear, so I will say I was disappointed not to be reappointed,” Yellen said Friday. “I think things are looking very strong.”

Despite the volatility of the past week and the first nascent signs of wage growth in years – which should worry a central bank whose primary responsibility is to put a floor under plunging markets – Yellen says she expects interest rate hikes to proceed as planned. “The Federal Reserve has been on a path of gradual rate increases and if conditions continue as they have been, that process is likely to continue,” she said. “And as it happens we would expect long rates to move up.” Unlike fellow former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan – who this week declared that both stocks and bond valuations are in bubble territory – Yellen was careful not to use such strident language. “I don’t want to label what we’re seeing as a bubble.”

“But I would say that asset valuations are generally elevated…for the stock market, the ratio of price to earnings…is near the high end of its historical range. If we look at for example commercial real estate and other assets, we’re seeing high valuations.” But should Americans be worried about the markets? “They should be careful and I would say diversified in their investments. What we look at is the likely resilience of the economy and the financial system… In that regard, we have a banking system that is much stronger and better capitalized and better able to withstand a shock than prior to the financial crisis.” Stlll, Yellen is refusing to rule out another selloff. “Asset valuations could change I’m not predicting that that would happen and I wouldn’t rule that out,” she said.

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Powelll will be cleaning up Bernanke and Yellen’s shit.

The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)

[..] the Fed is confronted with a serious dilemma: Inflation and wage increases continue to undershoot its expectations at the same time the central bank confronts forces pressuring it toward credit tightening. The new chairman, Jerome Powell, who isn’t a trained economist, may change the central bank’s tone, but his soon-to-be predecessor Janet Yellen and the other academic economists who have dominated monetary policy, believe fervently in the theoretical Phillips Curve. It posits that a declining unemployment rate should spur inflation, despite evidence to the contrary. Rather than increase as the unemployment rate declined since the recession, the rate of inflation has largely stayed the same.

Nevertheless, the Fed wants to tighten credit slowly due to chronic low inflation and memories of the May 2013 “taper tantrum,” when a mere mention by then-Chairman Ben Bernanke of reducing the Fed’s rate of asset purchases sent financial markets into tailspins as interest rates leaped. Another reason for the Fed to tighten is to keep commercial banks from lending out the more than $2 trillion in excess reserves the Fed has given them through quantitative easing. These are simply an asset of the banks and a liability on the Fed balance sheet with little financial or economic consequences. But as economic growth picks up as a result of the tax cuts followed by likely massive fiscal stimulus, creditworthy borrowers will want to borrow, banks will be happy to lend, and these excess reserves could turn into tons of money that would threaten major inflation.

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Fat chance.

Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that a Brexit transition period will be agreed with the European Union in seven weeks as she tries to ease concerns that a deal may take longer to reach. The EU has offered Britain a status quo transition until the end of 2020 after Brexit. Both sides are aiming to reach a transition agreement by the end of March that will form part of the final withdrawal treaty to be agreed later this year. But there is disagreement inside May’s Conservative Party over some details such as the status of EU citizens during the transition and the scope of European Court of Justice jurisdiction. Many businesses and banks are concerned a battle over the terms of a transition could delay or even sink an agreement just months before Britain exits the EU on March 29, 2019.

“In seven weeks time, we will have an agreement with the European Union, that is the timetable they have said on an implementation period,” May told the BBC in an interview in China. “What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” May said of Brexit. The EU and Britain hope to hammer out a deal on Britain’s exit and the outline of a trade package by October 2018. But some EU officials have begun to voice concern that a plan to have the leaders endorse negotiating guidelines for a new phase of talks to begin in April on a future trade agreement may be in danger of slipping if May does not spell out what Britain’s demands are for that trade pact.

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Britain is as divided as the US is.

Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)

Dominic Grieve has warned the public it is running out of time to change its mind on Brexit, saying the next few months are “decision time”.The former Attorney General told The Independent it would soon be too late to reverse the decision to leave the EU, and urged people to make their minds up in the next six months.“The six months we have between now and the autumn are so important,” he said. “It is going to be decision time. And decision time in the sense of what happens in the next six months being a final decision.“If people do want to change their mind, and they could if they wanted to, the time is now. It cannot be after 29 March 2019, and frankly it cannot be after the end of the autumn of this year.”

While he did not endorse calls for a second EU referendum, Mr Grieve said it was important to give people the chance to change their minds on Brexit. “I’m not calling for a second referendum,” he said. “But we should not exclude the possibility that people’s opinion may change. And to start from an opinion on an issue that was expressed 18 months ago, where people are bound to have had their opinion influenced since, we must be very careful to listen about what it is they want.”He continued: “It the most extraordinary conundrum. We have an instruction from the electorate, by a small but significant majority, to do something that many of us [in Parliament] think is going to be very hard to achieve without serious damage to the wellbeing of every citizen in this country. It is an ethical conundrum and it is a practical conundrum.”

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And here is why the country is so divided.

Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)

London councils have granted property developers planning permission to build more than 26,000 luxury flats priced at more than £1m each, despite fears that there are already too many half-empty “posh ghost towers” in the capital. Builders are currently constructing towers containing 7,749 homes priced between £1m and £10m, and have planning rights to build another 18,712 high-end apartments and townhouses, the Observer can reveal. Politicians and housing campaigners said the figures show councils are prioritising the needs of the super-rich over those of hardworking young Londoners. The boom in developments of luxury flats, which often include private cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and concierge facilities, comes as the capital faces a growing crisis in the availability of affordable housing, with nurses, police officers and other essential workers struggling to get on to the housing ladder.

Research shows that a fifth of aspiring first-time buyers have moved in with their parents to save money, and a quarter of them will need to stay there for at least five years to amass enough for a deposit. The proportion of English first-time buyers who rely on help from families and friends for their deposit has increased from 22% in 1996 to 29% in 2016, according to the government’s English Housing Survey. Anne Baxendale of Shelter said: “The UK is in the grip of a housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital – and these luxury developments are certainly not the types of homes most Londoners need. The government must close loopholes which make it easy for developers to build high-priced homes that are way out of reach of ordinary families, rather than the affordable ones most people actually need and can afford.”

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the figures “reveal a travesty being played against the working class and young Londoners”. “The public keep being told we are building more affordable housing, and people can see cranes up all over London,” he said. “But this shows that councils are prioritising the fancies of overseas millionaires and billionaires before the needs of hardworking young Londoners.” Just 6,423 affordable homes were built in London during the 2016-2017 financial year (the latest figures available), a 5% decline on the previous year and a big drop from the 19,622 built in 2014-15.

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Plus, of course, Britain suffers from what brought Trump to power. Where globalization goes to die.

‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Fighting for the community” underneath an image of Redcar’s mothballed steelworks, Frankie Wales is preparing to take a training session at the town’s boxing club. Young men are sparring in the rings; others are hitting punchbags. “Nothing gets you fit like boxing,” says one, exhausted from the ring. Wales, who set up the club 20 years ago and funds it on a shoestring with various small grants, is proud to be doing his bit for Redcar’s young people. He is a livewire in a community struggling to get off the floor after a series of near knockout blows. The local steelworks ceased production in 2015 with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Someone, he insists, has to help them. “It is incredibly sad,” he says. “Not long ago they would go and work in the steelworks after school.

Men round here made the finest steel in the world. Now they are making lattes and sandwiches on zero-hours contracts. We have lots of entrepreneurial kids, but the only entrepreneurial activity going on around here is selling fags and drugs.” Few young people care what those who are supposed to run their country – politicians and civic and business leaders – say any more because they feel so let down. “We have lost the steel industry, lost the local shipbuilding, lost the coal. What’s the point? There is nothing left,” says Wales. “We just have to make the best of what we have got and get on with it ourselves.” Like many communities in England’s north-east, the people of this North Yorkshire town, which bears the scars of industrial decline, and has a youth unemployment rate more than double the national average, made their unhappiness known in June 2016.

They fought back. In Redcar, there was a hefty 66% vote for Brexit, similar to that in areas further north up the coast, from Teesside to Tyneside. “We have to get our country back to where it needs to be,” says Geoff Holding, a caretaker at a government office in the town who voted Leave and whose brother lost his job at the steelworks. He wants an end to cheap imports of foreign goods, like the Chinese steel that did for the local plant. There is a still a thriving chemicals sector in Redcar, but not enough manufacturing. “We need to bring things back in-house, get industry back on its own feet, make things ourselves.”

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“Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags..”

Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)

It’s almost hard to believe the dismaying stories that Postmedia investigative reporter Sam Cooper has been producing about the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars of East Asian cash through Metro Vancouver casinos and the funnelling of much of it into the city’s pricey real estate. Yet Cooper continues to clearly map out, using impeccable high-level sources, the trans-national connections between Chinese drug traffickers, B.C. casinos and the city’s housing market. He has been so effective that NDP Attorney General David Eby ended years of B.C. Liberal inaction on casino fraud to launch an investigation by money-laundering specialist Peter German. Global intelligence agents have come to call the Asian-Pacific network of corruption, drugs, tax avoidance and real estate that Cooper is exposing “The Vancouver Model.”

Metro’s casinos have become infamous for the way B.C.’s former Liberal government allowed them to be exploited to help make possibly billions of dollars in “dirty” money appear “clean” – particularly by injecting it into residential housing and condo development. Cooper says his sources “took a lot of risks” to unveil how high-stakes Chinese gamblers, called “whales,” have been funnelling illicit cash into gambling chips, especially at Richmond’s River Rock Casino. Using freedom-of-information law, Cooper obtained reports in which an official with the B.C. Lottery Commission noted that 97 of its 100 top rollers were East Asian. Cooper also dug up reports suggesting one out of four of China’s major 100 alleged financial fugitives were living in Canada, with many of them believed to be in B.C.

One Metro Vancouver gambler was accused Lai Changxing, alleged mastermind of a billion-dollar drug-smuggling operation in China, who owned property in Richmond. An audit of 800 “VIP” gamblers at River Rock Casino found their most common profession was “real estate.” Almost half their $53 million worth of transactions in one year were flagged as “suspicious.” The second and third most common professions among the biggest gamblers were “business owner” and “construction.” Many high-stakes gamblers at River Rock also declared themselves as “housewife” or “student” – with one youth forking over $819,000 in cash to buy casino chips. Investigators believe housewives and offspring are often used as fake “nominees” to hide the true source of wealth in money-laundering and real-estate schemes. Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags, have been flowing through Metro casinos and then been shifted into real-estate.

Read more …

A major and undoubtedly heated protest today. Topic: A former Yugoslav province wants to call itself Macedonia. But there already is a Greek province called macedonia. So Greece has refused to accept that name for a foreign country, and has for years halted access for that country to international organizations. The legacy of Alexander the Great plays a big role too. There are negotiations ongoing, but 70% of Greeks want no referral to Macedonia in the country’s eventual name. So no New Macedonia etc. Just call it the Republic of Skopje.

Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

With United Nations-mediated negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name at a sensitive juncture, the government is bracing for Sunday’s Athens rally protesting the use of the term “Macedonia” in a solution amid signs that the turnout will be significant. Around 1,500 buses have been chartered to bring demonstrators from the provinces to the capital where the rally is to begin at Syntagma Square at 2 p.m. Most conservative New Democracy MPs are expected to attend. ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the party respects both those who do choose to attend and those who do not.

“We respect all choices,” he said. Former conservative premier Antonis Samaras endorsed the demo, saying Sunday will be “a great day for the country.” The main speaker will be veteran Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who is to address the crowd in person rather than sending a video message as originally planned. Speeches will also be delivered by three clerics representing the Church of Greece, which has backed the rally following initial reservations by Archbishop Ieronymos. The Greek Police plans to erect barriers to keep demonstrators at Syntagma apart from anarchists who are to stage their own counter-rally, starting at noon outside Athens University.

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Feb 032018
 
 February 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1954

 

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)
Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)
Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)
Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)
Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)
Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)
UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)
Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)
German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)
How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)
Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)
Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)
WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)
‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

 

 

The differences in interpretation across the aisle are far more stunning than the memo itself is.

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)

Update: The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.

The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says. House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.

The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions. As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

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10 years ago, a drop of 777 was the biggest news on the planet. Today, 666 gets poo-poohed into nothingness.

Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report sent interest rates higher. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 665.75 points to close at 25,520.96, capping off the index’s sixth-largest points decline ever. The 30-stock index also fell below 26,000. Friday also marked the first time since June 2016 that the Dow fell at least 500 points. The S&P 500 fell 2.1% and finished at 2,762.13, with energy as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite plunged 1.96% to 7,240.95 as a decline in Apple and Alphabet offset a strong gain in Amazon shares. The Dow posted its worst day since June 2016. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their biggest one-day fall since September 2016 and August 2017, respectively.

“The key for the market today is rising interest rates,” said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The old adage is: ‘Bull markets don’t die of old age, they are killed by higher interest rates.’ That looms large.” The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected growth of 180,000. Wages, meanwhile, rose 2.9% on an annualized basis. The report sent interest rates higher. The benchmark 10-year yield rose to 2.85% on the back of the report, hitting a four-year high. Investors have been jittery about the recent rise in interest rates, worrying they may be rising too fast. On Friday, the 30-year yield rose its highest level since March.

Bank stocks fell as the yield curve widened. The SPDR S&P Bank exchange-traded fund, which tracks bank stocks, dropped 1.2%. Banks typically benefit from higher interest rates. This has been a volatile week for U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility index, widely considered the best fear gauge in the market, rose from 11.08 this week to 17.31.

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That graph is stunning.

Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)

Since the beginning of this year, we have been warning of the potential for a correction. Of course, such warnings seemed pointless as the nearly “parabolic” rise in the markets seemed unstoppable. But all of a sudden, something seems to have changed as the market stumbled this past week and has been unable to regain its footing.

So, what “woke” the markets? Was it the sudden realization that Central Banks globally are reducing Q.E. programs? Or, that economic growth may be weaker than expected given recent numbers? Or, something else? Whatever, the excuse turns out to be, the real culprit is seen in the chart below.

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By now, there are some really big losers out there.

Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)

Over $100 billion was wiped off the global cryptocurrency market in 24 hours on Friday amid concerns over tighter regulation and worries that the bitcoin price was manipulated on a major exchange. The total market capitalization or value of all cryptocurrencies in circulation stood at $405 billion Friday morning New York time, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com, which takes into account the prices of digital coins across a number of key exchanges. This was a fall of $112.6 billion in value from a day before. Cryptocurrencies have seen a major sell-off this week. Bitcoin fell below $9,000 on Thursday and briefly dropped below $8,000 Friday morning, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index, which tracks prices from four major cryptocurrency exchanges.

Other major coins including ethereum and ripple were down 12% and 13%, respectively, compared to a day ago as of 9:58 a.m., ET, Friday. The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by a spate of negative news. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country wants to “eliminate” the use of digital currencies in criminal activities, signaling tighter regulation in the country. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an increasing number of digital currency investors are worried the price of bitcoin and other digital currencies have been inflated by cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which is included in CoinDesk’s price index. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that in December, the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission subpoenaed Bitfinex and a cryptocurrency company called Tether, which is run by many of the same executives.

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What, they figured there was no more profit in there?

Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)

A growing number of big U.S. credit-card issuers are deciding they don’t want to finance a falling knife. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup said they’re halting purchases of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on their credit cards. JPMorgan, enacting the ban Saturday, doesn’t want the credit risk associated with the transactions, company spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers said. Bank of America started declining credit card transactions with known crypto exchanges on Friday. The policy applies to all personal and business credit cards, according to a memo. It doesn’t affect debit cards, said company spokeswoman Betty Riess.

And late Friday, Citigroup said it too will halt purchases of cryptocurrencies on its credit cards. “We will continue to review our policy as this market evolves,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said. Allowing purchases of cryptocurrencies can create big headaches for lenders, which can be left on the hook if a borrower bets wrong and can’t repay. There’s also the risk that thieves will abuse cards that were purloined or based on stolen identities, turning them into crypto hoards. Banks also are required by regulators to monitor customer transactions for signs of money laundering – which isn’t as easy once dollars are converted into digital coins.

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From before the memo release. As I said, it’s the interpretation more than the memo itself.

Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)

The situation certainly puts the nation in a quandary. An uncouth and ridiculous President called forth to battle a vicious, dishonest, bureaucracy and in particular its gigantic, out-of-control “security” apparatus, which appears to have been hijacked by politically interested parties — namely, the minions of Hillary Clinton. You have been reminded here before that history is the supreme prankster. In Fourth Turning terms, the poor old disintegrating USA pined for a “gray champion” and all it got was this booby prize: a Manhattan real estate schmikler with a mean streak. Well, that’s how things roll in a long emergency. And this might only be the beginning of it. In any case, it appears that the FBI, in the hallowed words of Ricky Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Recall, it was not so long ago that the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail, so let’s not act as if the agency was something that the Lord Yahweh brought into being on the fifth day of creation, after the lobsters and the cockateels. Granted, J. Edgar Hoover was a hard act to follow, but we are now, evidently, living in an age of even lower men (and women, to be fair). CNN reminded viewers relentlessly last night that The Memo was sure to be a disappointment, a “nothingburger,” for a nation that expects a righteous half-pound beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce on a sesame bun. Personally, I expect something more like a three-day-old dead carp in a plain brown wrapper. Maybe “the Resistance” will try to make gefilte fish out of it, which is a burger of sorts: chopped meat, anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been rooting around in the same burger den as the House and Senate committees, questioning the same cast of characters. The DOJ report is liable to be more damaging than The Memo. The whole nasty gumball of suspicion and innuendo seems destined to climax in a constitutional crisis. Ludicrous as it seems — like some rogue army out of the stupid Star Wars epic — the “Resistance” bethinks itself the nation’s savior. In the best American tradition, they’ll burn the joint down in order to save it.

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Another little Brexit surprise.

UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)

There’s going to be an interest rate rise on 28 February. In just a few weeks you are going to see about 0.25% added to mortgage and savings rates. But you won’t see a press release from the Bank of England that the base rate has gone up. Instead, for the first time in years, banks are going to be scrambling to offer savers better rates – and the losers will be anyone taking out a new mortgage. So what’s happening? On 28 February an extraordinary financial measure, put in place in the days after the Brexit vote, will end. It was called the Term Funding Scheme and was designed to make sure that the 0.25% rate cut in the wake of the shock referendum result in 2016, did actually feed through the financial system (while keeping them profitable). Under the scheme, banks and building societies were able to borrow money from the Bank of England almost for free.

They did so with gusto. They have so far taken £106bn under the scheme, equal to around £3,500 for every working person in the country. Lloyds took £18bn, RBS £14bn, Barclays £10bn, Nationwide £9.5bn and Santander £8bn. Nearly everyone rushed to grab their share: from the tiny Holmesdale building society – which took £4m – through to the Nottingham building society (£395m) and Virgin Money (£4.2bn). Specialist lender Aldermore, which does a lot of buy-to-let mortgages, has drawn £1.4bn from the scheme over a period during which its total net lending has been £1.5bn. It underlines just how important the cash has been. With all this money gushing out of the Bank of England, it has meant that no one has really had to bother chasing savers for their money. So savings rates, already massively depressed by the 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme, were hit further.

But the corner will be turned on 28 February. On that date, the banks and building societies will have to start repaying that £106bn. They’ll have a few years to do it, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic suggesting rates will rise overnight. But let’s say I wouldn’t, right now, lock myself into Lloyds’ one-year bond paying 0.4% or NatWest’s two-year bond paying 0.85%. The banks are going to have to offer much better rates than that to bring the money in. Some of the big banks may pooh-pooh this. Yes, £18bn sounds like a lot for Lloyds, but then it has an £800bn balance sheet, so it’s hardly fatal. But when rivals start offering as much as 3% to get you to move money, banks won’t have a choice but to raise rates. According to Paul Richards, chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions: “It’s likely we will see a 0.25%-0.5% increase in longer-term savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one-year term account getting close to the 3% level.”

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Why should the EU feel ‘warned’ about what may happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU?

Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)

The European Conservative and Reformist group which represents Conservative MEPs has has said Brexit will make it “impossible” to guarantee that current environmental standards can be maintained in Britain or the EU. A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals. This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group. Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted. The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”

They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said. The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit. During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped. But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.” “We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”

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Still haven’t seen one word about prosecuting the people behind all this. Incredible.

German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)

Starting in 2007, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Bosch maintained a joint lobby organization that was disguised as a research institute. The European Research Association for the Environment and Health in the Transportation Sector (EUGT) purported to dedicate itself to the “environmental-medical effects of road traffic.” But the staff in leadership posts alone shows that the institute was in no way interested in independent research. EUGT head Michael Spallek, for example, had previously spent years employed as a leading company doctor at VW. He retained his VW email address, even after his move to EUGT. The results of the institute’s research were accordingly one-sided. The efficacy of low emission zones in cities that place restrictions on driving cars with high emissions?

There’s no proof, according to one essay the lobby group managed to place in a trade publication for respiratory medicine. Nighttime noise pollution from cars? It’s no problem, as long as it’s continuous. Do diesel emissions cause cancer? Can’t be proven. A short time later, former VW manager and EUGT head Spallek approved the tests with the monkeys. “We have finished our discussions with the company lawyers,” Spallek wrote in an email dating June 14, 2013. The lawyers had given the green light for the study to be carried out, but with one restriction: Non-human primates were to be used instead of human volunteers. Several VW executives at the time were copied in the message, including Stuart Johnson, the head of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the United States.

But it doesn’t appear as though any critical questions were asked. The aim of the experiment with the monkeys had been to deliver definitive proof of how clean “German diesel” really is. The case files compiled by attorney Melkersen illustrate the zeal with which VW’s people organized the test. Nothing was left to chance when engineer James Liang began his journey with a bright-red VW Beetle from California to New Mexico at the beginning of October 2014. The engineer from company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, was already under pressure, even at that point. The U.S. environmental authorities had expressed their doubts about the emissions values of the allegedly squeaky-clean car. VW Chairman Martin Winterkorn had been breathing down his staff’s necks, too. The new diesel models needed to provide the company with a breakthrough in the important U.S. market. As such, anything that might possibly preserve diesel’s environmentally friendly façade had priority.

Which is where the monkeys came in. As of Oct. 2, all final preparations had been made for the test. The VW man moved assiduously around the red Beetle, which had been placed on a chassis dynamometer. The experiment would be led by Jacob McDonald, an athletic young biologist who had quickly risen in his career at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI). McDonald found it strange that an engineer from Volkswagen would be present for the test. “It’s the first time that I’ve experienced that,” he would later say. And what he really couldn’t grasp was why the VW people wanted to transmit the entire test data in real-time to their research center in California. Engineer Liang had even brought along a transmission device especially for the task.

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YouTube has the lowest common denominator down to a T. So let kids see videos of kids beating up kids. They’re sure to keep watching.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)

There are 1.5 billion YouTube users in the world, which is more than the number of households that own televisions. What they watch is shaped by this algorithm, which skims and ranks billions of videos to identify 20 “up next” clips that are both relevant to a previous video and most likely, statistically speaking, to keep a person hooked on their screen. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”.

Lately, it has also become one of the most controversial. The algorithm has been found to be promoting conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas mass shooting and incentivising, through recommendations, a thriving subculture that targets children with disturbing content such as cartoons in which the British children’s character Peppa Pig eats her father or drinks bleach. Lewd and violent videos have been algorithmically served up to toddlers watching YouTube Kids, a dedicated app for children. One YouTube creator who was banned from making advertising revenues from his strange videos – which featured his children receiving flu shots, removing earwax, and crying over dead pets – told a reporter he had only been responding to the demands of Google’s algorithm. “That’s what got us out there and popular,” he said. “We learned to fuel it and do whatever it took to please the algorithm.”

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How to make rape, murder and pillage more efficiently. And what does Amnesty say? ‘We’re not against it’.

Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)

Blockchain is to be used for the first time to try to track cobalt’s journey from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo through to products used in smartphones and electric cars. Sources close to a pilot scheme expected to be launched this year say the aim is eventually to give manufacturers a way of ensuring the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for products such as iPhones and Teslas has not been mined by children. Tracking cobalt presents many challenges as scores of informal mine sites would have to be monitored, all players in the supply chain would need to buy into the scheme, and accurate, electronic data would need to be transmitted from remote areas – all in a vast country plagued by lawlessness.

But companies are under growing pressure from consumers and investors to show the cobalt they use has come through supply chains free of rights abuses, just as they have for minerals used in electronics such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Businesses in China, the main destination for Congolese cobalt from artisanal mines, have set up a Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which has been joined by tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, to address child labor. The problem they face is that there are few sure-fire ways of tracing cobalt from the informal mines that produce up to a fifth of the cobalt from Congo, the world’s biggest producer. “The demand to make cobalt more sustainable is going to continue growing, meaning there is a will to find a solution and blockchain will be part of that,” said a source with the project.

[..] Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said it was an open question how well it could work in Congo given the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness and an opaque legal system. “We are prototyping, iterating, testing, scaling,” said Warren, who is working with experts to see how blockchain can improve mineral supply chains. “The technology is not the hard part.” Amnesty International, which detailed the extent of child labor in cobalt mining in Congo in a 2016 report, said it was looking at blockchain, especially with a view to tracing payments to middlemen. “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.

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It is our governments who are behind this. And our media who don’t tell us about that. How anyone can protest when the Congo is labeled a shithole is beyond me. That takes a very large object up one’s behind.

Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity. The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies. “The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

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Without WikiLeaks, we’d be stumbling even more in the dark. We don’t do nearly enough to protect them. We let whoever claim that Assange is some Russian agent, and we owe him a lot more respect than that.

WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)

Democrats believe that Assange is a Trump-supporting Kremlin asset while Trump supporters believe Assange is a based MAGA hat-wearing ally to their cause, the former because they were told to believe that by CNN and the Washington Post and the latter because they’ve seen him championed by Fox’s Sean Hannity and the elaborate 4chan hoax “QAnon”. Neither could be further from the truth. Today Assange responded to a call for transparency on Trump “tax returns, corporate records, campaign emails, and other documents relevant to Donald Trump’s Russia/WikiLeaks connections” from toxic neocon David Frum with the words “Go for it” and a link to WikiLeaks’ leak submission service. This is not the first time WikiLeaks has solicited documents on the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last.

Since long before the election and continuing through to the present, WikiLeaks has been harshly criticizing the president’s refusal to release his tax returns and publicly asking for leakers to submit them. They are on record trying to persuade Donald Trump Jr to do the same in a conversation that has been spuriously criticized but which when examined impartially is plainly just a leak publishing outlet soliciting a potential source. More importantly, WikiLeaks has already published Trump administration leaks. Its Vault 7 and Vault 8 leak drops exposing the CIA’s scary surveillance and hacking tools are comparable to NSA leaks from Edward Snowden against the Obama administration, and much like the Obama administration’s vindictive backlash against Snowden we are seeing similar retaliation from the Trump administration for the CIA leaks.

Trump’s CIA Director has pledged to shut down WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and his Attorney General has statedthat Assange’s arrest is a priority, which Trump himself has said he would permit. Mike Pompeo’s increasingly vitriolic and threatening rhetoric about WikiLeaks is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s labeling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist” eight years ago. WikiLeaks in reality is not a friend of Republicans anymore than it’s a friend of Democrats, because WikiLeaks is and always will be first and foremost an enemy of corrupt power. The liberals who used to love Assange when he was dropping leaks about the Bush administration now hate him, and the conservatives who used to attack him as an enemy now celebrate him as a hero. This dynamic will necessarily switch again when more leaks drop and conservatives see clearly that Assange’s principles are not for sale.

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An epic tale for future historians. When we found how to feed ourselves, all of us, with good food, we decided not to do that. There’s some deeper meaning there, we don’t have the ability to do this right. We may be smart, but only superficially. And moreover, if we did get it right, we’d end up with 30-40 billion people here. So we poison ourselves.

‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home. Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet.

Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear. The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health. Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said. “Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit … “Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

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Feb 022018
 
 February 2, 2018  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Pink peach trees (Souvenir de mauve) 1888

 

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)
Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)
Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)
Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)
Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)
UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)
Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)
Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)
Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)
Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)
Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)
Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)
Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

 

 

Finally we get to see how ugly it can get.

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)

According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”

The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.

Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.

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Artificial ‘market’. How can anyone see it as a good thing?

Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)

Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.

Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.

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Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”

Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)

Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.

Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.

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Liquidity.

Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)

Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.

The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.

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There is no lck of homes. There’s a huge surplus in ultra low interest rate loans.

Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)

UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”

But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.

Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.

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Greater Fool hour.

Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)

The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.

Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.

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Only, so-called value is highly inflated, profiting from government actions.

UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)

Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.

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Stock lending links to shorting.

Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)

A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.

Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.

In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.

The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.

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Squid squared.

Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)

The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

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Crude still rules.

Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)

As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.

Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.

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Why Greece needs debt relief across the board “It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.”

Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)

Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.

The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.

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Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.

Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)

Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.

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Much higher metabolism than anyone had ever noticed.

Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.

Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.

They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”

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The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.

Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.

The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.

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Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

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He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

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The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

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People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

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They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

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Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

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Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

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Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

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You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

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Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

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A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

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Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

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Jan 302018
 
 January 30, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Obelisco, Buenos Aires 1936

 

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)
Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)
Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)
Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)
US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)
Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)
Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)
Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)
On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)
Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

 

 

I like the suggestion that Trump can read the memo out loiud tonoght in SOTU. Though it’s been discussed so much already, it can only disappoint probably.

House Intel Votes To Make “Shocking” FISA Memo Public (ZH)

In a highly anticipated decision, on Monday evening the House Intelligence Committee voted to make public the memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice regarding the Trump presidential campaign. In immediate response to the vote, the Committee’s top democrat Adam Schiff said that “we’ve crossed a deeply regrettable line”, adding that the “committee voted to put the president’s interest above the interest of the country.” The decision [ends] weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for committee chairman Devin Nunes (R- Calif) would be made public. At the same time, it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now the fate of the 4-page FISA memo is in the hands of Donald Trump: as we discussed earlier, the document will not be immediately released as under the House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, President Trump now has five days to review and reject its publication. But, as per Bloomberg’s reporting earlier, the White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ in allowing the publication to go forward. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating President Trump. While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.

As Bloomberg disclosed earlier on Monday, releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.” Of course, the reason for the DOJ – and the Democrats’ fury – is well-known: Republicans who have read the memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.” In an amusing twist, now that transparency appears to be the watchword, the Republican controlled House Intel Committee also plans to release the transcript of the business meeting dealing with releasing the FISA memo.

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Russia has pledged to read the list ‘without letting emotion get in the way’.

Trump Administration Holds Off On New Russia Sanctions (R.)

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies. “Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.” Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election. But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions. “From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

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Next recession: Dow plunge by 2/3.

Measure What Is Measurable (John Hussman)

[..] it’s true that when we examine pre-crash extremes, like 2000 and 2007, we’ll typically find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period were higher than the returns that one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier. No surprise there. The only way to get to breathtaking valuations is to experience a period of surprisingly strong returns. Those breathtaking valuations are then followed by dismal consequences. Likewise, when we examine secular lows like 1974 and 1982, we’ll find that actual returns over the preceding 12-year period fell short of the returns one would have expected on the basis of valuations 12 years earlier.

The chart below offers a reminder of what this looks like, in data since the 1920’s. Look at the “errors” in 1988, 1995, and 2006. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the major valuation peaks of 2000, 2007 and today that were responsible for the overshoot of actual returns. The 2000 and 2007 instances were both followed by losses of 50% or more in the S&P 500. Look at the “errors” in 1937, 1962, 1966, and 1970. Count forward 12 years, and you’ll find the market lows of 1949, 1974, 1978 and 1982 that were responsible for the undershoot of actual returns. Those market lows turned out to be the best buying opportunities of the post-war era. When market cycles move to extreme overvaluation or undervaluation, they become an exercise in borrowing or lending returns to the future, and then surrendering or receiving them back over the remaining half of the cycle.

Put simply, in my view, stock prices are rising not because Wall Street has thoughtfully quantified the effect of taxes, interest rates, corporate profits, or anything else. Instead, Wall Street is mesmerized by the self-reinforcing outcomes of its own speculation, relying on verbal arguments, optimistic projections lacking grounds in observable data, and enthusiastic assertions about cause-effect relationships that are accepted without the need for any evidence at all (much less decades of it).

Back to Galileo. Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. When we do this, come to understand the current speculative extreme as the tension between two observations that are not actually contradictory – just uncomfortable. One is that stock prices are indeed three times the level at which they are likely to end the current market cycle. The other is that there is no pressure for valuations to normalize over shorter segments of the cycle, as long as risk-seeking speculative psychology remains intact.

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It’s starting to feel as if we passed an inflection point.

Global Bond Yields Spike as Inflation Fears Rise (Street)

Global government bond markets continued to sell-off Monday, taking U.S. Treasury yields to the highest level in four years amid renewed bets on faster inflation in the world’s biggest economy and hawkish comments on growth and inflation from central bank officials in Europe. The bond market moves have clipped early gains for stocks and raised the spectre of a correction in inflation assumptions as the global economy roars to life and oil and commodity prices continue to climb amid a surge in manufacturing activity. The selling was also accelerated, in part, by a Goldman Sachs research note which suggested that Wednesday’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the last under the leadership of outgoing chairwoman Janet Yellen, could plant the early seeds for a March hike in benchmark borrowing costs.

“We expect the FOMC to issue a generally upbeat post-meeting statement that includes an upgrade to the balance of risks and a slightly hawkish rewording of the inflation assessment,” the note read, adding that public remarks since the December meeting “bolster the case for an upgrade, and by our count, at least half of the Committee has recently referenced upside risks to growth.” Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields were marked at 2.72% in early Monday trading, the highest since early 2014, while 2-year note yields were seen at 2.15%, the highest since 2008. Those gains followed Friday closing levels that showed the widest yield gap between so-called TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, and benchmark 10-year notes since Sept. 2014.

In Europe, five-year German bunds yields traded in positive territory for the first time since 2015 amid a solid assessment of the region’s growth prospects last week from ECB President Mario Draghi and comments over the weekend from Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot that he saw “no reason whatsoever” to continue the Bank’s €2.55 trillion ($3.16 trillion) quantitative easing program beyond its September deadline. Both U.S. and European investors are bracing for faster inflation in the months ahead as global commodity prices – particularly crude oil – continue to rise. Brent crude futures for March delivery, the benchmark for prices around the world, were marked at $69.87 Monday, down from their Friday close of $70.52 but still some 28% higher from the same period last year, suggesting a big upside import into headline inflation readings over the first half of this year.

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Yields go up, then so do mortgage rates.

US Mortgage Rates Jump To The Highest Point In 4 Years (CNBC)

A huge sell-off in the bond market is about to make buying a home more expensive. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, have been rising for the past few weeks, but are seeing their biggest move higher Monday. “Bottom line, rate sheets are going to be ugly this morning,” wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Some lenders will be at 4.5% on their best-case-scenario 30-year fixed quotes.” That is the highest rate since 2014. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed started the year right around 4% but then began to climb on positive news in the U.S. economy, solid company earnings reports and a shift in foreign central bank policies which appear to now be following the Federal Reserve’s tightening of monetary policy.

The rate was at 4.28% by the end of last week. “Apart from central banks, there’s a ton of bond market supply coming down the pike due to infrastructure and tax bill spending,” Graham said. That new supply will send yields and, consequently, mortgage rates higher. While mortgage rates are still historically low, they were even lower in the years following the financial crisis. That not only helped juice the sharp increase in home prices, but it has also given borrowers a new sense of normal. Both will hurt affordability this spring on several fronts. “Today is one more reason for Realtors and buyers to move up their spring schedule,” said Chris Kopec, a mortgage loan consultant at Chicago-based Lakeside Bank.

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Why investigate Trump, but not Hillary et al?

Stormy Weather (Jim Kunstler)

It’s hard not to be impressed by the evidence in the public record that the FBI misbehaved pretty badly around the various election year events of 2016. And who, besides Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, can pretend to be impressed by the so far complete lack of evidence of Russian “meddling” to defeat Hillary Clinton? I must repeat: so far. This story has been playing for a year and a half now, and as the days go by, it seems more and more unlikely that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is sitting on any conclusive evidence. During this time, everything and anything has already leaked out of the FBI and its parent agency the Department of Justice, including embarrassing hard evidence of the FBI’s own procedural debauchery, and it’s hard to believe that Mr. Mueller’s office is anymore air-tight than the rest of the joint.

If an attorney from Mars came to Earth and followed the evidence already made public, he would probably suspect that the FBI and DOJ colluded with the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party to derail the Trump campaign train, and then engineer an “insurance policy” train wreck of his position in office. Also, in the process, to nullify any potential legal action against Clinton, including the matter of her email server, her actions with the DNC to subvert the Sanders primary campaign, the Steele dossier being used to activate a FISA warrant for surveillance of the Trump campaign, the arrant, long-running grift machine of the Clinton Foundation (in particular, the $150 million from Russian sources following the 2013 Uranium One deal, when she was Secretary of State), and the shady activities of Barack Obama’s inner circle around the post-election transition. There is obviously more there there than in the Resistance’s Russia folder.

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What Britain can quarrel about this week.

Leaked Brexit Report Shows Damage To UK Growth (G.)

Brexit would leave the UK worse off under three possible scenarios: a comprehensive free trade deal, single market access and no deal at all, according to a leaked government analysis of the economic impact of leaving the EU. The document was meant to be shown confidentially to cabinet ministers this week but was leaked in an embarrassing development for Theresa May and David Davis, the Brexit secretary. It said national income would be 8% lower under a no deal scenario, around 5% lower with a free trade agreement with the EU and about 2% lower with a soft Brexit option of single market membership over a 15-year period. The government would not comment on leaked documents but sources stressed the analysis did not cover May’s preferred option of a bespoke deal amounting to a “deep and special partnership” with the EU.

The document suggested that chemicals, clothing, manufacturing, food and drink, and cars and retail would be the hardest hit and every UK region would also be affected negatively in all the modelled scenarios, with the north-east, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland facing the biggest falls in economic performance. It comes after Davis refused to release impact assessments covering 58 sectors of the economy when requested to by parliament, claiming they did not in fact exist. Remain supporters said the report, seen by BuzzFeed News, was concerning but in line with what they had feared.

[..] Eloise Todd, the chief executive of anti-Brexit organisation Best for Britain, added: “According to the government’s secret analysis, even the softest Brexit scenario will mean a 2% hit to growth. “Almost every community, region and sector of the economy included in the analysis would be negatively impacted. The case for or against Brexit should be about more than balance sheets, but it’s painfully clear that the numbers are a gloomy part of the story. And behind these numbers are thousands of jobs, businesses and homes that are at risk. “The government are calling this document embarrassing but it’s more than that. It is a colossal act of economic self harm, written down clearly, in black and white. We are reading about an economy facing the abyss.”

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After Janet, the flood.

Janet Yellen Sets Interest Rates One Last Time. How Will History Rate Her? (G.)

Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chair, begins her final rate-setting meeting at the helm of the US central bank on Tuesday, before she is replaced by Donald Trump’s chosen successor, Jerome Powell. The first woman to lead the Fed arrived in February 2014 at a time when the money-printing machine of quantitative easing was whirring at full-tilt under her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. QE, which involved the Fed buying bonds from financial institutions, pumped billions of dollars into the US economy to keep it afloat after the financial crisis. Yellen leaves next month with a legacy as the Fed chair who began the long process of turning off the QE machine, and for raising interest rates for the first time in seven years in 2015.

Powell will have a tough act to follow, with the stock market currently sitting at a record high and as economic growth continues to strengthen and unemployment stands at the lowest level since 2000. No increase in interest rates is expected this month, although further hikes are forecast for later this year. James Knightley, senior economist at ING Bank, said: “She has followed up [Bernanke] with strong leadership and solid decision making that led to the robust economic performance we see today. Given all these successes, Jay Powell has been set a very tough bar to match.”

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Emotional by Caitlin Johnstone. We should have a piece that lists his topics through the years. And someone should pick up his legacy.

On The Death of Robert Parry (CJ)

The legendary journalistic titan Robert Parry has died, and I still haven’t quite figured out how to live with that. I did not know Parry and never had any kind of interaction with him, but I can’t stop crying. This is an immense loss and it feels deeply personal, just as one of the countless individuals his work has profoundly impacted. I’ve often recommended Parry’s outlet Consortiumnews as the overall best source of anti-war, anti-establishment information in the English-speaking world, and I cite its content constantly in my own work. This just sucks, and I’m a mess, and this might just be me getting sloppy and emotional for a few paragraphs, but this is all I can really be right now.

In a beautiful tribute to his father, Nat Parry describes a man who was driven not by self-interest, nor even ultimately by any ideology or conceptual values system, but by a deeply held commitment to humanity born out of concern for the future of our species. Parry’s journalistic integrity and ferocious dedication to the truth at all costs appear to have been a byproduct of that fundamental desire for humanity to survive and thrive, and an inability to be comfortable with our horrifying flirtation with extinction. “But besides this deeply held commitment to independent journalism, it should also be recalled that, ultimately, Bob was motivated by a concern over the future of life on Earth,” writes the younger Parry. “As someone who grew up at the height of the Cold War, he understood the dangers of allowing tensions and hysteria to spiral out of control, especially in a world such as ours with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out all life on the planet many times over.”

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Brussels, Paris and Berlin only care when it suits their careers.

Refugee Relocations From Italy And Greece Drawing To A Close (DW)

Germany’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that it will only resettle a small number of migrants from Italy and Greece in the coming weeks, as the EU’s migrant relocation program draws to a close. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told DW that far fewer people had fulfilled the necessary criteria for relocation than first expected. “There are now virtually no more asylum seekers in Greece who could be considered for resettlement,” according to the Ministry. To qualify, applicants had to be from a country where the chances of asylum are at least 75%. Last month, some 500 migrants were still waiting to be relocated from Italy to Germany, while in Greece the number less than 40. “The relocation scheme ended in September 2017, meaning all applicants arriving after that date will no longer be eligible for resettlement,” Annegret Korff, a speaker for the Interior Ministry, said.

“Germany largely completed all outstanding relocations by the end of 2017. In the coming weeks, Germany will only carry out the odd resettlement case that was left outstanding from last year.” The program to relocate migrants landing in Greece and Italy was launched by the European Union in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis. Initially, EU member states agree to relocate some 160,000 refugees between them from the bloc’s two main points of entry by September 2017. The number was revised to just under 100,000 after officials found that fewer people were eligible under the scheme that first expected. Although the temporary progam has since passed its deadline, the final few migrants that qualify for resettlement are still awaiting asylum.

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